When I First Held You

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 24 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 07 Feb 2023
Amazon Publishing UK, Lake Union Publishing

Talking about this book? Use #WhenIFirstHeldYou #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


Silence tore them apart. Can the truth bring them back together?

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.

More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith herself has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy—so different and yet somehow the same—reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.

Realising they each know only half of the other’s story, Jimmy and Judith finally break the silence that tore apart what might have been their family. Amid heartbreak and hope, how much can now be mended?

Silence tore them apart. Can the truth bring them back together?

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat...

A Note From the Publisher

Anstey Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965. Now a mother and stepmother herself, she lives in Scotland. She has been inspired by her family history, and hopes to give a voice to the women and children―16,000 a year during the 1960s in the UK―separated from each other by forced adoptions.

Anstey won the H. G. Wells Short Story Award in 2015 and her debut novel, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, a Richard and Judy Book Club choice, won the Sapere Books RNA Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2020. Her second novel, Where We Belong, was shortlisted for the RNA Book of the Year Award 2021 and she numbers Libby Page, Katie Fforde and Beth O’Leary among her many fans.

Anstey Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965. Now a mother and stepmother herself, she lives in Scotland. She has been inspired by her family history, and hopes to give a...

Advance Praise

“This is a hauntingly beautiful novel. The painful story of Judith and Jimmy is told with deep sensitivity in lyrical prose that was a joy to absorb, and the plot unfolds at a pace that keeps you turning the pages – such a winning combination.” —Imogen Clark, million copy selling author of Impossible to Forget

“Evocative, emotional and original, every word has been expertly crafted.” —Catherine Isaac, author of The World at My Feet

“When I First Held You is a wonderful kaleidoscope of passion, love, grief and misunderstandings. Heart-breaking and yet hauntingly beautiful... A stunning book – one to read and re-read many times.” —Celia Anderson, bestselling author of 59 Memory Lane

“I loved this gorgeous, poignant novel about loss and love and how over time we are both broken and mended.” —Sara Sheridan, author of The Fair Botanists

“Compelling...A story of broken dreams and unexpected healing. You'll want to read this.” —Sarah Ward, author of The Shrouded Path

“It is brilliantly written, so many brilliant phrases which made me smile…I shall keep my fingers crossed that it is a huge hit. It ought to be, it’s marvellous. I shall be recommending it to all.” —Lesley Pearse, #1 bestselling author of The Woman in the Wood

“Anstey Harris never disappoints. When I First Held You, is gripping, heart rending and extremely satisfying, from start to finish.” —Katie Fforde, bestselling author of A Wedding in Provence

“A powerful, compelling and affecting read.” —Heidi Swain, bestselling author of The Summer Fair

“This book has a very big heart. Full of hope and so beautifully observed.” —Samuel Burr, author of The Fellowship of the Puzzlemakers

“This is a hauntingly beautiful novel. The painful story of Judith and Jimmy is told with deep sensitivity in lyrical prose that was a joy to absorb, and the plot unfolds at a pace that keeps you...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781662503863
PRICE £8.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 88 members

Featured Reviews

When I First Held You follows Judith and Jimmy after they have been apart for more than a century. In 1960s Glasgow Judith and Jimmy are anti-nuclear activists who end up falling in love. However Jimmy is sent to prison and Judith ends up pregnant at a unmarried mothers’ home. Judith is forced to give up her baby and deal with her grief. When Judith and Jimmy meet again they have to face what happened and to to bring their family together. This is a well written novel but I had a hard time connecting with it. I loved Harris’ previous novel The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton. But I think because When I First Held You has older main characters I found it hard to connect to them as I couldn’t relate to them. To be completely honest I just don’t feel anything towards the characters or story.

Was this review helpful?

When I first held you, tells a very politically and emotionally charged story of a generation which beared the brunt of society in its worst face. There was pain, anger and injustice bubbling under the fabric of the characters which finally cools off with the future generation's attitude and acceptance of things which were once taboo.

Was this review helpful?

This book is like a hot mug of tea on a cold winter evening, I don't know how else to describe it. Even though there were parts that made me want to sob my eyes out, there were some parts that were just so wholesome i sobbed my eyes out but in a different way.
Storyline aside, Harris' writing is absolutely spectacular. The way she has the ability to transform even the most mundane, everyday happenings into beautiful lines rich with imagery (much like the mending shop) left me in awe. I don't want to say much about the book because I believe its better to go into this one not knowing a lot but I will say it was a treat to read.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you Netgalley and the publishing house for allowing me to read this e-arc in exchange for honest feedback.
Great read.

Was this review helpful?

Beautiful and heartbreaking. I thoroughly enjoyed this. It brought on a lot of emotions for me. It felt like an adventure that could bring happy and sad tears all at once. It’s a story that shines light on a real problem that went on in the 1960’s. It’s not surprising but it still touches ur heart.

Was this review helpful?

This is the story of Judith and James, members of the Scottish Committee of 100, an anti-war group formed by members of the CND, who fell in love in the 1960s in Glasgow. Their lives are upended when their squat is raided and James is sent to prison. Without a word from James, pregnant Judith has no choice but to go to an unmarried mothers’ home and give up her baby. They meet again fifty-six years later, when James walks into Judith’s shop and starts unravelling the past.

“When I First Held You” is a beautifully written, emotional story about family, love and loss. The main focus of this book is the horrible reality so many single mothers like Judith had to face in the 60s. Harris not only writes beautiful prose and three-dimensional characters, but she also does a great job of intersecting scenes from the past and present while slowly revealing new tidbits of information both to the reader and the characters, keeping the reader interested. I honestly couldn’t put this book down, and lost count of the amount of times I cried reading it.

