Peach by Wayne Barton @WayneSBarton

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My grateful thanks to Jon Wilson at Fish Out of Water Books for sending me a copy of Peach by Wayne Barton in return for an honest review.

Peach will be published on 15th January 2019 and is available for pre-order here.

Peach

Following the untimely passing of a close friend, British songwriter and producer, Freddie Ward, arrives in Bliss, Idaho to work on a comeback album with beloved singer-songwriter, Hal Granger. Adrift and bereft, Freddie is looking to gain a sense of perspective after a series of bad decisions–decisions that cost him his relationship and life as he knows it. However, almost as soon as Freddie arrives in Idaho, Hal drops an unexpected and devastating bombshell.

Far from the hustle and bustle of his life in England, out in the stark isolation of the northwestern U.S., with time to think, to reflect, Freddie slowly begins to rebuild his life, haunted both by the events of the recent past and his reactions to them.

Through words of wisdom from Hal and a series of meandering, existential, and profound conversations, Peach explores themes such as love, loss, loyalty, and friendship; second chances and redemption; how to make the most of your time; and, last but not least, the meaning of home.

My Review of Peach

With difficult relationships and a death behind him, Freddie Ward heads off to Idaho to write songs with Hal Granger.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced novel with multiple twists and a high body count along the way, then Peach is not the book for you. If, however, you want an intelligent, thought-provoking and profound literary read that immerses the reader in what it is that makes us who we are, then look no further.

It took me a while to attune myself to the pace of Peach, but the more I read, the more I appreciated what a beautifully crafted book this is. There’s such a wise, aphoristic, quality to Wayne Barton’s writing that I felt my own feelings and emotions were clarified by reading this narrative. It’s not overstating my response to say that whilst there is deep sadness between the pages of Peach, there is also a truth and positivity that made me feel that even in my darkest moments I am not alone in experiencing doubts and negativity. I finished the story feeling I had learnt about humanity in general, and myself in particular, so that I felt the same kind of resolution Freddie experiences. It’s no coincidence that he is emotionally lost and writing under a pseudonym when the book opens and that it takes a trip to a small town aptly named Bliss for him to accept himself.

There’s not much in the way of plot in Peach, although there are a few events along the way. Rather, this is a read of conversations and Freddie’s thoughts and introspection. Although Freddie is the central character with the story told from his first person perspective, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, it is Hal who steals the show. Hal’s truths and pragmatism weave a spellbinding feeling of humanity that I found helpful as well as entertaining. I’d love so many I know to read Peach and learn from it.

It’s difficult to define Peach. I don’t think it’s a book that will suit all readers. I found it emotional and affecting. And I honestly think that although it is a measured and considered creative narrative, it’s as good as any non-fiction self-help book I’ve read too. It’s about love, loss, identity and grief. It’s about the kindness of strangers. Most of all, however, I think Peach is about humanity. I really enjoyed it.

About Wayne Barton

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Wayne Barton is a best-selling author, ghost writer and producer.

In 2015 he was described by the Independent as ‘the leading writer on Manchester United’. He has ghost written a number of autobiographies of former footballers.

In 2018 his critically acclaimed biography of former United assistant manager Jimmy Murphy was a number one best seller; this was followed by the December 2018 release of ‘Too Good To Go Down’ which achieved the same accolade. ‘Too Good To Go Down’ is the book of the BT Sport film of the same name, which Wayne worked on in a producer capacity.

For more information, follow Wayne on Twitter @WayneSBarton or visit his website. You’ll also find him on Instagram, Goodreads and Facebook.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden @lumsdenrich

six loves of Billy Binns

I’m enormously grateful to Caitlin Rayner of Headline and Tinder Press and to Team Bookends for each sending me a copy of The Six Loves of Billy Binns in return for an honest review.

Published by Headline imprint Tinder Press on 24th January 2019, The Six Loves of Billy Binns is available for purchase through these links.

The Six Loves of Billy Binns

six loves of Billy Binns

I remember my dreams but not where they start.
Further back, I recall some of yesterday and the day before that. Then everything goes into a haze.
Fragments of memories come looming back like red London buses in a pea-souper.
Time plays funny tricks these days.
I wait for the next memory. I wait and I wait.

