Tumbledown Manor

Tumbledown Manor

by Helen Brown


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From New York Times bestselling author Helen Brown comes a witty, uplifting novel about a woman who discovers that it's never too late to build the home--and the life--you've always longed for…

The windows rattle. The roof leaks. Every surface cries out to be stripped, painted, or polished. But for writer Lisa Trumperton, the dilapidated manor house that once belonged to her great-grandfather is far more than the sum of its battered parts. It's the chance for a new start on her own terms. The fact that it's in the Melbourne countryside of her Australian homeland, far from the deceitful ex-husband she just left behind in New York…well, that's a bonus.

Lisa sets to work refurbishing Trumperton Manor, assisted by her son, his friends, and a "Gray Army" of retired handymen. But it's not just her ancestral home that's being transformed. As she trades her chic Manhattan clothes for jeans and work boots, Lisa is changing and fortifying her relationships with her family and her sense of self. There are floods, fires, and catastrophes, but there are new allies too, including a one-eyed cat, a stubborn cockatoo, and a rugged landscaper with an irresistible grin. Piece by piece, the house is pushing Lisa beyond her old limits, daring her to embrace something bigger, braver, and more rewarding than she ever dreamed.

Praise for Helen Brown and Her Books

"A buoyant tale, heartfelt and open." --Booklist on Cleo

"Brown writes eloquently about the bonds between women … a moving story of love and identity." --Kirkus Reviews on Cats & Daughters

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496701480
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 04/26/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 256,165
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Helen Brown was born and brought up in New Zealand, where she first worked as a journalist, TV presenter, and scriptwriter. A multi-award-winning columnist, Helen now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her family and feline, the internationally beloved Jonah. Cleo rose to the top of the bestseller lists in its first weeks in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Australia, and has been translated into more than sixteen languages. Cats & Daughters further increased her audience with publications in six countries. Tumbledown Manor, already a bestseller in Australia/New Zealand and in Germany, shows her storytelling talents at their best.

You can visit Helen Brown at www.helenbrown.au and follow her on Facebook.

Read an Excerpt

Tumbledown Manor

By Helen Brown


Copyright © 2016 Helen Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0149-7


A birthday ending in a zero was nothing to make a fuss about. There was enough to be grateful for — her health, a solid marriage, kids old enough to be off their hands (technically), a passable writing career. Why anyone would want to celebrate being another decade closer to filling a funeral urn was beyond Lisa Katz.

Nevertheless, she felt a prick of disappointment when, over breakfast at a diner near their apartment, she realized Jake had forgotten. But no wonder. Poor Jake was working crazy hours at the bank. His once lustrous tide of curls had receded to a charcoal reef, and the dark circles under his eyes had puffed out into pouches.

"You're still my best girl," he said, before draining his coffee and dabbing his lips with a paper napkin.

Standing, he bent over the table and brushed his lips against hers. It was one of their less awkward kissing positions, apart from when they were in bed together lying side by side.

As a teenager sprouting depressingly close to six feet, Lisa had imagined marrying someone as tall as — if not taller than — herself. But while she was getting her head around the idea of wearing flats for the rest of her life, she began to notice that most tall men were obsessed with women the size of dolls. Lisa, on the other hand, was a magnet to pint-sized Napoleons.

Still, what Jake lacked in stature he made up for with vigor. The height difference had only increased the inventiveness of their sex life in the early days. Back then, he'd stroked her large buttocks as if they were the foothills of heaven.

Now, Lisa felt a ripple of fondness combined with relief as Jake slid into his overcoat and disappeared into the gray fall morning. Pulling on her hat, cape, and fingerless gloves, she stepped outside into her own private birthday, a day of doing just what she wanted for a change.

After a couple of hours at MoMA, Lisa had a session of guilty gratification with Mark. It seemed vaguely immoral to pay for a stranger to rub oil into her back like that, but Jake was too tired these days — and Mark's hands never wandered.

Then, flushed and gleaming with oil, she headed home to their apartment building on the Upper East Side. Set several blocks back from the park and surely the ugliest building in the entire neighborhood, it frowned down on a narrow, shaded street.

At the door, Pedro greeted her with his eternal smile — a miracle, considering he held down three jobs to keep himself and his family alive. "Lucky you missed the rain, Mrs. Trumperton." He beamed.

She'd stopped asking him to call her Lisa. It was typical Pedro to use her professional name. To most people she was just Mrs. Katz, Jake's gangly appendage.

As she opened the door to their apartment, Lisa stumbled backwards.


Jake stepped toward her, his dark eyes glowing in triumph. What was he doing home this early? He took her hand and guided her to the living room.