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?


Overall, this book was beautiful. The perfect balance between character explortaion and quick plot- the pacing was also excellent. I really enjoyed reading it, even if it made me emotional. It was extremely powerful.

The prose is absolutely gorgeous- the beginning especially flowed poetically in a way that I loved.
I like the element of mystery with just enough information at a time to keep us interested and engaged without giving things away.
Catherine was such an amazing, sweet character and partner. I loved having her presence in the pages even if she wasn't still alive. Her and Judith were an adorable couple too.
I felt so on edge in a good way the entire time.
Not going to lie, the steamy scene made me giggle a little bit but it was also realistic given their age.
The dialogue was super authentic and I loved that.
Ruby and Judith's relationship was amazing!! I like how they're both flawed characters willing to be better for one another.

James having an affair seemed extremely anticlimatic and it wasn't hinted at even in the slightest.
Sometimes the formatting of only one quotation mark for dialogue confused me.
I really didn't like how sometimes the story would try to be mysterious about things it should've been up front about. This doesn't seem like the right book to be mysterious.

Was this review helpful?

Poignant story about misjustice in the 1960s, where single mothers could be forced to give up their newborns for adoption.
Anstey Harries has managed to create an amazingly engaging and gripping story with very believable lead characters; it was refreshing reading a story with older leads.
Thoroughly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

First chapter was ok, I am just personally more into the current time romance books. I wouldn't be very much help to explain the story to anyone however I would still recommend it! I appreciate your acceptance of allowing me to read your book and I apologize for not having interest in finishing it.

Was this review helpful?

OMG this book was amazing. The perfect balance between character exploration and quick plot. Harris' writing is absolutely gorgeous. I really enjoyed reading this book, even if it made me emotional.
Highly recommended.

Was this review helpful?

I have read both of Anstey Harris other books and like those, this one didn't disappoint.
It is an emotive story based on the author's own experiences of adoption .
It gives a real insight into the barriers women faced when they were sent to mother and baby homes.
The story is based around the main characters ...Judith and Jimmy who's past goes back to the 1960's. Long lost secrets are uncovered and they look at the past through the lens of life experience and second chances.
A fantastically written book that I would highly recommend.

This author doesn't disappoint.


Was this review helpful?

When I First Held You
By: Anstey Harris
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

First off, the cover of this book is the first thing that caught my eye. I loved it. Then after reading the description, I knew it was going to be my next read.

This book was very quick pace, but didn’t lack in character development at all. By the second chapter I was already so invested in both main characters story lines. I wanted to know more about how they correlated. Throughout the book the author gave great detail on the main character thought process, which I really enjoyed. This was my first book by Anstey Harris. It will not be my last. I enjoyed the quick pace, but also detailed events in this book. I also really enjoyed hearing about how pregnancy went for a single woman back then. It made me appreciate my pregnancy and realize how much nice I got it than so many women had it years before. Heartbreaking, but eye opening.
My only slight complaint with the style of writing would be the single quotation mark, more of an apostrophe. I did reread a couple different sentences, because I was unsure of words were thought or spoken aloud. Once I understand the style it was easy to read after that.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to read a love story with a lot of history in it.

Was this review helpful?

Love and romance…mystery and intrigue…likable characters and a story that moves quickly…this author has woven an ingenious plot line…what will happen next? Even the title is intriguing…just some of the story is problematic in that it is difficult to determine e what is going on. This book was sent to me by. Netgalley for review…enjoy…

Was this review helpful?

I absolutely loved this book! You know the sort of book that you want to rush to finish because you want to know what is happening and yet you don't want it to end? This was it. The author has a gift at being able to get into the mind and heart of her characters. So much of what she wrote is truly how I would imagine you would feel in these circumstances.. An enchanting book and one that I won't forget in a hurry. Now to find more from this author .....

Thank you for the chance to read it!

Was this review helpful?

It took a while for me to get into this book but it suddenly grabbed me and I found it difficult to put down. The author's story made it seen real and the Glasgow setting was well done, down to the accents. I wasn't sure about the activist theme - would they really have got such harsh treatment? The plot flowed well and It was nice to have characters in their mid seventies for a change.

Was this review helpful?


eBook (ARC - Uncorrected Copy)


3.5 Stars (Rounding to 4 stars for Goodreads)


Jimmy and Judith fall in love, but when Jimmy is sent away to prison, Judith finds herself in an unwed mothers home. Flashforward to 50 years in the future, and Judith and Jimmy find each other again and must mend their broken ties and try to forgive each other, and themselves. While Ruby's relationship with her adoptive parents is wholesome, and but ultimately she needs to find where she really came from.

50% Progress Check:

Pace is so quick it's a little hard to keep up / understand what's going on so this might switch from being a late night read to early evening read.

Immediate Completion Thoughts:

So, I didn't love it, but I think a big factor in my difficulty in finishing this book is the format and punctuation choices. It might just be because it's an uncorrected copy, but I had a really hard time keeping up with what is going on in the book. Eventually, I got used to it, about 1/4 of the way through.

This Book Reminds Me Of:

Mildly Keeper of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis

Overall Thoughts:

I loved the Ruby Chapters. All of them. And honestly, the writing is vivid, and thoughtful. Each character is well thought out and a complete person, and you can easily picture them in your mind. Where the book loses steam are the points where there are paragraphs strewn in that don't seem to be super related and/or might be details that aren't necessary for building the story. In the end, I liked the book, I'm glad I read it.

