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There is just something about Lindsey Hutchinson's books that are all-encompassing, all-engrossing and completely captivating. And yet they are simple stories about every day people of the era with a style that is so easy to read. I have only read two of her books but I am hooked and THE CHILDREN OF GIN BARREL LANE is no different.
Nellie Larkin is a tough, formidable woman who runs a gin palace known as The Crown Saloon, a well patronised establishment by the local community on a street known locally as Gin Barrel Lane. The year is 1857 and life is hard in the industrial black country of Birmingham. Nellie's ten year old son Jack and young barmaid Poppy work alongside Nellie behind the bar whilst her longtime friend Nancy Sampson keeps them fed from her kitchen.
Jack is no more than a skivvy, yielding daily to his mother's demands under the constant bellow of her booming voice, and he dreams of a day when he's old enough to leave and work on a farm breathing in the fresh air instead of city fumes. One day when he is out in the yard, he hears a sobbing and stumbles across a cold and frightened young girl hiding amongst the barrels. Encouraging her into their warm kitchen, Nancy feeds the girl and Nellie is soon persuaded to let the girl stay.
Dolly Perkins is 13 years old and, after the death of her mother, took to the streets when her stepfather Arthur decided that young Dolly was to take her mother's place both in the kitchen and in his bed. She had been scavenging and sleeping in doorways for three months before Jack stumbled across her in the yard amongst the empty barrels. Settling into her new life with her new family, Dolly soon more than earns her keep with her know-how and academia, becoming a life-saver for Nellie on more than one occasion. It is obvious the girl has had a good education, something which is sadly lacking in the working class, making her an invaluable addition to the household.
Arthur Micklewaite wants desperately to find young "Dolly Daydream". She has a valuable diamond necklace bequeathed to her by her mother which he believes should rightly be his and he will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. And if he can also bring Dolly home to warm his bed, that would be an added bonus. In the meantime, Arthur intends to find other wealthy widows in the funeral notices to worm his way into their lives and fleece them of their riches and keep him in the lifestyle to which he believes he is entitled to.
But Arthur is also a pickpocket, finding opportunity to deftly snatch wallets and purses from the unsuspecting at markets or railway stations. And it is at the market one day that he spies young Dolly with Jack and Nancy...and decides to follow them to see where his step-daughter has ended up. As he watches them walk into the yard of The Crown Saloon he can't help but think that young Dolly has landed on her feet...and so forms a new plan to relieve her of that diamond necklace.
Unable to sleep one night for the heat, Dolly goes to open the window and let in some air when she sees a shadow in the yard below trying to break into The Crown. It's dark and she cannot see his face, but there is something familiar about him. Alone in her room, Dolly can't help but feel frightened despite the man being unable to gain access and she tells everyone about it the next morning.
Ezra Morton is a hard man but he is also a rich man. He owns a brewery and operates a money lending business. On one such occasion Nellie Larkin was forced to borrow money from him to renovate The Crown after she inherited it from her parents needing a great deal of work. Enter Ezra Morton. He lent her the money on the condition that she could only buy her supply of gin from him. Over the years she had been paying him back the minimum but now he was wanting to increase her repayments, and Nellie was shocked to find that despite repaying him she still owed the exact amount she had borrowed from him! She wished she could pay him off once and for all and never have to do business with him again.
Then Dolly had a proposition for her and despite refusing her help, Dolly insisted. So when Nellie turned up the next day with the amount paid in full, Ezra was shocked and wondered where on earth Nellie had come up with that amount of money. Not to be shown up by a woman, Ezra vowed to bring Nellie Larkin down and ruin her once and for all.
You could not help but fall in love with this wonderful cast of characters, with the exception of Ezra and Arthur of course, as Nellie continued to add to her fold. Although she is a formidable woman, Nellie is completely likable alongside her band of waifs and strays, taking in those in need of work and a place to sleep. They are a unique kind of family and proof that you don't have to be related to be family.
The setting is atmospheric and the characters are well developed as they shine in a well paced suspenseful plot. Well crafted and engaging, THE CHILDREN OF GIN BARREL LANE has a real sense of family, despite none of them being related, with plenty of drama amidst the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian England.
THE CHILDREN OF GIN BARREL LANE is an entertaining and delightful story that will keep you turning the pages until the very end. And when it does end, you will be left with wanting more. Lindsey Hutchinson has that effect on you.
The reader is pulled in quickly with an incredible sense of the life and times in Victorian England. There isn't one thing I didn't like about this book...except maybe that I didn't really want it to end.
I would like to thank #LindseyHutchinson, #NetGalley and #BoldwoodBooks for an ARC of #TheChildrenFromGinBarrelLane in exchange for an honest review.
Ten year's old Jack Larkin and his mother Nellie run The Crown Saloon on Bailey Street known to the locals as Gin Barrel Lane in the year 1857, the black country Birmingham, the pub is full of gin drinking swigglers, and Jack is like a skivvy and cannot wait for the day when he's old enough to leave this place and work on a farm in the country side in the fresh air. But then he stumbles across a girl outside by the name of Dolly Perkins thirteen year's old on the run from her step father the awful Arthur Micklewhite, he takes her in and she works for his mother and becomes a sister that he never had . His mother is in money troubles with bad man Ezra Morton and with Dollys help they become a family, and Jack finds out a secret that nellie has been holding from him all his life. This is a mixture of strong characters, all working keeping the pub running with witty sad and happy moments as you read. I really enjoyed every bit of it and do enjoy all this author work.
A lovely story. I live in Birmingham so it was great to identify with the areas mentioned in the book. I loved the ending and would've loved to read about dolly and jack growing up and maybe getting married and having a family of their own. Excellent keep up the good work I think you are on the road to being as great as your mom. Keep on writing.
This was my first read with this author. I couldn't put this book down I loved the story and felt I was living in the storey of it.eautiful good read I will be r
My first read with this another and not The last a very good read and I felt I was in the Book with the characters.I would read more books From this author nice easy read you could curl up to On your sofa or take it away on your vacation.
I enjoyed this book and only reason I'm giving it just 3 stars is because I found it irritating to have to use a dictionary constantly in the first part of the book. There was no need for all the long and , to me, unrecognisable words that were being thrown in. Bearing in mind this was the 19th century and mostly uneducated characters, I found it unbelievable that they would even know the meaning of existence of such words..