"Happy birthday, Mom!" Ted encircled her in his arms, sending her hat tumbling to the floor.

"Ted? You came all the way from Australia?" Lisa was suddenly aware that she was shaking. "When did you get here?"

"This morning." Her son picked up her hat and dusted it off.

"How did you get time off?" She scraped her hands through her hair, hoping he wouldn't notice how oily it was from the massage.

"I've got a week before my next exam," he said.

The genetic slot machine had been kind to Ted. Not only had he inherited his father's Mediterranean coloring rather than her bloodshot, watery-eyed Nordic genes, but he was tall and well built. The shadow of a beard made his chin more pronounced and highlighted his eyes. Whatever he was up to besides architecture studies was doing him good.

Lisa was about to tease him about his Australian accent when the pantry door burst open. "Surprise!" Portia teetered toward Lisa in shoes that would qualify as stilts.

As her daughter bent to kiss her in a flurry of blond hair and blue fingernails, Lisa noticed a new Care Bear tattoo on Portia's neck. Had she lost weight? Either way, this wasn't the time to cause friction. Not when Portia had sacrificed hours of her glamorous Venice Beach lifestyle to show up.

Lisa's heart pounded in her ears. "How lovely," she quavered, wondering if they were expecting her to cook and, if so, what she could possibly feed them. Following her latest diet book's instructions, she'd gutted the fridge. From memory, the only thing in there was a half-dead bottle of Coke Zero. "I really had no idea...."


A fresh surge of dread ran through Lisa. Kerry, her weekly lunch buddy, emerged from the hallway. Lisa relaxed a little. Armed with a potted peace lily, he was closely followed by Vanessa from the publishing house. Jake had chosen well. If he was going to startle her with anyone, these were the best possible ...


Not another. Her system could take only so much. Lisa's blood drained to her feet as her older sister, Maxine, emerged from the bedroom with husband Gordon in her wake.

"We took the same flight as Ted," Maxine gushed, floating toward Lisa in a lurid caftan that made her resemble a psychedelic emu.

Most women of a certain age fade into blond. Maxine had opted for ginger, which had deepened to fiery purple. It was a shade that shouldn't have suited anyone, but it glowed against Maxine's pearly skin in a way that was strangely compelling. With intense emerald eyes beaming out from her round, freckled face, Maxine could've passed as an extra from Lord of the Rings. Smiling shyly over Maxine's shoulder was Gordon, his broom of white hair and podgy pink face resembling the features of a man-sized koala.

"But it's such a long way to come just for me," Lisa said.

"You always were the spoiled one," crooned Maxine, brushing Lisa's cheek with a kiss. "Just kidding." Maxine's smile flickered with complication, and Lisa wondered if her sister would ever let go of the endless list of evidence that proved Lisa was their father's favorite. High on the list, for example, was the time Lisa had allegedly tricked him into believing she needed to stay home from school because of a "tummy ache," while Maxine, who was the one coming down with authentic measles, was forced to go. Maxine needed therapy. She had nothing to complain about, not when she'd clearly been the center of their mother's universe. The moment Maxine drew her first breath, their mother, Ruby, had recognized a mini replica of herself. Everything about Maxine — from the red hair and compact build to the terrifying presence on any sports field — screamed MacNally.

In contrast, their father, William Trumperton, had been a sensitive man who avoided conflict. Lisa still clung to what he'd told her in a rare moment of unguardedness — that he found it hard to believe she and Maxine were from the same stable. Once or twice, she'd wondered if he'd been speaking literally and they had different fathers. She wouldn't have put anything past Ruby.

Now Maxine stood on tiptoe to help Lisa shed her cape. "Begging on the streets again, are we?" she said, casting an eye over Lisa's fingerless gloves.

Under normal circumstances, Lisa would've cracked back about purple hair and caftans covered in hideous fake rubies. Maxine had been born with appalling taste that no amount of private schooling could cure. But the ambush of family affection had thrown Lisa.

Maxine wandered over to the kitchen area, pulled a bottle out of the fridge and inspected the label. Her eyes narrowed. "You know it has to come from a special part of France to be the real thing."

Lisa assured her she was perfectly happy with sparkling wine from California. Jake had introduced it as part of their "post-global-financial-crisis" economy drive. It wasn't too sweet and had the same effect, more or less.

Corks popped. Glasses foamed and were passed around. As Jake lifted a mosaic of hors d'oeuvres from the fridge, Lisa was reminded why she'd fallen in love with him. Jake Katz the romantic, the magician ... "You are organized!" she said, giving him a peck on the cheek. She was amazed he even knew how to find a caterer.

