Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Blog Tour - Laura Lake & The Hipster Weddings by Wendy Holden

Laura Lake And The Hipster Weddings
By Wendy Holden
Publication Date: 9th March 2017
Publisher: Head Of Zeus
Pages: 400
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Fiction
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher

Amazon UK / Amazon US

She'll need a triple-barrelled name for the castle one. She'll need a gallon of glitter for the woodland one. She'll need a lobster-shaped hat for the Shoreditch one. Laura Lake longs to be a journalist. Instead she's an unpaid intern at a glossy magazine – sleeping in the fashion cupboard and living on canapés. But she's just got her first big break: infiltrate three society weddings and write a juicy exposé. Security will be tighter than a bodycon dress, but how hard can it be? Cue disappearing brides, demanding socialites – and a jealous office enemy who will do anything to bring her down...
My Review

Laura Lake is a fantastically written character who is witty and very unique, she is one of these people who is quirky and bring the story to life just reading about her. Living in Paris, Laura had the world right outside of her front door and being able to share that experience with her grandmother Mimi makes it even better. 
Although sometimes life throws you a curve ball, in Laura's case that curve ball is a brilliant job in London. Something Laura would jump at the chance to take but she can't help be think about Mimi as well. Being hundreds of miles away from her grandmother and the city that make her believe in her dreams, is not something she ever imagined. So when Mimi tells her she must go and take this chance as she may not get another one, Laura takes flight to London. 
Working for a glamour magazine should be full of celebrities and posh lunches, but Laura feels it is more of a chore than a job she could fall in love with. Throw in having no money and coming face-to-face with a blast from the past. Laura wonders if giving up her life in Paris was worth it after all. 
I loved Laura's character, she was so likeable and down to earth. Someone who thinks of others before herself and dreams of the day when she is finally living her dream life. I also have a soft spot for Mimi, Laura's Grandmother. Her encouraging was the think that made Laura decide to follow her dreams and her wisdom and strength is something that you can see has rubbed off on Laura as well.
Laura Lake & The Hipster Weddings is a hilarious book about finding your dreams, following them and everything that comes after. You will laugh, cry, fall off your chair and cheer, your way through this book, just like I did. 
Three Words 
Inspirational. Hilarious and Charming. 
My Rating

Win free signed copies of Laura Lake And The Hipster Weddings by sharing your own hilarious wedding stories with me! I can't wait to read them! They might even inspire another novel! Please go to https://goo.gl/forms/xYaoaGCgxPpNR23g1  Thank you.  Love Wendy xx

Another day, another book, 
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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Blog Tour - Find Me by J.S. Monroe plus Q&A

Find Me
By J. S. Monroe
Publication Date: 9th February 2017
Publisher: Head Of Zeus
Pages: 400
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

Amazon UK / Amazon US

Five years ago, Rosa walked to the end of the pier in the dead of night. She looked into the swirling water, and jumped. She was a brilliant young Cambridge student who had just lost her father. Her death was tragic, but not unexpected.Was that what really happened? The coroner says it was. But Rosa’s boyfriend Jar can’t let go. He sees Rosa everywhere – a face on the train; a figure on the cliff. He is obsessed with proving that she is still alive. And then he gets an email. Find me, Jar. Find me, before they do…Is Rosa really dead? And, if she is, who is playing games with the ones she left behind? 

I didn't know what to expect when I first read the blurb of Find Me, it seemed like one of those books that would keep you guessing until the very end, not knowing what really happened and if you can believe the characters in the story and I can truly say it was just like I imagined, but in a good way! Find Me is a thrilling book that will take everything you know and throw it into the air all while watching the pieces as they fall down around you. 
Jar and Rosa were in love with each other, that is until the night when Rosa died. Even though it was classed as an accident, Jar doesn't believe that the woman who held his heart would just be gone with nothing more than a small accident. When he receives a email appearing from Rosa, he starts to think that maybe he was right and that she still is alive, but in doing so it also brings about the questions. If she is still alive, why didn't she come looking for him? Or better yet, why did she run away in the first place, claiming to be dead?
From reading this story, I admire Jar's character so much, you can truly see how much he loves Rosa and that he believes she is still out there somewhere. I liked the element of not knowing what would happen next, it is something I find keeps you enthralled in the story and pushes you to read as much as you can in one sitting. 
I know at this point most people would say that their favourite character would be Jar as he is the realistic choice, but I am going to be different and choose Rosa. Her character is one of strength, unpredictable and truly life changing in the sense that it is her story being told not just through her but through Jar and how he sees her as a person and not just the love of his life. 
Find Me is a captivating book that will have you itching to find out the ending and will surprise you throughout the book with the secrets that get revealed. J.S. Monroe has done a brilliant job of writing characters that fit perfectly together and make this story such an enjoyable read that everyone who likes mystery will love. 
Three Words
Captivating, Powerful and Thrilling.
My Rating

23 Review Street
Q&A with J. S. Monroe

Hi J. S. Monroe, thank you for being on my blog I am thrilled to be asking you questions about your book and books in general! I have read ‘Find Me’ and I can truly say it is one of the best books I have ever read. 

