Staying in with Ettie Zilber on Holocaust Remembrance Day

It’s eighteen months since I fulfilled a lifelong ambition and went to Poland to visit Auschwitz so that I could pay my respects to those whose lives were so brutally taken away. However, I must confess that I’ve never really considered those who lived in Lithuania. Consequently, on Holocaust Memorial Day, what better time to ask Dr. Ettie Zilber to stay in with me to chat about a book that has personal links for her?

Staying in with Ettie Zilber

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Ettie and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. 

Hello Linda and thank you for the invitation to stay in with you today.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

It is a special day, as January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I have brought my book, A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America.

So what is A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America all about?

This book is all about remembrance, memory, history, reflection, human strength, courage and resilience. As children of survivors, it was important for me and my sisters to tie together our mother’s fractured anecdotes in a full and chronological testimony. We wanted to know the details, not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our grandchildren. It is important “to remember” our history.

It most certainly is Ettie.

Mom’s stories include memories of my father, as well, as they came from the same city in Lithuania, met and fell in love in the Kovno Ghetto. Unfortunately, Papa died at the age of 66, and, while we did get some anecdotes from him over the years, we missed getting his full testimony. We were determined not to miss another opportunity, and we convinced Mama to be recorded. So, the first chapter is her full transcribed testimony from the moment the Nazis invaded her country and destroyed her world as she knew it – until the day of her liberation – 4 years in total. And, if anyone thinks that life after liberation in March, 1945 was easy – think again. It was fraught with endless dangers and challenges – many died or were killed after the war, as well.  And, this book is also about the impact of the parents’ trauma on the offspring. Thus, the subsequent two chapters are about how the Holocaust impacted my life.

As someone with no direct personal links to the Holocaust Ettie, I can only imagine what those experiences must have been like. A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America sounds like a book we should all read in order that the lives so affected are not forgotten. 

What else have you brought along and why?

I brought old family photos; I always show them, as every telling of the story is a reminder that they once lived a good and normal life before the Holocaust horrors.

Also, while many of you might think that old family photos are mundane – sure, everyone has them at home or in the attic – BUT, most Holocaust survivors were left with nothing-absolutely not one photo to remember the faces of their parents, their children or other relatives who were murdered. I realize how lucky we are because after the war, my mother made a concerted effort to collect copies of family photos from many family branches who left Europe before the war years. Therefore, we have lots of photos – and in my family – they are holy objects. I have also included a number of photos in my book.

Oh Ettie. That has brought a tear to my eye – especially in this world when we live through selfies on our mobile phones.

I also brought a photo of a medal. My grandfather owned a medal just like this one. It is called a ‘savanoris’ medal and it was given by the President of Lithuania to all the “volunteers’ who fought in the military in the Lithuanian war of independence in 1918-1920. My grandfather was very proud of his medal and his service and he always kept his medal in his pocket. Spoiler alert!!!! It saved his life on the day of the massacre. When I went on my trip “in their footsteps” I purchased a replacement medal from an antique dealer. Was it my grandfather’s medal? I will never know…but it really doesn’t matter. It is now a part of our family’s ‘heirlooms.’

I think it is the link with your grandfather that is the vital point here Ettie. 

Tell me, why is it important for people to read non-fictional Holocaust stories?

Unfortunately, there were genocides before and also after the Holocaust. In fact, it was right after the Holocaust that the word ‘genocide’ was coined, in an attempt to describe the indescribable. But, the Holocaust is the largest and one of the most well documented events in human history.  The documentation from the Nazis themselves, from other government and military  documents, eye-witness accounts, films/images, and from survivor testimonies, fills numerous archives, university libraries, and museums. Yet, we see an uptick of Holocaust denial and distortion and a downturn in even basic knowledge about this event by the younger generations. We have also seen a huge uptick in antisemitism and racism – worldwide. Reading testimonies (or listening to recordings) about the Holocaust describe incomprehensible human cruelty and evil; but, they also offer us lessons about the human spirit, courage, strength and resilience.  Such stories are inspirational and sorely needed during challenging times.

I couldn’t agree more Ettie. Thank you so much for staying in with me to talk about A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America on such an important day. I wish you every success with your book, but also with retaining the memories of those who perished so awfully. 

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America

With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust.

Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.

Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected—a secret marriage in the ghetto, escapes, dangerous border crossings, reunifications, and life-saving friendships.

Ettie’s quest to learn more about her ancestry led her to Lithuania and Poland–in her mother’s footsteps. The author reflects on the impact of her family’s experiences on her own beliefs and behaviors, thereby adding to the literature about Second Generation and transgenerational trauma.

In these memoirs she honors her family by telling their amazing story of survival and collects evidence to corroborate their painful history.

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America is available for purchase directly from Amsterdam Publishers here with more about Ettie’s family and story too. It is also available here.

