The Girl Downstairs by Iain Maitland

I’m a huge fan of Iain Maitland’s writing and its far too long since I have featured him here on Linda’s Book Bag. I was delighted to be invited onto the blog tour for Iain’s latest book, The Girl Downstairs. My enormous thanks to Zoe of Zooloo’s Book Tours for the opportunity to share my review today.

You’ll find my review of Iain’s Mr Todd’s Reckoning here which was one of my books of the year in 2019 and of Sweet William here.

Published by Inkubator Books on 21st November 2021, The Girl Downstairs is available for purchase here.

The Girl Downstairs

He’s been watching and waiting. And now he’s found her.

Rosie is homeless and winter is closing in. So she can’t believe her luck when a total stranger, Mr. Adams, invites her to stay.

But Mr. Adams has a secret. He has chosen Rosie because she reminds him of someone very special from long ago. Maybe she can even help him recapture that distant happiness.

Of course, she might need a little encouragement, but that’s fine…

What he doesn’t realise is that Rosie has a secret too, a secret that will have horrifying consequences for them both.

So instead of the heaven he had hoped to find, Mr. Adams finds himself fighting to escape the nightmare of… the girl downstairs.

The Girl Downstairs – the stunning psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Mark Edwards, K. L. Slater, Miranda Rijks.

My Review of The Girl Downstairs

Philip Adams befriends the homeless Rosie.

Good grief. I have no idea how to review The Girl Downstairs. It’s a transfixing narrative that disturbs the reader even as it entertains them. I found it highly uncomfortable to read at times – indeed I felt almost tainted – and yet simply had to know the outcomes of the story and the truth about Philip Adams.

In Mr. Adams Iain Maitland creates a his protagonist with such dexterity that it makes the reader as complicit in his actions as if they’d carried them out themselves. He’s repulsive and attractive as a human being in such equal measure that I couldn’t decide if I felt sorry for Philip Adams even as he made my flesh creep or if I found him contemptible even as I admired him. This is such skilful writing. Even after I’ve read the book I still have some ambivalence about this complex, flawed, dangerous, compassionate and totally fascinating man.

Rosie too is an unreliable character so that reading The Girl Downstairs felt a bit like balancing on the pivot of a see-saw. One moment I felt my allegiance to her and the next to Mr. Adams. I trusted neither and felt unsettled by them both. The ironically named dog Fluffy aside, with just two characters present for the majority of the story there’s a terrifying claustrophobia enhanced by the deep snow cutting off Bluebell cottages that creates a dramatic and unnerving atmosphere.

The plot often focuses on the prosaic aspects of life such as preparing meals, showering and sleeping. This means that the major events become all the more shocking and the effect on the reader is even more profound because it is easy to identify with aspects like making lunch, so that the reader feels part of the creepy story. What Iain Maitland does so brilliantly is drop clues into his writing that can be interpreted in so many ways that the reader isn’t sure what to think.

The themes in The Girl Downstairs are those that are crucial to today’s society. Homelessness, identity, the need for love and shelter, family, addiction, mental health and assumptions and expectations are so sensitively presented. Iain Maitland forces his reader to confront aspects of life we’d rather ignore so that I genuinely feel altered by reading The Girl Downstairs.

I’m aware I haven’t effectively described this book as it’s so difficult not to give anything away, but I can say that, deliciously dark, shocking and compelling, The Girl Downstairs is a must read. Read it for yourself to find out what I mean!

About Iain Maitland

Iain Maitland is the author of three previous psych thrillers, The Scribbler (2020), Mr Todd’s Reckoning (2019) and Sweet William (2017), all published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband. Mr Todd’s Reckoning is coming to the big screen in 2023.

Iain is also the author of two memoirs, Dear Michael, Love Dad (Hodder, 2016), a book of letters written to his eldest son who experienced depression and anorexia, and (co-authored with Michael) Out Of The Madhouse (Jessica Kingsley, 2018).

He is also an Ambassador for Stem4, the teenage mental health charity. He talks regularly about mental health issues in schools and colleges and workplaces.

Find Iain Maitland on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @iainmaitland and visit his website for more information.

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Giveaway: Celebrating the 25th anniversary edition of Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

It may be a quarter of a century since I first read Rachels’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, but I can remember it so vividly and I’m thrilled to be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. In advance of the sequel to Rachel’s HolidayAgain, Rachel –  coming out in February 2022, I’m delighted to be able to offer a lucky Linda’s Book Bag UK reader a brand new updated copy of Rachel’s Holiday to help start off the anniversary blog tour. My enormous thanks to  Rhiannon Morris at FMcM Associates for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Follow all the excitement on social media using #RachelsBack.

I can’t believe I haven’t actually featured Marian Keyes for four years since I reviewed The Break in a post you can find here.

Published by Penguin on 9th December 2021, this glorious new edition of Rachels’ Holiday is available for purchase through the links here.

Rachel’s Holiday

Meet Rachel Walsh.

She’s been living it up in New York City, spending her nights talking her way into glamorous parties before heading home in the early hours to her adoring boyfriend, Luke.

