Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice

4.4 121
by Rosamunde Pilcher

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The wait is over for the millions of readers who fell in love with Rosamunde Pilcher's compelling novels filled with riveting storylines and unforgettable characters. Now, New York Times bestselling author Rosamund Pilcher, has returned, giving her legion of fans another tale of love, loyalty, and rebirth...

Elfrida Phipps, once on the London stage and

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The wait is over for the millions of readers who fell in love with Rosamunde Pilcher's compelling novels filled with riveting storylines and unforgettable characters. Now, New York Times bestselling author Rosamund Pilcher, has returned, giving her legion of fans another tale of love, loyalty, and rebirth...

Elfrida Phipps, once on the London stage and retired at 62, never anticipates going off with a man. But after a devastating tragedy, church organist Oscar Blundell asks for her companionship. So with her brown-and-white dog in tow, Elfrida begins her journey, not knowing that joining her and Oscar at a rundown Victorian house in Scotland will be a young woman nursing a broken heart, a teenager escaping an unhappy home, and a stranger arriving during a snowstorm... Now these five, very different people form an unexpected circle of friends that will forever change their lives...

Author Biography ROSAMUNDE PILCHER is the author of such worldwide bestsellers as The Shell Seekers, September, and Coming Home. She lives with her husband, Graham, and their dog, Daisy, in Perthshire, Scotland.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Elfrida Phipps's untroubled life in a Hampshire village is cut to shreds when members of her neighbor's family die in a car crash, but, in a way this tragedy redeems her life. The warmth of this English domestic novel is reinforced by its closely delineated characters. Even Horace, the faithful dog, comes alive for us.

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Gardners Books
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Winter Solstice

By Rosamunde Pilcher

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Rosamunde Pilcher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-27771-0



BEFORE Elfrida Phipps left London for good and moved to the country, she made a trip to the Battersea Dogs' Home, and returned with a canine companion. It took a good—and heart-rending—half-hour of searching, but as soon as she saw him, sitting very close to the bars of his kennel and gazing up at her with dark and melting eyes, she knew that he was the one. She did not want a large animal, nor did she relish the idea of a yapping lapdog. This one was exactly the right size. Dog size.

He had a lot of soft hair, some of which fell over his eyes, ears that could prick or droop, and a triumphant plume of a tail. His colouring was irregularly patched brown and white. The brown bits were the exact shade of milky cocoa. When asked his ancestry, the kennel maid said she thought there was Border collie there, and a bit of bearded collie, as well as a few other unidentified breeds. Elfrida didn't care. She liked the expression on his gentle face.

She left a donation for the Battersea Dogs' Home, and her new companion travelled away with her, sitting in the passenger seat of her old car and gazing from the window in a satisfied fashion, as though this were the life to which he was happy to become accustomed.

The next day, she took him to the local Poodle Parlour for a cut, shampoo, and blow-dry. He returned to her fluffy and fresh and smelling sweetly of lemonade. His response to all this sybaritic attention was a show of faithful, grateful, and loving devotion. He was a shy, even a timid, dog, but brave as well. If the doorbell rang, or he thought he spied an intruder, he barked his head off for a moment and then retreated to his basket, or to Elfrida's lap.

It took some time to decide on a name for him, but in the end she christened him Horace.

Elfrida, with a basket in her hand, and Horace firmly clipped to the end of his lead, closed the front door of her cottage behind her, walked down the narrow path, through the gate, and set off down the pavement towards the post office and general store.

It was a dull, grey afternoon in the middle of October, with nothing much to commend about it. The last of autumn's leaves fell from trees, with an unseasonably icy breeze too chill for even the most ardent of gardeners to be out and about. The street was deserted, and the children not yet out of school. Overhead, the sky was low with clouds, that shifted steadily and yet never seemed to clear. She walked briskly, Horace trotting reluctantly at her heels, knowing that this was his exercise for the day and he had no alternative but to make the best of it.

