Extract – The Secret mother by Shalini Boland

its my great good fortune to share an excerpt from Shalini Bolands the secret mother – published by Bookouture. I’m very much looking forward to this release, and will be posting my review as part of the blog tour

 

THE SECRET MOTHER
 

Excerpt

THE SECRET MOTHER 

By

Shalini Boland

 

Chapter One

The street lamps flicker, illuminating the grey pavement mottled with patches of dirty snow and slick black ice. Slushy puddles hug the kerb, cringing away from the hissing, splashing car tyres. It takes all my concentration to keep my balance. My hands would be warmer if I jammed them into my coat pockets, but I need them free to steady myself on walls, fences, tree trunks, lamp posts. I don’t want to fall. And yet would it really be so terrible if I slipped on the ice? Wet jeans, a bruised bum. Not the end of the world. There are worse things. Far worse things.

It’s Sunday: the last exhale of the week. That uncomfortable pause before Monday, when it all starts up again – this lonely pretence at life. Sunday has become a black dot on the horizon for me, growing larger each day. I’m relieved now it’s almost over and yet I’m already anticipating the next one. The day when I visit the cemetery and stand above their graves, staring at the grass and stone, talking to them both, wondering if they hear my inane chatter or if I’m simply talking into the empty wind. In burning sunlight, pouring rain, sub-zero temperatures or thick fog I stand there. Every week. I’ve never missed a Sunday yet.

Sleet spatters my face. Icy needles that make me blink and gasp. Finally, I turn off the high street into my narrow road, where it’s more sheltered and the wind less violent. A rainbow assortment of overflowing bins lines my route, waiting for collection tomorrow at some ungodly pre-dawn hour. I turn my face away from the windows where Christmas tree lights wink and blink, reminding me of happier Christmases. Before.

Almost home.

My little north London terraced house sits halfway along the road. Pushing open the rusted gate, I turn my face away from the neglected front garden with its discarded sweet wrappers and crisp packets blown in from the street, now wedged among long tussocks of grass and overgrown bushes. I thrust my frozen fingers into my bag until they finally close around a jagged set of keys. I’m glad to be home, to get out of the cold, and yet my body sags when I open the door and step into the dark silence of the hall, feeling the hollow of their absence.

At least it’s warm in here. I shrug off my coat, kick off my boots, dump my bag on the hall table and switch on the light, avoiding my sad reflection in the hall mirror. A glass of wine would be welcome about now. I glance at my watch – only 5.20. No. I’ll be good and make a hot chocolate instead.

Strangely, the door to the kitchen is closed. This strikes me as odd, as I always leave it open. Perhaps a gust of wind slammed it shut when I came in. I trudge to the end of the hall and stop. Through a gap in the bottom of the door I see that the light is on. Someone’s in there. I catch my breath, feel the world slow down for a moment before it speeds back up. Could I have a burglar in my house? 

I cock my ear. A sound filters through. Humming. A child is humming a tune in my kitchen. But I don’t have a child. Not any more. 

Slowly I pull down the handle and push the door, my body tensing. I hardly dare breathe.

Here before me sits a little boy with dark hair, wearing pale blue jeans and a green cable-knit jumper. A little boy aged about five or six, perched on a chair at my kitchen counter, humming a familiar tune. Head down, he is intent on his drawing, colouring pencils spread out around an A4 sheet of paper. A navy raincoat hangs neatly over the back of the chair.

He looks up as I enter the room, his chocolate-brown eyes wide. We stare at one another for a moment.

‘Are you my mummy?’ the little boy asks.

I bite my bottom lip, feel the ground shift. I grasp the counter top to steady myself. ‘Hello,’ I say, my heart suddenly swelling. ‘Hello. And who might you be?’

‘You know. I’m Harry,’ he replies. ‘Do you like my picture?’ He holds the sheet out in front of him, showing me his drawing of a little boy and a woman standing next to a train. ‘It’s not finished. I haven’t had time to colour it in properly,’ he explains.

‘It’s lovely, Harry. Is that you standing next to the train?’

‘Yes.’ He nods. ‘It’s you and me. I drew it for you because you’re my mummy.’

