Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Available Now: Lullaby for My Sister by Nancy Barone

Nancy Barone


(99c/99p through 20 August)
When Valentina and Lucy Mancino’s mother died, and their father turned to alcohol to cope, Valentina quickly understood it was up to her to run the household and take care of her little sister. But Valentina was only nine years old. And when their new step-mother moved in, along with her two sons, Val also knew things were about to change for the worse.

Fifteen years later, while Lucy is flailing in life, Val is running a successful career, but she’s also hiding a terrible secret. She soon discovers that her former home is suppressing secrets of its own—many unspeakable truths are dying to be told.

• • •

Little Italy, Toronto, 1993

I knew something bad had happened the minute I saw Uncle Tony’s black limousine pull up outside the school gates.

Ma never wanted any fussing over us and always said that even if we were Tony Mancino’s nieces, we were still Luigi Mancino’s daughters who could walk to school like everyone else.

“Hop in, Valentina,” Calogero the driver said, his face mostly hidden behind a pair of huge reflective shades like the ones the police wore on TV. But even if he wasn’t a policeman, I knew he had a gun because I saw it under his jacket once. “Your uncle Tony wants you at his house.”

Now, it’s not that I didn’t trust Calogero, who’s known me since I was a baby and has even taken us to the park, but Ma’s words rang through my mind. “Only trust your family, Valentina…”

So, when I hesitated, he picked up the car phone and punched in a number, passing it to me through the lowered window. “Here, talk to him,” he said.

I’d never spoken into a car phone before. It was very heavy. “Hello?” I said.

“Valentina.” The sound of Uncle Tony’s voice made me feel better instantly, but it was weird, like he’d been running – or crying. I swallowed hard.

“Listen, I need you to be a good girl and let Calogero bring you and Lucy back to my house, okay?”

“What happened?” I asked, and suddenly had to go to the bathroom. “Where’s Ma and Dad?”

Silence. “Sweetheart, your mom’s…in the hospital. She fell. And skinned her knee. Daddy and I are with her.”

“Is she okay?” I squeaked as Calogero got out of the car and took my school bag and lunchbox from me, my heart skipping a beat.

“She’s fine, sweetie. Just go and pick up your sister. Maria will make you a snack when you get home.”

“Okay, Uncle Tony,” I said obediently, and crawled into the huge back seat of the dark car, my chest hurting as if someone had sat on it.

Lucy was the last one out, waiting by the door next to Mrs. Njong, her favorite doll tucked under her arm. Calogero showed the teacher a note as he spoke to her, but I couldn’t hear a word. Why did grownups always talk to each other like that?

Mrs. Njong covered her mouth with her hand and nodded, tears filling her eyes. I swallowed, my face feeling awfully tight, like someone pulling on it from all sides.

“Val, what’s he doing here?” Lucy whispered in her baby lisp as I bent down to hug her. Calogero’s reflective shades always scared her, but then he’d take them off and twirl them around to show her he had eyes just like everybody else, and she’d laugh. Every time. Lucy liked to play around a lot.

“Mummy fell and hurt her knee,” I said. “Daddy took her to the hospital.”

Lucy searched my face and I forced a convincing smile, stroking her cheek like I always did when I needed her to do what I said. When she was satisfied I wasn’t keeping anything from her, she smiled back, assured everything was okay, that it was only a tiny scratch.

I swallowed back my fears that it might be something really bad and tried to act normal, while Calogero saw us into the back seat again and drove off, Lucy waving to Mrs. Njong.

Last year, I fell and skinned my elbow, but I don’t remember any ambulance coming for me. So, it couldn’t be good. And then I started imagining the worst – both my parents lying dead in the hospital and no one at home to greet us, no one to help me with my homework or tuck Lucy in at night. Uncle Tony and his staff would take care of us, I knew, but, as loving and generous as he was, he wasn’t Ma or Dad.

• • •

Nancy Barone is an Italian-Canadian English teacher and writer of rom-com and romance. When not on her laptop, she enjoys long walks on the beach with her loved ones, travelling and visiting the local ice-cream parlour.

