Cover Reveal: Lyrics for the Loved Ones by Anne Goodwin

I think literary fiction is my favourite genre and I’m so lucky to have Lyrics for the Loved Ones by Anne Goodwin on my TBR pile. I have been waiting to reveal the cover for several months. It gives me enormous pleasure to be able to do so today.

The last time Anne appeared on Linda’s Book Bag we were taking a look at her book Sugar and Snails in a post you’ll find here.

Let’s find out more about Anne’s latest, Lyrics for the Loved Ones which will be published on 15th May 2023 by Annecdotal Press and is available for pre-order here

Lyrics for the Loved Ones

After half a century confined in a psychiatric hospital, Matty has moved to a care home on the Cumbrian coast. Next year, she’ll be a hundred, and she intends to celebrate in style. Yet, before she can make the arrangements, her ‘maid’ goes missing.

Irene, a care assistant, aims to surprise Matty with a birthday visit from the child she gave up for adoption as a young woman. But, when lockdown shuts the care-home doors, all plans are put on hold.

But Matty won’t be beaten. At least not until the Black Lives Matter protests burst her bubble and buried secrets come to light.

Will she survive to a hundred? Will she see her ‘maid’ again? Will she meet her long-lost child?

Rooted in injustice, balanced with humour, this is a bittersweet story of reckoning with hidden histories in cloistered times.


Doesn’t Lyrics for the Loved Ones sound fantastic? It’s not just me who thinks so:

 Advance praise for Lyrics for the Loved Ones

‘a smartly constructed, engaging and compassionate story about family, humanity and ‘lost loss’ ALISON MOORE, Booker prize shortlisted author of The Lighthouse

‘one of the best books I’ve ever read … a very funny and a hugely emotional read’ ALEX CRAIGIE, author of Someone Close to Home

‘vividly illuminates recent inequalities, with humour and humanity’ CAROLINE LODGE, Bookword

‘the author writes with intelligence, understanding and sensitivity’ ANNIE ELLIOTT, Left on the Shelf Book Blog

‘runs the whole gamut of emotions … one of the most memorable and heart-wrenching protagonists I’ve met’ OLGA NÚŇEZ MIRET, psychiatrist, author and translator

‘a well written, chatty book, with great characters’ EMMABBOOKS

 Don’t forget to pre-order Lyrics for the Loved Ones here

About Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

A prize-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Subscribers to her newsletter can download a free e-book of award-winning short stories.

For more information about Anne visit her website, follow her on Twitter @Annecdotist, or find her on Instagram or Facebook.

UK Giveaway: A Paperback Copy of The People on Platform 5 by Clare Pooley

Having seen fantastic reviews of The People on Platform 5 by Clare Pooley, I was delighted when lovely Katie Roden got in touch to ask if I’d like a couple of copies of the paperback – one for me and one to give away. I’m thrilled to run that giveaway today and you’ll find how to enter further down this blog post. 

The People on Platform 5 will be released in paperback by Penguin on 30th March 2023 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The People on Platform 5

Every day at 8:05, Iona Iverson boards the train to go to work. As a seasoned commuter, she knows there are rules that everyone should follow:

  • you must have a job to go to
  • Don’t consume hot food
  • Always pack for any eventuality
  • You must never speak to strangers on the train

Iona sees the same group of people each day – ones she makes assumptions about, gives nicknames to, but never ever talks to.

But then, one morning, Smart-but-Sexist-Surbiton chokes on a grape right in front of Iona. Suspiciously-Nice-New Malden steps up to help and saves his life, and this one event sparks a chain reaction.

With nothing in common but their commute, an eclectic group of people learn that their assumptions about each other don’t match reality. But when Iona’s life begins to fall apart, will her new friends be there when she needs them most?



A Paperback Copy of The People on Platform 5


Clare Pooley

For your chance to win a paperback copy of The People on Platform 5 click here.

Giveaway ends at UK midnight on Sunday 26th March 2023.

UK only and I’ll need a UK postal address in order to send your prize but I promise not to share or retain it. 

About Clare Pooley

Clare Pooley graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge and spent twenty years in the heady world of advertising before becoming a full-time writer.

Clare’s memoir – The Sober Diaries – has helped thousands of people worldwide to quit drinking.

Clare’s first novel – The Authenticity Project – was a BBC Radio 2 Bookclub pick, a New York Times Bestseller and the winner of the RNA debut novel award. It has been translated into 29 languages. Her second novel is coming Spring 2022.

Clare lives in Fulham, London with her long-suffering husband, three children and two dogs.

For more information about Clare, visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @cpooleywriter and Instagram. You’ll also find Clare on Facebook

Thames Valley Tales Audio Book Release Day with Tim Walker

Tim Walker appears regularly here on Linda’s Book Bag, always with something slightly different and today we’re celebrating  the brand new audio version of Tim’s Thames Valley Tales. I asked Tim a few questions about his experience of introducing an audio book to his repertoire.

Before I share those with you, let me just remind you of the other occasions Tim has been on the blog. Last time we were sharing an extract from his Guardians at the Wall that you’ll find here.

We stayed in together to chat all about his book, Arthur Rex Brittonum, in a post you can read here.

Tim also introduced PERVERSE – a collection of short prose and verse, sharing a poem with us in a post you can see here.

It was my pleasure to share an extract from Arthur Dux Bellorum here and Tim has introduced his book Uther’s Destiny in a post you can see here, as well as previously writing a fabulous guest post about fiction and fear when the second book in his A Light in the Dark Ages series, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, was published, and you can read that post here.

Let’s find about Tim’s latest venture as his Thames Valley Tales are available in audio from today 20th March 2023.

Thames Valley Tales, second edition, is available in audiobook, Kindle e-book and paperback from Amazon worldwide, and can also be found on Kindle Unlimited.

Thames Valley Tales

Thames Valley Tales is a light-hearted yet thought-provoking collection of nine stories by Tim Walker. These tales are based on the author’s experience of living in Thames Valley towns, and combine contemporary themes with the rich history and legends associated with an area stretching from the heart of rural England to London.

The collection includes The Goldfish Bowl, in which an unlikely friendship is struck between a pop star and an arms dealer in Goring-on-Thames; Maidenhead Thicket, where the ghost of legendary highwayman, Dick Turpin surprises a Council surveyor; The White Horse intrigue surrounding the dating of the famous chalk carving on the Berkshire Downs; Murder at Henley Regatta, a beguiling whodunit, and The Colnbrook Caper, a pacey crime thriller. Thames Valley Tales starts with The Grey Lady, a ghost story from the English Civil War, and features The Merry Women of Windsor in a whimsical updating of Shakespeare’s classic play. The Author’s Note explains the context and reasoning behind each story.

Thames Valley Tales oscillates from light-hearted to dark historical and at times humorous stories ideally suited to bedtime or holiday reading that will amuse, delight and, hopefully, inform the reader about the rich history of the Thames Valley as it winds 215 miles from the Gloucestershire countryside, past many towns and villages to London and out to the North Sea. The book also has a factual chapter and map of the Thames Valley showing the towns through which the 184-mile Thames Path passes. It’s a walk-through history and the natural beauty of England that will inspire and captivate.

On Audio Books

I asked Tim the following:

Did having an audio book make you see your own writing differently?

The biggest challenge was how my stories would work when voiced by an actor, and would the dialogue sound convincing. I chose nine stories that I felt had strong visual appeal, as I feel audio is halfway between written word and visual storytelling on television or film. It’s important that the story comes alive in the mind of the listener. I read my stories aloud and made adjustments to the dialogue between characters so that it was less formal. Also, I encouraged my narrator to tweak the dialogue to make it more realistic, and he also included some regional idioms with the accents he employed. A fascinating exercise!

How tricky was it to find the right voice?

I didn’t want to narrate my own audiobook and my first thought was to ask Richard James if he would do it. I know him as an author and he lives locally. We met for a pint and agreed a fee for the job. He is primarily a stage actor who has also written plays and a Victorian crime book series, Bowman of the Yard. I went to his book launch in 2019 (see picture). His voice is perfect, easily understood, and he has an array of regional accents to draw upon from his acting experience.

How easy or difficult would you find it to narrate your own writing?

Very. My voice is very deep and monotonous, and I can’t do accents! Also, I couldn’t record at home as I’m on the flight path to Heathrow Airport, with a plane thundering overhead every six minutes! There’s no soundproofing materials in the world that would insulate my pad from the outside world. Some DIY authors hire sound recording studios, but in my mind, that’s halfway to paying an expert to narrate and produce it.

Tell me a little more about Richard.

Thames Valley Tales audiobook is narrated and produced by actor, author and playwright Richard James who has been appearing on stage and screen for over thirty years. Most recently, he played a guest role in Miss Scarlet & The Duke for PBS and Alibi Films and was nominated for ‘Best Supporting Performance’ at the Off West End Awards for his roles in A Sherlock Carol at the Marylebone Theatre.

Richard is on Twitter as @RichardNJames.

It sounds as if you chose someone highly skilled to narrate Thames Valley Tales Tim. I wish you both every success with the audio book.

About Tim Walker

Tim Walker at Caerleon

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After attaining a degree in Communication Studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2014, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, inspired by a visit to the site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

Book one is Abandoned (second edition 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017) and Uther’s Destiny (2018). The last two books in the series, Arthur Dux Bellorum (2019) and Arthur Rex Brittonum (2020) cover the life of an imaged historical King Arthur, and are both Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads.

In 2021 he published a dual timeline historical novel, Guardians at the Wall. This was inspired by visits to Vindolanda and Corbridge at Hadrian’s Wall, and concerns the efforts of archaeologists to uncover evidence and build a narrative of the life of a Roman centurion in second century Britannia… and find his missing payroll chest.

Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (second edition 2023), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

He plans to re-work some stories in Postcards from London into London Tales, with the addition of new stories, for publication in 2024 in audiobook, Kindle and paperback.

To find out more you can visit Tim’s website. or follow him on Twitter @timwalker1666 and Tim can be found on InstagramGoodreadsAmazon and Facebook.

Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation by Shai Tubali

Now let’s get this clear. I am not a spiritual person. I’m rarely still and I tend to feel those who advocate any kind of meditation are a bit ‘hippy dippy’. However, in the last year I have been taking a mixed Pilates and yoga class and at the end of the class we spend a few minutes relaxing, focusing on our bodies and ‘letting go’. This has been a revelation and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation by Shai Tubali. My enormous thanks to the author for having it sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation will be published in paperback the UK on 2nd April 2023 and is already available in audio and ebook here.

Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation

Harness the power of meditation for a happier, healthier life. Appropriate for practitioners of all skill levels, this new addition to Llewellyn’s Complete Book Series features thirty-five fundamental meditation techniques from traditions around the world. It presents each with its historical background, cultural context, potential benefits, and clear instructions for practicing at home.Shai Tubali teaches well-known methods, like classical Zen meditation, and more obscure ones, such as Sufi Whirling. You will learn to align your mind and body, open your heart to love and compassion, use the hidden powers of sound, and more. This comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide introduces the magic of meditation in a way that is experiential, practical, and deeply researched, empowering you to journey farther into the world of meditation than ever before.

My Review of Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation

A guide to meditation.

If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting a great deal from Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation. I thought I’d dip in and out, find a few interesting facts and ideas, enjoy the book and set it aside. As soon as I read the introduction and Shai Tubali’s perceptive comments about those who simply don’t give meditation full consideration I realised this isn’t a book to be rushed but that it might be one I needed in my life. It has taken me some weeks to read as I found it quite intense and packed with information so that I had to think carefully about the contents. 

The subtitle to Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation is ‘A Comprehensive Guide to Effective Techniques for Calming Your Mind and Spirit’ and that could not be more accurate. The book is divided into ten chapters, the first three of which are more general and provide insight into more generic meditative practices that feel accessible, well explained and useful. There’s a pragmatism in the presentation as Shai Tubali is realistic about what an individual can achieve and is encouraging in helping the reader to build up their meditation skills rather than expecting them to be immersed immediately. 

In the second part of Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation different forms of meditation linked to chakras are given, with a wide range of aspects that include the historical background and purposes as well as techniques and rationale. Whilst some meditations appealed more to me than others, I found this section of the book fascinating. I think Shai Tubali has authored a handbook that will guide and enhance the lives of those open to meditation, but at the same time he has produced an absolutely intriguing text for those who are simply curious or, as I was initially, sceptical. The use of footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book add to the sense of authenticity and authority. 

I found Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation challenging. There’s a depth of information. I found some ideas and practices appealed more than others. There’s reference to religions and I am always mistrustful of religious organisations of any kind. I had to set aside my prejudices and cynicism in order to appreciate fully the contents. But to some extent, that’s the point. Whilst I may not incorporate seven chakra based meditations across my week with unerring regularity, Shai Tubali has taught me to be calmer, more thoughtful and more aware. I understand the need to be more open and reflective. I’ve a long way to go, but Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation has started me on the journey.

Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Meditation will not appeal to everyone, but I think this book will be a life changer for some and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. At the very least it is completely fascinating, brilliantly researched and accessibly written with compassion and authority. Why not take a look?

About Shai Tubali

Shai Tubali is a leading authority in the field of self-development and self-empowerment. In his writings and teachings, he skillfully combines psychology, philosophy, Yogic traditions and Eastern thought and practices, into powerful processes of inner transformation.

Shai has written 23 books, which have appeared internationally for the past two decades in five languages and have been published by major publishers. His most prominent writings have been awarded in the United States and in Israel and others have become best-sellers, inspiring many thousands on their inner journeys of mental, emotional and spiritual transformation.

A trained Yogi, with 20 years of studies in the field of Eastern thought and Yogic traditions, Shai Tubali has become one of Europe’s experts in the field of subtle bodies and, more specifically, the ancient chakra system. Based on his own direct and ongoing revelation of cosmic consciousness since the age of 23, he has guided thousands in Israel and Europe towards deeper experiences of the hidden potentials of their hearts and minds. With time, Shai has created a significant list of methods that mix meditation, therapy, and self-empowerment into highly effective, integral processes. His most established methods – the “Expansion Method”, “Power Psychology”, and “Chakra Psychology” – have been applied by psychologists and psychotherapists throughout Europe.

Since 2012, Shai Tubali lives in Berlin where he runs the Human Greatness Center. At his center, he leads yearly schools and holds seminars, training, and talks, all broadcast online drawing participants from all over the world.

Born in Israel in 1976, Shai became very early in his life an active journalist and columnist in Israel’s major newspapers and one of its leading radio stations. His writing career started at the age of 19, where he became nationally recognized as a novelist.

