When I First Held You

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
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

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...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781662503863
PRICE £8.99 (GBP)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send to Kindle (MOBI)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 26 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?

Readers who liked this book also liked: