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Book Blitz: Genuine; Love Can Be Controlled – Lena Ma

Genuine

Congratulations to Lena Ma on the release of her latest novel and the start of a brand-new series, Genuine: Love Can Be Controlled. Read on for more details and the chance to win a print copy of the book!

CoverGenuine: Love Can Be Controlled (The Scarlett Series Book 1)

Publication Day: June 5th, 2021

Genre: Dark Romance

One-night stands, cheating exes, and abusive partners. They’re all she thought she deserved. Repressed memories and a persistent voice inside her head that undermined her every word, leading to a life of alcoholism and depression. When her last failed attempt at love finally pushed her over the edge and into desperation, Sarah Levinson decided to take matters into her own hands by creating Genuine, an app that allowed her to choose the love she wanted, a partner guaranteed to remain forever faithful, until everything so right turned horribly wrong. Her new love interest tested her algorithm and took everlasting love to a new extreme that may just destroy her carefully crafted plan and lead to a disastrous end, and everything Sarah once thought she believed about her life, her future, and her past are called into question. Will her strategy for everlasting love lead to her demise, or will it shed light on unspeakable truths in this dark, twisted story?

Note: Possible Triggers

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Excerpt

“Love cannot be controlled nor can love be forced. Love must be mutually accepted by both ends of the spectrum before it is able to come to fruition. That’s what we were led to believe anyway. What if, instead, we are able to choose love, exclusively select who we want to love us rather than waiting for them to never love us back? What if we are able to control love with the simple click of a finger, choose the relationships we want regardless of the opinions of the other person? This dream that we have all been lusting for, a dream that would forever abolish our fear of loneliness, has now come to life. I have found you. Choose or Lose.” – Genuine

Applause sounded as the light darkened in the auditorium, and a video appeared, the deep sound of a man’s voice was heard in the narration.

“Love. It’s all we ever seem to want. Love from a parent or a friend can never truly replace the love we obtain and experience from a partner, romantic love that requires unrequited love from someone choosing to be with us and only us, staying loyal through times of thick and thin. We have all been heartbroken, every single one of us in this room and more, falling for someone who only wants us for our bodies before moving onto the next victim. How many times have we fallen for the lies of those who promised us love, just to later on deceive us before our very eyes? How many times have we become the victim of someone who wants us one day and completely shuts us out of their life the next?

Meet Stacy, a young woman who had struggled with finding a loyal partner for over a decade, constantly being tricked by those who wanted her just for a night or two, never having a relationship last more than four months before the lies and infidelity set in, and always having to settle for those less than subpar instead of those she wanted. When we first met Stacy, she was a mess, a once-independent and intelligent woman on the brink of suicide.

However, through the power of Genuine, Stacy finally met the man of her dreams, Timothy, a man who checked off every item on her list, a man she doesn’t need to settle for, a man who will love her through thick and thin until she decides it is time for the relationship to end.

Genuine, true love is no longer impossible. Choose or Lose.”

As the video ended and the lights reappeared, so did the host of the App X-Change Summit, Brian Flint.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the creator of Genuine, Sarah Levinson!”

              Another round of applause rose from the crowd and camera flashes began to pepper the stage from the media rows. Sarah felt a familiar surge of fear pushing at the edges of her mind. She closed her eyes and breathed deep; I make the world a better place. I am the one in control. Move over, Aphrodite – I am the new goddess of love.

With that, Sarah stepped onto the stage with a winning smile and waved to the audience. Making her way to the podium, she shook hands with Brian, and then turned to the crowd, who only quieted when Sarah began to speak.

“Love cannot be controlled. For so long in our society, we believed that love was elusive to many and attainable to few. It was something that just happened…or didn’t. That belief can now be put to rest, thanks to Genuine.”

Sarah picked up a small remote from the podium and pointed it toward the big screen. A slideshow began, showing the Genuine logo, and the home screen of the app on someone’s phone.

“Genuine gives you the power to lock down love, the true love that you decide you want. Much like the hundreds of dating apps that already exist, with Genuine, users swipe through various profiles to find an ideal mate, swiping right to ‘Choose’ and swiping left to ‘Lose’. The profiles include pictures, a short bio, likes and interests, so on and so forth, but they also display a rating based on a 5-star system.”

