A Taste of Home by Heidi Swain

Thanks to Books and The City/Simon and Schuster UK for the opportunity to read and review a beautiful copy of the new Heidi Swain book after hearing about this at their Showcase 2021 event. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. This book was published in the UK on April 29th 2021.

Synopsis:

Fliss Brown has grown up living with her mother on the Rossi family’s Italian fruit farm. But when her mother dies, Fliss finds out she has a family of her own, and heads back to England with Nonna Rossi’s recipe for cherry and almond tart and a piece of advice: connect with your family before it is too late…

Fliss discovers that her estranged grandfather owns a fruit farm himself, on the outskirts of Wynbridge, and she arrives to find a farm that has fallen into disrepair. Using her knowledge gleaned from working on the Rossi farm and her desire to find out more about her past, Fliss rolls her sleeves up and gets stuck in. But what will she discover, and can she resurrect the farm’s glory days and find a taste of home…? 

Have you been reading the other reviews on the blog tour?

My thoughts:

As regular readers of my book review blog will be aware, I discovered Heidi’s books in 2020 and have been busy playing catch up on the Nightingale Square and Wynbridge books. A Taste of Home is part of the Wynbridge series and it was lovely to meet some of the characters from the previous books again. However, the main characters are all new to this story, so it is possible to read this without having read the earlier books.

After a sad start to the book, for the funeral of the mother of Fliss, we travel to Wynbridge to meet the grandfather she didn’t know existed. The story follows Fliss as she adjusts to life in the UK and wonders if she can help her grandfather save the family farm with help from her new friends and neighbours. Her early hours at the farm nearly scare her off from the UK with a number of misunderstandings but thankfully the timely intervention of her mother’s former best friend enable Fliss to start to learn more about the community her mother grew up in. This is a non spoiler review so I’m not going to give away any more of the story.

I’m pleased to say that Heidi’s story is as usual, full of great characters, delicious food and new friendships. A lovely uplifting book, which made me crave cake and fresh fruit. I have attached a copy of Nonna’s secret recipe for you to try, thanks to Heidi for sharing this on her social media channels. This was a fabulous story to escape into and I’ve been busy recommending it. I’m pleased to have seen just this weekend that Heidi is already planning 5 more books.

Author Bio:

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she finally plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters. 

Heidi can be found at the keyboard at all hours of the day and night and quite often scribbling longhand in her car during her lunch break. She lives in stunning south Norfolk with her wonderful son and daughter

Worst. Idea. Ever. by Jane Fallon

Thanks to Gaby Young at Michael Joseph Books for the invitation to join the blog tour for the latest book by Jane Fallon, Worst. Idea. Ever, and for the gift of a proof copy to read and review.

Synopsis:

Best friends tell each other everything.Or do they?

Georgia and Lydia are so close, they’re practically sisters.

So when Lydia starts an online business that struggles, Georgia wants to help her – but Lydia’s not the kind to accept a handout. Setting up a fake Twitter account, Georgia hopes to give her friend some anonymous moral support by posing as a potential customer.

But then Lydia starts confiding in her new internet buddy and Georgia discovers she doesn’t know her quite as well as she thought. Georgia knows she should reveal the truth – especially when Lydia starts talking about her – but she just can’t help herself.

Until Lydia reveals a secret that could not only end their friendship, but also blow-up Georgia’s marriage . . .

Georgia’s in too deep.

But what can she save?

Her marriage, her friendship – or just herself?

My thoughts:

Having read and enjoyed Queen Bee last summer (see review at https://mentoringmumof2bookreviews.home.blog/2020/07/14/queen-bee-by-jane-fallon/), I was keen to read Jane Fallon’s new book. I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

The story starts with Georgia trying to boost Lydia’s confidence with her new online business venture. Her idea sounds simple – to create a fake identity (Patricia) who praises Lydia’s work, boosts her social media profile and hopefully encourages new followers. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately after a few days the fake Patricia starts to receive confidences from Lydia about Georgia, news that rocks her life and threatens to spoil everything she holds dear.

This is a book I didn’t want to put down, the story flowed so well, as Georgia’s life started to unravel, when she tried to find out more from Lydia whilst pretending to be Patricia.

This is a difficult book to review without giving any spoilers so apologies for being vague about what happens. The characters were believable, there is a huge dog at the centre of the story, and the moral of the story is beware of what you see and believe. I’m pleased to see that this book is already in the Top Ten bestseller chart this weekend.

Author Bio:

Jane Fallon is the multi-award-winning television producer behind shows such as This Life, Teachers and 20 Things to Do before You’re 30. Her debut novel “Getting Rid of Matthew’ was published in 2007 and became a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller as have her subsequent books ‘Got You Back’, ‘Foursome’, ‘The Ugly Sister’, ‘Skeletons’, ‘Strictly Between Us’,’My Sweet Revenge’, ‘Faking Friends’ and ‘Tell Me a Secret’

My own worst idea ever – trying to get Daisy to pose with the book

A Taste of Home by Heidi Swain

Thanks to Books and The City/Simon and Schuster UK for the opportunity to read and review a beautiful copy of the new Heidi Swain book after hearing about this at their Showcase 2021 event. My thoughts are my own and not influenced by the gift. This book was published in the UK on April 29th 2021.

Synopsis:

Fliss Brown has grown up living with her mother on the Rossi family’s Italian fruit farm. But when her mother dies, Fliss finds out she has a family of her own, and heads back to England with Nonna Rossi’s recipe for cherry and almond tart and a piece of advice: connect with your family before it is too late…

Fliss discovers that her estranged grandfather owns a fruit farm himself, on the outskirts of Wynbridge, and she arrives to find a farm that has fallen into disrepair. Using her knowledge gleaned from working on the Rossi farm and her desire to find out more about her past, Fliss rolls her sleeves up and gets stuck in. But what will she discover, and can she resurrect the farm’s glory days and find a taste of home…? 

Have you been reading the other reviews on the blog tour?

My thoughts:

As regular readers of my book review blog will be aware, I discovered Heidi’s books in 2020 and have been busy playing catch up on the Nightingale Square and Wynbridge books. A Taste of Home is part of the Wynbridge series and it was lovely to meet some of the characters from the previous books again. However, the main characters are all new to this story, so it is possible to read this without having read the earlier books.

After a sad start to the book, for the funeral of the mother of Fliss, we travel to Wynbridge to meet the grandfather she didn’t know existed. The story follows Fliss as she adjusts to life in the UK and wonders if she can help her grandfather save the family farm with help from her new friends and neighbours. Her early hours at the farm nearly scare her off from the UK with a number of misunderstandings but thankfully the timely intervention of her mother’s former best friend enable Fliss to start to learn more about the community her mother grew up in. This is a non spoiler review so I’m not going to give away any more of the story.

I’m pleased to say that Heidi’s story is as usual, full of great characters, delicious food and new friendships. A lovely uplifting book, which made me crave cake and fresh fruit. I have attached a copy of Nonna’s secret recipe for you to try, thanks to Heidi for sharing this on her social media channels. This was a fabulous story to escape into and I’ve been busy recommending it. I’m pleased to have seen just this weekend that Heidi is already planning 5 more books.

Author Bio:

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she finally plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters. 

Heidi can be found at the keyboard at all hours of the day and night and quite often scribbling longhand in her car during her lunch break. She lives in stunning south Norfolk with her wonderful son and daughter

#coverreveal Meat is Murder by Chris McDonald (The Stonebridge Mysteries 3)

Today I’m delighted to be joining the Red Dog Press cover reveal for the latest book in The Stonebridge Mysteries by Chris McDonald. Regular readers will know that I enjoyed reading books 1 and 2, and I thrilled to know book 3 is nearly here.

Synopsis:

McNulty’s Meats, one of Stonebridge’s oldest businesses, is about to be taken over in a lucrative deal that would make brothers Ron and Kevin very rich men indeed. Unfortunately for them, local activist Tyler Love has other ideas. Convinced that the deal would be bad for the town, he burns the place to the ground and inadvertently kills himself in the process.

