Linda’s Book Bag Favourite Books of 2019


Given that I decided to step back somewhat from blogging in 2019, explained here, it seems to have been another busy year even if I have put out almost 400 fewer blog posts and have only read just over 150 books.


On the bookish front I’ve been invited to some magnificent events such as the Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Awards, as well as various publisher evenings, author and blogger meet ups and book launches. Sadly, with increased rail fares and some date clashes I wasn’t able to attend them all. I was also thrilled to have been part of the highly successful Deepings Literary Festival in May. After several months of planning, during the festival I interviewed Guinevere Glasfurd and introduced Darren O’Sullivan and Louise Jensen in conversation.


I had a fish and chip supper with Milly Johnson and hosted Lucien Young, before attending one of Milly Johnson’s talks, hosting and interviewing Barbara Copperthwaite, interviewing Elly Griffiths and attending a gala dinner with John Sergeant.

Linda and Elly

On the final day I interviewed Carol Drinkwater and had apple pie with Julie Stock and Lizzie Lamb. With live music, local venues and many more authors whom I didn’t get chance to be with, this really was a fantastic few days.

Interviewing Carol d

Although that event is over, you can see which wonderful authors joined us here. We’re already planning our next events with our main festival happening from 28th April – 2nd May 2021 so put the date in your diary!

The next event that I’ll be involved in is a read dating at the Deepings Community Library on 2nd May from 3.30PM so maybe I’ll see you there. shadow panel

I was also thrilled to be listed as one of Sarpedia’s Top 25 Book Blogs 2019 and Reedsy’s Best Book Review Blogs 2019 as well as being invited to be one of five UK bloggers on the Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writers Award Shadow Panel. You can read more about that experience here.

CApital crime authors

It was also incredibly thrilling to be given a press pass to Capital Crime where I had a fabulous time, especially meeting Anthony Horowitz as I had written teacher resources for Hodder for his Raven’s Gate years ago. I’m really disappointed that I will be wending my way home from China and Japan as most of the festival takes place next year, but you can find tickets here and I’m hoping to get to the final day, jetlag permitting!

Speaking of going to China and Japan (as well as India) in 2020, I did take regular complete breaks from blogging in 2019 to travel to Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Barcelona, Krakow and Croatia so I can’t complain! Of course, it rained everywhere we went as usual as you can see from the photo taken of the cafe patio at Krakow castle!


Oh, and I finally completed my novel but there’s a long way to go before it sees the light of day. Writing 55,000 words in three weeks means it needs a bit of an edit*!

*total rewrite…

But now to the main reason for this blog post:

My Favourite Books of 2019

2019 books of the year photo

If you’re a regular visitor to Linda’s Book Bag you’ll know I never give star ratings on the blog. I am not a fan of star ratings because they mean different things to different people and in different places.

However, what I have done this year is record a mark out of 100 for every book I’ve read and today I’m sharing those that have scored a massive 95% or above in my scoring system. For me to award 95%+, a book needs to have touched me emotionally or held me so spellbound I had no free will of my own as I read. There’s no rank order here, just the chronology of their appearance on the blog.

If you’d like to see my full reviews, please click on the titles. Some of the covers may well have changed as I will have read proof copies, ARCs, ebooks, hardbacks or paperbacks depending on when the books came my way or I bought them. My apologies to those authors who only scored up to 94% and are not included. This list could have been very much longer

There are quite a few books featured because I only blog about those books I’ve enjoyed. I see no point in sharing negative thoughts. A book I don’t like might well be the favourite for another reader with different tastes. So, here are those books that scored most highly for me in 2019:

It’s a children’s book first and The World of David Walliams Book of Stuff by, funnily enough, David Walliams and available for purchase here. I thought this was just glorious.

The World of David Walliams

A spectacularly funny feast of all things Walliams for super-fans, new fans and anyone who likes laughing out loud a lot. In glorious colour throughout!

Welcome to the World of David Walliams. This spectacularly funny book is bursting with Walliams wonderment!

Insider sneak peeks, brilliant character quizzes, fabulous fun facts, design your own Walliams book cover and meet Raj in a brand new comic book adventure never seen before. You even get exclusive access to behind-the-scenes content from David Walliams himself.

Hours of entertainment for all the family and the perfect companion to David’s novels. Featuring colour illustrations from the iconic Sir Quentin Blake and the artistic genius Tony Ross.

The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper which is available for purchase here. I found it menacing, atmospheric and literary.

the geography of friendship

When three women set off on a hike through the wilderness they are anticipating the adventure of a lifetime. Over the next five days, as they face up to the challenging terrain, it soon becomes clear they are not alone.

Lisa, Samantha and Nicole have known each other since school. Lisa is a fighter, Samantha a peacekeeper and Nicole a rule follower. United they bring out the best in one another.

Only once it is too late for them to turn back do they appreciate the danger they are in. Their friendship is tested, and each of them must make a choice that will change their lives forever.

The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven available for purchase here. I found it hard to convey how much I enjoyed M. W. Craven’s writing – I ran out of superlatives!

the puppet show

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless. When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of . . .

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce available for purchase here. This book was a claustrophobic maelstrom of compelling writing.

blood orange

Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…

Just one more night. Then I’ll end it.

Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries may be more than she can handle.

I did it. I killed him. I should be locked up.

Alison’s client doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty. And yet something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.

I’m watching you. I know what you’re doing.

But someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….

The Lost Man by Jane Harper available for purchase here. It is a beautifully written insight into humanity.

the lost man

He had started to remove his clothes as logic had deserted him, and his skin was cracked. Whatever had been going through Cameron’s mind when he was alive, he didn’t look peaceful in death.

Two brothers meet at the remote border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of the outback. In an isolated part of Australia, they are each other’s nearest neighbour, their homes hours apart.

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old that no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish.

Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he choose to walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Into the River by Mark Brandi available for purchase here.  I found this literary and profound book very moving and affecting.


Growing up in a small country town, Ben and Fab spend their days playing cricket, wanting a pair of Nike Air Maxes and not talking about how Fab’s dad hits him, or how the sudden death of Ben’s next-door neighbour unsettled him. Almost teenagers, they already know some things are better left unsaid.

Then a newcomer arrived. Fab reckoned he was a secret agent and he and Ben staked him out. He looked strong. Maybe even stronger than Fab’s dad. Neither realised the shadow this man would cast over both their lives.

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings available for purchase here. This is a book of dark secrets, desperate longings, beautiful settings and wonderful storytelling.

the cliff house

Some friendships are made to be broken

Cornwall, summer of 1986.

The Davenports, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, living the dream in a breathtaking house overlooking the sea.

If only… thinks sixteen-year-old Tamsyn, her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect home.