Was this review helpful?

I was intrigued from the beginning of the book. I loved getting to know the characters from the various time periods and learning how actions from the past dramatically impacted the outcome for present day characters. It made me think about my own life and wonder what events from my own past set the stage for who I am today.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed the story of Judith, James and Ruby. I could literally feel the anguish that Judith went through after having to give her baby up for adoption. And then when she found out the true story of James.

Was this review helpful?

When I First Held You was the rare blend of a fascinating novel coupled with well researched historical background. It is so easy to forget how devastating an unplanned pregnancy was just a few short decades ago, and how few choices were available to women. The author’s background as a child born in these circumstances seemed to give her a clarity concerning the closed adoptions and their aftermath. I was consumed by these characters and their story, it will remain with me. I applaud authors who are able to write about mature characters without resorting to stereotypes. James and Judith are in their late 70’s yet still vital with goals and gifts to share. I know my book club will love reading this novel.

Was this review helpful?

When I First Held You by Anstey Harris is a gorgeously-written, emotionally-resonant novel I absolutely devoured. Judith is a character that I am still thinking about, she feels so real, so fully formed, it's almost impossible to think that she exists only within the pages of WIFHY. An absolutely fantastic book- highly recommend!

Was this review helpful?

What can I say about this incredible novel? One of the most heartbreaking and yet utterly uplifting stories I’ve read in a long time.
Having now read the author’s note on her own experiences with 1950/60’s adoption it makes perfect sense that she should handle the story with such sensitivity but she goes further than that and creates characters we truly care about, flawed and wonderful, fully three dimensional and fleshed out. It is also a very rare novel where the protagonists are in their 70’s! Not only were Judith, James and Ruby captivating but my favourite character was the late Catherine Rolf; artist and life partner of Judith permeates every one of Judith’s chapters reminding us that love can be simple, honest and utterly reciprocated. The Judith that Ruby and James meet is shaped by this wonderful marriage for that is what it was in all but legal name and Catherine is still her North Star, her magnetic compass point that reminds her of her true self and how to remain true to it.
I loved how Judith’s sexuality was never an issue until the end when she herself tried to label herself and protect herself from hurt. Ruby with all the ease of her generation simply tells her “at the risk of straightsplaining- sexuality isn’t a bill we die on”
I have always had friends who are much younger or much older than myself so the revelation this face to both women wasn’t a surprise to me but I hope that readers who haven’t got intergenerational friendships will now go and seek the company of the older and the younger.
James can be seen through the lens of Judith’s abandonment and broken heart, through Ruby’s optimistic and forgiving one or Paddy’s bitter and recriminatory one. Both Paddy and Judith have every right to see him in a negative light but as it transpires Paddy was the one who’s suffering was purely punitive and you can forgive him his bitterness.
It is so hard for us to sit here in the 21 st century and try to understand spy networks and the Special Branch but post war Britain was a very different place and time. That said the Mark Kennedy undercover scandal of 2010 shows us that even now our authorities have disproportionate suspicion of protest groups.
For all his faults and failings I still rooted for James.
Although it is only touched upon briefly the entire novel is the story of Kintsugi, the philosophy that things will get broken and that they are better off mended and that seeing those cracks and joins is so much more beautiful than attempting to make everything ’perfect’. The characters in this novel are riven with life’s hardships but made whole by bonds of gold.

Was this review helpful?

James walks into Judith’s mending shop after 56 years. Judith James was sent to prison in the 1960s for anti-war activities and pregnant Judith, who never heard from James again, was forced to give up their baby. They reunite after all this time to tell one another their own sides of the story.

I really loved the concept of the story and I did enjoy reading it. I did not like how there was no clear divide between the flash backs/flash forwards. I was constantly confused about what time period or point of the story we were in. So I regularly had to reread entire sections. That aside, there was great character development and a beautifully developed plot. Worth the read!

Was this review helpful?

This book was very slow to start and unfortunately I was unable to work my way through it.

Thank you to NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book for an exchange of my honest review.

Was this review helpful?

This story starts in the 1960’s in Scotland with a group of antiwar protestors. Judith and James, both still in their teens, meet and fall in love. They live in a squat, which is an abandoned house with other protestors and as the young often do, they don’t see how awful their living conditions are. One night before a big protest, their squat is raided and many are sent off to prison, including James. Judith is pregnant and has nowhere to go, as her parents have refused to let her come back to live with them. She enters an unwed mothers’ home, where she delivers her baby and is instructed to just forget all about her. Of course she doesn’t, and not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about her. Fast forward fifty years when James walks into Judith’s small shop and they both are confronted with the past.

This was a beautifully written story and all the characters were well-developed and interesting. I really liked that the two main characters were in their seventies and were able to reflect back on decisions they made and the consequences from those decisions. This was an emotional story and I found the author’s notes at the end even more emotional. I’ll be looking for other books by this author. Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I was looking forward very much to reading this novel because Harris' writing is always a treat, and I was not disappointed in the least. The subject of the novel, judging by the acknowledgements, is something very, very close to Harris' heart. Maybe for this reason, she handles the tricky and emotive subject of the way in which 'unmarried mothers' were treated in the 1960s so very well. What I loved about this novel: such a lot, but beginning with the flow of the prose, which (and I don't know how she does this, by the way) does something hypnotic to the reader. There is a narrative style here that is absolutely compelling. It's been a very long time that I literally haven't been able to put a novel down, and have woken up looking forward to reading the next chapter. The characters are beautifully drawn. It's excellent that the main characters, Judith and James are in their seventies. I don't know why I even have to mention that, but it's unusual, isn't it? It shouldn't be, but it is. And the relationships between each character is sensitively and believably constructed. As for the structure, well, the ending... even now... To be clear, I am not a sentimental person, and I think it would have been very easy for Harris to have slipped into cliche here, to have relied on sentiment, but she did not, she timed it perfectly. What I think is most important about this novel is that it charts a history - women's history. It might be fiction, this, but it's well-researched and if you didn't know what women (unmarried women, who were pregnant) had to go through in the 1960s, you will do after you read this. Brilliantly done. Highly recommended. My grateful thanks to Netgalley for the pre-pub copy.