Available on Amazon & Barnes & Noble

About the Author

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The world is a dark and destructive place, and the mind is constantly flawed. Through personal traumatic and emotional experiences, such as domestic abuse, infidelity, and hospital-ridden adventures, Lena Ma brings her stories to life by exhibiting raw emotions that plague, not just her, but many others living in this world. Her stories come with dark, twisted scenes that reflect the horrors of reality. Happy endings are a thing of the past while the pain of disturbing reality shines. As an aspiring author, Lena hopes to make a difference in the lives of others by exposing the truths of psychological warfare and the manipulation of the modern world.

Lena Ma Books | Instagram | Facebook | Amazon | B&N 

Win a print copy of Genuine by Lena Ma! Giveaway will run from today until June 15th!

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Spotlight: The Fire God – Michelle Sims

thefiregodtour

Welcome to the book tour for The Fire God Tour by Michele Sims. Read on for more details about this genre-blurring romance! There’s also a chance to win a signed copy of the book!

The Fire God Tour

Publication Date: May 29th, 2019

Genre: Romantic Suspense/ Magical Realism

Miles Moore is obsessed with fire. He can’t help it—it’s in his genes. He’s also the famous performer Ari, an international hip-hop sensation. There are some negatives that come with fame—death threats and life on the road among them—but there’s also a lot of good: fast cars, fast women, international travel, and more money than he can handle. When Bella Wahlberg joins his team as the chief of marketing, she seems like the antithesis of what he’s looking for, so much so that Miles dubs her Belsa the Ice Queen. It would be unprofessional for them to get together, but more than that, she’s unavailable—and deathly afraid of fire. But as they prepare for The Fire God Tour, Miles can tell something is changing. Is he ready to commit himself to one woman? Can fire and ice come together?

EACH BOOK IN THIS SAGA IS A STANDALONE STORY!

Excerpt

Bella powered down her computer in time to see her phone buzzing with a message: the limo driver was minutes away. After locking the front door just as the driver pulled up, she waited while he parked and got out of the car to open the door.

“Thank you.” She got in and sighed, feeling torn that she had to work on her day off instead of enjoying a long hike; yet also wanting to be seen as a team player. Resolved that even though she’d agreed to do this favor for Darien, she would accomplish it as quickly as possible and get away to enjoy nature with Corey.

Traffic was light and the car arrived at the estate quicker than she expected. The butler, Mr. Curtis, dressed in a black suit with a starched white shirt, dark tie, and spit-shined black shoes, greeted her at the door. She sensed he disapproved of her casual attire as he looked her over, jutting out his chin, giving her a loud sniff.

“Good morning, Bella. Darien left instructions to take you to Miles’s bedroom to get the papers.”

She hesitated a bit but followed him as he walked up the stairs to the space regarded as off limits.

“This is quite unusual, since Mr. Moore rarely allows employees other than Parker, Darien, or myself in his personal space, but I was assured it would be okay for you to go into his private suite of rooms to search for the contracts in question.”

She was also uncomfortable being in Miles’s private space, but Darien had been frantic when he’d called. He knew NeNe would be angry if all the documents weren’t there for her review even if she was on a conference call with them and not there in person. He assured her Miles wouldn’t be at the house and he would handle any fallout if he discovered she had been in his bedroom without his permission.

“He had a date last night and planned to stay at his penthouse in the city,” Darien had assured her on the phone before she’d agreed to do him the favor.

Bella and Mr. Curtis were at the top of the stairs when she began wondering if changing her plans with Corey was such a good idea. She liked the hardware store entrepreneur and was glad things were working out between them. He seemed okay with her work obligations in general, but she shrugged at the gnawing idea that Corey might not be okay with anything out of the ordinary at AriMusic, especially if it involved close collaborations with its CEO.

Mr. Curtis opened the door to the bedroom, and she took in the view of the massive mahogany bed, with etches of rams carved into the posts. Tastefully decorated, the room had touches of black and bold red accents. There was a very masculine feel to the room.

Looking around, she discovered his desk with papers on top of it. What piqued her curiosity was the old-style lamp filled with oil next to an ornate candle on his desk.  She began looking for the papers Darien had asked her to find and didn’t notice the bathroom door opening or the presence of someone else in the room.

“What the—” The loud verbal bomb startled her, causing her to spin around and throw the papers in the air.

Miles abruptly cut off the f-bomb and stood still, a few feet away from her, while she froze as she viewed his nude body. She knew he had a great one, but she’d never imagined she would meet Adonis in this lifetime. His beautiful pecs, six-pack abs, and his.. oh my, made her gasp. His thick muscular legs had her face feeling hot and her heart racing.

“Why are you here, Bella?” He initially made no effort to cover himself.

The papers scattered across the floor, blown by the air currents from the ceiling fan whirling above. “Darien asked for a favor, and he said you wouldn’t be at home. He needed these papers for a meeting later today,” she stammered and tried but couldn’t hide her tremulous voice or the shaking of her hands as she tried to gather the papers.

 Breaking her stare, embarrassed by the impropriety of their meeting, she knelt to pick up the papers scattered throughout the room.

Available on Amazon!

About the Author

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Michele Sims is the “author-ego” of Deanna McNeil and creator of the Moore Family Saga. She loves writing hot love stories and women’s fiction with multigenerational characters. She is the recipient of the 2019 RSJ Debut Author Award, the 2018 RSJ Aspiring Author Award, and first runner up in the Introvert Press Poetry Contest for February 2018.  She is a member of  LRWA, in Charleston, SC, and the NK Tribe called Success.

She lives in South Carolina with her husband who has been her soulmate and greatest cheerleader. She is the proud mother of two adult sons and the auntie to many loved ones. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to remember the importance of exercise, travelling, listening to different genres of music, and observing the wonders of life on this marvelous planet. She is currently working on several collaboration projects.

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Blog Tour: It’s Not Never – Louise Gregory & N.G.K *

From the worldwide bestselling author NGK, and Louise Gregory, a new contemporary love story based around the first human mission to Mars.

A timeless love story.

Ambitious and hardworking, astronaut Jessica Gabriel refuses to let love get in the way of becoming the first person to walk on another planet. Or maybe she is just afraid of losing her best friend?
Fellow astronaut, John Eden, is determined to prove he is more than his family name. Yet his insecurities might cost him his place on the mission.
Neither of them are looking for love, and mission protocol forbids it. But love doesn’t follow the rules, and the two friends have to decide whether they want to risk everything they’ve worked for to be together.

Louise Gregory is the debut co-author of It’s Not Never, and uses her extensive background in psychology, coaching and team dynamics to create multi-layered characters with deep rooted feelings and motivators.

Louise lives by the “three r’s” – reading, writing, and running, all of which she would do more of were it not for her addiction to social media. She lives in the Cotswolds with her husband, two daughters, and a cat who is plotting to kill her.

N.G.K. is the best-selling author of seven books, including the popular Harry the Happy Mouse and Ridgeway Furrow series which have collectively sold over a million copies around the world. It’s Not Never is his first book for adults.

N.G.K. lives in the Forest of Dean with his wife, two children, and Lulu the cat. 

My thoughts: this was a hugely enjoyable and rather lovely book. It did what all the best love stories do, so have tissues on standby.

I enjoyed all the science-y, space travelling stuff as much as the slow burn romance between Jessica and John, from their first meeting at university to reconnecting at astronaut training and into space. The characters are deftly drawn and fully realised, two very different people on the same path to the stars. Moving and inspiring.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Summer Seekers – Sarah Morgan*

Read my review of One More For Christmas

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully big-hearted road trip adventure!

Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves – what she needs-is adventure.

Liza is drowning under the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.

Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.

When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And travelling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?

As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over.

My thoughts: this was a fun and delightful read about finding yourself at any age, whether you’re in your 80s like Kathleen, 20s like Martha or somewhere in between like Liza.

The road trip that Kathleen and Martha embark on brings in an element of adventure, while Liza has some realisations in her childhood home. There’s also a bit of romance along the way. Old relationships are rekindled and new ones begun.

Sarah Morgan’s books are always enjoyable, mixing interesting characters and a lot of heart and this is no exception. Really comforting reading.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: Mamma – Diana Tutton*

The doomed mutual attraction of a middle-aged widow and her new son-in-law, who is much closer to her own age than her daughter’s, forms the central drama in this social comedy with tragic overtones.