If only her life was as perfect as theirs.

If only Edie Davenport would be her friend.

If only she lived at The Cliff House…

Why Mummy Swears by Gill Simms available for purchase here.  Making me laugh aloud when I’m reading is no easy task and Gill Sims did it splendidly.

why Mummy Swears

Monday, 25 July
The first day of the holidays. I suppose it could’ve been worse. I brightly announced that perhaps it might be a lovely idea to go to a stately home and learn about some history. As soon as we got there I remembered why I don’t use the flipping National Trust membership – because National Trust properties are full of very precious and breakable items, and very precious and breakable items don’t really mix with children, especially not small boys. 
Where I had envisaged childish faces glowing with wonder as they took in the treasures of our nation’s illustrious past, we instead had me shouting ‘Don’t touch, DON’T TOUCH, FFS DON’T TOUCH!” while stoutly shod pensioners tutted disapprovingly and drafted angry letters to the Daily Mail in their heads.
How many more days of the holiday are there?

Welcome to Mummy’s world…

The Boy Child Peter is connected to his iPad by an umbilical cord, The Girl Child Jane is desperate to make her fortune as an Instagram lifestyle influencer, while Daddy is constantly off on exotic business trips…

Mummy’s marriage is feeling the strain, her kids are running wild and the house is steadily developing a forest of mould. Only Judgy, the Proud and Noble Terrier, remains loyal as always.

Mummy has also found herself a new challenge, working for a hot new tech start-up. But not only is she worrying if, at forty-two, she could actually get up off a bean bag with dignity, she’s also somehow (accidentally) rebranded herself as a single party girl who works hard, plays hard and doesn’t have to run out when the nanny calls in sick.

Can Mummy keep up the facade while keeping her family afloat? Can she really get away with wearing ‘comfy trousers’ to work? And, more importantly, can she find the time to pour herself a large G+T?

Probably effing not.

Mr Todd’s Reckoning by Iain Maitland available for purchase here. I loved the blurring of morality, of what constitutes a crime, of the impact of nature and nurture and all the themes woven into this sparkling, mesmerising book.

Mr Todd

Norman Bates is alive and well… He’s living just next door

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.

The father: Mr Todd is at his wits end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home… with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.

The son: Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?

The unholy spirit: in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech available for purchase here. Louise Beech has written a book that is potent, affecting and disturbing.

call me star girl

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Call Me Star Girl is a taut, emotive and all-consuming psychological thriller that plays on our deepest fears, providing a stark reminder that stirring up dark secrets from the past can be deadly…

The Path to the Sea by Liz Fenwick available for purchase here.  I didn’t just read The Path to the Sea, I lived it and felt bereft when I finished reading it

the path to the sea

Sometimes going home is just the beginning…

Boskenna, the beautiful, imposing house standing on the Cornish cliffs, means something different to each of the Trewin women.

For Joan, as a glamorous young wife in the 1960s, it was a paradise where she and her husband could entertain and escape a world where no one was quite what they seemed – a world that would ultimately cost their marriage and end in tragedy.

Diana, her daughter, still dreams of her childhood there – the endless blue skies and wide lawns, book-filled rooms and parties, the sound of the sea at the end of the coastal path – even though the family she adored was shattered there.

And for the youngest, broken-hearted Lottie, heading home in the August traffic, returning to Boskenna is a welcome escape from a life gone wrong in London, but will mean facing a past she’d hoped to forget.

As the three women gather in Boskenna for a final time, the secrets hidden within the beautiful old house will be revealed in a summer that will leave them changed for ever.

After the End by Clare Mackintosh available for purchase here. I have been altered by reading it and will never be the same again

after the end

Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. Only now they’re facing the most important decision of their lives – and they don’t agree.

As the consequences of an impossible choice threaten to devastate them both, nothing will ever be the same again.

But anything can happen after the end . . .



Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain available for purchase here. It’s an outstanding example of its genre.

Poppy's recipe for life

Things haven’t always been straightforward in Poppy’s life but her dreams are finally within her reach.

She’s moving into a cottage in beautiful Nightingale Square, close to the local community garden, where she can indulge her passion for making preserves and pickles. She may not have the best relationship with her family but she is surrounded by loving friends, and feels sure that even her grumpy new neighbour, Jacob, has more to him than his steely exterior belies.

But the unexpected arrival of Poppy’s troubled younger brother soon threatens her new-found happiness and as the garden team works together to win community space of the year, Poppy must decide where her priorities lie and what she is prepared to fight for …

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak available for purchase here.  It’s a book to savour, to reflect upon and to be moved by.


‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works.

Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

The Light Keeper by Cole Moreton available for purchase here. It’s is a searing, intense portrait of loss and grief that holds the reader spellbound.


Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away.

She’s come to the high cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life, to work out what to do.

Her lover Jack is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him.

And someone else is seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the cusp of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge . . .

Expectation by Anna Hope available for purchase here. Anna Hope has an outstanding talent to carry the reader along with her narrative and characters until they are completely entranced.


Hannah, Cate and Lissa are young, vibrant and inseparable. Living on the edge of a common in East London, their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.

Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each hungers for what the others have. And each wrestles with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?

The most razor-sharp and heartbreaking novel of the year, Expectation is a novel about finding your way: as a mother, a daughter, a wife, a rebel. 

Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner available for purchase here. I found this collection gloriously moving and astounding.

witches sail

‘Witches sail in eggshells,’ I heard Meg say from behind me, and I looked back. She was pounding the shells, hard, with the palm of her hand on the flat of a knife.

Bewitched by ‘the sort of girl who’d batter your heart like a thrush with a snail on a stone’, a woman overlooks the one who really loves her.

A seaside community is overwhelmed when the sea begins to expel its life forms. But the villagers would rather raise the sea wall, whatever the cost, than confront their past mistakes.

A woman’s beloved garden withers as the baby inside her flourishes. When the pregnancy reaches its end, the progeny is not as she expects.

A widower feels like his life might have been a quiet nothing, but he’ll end it with the flight he’s always dreamed of. Even that fails, but instead of indignity, in the attempt he finds peace.

Perceptive, intriguing, and beautifully told, Chloe Turner’s debut collection explores the themes of love, loss, the little ways we let each other down, and how we can find each other again.

The Moments by Natalie Winter available for purchase here. It’s such an uplifting, heat-warming story.

The Moments

Life is made up of countless moments. Moments that make us who we are. But what if they don’t unfold the way they’re supposed to…?

What if you get on the wrong bus, or don’t speak to the right person at a party, or stay in a job that isn’t for you? Will you miss your one chance at happiness? Or will happiness find you eventually, when the moment is right?

