Jess Ryder is the pseudonym of Jan Page, author, screenwriter, playwright and award-winning television producer. After many years working in children’s media, she has recently embarked on a life of crime. Writing, that is. Her other big love is making pots
Today, about a million people in the UK are descended from the Vikings. A finger deformity known as Dupuytren’s disease is found in some people with Viking ancestry. This is possibly connected to the congenital condition of ‘trigger thumbs’.
He spread a blanket on the warm grass and laid the girls on their backs. Bending over to bathe them in his generous shadow, he carefully undid their pure white sleepsuits – so new they hadn’t even been through the wash once. He stripped them down to their nappies to let them kick their long, slender legs. They looked so exquisite he could hardly breathe. He took their tiny hands in his and marvelled at the smallness of their fingers; gazed deeply into their bright blue eyes; stroked every inch of their soft pink skin, as yet unblemished by cuts and bruises. He smoothed the fragile wisps of auburn hair – the very same shade as his own – as they fluttered in the soft breeze. They were perfect. Genetic miracles of his own creation. Daddy’s girls. His darlings. His warrior princesses both.
The Vikings came from Scandinavia, travelling very long distances from home to settle in other lands, including Britain, France, Ireland and as far as North America.
It’s three a.m. and he hasn’t fallen asleep yet, not even for a few moments. His eyes are wide open, pupils fully dilated, and the room feels hot and airless. He lifts his head and looks through the monochrome gloom to the curtains, hanging heavy and motionless. What to do? If he gets out of bed to open the window, he’ll need a pee. But then he’ll be fully awake and might as well make a cup of tea. Watch a bit of telly. Check his emails. Read the latest threatening text.
That’s the real reason he can’t sleep. Nothing to do with the stuffy atmosphere, or the bottle of wine he drank with dinner. He eases himself out of bed, rising to his full, imposing height. He wraps a bath towel around his nakedness and, shutting the door behind him with a gentle click, pads barefoot down the stairs.
He creeps into the living room and gradually turns up the dimmer, catching his reflection in the patio doors and seeing a tall man with a decent set of abs, a strong straight nose, and bright blue eyes that contrast well against his full auburn beard. He’s known as the Viking. In his fifties, and yet the female students still flutter around him, begging for ‘feedback’ on their mediocre essays. For years he revelled in his striking Nordic looks, but now they feel like a curse.
He goes to his briefcase and takes a small pay-as-you-go phone out of the inside pocket. He forgot to put it on charge at work and now there’s hardly any battery left. He squints at the tiny screen, his stomach sinking as he reads the messages. So she’s awake too.
The deadline is almost up.
I mean it.
Then a fifteen-minute gap.
Are you ignoring me?
Such a bad idea.
Then nothing for an hour. Perhaps, like him, she went to bed. He imagines her tossing and turning between the sheets, unable to sleep with her brain on high alert for the bleep of his reply. She’ll have taken his silence as enemy action, because that’s what she always does.
You have till the end of today.
He wants to tell her to fuck off, but that will only make things worse. They need to sit down face-to-face and have a grown-up conversation; you can’t discuss an issue as complicated and important as this by text message. Texts are short-form communications for making arrangements to meet, for apologies and reminders, expressions of affection or hurt. They’re particularly useful for lies and deceptions, and he has exploited these particular functions for many years. But this is different; she’s using her phone as a weapon. Not only is it irresponsible, it’s undignified; all the players in this game are worth more than that.
He starts prowling the room, his feet slapping against the stone flooring. He won’t be pushed into making a snap decision that will change lives forever. If he can’t stop her completely, he should at least play for time. He picks up the phone again, his large fingers stumbling over the tiny keyboard as he types in the words, cursing as he automatically adds kisses then instantly deletes them. Like he feels any tiny morsel of affection for her right now.
Let’s talk this over.
Her reply comes back almost instantly. No more talking. Time for action.
Give me more time.
You know my terms. Agree to them or else.
