#BlogTour – Love Among The Treetops by Catherine Ferguson – Read an #Extract (@AvonBooksUK @_CathFerguson)

I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on Catherine Ferguson’s Love Among The Treetops Blog Tour today, with an exclusive extract!

love among the tree tops coverCan love flourish amongst the tree tops?

 When pastry chef Twilight Wilson was a young girl, she would hide from school bullies up in the treehouse at thebottom of her garden in her family home in Sussex. It was her special place, and even as an adult she still loves it.

So when her family tell her they can’t afford to live there any more, Twilight is devastated. Not only will they lose their home – but the treehouse too!

She comes up with a plan to save the family home – she’ll start up a cafe in the treehouse! It’s a brilliant idea, and excitement builds as she starts planning the menus, with the help of Theo – a rather attractive man from the gym. But when former school bully Lucy finds out the plan, she starts plotting – and opens her own rival cafe in the village!

Can Twilight save her family home? Will her friendship with Theo ever be anything more? And who will win the cafe wars?

Catherine Ferguson is back in this hilarious, heart-warming read perfect for summer. 

Published in ebook 8th March 2018 and Paperback 17th May 2018 by Avon

‘I guess I should have started my training earlier.’ He grins and goes back to his book which, looking at the cover the right way up, I suddenly realise isn’t about crotches at all. My upside-down reading clearly needs some work. The book he’s so enthralled by is actually called Adventures with Crochet. (Which, to be fair, sets my mind boggling all over again.) There’s a colourful crocheted doll on the cover and a jolly border made from one long line of crochet, like I used to make when I was a little girl and Gran taught me.

I observe him curiously beneath my eyelashes. He certainly doesn’t look like a crochet enthusiast, with his rugby player’s body and big hands that would surely be way too clumsy to wield a crochet hook. But appearances can be deceptive. For all I know, he might also be a whiz at macramé and enjoy whipping up the odd summer fruit soufflé in his spare time. It was probably very politically incorrect of me to picture a crochet enthusiast as an elderly lady with a cat curled at her feet. Yes, in fact, good for him!

His brow is tense as if he’s concentrating hard. He’s obviously a ‘metrosexual’. The sort of man who’d feel perfectly at home exhibiting his macaroons in a Women’s Institute tent. Although why I should be so curious about someone I don’t even–

‘Excuse me,’ says a slightly breathy voice.

I glance up and so does Mr Needlepoint. The voice belongs to the blonde I spotted earlier.

‘Sorry to interrupt, but did I hear you say you’d just run a marathon?’ She bats her extensive eyelashes at him.

‘Twenty-six miles of hell,’ he says cheerfully. ‘Usually I enjoy them but today’s was tough going for some reason.’

‘So you’ve run marathons before?’

He nods. ‘Dozens.’

Her hazel eyes open wide in admiration, and I find myself fascinated by her make-up. Her eyelids are like two perfectly matching mini canvases, artfully brushed with shades of gold, pink and purple, fringed with dark, curled lashes. Mr Needlepoint seems quite taken with them, too.

‘Sorry, I should explain.’ She sits down next to me in a cloud of flowery perfume, while continuing to completely ignore me. ‘I’m Olivia.’

‘Theo Steel.’ They shake hands and as an afterthought, she turns to me.

‘Twilight.’ I wait for the reaction. Most people smile in surprise at the unusual name, which is exactly what Olivia does. Her hand feels thin and icy cold. She turns back to Theo.

‘So I have a friend who’s spearheading a “Get Hart’s End Fit!” campaign. I assume you live around here?’ She includes me in this query.

I nod. ‘My parents live in Hart’s End.’

‘Lake Heath,’ says Theo, naming a neighbouring village a few miles from Hart’s End, further along the track.

‘Well, my friend wants as many people as possible to take part in a 10k run she’s organising for charity.’ She gives Theo a coy look. ‘And you’re obviously very fit.’

‘Well … I don’t know about that.’

‘Oh, but you must be. Running all those marathons.’

‘I suppose …’

‘And those lovely, hard muscles must be the result of an awful lot of weight training,’ she says, gazing admiringly at his arms.

Like the sound of this? Available to buy now in Ebook HERE 

love among the tree tops

#Blog Tour – Snow Job: The Great Game by Jenni Ferchenko- An Extract (@Rararesources)

Good Morning! Today as part of the blog tour, I have an extract of Jenni Ferchenko’s Snow Job: The Great Game (which looking at the weather outside is very apt!) – Enjoy!

Snow jobSnow Job: The Great Game

When young associate Katya Kuznetsova loses her job at Lehman Brothers in London, she takes up a new investment banking role in Moscow, Russia. Determined to succeed, Katya finds herself trapped by her lifestyle. At the same time she tries to prove her self-worth but subconsciously engages in self-punishment, including ever more destructive sex, alcohol and drug abuse. Eventually, things get out of control, leading to the dreadful consequences Katya is trying to fix, humiltating herself and losing everything she owns; but she finds something, which was always there, she just couldn’t see it, something priceless… Snow Job: The Great Game is the first novel by Jenni Ferchenko.

 

At some point, when everyone seems to have stopped wandering around, the door opens and a moderately overweight person enters the floor with a rapid, masculine gait, focused completely on a cell phone conversation, covering the speakerphone with a palm: 

‘Dima, start buying quietly.’ I hear female whispers. The eye makeup and accurately groomed eyebrows suggest it is a woman … and everything about her screams she means business. 

‘How much, Val?’ he whispers back. 

‘Just buy. I’ll tell you when to stop. Quietly!’ 

‘OK.’ Dima quickly places the bids on his numerous screens. 

‘Yes, Ivan Petrovich,’ she says courteously into the phone, ‘you’ve bought four hundred million dollars vs rouble at the rate of … ’ She looks at one of Dima’s screens. ‘24.36. We’ll confirm the rate of 24.38 to your bank and settle the difference as usual … correct … through your Cyprus entity,’ she says joyfully. 

I quietly use my iPhone to work out the two kopeks’ difference in the rate on four hundred million dollars. Three hundred thirty thousand dollars is the margin for Ivan Petrovich, whoever he is. 

‘How much have you bought?’ she firmly asks Dima. 

‘Six hundred twenty million dollars. Blyat, I overbought!’ he exclaims, fuming, ready to put the blame on Val at any second. 

‘It’s OK, Dima. Don’t be such a pussy. In five years’ time you’ll look at this rate and regret you did not buy more.’ She calmly switches on her computer. ‘What is the average rate?’ 

Dima leans back, putting his hands behind his head. ‘24.3450,’ he proudly says, taking the credit for making a quarter of a million dollar net profit. ‘Shall I park it to Valkyrie or book it as a profit to our London office?’ 

‘Book six tickets of twenty million to sell to Valkyrie and four tickets of thirty million dollars for our London bank to buy from Valkyrie, two points higher on each deal. Keep the book clean. I don’t want any unallocated millions left over,’ she instructs, looking for something in an Hermès Birkin trophy bag that many would die for. ‘I’m off for a coffee downstairs and to interview the new nanny,’ she says, getting up. ‘Ah, and don’t forget to forge the cash-in agreements for Ivan Petrovich for the last month,’ she commands. 

Just like everyone else, I am trying to stare at my computer as Val passes by my desk on her way to the exit. 

 About The Author 

About the author: After growing up under Communist rule in the Ukraine Jenni  jenni fFerchenko established a career in the finance sector after achieving an internship with Lehman’s Brothers, London back in 2006. Her years within the sector working between London and Moscow has provided the inspiration behind her debut novel. Today Jenni Ferchenko lives in an undisclosed location enjoying a quieter life as a singer-songwriter and author. She has also written original songs to accompany the release of her debut novel.

 

Website – http://jenniferchenko.com/  

snow job banner.jpg

#BlogTour – Dr Jekyl and Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill – an Extract @BWPublishing

I’m kicking off the blog tour for Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill today. The novel is a sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, set seven years after the death of Edward Hyde and the mysterious disappearance of Dr Jekyll.

dr jekyll and mr seek.jpgThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Continues…

Seven years after the death of Edward Hyde, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr Henry Jekyll. Only Mr Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidant, knows that he must be an impostor – because Jekyll was Hyde. But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming his estate, and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life … and questioning his own sanity.