At 117 years old, Billy Binns is the oldest man in Europe and he knows his time is almost up. But Billy has a final wish: he wants to remember what love feels like one last time. As he looks back at the relationships that have shaped his flawed life – and the events that shaped the century – he recalls a life full of hope, mistakes, heartbreak and, above all, love.

My review of The Six Loves of Billy Binns

An old man, Billy Binns looks back over his life and tries to write his memoir.

I’m going to get one negative out of the way in my review of The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I found some of the language rather crude, especially when associated with Clem or referring to parts of the female anatomy, and as I am very broad minded I feel that might be an issue for some readers. That said, this particular lexicon is era appropriate and so I can see how it is used to convey the past. It just didn’t always suit my reader preferences.

That small negative aside, there is, in contrast, frequently quite a poetic turn of phrase that I did love, especially through the descriptions of setting or appearance so that I could picture things very vividly. References to nature in particular had a beautiful quality. I also thought the variety of sentence structure was very well constructed. Single sentence paragraphs exemplify the speed of some thoughts and memories perfectly, whilst occasional ellipsis conveys the difficulty Billy sometimes has in grasping his past. I especially liked the structure of the book, almost as a traditional five act play with its five parts, and the blurring of lines between Billy’s memories and his present situation gave a chimerical feeling which reflected well the way Billy has to reinvent himself at times in his life.

From a slightly shaky start I ended up really enjoying The Six Loves of Billy Binns. I was expecting more humour, but not as much pathos and at times I found Billy’s story quite heartbreaking, particularly with regard to Evie. I thought the way Richard Lumsden showed how fate intervenes and our paths follow a direction we neither ask for nor want at times, was sensitively presented so that although Billy does make mistakes, very often he had far more of my sympathy than disapprobation. The more I read, the more Billy became a believable, human and empathetic character. The loves he describes felt completely believable to me.

Reading The Six Loves of Billy Binns made me feel quite melancholic as a result of the poignancy behind Billy’s memories. I wanted so much more for him than he appeared to achieve and yet the ending of the book has an encouragingly uplifting quality in spite of all Billy’s experiences and frequent errors of judgement.

Richard Lumsden weaves social history into The Six Loves of Billy Binns very effectively. I really enjoyed the backdrop of the two world wars, the swinging sixties and so on. I thought the themes of race and gender, domestic violence, war and class structure all added to the layers so that historical times leapt from the page.

I think The Six Loves of Billy Binns will polarise readers. I began not liking it at all and ended up thoroughly enjoying it and understanding why the early parts of the novel that made me so uncomfortable had to be there to give authenticity and integrity to the narrative. I think The Six Loves of Billy Binns needs to be read so that every individual reader can come to their own conclusion. Why not try it for yourself?

About Richard Lumsden

richard lumsden

Richard Lumsden has worked as an actor, writer and composer in television, film and theatre for 30 years. As an actor his films include Downhill, Sightseers, Sense and Sensibility and The Darkest Hour, as well as numerous television shows and theatre productions. The Six Loves of Billy Binns is his first novel.

You can follow Richard on Twitter @lumsdenrich and visit his website for more information.

And the Swans Began to Sing by Thora Karitas Arnadottir

And the Swans

My grateful thanks to Tracey and Phil at Wild Pressed Books for a surprise copy of And the Swans Began to Sing in return for an honest review.

Out on 10th January 2019, And the Swans Began to Sing is available for pre-order here.

And the Swans Began to Sing

And the Swans

The swans on the lake began to sing. It was a singing so loud they were almost screaming, as if they were encouraging me to release what I had been keeping inside for so long.

Gudbjorg Thorisdottir has been hiding from the ghost of an ugly secret for most of her life. When she finally faces the truth of what happened in her childhood, the ghost floats away. Painting an evocative picture of life in Iceland, this is the story of a little girl who didn’t know how unnatural it was to experience both heaven and hell in the same house.

And the Swans Began to Sing is the English translation of her creative nonfiction Mörk – my mother’s story (published in Iceland by Forlagid), which was nominated for the Icelandic Women’s Literary prize in 2016.

My Review of And the Swans Began to Sing

A creative account of the true story of Gudbjorg Thorisdottir’s childhood abuse.

I was completely taken aback by And the Swans Began to Sing, not least because I hadn’t initially realised that this is a creative depiction of true events. I kept thinking that it read as if it were a person’s true account rather than a fiction and I felt as if I were listening in on an intimate and personal conversation. Once I realised the nature of the book, the style made perfect sense.