Currently, he is conducting his PHD in philosophy in the field of mysticism, self-transformation, and Western philosophy at the University of Leeds, UK.

For further information, visit Shai’s website or find him on Twitter @STubali, Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Jane Lythell on The Exes Publication Day

How can is be almost six years since lovely Jane Lythell appeared here in interview on Linda’ s Book Bag? I’m delighted to welcome back Jane today as we celebrate her brand new thriller The Exes which sounds an absolute cracker and is waiting for me on my TBR.

It’s a real pleasure to chat with Jane all about The Exes. Let’s see what she has to say:

Staying in with Jane Lythell

Welcome back at last to Linda’s Book Bag Jane and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

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

It’s my fifth novel The Exes, and as it is published today by Bloodhound Books I wanted to chat to you about it.

Oo. Happy publication day Jane. What can we expect from an evening in with The Exes?

A few goosebumps, I hope. And a quest to work out who is gaslighting my heroine Holly.

The Exes is Domestic Noir and centres on a large and dilapidated Victorian house in Brighton called Penumbra House. I love books which are centred on houses. I’m thinking of Manderley and the anguish of the new Mrs de Winter! How the house became a place of misery.

That sounds creepy already. Tell me more!

Holly Hilborne, is stunned to learn that her reclusive aunt Lillian has left her Penumbra House. Holly wasn’t even sure that her aunt fully approved of her.

But when she sees the state the house is in Holly is daunted. She recruits two of her ex-lovers – Ray a builder and Spencer an artist – to help her renovate the house. And when her soon to be ex-husband James hears about this, he pushes her to let him have the top floor for use as his osteopath clinic.  He agrees to pay rent and Holly, reluctantly, lets him move in.

Holly, now single, isn’t clear on her motivation for inviting her three exes into her house. Is she is trying to create an alternative family for herself? What could possibly go wrong? Just one big happy family…

Ha! I bet! 

Of course, reality intrudes. Far from Holly’s shared house becoming a commune of four individuals living in harmony, dark emotions are unleashed. Two of the men fight like rutting stags to become the dominant Alpha Male of the house.

As the house starts to come together, Holly starts to fall apart. She is plagued by dizziness, nausea, killer headaches, and a host of unexplained things happening in the house. Is she imagining things? One of my inspirations was the 1944 film Gaslight.

I think The Exes sounds brilliant. What have others thought so far?

Three admired authors who read advanced copies have sent me their thoughts on The Exes:

The Exes is one of the most well-plotted and original premises in a domestic noir I’ve read. How would any of us cope with three exes under one roof? As the sinister plot thickened, I was gripped and found it unputdownable. Jane’s evocative writing is immersive and incredibly readable. One of my thrillers of the year – I just loved it.’

Emily Freud, Author of What She Left Behind

The Exes is a turn of the screw novel of festering resentment and growing horror. From the first page – the hiding of a body below the sweeping branches of a fig tree – to the twisty final scene, it is a helter skelter of possible poisoning, manipulation, lies and the sins of ancestors that sweep in to claim poor Holly’s sanity and maybe her life. An excellent read, but maybe not if you’re alone in a big dark house.’

P.D. Viner Author of The Call

‘Set against the backdrop of a crumbling Brighton house, this vivid domestic noir blends present-day relationships with the darkness of the past. Chilling, tense and compelling.’  Essie Fox, author of The Last Days of Leda Grey

I have a feeling I might need to read The Exes when my husband is definitely at home Jane. You must be delighted with those responses.

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

A favourite evening drink is red wine and I love Nero D’Avola, a Sicilian Red. It needs a bit of cheese on sourdough to go with it and some olives. Holly is dairy intolerant so she would have to have humus instead.

Holly can have my wine as I can’t drink it without feeling ill and I’ll have her cheese.

March is still often cold, so I’d like us to sit by a real log fire. But I’d be careful to choose logs that did not carry the beetles that attack Elm trees. The Exes is set in Brighton which is proud of its 17,000 elms and the ancient Elm of Preston Park (over 400 years old) which features in my novel.

I’ve lived in Brighton for eleven years now. My previous novels were set in London but after eleven years I felt I knew Brighton well enough to make it the location. I think giving your novel a strong sense of place does enhance its reality so the ruined West Pier, the quirky shops of the North Laine and seagulls all make an appearance.

You’re making me want to head back to Brighton. Haven’t been there for 23 years.

And I’d let you know that, in spite of warnings from friends, my idea for The Exes was also inspired by the fact that I’ve stayed friends with three of my exes. Like Holly I can’t quite let my exes go.

Oo. I think I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details about The Exes and you can tell me more about those exes of yours…

Thanks so much for staying in with me Jane and happy publication day again. I can’t wait to read The Exes.