Was this review helpful?

A beautifully developed novel that is so well written. Judith and James try to unravel their relationship of fifty plus years ago. It is an emotional heart rendering story that you just cannot put down. I highly recommend this novel to all contemporary, contemporary women readers. A five (5) star read that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Was this review helpful?

Where do I start with this? This book was both beautiful and heart-wrenching. The style it was written in made for very easy reading despite its difficult content. I found the relationships that grew during the course of the story really well written and I felt very invested in the characters by the end. My only criticism was the red herring in one of the chapters towards the end of the book .. that felt like a bit of a cruel trick! This the first book I’ve read by this author but I’ll definitely be looking out for more.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

A really good read that was emotive and also made me feel like I had learnt something about a period i knew nothing about.

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed this book, but it never quite got to where I was hoping it would. The prose is beautiful, but the plot sometimes felt random or climatic. At other times, it felt as if Harris was trying to add a bit of mystery to the plot, but it was confusing and felt out of place with both the storyline and the vibe of the book. Also, the one quotation mark instead of two choice is a major pet peeve for me. I know it's a minor stylistic thing, but it interrupts my reading flow and makes the book less enjoyable for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this ARC.

Was this review helpful?

This is the first novel I'd read by Anstey Harris and the blurb intrigued me.

The novel is a dual timeline/split narrative between the characters in the present day and back in the 1960s Scotland, where the protagonists meet protesting nuclear arms at Faslane.

Also what is unusual is that the main characters are in their 70s.

I thought it was beautifully written, a story about love, betrayal, finding our identity and forgiveness along with interesting and accurate historical details. Some of it is heartbreaking, and I had tears sliding down my face as I heard the voice of the characters so distinctly telling their moving stories.

I found it a little slow to start but once I got into it, it moved along at quite a pace and I finished the last half of the book in about 36 hours.

Well done to Harris - I will be looking out for more of her writing now!

Was this review helpful?

4-5 stars

Jimmy and Judith re-meet fifty years on via Judith’s ‘Mending Shop’ which fixes broken treasures. In Glasgow of the 1960s they first meet as antinuclear protesters and fall in love. Unfortunately, the story is to be no fairytale and Judith especially still carries the burden from those days. Can the story be fixed and mended and become something to treasure in their later years?

This is a beautifully written novel which has me transfixed from beginning to end. The past and the present meld together seamlessly with the earlier timeline transporting you to a very different world to our own. The nuclear fears of the 1960s are done extremely well, the testing and protest which combines with the 60s attitudes and the consequences of those especially on Judith are done brilliantly. What emerges from Judith and James’ story is painful and sad, at times the feelings are very raw, there is grief too but it’s combined with some laughter which helps to take away some of the hurt. As the novel progresses there are huge revelations and forced undesired betrayals which are set well into the context of the times.

The characterisation is outstanding and you can visualise all with ease. Ruby who we are introduced to in the present day is a breath of fresh air and helps James but especially Judith to lay some ghosts to rest. There is not one unlikable character which makes a very refreshing change!! As the novel reaches its conclusion it’s hard not to shed a tear. It’s an emotional and at times heartbreaking but equally heartwarming read which I thoroughly enjoy.

This is my first read by this author, but it will definitely not be the last. Highly recommended.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Amazon Publishing U.K. for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I don’t get on NetGalley much, largely because I can’t really access the books I WANT to read. It’s not that easy to get approved by a publisher, and I haven’t really tried that hard. So I get on there every now and then and grab a “read now” book, which doesn’t require publisher approval. When I do finally get on NetGalley to grab a book, I am not very picky, and I usually end up picking based entirely on the title. That’s how I picked this one…based on the title alone.
This isn’t the first book I’ve read recently that circles unwed mothers’ homes in Scotland. I am curious as to what prompted a few authors to seek out that particular story line. Antsey Harris is the child of a mother who ended up a victim of one of those homes, which makes this story even more poignant. This book is about Judith and Jimmy, and the child given up for adoption because Jude was an unwed woman. Judith desperately wanted to keep her baby, but during that time in Scotland, that was not an option for her, so her baby was wrenched away from her arms. Jimmy and Judith were reunited some sixty years later, allowing Judith to tell the story of the baby she was forced to relinquish. Along the way, they were able to connect with their daughter’s daughter, Ruby. Ruby tells her grandparents about her mother, and her grandparents tell Ruby their own stories.
Judith and Jimmy’s story is heartbreaking. No woman should be forced to give up a baby they love and want to keep. It’s almost unbelievable that women had to endure that kind of pain, brought to them by their own government. Both Judith and Jimmy were also brutally betrayed by loved ones, which makes the entire situation devastating. The pain Judith felt was written beautifully by Harris, I felt like I was sitting in her cottage with her, listening to her stories with a cup of tea. I typically dislike books that are written with a back-and-forth timeline, but because the “back” part of this one was primarily when Judith and Jimmy were recounting their experiences, it worked very well. These characters are easy to like and enjoyable to read about, I genuinely wanted them all to find a happy-ever-after. This is a beautifully written book.