Am I hallucinating? Have I finally gone crazy? This beautiful little boy is calling me his mummy. And yet I don’t know him. I’ve never seen him before in my life. I close my eyes tight and then open them again. He’s still there, looking less confident now. His hopeful smile has faltered, slipping into a frown. His eyes are now a little too bright. I know that look – it’s the one that precedes tears.

‘Hey, Harry,’ I say with false jollity. ‘So you like trains, huh?’

His smile returns. ‘Steam trains are the best. Better than diesels.’ He scrunches up his face in disgust and blinks.

‘Did you come here on the train? To my house?’

‘No. We came on the bus. I wish we did come on the train, the bus was really slow. And it made me feel a bit sick.’ He lays the sheet of paper back on the counter.

‘And who did you come with?’ I ask.

‘The angel.’

I think I must have misheard him. ‘Who?’

‘The angel brought me here. She told me that you’re my mummy.’

‘The angel?’

He nods.

I glance around, suddenly aware that Harry might not be the only stranger in my house. ‘Is she here now?’ I ask in a whisper. ‘Is there someone else here with you?’

‘No, she’s gone. She told me to do some drawing and you’d be here soon.’

I relax my shoulders, relieved that there’s no one else in my home. But it still doesn’t help me solve the problem of who this little boy is. ‘How did you get into the house?’ I ask, nervously wondering if I might find a smashed window somewhere.

‘Through the front door, silly,’ he replies with a smile, rolling his eyes.

Through the front door? Did I leave it open somehow? I’m sure I would never have done that. What’s going on here? I should call someone. The authorities. The police. Somebody will be looking for this child. They will be frantic with worry. ‘Would you like a hot chocolate, Harry?’ I ask, keeping my voice as calm as possible. ‘I was going to make one for myself, so—’

‘Do you make it with milk?’ he interrupts. ‘Or with hot water? It’s definitely nicer with milk.’ 

I suppress a smile. ‘I agree, Harry. I always make it with milk.’

‘Okay. Yes, please,’ he replies. ‘Hot chocolate would be lovely.’

My heart squeezes at his politeness.

‘Shall I carry on colouring in my picture,’ he says, ‘or shall I help you? Because I’m really good at stirring in the chocolate.’

‘Well, that’s lucky,’ I reply, ‘because I’m terrible at stirring in the chocolate, so it’s a good thing you’re here to help me.’

He grins and slides off the stool.

What am I doing? I need to call the police right now. This child is missing from somewhere. But, oh God, just give me ten minutes with this sweet little boy who believes I’m his mother. Just a few moments of make-believe and then I’ll do the right thing. I reach out to touch his head and immediately snatch my hand back. What am I thinking? This boy has to go back to his real mother; she must be paralysed with worry.

He smiles up at me again and my chest constricts.

‘Okay,’ I say, taking a breath and blinking back any threat of tears. ‘We’ll do the chocolate in a minute. I’m just going to make a quick phone call in the hall, okay?’

‘Oh, okay.’

‘Carry on with your drawing for a little while. I won’t be long.’

He climbs back up onto the stool and selects a dark green pencil before resuming his colouring with a look of serious concentration. I turn away and pad out to the hall, where I retrieve my phone from my bag. But instead of dialling the police, I call another number. It rings twice.

‘Tess.’ The voice at the other end of the line is clipped, wary.

‘Hi, Scott. I need you to come over.’

‘What? Now?’

‘Yes. Please, it’s important.’

‘Tessa, I’m knackered, and it’s hideous out there. I’ve just sat down with a cup of tea. Can’t it wait till tomorrow?’

‘No.’ Standing by the hall table, I glimpse Harry through the doorway, the curls of his fringe flopping over one eye. Am I dreaming him?

‘What’s the matter?’ Scott says this the way he always says it. What he really means is, What’s the matter now? Because there’s always something the matter. I’m his damaged wife, who’s always having some new drama or make-believe crisis. Only this time he’ll see it’s something real, it’s something not of my making.

‘I can’t tell you over the phone, it’s too weird. You have to come over, see for yourself.’

His sigh comes long and hard down the phone. ‘Give me twenty minutes, okay?’

‘Okay. Thanks, Scott. Get here as soon as you can.’ 

My heart pounds, trying to make sense of what’s happening. That little boy in there says an angel brought him. He says I’m his mummy. But he’s not mine. So where on earth did he come from?

I take a breath and go back into the kitchen. The air is warm, welcoming, cosy. Nothing like the usual sterile atmosphere in here.

‘Can we make hot chocolate now?’ Harry looks up with shining eyes.

‘Of course. I’ll get the mugs and the chocolate. You open that drawer over there and pass me the smallest pan you can find.’

He eagerly does as I ask.

‘Harry,’ I say. ‘Where are your parents, your mummy and daddy?’

He stares at the pans in the drawer.

‘Harry?’ I prompt.

‘They’re not here,’ he replies. ‘Is this one small enough?’ He lifts out a stainless-steel milk pan and waves it in my direction.

‘Perfect.’ I nod and take it from him. ‘Can you tell me where you live?’

No reply.

‘Did you run away from home? Are you lost?’

‘No.’

‘But where’s your house or flat? The place you live? Is it here in Friern Barnet? In London? Close to my house?’

He scowls and looks down at the flagstone floor.

‘Do you have a last name?’ I ask as gently as I can.

He looks up at me, his chin jutting out. ‘No.’

I try again, crouching down so I’m on his level. ‘Harry, darling, what’s your mummy’s name?’

‘You’re my new mummy. I have to stay here now.’ His bottom lip quivers.

‘Okay, sweetie. Don’t worry. Let’s just make our drinks, shall we?’

He nods vigorously and sniffs.

I give his hand a squeeze and straighten up. I wish I hadn’t had to call Scott. And yet I need him to be here when I ring the police. I can’t deal with them on my own, not after what happened before. I’m dreading their arrival – the questions, the sideways glances, the implication that I might have done something wrong. I haven’t done anything wrong, though. Have I?

And Harry… he’ll be taken away. What if his parents have been abusive? What if he has to go into foster care? A thousand thoughts run through my mind, each worse than the one before. But it’s not my place to decide what happens to him. There’s nothing I can do about any of it, because he’s not mine. 

I don’t have a child. Not any more.

 

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Big twists Little tales

I got the opportunity to read and review this collection of short stories and poetry put together by carol walker and jessica fairfax

the stories: BIG TWISTS LITTLE TALES is an unusual collection of short stories and poetry full to the brim of surprises which are wicked and witty, albeit dark humour. They will take you down roads with twists and turns and bumps along the way. There are twenty five stories and poems including: Butterflies and Batwings; Soulmate; There’s something about Christmas; Henry; The Shrieking Woman and There will be cake, plus many more. For unexpected chills Jessica Fairfax and Carol Walker do not disappoint.

my feelings: the short story is a difficult thing to do well and there is a bit of a mixture in this collection – some of the stories are excellent and others i feel let the collection down slightly – the poetry in particular wasn’t for me. However the stories particularly those involving children and the shrieking woman were really well written and thought provoking. As a collaboration i feel this has been quite successful as it showcases both authors potential and although there are flaws there are enough patches of brilliance to make want to read each authors individual works when they come out. Its definitely an intriguing debut, a 4* read for me.

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A time to change – Callie Langridge

my turn on the blog blitz today for callie langridges book

the novel:

“I would rather love passionately for an hour than benignly for a lifetime.”

In a house full of history and secrets, the past will not stay where it belongs…

Lou has always loved Hill House, the derelict manor on the abandoned land near her home. As a child, the tragic history of its owners, the Mandevilles, inspired her dream to become a history teacher. But in her late twenties, and working in a shop to pay off student debts, life is passing her by.

That changes when a family disaster sends Lou’s life into a downward spiral and she seeks comfort in the ruined corridors of Hill House. The house transforms around her and Lou is transported back to Christmas 1913. Convinced she has been in an accident and is in a coma, Lou immerses herself in her Edwardian dream. With the Mandevilles oblivious to her true identity, Lou becomes their houseguest and befriends the eldest son, Captain Thomas Mandeville, a man she knows is destined to die in the First World War.

Lou feels more at home in the past than the present and when she realises the experience is real she sets out to do everything in her power to save her new friends.

Lou passes between 1913 and 2013, unearthing plots of murder and blackmail, which she must stop no matter the cost.

On her quest to save the Mandevilles by saving Thomas, Lou will face the hardest decision of her life. She will learn that love cannot be separated by a century.

 

My thoughts: this novel does the unexpected it starts off like a modern crime novel and then turns into a time travel story. It is different to the things i normally read but very entertaining.

I found the sections based in the past most fascinating and enjoyed the interesting ending. It was well characterised and written and if you are a fan of stories like Outlander this would be a story for you. A solid 4* read for me.

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The case of the Missing bride blog tour

It’s my privilege to bring you some content for the case of the missing bride blog tour, a new release from Bloodhound books

In The Beginning Was A Word…

By Carmen Radtke

Or rather, when it comes to ‘The Case of the Missing Bride’, it started with two words.

‘Imported brides’ had popped into my mind for no apparent reason at all, and with my daughter at school and the cat asleep on my bed, I could idle away my time on Google (note to writers and readers alike: in our case, it’s never wasting time or procrastination; it’s always research. Always. Bear that in mind.).

Two hours later my jaw dropped, my blood pressure rose, and I startled the cat by thumping my fist on the table. Something had hit a raw nerve.

This something consisted of one meagre paragraph. In 1862, twenty-two girls, poor, all alone in the world, had set sail from Melbourne, Australia, to be married off to Canadians. They never arrived, last seen when the ship stopped over in San Francisco.

One paragraph, in an old newspaper. That was all I could find. One lousy paragraph, to bear testimony that they ever existed.

First I felt pity and sorrow, and then anger. Anger at a world where you don’t matter if you’re the wrong class, gender, skin colour … not that a lot has changed through the ages, which makes it even harder to swallow.

There it was, the germ of an idea. I let it stay in the back of my mind, but the girls would not allow themselves to take a place in the side-lines. They grew, and their identities formed. Then, through a stroke of luck, I got the next piece of the jigsaw – a book with letters from Melbourne, dating from the exact period my girls would have grown up there. Now I could see their world.

But I needed more research; into the voyage itself. What I discovered was a mix of ocean-going sailing ships, early steam ships, expedition vessels… I’d found the ‘Artemis’Delight’, which combined all these things.

Great. I had the characters, the setting, and I had the means to save these poor girls. Well, not all of them, obviously, but most. More than 150 years after their disappearance I could bring them back to life, and give them hope, and friendship, and the hope for a happy ending, if only on the page.

I typed the first sentence. The next. Until I had a finished draft. I suffered with them through a storm, got outraged with Alyssa about the shackles inflicted upon women (the outrage is still there, only now under the surface), and I watched them put on a brave face in every kind of situation.

And what a situation it was. Canada, back then, had only begun with railroad-building. Travels happened by boat, or on horseback. Something remotely resembling a police force was in its infancy. Most settlers, hunters, and goldminers tried to keep peace with the First Nations, but not all of them did so. And there was gold! So much gold.

The Canadians did their best to keep out the rowdiest people from the other side of the border, where the War between the States, as the Civil War was known as back then, embroiled big parts of the country in bitter strife.

My girls wouldn’t have known much about it, but how unsettling that must have been, going into the unknown, with no hope of turning back.

I can only imagine what awaited them when they disappeared into the San Francisco fog. I don’t even know their names; only who they became in my account. But at least they will be remembered. This book is for them.

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Untainted blood by Liz Mistry

Today I am on the blog tour for Untainted blood by Liz Mistry the third in the DS Gus Maguire series.

The Story:

In a city that is already volatile, tensions mount  after a Tory MP in Bradford Central is discredited leaving the door open for the extreme right-wing candidate, Graeme Weston, to stand in the resultant by-election.

However, Graeme Weston is not what he appears to be and with secrets jeopardising his political career, he must tread very carefully.

Meanwhile, a serial killer targets Asian men who lead alternatives lifestyles and metes out his own form of torture.

As DI Gus McGuire’s team close in, the deranged killer begins to unravel and in an unexpected twist the stakes are raised for Gus.

Are the murders linked to the political scandals or is there another motive behind them?

DI Gus McGuire and his team are back and this might be their toughest case yet.

My thoughts:

Liz’s bio describes Liz as an ex teacher who has taught in inner city Bradford schools for over twenty years.  Her husband of nearly 30 years is Indian and they have three children.  They live in inner city Bradford and Liz likes to use the rich tapestry of her life in Bradford, combined with her Scottish heritage, in her writing. This knowledge of Bradford clearly shines through in Liz’s book and if like me you eagerly follow her release day pictures you get a real flavour of the city. In fact I really enjoy how Liz shows Bradford for the warts and all vibrant place it can be, unlike other novels I have read set in the city.

I particularly enjoy the ongoing character development and the richness of the characters beyond just the main protagonist, I am genuinely interested in catching up with Mo and Gus’s family as much as I am in what Gus is doing himself. As ever with Liz’s books this latest one contains everything you want from a crime novel, a great plot, well developed characters, a believable solution and detection, and enough darkness to keep you on edge without being gratuitous.

These novels are really classily written modern police procedurals that truly reflect on the multicultural nature of our British cities.  I find them hard to put down once i start reading for me Liz Mistry is cementing herself as one of my favourite crime writers, and I hope to be reading the continuing saga of Gus for many years to come – A 5* +BLOG TOUR (5).png read for me

 

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the queen of new beginnings blog tour

In a change of pace for me I am on a blog tour for Bombshell books today – sister to bloodhound and with a new author to me.

the queen of new beginnings:

Kajsa lives in a large house in Stockholm along with her three children and their dog. Since coming clean about lying on her popular blog she no longer has any work. Not only that but she has kicked her husband out because of his sex addiction.

While her husband is in rehab trying to fix his little problem, Kajsa’s mother in law is thrown out of her retirement home and comes to live with her daughter in law.

Then Kajsa receives an unexpected offer to move to a fashionable part of London. But having to look after her mother in law makes life complicated.

can Kajsa rid herself of her baggage and make a fresh start with her children in England?

This laugh-out-loud comedy looks at the daily struggles we all face with our families and asks if starting again is ever really possible.

my thoughts:

I have heard this described as similar to Bridget jones which I don’t think quite does this book justice. This is a follow up to the Queen of Blogging which introduces us to Kasja and her family, although this could probably be read as a standalone.

I find Kasja appealing as she is a very real woman – struggling with relatively realistic problems. This book is engaging and easy to read and the character of Kasjas mother in law is particularly endearing.

if you want a light easy travel read than this is a book for you – its a fun humorous light hearted read. I would read more from this author, a solid 4* read for meBlog Tour (14).

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Strategy blog tour

Today I have the good fortune of being on the Strategy blog tour – Anita waller is one of my favourite bloodhound authors. Strategy is the follow up to 34 days.

the novel:

How much can one family take? 

Jenny Carbrook murdered three people to make it look as though there was a serial killer at work in Lincoln, when the only person she wanted to kill was Ray Carbrook, her father-in-law, who had raped her the week before her marriage to Mark, Ray’s son. 

Jenny wrote letters detailing her crimes in order to protect everyone she loved, but was forced to go into hiding before retrieving the evidence against her.  Not only did she leave the letters behind but also her young daughter, Grace. 

Now Jenny has a plan, a strategy, to get the letters back. But it’s not only the letters that Jenny has in her sights

my thoughts: I read 34 days before this and while I enjoyed the premise of how an ordinary person can be driven to evil acts, I didn’t feel like it reflected Anita at her best it was a good read but I wasn’t as emotionally drawn in as I have been with her other novels.

however Strategy remedies this. You are hooked from page 1 of this fantastic thriller and it helps that you know the characters from 34 days as you feel more connected with them from the very beginning. There were several points in this book where I had tears running down my face as I read and this is Anita’s real writing skill. She can draw you in emotionally to a book in a way few other authors do for me. I can think of few other authors who deliver this type of domestic Noir as well as Anita Waller.

for an outstanding read look no further, this receives a solid 5* from me.

10th Aug- Books From Dusk Till Dawn _ Rae Reads11th Aug- As The Page Turns Reviews _ Bits About Books12th Aug- Confessions Of A Reading Addict _ Turn The Page13th Aug- Sweet Little Book Blog _  (1).png

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