At least, that’s what the police think.

Tyler’s mum disagrees and pleads with amateur sleuths Adam and Colin to investigate. Although, going up against the psychopathic McNulty brothers, a rival businessman, a group of hippies, and a girlfriend with secrets of her own might not be such a good idea… Someone has something to hide, and will go to great lengths to keep that secret buried.

Meat is Murder is the third book in The Stonebridge Mysteries series of Cosy Crime novellas.

About the series:

Stonebridge is a small town on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Most of its inhabitants are friendly, happy people. Most of them… Because bad things happen even in the happiest of places. It’s a good thing, then, that Adam Whyte and Colin McLaughlin call Stonebridge home.
Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of detective shows, a misplaced sense of confidence and a keen desire to see justice done, these two are the closest thing the town has to saviours. Which isn’t that reassuring…

Author Bio:

Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in South Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, The Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime. A Wash of Black is his first attempt at writing a book. He came up with the initial idea whilst feeding his baby in the middle of the night, which may not be the best thing to admit, considering the content. He is a fan of 5-a-side football, heavy metal and dogs. Whispers in the Dark is the second installment in the DI Erika Piper series, and Chris is currently working on his latest series, The Stonebridge Mysteries, published by Red Dog Press in 2021. 

Buy Links: 

Amazon Universal: mybook.to/Stonebridge3

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/meat-is-murder-3

Google: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=KtgsEAAAQBAJ

The Red Dog Press shop (Hardback, Paperback, Ebook): https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/meat-is-murder

Publication date: 8 June 2021

Until Next Weekend – Rachel Marks

Today I’m happy to be sharing my review for Until Next Weekend as part of the Michael Joseph Books blog tour. Thanks to Chrissie and Olivia for this gorgeous proof copy to read and review.

Synopsis:

NOAH AND KATE WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER FOR EVER.

Married with two gorgeous sons, it looked like they’d got their happy ever after.

But marriage isn’t easy. And one day, Kate left, taking their two boys with her.

These days, Noah is a weekend dad – and it breaks his heart. He misses the chaotic mealtimes, the bedtime stories, the early mornings and the late homework.

Suddenly, he decides enough is enough – he has to win his family back. Starting with Kate.

The only problem?

IN SIX WEEKS’ TIME, KATE IS GETTING MARRIED TO SOMEONE ELSE . . .

My thoughts:

Last year during lockdown one, I read and enjoyed Saturdays at Noon by Rachel Marks (see my five star review at https://mentoringmumof2bookreviews.home.blog/2020/04/20/bookreview-saturdays-at-noon-by-rachel-marks-a-five-star-read/)

I’m pleased to say that I loved Until Next Weekend too. Noah and Kate were in love and had two gorgeous boys. But things changed and Noah didn’t notice until it was too late. He finally realises the mistake he has made when Kate is getting ready to marry Jerry.

The book looks at how Noah and Kate fell in love, and then out of love. My favourite scenes include those when Noah is at school, as a primary school teacher. Having worked in a primary school for a few years, the school scenes are so believeable, especially the ‘getting ready for PE’.

Noah has to make some much needed changes and apologies, some are more difficult than others. Will he allow his friends to help him? Will Kate be impressed by the changes?

This is a no spoiler review, so I’m determined not to spoil the story for future readers. This is a book I thoroughly enjoyed, with a great mix of characters and an emotional story. At times Noah drove me to distraction but I did find myself warming to him once I knew his full back story. I also realised after reading this that it isn’t often I read a book with a male main character.

Happy to recommend this book (I already have been on social media), and also to remind readers to read Saturdays at Noon too if they haven’t already.

Author Bio:

Rachel Marks studied English at Exeter University before becoming a primary school teacher. Despite always loving to write, it wasn’t until she gained a place on the 2016 Curtis Brown Creative online novel writing course that she started to believe it could be anything more than a much-loved hobby.

Her inspiration for her first book, Saturdays at Noon, came from the challenges she faced with her eldest son, testing and fascinating in equal measure, and the research she did to try to understand him better. Every Other Weekend is her second novel.

The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

Today I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of the End of Men by debut author, Christina Sweeney-Baird. Thank you to Borough Press for a gifted copy and to Tandem Collective for inviting me to join in with the read-a-long this week.

Synopsis:

GLASGOW, 2025.  Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever. Within three hours he dies. The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed. This is how it begins.

The victims are all men.

Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.

Can they find a cure before it’s too late? Will this be the story of the end of the world – or its salvation?

Compelling, confronting and devastating, The End of Men is the novel that everyone is talking about.

My thoughts:

Having seen lots of chat about this book on social media over the past few months, I was very grateful to receive a beautiful hardback copy to read and review for my Bookstagram page (@karenkisreading) and this book blog.

About 17 months ago we started hearing about a virus in China, three months later we were watching Prime Minister Johnson telling us that we had to stay home to protect the NHS. This book was written before the pandemic hit (I’m not sure how much editing happened after lockdown), but to have this idea pre-Covid does seem a bit spooky.

As in our own global pandemic, in the story mistakes were made, lockdowns didn’t happen quickly enough and world travel continued for too long, with fatal results. We meet a wide variety of characters, the majority of them are women, all at different stages in their lives and all dealing with the consequences of the virus.

I have seen some reviewers pointing out that certain life situations weren’t considered but I think the author did an excellent job to look at so many different elements of how life changed in this book, not just in the UK but across the world.

This is not a ‘I hate men’ book, the women who lost their sons, fathers, partners suffered immense grief and often guilt, that they were probably the carrier of the virus that killed their loved ones. It is a ‘what if’ book – looking at how life would change if we had a very uneven male to female ratio. How would schools, governments, businesses continue, especially in male dominated career areas and countries?

I found this an enjoyable and thought provoking read, and I’ve enjoyed discussing it with family and on social media. This could be a great book club book, with so many discussion points. A stunning debut novel and I look forward to reading more by Christina Sweeney-Baird in the future.

Author Bio (from Amazon):

I wrote The End of Men in 2018 and 2019 before Corona virus and could never have expected the parallels between the real world and my fiction that would ensue. I’ve been told by some early readers though, that The End of Men has made them feel better about the world we live in today. The book has a lot of hope and is, ultimately, about human resilience and our ability to cope with the extraordinary. 

I live in London where I work full-time as a corporate litigation lawyer. I write 1,000 words a day in the evenings and on weekends, fuelled by 7up Free, green tea and snacks.

A Ration Book Daughter by Jean Fullerton

Thank you to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation to join the blog tour for the latest book in the Ration Book series by Jean Fullerton. I’m pleased to be sharing my thoughts about this book, the third I’ve read in the series. Thank you to Corvus and Atlantic Books for a digital review copy to read and review via NetGalley.

Synopsis:

Cathy was a happy, blushing bride when Britain went to war with Germany three years ago. But her youthful dreams were crushed by her violent husband Stanley’s involvement with the fascist black-shirts, and even when he’s conscripted to fight she knows it’s only a brief respite – divorce is not an option. Cathy’s only solace is her little son Peter.

When a telegram arrives declaring that her husband is missing in action, Cathy can finally allow herself to hope – she only has to wait 6 months before she is legally a widow and can move on with her life. But in the meantime she has to keep Peter safe and fed. So she advertises for a lodger, and Sergeant Archie McIntosh of the Royal Engineers’ Bomb Disposal Squad turns up. Kind, clever and thoughtful, their mutual attraction is instant. But with Stanley’s fate still unclear, and the Blitz still raging in London’s East End, will Cathy ever have the love she deserves?

My thoughts:

As I said above, this is the third book in the series I’ve read. I enjoyed being back with the Brogan family, to catch up on how the family are coping with living in London in the 1940’s as Hitler sends bombers to try to crush the British spirit and force them to surrender.

The main character in this story is Cathy, who is stuck living with her horrible mother-in-law whilst her violent husband is overseas with the Army. However we meet most of the family during the book, as they help each other cope with food shortages, caring for the children and helping their local community.

