The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson

I adore Barbara Henderson’s children’s books and am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her latest, The Reluctant Rebel.

You’ll find other books by Barbara featured here:

My Review of The Chessmen Thief here.

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 hereThe Siege of Caerlaverock was also one of my 2020 Books of the Year.

Published by Luath on 30th May 2022, The Reluctant Rebel is available for purchase in all good bookshops including directly from the publisher here.

The Reluctant Rebel

There it is again, hope. The defeat and the despair I can stand, but it’s the hope that kills me, as if the Cause wasn’t lost, as if Father hadn’t died in vain. As if any one of us could possibly come out of this alive…

Following the death of his father, 13-year-old Archie MacDonald has lost faith in the Jacobite Cause. Having witnessed their clan’s terrible defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Archie and his feisty cousin Meg flee back to Lochaber to lie low.

Or so they think.

Until the fugitive Prince’s life depends on them.

When Prince Charles Edward Stuart looks to the people of Borrodale for help, will the young stable boy support the rebellion that has cost him so dearly?

With enemies closing in, the Prince’s fate now rests in the hands of a stable boy and a maid with a white cockade.

Who will survive this deadly game of hide-and-seek?

My Review of The Reluctant Rebel

Prince Charles Edward Stuart needs assistance.

The Reluctant Rebel is just fabulous and has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from Barbara Henderson’s brilliant writing for children.

Firstly, there’s a breath-takingly exciting plot that is steeped in historical accuracy that can only arise from meticulous research. The tone created through Archie’s first person account is spot on; it’s totally accessible to young readers and yet sounds so much part of the era of the book, bringing the era alive.

Particularly poignant at the moment, given current world events, The Reluctant Rebel gives relatable insight into why different sides fight and what the consequences are for those ordinary people caught up in conflict. I think it would be a perfect catalyst for discussion in both school and home. Barbara Henderson always gives a strong voice to the lowly of society, the servants and children, so that she affords them a status and respect young readers will love. Archie isn’t entirely convinced the cause is worth the losses suffered and through him the author illustrates that decisions are not always easy to make. I thought Barbara Henderson’s ability to be thought provoking in an accessible manner was absolutely spot on.

Themes of family, loyalty, grief and bravery are pinned to the narrative like the white cockade attached to Meg’s hair so that Barbara Henderson illustrates so effectively how helping and supporting those we care about is a valid, valiant activity. Through Archie and Meg the author conveys a morality that feels authentic without being preachy or patronising. There’s a real deftness of touch here that shows just how well the author understands her target audience.

Whilst The Reluctant Rebel is an exciting story for independent individual readers, it would make a superb book for a KS2 classroom. Steeped in history, brilliantly written in a way that models the effective use of description, tension and direct speech especially well, with an historical timeline and glossary included, there’s so much here to ignite a child’s imagination, to inspire and to explore.

In The Reluctant Rebel Barbara Henderson brings history to life magnificently. She’s a real talent and it’s a privilege to have read The Reluctant Rebel. I loved this story. Don’t miss out on it, whatever age you are!

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.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Giveaway: Two tickets to any @MargateBookie event

Having just been involved in my local Deepings Literary Festival I’m delighted to bring details of another festival a little bit further from South Lincolnshire where I live. The lovely festival organisers are giving away two tickets to an event of the winner’s choice and I’m delighted to share this with you.

Here’s what they told me:

Margate Bookie, the friendly lit fest by the sea, is back, live and in-person once more from the Turner Contemporary. This year, it’s gearing up to be an action-packed Jubilee weekend of great authors, unique performances and incredible events. Their fab line-up includes novelist Maggie Gee, BBC Radio 1 medical expert Dr Radha Modgil, comedian Rosie Wilby, and social media sensation Felicity Hayward.

From debut novelist Chloe Timms, the IsleWrite and 14 Magazine anthologies, and the Live Launch of their third ZineThe Open Arms, they’ve got it all. And who can forget the official launch of their founder and CEO Andreas Loizou’s latest book, The Story is Everything.

They’re also binging us some fantastic workshops from Elise Valmorbida on outsiderness, and Zoe Gilbert is there to help us write some Seaside Stories. And just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, their annual Bookie Poetry Slam returns for Part 5, headlined by emcee and broadcaster, The Repeat Beat Poet.

To celebrate, we’re giving away a pair of tickets to any event in their action-packed programme. For your chance to win, simply comment on this bog post and we’ll pick a winner at random on Monday 30 May.

Head to the Margate Bookie website to check out their full programme and find them on Twitter @MargateBookie, Facebook and Instagram.

***

Doesn’t that sound great? If you’d like two tickets to an event of your choice simply comment on this blog post by 5PM on Monday 30th May and a random winner will be chosen by Margate Bookie.

(Please note this is independent of Linda’s Book Bag – I’m just sharing!)

Staying in with Lorna Hunting

A month ago I had the pleasure of meeting Lorna Hunting at the Deepings Literary Festival when we chatted all about her latest book. Although I didn’t have time to read it, I knew it would be popular with many Linda’s Book Bag readers so I asked Lorna if she would stay in with me to chat about it. Luckily she agreed so let’s find out more:

Staying in with Lorna Hunting

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

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

I’ve brought New Beginnings on Vancouver Island the seeds of which were sown by my mother telling me about our Canadian forebears when I was a child. It’s “faction” in that I’ve taken an actual journey my 3X great grandparents made in 1854 as the basis for this novel and woven fictional characters around it. My family are not in the book, but I have used their diaries and papers for inspiration and detail. It’s an interesting period in history and not many people are aware that colliers left the UK to set up home just off the west coast of Canada. The cover says it all – historical fiction with romance.