But her sensible older sister showing up and sending her off to actual rehab wasn’t quite part of her plan.

She’s only agreed to her incarceration because she’s heard that rehab is wall-to-wall jacuzzis, spa treatments and celebrities going cold turkey – plus it’s about time she had a holiday.

Saying goodbye to fun and freedom will be hard – and losing the man who might just be the love of her life will be even harder.

But will hitting rock bottom help Rachel learn to love herself, at last?

***

If you haven’t read Rachel’s Holiday before (where on earth have you been?), here’s a chance for a lucky UK reader to win a paperback copy of this brand new edition of Rachel’s Holiday:

UK Giveaway

For your chance to win a paperback of the 25th anniversary edition of Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, click here.

UK only. The prize will be sent by FMcM Associates and the winner will need to supply a UK address to redeem their copy of Rachel’s Holiday.

About Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is a phenomenon.

The multi-million copy, internationally bestselling author of some of the most widely loved, genre-defying novels of the past thirty years – such as Rachel’s Holiday, Anybody Out There and Grown Ups – has millions of fans around the world. They are irresistibly drawn by her warmth and wit, fearless honesty, relatable characters and relationships, and sheer storytelling magic.

Not only has Marian inspired and entertained countless readers, but also the next generation of writers too. As a beloved author herself, Marian is a passionate champion of storytellers everywhere, playing an active role in encouraging new voices. She has been the chair of judges for the Comedy Women in Print prize, a sponsor of the Curtis Brown Creative Marian Keyes scholarship, and most recently ran her own hugely popular Instagram Live series bringing free creative writing courses to thousands of viewers.

Marian also uses her position to raise some of the most challenging issues of our time, including addiction, immigration, depression, domestic violence and the Repeal the Eighth campaign.

Both critically acclaimed and commercially unstoppable, Marian’s fourteenth novel Grown Ups went straight to No.1 in hardback and paperback in four global territories: UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards Audiobook of the Year. In addition to her novels, Marian has written two collections of journalism, as well as been the star of the second series of her hit show Between Ourselves aired on BBC Radio 4 at the start of 2021. Again Rachel, the sequel to her ground-breaking novel Rachel’s Holiday, will be Marian’s fifteenth novel.

Marian is based in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin.

You can find Marian on Facebook and Instagram and follow her on Twitter @MarianKeyes. Marian Keyes also has a wonderful website.

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Staying in with Bob on Dog About Town publication day!

Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers will know I’ve stayed in with many authors and a couple of characters, but staying in with a dog is a new departure for me! I’m delighted to welcome Bob to the blog and would like to thank Grace Pilkington for putting us in touch with each other.

Staying in with Bob

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

Thank you for having me.

It feels odd to ask but what can I expect from our chat this evening?

I think it’s safe to say that you can expect something rather different, the reason being that I am actually a miniature labradoodle.  My owner is quite bashful and prefers me to do the interviews.  So, bear with me please.  I’m not really used to the literary world. I suppose it would be true to say that I’m more comfortable with tummy tickles.

Oh! I’ve never had to tickle a guest’s tummy before! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought Dog About Town which I guess you could call semi-autobiographical.  The idea for the book came about during lockdown when I was taken on some pretty cool walks around the strangely deserted streets of central London.  Although I’m not usually one for culture – mud is more my thing – even I had to admit that the sights of the capital were majestic against the empty roads, silent skies and clear pavements.  And so, in return for some pretty tasty treats, I agreed to pose graciously for the camera.  Dog About Town is the result.

That was very generous of you. Tell me a bit more.

The book is a collection of photos and captions featuring some of the great landmarks of the capital as you’ve never seen them before – and me. You can see me at Buckingham Palace, Covent Garden, Tower Bridge, Smithfield Market, at the Royal Albert Hall, and many more – but what all the photos have in common is that the streets were so quiet and there was nobody there but me. In some shots you will find me alluring, sophisticated, fluffy, scruffy even. Sometimes I may even be drooling. But whatever the mood I hope you agree that I lend a certain something to the occasion and that you will enjoy a gentle stroll through the pages of Dog About Town, viewing the strange days of lockdown London from an entirely new perspective.

That sounds utterly charming Bob. I understand Dog About Town is a charity book too isn’t it?

Profits from the book are going to All Dogs Matter, the rescue and rehoming charity for dogs less fortunate than myself, which has been busier than ever during the last year.

That’s such a worthwhile cause Bob. I hear many dogs taken on in lockdown are being dumped now.

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

Obviously, I’ve bought a bone, but thought it would give readers a slightly better flavour of the book if I shared some of the photos with you.  They have some rather witty captions too, even though I say so myself.

I’m not sure about that bone, but I love the photos Bob. I bet other dogs have very much enjoyed looking at them. 

They have Linda. This is what Rocky, a miniature poodle said:

“What a great collection of photos! I always knew there was more to you than stick collecting”

That’s brilliant! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about your adventures and Dog About Town, Bob. I’ll give dogs an their reader humans a few more details:

Dog About Town

During lockdown, when rules allowed, Bob accompanied his owners on walks around the deserted streets of London. In return for some tasty morsels, he agreed to pose in front of some of the capital’s iconic, and some less familiar landmarks.