These books look at how the ordinary people of London dealt with the extraordinary circumstances of the regular bombings, sleeping in Underground stations and queuing for food. The stories about the bomb disposal team were fascinating but also heartbreaking.

Cathy’s life changes when she is notified that her violent husband is missing in action and she has to find a lodger to help pay the rent. But what will happen if the husband is found to still be alive?

Another excellent book in this series, a mix of humour and heartbreak, community spirit and the importance of family. As usual, the characters who are unkind may find that life has a way of making them regret their actions.

Author Bio:

Born and bred in East London Jean is a District Nurse by trade and has worked as a NHS manager and as a senior lecture in Health and Nursing Studies. She left her day job to become a full-time writer in 2015 and has never looked back.

In 2006 she won the Harry Bowling Prize and now has seventeen sagas published over three series with both Orion and Atlantic all of which are set in East London.

She is an experienced public speaker with hundreds of WI and women’s club talks under her belt, plus for the past fifteen years she has sailed all over the world as an enrichment speaker and writing workshop leader on cruise ships.

Social Media Links – 

Website: http://jeanfullerton.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Jean-Fullerton-202631736433230/?ref=bookmarks

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JeanFullerton_

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3ijT3HO

Giveaway to Win 6 x A Ration Book Daughter Paperbacks (Open to UK Only)*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494419/?

An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater

Thank you to Chrissie at Michael Joseph Books for the invitation to join the blog tour for An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater, published in the UK on April 29th and a copy of the book to read and review.

Synopsis:

It was an idyllic summer. Until they had to escape.

France, 1943.

Forced to flee war ravaged Poland, Sara and her parents are offered refuge in a beautiful but dilapidated house in the French Alps. It seems the perfect hideaway, despite haunting traces of the previous occupants who left in haste.

But shadows soon fall over Sara’s blissful summer, and her blossoming romance with local villager Alain. As the Nazis close in, the family is forced to make a harrowing choice that could drive them apart forever, while Sara’s own bid for freedom risks several lives.

Will Sara be reunited with those she loves?

And can she ever find her way back to Alain?

By turns poignant and atmospheric, this is the compelling new novel from Sunday Timesbestselling author Carol Drinkwater about the power of first love and courage in our darkest hours.

My thoughts:

This is the first book I’ve read by Carol Drinkwater, and I look forward to reading more in the future. The story starts in 1943, but we quickly find out that Sara and her family have been travelling and hiding since 1939, to escape the Nazis.

Sara spent the summer of 1943 in a French town with other refugees and started to live the life of a young woman, after being hidden away for a few years. This was her opportunity to have a ‘normal life’ for a period of time.

This French Alps town was near the Italian border and the residents and occupying Italian soldiers didn’t have a problem with the Jewish refugees. However, the relationship between Italy and Germany changed, and the refugees had to make desperate plans to escape.

This book is beautifully written, transporting the reader to France in 1943, looking at the problems of being in an occupied area. As the French people came to terms with the Occupation, many looked to support the resistance in any way they could. Sara’s story will stay with me for a long time, a young woman looking forward in her life but wondering on a daily basis whether she would live to see that future.

The book reminds the readers of the horrors of the war but also of the bravery of the French people, who tried to help the refugees despite the risks to their own lives and their families.

I’m a regular reader of historical fiction books and this book has joined my list of highly recommended reads. Please check out the reviews from the other book bloggers too during the blog tour.

Author Bio:

Carol Drinkwater is a multi-award-winning actress who is best known for her portrayal of Helen Herriot in the BBC television series All Creatures Great and Small. Her quartet of memoirs set on her olive farm in the south of France have sold over a million copies worldwide and her solo journey round the Mediterranean in search of the olive tree’s mythical secrets inspired a five-part documentary film series, The Olive Route. She is also the author of novels The Forgotten Summer, The Lost Girl and The House on the Edge of the Cliff. She lives in the south of France.

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures by Holly Hepburn (Part 1 of Starting Over)

Today I’m pleased to be taking part in the publication day launch promotion with the Books and the City bloggers by sharing the first two chapters of Holly’s latest book.

Synopsis:

When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her only connection to London broken, she moves home to York to be near her family and to begin to build a new life.  
 
Taking a job at the antique shop she has always admired, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of his parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men who represent two different happy endings.
 
But can Hope trust herself to choose the right man? And will that bring her everything she really needs?

Chapter One

It was the flamingo that first caught Hope Henderson’s eye.

            Tall and proud and gloriously pink, it stood in the middle of the shop window demanding her attention. And it wasn’t alone, she saw as she slowed down to take a closer look – it had several feathery siblings, of varying heights and pinkness, and a grey and black heron loomed beside them, cleverly made from twisted metal. Above, a sign warned them to Mind The Gap. Another pointed cheerily to the circus, although as far as Hope could tell, the arrow was aimed directly at an ancient flowery chamber pot. And above that was a framed vintage poster advertising a balloon race to Paris. 

            Hope stopped walking, fascinated both by the variety of stock and the lack of any apparent design. The shop occupied a corner slot, with two wide, arched windows on each side of the glossy yellow, angled door. A magnificent grey rocking horse dominated the window next to the flamingos, its shiny black mane glistening in the late-morning sunlight. One eye seemed to fix upon Hope as she stared and she was sure she could almost hear a whinny. She had always been drawn to the shop as a child, demanding a visit to peer into its windows whenever her family came into York. And as a student in London, she had spent too many Sunday afternoons wandering up and down Portobello Market, fantasizing about what she would buy if she had any money. This wasn’t Portobello Road, though, and she was a long way from London; the gothic spires of York Minster peeking through a side street reminded her of that. She was home, after more than a decade away.

            The shop’s name, picked out in cherry red and adorned with gold leaf above the bright yellow woodwork, tugged at Hope’s imagination the same way it always had: The Ever After Emporium. How could anyone fail to be enchanted by a name like that, she wondered. Underneath the name, in smaller letters, were the words Purveyors of Treasure Great and Small. And beneath that, Est. 1902. Proprietor: James T. Young Esq.

            Hope spent a few minutes gazing at the windows, marvelling at the mindboggling mix of items and oblivious to the crowds of late-spring tourists jostling along the pavements behind her. Only the chimes of the Minster bells roused her, ringing out quarter to twelve and reminding her it was time to meet her sister for lunch. With a final nostalgic glance into the Emporium, she stepped back and hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, preparing to walk away. And then she saw the advert.

Part-time Staff Required.

No Experience Necessary.

Apply Within.

It was handwritten in a vibrant turquoise ink, and the extravagant loops and swirls of the cursive script suggested to Hope that the writer was the kind of person to imbue even the most practical things with a sense of style. For a moment, she was tempted to push open the door and go inside. She had never been allowed to go in when she was younger but there was nothing stopping her now. Besides, hadn’t her family been suggesting for a while that she found a new job? It had been a few months since she’d taken redundancy, after all, and she’d been too busy with the sale of her home in London and the move north to think about what might come next. But they meant a proper job – in an office, with people she could get to know over chats about their weekend and the boxsets they’d binged. They didn’t mean a part-time role in an antique shop, no matter how much she’d loved it as a child.

            Reluctantly, Hope turned away from the Ever After Emporium and made her way through the cool and shaded Minster Gates alleyway towards the cathedral, where Charlotte would be waiting. Maybe she would pop back to the shop after lunch; there must be something inside she could buy to brighten her new apartment. And maybe she’d ask about the job too.

*

‘So, how have you been?’

            To a casual observer, Charlotte’s attention seemed to be fixed on spooning apple puree into her daughter’s mouth faster than the toddler could spit it out but Hope wasn’t fooled by her sister. She’d seen the way Charlotte’s gaze had sharpened as they’d greeted each other outside the Minster and that watchfulness hadn’t dissipated as they’d strolled to Lucia in Swinegate Court and settled into their seats in the sun-dappled courtyard. Not even the cute waiter or the buzz of their fellow diners could distract her; she’d placed her order and resumed her barely concealed appraisal of Hope without missing a beat. It was the way Hope’s entire family regarded her and she knew that the details of how she looked and behaved today would be shared. Not in a gossipy or unkind way, but with love and concern and born from a desire to help. And Hope loved them all the more for it, even as she wished they’d accept her assurances that she was fine.

