It’s a real pleasure today to be helping launch the blog tour for Just Bea by Deborah Klée, and to share my review: already available in paperback, the e-book is published today (1st February), both formats available via Amazon in the UK and US. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the author for my advance reading e-copy.
I really did want to read and review Deborah’s last book, The Borrowed Boy – you’ll find some excellent reviews – but I had no space and could only invite her to join me with a guest post (you can read that again here). I first “met” Deborah on social media, through the WriteReadReview Facebook page, where we discovered that our reading tastes were very similar – she’s been a great supporter of the blog, and I do know I’ve been responsible for adding quite a few books to her reading list. When she shared her plans for this book, I inked the date into my diary – I really didn’t want to miss out a second time…
Sometimes you have to stop trying to be like everyone else and just be yourself.
Bea Stevens and Ryan O’Marley are in danger of falling through the cracks of their own lives; the only difference between them is that Bea doesn’t know it yet.
When her world is shaken like a snow-globe, Bea has to do what she does best; adapt. Homeless man Ryan is the key to unlocking the mystery of her friend Declan’s disappearance but can she and Ryan trust one another enough to work together?
As the pieces of her life settle in new and unexpected places, like the first fall of snow, Bea must make a choice: does she try to salvage who she was or embrace who she might become?
Just Bea takes the reader on a heart-warming journey from the glamour of a West End store to the harsh reality of life on the streets and reminds us all that home really is where the heart is.
There’s little I enjoy more than picking up a book and discovering a new-to-me author, getting drawn into a fascinating story, feeling for its characters, enjoying the writing – with its quirky and endearing heroine and its very different storyline, this book had me hooked from the very beginning, and held me in its grip to the very end.
Working at Hartley’s department store – in the lingerie department – is Bea’s life, the possibility of promotion to department head promising the fulfilment of her most cherished dream. But although her sales figures are among the highest, her dreams are dashed – and she becomes increasingly aware of her shortcomings, her extreme awkwardness at any kind of social interaction, until an “opportunity” arises that might just turn her life around if she’s able to grasp it.
Every morning, she dashes past the homeless people on the station forecourt in her business suit and Jimmy Choos, barely looking in their direction – until a chance encounter when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable brings Ryan into her life. Their relationship develops – he bolsters her self esteem, makes her feel good about herself, giving her hope that she can turn her life around, with his ease at making friends and his small acts of kindness. He also introduces her to a life she never knew existed – the rawness and danger of life on the streets, the people who prey on the vulnerable, but also the support of a community that helps her gain a sense of belonging.
His own story punctuates the narrative, nicely woven in – his former life in rural Ireland, his relationship with his family, the reasons why he came to London in search of a new life, and the series of events that led to his life on the streets. But the story also focuses on the unexplained absence of Declan – unwittingly, Bea had a part to play in his return to the ranks of the homeless – and alongside her desperate attempts to change her own life, supported by Ryan, we follow their joint attempts to solve the mystery of his disappearance.
The world-building in this book is really excellent. We travel behind the scenes at Hartley’s, down into the basement’s depths, see the interactions on the shop floor, the petty politics and the archaic management in action – and the lovely gentle humour as Bea tries (rather in vain) to change her behaviour and turn herself into a “people person” is quite wonderful. Her “opportunity” – the challenge she needs to deliver – is quite inspired, cringeworthy at times in its inappropriateness and seemingly impossible to achieve in the few days remaining before Christmas. And in parallel there’s the very realistic depiction of the dangers of life on the streets – but also the boat-dwelling community around the river, every individual so well drawn, and the way they support and care for each other.
I loved the way the story was constructed – that inexorable march of time, the relentless countdown from twenty-nine shopping days to Christmas, the sense that everything is slipping away – with those glimpses of Ryan’s former life. But perhaps most of all, I loved the characters, and particularly Bea herself – there are times you watch her actions through your fingers, in horror and unable to watch, yearning to shout “don’t do it, walk away”, but there are times too when you want to hug her, to be in her corner when no-one else is there for her, and sometimes to cheer her on in her small but significant victories. Her relationship with Ryan is quite wonderful – that initial mistrust on both sides, their developing friendship, her increasing dependence on his presence, the way he cares for her and gives her the reserves of courage she needs so much.
As well as its rawness at times, the no holds barred realities of life on the streets, the callousness and self-interest experienced in both worlds, there’s a warmth about the writing that I really enjoyed – a lovely balance between dark and light, a nice thread of humour, and it’s amply evident that the author loves Bea every bit as much as I did. And the book’s ending is just so perfect, but entirely fitting given all that’s gone before – uplifting, heartwarming and a bit emotional too, and exactly what I wanted it to be.
The whole book is a journey of personal development and self discovery as Bea’s character unfurls, an unlikely but convincing friendship and romance, an incisive piece of social commentary, a race against time that seems more hopeless by the day, and an intriguing mystery to be resolved with a nice edge of suspense – and I have to say I really loved every moment. Highly recommended by me – and an author I’d very much like to read again.
About the author
Deborah has worked as an occupational therapist, a health service manager, a freelance journalist, and management consultant in health and social care.
Her protagonists are often people who exist on the edges of society. Despite the very real, but dark, subject matter her stories are uplifting, combining pathos with humour. They are about self-discovery and the power of friendships and community.
Just Bea is her second novel. Her debut, The Borrowed Boy, was published last year.
Deborah lives on the Essex coast. When she is not writing she combines her love of baking with trying to burn off the extra calories.
Join Deborah on Facebook on Thursday for the Just Bea book launch – just click on the image to set a reminder…