Bob didn’t set out to make a book. In fact, he is normally someone to shun the limelight, generally more interested in mud and sticks than museums and monuments. However, even Bob realised that his photos of London at this extraordinary time were rather special.

He hopes that Dog About Town will give dog and London lovers alike something to smile and chuckle about.

Profits from the book goes to the dog rescue and rehoming charity All Dogs Matter

Published today, 29th November 2021, Dog About Town is available for purchase here.

About Bob

Bob lives in London.  He enjoys travelling, swimming, chasing balls and eating anything he can get his paws on.  He is also very cuddly.

Dog About Town is his first book.

For more information about Bob, visit his website, follow him on Twitter @Dogabouttown, or find him on Facebook and Instagram.

A Extract from The Lost Girls by Heather Young

I’m delighted to have an extract to share with you today from The Lost Girls by Heather Young as part of the blog tour. My thanks to Hollie McDevitt at Oldcastle for inviting me to participate in the tour.

The Lost Girls was published by Verve on 25th November and is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

The Lost Girls

A stunning debut novel that examines the price of loyalty, the burden of regret, the meaning of salvation, and the sacrifices we make for those we love, told in the voices of two unforgettable women linked by a decades-old family mystery at a picturesque lake house.

In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys the family–her father commits suicide, and her mother and two older sisters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, keeping a decades-long vigil for the lost child.

Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before her death, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person who might care: her grandniece, Justine. For Justine, the lake house offers freedom and stability–a way to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the home she never had. But the long Minnesota winter is just beginning. The house is cold and dilapidated. The dark, silent lake is isolated and eerie. Her only neighbor is a strange old man who seems to know more about the summer of 1935 than he’s telling.

Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives to steal her inheritance, and the man she left launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house haunted by the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children…

An Extract from The Lost Girls

Lucy

I found this notebook in the desk yesterday. I didn’t know I had any of them left, those books I bought at Framer’s with their black-and-white marbled covers and their empty, lined pages waiting to be filled. When I opened it, the binding crackled in my hands and I had to sit down.

The edges of the book’s pages were yellow and curled, but their centers were white, and they shouted in the quiet of the parlor. Long ago, I filled these books with stories, simple things the children enjoyed, but this one demanded something else. It was as though it had lain in wait beneath stacks of old Christmas cards and faded stationery until now, when my life has begun to wane with the millennium and my thoughts have turned more and more to the past.

It’s been sixty-four years. That doesn’t feel so long, strange though it may seem to you, but Mother is dead, and Father, and Lilith; I am the last. When I am gone, it will be as though that summer never happened. I’ve thought about this as I sit in my chair on the porch, as I take my evening walk up to the bridge, and as I lie awake listening to the water shifting in the dark. I’ve even taken to sleeping in Lilith’s and my old room, in the small bed that used to be mine. Last night I watched the moonlight on the ceiling and thought of the many nights I have lain there: as a child, as a young girl, and now as an old woman. I thought about how easy it would be to let all of it pass from the earth.

When morning came, I made my buttered toast and set it on its flowered plate, but I didn’t eat it. Instead I sat at the kitchen table with this book open before me, listening to the wind in the trees and feeling the house breathe. I traced my finger along the scratches and gouges in the elm table my great-grandfather made for his new wife in the century before I was born. It was the heart of the cabin he built on their homestead, and of the home their son built in the town that came after, but their grandson thought it crude, fit only for this, his summer house. Its scars are worn now; the years have smoothed them to dark ripples in the golden wood. As I said, I am the last. Since Lilith’s passing three years ago, the story of that summer has been mine alone, to keep or to share. It’s a power I’ve had just once before, and I find I am far less certain what to do with it now than I was then. I hold secrets that don’t belong to me; secrets that would blacken the names of the defenseless dead. People I once loved. Better to let it be, I told myself.

But this notebook reminds me it’s not so simple as that. I owe other debts. I made other promises. And not all the defenseless dead, loved or not, are virtuous. Still, I have no doubt that I would have remained silent, waiting for my own death to decide the matter, had I not found it. Its empty pages offer me a compromise, one that I, who have rarely had the fortitude to make irrevocable choices, have decided to accept.

I will write my family’s story, here in this book that bided its time so well. I will tell it as fully as I can, even the parts that grieve me. When I am done I will leave it to you, Justine, along with everything else. You will wonder why I’ve chosen you and not your mother, and to that I say that you are the only one to whom the past might matter. If it does, you will come here when I am gone, and Arthur will give this to you, and I will trust you to do with us as you see fit. If it does not – which may well be, for I knew you so briefly, and you were just a child – then you won’t come. You’ll be content to let the lawyers and the realtors do their work, to continue your life without seeing this house or the lake again. If that is the way of it, I will instruct Arthur to burn this book unread. For I believe it will then be all right to let that summer slip away, and Emily with it. Like all the other ghosts of forgotten things.

****

I don’t know about you, but that excerpt has made me desperate to read The Lost Girls.

About Heather Young

Heather is the author of two novels. Her debut, The Lost Girls, won the Strand Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, The Distant Dead, was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel and named one of the ten best mystery/suspense books of 2020 by Booklist. A former antitrust and intellectual property litigator, she traded the legal world for the literary one and earned her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2011. She lives in Mill Valley, California, where she writes, bikes, hikes, and reads books by other people that she wishes she’d written.

For more information you can follow Heather on Twitter @HYoungwriter, visit her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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Kindness (a user’s guide) by Ali Catterall and Kitty Collins

I was delighted when a copy of Kindness (a user’s guide) by Ali Catterall and Kitty Collins arrived from lovely Eleanor at Bonnier Books in time for the recent World Kindness Day. Although I hadn’t read it in time to review by then, I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Bonnier imprint Studio Press on 8th July 2021, Kindness (a user’s guide) is available for purchase in all good bookstores and online including here.

Kindness (a user’s guide)

The definitive guide to kindness – a book full of inspirational ideas, quotes and famous acts of kindness, at a time when we need it most.

“If you see someone without a smile today, give ’em yours.” Dolly Parton

This empowering guide to kindness will inspire you to make a real difference to your life and the lives of others. Inside you’ll find:

– over 50 stories about famous – and not so famous – acts of kindness, from Jacinda Ardern’s empathetic leadership during the Coronavirus pandemic to Marcus Rashford’s determination to support underprivileged children, and the real story of the WWI Christmas Truce.

– suggestions for acts of kindness you can carry out yourself, to improve the lives of those around you

– quotes about kindness to help encourage change, from people like Kamala Harris, Beyonce and RuPaul

This is the perfect gift for yourself or for a friend – because Kindness is Power.

My Review of Kindness (a user’s guide)

A book all about kindness.

I have to confess that before I opened Kindness (a user’s guide) I was expecting a rather twee, self-righteous volume, of social media style sound bites. I had not reckoned on finding such a thoughtful, eclectic and positive book.

Within the pages of this charming and compassionate volume is so much content and detail that it rewards re-reading time and again. Certainly there are quick reads in the form of kindness related quotations from everyone from Aesop to Lady Gaga, but there is so much more.

I first skimmed through reading the inspirational quotations from the well known characters, before returning to read the kindness tips which are practical (like keeping a spare umbrella in the office in case a colleague might need it) and easily achieved so that Kindness (a user’s guide) feels accessible to all. Next I returned to the beginning to read the lengthier pieces that are quite brilliant. Packed with facts and figures, anecdotes and humour (especially in frequent word play at the end of them) they afford the reader all kinds of new experiences. Who knew, for example, the link between Bruce Springsteen and Northumberland or Kate Nash and a broom – though you’ll have to read Kindness (a user’s guide) to discover the links for yourself. These longer sections include historical figures and event so that Kindness (a user’s guide) is educational as well as entertaining.

I thought it was completely fitting to include a list of websites at the end of the book too so that readers who have been inspired can find out more.

Kindness (a user’s guide is an absolute gem of a book that would make the perfect gift for absolutely anyone of any age. It’s uplifting, encouraging and provides a world of kind examples to brighten the darkest soul. I thought it was wonderful.

About Ali Catterall

Ali Catterall is an award-winning journalist, filmmaker and editor, who has written for the Guardian, Time Out and GQ, among others. In 2001, he co-authored the critically acclaimed Your Face Here: British Cult Movies Since the Sixties and in 2018 edited Scala Cinema 1978-1993 by Jane Giles, winner of the 2019 Kraszna-Krausz Award. He is currently co-directing a BFI-produced feature documentary about the Scala, and working on a memoir about his childhood.

You can follow Ali on Instagram and Twitter @AliCatterall

About Kitty Collins

Kitty Collins (not her real name) works in publishing. In her spare time, Kitty loves to read, watch movies and reality TV and devour all things Popular Culture. Kitty is an avid Foodie, and has written two food and drink titles under pseudonyms. Kitty lives in Kent with a high maintenance cat and 300 pairs of shoes.

You can follow Kitty on Instagram and Twitter @ladyfaversham

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow and The Boy Who Breathed Underwater from Full Media

I’m an enormous fan of Full Media children’s books and simply couldn’t resist participating in the blog tour for two of their recent books: The King Who Didn’t Like Snow by Jocelyn Porter, illustrated by Michael S Kane and The Boy Who Breathed Underwater by Izzy Rees, illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills. My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources, for inviting me to take part today. It’s my pleasure to help close the tour.

The Boy Who Breathed Underwater

When lying in his bed, a boy is visited by a genie. He is given a week to try out different superhero powers.

What adventures will he have, and which power will he choose to keep?

The Boy Who Breathed Underwater is available for purchase directly from Full Media or Izzy Rees and on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

My Review of The Boy Who Breathed Underwater

A little boy spends the week trying super powers.

The Boy Who Breathed Underwater is a charming children’s book and I loved it.  It’s vibrantly illustrated so that meanings are enhanced and there’s humour as well as a vital message within the story so that it is hugely entertaining.

The excellent rhyme scheme is a delight to read aloud as it fits the rhythms of speech really naturally so that The Boy Who Breathed Underwater is a lovely story to share with children. The rhyme also helps children with their own language development, also identifying different sounds and spellings with a slightly older readership. There’s a wonderful lesson that being content with ourselves is the best way to be happy too.

However, smashing educational opportunities aside, what works so well in The Boy Who Breathed Underwater is the exciting story. All the things we all, never mind children, might dream of doing such as being able to fly or being invisible are explored so well and I can imagine any child thoroughly relating to what happens.

I thought The Boy Who Breathed Underwater was just wonderful and finished reading it with a smile on my face.

About Izzy Rees


Izzy Rees was born in West London, but has spent the last thirty years living in Derby. Ten years ago, when her three girls were young, she began work on a series of rhyming picture books, created in snatched moments, and initially written on small scraps of paper or whatever was available. She always intended to revisit them, and Covid and lockdown presented the opportunity; unable to continue her work as a neurophysiotherapist, working with vulnerable patients, she decided it was now or never! She has written six books so far in the ‘The Boy Who’ series, The Boy Who Breathed Underwater being the first one. The others will be published in the near future.

You can find Izzy on Facebook. 

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow

King Mark is a higgledy-piggledy king and he gets into a pickle every day. “Do something, Bert!” he shouts, and Wizard Bert, and his sidekick, Broderick the bookworm, always save the day. When snow fell on Windy Hill Castle, everyone was delighted – except for King Mark! King Mark didn’t like snow and he started to sulk.

Will Bert and Broderick save the day again?

Will King Mark walk into trouble?

Do the children of Windy Hill Village have the answer…?

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow is available for purchase directly from Full Media or on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

My Review of The King Who Didn’t Like Snow

Bert and Broderick have a new mission!

Before beginning my review proper, I must mention the fact that 10% of the book’s profits go to charity.

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow is a perfect children’s book because it explores emotions from anger to happiness, with sulking and laughing woven in, so that children can begin to understand how others might feel and to realise that if they give something a chance, like King Mark does with snow, they might just find they enjoy it. It’s a really entertaining story too and gives wonderful status to children as King Mark learns from them. There’s magic and drama in the narrative children will adore.

The illustrations are so vibrant and stimulating that they add to the excitement of the story. I loved the fact that there are children of colour in the pictures so that The King Who Didn’t Like Snow feels inclusive.

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow is a longer children’s story than many and this adds to its longevity as it can be read many times without children becoming over familiar with it. It also means that slightly older children will enjoy it too and the range of vocabulary develops language skills. New words are introduced in a context that is completely accessible.

The King Who Didn’t Like Snow is a fabulous children’s book and I really recommend it.

About Jocelyn Porter

Jocelyn’s writing career began when she was asked to write a story for a preschool magazine. That story was the first of many. Jocelyn became the writer/editor of several preschool magazines and continued in that role for 15 years. Writing one new story every month, plus rhymes and activities was a tough gig, but very exhilarating.

Time is the big difference between writing for a magazine and writing a book.  You see your work on the supermarket shelves within a few weeks of completion. A book takes longer – a lot longer. Jocelyn has to be patient now – not something she’s good at.

Before becoming a writer, Jocelyn work in higher education as International Students Officer. It was a rewarding and interesting job even though she was on call 24/7.

Jocelyn also trained as a counsellor and volunteered at drop-in centers. She never knew who would arrive for counselling and had to be prepared for anything. This work gave her insight into some of the darker corners of life.

Motor sport was one of Jocelyn’s early loves, she had spine tingling thrill of taking part in a 24-hour national rally as navigator – those were the days when rallies were held on public roads!

Jocelyn work as an au pair in Paris in her teens. Having visited the city on a school trip, she fell in love with it, and always wanted to return.

You can find Jocelyn on Facebook.

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Newport Writers – An Anthology of Poetry and Prose

It’s always a real pleasure to discover new to me authors and poets and so I’m delighted to participate in the blog tour for the the Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate. I’m very pleased to share my review today.

Published on 7th November 2021, the Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose is available for purchase here.

Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose

Welcome to our first anthology.

Since the group started, it has always been Tony’s vision to put together a collection of stories and poems penned by our members.

Please proceed with caution – these short stories and poems will introduce you to the alternative side of Newport: ghostly grandparents, a displaced porpoise, a little bit of Welshness, two philosophical security guards, a child whose food plays music, the awesome side of autism, a woman who made teddy bears in a concentration camp, and much more.

Take a whirlwind tour through bereavement, love, regret and parenthood. Laugh and defy fate as you run the gamut of life’s experiences – seen through the eyes of a bunch of writers who celebrate their individuality.

You will meet a diverse group of people who enjoy what they do and want to share it with you.

We invite you to sit back with a cuppa or maybe something stronger, relax and enjoy what promises to be a whirlwind ride…

My Review of

Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose

An anthology of poetry, prose and flash fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose because it has such an eclectic mix of styles with something to suit every reader taste. What’s so good about this anthology is that it can be read in the order it’s presented, but equally it is rewarding simply to dip in and see what’s there. It’s possible to read several pieces over a lunch break with the satisfaction that the reader has enjoyed complete works and been highly entertained.