That sound wonderful. What can we expect from an evening in with New Beginnings on Vancouver Island?

You can expect to begin in Cumberland, travel to Liverpool and then emigrate in a 19th century three-masted sailing ship around Cape Horn in winter. To share the hopes and expectations of young enthusiastic colliers from Whitehaven and Brierley Hill who have signed up to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Some will find love and others will not survive the trip. Those running away from trouble will learn that it’s not that easy to shake it off. On arrival adjustments must be made by all since a new country means new ways and for some of the settlers this takes a lot of getting used to.

I love the sound of that – and I’ve been round Cape Horn in a force 10 so I think I’d probably find that journey very relatable! How is New Beginnings on Vancouver Island being received?

Amazon reviews include –

“Lorna’s research has given us a compelling historical novel that kept me captivated from the first page. Thanks to the beautiful narrative, I felt I too was on this epic journey to Canada and I’ve done some travelling in my time, but none as tough as this. A stunning read.”

“This is without doubt one of my top reads of the year. Engrossing and page turning from start to finish – I cannot wait for Lorna’s next book.”

“A fascinating historical romance… The book will appeal to many types of reader: those interested in historical romance, sailing ships and a detailed account of rounding Cape Horn and sailing through the Pacific, and to those interested in the life of a British Cumbrian mining community and its hardships and the opportunities offered by Empire and the chance to build a new life. It also shows how Empire was built by very ordinary men and women. Thoroughly enjoyable and a compelling book.”

You must be delighted with those responses Lorna.

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

I’ve brought a pair of Staffordshire figures that made the original trip in 1854. I’ve brought them because it’s interesting that with limited space on the ship my forebears took the trouble to travel with something so breakable, so they must have been important to them. I’m guessing they were probably a wedding present they didn’t want to leave behind. The other thing is that it’s a miracle they have survived this long intact. Passed down over the years they are now safely back in England after over 160 years. They have no financial value except for their provenance. It’s a privilege to have them, but I have to admit it’s quite a responsibility to be the keeper of these country folk and they are on a very high shelf.

Oh wow! What a fabulous story. No wonder you’re feeling the responsibility of keeping them intact. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about New Beginnings on Vancouver Island. I think I’d love it. Let me give readers a few more details:

New Beginnings on Vancouver Island

The year is 1854 and Stag Liddell, a young collier from Whitehaven, signs up to work in Vancouver Island’s new coal mines. Whilst waiting for his ship to Canada, he meets ambitious school teacher Kate McAvoy who is also making the trip.

As the ship nears its destination, Stag and Kate’s relationship begins to blossom, but damning information comes to light and a pact made years before comes into play.

Will their budding romance survive these devastating revelations? And will they both achieve their dreams in this new land?

New Beginnings on Vancouver Island is published by Goldcrest and available for purchase here.

About Lorna Hunting

Lorna was born and brought up in Lincolnshire in the UK. After teaching the piano and raising a family, she exhibited and lectured on antique Chinese textiles in the UK, New York, China and Hong Kong. Following on from that she studied and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS] in London gaining a doctorate in Chinese history. She now writes historical fiction full time and lives in Stamford in a very old house with stone walls and lots of beams. Just the place for a historian. She is very fond of rabbits.

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

Shelley Wilson Introduces The Last Princess

Whenever I meet Shelley Wilson – whether that’s in person or online – I’m always in awe of what she achieves. Today it gives me enormous pleasure to hand over Linda’s Book Bag to Shelley as she introduces her latest book, The Last Princess in a super guest post.

The Last Princess was published yesterday, 24th May 2022, by BHC Press Books and is available for purchase directly from BHC Press, on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & NobleWaterstonesGoogle PlayKobo and Apple Books.

The Last Princess

Northumbria, 866 AD

Edith still has much to learn about the art of ruling a kingdom, but when her family is murdered, she’s faced with the challenge of staying alive.

As a young woman in Anglo-Saxon England, Edith finds it hard to be heard above the Eldermen who are ripping the kingdom to pieces, but nothing can prepare her for the arrival of the pirates and the Vikings. Torn from her homeland and sold into slavery, she’s determined to survive at any cost.

Finding allies in the unexpected and enemies closer to home, Edith clings to her dream of returning home one day to reclaim her throne and to exact revenge on those who harmed her family.

Early Praise for The Last Princess:

This fast-paced historical novel builds on an obscure Anglo-Saxon king’s life to tell an empowering tale of a girl’s journey to fully embrace a new world, a new culture…as she grows into her own as a warrior. Edith’s fierce and often violent quest for revenge is juxtaposed with lovely, life-affirming moments of friendship and love in an engaging first-person narrative.” – Kirkus Reviews

I LOVED this quick fantasy read. I can’t wait to share with my students once I get a copy.” – Dawn, Teacher & Goodreads Reviewer

WOW! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it! This story is absolutely amazing.” – Rebecca, Goodreads Reviewer

Introducing The Last Princess

A Guest Post by Shelley Wilson

I love joining Linda on her amazing blog and scaring her half to death with talk of werewolves, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. I was over the moon when she agreed to let me hang out with her again, although after I chat about my latest release she might never invite me back!