Meet Matthew and Myrtle. They have never really felt like they fitted – in life or with anyone else. But they are meant to be together – if only they didn’t keep missing each other.

A heart-breaking and compelling story about family and friendship. A story about love and loss. A story about life.

Postscript by Cecilia Ahern available for purchase here. What an amazing book and what a fabulous writer!


It’s been seven years since Holly Kennedy’s husband died – six since she read his final letter, urging Holly to find the courage to forge a new life.

She’s proud of all the ways in which she has grown and evolved. But when a group inspired by Gerry’s letters, calling themselves the PS, I Love You Club, approaches Holly asking for help, she finds herself drawn back into a world that she worked so hard to leave behind.

Reluctantly, Holly begins a relationship with the club, even as their friendship threatens to destroy the peace she believes she has achieved. As each of these people calls upon Holly to help them leave something meaningful behind for their loved ones, Holly will embark on a remarkable journey – one that will challenge her to ask whether embracing the future means betraying the past, and what it means to love someone forever…

Creative Writing Skills: Over 70 fun activities for children available for purchase here. It’s absolutely brilliant for aspiring writers of all ages.

Creative Writing Front Cover

Discover the secrets to becoming an amazing author

  • Find your creative spark
  • Grow your skills and confidence
  • Have more fun with your writing

Packed with top tips, this awesome workbook has everything you need to know about creating colourful characters, perfect plots, dynamite dialogue, and lots more …


The Family by Louise Jensen available for purchase here. I think I may have found a new favourite psychological thriller writer in Louise Jensen.

The family


Laura is grieving after the sudden death of her husband. Struggling to cope emotionally and financially, Laura is grateful when a local community, Oak Leaf Organics, offer her and her 17-year-old daughter Tilly a home.

But as Laura and Tilly settle into life with their new ‘family’, sinister things begin to happen. When one of the community dies in suspicious circumstances Laura wants to leave but Tilly, enthralled by the charismatic leader, Alex, refuses to go.

Desperately searching for a way to save her daughter, Laura uncovers a horrifying secret but Alex and his family aren’t the only ones with something to hide. Just as Laura has been digging into their past, they’ve been digging into hers and she discovers the terrifying reason they invited her and Tilly in, and why they’ll never let them leave…

Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaacs available for purchase here. I can’t sum this up in one sentence – read my full review!

messy wonderful us

One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy.

Allie has lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.

Beside her is her best friend since schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up.

But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, Messy, Wonderful Us is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.

The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott available for purchase here. I was touched, educated and saddened in equal measure.

The Photographer of the lost

Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…
An epic novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I

‘Beautiful, unflinching, elegiac: The Photographer of the Lost is going to be on an awful lot of Best Books of the Year lists, mine included . . . it’s unforgettable’ Iona Grey, bestselling author of The Glittering Hour.

1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she begins to search.

Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.

And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.

An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield available for purchase here. It is unsettling, entertaining and beautifully written.

Salt Slow cover

In her brilliantly inventive and haunting debut collection of stories, Julia Armfield explores bodies and the bodily, mapping the skin and bones of her characters through their experiences of isolation, obsession, love and revenge.

Teenagers develop ungodly appetites, a city becomes insomniac overnight, and bodies are diligently picked apart to make up better ones. The mundane worlds of schools and sleepy sea-side towns are invaded and transformed, creating a landscape which is constantly shifting to hold on to its inhabitants. Blurring the mythic and the gothic with the everyday, Salt Slow considers characters in motion – turning away, turning back or simply turning into something new entirely.

Winner of The White Review Short Story Prize 2018, Armfield is a writer of sharp, lyrical prose and tilting dark humour – Salt Slow marks the arrival of an ambitious and singular new voice.

Testament by Kim Sherwood available for purchase here. It is a powerful, absorbing and incredibly moving novel that has had a visceral effect on me, making me feel the emotional pain, the fear and the joy of the characters quite physically.


Of everyone in her complicated family, Eva was closest to her grandfather: a charismatic painter – and a keeper of secrets. So when he dies, she’s hit by a greater loss – of the questions he never answered, and the past he never shared.

It’s then she finds the letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin. They have uncovered the testimony he gave after his forced labour service in Hungary, which took him to the death camps and then to England as a refugee. This is how he survived.

But there is a deeper story that Eva will unravel – of how her grandfather learnt to live afterwards. As she confronts the lies that have haunted her family, their identity shifts and her own takes shape. The testament is in her hands.

Kim Sherwood’s extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, legacy and our place within history.

Black Summer by M.W. Craven available for purchase here and is, quite simply, stunning.

Black Summer

After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

The gripping new thriller in the Washington Poe series from M. W. Craven, winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 2019.

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary available for purchase here. This book is brilliantly entertaining, totally absorbing and utterly joyous.

the flatshare

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…


So there you have it. My favourite books of 2019. I wonder how many of these you’ve read and enjoyed too?

I cannot thank enough the authors, publishers and publicists who send me books and entrust me to give my honest opinion. I have read some outstanding fiction this year with many more books that scored up to 94/100 not making this blog post, but that are still absolutely wonderful reads. It is both a privilege and a joy to be a book blogger and I appreciate every single word I read – even if it’s in a book that doesn’t suit my reading taste.

I’d also like to thank those of you who take the time to visit the blog, read and share my reviews. It’s very, very much appreciated.

Book(s) of the Year

books of the year

I’ve thought long and hard about which of the books featured here is my Book of the Year and have come to the conclusion that if the Booker Prize can do it, so can I, so I have a joint winner! It’s not actually an avoidance at making a decision as two books scored the highest mark I awarded and they are:

Witches Sail in Eggshells by Chloe Turner and Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac.

Chloe Turner’s writing is so exquisite that I was filled with both envy and admiration as I read and Catherine Isaac managed to wring my heart so fully I don’t think I’ll ever quite recover.

Thank you to Chloe and Catherine and all the authors here for the pleasure they have given me in 2019. I look forward to many hours of losing myself in a book in 2020.

Happy New Year 2020

Happy New Year Everyone!

When Stars Will Shine compiled by Emma Mitchell

Heroes Front Cover NEW

It was a privilege to help reveal the cover for When Stars Will Shine a while ago and to be asked to participate in the blog tour for this important book as proceeds are going to charity. My thanks to Emma Mitchell and Shell Baker for inviting me.  Before I share my review on this closing day of the tour, I’d just like to repeat Emma’s message about When Stars Will Shine:

A Message from Emma Mitchell

As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas themed short stories complied to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.

Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.

There isn’t anyone in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.

When Stars Will Shine is available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

When Stars Will Shine

Heroes Front Cover NEW

When Stars Will Shine is a collection of short stories from some of your favourite authors who have joined forces to bring you a Christmas read with a twist.