Find Me is one of those books that keeps you guessing throughout, did you know how it would end or were you just as surprised by the ending?
I’m delighted you enjoyed Find Me and thank you for inviting me to be on your blog. After writing about a third of the book, I realised that I was heading for an espionage resolution to the question of Rosa’s disappearance. I’d previously written five spy novels (under my own name, Jon Stock) and was confident that my spy theory would more than explain why and how Rosa had disappeared five years earlier in Cromer. Then I had lunch with my agent, Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit, and he nodded politely over the soup to my summary of how the story would end. He liked it a lot, he said, but had I considered throwing in alternative possible reason for her disappearance – something to do with her past and her own character? In other words, steering Find Me into psychological thriller territory and away from the spy landscape that I was familiar with. I knew at once that he was right – I also knew that it would be a lot harder to do. But I was so excited by the challenge, more so than I’ve ever been about anything that I’ve written.
As I began to develop this second possible explanation for Rosa’s disappearance, I realised I didn’t want to let go of the first, espionage theory. Far from it. And so I developed both theories in tandem, aiming to make them equally credible (which did my head in, believe me!). Throw in some unreliable narration and you have the makings of a complex story. I hope that the reader doesn’t know which narrative to believe until the very last chapter – and even then there should be an element of doubt as the narrative gives one final flick of the tale…

If Find Me was made into a television show or movie, who could you imagine playing the characters and why?
We’ve already had a lot of film interest from America and in particular and a British writer who works on scripts with a fellow American scribe. The British guy could really relate to Find Me, for various personal reasons. Interestingly, he wants to switch round the sexes, making Jar a woman and Rosa a man, so it would be a woman looking for her apparently dead boyfriend. I was a little surprised when I first heard this, but there’s actually quite a lot sense in it. For one thing, there are, apparently, a lot more gifted young female leads right now in Hollywood than men.
I’ve had a long, exciting ride with Warner Bros after they optioned my 2009 thriller, Dead Spy Running, but I’ve also learnt not to get too excited until a film is actually greenlit in Hollywood. Warner Bros commissioned a number of different scripts, including one by Oscar winner Stephen Gaghan, and the project is currently with McG, the director of Terminator IV and Charlie’s Angels. The bottom line is that, almost eight years later, the film is still in development, but the latest word from McG is that he wants to turn it into a ten-part series for US TV, which would be great.
So, thinking of who might play the lead characters in a film of Find Me is a dangerous, premature game, but if pushed, and assuming the characters stay the same sex as they are in the book, how about Domhnall Gleeson for Jar and Kaya Scodelario for Rosa?

What inspires you to write and why?
Different things inspire me. The original inspiration for Find Me lies in the opening scene. Jar is on his way to work in London, taking the escalator down into Paddington station. Suddenly, he sees Rosa, his girlfriend from university, passing him on the up escalator. Except that she died five years ago and I knew Find Me wasn’t a ghost story. A former girlfriend of mine days died a few years after we went out together at Cambridge University. Later, I thought I saw her on a station platform. I knew, of course, that it wasn’t her, but it set me thinking. What if?
In terms of reading, do you normally go for books of the same genre that you write or other genres instead?
When I’m writing a thriller, I tend to steer clear of other thrillers and read from completely different genres. I recently read and hugely enjoyed A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride (an extraordinarily original voice), and Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson, who does all sorts of clever things with the narrative. Psychological thrillers I’ve enjoyed include The Girl on The Train and, of course, Gone Girl. And I really liked Clare Macintosh’s I Let You Go.

What would your writing day look like?
I aim to write 1,000 new words a day. I begin by editing the previous day’s efforts and usually delete up to a quarter of what I’ve written. Early mornings are great if I’m on a roll. I have three teenage children so the house is quiet before breakfast. In winter, I load up the wood-burning stove, put on Radio 3 and write from 5am to 7am, before making the porridge for everyone’s breakfast. In the summer, I’ll do the same if it’s warm enough, but sit outside and write, under the apple tree. The worst time of day for me is just after lunch, when I’m feeling very sleepy. I really should just be honest with myself and give in to a half hour siesta. Sometimes I do, but I’ve yet to avoid the guilt.

If you could describe your writing style in three words, what would they be?
Pace, poise, rounded.

 Thank you so much for being on 23 Review Street, I can’t wait to read what you write next!
Thank you – it’s been a real pleasure.

Another day, another book, 
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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Review of The Bad Boys Gift by Sara Daniel

The Bad Boys Gift
By Sara Daniel
Publication Date: 29th March 2016
Publisher: Amazon Kindle
Pages: 72
Genre: Romance, Fiction, Contemporary 
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley

His gift is the only thing left from the love they shared…and she plans to sell it.Former bad boy, now famous artist, Zane DeMonde laughs off an engraved invitation to return to Regret Hollow, the same town that booted him out fifteen years ago. When he discovers the woman who once broke his heart is putting his professional reputation at risk by selling his old paintings, he’s no longer laughing. He’ll do anything to stop her, even return to town … even put his heart in jeopardy again.High school art teacher Julianne Truman's last chance to save her beloved art department from budget cuts is to sell the old artwork Zane gifted her. Her heart breaks to remove the final traces of him from her life, but she needs to finally move on from the love she never got over.Julianne’s life belongs to her students, and Zane’s only goal is to protect his art. But the moment they wrap their arms around each other, their old attraction flares to life hot enough to incinerate them and their best intentions. 