Joanna Malling lost her husband in the first year of their marriage. At the age of 21 she was left with a baby daughter to raise alone. Now twenty years later, Libby is herself a grown woman living in London, and Joanna buys a new home to begin the next stage of her life. But her solitary existence is about to be shattered when Libby announces she is engaged. And with a change of job for her new husband Steven, the newly married couple move in with Joanna. What starts as an uneasy relationship between Joanna and Steven develops into something much more intimate and reminds Joanna of all she has missed out on. With Libby growing suspicious, Joanna must make a heart-rending decision.

The author: Diana Tutton (1915–1991) was a British writer whose novels focused on taboo relationships and family dysfunctionality. In the Second World War she drove a WVS mobile canteen, before she followed her husband to Kenya and joined the FANYs. In 1948 the family moved to British Malaya where she wrote her three novels. Mamma was published in 1956.

My thoughts: I have enjoyed discovering new-to-me women writers through this British Library project (I also really like their Classic Crime series too) so was delighted to be asked to review Mamma.

You might think that the 1950s were very staid and writers never covered anything eyebrow raising or taboo, but you’d be wrong. Diana Tutton is proof of that. Her books were about some very shocking subjects, including incest, and this one is about a doomed and never acted upon romance between a woman and her daughter’s new husband.

Joanna is only 5 years older than Steven and resents the idea that she should just fade into widowhood, she’s not even comfortable with the idea that her daughter is old enough to get married at 20. Her frustrations about the roles society boxes women into are genuine and haven’t hugely changed since the 50s – Maiden, Mother, Crone is a trope from the Ancient World that persists.

This makes her see Steven, 15 years older than Libby, differently. She isn’t initially very keen on him and worries about the age gap between him and her daughter, the life experiences are so different. But Libby insists it doesn’t matter. And it isn’t until circumstances force them into sharing Joanna’s house that she realises her indifference is really something more.

I found this compelling and utterly fascinating, both for what it has to say about women and also the plot, which is slow burn and sneaks up on you. What seems like a gentle domestic tale is much more, but not apparent on first glance. I felt for Joanna, for the way she’s forced into roles and made to act like a woman much older, when at 41 she’s still fairly young and if she were around now would be seen quite differently.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Published Today: The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures – Holly Hepburn

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?

 Read on for an exclusive look at chapters one and two from this fabulous new book!

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 wonderful Pride 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 you coping?’

    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 both parents? ‘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?’

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Blog Tour: Beloved Woman – Sheri Peppers

Welcome to the tour for historical romance, Beloved Woman by Sheri Peppers! Read on for more details and a chance to win an Amazon gift card worth $15!

Beloved Woman Book Cover for toursBeloved Woman: A Historical Novel

Publication Date: January 2020

Genre: Historical Romance/ Historical Fiction

Beloved Woman, a Historical Romance takes place in 1705 in the Allegheny Mountains, South Carolina. Bryanna, a strong, privileged young English woman loses the love of her life, her father, to a brutal and bloody campsite attack by Iroquois renegades. Injured, and so full of grief, she grows determined to learn the ways of the Cherokee and become a respected war woman called Beloved Woman in the Cherokee town of Toxaway. This is the only way to find her father’s killer and have peace within herself once again.

Black Bear, the Red Chief is enamored by Bryanna’s courage and beautiful charm, so much that he desires to help her in every way he can. She rejects him blaming all Indians for her father’s murder. Still, his strength and determination bring them together as they face amazing obstacles to find the Iroquois renegades who were spreading havoc and murder across the great mountains. Can Bryanna learn the ways of these amazing people in this untamed land, and find her peace, and maybe love, once again?

Although the story is fiction, the customs, names of the towns, and ways of the Beloved Woman are authentic.

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Excerpt

She heard the deep pounding of drums a short distance away.  Black Bear planned strategies in the Council House the entire day and she wondered if he were at the square now attending the dance.  She ran a brush through her hair and allowed it to drape over her shoulders in thick waves of silk.  Her heart thumped lightly taking her breath away as she pushed aside the curtain of her room to brave the coming evening.

Storyteller sat near the fire sewing diligently on another garment.  She gazed up and stopped.  “You are a vision, my dear.”

“Thanks to you and your fine talents,” she said, turning to give Storyteller a view from every angle, “I feel beautiful.  I’m grateful.”

“That’s because you are beautiful.”

“Will you join the celebration tonight?  Accompany me to the Town Square.”

“I will attend shortly.  You go ahead without me.  Have a pleasant time and try to keep open to our ways.  Our event is quite joyous, but you must be kind in your judgment.  Remember, this is not the colonies, nor England.”

“I will.”  Bryanna stepped out into the cool night.

The Town Square rested in front of the Council House at the bottom of the mound.  The pulsation of the drums grew louder as she came nearer.  A rhythm of flutes fluidly intertwined with the drums creating an enticing temptation for the body to move and sway.

The Square came into view as she rounded the mound.  Rattles joined in with the instruments while the center of the Square remained filled with people moving in a circle to the rhythmic melody of the music.

With their backs slightly bent forward, they stomped their feet, turning first to the left, then to the right.  They whirled around repeating the movements over and over as they continued in a large moving circle.  She had never seen such dance.

The permeating music floated seductively over the dance, igniting a warm flame within her.  Along with the music, the movement of the dance emerged just as wildly passionate in its stirring rhythm as she swayed her shoulders in and out.

They all knew precisely what to do, flawlessly keeping in unison with each other.  The dance came forth untamed, and the music portrayed a tremendous strength in who these people were.  Now she understood what Black Bear meant when he said exhilarating.

Colorful feathers fastened in their hair and on their clothing bounced and swayed with every twist and turn they made.  The feathers transformed into brief flashes of color melding together as they danced without any signs of fatigue.

Warriors wearing animal skins on their heads jumped into the circle imitating the kill and skinning of an animal.

This was a far cry from the gentle dance in England.  She remembered tender flowing music, one person facing the other in minuet with hands gently touching.  As these people danced before her, its strangeness loomed within her, leaving an overshadowing loneliness for what she once knew and loved.

The music changed, and they stomped and swayed to a new dance.  Simply standing there, with a babe’s new innocence of their customs, she became gravely aware of her awkwardness.

She perused the Square, searching for the one familiar face whose tolerance would help fortify her fading nerve.  Sitting among a group of men at the edge of the Square were a pair of familiar eyes that locked onto hers the moment her gaze came upon him.  A smile adorned his face as he stood and approached her.

Bryanna’s breath caught in her throat as Black Bear strode toward her.  His smile remained affixed on his face and she labored to keep her gaze upon it although the temptation to gawk at his body overwhelmed her.  His breechcloth barely covered his extremities revealing long muscular limbs, honey-browned from life under the sun.

The currents of shivers returned moving throughout her body as she fought not to reveal her feelings.  Still, she noticed no shirt on his back.  The smoothness of his chest only accentuated his massive size and strength.  A string of white wampum shells lay comfortably around his neck and dipped downward across the swollen hills of his sun-kissed chest.  He’d tied back his black straight hair leaving high protruding cheekbones and glistening white teeth.

Concentrating solely upon his face did not comfort her.  The strange quivering in her veins had a mind of its own traveling the full length of her limbs to the tips of her sensitive breasts.  Her bosom heaved with each difficult breath as he halted before her.

“I find your extraordinary beauty quite imposing upon my manners as a gentleman.  Those manners are quite difficult to sustain.”  His chest maneuvered in and out as his hungry copper eyes consumed a path into the pit of her core.

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About the Author

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Sheri studied writing and screenwriting at University of California Los Angeles, and Moorpark College in California.  She is an avid history buff with an emphasis on the American Indian, and a former member of the Romance Writer’s of America.  Retired with an 18-year background in aerospace, she now lives in Thousand Oaks, California, where she is working on a sequel to Beloved Woman and plans for several projects.

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Book Blitz: Borrowed Treasure – Jessica Tastet

Congratulations to author, Jessica Tastet on the release of her latest novel, Borrowed Treasure! Read on for more info and a chance to win a digital copy of the book!

Borrowed Treasure Cover

Borrowed Treasure

Publication Date: April 13th, 2021

Genre: Womens Fiction/ Clean Romance

Publisher: Dandelion Wish Publishing

Sissy Ames has been driven to succeed her entire life. On her own, she’s turned her Bittersweet Café into a success, and she’s rebuilt a friendship with her cousin Harper after years of going it alone, but her past bad judgement in trusting Hunter Wells during their relationship continues to cast shadows on the future she’s trying to build for herself.

Hunter Wells has been coasting through life, working at the family business and creating the life that his family expects for him. He’d once hoped for a different existence, but he’d been forced to move on and make do after Sissy Ames had ended their three-year relationship without an explanation.

Even in their small town, the two have managed to avoid each other, but then Hunter’s fiancée, Sissy’s nemesis, disappears after a suspicious confrontation, leaving them both looking like likely suspects. The only hope they have of clearing their names and figuring out what led to the disappearance is to find the one item that drove them apart two years ago: The Ames BORROWED TREASURE.

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Excerpt

Sissy

Sissy Ames ducked behind the ostentatious flower arrangement with its oversized lilies and Hyacinthian sprays shooting out at unnatural angles. The thickness hid the center of the room but exposed her to the tableclothed tables lining either side where the overdressed elite of Thibodaux and its surrounding areas sat. Tonight represented everything she typically avoided, mainly so that she could stay out of the proximity of the woman commanding the center floor. Why her arch nemesis must flit around the ballroom gloating about her latest accomplishment was beyond Sissy. That woman’s pretentious fake smile and sickly-sweet voice had followed Sissy wherever she went in the large ballroom until her hands had begun to shake and her jaw to ache from the clenching.

Harper, her cousin, approached from the buffet table near the rear of the room. “The lobster bisque’s edible.” Holding out a tiny plastic bowl towards Sissy, Harper shrugged bare shoulders in defeat. Although the food lacked appeal, Harper certainly stunned in the black skintight number Sissy had sent over for her to wear tonight. Sissy had been right to prod the usually casual attired woman into vintage satin as it hugged her hips and showed off the curvy body that Sissy unfortunately did not possess. Sissy had inherited her mother’s straight form among other genetics she wished she could trade in.

Accepting the ecru soup, Sissy’s eyes scanned the crowd, looking for Cecelia Domangue, the bane of her existence since they were fifteen years old and fighting over president of student council. Currently, the petite blonde in a fuchsia Valentino stood chatting with a town councilman and the sheriff, her fake laugh chiming her existence from twenty feet away.

Sissy ran a clear plastic spoon through the watery consistency of the bisque. In her head she mentally critiqued the recipe’s minimal usage of cream. “Anything has to be better than that beef dish.”

Narrowing her emerald eyes, Harper twisted her lips and flashed Sissy a familiar look. Sissy’s cheeks warmed. Her resentment must be showing.

Sissy had submitted a bid to cater the fundraiser tonight in an attempt at a business expansion, but her bid had been accepted under condition. As the serving contract had been awarded to Cecelia’s restaurant Twilight Fare, Sissy would have to submit her recipes to Cecelia for approval and preparation. As if Sissy would ever turn over her recipes to the woman who’d opened a restaurant blocks over in her continuing effort to encroach on every aspect of Sissy’s life. Even if Sissy’s own Bittersweet Café catered to a different crowd than Cecelia’s Twilight Fare, that woman had branched right into catering which Sissy had cautiously tested the waters only a month before Cecelia had gone full blown into advertising her own services.

Harper glanced away to scan the room, and Sissy returned to the soup, which she knew she could have done better. “How long do we have to stay?”

Discarding the bowl, Sissy picked up her champagne glass from the table instead. At least they’d bought the good stuff. “We need to be sure the right people see our faces, but besides from that, the committee already has our hundred bucks a head, so I don’t think they care if we are here an hour or close the place down.”

Tonight’s fundraiser for the Downtown Revitalization committee had the special purpose of raising money to spruce up the downtown area with seasonal decorations to help promote the Christmas festival. The event had filled the local university ballroom with the social society of the small-town area and all its neighboring towns to be sure. As part of the committee, Sissy had aided in promoting the event, even though Cecelia’s recent addition to the committee had managed to sway votes and shut her out of the menu selections.

Harper picked up her own glass from the table and sipped. “I see a few local lawyers from Emmett’s last mixer. I’ll go over and say hello. If I’m lucky, I may get home early enough to speak to Emmett before the different time zones mean he’s sleeping.”

Sissy had Cecelia in her crosshairs, and she waited for her to prance to another unsuspecting guest, so she could emerge from behind the flowers that Sissy had voted against. Currently, Cecelia stood near Rudy Klingman, councilman for her district, who dropped in every Wednesday for a number six special, and she’d promised to propose streetlamps to him on behalf of the committee. Distracted, she asked Harper. “Any indication when he’s going to return from New York?”

Harper shrugged. “He says the case should wrap up in a day or two. I believe he’s enjoying it way too much.”

Sissy waved Harper’s doubt away with her champagned hand. “Pish, Emmett will be home soon, and you two will be making me sick with your sweetness.”

Harper smiled, her olive complexion flushing. “Okay, no arguing with my date tonight, especially since you drove. Let’s make our rounds and be out of here in thirty minutes.”

Sissy nodded and raised her flute in the air as if to toast. “That’s a plan I can drink to.”

Harper clinked her glass against Sissy’s, and then they departed into the mingling crowd.

Avoiding Cecelia’s group, Sissy slunk over to Suzy Rhodes, greeting a few of the lawyers and two judges that frequented her business for lunch during the week. In her two-piece blue suit, Suzy stood removed from the invitees, her eyes watching everyone. Her stance hadn’t changed since high school although she’d updated her attire to pant suits and cut her hair into a short bob she tucked behind her ears. Back then, she’d taken photos for the yearbook and everyone had wanted her attention to get within the pages. Today, she wrote a monthly column in the local entertainment magazine, specifically a review of local eateries. Sissy had attempted getting the café featured for months now, even sending a personalized gift certificate two months ago. The woman had never responded to the invitation nor shown up as even a patron, but Cecelia’s Twilight Fare had been prominently featured, not only as a food review but as a front-page feature on up and coming restaurant owners.

Suzy Rhodes smiled, her cheeks dimpling as Sissy approached. “Why, Sissy Ames, I’m surprised to see you at a swanky function like this. Not your usual soiree, huh?”

Plastering a smile on her face, Sissy drew upon her southern manners she knew lay beyond her desire to give the woman a good tongue lashing. “Since my café is located in the center of downtown, I have a vested interest in its revitalization efforts.”

Laughing airily, Suzy’s eyes wandered the room as if bored with the conversation. “Right, that’s true, your little café is down there. I never remember it’s there.”

Sissy raised an eyebrow, holding her glass closer to her lips. “I know. I’ve invited you several times as part of that little column of yours, but you have yet to accept my invitation.”

A short, fierce laugh escaped as Suzy’s eyes met Sissy’s. She returned to her survey of the room just as quickly though. “My lord Sissy, I can’t accept every invitation I receive.”

“Hmm.” Sissy scanned the room, her eyes naturally falling upon Cecelia, who stood facing Chef Homme from Le Homme, the elegant downtown restaurant. The two’s expressions revealed deep, serious conversation—too serious for a social mixer. “Is that why your material has been repetitive?”

Suzy’s stance shifted. “Excuse me?”

Sissy smiled, tilting her head. “Oh, I thought you were just so busy that you recycled material from the same four restaurants. Everyone has been talking.”

Sissy continued smiling as Suzy’s eyes lit with anger. The dark haired, flat nosed woman bit her tongue though. They’d all been raised too southern to truly speak their minds at events such as these.

“Well, it was nice running into you,” Sissy said, bowing her head in exit. “But I see a city council member I need to have a word with about lamp posts.”

Sissy pivoted, feeling a surge of confidence from the conversation. Moments ago, she’d hid behind hideous flowers to avoid her high school tormentor, but they had grown up, even though some didn’t behave as if they had. Cecelia and even Suzy hid behind country club houses and designer labels still, making others feel as if they didn’t measure up in the circles they all moved in. She had to remind herself in their vicinity that she was proud of her downtown renovated apartment and scavenged consignment finds.

Spotting Cecelia ahead on her path though, she pivoted and turned the other way to avoid her. She told herself that with her new found attitude, she would probably lose her southern manners and regret it later.

Her attention lingered too long over Cecelia, and when she turned, she hit a wall of black cashmere and white softened woven cotton. Reaching her hand out, she pushed herself away, inhaling the masculine smell of sandalwood and musk. From his chest hugging shirt, her eyes followed the Italian silk woven tie in its beautiful pastel green and yellow swirl pattern. The feminine color selection had been a brave choice for a function such as this where the men showcased their masculinity and their pocketbooks. So, he either didn’t know better or his power came with his name.

She continued on up to his tie’s perfectly anchored knot and landed on the chiseled jawline and soft brown, waiting eyes of Hunter Wells.