And the Swans Began to Sing is beautifully written. The language is poetic and affecting, aside from the shocking events that hold the reader spellbound almost against their will. I was struck by the eloquent manner with which Thora Karitas Arnadottir depicts how easily society can witness, and ignore, suspected abuse. It actually made me question the whole fabric of society. This book certainly shocks and startles and, as Gudbjorg herself might wish, it causes the reader to stand in someone else’s shoes with empathy and understanding, even when they have no personally similar experiences.

A personal history and an emotive illustration of how our childhood shapes us as adults, And the Swans Began to Sing is also a wonderful insight into Icelandic culture and lifestyle with a vivid sense of place. There’s also a slight undercurrent of mysticism that I found interesting too. The writing transported me to the places I have visited in Iceland so that it is almost a travelogue as well as a personal narrative.

In many ways And the Swans Began to Sing is bleak and dreadful, but ultimately it is reassuring to those who have suffered similarly as Gudbjorg processes, and finally comes to terms with, her past, her grandfather and her life in the present.

I felt And the Swans Began to Sing was very moving and haunting. It is literary, intense and shocking. It is, too, entirely human and reading it made me grateful to be who I am with the past I have.

About Thora Karitas Arnadottir

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Thora Karitas Arnadottir studied drama in Britain and is best known for the award winning TV series, Astridur, in her home country and for hosting Unique Iceland, a highly popular travel magazine show about Iceland.

Thora is currently working on her first novel, which will be released in Iceland in 2019.

When I Grow Up by Jon Hales @jonhalesauthor

when I grow up

My enormous thanks to Jon Hales for sending me a copy of his latest children’s book, When I Grow Up in return for an honest review. It’s not quite a year since I read and reviewed another of Jon’s children’s books Mathimals in a post you can read here.

When I Grow Up was published on 17th December 2018 and is available for purchase here.

When I Grow Up

when I grow up

“What if there was something more, not found within a book?
I closed my eyes as tightly as I could and took a look…”

Mr Dove’s class is trying to decide what to be when they grow up but Annie has some ideas of her own. Alien Hunter? Master Ice Cream Taster? President of the Universe? With a little imagination, anything is possible…

Beautifully illustrated, expertly rhymed, with a powerful message about the importance of imagination and dreaming big dreams, this picture book will delight again and again. Perfect for ages 4-8.

My Review of When I Grow Up

Annie’s teacher sets the class a writing project but Annie isn’t sure what to write.

I loved everything about When I Grow Up from the dedications to the written content and the smashing illustrations – not least because these exemplify a range of ethnicities which I think is important in a children’s book so that children learn tolerance and friendship. Indeed, the illustrations were the perfect balance to the written text because it’s clear the class is not just Caucasian.

The ethos behind When I Grow Up is exactly what parents and teachers need when sharing a book with their children. Annie’s dreams of what she would like to be when she grows up are exciting, flexible and quite feminist. She isn’t constrained by her gender or ethnicity so that the message is that we can all have aspirations, but that we don’t have to stay as one thing in our lives. Annie thinks she could be everything from a traveller in space catching aliens to a deep sea diver, which conveys the idea that there is a big world out there for children to explore. I really liked the concept that being a teacher is only one element of Mr Dove’s life too, as I’m sure when I was teaching students somehow thought that I’d hang up in a school cupboard until the next time I taught them. I feel it’s important that figures of authority are also seen as human.

The language in When I Grow Up is deftly handled. The book would lend itself well to being read by adults to younger children but it is also accessible through its excellent rhyme scheme to older, more independent, readers with sufficient challenge to extend vocabulary and engage them. I thought it was a super idea to include a space where children can write their own rhyme about what they would like to be when they grow up after having seen Annie’s version. Modelling is one of the effective ways of helping children learn.

The style of When I Grow Up reminded me of Roald Dhal and Mr Dove’s language was occasionally reminiscent of Lewis Carroll so that I felt this book deserves its place amongst the very best children’s fiction. It made me smile and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Great stuff.

About Jon Hales

jon

Jon Hales is a British author, English literature graduate and former English teacher who learned first-hand the power of a great picture book while teaching in Taiwan, reading stories to his younger students. The capacity for a well crafted turn of phrase, captivating character or hilarious illustration to capture the imagination of its audience was fascinating to him. Jon dreamed of crafting stories that would bring joy to both children and adults, stories that could be read again and again without losing their charm. Jon lives in London with his wife Annie.

