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The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton

About The Book

For fans of The Keeper of Lost Things and Evvie Drake Starts Over comes a “heartwarming and tender…good-humored and uplifting” (BookPage) debut about a reclusive artist whose collection has gotten out of control—but whose unexpected friendship with her new neighbors might be just what she needs to start over.

Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist and creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow-cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things instead of people.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

Quirky and charming, big-hearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter...and welcome the people who do.

Excerpt

Chapter One


October 1998

“Who put the Spice Girls on?” asked Amy, looking around the room. The house party was in full swing and no one answered, though she suspected the two girls dressed as cats, busy touching up their whiskers with eyeliner as they peered into a small mirror. Amy shuffled through the CDs and selected the new Garbage album. “Dance?” she suggested, skipping to the second track.

Chantel pulled herself up from the sofa and joined her. Amy lifted her arm and Chantel twirled out and then back again, her black skirt swirling up to reveal her stripy yellow-and-black leggings. It was their signature dance move, so of course it came out at every opportunity, even shoeless on the carpet at this party Seb had thrown for Halloween while his parents were out of town.

“Take a break?” asked Chantel, as the CD came to an end and someone replaced it with the Verve. Her voice was already a little breathless and her face sweaty. “It’s hot work being a bumblebee.”

“Sure,” said Amy, and they both sank back into the sofa. “You must be roasting in those leggings.”

“True, but they’re the best bit of the costume,” said Chantel. “If I take them off, I’d just look like a naff fairy.” She gestured to her small wings, designed for a fairy costume.

“Or a fly for my web,” said Amy, wiggling her fingers at Chantel in a not very convincing spider impression. She was pretty pleased with the costume she’d pulled together. She’d had inspiration from a black vest top she’d had already, with silver cobwebs printed over it. She’d added a black woven skirt, fishnet tights, and as many plastic spiders as she could sew to her clothes.

“I can tell you’re an artist,” said Chantel, surveying the costume. “You’ve got that eye.”

“I can’t wait to start my foundation course.”

“Your costume is freaking me out,” said Chantel. “I keep thinking you’re crawling with real spiders.” She shuddered and passed Amy the plastic Coke bottle they’d topped up with Malibu. Amy took a deep swig and handed it back, feeling the room spin a little. A whiff of cannabis floated through the air. Amy knew that Chantel was bound to sniff it out and befriend whoever’d brought it.

“It would have been better if you’d come as a flower,” said Chantel. “You’d match my costume and you wouldn’t be quite so terrifying.”

“Or a jar of honey,” mused Amy. “Not very Halloween-y though.”

“I smell the good stuff,” interrupted Chantel inevitably, sitting up and eyeing the room like a meerkat. “Want some?”

“No,” said Amy. “I’m fine with the Malibu.”

“Probably a good idea. You’d terrify yourself, wearing those insects stoned.”

“Spiders aren’t insects,” she started, but Chantel was gone. Amy looked around the party. Seb, dressed as a cowboy, was fervently snogging a witch on the sofa. The two girls with cat ears and black noses had put Five on the CD player and had taken her and Chantel’s place dancing. She briefly watched them bouncing up and down while counting to the music on their fingers. She took another swig of her drink.

“I’ve always liked spiders,” said a boy wearing a bright-orange T-shirt and black jeans. “And Garbage.” Amy felt he was slightly familiar, but she didn’t think she’d spoken to him before. He had an apologetic slope to his shoulders typical of the very tall and a Noel Gallagher haircut, and he was, Amy realized, excessively handsome. “Mind if I join you?”

“Sure,” said Amy, trying to sound nonchalant. Foggily she felt as if he were someone she’d admired at one time. Perhaps he’d been a couple of years above her in school. Or maybe he’d even been on telly.

“What’s that?” she exclaimed, the admiration dissipating as she caught sight of something orange and mushy hanging from his earlobe.

“Damn, is there more?” he said, his hand reaching for his ear. “I thought I’d got it all.”

“What on earth…?”

“I’ve blown my cool, haven’t I?” he said with a grimace. “Maybe this will help explain.” He rummaged through a plastic bag, the ubiquitous royal-blue kind that came from every corner shop. Amy heard a bottle clink against something; then he produced a shard of pumpkin and a small hammer. Amy took the pumpkin piece, turning it over in her hand. It was wet and sticky.