Or else. What is she, a kid? He knows she could cause colossal damage, but surely she’d never have the guts to follow through. Then again, she’s at the end of her tether; people do terrible things when they’re pushed to the limit. It doesn’t bear thinking about, and yet he’s thought of nothing else for weeks. He bangs the cluttered white wall with his forehead and a framed print shudders in sympathy. How did he let himself get into such a stupid mess?
Actually, enough of this. Time to be a man and take control. He sits on the arm of the sofa and turns to the phone again. Types. Or else what?
He stares at the screen for a couple of minutes, waiting and wondering what the silence means. She won’t have given up and gone to bed, that’s for sure. Is she trying to think of a suitably tough reply? Or has she finally come to her senses and realised there are other ways to solve this?
He stands up, his muscles tight and restless. The stale, overheated air feels suffocating. At times like this, there’s only one thing that has the power to relax him. An activity so demanding of his concentration that thinking of anything else is impossible. She’s waiting for him in the garage. Ever faithful, ever willing. The winding lanes will be empty, the air sharp and fresh. It’s been raining heavily and the tarmac will be slippery in parts. Poor riding conditions, but that’s good. The greater the skill required, the easier to forget all this shit. He’ll set himself a challenge to take the corners faster than he’s ever dared. He’ll ride up to Black Hill and watch the sunrise, then find a roadside café on the way back and have breakfast. His fingers start to tingle, his imagination already twisting the throttle.
He goes back to the bedroom, stealing yesterday’s underwear and T-shirt from the floor. He tiptoes downstairs again to fetch his leathers from the hall cupboard, pulling on the tight, unrelenting trousers and zipping up the Marlon Brando jacket he’s always being teased about. His boots are lying chilly in the porch and he puts them on, buckling the straps and stomping out of the house with his helmet and studded gauntlets tucked under his arm. The sky is dark, the stars shrouded in cloud, and the downpour has given way to a fine watery mist. As he crunches across the gravel, he can hear the trees dripping. He takes a deep breath, and fills his lungs with the innocence of a new day.
The garage door rattles as he pulls it up and over, the light coming on automatically to reveal the Bonneville in all her shiny black glory. Oh God, he loves this bike, the T100, an updated version of the 1960s classic he dreamed of owning when he was a teenager. Raised handlebars, a low-slung seat, flashy chrome pipes and eye-catching paintwork. She’s even got retro scuff pads on the fuel tank. Okay, he admits it, he’s what they call a ‘born-again biker’. A middle-aged, middle-class man desperate to recapture the energy and freedom of youth. And the bike hasn’t disappointed him; if anything, the sensations have been stronger, the thrills more addictive than when he was young.
The reimagined Bonneville has an electronic ignition and ABS, but she’s still a powerful, challenging ride. Nothing beats the roar of liberation as you tear down an open road, the engine vibrating through your thighs, your body an echo chamber for the thunderous noise. The joy of complete oneness as you interlock with the machine, trusting your instinct to lean into the bend at the perfect angle and accelerate out at just the right moment. The freedom of visor-down, black-leather anonymity as you weave through the traffic to beat the lights, swearing at motorists who dare to block your way. And later, on the home run, your passion spent, easing off the throttle, gently on the back brake, feathering off as you bring her to a stop and take your hands off the bars. The thrilling possibility of death; the relief of still being alive. It’s enough to turn a man to poetry.
He quietly wheels the bike to the end of the drive, then climbs on, fires up and speeds away. There are no street lamps or white markings here, making the road look and feel like a track. Oncoming traffic is extremely unlikely at this hour, so he takes up a confident position in the centre of the lane and accelerates. There are plenty of blind corners ahead to satisfy his lust, but in truth, he could drive this route with his eyes shut, navigate like a bat from the sound of the engine bouncing off the trees and hedgerows. He twists the bars and feels his way expertly around a sharp bend. This is all he wants to do, to ride and not think, to let his body be his brain.
