The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

With Punch, the only children’s novel by Barbara Henderson I’ve yet to read but which is sitting waiting on my TBR, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her latest book The Chessmen Thief. My grateful thanks to Antonia Wilkinson for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of The Chessmen Thief in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today along with a wonderful guest post on writing action scenes from Barbara.

The Chessmen Thief was published by Cranachan’s imprint Pokey Hat on 29th April 2021 and is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

To see why I love Barbara’s writing so much you can find:

My review of Fir For Luck here (also one of my books of the year in 2016).

A smashing guest post from Barbara about Fir For Luck publication day here.

Another super post from Barbara about why a book launch matters to celebrate Punch here.

A guest post from Barbara about nature and my review of Wilderness Wars here.

A guest post about novels and novellas and my review of Black Water here.

My review of The Siege of Caerlaverock alongside a guest post from Barbara about Heraldic poetry here. The Siege of Caerlaverock was also one of my 2020 Books of the Year.

The Chessmen Thief

Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.

The precious Lewis Chessmen―which he helped carve―hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.

One false move could cost him his life.

The Chessmen Thief

Action scenes and how to write them

A guest post by Barbara Henderson

The final edits for The Chessmen Thief were complete. My editor and I had spent almost two hours on the final phone call, the one where we haggle over hyphens and discuss semi-colons, sometimes removing them only to put them back in. The book was a wrap. I leaned back into my chair and asked her: ‘Now that we’re done, can you tell me – which bit of the book do you actually like best?’

She thought for a moment. ‘The action scenes,’ she answered simply.

‘Me too.’

It really is strange – I am not particularly drawn to action films, but in children’s books, these pages of increased pace and raised stakes are essential to engage today’s young readers. Moreover, their magic seems to reel in readers like me in the same way. An action scene works like a quick turbocharge of energy, giving the plot new momentum.

I am not suggesting that I am an expert at all – there are far more experienced authors for children around. But I am more than happy to share what I have learned so far. Ladies and gentlemen, according to my limited wisdom, here is how an action scene should work. I am drawing on chapters 13 and 14 of The Chessmen Thief to show what I mean. 😊

Number 1: Come from a place of calm before introducing the threat.

When the wind picks up and carries us in the exact direction we want to go, we step away from the oars and relax. I climb the first level of the mast where I like it the best. No one judges me there or asks me questions.

Until I see it in the distance. Unmistakeable: another vessel, making straight for us.

Number2: Take a moment to describe your character’s reaction. It works best if the other characters do not recognise the danger. This technique is called dramatic irony – the reader understands more than the characters do, heightening the tension.

My stomach tumbles and my lungs do something they have never done before: refuse to inhale and exhale. Instead, a strange kind of panting is all I am capable of, with the weight of all the oceans in the world on my heart.

‘Raiders!’ I shout, but all that emerges from my throat is a croak. The men below are singing and sharing a quick horn of ale before their muscle power is required again, and a couple are relieving themselves over the side of the boat. ‘Raiders!’ I yell, a little louder, but still no one pays me any heed.

Number 3: Up the jeopardy. The reader needs to understand what is at stake.

As the ship approaches, I can see the straggly beards of men who have lived long apart from any kind of company. Their swords are rusty but sharp. There are spears, axes and halberds, and all manner of weapons.

At the front, almost leaning over the hull of their galley, are three raiders with coils of rope around their bodies, ready to throw weighted hooks across—and only now do I see what the front of their ship is made of! It’s not water glistening on the wood—it’s reinforced with iron spikes and they mean to ram us! ‘TURN THE SHIP!’ I yell down with all my might.

Number 4: Give your protagonist something to do.

Suddenly, I am pulled off my feet backwards, the huge hand of the Jarl on my shoulder. ‘Here, boy!’ He thrusts something into my hand, slicing into my palm a little as he does: a dagger, and oh Lord, it is sharp!

Number 5: The best action scenes have an active protagonist.

With a terrible clang, a huge metal hook lands over the side of our ship, a rope attached. It tautens almost immediately: the raiders are pulling our ship towards theirs, weapons in hand.

Our men scatter and take refuge, but something possesses me to do exactly the opposite. Darting to avoid the missiles and arrows, I run towards the hooks.

This, I am sure, is why the good Lord provided the dagger. I slash at the hook-rope attaching the ships to one another.

Number 6: You can’t beat a cliff-hanger.

With a final gasping effort, this rope, too, snaps. The enemy ship is only two horse-lengths away. Soon a warrior of strength and stature will be able to jump. Oh no: they are readying themselves!

But then something happens that I have not foreseen. Behind me, there is a commotion; a box is knocked over, heavy footfalls thud on the deck. And then, right past me, Jarl Magnus raises his shield as he runs, mounts the gunwale and, literally, leaps into the air over the whirling waves.

Number 7: Know when to stop.

Relentless action scenes can be exhausting to read. Follow any action scene with a chapter or so of calm – it’s an opportunity for deeper characterisation and perhaps moments of light-heartedness too. Your readers need a break. Let them have it! My protagonist Kylan is going to spend the next chapter learning to play chess!