About Ettie Zilber

Dr. Zilber was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany to two Holocaust survivor parents from Lithuania and immigrated to the USA as a child. She has recently retired from a career teaching in and leading international schools in Israel, Singapore, Spain, Guatemala, China and the USA.  She researched the topic of Third Culture Kids and published the results in a book in 2009: Third Culture Kids: Children of International School Educators (available here).

Ettie is married and has three children and three grandchildren.  For more information about Ettie, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @DrZilber.

A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion

My enormous thanks to Lauren Nicholl at Faber for sending me a surprise copy of A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion in return for an honest review. Lauren obviously knows my reader taste completely and I’m delighted to share my review of A Crooked Tree today.

Published by Faber and Faber on 28th January 2021, A Crooked Tree is available for purchase through the publisher links.

A Crooked Tree

Rage. That’s the feeling engulfing the car as Ellen’s mother swerves over to the hard-shoulder and orders her daughter out onto the roadside. Ignoring the protests of her other children, she accelerates away, leaving Ellen standing on the gravel verge in her school pinafore and knee socks as the light fades.

What would you do as you watch your little sister getting smaller in the rear view window? How far would you be willing to go to help her? The Gallagher children are going to find out. This moment is the beginning of a summer that will change everything.

My Review of A Crooked Tree

Ellen’s journey home has repercussions for the whole family.

I loved A Crooked Tree because it is beautifully written, literary and simultaneously accessible so that it mesmerises the reader and captivates them completely. It’s so difficult to define where A Crooked Tree sits, as it is part coming of age story, part intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family and community, and part thriller, but however the genre is defined, this is a fantastic read. The atmosphere builds and builds throughout with dramatic repercussions that are perfectly pitched against the quieter and more emotional and reflective aspects in a plot that I found totally compelling. Add in the vivid settings, the suspicions and superstitions linked with the almost primeval past and place and A Crooked Tree resonates across time and space.

The mountain setting is both threatening and protective. I thought the title A Crooked Tree was inspired. Not only is there a physical crooked tree that acts as a way marker on the wooded trail, but the reasons why a tree might become crooked underpin perfectly the themes of the story in a touching metaphor, especially with regard to Libby and her father. It’s not possible to explain more without spoiling both character and plot, but suffice to say, this is impressive and absorbing writing.

I felt tense much of the time I was reading because of the lurking and claustrophobic sense of dread, and the wistfulness and unhappiness that is so integral to Libby’s narrative voice. This effect penetrates the reader’s psyche until they are completely hooked, feeling Libby’s emotions with her. In fact, I adored the characterisation because of Una Mannion’s sensitive portrayal of flawed individuals doing their best. I think every one of us will have felt Libby’s rage, sadness, guilt, shame, excitement and fear at some point in our lives. Even Faye, whose actions ought to be reprehensible, garners our understanding and empathy.

A Crooked Tree is an atmospheric and affecting read that I thought was wonderful. With pitch perfect plotting, A Crooked Tree is frequently poetic and imbued with emotion that is perfectly balanced against action. This is a book to savour, to touch the reader and to celebrate. I loved it.

About Una Mannion

Una Mannion was born in Philadelphia and lives in County Sligo Ireland. She has won numerous prizes for her work including the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award and the Doolin, Cúirt, Allingham and Ambit short story prizes. Her work has been published in The Irish TimesThe Lonely Crowd, Crannóg and Bare Fiction. She edits The Cormorant, a broadsheet of prose and poetry.

You can find out more about Una by visiting her website and finding her on Instagram.

Nicky & Vera by Peter Sis

All kinds of surprise books pop through my letterbox and I try to catalogue them and read them in the order they arrive. That said, I was so drawn to Peter Sis’ children’s book Nicky & Vera that arrived unexpectedly last week that I simply had to share my review today. My enormous thanks to Oliver Wearing at Norton for sending me a copy.

Published by Norton Young Readers today, 26th January 2021, Nicky & Vera is available for purchase here and directly from the publisher Norton.

Nicky & Vera

In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia – a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.

Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatises Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities one her birthright, the other her choice.

Nicky & Vera is a masterful tribute to a humble man’s courageous efforts to protect Europe’s most vulnerable, and a timely portrayal of the hopes and fears of those forced to leave their homes and create new lives.

You can see Nicholas Winton meeting those he saved here.

My Review of Nicky & Vera

The true story of Sir Nicholas Winton.

Oh my word. What a moving, beautiful book Nicky & Vera is. I must mention the wonderful physical quality of Peter Sis’s book. The slip cover is smooth and luxurious with flaps that give readers critical information both about the author and Nicholas Winton. Underneath the slip cover is a robust hard backed book that has the ghostly indented imprint of a train that I found very affecting. Nicky & Vera is a book that will withstand much use in the home or classroom. In the author’s note there is further information that can be read independently by more confident young readers or by older readers.