Hmm – I’ll wait until I see what you have to say! I know you and your scary stuff Shelley…

Are you ready to set sail for an epic adventure?

Go on then!

My new release, The Last Princess, was published through BHC Press (24th May 2022). You’ll be happy to hear there are no supernatural creatures in this one. However, I do chop off quite a few heads with an axe or two. Sorry, Linda.

Why doesn’t that surprise me Shelley? Dare I ask, what can we expect from The Last Princess?

In The Last Princess, you’ll meet Edith, a feisty Anglo-Saxon princess who loses everyone she cares about in the first chapter, before being dragged off by pirates and sold to a Viking Jarl as a slave – and you thought you were having a rough day!

I take it Edith doesn’t take this lightly?

Edith might have dealt with a lot but she is the daughter of a king and that drives her desire for revenge. She wants to get home and punish the man responsible for killing her family and trying to kill her. Unfortunately, she is now in a foreign land working as a slave for a Viking Jarl and his family. Even more confusing is Leif, the handsome son of her owner who seems to enjoy teasing her.

The fact she is a princess and heir to the throne of Northumbria remains her secret. As far as Leif and his family are concerned she is a lowly slave with a knack for getting into trouble and saving the life of the Jarl’s youngest son.

Over time, Edith warms to the Vikings and this is reciprocated as she is given a mentor to train her on how to fight. Solveig is a shield maiden who takes no prisoners. She is moody, tough, and funny, and although she is always quick to put Edith in her place, the warrior and princess build a strong bond of friendship.

As this is a Viking story I’m sure you can guess what’s coming. Yep, epic battles, plenty of blood, gore, and axe fights, longboats and invading armies, and a smidge of romance.

Actually, despite you decapitating folk, I love the sound of The Last Princess Shelley. So where did you get the idea for The Last Princess?

The story inspiration for The Last Princess came from my love of genealogy and a DNA test I did. The results showed my DNA is 38% Scandinavian and with my overly active imagination I put two and two together and came up with ‘I’m descended from a Viking!’ The characters began to bubble up in my head after that and Edith’s voice was pretty loud.

Actually, I can definitely accept you’re descended from a Viking!

As with all my YA novels, my main character is a young girl with as many challenges as I can physically throw at her, but with an inner strength that needs to be teased out by her supporting characters.

I love exploring themes of loyalty, family, friendships, and confidence, and I hope Edith’s story resonates with my readers.

Solveig is probably my favourite character as she is feisty, sassy, and strong willed – everything I wish I’d been as a teenager.

Certainly everything you are as an adult!

What research did you do?

Moving from fantasy and supernatural stories to historical fiction has been an adventure in itself. I adored the research process for The Last Princess, heading off to York and Northumberland in my campervan to visit sites and learn more about the Viking raids.

Writing about a specific point in our history means I can’t just make stuff up this time. I needed to explore an authentic timeline that included real Anglo-Saxon places and people. The clothing, weapons, and customs needed to be investigated thoroughly, and I spent hours reading books and articles, and watching documentaries on Viking history.

The favourite part of my research was visiting Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland which plays a big part in this novel. In The Last Princess, the castle is a wooden fort but still stands proud on its rocky plateau where there has been a stronghold for over 1,400 years.

I think Northumberland is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to visit. My daughter accompanied me on my research trip, and aside from me embarrassing her by pretending to be an invading Viking running up the sand dunes, I think she was as impressed as I was. We’ve returned twice and have another trip booked later this year.

I might see you there in our motorhome. I love Northumberland.

Standing on the beach facing the North Sea and imagining what it must have felt like seeing the Viking ships on the horizon was inspiring. Our visit included a day trip to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne where we saw the world-renowned Viking Raider Stone and learned more about the Viking raids of 793 AD.

I’d love to go there.

I chose to set The Last Princess in 866 AD when the Great Heathen Army captured York. It meant I could integrate this large force into the story.

Researching this book was a lot of fun and I’ve already started working on an idea for a future Viking novel. Perhaps I’ve set sail on an epic adventure of my own?

I bet you have Shelley! Thanks so much for introducing The Last Princess to us. Those who are on Twitter can find out more using the following too: 

@ShelleyWilson72 #YA #NewRelease #TheLastPrincess #BHCPress #Vikings

About Shelley Wilson

Shelley is an English multi-genre author. She has written nine young adult/middle-grade supernatural, fantasy, and historical novels, a children’s meditation book, and six motivational self-help titles for adults.

She is a proud single mum of three and lives in the West Midlands, UK. Shelley loves travelling in her VW camper searching for stories. She also enjoys paddle boarding, Tudor and Viking history, supporting Leeds United, and obsessing over to-do lists!

You can find out more on Shelley’s website, by finding her on Facebook, Twitter @ShelleyWilson72 and Instagram or via her publisher.