Her nose flared as she inhaled deeply, an awareness of their nearness. She took a step back.

“Excuse me.” Sissy felt her cheeks burn as the back of her neck flushed.

A light flickered in his warm chocolate eyes.

“Of course.” Hunter nodded, and his lip twitched. “How have you been?”

Hearing her heart pound in her throat, Sissy straightened her spine, bracing herself for the old anger to return, but his nearness tempered any old residual anger.

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About the Author

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Born and raised in Raceland, Louisiana, near Bayou Lafourche, Jessica Tastet uses the places and people of her childhood to create the backdrop of her fictional South Louisiana town in her Raleigh Cheramie series as well as her Treasure Trilogy.

An avid reader, she began writing stories in the sixth grade. The result was a mystery story she promptly shared with all her family and whoever she could convince to read it. She learned the first of many valuable writing lessons with this endeavor: don’t draw your characters too close to real-life people. Since then. she has earned her editing certification from the University of California and an MFA in Creative Writing from National University in California. Presently, she resides in her hometown with her husband and five teenagers where she works with Curriculum for the local school district.

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Blog Tour: The Republic of Love – Carol Shields*

Read my review of The Stone Diaries

A celebration of love in its many guises, The Republic of Love recounts the heartfelt tale of two of life’s unlucky lovers: Fay, a folklorist whose passion for mermaids has kept her from focussing on any one man; and, right across the street, Tom, a popular radio talk-show host who’s been through three marriages and divorces in his search for true happiness.

Touching and ironic, The Republic of Love flies the flag for ordinary love between ordinary people.

‘Vividly fresh, glittering and spangled with fabulous surprises.’ —The Sunday Times

‘The Republic of Love marries a wide diversity of elements, mythical and modern, ironic and moving, exhilarating and melancholy … a love-surveying story that is enticingly seductive.’ —The Times Literary Supplement

Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in the United States, and emigrated to Canada when she was 22. She is acclaimed for her empathetic and witty, yet penetrating insights into human nature. Her most famous novel

Her most famous novel The Stone Diaries was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, along with the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Happenstance was praised as her tour de force, masterly combining two novels in one.

The international bestseller Mary Swann was awarded with the Arthur Ellis Award for best Canadian mystery, while The Republic of Love was chosen as the first runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize.

In 2020, the Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, a North American literary award dedicated to writing by women, was set up in her honour. Her work has been published in over 30 languages.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed this rumination on the subject of romantic love (although it also takes in a few other kinds) through the lives of Tom and Fay, who live across the street from each other. Tom has been married three times, and Fay has had a string of failed relationships.

Both are still looking for the perfect, lifelong love. The one person above all others.

Shields writes with honesty and a clear and concise tone. She had a strong understanding of people and their complexities and simplicities. Buried within the framework of Tom and Fay are lots of other love stories – those of their friends, colleagues and family members. A thousand tiny romances, some that last and some that don’t.

Fay’s godmother, Onion, and her longterm partner only marry as he lies slowly dying in a hospital bed. All those years together and it is only when time is short they make that final commitment. There’s something terribly sad about that but also oddly beautiful.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Blog Tour: The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse – Katie Ginger*

Amelia loves her life in Paris. But with the surprise inheritance of her childhood home, she has no choice but to return to the small village of Meadowbank to restore her great-aunt’s old farmhouse.

However returning to Meadowbank means she has to confront her past, including old flame Adam – the one person she regrets leaving behind.

When Amelia discovers a locket hidden in the farmhouse, containing the picture of a mysterious World War Two soldier, she starts to uncover the secrets of her great-aunt’s past. With Adam on hand to help restore the farmhouse, she’s shocked by his generosity after so many years apart.

As her feelings for her first love reignite, Amelia is suddenly confused as to where she truly belongs.

Can Amelia finally find where her heart truly calls home?

My thoughts:

This was a charming, cosy read, full of heart and warmth. Amelia inherits her great-aunt’s farm and comes back from Paris to look it over with a view to selling it.

Instead she starts to fall in love with the old place and sets out to solve a mystery, who are the people in a locket her aunt kept hidden away, why was Vera so unhappy?

She also reconnects with an old flame, makes a new friend or two, and realises that the village she grew up in isn’t so bad after all.

Sweet and eminently enjoyable.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.