Within the pages of Nicky & Vera the story of Sir Nicholas Winton and one of the children he rescued, Vera Gissing, is simply written with an accessible font and sentence structure. This simplicity not only makes the book appeal to young readers, but it enhances the depth of the story too by way of contrast between presentation and subject. What Peter Sis has managed to do is to bring to life, and make personal, a story that was reality to so many during WW2. Indeed, although I understand the reading age of the story is around 6-8, the manner of presentation means this book would afford the opportunity for older, less confident, readers to succeed in reading a complete book and gain a positive sense of success.

However, it is the illustrations that are magical in conveying the real narrative. There’s a softness and ghostliness to them that is so moving. It feels slightly embarrassing to say that an illustration in a child’s picture book moved me to tears, but when I turned the page to see the pictures of the children Nicholas Winton saved within the adults standing up for him, it really brought home to me just what a hero this man was. As Peter Sis himself says, we talk very loosely about heroes – a young man scoring a goal in football perhaps, or a cricketer scoring a century, but Nicky & Vera teaches children (and adults) the true meaning of the word – Nicholas Winton was an unassuming young man whose actions saved the lives of 669 children. That’s a real hero.

Nicky & Vera is a lovely, lovely book. It is historically accurate, engaging, beautifully illustrated and very moving. Peter Sis has created a book that will endure every much as well as Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows and is every bit as important.

About Peter Sis

Peter Sís is the Czech-born author/illustrator of three Caldecott Honor books, including The Wall, which also won the Sibert Medal. He is the first children’s book illustrator to win the MacArthur Fellowship, and also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in Irvington, New York.

Staying in with C. P. Riches

Once again I’m frustrated by the fact I simply cannot read every book that comes my way. However, I am fortunate that authors are willing to stay in with me to chat about their writing. Today I’m delighted to welcome C.P. Riches to Linda’s Book Bag.

Staying in with C.P Riches

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag ChrisThank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Hi Linda, the pleasure is all mine. Thanks very much for inviting me to your site. It really is a haven for juicy book content here and I love what you are doing to showcase authors and satisfy hungry readers everywhere.

Ha! ‘inviting’ – I like what you did there! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought along my debut the novel The Invite and I can’t wait for you to read it!

Congratulations on your debut. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Invite?

Quite simply, readers will be snatched away from reality and endure a rollercoaster ride for the night.

The Invite is a fantasy fiction novel where one girl’s phone obsession sparks a sinister chain of events…

The reader will be taken on perilous journey where the boundaries of technology and real life become blurred for troubled teen Lindsey Hoodwink who must face her demons in a quest for survival or escape.

Crikey, that sounds a fast paced experience!

A prior warning though, readers can expect to experience every emotion under the sun in one fell swoop. The Invite might only be a quick read, but I wanted it to pack a punch. Apologies in advance if your whole evening has just been stolen from you!

I think The Invite sounds great. What have readers thought so far?

One reader stated: ‘I couldn’t put this book down! The concept was very original, but a very true representation of the modern-day problems with addiction to social media and technology. If you’re looking for a teenage drama with a twist, then I would highly recommend The Invite.’

How wonderful. You must be delighted with that kind of feedback.

Aside from being a flipping good read (ok maybe I’m a little biased, getting carried away even) on a more serious note, The Invite aims to encourage readers to really think about their unhealthy phone and social media habits. The whole concept for the story was inspired by my very own family and friends, many of whom were practically glued to their screens all the time. This made me realise that even I was obsessed.

I think many of us are Chris.

I never set out to preach the message of addiction, an idea just came to me and I ran with it. If it means that I made one reader offer a moment’s thought to how much they use their phone, then that is enough for me.

I hope you enjoy Lindsey’s night of torment.

You’ve really intrigued me. I might have to try to squeeze in a read of The Invite now after all!

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Can I say my smartphone to be controversial? I joke of course.

Phew!

Given that this is my debut novel, some bubbles might be in order. I’m not typically a big fan of Champagne to be honest. Beer is my usual tipple of choice. However on the day I finally made my dreams a reality, the moment myself and my fiancé Jenny popped the cork, never felt so sweet. Any sniff of an occasion now and I will gladly put the champers on ice. Ok I guess bubbly might be a bit overkill given that we are in another lockdown, so I have included a picture of my publishing toast above. FYI it also just happened to be Halloween.

Oh, I’m rather partial to champagne Chris so if you’d rather have a beer I can help you out with the bubbles! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Invite. I think it sounds a thrilling read and I wish you every success with it.

The Invite

Lindsey Hoodwink’s only escape from a turbulent teenage existence is through her smartphone.

When the perfect chance to gain social status and bag the boy of her dreams is unfairly snatched away, Lindsey’s smartphone is once again there to pick up the pieces.

But when an unexpected ‘invite’ diverts all attention, the boundaries of technology and real life, become unbelievably blurred…

In a perilous quest against the tyranny of addiction, will this troubled teen learn the lesson on what it really means to escape?

The Invite is available for purchase here.

About C.P. Riches

C.P Riches is a British author who writes fantasy fiction novels for both teenagers and adults.

His debut novel The Invite was published in 2020 and is available on Amazon now.

The author graduated with Honours from The University of Central Lancashire in 2011 before working as a Journalist for a year. He has since gone on to apply his skills in the educational publishing and recruitment sectors. He is passionate about green living and often blogs about the serious implications of climate change in his spare time on his site.

C.P Riches lives on the outskirts of Merseyside with fiancé Jenny and loves to spend his spare time climbing walls, growing veg and watching sports.

For more information, follow C.P Riches on Twitter @CPRiches1 or find him on Instagram and Facebook.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Having just interviewed Hannah Gold for the I’d Rather Be In Deeping magazine (interview here) and with Hannah being a local to me author who, along with Elly Griffiths, is one the Deepings Literary Festival children’s writing competition judges, I was thrilled when Tina Mories of Harper Collins Children’s Books asked me if I would like a copy of Hannah’s The Last Bear for review. With an endorsement by Michael Morpurgo on the front cover to The Last Bear how could I refuse? I’m delighted to share that review today. I was reading a proof copy with artwork by Levi Pinfold to come, but you’ll find examples of the wonderful illustrations here.

The Last Bear is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books on 18th February 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Last Bear

Imagine making friends with a polar bear… The Last Bear is perfect for readers of 8+, beautifully illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold – winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and illustrator of Harry Potter 20th anniversary edition covers.

“This is an important first novel, important for us, for polar bears, for the planet. It is deeply moving, beautifully told, quite unforgettable.” Michael Morpurgo.

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s.

My Review of The Last Bear

April’s father has a new job in the Arctic Circle.

I’m slightly at a loss to know how to review The Last Bear. It is one of the most glorious children’s books I’ve ever read, with a depth and understanding shining through Hannah Gold’s writing that is enormously affecting. The Last Bear deserves to take its place alongside the canon of the best of children’s fiction. Add in the breathtakingly beautiful illustrations by Levi Pinfold and this is a book to gift, to cherish and to return to time and again.

Firstly, the plot is gripping, fast paced and totally believable, despite the unusual premise of a small 11 year old girl befriending a polar bear, so that even the most reluctant of young readers cannot fail to be ensnared and captivated. It isn’t just the narrative proper that holds such power, but the death of April’s mother in the past, and the potential for events in the future that leave leave the reader thinking about The Last Bear long after the final page is read.

The environmental aspect of The Last Bear is, of course, vital to the plot and overall message that humans need to do more to protect the environment. Shrinking ice caps, plastics in the sea, and the negative impact of humans on the natural world underpin the story. However, whilst this might sound as if The Last Bear is preachily worthy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hannah Gold integrates these aspects so naturally and so brilliantly that they have incredible power almost without the reader realising. Through April’s adventures, The Last Bear inspires readers to want to make a positive difference to the planet.

It comes as no surprise to me to learn that Hannah Gold has worked in film and magazine industries because the sensory elements of her writing make the story leap from the page. Every sense is catered for so that the reader is placed alongside April, experiencing life on Bear Island with her, just as vividly as if they were actually there. I was totally transported by this aspect of The Last Bear.

The characterisation in The Last Bear is stunning. With most of the narrative involving April and Bear with her father alongside, there is the opportunity to see right into the soul of these characters because they are presented with such humanity and insight in a totally accessible manner. April is not easily accepted by her peers and those children who feel as if they are slightly an outsider will find solace and inspiration in April’s story. I love the fact that she has an affinity with nature, that she illustrates that although she’s an 11 year old girl she has the ability to affect change and be interested in the world around her. However, it was the intimacy of her relationship with Bear and her father that almost broke me. Her need to be loved, her desire for attention from her heartbroken, grief stricken, work obsessed father and the way she listened to the natural world had a physical effect on me. There’s a profound sadness that made me weep and an ultimate feeling of hope that imbued me with positivity. I’d defy a reader of any age not to be moved and affected by this book.

With websites for further investigation and a letter and note from the author too, The Last Bear is a book that speaks directly to children of all ages and makes them part of the story, not just of this bear, but of the planet as a whole. I feel it might just be one of the most important children’s books of the decade. It’s beautifully written, exciting and moving to read and as close to perfect that a children’s book can be. I thought it it was wonderful, utterly outstanding, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold worked in the film and magazine industries before taking time out to pursue her dream of writing. She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat and her husband.

For more information, visit Hannah’s website, follow her on Twitter @HGold_author, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr

I first encountered The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr when I ‘attended’ The #Quercus2021 Word of Mouth event last October. I wrote about that event here. I was delighted that The Prophets was included in a goody box I was sent prior to that event because I studied slavery and emancipation in the USA as part of my degree and am thrilled to share my review today.

The Prophets was published by Quercus imprint Riverrun on 5th January 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Prophets

In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.

The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.

But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.

The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr’s breathtaking debut, The Prophets.

My Review of The Prophets

The Halifax slave plantation, Empty, seethes with emotions from love to hate, fear to triumph, guilt to joy so that Robert Jones Jr has woven a searing tale that unsettles, educates and leaves the reader reeling.

I think The Prophets might divide reader opinion and I have to admit that it took me a while to settle into the narrative style, but I ended up completely mesmerised. I did not find The Prophets an easy book to read for several reasons. Structurally it is complex and although the narrative is essentially linear with a pace that races along, there are layers of religion, history, myth and black culture outside my white, middle aged, British perspective and experience. With many voices and perspectives, it needs the reader to concentrate; to listen as closely to what isn’t said or written, as much as to what is uttered aloud or evident on the page, so that it’s a book that obfuscates and reveals in equal measure. This is by no means a criticism, but rather equates to one of the book’s strengths. Robert Jones Jr ensures his reader questions their beliefs, their assumptive understanding of the past and people, and gives them food for thought long after they have closed the pages of The Prophets. I found it disturbing, enlightening and completely, horrifyingly compelling.

Robert Jones Jr’s writing is sumptuous, even when he is describing the most unpalatable scenes or truths. Descriptions are vivid, poetic and haunting and each seems imbued with emotional depth making for a truly remarkable read. The slave plantation may be called Empty, but life here is so clearly depicted that I felt The Prophets had an astounding visual quality that made it tangible.

Similarly, the characters are a kaleidoscope that shifts and changes with each twist of the narrative. Sexuality and gender is blurred and fluid so that kings can be female for example, adding to the depth and mystery in the writing. Although Samuel and Isaiah’s homosexual relationship is the catalyst for much of the action precipitated by Adam, I found the women the most compelling characters. Maggie and Essie in particular illustrate all the oxymoronic explorations of power and subjugation that Robert Jones Jr weaves through the story.

Themes of betrayal, race, sexuality, guilt and all forms of love are so intricately woven in this narrative that it holds the reader spellbound. I can’t profess to having understood every nuance or sentence in The Prophets, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t left me moved, appalled and enthralled. Sometimes I felt a visceral response without truly comprehending why. Not all readers will find The Prophets accessible but I would urge them to read it nonetheless. It’s an astounding book.

About Robert Jones Jr

Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned both his B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. His work has been featured in The New York TimesEssence and The Paris Review. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin. The Prophets is his debut novel.

You can follow Robert on Twitter @SonofBaldwin for more information and visit his website. You’ll also find Robert on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Tom Brown on The Corporate Menagerie Publication Day

My enormous thanks to Michelle Stannard at Digivolve Media for putting me in touch with Tom Brown so that we can stay in together to chat all about Tom’s brand new book. I love finding out about unusual texts and I think Tom’s book fits that perfectly! Let’s find out what he told me:

Staying in with Tom Brown

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Tom and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thank you for having me Linda.

I rather think I know Tom, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The Corporate Menagerie. The Corporate Menagerie is a book about people, their behaviours and relationships and uses animals and other creatures as the human analogies. This anthropomorphising seemed to me a neat way of achieving my twin objectives for the book, which is to educate and entertain, and to reach the widest potential audience. Most of the characters are known to me – and indeed will be recognisable to many readers – as people I have met, worked with, or enjoyed a relationship with during my lifetime, many through business, hence the title.

The Corporate Menagerie sounds fascinating Tom and I understand it is out today so very many congratulations. What can we expect from an evening with The Corporate Menagerie?

My inspiration and motivation for The Corporate Menagerie derives from my experience of working with a diverse range of individuals over the years, which has given rise to a deep-seated belief that many have a limited understanding of how to relate to people on an individual level or to manage, motivate, and collaborate with others.

Ha! Having worked with literally thousands of people through my own career Tom, I totally agree! 

I wanted to produce something different from the academic, technical approach and the plethora of books on the subject of human behaviour and to strike a balance between knowledge and enjoyment. To elaborate on the uniqueness of The Corporate Menagerie, the narrative is provided in verse, and the challenge here was to use different poetic styles and length to maintain interest and enjoyment for the reader.

That sounds quite a challenge. I’m intrigued by The Corporate Menagerie. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought a couple of illustrations as I decided at the outset that The Corporate Menagerie needed to be illustrated to enhance its appeal. I did not want to use cartoon type illustrations as I felt this might reduce the integrity of the content and I managed to find an excellent illustrator who understood my desire for classy illustrations that would illuminate the message from each character.

Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Corporate Menagerie Tom. Happy publication day and I hope it does really well for you. 

Thanks Linda. It feels quite daunting putting my book up for evaluation by experienced, qualified people and I will keep my fingers crossed that it has some appeal for you.

I’m sure it will! Let me give blog readers a little more information:

The Corporate Menagerie

The Corporate Menagerie is a study in human behaviour and relationships, which uses animals, birds, insects and even the odd dinosaur to portray the diverse human characters whom Tom has met throughout his life and his work.

Here, you will explore a wide range of ‘people’ issues from leadership, personal development, emotional intelligence, and some of the more sensitive topics such as diversity, bullying and absence management.

These creature analogies combine serious topics in a poetic, thoughtful and light-hearted way, to highlight issues that affect us all. The Corporate Menagerie is a great learning tool or simply an entertaining and enjoyable read.

The Corporate Menagerie is available for purchase here.

About Tom Brown

Tom is a Chartered Banker (MICBS) by profession and spent 28 years working for RBS until 1997, latterly as Chief Manager (Retail Banking).

Since then,  he has been owner/manager of Training Concepts (TCL), which specialises in the design and delivery of soft skills development programmes. During this time, the Company has gained four National Training Awards.

Additionally, from time to time, Tom has acted as an external student project evaluator at Edinburgh Napier University Business School.

In tandem with Tom’s work for his business, and being a prolific reader, he has, since leaving the financial services industry, cultivated a keen interest in writing, particularly poetry, which has resulted in him producing a number of short stories and poems, none of which he has, so far, sought to publish.

Tom did, however, in 2018, self-publish a niche Book, Pride of Lions, which captured Celtic Football Club’s unique and successful pursuit of the European Cup in 1967 which stills sells steadily. As a result of this relative success, Tom undertook to produce The Corporate Menagerie which he is once more self-publishing. He did not pursue a publishing deal for either Book.

Tom is 69, and lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Alison. He has four grown up children and five grandchildren and enjoys all sports, especially football and cricket, reading and music. Writing is Tom’s passion.

You can find out more by visiting Tom’s website, finding him on Facebook or following him on Twitter @TomBrownAuthor1.

 

Cover Reveal: The Cosy Little Cupcake Van by Annette Hannah

It’s no secret that romantic novelist, the lovely Annette Hannah is a personal friend and so it gives me enormous pleasure to support her latest novel, The Cosy Little Cupcake Van by sharing this cover reveal today. I also have a gorgeous extract for you too!

I last featured Annette here on Linda’s Book Bag when we stayed in together and I reviewed her fabulous debut Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe. I can’t wait to read this new book too.

Let’s see what Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe has to offer!

The Cosy Little Cupcake Van

A deliciously feelgood romance, perfect for fans of Cathy Bramley, Ali McNamara and Rebecca Raisin!

Camilla’s delicious cakes are the talk of her village. If you need a perfectly iced mouthful of joy, Camilla “Cupcake” is your woman. But after losing her mother, she finds her home and her business in jeopardy. She needs a little helping hand…

Thankfully her friends are always there for her, and when she is given an old ice cream van, Camilla’s dream of a cupcake delivery service is born. Now she can bring happiness – and buttercream frosting – to the whole town.

But when her ex Blake appears back on her doorstep, Camilla must decide if she can trust him again or if her heart might belong to someone else…

Bursting with romance and sprinkled with humour, this is a deliciously feel-good story about one woman putting her life back together, one cupcake at a time.

Published by Orion imprint Dash on 22nd March 2021, The Cosy Little Cupcake Van is available for pre-order here.

An Extract from The Cosy Little Cupcake Van

Chapter 1

Six months later

‘Camilla Lockley?’ asked the heavyset man who towered over her, blocking out the light as she placed the second of the boxes in the back of the car.

‘Yes, that’s me. Can I help you?’ She slammed the boot shut and made her way to the driver’s seat.

‘I’m from Bingley and Dobbs and I’m afraid we are repossessing this vehicle due to non-payment. The details are all here.’ He shoved a couple of scary-looking legal documents into her hand.

She tried to make sense of them, but the words seemed to dart around the page like ants on a pavement as her nerves got the better of her. The red stamp saying ‘Repossession’ across it though made it quite clear.

‘Can I have the keys please?’

‘Look, there must be some misunderstanding. I’ll be getting paid for this wedding cake in a couple of hours, so I’ll be able to pay this month’s instalment.’

‘I’m afraid it’s gone beyond that, miss, so can I just have the keys and I’ll be on my way?’

Resigned to the fact that this was a fight she couldn’t possibly win she lifted the two square white boxes from the boot, one by one, and carefully rested the heavier one on a sturdy hedge with the smaller one next to it.

‘I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could give me a lift is there?’ She gave him an exaggerated smile that she imagined made her look more delirious than friendly. He didn’t bother to respond and closed the boot with a slam. ‘Would you consider a cake in lieu of payment?’ she shouted to what used to be her little pink Fiat 500 as it sped off.

*

I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens next to Camilla!