             ‘I’m all right,’ she replied, pushing some haddock puttanesca onto her fork. ‘Starting to settle in. I’ve unpacked most of the boxes, at least.’

            Charlotte glanced across the table, briefly, then focused on her toddler, Amber, once more. ‘You’re still too thin. Are you eating?’

            That was also a regular on the ‘Is Hope Okay?’ bingo card. She lifted the forkful of haddock into her mouth and chewed. ‘Yes, I’m eating,’ she said, once she’d swallowed. ‘Getting my five a day and plenty of exercise. Staying off the drink and drugs.’

             ‘Glad to hear it,’ Charlotte said, and frowned. ‘Although there’s no shame in taking anti-depressants, if you need them.’

            Trust Charlotte to turn a flippant remark into a nudge about her mental health, Hope reflected. But it wasn’t a surprise; she’d known how it would be if she moved back to York and subtlety had never been Charlotte’s strong point. ‘I know,’ she said softly and tried to catch her sister’s eye. ‘I’m fine, Charlotte. Honestly, don’t worry.’

            Whatever Charlotte had been about to say next was lost as Amber blew a full-lipped raspberry, spraying apple puree across the wooden tabletop. The hubbub of the busy courtyard seemed to quieten a little and there was a brief silence around the table, punctuated by the toddler’s delighted giggles and a weary sigh from Charlotte. ‘It’s a good job I chose the pork belly,’ she said, looking down at her plate. ‘At least apple goes with it.’

            Raising her napkin, she started to remove globules of apple from the coppery fuzz that covered Amber’s head. Hope took the opportunity to change the subject. ‘I can’t believe how much she’s grown. Last time I saw her she was barely crawling.’

            Charlotte gave a wry nod. ‘That’s babies for you. I wish someone would invent clothes that grow with them.’

            Hope grimaced in sympathy. Charlotte often grumbled that their older brother, Harry, had been inconsiderate enough to have two sons, with a third on the way, which meant very few hand-me-down outfits for Amber. ‘I’m sure Mum is happy to help – you know she loves shopping for the kids.’

             ‘She does,’ Charlotte agreed. ‘And I’m very grateful. It’s just that Amber seems to grow overnight – what fits her one day is too small the next and I’ve got so many things she’s only worn once. I’m keeping them all for—’ She stopped and wiped her daughter’s face, not looking at Hope. ‘For whoever has the next baby.’

            The unspoken words hung in the air. Harry and his wife had declared three boys was enough for any sensible parent and weren’t planning any more children once the newest one arrived. Charlotte had been through a difficult pregnancy with Amber, which had culminated in an emergency caesarean, and had repeatedly said she never wanted to go through anything like it again. Logically, the baton to produce the next grandchild should be handed to Hope – it was certainly the way she’d expected things to go when she’d married Rob five years earlier. Then the diagnosis had come and everything had fallen apart. And now she wasn’t sure she’d ever get close to kissing another man, let alone doing what needed to be done to make a baby.

             ‘As long as it’s not Joe,’ Hope said, keeping her tone light.

            Joe was their nineteen-year-old brother – a surprise arrival all those years ago – who was currently in his first year of university in Edinburgh and widely considered to be a responsibility-free zone. Charlotte shuddered. ‘Can you imagine? He’s still a baby himself.’

            And that was the lot of many ‘happy surprise’ kids, Hope supposed; Joe would always be the baby of the family, even if he had children of his own. She pictured him, his russet curls so like her own, albeit much shorter, and smiled. ‘He’s a good lad. He’d cope.’

             ‘And he’d have all of us to help.’

            With a side order of meddling, Hope thought, hiding a grin. She’d counted her family among her blessings a thousand times over the last few years, but there was no denying their well-meaning ministrations could also be a bit overwhelming. ‘Luckily, Joe is eminently sensible and knows all about the birds and the bees,’ she said mildly. ‘I don’t think you’ll be handing over Amber’s baby clothes any time soon, unless there’s someone in the village who needs them.’

            Charlotte was quiet for a moment as she scraped the last of the puree from the container. ‘Speaking of the village, I ran into Simon Wells last week. He asked after you.’

            The sentence itself was innocuous enough and it was said in a tone that dripped innocence. But Hope was used to this game too. Simon Wells was an old schoolmate who lived in Upper Poppleton, where she’d grown up. The same village her parents and Charlotte still lived in, where everyone kept a friendly eye on their neighbours and asked after family members who might have moved away. It was perfectly possible that Simon had politely enquired how Hope was doing, especially since she was sure the whole population knew she’d moved back to York. But that wasn’t what her sister meant. ‘Charlotte—’

             ‘I’m just saying,’ her sister said, wide-eyed. ‘He’s a nice guy – single and not too difficult to look at. You could meet him for a drink, chat about old times.’

             ‘I’m not interested in going on a date with him,’ Hope said flatly. 

‘Okay,’ Charlotte said, unperturbed. ‘I get that. How about online dating – didn’t you download Bumble?’

            Hope swallowed a sigh. She had and the app had sat there on her phone, unopened and faintly accusing, until she’d deleted it. ‘I’m not ready.’

Charlotte took a mouthful of cannellini beans and chewed with a meditative air, her gaze fixed on Hope. ‘But you went on a few dates in London, didn’t you?’ she said once she’d swallowed. ‘I know these dating apps are a bit hit-and-miss but was it so awful that they put you off meeting anyone entirely?’

            Hope fought the urge to shake her head and instead watched the summer sun play on the amber sandstone walls of the courtyard. She’d been up for dating at first – not exactly enthusiastic but willing to accept that after eighteen months it might be time to start living her life again and knowing she had to start somewhere. And one or two of the dates had gone well, leading to second and third dates. She’d allowed one of them to kiss her, a guy called Matt, and it hadn’t felt awful. Just odd, as though it was happening to someone else. On their next date she’d opened up about her relationship history and the ground had suddenly shifted. He’d listened in horrified sympathy, had rallied for the remainder of the date, and then simply stopped replying to her messages. Next had been Adam, who’d puffed out a long breath on their second date and said he wasn’t sure he was ready to be the man who followed Rob. She’d begun to gloss over the subject after that, giving vague answers that hinted at a failed marriage, and then cried into her pillow when she got home because it felt wrong to pretend. And, eventually, she decided her heart had been bruised enough. She hadn’t dated since.

             ‘I’m just not ready,’ she told Charlotte again and then sought something to soften the words. ‘I want to get myself settled here first, find my feet and spend some time rediscovering the city. Maybe look for a job.’

            Charlotte’s face lit up. ‘That’s a great idea. I saw something the other day that would be perfect for you – good money with a decent company—’ she said animatedly, then seemed to notice Hope’s expression. ‘But I’m sure you know what you’re looking for.’

            That was half the trouble, Hope thought. She had no idea what she was looking for. Except for an unspoken desire to get away from who she had been before, to try something new. Her mind strayed back to the looping turquoise ink on the advert in the Ever After Emporium’s window and she felt something flutter deep inside her, a tiny ripple of something that might have been excitement.

            She smiled at Charlotte. ‘Haven’t a clue,’ she said, as a burst of optimism warmed her heart. ‘But I’m hoping I’ll know when I see it.’

*

A bell rang as Hope pushed open the door of the antique shop. It didn’t tinkle, as shop bells usually did; this sound was deeper, almost too loud, and she wasn’t sure if she imagined the hum of vibration as the ringing died away. Glancing up, she saw a large, perfectly polished brass bell coiled inside an ornate framework over the door.

             ‘Sorry about that.’ A rich, broad Yorkshire accent cut through the dust motes dancing in the disturbed air and caused Hope to look around to see who was speaking. ‘Our bell once adorned the door of Figgis and Blacks in Mayfair. I’m afraid it has delusions of grandeur.’