“I was trying to be authentic,” he said. “But instead I’m just pumpkin-flavored.”

“Smashing Pumpkins,” said Amy. “That’s who you’ve come as.”

He grinned back at her. “You’re the first person to get that. Turns out it was a terrible idea.”

Amy laughed. “Plastic spiders seem like genius now,” she said. He smiled back at her, and Amy noticed his eyes crinkling in the corners. “I know you from somewhere.”

He bit his lip. “I am famous round these parts.”

“Really?”

“No,” he said with a laugh. “But my band did have our first-ever gig last week, even if it was in the back room of a pub.” He sounded proud and a little embarrassed all at once.

“Of course,” said Amy, the pieces falling into place like a reassembled pumpkin. “You played at the Firkin!”

His mouth fell open. “You saw us?” he asked. “Maybe I’m more famous than I think.”

Amy laughed again. “You did have to tell me before I recognized you.” She paused. “You were pretty good though.”

“You’re my first groupie!” he declared. “You can be my Yoko.”

Amy felt herself coloring a little. The band had been good. Really good. She’d loved them.

“I don’t suppose you have a corkscrew?” he asked. He lifted a bottle of wine from his bag. “I think we should celebrate.”

“Sorry,” said Amy, wishing desperately that she did have a corkscrew. Suddenly her plastic bottle of Malibu and Coke seemed terribly uncool. She gave it a gentle flick with her heel, and it rolled under the sofa out of sight. She glanced around the room. A few boys were gulping from beer cans, and a bottle of overproof rum was doing the rounds. “I don’t think anyone else here is drinking wine,” she said, getting to her feet. “I’ll check the kitchen.”

“I’m too sophisticated for my own good,” he said.

Amy laughed. “That would be more convincing if you didn’t have butternut squash in your ear.”

“Pumpkin,” he corrected. “Give me some credit.” He followed her into the kitchen. “Listen,” he said. “If we can’t find a corkscrew here, how about we take a walk and try to hunt one down? I could do with the fresh air.”

Quietly Amy opened a drawer and pushed away the corkscrew she’d just found. She closed it again.

“Nothing here,” she said, knowing she was a terrible liar. “We’ll have to.”

“Great.” He smiled at her, and she smiled back.

“I’ll just let Chantel know.…” She looked around the party and saw Chantel kissing Dean Chapman again, who she insisted was not her boyfriend but who she always snogged when she’d had a couple of drinks. “Oh,” said Amy. “She’s busy.”

“I’ll get my coat,” he said. “My name’s Tim, by the way.”

“I’m Amy,” she told him. “Amy Ashton.”

IT FELT COLD but fresh outside after the smoky haze of the party, and Amy breathed in deeply. “It’s good to be outdoors,” said Tim, as if reading her mind. “But you must be cold.” He took off his jacket, a heavy leather affair, and draped it round her shoulders. Amy had seen guys do that in the movies, but it had never happened to her in her seventeen years. The boys at school were not that gentlemanly, and she suddenly felt as if she were in a proper love story. With a rock star. She shivered a little.

“If you’re still too cold, we can head back inside?” he said.

“No,” she said quickly, pulling the coat closer round her. “I’m fine.” She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

“I hope there’s no pumpkin on that,” he said.

“Me too,” she agreed. “Spiders hate pumpkins.”

“Really?”

“I’ve no idea,” she confessed. They both laughed, and walked on. This bit of Amy’s hometown was new, sprung up in response to the railway extension that suddenly made it possible to live here and commute to work in London. The houses were almost identical for miles, and it was easy to get lost or think you were walking in circles.

“So are you a full-time rock star?” teased Amy.

“Sort of,” said Tim. “I finished my A levels last year and my dad wanted to pack me off to university to study law, but I’m taking a break instead to try to make a go of the band.”

“A rebel,” said Amy, calculating that he must be two years older than her, itself rather exciting. “Very rock and roll.”

“Yes,” said Tim. He paused. “So you liked the band,” he prompted.

“It was awesome,” said Amy honestly. “I loved that song about missed sunsets.”

“?‘Already Dark’?” exclaimed Tim. “I wrote that.” Amy noticed his back was a little straighter. She was tall, but he towered above her. He must be well over six feet. And handsome and funny and talented and his leather jacket smelled like her favorite chair at her grandmother’s house.

