Owl Unbound by Zoe Brooks

My enormous thanks to Isabelle Kenyon for putting me in touch with poet Zoe Brooks and to Zoe for sending me a copy of her poetry anthology Owl Unbound in return for an honest review. It’s a real pleasure to share that review today.
Owl Unbound was published by Indigo Dreams on 1st October 2020 and is available for purchase from Amazon and directly from the publisher.

Owl Unbound

Owl Unbound examines nature and humanity in a wide range of settings; from a stag beetle on a suburban fence to fossils on a Somerset beach, from a Cotswold roofer tiptoeing the thin laths to a bag lady in Covent Garden dancing at the amplifier’s right hand.

Whilst there is tender joy and love in the collection, there is also anger and loss.

My Review of Owl Unbound

A collection of forty-six poems.

My word Owl Unbound is a powerful collection of beautifully wrought, timeless, moving poems.

Several biblical allusions give gravitas and depth even for a reader like me who has no interest in religion, because Zoe Brooks writes with such skill that she mesmerises her reader and draws them in to her references and allusions almost without their permission. Within the pages of Owl Unbound are references to society, and film, with half caught nods to literary fiction and a shared history that make the reader as much a part of the anthology as Zoe Brooks herself. I found myself thinking about the poet, wondering what her experiences really had been as I caught wisps of grief, loneliness, loss, anger, social conscience and identity in these wonderful poems. Both mystery and disclosure weave a compelling picture in the lines so that I finished Owl Unbound feeling I had read something very special even though (or indeed because) it wasn’t always knowable to me.

Themes of grief, parenthood, dementia, childhood, location, identity and loss swirl through the lines in a literary kaleidoscope of meaning that I found incredibly affecting. Ironically, one of the more ‘direct’ poems, There’s Nothing To See stopped me in my tracks as Zoe Brooks articulated absolutely perfectly my own inner feelings. This poem alone would make Owl Unbound a collection I will return to time and again.

I loved the natural imagery deployed to convey deep emotion. Who would have thought a poem referencing pigeons, Someone Lost, could have evoked such a feeling of loss in a reader? The motif of the moon in Theft, brought such a lump to my throat I had to pause in my reading for a while.

I finished Owl Unbound feeling that Zoe Brooks had shared a little piece of her soul with me, but that in return she’s stolen a bit of my own. This is a remarkable collection and I feel privileged to have read it.

About Zoe Brooks

Zoe Brooks worked with disadvantaged communities in London and East Oxford before returning to her native Gloucestershire to write and grow vegetables.

Zoe has been widely published in print and online magazines and appeared in the anthology Grandchildren of Albion.

Her long poem Fool’s Paradise won the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition award for best poetry ebook 2013.

To find out more, follow Zoe on Twitter @ZoeBrooks2 or visit Zoe’s blog. You’ll also find Zoe on Facebook and Instagram.

Fix by Miles Salter

I’m beginning this blog post with an apology to Miles Salter. Miles kindly sent me a copy of Fix in return for an honest review and has been waiting patiently for months and months for it to reach the top of my towering TBR. I’m delighted finally to share that review today.

I previously reviewed another of Miles’ books, the middle grade story Howl, here, although you’ll have to forgive the quality of my blog post – it was in the very early days of my blogging life!

Fix is available for purchase here.

Fix

Fix is quite a trip.

Seven years in the making, it covers air disasters, swamps, a woman who goes to bed with a dog, Jekyll and Hyde going for a curry, invitations to parties, amusing domestic disasters, a house with hidden rooms, and why there are so few good songs about cheese. The book’s primary theme is living in an imperfect world, from teaching your children how to forage to surviving a mid-life crisis. The poems on marital breakdown are moving and sad, but there’s plenty of surreal comedy here to keep the reader entertained.

Fix will stay with the reader long after they have read it.

My Review of Fix

If I’m honest, I had no idea what kind of anthology I would be reading when I picked up Fix. What I discovered was that Fix is a love song to who we are. To our past. To our loss and grief. It’s also an anthology of hope, of love and of humanity in many forms.

There are some startling images and moments in Fix so that when I thought I had the measure of what I was reading, I found myself brought up short by an expletive, a complete change of emotion, or a prosaic motif imbued with such depth of feeling I felt quite wrong footed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the social history references in Fix, especially those referring to music because they made me feel a part of Miles Salter’s writing, and, by extension, gave me a shared experience and understanding. Fix simultaneously has broad brush strokes and intimate moments so that it can be read on many levels, all of which are thought provoking and satisfying.

I have a feeling that many of the entries are autobiographical so that I felt I had come to know the author Miles Salter quite intimately. I found Said, in particular incredibly moving. The lines are simple with a repetition of ‘you’, ‘I’ and ‘said’ and yet the breakdown of an entire marriage is spread across the verse in sheer emotion.