            A man rose from behind an old-fashioned dark oak counter, a cardboard box in his hands. He had an abundance of neatly combed white hair, with a pair of golden wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, and wore a tweed jacket that was certainly vintage, if not quite antique. His appearance was somehow familiar and strange at the same time and Hope knew that if she’d been challenged her to come up with someone who looked like they might own an antique shop, she would probably have described the man before her now, gazing at her with an enquiring expression. 

             ‘Is there something in particular I can help you with?’ he asked, placing the box on the counter. ‘Something you’re looking for? Or would you prefer to browse?’

            Now that it came down to explaining that she was interested in the job, Hope felt a little of her confidence drain away. Was she crazy to be even thinking about working there?

             ‘I suppose I’m looking for Mr Young,’ she said slowly, fighting the urge to seize the ready-made excuse and spend a happy twenty minutes wandering around the shop. 

             ‘Then you’re in luck.’ He smiled and held out a hand. ‘I’m James Young, owner of the Ever After Emporium. Welcome!’

            Too late to back out now, Hope thought as she walked forwards to shake his outstretched hand. ‘Hope Henderson. It’s about the advert in the window. For the part-time assistant.’

            If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. ‘Of course. Would you like to hear more about the role?’

             She nodded and felt her apprehension ease. He hadn’t laughed, that was a good start. Although that might follow when she revealed her total lack of relevant experience. ‘Yes, please.’

             ‘Why don’t we start with a quick tour? I can fill you in on the way round.’

            He raised a solid-looking flap in the counter and pulled back a carved door panel beneath to make his way out to stand beside her. She noticed an understated forest green waistcoat beneath the tweed jacket and caught the gleam of gold at waist height. Of course, Hope thought, almost nodding to herself. Of course he has a pocket watch.

             ‘It sounds grand, describing it as a tour, but the Emporium is bigger than it looks from the outside,’ Mr Young went on, waving a hand that took in the full length and breadth of the shop, spanning the two sets of windows on either side of the door. ‘There’s another room through the back where the books are kept, and a small kitchen, plus the storerooms upstairs. Over the years I’ve experimented with trying to organize the stock into eras but people seem to prefer a more higgledy-piggledy approach.’

            Which explained the gloriously mismatched window displays, Hope mused. ‘I suppose they don’t always know what they’re looking for – browsing and discovering a hidden treasure is half the fun.’

            Mr Young’s eyes gleamed. ‘Exactly so. Besides, I’m not totally sure the shop doesn’t rearrange itself overnight. It would certainly solve one or two mysteries.’

            His voice was so matter of fact that Hope wasn’t sure he was joking. But he didn’t elaborate. Instead, he pointed to an aisle that ran parallel to the window with the flamingos. ‘We’ll start this way.’

Hope followed, hardly believing she was inside the Ever After Emporium. The shop was blessedly cool, a welcome relief on a warm April afternoon, and she realized she’d expected it to be gloomy, like something from a Dickensian novel. But it wasn’t like that at all; the natural light from the windows was perfectly complemented by discreet modern spotlights in the ceiling, bathing everything on display in a clean silvery light. Her attention was instantly caught by an exquisite bone china tea set laid out on an occasional table to their right. Delicate yellow and pink roses wound their way around the teapot and cups, spilling across the saucers and plates and climbing around the milk jug and sugar bowl. She let out a delighted puff of appreciation as she stopped to stare.

            Mr Young glanced over his shoulder. ‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s Wedgwood, you can tell from the quality but the three-letter code on each piece removes any doubt. This particular set dates back to 1934.’

            She had been about to reach out to lift one of the teacups but withdrew her hand hurriedly. If she dropped it, the interview would be over before it had even begun and she’d have to buy the set, broken cup and all. This must be why she hadn’t been allowed inside the shop as a child; she was less likely to break something now but decided it was best not to take any chances and thrust her hands into her pockets.

            ‘Over here, we have a pair of chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh,’ Mr Young continued. ‘Beside them, you’ll see a working gramophone but that’s not for sale. There are a few items like that – marked with a red dot and just for display. Production companies sometimes get in touch to enquire about hiring things and the gramophone is popular.’

            Again, Hope made sure she stayed in the centre of the aisle as she followed him, but her gaze flicked left and right as they walked. A glossy grandfather clock ticked to one side, its walnut case burnished to a mirror-like gleam, and she was tempted to stop and study the sunlit ship sailing sedately through a wedge-shaped panel in the ivory clock face. It reminded Hope of the one Rob’s grandmother had kept; she had always insisted it would come to him, when she died, never dreaming for a moment that she’d outlive her grandson. Hope pushed the memory aside and forced herself to focus on the here and now. The shop was everything she’d imagined it would be, a treasure trove of delights, and she longed to linger over some of the things Mr Young led her past. If she didn’t get the job, she’d certainly be back to browse. Possibly every day.

            ‘The position is for twenty hours a week, Monday to Friday, with the occasional weekend to cover the other staff,’ Mr Young said. ‘I’m fairly flexible and happy to work around family commitments, if you have them.’

            He waited and Hope thought of her too quiet apartment. ‘No commitments,’ she said with what she hoped was a brisk smile.

             ‘The work is mostly customer-facing on the shop floor but there’ll be a bit of inventory and record-keeping when things are quiet. We offer generous annual leave, on-the-job training and a competitive salary, plus there’s a staff discount scheme.’ He led her through a crooked wooden doorway into a softly lit square room. ‘This is where we keep the books.’

            The breath caught in Hope’s throat as she stepped inside. It was the kind of room every book lover dreamed of; the walls were lined from ceiling to floor with shelves, and every shelf was filled by spines of all colours and sizes. The walls on her left had glass doors on the top half of the shelves – some of the books inside were wrapped in clear covers and she assumed they were valuable first editions. To her right, she saw a mahogany ladder that rolled parallel to the stacks, giving access to the upper shelves. The air was heavy and still, filled with the unmistakeable scent of old paper, old print, old words. She inhaled deeply, drinking it in, and allowed herself a contented sigh.  The Emporium held more treasure than she’d ever imagined.

             ‘Are you a reader?’ Mr Young asked, and Hope realized he’d been watching her reaction closely.

            ‘Absolutely,’ she replied and her eyes wandered to the shelves again. ‘Anything and everything.’

            He nodded. ‘We’ve a number of excellent first editions here, including a wonderfulPride and Prejudice and a mint copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘As well as some lesser-known classics – are you familiar with A History of British Carpets by C.E.C. Tattersall?’

            She hesitated, once more unsure whether he was joking. ‘Er . . . not really.’

            Mr Young laughed. ‘Consider yourself lucky. But you never know, one day a historical carpet enthusiast might walk into the shop and we’ll have exactly what they’re looking for.’

            Hope looked more closely at the nearest shelf, imagining herself opening a worn leather cover, turning the age-tinted pages and breathing in their distinctive smell. If she hadn’t been in love with the Ever After Emporium before, she was now. Although she was beginning to suspect that if she worked there, she’d have very little of her wages left at the end of the month, in spite of the staff discount Mr Young had mentioned.

            ‘The first floor is home to the store rooms and the office and the second floor is home to me,’ he said as they left the book room and continued to the last corner of the shop, where he paused beside an ornate dark wood staircase marked Staff Only. ‘But I’m sure you must have questions. Is there anything you want to know?’

            Hope cast her mind back to her last job application, some seven years earlier. It had been a well-paid, responsible position and had therefore involved a lengthy and stressful process. She was sure there’d be no psychometric testing for this role but it would be useful to know what she could expect. ‘Do you know when the interviews might be?’ she asked.

            He shook his head, causing Hope to immediately assume he hadn’t been planning to interview her at all. But he surprised her. ‘We’re not big on formality here. I find it often works better to have a nice chat. A bit like the one we’re having now.’

            ‘Oh,’ Hope exclaimed, wrong-footed again. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.’

            Mr Young waved a hand apologetically. ‘My fault – I should have explained. But now that you’ve had a look round and got a rough idea of what the job entails, are you still interested?’

