Friday, June 20, 2014

"Second Hand Jane" by Michelle Vernal

Second Hand Jane
by Michelle Vernal

When footloose and fancy-free Jessica, a thirty-something writer, decides to follow her journalistic instincts and trace the story of a young girl for her weekly column in a Dublin newspaper, she unwittingly embarks on a journey into Northern Ireland’s tragic past.
With her love of all things vintage, Jessica Jane Baré is known as Second-hand Jane to her friends. Hailing from New Zealand, these days she’s finding the grass is greener in Dublin and not just because of all the rain. In fact, life would be sweet if it weren’t for the reason she left home in the first place–her meddling mother. Marian views Jess’s life in Dublin as nothing more than a stop-gap until she meets Mr Right and he’s taking his time. Things look set to change, however, when Jess meets the delectable Nick, who ticks all of Marian’s boxes.
In the meantime, Jess’s latest second-hand collectible - a children’s book - gives her an idea for her column. Deciding to track down the girl whose name is scribbled inside the cover of that book, she uncovers more than she ever expected. “Amy was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the girl’s taciturn brother, Owen, informs her. Intrigued, Jess travels to the family pig farm in County Down and listens to Amy’s poignant tale unfold through Owen. With a little help from a rather cute runt of the litter she names Wilbur, Jess is about to help put the past to rest and learn that appearances can be deceptive.
Then Marian announces she is coming to Dublin to sort her daughter’s increasingly tangled love life out and Jess’s chance of a happy ending like those in the story books she collects looks about as likely as Wilbur flying.

“Shopping is surprisingly hard work, isn’t it?” Brianna said, not really expecting an answer as she flopped down into her chair.
Jess nodded, laying out their well-earned sandwiches and coffee. “It is when you are looking for something in particular. That’s what I like about op-shopping—I just happen across really cool stuff. Do you know what I was thinking earlier when I was busy getting dressed and undressed?”
“That I wish to God someone would open a shop with fitting rooms that are dimly lit. I hate those horrible fluorescent lights that show every lump and bump. It’s not good for one’s psyche.”
“What lumps and bumps?” Brianna was indignant. “You wait until you have a baby—then you’ll know all about lumps and bumps, my girl! You want to see the muffins Harry’s left me with?” She reached around the back of her jeans and squeezed two imaginary pockets of fat. “It doesn’t matter what size I get down to; the only way I’ll get rid of these blueberry babies is by lipo.” Picking up her rather delicious-looking gourmet sandwich, she took a greedy chomp out of it.
Jess looked glumly down at her own meagre low-fat bean sprout veggie sarnie and silently cursed all dressing room mirrors.
“Don’t you have that Cajun cooking class tonight?” Brianna mumbled through her full mouth.
“I do. I’m looking forward to it. Apparently we will be making jambalaya, which sounds vaguely familiar and very exotic.” She frowned. “It also sounds calorific, which is why I am on the bean sprout sanger. Next week, I’m doing a cod fish casserole, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. It’s a Portuguese class and I know nothing about Portuguese cuisine apart from the fact they eat a lot of fish.”
“Well, I can’t help you there. We’re having Gran’s bangers and mash for dinner because I’ve got a PTA meeting tonight—good old plain, hearty tucker; you can’t beat it. My Gran says all men need a good serving of potatoes on their plate each night in order to fill them up.”
“So that’s what you do to keep your Pete happy, is it? Serve him up loads of spuds. Anyway, it’s alright for you and Granny Dierdre to advocate bangers and mash because you’re both built like whippets. It sucks—I so much as sniff mash spud and it goes to my waistline, whereas you eat what you like and never put a pound on.”
“It’s running around after Harry. Have a baby, Jess, and you’ll never have to worry about your figure again except for the post-birth muffin overhang, of course, and the sagging boobs and stretched stomach skin,” she lamented.
Jess subconsciously crossed her legs under the table. She was fairly sure Brianna wouldn’t be getting a job as a Weight Watchers advocate in the near future if that was the best dietary advice she could dole out.
“Have you had any more thoughts on your column? What you’re going to write about once you have finished the cooking school series and had enough of stuffing yourself silly on jumbaywotsit and Portuguese cat fish casserole?”
Cod fish, not cat, and I have had a couple of ideas, as it happens. I thought I could write about the celebrity lifestyle in Dublin now that one of my best friends is dating a Hollywood Hottie. Actually, it was you who gave me the inspiration.”
Brianna looked pleased. “When I told you to write about the blind date you were doubling on?”
“Yeah, except we didn’t know then that the other half of the double date was a major celebrity, did we?”
“I know and I still can’t get my head around the fact Nora kept it quiet and that our best friend is actually dating Ewan Reid.” She pulled a face. “It’s not fair you get to meet him first.”
“Yes, but we don’t know at what cost yet, do we? I may have to suffer through an evening with a Gollom clone.”
“Or—ha-ha,” Brianna snorted, “he could be one of those weird Trekkie guys in a giant nylon baby-gro.” She giggled, giving Jess a Vulcan two-fingered salute.
Jess gave her a two-fingered salute of a different kind back. “Yeah, thanks, that’s not helping. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I had another idea as well I wanted to run past you. It’s to do with a name in a book.”
“You’ve lost me. What name in what book?”
“Well, remember the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs book I bought for my collection not long ago?”
“Yes. That reminds me—Harry’s right into all those traditional fairy stories at the moment. I made the mistake of reading him Hansel and Gretel the other night and managed to give myself nightmares. I’d hate to think what my poor son made of it. Though, to be honest, I don’t know what disturbed me more about the story: the abandoning of children in the forest, the wicked witch putting Hansel in a cage in order to fatten him up, or the fact that Harry didn’t seem at all fazed by it! I’d forgotten how horrible some of those old tales actually are.”
“Yeah, you’d have to wonder what was going through the mind of the Brothers Grimm when they penned that one. They wrote Little Red Riding Hood, too. Please don’t read that to Harry just yet. I had a phobia about wolves for years thanks to that little minx.”
“Don’t worry—we’re sticking with good old Hop on Pop, Dr Seuss for the foreseeable future. But, come on then, spill—what’s this idea of yours?”
“Okay, you know how one of the things I find intriguing about second-hand things is the thought of the life they have lived before they come to me?”
Brianna nodded. “That and the thrill of a good bargain.”
“Yeah, well there is that too. But books, especially children’s ones, are really special.”
“Because of the illustrations, right?”
“Definitely that yes but it is more than just the pictures. Children love to mark their territory and every book in my collection has its original owner’s name scrawled inside the cover.”
“I don’t get it—you told me once that decreases the book’s value.”
“It does but I don’t collect them for their monetary value. It’s hard to explain it properly but there’s just something about the idea of another child having loved that book the same way I loved it and I often wonder who they were or are now. Does that sound weird?”
Brianna grinned. “If I was Nora, I would say it definitely sounds weird but since it’s me you are talking to, I think I get it. You’d like to know the story behind the name in the book, is that it?”
“That’s it exactly! Who was that child? Did he or she pore over the stories and the pictures like I did? Were they daydreamers too? Who did they grow up to be?”
“Jaysus, you are such a romantic, Jessica Baré. Where are you going with this?”
“I am going to find her.”
“You’ve lost me again—who exactly are you off to find? And please don’t say yourself because you’re far too young for a mid-life crisis.”
Jess laughed. “Don’t worry; I’m not going to do an Eat, Pray, Love and frolic round Bali. I am going to find out what became of Amy Aherne from Ballymcguinness. She was six years old when her brother Owen gave her Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for Christmas in 1973. So I am going to write about my journey to find the forty-six-year old Amy. I will do the detective work to find out who she is now, what she went on to do with her life and what that book meant to her. What do you think?”
“Wow, it’s a bit out there but at the same time I think it’s a brilliant idea!” Brianna was wide-eyed, imagining Amy Aherne, wherever she might be now. “Gosh, she could have grown up to be anything; how fascinating to find out. She could be an airhostess or an actress or a writer like you.” Brianna’s eyes became saucer-like. “Oh my God, what would you do if you found out she was a prostitute?” Before Jess could reply, another thought occurred to her. “What if she doesn’t want you to write about her?”
“Whoa, slow down. Who’s the writer—me or you? If she doesn’t want me to write about her, I guess I will just have to come up with another brilliant idea. So what have you got on for the week then?”
“I’ve a PTA meeting Thursday night; it’s full-on at the moment because we’re organising the school fair in October—tonight’s topic is the cake stall. I expect you to contribute, you know.”
“But I can’t bake.”
“I meant buy something from the stall, you eejit. We can’t all hang out with the rich and famous, you know. Some of us have responsibilities.” She grinned. “Pete and I might try to get out for a meal down at the pub on Friday night, if Mammy’s free, and Saturday afternoon I am meeting up with a group of mams to discuss saving our local playgroup.”
“Harry doesn’t go to playgroup anymore, though.”
“I know but I have fond memories of when he did.”
Jessica laughed. “You call me a romantic! Well, you’re the queen of the community-minded. Bray would grind to a halt without you.” She frowned, glancing at her watch. “It’s two fifteen already, Brie. What time do you have to leave to pick Harry up?”
“CRAP! I’d forgotten about Harry. Come on, I’ve got to get a move on!”