One of the elements of Fix that I found the most compelling was that it gave me an insight into the male perspective. Miles Salter presented me with so many versions of masculinity, from the violent to the gambler, the warrior to the broken, the husband to the lunatic, making me feel I had had a glimpse into a world I don’t usually inhabit. Shed, for example, encapsulated the conflict between public persona and inner reality so brilliantly that its impact is to make me question what the men in my life are truly thinking and feeling. I loved the fact Miles Salter could make me think.

Fix is modern and fresh in approach and yet considers themes that are universal and traditional so that it has appeal to wide range of readers. Indeed, I think Fix would be a perfect collection for those who think they don’t like, or cannot understand, poetry because it is accessible and familiar. I also thought it was interesting, moving and hugely engaging. I really, really enjoyed it.

About Miles Salter

Away from poetry, Miles is the front man for the band Miles and The Chain Gang. The band have released a couple of videos in 2020, and are working towards making an album. ‘We’ve been going two years, and it’s been a slow burn. That’s partly because of Covid,’ says Miles. ‘The songs are really strong and the band are brilliant. I’m optimistic about what we can do in the future.’

You can visit Miles on his website and follow him on Twitter @MilesWrites and YouTube.

Prince Philip’s Century 1921 – 2021 by Robert Jobson

My enormous thanks to Mel Sambells of Ad Lib Publishers for sending me a copy of Prince Philip’s Century 2019 – 2021 by Robert Jobson in return for an honest review.

Prince Philip’s Century 2019 – 2021 was published by Ad Lib on 15th April 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

Prince Philip’s Century 2019 – 2021

For decades Prince Philip shared the Queen’s burden of office without upstaging her, always privately providing reassurance and advice but never overstepping the boundaries of his supporting role. It was an unforgiving position – a challenge for anyone – but one that he met head on. He remained the Queen’s adviser and closest confidant and was known as such the world over. That said, he was wise enough to recognise his limitations and the constraints of his role. He always seemed to instinctively know when it was time to step back and let his wife take the lead. His job was, after all, to allow her star to shine.

Robert Jobson’s magnificent biography of the Duke of Edinburgh tells the full story of his remarkable life and achievements, and how, after his marriage in 1947 to Princess Elizabeth, this dedicated military man spent so much of his life dutifully supporting his wife. Though he created a role for himself as a determined moderniser and environmental campaigner, and through the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, encouraged young people to reach their potential, it was perhaps his greatest achievement to have been a loyal husband and companion, and a loving father and grandfather.

My review of Prince Philip’s Century 2019 – 2021

A famous life over a century.

I confess I’m not usually a reader of biography and have only a moderate interest in the royal family, but I found Prince Philip’s Century not only a fascinating insight into the life of Prince Philip, but a revealing, sensitive and simultaneously honest observation of history and society too over the past century, so that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. There were aspects of history I remember well such as Michael Fagan’s intrusion to the Queen’s bedroom and Princess Diana’s death, but also may aspects of Prince Philip’s life about which I was totally ignorant. As a result I feel I know the man better but also understand the world we live in now, and how we have come to this point in history, more clearly. I have no idea if that was the intention of Robert Jobson, but I thought it was a wonderful effect.

Robert Jobson not only has meticulously researched his subject, but obviously has first hand experience of, and with, Prince Philip so that elements such as overheard conversations bring a lightness of touch that make for an interesting approach. Certainly there are footnotes for further reference and a middle section of photographs depicting Prince Philip from age 5 to 99 as one might expect in a biography such as Prince Philip’s Century, but alongside the weighty historical detail, there’s a real sense of a person – of a real life. Robert Jobson is unafraid to present the Prince at his most insulting and curmudgeonly as well as his most urbane and charming so that the whole book feels well balanced and nuanced and all the more fitting a tribute to a man who, for all his faults, lived his life supporting his wife and Queen. Indeed, I found the book quite an emotional read at times and have finished it with an increased admiration for a man whom I’d little considered before.

Measured, meticulously researched and authoritative, Prince Philip’s Century is essential reading for those interested in the monarchy and is hugely interesting for those of us who are more interested in social history than in individuals. I thought it was engaging, enlightening and entertaining, and having read this book I think my new mantra will be ‘Just get on with it’!

About Robert Jobson

Robert Jobson is one of Britain’s leading royal commentators, dubbed the ‘Godfather’ of royal reporting by the Wall Street Journal. He is Royal Editor of the Evening Standard and regularly appears on television as a royal expert. A best-selling author and award-winning correspondent, he has been at the forefront of royal reporting for a quarter of a century.

