The warm and witty sequel to The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club Slip one . . .
Two weddings and a year after her husband's funeral, Jo Mackenzie is finally starting to get the hang of being a single parent. The boys are thriving, the yarn shop is doing wellthanks to Jo's improvementsand she's just about keeping her head above water. Knit two together . . .
But a man from Jo's past and a new romance with the hunky local carpenter come along and make life a whole lot more interesting. Cast off . . .
Can Jo cope when things get really complicated? Because if knitting really does keep you sane when life starts to unravel, Jo's going to need much bigger needles.
About the Author
Gil McNeil lives in Kent, England, with her son, and comes from a long line of champion knitters. (Author's name is pronounced "Jill.")
Read an Excerpt
needles AND pearls
By Gil McNeil
HYPERIONCopyright © 2010 Gil McNeil
All right reserved.
Chapter Onetwo weddings and a year after the funeral
It's half past seven on Sunday morning and I'm sitting in the kitchen knitting a pale pink rabbit and trying to work out what to wear today. All those programs where women with tired hair and baggy trousers emerge a small fortune later with a new bob and a fully coordinated wardrobe never seem to give you tips about what you're meant to wear when you visit your husband's grave on the first anniversary of the funeral. Especially when you've got to combine it with lunch with Elizabeth, the artist formerly known as your mother-in-law, who'll definitely be expecting something smart, possibly in the little-black-suit department, or maybe navy, at a pinch. And since I haven't got a black suit, or a navy one, come to that, I think I might be in trouble.
Perhaps if I'd actually got some sleep last night things wouldn't feel quite so overwhelming, but the sound of the wind and the waves kept me awake, which is one of the disadvantages of living by the seaside; it's lovely in summer, all beach huts and day-trippers coming into the shop when it starts to drizzle, but I'm starting to realize that winter can be rather hard going. It's all freezing mists and gales, and when there's a storm down here, you really know about it. Maybe if the house wasn't ten minutes from the beach I might not have quite so many dreams where I'm shipwrecked and trying to keep two small boys afloat.
I finally managed to drop off around two, and was promptly woken by Archie shuffling in to let me know he'd had his space-monster dream again. Which is something else that's not quite as good as it sounds on the packet: how five-year-olds manage to combine being far too grown-up to wear vests now they're at Big School with still needing night-lights and special blankets as soon as you've got the little buggers into their pajamas. Not that Archie really goes in for special blankets-unlike Jack, who's seven but is still firmly attached to the fish blanket I knitted him in honor of his new seaside bedroom-but he's still perfectly happy to wake his mother up in the middle of the bloody night to talk about monsters and the possibility of a light snack.
I'm writing another version of my never-ending Things I Must Do Today list, while the rain pours down the kitchen window in solid sheets. We might not be able to match Whitstable for stripy sweaters and artistically arranged fishing nets, but we can certainly match them for pouring rain. We do have an art gallery in the High Street now that goes in for smart window displays involving a large wooden bowl and a spotlight, so we're starting to get there; and what's more, we've got houses that normal people can afford, and a rickety pier and newly painted beach huts that don't get sold in auctions for more money than most people paid for their first house. Gran's been renting hers for years, which reminds me, that's something else to add to my list: I need to take another towel down next time we go to the beach; we took Trevor the annoying Wonder Dog for a walk yesterday, and Archie ended up in the sea again.
I'm making a pot of tea when Archie comes downstairs, with his hair sticking up in little tufts, wearing his pajamas, and the belt from his dressing gown, but no actual dressing gown.
"It's no good just wearing the belt, you know, love. You'll get cold."
"No I won't. I like it like this, it's my rope, for if I need to climb things. And I'm not having Shreddies tot my breakfast. I want a sausage, just sausage. I don't have to have Shreddies because it's the weekend. At the weekend you can say what you want and you just have it."
How lovely; I think I'll order eggs Benedict and a glass of champagne. Or maybe a nice bit of smoked haddock.
I'm rather enjoying my Fantasy Breakfast moment while Archie looks in the fridge and starts tutting. "We haven't got no sausage."
"Because you said you hated sausages when we had them for supper last week."
He tuts again. "I was only joking."
Jack wanders in, looking grumpy. "I don't want sausages. I want jumbled-up eggs."
Apparently I am now running some kind of junior bed-and-breakfast operation. Perhaps I should buy a small pad and a pencil.