"Well, my dear. It's not every day you turn f —"

"Hush!" She gently covered his mouth. "But darling, it's so thoughtful of you."

Jake cleared his throat and puffed his chest out, which was his way of making himself taller. The room settled expectantly. Poor darling — what hair he had left was graying at the temples. But he was aging well. Not just in looks. Even though their sex life was intermittent these days, Lisa took silent pride in the fact he took no interest in advertisements for Viagra.

"I'd like to thank you all for coming here today, some of you from a very long way," he said, raising a glass to Maxine and Gordon.

"Well, it was a convenient stop-off before our Alaskan cruise," Maxine chimed in — unnecessarily, Lisa thought.

"Those polar bears will be counting the days till they see you." Jake chortled.

Lisa's smile froze. Jake and Maxine were too alike. Neither could stand the other's hogging the limelight. To Lisa's relief, Maxine lowered her eyes and took a swig from her glass.

"And we mustn't forget Ted," Jake continued.

Perched on the arm of the black leather sofa, Ted was engrossed in his phone. Hearing his name, he flipped out of whatever conversation he was having and aimed the gadget at his parents. Lisa hastily bent her knees so Jake could drape his arm over her shoulder and smile foolishly at the lens.

Portia stood cross-armed in a corner. She rolled her eyes as Jake asked to see the photo. "And you too, of course, Portia," he said, nodding approval and handing the phone back to Ted. "Venice Beach isn't exactly in the neighborhood. Anyway, I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank my wonderful wife of twenty-four years."

"Twenty-three!" Maxine corrected.

"Oh, is that right?" Jake said, looking to Lisa for rescue.

Lisa was hopeless at maths. She had no idea.

"Yes," Maxine said, pointing a glittering talon at him. "You two were married exactly two years after Gordon and me. Of course we had a church wedding...."

As if nobody knew Maxine and Gordon Frogget's union had been sanctified by God and half the stockbrokers of Camberwell.

With rare composure, Jake loosened his tie and slid some notes from his breast pocket. "When we first met in Fiji all those years ago, I had no idea how deeply I was going to fall for this Aussie girl," he read.

"Oh, Jake," Lisa said, her eyes moistening.

"Lisa, I can't thank you enough for moving across oceans to make a life with me and raise our two kids here. You're my rock, my inspiration...."

Lisa felt guilty for all the times she'd yelled at him for coming home late and going to those interminable conferences.

"You're the artist to my knuckleheaded bean counting," he went on. "The sunflower-covered straw hat to my suit. You remind me of what really matters in life. You're the —"

"Wind beneath your wings?" Portia said archly.

Honestly, there were times Lisa could have throttled her offspring. Temporarily, of course.

Jake composed himself and glanced down at his notes. He always liked his speeches to have a serious core. Lisa could tell he was building up to a crescendo.

"When you were struck with breast cancer last year we all faced the terrible prospect of losing you...."

Oh God. She'd packed all that away in a mental filing box labeled Forget About It. She was fine now, just fine.

There was a tap at the door. Ted moved silently across the room to open it while Jake continued. "And now, knowing you have the allclear, we treasure you even more...."

The room glowed with admiration as Ted reappeared with an enormous basket of red roses. Lisa had never seen anything like it. The arrangement was so huge it dwarfed her son.

"Oh Lord, Jake!" She reached for the small white envelope dangling from one of the stalks.

Jake suddenly turned pale. He lunged in front of her and tried to snatch the envelope. Smiling, she nudged him away.

Lisa could feel her cheeks reddening as she tore open the envelope and pulled out a heart-shaped card. Jake could be such a romantic devil. She blew him a kiss, but his eyes were blank, his mouth slightly open.

"To my darling ... Belle," she read aloud.

There had to be a mistake. The handwriting was Jake's. Lisa's throat tightened. She tried to stop, but her voice kept reading the words aloud. "I cannot wait until we are together forever."

Lisa's body slowly turned to stone. She knew Belle, the blonde from HR at the bank. Belle of the enormous boobs and pipe-cleaner legs, who said she'd read every book Lisa had ever written and was her biggest fan.

"So I can bury my head in your thighs every night ... All my love, Jake."


Jake's face flushed with panic as the room's gaze swiveled from Lisa to him. "This is outrageous!" he declared, grappling for the phone in his suit pocket. Temples gleaming, he stabbed the numbers for Eva the florist.

Usually when Jake turned purple, Lisa tried to calm him down, because he loved cheese and didn't exercise enough. But the normal Lisa had vanished and been replaced by a hate-filled clone who was willing the arteries around his heart to explode.

"What do you mean you sent them to the usual address?!" Jake shouted at the plastic rectangle in his hand.

He should've known not to trust Eva. Ever since her mother had died, she'd started talking to her carnations. Now Eva had sent the ridiculous arrangement to the usual address without thinking.

Lisa watched as a crazed woman roared across the room and walloped Jake across the face. Who was she? Oh, that's right. It was the other Lisa, the one so outraged and wounded she was about to commit murder. Or, on second thought, serious injury. Jake would be on life support for weeks. She'd enjoy the luxury of watching him suffer with tubes and probes sprouting from every orifice until she had the pleasure of switching off the machine.

Then she noticed Portia and Ted clinging to each other in the corner, as if they were watching a 3D version of The Evil Dead.Nice Lisa, their mother, wanted to protect them from the ugliness of this scene. But evil Lisa required them to witness the rawness of her pain, to know who the victim was.

She grabbed Jake by the shoulders and shook him savagely. Somewhere in the background, a door clicked. Vanessa and Kerry had made a discreet exit, leaving the peace lily as sole evidence of their presence.

Gordon lumbered over to the kitchen and stooped over the sink. He unraveled the rinse hose and studied it as if it might contain the solution to global warming.

Lisa the lunatic pummeled Jake's chest with her fists. Then a giant emu wafted over and peeled her off Jake and enveloped her in its wings.

Maxine's muscles were strong and tense as Lisa sobbed into her neck. Her earrings jangled. Lisa smelled Dior's Poison on Maxine's neck and champagne on her breath.

"Get out, you bastard!" Maxine yelled.

Lisa was suddenly six years old again, in the schoolyard. Big sister Maxine was shielding her, throwing sticks at Colin the bully from the butcher shop until he slunk around the corner of the bike sheds.

Jake stood frozen, wild-eyed, like a mouse about to be devoured by a snake.

"And take your lousy flowers with you!" screeched the crazed woman Lisa now recognized as herself as she tore roses out of the basket and hurled them in Jake's face. A sane part of her was grateful the roses were thornless — not that she would have minded making him bleed.

Jake scuttled into the bedroom.

"Liar!" she bellowed, clawing his back as he passed. "I hate you!"

Jake dragged a weekend bag from the closet and stuffed it frantically with socks and underpants.

"When did it start?" Lisa spat at his bald patch.

Jake pretended not to hear.


"Dunno ..." he mumbled. "Nine months ago or so."

She did the calculation. That would've been three months after her surgery, around the time of her last book launch. Belle had been all smiles as she waited in line for Lisa to sign a copy of Charlotte, the first in her trilogy called Three Sisters. "Such a brilliant idea to write historical romances based on the Brontë sisters," Belle had sniveled, all teeth and fake diamond earrings.


