There’s always something rather special about being asked to launch a blog tour on publication day – and today gives me even more pleasure than usual. I’ve been a fan of Sue Moorcroft’s wonderful books since crying over Judith and Giorgio in Uphill All The Way (such a long time ago…!), I could run tours of Middledip and introduce you to everyone, and I’m really proud to be part of Sue’s street team. So a new book from one of my very favourite authors is a real cause for celebration (and just a little bit of excitement!). Today is publication day for the e-book of The Christmas Promise (with its cover of a slightly deeper hue): published by Avon Books UK, the paperback and audio book will be out on the 1st December. And, do you know, I think this just might be Sue’s best book yet.
Let me share the story:
On a snowy December evening, Sam Jermyn steps into the life of bespoke hat maker Ava Blissham. Sparks fly, and not necessarily good ones.
Times are tough for Ava – she’s struggling to make ends meet, her ex-boyfriend is a bully, and worst of all, it’s nearly Christmas.
So when Sam commissions Ava to make a hat for someone special, she makes a promise that will change her life. She just doesn’t know it yet…
You can read my review below – and yes, I rather liked this one! – but first, I’m delighted to welcome Sue Moorcroft to Being Anne with a post all about spending money on a hat (and I really think we need a photo of Sue in a hat to accompany that, don’t you?).
My heroine in The Christmas Promise, Ava, makes hats, by hand. She takes flat fabric and magics it into a three-dimensional shape using stiffener, steam and shaped blocks of wood over which to stretch the fabric. She sews sumptuous linings and creates the decorations from feathers, ribbon, net, sinamay, beads and sequins. She dyes to achieve exact shades. She is her own designer. This incredibly creative, skilled and innovative occupation is called being a ‘couture milliner’.
Ava has a studio in the top of a house in Camden Town (not far from Kentish Town Road) and works with the light streaming in through skylights. Beautiful hats surround her along with shelves of hat blocks and racks of threads. Whatever goes wrong in her life (and #MyPromise is that a few things do) she finds peace and solace in her gorgeous creations.
If you were to go to Ava to have a hat made for you, then it would be ‘bespoke’.
You might be raising your eyebrows now and thinking ‘I should cocoa. What’s she think I am? A millionaire?’ No, I don’t think that but neither do I think you need to be a millionaire in order to bespeak a couture hat. Have you looked at price of a nice hat in a reasonable quality department store? The cost may be closer to that of a couture hat than you think.
Why bespeak a hat?
– It will be made for you, it won’t be big enough to slip over your eyes or so small it gives you a headache.
– It can be dyed to exactly match a special outfit, say, for a wedding.
– There will be no other hat exactly like it.
– A couture hat will not be blobbed with glue. Everything will be sewn in near-invisible stitches.
– You will be able to choose precisely the material, lining and decoration you like.
– There will probably lots of samples for you to try to get an idea of shape, size and material.
– But the milliner will be highly skilled in advising you about what suits you and the occasion.
– And have ideas you would never have thought of on your own.
– You can choose to have incorporated in your hat something that’s ‘repurposed’, such as a piece of your mum’s wedding veil.
– A hat fitting is a lovely indulgent event. The milliner will assess you and your needs; s/he won’t rush you as you make your choices. A chat and a cuppa will probably be involved.
– S/he’ll be able to advise you on how to wear the hat shape you choose and you’ll probably return for another fitting just to make sure everything’s perfect before the decorations are sewn on.
– ‘It’s couture!’ is a wonderful line to throw away if you want to one-up people. If you particularly don’t like them you can add, ‘Oh. Is yours mass produced?’
– And Ava (or your milliner) will present your treasure in a lovely box. How can you resist?
Thank you Sue! Let’s see what I thought about The Christmas Promise…
The first thing you’ll notice about this book will be its totally gorgeous Christmassy cover – but it might just give you the wrong idea about what lies inside. Because you’ll be thinking Christmas, love, a bit soft and fluffy – right? Well no, not really – definitely not the fluffy!
This is a story that’s bang up-to-date and might not be quite what you’re expecting – the cut and thrust world of viral campaigns and marketing, and the dangers of instant sharing in the on-line world with a very realistic story line on cyber bullying and revenge porn. There are the difficulties and realities of running a small business too – making your way in the world as a milliner plainly isn’t easy – and serious illness also casts its shadow over the festive celebrations. There are some really dramatic moments too – just when you think everything is settling down and progressing nicely – that had me on the edge of my seat, frantically turning pages to see just what was going to happen next.
But somehow – and so very, very cleverly – it’s all worked into a simply gorgeous Christmas-focused story that warms your heart and leaves you with the broadest of smiles on your face. There’s a laugh on your lips at many points throughout the book too – some wonderful characters (I particularly adored footballer’s wife Ruby…), sparkling dialogue, and the perplexing world of faux dating.
The research that went into this book must have been tremendous. I really loved all the fine detail about Ava’s millinery – and learned a lot about the artistry, craft and immense care that goes into making a hat. And I suspect most of us know the dangers of intimate photos and the internet, but that whole thread is so well done – very real, and the intricacies just fascinating. But there’s also a strong and believable central romance – the perfect degree of will they/won’t they, fraught with misunderstanding and obstacles – that’s always there underlying everything else that’s going on. Achieving a balance that works so well is a real achievement, and the mark of a really superb story teller.
As the centre of the story, I loved Ava – gentle, loveable, loyal, honest, and someone for whom you really hope there will be a happy ending. As for her romantic interest – well, he’s just gorgeous. Sue Moorcroft is so very good at portraying relationships – friends and families – and creating characters that you take to your heart. And I maybe shouldn’t mention Middledip again – ok, I know I just have! – but there’s a real treat in here too for anyone who’s read the author’s earlier books, with a brief appearance for some characters that you’ll remember very well.
It’s been quite a long wait for a new book from Sue Moorcroft, and it’s just wonderful to have her back. I loved this book – and so will you… that’s #MyPromise!
Do be sure to follow the other stops on the blog tour…
My thanks to netgalley and publishers Avon Books for my advance reading e-copy – and for the additional publicity material (but no, sorry, I won’t be wearing my hat to the launch!).