The village was Dibton in Hampshire, and here Elfrida had come to live eighteen months ago, leaving London forever and making for herself a new life. At first she had felt a bit solitary, but now she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. From time to time, old acquaintances from her theatre days made the intrepid journey from the city and came to stay with her, sleeping on the lumpy divan in the tiny back bedroom that she called her work-room, which was where she kept her sewing machine and earned a bit of pin money making elaborate and beautiful cushions for an interior decorating firm in Sloane Street.

When these friends departed, they needed reassurance: "You're all right, aren't you, Elfrida?" they would ask. "No regrets? You don't want to come back to London? You're happy?" And she had been able to set their minds at rest. "Of course I am. This is my geriatric bolt-hole. This is where I shall spend the twilight of my years."

So, by now, there was a comfortable familiarity about it all. She knew who lived in this house, in that cottage. People called her by her name. "Morning, Elfrida," or "Lovely day, Mrs. Phipps." Some of the inhabitants were commuting families, the man of the house setting out early each morning to catch the fast train to London and returning late in the evening to pick up his car from the station park and drive the short distance home. Others had lived here all their lives in small stone houses that had belonged to their fathers and their grandfathers before that. Still others were new altogether, inhabiting the council estates that ringed the village, and employed by the electronics factory in the neighbouring town. It was all very ordinary, and so, undemanding. Just, in fact, what Elfrida needed.

Walking, she passed the pub, newly furbished and now called the Dibton Coachhouse. There were wrought-iron signs and a spacious car-park. Farther on, she passed the church, with its yew trees and lych-gate, and a notice-board fluttering with parish news. A guitar concert, an outing for the Mothers and Toddlers group. In the churchyard, a man lit a bonfire and the air was sweet with the scent of toasting leaves. Overhead, rooks cawed. A cat sat on one of the churchyard gate posts, but luckily Horace did not notice him.

The street curved, and at the end of it, by the dull bungalow which was the new Vicarage, she saw the village shop, flying banners advertising ice-cream, and newspaper placards propped against the wall. Two or three youths with bicycles hung about its door, and the postman, with his red van, was emptying the post-box.

There were bars over the shop window, to stop vandals' breaking the glass and stealing the tins of biscuits and arrangements of baked beans which were Mrs. Jennings's idea of tasteful decoration. Elfrida put down her basket and tied Horace's lead to one of these bars, and he sat looking resigned. He hated being left on the pavement, at the mercy of the jeering youths, but Mrs. Jennings didn't like dogs in her establishment. She said they lifted their legs and were dirty brutes.

Inside, the shop was bright with electricity, low-ceilinged and very warm. Refrigerators and freezers hummed, and it had strip lighting and an up-to-date arrangement of display shelving which had been installed some months ago, a huge improvement, Mrs. Jennings insisted, more like a minimarket. Because of all these barriers, it was difficult to know at first glance who was in the shop and who wasn't, and it was not until Elfrida rounded a corner (instant coffee and teas) that she saw the familiar back view, standing by the till and paying his due.

Oscar Blundell. Elfrida was past the age when her heart leaped for joy, but she was always pleased to see Oscar. He had been almost the first person she met when she came to live in Dibton, because she had gone to church one Sunday morning, and after the service the vicar had stopped her outside the door, his hair on end in the fresh spring breeze, and his white cassock blowing like clean washing on a line. He had spoken welcoming words, made a few noises about doing flowers and the Women's Institute, and then, mercifully, was diverted. "And here's our organist. Oscar Blundell. Not our regular, you understand, but a splendid spare wheel in times of trouble."

And Elfrida, turned, and saw the man emerging from the darkness of the interior of the church, walking out into the sunshine to join them. She saw the gentle, amused face, the hooded eyes, the hair which had probably once been fair but was now thickly white. He was as tall as Elfrida, which was unusual. She towered over most men, being five feet eleven and thin as a lath, but Oscar she met eye to eye and liked what she saw there. Because it was Sunday, he wore a tweed suit and a pleasing tie, and when they shook hands, his grip had a good feel to it.

She said, "How clever. To play the organ, I mean. Is it your hobby?"

And he replied, quite seriously, "No, my job. My life." And then smiled, which took all pomposity from his words. "My profession," he amended.