"Well, since we haven't got any sausages, what about lovely scrambled eggs, Archie, before we get ready to drive to Granny's?"
"Yuck. And anyway last time you made them you put stupid cheese in and they tasted absolutely horrible."
"Well, it's Shreddies or scrambled eggs. That's it. So make your mind up."
He sighs, while Jack stands in the doorway looking like he's still half asleep.
"Did Daddy like cheese in his scrambled eggs?"
Bugger. There's been a lot less of the Did My Lovely Daddy Like This? lately, but I suppose it was bound to resurface today,
"Yes, love, he did."
"Well, I want mine with cheese then."
Archie hesitates. "Well, I don't. He liked them without cheese in too, didn't he, Mum?"
"And there's no sausages?"
"Are you sure?"
Does he think I'm hiding a packet inside my dressing gown or something?
"Absolutely sure, Archie."
"Well, I'll have jumbled eggs, with toast. But not the eggs on the toast-toast on another plate."
Ellen calls while I'm washing up the breakfast things.
"You'll never guess what. Ask me who's calling."
"I know who's calling, Ellen. It's you, Britain's Favorite Broadcaster."
"Yes, but ask me anyway, Just say, 'Who is this?'"
"Who is this?"
"The future Mrs. Harry Williams. He asked me last night, when we were having dinner. On bended knee and everything-he'd even got the ring. Tiffany. Serious diamonds. The works. It was absolutely perfect."
"Oh, Ellen, that's brilliant."
"I know, although why he couldn't have done it on Valentine's Day is beyond me. He said he wanted to wait until his leg was out of plaster, in case he got stuck kneeling down, but I think he just couldn't cope with the hearts and flowers thing."
"That sounds fair enough."
"I've always had a crap time on Valentine's Day, so it would have made up for all those years when I didn't even get a card."
"You always get cards, Ellen. For as long as I've known you you've always got loads."
"Only from nutters who watch me on the news, not proper boys."
"Well, now you've got a proper boy, and the ring to prove it."
"I know. Christ. I still can't really believe it."
"Tell me everything. What did he say? What did you say? Everything."
"I tried to play it cool, so I said I'd get back to him once I'd reviewed my options, but then the waiter brought the champagne over and I just caved. Who knew he'd turn out to be the future Mr. Malone? Isn't life grand?"
"I suppose we'd better stop calling him Dirty Harry now. It's not very bridal."
"Oh, I don't know: Ellen Malone, do you take Dirty Harry as your lawful ... I quite like it."
"What's the ring like?"
"So will you be my bridesmaid then?"
"Don't thirty-eight-year-olds with two kids have to be matrons?"
"Bollocks to that-it's too Carry On Night Nurse. I want you to be my bridesmaid; I'm thinking pink lace crinolines. With matching gloves."
"Or possibly Vera Wang."
"That sounds more like it."
"And the boys in kilts."
"Harry, in a kilt?"
"No, you idiot, my godsons."
"My Jack and Archie, in kilts?"
"Yes. What do you think?"
"I think it depends on how big the bribe's going to be."
"No problem then, although we'd better not let them have daggers in their socks or it could get tricky. Have you told your mum and dad yet?"
"I'm building up to it. Actually, it's going to be one of your main bridesmaid duties, stopping Mum trying to turn this into a family wedding I hate most of them anyway, and they hate me. I just want people I really, truly like."
"So no need for a big church then, since there'll only be about six of us."
"Exactly. Here, talk to Harry."
"Thanks, darling, and you'll do the bridesmaid thing, because I'm counting on you to calm her down."
"How exactly do you think I'm going to pull that one off?"
"Drugs? One of my uncles knows a bloke who can probably slip us some horse tranquilizers; that should slow her down a bit. You'll have to do something or I'll be forced to make a run for it."
"Don't you dare. Anyway, she'd find you."
There's a scuffling noise, and Ellen comes back on the line.
"Harry's just fallen over."
"Has he? How mysterious."
"I don't think his leg's completely up to speed yet."
"No, and it won't be if you keep pushing the poor man over. He's only just had the plaster off."
"He tripped. Look, I'd better go, darling, he's making toast and he always burns it."
"Put a new toaster down on your wedding list then. A Harry-proof one."