My Review 
Julianne Truman loves and is dedicated to her job as a high school art's teacher but with funding issues and life, it seems like her job has a time limit on it. Living the same town where she grew up, has not made her life easy, in some ways it has made it harder as she still has the memories every time she sees something that reminds her of him. 
Zane DeMonde had his heart broken when he was younger and has promised himself that it will never happen to him again. Moving away and making something of himself, he pushed all that heartache and pain in his art, making him one of the best artist around. So when he finds out that, Julianne is selling the art work he gave her years ago, he decides that he will do anything to make sure she don't sell it. 
Being back in his hometown Zane is unprepared for the feelings he once had to come rushing back to him, Julianne knows that what happened years ago was something that has haunted her everyday since it has happened. Coming face to face with each other, it is clear that no matter how much time passes sometimes love conquers all, no matter what but first it has to get off its high horse to see what is in front of them before it is too late. 
The Bad Boys Gift is a story about love and dreams, how can you follow your dreams but also find or keep love in the process. The characters are beautifully written and I was amazed by the detail that went into the art descriptions in the story, I would recommend this book to anyone who has a soft spot for art or someone who loves a book about finding what has always been in front of you all along. 
Three Words
Romantic, Brilliant and Inspirational. 
My Rating

Another day, another book, 
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Friday, 17 February 2017

Cover Reveal: The Second Chance Tea Shop

I am so thrilled to reveal the cover of 'The Second Chance Tea Shop'.
 As soon as Aria Fiction asked I jumped at the chance. The book is released on the 1st April 2017 in eBook format. 
The thing that attracted my attention first was the name, I always love books linked to tea shops and then when I saw the cover for the first time I fell in love with it instantly. The colours, the design and the gorgeous tea shop on the front makes me want to jump in the pages of the book. 

About the book
Second chances, new loves and scrumptious cakes, in this heart-warming novel. Perfect for all fans of Fern Britton, Katie Fforde and Cathy Bramley.
Folllowing the tragic death of her beloved husband, Anna Hemingway decides it's time for a fresh start. So Anna and her three-year-old daughter Ellie, move to a picture-perfect cottage in the beautiful village of Little Somerby, and when she takes over the running of the village tea shop, Ellie and Anna start to find happiness again.
But things get complicated when Matthew Carter, the owner of the local cider farm, enters their lives. Throughout a whirlwind year of village fetes and ancient wassails, love, laughter, apple pie and new memories, life slowly blossoms again. But when tragedy strikes and history seems to be repeating itself, Anna must find the strength to hold onto to the new life she has built.
This beautiful, life-affirming debut novel marks the beginning of the Little Somerby series, and promises to make you smile, cry, reach for a cream tea, and long for a life in the perfect English countryside.

Links to pre-order:
Google Play: http://bit.ly/2ly3YQC

Fay Keenan
Fay Keenan was born in Surrey and raised in Hampshire, before finally settling back in the West Country. When Fay is not chasing her children around or writing, she teaches English at a local secondary school. She lives with her husband of fourteen years, two daughters, a cat, two chickens and a Weimaraner called Bertie in a village in Somerset, which may or may not have provided the inspiration for Little Somerby.

Follow Fay:
Twitter: @faykeenan
Facebook: @faykeenanauthor

Another day, another book, 
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Monday, 6 February 2017

Templeton Cove Promo

Welcome to Templeton Cove…

It’s great to be here today and have the chance to tell your lovely visitors a little bit about my fictional UK seaside town of Templeton Cove.

It has always been a dream of mine to write a series of books set in the same small town…due to my obsession with many Nora Roberts series, Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor series and Robyn Carr’s Virgin River series. All of these books influenced my love of small town romances and the dream of creating a huge cast of characters.

The debut book in the Templeton Cove series is Finding Justice. When my agent submitted this book to Harlequin, I was already writing book two, A Man Like Him, with the hope both books would be the start of a series. These books were soon contracted…you can imagine my hysteria when Harlequin offered me a contract for a further three (What Belongs To Her & Christmas At The Cove and Her Hometown Redemption) and then, a year later, another three (Saved By The Firefighter, Ethan’s Daughter (out Aug 2017) and an eight book which I am busy writing as we speak!

All the books can be read stand-alone and are a mix of mainstream romance and romantic suspense stories. I have some main recurring characters that pop up in, if not all, then certainly some of the books. The most popular of these characters for both my readers and I is the town’s matriarch, Marian Cohen. She’s feisty, fun and has a heart big enough to hold the whole world – she’s the oracle, the person all the young hero and heroines and secondary characters go to when they need help, comfort or advice. She is a joy to write every time!

The more Templeton Cove books I release, the more people seem to enjoy them. I love the Cove and its residents so much, I’m not entirely sure when I will ever consider the series finished but, for now, I’m just enjoying the ride J

If you like small-town romance, with a cast of quirky, fun and sentimental characters with lots of laughter, tears, suspense and adventure, I’d love you to give Templeton Cove a try!

Templeton Cove Trailer…

To buy any of Rachel’s books, please feel free to visit her websites for links and further novels…

Twitter: @rachelbrimble

Another day, another book, 
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Thursday, 2 February 2017

Blog Tour - Secrets We Keep by Faith Hogan

Secrets We Keep
By Faith Hogan
Publication Date: 1st February 2017
Publisher: Aria Fiction
Pages: 312
Genre: Drama, Fiction, Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher/ Netgalley

Amazon UK / Amazon US

Two distant relatives, drawn together in companionship are forced to confront their pasts and learn that some people are good at keeping secrets and some secrets are never meant to be kept. A bittersweet story of love, loss and life. 
Perfect for the fans of Patricia Scanlon and Adele Parks. The beautiful old Bath House in Ballytokeep has lain empty and abandoned for decades. For devoted pensioners Archie and Iris, it holds too many conflicting memories of their adolescent dalliances and tragic consequences - sometimes it's better to leave the past where it belongs.
For highflying, top London divorce lawyer Kate Hunt, it's a fresh start - maybe even her future. On a winter visit to see her estranged Aunt Iris she falls in love with the Bath House. Inspired, she moves to Ballytokeep leaving her past heartache 600 miles away - but can you ever escape your past or your destiny? 
Two distant relatives, drawn together in companionship are forced to confront their pasts and learn that some people are good at keeping secrets and some secrets are never meant to be kept. 
My Review 