The Exes

When Holly is bequeathed a large but derelict house, she wants to share her good fortune. So she gets in touch with former boyfriend Ray, a builder who can project-manage the renovation in exchange for the basement flat. The spacious middle floor would make a glorious studio space—perfect for her friend and first love, Spencer. And before Holly knows it, the upper floor is let to soon-to-be ex-husband James, who’s on a path of reinvention from city highflyer to osteopath. What could possibly go wrong?

But no good deed goes unpunished, and soon the house is riddled with tension, rivalry, and petty spitefulness. And as Holly is beset with migraines, nausea and spiralling self-doubt, even the house itself seems to be turning against her. But for someone, everything is going to plan . . .

Published today, 16th March 2023 by Bloodhound Books, The Exes is available for purchase here.

About Jane Lythall

Jane Lythell lives in Brighton, East Sussex, UK.

She worked as a TV producer for 15 years; moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director; was Chief Executive of BAFTA for one year followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She now writes full-time.

Her two psychological thrillers The Lie of You and After the Storm were published in 2014 and 2015 and were USA Today bestsellers.

Jane’s debut novel The Lie of You has been translated into seven languages and inspired the film A Working Mom’s Nightmare starring Tuppence Middleton and Rupert Graves. This is currently screening on Lifetime Movies in the USA.

Her next, Woman of the Hour, revealed life at the TV front-line through the eyes of producer Liz Lyon. It came out in July 2016 and the follow-up novel Behind Her Back was published in 2018.

For further information, follow Jane on Twitter @janelythell and Instagram.

The Ugly Truth by L.C. North

It’s far, far too long since L.C. North appeared on Linda’s Book Bag. Then I was reviewing her book The Perfect Betrayal in a post you’ll find here.

I last caught up with L.C. North in Harrogate in July 2022 when I was thrilled to receive a very early copy of Lauren’s latest book The Ugly Truth. It’s a real pleasure to share my review of The Ugly Truth today.

Published tomorrow, 16th March 2023 by Penguin’s Bantam imprint, The Ugly Truth is available for purchase through the links here.

The Ugly Truth

Melanie Lange has disappeared.

Her father, Sir Peter Lange, says she is a danger to herself and has been admitted to a private mental health clinic.

Her ex-husband, Finn, and best friend, Nell, say she has been kidnapped.

The media will say whichever gets them the most views.

But whose side are you on?


My Review of The Ugly Truth

Melanie Lange is missing.

Well, that wasn’t what I was expecting! I had anticipated that The Ugly Truth would be a normal (if normal can be applied to the genre) psychological thriller with a few twists along the way. I hadn’t expected such a cleverly structured book with the narrative told through interview, diary, a documentary and social media in ways that both appal and engage the reader. The way information is drip fed is very cleverly done because it makes you change your mind as you read.

Certainly The Ugly Truth is about family dynamics, control and relationships, but it is so much wider. What L.C. North does is to place the reader into a position they may well take in their normal lives, and illustrates just how much we are manipulated by social media, how easily we form opinion without the full facts and how vulnerable we are to having our own certainties altered and undermined by people we’ve never met. I found this theme nastily unsettling and totally plausible, making for a gripping read. 

The newspaper headlines, the hashtags and the opinions given with total disregard for empirical basis in The Ugly Truth are a salutary and disturbing example of what life must be like for those in the public eye. Whilst I was never quite certain if I liked Melanie as a person, I felt that wasn’t the point. How I might feel about any of the characters was immaterial. Instead, I was being drawn into a situation that made me question myself as much as Peter or Melanie. The different points of view created a maelstrom of response in me as a reader so that for much of the book I wasn’t quite sure whether I was on the side of #SaveMelanie or #HelpPeter and by the end of the book I was no nearer deciding!

Themes of guilt, identity, loyalty and trust and of the reasons why people behave as they do give The Ugly Truth added depth. There’s an almost Shakespearean understanding of how anyone, or, indeed, everyone can impact another person’s life. I’d love to see The Ugly Truth as part of the secondary school curriculum or as part of police training as it raises more questions than it answers and provides a rich seam of ideology that inspires debate.

I think The Ugly Truth might divide readers because it leaves them feeling uncomfortable and somehow complicit in a rather unsavoury world. I found it a fascinating, compelling and disturbing book. The Ugly Truth is a bit like the literary equivalent of dropping a pebble in a pond and watching how the rings reverberate across the surface. Be prepared to have your ideologies and beliefs challenged if you read it and I recommend that you do.

About L.C. North

L.C. North studied psychology at university before pursuing a career in Public Relations. Her first book club thriller – The Ugly Truth – combines her love of psychology and her fascination with the celebrities in the public eye. L.C. North is currently working on her second novel, and when she’s not writing, she co-hosts the crime thriller podcast, In Suspense. L.C. North lives on the Suffolk borders with her family. L.C. North is the pen name of Lauren North.

For further information, visit Lauren’s website or you can follow Lauren on Twitter @Lauren_C_North and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Spotlighting Celeste and the Witch Garden by Jude Gwynaire

As many of you know, one of the ways I got into blogging was because I’d been lucky enough to review middle grade books for Hodder and to write teacher resources to accompany them. Consequently, I’m always keen to promote fiction for all age groups here on Linda’s Book Bag. With that in mind, I invited Jude Gwynaire onto the blog.