"Christ, I'd forgotten about the wedding list. God, the amount of money I've spent over the years on bloody lists. Brilliant: it's finally payback time."
"John Lewis do a good one, I think."
"Please. I'm thinking Cath Kidston, the White Company. Actually, I wonder if Prada do a list-I bet they do-and I'm thinking registry office, like you did with Nick, so my mum doesn't get the chance to cover the local church in horrible satin ribbon."
"That might work, you know, like that man who wraps up whole mountains."
"Yes, but Christo doesn't dot mini-baskets of freesias everywhere, or make everyone wear carnation buttonholes. God, I wish I could see you. Why don't you come up here for the day and Harry can limp round a museum with the boys while we start planning?"
"I'd love to, but I've got lunch with Elizabeth and Gerald."
"Oh, Christ, I'd forgotten. Sorry, darling."
"Do I have to wear black, do you think?"
"Of course not, sweetheart. Wear what you like."
"She wanted us to go to the morning service at the church, but I said we couldn't get there in time, so they'll all be in their best Sunday outfits. James and Fiona and the girls will be there too. God, I bet they all have hats."
"You could always wear your bobble bat."
"So they look like they're off to Ascot and I look like a tramp?"
"Just wear what you feel comfortable in."
"You don't think turning up in my pajamas will look a bit odd?"
"Not if you top it off with a woolly hat; very bohemian and deconstructed: Björk, with a hint of grieving widow. What about your black trousers, the ones you wear with your boots?"
"I've already tried them, but I can only get the zip done up if I lie on the floor. I think they must have shrunk."
"I think I may have been overdoing it slightly on the biscuits when I'm in the shop. And it's bound to rain. Do you remember how much it rained at the funeral? I thought the vicar was going to fall in at one point, or Archie, and Christ knows how much therapy you'd need after falling headfirst into your dad's grave. Quite a lot, is my guess."
"The bastards would probably make you sign a direct-debit form before they let you in the door."
"Do you think I should take flowers? The boys have written letters and drawn some pictures."
"They spent hours on them. Jack's done one of the new house, to show him where we're living now, and Archie's done one of Trevor, and a boat. But I haven't got anything to take."
"Darling, you should have reminded me. Look, I can drive down. What time are you leaving?"
"No, it's fine, I'm just fussing. Flowers will be fine. I'll get some at Sainsbury's on the way, and you have a lovely day celebrating with Harry. I'll call you when I'm back."
"Nothing It's just I feel such a fraud. I should be the grieving widow, but I'm still so furious with him. I thought I'd be into the acceptance thing by now, or maybe even forgiveness, but I'm not. I mean I forgive him about the affair. It's weird, but I'm really past that. Maybe my mini-moment in Venice with Daniel helped me with that one, sort of put everything into perspective, and stopped me feeling like a total reject."
"I'm sure it did, darling."
"But I still can't forgive him for planning to leave the boys. I'm nowhere near closure on that one. Nowhere near."
"Of course you're not. Why would you be? Christ, he finally gets promoted and you think you're off to a new life as the Wife of the Foreign Correspondent, but it turns out he's having an affair and wants a divorce, and the night he tells you he manages to kill himself in a car crash. Why would you have closure on something like that? It'll take years."
"Thanks, that's very encouraging."
"Darling, you're doing great, fantastic, actually. Instead of going under you've got on with it, with all the debts and the second bloody mortgage he didn't even bother to tell you about. You've sold up and moved to the back of bloody beyond so you can work in your grads wool shop, and before you say it, yes, I know it's your shop now, and you've made a brilliant job of it and you're new best friends with the Diva and everything. Official knitting coach to Amazing Grace, but still. I'd be fucking furious with him. In fact it's a good job he crashed that car because I'd have killed him myself if I'd got my hands on him. Bastard."
That's one of the best things about Ellen: she's so brilliantly partisan. She never sees both sides of the argument, or tells you to calm down and think about it from someone else's point of view. And she was so great last year, with the funeral and everything. Christ knows how I'd have got through it without her.
"I know, Ellen, but it was partly my fault, you know."
"Oh, please, not the guilt-trip thing again. How could it possibly have been your fault?"
"I should have known, about the money. I should have worked it out. And if I'd been less wrapped up in the boys, maybe I would have noticed how bored he was getting. When I think about it, I could see he was unraveling, but I tried to ignore it. He got so furious when I tried to talk to him about it, so I left it."