“It was very sad,” said Amy. “And very beautiful.” Amy felt Tim’s fingers interlace her own at her words. Her heart felt as if it had grown larger, swollen by the warm hand embracing her palm.

“It’s about my mother,” he said. He bit his lip. “She died when I was ten.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Amy, feeling awkward. She wanted to say something that would help, that would provide comfort. But she had nothing. She squeezed his hand instead.

Tim squeezed back. “I haven’t told anyone else that’s what the song’s about.”

He turned to her and Amy found herself staring into eyes the color of chestnuts.

“I feel like I can trust you,” he said. “Already.” Tim released her hand and wrapped his arms around her back.

“You can,” said Amy. She felt the bottle he was holding brush against her as she closed her eyes and leaned in.

“Zombie alert!” shouted someone. Tim quickly released the embrace as a drunken crowd of Halloween revelers stumbled by, pulling scary faces at the two of them and laughing.

They watched them go, then walked on themselves, the moment gone. His hand found hers again. “I think there’s a corner shop up here,” said Amy. “They probably sell corkscrews.”

“We don’t really need one,” said Tim. “I’m afraid I got you alone on false pretenses.”

“Oh,” said Amy. He must have seen her hide the corkscrew in the kitchen. She let go of his hand, feeling embarrassed.

“It’s nothing sinister,” he added quickly. “Although, lying to get a pretty girl on her own in the cold, dark night surrounded by zombies… maybe it does sound a little on the creepy side.”

“Lying?” queried Amy, although inside she was busy being delighted about the “pretty” comment.

He sheepishly held up the bottle. “Screw top.”

Amy laughed. “There was a bottle opener in the kitchen,” she confessed.

“I know.” He smiled. “Is that a little park?” he asked. “It looks nice.”

“That’s a bit of grass in the middle of a roundabout,” said Amy.

“Care to join me for a swig of cheap red wine from my screw-top bottle in the middle of a roundabout?” he offered with a small bow, proffering his hand.

Amy took the hand and smiled again. “That’s the sort of offer I don’t get every day,” she said. “At least not from a rock star with pumpkin in his ears.”

“And wine,” he replied, twisting open the bottle as they sat on the rough grass. “Don’t forget the bottle of wine.” He handed the bottle to Amy. It felt cold in her hand, but the wine warmed her throat. She passed the bottle back to him and watched as he drank. The bottle caught the moonlight and glowed a deep, beautiful green.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Amy Ashton once dreamed of becoming an artist—of creating beautiful objects. But now she simply collects them. Aquamarine bottles, bright yellow crockery, deep Tuscan red pots (and the odd slow cooker) take up every available inch of space in her house. Having suffered a terrible tragedy—one she staunchly refuses to let herself think about, thank you very much—she’s decided that it’s easier to love things than people. Things are safe. Things will never leave you.

But when a new family moves in next door with two young boys, one of whom has a collection of his own, Amy’s carefully managed life starts to unravel, prompting her to question why she began to close herself off in the first place. As Amy embarks on a journey back into her past, she has to contend with nosy neighbors, a meddlesome government worker, the inept police, and a little boy whose love of bulldozers might just let Amy open up her heart—and her home—again.

Quirky and charming, bighearted and moving, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton proves that it’s never too late to let go of the things that don’t matter . . . and welcome the people who do.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Consider the title of Ray’s novel, The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton. Which treasures of Amy’s are missing? Does she find them by the novel’s end? How do you interpret the title within the scheme of the novel?

2. Many of the items from Amy’s past show up in her present: dark-green wine bottles, mugs, honeysuckle, ashtrays, lighters, and birds are just a few. Why do you think these particular items become so significant to Amy after Tim and Chantel’s disappearance? What about some of the more seemingly random items, like clocks, mirrors, and cookbooks? What might they represent?

3. Although it is never explicitly stated in the novel, Amy copes with the loss of Tim and Chantel by hoarding. Even though hoarding is a relatively common disorder, it’s a taboo subject that’s not often discussed within the public sphere. Why do you think this is? What are other common forms of grief and coping? Is there ever a right or wrong way to grieve? Why do you think some forms of mourning are socially acceptable, while others are not?

4. Amy often assigns her treasures human characteristics or traits—in fact, her emotional attachment to her “aviary” is so strong that Richard believes she keeps real birds. But smaller items are personified as well. An empty wine bottle is “forlorn,” while empty glasses are “sad” (p. 3); a broken mug is “scared” (p. 26); and she fears the pots in her backyard are “starved of attention, of sunlight, of the plants that should have made them complete” (p. 33). Why do you think Amy attaches these very human emotions to the items she rescues?

5. Color plays a major theme in this book, from the descriptions of Amy’s treasures to her wardrobe. “She used to enjoy wearing beautiful colors. The yellow of spring daffodils, purples reminiscent of the evening sky, the blues of a hazy morning. . . . She had never liked black, perhaps that’s why she started wearing it when [Tim and Chantel] had gone. Joy seemed wrong” (p. 136). Consider the evolution of color throughout The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton. Why do you think Amy chose to forgo color for so long? What does her slow incorporation of color back into her clothing indicate?

6. Charles and Daniel are both fascinated by Amy, but Charles is especially determined to make her his friend. Why do you think he is so drawn to Amy? What is similar about their collections and their passions for their objects? How does he help her throughout the novel?

7. When Amy is getting ready to recycle her bottles for the first time, she reflects on their second life. “Broken down and remade. Reborn. Just because they didn’t stay in their current form didn’t mean that they wouldn’t be happy” (p. 163). What might this quote represent within the context of the novel? Do you think Amy empathizes with the bottles here? Why is this such an important moment for her?

8. Amy is often surprised by the kindness of the people around her, and forms several unlikely friendships and alliances throughout the novel. Discuss her initial perceptions and later relationships with Richard, Rachel, and Carthika. Which friendship surprised you the most? Share a story about an unlikely friendship or a surprising relationship you’ve had in your own life. What was something you learned from that experience?

9. Grief is a major theme in this novel, and almost all of the characters—including the more unlikable ones—have private struggles. Why do you think Eleanor Ray chose for all the characters to reveal some of their personal difficulties? Consider the more unlikable characters, like Rachel, Liam, and Nina. Did you view them differently after you learned what they’d experienced or what they regretted?

10. Were you surprised when you finally found out what happened to Chantel and Tim? Why or why not? Did your suspicions change throughout the course of the novel?

11. Chantel’s visit is a huge shock. Why do you think she waited so long to contact Amy? Do you think Amy’s future would have been any different if Chantel had decided not to come back? How would you have reacted to her visit if you were in Amy’s shoes?

12. Who or what has Scarlett, Amy’s favorite china bird, represented throughout the novel? Why do you think Amy chooses to cremate her with Tim?

13. By the end of the novel, Amy realizes “She had to let go of the broken things in her life. . . . She needed to make room for people” (p. 302–4). Throughout the book, Amy’s love of her treasures slowly shifts to the people in her life. At what point does Amy begin to question her current way of living and decide to let more people in? Is there an inciting incident that kicks off this change, or a series of moments that you felt were significant? Who or what has the biggest impact on Amy? Why?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Amy finds many of her treasures at charity shops, and although she loves them all dearly, she decides to part with some of them by the novel’s end: a key ring goes to Mr. Trapper; hand creams are selected for Carthika, Rachel, and Chantel. To embrace Amy’s giving spirit, put the names of all of your book club members into a bowl. After everyone draws a name, visit a local thrift store or consignment shop to choose an inexpensive “treasure” for the person whose name you pulled. Have everyone exchange their items at your next meeting and share why they chose that particular treasure for the person whose name they pulled. Discuss why Amy’s gifting of her treasures at the end of the novel is so significant. Why is gifting items often more fulfilling than keeping them for yourself?

2. Challenge your book club members to clear out one space in their home that they’ve been neglecting for a while—whether it be a closet, a basement storeroom, or a few old boxes in the attic. Make sure to tackle a project that feels manageable and that won’t take more than a few hours to clear out. Take your time going through the items, using the same criteria that Amy does when she sorts through her things: throw away, donate, or keep. Have a notebook with you as you sort so you can jot down any strong emotions or memories associated with the items, particularly the ones you decide to throw away or donate. Share what this experience was like with your book club. Why do you think material items can have such strong emotions or memories attached to them? How does it feel to part with these things? Is it sad or anxiety-inducing? A relief to have a clean space? Both? Discuss how your experience might have been similar and/or different to Amy’s as she went through her own clean-out.