About Annette Hannah

Annette Hannah Author Pic

Annette Hannah is a Liver Bird who relocated to leafy Hertfordshire in the 80’s and now lives near a river with her husband, two of their three grown up children and a crazy black cocker spaniel. She writes romantic comedies in settings inspired by the beautiful countryside around her and always with a nod to her hometown. As an avid reader she became a book blogger and eventually realised her dream to become an author in 2020.

She loves long walks along the river, travelling to far flung places, the odd glass of Pinot Blush and spending time with her friends and family.

You can find out more by visiting Annette’s blog or website and following her on Twitter @AnnetteHannah.

Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien

My enormous thanks to David Borrowdale at Reflex Press for a copy of Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien in return for an honest review. I don’t read enough novellas or flash fiction and Straw Gods is the perfect way to combine the two!

Straw Gods is available for purchase here.

Straw Gods

A straw man hung above my door like a ward of protection. Really it was a lure to charm my dead husband back. But it, like my other delusions and lies, drew lightning.

Ten years after the death of her husband, Rosa struggles to move on and takes solace in rituals and superstition. Sol, a young fisherman, braves the sea to prove himself to an absent father. As a storm rips through the small community, disaster lays bare old secrets. Rosa and Sol’s lives tangle in tragic circumstances, forcing them to face the truth about themselves and the ones they loved.

Straw Godsis the debut novella-in-flash from Tom O’Brien, a heart-wrenching drama both moving and exhilarating, perceptively exploring the effects of grief and the lasting bonds of family and friendship.

My Review of Straw Gods

39 flash fictions making a complete narrative.

If I said I had no intention of reading Straw Gods when I did, but I thought I’d look at the first entry and was so incredibly moved and mesmerised by Tom O’Brien’s writing that I simply couldn’t tear myself away until I had consumed it all – twice – you’ll understand what a special book Straw Gods is. It is absolutely magnificent and will be heading straight onto my books of the year list for 2021.

The intensity of emotion is Straw Gods is physical. I could feel Rosa’s grief as acutely as if it were my own. And yet Straw Gods is not a depressing read despite the visceral depth of feeling. Tom O’Brien articulates so beautifully how grief can affect us, through his poetic and enchanting writing, that he brings comfort to the reader in knowing others have experienced such feelings too. Reading Straw Gods is cathartic as much as it is captivating.

Each of the individually titled chapters or flash fictions works as a complete piece that can be appreciated alone, but added together into the riveting, fast paced narrative Tom O’Brien provides in Straw Gods, they become breath-taking. There were moments when I gasped aloud as read. I wept too – not just for Rosa and Sol, but for myself and all those who’ve encountered grief in their lives. This really is a book that delivers far more than might be expected. I thought of each entry a bit like a diamond that sparkles and gleams perfectly well alone, but when added to all the other pieces, becomes dazzling so that I could not tear myself away from Tom O’Brien’s words.

Rosa is such a vivid character that I felt less that I was reading about her and more that I was experiencing every nuance of emotion she experiences. This effect is achieved through her compelling first person voice. Bordering insanity in her grief, Rosa distils grief into behaviours and feelings any reader will relate to and this is surprisingly comforting. I loved the way she reaches her personal nadir but is not entirely defeated.

Obviously grief is a major theme in Straw Gods, but there is so much more besides woven into the writing. Themes of marriage, family, self-deception, community, friendship, nature and superstition are just few aspects of this glorious text that hook the reader.

I’m finding it difficult to convey how wonderful I think Straw Gods is, but I would say please don’t let it be a quiet book that few read. Tom O’Brien’s exquisite skill needs lauding from the rooftops. In this slim volume is the essence of humanity, of grief, of honesty and of hope. Straw Gods is utterly fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Tom O’Brien

Tom O’Brien is an Irish writer living in London. Having had film scripts optioned and produced he moved across to prose where he’s been widely published and anthologised in print and online. He’s been long and shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Ellipsis Zine Flash Collection Competition and the Colm Tóibín Short Story Award, amongst others.

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomwrote or visit his website for more information.

Staying in with Gordon Bickerstaff

One of the pleasures of blogging is being acknowledged by authors. Consequently, I simply had to invite thriller writer Gordon Bickerstaff onto Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me about one of his book because, as well as hearing readers rave about Gordon’s books, Gordon is an author who promotes and supports bloggers. I wanted to return the favour. Luckily he agreed to stay in with me!

Staying in with Gordon Bickerstaff

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Gordon and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought along the third book in my series of standalone thrillers from the Lambeth Group series, The Black Fox. I am particularly pleased with this one because I loved writing it, and I am especially proud because it won several awards.

Congratulations on your success with The Black Fox Gordon. I’ve read rave reviews of your books so I’m not surprised to hear they are award winning. So, tell us a bit about the The Black Fox.