Was this review helpful?

Will preface this by saying that I got this ARC in exchange for an honest review, so thank you very much to NetGally!

This novel is absolutely the opposite to what I usually read, and because of that reason I was terrified I was gonna get bored or not be interested at all, but this book does not disappoint. Its my first time reading anything from this author and I’m already looking forward to reading more.

This history, specifically, it’s beautiful in such a tragic way. The way the author tells you the story was done perfecly, introducing the past as the plot evolves, with time jumps that are not confusing even white carrying a dual timeline, not boring, and never feel like unnecessary information to fill in, and the fact that every character in the book feels real, deep, easy to empathize with. Every little detail feels like a beautiful touch.

I also wanna mention the politics part of this book, wow. I don’t even know how to do it justice, but it was done in such a interesting way that made me go straight to google to learn more of the timelines this book was based in. I really cannot praise Anstey Harris enough, for the way she gracefully refers and writes delicate and taboo topics (which this book touches so many of), the masterpiece that it’s her brain and how stunning is her writing.

Overall I think most people would enjoy this read, it’s deep but done in a way where its so easy to read, really likeable , overall a great read.

Was this review helpful?

Silence tore them apart. Can the truth bring them back together?

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.

More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith herself has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy—so different and yet somehow the same—reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.

Realising they each know only half of the other’s story, Jimmy and Judith finally break the silence that tore apart what might have been their family. Amid heartbreak and hope, how much can now be mended?

Was this review helpful?

This story was one that I can really identify with, and when Judith gave up her baby, it was very hard for me to continue reading more.
But the author approached Judith's story, with sensitivity and care, and I found it so emotional at times.
Her emerging feelings were difficult, but when the child's father Jimmy reappeared, things became quite complicated.
I could understand her reactions to him and why, and I found her a very strong character, despite all she had been through.
I loved this book, because it betrayed each person, in a real life way. It made me feel each one's experiences in each scenario, and I loved it.
Thank you so much to the author, and the publisher, for allowing me to read this advanced copy.

Was this review helpful?

When I First Held You by Ansley Harris is a novel of adoption and how it affected everyone involved in the process in the 1960s. It was not looked on as it is now and this novel shows the heartbreak and also the healing that can take place.

Thank you to the author, Amazon Publishing UK, and Netgalley.com for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

When I first held you by Anstey Harris.
Thank you to Netgalley and Lake Union publishing for allowing me to read this book pre release.
What a glorious book of such stories of loss that make you stop and give thanks for your ordinary life. I loved the way Anstey showed the attitudinal changes in each generation. It was a very political story without being so, a very cunning writer. So many political hot potatoes: nuclear weapons, unplanned pregnancies, forched adopions, the power of society over the poor, strict unwaving laws, woman's rights, lgbt and being fluid, questioning what is normal? recycling and repairing, emotional welfare: exercise and talking. The very talented author Anstey Harris does this whilst telling a lovely story. A highly recommended read.

Was this review helpful?

This book was such an easy read, as I immediately felt connected to the main characters within the book. I found myself wishing for happiness and peace for Judith.

I love that this book was based on history, and found it was interesting to learn about history and make me think more about the hardships that people have had to go through. I would recommend this book to my friends, as I'm sure it will warm somebody elses heart, like it did mine!

Was this review helpful?

As usual in my reviews, I will not rehash the plot...

This is a beautiful, haunting book, and an emotional read on several levels; it made me cry in places, and reawakened my anger at how young unmarried mothers were treated by society and (as in this case) sometimes by their own families at that time (though I appreciate it's easy to try to fit current ways of life and thinking onto the past - but things would have been hugely different back then).

There is a lot of buried pain that people have striven to overcome, lots of secrets and lies, misunderstandings, and sorrow at lost time and missed chances. Ultimately though there is optimism - a sense of (like Judith's shop) mending things - the rebuilding of lives, the seizing of chances, moving secrets into the light to allow understanding and healing of wounds.

The main characters of Judith and Jimmy (or James now) are both interesting - they had both lived for over 50 years only knowing their own half of the story, making assumptions about the other. Catherine sounds like a lovely person. I loved Ruby (and her Dad), and wish the little family the very best for the future (yes, I know they are fictional but hey!)

I love the book's cover (assuming it's the one that will go to print) - a gorgeous image of Kintsugi (the Japanese art of using gold to fix cracks in broken ceramics)- and feel that it sums up the book beautifully.

Anstey Harris's books are not always an easy read, but they are worth it. I look forward to reading more by this talented author.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an ARC. All opinions my own.

Was this review helpful?

Firstly thank you for my copy to review on netgalley. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Anstey several times and her previous books are beautiful.

Emotive and sensitively written this will capture your heart. Written in dual narratives and timeliness this really puts you in the characters shoes.

I’m adopted so I could relate to this storyline .

Anstey is a beautiful writer who pours her soul Into her books and it shines through .

Life affirming and uplifting whilst dealing with serious subjects .

Another fantastic book and I wish her every success with the release.

Published 24th January 2023.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher and the author for the honor of reading this book.

The book was so beautifully written - I loved everything about it. I was drawn in to each character, like sitting across from them at an outdoor cafe enjoying a cup of tea. The cover is just gorgeous - you just know there is something really special inside the book!