"And I suppose it was your fault he was shagging the teenage UN worker, was it?"
"She was twenty-six, Ellen."
"Twenty-six, sixteen, makes no difference, just better clothes. Now pull yourself together, darling. He fucked up, big time. And it wasn't your fault, but you're left picking up the pieces. It's bollocks whichever way you look at it."
"I suppose so. Although I love living here now."
"I know you do, Pollyanna. You've always been good at seeing the bright side ... what's that lemon thing again?"
"If life deals you lemons, you just make lemonade."
We both start to giggle.
"What a load of rubbish-it sounds just like something your Diva would say, like her line about how people can only turn you over if you let them; it's all in your karma."
"Yes, but I think there's some truth in that, you know."
"Oh, definitely. It's very good karma if you're incredibly rich and freakishly thin and your last three movies were hits. Not quite so easy if you're working in Burger King and the onion rings have just got flame-grilled into oblivion."
"How is our Amazing Grace, by the way? Is motherhood suiting her?"
"Very much, last time I saw her. And she's looking even more fabulous than be(ore she had the baby, sort of glowing. I know it sounds like rubbish, but she really is. And the baby's gorgeous. I'm doing a new-baby window display for the shop; I've been knitting baby things for days now. It's been a bit weird-it reminds me of knitting when I was pregnant with Archie, which hasn't exactly helped."
"You'll be fine today, you'll see. Now are you sure you don't want me to come down?"
"Sure. You're right. It'll be fine, and at least there's been some good news today."
"My best friend's getting married, and I'll be in peach Vera Wang with gloves and a bobble hat."
"Call me when you get home, promise?"
"And if Elizabeth gets too annoying, just hit her. Pretend you've gone into widow hysterics and deck the old bag. You'll feel so much better, trust me."
Excerpted from needles AND pearls by Gil McNeil Copyright © 2010 by Gil McNeil. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsONE February two weddings and a year after the funeral....................1
TWO February the thin blue line....................41
THREE April now we are six....................99
FOUR June wedding belles....................157
FIVE July white elephants and pink flamingos....................213
SIX August of shoes and ships and sealing wax....................253
SEVEN September lights camera action....................299
EIGHT September / October the twilight zone....................331
NINE October needles and pearls....................375
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It rained this weekend. Perfect weather for a sit it at home with a new book. This was definitely a perfect choice!!! I have been waiting for this second book patiently and it was worth the wait. Easy, and totally lovely!! A MUST read for those who love knitting and stories about LIFE!! Thank you Miss McNeil>Can't wait for your next one....... :-)
Liked that it continues where the 1st one left off. Enjoyable afternoon of reading.
Loved all three of her Jo Mackenzie Series. Light, fun read - good for commuter reading, although people do sort of look at you funny when you keep smiling or even laugh out loud, as I must admit I did on several occasions.
I did not know what to expect from this book but I was immediately hooked by the characters and story. As soon as I finished the first book, I bought the second. I wish there was a third. I highly recommend it.
This is a wonderful story with great characters whose stories continue from the Beach Street book. It's a lovely read. Hope there is a 3rd helping in our near future.
I loved it. A good read, it kept my interest and I enjoyed the characters.
This is not just another crazy woman knitting book. I really like the intricate characters and the detailed relationships are really interesting.
This is the second in a series of books about a newly single mum, her children and family and running a business in small town Great Britain. Love the picture she spreads about family life there.
Another excellent story by Gil McNeil. It is amazing to me that a story about everyday life can be so appealing . I love all the characters- they are really well done. My favorite thing is the dry sense of humor of the main character - usually things she thinks - not what she says aloud. She will leave you with a smile on your face.
"Needles and Pearls" continues the saga of Jo Mackenzie, widowed mother of two and proprietress of the finest seaside knit shop in England. All the characters from her previous novel "The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club" are again on the screen, with some changes; Ellen is now married, Martin is becoming less weird every day, Trevor the Wonder Dog is camping out in Jo's kitchen. But the big news is that Jo is...uh-oh. Seems a fling has left her with a bun in the oven.Once again, McNeil has given us a novel without great insights to impart, but with her signature sweet/sharp dialogue. "Needles and Pearls" doesn't waste time with lyrical descriptions; it's all about the characters and the characters are talking all the time. Jo's boys Jack and Archie are such true to life little guys - they have that salty sweetness (with a bit of grittiness) that makes little boys so endearing. I liked that in this novel, Certain People (not saying who!) finally get told where to get off (or, as Jo puts it, "I finally got to tell ??? to 'piss off' without using the words 'piss off!'") If you're anything like me, you'll find that McNeil's characters become quite real to you - they display that nutty, complicated, gloriously mixed-up quality that real friends have - they drive you crazy, but when you need them, they are there ranging themselves staunchly at your back.