With true war stories that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost, gained, and found, When Stars Will Shine has something for everyone. And with every penny being sent to support our heroes, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.

From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Rob Ashman, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!

My Review of When Stars Will Shine

A charity collection of short stories.

When Stars Will Shine is an absolutely super collection. I thought I might just dip in and out of this anthology, but I read the first story by Rob Ashman, was immediately hooked and kept reading what I thought would be just one more until I had gulped them all, in order, in one go. I found them all completely compelling. That said, When Stars Will Shine would equally reward dipping into at random when the reader has a spare ten minutes or so and wants a satisfying and enthralling or enchanting read.

Each story is perfectly structured with every author having their own distinctive style and voice. When Stars Will Shine conveys the impression that real effort has gone into providing a wonderful reading experience for the reader with great care having been taken in the crafting of the stories. There truly is a tale to appeal to everyone regardless of their usual preferred reading genre in When Stars Will Shine and I thoroughly enjoyed reading both familiar, and new to me, authors.

I thought the topics and plots were inspired. There’s such a spectrum of subjects and themes from murder to altruism, love to hate, the supernatural to the most prosaic and When Stars Will Shine would be fantastic to share a few stories from around the fire on a winter’s evening.

I loved the real life family members, ghosts, neighbours, murderers and lovers that populate these stories – so much so I can easily envisage any one of them appearing in a full length novel.

Each story in When Stars Will Shine is a gem in its own right, but the collection as a whole really is greater than the sum of its parts, so that I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of being immersed in its pages. Fabulous stuff!

About the When Stars Will Shine Authors

Blog Tour Week One NEW

Normally I include a short biography and author image but there are too many writers here to have a sensible length blog post. Instead I’m including the authors in the order they appear in the anthology with their story titles and Twitter handles and you can find out more by following the rest of the blog tour and finding the writers on Twitter.

Blog Tour Week Two NEW

Introductory poem by 11 year old Megan Steer: @tjsarcat15

Frederick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman: @RobAshmanAuthor

Four Seasons by Robert Scragg: @robert_scragg (and New Year’s Resolution later in the book)

The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff: @GFBickerstaff

Believe by Mark Brownless: @MarkBrownless

What Can Possibly Go Wrong by Lucy Cameron: @lucycameron22

Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell: @PtcCampbell

The Art of War and Peace by John Carson: @JohnCarsonBooks

A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton: @Mouse6420

Free Time by Stewart Giles: @stewartgiles

Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake: @MHollingdrake

The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen: @Fab_fiction 

The Village Hotel by Alex Kane: @AlexKaneWriter

A Present of Presence by HR Kemp (No Twitter!)

The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin: @bilbob20

Brothers Forever by Paul Moore: @mooros69

Girl in a Red Shirt by Owen Mullen: @OwenMullen6

Pivotal Moments by Anna Franklin Osborne: @HomeOsborne

Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli: @ValPortelli

Time for a Barbecue by Carmen Radtke: @carmenradtke1

Christmas Present by Lexi Rees: @Lexi_Rees

Inside Out by KA Richardson: @KerryAnn77

Penance by Jane Risdon: @Jane_Risdon

Family Time by Graham Smith: @grahamsmith1972

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

the flatshare

I can’t believe it was 10th October 2018 that I met Beth O’Leary and first got my hands on a copy of The Flatshare at a wonderful evening at Quercus books (see here) and it’s only now that I have got round to reading it. I’m delighted to share my review today.


The Flatshare is available to purchase or for paperback pre-order through the publisher links here.

The Flatshare

the flatshare

Tiffy and Leon share a flat

Tiffy and Leon share a bed

Tiffy and Leon have never met

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window…

My Review of The Flatshare

Having broken up with boyfriend Justin, Tiffy needs somewhere cheap to live and opts for an unusual flatshare with Leon.

What a glorious, uplifting, wonderful book Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare is. I have been meaning to read The Flatshare for ages and it was worth every second of the wait. I loved it unreservedly.

Firstly, the premise of a sharing a flat and bed with someone you haven’t actually met is intriguing, but the development of that premise is so skilfully handled and wittily written that Beth O’Leary elevates it into a brilliant read. The plot romps along and the sub-plots of Tiffy’s relationship with Justin, and Leon’s efforts for his brother, add depth and colour that make The Flatshare an absolute joy to read. I thought the balance between Tiffy and Leon’s parts of the text was perfect, I adored the playscript layout of direct speech in Leon’s passages and his lack of pronouns because they reflect his character perfectly. Beth O’Leary’s writing feels fresh, engaging and entertaining.

Indeed, whilst The Flatshare may be the prefect example of entertaining uplit, it does touch on some weighty themes that give it wonderful texture and make for compelling reading. Injustice, control, loyalty, family and relationships, social media, and even a glimpse into the world of publishing, are just some of the elements that add up to an enthralling book. When I was reading I resented any interruption as I had to know what happened next. I felt I was living alongside Tiffy and Leon rather than reading about them because I was so drawn in by the story.

As the relationship between Tiffy and Leon develops through notes, the reader comes to love them both and I was desperate for them to get together in real life and have a happy ending. I just adored the way their characters are revealed via these notes, their impressions of one another through their clothes and food, their interactions with other characters even when the two of them haven’t actually met, so that I felt a physical desperation for everything to work out positively for them.

Having read glowing reviews of this book elsewhere I probably had high unreasonably expectations of The Flatshare but am delighted to report it exceeded them all. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is the perfect antidote to any negativity in the world and it made my heart sing. I found The Flatshare brilliantly entertaining, totally absorbing and utterly joyous. Fabulous stuff!

About Beth O’Leary

Beth O'Leary

Beth studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being in reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare, on her train journey to and from work. She is now writing novels full time, and if she’s not at her desk, you’ll usually find her curled up somewhere with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

You can follow Beth on Twitter @OLearyBeth. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Facebook and can visit her website for more information.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient

I’d heard such good things from other bloggers about The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, and a copy of the book has been on my TBR since the beginning of the year, so when Amber Choudhary at Midas PR asked me if I’d like to be part of the paperback blog tour I knew this was my chance to read it and I’m delighted to share my review today.

The Silent Patient is available for purchase in all formats through the links here.

The Silent Patient

The Silent Patient paperback

Alicia Berenson lived a seemingly perfect life until one day six years ago.

When she shot her husband in the head five times.

Since then she hasn’t spoken a single word.

It’s time to find out why.

My Review of The Silent Patient

Convicted of her husband’s murder, Alicia Berenson is considered too mentally ill for prison.