A day or two later, and Elfrida received a telephone call.

"Hello, Gloria Blundell here. You met my husband last Sunday after church. The organist. Come and have dinner on Thursday. You know where we live. The Grange. Turreted red brick at the end of the village."

"How very kind. I'd love to."

"How are you settling in?"


"Splendid. See you Thursday, then. About seven-thirty."

"Thank you. So much." But the receiver at the other end of the line had already been replaced. Mrs. Blundell, it seemed, was not a lady with time to waste.

The Grange was the largest house in Dibton, approached by a drive through hugely pretentious gates. Somehow none of this exactly fitted in with Oscar Blundell, but it would be interesting to go, to meet his wife and see his background. You never really got to know people properly until you had seen them within the ambiance of their own home. Seen their furniture and their books and the manner of their life-style.

On Thursday morning she had her hair washed, and the colour given its monthly tweak. The shade was officially called Strawberry Blonde, but sometimes it came out more orange than strawberry. This was one of the times, but Elfrida had more important things to worry about. Clothes were a bit of a problem. In the end she put on a flowered skirt which reached her ankles and a long cardigan-type garment in lime-green knit. The effect of hair, flowers, and cardigan was fairly dazzling, but looking bizarre was one of Elfrida's best ways of boosting her confidence.

She set out on foot, a ten-minute walk, down the village, through the pretentious gates, and up the drive. For once, she was dead on time. Never having been to the house before, she did not open the front door and walk in, calling "Yoohoo," which was her normal procedure, but found a bell and pressed it. She could hear its ring coming from the back of the house. She waited, gazing about her at well-tended lawns which looked as though they had just had their first cut of the year. There was the smell of new-cut grass, too, and the damp scent of the cool spring evening.

Footsteps. The door opened. A local lady in a blue dress and a flowered apron, clearly not the mistress of the house.

"Good evening. Mrs. Phipps, is it? Come along in, Mrs. Blundell won't be a moment, just went upstairs to fix her hair."

"Am I the first?"

"Yes, but not early. Others'll be here soon. Want me to take your coat?"

"No, I'll keep it on, thank you." No need to enlarge on this, to explain the little silk blouse beneath the cardigan had a hole under the sleeve.

"The drawing-room ..."

But they were interrupted. "You're Elfrida Phipps.... I am sorry I wasn't here to greet you...." And looking up, Elfrida saw her hostess descending the wide staircase from a balustraded landing. She was a large lady, tall and well-built, dressed in black silk trousers and a loose, embroidered Chinese jacket. She carried, in her hand, a tumbler half-full of what looked like a whisky and soda.

"... I got a bit delayed, and then there was a telephone call. Hello." She held out her hand. "Gloria Blundell. Good of you to come."

She had an open, ruddy face with very blue eyes, and hair which, like Elfrida's, had probably been tweaked, but to a more discreet shade of soft blonde.

"Good of you to invite me."

"Come along in by the fire. Thank you, Mrs. Muswell; I expect the others will just let themselves in ... this way ...."

Elfrida followed her through into a large room, much panelled in the style of the thirties, and with a vast red brick fireplace where burnt a log fire. In front of the hearth was a leather-padded club fender, and the room was furnished with hugely padded and patterned sofas and chairs. Curtains were plum velvet braided in gold, and the floor was closely carpeted and scattered with thick, richly coloured Persian rugs. Nothing looked old or shabby or faded, and all exuded an air of warmth and a cheerful masculine comfort.

"Have you lived here long?" Elfrida asked, trying not to appear too inquisitive.

"Five years. The place was left to me by an old uncle. Always adored it, used to come here as a child." She dumped her glass onto a handy table and went to hurl another enormous log onto the fire. "I can't tell you the state it was in. Everything threadbare and moth-eaten, so I had to have a really good refurbish. Made a new kitchen as well, and a couple of extra bathrooms."

"Where did you live before?"

"Oh, London. I had a house in Elm Park Gardens." She picked up her glass and had a restoring swallow, and then set it down again. She smiled. "My dressing drink. I have to have a little boost before parties. What would you like? Sherry? Gin and tonic? Yes, it was a good place to be and marvellously spacious. And Oscar's church, Saint Biddulph's, where he was organist, only ten minutes or so away. I suppose we'd have stayed there forever, but my old bachelor uncle was gathered, as they say, and the Grange came to me. As well, we have this child, Francesca. She's twelve now. I've always thought it better to bring a child up in the country. I don't know what Oscar's doing. He's meant to pour drinks. Probably forgotten about everything, and reading a book. And we have other guests to meet you. The McGeareys. He works in the City. And Joan and Tommy Mills. Tommy's a consultant in our hospital at Pedbury. Sorry, did you say sherry or gin and tonic?"

Elfrida said gin and tonic, and watched while Gloria Blundell went to pour her one from the well-provided table at the far end of the room. She then replenished her own glass, with a generous hand for the Scotch.

Returning, "There. Hope it's strong enough. You like ice? Now, sit down, be comfortable, tell me about your little cottage."

"Well ... it's little."

Gloria laughed. "Poulton's Row, isn't it? They were built as railway cottages. Are you frightfully cramped?"

"Not really. I haven't got much furniture, and Horace and I don't take up much room. Horace is my dog. A mongrel. Not beautiful."

"I have two Pekes, which are. But they bite guests, so they're shut in the kitchen with Mrs. Muswell. And what made you come to Dibton?"

"I saw the cottage advertised in The Sunday Times. There was a photo. It looked rather dear. And not too expensive."

"I shall have to come and see it. Haven't been inside one of those little houses since I was a child and used to visit the widow of some old station porter. And what do you do?"


"Garden? Play golf? Good works?"

Elfrida hedged slightly. She knew a forceful woman when she met one. "I'm trying to get the garden straight, but it's mostly shifting rubbish so far."

"Do you ride?"

"I've never ridden a horse in my life."

"Well, that's straightforward anyway. I used to ride when my sons were boys, but that's a long time ago. Francesca's got a little pony, but I'm afraid she's not all that keen."

"You have sons as well?"

"Oh, yes. Grown up now and both married."

"But ...?"

"I was married before, you see. Oscar's my second husband."

"I'm sorry. I didn't realize."

"Nothing to be sorry about. My son Giles works in Bristol and Crawford has a job in the City. Computers or something, totally beyond me. Of course, we had known Oscar for years. Saint Biddulph's, Raleigh Square, was our church. He played divinely at my husband's funeral. When we married, everybody was astonished. That old bachelor, they said. Do you have any idea what you're taking on?

It was all marvellously intriguing. "Has Oscar always been a musician?" Elfrida asked.

"Always. He was educated at Westminster Abbey Choir School, and then went on to teach music at Glastonbury College. He was choirmaster and organist there for a number of years. And then he retired from teaching, moved to London, got the post at Saint Biddulph's. I think he'd have continued there until they carried him out feet-first, but then my uncle died and fate decreed otherwise."

Elfrida felt a little sorry for Oscar. "Did he mind saying goodbye to London?"

"It was a bit like pulling an old tree up by the roots. But for Francesca's sake, he put a brave face on it. And here he has his music room and his books and scores, and he does a little private coaching, just to keep his hand in. Music is his life. He loves it when there's an emergency and he can play for morning service in the Dibton church. And, of course, he's always sneaking over to have a little quiet practice all on his own." Behind Gloria, quietly, the door from the hall had opened. Talking away, she was unaware of this, but, realizing that Elfrida's attention had strayed, turned in her chair to peer over her shoulder.

"Oh, there you are, old boy. We were just talking about you."

All at once, and all together, the other guests arrived, letting themselves in and filling the house with the sound of their voices. The Blundells went out to welcome them, and for a moment Elfrida was alone. She thought it would be rather nice to go home now and have a solitary evening mulling over all she had learned, but of course this was not to be. Almost before she could put the shameful thought out of her mind, her hosts were back, their guests surged into the room, and the dinner party was on its way.

It was a formal evening, lavish and traditional, with excellent food and a great deal of splendid wine. They ate smoked salmon and a beautifully presented crown of lamb, and there were three puddings, and bowls of thick cream, and then a creamy blue-veined Stilton. When the port was handed around, Elfrida noticed with some amusement that the ladies did not leave the room, but stayed with the men, and although she was now on to copious glasses of water, which she poured for herself from a cut-glass jug, she saw that the other women enjoyed their port, and Gloria, perhaps, most of all.


Excerpted from Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher. Copyright © 2000 Rosamunde Pilcher. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Winter Solstice 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 121 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book that takes everyday people, people you may know or be, and drops them in Scotland near the Christmas Holidays. (I don't like to give out details of a book. It can make others not care to read it because they already know the story.) They all need someone in their life that would love and care for them. Ms Pilcher has made the story a place I would want to be and has peopled the story with people I would like to know. I would not say these people are depressed. They each have problems they need to deal with and do so. Once again Rosamunde Pilcher has come to save me. And I thank her. I feel this book would be of interest to anyone who likes to read. I read 2-3 books per week. But I can always count on Ms. Pilcher to take me on a well written, entertaining and enjoyable journey. And she does.
Brit_Fan_Kim More than 1 year ago
Helene Hanff was once quoted as saying that she didn't like fiction because she couldn't get excited about things that never happened to people who never lived. Rosamunde Pilcher's characters in Winter Solstice live and breathe and jump out of the pages. Although first introduced to this story by the audio book read by the marvelously talented Lynn Redgrave, I ordered to nook book and found a treasure. The audio book was abridged and so I found myself discovering new Pilcher treasure in the details edited from the audio version. Christmas shopping with Sam Howard, icy stares from Gloria Blundell and descriptions of Scotland in it's winter mantle were wonderful treats. The story is about how life can take an unexpected and sometimes tragic turn to set your life on a new path. A horrible car accident, the end of an affair, a new job and a child feeling unwanted and unloved all cause these 5 characters to come together in a Scotland snowstorm. Pilcher's characters are richly written and I feel as if I could sit around the table with them and exchange stories. There is Oscar, kind but distant in his grief and at odds with GOD for taking his family from him. Then Elfrida who loves people and cares deeply for Oscar and couldn't be happier with a house full of people helping to touch the lives of each person in her own special way. Next there's Carrie who is sure that her dreams of love are over forever and emotionally drained from an affair that ended with loss. With Carrie comes Lucy worried that she will remind Oscar of the daughter he lost but reeling from feeling unwanted and unimportant as her mother flies off to the States with a new love. And finally there is Sam who is slowly rebuilding his life after his wife informs him that she wants out of their marriage. His company calls him back to the UK from New York to reopen a defunct woolen mill in the North of Scotland. This is a story that I return to again and again, especially at Christmas. I find great comfort in their friendship and learn from their life lessons to stay open to change for it may lead you to the life that you are meant to live.
sadieJO More than 1 year ago
Peronally Ms Pilcher is my favorite author. I have read "winter Solstice" four times. I most likely will read it again. This is a wonderful read. The people you meet in this book, you want to know, you want to visit with. They became real people. This novel is warm and compelling. Ms.Pilcher has such a wonderful gift of writing. One cannot put her books down. I will search for more of her books, I all ready own most of them. Janet Owren
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed several of Pilcher's books and cannot understand why more are not available on Nook! A classic like "The Shell Seekers" is a must read for any fan.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Roseamunde Pilcher's book over and over again. Her son, Robin, writes like his Mother.
cothr More than 1 year ago
Great Book, Quick Read. Very heartwarming. Would read it again. Would definately read other books by her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Author presents a fictional story about a very independent retired actress who finds a new life and love in Scotland after overcoming a lot of problems. The descriptions of the country are lovely.
SonDan More than 1 year ago
I don't understand why all of Ms. Pilcher's books are not available for the nook. This is the third book I've read of hers and all have exceeded my expectations. I'll read this book again and again.
Mari-Kate9 More than 1 year ago
my aunt and i re-read this together every december before the holidays.  magical, cozy and very british-what more could one want?
Darlene28 More than 1 year ago
This is a delightful book which takes place in Scotland, present day. A peaceful story of life of 2 characters and others that weave into the story. At times I found it amazing that the USA and United Kingdom both speak "english" but they are soooooo different but it did not take away from the story. I don't usually read English books so it took me a moment or two to get into it but now I'm ready for more. I read this during the heatwave of the 2012 summer and with all the cold and snow in this story it helped to keep me cool. I hope you enjoy it also!
lovestotravel More than 1 year ago
I have just finished having my annual read of "Winter Solstice" - almost every year since it came out in 2001. My copy is getting a bit ragged. For whatever reason, this particular Rosamunde Pilcher story is my favorite and one of only a few books I read over and over. The characters are so real and I can feel that bitter cold of northern Scotland in winter as I read it. Perhaps it is because they are so well described and we all know people like them. Even Horace is wonderful. It is an uplifting story of tragedy that can be conquered and you want them to succeed as the story unfolds. Ms. Pilcher has certainly given us many excellent books during her long life. I have read most of them and would recommend them highly.
Jennifer_April_Smith More than 1 year ago
I started reading Rosamunde Pilcher around the same time I picked up a few books by Maeve Binchy; they both reside in relatively the same sector of the world. Truthfully, I believe I mistook one for the other when I first started reading their books because of the relatively close proximity of their residences; then literally found another great author! Truly I cannot say enough about either writer; their books are right on the mark and again a great read whether you are of the male or female species. D ~
dianehaze More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel- Winter Solstice"- Would love to read a sequel to it~ I love how the author intertwines the characters' lives and in such a picturesque setting. The way it is written reminds me of several of Maeve Binchy's novels-different characters come together thru mutual circumstances. I think it is a great way to bring to life a group of characters (and not be in an English murder mystery novel-although I do love reading those too)!. I recommend this book to anyone who would love a nice diversion from the work-a-day world-it almost makes one feel as if they are on a vacation of sorts~
Guest More than 1 year ago
I reread this book many a December. The characters and story are satisfying and never miss a beat. My favorite of all her books.
lorrib More than 1 year ago
what an accomplishment--l loved these people and wanted more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very readable, easy on the intellect. A book to take to the hospital with you or when you go to bed with a cold.
SWOINPSGA More than 1 year ago
I loved the book and could not put it down. Read from start to finish and now I want too read more from this author. I would really like to see a series to this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a voracious reader ... I devour approximately 65 books per year and this is my absolute, all time favorite book. I have to read this every Christmas or I feel my holidays are missing something. I love all the characters - especially Elfrida and Oscar. Even Dodie and Nicola serve their purpose. I have read several of Rosamunde Pilcher's books and this is by far her very best. Since I just ordered NOOK I am hoping some of her books will be available in e-book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the 'feel' of the entire storyline.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that I read every winter, Elfrida is a character that every person has known in their life- that wacky wonderful relative that everyone loves. You feel as though you are there -a part of the characters lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is the only book i ever wanted to read multiple times.........i really want to live it...such a warm and cozy story......
Guest More than 1 year ago
In a pinch for something to read, I pulled this off my bookshelf where it had been sitting for several years, unread. I really didn't think I'd get past the first few pages, let alone the first chapter. I generally read mystery and suspense. As I read on I was pleasantly surprised that I found I didn't want to put it down. This is the first Rosamunde Pilcher book I have read. What a wonder discovery. I will definatly be reading more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book, once again. Pilcher is a very goog writer who makes me travel without moving from Brittany! Thank you very much!! Sha has other very good books which you should read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a huge fan of Pilcher's and about once a year- dust off my collection and read them again-- I never get tired of them. This book is a comfort and retreat for me!! By far one of my favorites.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did find myself wishing I could leave and move to Scotland. I had tea with her while reading this great moving story. This is written in such good tase, and you hate to lay it down for even a minute. Tears of joy on the ending as it reached a mother's heart that too had lost her child.