I was so glad to go back to Jo's world and see how she's coping a year out from her husband's death. She has such a warm and funny personality and she is so patient with her kids, even though they drive her batty at times. I liked that Jo was able to recognize what she really wants and be o.k. with it, even though she has people telling her she should want other things. As women we often buy into all the messages out there - "you should have a fabulous career", "you shouldn't waste yourself on that", etc. I like that Jo doesn't listen to those voices.
I have just finished this book and get to read and early review the next in the series, KNIT ONE PEARL TWO, and this book was even a better read then the first. Really you will enjoy these books even if you are a beginner(forever) knitter like I am. Jo and her family are fun and yet she goes into the trials and tribulations of any family unit trying to stay together in tough times. I would like to make more comment on the end of the book, it was so touching but would give too much of it away. Please read it and enjoy!
I picked up Needles and Pearls on my hunt for a novel with a gem in the title as part of the ¿What¿s in a Name¿ challenge. (A pearl is a gem, yes?) And as a beginning knitter, I thought I would enjoy this.The novel begins one year after the death of Jo¿s cheating husband. When I first picked this up, I didn¿t know it was the second novel in Gil McNeil¿s Jo Mackenzie series. Being the second in the series, Ms. McNeil did a great job developing Needles and Pearls without leaving me feeling I was missing something. The story continues over the next few months of Jo¿s life with many twists and surprises around each corner. What sets Jo apart is how she deals with these surprises.Jo is quite the heroine. She is funny, charming, strong, but above all, she is full of grace. And if that¿s not enough, she is so authentic, I fully expect to visit her shop and have tea with her on a future trip to England. I think it¿s a challenge to write a character that is so real in spite of everything that has happened to her and that is exactly what Ms. McNeil has done. Needles and Pearls is laugh out loud funny at times. It reads like a TV comedy about a shopkeeper in a small town coastal with quite a cast of zany characters. Some of those characters are quite famous, some are ¿common¿ folk, and there is even an authentic Lady thrown in for good measure. She has an overbearing mother, a loving grandmother, two spunky young sons, Britain¿s most loved journalist as a best friend, a famous actress as a client, the boy next door as a love interest, and a crazy large dog named Trevor who wants to adopt her. Whew! Don¿t even get me started on the shop ladies. I enjoyed the friendship among the ladies, but more than anything I adored the promise of a romance between Martin (the boy next door) and Jo. I am pleased the author didn¿t rush through their courtship. It was a refreshing change to see Jo think about what is best for her family instead of her own interests. It was also refreshing to see Martin give Jo the space and friend support she needed. He was a gentleman and I loved that about him. Needles and Pearls didn¿t temp me to pick up The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club to find out where it all began but I am looking forward to reading the third novel in this series Knit One, Pearl One. Above all, I loved the sense of friendship embraced by the women involved. The ¿Stitch and Bitch¿ group was more than a casual place to go once a week. It was a place where the woman came together to gather comfort and strength from each other as well as knitting tips. The novel, like The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, is a testament to friendship tightly woven with one knit and one purl at a time.
I've ordered the first book because I enjoyed this one so much. The sometimes hectic life of a single mother in a small English village. Two active and sometimes demanding, opinionated boys. An unexpected pregnancy, the various people Jo interacts with in her role as mother, friend, granddaughter and shop owner. Looking forward to reading the first book even though I'm doing this in reverse order.
A good read. Interesting use of "British-isms" that make this a departure from my usual literary fare. Not the best book out there, what with the somewhat unrealistic plot, but interesting. Kept my attention although it began to drag about 3/4 of the way through. Three stars.
I really enjoyed this story and couldn't put it down.
All of Gil McNeil's books are great. The characters are warm and funny especially the kids. I reread all her books several times so you know they are winners.
Love series paperbacks. Fun easy read.