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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Available Now: Resolutions by Carol Warham

Carol Warham


(99c/99p through 13 August)
A few days before the New Year, Carly Mitchell returns home to the small town on the Yorkshire moors. Her intention for the short visit is to make her apologies and offer an explanation for her action. A year earlier, she fled, leaving her bridegroom and friends bewildered. She’s met with mixed reactions, ranging from curiosity to open hostility. However, when an emergency arises, Carly agrees to change her plans and stay a little longer. Falling in love with the new local doctor, Ben Thornton, was not part of her original plan either. Especially when it appears his past is shrouded in mystery. Complications and tensions increase during the town’s New Year celebrations and she begins to doubt whether she has done the right thing by coming home.

Can she find the resolution she needs to overcome the challenges facing her, or will she run away again?

• • •

The large, dimly lit sign appeared momentarily through the driving rain.

Carly Mitchell pulled her car over to the grass verge at the side of the road. Indecision gripped her as her heart hammered against her ribs. Did she drive on into the town, back to the place where she believed she was hated, or should she drive straight through and not stop?

Darkness shrouded the long road across the bleak moors. A thick swirling mist was broken only by the beam of her car’s headlamps. The windscreen wipers were the only thing which moved, as if bored, by the effort of clearing the rain. She stared at the sign until the glare of oncoming headlights made her blink and bite her lip. This was her decision, her choice. Could she do this? She nodded to herself. She knew she could now. Twelve months ago, she’d have been in pieces at the thought of what she intended to do, but not now. She had changed, grown up, learned to stand on her own two feet. The old Carly Mitchell wouldn’t have dared make any decision like this, for fear of upsetting someone. But her life had changed for the better, and so had she.

Taking a deep breath, she slowed down her heartbeat and controlled her shaking hands. A few minutes to recover her equilibrium were all she needed. She would do what she had come to do, and then leave. After that people could say and think what they wanted. She wouldn’t care.

It was past midnight when she drove into the quiet town. The wet road glistened under the street lights. Driving down the empty streets of the old Yorkshire mill town, her stomach churned. How well she knew all of these buildings.

A large Victorian mill loomed up before her. The grey stone walls and rows of neat windows were highlighted by the street lamps. It almost resembled a barricade, another warning. Slowing down to look at the building, she smiled at her own foolishness. You’d never know that inside were some charming tourist and gift shops and a little tea shop. She drove over a stone bridge where the road crossed a small river. In the dark, she could hear the water as it babbled and gurgled over the boulders that lined its path.

Would she ever be able to walk through this town and receive a warm welcome? What sort of greeting would anyone give her now? What sort of greeting did she deserve? Yeardon had been a wonderful place to grow up. It was one of those towns where you knew everyone, and they knew you.

Her mind a maelstrom of anxiety, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel. Who would have believed anyone’s hands could shake so much?

Reaching the far side of the town, she turned into a drive, which led down a short, narrow lane to a hotel, a converted mill owner’s house. After finding a space in the car park, she switched off the engine, but remained in the car for a few minutes. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes.

The drumming of the rain on the roof was not reassuring. The weather seemed to be giving a further warning to leave now, while she could. She peered through the rain- splattered screen at the sign above the front door. In copper plate script, it read Resolution Hotel. The building looked well-kept and fresh. Business must be going well for Jim and Abi.

“Well, here goes.”

• • •

Writing has been Carol’s love since childhood. She started by making small comics for her dolls, progressed to training as a journalist for a short while. Once the family had grown up she settled down to writing short stories, poems and holiday articles. Some of which are published.

In recent years she has become a judge in the short story section for the HysteriaUK competition and also for the RNA’s romance novel of the year.

Earlier this year, she represented her book group on BBC Radio Leeds, talking about books and the work on her novel.

Carol lives in Yorkshire, surrounded by some beautiful countryside, which is ideal for her other passion of walking, often with a dog called Sam.

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