And what a magnificent job he does of that Barbara. Thank you so much for this wonderful guest post. I think you’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a real taste of The Chessmen Thief. It also helps put my review into conext!

My Review of The Chessmen Thief

Thrall Kylan’s life is about to change.

Barbara Henderson wastes no time in plunging her readers into a fast paced, action packed, thrilling story that had my heart beating fast even if I am half a century older than the target audience for The Chessmen Thief. With fights and fugitives, enslavement and escapes, this book is an absolute cracker of a read.

One of the aspects that always impresses me in a Barbara Henderson children’s book is the absolute authority of her writing, arising out of assiduous research, and her wonderful ability to present her narrative at the perfect pitch for her target audience without patronising them. The author is unafraid to include difficult issues like death but does so with such a deft touch that The Chessmen Thief feels organic and natural, allowing for consideration of feelings and emotions in a safe environment for young readers. I confess The Chessman Thief brought a tear to my eye as well as making my heart thump! The narrative voice is also perfect for the era and yet is simultaneously accessible so that there’s a vivid sense of history behind the story too.

The plot of The Chessmen Thief is so exciting. It races along, sweeping the reader with it, so that even the most reluctant young reader couldn’t fail to be entranced. With the Viking myths and legends underpinning the narrative, The Chessmen Thief deserves its place in the canon of storytelling every bit as much as those traditional tales. Much is often said about twist and turns in narratives, but there was a point in The Chessmen Thief when I was stopped in my tracks at an unexpected moment that matches any adult book I’ve read.

I loved meeting Kylan and watching his development. He is by no means perfect, as the title of the book might suggest, but my word he’s vivid, vibrant, realistic and multi-faceted. Through Kylan Barbara Henderson gives status to the young, the underdog and the oppressed, providing hope for those who feel similarly diminished in society making The Chessmen Thief an important as well as an entertaining book. It’s educational too, with a glossary of terms and author’s note so that the story could be used in all manner of ways to develop vocabulary, history, geography, research and literacy in a school or home environment. I envisage that the chess theme coupled with the smashing illustrations to begin each chapter will lead to an increased interest in playing the game amongst readers of all ages. Other characters are equally as compelling. I think middle grade children in particular would find immense enjoyment in acting out scenes from the book; in being Jarl Magnus or Asleifsson because they feel so real.

As well as discovering Kylan’s personality, I also loved the themes woven through The Chessmen Thief. Trust and betrayal, family and belonging, religion and corruption, violence and diplomacy, all provide depth and quality that is, quite frankly, astounding.

The Chessmen Thief is an absolutely excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it because not only is it skilfully written, dramatic and compelling, it made me remember what it was like to be young again, to be completely captivated by reading and to find a childlike joy in a book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Barbara Henderson

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.

Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition.

Follow Barbara on Twitter @scattyscribbler or Instagram for more information, and read her blog. You’ll also find her author page on Facebook.

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A Taste of Home by Heidi Swain

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a huge fan of Heidi Swain’s women’s fiction – and you’d be right. I am. Consequently, it gives me enormous pleasure to be part of the blog tour for Heidi’s latest book, A Taste of Home. My enormous thanks to Harriett Collins for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of A Taste of Home in return for an honest review. Before I share that review, here are other Heidi Swain features you’ll find on Linda’s Book Bag:

My review of The Winter Garden here.

My review of The Secret Seaside Escape here.

My review of Poppy’s Recipe for Life here.

My review of Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market here.

A ‘staying in’ post with Heidi to chat all about Sunshine and Sweet Peas In Nightingale Square here.

A guest post from Heidi to celebrate Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland, explaining exactly what Christmas means to her here.

A Taste of Home was published by Simon and Schuster on 29th April 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

A Taste of Home

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

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

My Review of A Taste of Home

An end is only a beginning for Fliss.

I’m always nervous when a favourite author has a new book out because I’m terrified I’m going to be disappointed. With Heidi Swain’s A Taste of Home not only did I find my fears unfounded, but I think this might be one of my favourite of her books so far.

The plot is engaging, entertaining and enchanting as Fliss Brown searches for her family roots in the environs of Wynbridge. Heidi Swain writes with such warmth and an understanding of community and human nature that it is impossible not to be captivated by her stories. I loved the awareness of buying locally, of pulling together as a community and of mutual support that has been such an important facet of life in recent times but that is explored here completely naturally in a way that transports the reader away from the cares of the world. A Taste of Home is a complete comfort read. I ended the book feeling soothed and happy – that all was well in the world. Add in the beautifully written romance, and A Taste of Home is the perfect escapist read for the summer.

It was a true pleasure to be back in Wynbridge and the Fens which are where I live because Heidi Swain sets her scenes vividly and accurately. The flatness, the farmlands, the precocious weather all combine to make a wonderful sense of place. Even better, although it was lovely to revisit Wynbridge and encounter a few familiar names from other of Heidi Swain’s books, it doesn’t matter at all if the reader hasn’t met them before. A Taste of Home stands independently.

I loved Fliss from the very first page. She’s such a rounded, perfectly written character, being sensitive and strong, feisty and loyal but self-deprecating and vulnerable too. The narrative tone of A Taste of Home is conversational too so the reader feels as if they are right inside Fliss’s mind, experiencing events with her directly rather than simply reading about them. Of the male characters, it was Eliot and Grandad who held my attention the most and I confess I have been keeping half an ear out for the throaty roar of a Ducati ever since I started this book!

I found it interesting that, although there are several minor characters in A Taste of Home, and I usually find big casts tricky to retain in my head, with this story every single person felt distinct and real. I loved meeting them all, even the scoundrels amongst them!

A Taste of Home is a fantastic book. Heidi Swain has created the perfect blend of realism and romance to capture the heart of her readers. I loved it.

About Heidi Swain


Heidi Swain is the Sunday Times bestselling author of several novels including The Cherry Tree CafeSummer at Skylark FarmMince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas MarketComing Home to Cuckoo CottagePoppy’s Recipe for LifeSleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair, The Christmas Wish ListThe Secret Seaside Escape, The Winter Garden and now A Taste of Home.  She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two teenage children.

You can follow Heidi on Twitter @Heidi_Swain and visit her blog or website. You’ll also find Heidi on Facebook and Instagram.

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Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church by Tracy Rees

I’ve more or less abandoned reading ebooks because of my weird sight and I’m trying NOT to take on blog tours at the moment, but when I heard that one of my favourite authors, Tracy Rees, had a new novel out from Bookouture I knew I had to break all my intentions and read it. My enormous thanks to Sarah Hardy for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church. It’s a real privilege to share my review on Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church publication day.

Tracy has been a regular on Linda’s Book Bag, and it has been my privilege to meet her several times in real life too. Although Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a contemporary novel, Tracy has an excellent selection of historical fiction that I’ve adored reading. Amy Snow was one of the first books I ever reviewed on the blog here. I reviewed Florence Grace here and had a wonderful guest post from Tracy about the appeal of the C19th that you can read hereFlorence Grace was one of my Books of the Year in 2016 and you’ll see it featured here. I also reviewed Tracy’s The Hourglass here and Tracy was kind enough to provide a guest post all about her memories of Richmond when Darling Blue was published. Darling Blue is still on my TBR but it’s just over a year ago that I reviewed The House at Silvermoor here.

Published by Bookouture today, 7th May 2021, Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is available for purchase here.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church

‘This may just have saved my life…’ The hurried scribble in the dusty visitors’ book catches Gwen’s eye. Just like that, she is drawn into a mystery at the heart of the pretty village of Hopley, and her troubles seem to fall behind.

When tragedy strikes, Gwen Stanleyfinds herself jobless and heartbroken. With nowhere else to turn, she retreats to Hopley, a crumbling little village in the sun-dappled English countryside. Wandering the winding lanes and daydreaming about what could have been, Gwen feels so very lost for the first time…

Until one day she pushes through the creaking doors of a tiny stone church on the edge of the village, forgotten by nearly everyone. There she stumbles on a little book full of local secrets. It might just change her life.

My Review of Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church

Having loved Tracy Rees’s historical fiction, I wasn’t sure how a more contemporary setting would appeal, but I needn’t have worried. The author’s ability to create a sense of place through perfectly balanced details, to draw in the reader to her story and to move them too, is still here in a gorgeous, entertaining and uplifting manner. Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a perfect example of positive, warm-hearted fiction and I loved it.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church has everything for a wonderful, immersive story that is utterly captivating. As well as romance as we’d expect from this kind of book, there’s mystery and social conscience too so that the story provides many layers of interest. I loved the way connections are explored and reading Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church made me wonder about those who have passed through my life fleetingly.

Although there are several minor characters that add interest and variety to the story, it is Gwen and Jarvis who create the fabulous pivotal detail. I was desperate for them both to find happiness and thought the manner with which Tracy Rees explored Gwen’s grief after tragedy and Jarvis’s indolence arising from his perceived failure was sensitively constructed. Initially I wasn’t keen on either of them, though I felt more empathy for Gwen, but Tracy Rees made me fall in love with both these warm, flawed, vivid people until I really hoped they would fall in love with each other – though you’ll have to read the book to find out what actually happens.

The narrative unfolds incredibly naturally so that it feels like it could happen in any small place where the sense of community is gradually being eroded. With Jarvis and Gwen working together to raise funds to restore the church roof, their efforts become a metaphor not only for the building, but for their own lives and the community as a whole, illustrating beautifully and inspiringly what can be achieved. I felt that Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church could give impetus to others to get involved in their local communities and even if it was just enjoyed as a story it would provide a sense of belonging that is so important in today’s fractured world.