There are so many pieces in this anthology that I absolutely loved, especially Rebecca Baker’s Writers Anonymous and Words by Janet Williams because those pieces seemed so perfectly attuned with word craft. However, each entry is a small gem waiting to be discovered. Within the short prose pieces I felt the authors had encapsulated as many twists and fulfilling plots as any full length novel I have read. All of the senses are catered for from being soaked to the skin to associating music with food so that the anthology feels immersive and engaging. There’s also a wide range of human experience from birth, through school, jobs and marriage to death so that the anthology has resonance for every reader. The themes within Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose are heat-felt and perceptive. Grief, love, jealousy, racism, oppression, hope, joy, memory and identity are just some of the aspects running through the writing and I do feel I might need to re-read the anthology several times over before I scratch the surface of all the meanings.

The variety of style is incredibly interesting. I enjoyed trying out the poetry aloud as rhyme and free verse gave very different results when spoken rather than just read so that I found nuances of meaning I might have otherwise missed. This means that there’s more to Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose than just passively reading it, giving a vibrancy and engagement.

Adding to my enjoyment were the small biographies about each author because they made the people behind the writing come alive.

Reading Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose is an absolute treat. Don’t miss the chance to meet a hugely talented group of writers.

About the Newport Writers

We are a diverse group from south Wales with over 20 members, covering a broad age range and a variety of styles within the sphere of writing. We include poets, novelists, writers of flash fiction and short stories, plays and film scripts.

We published an anthology in February 2020 entitled Newport Writers – An anthology of poetry and prose. Available from Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

We met on Zoom during the pandemic, but have now found a venue in central Newport where we can get together with plenty of space for social distancing.

We hold an Open Mic night once a month at popular Newport coffee shop Horton’s, and in the summer of 2021 we participated in several spoken word events.

Some members of our group are available to read and offer critique, and we have a proofreader among our membership.

For more information, follow the Newport Writers on Twitter @NewportWriters or join them on Facebook.

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A Special Cornish Christmas by Phillipa Ashley

It’s far, far too long since I featured Phillipa Ashley here on Linda’s Book Bag – and if I’m honest, I’m only partially doing so today! Last time I was sharing an extract from Spring on the Little Cornish Isles (see here) and prior to that I was spotlighting Summer at the Cornish Cafe here.

Today, however, I’m finally reviewing Phillipa’s writing and am thrilled to share details of my latest My Weekly review which is of Philippa’s A Special Cornish Christmas. Although I have a mini-review below, my full review of A Special Cornish Christmas is on the My Weekly website here.

Published by Harper Collins imprint Avon on 11th November, A Special Cornish Christmas is available for purchase through the links here.

A Special Cornish Christmas

This Christmas everything is about to change…

When Bo Grayson and her friends meet a mysterious fortune teller, she gives each woman the same prediction: You will meet the love of your life by Christmas Day.

But Bo quickly dismisses this as nonsense. And with the festive season in full swing, she has plenty to keep her busy: creating the seasonal menu for her Boatyard Café, getting her rock and roll dance group ready for their Christmas show – and avoiding thinking about last December, when her fortune took a turn for the worse…

Besides, she definitely isn’t ready to open her heart again. But will fate – and perhaps a sprinkle of Christmas magic – change her mind?

The book that is guaranteed to make your Christmas, perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan and Heidi Swain.

My Review of A Special Cornish Christmas

My full review of A Special Cornish Christmas can be found on the My Weekly website here.

A Special Cornish Christmas is filled to the brim with warm, vivid characters I cared about and I loved the book. Imbued with food, dance and romance, there’s a touch of Christmas magic between the pages.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Phillipa Ashley

Philippa Ashley

Phillipa Ashley writes warm, funny romantic fiction for a variety of international publishers. The first two books in her best-selling Cornish Café series made the Amazon Top 20 and Top 10 chart in 2016.

Phillipa lives in a Staffordshire village with her husband and has a grown-up daughter.

You’ll find more about Phillipa on her website and on Instagram or Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley.

Staying in with Chick Yuill

My thanks to Rhoda Hardie for putting me in touch with Chick Yuill so that we could stay in together to chat about Chick’s latest book.

Staying in with Chick Yuill

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

Thank you for inviting me. It’s never a hardship to stay in and share the company of a book lover.

I agree wholeheartedly with that Chick! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

 

I’ve brought my sixth and latest novel Talking to Calippa Cumberland. And I’ve chosen it for several reasons. The most obvious is that it’s a Christmas tale and the season of goodwill will soon be upon us. So it seems an appropriate choice for an evening by the fireside towards the end of November.

It does. Tell me more.

But I’ve also chosen it because it represents a new challenge for me. It was the first time I’d written in the first person as a woman which involved me familiarising myself with aspects of life of which, as a mere man, I have no direct personal experience. Part of my ‘research’ was asking one of my daughters a series of questions to which she responded with a shake of her head, ‘Dad, I will answer this, but only once. And don’t ever ask me again! ’So it’s particularly interesting for me to be talking about the book in the company of a woman reader.

That must have been quite a challenge. What made you choose to write from the female perspective?

It wasn’t just the technical writing challenge that drew me to the central character and the topic. It was also that I wanted to try to enter into the experience of what it’s like to be a woman in what is still often ‘a man’s world’. And I think it’s my little protest against the misogyny that is still all too prevalent in our culture.

That’s fabulous. It’s such a shame we have to confront issues like misogyny and racism still. 

What can we expect from an evening in with Talking to Calippa Cumberland?

Well, I hope that the first thing we’ll find is a compelling and convincing story.

The plot takes us through a series of Christmas Eves from 1976 to 2019 as Lori Bloom negotiates the ups and downs of life. Calippa Cumberland is her imaginary childhood friend who remains a presence into adulthood and becomes the imagined recipient of Lori’s reflections in the journal in which she jots her reflections and records her hopes and fears. It’s very much a story about the need for companionship.

That sounds very interesting.

But I also wanted to explore the power of imagination for both good and ill, not just as a creative force in art and literature but as being at the very heart of whatever faith we hold to, whatever values we seek to live by, and whatever future we want for ourselves and the world around us. And the whole thing is a recognition that life is about losing and finding, about being lost and being found.

Oh yes. I think we need to refocus on our individual ability to create good in the world. How has Talking to Calippa Cumberland been received so far?

Here are a couple of comments from early readers that have really encouraged me:

‘A beautifully crafted story, I got completely lost in it and found myself forgetting that the words of a female in all her growing up highs and lows were written by a man…’

 ‘Wow. What a book! I’ve loved all of your books but this one…… I say it again. Wow! Thank you for writing it.

Guys, can I very heartily recommend Talking to Calippa Cumberland as something that just should be among the books you have to read!’

Those are such wonderful comments Chick. You must be delighted. 

Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the book  –  one of Lori’s journal entries after major surgery:

Dear Calippa

Well, I’ve lost a lot in these last few months. Half of my insides, for a start – with a long scar to remind me of it every day of my life from now on. And, of course, I’ve lost any prospect of giving birth, being a mother, watching a child to whom I have given life grow up – though even without the cancer diagnosis, the combination of the (until now) ever-present endometriosis, the all-too-swiftly passing years, and my bad fortune and ill judgement in matters of love have meant that I’ve known the chances of that were diminishing rapidly. Those are real and painful losses. But, for all that, as someone whose name I can’t remember once said, much still remains. I’m still alive. I’m still a woman. I’m still Lori Bloom. There are still people who love me. And I’m still writing these letters to you!

And I think I’m learning more and more that living and losing go hand-in-hand. To live is to lose. Some of the people who’ve been important in my life have died, many of my memories have faded, half of my life is over. But, for good or ill, I am who I am because of all that’s happened and all I have lost.

I guess I’ve really known that ever since that Christmas Eve in Kendrew’s Department Store all those years ago. You’ve been a constant reminder that losing and – for want of a better word – lostness is always there. But now I’m daring to hope that alongside the sadness of losing there might be the joy of finding something of what’s been lost and even the hope of discovering things that I never knew were there.

Thanks for giving me some space to puzzle and muddle my way through all this.

Your friend, Lori

I love that piece. It has really made me want to read Talking to Calippa Cumberland.

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

 

I’ve taken the liberty of bringing a bag with four things in it without which I fear writing would be impossible for me  –  a bag of coffee beans, my grinder, my temperature control kettle and my wonderful aeropress coffee-maker –  the simplest but most effective coffee-maker ever invented and the best £30 that anyone can ever spend.

Ah, now, I’m a tea drinker. How does coffee help you write?

Here’s my coffee-making ritual before I settle down to write.

First I grind the beans. Only fresh coffee will do.

Then I put a heaped scoop of coffee into the aeropress

Next I heat the kettle to exactly 80 degrees  – the optimum temperature for making coffee, pour the water into the aeropress exactly up to the mark

After all that, it’s time to press down the plunger, allowing the coffee to run gently into my mug

And finally and blissfully and slowly I sip the coffee and savour the life-enhancing, mind-sharpening surge of caffeine

Now I can face the hard but addictive work of writing.

Let me make some for you right now!

Actually, Chick, you make yourself a coffee and as soon as I’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details about Talking to Calippa Cumberland, I’ll make myself a pot of tea and we can chat a bit more. Thanks so much for staying in with me this evening. I think I’m going to love reading Talking to Calippa Cumberland.

Talking to Calippa Cumberland

It’s half past four on Christmas Eve, 1976. Lori Bloom, aged three and three-quarters, is leaving a busy department store with her mother when the tannoy announces that a child in reception is lost and crying for her parents.

The impact on Lori is immediate. ‘Calippa Cumberland’, the mysterious girl with blonde hair and a curious name, becomes her imaginary friend and a constant presence into adulthood. For as one Christmas follows another, Lori finds herself confronting painful questions and in need of a companion in whom she can confide.

But will there ever be someone Lori can completely trust?

And will Christmas Eve ever be about finding and being found, rather than losing and being lost?

Published by Instant Apostle on 22nd October 2021, Talking to Calippa Cumberland is available for purchase through the links here.

About Chick Yuill

Chick Yuill is a passionate communicator and works as a freelance broadcaster, speaker and writer. He is the author of six novels. Currently he presents Faith, Hope & Love every Friday on Premier Christian Radio. In addition, he has the dubious distinction of being the only Christian speaker to have been featured on the tenth anniversary highlights of the Jeremy Kyle Show. But that’s a story in itself!

You can find Chick on Facebook on his website and you can follow him on Twitter @chickyuill1.

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Poetic Justice by Mark Tilbury

I’m a huge fan of Mark Tilbury’s writing and he doesn’t feature here on Linda’s Book Bag nearly often enough. Today I’m delighted to share my review of Mark’s latest release Poetic Justice.

It’s a year since I reshared my review of The Abattoir of Dreams in a post you’ll find here. The Abattoir of Dreams was one of my books of the year in 2017.

My review of Mark’s You Belong To Me is here.

Published on 18th November 2021, Poetic Justice is available for purchase here.

Poetic Justice

Five twisted tales of murder and revenge.

Time doesn’t heal; it’s an incubator for old wounds.

Lucy’s return – No one remembers Lucy at the school reunion, but she remembers them. Especially one boy who made her life hell, and now she’s going to do the same to him.

The Tallyman– Donna is in debt, and the loan shark is making her life unbearable, with increasingly vile demands when she can’t make her payments. But her elderly neighbour, Elsie, has the perfect solution to get rid of the tallyman once and for all.

Last Orders – Jeff Tully’s wife has left him. Trying to run his pub single-handedly, he increasingly turns to his barmaid, Alyson, for help. But when Alyson tells him of her own troubles, they hatch a plan to get rid of Alyson’s violent, abusive husband. But will Jeff live to regret he ever got involved with his barmaid?

Ballad of the Unsung Hero – Retired shopkeeper Jennifer Price is at her wits end. Her husband Kenneth thinks more of his fishing than he does of her. But when she meets the man of her dreams at a spiritual church, Jennifer is hell-bent on getting her man – whatever it takes.

Private Museum – Retired nurse Mandy Rostron never thought she’d find love again after her husband died, but in Anthony Mallard she’s found the perfect gentleman. Or so she thinks. Mallard has some very dark secrets in his basement, or his Private Museum as he calls it, and Mandy is about to discover the truth about the man of her dreams.

My Review of Poetic Justice

A collection of short stories and poems.

Poetic Justice has all the trademark Mark Tilbury elements of grittiness, aggression, violence, humanity and a touch of the supernatural that I was expecting, but I hadn’t reckoned on the poetry that precedes each of the five stories. The poetry is intense, carefully crafted and works so well between stories, both as an indication of what’s to come and as a kind of palette cleanser, so that moving on to the next story feels as if there is a fresh discovery to be made.

The stories themselves are smashing examples of Poetic Justice so that the anthology could not have been better named. There’s a wickedly dry humour within the collection and all the twists and turns of a Mark Tilbury narrative are present. I think any one of these stories could become a full length novel and they feel like a distillation of skilful plotting and great storytelling. They would translate into a cracking television series of standalone drama too.

I loved the variety in the writing, with the italics for thoughts and internalised feelings so that the reader gets a totally clear understanding of what is going on the minds of the people created here. There’s real variety with both first and third person narratives so that although there are only five stories in Poetic Justice, there’s a kind of richness to the reading experience. I particularly enjoyed the conversational tone of Lucy’s story as it created an intimacy, making the reader almost complicit in Lucy’s actions and the ending of this one made it my favourite story but you’ll need to read the anthology to see if you agree! I found it unusual to have chapters in short stories and this added to the sense of pace and drama in Poetic Justice.

Mark Tilbury knows how to present the dark, simmering underbelly of humanity with absolute authority, but what I found most thought-provoking, however, was the author’s exploration of themes from a female perspective. At the risk of sounding sexist, I hadn’t expected a male author to provide such an insight into how marriage, revenge, passion, love, bullying and, indeed, sexism, affect women.

Poetic Justice is a collection that packs a punch. It’s quite difficult to define in many ways with crime and psychological drama as obvious genres, but the anthology seems to contain more than that too. Poetic Justice feels somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I really enjoyed it but beware. If you live near a place called Benzington you might want to think about moving!

About Mark Tilbury

mark tilbury

Mark lives in a small village in the lovely county of Cumbria, although his books are set in Oxfordshire where he was born and raised.

After being widowed and raising his two daughters, Mark finally took the plunge and self-published two books on Amazon, The Revelation Room and The Eyes of the Accused.

He’s always had a keen interest in writing, and having had seven books published by an indie publisher, has decided to return to self publishing. After successfully publishing The Last One To See HerA Prayer For The Broken followed in October 2020.

When he’s not writing, Mark can be found playing guitar, reading and walking.

You can follow Mark on Twitter @MTilburyAuthor, visit his website and find him on Instagram and  Facebook.

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