This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements the original work. And where the original was concerned with the duality of man, this sequel deals with the possibility of identity theft of the most audacious kind. Can it really be that this man who looks and acts so precisely like Dr Henry Jekyll is an imposter? 

Published September 1st by Black and White Publishing

Thanks to Lina for sending me a copy of this absolutely gorgeous looking book – seriously, the picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s stunning! Dr Jekyll and Mr Seek is published today – here’s an extract to give you a taste of the book. Enjoy!

A sulphurous yellow fog, so thick it muffled the chimes of the Sunday church bells, had fastened overnight to London and refused to be dislodged by even the stiffest of breezes. It smothered domes and spires, blurred chimneys and gables, smudged walls and windows, and altogether turned the city into an immense spectral museum, through which even the most audacious traveller proceeded warily, never certain of what strange sights might lurk in the next chamber. 

Mr Gabriel Utterson, the bald and bird-like lawyer, and his distant kinsman Mr Richard Enfield, the dashing man about town, were more than familiar with London fogs, having conducted their Sunday walks together for nearly eighteen years. Yet it is by no means certain that, were it not for the density of this particular fog on this particular day, they would have found themselves in a by-street of peculiar infamy. 

‘Well,’ said Enfield, after a moment’s hesitation, ‘I should not need to tell you where the hand of fate has guided us.’ 

‘I know the street well enough,’ replied Utterson. 

‘A certain building – yes, I see it now. A place as disagreeable as the man who emerged from it.’ 

‘He has not emerged from it for some time now. Nor from any other building, I wager.’ 

‘And yet, I can still see his face,’ mused Enfield, ‘as if it were yesterday.’ 

Both men were staring across the street, where not far from the corner was a windowless building with a frowning gable and a dark, blistered door. And both men remembered, with remarkable immediacy, the hideous little man called Hyde who had scuttled out of that door, and slithered into the night, and enacted crimes so evil that they still had the power to chill the blood, even when viewed through the misted window of memory. 

‘How long has it been now?’ asked Enfield. 

‘Nearly seven years,’ his companion replied. 

‘Seven years? Since he trampled over that poor girl? And murdered Sir Danvers Carew?’ 

‘And took his own life, in those very dissecting rooms.’ 

‘Seven years . . .’ said Enfield, staring fixedly at the place. ‘Then it is also seven years,’ he went on, ‘since Jekyll disappeared?’ 

‘Quite so.’ 

‘Meaning that you, being Jekyll’s lawyer and sole beneficiary, will shortly be taking possession of his estate?’ 

‘Within two weeks, in fact.’ 

‘Including all his property?’ 

‘As Jekyll himself directed.’ 

Enfield nodded slowly, still looking across the street. ‘Then how, may I ask, are you inclined to deal with it?’ 

‘With the dissecting rooms?’ Utterson asked. ‘I intend to sell them as soon as possible, for they hold no value to me – and little to anyone else, I fancy.’ 

The younger man nodded. ‘There is nothing good to be said for them,’ he said. ‘So let us hope they are soon demolished, and quickly forgotten.’ 

‘Quite right,’ said Utterson. 

But both men knew that this was only half the story, for the dissecting rooms were connected at their rear to another, more presentable, building, which in turn faced onto another, more presentable street. And it was to inspect the front of this other residence that the two men now progressed, as if by some tacit agreement, down to the corner and across the square. 

‘We enjoyed some splendid dinners with Jekyll there,’ said Enfield, looking back. 

‘We did indeed.’ 

‘Henry was an exceptional host.’ 

‘He was.’ 

‘He had exquisite taste in most things.’ 

‘That, too, cannot be denied.’ 

Enfield nodded. ‘Are you intending to sell his home as 

well?’ 

‘No, I cannot bear to do so,’ said Utterson. ‘Of all the houses in London, it has always been my favourite. I would hate to relinquish it now.’ 

‘I doubt Henry would want you to,’ Enfield said. 

‘I doubt it, too.’ 

The two men regarded the handsome façade, with its gleaming windows, polished bricks and mullioned door, forclose to a minute. 

‘So what, indeed, are your plans for the place?’ 

‘Well,’ said Utterson, shifting, ‘I might yet make some use of it, you know.’ 

‘Indeed?’ 

‘It would be a pity to let it go empty.’ 

‘I suppose so.’ 

Enfield’s curiosity sounded innocent enough, but Utterson had a sense he was skirting around something – some disquieting revelation, perhaps. So the two men stood stiffly for a while, and finally the younger one sighed. 

‘You know, I must tell you something, dear friend. And not with any relish, I’m bound.’ 

‘Oh?’ 

‘Something I overheard at my club. A conversation about the fate of Jekyll, and your part in the whole business.’ 

‘My part, you say?’ 

‘It was some months ago now, and to this day I’ve not cared to mention it. But as I’m to leave town tomorrow, and as you’re about to take over the estate, it might be best that you became aware of some of the mutterings that are abroad.’ 

‘Mutterings?’ Utterson said, frowning. ‘And what indeed are these mutterings?’ 

‘No’ – Enfield appeared to change his mind – ‘I shan’t repeat it. Claptrap, the lot of it. But you should brace yourself, dear friend, lest any of the slander reaches your ears.’ 

Utterson did not say it, but some of the slander – to the effect that he had played some sinister role in Jekyll’s disappearance, even rewritten the doctor’s will in his own favour – had already reached his ears. And while he never enjoyed hearing such calumnies, he could scarcely help being curious about them. 

‘Do tell, at least, what gave rise to such talk.’ 

‘There was a new member at my club,’ Enfield said, ‘who proved especially curious about Jekyll. I cannot remember his name, and I’ve not encountered him since.’ 

‘He gave no reason for asking such questions?’ 

‘Well, he had good reason after the sordid death of that other Jekyll – Thomas Jekyll, Henry’s brother.’ 

‘A half-brother,’ said Utterson. ‘Henry mentioned him once, without any affection.’ 

‘Still, the particulars of his demise appeared in The Times, together with a reference to Henry’s previous disappearance – you must remember?’  

‘I remember. And this prompted the stranger to enquire about me?’  

‘Chiefly about Henry, but your name surfaced now and then. Nonsense, I say. Nonsense, the lot of it.’  

Enfield did not elaborate, and Utterson decided he did not really care to pry – not on this day, in any event. Somewhere a hurdy-gurdy player was cranking out carnival tunes; a dog was yapping furiously; someone was laughing like a demon. The two men, unsettled, were about to move on when Enfield leaned forward.  

‘I say,’ he said, squinting into the mist, ‘is that smoke, rising from Jekyll’s chimney?’  

Utterson, adjusting his spectacles, saw a stain of dark smoke curling into the fog.  

‘Seems so,’ he said, shrugging. ‘The housekeeper, no doubt. I’ve engaged one to maintain the home, in the absence of any other staff.’  

‘Lives in the place, does she?’  

‘No, but she is in possession of a key, and works when she pleases.’  

‘On a Sunday?’  

‘It makes sense, as she has duties elsewhere.’  

In truth Utterson was further unsettled by the sight, but the accumulation of sour memories and sensations, so unsuited to the humour of their weekly stroll, left him ill-equipped for more unpleasantness. So he changed the subject. 

‘In any case,’ he said, ‘this is not getting us any closer to our destination.’ 

‘I suppose not,’ said Enfield – though in truth the two men, in all their years of ambling, had never really had a precise destination. 

For all that, when they parted, after enjoying a lark pie and coffee at Pagani’s, it was with a great deal of warmth and not a little sadness. Enfield passed across the key to his apartment, so that his kinsman might inspect the place in his absence, then the two men shook hands vigorously before going their separate ways, Utterson heading solemnly for south London and Enfield moving at a clip towards Piccadilly – neither man suspecting that one of them would shortly be dead.  