You can find Jon on Facebook and Goodreads or follow Jon on Twitter @jonhalesauthor.

ikigai and other Japanese words to live by Mari Fujimoto

ikigai

Having been to Japan and so enjoyed the wonderful balance in life there I am delighted to be reviewing ikigai & other Japanese words to live by by Mari Fujimoto. My enormous thanks to Alison Menzies and Modern Books for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Published on 24th January 2019 by Modern Books, ikigai is available for pre-order here.

ikigai & other Japanese words to live by

ikigai

Introducing and explaining some of the most poignant Japanese words, Ikigai is a lifestyle as well as a language book. From the wistful poetry of mono-no-aware, a word that asks us to recognize the bittersweet transience of all things, to the quiet harmony of wa, which knits together all of society’s structures, this book is an introduction to the intricacies and value of Japanese phrases and concepts. It hopes to inspire you to incorporate these words into your own lifestyle and adopt a more mindful attitude to life’s stresses, seeking meaning beyond materialism.

In addition to over 40 ‘words to live by’, Ikigai features musings on the place of beauty, community, time and nature in Japanese thought, teaching mindfulness by way of compelling haikus, and illustrated by Michael Kenna’s reflective photography throughout.

My Review of ikigai & other Japanese words to live by

An insight into Japanese words and culture.

Before I review ikigai & other Japanese words to live by properly, I must say something about the physical attributes of the book. Its robust covers and serene stone coloured endpapers enhance the contents beautifully, as does the smooth, flawless quality of the paper it is printed on. ikigai & other Japanese words to live by would make a lovely gift.

The contents of ikigai & other Japanese words to live by are equally beautifully presented, not just in the stunning black and white photographs that embody real tranquility, but also through the presentation of the words on the page. I adored the use of white space, the punctuation and different fonts that so perfectly mirrored the language, the meanings, the pauses and breaths in the opening sections of each chapter. This book could be dipped into at random, but it felt right to me to read it in order so that my response as a reader paid tribute to the balance and serenity of the Japanese meanings I was discovering. Alongside the wonderful images, this poetic presentation makes ikigai & other Japanese words to live by a beautiful book.

Each of the seven chapters begins with a haiku from Matsuo Basho which sets the tone for the chapter. I loved reading these, both silently to myself and aloud to see how they changed with my different approach and I think this illustrates the success of ikigai & other Japanese words to live by. It’s a book that so cleverly causes the reader to pause. To think. To contemplate. I truly felt it gave me time to breathe and appreciate not only the own life, but to want to give more focused attention to those around me too. A few of the Japanese words resonated with me particularly emotionally, especially shibui and shoganai. My advice would be to read this book straight through as I did, and then return to each of the seven chapters over the course of a week before dipping in to it in a more random way as I think it the more time a reader gives to it, the more they will gain from it.

ikigai & other Japanese words to live by is a beautifully presented oasis of calm in a frenetic world. I thought it represented katachi (the direct connection between the beauty in the creator’s soul and the object of their craft) flawlessly and I loved it.

About Mari Fujimoto

Mari Mujimoto

Mari Fujimoto is the Director of Japanese Studies at Queens College, New York and teaches all levels of Japanese language and linguistics. She believes that language learning is the first step towards the understanding of a culture.

About David Buchler

david buchler

David Buchler is a South African artist who lives and works in Tokyo. A photographer, illustrator and writer, his art takes inspiration from Japanese culture. is a South African artist who lives and works in Tokyo. A photographer, illustrator and writer, his art takes inspiration from Japanese culture.

You can follow David on Twitter @DavidBinJapan.

Linda’s Book Bag 2019 Change of Direction and New Year Giveaway

2019

Happy New Year!

Crikey! It’s been a bit of a year here on Linda’s Book Bag and as I publish this first post of 2019 and look back over 2018 I’m a little bit overwhelmed by it all.

I first began the blog in 2015 as a tentative means to share my reviews of the books I read, little believing that anyone would bother to look at it. It seems to have been a bit like Topsy since then and, having hit well over 11,000 followers on Twitter, in 2018 I decided to showcase as many authors as I could through a ‘staying in with’ idea; particularly those writers from small publishers, or authors independently published, who don’t have big teams behind them. I wanted to help as many writers as possible get noticed by as many readers as possible. I was inundated with requests and eventually had to turn away more people than I could accommodate, but 271 different authors came along to ‘stay in’ with me and showcase their books. I blogged 603 times in 2018 with only a handful of duplicate authors so I think I may have achieved what I set out to do!

In fact, I’ve been amazed at the seeming popularity of Linda’s Book Bag and I was certainly absolutely thrilled to win the Best Overall Blog in the Bloggers Blast Awards this year – so a huge thank you to whoever nominated me and to those who voted for me. I was overwhelmed.

award

However, all these blog posts have come at a cost. Over 2018 I’ve been struggling to keep on top of it all and fulfil promises I have made for blog slots, particularly with Mum being so unwell and needing my time and attention so often. Each of my blog posts takes a minimum of an hour to put together, including emails to and from the authors and publishers, tweeting and sharing in various groups on Facebook, setting up the post, researching authors, finding images, author links and so on. Of course, many posts take much longer, and that’s without any reading time for reviews too.

Linda and Steve Uganda Equator

I estimate that average working days are the equivalent of 9-5 with at least 30 minutes off for lunch. This means that, aside from the times when I didn’t blog at all when I was on holiday in Uganda, India, Bali and Indonesia, with the posts I have blogged in 2018, I have spent the equivalent of at least 75 to 80 days or 15 to 16 weeks blogging solidly as if I were still working full time!

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tiger

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I’m exhausted. I usually spend three to five hours a day on what is supposed to be my hobby and I have come to realise that whilst I’ve been trying to help others to get their books seen by as many people as possible, I have not given myself enough time to do the thing I enjoy most – read. I’ve tried to be all things to all people and I can’t maintain the pace!

Add in the time taken up by my elderly mother, my complete inability to type accurately, osteoarthritis in my fingers and sight problems (a tiny hole in my left retina, an epimacular membrane as a result of PVD, conflicting astigmatisms in each eye, myopia to -12.5 in my left eye and -12 in the right with cataracts now developing in both eyes), I have decided this level of commitment to blogging is unsustainable. And I know I keep saying this, but I really would like to have a go at some writing of my own and finish that languishing novel…

Therefore, I’ve decided to be selfishly kind to myself and I’m taking a bit of a blogging sabbatical in 2019. I did wonder if I might stop blogging altogether, but I love it too much to do so and I am enormously grateful for all the exciting opportunities it affords me, especially when I get to meet favourite authors. I had already agreed to participate in 14 tours and guest posts in 2019 before I made my decision and I’ll go ahead with them as planned and I am already suffering terrible FOMO as I keep declining some utterly wonderful books and tours.

However, I’m involved in what I hope will be a fabulous Literary Festival in the area where I live and I need to devote some time to that.

Lit fest cover

I’m also off to Sri Lanka, Singapore and Malaysia for almost a month, so for the first six months of 2019 it is my intention to step back a bit from blogging and concentrate on reading and reviewing at my own pace without the commitment to guest posts and blog tours that I’m currently finding quite stressful. I already have some cracking looking books for 2019.

I hope all the authors, publishers and tour organisers who’ve asked for slots in 2019 whom I’ve turned down will understand, and I’d like to thank them for their interest in appearing on the blog (except perhaps for the one who sent me an unsolicited e-copy of their book via email with a message that simply said, ‘Madam. Here’s my book for you to review immediately’ with no other salutation or message at all! I confess I put that straight in the trash without replying!).

I’m looking forward to sharing my reviews of some superb books in 2019 – and knowing me I won’t be able to keep up my intention not to take on anything else as I hate letting people down, but for the moment, my blogging new year resolution is to have some time to myself to read, read, read!

Happy New Year everyone and keeeeep reading!

Giveaway

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To celebrate the love of reading that I am going to concentrate on here on Linda’s Book Bag in 2019, and to thank all of you who have been so brilliant in supporting the blog through sharing posts, taking part on the blog and providing books, I’m going to start the year by spreading some book love of my own.

If you would like to enter to win either a £20 or $20 Amazon voucher or a £20 National Book Token if, like me, you prefer to support a local bookshop, click here.

The giveaway is open internationally and closes at UK midnight on Tuesday 8th January 2019 after which time I will not retain your details under those pesky GDPR rules! Good luck and do take part – this is open to ALL.