Excerpted from Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown. Copyright © 2016 Helen Brown. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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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Tumbledown Manor 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous 9 days ago
Musings_of_Madjy More than 1 year ago
I received a digital ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.com for an honest, unbiased review. My opinion is my own. This was a nice and very pleasant story that I enjoyed from the first few pages. It was well-written and had some truly entertaining moments. My favorite aspects were the animals and the interactions with them, and the setting itself. I'm an American who love basically all things "Australia", and the description here was fantastic and very immersive. I've been to Oz, but haven't yet made it to Melbourne or the surrounding areas, and it was easy to imagine what Castlemaine was like. I also have to say, I smiled at the earlier scene with roadkill kangaroo - having traveled from Perth to Ningaloo (Coastal Outback), it was very accurate and a nice reminder that Lisa had been affected by her 23 years in the U.S. (and that she was an animal lover). The way that Lisa was about all of the animals was sweet and really made me like her character. The animals themselves were unique and added an extra flavor all their own. Who wouldn't fall in love with a mangy, feral, one-eyed cat who learns to trust? :) Lisa was a fine character, as were the others, but something felt did feel a little flat about them. None-the-less, I liked each of the characters, except Jake, as is to be expected. I did wonder at first what the significance of her son being gay was, as it kept coming up, but I loved the slow-roll of the entire subplot. The situations were all enjoyable and felt very genuine. The backstory about the Trumpertons was interesting, but I had hoped it would be slowly uncovered with little clues, adding more mystery to everything. Instead, basically everything is revealed at once not far from the end in a relatively unceremonious way. Overall, I found this to be a wonderful story about a middle-age woman finding herself again.
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
Tumbledown Manor is a new novel by Helen Brown. Lisa Trumperton Katz, a writer, has been married to Jake for twenty-three years. Lisa believes she has a good life (and a happy husband) until she opens the card attached to her birthday flowers and finds out that they are for his mistress. Lisa asks Jake for a divorce and decides to head back to her birthplace of Australia. Lisa stays with her sister, Maxine (a real pain in the tuchis) and her husband, Gordon. Lisa, thanks to her divorce settlement and her income from writing (she is currently doing a three book series based on the Bronte sisters), can afford a place of her own. Her sister encourages her to purchase a new townhome. But once Lisa discovers their family home Trumperton Manor (Tumbledown Manor to the locals) is for sale (and in horrible condition), her decision is made. It will need quite a bit of work, but that does not alter Lisa’s decision. Her son, Ted and his friends are big supporters and offer their assistance. Lisa also hires Scott Green (local handyman and landscape designer) and the Gray Army to help with the renovations. Lisa is looking forward to her new life in Castlemaine, Australia. What secrets will Lisa uncovers about the house and her family during the renovation? Will Lisa ever be able to complete her latest manuscript (she is suffering from writer’s block)? What happens when ex-husband, Jake has a change of heart? Tumbledown Manor is an expected story. It has a pretty good flow to it and nice writing, but there are really no surprises or twists (I kept hoping for a ghost in the stables). Everything turns out just like you expect it would. I do wish there had been more about the renovations on the house and less about Lisa’s writing. I also found way too many references to egg salad sandwiches (I’m not kidding). It turned me off eating for several hours. It was an overused and unneeded reference. I liked Lisa finding out the history of her family (the scandal) and the addition of Mojo (the cat) and Kiwi (the cockatoo). Tumbledown Manor was a satisfactory novel, but I wanted more. It is basically a romance novel with a theme that has been done many times (a woman finds out husband is cheating, gets divorce, and starts a new life by making an impulsive buy). I give Tumbledown Manor 3 out of 5 stars. I did like the sweet ending (all romance novels have to have a happy ending). I think the novel had unrealized potential. It could have been so much more (a great ghost story or the beginning of a mystery series). I received a complimentary copy of Tumbledown Manor from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the novel.
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
This was a great book about midlife crisis, divorce and figuring out what your going to do with yourself after your husband of 20 years decides to marry someone younger. I loved the idea of bringing back to life a manor that hadn't been lived in for years. It sounded absolutely wonderful. I love mixing old with new. Of course, there were several romances going on as well. For those of you wondering about explicit sex, it was mentioned as a thought, but it wasn't actually being done. There were several characters who got their comeuppance and I LOVED that part of it. I do have to add, there were happy tears and sad tears, so get out the Kleenex box. I found the story very entertaining, enjoyable and one I would definitely recommend to my book reading friends. Huge thanks to Kensington Books and Net Galley for allowing me to spend this afternoon reading this great book in exchange for an honest review.
jbarr5 More than 1 year ago
Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown Book starts out with Lisa and it's her birthday, one of the big ones and she being surprised by family and friends. When the roses arrive with a note-not meant for her but her spouses mistress she knows she has to act and do something. After everyone has left to go in their separate directions she meets with the publishing company and she informs them she's heading to her sisters house in Australia. Her son also lives nearby. Once there she looks for a place for herself and is almost ready to sign for a townhouse when she realizes the manor her grandfather was raised in was for sale. It's very run down but with the help of others she's able to live in it, write her book and get things fixed up, all be the stables. She's heard rumors of a scandal that happened and ghosts are haunting the stables. She does hear her share of things that she can't explain but is overall happy with the purchase and her surroundings. There are a handful of other characters that add their drama to the mix making this at times a good funny read. Lots of twists and turns at the end. Love that this book is actually two books in one-the one that she's writing and the one that she's living. I received this book from The Kennsington Books in exchange for my honest review
weluvdopey More than 1 year ago
This is a great book by Helen Brown. This book has a wonderful story and well developed characters. Lisa Trumperton is a writer and wants to have a new chance for a new start on her terms. She decides to refurbish Trumperton Manor the dilapidated manor house that once belonged to her great grandfather. This book will keep you reading long into the night. This was such a great read and full of surprises. I am looking forward to reading the next book by this great author. A Review copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. The free book held no determination on my personal review.
Bette313 More than 1 year ago
This one started out rocky for me but I was soon sucked into the story and found I really enjoyed it. It's a story of a woman who has devoted herself to her husband and children not only an empty nester but the ex wife of a cheating husband. Feeling alone in the world she decides to visit her sister back home in Australia and restart her life there. Her sister is pushing her to find her own place and has several condos lined up for the picking but one look at her ancestral home and she knows this is where she belongs. Throughout her journey of renovating the old house, and what a rough journey it is, she meets some incredible people making wonderful friends and even finding a new love of her own along the way. A wonderful tale of a second chance at happiness! Definitely a book I recommend to everyone.