            The Emporium was everything she’d anticipated and more, Hope thought, remembering the delicate floral tea set, the arching chairs and, most of all, the room full of books. And then she recalled how little she knew about any of them. ‘Yes, I’m interested, but . . . ’ She trailed off, filled with certainty that she was wasting both their time. ‘Look, I’ll be honest – I used to pass this shop when I was growing up and always loved looking in the windows. And seeing the advert today reminded me of that. But I have to admit I don’t know anything about antiques.’

            Mr Young studied her for a moment. ‘I’m not necessarily looking for someone who knows the business. I like to think I’m pretty good in that department.’

            Hope puffed out a breath. ‘I don’t really have any shop experience, either.’ She offered him a self-conscious grimace. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have troubled you.’

            ‘It’s no trouble,’ he replied easily. ‘Truth be told, I’ve never been one for judging people solely by their CV and qualifications and it sounds like the shop has been calling you for a long time – you just didn’t know it. So how about a different approach? Why don’t you choose an object – anything you like – and tell me about it.’

            Confusion swirled in Hope’s brain. Hadn’t she just explained she knew nothing about antiques? ‘But—’

            He gave her an encouraging smile. ‘I don’t mean the manufacturer or provenance or anything like that. Just have a look round, find something that speaks to you, and tell me its story. Whatever you think that might be.’

            Immediately, Hope’s thoughts flew to the book room, where hundreds of stories were patiently waiting to be told. But she knew it would be cheating to choose one of those; Mr Young wanted something that came from her, from her own imagination. The trouble was, now that she needed it her mind had gone completely blank. Mr Young waited – it felt to Hope as though the whole shop was waiting – and the steady tick-tock of the grandfather clock seemed impossibly loud in the silence, although she worried her thudding heart might give it some competition. Taking a deep breath, Hope forced herself to remember the items that had caught her eye. The Wedgwood tea set had been first – she could imagine that being used to serve afternoon tea in the parlour of a well-to-do 1930s house . . . Hope frowned. No, not a wealthy family, perhaps one that didn’t have much money but saved what they could and used the tea set on special occasions. And then there was the gramophone – she could almost hear it playing at a wartime tea dance, with that distinctive faint crackle as the needle travelled along the groove. But although she could picture both items being used, neither gave her anything more – a story she could tell. She felt the hot rush of failure burn her cheeks and was about to shake her head when her gaze fell on the clock again. Rob had once told her that, as a child, he’d believed his grandmother’s clock hid a secret door leading to another world.

            ‘Like the wardrobe that goes to Narnia,’ he’d said with a self-deprecating head shake. ‘I must have been reading the books.’

            ‘Did you ever find it?’ Hope had asked, and he’d smiled.

            ‘Would you believe me if I said yes?’

            That had been the moment she’d known she loved him – really loved him – and his refusal to elaborate, because he’d sworn an oath never to reveal the secret, only delighted her more. And now, listening to the tick of the clock in this quirky, magical shop, she could half-believe that all grandfather clocks hid doors to other worlds. Here was a story she could tell, although she doubted she’d do it justice.

            Taking a moment to calm her racing heart, she gathered her thoughts. ‘I’d like to tell you about the clock,’ she began, clearing her throat. ‘It was made centuries ago for a duke and duchess and stood in the hallway of a grand house for many years, although they never really noticed it until it was gone. Even then, it was the absence of the tick they noticed, which was a great shame, because the clock had a secret that might have changed their lives.’

            Hope paused and risked a glance at Mr Young but he gave no indication whether this was what he’d been expecting. Instead, he tipped his head to indicate she should continue.

            ‘The clock was given to a boarding school, where it stood for many years, watching children hurry past on their way to and from classes. Until one day, a child didn’t hurry past. This child stopped and studied the clock. That evening, at midnight, he crept downstairs when everyone else was asleep and lifted the hook at the side of the door.’

            Now when Hope looked at Mr Young, she thought she detected a spark of interest in his expression. ‘Inside the clock, the child found another doorway – one that led him to a world of adventure and enchantment.’ She hesitated and swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. ‘And when he ran out of time in this life, far sooner than anyone expected, he breathed his last breath without sadness or complaint, knowing he’d lived a thousand lives in the world through the clock.’

            The words seemed to hang in the air for an age as Mr Young regarded Hope steadily. ‘Wonderful,’ he said at last, with the gentlest of smiles. ‘Just wonderful. When can you start?’

Chapter Two

One month later

It had been raining for three days. Hope watched rivulets of water cascade from the awning over the florist’s shop opposite the Ever After Emporium and sighed. The River Ouse was fuller than normal for the time of year and the Foss seemed higher too. If it didn’t stop raining soon, Hope thought she might actually need the faded orange and white lifebuoy that was propped against a battered ship’s chest opposite the counter. In fact, it was just possible they might need to drag the Noah’s ark from the window display.

            High Petergate was uncharacteristically empty of its usual horde of May tourists, although Hope knew they were rarely deterred for long. The occasional car splashed through the puddles and any pedestrians who had braved the deluge hurried along with their heads hidden by umbrellas or tucked inside hoods. No one was stopping to gaze into the windows of the Ever After Emporium, let alone come inside. It was the quietest Thursday morning Hope had experienced since she’d started work there three weeks earlier and she was starting to wonder whether she’d see a single customer before lunch. Of course, it meant she had plenty of time to study the book Mr Young had given her on Victorian furniture but although she was keen to learn, it wasn’t the most engrossing read she’d ever picked up.

            The Minster chimed outside, accompanied by the faint call of the cuckoo clock that hung on a wall deeper inside the shop, and Hope saw the time was 11.15. Stretching her arms over her head, she bookmarked the page and considered making a cup of tea. Mr Young was in the store rooms upstairs, undertaking some restoration work with a local craftsman, but she didn’t want to disturb him. Surely it would be fine to leave the till unattended for a few minutes while she nipped into the tiny kitchen tucked away beneath the curving staircase at the rear of the shop . . . 

            No sooner had she clicked the kettle on than the bell above the door jangled. Swallowing a huff of disbelief, Hope dropped the teabag she held into a cup and hurried back to the shop floor. A man stood in front of the door, his umbrella dripping onto the mat. Beside him was a blonde-haired little girl of around four or five, dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, with yellow wellington boots.

            ‘Good morning,’ she said, smiling. ‘There’s an umbrella stand by the door if you’d like to use it.’

            The man looked up as she approached but the child’s eyes stayed firmly downcast. ‘Thanks,’ he replied. ‘Although I’m bound to forget it on the way out.’

            She watched as he slotted the folded umbrella into the stand. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll remind you. Is there anything in particular you’re interested in or would you prefer to browse?’

            His gaze flickered to the little girl as he wiped the rain from his fingers. ‘Brodie was very taken with the rocking horse in your window. And the flamingos next door.’

            Hope’s smile deepened. ‘Ah, the flamingos are my favourites too,’ she said, trying to catch the girl’s eye. ‘Would you like a closer look?’

            But Brodie didn’t look up or respond. Instead, one yellow-booted foot turned inwards to rub against the other.

            ‘I think she’d like that very much,’ the man said, moving away from the doorway and into the aisle that led deeper into the shop. ‘Thank you.’

            Hope lifted the counter and slipped through the gap to join them. ‘I hope they’re going to behave themselves,’ she said gravely. ‘Last time I took someone to meet them they caused a dreadful hullaballoo.’

            This time she did get a reaction but it wasn’t the one she’d anticipated. Rather than laugh, Brodie moved closer to her father’s leg and hid her face. He threw Hope an apologetic look. ‘She takes things a bit literally, I’m afraid.’ He dropped down to the child’s level and spoke in a soothing voice. ‘It’s okay, the lady was only joking. The flamingos aren’t going to hurt you.’

            Hope shook her head in dismay. ‘No, they absolutely won’t. I was being silly – I’m sorry.’

            This met with silence, although a tell-tale wobble of the shoulders suggested it wouldn’t last long, and Hope felt a scarlet flush of consternation start to creep across her cheeks. Any minute now the child was going to burst into tears and it would be all her fault.

            ‘I’m really sorry—’ she began, as the man straightened up and looked around.

            His gaze came to rest on a small North African puzzle box that sat on the counter beside the till. ‘Look, Brodie, it’s a secret keeper,’ he said. ‘Like the one Grandma has.’

            He glanced at Hope, as if asking permission to pick it up, and she hesitated. The polished cedarwood puzzle box was one of the items that wasn’t for sale – Mr Young had given her a list and reminded her that a red dot meant ‘Do Not Sell’. But it wouldn’t hurt to let Brodie look at it, would it? Especially since the box didn’t open. Little fingerprints could be polished away and no one would be any the wiser. ‘Go ahead,’ she said.

            Brodie’s focus changed the moment her father held out the box. She let go of his leg and took it, stretching her small hands around the ornate cube and tilting it this way and that. A faint rattle from inside seemed to catch her attention and she raised the box to her ear, shaking it gently. A moment later, she sat cross-legged on the floor and began to probe the carved cedarwood surface with deft fingers.

            Disaster apparently averted, the man relaxed and studied Hope with fresh curiosity. ‘You’re new here, aren’t you?’

            She nodded. ‘Yes, I started a few weeks ago. Look, I’m really sorry for upsetting your daughter. I was just trying to be friendly.’

            An odd look crossed his face and Hope cringed inside, wondering if she’d made another faux pas. But then he glanced down at the girl, engrossed in the puzzle box, and he offered Hope a wry smile. ‘No harm done. Brodie is – well, I suppose you might say she’s sensitive.’ He held out his hand. ‘I’m Will Silverwood. I own Silverwood’s jewellery shop, over in the Shambles.’

            Something in the way he spoke suggested there was more to Brodie’s reaction than simple sensitivity. For a split second, Hope was tempted to ask what he meant but it wasn’t really any of her business. She shook his hand instead. ‘Hope Henderson. Pleased to meet you.’

            His fingers were still cool from the rain and the skin felt the tiniest bit rough against hers. But it was his smile that really caught her attention – the kind that was so warm it was like coming in from the cold on a frosty day. She liked the way it made his eyes crinkle at the edges, as though she was an old friend he hadn’t seen for ages. His eyes were nice too, she decided – hazel, framed with generous lashes – and he had good hair, golden brown with a hint of curl, although it was touching the collar of his coat and looked in need of a trim.

            Will cleared his throat, a gentle, barely there sound that brought Hope back with a jolt. With an icy rush of horror, she realized she’d been staring dreamily at him for an embarrassingly long time. And worse – so much worse – she was still holding his hand. ‘Sorry,’ she said, letting go as though his fingers had burned her. ‘I didn’t mean to – I’m so sorry!’

            ‘Don’t apologize,’ he said, and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened. ‘I’ve been known to daydream mid-conversation too. I like to think it’s the sign of a creative mind.’

            His generosity made Hope cringe even more, because she hadn’t been daydreaming, she’d been – what, exactly? Not perving, she thought with an inward shudder, but definitely . . . admiring. And that wasn’t something she wanted to admit to a total stranger – to a customer, no less. ‘Ha ha,’ she said weakly. ‘I’ll have to remember that for the next time I – er – drift off.’

            ‘It’s a useful explanation,’ he agreed. ‘So what brings you to the Emporium? Have you always worked in antiques?’

            Praying she didn’t look as flustered as she felt, Hope wondered how to reply; admitting she’d applied for the job on a whim would make her seem even flakier than she already appeared and it was hardly a professional response. ‘I’ve always had an interest in old things,’ she answered, choosing her words with care. ‘And who could resist the opportunity to spend every day somewhere like this?’

            ‘Not me,’ Will said. ‘Or Brodie, for that matter.’

            They both glanced down at the girl, who was still absorbed in her task. ‘I’m afraid the box isn’t for sale,’ Hope said. ‘It’s a bit of an enigma – no one’s been able to work out how to open it.’

            He nodded. ‘My mother has one. I remember spending hours trying to get into it and was ready to take a hammer to it until my brother revealed the secret.’

            ‘Which was?’

            ‘A few impossible-to-detect sliding panels and cleverly hidden compartments,’ he replied.          ‘But each box is individually crafted – what opens one won’t work on another. They wouldn’t be much good for keeping secrets if they all worked in the same way.’

            Hope smiled and felt the last vestiges of embarrassment fade away. ‘Well, this one seems set to keep its secrets forever. I don’t think Mr Young would appreciate us taking a hammer to it.’

            Will laughed and Hope decided she liked that too. They stood for a moment, smiling at each other, until the bell over the door jangled again and a tall woman with a hood over her eyes hurried inside. ‘Hells bells, Hope, is it ever going to stop raining?’

            She paused in the doorway, shaking down her hood to reveal a mane of lustrous dark hair as she took in the scene. ‘Oops, I didn’t realize you had a customer.’ And then her expression lit up. ‘Oh, but it’s only Will. I don’t have to mind my manners after all.’

            Hope had to swallow a grin; she’d met Iris on her second day at the Ever After Emporium, when the florist had hurried across the road and begged to borrow an Art Deco vase for the Blooming Dales window display. From that first whirlwind encounter, Hope had formed the distinct impression that Iris wasn’t really one for observing the social rules that governed most people’s behaviour. She was forthright and bold, wore scarlet lipstick and winged eyeliner as though she woke up that way every day, and had the kind of irrepressible smile that hinted she might bubble up into laughter at any moment. Hope had warmed to her immediately and thought she might be on her way to making her first new friend in York. It wasn’t surprising that Iris would know Will – Hope got the impression that there was a real sense of community within the ancient walls that surrounded the city’s heart. There was probably a traders’ association, where the glamorous florist must turn heads and steal hearts in equal measure.

            ‘Not just me,’ Will said, shifting slightly so Iris could see the child at his feet.

            ‘Oh,’ she breathed, walking towards them. ‘This must be Brodie.’

            ‘It is,’ he replied. ‘So, minding of manners is definitely still required.’

            Not that Brodie was paying any of them the least bit of attention. She was still poking and prodding at the box, turning it over and over in her small hands, and Hope could almost feel the girl’s determination to solve the riddle. But the secret had eluded all the adults of the Ever After Emporium – was it possible that a child would succeed where they had failed? Hope pictured her nephews and their boisterous, exuberant approach to play; the box would have been discarded in favour of a football within seconds. But Brodie was entirely different – all her concentration was focused on the job and she seemed to be enclosed in her own little world. It was remarkable.

            ‘How is she coping?’ Iris asked, lowering her voice. ‘More to the point, how are youcoping?’

            Will smiled but this time it didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Oh, you know. Taking it one day at a time.’

            Wary of being caught staring again, Hope let her own gaze drift around the shop as she wondered about the exchange. There’d been sympathy in Iris’s tone and sadness in Will’s. Hope recognized the vagueness of his reply too, using the sort of words she had when she’d needed to politely fend off well-meaning enquiries after Rob’s death. A failed marriage, perhaps, and all the heartache and adjustments that brought. It would certainly explain the way Iris was watching Will, as though he might break at any moment. Hope was familiar with that look as well, although thankfully not from Iris or anyone else in York, apart from her family. She’d told Iris she was single, when the florist had asked what her partner did, and then deflected the conversation onto safer ground. Another coping mechanism.

            ‘How’s business?’ Will asked, glancing at Blooming Dales through the rain-speckled window.      ‘I suppose the flowers don’t mind the wet weather.’

            ‘They might not but I do,’ Iris said, wrinkling her nose. ‘Walk-in trade is down this week – it’s a good thing we’ve got plenty of wedding orders to keep us busy.’ 

            His eyes drifted to Brodie once more. ‘Your windows always look so amazing. Maybe we’ll pop in and pick up a bouquet for home, to remind us it’s almost summer.’

            Iris dipped her head. ‘I could deliver it, if you like, save you having to carry it in this rain. Do you have a favourite flower, Brodie?’

            That got the little girl’s attention. She raised her blonde head to study Iris, then flicked her gaze towards the window.

            Hope thought she understood. ‘Pink, like the flamingos?’