You can follow Robert on Twitter @theroyaleditor.

Croak compiled by Professor Phil Bishop

My grateful thanks to Kirsten at Exisle Publishing for sending me a copy of Croak compiled by Professor Phil Bishop in return for an honest review. Ironically, I had just been tweeting about how we had just counted 25 frogs visible in our 1m triangular pond when the book arrived so I dived straight in. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Exisle on 15th June 2021, Croak is available for purchase here.

Croak

Croak is a collection of delightful quotes and gorgeous photographs celebrating the underappreciated beauty of frogs. Many of the stunning, colourful images were taken by author Phil Bishop on his travels around the world. They showcase frogs in their natural habitats, paired with quotes from famous faces such as Cameron Diaz and John Steinbeck. Simultaneously amusing and illuminating, this perfect coffee table book is a celebration of one of the most varied and vibrant species on earth.

My Review of Croak

A collection of photographs and quotations.

Croak is glorious! I loved it. Firstly it is the perfect coffee table book being a relatively compact size, with an extremely high quality, vivid hard backed cover and with natural orange end papers that are reminiscent of autumnal colours. Each double page spread includes a fantastic frog photograph of the quality on the cover, alongside quotations from all manner of people. These quotations are presented on pages edged by or fully coloured like parchment so that Croak has a luxurious and timeless appeal.

At the end of the book are the species names and locations of the creatures featured with the photographer credited and some useful web site addresses for those who’d like to find out more making Croak educational.

The quotations are brilliant. They include pithy comments from writers such as Shakespeare, Voltaire and Mark Twain through actors and celebrities like Stephen Fry, Daryl Hannah and Robin Williams to renowned conservationists. What other book provides you with a frog themed joke from Tommy Cooper immediately followed by a quotation from Goethe? The quotations made me smile, gave me pause for thought and had me nodding in agreement.

Croak is a wonderful book for frog lovers, for those interested in conservation and for those looking for inspiration too. It would make a fabulous gift and I thought it was excellent.

About Phil Bishop

Phil Bishop was born and brought up in Devon, UK, where his keen interest in amphibians began. What followed was a lifetime of achievements in conservation and in highlighting the ground-breaking importance of the humble frog.

Searching for more species of amphibian, Phil travelled the world to places including South Africa, where he discovered and named a new species of frog, Arthroleptella ngongoniensis. Phil’s extensive experience in the study of frogs inspired him to compile the collection of frog-related quotes that is Croak.

Phil was a Professor of Zoology at the University of Otago, the Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Amphibian Specialist Group, and the Chief Scientist of the Amphibian Survival Alliance. In these positions, he helped to coordinate international amphibian conservation in response to the global Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. His team of students and post-docs (and often sabbatical visitors) mainly concentrated on the conservation of New Zealand frogs as they are some of the least well known frogs in the World, even within New Zealand. His lab group worked on improving methods for frog translocations, discovering new and interesting aspects of basic frog biology, amphibian diseases, monitoring endangered frog populations, and improving environmental education.

Phil has been widely published, with three previous books about frogs, several book chapters, and over 100 ground-breaking scientific papers. He was an editor of FrogLog, the world’s most popular online amphibian conservation magazine. Phil won many awards for his teaching and conservation efforts, including the University of Otago Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 and the National Conservationist of the Year Award 2018 by Auckland Zoological Park Recognising Excellence.

Phil’s passing early in 2021 is a loss keenly felt by the international scientific community. This book now serves as a tribute to a life spent at the forefront of conservation as he sought to deepen our understanding of these vitally important creatures.

The Couple by Helly Acton

My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Couple by Helly Acton. I’m delighted to be sharing my review of The Couple today.

Published by Bonnier imprint Zaffre on 27th May 2021, The Couple is available in all the usual places including here.

The Couple

The author of The Radio 2 Book Club Pick The Shelf returns with her brand new novel.

Millie is a perfectionist. She’s happy, she’s successful – and, with a great support network of friends and family (and a very grumpy cat) around her, she’s never lonely. She has her dream job at a big tech firm and is on track to become the company’s youngest ever Innovation Director. The last thing she needs is romance messing up her perfectly organised world.

Besides, normal people just don’t have romantic relationships. Everyone knows that being in a couple is a bit . . . well, odd. Sure, everybody has that one coupled-up friend who messes up the numbers at dinner parties, but it’s a bit eccentric. You know, like having a pet snake or living off the grid. Why rely on another person for your own happiness? Why risk the humiliation of unrequited love or the agony of a break-up when you can do everything yourself? No, Millie is perfectly happy with her conventional single life.

So when Millie lands a new project at work, launching a pill that stops you falling in love, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. That is, until she starts working with Ben. He’s charming and funny, and Millie feels an instant connection with him. Is this the spark that science and society are trying to suppress?

Will Millie sacrifice everything she believes in for love?

My Review of The Couple

Millie has everything under control – doesn’t she?

I was struck from the very beginning of The Couple what a brilliant premise for a story this book is. Helly Acton inverts our usual social mores and illustrates to perfection how ridiculous we can be and, actually, how offensive group social expectations are for many individuals. Here, instead of being derided for remaining single as so often happens still in today’s society, Helly Acton explores what life might be like if coupes were the abnormality, and she does so brilliantly.

Certainly there is a wonderful love story at the heart of The Couple and I was very much hoping for a conventional happy ever after ending, but the developing relationship between Millie and Ben illustrates so well, through Millie’s reactions in particular, the anxieties, self-doubts and the need to conform so many of us experience, as we put aside our innermost feelings in the face of other people’s demands. Ben works as the perfect foil to this, being true to himself and illustrating that happiness is the only ambition we really need. I thought this aspect of the book was not only perfectly developed, but I found it uplifting and encouraging too.

Even deeper themes like parental and professional control, sexuality, relationships, loneliness and the cut-throat ethical dubiousness of international companies, ripple through the story, but whilst themes with gravitas underpin the action, The Couple remains a fresh, innovative and highly entertaining read. Helly Acton uses a fast pace, wonderful humour and hugely effective techniques such as emails, texts and Millie’s italicised thoughts, to create a fast pace, cracking enjoyment and a narrative I loved.

The characters are very engaging. Of course I was partly in love with Ben from the first moment, but even the more minor characters like the yoghurt obsessed Saskia held a fascination too because they exemplified people I have met in my own life. The more I read of The Couple, the more glad I was that I live in my world and not theirs. This is such skilful writing because I had fun reading The Couple but it made me think and made me glad to be me too.

I so enjoyed The Couple. It’s well written, enjoyable, witty, clever and brilliant entertainment. I think The Couple is the perfect escapist read – with added clout!

About Helly Acton

Helly Acton is a copywriter from London with past lives in Zimbabwe, the Middle East and Australia. She studied Law at King’s College London before following a more creative path into advertising. At 26, Helly took a career break to travel in Africa and Asia, before landing in Sydney. Six years and one life-affirming break up later, she returned home and threw herself into online dating in the city. Helly uses this experience as a single woman in her early thirties – torn between settling down and savouring her independence – as a source of inspiration.

Helly currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, Chris, their little boy, Arlo, and their little dog, Milo. Sometimes, she gets their names mixed up.

You can follow Helly on Twitter @hellyacton and find her on Instagram or visit her website for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Shortlist revealed for @HarrogateFest Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

I’m delighted to bring you news today of one of the most exciting prizes in crime fiction.

The most coveted prize in crime fiction is now in its 17th year and celebrates crime writing at its best, transporting readers around the world from Calcutta to California to the frigid North Sea. If you’d like to see the full longlist, click here.

Harrogate, 15 June 2021: The six authors shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year are today unveiled after being chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy.  Now in its 17th year the most coveted prize in crime fiction – presented by Harrogate International Festivals – celebrates crime writing at its best, transporting readers around the world from Calcutta to California to the frigid North Sea.

Follow all the excitement on Twitter with #TheakstonAward

This books on this year’s shortlist encompass a vast array of themes and topics, from white supremacy and radicalisation to PTSD and homelessness, and from nail-biting hostage situations to tales of addiction, desperation and rehab.

The six shortlisted books for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021 are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The public are now invited to vote for the winner via www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com and the winner will be announced on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

We Begin at the End

This year’s shortlist recognises author Chris Whitaker who hopes to claim the trophy on his first ever nomination with We Begin at The End – a powerful story of crime, punishment, love and redemption set in coastal California.

Find my review of We Begin at the End here.

Three Hours

Sunday Times bestselling author Rosamund Lupton’s thrilling story of gunmen opening fire on a Somerset School has clinched a coveted spot on the shortlist. Three Hours sets the clock ticking for the hostages in a nail-biting exploration of white supremacy and radicalisation.

 Find my review of Three Hours here.

The Lantern Men

The creator of Norfolk’s best loved forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway Elly Griffiths is hoping that her seventh prize nomination takes her one step further to take the title. The twelfth novel in the whodunnit series, The Lantern Men sees Galloway return to the fens to hunt down a serial killer.

The Man on the Street

Trevor Wood’s meteoric rise continues as the debut author goes from being selected for Val McDermid’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel at the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival to being shortlisted for the coveted trophy with his acclaimed novel The Man on the Street. As a former naval officer, Wood brings to bear remarkable insight in this story of a homeless Falklands veteran with severe PTSD turned criminal investigator.

