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About the Author
After gaining a history degree, Jenni Keer embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her husband, an antique-restorer. She valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house, it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing women’s fiction. The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is her debut.
Read an Excerpt
'Bloody hell. There's a cat back here.'
A voice reverberated from the depths of the red and white removal van as Lucy Baker approached. It had been blocking in her tiny yellow Fiat for nearly two hours and despite popping out at regular intervals to check on progress, she saw it was still there. The Hobbycraft centre would be closing in half an hour and she wanted to pick up some more balls of the Candy Crush double knit while it was still on offer.
She peered around the side as a pathetic almost-meow echoed off the van walls. A cautious black paw appeared from behind an upright double mattress at the far end, followed by a tiny pair of luminous yellow eyes.
'Don't just stand there. Pick the poor sod up,' said the older man to his younger, spottier companion, who grunted and made a sudden lunge for the cat.
Startled by the movement, the bony creature dashed down the centre of the van and leaped from the back, bypassing the ramp. It caught Lucy's arm as it jumped and pelted up the pavement.
'Idiot,' the older man muttered and turned to Lucy. 'You all right, love?'
She nodded mutely and rubbed her arm as a noise to the left made her turn. In the open doorway of the newly occupied number twenty-four stood an extremely tall, suited man. Not too shabby on the eye, with a look of self-assurance, he was enough to get any heart fluttering. A subconscious hand went to her hair. Things were looking up if this was the new neighbour. Perhaps she could forgive him for failing to warn the residents of Lancaster Road it would be blocked for most of Sunday afternoon. After all, everyone deserved a second chance.
'You own a cat, mate?' the removal man called over to the suit.
'God, no. Allergic to the damn things.'
The zooming rocket of attraction, which had shot into the sky as she'd appraised the fine figure in the doorway, floated gently back to earth like a downy white feather. His second chance evaporated, along with the initial appeal she'd mistakenly conjured up based purely on his muscular frame and a pair of serious, dark eyes.
'Well, we either brought him with us up the A1, or he's local and we nearly took him home. Shame Liam here scared the poor bugger off. Let's hope there's not some broken-hearted kid pining for it this evening.'
The suit strode over to the van. He was dressed terribly formally for someone who had spent the day moving house. Perhaps she'd got it wrong and he was the estate agent.
'I hope the bloody thing hasn't left cat hair all over my mattress or I'll be up all night sneezing and rubbing my eyes.'
Damn. It appeared Lancaster Road was stuck with him.
'I don't think it's from a loving home,' ventured Lucy. 'The poor creature was in an awful state. It looked more like a stray to me.'
The young lad finished unstrapping the mattress from the cargo rail and shuffled it forwards. 'You take it on then,' said the suited man, 'if you feel so sorry for it.'
'Oh no, I can't.' Lucy's eyes were wide. 'My landlady doesn't allow pets.'
They stood facing each other for an awkward moment.
'Right,' he finally said. 'So then you're loitering at the back of the removal van because ...?'
'Um, I'm just waiting to get my car out,' and she pointed to her Fiat.
'We'll be done within the hour,' he replied, not bothering to look across at Lucy's trapped vehicle.
'Great.' Her smile was forced and her heart sank to the bottom of her flip-flops. The Hobbycraft centre would be closed by then.
The suit cast his eyes around the few remaining items of furniture and returned to the house, closing the front door firmly behind him.
Manhandling the wobbly mattress down the ramp, the removal men momentarily rested it on the pavement between them. The older guy looked over to the closed door and sighed, just as another front door was flung open. They heaved it up again and walked towards the house.
'Okay, what's going on?' asked Brenda, the elderly lady who lived between Lucy and the new arrival. 'Honestly, Lucy, your aura is all over the place. I could sense your frustration from the pantry.'
Not exactly a conventional pensioner, Brenda's purple-streaked, silvery hair fell down her back in a tidy plait, and her slightly hunched body was swathed in a rainbow of cotton garments. A silver locket was swinging from her neck but she tucked it out of sight as she walked towards the road. Her sharp eyes focused on the young lad and he wriggled uncomfortably. Juggling mattress and doorknob, the pair wrestled their way into number twenty-four.
'You told me you were going to the retail park this afternoon, Lucy. Have you been waiting for the van all this time?' Brenda ran her fingers back and forth through the purple buds of lavender growing in the narrow border down her path. Lucy caught the aroma and felt calmer.
'It's not a big deal. I can pop over after work next week.'
'Nonsense. It would have taken them two minutes to shift the van across and let you out. Honestly, I do believe you wouldn't have said anything if they'd parked it in the middle of your living room.'
The family from across the road tumbled out their sunny yellow doorway; the harassed mother clutching a baby to her hip, and the little girl giving Brenda and Lucy a cheery wave. They waved back with equal enthusiasm.
'I must finish those crocheted flower brooches for the preschool fête,' Lucy said. 'Chloe came over with her mother last week asking for tombola prizes. I have so many scraps of wool to use up, I feel I'm killing two birds with one crochet hook.'
Brenda chuckled. 'She's not easy to refuse, is she? With that cheeky grin. She's cleared me out of blackberry and apple preserve.'
The family piled into their people carrier and Lucy couldn't help but feel slightly jealous at the ease with which they pulled away from the kerb and trundled into the distance. If only the stupid removal van had parked three metres further down.
Brenda peered over the low wall as the front door to number twenty-four finally clicked shut. 'I glimpsed our new neighbour walking past earlier – quite the stud muffin. Good enough to eat and go back for seconds.' Her hand went to her throat and she played with the silver chain. 'A bit of male companionship would do you the world of good, young lady. Knitting needles and assorted buttons do not a fulfilling life make.'
'Oh no you don't.' Lucy crossed her arms and stared at her dear friend, a woman most locals considered something of an enigma, but whom Lucy adored unreservedly. It wasn't that people didn't like Brenda, they loved her, but she made them feel uncomfortable. They would happily stop by for one of her herbal remedies if they had a migraine coming. Or the lotion from the doctor couldn't clear up their intimate rash. But they didn't like to stop for tea. It didn't taste quite right ... 'I don't need you to start matchmaking, and I certainly don't want you chanting incantations at midnight in a potato sack in the hope the universe shifts slightly to the right and lots of non-existent chakras align – or whatever it is you do.' Brenda was prone to floating about and pretending to be mysterious, and Lucy happily indulged her friend. It was harmless enough and Lucy suspected Brenda was playing out an elaborate theatrical charade purely for her own amusement. 'You'll make me drink something from a glass vial and three days later I'll wake up with a headache, naked in a wheat field, surrounded by journalists.'
'Tish. You do talk nonsense sometimes. I'm merely an enabler. And if we search deep enough inside ourselves, it's amazing what can be summoned from within.' She closed her eyes, her body rising as she inhaled slowly and put out her hands, palms upward. 'Anyway, it's pointless to protest, because things are afoot without any intervention from me. He's already arrived,' Brenda said, opening her eyes and looking serious.
'Yes, we know all about his arrival: three hours blocking the road without so much as a note through our doors,' said Lucy.
'Not the sexy neighbour. The cat. I had a feeling there was one on its way.'
'How on earth ...' began Lucy, but she had given up trying to find answers for the mysterious things that happened around her friend. Because if Brenda Pethybridge had been expecting a cat, Lucy suspected the universe wouldn't dare fail to deliver.CHAPTER 2
Lucy spotted the stray in her tiny square of garden later that evening, weaving its way in and out of the assorted pots of straggly begonias and half-stacked piles of bricks. The poor little thing was all jutty-out limbs and tufty black fur, and had no more meat on its bones than a Lowry matchstalk cat.
Her efforts to coax it out were met with catty indifference and the nonchalant wipe of a chin along the edge of the battered metal watering can, so she changed tactics and five minutes later the nervous scrap was in her kitchen, peering up from the edge of a saucer of tuna.
'Don't look at me like that,' Lucy begged. 'I'd give you a home if I could.'
There it was again, the feeling her stomach was doing a series of inelegant roly-polies. Realistically, there was no way her landlady would drive all the way out to Renborough for a spot check on a mid-May Monday evening, but Lucy couldn't escape the nagging possibility, even if statistically it was more likely that the Prime Minister would stop by for a Jaffa Cake and a quick chat about the state of the NHS.
As the tiny creature licked up the last flake, Lucy swiped open her phone and googled local cat rescue centres. Renborough Animal Rescue was the nearest, but it was overflowing and under-resourced. There was a heartfelt plea on the website for people to consider offering a forever home to one of their twelve black cats as they were either considered unlucky or boring; the cute kittens and striking ginger toms were always chosen first. If the centre took Lucy's neighbourhood stray on, it would be number thirteen and that made her feel even more uncomfortable.
Reluctantly, she dialled the number as the cat halted its post-banquet ablutions, cast her a catty glance and attempted to meow in protest. A pathetic squeak came out.
'Sorry, sweetheart, I don't have a choice.'
The centre was closed but the answerphone invited her to leave a message or dial another number if it was an emergency. Lucy looked over to the cat, who was strutting up and down the kitchen and sniffing the stretcher rail of a chair. It hardly qualified as an emergency so she hung up.
Fetching a hand-crocheted blanket through from the living room, she folded it to make a temporary bed on one of the mismatched pine kitchen chairs, but the curious cat had wandered into the hallway, so she scooped up the creature and returned it to the kitchen. Carefully closing the door behind her, she went into the living room to pick up her knitting. Not a skill mastered by many twenty-five-year-olds but the only real talent Lucy believed she had. Such a shame there wasn't a great deal of demand for it in a professional capacity, knitting Shreddies for Nestlé aside, and she was fairly certain you had to be a nana for that.
Later that evening, in the middle of a complicated bit of shaping, there was a genteel knock at the front door, followed by a cheery 'Co-ee!'
Lucy's heart didn't exactly sink but it certainly didn't do a joyful skip as she opened the door to reveal her elegant mother; the sort of woman who coordinated everything from her soft furnishings to the contents of her fridge and expected everyone else to do the same.
'Darling. Stand up straight. We don't slouch.' She double-kissed the air either side of Lucy's face and took in her daughter's resigned expression. 'Aren't you pleased to see me?'
'It's always lovely to see you, but you could have rung first. I might have had company or been out somewhere.'
Her mother laughed at the joke Lucy didn't know she'd made.
'I'll have a coffee please if you're offering, but only if you've got the decent ground coffee in. Your father has driven out this way to collect an oily engine part from some eBay person for that damn BMW of his, and I said I'd come along for the ride so I could tell you about my simply marvellous plan for September.'
Lucy gave her mother a blank look, the significance of September momentarily eluding her.
'My Big Birthday,' her mother prompted.
'Oh.' An uneasy feeling began to ripple across Lucy's body. 'I thought you'd decided to go for something low-key?'
'I know I said I didn't want to advertise the fact I'm turning fifty, but after that poor woman across the road dropped down dead with an undiagnosed brain tumour at fifty-nine, it started me thinking. Life is precious and I want to celebrate that. Plus, it will be a wonderful excuse for a party. I rarely get the opportunity to dress up these days. You know what your father's like with social occasions. And it's not like I'm going to be buying another wedding outfit any time soon.'
Lucy felt a bubbling panic rise in her chest. 'I'm hardly an old maid.' She had enough insecurities without the announcement of a forthcoming event where they could be bandied about by her less than subtle mother, in front of an intimate gathering of close family and friends. This was not a simply marvellous plan; this was a total and utter catastrophe.
'Emily was married for two years and expecting her first child by the time she was your age.'
Deliberately not responding, Lucy walked towards the kitchen to hunt for the packet of Colombian ground coffee she kept in especially for these visits. Not a coffee drinker herself, except in emergencies, she'd never quite got around to mentioning it to her mother.