 

#Blogtour – Mothering Sunday by Rosie Goodwin – An Extract @BonnierZaffre

I’m hosting the final stop on the blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Mothering Sunday by Rosie Goodwin. Sadly the book didn’t make it to me in time (thanks to wandering parcels!) and so I’ll be reviewing it later, and I’m really looking forward to it – is sounds like such a charming, cosy afternoon read! But for now, here’s an extract for you to enjoy – and if you’ve already read this one, then I’d love to hear what you thought!

mothering sunday.jpgIf you love Dilly Court, you’ll love Rosie Goodwin.

ALL SHE WANTS IS SOMEONE TO CALL HER OWN

1884, Nuneaton.

Fourteen-year-old Sunday Small has never lived outside the Nuneaton workhouse. The regime is cruel, and if it weren’t for Miss Beau – who comes in every week to teach the children their letters – and her young friend Daisy, Sunday’s life wouldn’t be worth living. And now she’s attracted the unwelcome attention of the workhouse master.

With no choice but to leave behind everything she knows, Sunday strikes out on her own to make her fortune and to fulfil her promise to come back for Daisy. And, secretly she dreams of finding the long-lost mother who gave her away.

But she’s about to discover that, try as she might to escape, the brutal world of the workhouse will not let her go without a fight

Published in paperback 27th July 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre (UK)

After scouting around for a while Sunday found all she needed. A bucket and a somewhat grimy mop, some soda crystals and lye soap and a number of old rags. Annie was already seated at the kitchen table shelling peas by then so she silently made her way back to her room. She was breathless by the time she got there. It had been no easy task balancing the bucket up two flights of stairs but she was eager to make a start. So much so that she forgot all about going to say goodbye and thank you to Lady Huntley. First of all, she gathered up the rugs that were scattered about the floor and placed them by the door. Later on she would take them outside and give them a good beating. She then opened the window as wide as it would go and set to with a vengeance, coughing and spluttering as the dust swirled around her in clouds. She was so absorbed in what she was doing that she started when Annie appeared in the doorway some two hours later.

Are yer deaf or what?” she grumbled. “I’ve been bawlin’ me lungs out fer you to come an’ ‘ave something to eat from the bottom o’ the stairs.” She looked around in amazement then. The floorboards were gleaming damply in the light from the window that Sunday had cleaned, the whole room was spick and span, and the furniture smelled of beeswax polish.

Well I’ll be,” she said greatly impressed. “You’ve certainly transformed this room, lass.”

Sunday sat back on her heels and grinned. She was in the process of washing down the chest of drawers now.

I’ve almost finished. I hung the flock mattress out of the window and gave it a good shake but I forgot to ask you where I might find some bedding. I want to give the rugs a good beating then and once that’s done you can tell me where else you want me to start.”

I’ll show yer where the linen cupboard is an’ yer can help yerself to whatever yer need. But leave this fer now an’ come n’ get somethin’ inside yer. We only ‘ave a light snack mid-day but it’ll keep yer goin’ till yer dinner tonight.”

Sunday stood up and wiped her hands on her apron before following Annie downstairs.

I’ve taken a tray in to the missus,” Annie informed her, “but she’ll eat in the dinin’ room wi’ the lodgers this evenin’. You’ll eat in the kitchen wi’ me.”

As they entered the kitchen the smell of new baked bread reached Sunday and her stomach growled ominously. She suddenly realised that she hadn’t eaten at all that day, she had been too nervous at breakfast, not that she had missed much. The greasy porridge that was served to them in the workhouse always left a nasty after taste and often made her feel nauseous.

Now she gazed in amazement at the two loaves that were cooling on a rack on the table. They looked nothing at all like the dry grey bread that she was used to and her mouth watered at the sight of them.

I do me own bakin’ at least three times a week,” Annie informed her proudly. “There’s one thing I’ll say fer the missus, she don’t skimp when it comes to feedin’ her lodgers an’ though I say it meself I’m a fair old cook.” She chuckled then. “I’ve ‘ad to be. I ‘ad eleven nippers see to an’ they was always hungry so I ‘ad to make me money go a long way. They’ve all long since grown up an’ flown the nest now but I still pride meself on keepin’ a good table. Now sit yerself down an’ stick in, lass.”

Sunday plonked herself down on one of the kitchen chairs and stared at the food spread out before her.

That’s the last o’ the leg o’ pork left over from last night’s dinner,” Annie informed her. “An’ there’s some pickled onions an’ cheese there along wi’ the butter. That should keep yer goin’ till later.”  

Mothering Sunday bt

About The Author

rosie goodwin

Rosie Goodwin is the author of over twenty bestselling novels, selling more than 300k paperbacks. She is the first author in the world to be allowed to follow three of Catherine Cookson’s trilogies with her own sequels. Having worked in the social services sector for many years, then fostering a number of children, she is now a full-time novelist. She is one of the top 50 most borrowed authors from UK libraries and regularly appears in the Heatseeker charts.

 

www.rosiegoodwin.co.uk

@RosieGoodwin

 

#Blogtour – Say My Name by Allegra Huston – An Extract

 As part of the UK blog tour, I’m delighted to share an extract of Say My Name by Allegra Huston today…Enjoy! 

 “This is the time to run away”, she thinks, “to call it a mistake, to race back to home and safety. If I don’t go home I will never feel safe again.”

On meeting Micajah Burnett, the son of an old school friend, Eve Armanton is faced with a choice. Years of a miserable marriage means she’s as broken as the beautiful antique violin she’s just found, and Micajah offers a spark of life, an opportunity to reawaken her sense.

If Eve takes a leap into this new world, she’ll be leaving behind her old self for good. Her happiness depends on forging a new life, but at the end of her journey who will Eve have become? 

Published 27th July 2017 by HQ (UK)

 Extract
There, under a table heaped with china of the sort nobody uses anymore, she spots it, almost hidden behind random objects carrying price stickers faded by time. Daylight filters through grimy windows onto worn green velvet, golden wood. Strangely, the case is open—as if it’s hoping to be found. 

It’s bigger than a violin, much smaller than a cello. It’s fat, squarer than most instruments of its kind, with an elongated neck, and—this is what draws Eve in—encrusted with vines. The fragile carvings seem greener. They were once painted, maybe. 

Eve moves the piles of junk aside so that she can crawl under the table. Usually she wears jeans for these expeditions, but it’s a hot New York summer, so this morning she chose a thin dress, counting on the intricate print to disguise any smudges. It will rip easily, though, so she tucks up the sides into her underwear to keep it off the floor. 

As she crouches down, the bones of her knees crack. Though she’s fit and strong, her forty-eight-year-old body is starting to show age. Her brown hair has almost no gray in it—good genes, her mother would have said—but soon she’ll have to decide whether to color it. She’s never seen the point of lying about her age and, being married, she’s less concerned about looking young than she might be if she were single. Still, the ugly milestone looms. She’s tied her hair in a ponytail and covered her head with a scarf to protect against cobwebs. 

By profession, Eve is a garden designer. Her husband, Larry, makes enough as a product development manager for a pill-coating supplier to pharmaceutical companies to enable him to treat her little business as, basically, a hobby. This annoys her, but the truth is, she treats it that way too. Taking it more seriously would mean confronting Larry and claiming ownership of her time and priorities, which she is not prepared to do. The status quo feels fragile, although it also feels as lasting as mortal life allows. All that’s required is that she keep the delicate political balance, and doesn’t rock the boat or disturb the sleeping dogs. She’s gotten into the habit of not pushing any communication past the minimum required for practical matters and the appearance of enough closeness to assure her that their marriage is sound. 

On weekends, guiltless and free, she searches out treasures for her friend Deborah’s antique shop. Larry doesn’t com- plain; she suspects he’s glad to have the house to himself. For her part, she’s glad to be away from it. The strange objects she finds ignite her imagination, conjuring up lives more exciting, and more terrifying, than the low-intensity safety of her own. Today she’s exploring a northerly part of New York City that, like a tidal pool left by successive immigrant waves, houses people from nations that may or may not still exist: Assyrians, Armenians, Macedonians, Baluchistanis. The alphabets in which the signs are written change block by block. Neighborhoods like this are her favorite hunting grounds. 