He feels the wind wiping his face clean, the soft rainwater rinsing him out. He is a free man, his own master. But the sensation of happiness doesn’t last long. He feels a vibration in his chest – it’s his wretched phone, ringing from his top inside jacket pocket. Impossible to hear the ringtone above the rush of the engine, but he knows it’s her. So now she wants to talk. Why did he bring it with him? Why didn’t he put it back in its hiding place? The vibrations continue like an alien heartbeat, the insistent pulse of the enemy.
Enough calls, enough texts. Enough accusations and demands and threats. Enough, enough, enough. He takes his black-gloved hand off the bars and drags down the zip of his jacket, reaching in and extracting the phone. Letting out a triumphant, wolfish howl, he hurls it into the undergrowth and rides on, twisting like a ribbon around the bends. The feeling of freedom is so overwhelming and so sublime that for a split second he forgets he’s riding a modern-day motorcycle with considerable poke.
It happens very fast, and yet slowly enough for him to know that there’s nothing he can do to stop it. The road lurches suddenly to the right and he doesn’t ease off, doesn’t lean, his instincts deserting him along with the anti-lock braking system. A puddle of water forces itself beneath his tyres, and he skims over its surface like a polished black stone. He spins. He flies. Then hits the all-too-solid tree.
Ella’s life just hit rock-bottom, but can a summer by the sea mend her broken heart? When life gives you lemons… make ice-cream!
Life hasn’t always been easy for single mum Ella, but she has just hit an all-time low; she’s jobless, loveless, very nearly homeless and, to make matters worse, now the owner of a pocket-sized pooch with a better wardrobe than her.
Packing her bags (and a bigger one for the dog), Ella sets off for the seaside town of Appledore in Devon to re-live the magical summers of her youth and claim her portion of the family ice-cream business: a clapped-out ice-cream van and a complicated mess of secrets.
There she meets gorgeous and free-spirited solicitor, Ben, who sees things differently: with a little bit of TLC he has a plan to get the van – and Ella – back up and running in no time.
Ella’s Ice-Cream Summer is a heart-warming and hilarious romance that will scoop you off your feet and prove it’s never too late for a fresh start. The ideal holiday read for fans of Lucy Diamond, Abby Clements and Debbie Johnson.
Sue Watson was a journalist on women’s magazines and national newspapers before leaving it all behind for a career in TV. As a producer with the BBC she worked on garden makeovers, kitchen takeovers and daytime sofas – all the time making copious notes so that one day she might escape to the country and turn it all into a book.
After much deliberation and copious consumption of cake, Sue eventually left her life in TV to write. After a very successful debut novel, Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes Sue signed with Bookouture.
I was offered an ecopy of this book in exchange for an honest review by Kim at Bookouture as part of the blog tour for Ella's Ice Cream Summer. This is something I'm more than happy to do.
Sue Watson is one of my most favourite authors, her books are go to books when I want a pick-me-up, much cheaper than a prescription and better than any tonic you can buy across the counter. They are books that will have you drooling in one way or another - either from the more than lovely lead men or the very delicious cake they usually feature. I guessed this one would be different, the clue is in the title 'Ice-Cream' would I still get my fix? Absolutely, definitely, without a shadow of a doubt YES!!!
Ella's Ice Cream dream had me smiling and grinning like an idiot from the very first page. In the first few chapters we meet Ella and her family and friends - an eclectic bunch of characters that I could relate to straight away. Each and every person, just slightly more bonkers than the next. My favourite being her mother, Roberta who is loud, opinionated and on a different page in life to everyone else, leaving total chaos in her wake as she plays up to her Italian heritage and gets the wrong end of pretty much every situation.
The story begins with Ella losing her job, her children have finished university and are off to spread their wings leaving Ella feeling like a redundant mum home alone with no purpose or direction - she only has her slightly bonkers mother to care for. To add to that she finds out that her ex husband wants to sell the family home in order to keep wife number two in the manner she has become accustomed to.
News that her mothers sister, her aunt Sophia has died brings back memories of happy, sunny, summers spent in Appledore in Devon. Of time spent helping out at her aunts Italian, ice-cream parlour and enjoying endless days of sunshine playing alongside her older cousin Gina - a girl that Ella has always looked up to and aspired to be like.