3. Write an epilogue to The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton that takes place a year after the book ends. Once you’re finished writing your epilogue, share it with your book club. Why do you think Eleanor Ray chose to end the book at the very start of Amy’s healing process, rather than at the end? If you were the publisher, would you add your new ending? Why or why not?

4. Amy can be a stubborn and sometimes frustrating character—but that doesn’t mean she’s not lovable! Choose another book featuring a prickly heroine for your next book club pick (Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple are all great choices). After reading it, compare the heroine to Amy. How are the two characters similar? Different? Why do you think “difficult” heroines resonate with readers? Is there anything that makes them more endearing than “normal” characters? Discuss with your group.

5. Stay updated on Eleanor Ray’s latest projects. Visit her website, eleanorraybooks.com, and follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook (all @eleanorraybooks) to learn about what she’s working on next.

About The Author

Photograph by Charlie Hopkinson

Eleanor Ray has an MA in English literature from Edinburgh University and works in marketing. She lives in London with her husband and two young children. Eleanor was inspired to write The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton by the objects her toddler collects and treasures–twigs, empty water bottles, and wilting daisies. She is currently working on her next novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (June 8, 2021)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982163525

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Raves and Reviews

"Like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (2017), the novel’s heart is its protagonist; readers will feel deeply bonded to Amy. Mystery lovers and fans of Liane Moriarty will also enjoy the quick-paced plot and perfectly timed reveals. This will be a must-read for many.”Booklist (starred review)

“Heartwarming and tender… an ideal read for anyone looking for a good-humored and uplifting story, but especially for those who enjoyed Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things.BookPage

"[An] amiable debut...Readers who can appreciate a comforting story about nice people will find much to like."Publishers Weekly

"A bighearted novel."PopSugar

“Characters such as Rachel Joyce’s Harold Fry and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant endeared themselves to readers and turned their creators into bestselling authors…Now, a new character is set to be warmly received into their ranks: Amy Ashton…The novel is beautifully written and full of compassion, kindness, and hope. From the beginning, it rings with humor to lighten the themes of sadness and trauma that pervade Amy’s life. Readers will empathize with her character all the way to the end.”Irish Independent

"A tender, heartwarming story with strong Eleanor Oliphant vibes.”Apartment Therapy

"[A] funny debut."Country Living

"This book quietly took hold of me and wouldn't let me go until I turned the final page. I loved stepping in to Amy's world, with all its treasures, and it was a joy to see her beginning to make space for herself."—Beth O'Leary, author of The Flatshare

"This is one of those books you just want to gulp down."Good Housekeeping UK

"I loved this charming, endearing novel . . . it will melt even the hardest of hearts . . . If ever there was a time for a book like The Missing Treasures of Amy Ashton to lift us above the everyday doom and gloom, it is now."Joanna Nell, author of The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village  

"As the mystery at the heart of Amy’s story unravels so did we – but in the best way possible."Stylist

“A gorgeous, warm hug of a book.”—Sinéad Moriarty, author of Seven Letters

 "Original, sad in parts but compassionate and uplifting. A brilliant read."Woman's Way

"A stunning book—intricate, beautifully written and thought-provoking. Packed with psychological realism, Eleanor Ray has perfectly captured how it feels to not quite fit in, to live with emotional baggage, to not know how to let go of the past. Absolutely brilliant and a must-read."—MW Craven, award-winning author of The Puppet Show

“So beautiful, so devastating, so clever.”—Lorna Cook, author of The Forgotten Village

"Ray’s portrayal of her hoarding in response to grief and trauma was both convincing and original, tender and funny. The novel manages to accommodate so many qualities that might be presumed to be in tension, but in Ray’s hands are brought together powerfully, so that it is charming and thrilling, romantic and gripping."—Claire Kendal, author of The Book of You  

"A truly remarkable book that had me hooked from the start and racing to the end. Beautifully written."Jenni Keer, author of The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker  

"A gently absorbing entry into the mystery-uplit canon."Vaseem Khan, author of The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

"This book is a tonic for the soul."Lesley Kara, author of The Rumor 

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