Acquired Book By: I was invited to join the Head of Zeus blog tour for the Christmas Historical Fiction story of “Christmas is for Children”. I was delighted on a few different counts – for starters, I’ve been seeing a lot of tweeting about Rosie Clarke amongst book bloggers I follow who read her stories and by other readers who appreciate her novels. I’ve been keen to think she might be a Historical novelist I would enjoy reading myself and when the chance came to read this novel, I was thankful it was going on a paperback blog tour! This is also one of the authors I see tweeted about during a new tag I found in the twitterverse #SagaSaturday!
I haven’t been hosting for this publisher for very long and each blog tour I am able to host I feel blessed as I love celebrating authors from the UK and the stories they are telling through the different genres Head of Zeus is publishing which encourages my bookish and readerly wanderings into Crime Dramas, Historical Fiction and Historical Sagas as well as other genres I’ve keenly become intrigued by over the years as I’ve been blogging.
I received a complimentary copy of “Christmas is for Children” direct from the publisher Head of Zeus in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.
Enjoy reading this extract from “Christmas is for Children”:
It was the beginning of December now and the cake shop had pretty coloured lights in its windows when the two children approached hand in hand. They pressed their noses up against the glass, looking longingly at the delicate glass stands with their offerings of delicious cakes. There were all kinds of mouth-watering treats: sponge cakes dusted with icing sugar and filled with buttercream, soft buns covered in sticky pink icing, almond tarts, madeleines and rock cakes, crisp meringues filled with buttery cream, as well as the beautiful iced Christmas cake right in the centre. Also, piled up in little glass dishes, were chunks of coconut ice, chocolate truffles, fudge and, the best of all, right at the front of the window, two sugar mice: a pink one and a white one.
‘Look, Ben,’ Ruthie cried. ‘Sugar mouses… pink for me and white for you…’
‘It’s sugar mice, Ruthie,’ Ben said, looking at the sweet treat as longingly as his sister. ‘Perhaps Dad will get us one each for Christmas …’
Ruthie looked up at him, her eyes large and dark blue like her late mother’s but filled with knowledge that a child of her age should not have. A single tear slid down her cheek, because she knew they wouldn’t get a stocking this year. Their dad was out of work again; last night he hadn’t even had a shilling for the gas and he’d lit a candle to see them to bed. She knew he lined up down the docks every morning hoping to be given a job, because Ben had told her that was why he was so miserable.
Everything was horrible in Ruthie’s world. Ma had died nearly nine months ago and since then things had got steadily worse. The house was often cold and empty, no food in the pantry. No one looked after her any more; her clothes split and got dirty, and her pale hair tangled; she needed someone to brush and comb it and put it into plaits, because it was so fine that otherwise it went all over the place in the wind.
Mum had done her best while she was able. She’d cooked and scrubbed and looked after her kids, but over the last two years her cough had got worse and worse. The doctor said it was bronchitis and wanted to send her away to a place at the sea where she might get better, but they didn’t have any money and there was a long waiting list for such places if you were poor. Mum had finally died in March, and that had left them alone with their father. He did his best but it wasn’t the same without Mum.
Dad got up early to give them breakfast before he went down to the docks to stand in line, but the work was scarce and more often than not he came home without even a shilling in pay – and when he did, he often stopped at the pub at the end of Fettle Street to have a drink. His mates who had worked that day shared a few pence when he was broke and so when he had work he repaid them by buying drinks he could not afford. Sometimes, when he was very down he didn’t stop at one drink, and when he came home, he was laughing but couldn’t stand up properly – and those days there was never any money for the gas meter and very little to eat.
Ben told his sister it didn’t matter. Their Dad wasn’t a bad man; he wasn’t a violent man who knocked his kids about and deliberately neglected them. Robbie did as much as he could for his kids, but recently he’d been passed over for all the better jobs. Ben had heard him telling Fred at the fish shop that the Gaffer didn’t like him because he’d stood up for one of the older men.
‘You should go to Mr Penniworth,’ Fred had told him. I’m sure he doesn’t know how unfairly the Gaffer treats the men.’ Mr Penniworth was the overall manager for the East India Docks, but the men hardly ever saw him on the dock and no one went to his office unless invited.
‘I couldn’t do that, Fred,’ Robbie had sighed. ‘I’d be marked as a troublemaker and then I wouldn’t get work anywhere in London.’
‘Well, it’s a rotten shame, that’s all I can say. You’re a decent man, Robbie Graham, and you deserve a bit of luck.’
Dad had laughed and thanked him for his kind words, paying a shilling for two fishcakes and sixpence worth of chips. Fred had filled the bag right to the brim and Ben, his sister and their father had eaten well that night, but that was days ago now and it had just been bread and dripping since.
It didn’t matter to Ben that he had shoes that were down at the heel, holes in his socks and didn’t get a threepenny piece for sweets on a Saturday like some of his friends. He knew that times were hard and money was tight. Ben wasn’t the only boy in school with trousers bought off the second-hand stall and cut down to fit. Nor did he mind that he and Ruthie had to come home to an empty house after school. He could get their tea, a bit of bread and jam or some chips if Dad gave them three pennies. What made Ben unhappy was the way his father’s shoulders hunched when he came home at night with a few coppers in his pocket after working hard all day.
The old cottage belonged to Ben’s father, because it had been left to them by his grandfather, who had been a seaman all his life, and it was the reason they’d all come to live here, leaving the rooms they’d rented near his mother’s home in Yarmouth. It wasn’t really much of a place, but it was somewhere warm to sleep, because the range in the kitchen heated that room and the rooms above it. The only time they ever used the parlour was when Ben’s mother died and her coffin stood there for three days before the funeral.
‘Look,’ Ruthie pulled at Ben’s sleeve as the door of the sweet shop opened and the nice lady came out. ‘It’s Miss Flo…’
‘Hello, you two,’ Flo Hawkins greeted the children with a smile. ‘It’s cold this evening. You should hurry home, because I think it might snow.’
‘I like your sugar mouses,’ Ruthie said and gave them a last lingering look before Ben took her hand firmly. ‘When I see them, I think it will soon be Christmas.’
‘Yes, it will,’ Flo agreed. She held out a brown paper bag to them. ‘It’s almost time to close – and these won’t keep until the morning. I thought you might like them.’
‘Oo, thank you,’ Ruthie squealed in excitement and took the bag quickly before Flo could change her mind. ‘It’s ever so kind of you, Miss Flo.’
‘It’s perfectly all right,’ she said. ‘Perhaps your father will buy you a sugar mouse for Christmas.’
Ruthie shook her head sadly. ‘Dad can’t find a proper job,’ she said and pulled at Ben’s hand. ‘Miss Flo gave us buns with icing on top. I love your buns, Miss Flo.’
‘You’re very kind, miss,’ Ben thanked her a little stiffly, because it wasn’t the first time the cake shop lady had given them a cake she claimed wouldn’t last until the morning, but every time it was fresh and delicious. ‘I’ll clean yer windows for yer if yer like, miss.’
‘Thank you, Ben, but my sister does them every morning herself,’ Flo said. ‘One day I’ll find a job for you, but you don’t have to work to pay me for a cake I can’t sell…’
With that she went back into the shop and closed the door.
Ben took his sister firmly by the hand. ‘Don’t eat yer cake until we get home, Ruthie. It’s rude to eat in the street.’
‘I’m ’ungry,’ Ruthie grumbled and her tummy rumbled to prove it, but she kept the bag shut, holding on tightly so that she wouldn’t lose it.
‘Dad wouldn’t like us taking charity,’ Ben said. His eyes were stinging with the tears he was fighting. Miss Flo’s kindness always made him want to fling his arms round her and hug her, but his pride held him back.
‘It isn’t chari— whatsit…’ Ruthie said and pulled on his hand. ‘Miss Flo is just a nice lady and she told us the cakes wouldn’t last until the mornin’…’
I was thankful I could share an extract from Christmas is for Children – as I personally enjoy reading these when I am seeking out a #newtomeauthor! This particular scene is rather a poignant one as it helps set you inside the heart of the novel and into the lives of the two children the novel affects directly. This reading marks my first introduction into the saga styling of Rosie Clarke and I am thankful I could be on the blog tour this December featuring a new Christmas set story of hers as it truly was a beautiful story to read.
Times are hard in London... dare they hope for a miracle this Christmas? Perfect for the fans of Katie Flynn and Dilly Court.
Christmas should be for the children – but with the Depression biting deeper, it looks like many in the East End will wake up to nothing on Christmas morning. Widower Robbie Graham is out of luck and work. Some weeks, he earns just enough to put food on the table for his children, Ben and Ruthie. A treat for their Christmas stockings is a distant dream for his little family. Local cakeshop owner Flo Hawkins can't bear the thought of any child having nothing for Christmas. Along with her beloved sister Honour, she hatches a plan to bring some festive cheer to the community. But maybe this year, it will be Flo who receives the greatest gift of all...
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Published by Head of Zeus
on 7th February, 2020
Format: UK Edition Paperback
Converse via: #ChristmasIsForChildren, #HistNov or #HistFic
Available Formats: Trade Paperback & Ebook
Reading this book contributed to these challenges: