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Finding Family at Seabreeze Farm by Jo Bartlett #Review

  I am delighted to be featuring the the latest festive novel Jo Bartlett, Finding Family at Seabreeze Farm   which was published by Boldwood Books on 2nd December. This is the second in her Seabreeze Farm series, set at Kelsea Bay. Freya Halliwell is looking forward to marrying the man of her dreams and starting their new life together. After the death of both of her parents, Ollie, along with Freya’s aunt, are the only family she has, but all the family she needs. Until Freya discovers a shocking secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her once happy family and especially the man she used to call dad. Devastated and feeling more alone than ever before, Freya needs time and space to come to terms with the news. But until then the wedding is off! Seabreeze Farm is the perfect place for Freya to recover. But could this beautiful farm perched high on the cliffs, also hold the answer to Freya’s past and reunite her with the family she never even knew s

Tilting by Nicole Harkin ** Review & Extract**

Tilting by Nicole Harkin is celebrating its first birthday on June 22nd, today, and I am delighted to be taking part in the celebrations. This Memoir recently won a Gold Award in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. I have an extract for you to sample today but first, here is a little insight into the book:

We only learned about our father's girlfriend after he became deathly ill and lay in a coma 120 miles from our home.

Overhearing the nurse tell Linda--since I was nine I had called my mom by her first name--about the girlfriend who came in almost every day to visit him when we weren't there confirmed that the last moment of normal had passed us by without our realizing it. Up to then our family had unhappily coexisted with Dad flying jumbo jets to Asia while we lived in Montana. We finally came together to see Dad through his illness, but he was once again absent from a major family event--unable to join us from his comatose state. This is the moment when our normal existence tilted.

Dad recovered, but the marriage ailed, as did Linda, with cancer. Our family began to move down an entirely different path with silver linings we wouldn't see for many years.

In this candid and compassionate memoir which recently won a Gold Award in The Wishing Shelf Book Award, Nicole Harkin describes with an Impressionist's fine eye the evolution of a family that is quirky, independent, uniquely supportive, peculiarly loving and, most of all, marvelously human.


1997, Montana

DAD called our house one day not too long after having moved out. 

Standing in the recently renovated—pre-illness—kitchen, with white cabinets and porcelain knobs, I picked up the phone when it rang. The caller ID sat on the counter next to the phone. 

“Where are you calling from?” I asked. The caller ID said the call came from his girlfriend’s house. I was testing him.

“I’m at a friend’s house.”

“What friend?”


I doodled on the pink messages pad while we spoke.

“Well, the caller ID says you’re at your girlfriend’s house.”

“Nicole, your mom has the caller ID set up so whenever I call, it looks like I’m calling from my girlfriend’s house.”

I stood there wondering about this while we talked. 

Is it possible that Linda reprogrammed the phone? How would she have done that? I didn’t know the caller ID was programmable.
When we hung up, I called the number on the caller ID—his girlfriend’s number—right back.

He answered.

“I thought you said you weren’t at her house.”

“I just got here.”

“What? I just spoke to you. You said you were at Chuck’s.”

“And I just drove up.”

“That’s not possible.”

“I told you your mom has the caller ID rigged.”

“Talk to you later. I love you.”

I did love him. And I wanted him to know that he could take my love for granted. No matter his behavior I still loved him. I had almost lost him.

But I was mad at him too: for lying to me, for lying to Linda, for leaving us. 

I stood there in the kitchen staring at the phone. I knew he was lying and yet I wanted to believe him.

Later I asked Linda about the call. 

“Can you reprogram phones to make it look like Dad was calling from his girlfriend’s house even though he was someplace else?”

“No, Nicole.”

“I didn’t think so, but that’s what Dad told me you did.”

“He thinks people don’t see through his lies.”

“He doesn’t lie to me Mom.”
“Oh yes, he does. Remember when Dad brought you the Suburban last year? He had his girlfriend with him then. He left her at a rest stop while he went to exchange cars with you. He had told her he would be an hour.”

“He was with me for a few hours.”

Laughing she said, “I know. I love it.” 

I was stunned. I didn’t ask Linda how she knew this story. I wish I had. It might have answered a lot of other questions, such as how long had she known about the affair? She still had friends at Delta, spies who called and gave her information, and Walt had friends, too. Maybe they had told her.

Given their previous unhappiness, their divorce shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. What didn’t surprise me were their vitriolic interactions from that point forward.

The unlikely existence of their union itself had been more interesting to contemplate than its demise.

Dad’s mother, Grammy Harkin had grown up in India and she cooked curry as a family staple. Dad had cooked a curry for Linda and a family legend was born. He made the curry so spicy on one date that Linda took off her blouse at the table because she was so hot. The sexual aspect of this story was lost on us children. We just laughed at the thought of Linda unbuttoning her white blouse at the table and the patent absurdity of Dad cooking. We enjoyed imagining them just meeting and having fun together, something that rarely happened in our home. After they were married Dad had been banned from the kitchen because he couldn’t figure out how to clean up.

Grammy Harkin didn’t have a great fondness for Linda. Dad had been her youngest and favorite son. First, Linda hadn’t been Catholic when they married. Second, because Grammy Harkin was born into the upper class in England and she felt her social status to be vastly above her current situation, Linda’s family just wasn’t in her social strata. And third, instead of moving back to Boston, like every other person from Boston is required to do at some point in their lives, Linda took Dad further away. All of these things, combined with Linda’s natural abrasiveness, made things difficult between them. 

When Linda asked for the curry recipe, Grammy Harkin gave Linda some long and convoluted recipe that took hours and hours to prepare. Linda, while an uninspired cook, eventually figured out how to make curry in under an hour. She cooked the onions and the meat together with the curry spices and then added tomatoes, potatoes, veggies, and water. Once the lid was on, it sat on the stove for a few hours. If it wasn’t thick enough by dinner, she put some cornstarch in and called it done. We always had mango and lemon chutney with it. If Grammy Harkin was visiting dried shredded coconut also appeared on the table. Once a year, Linda canned and one of her best efforts was homemade spicy chutney with raisins and other fruits. 

The pictures from their wedding made my parents look glamorous. Linda wore an off-white turban, with her blond hair curled up at the ends, just above her shoulders. Her off-white dress had a three-inch wide belt. She was slender and the shoes were silk platforms with her red toes poking out. She looked like a model with her false eyelashes batting. She had in fact been a model for Delta in commercials featuring flight attendants. They were married at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago, which had Gothic stained glass windows and a soaring ceiling. Linda had agreed to raise her future children Catholic in order to marry Dad there. 

That Linda did this seemed odd the first time she told me that story. But as the price for getting married in the Cathedral, it hadn’t seemed too onerous to her. Besides, who would be checking? But Linda always intended to honor that deal. She was like that. A done deal was a done deal. Why did Dad want us to be raised Catholic since he didn’t believe? These internal contradictions confounded me. 

My parents were attracted to one another because they both embraced adventure. They both liked to move. She was beautiful and well-traveled. But why they felt the need to get married was a mystery. 

Maybe she wanted security and she never divorced Dad because he represented security. 

Any talk of dying, in the abstract, over living in a coma, is cheap, as Linda often said. But once Dad lived through the coma and learned that Linda had contemplated taking him off of life support, his views on plug pulling changed. Dad blamed Linda for even contemplating pulling the plug. She blamed him for everything else. 

Dad did this a lot, however. He mused over something in his mind, rolling the issue or idea over and over. He did this contemplation without any input from anyone else. This was his own analysis and therefore his own conclusion which became his immutable truth. No amount of explanation or clarification changed his mind. Linda had tried to kill him. End of story.

Once he left her they both lost the ability to behave kindly towards one another. Their united front fell away. Dad didn’t feel that Linda was owed anything. He had worked and therefore all of the money in his pension belonged to him. 

“When is the divorce going to be over?” I asked, crying when Linda’s lawyer’s secretary put me through to her attorney.

“I don’t know. Your father’s making things difficult at every turn,” he said.

My Thoughts

The pace of this story carries you along and almost lulls you as time passes. However, I soon realised that the story which is being retold is far from everyday and is a testament to survival against the odds. The family dynamics are difficult to unravel but the feelings evoked by Nicole as her mother's illness becomes obvious are true and affecting. You realise that there is a basic honesty in Nicole's account which is raw and brave.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir and found the capacity of the children to forgive and move on to be amazing. The relationships between the siblings feels honest and there is humour beneath everything. Touching, emotional but never saccharine, it is a tremendous read. 

In short: A searingly honest look at a dysfunctional family.

About the Author

Nicole Harkin currently resides in Washington, DC with her husband and two small children. She works as a writer and family photographer. As a Fulbright Scholar during law school, Nicole lived in Berlin, Germany where she studied German environmentalism. Her work can be found in Thought Collection and you are here: The Journal of Creative Geography. She is currently working on mystery set in Berlin. Her photography can be seen at

You can follow Nicole here: FacebookInstagram  |  Twitter

Book links: Amazon US   |  Amazon UK   |  Barnes & Noble 

Book Trailer: You Tube 

Thanks to Nicole and Rachel of Rachel's Random Resources for a copy of the book and a place on the tour. 




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