Jude’s latest book for children is Celeste and the Witch Garden published by Burton Mayers on 17th February and available for purchase here.

Celeste and the Witch Garden

The Witch Garden is more than just your average, typical back garden – it’s more like a large and diverse, self-contained magical ecosystem, with fields, forests, rivers, villages and towns – even a castle – spread over its lush and green lands. Harper, the clumsy talking owl lives there, as do Alditha the white witch, the Green Man, and Skoros – the less than pleasant, megalomanic steampunk wizard.

When a giant flying teacup appears over the Green Man’s nook, Harper is convinced Skoros is up to no good, and reports the matter to Alditha. They discover, however, that the occupant of the teacup (which is really a spaceship in disguise) is actually a humanoid alien called Celeste, who looks about thirteen years old. Celeste hints that the Witch Garden is only a small part of a Class M planet called RY53-6, and seems intent on locating a series of mysterious silver orbs. She has a bio-mechanical alien sidekick called Alpha (who looks like a typical ‘Grey’ alien). They’re Astarians, and together, they’re on a mission to find The Sleepers – an Astarian space crew they believe visited the planet thousands of years ago.

Near the centre of the Witch Garden, in a town called Enki-Wood, is a monument to the nearest thing the WitchGardenfolk have to a god (Vin Taoo, the Great Gardener). The monument is Stone Hedge, and it’s actually the petrified drive system of The Sleepers’ dimension-hopping spaceship. When Celeste accidentally wakes The Sleepers from thousands of years of cryogenic sleep, the battle is on, not only to defeat Skoros and free the Witch Garden from his malign and polluting influence, but also to thwart the leader of The Sleepers, who wants to make the planet uninhabited again, as it was when he originally found it.

It takes the united efforts of all kinds of WitchGardenfolk, as well as Celeste, Alpha, and some of The Sleepers, to overcome both threats before the main Astarian Fleet arrives, and a deal can be brokered to co-exist with the Witch Garden’s newest residents.

An Interview with Jude Gwynaire

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Jude.

Thanks for having me.

I know both music and writing are important parts of your life. When did you first start writing?

I finished my first novel at the age of fifteen. Mr Clef’s Psychedelic World of Music, was heavily influenced by the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine’, and even had accompanying music. Although it wasn’t published, I still have a rejection letter from Fontana Paperbacks, which gave me enough encouragement to continue with my writing.

That sounds quite an achievement for a fifteen year old. You’ve obviously moved on considerably since then so tell me a bit about your latest book. 

My latest novel, a children’s/young adult sci-fi/fantasy entitled Celeste and the Witch Garden, is a distant relative of a fantasy website project I created twenty years ago called ‘Aliens In My Garden’. My son, Aaron, who was about ten years old at the time, created a range of colourful clay models (aliens, witches, wizards, trolls – and a whole host of other fantasy characters) that I photographed in my back garden, and around which I created stories. Many characters had their own page on the website. It was a great father and son project, and we still have all the models in the loft. I tried to get one or two film companies interested in the concept, and did receive one positive reply from the USA. Aaron is still very creative, and has a computer game coming out soon called ‘Neyyah’.

You sound like a very talented and imaginative family Jude! How did Celeste and the Witch Garden move from a game with your son to a published book?

Back in the present, it’s been great working with my present publisher, Richard Mayers, who has helped me bring Celeste and the Witch Garden to market. From February 2023, the novel has been available in paperback and on Kindle. Thank you to Toby French for an amazing cover.

And what are you working on next?

I’m already working on a sequel to Celeste and the Witch Garden, and also an adult sci-fi thriller entitled ‘The Orb Forest (Where Androids Have Souls’).

That sounds rather disturbing to me! Will music play a part too?

I aim to compose a soundtrack for the novel in the near future. Four of the tracks are already completed, and have been released as singles, as well as appearing on my 25 track album, Music From Slate Bird.

I’m always in awe of those with a musical talent Jude as I am sure I’m tone deaf. I wish you every success with both your music and your writing and with Celeste and the Witch Garden in particular. Thanks so much for being on the blog.

About Jude Gwynaire

Jude was born in the UK and lives in Suffolk, where he combines a love of writing with that of music and composing. Drawing inspiration from history, folklore, and the natural world, Jude has written science-fiction and fantasy stories for children and adults.

As a self-taught musician, working from his own studio at the peripheries of the industry, Jude draws on his many interests and influences to create new and diverse soundscapes that span the genres of Electronica, Ambient, New Age and Rock.

Jude has been able to pursue his passion for music free from constraint, and indulge in an atmosphere of unbridled creativity. By embracing the Internet as a means of promotion, his maverick approach has enabled him to reach an audience through channels other than mainstream.

For more information, visit Jude’s website or follow him on Twitter @judegwynaire. You’ll also find Jude on Instagram and Facebook.