Only May by Carol Lovekin

With Carol Lovekin one of my all time favourite authors I was delighted when Anne Cater of Random Things Tours asked if I’d like to be involved in the blog tour for Carol’s latest book Only May. I’m thrilled to share my review today and would like to thank Carol for including me in the acknowledgements of Only May which was a huge surprise and delight to me, as was finding myself quoted on the back cover alongside Louise Beech and Joanne Harris as follows:

GHOSTBIRD: ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ Joanne Harris
SNOW SISTERS: ‘… a novel of magic, of potent spells, and of great beauty.’ Louise Beech
WILD SPINNING GIRLS: ‘an author with magic in her writing whose words enhance the lives of those who read her.’ Linda’s Book Bag,

You see, Carol’s Snow Sisters was my outright book of the year in 2017, and I reviewed it here. Carol’s Wild Spinning Girls was another of my books of the year in 2020 and I reviewed Wild Spinning Girls here. I still have Ghostbird waiting for me on my TBR.

Published by Honno on 18th May 2022, Only May is available for purchase here.

Only May

Listen. The bee walks across my finger, slow as anything and I can see through the gauzy wing, to the detail of my skin. You aren’t looking in the right place.

If you look her in the eye and tell a lie, May Harper will see it. And if she doesn’t see it, the bees will hum it in her ear. Her kind mother and her free-spirited aunt have learned to choose their words with care. Her beloved invalid father lives in a world of his own, lost in another time, the war he cannot forget.

On May’s seventeenth birthday, a casual evasion from her employer hints at a secret hiding at the heart of the family. Determined to discover the truth, May starts listening at doors… She begins watching the faces of the people she loves best in all the world, those she suspects are hiding the biggest lie of all.

My Review of Only May

May can see lies.

Only May is, quite simply, wonderful. I absolutely adored it. From the very first sentence May’s conversational narrative voice is hypnotic so that through her Carol Lovekin seems to slip an enchantment over the reader, drawing them into her bewitching story-telling from the very first page. There’s mystery here that swirls over the story in much the same way Carol Lovekin describes the mists in her stunning writing. I’d defy any reader to find an author who writes description quite so convincingly, so evocatively and so mesmerisingly as this writer.

Indeed, Carol Lovekin’s beautiful, mellifluous writing is suffused with love and a kind of hiraeth, a longing, that permeates the narrative of Only May. This is a story about family, belonging and identity. About choices and the way love and hate are so closely aligned. About how blood is thicker than water. And about society and the public personas we present. I am, genuinely, in awe of Carol Lovekin’s ability to present women with such insight, such clarity and such tenderness. That said, Billy is a wonderful character too. His physical and mental injuries are sensitively portrayed so that the reader falls in love with Billy every bit as much as Esme did.

May is an amazing creation. She’s fierce, vulnerable and completely individual. Her strong alignment with nature balances perfectly how she finds herself untethered from the truth despite her ability to detect lies. It’s as if she is Mother Nature personified and yet she feels completely authentic as a seventeen year old girl on the cusp of adulthood and all the knowledge that maturity can bring. Reading May’s story broke my heart and mended it in such a way that I experienced my emotions physically. Through May we learn that our past can shape us as far as our present but that our future is in our own hands.

Wise, warm and wonderful, Only May is a book to touch your very soul. I absolutely adored it. Don’t miss it.

About Carol Lovekin

Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in mid Wales since 1979. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books  reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.

You can follow Carol on Twitter @carollovekin, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

 

The French House by Jacquie Bloese

When a book has two stunning covers for the e-book and hardback like The French House by Jacquie Bloese, how can a reader resist? I’m thrilled that The French House is my latest online My Weekly magazine review.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton on 28th April 2022, The French House is available for purchase through the links here.

The French House

In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life…

Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation – or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever.

Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn’t know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.

Leutnant Schreiber is more comfortable wielding a paintbrush than a pistol. But he has little choice in the role he is forced to play in the occupying forces – or in his own forbidden desires.

As their paths entwine, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets forged. But on an island under occupation, courage can have deadly consequences…

Lyrical, moving and compelling, this is a novel about wanting to hear and learning to listen – to the truths of our own hearts. Perfect for lovers of The NightingaleThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and All the Light We Cannot See.

My Review of The French House

My full review of The French House can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The French House is an absolute triumph of storytelling, evocative writing and magnificent characters.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Jacquie Bloese

Jacquie Bloese, an alumna of the Curtis Brown Creative course, has a strong personal connection with the subject matter of The French House. She grew up on Guernsey, and is in love with both the island setting and its history. The character of Émile is loosely inspired by her great-grandfather, who suffered permanent hearing loss as a young man. Jacquie has worked as a publisher of English Language Teaching materials for a variety of publishers including Penguin Random House, Scholastic and Oxford University Press. The French House, which was commended in the 2020 Caledonian Novel Award as ‘a brilliantly moving historical novel’ and was a finalist in the 2019 Mslexia First Novel Award, is her debut novel.

For further information, follow Jacquie on Twitter @novelthesecond and visit her website. You’ll also find Jacquie on Facebook and Instagram.

The Botanist by M.W. Craven

When a surprise copy of M.W. Craven’s The Botanist, book five in the Washington Poe Series, dropped into my parcel box I think you probably could have heard my shriek of delight in space. My enormous thanks to Beth Wright at Little Brown for sending it to me. I’m thrilled to share my review of The Botanist today.

You can read my reviews of The Puppet Show here, of Black Summer here, of The Curator here. and of Dead Ground here.

Indeed, the first two books in the series were on my books of the year list (here) in 2019 and the third a book of the year in 2020.

Published by Hachette imprint Constable on 2nd June 2022, The Botanist is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Botanist

‘I swear I’m one bad mood away from calling it black magic and going home . . .’