Featured Review
Oh what a unique and amazing love story this one turned out to be! I am seriously in love with the whole story! I love that Jessica has such a unique quality about her. In a world where everyone competes to be the same, we all need someone like her! And I identify with her love for gently used old things!
This book not only tells an amazing love story, but also the story of a tragedy that lives on in those left behind. But not only that the author is amazing with her humor and writes that side very well!
I love all the characters in this book and think that they were all developed very well. I also enjoy the time during which her Mum visits and that they both had a chance to grow and change their relationship.
And who could not fall in love with dear Wilbur! What a fantastic story this turned out to be! I highly recommend this one!

About the Author
Michelle Vernal is the author of three novels. She is a forty-something writer who lives with her husband and two sons in the gorgeous wee town of Oxford in New Zealand's South Island. It's a place where the cheese scones are superb and there is always loads more going on than meets the eye. When her boys are at school and she is not not lamenting life with her walking buddies or if it is that time of the month, hibernating while she snaffles the aforementioned cheese scones she writes.
Writing was something she came to later in life when her oldest son was a baby and she happily penned PC opinion style pieces for various NZ parenting magazines but when her second son was born she set herself the challenge of writing a book.
The joy of writing her first novel was the freedom to be oh so un-PC hence the title The Brazilian Job which was inspired by a sign twirling on the breeze outside a Beauticians.
The idea for her second novel, Second Hand Jane came from an inscription in a much loved children's book. She has just finished writing her third novel, Finding Yanni which is set in both New Zealand and Crete and hopes to release it in July 2014.
Michelle has a passion for travel and for the city of Dublin which features heavily in her first two novels. It holds a special place in her heart because it's where her husband proposed - okay so he was a tad tiddly at the time but they did make it to the altar, eventually.