Roberta, Ella's mother refuses to attend the funeral and begs Ella not to go either. The two sisters had fallen out many years before and Ella's mum obviously holds a deep seated grudge as she refuses to reveal why - something that Ella finds difficult to reconcile and can't understand why she refuses to share the reasons behind the fall-out. Ella goes alone and after the funeral Ella attends her aunts will reading and finds herself the proud owner of Reginaldo, an old ice cream van owned by her aunt, this evokes many happy memories of summers spent on the beach, something Ella is eager to recreate.
Sue Watson takes us down the motorway to Devon with Delilah - Delilah being Josh her sons girlfriends dog, a dog with a better wardrobe than you or me I hasten to add. Ella decides that she'd quite like to take some time out and the opportunity to re-live one last summer of her childhood is too hard to resist. She's also secretly hoping she can find out what is behind the family feud.
Ella's Ice Cream summer was a delicious read, a journey with mouth watering descriptions as I followed Ella to Devon and totally bought into Ella's dream. It's a story with more than a little romance, a story steeped in mystery and secrets that were revealed slowly throughout the book. There's more than one love interest and Roberta and Delilah are for me the stars of the show. Sue's ability to create multi-faceted characters is second to none - polishing them just a little more with each chapter until they shine and can stand alone - I totally loved this book. The descriptions of the various ice-creams and sorbets had me drooling, oh how I wish my 'fat club' was based in Appledore.
Another thumbs up for me - Sue has done it again and got the recipe just perfect!A totally uplifting read, with all the glitz and glamour of the Italian Riviera.Sue is an author I'll never tire of reading, each and every book delivers what it says on the tin - escapism, laced with pure indulgence - in this case ice-cream - mmmmmmm!!
Izzy Harris should have it all – but her boyfriend has been ignoring her for months, she’s been overlooked for a promotion, and the owner of her local coffee shop pervs on her every time she has a craving for a salted caramel muffin.
Then her life is unexpectedly turned upside down.
Izzy dumps her oblivious boyfriend, and leaps on the chance to win a big pitch at work. Needing to work closely with gorgeous colleague Alex is an added perk…
But then her best friend has her heart broken, the pitch is way more complicated than expected, and Alex is keeping secrets. Does Izzy have what it takes to help her friend, save her career and get the guy?
A funny, feel-good read about finding yourself – and love – when you least expect it, for fans of Joanna Bolouri, Cate Woods, and Lindsey Kelk.
My thoughts... I was given an ecopy of this book by Bookouture, Keris Staintons publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is something I am more than happy to do. What a delightful book, when if like me recently, you've lost your reading mojo and everything book you pick up seems to blend into the last then this is a book is for you I knew nothing about the book, Kim at Bookouture recommended it, I trust her 100%, so downloaded it and read this week-end whilst on a friends narrow-boat. What a tonic, a proper laugh out loud, amusing read which is also a bit sad at times too, Imagine going through life feeling invisible and inferior to everyone - nobody really seeming to look at you, listen to you or pay any heed to anything you do either at home or at work - that was Izzy Harris' life. I don't really think she realised properly how low her self esteem was until one day she literally disappeared with hilarious consequences.
I think we've all at times wished we could be a fly on the wall - well Izzy gets her chance and uses it to get her own back on a few people. It felt like I was on a journey with Izzy as she got the opportunity to see herself and her life clearly, not really liking everything she saw and then gradually with the support of best friend Tash and a hunky, Australian from the office she begins to rebuild her confidence and takes control to turn her life around. I so wish I could have been a fly on the wall as I suspended disbelief so many times - laughing and smiling at the consequences. Every page is filled with funny moments that literally made me howl - Izzy is such a fun character I was rooting for her all the way as she dumped her boyfriend, got even at work, shocked her family and found love when she least expected it. I highly recommend this book, you'll whizz through the pages in no time and be sat like me now wondering what's next! Thank you so much Kim for recommending this book and Keri for writing such an uplifting, fun read — just perfect to lift me out of my funk.