The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope by Luke Adam Hawker

It was back in 2021 when I reviewed Luke Adam Hawker’s Together in a post you’ll find here. I was so moved by his artistry that Together became one of my books of the year. Consequently, although I was avoiding taking on new blog tours, I simply had to be part of this one for Luke Adam Hawker’s latest book The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope. My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate.

Published by Octopus imprint Ilex on 2nd March 2023, The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope is available for purchase here.

The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope

Imagine a world without trees. A world that is in many ways like our world, but where magnificent canopies, tree climbing and leaves rustling in the breeze are now only distant memories.

Until a young girl comes along, a girl who is brave and spirited and willing to follow where her imagination takes her. Through Olive’s adventures in the world of trees we are reminded of nature’s extraordinary power and beauty, and her actions ultimately sow the seeds of new life in her own world.

From the mind and pen of bestselling author Luke Adam Hawker, The Last Tree is a powerful evocation of the fragility of our natural world and a magnificent celebration of its beauty.

My Review of The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope

A picture book for all ages.

I never know whether to envy or pity those who’ve yet to discover Luke Adam Hawker. I envy that first discovery, but because I feel my life has been enhanced by his books, I truly envy those who haven’t yet dived in to them.

There’s very little text in The Last Tree: A Seed of Hope, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no story or that the book isn’t rammed with meaning and thought-provoking images and messages. Even the end papers help illustrate our insignificance in the universe. The text can be taken literally, but the more times I looked at the book, the more significance I found. When Olive climbs the tree, for example, it was as if an understanding of the challenges of life in general was being conveyed with humanity and empathy. Indeed, I found myself attaching importance and interpretation that is perhaps way outside the original meaning intended. And that is the success of the book. It seems as if it adapts itself to the reader. Aside from any environmental message, Olive felt like a metaphor for Ukraine to me…

The Last Tree might initially feel simplistic, but it’s a book that increasingly rewards and provides greater meaning the more time is spent looking carefully at the images. What Luke Adam Hawker does so well is to allow a kind of breathing space so the reader or viewer can pause, contemplate and find their own meaning and construct their own narrative beyond that which is physically presented. The use of white space in the book enhances this feeling too.

The themes are profound and moving. Olive lives in a world without trees until her adventure begins. Her situation mirrors what is happening to the world’s environment to perfection making The Last Tree feel relevant and dangerously prescient. I loved the fact her name is also a tree and is associated with peace. I found this quite moving and ended The Last Tree feeling her name was more of a hopeful instruction – O. Live! And there is hope at the end of the story so that the book feels uplifting and positive in spite of the difficult messages it has.

The quality of illustration is outstanding. Each page is a mini work of art and I was intrigued by the fact that whilst there is considerable heaviness and darkness in many of the pictures, several have light alleviating them so that they enhance the ultimate feeling of optimism.  

The Last Tree is magical because it is a different book with different meaning every time it is picked up. It speaks to each reader individually. I thought it was wonderful.

About Luke Adam Hawker

Luke Adam Hawker worked as an architectural designer before becoming a full time artist in 2015. He sells his signed and limited edition prints to fans throughout the UK and the rest of the world. He has also been commissioned by brands such as the Soho House Hotel Group, and has an artwork hanging in the Parliamentary Art collection.
Luke’s first book, Together, was a Sunday Times bestseller. It has sold over 130,000 copies worldwide to date, and has been translated into nine languages.
Luke lives with his wife, son and dog Robin in Surrey, England.

You can find out more about Luke and his work on Instagram and his website. You can follow Luke on Twitter @lukeadamhawker and there’s more with these other bloggers too:

Festival of Cats (collective noun) by various authors

Anyone who has been in my home will know instantly that I’m a huge cat lover. House and garden are festooned with cat related items. Therefore, I was delighted to receive a copy of Festival of Cats (collective noun) from lovely Lorna at Crumps Barn in return for an honest review. It’s my pleasure to share that review today.

Festival of Cats was published by Crumps Barn Studio on 28th February and is available for purchase here and directly from the publisher here.

Festival of Cats

Heroes and danger, comfort and claws

A black cat dreams of finding a new family, and a vampire is woken by a brush with ancient folklore. Then a cat tests just how far his nine lives run, before a stray moves in, and a kitten discovers a thirst for adventure …

Full of playfulness and wildness, this is a vibrant collection from eleven UK authors about the reality of being owned by a cat.

My Review of Festival of Cats

A pocket sized anthology of cat related writing.

As might be expected from such an eclectic mix of entries, I enjoyed some of the writing more than other pieces in Festival of Cats, but found the whole anthology a pleasing love letter to our feline friends – even if some of the cats were more positive in behaviour than others! 

There’s everything represented here from a cat’s ability to raise a vampire, or become a matchmaker, through the definition of an ailurophile to the more prosaic antics of a cat trying to get a human to feed it, so that there’s something for every reader to enjoy. There’s a little touch of horror, a little touch of romance and, at the risk of being entirely anthropomorphic, it seems that the feline world is a metaphor for the human one, with homelessness, a need to belong, fear and kindness, for example, present in many of the pieces so that there’s a resonance to be found.

Accompanying the writing are some highly attractive illustrations that have a looseness and indistinct quality that represents to perfection the somewhat ephemeral nature of cats in human lives. They are tricky creatures to pin down! 

Festival of Cats is a charming collection that would make a lovely gift for a cat lover, containing something for every age group.

About the Authors

Festival of Cats includes contributions from eleven UK authors featuring original work from: Diana Alexander, Amaris Chase, Daphne Denley, J. J. Drover, Harriet Hitchen, Rebecca McDowall, Jane Phillips, Angela Reddaway, Margaret Royall, Stuart Samuel and Penny Wright. All are cat lovers to the core. The cover and illustrations in the book are from Lorna Gray.


So Pretty by Ronnie Turner

My enormous thanks to Karen at Orenda for sending me a copy of So Pretty by Ronnie Turner in return for an honest review. I love books in the Orenda catalogue and I was sure So Pretty must be something special if Karen had added it to the list. It is and I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Orenda on 19th January 2023, So Pretty is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

So Pretty

Fear blisters through this town like a fever…

When Teddy Colne arrives in the small town of Rye, he believes he will be able to settle down and leave his past behind him. Little does he know that fear blisters through the streets like a fever. The locals tell him to stay away from an establishment known only as Berry & Vincent, that those who rub too closely to its proprietor risk a bad end.

Despite their warnings, Teddy is desperate to understand why Rye has come to fear this one man, and to see what really hides behind the doors of his shop.

Ada moved to Rye with her young son to escape a damaged childhood and years of never fitting in, but she’s lonely, and ostracised by the community. Ada is ripe for affection and friendship, and everyone knows it.

As old secrets bleed out into this town, so too will a mystery about a family who vanished fifty years earlier, and a community living on a knife edge.

Teddy looks for answers, thinking he is safe, but some truths are better left undisturbed, and his past will find him here, just as it has always found him before. And before long, it will find Ada too.

My Review of So Pretty

Teddy has a new job.

Crikey! This is a book and a half. So Pretty makes your skin crawl, your heart thump and the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. It’s an astonishing debut with a creepiness and malevolence that permeates the reader’s mind every bit as much as Vincent manages with those who encounter him in the story. I thought it was completely brilliant. 

The plot of So Pretty is simultaneously fast paced and yet somehow measured in a blend of intelligent, mesmerising storytelling that meant I could hardly bear to read on and yet I simply couldn’t stop. I’d heard excellent things about Ronnie Turner’s writing, but I had mis-judged just how effectively she would get under my skin and repulse and attract me in a pitch perfect balance. I felt as captivated and manipulated by the author as any character in the book. To say a thing about what actually happens would be a disservice to other readers but my goodness this is a narrative that lingers and unsettles long after the final page is read. So Pretty is an incredibly powerful story, not least because there’s a visual quality to the writing that makes each detail vivid in the mind’s eye and whilst it feels Gothic and horrific it feels totally authentic and scarily possible too. I loved the iterative image of the apple – all the connotations are here from the temptation of Eve, through to one bad apple in a barrel to apples not falling far from the tree, and they add a sinister undertone that builds and ensnares.

The characters here are sublimely created. As there are relatively few, Ronnie Turner lends them an intensity and claustrophobia that almost feels as if it is tainting the reader even as Ada, Teddy and Albie become affected by Mr Vincent. Again, it is impossible to articulate too much for fear of spoiling the story. The control in the lives of these people by secondary characters adds such texture and depth. Johnny is only alluded to, never actually directly present in the story, but his effect ripples and reverberates with an almost Shakespearean intensity. Reading So Pretty made me think of the manipulation by Iago or the duplicity of the witches in Macbeth because there’s a timelessness to the beguiling and dangerous behaviour here. 

The themes in So Pretty are dark, disturbing, intelligent and perfectly explored. They impact the reader right into their very soul, creating a kind of heightened awareness in the potential for evil in the world. There’s a nightmarish sensation in reading what happens, making you think about the book continuously even when you’re not reading it.

I’m aware I’ve hardly said anything coherent about So Pretty for fear of revealing too much, but this story is a seething cauldron of obsession, of nature and nurture, and of the impact of distorted belief that is compelling, shocking and absolute genius. It’s a fascinating psychological insight into what makes humans behave as they do. I thought it was fantastic and cannot recommend it highly enough. So Pretty is a total triumph! 

About Ronnie Turner

Ronnie Turner grew up in Cornwall, the youngest in a large family. At an early age, she discovered a love of literature. She now works as a Senior Waterstones Bookseller and barista. Ronnie lives in the South West with her family and three dogs. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and taking long walks on the coast.

For more information, follow Ronnie on Twitter @Ronnie_ _Turner or find her on Facebook and Instagram.