Happy and sad tears throughout. It broke my heart to read about the way unwed mothers were treated - and by their own families. It is a harsh reality and although it is better now, still there are some families who follow this thinking.

I am glad the story evolved into new beginnings…. Filled with hope and love, healing and forgiveness. And lovely Ruby - "A child shall lead them..." is all I could think of, and she did it with grace..

I so thoroughly enjoyed this book. It should be a priority on everyone’s reading list.

Was this review helpful?

I loved this book. When I First Held You by Ansley Harris is a duel timeline story with Judith as the main character. The story begins in current time as Judith is interviewed for a television show. But the twist quickly happens as James walks in the store. However James and Judith first knew each in 1960’s Glasgow, 50 years earlier. Falling in love while protesting the nuclear arming was a young couple, Jimmy and Jude. But the decades then have created new people, new personalities, and new hardships.
As the story progresses the reader discovers the secret, a child born and taken from Judith. The discovery of a granddaughter, connects James and Judith again. Caught up in the current discovery of a granddaughter, we relive with Judith the events that led to the separation of not only her and James, but that of their child. This duel timeline is done very well. I laughed, I cried. This book tugs at the emotional heartstrings.
Thank you to NetGalley, the author and publisher for giving me the opportunity to read When I First Held You. All opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you NetGalley for this ARC.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! This is such a poignant and heartbreaking read. It's about love, betrayal and forgiveness. The characters are very likeable! And did I mention it's a dual timeline POV and I love this kind of books. This is beautifully written. I genuinely wish a happy ending for the characters.

Was this review helpful?

A page turner keeping you engaged to see what happens next..so many twist in the narrative keeps the story moving through the present and back to the 1960s. An incredible story about misjustice in the 1960s, where single mothers could be forced to give up their newborns for adoption and never given the choice to reconnect.
The characters felt real and created a beautiful narrative, recommend 5 stars.

Was this review helpful?

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This took me a while to get through since the topic is close to home as I am an adoptee myself and have 5 adopted siblings. It’s beautifully written, with well placed emotional touchstones as the story unfolds and secrets come to light. The portions about mothers and daughters and loss particularly got to me. The dichotomy of small kindnesses from strangers and cruelties from those closest to you were poignant. The characters are likable and I was content with the ending. The only criticism I had is that it felt like something was missing, some connections in small places. The story all worked out, but I’m not sure the combo of plot points and the characters was fully believable. I was a little disappointed the mending shop was forgotten pretty quickly and didn’t feature anywhere prominently later in the story.

Was this review helpful?

Judith and Jimmy falll in love in 1960s Glasgow. They are both political activists and during a raid by the police many of the activists are sent prison, including Jimmy.

Upon discovering she is pregnant, Judith is forced to give up their baby, as she is an unmarried mother.

Many years later, Jimmy reappears in Judith's life and with a must face what happened and try to bring their family together.

Definitely worth a read

Was this review helpful?

For me, this is a story about second chances and not necessarily in the way you think.

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. The government calls them terrorists (and raises the question where is the line between the two?). In the past we follow Judith’s story from leaving home to meeting Jimmy and the raid that results in Jimmy’s incarceration. In the meantime, Judith is pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith must enter an unmarried mothers’ home where she is forced to give up her child despite trying to keep it (being a single mother was not an option if you can imagine it). Judith does what she must and builds a new life for herself.

Jump to the present day and Judith is doing a television interview for her store when none other than Jimmy walks in, dredging up half a decade’s worth of grief and anger. Where and how do you begin to heal a lifetime’s worth of hurt? How to reconcile the person you are today with the person who made certain choices in the past?

and then we get to Jimmy’s side of the story…

This is just the tip of the iceberg, with a cast of characters that add to the drama and chaos of the 60s, and the healing journey of the present. I loved having more mature MCs as our stories don’t end when we turn 30 or 40 or even 50… The twists and turns in this book were sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes beautiful, but no wild surprises (but there are some surprises) and I can’t say more than that without spoilers.

Harris was born in an unmarried mothers’ home in Liverpool in 1965. She has been inspired by her family history and hopes to give a voice to the women and children separated from each other by forced adoptions (16,000 a year during the 1960s).

Keep an eye out for this one because it is beautiful.

Pub Date: 23 January 2023
Thank you NetGalley and Amazon Publishing UK, Lake Union Publishing for letting me read this poignant story.

Was this review helpful?

Anstey Harris is such a great Author, this book is full of heartache and love and deception, the kind of books I love to read, if your like me and you like a book that has a lot of sad that gets better in the end, this is the book for you.
It is the 1960s, a time when women being pregnant with no husband was a shame to the family, so the family, or people you work for, could send you away, to hide the shame, back in that day the nuns would take you in, but of course they wanted to have rights to the unborn baby, there is so much deception in this book, lost love, child abuse, no matter the reason, these women found themselves unwed and pregnant.
I will look for more books by this Author, I received this book from Net Galley I exchange for my honest review, I think this is a very good book, I give it 4 stars

Was this review helpful?

With thanks to NetGalley and Amazon Publishing for an arc in exchange for an honest review.

When I First Held You is a novel about Judith and Jimmy and the directions their lives take after meeting and falling in love during the activist scene in 1970s Glasgow. Judith ends up pregnant and alone, forced to give up her baby after being sent to one of the era’s notorious mother and baby homes. Many years later, Jimmy re-enters Judith’s life and they are forced to confront their past.