Although the plot is essentially quite simple with two people fund raising to repair a church roof, that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely absorbing with so many themes swirling through it. Tracy Rees considers identity, community, belonging, friendship, loyalty, family, ambition and self-belief so that Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church feels multi-layered and textured in a manner I adored. I wanted to move to Hopley, to join in with the events and to meet Gwen and Jarvis in person.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a gorgeous book. I finished it with that sense of satisfaction of being royally entertained and feeling more positive about the world. I now know how Tracy Rees writes contemporary fiction as well as the historical fiction I am used to from this author. She does it brilliantly and I cannot wait for more. I loved Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church.

About Tracy Rees

Born in Wales, Tracy Rees has been called “the most outstanding new voice in historical fiction” by Lucinda Riley and her books are paperback and kindle bestsellers. She was the winner of the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition. A Cambridge graduate, she had a successful eight-year career in nonfiction publishing and a second career practising and teaching humanistic counselling before becoming a writer.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @AuthorTracyRees or visit her website for more information. You’ll also find Tracy on Instagram.

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The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures Part One: Starting Over by Holly Hepburn

Although I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Holly Hepburn a few times at the wonderful Simon and Schuster TeamBATC blogger evenings, it’s far too long since she featured here on Linda’s Book Bag when I was reviewing Holly’s Star and Sixpence series.

Today, 6th May 2021, marks the release of Holly’s latest book The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures and I’m delighted to be able to share the first two chapters with you.

Let me give you a few more details first though!

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase through these thinks.

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures

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 The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures first two chapters for yourself!

About Holly Hepburn

Holly Hepburn has wanted to write books for as long she can remember but she was too scared to try. One day she decided to be brave and dipped a toe into the bubble bath of romantic fiction with her first novella, Cupidity, and she’s never looked back. She often tries to be funny to be funny, except for when faced with traffic wardens and border control staff. Her favourite things are making people smile and Aidan Turner.

She’s tried many jobs over the years, from barmaid to market researcher and she even had a brief flirtation with modelling. These days she is mostly found writing.

She lives near London with her grey tabby cat, Portia. They both have an unhealthy obsession with Marmite.

You can follow Holly on Twitter @HollyH_Author and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Making It by Jay Blades

My enormous thanks to Jay Blades’ assistant Jo for sending me a copy of Jay’s autobiography, Making It, in return for an honest review. I was thrilled to receive it in advance of interviewing Jay for my local Deepings Literary Festival Easter offer. It was wonderful to speak with Jay directly and although Jay and I didn’t discuss Making It too much for fear of spoiling the read for others, we all felt we had come to know Jay Blades the man, rather than Jay Blades TV presenter by the end of the evening because he was so generous in his responses to my questions.

Today I’m delighted to share my review of  Making It.

Making It will be published by Pan Macmillan imprint Bluebird on 13th May 2021 and is available for pre-order through the publisher links here.

Making It

‘We had our hardships, and there were times that we didn’t have a lot of food and didn’t have a lot of money. But that didn’t stop me having the time of my life.’

Making It is an inspirational memoir about beating the odds and turning things around even when it all seems hopeless. In this book, Jay shares the details of his life, from his childhood growing up sheltered and innocent on a council estate in Hackney, to his adolescence when he was introduced to violent racism at secondary school, to being brutalized by police as a teen, to finally becoming a beloved star of the hit primetime show The Repair Shop.

Jay reflects on strength, weakness and what it means to be a man. He questions the boundaries society places on male vulnerability and how letting himself be nurtured helped him flourish into the person he is today. An expert at giving a second life to cherished items, he speaks about how his role as a restorer mirrors his own life – if something’s broken, you can always find a way to put it back together.

My Review of Making It

The autobiography of popular television presenter Jay Blades.

Although some of the aspects covered in Making It like the author’s dyslexia, have been alluded to, or even well documented, in recent times, Making It is a wonderful, detailed insight into the life and personality of Jay Blades.

I loved the honest, conversational style achieved with ghost writer Ian Gittins. What impressed me most was that Jay Blades doesn’t spare himself from an intense, unforgiving spotlight that sometimes belies the jovial cheeky chap we know from his television programmes. There are passages in Making It that are violent, brutal and very frequently accompanied by surprising expletives that, far from alienating the reader, draw them in and have the effect of making them love, admire and respect Jay Blades all the more. He has made mistakes, some of them quite appalling, and yet he comes across as the kind of man you’d want in your life. Even though I know the author is now a successful celebrity, I frequently felt tense as I read, wondering how he was going to overcome the latest obstacle life was throwing his way.

The themes and topics of the fifty years of Jay Blades’ life covered in Making It are sadly all too familiar in today’s society. The author deals with family and relationships of all kinds, including absentees fathers; with drugs and racism, violence and education, homelessness and the need to belong, with convincing and frequently emotional and touching clarity. But as Jay Blades says in his introduction, this is by no means a self pitying book. The more the reader reads, the more they comprehend what it means to be a warm, intelligent, black man simply trying to do his best. My heart went out to the author, particularly because of his dyslexia, and his work with the disadvantaged and displaced made me respect him completely.