When I was asked to be part of the blog tour for Faith's new book, I was so excited having loved her first book with Aria Fiction, this book is just as brilliant as the first one I read. Before I get into my review, I just want to draw attention to the front cover of the book, it is so beautifully done. With the colours and design it is one of the most stunning covers I have even seen. 
Ok, so now on to my review! From the start of the book, I felt for Kate her life seems to be falling apart so when she has the chance to leave that life behind she jumps at the first opportunity. Meeting her Aunt Iris, she doesn't know what to make of the situation especially as they have never met and now at a funeral, it give Kate a different outlook on life and makes her think long and hard about the future. Living in a new place gives Kate the space and freedom she needs but there is always that small part of her that will always be back in her old life. 
Taking on the project that is Bath-House, Kate tries to bring new life into the old features, her life hasn't been the best lately so having something to focus on shows her what life has to show. Making new friends makes Kate feel that this was the right choice, if only she can find a way to forget her past relationship and finally fall in love again knowing that this time it will work.
I loved the small town setting, it makes it more close-knit and being in such a lovely destination in Ireland the story thrives. I loved how the story shows the different love stories, not everyone has the same and reading about each and everyone makes you realise how hard being in love and falling in love with someone is, either because of the timing or because something is standing in their way. 
Secrets We Keep is a beautifully written story about the secrets we keep and the people who keep them from us. It is truly heartwarming to read and I can't wait to read what Faith comes up with next!

Three Words
Heartwarming, Hopeful and Amazing. 

My Rating

Another day, another book, 
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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Blog Tour - Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams by Mary Gibson

Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams
By Mary Gibson
Publication Date: 12th January 2017
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Pages: 426
Genre: Historical, Drama, Fiction
Format: Hardback
Source: Publisher

Amazon UK / Amazon US

Frank Rossi promised Matty the world. The Cockney Canary would become a world famous movie star. As his wife, she would be one half of a power couple, feted and adored by all.
But the Wall Street crash puts paid to that and as Frank becomes more violent and unstable, Matty knows she must escape and so she flees at dead of night.Once home in Bermondsey, she goes into hiding and starts desperately looking for work. But only the hated biscuit factory, Peek Frean's, is hiring. 
Then, as a secret from her past comes back to hurt her, Matty learns that Frank is on the move, determined to find her and get her back.
My Review 

Matty Gilbie has a heart and soul for singing, so much so people dubbed her as 'The Cockney Canary' life was going good, especially when she got a big chance to go to America although that is where things started to go wrong for her. Frank Rossi would be anyone's dream man on the outside, then again that is until you know him. As when you know him, you will want to run in the opposite direction, which is what Matty does. 
Arriving back in her hometown of Bermondsey, she is broken and a shell of herself, unsure of herself and what people will think of her now that she is back. Hiding away in one of her safe haven's she has time to think and recover from the events that transpired. Seeing her family again is just what she need and she soon starts to feel a bit better, but is still looking over her shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop. 
Wanting to put her life back together, Matty knows she is going to have to take any job that pays a decent wage, as she is going to have to pay Frank money so that he will stay out of her life for good. Singing is mostly all she knows but as people haven't got money and not willing to pay money to see someone perform when they need to feed themselves, Matty decides that maybe she needs to think of a more long term option. 
The start of the the book shatters your heart when you realise what Matty has been through but as I read on, I felt more and more that she went from strength to strength. Not all of her story is happy, but she seems to take the heartache and puts it towards making something of herself so she can finally be free of her past and focus on her future. 
I would have to say my favourite character would be Nellie, I love her take no crap type of attitude. She is good not just for Sam but for the whole family, she is the glue that keeps the family together as they go through some big changes and some devastating news that affects everyone in the Gilbie family. 
Bourbon Creams and Tattered Dreams (Love the name!) is a heartfelt story about following your dreams, giving it your all and what happens when it all comes apart. I couldn't recommend this book enough, to me it is beautifully written and told throughout the book, making me wish that it would never end. 

Three Words
Amazing, Heartfelt and Moving. 

My Rating


No Place Like Home

 June–July 1930
 Matty was nervous. She dreaded her brother Sam’s disappointment more than anything. She suspected he would see through the charade of her success where Eliza had not. She’d never worried about disappointing her sister. ‘Are you coming with me to Sam’s?’ Matty asked her the following day, hoping she would say yes. Eliza’s presence might at least deflect some of Sam’s questions. ‘I wouldn’t miss the look on his face when he sees you!’ Eliza replied. ‘He shouldn’t be surprised – I sent a telegram saying I’d be there this afternoon.’ ‘Not surprised. I meant he’ll be so pleased. He’s missed you, Matty.’ But Matty didn’t have to be told that. He’d never wanted her to go to America, but her brother’s letters had been regular and affectionate. 
Now she was regretting that her replies had been so infrequent. She told herself there’d been good reasons: first she’d been taken up with work, and later she simply couldn’t bear to fill her letters with lies about her life with Frank. But Sam had deserved better from her. They walked to Sam’s and on the way Matty was assaulted by her past, the myriad smells of Bermondsey conjuring up her life with Sam and Nellie in Vauban Street and her stint as a factory girl. How could she have forgotten the overpowering scent of strawberries wafting from Lipton’s jam factory or the sickly vanilla of Pearce Duff’s custard? 
Matty glanced up at a row of tall windows. ‘God, look at that custard powder still on the sills, Eliza! I swear it’s four inches deeper than when I was last here… I don’t know how Nellie stands it.’ ‘Oh, Nellie’s not on the factory floor any more, didn’t you know? She’s cleaning the offices now – part-time. It’s easier with the boys.’ Matty felt guilty that she didn’t know this small but important detail about Nellie’s work. Once their lives had been as intertwined as mother and daughter. She should have known. But achieving her own heart’s desire had resulted in casualties. Going to America had meant walking away from her friends, her family, and abandoning Tom, the man who’d wanted to marry her. 
Not for the first time, she rued the day she’d ever persuaded herself to leave. Yet she knew she could have done nothing else. ‘Ah, home sweet home! Can’t beat that old boneyard smell, can you!’ Matty took an exaggerated breath of the smells from Young’s glue factory. Its two tall brick chimneys loomed up at the end of Vauban Street. They belched smoke that billowed between the rows of crumbling terraced houses. She was only partly joking, for in spite of the smells and dirt from the surrounding factories it had been a sweet home that Nellie Clark had made for her and her brother Charlie after their mother died. 
Eliza pointed up to a huge hoarding on the side wall of a grocer’s shop on the corner. A man on a ladder was in the process of removing the old poster in readiness to put up a new one. Although half of it had already been scraped away, Matty recognized it immediately. ‘Oh dear God, I don’t believe it!’ Matty tipped back her head. There was her own face, looking back at her, sad and haunted, haloed in the glow from a gas lamp, against a backdrop of a foggy London scene. In the other corner a villainous-looking man with a long chin and slicked-back hair looked at her lasciviously. 
Hear the Cockney Canary Sing! was emblazoned over the top of the film title London Affair. ‘Well, I’m glad you got to see it,’ Eliza said. ‘It’s been up there for months. The boys have been so proud. When they showed the film here the queue went all the way round the Star and back up almost to Dockhead!’ Matty clapped her hands in involuntary delight. ‘Oh, I wish I could have seen that, Eliza! It would have meant more to me than any New York showing.’ And suddenly she was surrounded by a crowd of excited children. 
‘That’s my aunt! She’s famous, she’s American!’ She heard her nine-year-old nephew, Billy, before she saw him, running towards her, followed by his two younger brothers. She was glad she’d defied the smutty air of Bermondsey and worn her pale pink, shawl-collared coat, with matching kid gloves and shoes. The outfit might be more fitting to the sun-washed streets of Los Angeles, but she drew herself up, ready to be Matty on the stage, just for Billy.
 A woman poked her head out of the nearest window to see what all the commotion was about and soon neighbours were standing at their doors. ‘Giss a song, Matty!’ a young fellow trundling a handcart full of vegetables from the greengrocer on the corner called out to her. She laughed and caught up a cabbage, holding it in front of her, like a bouquet, then did a twirl to show off her costume and sang a snatch of ‘Why am I always the bridesmaid, never the blushing bride?’ which elicited a cheer from the little crowd. Billy dragged her to the nearest open front door and into the beloved old house.
 ‘I’ve a good mind to tan your hide, Matty Gilbie, how was I meant to put on a spread with one day’s notice!’ Nellie pulled her into a strong embrace. Her boys, Billy, Sammy and Albie, were ranged for inspection, neat in grey shorts and white shirts. Poor Nellie must have had a morning of it trying to keep them clean and off the street. 
They broke ranks and gathered round as Matty dug into her bag, drawing out her gifts, model cars that brought cries of joyful recognition. ‘A Cadillac, a Bugatti, a Chrysler!’ ‘Come on now, boys, give Auntie Matty a bit of room.’ Albie, the youngest, threatened to be swallowed up in the depths of her bag, looking for more, and Nellie pulled him out. ‘Sorry, Matty, they’re just over-excited. We all are.’ Nellie showed her to the kitchen table, which in spite of the short notice, she’d managed to load with sandwiches and cake and trifle – no doubt courtesy of Pearce Duff’s jelly and custard departments. 
‘Where’s Sam?’ Matty asked, puzzled that her brother hadn’t rushed to greet her with the rest of the family. ‘Oh, I think he’s just having a smoke in the backyard, I’ll go and get him.’ She saw a look pass between Nellie and Eliza and immediately felt excluded from an inner circle that she’d once taken for granted. ‘No, I’ll go,’ she said, and slipped past Nellie into the backyard. Her brother was standing with his back to her, a cigarette held between finger and thumb. She doubted that he hadn’t heard the commotion of her arrival. 
‘Sam?’ He took a long drag on the cigarette and for a moment she thought he wasn’t going to turn round. Then he faced her. His weather-bronzed face looked older and there was more grey in his dark hair, but it was his dark eyes that she searched for the signs of forgiveness. ‘Hello, stranger,’ he said, flicking the cigarette to the ground. How could Eliza have pretended he would be pleased to see her? He didn’t seem pleased at all. Then she ran to him and flung her arms around his neck. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t write much!’ she blurted out, refusing to let go as he tried to unpeel her arms. ‘Well, it’s like Mum used to say, I suppose, “out of sight, out of mind”.’ Now she was sure she’d hurt him. ‘Never out of mind, Sam.’ He shrugged. ‘Nellie’s had to rush round getting a tea together.’ She couldn’t bear this coolness from her once adoring brother.
 If he knew, she told herself, why there had been no notice, why there had been so few letters, he wouldn’t be so hard. But they were the last excuses she would use to defend herself. ‘I’ve not had an easy time of it lately. I just needed to get home.’ At the sight of her tears, Sam’s eyes softened and she felt strong arms enfold her. 
‘Well, I’m happy our little canary’s come back to us,’ he whispered into her hair. And when he used the phrase, it had nothing to do with the six-foot poster at the end of the street. It was just her old family nickname, earned when she’d sung from morning till night just because it was as natural to her as breathing. After tea the boys were allowed out into the streets with their cars and as Nellie cleared the tea things, Matty offered to help wash up. ‘No, you won’t, you’re the guest of honour. Eliza will help me.’ 
Both Matty and Eliza knew when not to argue with Nellie and her sister followed meekly into the scullery, leaving Matty alone with Sam, who silently rolled another cigarette. She stood at the kitchen window, looking along the row of houses where roofs dipped at drunken angles and fences were rotting. She was still feeling a little awkward, even though she knew she’d been forgiven. Sam followed her gaze. ‘The council are talking about pulling the whole lot down and building flats here.’ He plucked strands of tobacco from the roll-up. 
‘Not a moment too soon, it’s driving poor Nellie up the wall. The place is crumbling with damp and the rats are coming in from the boneyard. We’re up half the night making sure they don’t go on the boys’ beds.’ ‘Oh, Sam, I didn’t know it had got that bad. But where will you go?’ ‘We’re down for a council flat, in The Grange – you know, by the leather factories. Just hope they finish building them soon.’ Matty felt a familiar guilt. 
She had planned to come back a rich woman, able to buy Sam and his family a semi in a nice suburb rather than a council flat opposite some of the smelliest factories in Bermondsey. ‘I wish I could do more,’ she said lamely and saw Sam bristle. ‘My family’s not your responsibility, Matty. Besides, the new job at the Bricklayer’s Arms pays better money than I’ve had all me life.’ Sam drove a horse and cart, working out of the huge railway depot up by Old Kent Road; it had been a step up from working for Wicks, the local carter, and the extra wages would at least mean he could afford the rent on the new council flat. 
‘You’ve done enough for me, Sam, over the years.’ She went and sat on the arm of his chair, draping her arm round his shoulders as he smoked silently for a while. ‘I’ve only ever been glad for your success, duck. I’m sorry about before. You mustn’t feel you owe us anything.’ It was going to be now or never; she just had to be brave. ‘Sam, I’ve got something to tell you.’ ‘What’s that?’ He put out his cigarette between his finger and thumb, saving some for later, and looked at her expectantly. ‘I’m thinking of making it a longer stay, perhaps try to get a run in the West End, what do you think?’ Eliza and Nellie came back just in time to overhear her question.
 ‘Ah, I knew there was something!’ Eliza declared, smiling triumphantly first at Sam then at Nellie. ‘She’s been homesick. I feared as much. But, Matty – a London show? What would happen to your screen career – aren’t these things all a matter of timing?’ Matty would rather have explained things to Sam first, but now she went on. ‘I can’t pretend I haven’t been homesick. I’ve missed you all, and I’ve missed the London stage, my home crowd… you know.’ 
Matty could normally hold a smile for hours, but unaccountably she felt her lower lip tremble. Suddenly Eliza leaned forward and took her hand. ‘Rubbish, of course you’ve been homesick, Matty. And God knows I wouldn’t blame you. When I was in Melbourne with Ernest I used to walk by the river and pretend it was the Thames! There’s no shame in that.’ Had Eliza seen shame on her face then? There seemed little point in trying to deflect her.
 ‘Well, yes… but it’s not only homesickness,’ she said. ‘If you’re not happy in America, you don’t have to stay there, duck,’ Sam said matter-of-factly. ‘God knows, we’d be happy enough if you come home. Besides, don’t they make talkies in England too? But I suppose Mr Rossi would have something to say about it.’ ‘Oh, I don’t take orders from Frank!’ Matty declared, perhaps a little too strongly. ‘No, of course not – nor from anyone else!’ Sam raised his eyes and they all laughed. ‘But it’s not been so easy financing the new film, since the Crash that is.
 There’s been a bit of a hiccup… I thought I’d make the most of it, see my family, you know.’ Matty felt she was stumbling. ‘Talking of Mr Rossi,’ Eliza interrupted with a knowing smile. ‘He’s been a great friend to your career – but is it a little more than a business partnership between you two?’ Matty felt a flush rising and was glad of the pale face powder she’d dusted herself with so liberally. She dipped her head to her handbag, feeling around for her cigarettes.
 ‘Leave her alone, Eliza, you’re making our Matty blush.’ Nellie tried to come to her rescue and Matty shot her a grateful look, but Eliza would not be put off. ‘I saw the photograph you sent Sam and Nellie of you two in his beautiful car, where was it? Los Angeles? He’s very handsome, Matty.’ Matty smiled as if Eliza had caught her out. Yes, Frank was handsome. She hadn’t been able to take her eyes off him that first day they’d met, when he came backstage at the New York  Hippodrome. Hair black as a raven’s wing, swept back from his forehead, brown eyes fringed with dark lashes, long as a girl’s, and teeth like sharp pearls, flashing a smile as warm as the Italian sun he’d been born under. 
Oh, he was handsome all right, and Matty, to her intense annoyance, had felt the power of his charm pierce her normal defences with ease. ‘All right, if you must know, it is more… or rather, it was for a while.’ She shrugged her shoulders and flicked a tube of white ash into the fire grate. ‘It just… didn’t work out.’ Eliza, never one to ignore an awkward silence, plunged on. 
‘Are you very upset about it?’ ‘Upset? No! Not at all.’ And that part at least was true. That evening Matty called in at the Star to see the manager, Bernie, for old time’s sake. These days it was primarily a cinema, but they still staged variety shows and a weekly talent contest when young hopefuls such as she’d once been could try their luck. 