On her hands and knees under the table, she tugs at the instrument in its case. It shifts with a jerk, leaving a hard outline of oily dust on the floor. Probably it hasn’t been moved in years. She lifts it up onto a tin chest, keeping her back to the storekeeper to disguise her interest. 

The vines twine over the body of the instrument and up its neck, stretching out into the air. Though the delicacy of the carving is almost elfin, it has the strength of vines: blindly reaching, defying gravity. The tendrils are dotted with small flowers: jasmine, so accurately rendered that Eve identifies them instantly. A flap of velvet in the lid conceals a bow, held in place by ribbons. It, too, is twined with curling vines. 

She wiggles her fingers into the gaps between the instrument and the velvet lining, prying it loose. A moth flies out into her face and disappears in the slanting shafts of light. 

Holding it by the neck, she senses another shape. With spit and the hem of her dress, she cleans away the dust. There’s a pudgy, babyish face, the vines tightening their weave across its eyes. Cupid, blinded by love. 

Eve pinches up dust from the floor to dirty the face again. She has learned not to improve the appearance of things until after the bargaining is done and the money has changed hands. Then she turns the instrument over. 

The back is in splinters. 

Eve touches her finger to the ragged shards of wood, long- ing to make this beautiful thing whole again. The damage must have been deliberate: an accident would have broken off the vines. What drove that person over the brink? Musician’s frustration? Rage at fate? Heartbreak? She can almost feel remnants of the emotion stuck to the gash, like specks of dried blood. 

If she had it repaired, the cost would almost certainly be more than the instrument is worth. And even an expert might not be able to restore it completely. It could serve as a decorative item, but only if the gash stays hidden. Deborah won’t want it—she has a rule against broken things. Also, she feels more comfortable with things that have names, like bowls and vases and candlesticks. Passionless things that sit prettily in nice rooms. The history that this object bears on its back would freak her out. 

Eve moves to return the instrument to its exile, but she can’t bring herself to do it. Now that she has touched it, she cannot push it back into the shadows. 

#BlogTour – An Almond For A Parrot by Wray Delaney – An Extract & Review

 It’s my stop on the incredibly racy and fascinating An Almond For A Parrot blog Tour today! First I have an extract, followed by a mini review – enjoy!
London, 1756: In Newgate prison, Tully Truegood awaits trial. Her fate hanging in the balance, she tells her life-story. It’s a tale that takes her from skivvy in the back streets of London, to conjuror’s assistant, to celebrated courtesan at her stepmother’s Fairy House, the notorious house of ill-repute where decadent excess is a must…Tully was once the talk of the town. Now, with the best seats at Newgate already sold in anticipation of her execution, her only chance of survival is to get her story to the one person who can help her avoid the gallows. She is Tully Truegood. Orphan, whore, magician’s apprentice. Murderer? 
Published July 27th 2017 by HQ (UK)





Fleet Marriages  

One of the most disgraceful customs observed in the Fleet Prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the performance of the marriage ceremony by disreputable and dissolute clergymen. These functionaries, mostly prisoners for debt, insulted the dignity of their holy profession by marrying in the precincts of the Fleet Prison at a minute’s notice, any persons who might present themselves for that purpose. No questions were asked, no stipulations made, except as to the amount of the fee for the service, or the quantity of liquor to be drunk on the occasion. It not unfrequently happened, indeed, that the clergyman, the clerk, the bridegroom and the bride were drunk at the very time the ceremony was performed. 
Chapter One  

Newgate Prison, London 
I lie on this hard bed counting the bricks in the ceiling of this miserable cell. I have been sick every morning for a week and thought I might have jail fever. If it had killed me it would at 
least have saved me the inconvenience of a trial and a public hanging. Already the best seats at Newgate Prison have been sold in anticipation of my being found guilty – and I have yet to be sent to trial. Murder, attempted murder – either way the great metropolis seems to know the verdict before the judge has placed the black square on his grey wig. This whore is gallows-bound.  
‘Is he dead?’ I asked.  
My jailer wouldn’t say. 
 I pass my days remembering recipes and reciting them to the damp walls. They don’t remind me of food; they are bookmarks from this short life of mine. They remain tasteless. I prefer them that way.  
A doctor was called for. Who sent for or paid for him I don’t know, and uncharacteristically I do not care. He was very matter of fact and said the reason for my malady was simple: I was with child. I haven’t laughed for a long time but forgive me, the thought struck me as ridiculous. In all that has happened I have never once found myself in this predicament. I can hardly believe it is true. The doctor looked relieved – he had at least found a reason for my life to be extended – pregnant women are not hanged. Even if I’m found guilty of murder, the gallows will wait until the child is born. What a comforting thought. 
Hope came shortly afterwards. Dear Hope. She looked worried, thinner. 
‘How is Mercy?’ I asked.  
She avoided answering me and busied herself about my cell.  
‘What does this mean?’ she asked, running her fingers over the words scratched on a small table, the only piece of furniture this stinking cell has to offer. I had spent some time etching them into its worm-eaten surface. An Almond for a Parrot. 
‘It’s a title for a memoir, the unanswered love song of a soon to- be dead bird. Except I have no paper, no pen and without ink the thing won’t write at all.’ 
‘Just as well, Tully.’ 
‘I want to tell the truth of my life.’ 
‘Better to leave it,’ she said. 
‘It’s for Avery – not that he will ever read it.’ I felt myself on the brink of tears but I refused to give in to them. ‘I will write it for myself. Afterwards, it can be your bedtime entertainment, the novelty of my days in recipes and tittle-tattle.’ 
‘Oh, my sweet ninny-not. You must be brave, Tully. This is a dreadful place and…’ 
‘And it is not my first prison. My life has come full circle. You haven’t answered my question.’ 
‘Mercy is still very ill. Mofty is with her.’ 
‘Will she live?’ 
‘I don’t know.’ 
‘And is he alive?’ 
 ‘Tully, he is dead. You are to be tried for murder.’ 
‘My, oh my. At least my aim was true.’ 
I sank back on the bed, too tired to ask more. Even if Hope was in the mood for answering questions, I didn’t think I would want to know the answers. 
‘You are a celebrity in London. Everyone wants to know what you do, what you wear. The papers are full of it.’ 
There seemed nothing to say to that. Hope sat quietly on the edge of the bed, holding my hand. 
Finally, I found the courage to ask the question I’d wanted to ask since Hope arrived. 
‘Is there any news of Avery?’ 
‘No, Tully, there’s not.’ 
I shook my head. Regret. I am full of it. A stone to worry one’s soul with. 
‘You have done nothing wrong, Tully.’ 
‘Forgive me for laughing.’ 
‘You will have the very best solicitor.’ 
‘Who will pay for him?’ 
‘Queenie.’ 
‘No, no. I don’t want her to. I have some jewels…’ 
I felt sick. 
‘Concentrate on staying well,’ said Hope. 
If this life was a dress rehearsal, I would now have a chance to play my part again but with a more favourable outcome. Alas, we players are unaware that the curtain goes up the minute we take our first gulps of air; the screams of rage our only hopeless comments on being born onto such a barren stage.  
So here I am with ink, pen and a box of writing paper, courtesy of a well-wisher. Still I wait to know the date of my trial. What to do until then? Write, Tully, write. 
With a hey ho the wind and the rain. And words are my only escape. For the rain it raineth every day. 
My Review 

An Almond For A Parrot is like no other book I’ve read before! The closest I can get is to say that if you take The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (One of my most favourite books ever by the way!) and mash it up with Moll Flanders, then you’ll be somewhere near this utterly addictive book. 
I’d read it was a bit of a saucy bodice ripper- but woah! I wasn’t expecting it it to be quite so racy! Gosh, it had me blushing at times! But it is great fun, and though erotica isn’t really my thing, I’m going to let it go this time, because despite it all I did enjoy An Almond For A Parrot. Plus, there’s something so funny about Eighteenth Century Sexual Language, it’s difficult to take an offence.  
I was sold on this book originally by the simply beautiful cover and the promise of some magic realism. I LOVE a bit of magic realism – there’s just not enough about, and it did add a nice touch into this story of Tully and her ups and downs through a neglected and poverty stricken childhood to the riches and decadence of a high class prostitute.  
This is utterly addictive reading, I couldn’t tear my eyes away! Wray Delaney has beautifully evocative writing style which catches the atmosphere and attitudes of the time perfectly. Fun, frivolous and exciting, this was a scandalously good read! 