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe can count on one hand the number of friends he has. And he’d still have his thumb left. There’s the insanely brilliant, guilelessly innocent civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw of course. He’s known his beleaguered boss, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn for years as he has his nearest neighbour, full-time shepherd/part-time dog sitter, Victoria.

And then there’s Estelle Doyle. It’s true the caustic pathologist has never walked down the sunny side of the street but this time has she gone too far? Shot twice in the head, her father’s murder appears to be an open and shut case. Estelle has firearms discharge residue on her hands, and, in a house surrounded by fresh snow, hers are the only footprints going in. Since her arrest she’s only said three words: ‘Tell Washington Poe.’

Meanwhile, a poisoner the press have dubbed the Botanist is sending high profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers. The killer seems to be able to walk through walls and, despite the advance notice he gives his victims, and regardless of the security measures the police take, he seems to be able to kill with impunity.

For a man who hates locked room mysteries, this is going to be the longest week of Washington Poe’s life . . .

My Review of The Botanist

Washington Poe has two new cases.

Oh my goodness it was good to be back with Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. The Botanist is fabulous. Less visceral than other books in the series, but possibly more devious, there’s an increased sophistication in M.W. Craven’s brilliant, intelligent, exciting writing that had me held spellbound.

Each brief chapter is an absolute masterclass in thriller writing. There’s fabulous dialogue imbued with Poe’s wit and Bradshaw’s innocence, fast pace, perfectly crafted plotting and a hook at the end of every chapter that compels the reader onwards. It’s impossible not to be entirely obsessed by reading The Botanist.

Aside from a breath taking plot that simply doesn’t let up and that I don’t want to spoil by saying too much, The Botanist weaves science, retribution, the media and corruption into the narrative so that the reader feels educated as well as entertained. In the same skilful manner with which M.W. Craven ensures those not familiar with Poe and Bradshaw have an insight into their pasts that never slows the pace, so aspects of social history and science are seamlessly woven into the story. It gave me enormous pleasure to find a softer side to Poe in The Botanist that felt exactly right for his character.

The eponymous character is a cracking creation and an excellent depiction of the fine line between brilliance and evil. There’s considerable depth of research into an egotist’s psyche here that lends depth and authenticity to the story. What I enjoyed so much is that even when we, and Poe, know who the perpetrator is, we have no idea how he is committing his killings or how he might be apprehended. I loved the level of tension this gives.

I don’t read all the books in any series because there are simply too many books to get through. M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe Series is the exception and I don’t read these either. I devour them. And then feel completely unsettled until I know I have the next book in the series to read. If you’ve yet to discover Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw you must. Each narrative works perfectly as a stand alone story, but this series deserves to be read from the beginning. I’m totally hooked and possibly obsessed by M.W. Craven’s writing. The Botanist is equally as brilliant as the rest. I absolutely loved it.

About M.W. Craven

mike craven

Multi-award winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first book in his Cumbria-set Washington Poe series, was published by Little, Brown in 2018 and went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger in 2019. It has now been translated into twenty-one languages. Black Summer, the second in the series, was longlisted for the 2020 Gold Dagger as was book three, The Curator. The fourth in the series, Dead Ground, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and is shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

You can follow M.W. Craven on Twitter @MWCravenUK and visit his website for more information or find him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Summer Fair by Heidi Swain

With Heidi Swain featuring here as often as she does you might be forgiven for thinking this is Heidi’s Book Bag, not Linda’s Book Bag, but as I so enjoy Heidi’s writing I won’t mind the name change! My thanks to Harriett Collins for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Heidi’s latest book, The Summer Fair. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Before I do so, however, here are the other posts you’ll find featuring Heidi:

My review of Underneath the Christmas Tree here.

My review of A Taste of Home here.

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.

Published on 12th May 2022 by Simon and Schuster, The Summer Fair is available for purchase through the links here.

The Summer Fair

Join Sunday Times bestseller Heidi Swain back in Nightingale Square for a sunshine and celebration filled summer…

Beth loves her job working in a care home, looking after its elderly residents, but she doesn’t love the cramped and dirty house-share she currently lives in. So, when she gets the opportunity to move to Nightingale Square, sharing a house with the lovely Eli, she jumps at the chance.

The community at Nightingale Square welcomes Beth with open arms, and when she needs help to organise a fundraiser for the care home they rally round. Then she discovers The Arches, a local creative arts centre, has closed and the venture to replace it needs their help too – but this opens old wounds and past secrets for Beth.

Music was always an important part of her life, but now she has closed the door on all that. Will her friends at the care home and the people of Nightingale Square help her find a way to learn to love it once more…?

My Review of The Summer Fair

Beth needs a fresh start.

Heidi Swain has done it again! The Summer Fair is filled to the brim with love, community and belonging in all their forms so that it’s a book to soothe the soul and gladden the heart.

It doesn’t matter whether a reader has met some of the characters in Nightingale Square before, or is encountering them for the first time, as this lovely, lovely story works beautifully either way. I loved being reminded of those like Harold whom I’ve met before, but equally it felt wonderful to discover new folk like Beth and Eli.

The story bubbles along with events that illustrate how we are very often our own worst enemies. Of course there will be a happy ending – this IS Heidi Swain – but the journey to that ending is a real delight to read. There’s humour, frustration and a depth of emotion I found extremely effective.

Beth works so well as a character because she is highly relatable. She’s by no means perfect and can be occasionally sharp or unkind, so that when she atones, the story becomes all the more engaging. Her history illustrates just how we can let ourselves be shaped by events beyond our control, but Heidi Swain shows the reader, through Beth and the cast of the Edith Cavell Care Home, that we don’t have to tolerate the status quo and set our dreams aside regardless of our age. Indeed, one of the triumphs of this book is the older characters who are vivid, real and distinct so that they have true status in the story rather than being an adjunct to the narrative.

Both Eli and Pete feel authentic and true too so that I was desperate for them to be happy every bit as much as I wanted Beth to find her true role in life. What Heidi Swain does so brilliantly in her writing is to make the reader care about the people in her stories and The Summer Fair is no exception.

I adored the themes too. Whilst the narrative of The Summer Fair is uplifting in its own right, music, crafts, gardening, animals and friendship are presented as effective reminders that our mental health can be improved in simple ways. Equally important is the understanding that we deserve a life after those we love are no longer with us and that to find happiness and use our talents is not a betrayal. I can imagine readers being helped emotionally as well as being royally entertained by The Summer Fair.

If, to quote a certain playwright, music be the food of love, then Heidi Swain has given us a banquet in The Summer Fair. I loved it.

About Heidi Swain

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Heidi lives in beautiful Norfolk with her family and a mischievous cat called Storm. She is passionate about gardening, the countryside, collecting vintage paraphernalia and reading. Her TBR pile is always out of control!

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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A Publication Day Extract from Dead in the Water by Mark Ellis

I am delighted to share a publication ay extract from Mark Ellis’s Dead in the Water today, not least because I have heard such good things about Mark’s writing but I’ve never had chance to fit in reading him. Today’s extract has made me want to rectify that situation as soon as I can. My thanks to the folk at Midas PR for sending it my way!

Dead In The Water is the fifth book in the acclaimed DCI Frank Merlin historical detective series and can be read as a standalone. The third novel in the series, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.

Published by Headline imprint Access today, 19th May 2022, Dead in the Water is available for purchase through the links here.

Dead in the Water

Summer, 1942.
The Second World War rages on but Britain now faces the Nazi threat with America at its side.

In a bombed-out London swarming with gangsters and spies, DCI Frank Merlin continues his battle against rampant wartime crime. A mangled body is found in the Thames just as some items of priceless art go mysteriously missing. What sinister connection links the two?

Merlin and his team follow a twisting trail of secrets and lies as they investigate a baffling and deadly puzzle .

An Extract from Dead in the Water

Prologue

November 1938

Vienna

The apartment was in a fashionable residential building just off the Ringstrasse, the grand boulevard that encircled the centre of Austria’s capital. Daniel was the fourth head of the Katz family to live there. Samuel Katz, his ​great-grandfather​ and founder of the eponymous family bank, had been the first. Daniel’s wife Esther and the younger of their four children, Sarah and Rachel, shared the apartment with him. His son and older daughter were away studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Daniel had taken over the running of the bank in 1920, after the sudden death of his father. Under his assured management, it had weathered the economic storms of the twenties and early thirties and had emerged as one of the soundest finance houses in Vienna. All should have been good in the Katz world. It was not. For the Katzes were Jews, and since March, Adolf Hitler had ruled their country. Daniel’s younger brother, Benjamin, had been quick to sniff the wind years before, when Hitler had first come to power in Germany. He had moved to London, where he had rap-idly built up his own successful financial business. He had pestered Daniel for years to follow him, but Daniel had stubbornly resisted. An eternal optimist, he continued to believe, against all the evidence, that Hitler would make allowances for Jews who had brains and skills to offer society. The German annexation of Austria had at last put paid to this optimism. It was now crystal clear that all Jews, clever or not, were to be pariahs. The authorities had begun to strip him of his business interests. There was no prospect of escape, and it had become only a matter of time before everything was lost.

Now, on this fine autumn morning, that time had come. The family was breakfasting together in the dining room. The servants had long gone, and mother and daughters had prepared the meal. A letter had just arrived from their son, Nathan, and Esther was reading it aloud. As she turned to the final page, there was a sudden fierce pounding at the door, and a voice screamed, ‘Open up, Jewish scum!’

Daniel hurried to the hallway to see the front door already splintering under the pounding of rifle butts. Snarling soldiers pushed through. One of them dragged him down the corridor to where his petrified wife and daughters were cowering.

‘I am Sergeant Vogel. You will all do as you are told. Where is your sitting room?’

Daniel inclined his head to the left. ‘Second on the right. But . . . what is this about? This is a private dwelling. On what grounds . . .’

The sergeant struck him hard on his right cheek. ‘Shut up and move along.’

‘But gentlemen, please. You have no right. I must ask you to leave.’

The sergeant smiled and looked at his men. ‘Gentlemen, eh? Very polite, ain’t he, lads?’ He waved his gun. ‘Move.’

The party entered the larger of the apartment’s two parlours. Vogel, a fat man with the purple nose of a serious drinker, had a quick look round, then instructed the other soldiers to search the rest of the flat. He turned his attention back to the family. ‘Every-one get over there by the window.’

They did as they were told. Looking down into the street,

Daniel saw a fleet of military vehicles. ‘May I ask what is happening?’

The sergeant grinned. ‘What is happening is that we are taking some of you rich Viennese Jews on a nice little vacation. We’ve got a holiday camp waiting for you, a place called Mauthausen. You’ll love it.’ He moved to the window and looked down himself at the action on the street. He emitted a satisfied grunt, then turned his attention to the girls. ‘You have two fine​-looking​ daughters, Katz. I think I might steal a kiss before we go. Maybe a little more. What do you think, eh, my lovelies?’ Sarah cringed as he reached out to touch her. Then a peremptory voice sounded.

‘Vogel! What the hell are you doing?’

Another soldier was at the door. A younger man than Vogel but apparently of higher rank. His collar sported the insignia of the SS.

The sergeant stepped back. ‘I was just . . . just about to start searching everyone, sir.’

‘Starting with the prettiest, I see.’ The officer considered for a moment. ‘You may check to see if Herr Katz is armed, but I think it unnecessary to search the ladies.’

A clearly disappointed Vogel nodded and frisked Daniel roughly. ‘He’s clean, sir.’

The SS officer flashed a shark​-like​ smile. ‘I’m forgetting my manners, Herr Katz. My name is Spitzen. Colonel Ferdinand Spitzen. Heil Hitler.’ His hand rose in more of a wave than a salute. ‘What a ​fine-​looking family you have, Herr Katz.’ He stared at the women for a moment, then looked down at his highly polished boots. ‘Such a pity.’

‘I beg your pardon, Colonel?’

Spitzen’s face darkened. ‘You may beg my pardon indeed, Herr Katz. However, it will sadly not be forthcoming. The time has come for Jews to pay the price for the crimes of their race.’ He turned back to Vogel. ‘Go and see how the others are getting on. Make sure no one damages anything, or there’ll be hell to pay. Understand?’

‘Yes, sir.’ The sergeant disappeared into the corridor and the colonel began to walk around the room, voicing his admiration for the paintings, the opulent furniture and the numerous fine objets d’art dotted all around. Eventually he settled himself in a large leather armchair by the fireplace. ‘So, Herr Katz. You will not be surprised to know, I’m sure, that the Reich has a full file on your long career as a crooked Jewish banker.’ He flicked a speck of dirt from his trousers. ‘Have you anything to say?’

‘I have been a straight and honest businessman all my life. I do not recognise your description.’

After considering this reply for a moment, Spitzen eased him-self to his feet, strolled over to Daniel and punched him hard in the face. Daniel collapsed to the floor, blood spurting from his nose. Esther and his daughters burst out crying, and rushed to help him to his feet.

‘You lie, Katz!’ shouted the colonel. ‘You and your race have connived for years to defraud the great German people. The Füh-rer has now, thankfully, decided to put a halt to this abuse once and for all. Justice will be served.’ He returned to his chair. ‘As it happens, the name of Daniel Katz is surprisingly well known among the ruling circles of the Reich. Not because of your crim-inality, but for another reason. You are something of an art collector, are you not?’

Daniel realised for the first time that his tie had come loose. He attempted to retie it, but found that his hands were shaking too much. He shrugged.

‘We were under the impression that the greatest pieces in the collection were kept in your headquarter offices in Schottengasse. However, when we searched them, we did not find what we were looking for.’ Spitzen glanced around the room. ‘I see some attractive paintings here, but, unless I’m very much mistaken, these are again lesser works. Am I mistaken?’

Vogel appeared at the door before Daniel could answer.

‘Yes, Sergeant?’ Spitzen said irritably.

‘We’ve found a lot of stuff. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, ornaments. Some jewellery in the bedrooms. Oh, and a safe that needs opening.’

‘What about those particular items I listed for you?’ ‘Haven’t found them yet.’

Spitzen frowned, then turned back to Daniel. ‘You will open the safe for Sergeant Vogel. And you will show him any other hid-den safes or receptacles for items of value in the flat. Don’t bother trying to conceal anything. There is no point. Once you are out of here, everything will be pulled apart.’

Daniel closed his eyes, then nodded.

‘I have what I believe to be a comprehensive list of the finest works in your collection. If they are not here, you must tell me where they are.’

‘I . . . I sent some works abroad.’

‘There is no record of transfer in official export records.’ ‘I did not . . . did not use official channels.’

‘I see. Yet another crime to be added to your long list. It may interest you to know that we’ve already had valuable assistance from some of your employees. According to them, you have stored a good portion of your collection in this country. They remember items being packed and dispatched to Austrian destinations. Unfortunately, there is no written record of these destinations. No doubt if I put a team on the matter they will track the works down, but things might go a little better for you and your family if you provide the addresses now.’

Daniel glanced nervously at his wife but said nothing.

Spitzen indicated the two girls. ‘You know, I made a point of protecting your daughters earlier.’ The ​shark-​like smile reap-peared. ‘Such protection could easily be removed.’

With a look of despair, Daniel conceded. ‘All right, all right. I’ll tell you.’

‘How sensible of you. Vogel, find Herr Katz a pen and paper.’

About Mark Ellis

Mark Ellis is a thriller writer from Swansea and a former barrister and entrepreneur. He grew up under the shadow of his parents’ experience of the Second World War. His father served in the wartime navy and died a young man. His mother told him stories of watching the heavy bombardment of Swansea from the safe vantage point of a hill in Llanelli, and of attending tea dances in wartime London under the bombs and doodlebugs.

In consequence Mark has always been fascinated by WW2 and in particular the Home Front and the fact that while the nation was engaged in a heroic endeavour, crime flourished. Murder, robbery, theft, rape and corruption were rife. This was an intriguing, harsh and cruel world – the world of DCI Frank Merlin. Mark Ellis is a member of several writers organisations including the Crime Writers’ Association and Crime Cymru. The third novel in his historical detective series, Merlin at War, was on the CWA Historical Dagger Longlist in 2018.

For further information, follow Mark on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @MarkEllis15 and visit his website.

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Tackling Difficult Subjects Through Fiction: A Guest Post by Louise Fein, Author of The Hidden Child

I cannot express how much Louise Fein’s The Hidden Child is calling to me from my TBR and I’m thrilled to have been invited to participate in the blog tour. My huge thanks to Graeme Williams for that invitation. It’s a real privilege to host a guest post from Louise today.

Just released in paperback by Head of Zeus on 12th May 2022, The Hidden Child is available for purchase in all good bookshops, online and directly through the publisher here.

The Hidden Child

From the outside, Eleanor and Edward Hamilton have the perfect life, but they’re harbouring a secret that threatens to fracture their entire world.

London, 1929.

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the ‘undesirable’ conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward’s life’s work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

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Tackling difficult subjects through fiction

A Guest Post by Louise Fein

I believe that all characters in novels must be a product of their time. So, as a writer of historical fiction, they should not have ideas or values which reflect those of today, and for that reason might be considered ‘difficult’. Of course, there must be balance, or there is a risk of completely alienating a modern readership with very unpalatable viewpoints. I feel I have a duty to be as authentic and true to the times I write in as possible, which does mean tackling difficult subjects. For me it is a matter of integrity – whitewashing, glorifying or romanticising the past means we can’t properly understand the present or learn from it for the future. It means we yearn for a false history which never existed. That said, I am writing fiction where the story is the most important element to what I’m writing, so liberties are of course taken, characters and situations invented. However, I hope that the overall sentiments, values and flavour of the novels I write, remain historically authentic.

The Hidden Child is set in the late 1920’s. I chose that period for a few reasons. It was a time of great social and economic change. Often the 1920’s are portrayed as the ‘roaring’ twenties – a time of freedom and excess after the war years. But for many ordinary people, the ‘20’s were a time of deprivation and hardship, and also great uncertainty. The rise of the working classes, liberation of women and the wide circulation of thoughts and ideas which questioned the very basis of capitalism and democracy, brought fear to the ruling and moneyed classes. All around the world was the rise of autocracy and the planned economy. Fear of the demise of democracy, freedom and a certain way of life drove rhetoric for extreme measures to be taken to protect them, albeit rhetoric based on false premises. Premises such as eugenics, a topic dealt with in The Hidden Child.

Within The Hidden Child are some ideas and views which today’s reader may find reprehensible. I don’t shy away from writing about these because however much we would like to think times have changed, human nature has not, and the legacy of these ideas linger on, not only in far-away countries, but right here at home. I think to have a healthy society, we need to understand where ideas come from, what drives people to think and behave as they do. I believe this is always at the heart of what I write. This can make for, at times, uncomfortable reading. I am, however, ultimately an optimist for the better part of human nature to shine through in the end, and this is also reflected in my fictional worlds. There is always hope, always good. In both The Hidden Child, and my debut novel, People Like Us, I chose to tell my stories from the points of view of those who hold views so contrary to my own. I always seek to understand why people might believe such things, and ultimately, what might drive them to think differently.

Tackling difficult subjects through fiction is an ideal way to do so. I believe fiction has a unique power to engage widely with people. It is its ability to emotionally draw a reader in and to have them walk side-by-side with characters, completely immersed in their world which gives it that power. Novels are an incredibly flexible tool enabling the writer to take a set of facts and fill the gaps with fiction which can take readers to literally any time or place. This is what I love about reading, and writing. To learn something of the world, of human nature and ideally, how we can all be more compassionate towards each other. I don’t think any subject should be off-limits for fiction. Tackled in the right way, with humanity and understanding, novels can be the perfect forum for exploring and engendering discussion.

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That is absolutely fantastic Louise, thank you. I couldn’t agree more. I’m so looking forward to reading The Hidden Child and would like to thank you for this wonderful guest post.

About Louise Fein

Louise Fein was born and brought up in London. She harboured a secret love of writing from a young age, preferring to live in her imagination than the real world. After a law degree, Louise worked in Hong Kong and Australia, travelling for a while through Asia and North America before settling back to a working life in London. She finally gave in to the urge to write, taking an MA in creative writing, and embarking on her first novel, Daughter of the Reich (named People Like Us in the UK and Commonwealth edition). The novel was inspired by the experience of her father’s family, who escaped from the Nazis and arrived in England as refugees in the 1930’s. Daughter of the Reich/People Like Us is being translated into 11 foreign languages, has been shortlisted for the 2021 RSL Christopher Bland Prize, the RNA Historical Novel of the year Award 2021 and long listed for the Not The Booker Prize 2020.

Louise’s second novel, The Hidden Child, was published in the Autumn of 2021. Louise lives in the beautiful English countryside with her husband, three children, two cats, small dog and the local wildlife who like to make an occasional appearance in the house. Louise is currently working on her third novel.

For further information about Louise, visit her website, follow her on Twitter @FeinLouise and find her on Facebook and Instagram. There’s more with these other bloggers too: