Sunday, September 9, 2018

My Review of Christmas is for the Children by Rosie Clarke plus an Extract

Welcome!  Rosie Clarke is the author of heartwarming The Mulberry Lane Series as well as The Workshop Girls, Emma Trilogy, The Downstairs Maid, The Runaway Wife, Jessie's Promise and now Christmas is for the Children.  Ms. Clarke is happily married and lives in the quiet village of East Anglia.  When she is not writing books, Rosie likes to read, watch good films and enjoy holidays in the sunshine.  Her favorite book and film are Gone with the Wind (I do not blame her).  Like Rosie Clarke I was dissatisfied with the movie sequel to Gone with the Wind.  It did not live up to the original.  She loves shoes (Spanish and Italian are her favorites) and adores animals especially squirrels and dogs.  Ms. Clarke is currently working on the next book in The Mulberry Lane Series (I just love this series of books).

Christmas is for Children by Rosie Clarke carries readers back in time to November of 1932 in the East End of London.  Robbie Graham is a widower with two young children.  Dock work has slowly been drying up since the beginning of the Depression and, after Robbie defended a man, he has been blacklisted.  The kids miss their mother, are hungry and their clothing is worn out and too small.  Robbie needs to find a way to provide for his children and, with Christmas fast approaching, he would like to do something special for them. 

Flo Hawkins owns and operates a cake shop with the assistance of her daughter, Honour.  They also take care of their invalid and demanding father, Ernest.  Since Ernest had his second stroke that confined him to bed, his attitude and language have taken a downturn.  What no one knows is that Honour is Flo’s daughter.  Flo fell in love with Honour’s father, but he did not stand by her when she told him about the pregnancy.  Flo spends her Friday evenings helping at Reverend John Hansen’s mission.  They provide a meal everyday to the poor and on Friday evenings they have games and raffles.  The money they earn from the raffles helps provide something special for Christmas for those in the East End.  Flo and Honour would like to do something extra this year for the kids in the area.  Life is hard for those in the East End, but they have each other.  Neighbors, friends and family come together to help each other out especially during the holiday season.  What happens when someone attempts to thwart the special Christmas plans they have planned? 

I found Christmas is for the Children to be a well-crafted novel.  The author takes the time set up the story.  We are given descriptions of the East End, the docks, the shops, the homes and the people.  Many of the inhabitants live in dilapidated homes that need to be torn down.  Some do not have running water or indoor toilets.  Work is scarce making it hard to provide for families.  Ms. Clarke paints a realistic picture along with well-developed characters.  I only summarized a small portion of the story above.  We get to see things from a working man’s point-of-view along with a shop owner, children, a vicar, a nurse and an elderly couple.  I like that we get different perspectives.  It is heartwarming to see how they help each other and share what little they have with others.  There was so much hardship, suffering and hopelessness.  It was nice to see the characters develop as the story progresses.  The pace is gentle.  It is not fast nor is it slow, but it does suit the story.  We see the importance of having hope, a good heart, and knowing right from wrong.  Rosie Clarke created a novel that draws in the reader and keeps their attention until the very last word.  Christmas is for the Children will leave you with a positive impression, a smile on your face, and happiness in your heart.

Here is an extract from Christmas is for the Children for your enjoyment:

‘Yer don’t know what it’s like stuck up here in this bed,’ Ernest Hawkins said to his daughter Flo. ‘I get fed up on me own – and if I could get to the commode by meself I wouldn’t ring for yer…’
‘I know it’s hard for you, Dad,’ Flo said and brushed a lock of soft fair hair from her forehead. For work, she wore her hair pulled into a neat pleat at the back of her head because it was tidy that way and she could tuck it under the little white cap she wore when cooking her cakes and home-made sweets to sell in her shop. Her blue eyes were saddened as she looked at her father. ‘I’m sorry you had to ring three times, but we were busy in the shop.’

‘I know that bloody shop is more important than me…’ he grumbled and glared at her. ‘It’s yer own fault if I’ve wet meself. I couldn’t hold it no longer…’  Flo sighed but she didn’t answer her father back. He’d been very ill and for some weeks the doctors had thought he might die after his last stroke, but of late he’d seemed more aware – and his temper hadn’t improved.  ‘I’ll change the sheets while you’re on the commode…’  ‘Fat lot of good sitting me on that now,’ he mumbled but accepted her help in rising.  Once he was up, he seemed quite steady and she was able to settle him in a suitable position while she changed the sheet. ‘There, that’s nice and dry for you, Dad,’ she said. ‘If you’re ready, I’ll get you back to bed – and then I’ll go back to work.’ 

‘I’d rather sit in a chair for a while,’ her father replied and she took him to the comfortable armchair her neighbour had carried upstairs for her only recently. ‘And you can tell the girl to bring me a cup of tea and a bit of cake as soon as she’s ready…’  ‘Her name is Honour, as you well know,’ Flo replied, thinking of the beautiful girl with dark-honey hair that fell in soft waves to her shoulders and eyes more green than blue. Good-humoured, hard-working and loving she deserved far more than she got from him. ‘She’s your kin not your slave…’ In fact, she looked very much like Flo and people often remarked on how alike they were, for Flo was still slim and attractive, always smiling and good-natured despite all the work. ‘Yes, I know what she is,’ he retorted and his eyes snapped at her. ‘I might have had a stroke but I didn’t lose me wits – just the use of me damned legs…’ ‘They are a bit better, though,’ Flo said encouragingly. ‘Kick your feet as much as you can, Dad – like the doctor showed you. He said if you exercise them you’ll get the use of your legs back sooner.’

‘All right for him to talk,’ her father muttered. ‘Stop fussing, girl – and next time answer the bell when I ring…’
He was spoiling for a fight and Flo wasn’t in the mood to oblige him. It was a Friday and the weekend trade was brisk. Some days Flo wondered if it was worthwhile opening her little cake shop. Often, she’d sell just a few rock buns, perhaps a sponge cake and a couple of penny lollipops from the jars on the shelf at the back of the counter. Their main trade at the start of the week was the little soft bread rolls Honour baked and filled with cheese, tomatoes or corned beef.

Flo’s mother had never sold filled rolls, which were mostly bought by single men or girls on their way to work. Mrs Hawkins always made enough from her cakes and buns to clothe herself and her family and save for the future, but the recession that had plagued the country for the last few years had turned into what people now called the Depression. Everyone’s trade was affected and there were desperate men begging on the streets. Some had a cap by their side with notices written on cardboard begging for help to feed a wife and family.
Children were going to school hungry and it was only the free meal they received there that saved them from starving. All over London – and probably the rest of the country from what Flo read in the papers – enterprising bodies had set up soup kitchens and in the middle of each day a line of men would form for the cup of soup, hunk of bread and mug of tea they were given by well-meaning volunteers. Bread and potatoes were the staple food in most households, because they filled up the spaces left by inadequate meals.

The streets of London’s East End looked almost as dismal as they had during the Great War. Small shops and businesses had closed; their windows were either smashed or boarded up and posters had been stuck on them. Unions urged men to strike to help their unemployed brothers, and Government posters begged the people to behave like responsible citizens. Some popular shops like Flo’s just off the market and a short distance from Poplar High Street just about kept going, but she managed it only because she and Honour worked all hours. Flo paid Honour a few shillings a week for her work and she was forced to give her father the share he’d always demanded of their takings, but she took very little for herself, saving every penny in case it was needed.

Honour was in the kitchen when Flo walked in, setting the kettle on the range. ‘I’ve left the hall door open so I’ll hear if the bell goes,’ she said. ‘What was wrong this time, Flo?’  ‘He needed the commode and I wasn’t in time so there’s another sheet to wash.’ ‘You should send them to the laundry,’ Honour suggested. ‘Sometimes I think he does it on purpose.’  ‘No, I don’t think so. He gets angry when he makes a mess.’ Flo smiled at the girl she loved. To the world she was Flo’s younger sister, born seventeen years apart, but the love she felt was of a mother for her daughter. It was her secret. One Honour did not share – though Flo was almost certain her father did, even though he’d been working up north in the shipyards for months before the birth. Flo had been forced to bottle-feed her child and believed that her mother had successfully kept their secret from her father, but sometimes now he hinted and she wondered – could he know that Honour was Flo’s bastard, born in shame and hidden from the world?  

All these years she’d been forced to keep her silence, because her mother had threatened what her father would do to them both if he knew.  ‘If he ever learned of your shame he would disown you, Flo. He would not have a wicked girl like you under his roof…’ Flo’s tears had been shed in private. Was Honour’s birth the reason her father seemed determined to humiliate and punish her?  The shop bell rang as Honour was pouring hot water into a pot and Flo went to answer it. Her customer was a well-dressed man. He smiled and tipped his hat to her.

‘Good afternoon, Mr Rolf.’  ‘Good afternoon, Miss Flo – I was wondering, is that sponge filled with buttercream and your special strawberry jam?’ ‘Yes, it is, sir,’ Flo answered. He was a businessman for he carried a little briefcase. ‘It was made fresh this mornin’.’  ‘Then I shall buy it. My daughter likes strawberry jam in her sponge cake. I seem to recall that last year you made some extra treats for Christmas…?’ ‘Yes, sir, that is right. We make sugar mice for the children, coconut ice, fudge, chocolate truffles and some marzipan fancies. I don’t start makin’ them until the end of the first week of December – though I am takin’ orders for my rich fruit cakes now. I make them in November, store them in tins, and ice them last thing, so they are lovely and soft…’

‘Yes, I bought one last year. Please order a large iced cake for me – and I will purchase some of your other delights when I come in to fetch the fruit cake.’ ‘Certainly, Mr Rolf…’ Flo smiled and made a note on her pad, because he was a good customer. She made most of her profit at Christmas, because her trade did not rely on local customers. People came from all over to buy her chocolate truffles, fruit cakes and sugar mice. Some of them had been coming for years, when Flo’s mother ran the shop, but many more had begun to visit at Christmas since she and Honour started to make their home-made sweets. After he had gone, Flo knew she may as well shut the shop. There were only a few rock cakes left and they could eat those for their supper. She smiled because that was the fourth order for an iced cake she’d taken that day. It seemed that despite the terrible depression, everyone who could meant to make the most of Christmas. 

Christmas is for Children is available at Amazon (plus it is a part of the Kindle Unlimited Program), Kobo, iBooks and Google Play.  Thank you so much for stopping by today.  I will be spotlighting A Crafter Knits a Clue by Holly Quinn tomorrow.  May you have a bright day (it has been so dismal in my area with all the rain).  Take care and Happy Reading!

The Avid Reader

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