Cover Image: When I First Held You

When I First Held You

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Member Reviews

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.
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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 for an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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A really good read that was emotive and also made me feel like I had learnt something about a period i knew nothing about.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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