Death in the East

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for his latest Wyndham & Banerjee novel Death in the East – described by The Times as “the best so far of an unmissable series”. A mesmerising portrait of India, Assam and East End London, perhaps this third nomination for will prove lucky for the account-turned best-selling author?

The Last Crossing

The public are now invited to vote for the winner via www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com and the winner will be announced on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

 Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said“This is it: the crème de la crème of crime. This shortlist really does showcase the breadth and depth of the genre. It’s going to be a fiercely fought prize this year so make sure you vote for your favourite. Until then, I look forward to raising a glass of Old Peculier at the winner’s announcement on 22 July!”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors. The longlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith.

I’ve chosen my personal winner here and am off to vote!

Staying in with Rachel Brimble

I’ve heard such good things about Rachel Brimble’s writing and have wanted to read her for simply ages. Sadly my TBR has not allowed it so instead I invited Rachel to stay in with me to tell me about one of her books. I’m glad she agreed to be here!

Staying in with Rachel Brimble

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

I have brought along two books! I hope that’s okay? A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady are the first two books in my latest Victorian trilogy so I thought I could share the two together.

Oo. A BOGOF – what a bookish bargain! Though here it’s bring one get one free. What can we expect from an evening in with A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady?

Drama, intrigue and romance… the trilogy (third book due for release in the autumn) is set in a brothel in the Victorian city of Bath, England. When Louisa Hill’s husband commits suicide, he leaves her house she knew nothing and a mountain of debt. She and her best friend, Nancy Bloom, travel to Bath and soon realise if they are to survive they must make the house work for them and revert back to their old professions as prostitutes.

Having survived abuse, hunger and living on the streets, the women are determined that this time around their lives will be on their own terms. The books are filled with a cast of secondary characters that give a flavour of community, but also provide a canvas to the desolation and daily threats that surrounded those living in the Victorian underworld which I hope adds excitement and mystery to the stories.

That all sounds fantastic Rachel. How do the first two books fit in?

Book 1, A Widow’s Vow is Louisa’s story whose life starts to look better when she meets boxer Jacob Jackson and he comes to work at the house as the girls protector/doorman. Book 2, Trouble For The Leading Lady is Nancy’s story and is about her lifelong dream of being onstage and how, with the influence of theatre manager, Francis Carlyle, her impossible dream draws ever closer to reality…

So far the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy has been well received and I am thrilled with reader reviewers and feedback. I love writing about the lower classes of society and giving the less privileged the chance to seek their own success and, of course, find true love!

I love reading about the ‘real’ people in history Rachel. Too often we have had male HIStory of the upper classes and too little HERstory of the ordinary folk. I’ve been hearing very good things indeed about this series from other readers and bloggers.

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

I have also brought along a picture of the books that inspired the trilogy so that you and your visitors can have a better idea of the period and conditions Louisa and Nancy have experienced and survived. There is nothing more inspiring to me that finding real-life women who have fought against the odds and won, or even the women who have lost but refused to give up until the very end.

There is nothing better than empowering strong heroines and having them find the men who will be true partners to them in every sense of the word. I like to write about struggles but also inject a good dose of humour and romance into the characters’ stories so that it is palatable enough to be enjoyable. I hope that makes sense!

It most certainly does and makes me want to read the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy as soon as I can!

Book 3 is currently sitting on my editor’s desk and will be Octavia’s story who is a third woman who works at the house after Louisa saves her from Bath’s streets…

I just loved the sound of this trilogy Rachel. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about the first two books A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady. I rather think I’m going to have to add them to my towering TBR pile after all! 

A Widow’s Vow

From grieving widow…

1851. After her merchant husband saved her from a life of prostitution, Louisa Hill was briefly happy as a housewife in Bristol. But then a constable arrives at her door. Her husband has been found hanged in a Bath hotel room, a note and a key to a property in Bath the only things she has left of him. And now the debt collectors will come calling.

To a new life as a madam.

Forced to leave everything she knows behind, Louisa finds more painful betrayals waiting for her in the house in Bath. Left with no means of income, Louisa knows she has nothing to turn to but her old way of life. But this time, she’ll do it on her own terms – by turning her home into a brothel for upper class gentleman. And she’s determined to spare the girls she saves from the street the horrors she endured in the past.

Enlisting the help of Jacob Jackson, a quiet but feared boxer, to watch over the house, Louisa is about to embark on a life she never envisaged. Can she find the courage to forge this new path?

A Widow’s Vow is the first in a gripping and gritty new Victorian saga series from Rachel Brimble. You won’t be able to put it down.

Published by Aria on 10th September 2020, A Widow’s Vow is available for purchase here and on other sites.