'I'm not saying motherhood is for everyone, but perhaps that's where your strength lies. Perhaps you are a homemaker rather than a breadwinner?'
Again, Lucy didn't comment. Even though she loved Emily dearly, she wasn't in the mood for a soliloquy about the virtues and achievements of her big sister. They had always been close, despite a five-year age gap and sixty miles between them, but her sister's high-flying career and two adorable daughters were the bright orange carrot her mother periodically waved in front of her, even though Lucy wasn't sure carrots were her thing.
As Lucy swung open the kitchen door, a black head poked out from under the cluttered table.
'Oh darling, not a cat. They bring in dead things.' Her mother scrunched up her face. 'Mind you, anything left on this table wouldn't be discovered for weeks.' She moved a pile of knitting patterns to the side and put her Jasper Conran handbag down.
'I'm only looking after it until I can get in touch with the rescue centre in the morning.'
'You mean it's a stray? Lucy! It will be riddled with fleas and goodness knows what. You really don't think these things through. Sometimes I despair of you.'
Yanking the cafetière from the back of the cupboard, Lucy nearly knocked over several precariously balanced mugs in the process. As she began making the coffee, her shoulders slumped and her mother was perceptive enough to notice.
'Oh sweetheart, I know it seems I am constantly scolding you, but it's only because I care. You've got this lovely cosy flat now, and the little job at the toy shop, or whatever it is. You're right, you're still young. I love both my girls so much and you know how much I ... Eurgh, it's coming towards me. Make it go away.'
Lucy plunged the cafetière with too much force and the coffee gurgled in the glass jug. Okay, so perhaps she wasn't a successful regional manager living in a chocolate-box house, deep in the Hertfordshire countryside, but she enjoyed her job at Tompkins Toy Wholesaler and felt at home in her cluttered little flat.
She poured two strong coffees and persuaded her mother to decamp to the living room, closing the door on the malnourished cat.
'You've knitted some more of those dolls. Very, erm ... accomplished. Perhaps you should pass them on to the girls to play with,' her mother said, referring to her granddaughters, 'because you're running out of seating in here.' She piled the knitted figures up on one end of the sofa and sat down.
'They aren't toys, they —'
'Boy dolls too, I see. How very modern.'
Lucy let out a tiny but audible sigh. 'So, this party then?' She steered the conversation away from her knitting and back to the party in order to gauge the extent of the inevitable horror that was a large social function.
'Yes, Emily thinks it's a simply marvellous idea. I thought it would be a splendid opportunity to gather all the family. Uncle Ted can fly over from Ireland, and all the cousins could come. Then there's family friends, the bridge club, your father's work colleagues at the bank ...'
'Exactly how big is this party going to be?' Lucy's eyes were dinner plates, never mind saucers, and her voice came out in a squeak.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker"
Copyright © 2019 Jenni Keer.
Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lucy is a mid-twenties woman who is unfailingly kind, perhaps even to being a bit easy to take advantage of, but content with her knitting, her historic romance addiction and her best friend and neighbor Brenda. Finding much of her life that she was ‘chastised’ or ignored by her mother for not standing up for herself or practicing the keeping up with the Joneses hopscotch, she’s a calming and steady influence on the other employees of the toy company she works for, and is able to mollify even the most difficult customers. Lucy is that sort of person who constantly doubts her own skills and abilities, but you’d always think of her first when you needed an ear, sympathy, friendship or even some quiet company. But a multi-hour wait at home after being blocked in by a moving truck unloading the furnishings to her neighbor’s new house, a neighbor who, while uber gorgeous has all of the social skills of a slime-encrusted rock. George isn’t really a ‘people’ person, he’s brusque and to the point, and wholly unable to see (or stop) himself putting his feet in the muck. There’s no real animosity in him, he’s just been hurt and is more than unusually hesitant to ‘trust’ in people, and well, his work obsession doesn’t help. But with Brenda being just who she is, and dancing between truly magical and a good-natured meddler, it’s hard for George to stay ‘impartial’, particularly when Lucy, as concerned as she is with Brenda’s failing health ropes him into help. So many wonderful moments in this story, from Lucy’s reframing her relationship with her older sister, to the real friendship separated by a house and 50 years with Brenda, her increasing confidence at work and her knitting projects from Thor to Poldark: adding a locket with ever-changing spell tasks to the mix only served to bring a bit of humanity to George and face him up with the unexpected, while the ‘tale’ of the locket helped Lucy to tap her previously untouched confidence. Keer managed to make every person in this book feel real and plausible, and reinforce the need for kind in the world you occupy, even bringing the ever-sexist and wholly inappropriate men in the toys office around to share a bit of their own insecurities and strengths. This is a perfect example of a story that allows readers an escape, with heart, laughs, tears and a solid determination to be more ‘like Lucy’ and go for kindness first. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Favorite Quotes: There was an inaudible twang as one of her heartstrings was plucked. A man of few words, and even fewer talents. She’s got me running around like a squirrel on speed. Adam rubs people up the wrong way and doesn’t stop rubbing until there are friction burns. I can imagine you’ll be the sort of parent who responds to a question about death with a PowerPoint presentation depicting the various stages of decay occurring in the human body – maggots and all. My Review: This debut author’s work was a delight to read, I was quickly enamored with her dynamic characters and vivid storytelling. I adored the friendship of the elderly yet feisty Brenda and her quiet yet kind neighbor Lucy. Brenda had purple streaks in her hair and was gifted with many talents. Young Lucy was a crafty knitter and an endearing and tenderhearted soul, yet timid and lacking in confidence. I enjoyed watching a stronger and more colorful Lucy evolve although Brenda’s deterioration squeezed my cold heart, put hot rocks in my throat, and caused my eyes to sting in a curious manner. The storylines were crisp, engaging, evocative, and laced with clever levity. Jenni Keer is one to watch and taught me a new Brit idiom of “big up,” which Mr. Google taught me was to praise or speak well of. I will gladly big up Jenni Keer anytime!
Loved the book! I would give it 4.5 stars. It’s so heartwarming and loved every minute of it. I love the friendship between Brenda and Lucy. How could I resist George and Scratbag?!! Loved the part where George finds Lucy washing the dead bunny and styling its fur. Yes, it was sad, but funny at the same time. Pretty much Lucy and George have awkward interactions. Brenda and Lucy are not only neighbors but also wonderful friends, even though Lucy is 25 and Brenda is 79. Lucy loves to knit and doesn’t have much of a social life. She loves her job at a toy company. Lucy feels like she doesn’t measure up to her perfect sister. With her mom’s big birthday party looming, Lucy is determined to find a boyfriend to bring to the party. Brenda gives Lucy a magic locket that will reveal spells to help her get her true love and give her the confidence she needs. Loved everything about the book - the story, characters and writing style. I wanted to be friends with Lucy. She seemed like such a wonderful friend, especially the way she looked after Brenda. I couldn’t believe all the shenanigans that took place at Lucy’s office. I’m not sure how I feel about Jess. Lucy and George were my favorite characters, followed by Brenda. Brenda had quite the life. Definitely smiled when Lucy heard George baby talking to Scratbag. The book was full of friendship and love, a bit of magic and some romance. Brenda and Lucy were exactly what each other needed. Definitely recommend this book. It had wonderful characters who would do anything to help each other plus an adorable kitty. I look forward to reading more books by the author. Thanks to NetGalley, Avon Books UK and the author, Jenni Keer, for a free electronic ARC of this novel.
"Sometimes a little something can mean everything." This is a delightful novel about friendship, love and a bit of magic thrown into each page. A friendship that is least expected between a 79 year old quirky lady, Brenda and a 25 year old named Lucy who lacks spontaneity and confidence in her life. As the story unfolds, both women realize how much they need each other and they come to truly care for one another. The old locket that Brenda gives to her friend has the magic that will help Lucy step out of her comfort level and find happiness. This is absolutely a heartwarming, feel good story and one the world needs to read and share!