Blog Tour: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips – An Extract

Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on the Fierce Kingdom blog tour! I’ll be posting a review later today but first up I have an exclusive extract….  

Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are.

‘The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us.’

When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs – even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct.

It’s a line none of us would ever normally dream of crossing.

But sometimes the rules are different. 

Published June 15th 2017 by Transworld



4:55 p.m.
For a long while Joan has managed to balance on the balls
of her bare feet, knees bent, skirt skimming the dirt. But
now her thighs are giving out, so she puts a hand down and
eases onto the sand.
Something jabs at her hip bone. She reaches underneath
her leg and fishes out a small plastic spear – no longer than
a finger – and it is no surprise, because she is always finding
tiny weapons in unexpected places.
‘Did you lose a spear?’ she asks. ‘Or is this one a
scepter?’
Lincoln does not answer her, although he takes the piece
of plastic from her open hand. He apparently has been wait‑
ing for her lap to become available – he backs up, settling
himself comfortably on her thighs, not a speck of sand on
him. He has a fastidiousness about him; he never did like
finger painting.
‘Do you want a nose, Mommy?’ he asks.
‘I have a nose,’ she says.
‘Do you want an extra one?’
‘Who wouldn’t?’
His dark curls need to be cut again, and he swipes them
off his forehead. The leaves float down around them. The
wooden roof, propped up on rough, round timber, shades
them completely, but beyond it, the gray gravel is patterned
with sunlight and shadows, shifting as the wind blows
through the trees.
‘Where are you getting these extra noses?’ she asks.
‘The nose store.’
She laughs, settling back on her hands, giving in to the
feel of the clinging dirt. She flicks a few wettish grains from
under her fingernails. The Dinosaur Discovery Pit is always
damp and cold, never touched by the sun, but despite the
sand on her skirt and the leaves stuck to her sweater, this is
perhaps her favorite part of the zoo – off the main paths,
past the merry‑go‑round and the petting barn and the
rooster cages, back through the weedy, wooded area labeled
only woodlands. It is mostly trees and rocks and a few
lonely animals back here along the narrow gravel paths:
There is a vulture that lives in a pen with, for some reason,
a rusted-­out pickup truck. An owl that glares at a hanging
chew toy. Wild turkeys that are always sitting, unmoving;
she is not positive that they actually have legs. She imagines
some cruel hunter’s prank, some sweat-­stained necklace
strung with turkey feet.
She likes the haphazard strangeness of these woods, which
are always shifting into some half-hearted try at an actual
attraction. Currently a zip line is strung through the trees,
although she never sees anyone zip-­lining. She remembers
animatronic dinosaurs here a couple of years earlier, and
once there was a haunted ghost trail. There are hints at
more distant incarnations: large boulders that she assumes
are real but possibly are not, plus split-­log fences and a pion‑
eer cabin. No obvious purpose to any of it. Empty cement
pools might have been watering holes for large mammals.
There are occasional efforts at a nature trail, random sign‑
age that makes a walk feel less anchored rather than more
– one tree labeled sassafras while the twenty trees around
it go nameless.
‘Now, let me tell you something,’ Lincoln begins, his
hand landing on her knee. ‘Do you know what Odin could
use?’
She does, in fact, know a great deal about Norse gods
lately.
‘An eye store?’ she says.
‘Yes, actually. Because then he could stop wearing his eye
patch.’
‘Unless he likes his eye patch.’
‘Unless that,’ Lincoln agrees.
The sand around them is scattered with small plastic
heroes and villains – Thor and Loki, Captain America,
Green Lantern, and Iron Man. Everything comes back to
superheroes lately. Pretend skeletons lurk beneath them in
this sand pit – the vertebrae of some extinct animal pro‑
trude from the sand behind them, and there is a bucket of
worn-­down paintbrushes for brushing off the sand. She and
Lincoln used to come here and dig for dinosaur bones, back
in his former life as a three-­year-­old. But now, two months
after his fourth birthday, he is several incarnations past his
old archaeologist self.
The dinosaur pit is currently the Isle of Silence, the prison
where Loki, Thor’s trickster brother, has been imprisoned,
and – when questions of extra noses don’t arise – the air has
been echoing with the sounds of an epic battle as Thor tries
to make Loki confess to creating a fire demon.
Lincoln leans forward, and his epic resumes.
‘The vile villain cackled,’ Lincoln narrates. ‘But then
Thor had an idea!’
He calls them his stories, and they can last for hours if she
lets them. She prefers the ones where he invents his own
characters. He’s concocted a villain named Horse Man, who
turns people into horses. His nemesis is Horse Von, who
turns those horses back into people. A vicious cycle.
Joan is half aware of Lincoln’s voice changing tones and
inflections as he takes his different characters through their
paces. But she is pleasantly drifting. In the mornings these
paths would be crowded with strollers and mothers in yoga
pants, but by late afternoon most visitors have cleared out.
She and Lincoln come here sometimes after she picks him
up from school – they alternate between the zoo and the
library and the parks and the science museum – and
she steers him to the woods when she can. Here there are
crickets, or something that sounds like crickets, and birds
calling and leaves rustling but no human sounds except for
Lincoln calling out his dialogue. He has absorbed the patter
of superhero talk, and he can regurgitate it and make it
his own.
‘There was a secret weapon on his belt!’
‘His evil plan had failed!’
He is vibrating with excitement. Every part of him is
shaking, from the balls of his feet to his chuffy fists. Thor
bobs through the air, and Lincoln bounces, and she won‑
ders if he loves the idea of good conquering evil or simply an
exciting battle, and she wonders when she should start mak‑
ing it clear that there is a middle ground between good and
evil that most people occupy, but he is so happy that she
does not want to complicate things.
‘Do you know what happens then, Mommy?’ he asks.
‘After Thor punches him?’
‘What?’ she says.
She has perfected the art of being able to listen with half
of herself while the other half spins and whirls.
‘Loki has actually been mind-­controlling Thor. And the
punch makes him lose his powers!’
‘Oh,’ she says. ‘And then what?’
‘Thor saves the day!’
He keeps talking – ‘But there’s a new villain in town,
boys!’ – as she curls and straightens her toes. She thinks.
She thinks that she still needs to come up with a wedding
present for her friend Murray – there is that artist who does
dog paintings, and one of those seems like a thoughtful
choice, so she should send an e‑mail and see about placing
the order, although ‘order’ is probably an insulting sort of
word to an artist. She remembers that she meant to call
her great-­aunt this morning, and she thinks that maybe
instead – she is solving problems left and right here, having
a burst of mental efficiency as Loki gets buried in sand –
maybe instead she will mail her great-­aunt that hilarious
paper-bag monkey that Lincoln made in school. Surely the
artwork is better than a phone call, although there’s a cer‑
tain selfishness to it, since she hates to talk on the phone,
and, all right, it is a cop-­out – she knows it – but she settles
on the paper-bag monkey regardless. She thinks of the
squash dressing her great-­aunt makes. She thinks of the left‑
over plantain chips in the kitchen cabinet. She thinks of
Bruce Boxleitner. Back in junior high she was slightly
obsessed with him in Scarecrow and Mrs King, and she has
discovered that the show is available in its entirety online, so
she has been rewatching it, episode by episode – it holds up
well for a 1980s show, with its Cold War spies and bad
hair – and she can’t remember whether Lee and Amanda
finally kiss at the end of the second season or the third sea‑
son, and she has six more episodes to go in the second
season, but she could always skip to the third.
A woodpecker hammers somewhere nearby, and she is
pulled back to here and now. She notices that the wart on
Lincoln’s hand is getting bigger. It looks like an anemone.
There is that beautiful shifting of shadows on the gravel,
and Lincoln is doing his evil-villain laugh, and it strikes her
that these afternoons, with her son’s weight on her legs, the
woods around them, are something like euphoric.
Thor falls against her foot, his plastic head landing on
her toe.
‘Mommy?’
‘Yes?’
‘Why doesn’t Thor wear his helmet in the movie?’
‘I think it’s harder to see with a helmet on.’
‘But doesn’t he want his head protected?’
‘I suppose sometimes he wears it and sometimes he
doesn’t. Depending on his mood.’
‘I think he should protect his head all the time,’ he says.
‘It’s dangerous to battle without a helmet. Why do you
think Captain America only wears a hood? It’s not good
protection, is it?’
Paul gets bored with this superhero chatter – her husband