The topic of forced adoptions that took place in past decades is very topical right now, and as such I found this book very interesting and engaging. The characters are well drawn and developed, and the plot ticks along at a good pace. An enjoyable read that I would recommend particularly to women aged 40+

Was this review helpful?

I've been spending the last few days trying to figure out how to write this review. Every.review of this book that I've seen raves on it, which made me wonder if I'd read something different. When I First Held You is well written. While it kept my attention, to an extent, I also felt a bit bored with the book. I found that I wasn't looking forward to picking it back up in between times 0f reading. It felt like there was something lacking with the characters, I didn't feel a closeness with them like I do with most books.

Was this review helpful?

Oh my heart! When I First Held You, by Anstey Harris, pulls on all the heartstrings. It's one of those stories that causes you to literally laugh, cry and feel invested in. It delves into the tragedy that the unwed mothers homes, from mid 20th century, were. The main characters are all likeable but flawed. In other words, they are human.
It's the 1960s and Judith leaves home to become an anti-nuclear activist. After she gets to Glasgow, she meets a boy and they fall head over heels for each other. Judith is about to tell Jimmy that she's pregnant but there's a police raid and he's sent to prison.
Judith returns home but her parents send her to an Unwed Mothers home. She does everything she can to get in touch with Jimmy to no avail. After a few weeks, she's forced to hand over her baby for adoption.
Over 50 years later Jimmy randomly shows up at her charity based shop. She is shocked and dismayed to see him and wants him to leave immediately. But soon she realizes that their story isn't quite over. They have a few important tasks to complete first.

Was this review helpful?

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat gets raided, and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison.

Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith feels she has no option but to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.

More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy―so different and yet somehow the same―reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.

Written in dual narratives and timelines, this book tries to put you in the various characters' shoes at various points along their histories. The problem is I just couldn’t bring myself to actually care about any of them! Probably because I’m not long after reading the exceptional Bessborough, which covers the mother and baby homes much more emotively.

That’s not to say it’s badly written, it isn’t, but the pace was far too slow for my liking. The use of the anti-nuclear protests was an interesting backstory for the characters.

I also loved the kintsugi references - firstly, most evident on the rather attractive book cover and then as Judith employs the process in her mending shop - both physically in the items she restores and figuratively in how she approaches her past.

Was this review helpful?

This book has a very big heart. Full of hope and so beautifully observed. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait for AH's next book.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
This is a beautiful and touching story. There are so many elements of our recent history that we too often forget happened and take for granted the dramatic change in society over the last fifty or sixty years. The stories of these women and children are so important and should be widely read and respected. The heartbreaking situation all these characters found themselves in will remain with me for a considerable time to come.

Was this review helpful?

An emotional story about betrayal, forgiveness and family ties. I really appreciated the present day timeline focusing on characters in their 70s, looking to reconnect and come to terms with events of the past.

Was this review helpful?

I read over three quarters of this book before I had to give up. I just lost interest. I loved this authors first two books which is why I grabbed this when it appeared in the “read now” section. I would definitely try her next book but this one just wasn’t for me.

Was this review helpful?

This was an emotional read, well written and well put together.

Thank you NetGalley for my complimentary copy in return for my honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I personally was not a fan of this novel. With all honesty it was boring and something that I could not stay interested in. I am not sure if it was the type of writing or if it was just the timing of when I actually read it but I wouldn’t recommend at this time. I am going to try and re read it so that way I can make sure this is truly a book I did not like.

Was this review helpful?

— 𝐁𝐨𝐨𝐤 𝐑𝐞𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐰 —

𝐓𝐢𝐭𝐥𝐞: When I First Held You
𝐒𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐞𝐬: N/A
𝐀𝐮𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐫(𝐬): Anstey Harris
𝐆𝐞𝐧𝐫𝐞: Historical Fiction
𝐃𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐏𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐝: 24th January 2023
𝐑𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐧𝐠: 4.5/5

”In Britain, in 1967–right up until the Children’s Act of 1975, actually–it was illegal for an adopted child to trace their parents. And’–I make sure he is looking at me, that he understands the importance of this–‘it was impossible for a parent to trace their child.’
I stop him. I learnt long ago that there are no buts. ‘When we had our children taken away from us, it meant we knew that we would never ever see them again. Never.’”

One reason why I love Anstey Harris’ writing is that she doesn’t play it safe. She tackles difficult subjects head on and writes the truth of them in a manner so tender and raw that I can’t help but weep in admiration.

At one point in the story, one of the characters says ”what exquisite pain” and this sentiment suits this story perfectly. It’s a story that involves the female main character joining a movement for anti-nuclear freedom fighting, and how that led to her experience in a Mother and Baby Home, where both freedom and fighting were an impossibility. The story reminds me of Waiting For The Miracle by Ann McPartlin, another book I sobbed my heart out to.

Reading the authors note of her lived experience has left me in teary awe. I really thought I would either die of dehydration from my tears or perhaps drowning. I couldn’t stop crying throughout, I can’t stop crying throughout this review. I will be accepting life jackets from here on out.

Sometimes, it’s not even about how the book was written, the story being told, the characters, it’s how a book made you feel, and this book broke my heart.


Was this review helpful?

Another wonderful read from Anstey Harris.

Judith and Jimmy meet and fall in love in 1960s Glasgow, when they are both anti nuclear activists, living in a squat.

Their perfect live story is ripped apart when the squat is raided and Jimmy is sent to prison.

Pregnant, homeless, jobless and alone, Judith is forced to return home, where she is quickly moved on to a mother and baby home and her daughter is put up for adoption.