The idea for the book came to me when I was a fresher student at Heriot-Watt University in the early 1970s. Excitedly, I went along to a seminar to see the Loch Ness Monster. It was a talk given by Tim Dinsdale, and sure enough he showed us a picture of the Loch Ness Monster. Well, sort of; it was a picture of a fin. He also showed convincing sonar evidence taken by a top-notch research team from the USA as evidence.

Oh. I wouldn’t have expected that. I bet that made you think!

Now, everyone in Scotland knows that the Monster is a tourist attraction for the Scottish Highlands. So, I began to wonder what the Americans were doing in Loch Ness with sophisticated strobe-light cameras and state-of-the-art sonar equipment.

I’ve brought along the famous picture of the Tim Dinsdale’s Loch Ness Monster, or rather a fin, which he said at the time measured six feet in width. Reportedly taken deep in the bowels of Loch Ness by the American team using a motion-activated strobe-light camera.

I think that looks quite creepy Gordon.

Then, by chance, I read about the bizarre unexplained mystery surrounding Rudolph Hess. On May 10th, 1941, Rudolph Hess, the Nazi Deputy Leader, flew a Messerschmitt to central Scotland on a secret mission. He had maps of Inverness. He ran out of fuel because of zigzag manoeuvres to evade detection, parachuted out, and a farmer captured him. The British could have made great propaganda from the capture but instead, kept him in strict isolation.

Crikey!

After the war, he was convicted of conspiracy, and sentenced to life in Spandau Prison. His secret mission remained undiscovered, so in a bizarre situation, the four Allied powers managed his imprisonment in rotation: France, Britain, the US, and the Soviets. Then at the ripe old age of 94, and very feeble. He hanged himself. The USA was guarding him when he died. So, I pondered over these mysteries, which link America to Rudolph Hess to Scotland and Loch Ness. I stirred in a healthy dose of fiction, and a great story came out of the pot.

Wow. That sounds brilliant. I love fiction founded in fact. I must get round to reading The Black Fox. As well as gthe Loch Ness still, what else have you brought along?

I’ve brought along a picture of Urquhart Castle beside Loch Ness. The final climactic scene is set here.

If the book is as dramatic as the landscape, readers are in for a treat. I know The Black Fox is part of a series. Can it be read independently of the other books?

The Black Fox is the third in the Lambeth Group series. These thrillers are standalone stories that can be ready in any order, but if read in order, development of the main characters builds through the series.

That’s good to know. How would you define the series?

I’m asked from time to time if the stories are crime thrillers. They are not police procedural or detective stories. The Lambeth Group is a secret government department, which brings academics and special forces operatives together to work undercover on specialist criminal and conspiracy investigations deemed too secret and too dangerous for the public judiciary system.

The series take inspiration from the 1970s TV series ‘Doomwatch’. A secret government department, which deploys scientists along with intelligence operatives to investigate, neutralise, and protect the national infrastructure of the UK.

The principal characters are special forces-trained, Zoe Tampsin and university academic, Gavin Shawlens. One Amazon reviewer described the series as Mission Impossible meets James Bond with Zoe as Ethan Hunt and Gavin as Benji Dunn. All the books except the first (Deadly Secrets), feature Zoe as a smart and capable undercover intelligence operative who uses brains and cunning to overcome her adversaries.

I think The Black Fox – and, indeed, the entire Lambeth Group Series – sounds thrilling. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about it Gordon.

The Black Fox

Readers’ Favorite Book Awards 2019
Gold Medal Winner in Thriller/Espionage.
A full package of action, adventure, mystery, and thriller suspense with an exhilarating female lead.

Zoe Tampsin is resourceful, smart and special forces-trained, but she has been given an impossible mission. She must protect scientist, Gavin Shawlens, from assassination by the CIA, and discover the secret trapped in Gavin’s mind that the CIA want destroyed.

As the pressure to find Shawlens escalates – the CIA send Zoe’s former mentor to track her down and her fate seems sealed when he surrounds Zoe and Gavin with a ring of steel. With each hour that passes, the ring is tightened, and the window for discovering Gavin’s secret will shut. Zoe is faced with a decision that goes against all of her survival instincts. If she is wrong -they both die. If she is right – she will discover the secret and become the next target for assassination. Run for your life…

The Black Fox is available for purchase here.

About Gordon Bickerstaff

Gordon Bickerstaff hails from Glasgow. He taught biochemistry at several Scottish universities, and undertook laboratory research on enzymes. After thirty years of university teaching and research, including 25 years as an Open University tutor, he retired his academic pen, and picked up a fiction pen.

Gordon lives with my wife in central Scotland where corrupt academics, mystery, murder, and intrigue exists mostly in my mind. He enjoys reading, writing, walking in the hills, 60s & 70s music, and travel.

For more information, visit Gordon’s website, find him on Facebook and Amazon or follow him on Twitter @GFBickerstaff.