would much rather talk football formations and NBA
line-ups – but Joan doesn’t mind it. She was once obsessed
with Wonder Woman. Super Friends. The Incredible Hulk.
Who would win in a fight, she once asked her uncle, Super‑
man or the Incredible Hulk? He’d said, Well, if he was losing,
Superman could always fly away, and she’d thought that a
blindingly brilliant answer.
‘Captain America has his shield,’ she tells Lincoln. ‘That’s
what he uses for protection.’
‘What if he can’t get it over his head in time?’
‘He’s very fast.’
‘But still,’ he says, unconvinced.
‘You know, you’re right,’ she says, because he is. ‘He really
should wear a helmet.’
Some sort of man-­made rock forms the back wall of the
pit, beige and bulging, and a small animal is rooting around
behind it. She hopes it is not a rat. She imagines a squirrel
but makes a point not to turn her head.
She opens her purse to peer at her phone. ‘We probably
need to start heading toward the gate in around five min‑
utes,’ she says.
As he often does when she says it’s time to stop playing,
Lincoln acts as if she has not spoken at all.
‘Does Dr Doom always wear a mask?’ he asks.
‘Did you hear me?’ she asks.
‘Yes.’
‘What did I say?’
‘That we’re about to leave.’
‘Okay,’ she says. ‘Yes, Dr Doom always wears a mask.
Because of his scars.’
‘Scars?’
‘Yeah, the scars he got in the lab experiment.’
‘Why would he wear a mask because of them?’
‘Because he wants to cover them up,’ she says. ‘He thinks
they’re ugly.’
‘Why would he think they’re ugly?’
She watches a bright-orange leaf land. ‘Well, they made
him look different,’ she says. ‘Sometimes people don’t want
to look different.’
‘I don’t think scars are ugly.’
As he’s speaking, a sharp, loud sound carries through
the woods. Two cracks, then several more. Pops, like bal‑
loons bursting. Or fireworks. She tries to imagine what
anyone could be doing in a zoo that would sound like small
explosions. Something related to the Halloween festivities?
They’ve strung up lights all over the place – not here in the
Woodlands but all over the more popular pathways – so
maybe a transformer blew? Is there construction going on, a
jackhammer?
There is another bang. Another and another. It sounds too
loud to be balloons, too infrequent to be a jackhammer.
The birds are silent, but the leaves keep skittering down.
Lincoln is unbothered.
‘Could I use my Batman for Dr Doom?’ he asks. ‘He
wears black. And if I use him, can you make him the right
kind of mask?’
‘Sure,’ she says.
‘What will you make it with?’
‘Tinfoil,’ she suggests.
A squirrel scrabbles across the roof of the dirt pit, and she
hears the soft whoosh of its impact when it leaps to a tree.
‘And what will we use for the scarves?’ Lincoln asks.
She looks down at him.
‘Scarves?’ she repeats.
He nods. She nods back, considering and replaying. She
gives herself over to deciphering the workings of his brain: it
is one of the bits of mothering that has delighted her all the
more because she did not know it existed. His mind is com‑
plicated and unique, weaving worlds of its own. In his sleep
sometimes he will cry out entire sentences – ‘Not down the
stairs!’ – and there are windows to his inner machinery,
glimpses, but she will never really know it all, and that is the
thrill. He is a whole separate being, as real as she is.
Scarves. She works the puzzle of it.
‘Do you mean the scarves on his face?’ she asks.
‘Yes. The ones he thinks are ugly.’
She laughs. ‘Oh. I was saying “scars” – you know, like the
one on Daddy’s arm where the water burned him when he
was little? Or the one on my knee from when I fell down?’
‘Oh,’ he says, sheepish. He laughs, too. He is quick to get
a joke. ‘Scars, not scarves. So he doesn’t think scarves
are ugly?’
‘I don’t really know how Dr Doom feels about scarves,’
she says.
‘He doesn’t have them on his face.’
‘No. Those are scars.’
She listens, half considering whether she could have han‑
dled the idea of scars more tactfully, half wondering about
gunshots. But they could not have been gunshots. And if
they had been, she would have heard something else by now.
Screams or sirens or a voice coming over a loudspeaker mak‑
ing some kind of announcement.
There is nothing.
She has been watching too many battles.
She checks her phone. They only have a few minutes until
the zoo closes, and it is entirely possible that they might be
overlooked back here in the woods. She has imagined the
scenario more than once: camping in the zoo overnight,
maybe even intentionally hiding back here, going to visit
the animals in the pitch-­black of midnight – children’s
books are written about such situations. It’s ridiculous, of
course, because there surely would be security guards. Not
that she has ever noticed a security guard here.
They should get moving.
‘We need to go, sweet,’ she says, lifting him from her lap,
waiting until he takes his weight on his own feet, which he
does reluctantly. She thinks he should be wearing a jacket,
but he swore he wasn’t cold, so she let him leave it in the car.
‘Do we have a little more time?’ he asks.
She gets up from the sand and slides on her sandals. This
preference for sandals is the reason she lacks the moral
authority to tell him to wear a jacket.
‘No,’ she says. ‘It’s nearly five thirty. Closing time. Sorry.
We need to get out of here fast, or they might lock us in.’
She is now starting to get nervous about that possibility –
she’s waited too long, and they have the whole walk out of
the woods and then the long way through the children’s
area, and they really are going to be cutting it close.
‘Can we stop at the playground and go across the bridge?’
Lincoln asks.
‘Not today. We can come back tomorrow.’
He nods and steps from the sand onto the sparse grass.
He does not like to break rules. If the zoo people say it is
time to go home, then he will go home.
‘Can you help me with my shoes?’ he asks. ‘And put my
guys in your purse?’
She bends down, brushes the sand from his feet, then
pulls his socks over his pale toes and his wide, stubby feet.
She tears open the Velcro straps of his tennis shoes and looks
up to see a cardinal land an arm’s length away. The animals
have no fear in them at all here. She can sometimes spot half
a dozen sparrows or chipmunks or squirrels within a few
feet, eyeing whatever battle Lincoln is staging.
She drops his plastic figures into her purse.
‘All done,’ she says.
5:23 p.m.
Joan scans the sand pit for any forgotten plastic men, and
then she takes Lincoln’s hand and heads down the path
leading out of the woods. She wonders when he will stop
wanting to hold her hand, but for now they seem equally
happy with the arrangement. In less than twenty steps the
trees have opened up – it’s only an illusion, the seclusion of
this place – and there’s the sound of the waterfall splattering
on the rocks in front of the otter exhibit.
The otter is one of their favorite animals, one of the few
that will still pull Lincoln from his stories. The two otters
have a huge cavern-­styled enclosure with faux-­rock overhangs,
and the animals curve and flip and dive in a greenish pool
behind a wide glass wall. The rocks jut over the walkway,
and a waterfall rushes over visitors’ heads and spills down to
a turtle pond thick with lily pads and reeds and some sort of
purple-­flowered stalk. The wooden footpath that winds
over the pond has always struck her as the prettiest part of
the Woodlands – but now it seems only empty.
Lincoln laughs next to her. ‘Look at the otter. Look how
he swims.’
He still struggles with words ending in ‑er. ‘Ott‑o,’ he
says, instead of ‘otter’. Lex Luth‑o. Score a goal in socc‑o.
‘I like his paws,’ she says.
‘He has paws? Not fins? Real paws like a dog or finger
paws like a monkey?’
She is tempted to stop and point out the anatomy of otters.
This is what she wants most for him, maybe, to see that life
is full of astonishing things, to know that you should pay
attention – Look, it’s beautiful, he said, staring into a puddle
of gasoline in the zoo parking lot – but they don’t have time.
She gives his hand a tug, and he comes easily enough, though
his head is slow to turn away from the otter. As they step onto
the wooden bridge, lily pads to either side of them, she wishes
that they would see someone else, some other chattering fam‑
ily also running late. Not that it’s unusual to have the path to
themselves. They often see no one else all the way to the exit
in the afternoon, and they are pushing it closer than usual to
closing time. She picks up her pace.
‘Want to race?’ she asks
‘No.’
‘You want to skip?’
‘No, thank you.’
He plods along.
She sometimes wonders if his determination not to do a
thing is in direct proportion to the amount of enthusiasm
she shows for it. He continues meandering along the bridge,
pausing to shrink back from a gnat or to stare down at a
speckled koi. He comes to a complete stop to scratch his
chin. When she asks him to hurry, he frowns, and she knows
by the look on his face what he will ask for.
‘I want you to carry me,’ he says.
‘I can’t carry you all the way to the car,’ she says. ‘You’re
getting too big.’
She watches his lip slide out.
‘Here’s my compromise,’ she says, before this escalates
and slows them down further. ‘I’ll pick you up when we get
to the scarecrows, and I’ll carry you from there. If you can
do a good job of walking to the scarecrows.’
‘Okay,’ he says, although his voice is wobbly and his lip is
extending more, and he is starting to wail even as he moves
his feet in time with hers.
She did not, it occurs to her, specify that he could not cry
as he walks. He is technically meeting her terms. It is pos‑
sible that he will cry himself out in a few seconds and get
distracted by some passing thought of Thor’s helmet or
Odin’s eye patch. It is possible that he will only cry more
loudly, and she will give in and pick him up because he has
actually walked quite a long way, uncomplainingly, on his
small legs. It is possible that he will keep crying and she will
stand firm and make him walk all the way to the car because
she does not want him to turn into one of those children
who throw tantrums.
Such a system of checks and balances – parenting – of
projections and guesswork and cost–benefit ratios.
A dragonfly hovers and darts. A heron picks its way along
the edge of the water. The wooden path cuts back and forth
through trees and wild grass.
Lincoln has stopped crying, and she’s fairly sure he’s hum‑
ming the Georgia Bulldogs’ fight song – ‘Glory, glory to old
Georgia! / Glory, glory to old Georgia!’ – although as soon
as she finishes the thought, he switches to the Texas Long‑
horns. No one in their family is a fan of either team, but he
soaks up fight-song lyrics as he soaks up superheroes and
villains.
He is a collector. He accumulates.
Through the trees she can see the tent-like top of the
merry‑go‑round. It shines white against the dishwater sky.
They pass a chicken-­wire-​­enclosed exhibit for a one-­legged
eagle and a near-­invisible enclosure for a pair of egrets. There
are dead logs and monkey grass and lime-­green weeds. She
walks toward an overhanging branch, and one of its leaves
detaches, turning into a yellow butterfly and weaving up to
the sky.
Finally they are back on the concrete sidewalks, which
are as wide as roads. Jack‑o’‑lanterns perch on the fence
posts. 
They take a few steps into civilization, and she glances
over at the merry‑go‑round. It is still and silent; the painted
giraffes and zebras and bears and gorillas and ostriches are
frozen. Lincoln used to love the merry‑go‑round, although
he would only ride a zebra. Now the carousel animals have
rubber bats and tiny Kleenex ghosts floating around them,
hanging from the wooden framework. She and Lincoln are
close enough that the white canvas top covering the carousel
spreads over them, bright and calm.
‘Mommy,’ he says. ‘Carry me.’
‘When we get to the scarecrows,’ she says, ignoring his
arms stretched toward her. ‘Just a little farther.’
He doesn’t protest this time. They hurry past the
merry‑go‑round, toward the food court and the Kid Zone
Splash Park, with the fountains of shoulder-­high water still
arcing onto the blue-­raspberry-­colored splash pads.
‘Medusa’s been here,’ Lincoln announces, and she looks
beyond the spraying water to the shaded spot with the stone
statues of a turtle, a frog and a lizard. These days, anytime
they see stone figures it is a sign that Medusa has passed by.
Spider-­Man has been here, he says to spiderwebs.
‘Those poor guys,’ she says, because it is what she says
every time they pass Medusa’s victims.
‘They should have kept their eyes closed,’ he says, because
it is what he says every time.
She glances at the darkened glass of the Koala Café, with
its shelves of plastic-­wrapped sandwiches and Jell‑O and
hard-­boiled eggs, but she sees no sign of movement inside.
The plastic chairs are upside down on the square tables.
The staff usually close down the restaurants and lock the
buildings fifteen minutes before closing time, so she’s not
surprised. 
Off to their right is the playground with the rock moun‑
tains and swinging bridge. Once upon a time, Lincoln was
interested in Antarctica, and the big rocks were icebergs.
Then last spring he was playing knights and castles on the
swinging bridge, yelling at invisible kings to bring out the
cannons and to fill the catapults with rocks. Now that same
bridge is always Thor’s rainbow-­colored pathway to Earth.
In a year Lincoln will be in kindergarten and these days of
superheroes will fade and be replaced by something she can’t
guess, and then at some point the zoo itself will be replaced
and life will have gone on and this boy holding her hand
will have turned into someone else entirely.
They are making good time now, scurrying past the gift
shop and the wooden cut-out where a kid can stick his head
through a hole and pretend he is a gorilla. They slow down
by the algae-­clogged aquariums at the edge of the children’s
area – Lincoln cannot resist looking for the giant turtle –
and an older woman appears a few yards in front of them,
just around the curve of the aquarium walls, staggering
backward slightly. She is holding a shoe.
‘The rock’s out, Tara,’ she says, and there is a certain
cheerful desperation in her voice that identifies her as a
grandmother. ‘Come on, now.’
Two blonde girls, surely sisters, come into view, and the
grandmother leans down, holding out the shoe to the smaller
girl. Her hair is in pigtails, and she looks a little younger
than Lincoln.
‘We’ve got to go,’ says the grandmother as she works the
rubber sandal onto a small foot. Then she straightens.
The little one says something, too quiet to hear, even
though they are all within a few feet of each other now. Sev‑
eral flies tap against the aquarium glass.
‘I’ll take them off when we get to the car,’ says the grand‑
mother, out of breath. She takes an off-­balance step, holding
the girls by their wrists. The girls blink at Lincoln, but then
the woman is propelling them forward.
‘That’s a grandmother,’ Lincoln says, too loudly, stopping
suddenly enough that he jerks Joan’s arm.
‘I think so, too,’ she whispers.
Joan glances toward the older woman – there is a flowery
chemical smell in the air, perfume that reminds her of
Mrs Manning in the sixth grade, who gave her and no one
else a copy of Island of the Blue Dolphins on the last day of
school – but the woman and her grandchildren are gone now,
already past the curve of the final aquarium.
‘If I had a grandmother, is that what she would look like?’
Lincoln asks. 
He has been fixated on grandparents lately. She hopes it
will pass as quickly as all his other phases.
‘You do have a grandmother,’ Joan says, tugging him for‑
ward again. ‘Grandma. Daddy’s mommy. She was here at
Christmas, remember? She just lives far away. We need to
go, sweet.’ 
‘Some people have lots of grandparents. I only have one.’
‘No, you have three. Remember? Now we’ve got to get
going or we’ll get in trouble.’
The magic words. He nods and speeds up, his face serious
and resolute.
There is another popping sound, louder and closer than
before, maybe a dozen sharp cracks in the air. She thinks it
might be something hydraulic.
They’ve come to the edge of a pond – the largest one in
the zoo, nearly a lake – and she catches a glimpse of swans
cutting through the water. The path forks: the right branch
would lead them around the far side of the pond, up through
the Africa exhibit, but the left will take them to the exit in
a few less seconds. She can see the green-­and-­red flash of the
parrots up ahead, unusually quiet. She likes their little island
in the middle of all the concrete – a bricked‑in pool with a
grassy mound and spindly trees – and it is always their first
and last stop, the final ritual of every visit.
‘Start practicing your parrot caws,’ she tells him.
‘I don’t need to practice,’ he says. ‘I just want to see the
scarecrows.’
‘We’ll have to look at them while we walk.’
A long row of scarecrows has been propped along the
fence that circles the pond. Many of them have pumpkins
for heads, and Lincoln is fascinated by them. He loves the
Superman one and the astronaut one – with the pumpkin
painted like a white space helmet – and especially the Cat in
the Hat.
‘All right, sweet,’ she says.
He drops her hand and lifts his arms.
She glances along the fence, spotting the bright-blue
pumpkin head of Pete the Cat. About halfway down
the fence several scarecrows have fallen. Blown down by the
wind, she assumes, but, no, it hasn’t been stormy. Still, the
scarecrows have collapsed, half a dozen of them scattered all
the way down to the parrot exhibit and beyond.
No, not scarecrows. Not scarecrows.
She sees an arm move. She sees a body way too small to
be a scarecrow. A skirt, hiked indecently over a pale hip, legs
bent.
She is slow to lift her eyes, but when she looks farther,
past the shapes on the ground, past the parrots, toward the
long, flat building with public bathrooms and doors marked
employees only, she sees a man standing, facing away
from her, unmoving. He is by the water fountain. He is in
jeans and a dark shirt, no coat. His hair is brown or black,
and other than that she cannot see details, but she cannot
miss it when he does finally move. He kicks the bathroom
door, his elbow coming up to catch it, a gun in his right
hand, some sort of rifle, long and black, the narrow end of
it stretching like an antenna past his dark head as he dis‑
appears into the pale-­green walls of the women’s bathroom.
She thinks there is another movement around the parrots,
someone else still on his feet, but she is turning away by
then. She does not see more.
She grabs Lincoln and heaves him up, his legs swinging
heavily as he lands against her hip, her right hand grabbing
her left wrist underneath his bottom, linking her arms.
She runs. 

Blog Tour- Extract and Review: Close To Me by Amanda Reynolds

Today I am thrilled to host a stop on Amanda Reynolds blog tour to celebrate her debut novel, Close To Me.
Close To Me is a gripping debut psychological drama that will appeal to fans of Liane Moriarty’s bestselling The Husband’s Secret, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go, and Linda Green’s While My Eyes Were Closed.

She can’t remember the last year. Her husband wants to keep it that way.

When Jo Harding falls down the stairs at home, she wakes up in hospital with partial amnesia-she’s lost a whole year of memories. A lot can happen in a year. Was Jo having an affair? Lying to her family? Starting a new life?

She can’t remember what she did-or what happened the night she fell. But she’s beginning to realise she might not be as good a wife and mother as she thought.  
Published by Headline – eBook 31st March / Paperback 27th July 2017

First of all, here’s an extract to give you a taste of this fantastic book!

The barn feels bigger, the silence echoing around us, between us, from us. I leave Rob to bring in the emptied boxes and suitcases and go upstairs to change, pausing outside Fin’s room. The tidiness within is unsettling. ‘He hasn’t died,’ Sash had said when I’d rung her from the car. ‘He’s just gone to university.’ 

I pull the duvet from its cover, strip the sheet from the mattress and the pillowcases from the pillows, and although I’d intended to throw the washing straight in the laundry basket, I sit down on the empty bed, gathering the musty bedding around me to inhale Fin’s scent. 

‘He hasn’t died, Jo,’ Rob says, finding me there. He’s carrying a suitcase, now lightened of its load, just a few hours ago filled with the shirts and jeans I’d ironed. 

‘That was Sash’s line,’ I say, sitting up. ‘You two are so alike.’  

Rob lays a hand on my shoulder, the fingers reaching my collar bone, gently pressing in. I stand and hold him for a moment, his long arms wrapping around me, his head resting on top of mine. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘We’re both tired.’ 

We make love, the day edging away as we comfort one another. Afterwards, Rob rolls away from me and I know he will fall asleep immediately so I nudge his back. He turns over to face me, but I can see little of his expression; the bedroom almost entirely devoid of light, just the green glow of the numbers on his alarm clock telling me it’s almost midnight. ‘What is it?’ he asks.  

‘Do you remember how we used to play that silly word game, before the kids were born?’ 

‘What game?’ he replies, his words slurred with impending sleep. 

‘If you had a super power what would it be?’ I say through the darkness. ‘Or if you were
going to kill me how would you do it?’ 

‘And you’ve thought about this already?’ he asks, the moonlight seeping around the corners of the blind to pick out his creased eyes, a faint smile. 

I tell him my super power would be time travel and he says he has no idea what his would be, although he’s clearly enjoying the game.  

‘And you’ve decided how you’re going to kill me?’ he asks, his interest piqued. 

‘I’d stab you.’ I laugh, reaching out to him, laying my hand on his bare chest. ‘With a kitchen knife.’ 

‘Yes, that’s good.’ He laughs too and squeezes my stabbing hand. ‘Hopefully death would be instantaneous, and we already have a knife block, so no preparation required.’ 

‘How would you kill me?’ I ask, leaning up on one elbow to wait for his response. 

He hesitates, then says, ‘I guess I’d strangle you with my bare hands.’ Then he grabs me and pulls me to him, both of us laughing.

Review  

Warning! Make sure you have a clear few hours when you begin this book. I don’t know about other readers but I do this thing, between all the other stuff I need to do, where I’ll say “I’ll read 50 pages then I’ll hoover the bedroom” or “30 pages then I’ll make dinner”. I wouldn’t get anything else done otherwise if I didn’t set these limits.

So, when starting Close To Me a few days ago, while having a break from attempting to tame my overgrown garden, I gave myself 50 pages. Well, when I checked to see how I was doing I was stunned to find I’d just devoured almost 100! Seriously, this book’s pages turn themselves. Amanda Reynolds’ writing just flows in a gripping and compelling stream, making for a very, very readable story.

The book is told in alternating chapters of the days following Jo’s accident and the year leading up to it. It works so well, as the reader discovers what led to the breakdown of her family at the same time as Jo. You get to know Jo almost as she gets to know herself and I found I really connected to her and could relate to some of what she is experiencing in the early days before her fall. Jo is going through a time of change, her youngest child has just left home for university and she needs to redefine herself and purpose – something familiar to me as both my children begin to move on. But unlike myself, Jo is surrounded by manipulating people, taken advantage of by her husband, her kids and then others who sense her vulnerability. I loved the subtle development of her character right through the book, and by the end felt satisfied that this now strong and purposeful woman was going to be ok.

The subtle tension created in this book holds right through, with clever twists revealed at just the right moments, keeping me intrigued. Jo’s memory loss ensures that the reader is kept guessing about what really lead to the night of the accident along with Jo herself, with clues and suggestions coming in flashbacks. But with sketchy memories and some confusion, how much can we believe of Jo herself? Is her husband Rob trying to protect her or manipulate her? I couldn’t stop reading and had to know what was going on, frantically turning pages to fit in just a little bit more and ended up finishing it within a day.

Close To Me is not a heart pumping, edge of your seat thriller. The tension and twists are far more subtle than that. This is a dark story of a marriage and family gone stale, emotional abuse, manipulation and mistrust from those nearest. It’s the story of a woman loosing herself even before she looses her memory and a journey of rediscovery and redefining as she finds the strength to gain control of her life . It is compulsive, one-more-chapter reading and I highly recommend it.

(I read an advance proof copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program)



About The Author

Amanda Reynolds teaches Creative Writing in Cheltenham, where she lives with her family.

Her past jobs have included selling clothes online and writing murder mystery games.

Close To Me is her debut novel.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @amandareynoldsj