The Silent Patient is the perfect psychological thriller that inveigles itself into the reader’s brain so that it is impossible not to be drawn in to this brilliantly plotted book. I thought it was elegantly written, intelligent and utterly compelling.

The plot is stylishly crafted and although I guessed some elements, I didn’t uncover them all so that The Silent Patient surprised and entertained me completely. I loved the division of the narrative into five sections, rather like a five act play with Alicia’s diary acting almost as a Greek chorus; and the naming of the characters was pure genius. Theo, for example, trying to play God as he attempts to unlock Alicia’s silence. With the myth of Alcestis underpinning the story, Alex Michaelides has created a superb modern narrative that is both shocking and believable.

I loved the characterisation. There’s a menacing exploration of what can be deemed ‘normal’ behaviour and how individuals might fit on that spectrum or be defined by the actions of others. From the beginning, I couldn’t warm to Theo, finding him arrogant, but my goodness he fascinated me and I loved the way his personality unfolded so that I felt I came to know and understand him. He held my attention far more than Alicia whose story is at the heart of the action, even though I was also desperate to find out why she wouldn’t or couldn’t speak.  Sexual, romantic, professional, obsessive and platonic relationships swirl and eddy amongst the characters making The Silent Patient truly bewitching.

Aside from the wonderful level of entertainment, The Silent Patient raises all manner of concepts for the reader to ponder too. The use of medication for the mentally ill, therapy and its impact on patient and therapist, the need to be loved, how we deal with guilt and desire and justify our actions are just some of the elements I found thought provoking and not a little unsettling so that The Silent Patient has great depth as well as exceptional entertainment value.

I thought the The Silent Patient was a brilliant book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I really recommend it.

Screenshot 2019-12-12 at 10.37.17

About Alex Michaelides


Alex Michaelides is an author and screenwriter born in Cyprus to a Greek-Cypriot father and English mother. After graduating from Cambridge with a degree in English, he received an MA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He wrote the film The Devil You Know, starring Rosamund Pike, and co-wrote The Brits Are Coming, starring Uma Thurman and Tim Roth.

The Silent Patient is Alex’s debut novel, the inspiration for which came in part from when he worked in a secure unit for two years. A Sunday Times bestseller, it went straight in at # 1 in The New York Times bestseller lists which is a first for a UK debut novel, and then stayed in the top ten for seven months, the first UK debut novel to do so. It has sold in 44 territories so far, which is a record for a debut novel. The film rights have been acquired by Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B.

You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexMichaelides and Instagram. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Silent Patient PB blog tour

Black Summer by M. W. Craven

Black Summer

I thought M. W. Craven’s The Puppet Show was an absolutely stunning read. You can see my review here and it will be appearing again in my Books of the Year post at the end of December. I’m sure Mike may have thought I was slightly bonkers when I accosted him at Capital Crime to enthuse about The Puppet Show so incoherently!

Consequently, when M.W. Craven asked if I might be interested in the second book in his Washington and Poe series, Black Summer, I was thrilled. My enormous thanks to Beth Wright at Little Brown for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Published by Little Brown imprint Constable, Black Summer is available for purchase through the links here.

Black Summer

Black Summer

After The Puppet Show, a new storm is coming . . .

Jared Keaton, chef to the stars. Charming. Charismatic. Psychopath . . . He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found and Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.

So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.

Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?

And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.

The gripping new thriller in the Washington Poe series from M. W. Craven, winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 2019.

My Review of Black Summer

Life is about to get complicated for Washington Poe.

It’s always somewhat terrifying to pick up the second book in a series when you have so loved the first, in case the author hasn’t managed to reproduce as gripping and thrilling a read. Within two sentences of Black Summer I knew I needn’t worry. M. W. Craven is an absolute master storyteller, a fabulous writer and a brilliant plotter. I was captivated and held spellbound throughout. Indeed, although chapters are short, I still had to take small breaks from reading in order to allow my pulse to slow. The tension was frequently unbearable and my response as a reader visceral, making Black Summer an exciting and exhilarating reading experience.

I genuinely believe M. W. Craven is a genius when it comes to plotting. The story in Black Summer is fast paced, tautly constructed and riveting, but it transcends most thrillers because of the frequent mini cliffhangers at the end of chapters, the manner in which Poe has information the reader doesn’t quite have so that there are shocks and surprises along the way, and the sheer brilliance of revelation as the narrative unfolds. This is literary sleight of hand at its most perfect. I loved every moment of being immersed in Black Summer.

I also adored the development of the characters of Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. It is very heartening to have someone like Tilly take a starring role without being portrayed as a victim. She is integrated into the narrative in a natural and organic way so that not only does she feel very real, she is completely authentic. As for Washington Poe, I rather feel I might be slightly in love with him! In all seriousness, I find it hard to remember he isn’t actually a real person because he is so credible and convincing. However, quite scarily, Jared Keaton is just as compelling and realistic so that reading Black Summer has left me with a slight unease I can’t shake off.

Equally convincing as a ‘character’ is the Cumbrian setting. The bleakness, the isolation and the beauty complement the plot wonderfully. The title too is ideal. With truffles, or black gold, playing a role, the approaching physical storm clouds and the potential that this could be Poe’s darkest moment, it suits the book completely. Indeed, I thought the metaphor of the approaching storm was sublime and felt as battered by M. W. Craven’s Black Summer as is Poe by the weather. I genuinely feel as if this book has had a physical effect on me as a reader. I feel shattered having read it.

Black Summer is absolutely brilliant. If you haven’t yet read M. W. Craven, begin with The Puppet Show – not because you need to have read that first book in the series to find Black Summer totally compelling, but because you’re missing an absolute treat if you don’t read BOTH books. They are, quite simply, stunning.

About M. W. Craven

mike craven

M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, returning after 31 years to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals. His first novel featuring Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, The Puppet Show, was published by Constable to huge acclaim, and won the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger Award.

M. W. Craven lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can usually be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.

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

Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig

Between the stops

I’ve long been an admirer of Sandi Toksvig, ever since the days of her starring role in The Big One television show, so I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to review her memoir Between the Stops. My enormous thanks to the team at Virago for allowing me to do so.

Published by Virago, Between the Stops is available for purchase through these links.

Between the Stops

Between the stops

This long-awaited memoir from one of Britain’s best-loved celebrities – a writer, broadcaster, activist, comic on stage, screen and radio for nearly forty years, presenter of QI and Great British Bake Off star – is an autobiography with a difference: as only Sandi Toksvig can tell it.