She stood before the front steps, looking up at the old building which was dominated by huge film billboards. She was sad to see the old ‘Lardy’, as it had been known in her day, was no longer looking so ‘la-di-dah’. Bernie had let the place go and she thought it looked a bit of a fleapit. She pushed through one of the front doors. ‘Is Bernie in?’ she asked a young woman who was clearing up after the afternoon’s tupenny rush. The girl looked up and blushed, recognition dawning on her face. ‘I’ll get him for you, Miss Gilbie.’ 
She hurried away and while she was waiting Matty poked her head into the cinema. If she needed any convincing that the glory days of the old music hall were numbered, this was it. The carpet was still littered with the detritus of the tupenny rush, and a young boy was going along the rows collecting empty bottles of pop and sweeping up peanut shells. The ironwork was rusting on the ornate horseshoe-shaped balconies and great chunks of ornamental plaster were missing from the ceiling. That much hadn’t changed – the plaster had been crumbling for years – and she searched out above the stage the very patch which had fallen during one of her performances and nearly killed her. She seemed to hear the echo of her former self ringing around the place. 
All those rousing patriotic songs, God forgive her, she’d sung on that stage during the war. How many young men had been inspired by those to take themselves off to the battlefields of France? She shuddered, then turned at the sound of Bernie’s voice. ‘Matty, you’re a sight for sore eyes! Come here, beautiful.’ Bernie gave her a loud kiss and laughed. ‘What you slumming it down the old Lardy for? You should be in Hollywood making yer next talkie!’ 
He beckoned her out and she followed him to his tiny office. The walls were plastered with old programmes and posters proclaiming the luminaries who’d graced the Star’s stage over the years: Marie Lloyd and Vesta Tilley, Dan Leno and Charlie Chaplin – she doubted he’d ever be popping in to see Bernie again. And of course, she was up there too – the Cockney Canary. Bernie poured her a gin and fixed her with his professional eye. It was Bernie she had to thank for her first singing job – last on the bill a couple of nights a week during the war, and although the Star was now past its prime Bernie still knew the business inside out. 
‘Between you and me, Matty, and it won’t go no further, I heard about yer bit of trouble.’ Matty froze. How much did he know? Nobody knew all of it, not even Esme. She took a gulp of gin and leaned back against the torn leather chair. Keeping her face expressionless, she waited for Bernie to carry on. ‘I heard Mr Rossi’s been finding it hard – getting you a backer for that new talkie. Not surprising the way things are over there.
 Is that why you’ve come back? Drumming up a bit of homegrown support?’ Matty let out a silent breath. If this was all Bernie knew, then she had nothing to fear. She’d brought home with her secrets far more dangerous than a failing career. 
‘Times are hard, Bernie. To be honest I’m looking forward to having a break from the acting, getting back to singing while Frank’s doing all the financial stuff.’ Bernie nodded his head. ‘Esme’s been on the blower. I told her these days we only have a show once a month… the Lardy’s not what it used to be.’ He flung his arm wide, taking in all the past stars in its firmament.
 ‘But we’d love to have the Cockney Canary back… if you’re sure it’s worth your while?’ He fixed her with an appraising eye. Where was her star? He seemed to be asking himself. Was she still in the ascendant, or was she even now dipping low in the night sky, soon to disappear forever? Perhaps she might have to disappear one day. 
If Frank came looking, he’d only have to scan the show bills to find her. But for now she needed money and the down-at-heel old Star, tucked away in the maze of Bermondsey’s streets, was the least risky place she could earn it. Besides, the possibility of singing again had been the first thing to lift her heart since she arrived back in England. If she had to give up singing, then she might as well give up breathing.
 ‘For old time’s sake!’ She smiled and lifted her glass. ‘To the good old days!’ Bernie lifted his own and she noticed his shirt cuff was frayed. Times were hard for all of them it seemed. As she left Bernie, with a firm booking for top billing at the next variety show, she reflected on the ‘little bit of trouble’ Bernie had referred to. She was relieved he only knew the half of it, but she’d been surprised that particular piece of showbiz news had made its way across the Atlantic already. 
Her first talkie had given her minor fame, but she’d known for a long time that a second would never be made. The Cockney Canary’s flight had in some ways been cut short by the flights of others. They’d called them ‘the flyers’, the ruined men who couldn’t face life after the Wall Street Crash last year. She’d seen one with her own eyes, casting himself from the skyscraper on to the merciless wind. Matty had looked up, following Frank’s excited, pointing finger. She wasn’t worried for the man, caught like a disjointed puppet on a whirling eddy. That ridiculous optimistic streak of hers had made her certain that he could fall hundreds of feet and at the last minute be jolted back from death by the invisible wire. 
Her years in the theatre had taught her that a flyer always had a harness and a wire; she’d flown with one herself, that year she’d played Peter Pan at the Alhambra. But instead the poor man had exploded on to the sidewalk like a ripe watermelon and Frank had to hustle her away into the nearest speakeasy, plying her with bourbon till the trembling gave way to a shocked numbness. She couldn’t know how in that moment her own fortunes had already turned, diving with the flyers whose ruined fortunes would leech money from backers of Broadway shows and talkies alike. Matty’s show at the Star sold out in days. 
Her Bermondsey fans filled the balconies and she gave them her trademark selection of music hall favourites and new jazz songs. Her versatility had been part of her success; she could sing anything. She was pure and bright with ‘Silver Lining’, smoky and sultry with ‘Am I Blue?’ Then she made sure to make them laugh with her native cockney version of ‘Don’t Have Any More Missus More’. It felt good to be back here, in the place where she’d started. It reminded her of an earlier, simpler self, when all she needed to do was follow her desire to sing. 