50 years later, Jimmy walks into the charity mending shop Judith runs on behalf of her late partner. The pair have a lot of catching up to do and whatever happened to their daughter?

A beautiful story spanning 50 years, heartbreaking and heartwarming. Anstey has an amazing writing talent. I have enjoyed all her books and look forward to future reads.

Was this review helpful?

I experienced various emotions while reading this beautifully written story. It was a story that will stay with me after the last page.
Many thanks to Amazon Publishing UK and to NetGalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Was this review helpful?

This is a heartwrenching read that will leave you feeling gutted. Anstey Harris really finds a way to pick your heart into pieces, slowly but surely.

Was this review helpful?

The latest novel from Anstey Harris is a deeply personal one, so it’s better if I start this review with a quote from the very end of the novel, from the author note, for context:

‘I wrote Judith and Penny’s story to give me – and the half a million like me – a voice, and to remind those of you who have not been through this that it is an inhumanity we must never return to.’

When I First Held You is a story about the forced adoptions that were prolific throughout the 1960s and 1970s. I have previously read about this within novels set in Australia, America, and Ireland. It was interesting to read it within a UK setting. Interesting most of all to see the similarities – all involved parents who were acting out of shame, all involved girls being sent to homes run by the Catholic church, and all involved a total lack of regard for what the young women actually having a baby wanted, much less needed.

‘I struggle to remember the difference between forgiving and forgetting, I know that you can live with one and that the other will eventually destroy you.’

This story is told from the perspective of Judith, who was forced to give up her baby, and Ruby, her biological granddaughter. These two perspectives allowed for a sensitive balance within the story. James – aka Jimmy – has his perspective included via his interactions with both Judith and Ruby. You see, as the story progresses, just how much of an injustice was done to both Judith and Jimmy, by their own parents, whose well-meaning intentions caused nothing but grief with far-reaching consequences.

‘It’s partly that I haven’t shared this time with her – I have missed it and it can never be replayed. But it’s more than that – it’s the secrets and the joys. The memories of the conversations, the holidays, even the dark moments: none of which are mine.’

This story is so good though because it isn’t a simple blame game. It also outlines the social policies of the era, the lack of welfare, birth control, and independent options for young women who were pregnant and wanting to keep their babies. While you can acknowledge that what their parents did was entirely wrong, you also can acknowledge that they were acting out of a place where they too, didn’t know what else to do.

‘I am reminded of what I have always known: that it isn’t hope that moves mountains – mends hearts – it is unity.’

Entirely heartfelt and not given to melodrama, When I First Held You is a beautiful story about love, family, and forgiveness. It’s a fascinating look at a period of history that is best kept exactly where it is – in the past. Five stars to this one from Anstey Harris, who always seems to know just how to tug on your heartstrings. Thanks to her bravery as well for sharing, through the medium of fiction, aspects of her own personal family history.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

Was this review helpful?

What an amazing story! I loved pretty much everything about it. The characters were well developed, the plot was deep, heartbreaking and downright beautiful.
This book is a very emotional read and I can definitely recommend it! Just be prepared to shred a tear or two.

I only have one complaint about the book and that is the time jumps. To me it felt like they happened out of nowhere with no warning, so in the start of the book I often got confused. I got used to it the longer I got into the book, but I would have preferred and indicator of some sort to whenever there was a time jump.

Was this review helpful?

“You can’t change the past, Ruby, no one can. But the purpose of being alive is to curate the future. It’s our responsibility.”

When I First Held You is the third novel by award-winning British author, Anstey Harris. Four years widowed, Judith Franklin is still grieving the loss of her partner of almost fifty years, artist Catherine Rolf. In her memory, and funded by the sale of her phenomenal work, Judy runs a little shop where volunteers repair, restore and repurpose items brought in by customers; no money changes hands.

It’s a local interest TV spot featuring The Mending Shop that brings Jimmy (now James) McConnell back into her life. He’s the very last person she wants to see: fifty-six years earlier, he left her holding the baby, literally. Having finally tracked her down, he wants to catch up, and is totally unprepared for her anger, and utterly confused by her furious accusations.

Back in the mid-sixties, Jude and Jimmy were part of a protest group trying to stop Polaris missiles coming to Faslane. Their group shared a squat in Glasgow and, in the lead-up to their biggest campaign, Jimmy was arrested and put in prison for six months. Pregnant, Jude went home to her Catholic parents whose shame and disgust saw her sent to a Liverpool unmarried mothers’ home to give birth to a daughter, then adopted out.

Ruby Cooper-Li is a twenty-two-year-old Master’s student at London University when she gets a hit from the genealogy website to which she sent her DNA. The match is likely a grandparent, her mother’s father, and she knows her mother would likely have disapproved, so she goes to her father for advice on how to handle the contact she wants to make.

James is excited and enthusiastic at the prospect of meeting a granddaughter of whom he was unaware but, after forty years as a social worker, Judith is well aware that most adoption reunions aren’t happy-ever-afters. And digging up the past? Although it’s true that “people are who they are. And sometimes the narrative we tell ourselves, or the picture we paint, doesn’t match with reality. It’s no one’s fault”, there are secrets, lies, betrayals: how can this end well?

In what is her best novel yet, Harris draws on her personal experience to tell this story, the sort of story that happened thousands of times in the 1960s, into which, without doubt, she has poured her heart and soul. Her characters are real, flawed human beings with whom it is impossible not to empathise. And while there are moments that will move readers to tears, there are also joyful, uplifting ones. Utterly wonderful!
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Amazon Publishing UK.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: