I’m really delighted today to be joining the blog tour for The House at Ladywell by Nicola Slade, published by Crooked Cat Books on 14th November, and available from Amazon in the UK and US. I’ve been meaning to read one of Nicola’s books for quite a while, but once again it’s taken a tour invitation from Brook Cottage Books to make me actually pick one up – and the fact that this one was described as a ” contemporary romance with historical interludes” made me sure it would be just the read for me.
A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her to leave the past behind?
Had I gone completely crazy that first day? To open the door, take one astonished look round, and decide on the spot that I would live there? To fall in love with a house?’
When Freya Gibson inherits an old, run-down property she has no idea she is the last in a long line of redoubtable women, including the Tudor nun who built the house. Unknown to Freya these women, over centuries, fought with whatever weapons came to hand – deception, endurance, even murder – to preserve their home and family.
Freya falls in love with the house but her inheritance includes an enigmatic letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’ of the Lady’s Well. Besides this, the house seems to be haunted by the scent of flowers.
In the past the Lady’s Well was a place of healing and Freya soon feels safe and at home, but she has demons of her own to conquer before she can accept the happiness that beckons.
And “just the read for me” is exactly what it proved to be. I always enjoy a story with a dual time thread, but this book had something of a treat in store – rather than “dual”, those historical interludes whisked me back into different periods of history, all focused on the house that Freya has inherited. I’ve never seen this done before – distinct self-contained stories, linked with (and often illuminating) the modern-day story, ranging from Roman times through to the First World War, all with a tang of well-researched authenticity and with strong women at their core. The first time it happened it was rather a surprise – until I remembered the “principal characters” list that started the book, which included “the Roman girl”. I would, I think, have liked just a little more sign-posting (perhaps a date before each interlude, just to help me get my bearings?), but I did really like the book’s very original construction.
In fact, there was a lot about this book that I really liked, not least the house itself. Described with a love for detail that matches my own – what a wonderful home – I also loved the touches of magic, the scent of flowers, and the hare motif that runs through the fascinating story. And the modern story itself had a bit of everything that I enjoy – a strong and likeable heroine, a convincing romantic thread, and a historical mystery to be solved. I also enjoyed the writing itself – this book was an enjoyable read that I looked forward to picking up, with a narrative drive that really drew me in.
Yes, I really enjoyed this one… Nicola Slade is most definitely another name to add to my “must try another book by her” list.
Here’s an intriguing extract for you to try:
Something I’d failed to mention to anyone: not to Louise, not when I was enthusing to Patrick, and certainly not to the helpful solicitor, was the letter that had been waiting for me on that first day.
Beside the front door stood a small table on which sat an old walkabout phone in a base station, and two envelopes, one large and the other letter-sized. The smaller envelope was addressed to me.
The handwriting straggled shakily across the page and the contents of the letter startled me.
‘When you were born I knew you were the one. Before anything else you must go into the garden and pick some flowers. It doesn’t matter what you pick: in winter look for leaves, rosemary or winter jasmine, but if it’s summer pick simple flowers – a rose, a sprig of yellow broom, nothing fancy. Pick what you can and weave them into a wreath made from the rowan tree – you’ll know it by the wooden bench underneath. Hang it on the hook inside the front door.
When that’s done, say the words written below, making sure you’re alone. My grandmother had the verse from her own grandmother and so on. I expect the words have altered over time but the spirit remains the same. Show reverence when you do these things but do this first of all. You must not delay.
You must restore the balance.’
It had been a sleety February day, with flowers few and far between but I persevered, driven by the sense of urgency in the letter. I found secateurs in the kitchen. The rosemary was easy, a great, straggling bush standing sentinel by the path, with yellow winter jasmine spread against the wall. In a sheltered spot I found a clump of snowdrops and, to my delight, a primrose or two.
I had to stand on the bench to snip a couple of pliable twigs from the rowan, and back in the house I bent them into a makeshift circle and threaded in the flowers and leaves. Still under the compulsion I’d felt on reading the letter I stood on a chair to hang my creation on the waiting hook.
Saying the words Violet had written made me pause.
‘It sounds like a spell,’ I half-whispered, hushed by the strangeness of it all. Was Violet a witch? Wasn’t this all complete nonsense? I read the words again and summoned up my rusty Latin vocabulary, almost forgotten since ‘A’ Level. ‘Domina means lady; something about water? And leporum – rabbit? No,’ I corrected myself. ‘Lepus is a hare, and benedic – any kind of blessing can’t be bad.’
There was something about the place that I couldn’t explain. I felt safe and – odd as it sounds – wrapped in loving arms. The house was filled with a friendly silence and I felt comforted for the first time in ages. What harm could it do to obey Violet’s last instructions when she given me this precious gift?
I took a deep breath and bowed my head before the ring of twigs and flowers, not in prayer but in a kind of grateful submission, as I quietly murmured the Latin words, stumbling over a rough translation in my head…
With thanks to the author and tour organiser Brook Cottage Books, I’m pleased to be able to offer the chance to win one of two e-copies of another of Nicola Slade’s books, The Art of Murder. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
About the author
Nicola Slade had her first short stories published in her early twenties and wrote for children and for women’s magazines while her three children were growing up.
Nicola’s books are all set in Hampshire and include the romantic comedy, Scuba Dancing, and two cosy mystery series. The Charlotte Richmond books set in 1858 feature a young widow with a shady past and a habit of stumbling over the occasional corpse and the contemporary Harriet Quigley mysteries, featuring a retired headmistress and her cousin and sidekick, the Rev. Sam Hathaway.
Nicola lives in Hampshire with her husband, and as well as writing she belongs to a local art workshop; among other things she has been a Brown Owl and an antiques dealer.