However, aside from being entertaining, interesting and engaging, I think Making It is an important book. Through his own, very personal experiences, Jay Blades gives permission for readers, especially men, to show and accept their vulnerability without embarrassment. He gives hope to all that, rather like the items that feature in the television programme The Repair Shop, for which he is most well known, there is always the possibility to create something new and beautiful from something – or someone – broken or damaged.

I finished reading Making It feeling as if I had been on quite a journey with Jay Blades, that I had been given a privileged insight into a life and world that I would never otherwise have known and that I had been given the gift of something uplifting and positive. I thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoyed every word.

About Jay Blades

Originally from Hackney, Jay is dyslexic and after leaving school at fifteen with no qualifications, he eventually managed to get back on track studying for a degree in criminology and philosophy at Buckingham University before finding his true vocation in restoration.

Jay is an inspirational motivator and was the former co-founder of award-winning social enterprises Out of The Dark and Street of Dreams. Working with disengaged and disadvantaged young people, Jay was able to mentor and support thousands of individuals over the years to realize their full potential.

To find out more, follow Jay on Twitter @Jay_n_Co and Instagram or find him on Facebook. There’s more on Jay’s website too.

Crab, Dab and Blenny by Peta Rainford

My grateful thanks to author and illustrator Peta Rainford for sending me a copy of Crab, Dab and Blenny, her latest children’s book, in return for an honest review.

Peta is becoming a regular author here on Linda’s Book Bag, most recently when I reviewed Milly’s Marvellous Mistakes here.  I have a review of Peta’s The Niggle here alongside a smashing guest post from Peta about fitting illustrations to text in her books (although sadly the giveaway has now ended) and another review of Isabella’s Adventures in Numberland here. I also reviewed Peta’s Jacob Starke Loves the Dark here. It’s a real thrill for me to find myself quoted on the covers of some of Peta’s books too!

Crab, Dab and Blenny was published on 4th May 2021 and is available for purchase here.

Crab, Dab and Blenny

Fish friends Dab and Blenny are upset by the plastic that washes into their lovely rockpool home. Crab, on the other hand, just LOVES the shiny bright colour…

But when Blenny gets caught in plastic twine, Crab finally understands the danger of plastics in the ocean.

A fun, rhyming picture book with an important environmental message.

My Review of Crab, Dab and Blenny

I love the fact a child can write their name in the front of this book as it gives a sense of ownership over reading, immediately engaging them with the text. And what an important story Crab, Dab and Blenny is. Peta Rainford explores the impact of plastics in the sea in a way that both educates and entertains so that the impact of Crab, Dab and Blenny is phenomenal.

Crab, Dab and Blenny is written like a narrative poem with smashing rhyme that gives a natural rhythm when the book is read aloud, but equally has a great variety of vocabulary that helps promote a child’s reading and writing. As ever with a Peta Rainford book, the illustrations are glorious with a cartoon style that appeals to children but that still maintains the integrity of the different creatures so that readers can learn about their characteristics. I thought the way their expressions changed would be wonderful for exploring feelings and emotions, especially with children on the autistic spectrum. The balance of text to image is perfect. Each page is a work of art that draws in readers and holds the attention completely.

Indeed, I thought it was wonderful how the underwater world was brought alive for young children with references to different sea flora and fauna because Crab, Dab and Blenny creates an awareness of a world many of the target audience have never, and may never, experience. There are many possibilities for further investigation and research so that Crab, Dab and Blenny has importance and resonance beyond its pages.

The story in Crab, Dab and Blenny is exciting, with peril as a Blenny finds himself in danger and it is fantastic for children to realise they have a part to play and can make a difference to the environment. Crab, Dab and Blenny empowers young people and gives them status.

I thought Crab, Dab and Blenny was utterly brilliant. Peta Rainford understands  children so well. Crab, Dab and Blenny considers the difficult issue of plastics in the sea, but the author makes it accessible without ever being patronising, and it is entertaining and actually uplifting, as well as educational, so that it is a really fantastic book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Peta Rainford


Peta writes and illustrates her funny picture books on the Isle of Wight, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and hairy jack russell, Archie.

Peta loves going into schools to share her books and inspire children in their writing and art. She has appeared at a number of festivals and other events, including: Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, Isle of Wight Literary Festival, Exmoor Dark Skies Festival and Ventnor Fringe.

She is one of the organisers of the inaugural IW Story Festival.

You can find out more by following Peta on Twitter @PetaRainford and visiting her website. You’ll also find Peta on Facebook.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year 2021 Longlist

I’m so excited to be able to help reveal the longlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021. My thanks to Francesca Whitting at Midas PR for providing the information.

Here is all you need to know:

Harrogate, 5 May 2021: Today, the longlist of the UK and Ireland’s most prestigious crime novel award is unveiled with literary legends and dynamic debuts in contention for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

Now in its 17th year, the most coveted prize in crime fiction, presented by Harrogate International Festivals celebrates crime writing at its best. This year’s longlist transports readers around the world from California to Sweden and Calcutta to a remote Irish island and explores every subgenre from Scandi noir to murderous families.

The line-up of returning champions is led by crime fiction titan Ian Rankin, who has received a nod for his A Song for The Dark TimesMark Billingham, hoping for a third win with his Cry Baby, and Steve Cavanagh looking to beat the competition with Fifty Fifty.

This year’s longlist recognises a number of authors who have previously never been listed by the prize. Hoping to claim the trophy on their first appearance are Lucy Foley with her No.1 Sunday Times Best Seller The Guest List, Chris Whitaker with We Begin at The End, Scottish author Doug Johnstone with The Big Chill and Liz Nugent with Our Little Cruelties, and Jane Casey with her latest Maeve Kerrigan instalment The Cutting Place.

The longlist also features several previously nominated authors hoping to go one step further and clinch the trophy with Elly Griffiths securing her seventh pick for her much lauded The Lantern Men and Susie Steiner getting her third nod for Remain Silent and Brian McGilloway’s second nomination for The Last Crossing, and best-selling author Louise Candlish hoping to win on her second pick with The Other Passenger.

Joining these outstanding names is the undisputed ‘Queen of Crime’ herself, Val McDermid with her newest Karen Pirie novel Still Life. Celebrated in the industry for her impeccable ability to select emerging talent for the annual New Blood panel at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, McDermid find herself competing against many New Blood alumni including: Will Dean for his latest Scandi noir Black River; Eva Dolan for the newest instalment of her critically-acclaimed Zigic and Ferreira series, Abir Mukherjee’s new Calcutta and Assam-inspired Death in the East, and finally Trevor Wood – who has gone from the 2020 New Blood panel to longlisted for Crime’s biggest award.

The full longlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021 is:

–          Cry Baby by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown Book Group, Sphere)

–          The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster)

–          The Cutting Place by Jane Casey (HarperCollins, HarperFiction)

–          Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh (The Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)

–          Black River by Will Dean (Oneworld Publications, Point Blank)

–          Between Two Evils by Eva Dolan (Bloomsbury Publishing, Raven Books)

–          The Guest List by Lucy Foley (HarperCollins, HarperFiction)

–          The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

–          The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone (Orenda Books)

–          Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton (Penguin Random House UK, Viking)

–          Still Life by Val McDermid (Little, Brown Book Group, Sphere)

–          The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway (Little, Brown Book Group, Constable)

–          Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

–          Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent (Penguin, Sandycove)

–          A Song For The Dark Times by Ian Rankin (Orion, Orion Fiction)

–          Remain Silent by Susie Steiner (HarperCollins Publishers, The Borough Press)

–          We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (Bonnier Books UK, Zaffre)

–          The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said“The way the global obsession with the crime genre continues to grow year on year is simply astonishing and this year’s longlist proves the remarkable talent on offer in crime writing– from legends of the craft to eager-eyed newcomers. The shortlist is already too close to call so we encourage all to get voting! A hearty toast of Old Peculier to all longlisted authors for this coveted award – and we look forward to what we know will be a fiercely fought competition!”

Run by Harrogate International Festivals, the shortlist will be announced in June and the winner on 22 July, at the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – with the public able to vote for the winner on

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors.

The longlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith.

The public are now invited to vote for a shortlist of six titles on, which will be announced in June. The winner will be revealed on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

About Harrogate International Festivals

Harrogate International Festivals  is a charitable organisation with a mission to present a diverse year-long programme of live events that bring immersive and moving cultural experiences to as many people as possible. Delivering artistic work of national importance, the Festival curates and produces over 300 unique and surprising performances each year, celebrating world-renowned artists and championing new and up-coming talent across music, literature, science, philosophy and psychology. The HIF+ ongoing education outreach programme engages schools, young people and the local community with workshops, talks, projects and inspiring activities, ensuring everyone can experience the Festival’s world class programme and the transformative power of the arts.

Established in 1966, Harrogate International Festivals are an artistic force to be reckoned with and a key cultural provider for the North of England.

Find out more by visiting the website and finding the festival on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

About Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

Launched in 2005, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award is the most prestigious crime novel prize in the country and is a much-coveted accolade recognising the very best crime writing of the year.

Previous winners include Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Belinda Bauer, Denise Mina, Lee Child, Clare Mackintosh and last year’s champion Steve Cavanagh, who was awarded the trophy for the fifth book in his Eddie Flynn crime thriller series, Thirteen.

The 2021 award is run by Harrogate International Festivals in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express. It is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors.

The longlist of 18 titles is selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith. The shortlist and winner are selected the academy, alongside a public vote, with the winner receiving £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

 The award forms part of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, staged by Harrogate International Festivals in the Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate, and is traditionally awarded on the opening evening of the festival.

Dystopian Fiction – A Guest Post by Leigh Russell, Author of Rachel’s Story

I rarely feature dystopian fiction on Linda’s Book Bag so when I heard lovely Leigh Russell had written a brand new dystopian book, Rachel’s Story, I simply had to ask her why she has moved into this genre. Luckily she agreed to provide a smashing guest post that I am delighted to share with you today.

Last time Leigh was on Linda’s Book Bag she stayed in with me to chat about Death Rope in a post you can see here. and it was five years ago that Leigh told me about her road to publication when Journey to Death was published. You’ll find that post here.