She felt all the scattered parts of herself returning and as she sang, she felt the weight of her grief begin to lighten. She was aware of Sam and Nellie and the rest of the family sitting in the front row, but in her imagination she placed another two in the audience: her mother, Lizzie, and her father, Michael Gilbie, who had died when she was only eight. They would stand her in their little kitchen when she was small, teaching her to sing from the stomach, indulging her fanciful ‘shows’ and praising her efforts so that she knew she could only ever be a success. 
Whatever stage she was on, in New York or London, it was always to them that she sang, and tonight was no different. The applause was so thunderous she thought the balconies might collapse along with a bit more of the ceiling plaster. After the show well-wishers called backstage, where Bernie had put on a party for her. 
‘They gave you a good old Bermondsey welcome, didn’t they?’ Will James plucked two drinks from a side table and offered her one. Tonight he was dressed in a sharp evening suit and looked nothing like a docker. Matty felt the collar. ‘Nice whistle, you wearing that for the next rally to Hyde Park?’ ‘Very funny, I’m just making an effort for you! But I bet all this must seem small beer after those glamorous Hollywood parties?’ Matty shook her head. ‘This is the best audience in the world!’ Eliza had overheard them. ‘She’s in no hurry to rush back to America, are you, Matty?’ And Matty smiled, perhaps a little too fixedly, for Eliza drew her to one side. 
‘Is everything all right, Matty? If you’re tired we can leave. Sam and Nellie need to get back for the boys anyway.’ Matty nodded. ‘I’m ready to go.’ She was tired, but she was also worried. Esme had been unable to get her any more bookings. The Star once a month and the occasional appearance at the South London Palace wouldn’t keep the wolf from the door. Esme had promised to try the provinces for her. But Matty knew her tiredness was mostly the result of keeping up the charade. She had never been good at keeping secrets, and now she felt weighed down by layers of them.
 Will walked them as far as Reverdy Road, but the night was still young for him and he stopped on the doorstep. ‘Actually the “whistle” wasn’t just for you.’ He smoothed down the well-cut jacket. ‘I’m off to a little club in Soho and you’d be surprised how many well-heeled young men will cough up for International Red Aid, especially if the person asking is wearing a decent suit!’ 
He winked at Matty, who found herself relieved he wasn’t coming home with them. Grateful for time alone with Eliza, she’d learned that her sister could be a wise confidante. Perhaps it was time to be more truthful. Who knew, she might be able to help? They sat in the parlour with sherries, which Eliza had insisted they end the evening with.
 ‘It’s a triumphant return – you can’t go to bed on a cup of tea, Matty!’ Matty gave a tired smile and heaved a deep sigh. ‘Eliza, the truth is, it’s not a triumphant return at all. I’ve not been straight with you,’ she said in a rush. ‘And my career’s not going well, it’s going badly – has been since the Crash.’ She let out a breath. It was a relief to finally tell even that much of the truth, but she felt a blush rise to her cheeks as Eliza stared at her doubtfully.
 ‘Not going well? How can that be, Matty? Didn’t you see that poster in Vauban Street they were taking down? And look at tonight! They love you here, they loved you on Broadway, and what about Mr Rossi – he’s getting you into another talkie, isn’t he?’ ‘Well, he did have plenty of ideas about my fabulous screen career. But, Eliza, he never counted on the Crash. The money ran out.’ ‘But your Broadway show was a big hit. Surely they’d want you for another one.’ Matty raised her eyes and cocked her head to one side, in what she hoped was a plucky-looking gesture. 
‘Truth is the show closed a few weeks after the Crash and there’s no backer for a new one.’ ‘Oh, Matty, I’m so sorry, my dear. You’ve had all this worry and you never said a word to us.’ ‘You couldn’t have helped me, Eliza. Not unless you’ve got any advice on how to revive a failing music hall career. If you have I’d be all ears!’ And she pulled at her lobes in a stage gesture which didn’t have her sister fooled for an instant. ‘Matty, dear.’ She put her arm round her. ‘If they don’t want you over there, you must just come back home, everyone loves you here.’ 
And she looked down with eyes full of an unaccountable love, which had always surprised Matty and sometimes puzzled her, since she’d done nothing at all to deserve it. For an instant she let herself lean against her sister, pretending that this was the extent of her problems, that all she had to do was pick up where she’d left off three years ago. 
As if the world was still bounded only by the West End and the Old Kent Road and she’d never heard of Frank Rossi, nor any of his plans for her great screen career. ‘It’s not as simple as that, Eliza.’ ‘Actually, it is, Matty. The simplest thing is always to go where you are loved, and leave where you are not.’ It made Matty cry to hear this, after her months of feeling so alone with her secret loss, and she wished she could tell Eliza the whole truth. 
But instead with her finger she traced an old scar on the inside of her wrist. It looked like a wild strawberry, but was nothing so sweet; it was the trace of a cigarette burn earned for questioning one of Frank’s business choices. ‘My agent’s having trouble getting me bookings. I’m a bit worried about funds.’ Eliza looked shocked. ‘I put my own money into the new film…’ Matty explained. ‘Ohh, I see. And has that taken up all your savings?’ Matty nodded. ‘But things will get better, Matty, and until then you’ll always have a home here and you’re not to worry about money, do you hear me?’ Matty grasped Eliza’s hand.
 ‘You’ve always been so good to me, Eliza, not that I’ve deserved it. I know I used to be such an ungrateful little cow, but you’ve been the best of sisters.’ Eliza held on to her hand and Matty saw her eyes pool. ‘That means the world to me, Matty.’ Eliza closed her eyes and a spasm passed briefly across her face as she was caught by a coughing fit that left her breathless and unable to speak. She put a hand to her side, trying to cushion the effect of the coughing. 
 ‘Liza?’ Matty asked, alarmed to see her in pain. But then her sister opened her eyes and smiled. ‘Those old seats at the Star have wreaked havoc with my back muscles. Let’s go to bed, and remember what I said, this is your home now and it always will be.’ She got up and put her arm round Eliza. ‘I don’t deserve you,’ she said, and together they walked slowly upstairs, Matty’s heart feeling lighter for having shed at least one of her secrets.

Another day, another book, 
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