Between the Stops is a sort of a memoir, my sort. It’s about a bus trip really, because it’s my view from the Number 12 bus (mostly top deck, the seat at the front on the right), a double-decker that plies its way from Dulwich, in South East London, where I was living, to where I sometimes work – at the BBC, in the heart of the capital. It’s not a sensible way to write a memoir at all, probably, but it’s the way things pop into your head as you travel, so it’s my way’.

From London facts including where to find the blue plaque for Una Marson, ‘The first black woman programme maker at the BBC’, to discovering the best Spanish coffee under Southwark’s railway arches; from a brief history of lady gangsters at Elephant and Castle to memories of climbing Mount Sinai and, at the request of a fellow traveller, reading aloud the Ten Commandments; from the story behind Pissarro’s painting of Dulwich Station to performing in Footlights with Emma Thompson; from painful memoires of being sent to Coventry while at a British boarding school to thinking about how Wombells Travelling Circus of 1864 haunts Peckham Rye; from anecdotes about meeting Prince Charles, Monica Lewinsky and Grayson Perry to Bake-Off antics; from stories of a real and lasting friendship with John McCarthy to the importance of family and the daunting navigation of the Zambezi River in her father’s canoe, this Sandi Toksvig-style memoir is, as one would expect and hope, packed full of surprises.

A funny and moving trip through memories, musings and the many delights on the Number 12 route, Between the Stops is also an inspiration to us all to get off our phones, look up and to talk to each other because as Sandi says: ‘some of the greatest trips lie on our own doorstep’.

My Review of Between the Stops

I’m not a great lover of ‘celebrity’ memoir writing because all to often I find a false modesty underpinned by an irritating self-aggrandisement that simply doesn’t ring true. However, Sandi Toksvig has completely wrong footed me with Between the Stops and I loved every word. I must admit that I like her television persona so much that I was already on her side before I began reading, but Between the Stops is a book any reader can enjoy and appreciate because it’s so fabulous.

Firstly I adored the writing style. I think I possibly learnt more about Sandi Toksvig as a person in the passages about the stops on the bus route and her dealings with others than I did in the pure biographical sections because her writing is natural, honest and fabulously entertaining. She genuinely seems to care about her environment, and those in it, in ways that are politically, economically, ethically and socially astute and which gave me cause for reflection in my own life. That said, I found the personal passages so honest, humane and touching. I’ve gone from admiring the television personality Sandi Toksvig from afar to feeling I have been privileged to share insight into a warm, feisty and wonderful woman’s life.

Between the Stops is, as I might have expected, incredibly witty, but equally it is so educational. I learnt about history, geography, sociology, psychology, politics and so much more as Sandi Toksvig journeys through her life on the Number 12 bus. That said, there’s no ‘worthy’ sermonising here, but rather a hugely funny, touching and believable account that I found spell binding.

I don’t want to spoil the read by referring too closely to the eclectic mix of personal account and other details inspired by the places on the bus route, but I truly believe a reader could open this book at any point, dip in and find an absolute gem to investigate further, ponder or simply enjoy. I will certainly look very differently at the courgettes I grow on the allotment next year and Sandi Tokvig’s rejoinder that obsessively checking our emails and social media is akin to constantly opening the front door to see if there’s a visitor on the doorstep is simply perfect!

I thoroughly enjoyed Between the Stops. Sandi Toksvig the person, rather than Sandi Toksvig the celebrity, rings out across the pages so clearly, so wittily and so entertainingly that I admire her even more having read the book than I did before. I felt a genuine emotional connection to the writer. Brilliant!

About Sandi Toksvig


Sandi Toksvig went into theatre as a writer and performer after graduating from Cambridge. Well known for her television and radio work as a presenter, writer and actor, she has written more than twenty books for children and adults. She also writes for theatre and television: her film The Man starred Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker and her play Bully Boy starring Anthony Andrews opened the St James Theatre, London in 2012. She was Chancellor of Portsmouth University from 2012 to 2017. In 2016 Sandi took over as chair on QI, and in 2017 she started presenting The Great British Bake Off. She lives in London and Kent.

You can follow Sandi on Twitter @sanditoksvig and visit her website for more information.

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets by Lorna Gray

Mrs P

My grateful thanks to Lorna Gray for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for Mrs P’s Book of Secrets and including me in her #30DaysofBookBlogs.

Blogger images-07

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets will be published by Harper Collins’ imprint One More Chapter on 14th December 2019 and is available for pre-order here in the UK. In the US Mrs P’s Book of Secrets is published as The Book Ghost and is available here.

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets

UK (2)

There are no white shrouded spectres here, no wailing ghouls. Just the echoes of those who have passed, whispering that history is set to repeat itself.

The Cotswolds, Christmastime 1946: A young widow leaves behind the tragedy of her wartime life, and returns home to her ageing aunt and uncle. For Lucy – known as Mrs P – and the people who raised her, the books that line the walls of the family publishing business bring comfort and the promise of new beginnings.

But the kind and reserved new editor at the Kershaw and Kathay Book Press is a former prisoner of war, and he has his own shadows to bear. And when the old secrets of a little girl’s abandonment are uncovered within the pages of Robert Underhills’s latest project, Lucy must work quickly if she is to understand the truth behind his frequent trips away.

For a ghost dwells in the record of an orphan girl’s last days. And even as Lucy dares to risk her heart, the grief of her own past seems to be whispering a warning of fresh loss…

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets will be published in the US as The Book Ghost.

My Review of Mrs P’s Book of Secrets

Working in her uncle’s publishing company after the war entails more than Mrs P might imagine.

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets confounded me as it wasn’t quite what I was expecting from the blurb and opening. It’s not the fast paced supernatural thriller I imagined, but rather a quiet book that grows on the reader and needs quite careful and focused reading to appreciate fully. I confess I did find some of the structure a challenge but I think this is deliberate obfuscation on the part of the author to help create the mystery within the story. I certainly found the hints at the supernatural equally as effective as any more direct approach.

The narrative voice is strong and carefully attuned to the era, the book publishing setting and the social background of the characters so that I had a clear understanding of Mrs P, or Lucy. I felt I knew her far better than she knew herself for much of the book and I felt quite sorry for her and admired her in equal measure. I enjoyed the clues about Robert scattered throughout so that I felt I was involved in finding out about him at the same time as Lucy, adding to the sense of mystery.

Whilst the plot is perhaps a little more measured that I expected, I really appreciated the themes in Mrs P’s Book of Secrets. The post-war era is explored thoroughly, making for a thought provoking read. Secrets, grief, PTSD, suspicion and identity that were so important at the time, weave through the pages, making the reader ponder and think because these are issues that still resonate today. There’s a real sense of time and history here too. The concept of family is also important and I liked the way in which Lorna Grey challenges the definition of family and belonging through her story. I also appreciated the insight into the machinations and rivalries of a small publishing company. What touched me most, however, was Lucy’s sense of loss for a child she’d never had.