Rachel’s Story was published by Bloodhound Books on 6th April 2021 and is available for purchase here.

Rachel’s Story

In a world where food is scarce, the government rules and ordinary people only exist to serve, can there ever be happiness? As a child, living in a post-apocalyptic world, Rachel is initiated into The Programme where selected young girls are medicated to make them fertile. Fearing for her future, Rachel escapes. But freedom comes at a price, as she learns when she joins the outcasts struggling to survive beyond the city walls.

Dystopian Fiction?

A Guest post by Leigh Russell

Dystopian fiction, perhaps more than any other genre, is a literature of ideas. As we read these novels set in speculative future worlds, we are not only reading about a scenario created in someone else’s imagination. We are being invited to contemplate our own world and the direction in which we could be heading, as individuals, as a society, and as a species.

My own dystopian novel, Rachel’s Story, explores a post apocalyptic scenario that develops in the wake of a pandemic that threatened to destroy all life on earth. It is written in the first person, hopefully helping readers enter an unfamiliar world of a dystopian future, where nothing is quite the same as it is in our lives. The prologue takes the reader into Rachel’s childhood home in a world where food is scarce, the government has absolute power, and strict laws are mercilessly enforced. When her mother is killed, Rachel is initiated into The Programme where selected young girls are medicated to make them fertile. Fearing for her future, she manages to escape. But freedom comes at a price, as she learns when she joins a community of outcasts struggling to survive in the desert beyond the city walls.

The best dystopian fiction writers manage, in Hamlet’s words, “to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” The dystopian mirror might display a warped view of our own reality, but it nevertheless reflects something about our own society and our own lives. So Orwell’s 1984 explores political dangers he perceived in the real world in the 1940s, dangers that persist today. In The Chrysalids, John Wyndham speculates about the lives of the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. In a story written in the 1955, just ten years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Wyndham considers the potential destruction of an atomic world war. Interestingly an early version of the story was entitled ‘Time for a Change’. The threats Orwell and Shute wrote about were very real fears in the 1940s and the 1950s, and they remain very real threats in today’s world.

Bubonic plague ravaged England in the mid seventeenth century and the author Daniel Defoe – creator of Robinson Crusoe – probably had childhood memories of it. From Defoe’s 1722 novel ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’ to ‘World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War’, Max Brooks’ 21st century story of man’s battle against a zombie plague, pandemics have inspired dystopian stories. My own dystopian novel explores the possible aftermath of a plague that has affected not only people, but all life on earth.

Some dystopian stories end on a pessimistic note, but this is rare. In his moving novel ‘On the Beach’, Nevil Shute writes the story of the last few human beings left on earth after a nuclear holocaust. His characters carry on with their lives, knowing they will soon be dead as radiation poisoning spreads around the earth, and mankind will soon become extinct. But most dystopian novels end with a sense that if individual characters die, mankind will survive. What all dystopian novels have in common is the resilience of the human spirit as characters struggle to survive against almost unbearable odds. So Rachel’s Story ends with at least a glimmer of hope for the future.


That’s fascinating Leigh. Thank you so much for providing such an interesting post. I think it’s time I added more dystopian fiction into my reading diet!

About Leigh Russell

Leigh Russell has written twenty-four novels, and her Geraldine Steel crime series, published by No Exit Press, has sold over a million copies. In addition to her crime series featuring detective Geraldine Steel, Leigh has written two trilogies and two stand alone psychological thrillers. Rachel’s Story is her first dystopian novel. Leigh chairs the judging panel for the Crime Writers Association’s prestigious Debut Dagger Award, and is a Consultant Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund.

You can find out more about Leigh on her website and you can follow her on Twitter @LeighRussell. Leigh is on Facebook and Instagram too.

Listening Still by Anne Griffin

When I heard Anne Griffin had a new book coming, I was beside myself. I just adored her debut When All is Said. You’ll find my review of that book here. My enormous thanks to lovely Elaine Egan for ensuring I received a copy of Anne’s latest book, Listening Still, in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Hachette imprint Sceptre on 29th April, Listening Still is available for purchase through these links.

Listening Still

Jeanie Masterson has a gift: she can hear the recently dead and give voice to their final wishes and revelations. Inherited from her father, this gift has enabled the family undertakers to flourish in their small Irish town. Yet she has always been uneasy about censoring some of the dead’s last messages to the living. Unsure, too, about the choice she made when she left school seventeen years ago: to stay or leave for a new life in London with her charismatic teenage sweetheart.

So when Jeanie’s parents unexpectedly announce their plan to retire, she is jolted out of her limbo. In this captivating successor to her bestselling debut, Anne Griffin portrays a young woman who is torn between duty, a comfortable marriage and a role she both loves and hates and her last chance to break free, unaware she has not been alone in softening the truth for a long while.

My Review of Listening Still

Jeannie can speak with the dead.