Trouble for the Leading Lady

Bath, 1852.

As a girl, Nancy Bloom would go to Bath’s Theatre Royal, sit on the hard wooden benches and stare in awe at the actresses playing men as much as the women dressed in finery. She longed to be a part of it all and when a man promised her parents he could find a role for Nancy in the theatre, they believed him.

His lie and betrayal led to her ruin.

Francis Carlyle is a theatre manager, an ambitious man always looking for the next big thing to take the country by storm. A self-made man, Francis has finally shed the skin of his painful past and is now rich, successful and in need of a new female star. Never in a million years did he think he’d find her standing on a table in one of Bath’s bawdiest pubs.

Nancy vowed never to trust a man again. Francis will do anything to make her his star. As they engage in a battle of wits and wills, can either survive with their hearts intact?

The second in Rachel Brimble’s thrilling new Victorian saga series, Trouble for the Leading Lady will whisk you away to the riotous, thriving underbelly of Victorian Bath.

Published by Aria on 4th March 2021, Trouble for the Leading Lady is available for purchase here and on other sites.

About Rachel Brimble

Rachel lives in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 25 published novels including the Ladies of Carson Street series, the Shop Girl series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin).

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association as well as the Historical Novel Society and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

To sign up for her newsletter (a guaranteed giveaway every month!), click here.

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

Older Characters: A Guest Post by Christine Webber, Author of So Many Ways of Loving

It’s so good to have lovely Christine Webber back on Linda’s Book Bag today. Christine is such a generous author. Very often writers tell me they want to be on the blog but they don’t want the effort of providing a guest post when I can’t squeeze in reading their books for review. Christine, however, is always prepared to make that effort and I’m thrilled to welcome her back here today with a post all about older characters in celebration of her latest book So Many Ways of Loving. I’d also like to thank Christine for sending me a copy of So Many Ways of Loving and I’m hoping it will reach the top of my TBR before too long.

I’m also delighted that Christine has offered a paperback copy of So Many Ways of Loving to a lucky UK blog reader too. You’ll find details later in this blog post.

Previously Christine has provided a post about writing as therapy in a wonderful post you can find here when In Honour Bound was published and about the times when reality fights its way into fiction to celebrate It’s Who We Are here.

Publishing on 17th June 2021, So Many Ways of Loving is available for pre-order here.

So Many Ways of Loving

So Many Ways of Loving is set in 2019 before the world was shocked to the core by the pandemic. And it is another story by Webber featuring people in their mid to later years.

‘This is such an astonishing part of our lives,’ says Christine. ‘And packed with unforeseen changes.’

But unlike the storylines of Who’d Have Thought It? and It’s Who We Are some of the changes in this tale are bleak and heartbreaking. However, life is full of light just when we think there is only darkness and there are many unexpected developments concerning love, location, friendship, family and, as you might guess from the cover, a dog.

Ultimately, So Many Ways of Loving is a story of hope, celebrating our zest for life. It features three main female characters in their 50s and 60s. They are all, in their own way, facing crises, and the unlikely friendship that evolves between them is sustaining for them all. Acting as a kind of link between these friends is a fourth female character who is a great support to them. Readers may spot that she has been borrowed – though is now very much older than she was – from one of the author’s other novels.

Older Characters

A Guest Post by Christine Webber

Linda Hill has very kindly asked me to provide a guest contribution to Linda’s Book Bag. I’m delighted and grateful to be allowed to do this. It’s such a great blog and it gives me the opportunity to tell you about my latest novel So Many Ways of Loving, which is out on 17th June. This is another story about mid to later life people – which is my thing nowadays.

Linda asked me why I find writing about older characters so interesting. The main answer is that when I was in my mid-fifties, I got very bored with novels about anguished thirty-five year olds. Quite apart from everything else, that was pretty much the age of the average reader I’d written all my non-fiction for during the years I worked for Hodder and Bloomsbury. To be honest, I wanted a break from them.

Also, I wanted to read about older people who were vital and vibrant and negotiating new romance, new businesses, new locations, new family circumstances and so on, but also dealing with grown up children and elderly parents; in other words, I wanted novels about the sort of individuals I knew and encountered all the time. Far too often, it seemed to me, older characters in books were mere caricatures. They tended to lose their spectacles constantly, and generally to be a bit daffy, if lovable. Also, they were never the leading protagonists. I felt that should change. Clearly, lots of other authors were thinking the same way as there are many more books out now with older characters at their heart. And a jolly good thing too!

So, in 2016, I wrote Who’d Have Thought It? which was about a busy GP called Annie, who had been dumped but was ready to embrace single life again. I loved her! However, I didn’t give her an easy ride to new romance because negotiating that kind of change against the busy background of mid-life is always going to be complicated. In her case there were adult daughters doing unwise things with unwise people. There was a demented dad in a nursing home, as well as a good friend who became ill. But essentially it was a funny and romantic book and much to my delight, loads of readers loved the characters and this confirmed for me that there was a need for books for older readers with a storyline that they could relate to.

It's Who We are Cover

My second novel in this genre was It’s Who We Are, which was more ambitious in that there were five leading characters over fifty. That story is about family secrets and what you might discover in the filing cabinets of ageing or dead parents. I had intended to kill off one of the five, but he wouldn’t lie down and die. Instead, he went on to have a passionate relationship  which I had not expected to write. That’s one thing about developing older characters. They have their own ideas about what they want to do. And they have a level of common sense that has been learned the hard way, which is refreshing.

In So Many Ways of Loving the focus is on the bonds of new friendships which often surprise us. I’m a great believer in people constantly looking to increase their social circle at all ages. My circumstances and location changed completely three years ago and I’m very lucky in that I’ve made half a dozen new pals since then, all of whom are very special to me. We need fresh friends because we are constantly changing, and sometimes we grow apart from other adults we’ve been close to in the past.

There are other threads in the story – not least widowhood – which is something I’ve had to cope with myself and wanted to write about. Additional themes are new romance, house moves, the support of step-families and the threat of serious ill-health. You could say then that it’s very much a mix of what happens to most of us, if we’re lucky enough to live to be old.

Finally, perhaps my favourite character of all is a dog. Never underestimate the power of a pooch to transform a life. No wonder he’s on the cover!

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Thank you so much Christine. That’s such an inspiring post. As a middle aged woman of sixty I could not agree with you more. We middle aged (and older) folk have much to offer and I think So Many Ways of Loving might just show everyone that there’s life in the old ones yet!

UK Giveaway – A Paperback Copy of So Many Ways of Loving

I’m thrilled to offer a paperback copy of So Many Ways of Loving to a lucky UK blog reader. Christine has kindly said she’ll post one out and for your chance to be the lucky recipient, click here.

Giveaway ends at UK midnight on Sunday 20th June 2021. Your details will not be retained beyond this date. Winner to provide a UK postal address for receipt of the book.

About Christine Webber

Christine Webber tried various careers in her younger days – she was a classical singer, a Principal Boy in pantomimes, an undistinguished actress as well as a piano and singing teacher. Fortunately, for her, when she was thirty, she managed to get a job in television as a continuity announcer, and shortly thereafter she became a news presenter at Anglia TV. Finally, she had found an occupation she liked that other people thought she was good at. This was a massive relief.

In her early forties, she married the love of her life, Dr David Delvin. Soon afterwards, she decided  to leave news presenting in order to train as a psychotherapist, and she also became a problem page columnist for various publications including TV Times, Best, BBC Parenting, The Scotsman and Woman. In addition, she regularly broadcast relationship advice on Trisha, The Good Sex Guide…Late and from the BBC’s Breakfast sofa.

In her fifties, she and her husband set up a practice in Harley Street, and they worked together there and collaborated on several books. They also wrote the sex/relationships content on www.netdoctor.co.uk and penned a joint column for the health section of The Spectator.

Over the decades, Christine was commissioned to write ten self-help books including Get the Happiness Habit, How to Mend a Broken Heart and Too Young to Get Old.

Now, in her seventies, her focus is on the issues of mid and later life. As well as writing novels, she makes video podcasts on positive ageing and writes a column for various regional papers on that theme. She is also a life coach specialising in health and ageing.

You can follow Christine on Twitter @1chriswebber, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

With both Stacey Halls’ previous books awaiting my attention and calling to me from my TBR, what better way of ensuring I actually read her than by participating in the blog tour for Mrs England? My enormous thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part and to the team at Bonnier for sending me a copy of Mrs England in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Bonnier Zaffre on 10th June 2021, Mrs England is available for purchase through the links here.

Mrs England

Mrs England is a gripping feminist mystery where a nanny must travel to Yorkshire to a grand house filled with secrets. For there’s no such thing as the perfect family…

‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’

West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

My Review of Mrs England

Nurse May has a new position.

What an absolutely wonderful book Mrs England is. I’ve heard great praise for Stacey Halls’ writing but until I opened the pages of Mrs England I hadn’t appreciated what a beautiful, evocative and skilled author she is. Mrs England is fabulous. The settings are so clear that I could hear the rush of the waterfall or see the elements of nature that are so authentically depicted.

Ruby May’s first person narrative is alive with vivid detail, with direct speech that is totally authentic for the era and an underlying feeling of menace and secrecy that I found totally captivating. Stacey Halls’ prose has all the best elements of poetic description but is never hyperbole. Rather, she creates an atmosphere that reverberates with exquisite tension so that the reader is completely transported to the early twentieth century.

The plotting in Mrs England is taut and sophisticated. In essence, it’s fairly simple as Ruby finds her place in the England family home, but there are so many layers to uncover. I loved the gradual revealing of Ruby’s past and I was reminded of some of the great classics by Stacey Halls’ writing. Ruby is every bit as compelling as any Austen heroine and the intense portrait of middle class lifestyles in Hardcastle House was equally as authentic as Mansfield Park.

The characters are so clear and realistic that I felt invested in their lives from the very first moment. Ruby is an absolute triumph and the exploration of the psychological aspects of her personality is subtly and convincingly conveyed so that I was desperate for her to be happy and to succeed.

It’s tricky to say too much about themes without spoiling the story because everything is so intricately woven together creating a mesmerising narrative. Personality, control, manipulation, relationships, friendship, nature and nurture, and guilt and secrets all combine into an utterly compelling and fascinating read.

I’m only sorry that I haven’t found time to read Stacey Halls before now. Mrs England is an absolute triumph. It’s sophisticated, spellbinding and thoroughly entertaining. I thought it was just brilliant.

About Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, the Independent, the Sun and Fabulous. Her first book, The Familiars, was the bestselling debut hardback novel of 2019, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. Stacey Halls is available for interview, to write features and events. Stacey lived in Hebden bridge where the book is set while writing Mrs England and has done extensive research include at the Norland Nanny school in Bath. Key themes include ‘gaslighting; women & power and the fetishisation of nannies.

For more information about Stacy, visit her website. You can follow Stacy on Twitter @stacey_halls, and find her on Instagram too.

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Fragile by Sarah Hilary

It’s far too long since I last read a Sarah Hilary book and I’m delighted to rectify that by sharing my review of Sarah’s first stand alone novel, Fragile on publication day. My enormous thanks to Hannah Corbett at Macmillan for sending me a copy of Fragile in return for an honest review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Fragile.

Fragile is published today, 10th June 2021, by Pan Macmillan and is available for purchase through the links here.

Fragile

Everything she touches breaks . . .

Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong.

So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands.

But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for. Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.

But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .

My Review of Fragile

Nell is looking for Joe.

When I first began reading Fragile it took me a moment to tune in to a different genre from Sarah Hilary, but within a very few pages I was utterly mesmerised, drawn into a narrative that is, at times, achingly beautifully written, so that reading it is almost as unbearable and affecting as the emotions Nell feels. I thought Fragile was superb because it’s multi-layered, creepy, intense and so compelling that I found myself thinking about it and trying to predict what might happen at times when I wasn’t actually reading it.

The prose in Fragile is intense, gorgeously written and such a swirling maelstrom of psychological insight that I felt almost physically affected by its impact. Sarah Hilary places her reader into the very bloodstream of her characters making them experience the same events and emotions as do Nell and Meagan, in particular, with razor sharp clarity. The intensity of the relationship between Nell and Joe could not be more perfectly conveyed. Very often, this effect is achieved through the senses of taste and smell in a thoroughly unusual and captivating manner.

Sarah Hilary’s plot seduces her reader completely because reality and self-deception are so closely aligned it is impossible to know quite whom to trust. Nell, for example, is simultaneously unreliable, and yet totally truthful, so that her first person narrative had my brain reeling. I found myself as lost and trapped in Fragile as any of the characters. In essence the plot is relatively simple – Nell becomes a housekeeper – but my goodness to say that is to belie a fascinating narrative of truly manipulative, controlling and scarily realistic people. Each character deserves the contempt and horror of any rational reader and yet each one is so fragile, so human and so believable that I found myself empathising and supporting them even in their most dubious or heinous actions.

It’s the themes of hatred and love, obsession and control, loyalty and deception that add such a spellbinding dimension. Sarah Hilary takes the dark human potential that resides in us all in Fragile and shows us not just what her characters can do, but holds up a mirror like the one in Robin’s room, to illustrate to us just how evil a potential we may have. I have no idea if the resonances were deliberate, but I also found myself reminded of Macbeth, of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of The Lotus Eaters all of which added to my enjoyment too. This makes Fragile unsettling, compulsive and affecting.

I’m conscious that I haven’t really said much about the plot as I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but Fragile is a book that almost inveigles itself into the reader’s psyche. Sarah Hilary has a spellbinding ability to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere that leaves her reader feeling as drugged as Joe might be.

I thought Fragile was truly excellent. It enveloped me so that I was spellbound throughout. Just brilliant.

About Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel.

Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Hilary, find her on Facebook and Instagram or visit her website.

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