I thought the Cotswolds setting was absolutely right for Mrs P’s Book of Secrets. Indeed, I could see this becoming serialised as an afternoon television programme in the style of Father Brown or Shakespeare and Hathaway. The sense of place is clear and effective.

Mrs P’s Book of Secrets is a book that rewards the close attention of the reader and illustrates the important message that who we are is as important as what we do.

About Lorna Gray

Author Lorna Gray

Lorna Gray is passionate about understanding the past and takes much of her research from spoken history. She loves the fact that writing gives her the excuse to ask people about their memories, and treasures the unique little insights that every new conversation has to offer. She is also a published illustrator and her work has featured in a number of archaeological reports, children’s books and non-fiction titles.

Above all, Lorna loves a good adventure. She doesn’t mind whether it comes in the form of a good book, a film or rambling about the ruins of a castle as long as it is guaranteed to have a happy ending.

Last Christmas curated and introduced by Greg Wise and Emma Thompson

Last Christmas

I can’t believe I was having a cup of tea in Waterstones Piccadilly last week en route to another bookish event (The Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year award ceremony) when Emma Thompson and Greg Wise were there signing copies of Last Christmas and I didn’t even realise so I missed them!

I was thrilled to find a copy of Last Christmas in my goody bag when I attended an evening with Quercus back in October. You can read about that evening here. I’ve been saving up Last Christmas to read during the festive season and am delighted to share my review today.

Published by Quercus, Last Christmas is available to purchase in all the usual places through the links here.

Last Christmas

Last Christmas

The perfect gift book, featuring the writing of Meryl Streep, Bill Bailey, Emilia Clarke, Olivia Colman, Caitlin Moran, Richard Ayoade, Emily Watson and others, to coincide with the movie Last Christmas, starring Emma Thompson, Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding.

When you think back to Christmases past, what (if anything) made it magical? Looking towards the future, what would your perfect Christmas be? What would you change? What should we all change?

This is a beautiful, funny and soulful collection of personal essays about the meaning of Christmas, written by a unique plethora of voices from the boulevards of Hollywood to the soup kitchens of Covent Garden.

Away from the John Lewis advert, the high street decorations and the candied orange in Heston Blumenthal’s Christmas pudding, this gem of a book introduced and curated by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise celebrates the importance of kindness and generosity, acceptance and tolerance – and shows us that these values are not just for Christmas.

My Review of Last Christmas

Fifty-one Christmas related pieces.

I was initially taken aback by Last Christmas because I was expecting fiction and hadn’t quite anticipated the eclectic and wide ranging factual and memoir pieces that actually make up this collection.

There’s something for every reader in Last Christmas. Reading it over several days, I found myself drawn to more secular than religious linked pieces, but I thoroughly enjoyed, or perhaps appreciated is a better word, the entire book.

Although many of the entries have quite bleak and saddening content, from alcoholism and homelessness to deaths and drugs, ultimately Last Christmas is a heartening book because not only are its profits going to charity, but even where there are some very depressing accounts, more often than not there is hope and positivity that comes out of the writing. A drink dependent and aggressive woman later becoming a volunteer for the charity Crisis, for example, shows just what can be achieved with a bit of humanity.

I laughed aloud at Michael Korzinski’s brother’s physical response to Uncle Hank as I had a similar relative in an aunt who will remain nameless, although my 4 year old reaction was verbal, telling her I hated her, rather than physical. I empathised with Greg Wise’s reaction to his wife’s relentless enjoyment of Christmas as in my family, we begin the ‘What are we doing next year?’ question during Christmas afternoon! I traveled to places like Paris, Mayanmar, Moldova and America and I found a cast of almost Dickensian characters amongst the people described.

What Last Christmas does so brilliantly whilst it entertains, is make the reader think, make them feel humble and thankful for what they have and above all else reminds us that Christmas isn’t about consumerism, but rather it’s about compassion and love for our fellow human beings. It is a perfect glimpse into the reality and hope of Christmas. What could be better than that?

Staying in with Ruth Dugdall

The Sacrificial Man RGB

It was in March 2017 that I first met Ruth Dugdall at an event you can read about here. Since then I have reviewed Ruth’s My Sister and Other Liars here, and have been privileged to interview Ruth here on Linda’s Book Bag.

Today I’m thrilled to be staying in with Ruth to hear about her latest book release and would like to thank Lucy at Legend Press for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for The Sacrificial Man as a member of Legend 100.

Staying in with Ruth Dugdall

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

Good evening Linda, and thank you for inviting me!

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

The Sacrificial Man RGB

I’ve brought along The Sacrificial Man, which is actually a re-release. When it was first published, back in 2011, the appetite for books in the UK was tamer, and The Sacrificial Man – with its themes of assisted suicide and cannibalism – is a dark read. But things have changed since then, not just in terms of books but in the world in which we live, and readers are seeking books that reflect this. So my publisher, Legend Press, suggested that we re-launch.

The book has a new cover and feels very fresh – it may be that the time is right for Alice and her dark romance with the man she met on the internet.

Gosh. The Sacrificial Man sounds as if it is very much of today’s world. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Sacrificial Man?

An evening with this book will hopefully be memorable, and there are a few special moments coming. I’m a vegetarian, and haven’t eaten meat since I was 12, so writing about the subject of cannibalism was an imaginative stretch. I got around this by making Alice also a vegetarian – so there is a section in the book when she feels she needs to practice eating meat.

I have a feeling that isn’t going to end well… 

What else have you brought along and why?


As the sun fades and the evening begins, we’re going to be settling down in a timber-framed cottage with laburnum climbing the outside walls – it’s a beautiful plant, but the seeds are poisonous, so be careful. We’re in Lavenham, which is a beautiful Tudor village in rural Suffolk. It’s featured in some of the Harry Potter films, and is the last place on earth you’d imagine a crime of this nature to take place. Which is why I chose it. And Alice, of course, doesn’t believe she has committed any crime. After all, isn’t it our right to choose to die? Perhaps we can talk about this, and other questions, after we’ve finished reading.

Oh we can! I have very strong feelings about assisted death. I know Lavenham well too.

The inside of the cottage is immaculate – so don’t put your glass down without a coaster. Alice is very picky about things like that!

Good thing you said!


The Sacrificial Man is inspired by a real case, in Germany, so we’ll be drinking German Riesling to enjoy with the book. Prost! 


sausage casserole

But as I’ve transported the central theme to Suffolk so we’re going to be eating some Suffolk sausages from local pigs – you’ll see why when you’ve read the book! So, let me serve you a hearty dish, full of meat and spice, and a fine wine that may leave your head spinning. Looking forward to entertaining you!

Thank you. I think…

That sausage casserole sauce looks very red Ruth. I don’t have a good feeling about this…

Whilst I can (!) I’d like to thank you for staying in with me Ruth. Let’s find out a bit more about The Sacrificial Man:

The Sacrificial Man

The Sacrificial Man RGB

What I want to say is that suicide is my choice. No-one else is to blame. Man seeks beautiful woman for the journey of a lifetime: Will you help me to die?

When Probation Officer Cate Austin is given her new assignment, she faces the highest-profile case of her career. Alice Mariani is charged with assisted suicide and Cate must recommend a sentence.

Alice insists her story is one of misinterpreted love, forcing those around her to analyse their own lives. Who is to decide what is normal and when does loyalty turn to obsession?

Investigating the loophole that lies between murder and euthanasia, Cate must now meet the woman who agreed to comply with her lover’s final request. Shocking revelations expose bitter truths that can no longer be ignored.

The Sacrificial Man is available for purchase through the links here.

About Ruth Dugdall

Ruth Dugdall

Ruth Dugdall is the author of The Woman Before Me (2010), The Sacrificial Man (2011), The James Version (2012), Humber Boy B (2015) and Nowhere Girl (2015)

Ruth studied a BA (Hons) degree in English and Theatre Studies at Warwick University, and then an MA is Social Work at UEA. She worked as a Probation Officer for almost a decade, working in prisons with numerous high-risk criminals. Ruth’s debut novel The Woman Before Me (Legend Press, 2010) was informed by her experiences. Ruth’s professional background gives her writing authenticity and credibility. Ruth’s second novel The Sacrificial Man was published in 2011.

Ruth is the winner of the CWA Debut Dagger and the Luke Bitmead Bursary and has been longlisted for the New Angle Book Prize and People’s Book Prize.

You can follow Ruth on Twitter @RuthDugdall, and visit her website for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Sacrificial Man Insta Blog Tour

Writing a Sequel: A Guest Post by Imogen Matthews, Author of Hidden in the Shadows

Hidden in the Shadows -front cover (1)

I was delighted to ‘stay in’ with Imogen Matthews last year to celebrate her book The Hidden Village. You can read that blog post here. Today, I’m equally pleased to welcome Imogen back to Linda’s Book Bag with a guest post all about writing a sequel as Hidden in the Shadows is released.

Hidden in the Shadows is available for purchase here.

Hidden in the Shadows

Hidden in the Shadows -front cover (1)

Escape from the hidden village is just the beginning

September 1944: The hidden village is in ruins. Stormed by the Nazis. Several are dead and dozens flee for their lives.

Instead of leading survivors to safety, Wouter panics and abandons Laura, the love of his life. He has no choice but to keep running from the enemy who want to hunt him down.

Laura must also stay hidden as she is Jewish. Moving from one safe house to another, she is concealed in attics and cellars. The threat of discovery is always close at hand.

On the run with no end in sight, the two young people despair of ever seeing each other again.

As cold sweeps in signaling the start of the Hunger Winter, time is running out.

Wouter’s search now becomes a battle for survival.

Where can Laura be? Will they ever be reunited?

Hidden in the Shadows is an unforgettable story of bravery and love, inspired by historical events.

Writing a Sequel

A Guest Post by Imogen Matthews

I was completely taken by surprise by the massive response to my novel, The Hidden Village, when it was published more two years ago. Within weeks, it was riding high in the Amazon book charts and I started receiving emails and reviews from people across the world who thanked me for bringing this little known story from World War 2 Holland to light. Some asked if there was to be a sequel as they wanted to know what happened to certain characters they’d loved once they’d finished the book.

At the time, I hadn’t thought about writing a sequel, as I’d invested so much of myself in The Hidden Village that I didn’t think there was anything left to say. But of course, no story ever really has an ending and there are always characters the reader is keen know more about. So with the help of my readers’ comments, I found a new narrative emerging and soon became obsessed with the stories of characters who’d played a secondary role in the original book.

I thought long and hard about what would happen to Wouter, the young Dutch man in hiding rather than work for the Nazis, and Laura, the young Jewish girl who has no choice but to go into hiding. The reader of The Hidden Village never discovers whether their tentative relationship that begins when both arrive at the secret woodland village ever comes to anything. As the author, it was my chance to find out for myself and before long I was invested in their heartbreaking journey: not even I knew how it would end!

So this is where the sequel begins after the end of The Hidden Village. It has the pace of a thriller and never relents. Yet it is also a love story between two young people who are brutally torn apart and must find a way to be together against all odds.

Naturally, I was conscious that readers of Hidden in the Shadows may not have read The Hidden Village. I don’t think it’s a good idea for an author to spell out the plot of an earlier book in order to satisfy new readers, but it is important to ensure that when previous characters are introduced that reference is made to the part they played in the first book. Perhaps I made things harder for myself by switching the focus away from key characters who had shaped the narrative first time around, but, rest assured, some, if not all, put in an appearance in Hidden in the Shadows, some to devastating effects!

In short, I’ve written Hidden in the Shadows as a sequel to The Hidden Village, but people can read it who haven’t read the original story.

So what’s next? At the beginning of this year, Liesbeth, my publisher (@AmsterdamPB) asked me this very question. I told her I was researching another story I’d come across on my visits to Holland (I’m half Dutch and visit frequently). This next one takes place in a Dutch concentration camp that hardly anyone outside Holland has heard of and is a story of bravery and courage in the face of unfathomable evil.

I’ve become passionate about these untold stories from WW2 Holland, a country where so many ordinary people were caught up in the most harrowing of situations.

Next year is 75 years since the liberation of Holland by the allies and many who lived through those times are no longer with us. It’s high time that their stories are told.

Oh yes Imogen. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks so much for introducing Hidden in the Shadows. I think both books sound fantastic.

About Imogen Matthews


Imogen Matthews is English and lives in the beautiful University town of Oxford. Before she wrote The Hidden Village, she published two romantic fiction e-novels under her pen name, Alex Johnson. The Hidden Village is published by Amsterdam Publishers, based in the Netherlands.

Imogen has strong connections with the Netherlands. Born in Rijswijk to a Dutch mother and English father, the family moved to England when Imogen was very young.

Every year since 1990, Imogen has been on family holidays to Nunspeet on the edge of the Veluwe woods.

It was here that she discovered the story of the hidden village, and together with her mother’s vivid stories of life in WW2 Holland, she was inspired to write her novel.

For more information follow Imogen on Twitter @ImogenMatthews3, and find her on Facebook and Goodreads. Imogen also has a lovely website.