            Brodie gave a shy nod.

            ‘Flamingo pink,’ Iris repeated approvingly. ‘Very nice. I’m thinking gerbera, roses and maybe some alstroemeria. Tall and graceful, just like the birds.’

            Will gave her a helpless look. ‘They won’t look graceful if I have to arrange them. Do they come in a vase?’

            Iris winked at Brodie. ‘I’ll take care of everything. All you’ll have to do is put the bouquet into water.’

            ‘I can probably manage that,’ Will said. ‘With Brodie’s help, obviously.’

            ‘Then how does a Saturday morning delivery sound?’ Iris asked. ‘You can drop me a message later with the address for delivery.’

            ‘Sounds like the perfect way to start the weekend,’ Will said. ‘Thanks, Iris. This is very kind of you.’

            The florist waved away his thanks. ‘It’s no trouble. I deliver all over the city – have bike, will travel.’

            Hope blinked as she tried to build a mental picture. ‘You deliver flowers by bike? How?’

            ‘Of course,’ Iris said, grinning. ‘We’re very eco-conscious. I attach a lightweight trailer to the back, load it up and off I go.’

            ‘In all weathers?’ Hope said, with a dubious glance at the rainy street outside.

            ‘Us Yorkshire women are made of stern stuff,’ Iris replied. ‘But we’re practical too – I also have a cosy little Volkswagen van for when the weather is really grim.’

            Hope was about to say that she was a Yorkshire woman too, although her years in London had worn her accent away, but Brodie stood up abruptly and handed the puzzle box to Will. He checked his watch. ‘You’re right – we should probably think about lunch.’ He gave the box to Hope. ‘Thanks for letting her handle it.’

            ‘It’s a shame she didn’t crack the mystery,’ Hope said. ‘Mr Young would have been delighted.’

            His eyes creased at the edges as he smiled. ‘I’m sure we’ll be back.’

            ‘Maybe next time, then,’ Hope said. ‘I’ll have a word with the flamingos too.’

            It was only after Will and Brodie had made their way back out into the rain, with the umbrella safely in hand, that Hope realized what had been troubling her. In the whole time they’d been in the shop, she’d hadn’t heard the little girl make a single sound.

            Iris puffed out her cheeks when Hope mentioned Brodie’s silence. ‘No, she doesn’t speak. Not since the accident.’

            Cold dread settled in Hope’s chest. Maybe Will wasn’t newly separated. Maybe it was more awful than that. ‘The accident,’ she repeated slowly.

            ‘The car crash,’ Iris said. ‘Back in February, on the A64. You might remember – the road was closed for the best part of a day.’

            Hope swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. ‘I wasn’t living here then.’

            The florist sighed. ‘It was terrible, one of those freak accidents that doesn’t seem to be anyone’s fault. You only needed to glimpse the car to know no one could have survived.’

            One hand flew to Hope’s mouth as Iris confirmed her worst fears. ‘Oh no.’

            ‘Brodie was devastated, as you’d expect. Will’s doing his best but it takes time, doesn’t it? I know kids are resilient but that’s an impossible hole to fill.’

            Especially when he’d be struggling with the loss of a partner himself, Hope thought as sympathy and pity welled up inside her. It was a miracle he was coping as well as he was; she certainly hadn’t after Rob’s death.

            ‘Poor Brodie,’ Iris went on, with a sorrowful shake of her head.

            ‘Poor Will too,’ Hope said. ‘He must be grieving as well.’

            A frown creased Iris’s forehead. ‘Of course. Losing a brother is awful. But Brodie lost both her parents – I’m not surprised she’s retreated into herself.”

            The words crashed over Hope like a wave. Had Iris said Brodie had lost bothparents? ‘But I thought . . . isn’t he—’

            Iris stared at her for a moment, then slapped her own forehead. ‘Oh, I’m an idiot! Of course you assumed Will was Brodie’s dad – why wouldn’t you?’

            Bewildered, Hope pieced together the evidence. ‘So he’s her . . . uncle?’

            ‘And her closest living relative,’ Iris replied. ‘Or at least, the only one capable of looking after a five-year-old. His mother has dementia, I think, and lives in a care home. And Will is Brodie’s godfather – there was no question of her going anywhere else.’

            Anywhere else being foster care, Hope guessed, or a distant relative or family friend who were virtual strangers. Another wave of pity swept over her. ‘That poor girl.’

            ‘Yeah,’ Iris agreed. ‘Obviously, it’s been tough for Will too. It’s not as though he’s got anyone to help him. Imagine going from being a single bloke to a surrogate parent overnight.’

            While dealing with his own loss too, Hope thought. Although she could imagine having someone else to care for might help with the grief; plenty of people had suggested she get a puppy or a kitten in the months after she’d lost Rob but it hadn’t seemed fair when she’d be out at work every day. A child was another ballgame entirely. The sense of responsibility must be overwhelming.

            ‘He took a shine to you, though,’ Iris went on, a smile playing at the corners of her scarlet lips. ‘And you’re single too. New in town.’

            Hope’s face bloomed with sudden heat. ‘What? That’s not true. I mean, yes I am single and new here but he definitely wasn’t . . . he didn’t—’

            She broke off as Iris threw her a disbelieving look. ‘Hope. You could have cut the tension between you with that silver letter-opener over there.’

            ‘But –’ Hope flailed in mortified bewilderment, thinking back to the moment Iris had burst into the shop. ‘But there was no tension – we were chatting about the puzzle box.’

            ‘It looked like more than that to me. You were both smiling for a start.’ Iris waggled her eyebrows. ‘Really smiling.’

            She couldn’t deny that, Hope thought, resisting an urge to fan her overheated cheeks. ‘Maybe we were,’ she said. ‘But it was on a strictly professional basis.’

            The other woman nodded. ‘I’m sure it was. But even so, I know chemistry when I see it.’ She paused to smirk at Hope. ‘Sexual chemistry.’

            Hope wanted to crawl under the nearby Edwardian occasional table. Iris was sharp – of course she’d noticed her admiring Will. She might as well have been projecting an enormous cartoon love heart over her head. ‘I’m sure he has enough on his plate at the moment,’ she said, hating the stiffness in her voice. ‘And I’m not looking for a relationship either.’

            Instantly, Iris looked contrite. ‘Ah, I’m getting carried away – making assumptions. It’s a weakness of mine – sorry.’

            Hope took a deep breath and willed her flaming skin to cool down. ‘It’s okay. No harm done.’

            ‘Good,’ Iris said and paused, looking at Hope with a speculative gaze. ‘If you’re not looking for a relationship, are you at least in the market for making new friends?’

            ‘Yes,’ Hope said cautiously.            The florist beamed at her. ‘Great! How do you feel about dancing?’

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

Today I’m sharing my review for The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard again to celebrate paperback publication day in the UK. Thank you to Corvus Books for a copy of the hardback last year.

Synopsis:

I was the girl who survived the Nothing Man.
Now I am the woman who is going to catch him…

You’ve just read the opening pages of The Nothing Man, the true crime memoir Eve Black has written about her obsessive search for the man who killed her family nearly two decades ago.

Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is reading it too, and with each turn of the page his rage grows. Because Jim was – is – the Nothing Man.

The more Jim reads, the more he realizes how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won’t give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first…

My thoughts:

This is the first book I’ve read by Catherine Ryan Howard, and I’m looking forward to reading more. I was gripped by the first few chapters – what an interesting story idea. Slowly we find out more and more about The Nothing Man and his awful crimes, whilst he finds out what Eve knows and where to find her by reading her book.

The tension built, the pages turned, the list of things to do were ignored. I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling and the story. Apologies for being vague, but this is a no spoilers review.

A five star read for me.

Author Bio:

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1982. Her debut thriller, DISTRESS SIGNALS (2016), was an Irish Times and USA Today bestseller, and was shortlisted for both the Irish Crime Novel of the Year and the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger. Her second thriller, THE LIAR’S GIRL (2018) was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. She currently lives in Dublin, where she divides her time between the desk and the sofa.