I adored Listening Still. Having thought Anne Griffin’s When All Is Said was just fabulous I feared Listening Still might not touch me emotionally in quite the same way, but Anne Griffin is fast becoming one of the most beautiful writers of the modern age. She has an unerring ability to display her characters’ souls in a way that I find breath-taking.

The plot is so well devised. Consummate story telling uncovers Jennie’s past so that her layers and experiences are smoothly revealed, resulting in incredible empathy for her in the reader’s heart. Jeannie’s life is woven through the conversations she has with dead people in a compelling and spell binding manner. I was devastated by some of the events that happen to her – and those that don’t – and felt by the end of Listening Still I knew her completely. She is such a magnificent creation, combining elements and emotions so many of us can relate to. Her relationships with Fionn and Niall almost broke me. The depth of emotion displayed is totally affecting. I cannot stop thinking about Jeannie and wondering how she is doing now.

However, Listening Still isn’t just compelling narrative entertainment that Anne Griffin manages create so evocatively, but she presents Ireland, her traditions, her oral history, her sense of community and proprietary influence in individual lives so clearly that the setting sings from the pages making the country every bit as much a character as any of the people.

For a book built on the premise of talking with the dead, Listening Still isn’t remotely mawkish. Rather it is poignant, moving and often humorous with a dry sense of humour in some of the things the dead need to say. All that said, Listening Still delves into our fears, our loves, our ambitions and our self-deceptions making it a story any reader can relate to regardless of the unusual premise.

Wonderful humane themes weave through the story. Responsibility and ambition, first love and lasting relationships, life and death, passion and despair thrum through the narrative so that I was completely spellbound every moment I was reading.

Listening Still is an absolute masterpiece. I found it so affecting that long after I’ve finished reading, thoughts of it still bring a tear to my eye and joy to my heart. I truly loved it.

About Anne Griffin

anne griffin

Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

You can find Anne on Facebook, and Instagram or follow her on Twitter @AnneGriffin_ and visit her website for more detail.

Staying in with Ruth Kirby-Smith

It’s always an honour to start off a blog tour, especially when it’s for a book sitting on my TBR pile awaiting reading. Today I’m delighted to welcome Ruth Kirby-Smith to stay in with me to tell me all about her debut novel. My enormous thanks to Grace Pilkington for inviting me to participate.

Staying in with Ruth Kirby-Smith

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Ruth 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 have brought The Settlement which is my first novel published in February 2021.  The book crosses several genres as it has romance, history, murder and mystery but it is mainly classified as a historical novel.  1921 is the 100th anniversary of the division of Ireland and The Settlement is set in a village on the border between N Ireland and Eire in the 1910s.  The central character is a woman who is free thinking and independent and it follows the dramatic events of her life in those turbulent times.

What can we expect from an evening in with The Settlement

I have been a total bookworm all my life and what I want from a book is interesting characters, a gripping story and to learn about a time or place which I knew nothing about.

I think all readers would agree Ruth.

That is what I have tried to do in The Settlement. I started writing it when my father died and somehow I managed to run a business, a home and write the book.  I am not quite sure how I managed it, but I was enthralled by his family background and the historical events in the Ireland of his parents. I lost the book when my computer broke but then found the manuscript in 2017 when clearing my office.  I knew then that I had to finish the book and publish it.  Readers can expect a real page turner from the start, and they will learn some interesting social and political history.  The main character is very flawed but in the end her loyalty to her husband and stepson redeems her.

What a fabulous way to commemorate your father Ruth. I’m sure he would have been really proud that you’ve got The Settlement to publication in spite of all the obstacles.

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

I would bring a bottle of Ribera del Duero, a photograph of my dad and his brother Tom as boys and I would listen to some music by Dire Straits.

Hmm. I’m more of a Roxy Music person myself but as it’s your evening I’ll put up with Dire Straights as it seems an apt group given the troubles you endured writing The Settlement!

What I would really love is to have my grandfather there to tell me what happened between him and my grandmother and why they lived within 3 miles of each other for more than two decades but never met or spoke.

Now that is intriguing. Families eh? Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Settlement Ruth. I’m so pleased I have a copy waiting to be read as I think it sounds just my kind of book.

You pour a glass of wine and turn up the music and I’ll give blog readers a few more details about The Settlement:

The Settlement

Olivia returns home for her grandmother Sarah’s funeral in 1984. Sarah was a loving matriarch in the village of Lindara. So why would someone spit at her coffin?

In 1910 Sarah marries Theo, a widower deeply involved in the anti-home rule movement. She promises to keep her personal views private.

One night in 1914 Sarah and her stepson Samuel are unintentionally drawn into gunrunning, which compromises her principles.

Published by 2QT, The Settlement is available for purchase here.

About Ruth Kirby-Smith

Ruth Kirby-Smith grew up in Northern Ireland and studied politics at Queen’s University, Belfast during the civil rights era. Ruth is a successful businesswoman who has worked in City planning in London and planning research at Cambridge University, and founded a renowned baby products company. In retirement, she decided to look into her family history. The Settlement is her first book.

You’ll find Ruth on Instagram and Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too: