The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall

The Snow Collectors

My enormous thanks to Catherine Sinow at Dzanc Books for sending me a copy of The Snow Collectors by Tina May Hall in return for an honest review.

The Snow Collectors is available directly from the publisher in the US here, or is available for pre-order here in the UK where it will be released on 27th February.

The Snow Collectors

The Snow Collectors

Haunted by the loss of her parents and twin sister at sea, Henna cloisters herself in a Northeastern village where the snow never stops. When she discovers the body of a young woman at the edge of the forest, she’s plunged into the mystery of a centuries-old letter regarding one of the most famous stories of Arctic exploration—the Franklin expedition, which disappeared into the ice in 1845.

At the center of the mystery is Franklin’s wife, the indomitable Lady Jane. Henna’s investigation draws her into a gothic landscape of locked towers, dream-like nights of snow and ice, and a crumbling mansion rife with hidden passageways and carrion birds. But it soon becomes clear that someone is watching her—someone who is determined to prevent the truth from coming out.

 Suspenseful and atmospheric, The Snow Collectors sketches the ghosts of Victorian exploration against the eerie beauty of a world on the edge of environmental collapse.

My Review of The Snow Collectors

Finding a body in the snow is just the start for Henna.

It took me ages to read The Snow Collectors, despite it being a short book because it is so utterly beautifully written I had to savour every syllable, word and nuance of Tina May Hall’s fabulous writing. It’s almost impossible to describe the quality of the prose. It’s intricate and mystical, with an oxymoronic icy fire that simply thrums off the page. I adored every single moment of reading The Snow Collectors. It felt as if I were being treated to a kaleidoscope of metaphor, imagery and meaning that shifted and settled into a mesmerising pattern of poetic description even as it became Gothic and almost vampiric and cannibalistic at times.

The plot itself is fascinating. Based partly in historical fact with Jane Franklin’s attempts to discover the fate of her explorer husband, past and present mingle and blend, foreshadowing and echoing one another in an enchanting tale. There’s mysticism and menace, science and obsession swirling through the plot, and alongside all this is a murder mystery that fulfils the desires of any crime lover too so that The Snow Collectors is a book that defies genre but enthralls every reader. Harbingers of death like ravens and owls, echoes of Dickens, Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stoker’s Dracula and all manner of books from the literary canon swirl through the pages of The Snow Collectors without once being derivative or contrived, making the atmosphere tense and unsettling.

The characters are brilliantly portrayed. Henna couldn’t be more aptly named amongst the references to blood, death and flesh, even as she ripples with imagery of, and links to, water. As the narrative progresses, her connection to Jane Franklin is so convincingly and entertainingly conveyed that I found myself literally grinning with pleasure. I don’t want to spoil the read by saying too much more about character as it will expose the plot, but I loved meeting the people here.

Tina May Hall’s setting is a stroke of genius. Snow bound like the explorer Franklin, Henna finds herself in houses that groan like ships, eating foods that possibly echo Franklin’s diet and wearing clothes that link her to the past. The cold, snow and contrasting heat are described faultlessly, but it is the iterative image of water that is so captivating because if flows literally and metaphorically through the story. Every sense is catered for and the nightmarish, dreamlike descriptions create a landscape that is unparalleled.

I adored The Snow Collectors. It’s riddled with history and truth, fantasy and lies, obsession and compulsion until the reader is as ensnared as Henna in the action. The Snow Collectors is going straight on my list of books of the year!

About Tina May Hall

Tina May Hall

Tina May Hall lives and teaches in upstate New York. Her collection of stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA grant, and her stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Collagist, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Wigleaf, and other journals.

You can visit Tina’s website for more information. You’ll also find her on Instagram.

New Voices Fiction Showcase from @HQstories

Inkednew voices jan 2020_LI

It was last November when I went to Harper Collins’ imprint 4th Estate evening and having so enjoyed that experience that you can read about here, I was thrilled to attend another event last night. Harper Collins’ imprint HQ New Voices Fiction Showcase. You can follow #HQNewVoices on Twitter see more about the evening.


As well as the opportunity to meet with other bloggers and friends, the evening was a wonderful opportunity to find out about new books as each of the authors gave a 60 second pitch about their upcoming novel, a description of the plot and what inspired them, followed by drinks, canapes and mingling.


There was a very exciting line-up of authors and I was lucky enough to come home with several of the books to read. We found out about the following books and if you click on the titles, where available, you’ll be taken to pre-order or buy links. Please be aware that not all the covers are final versions:

Little White Lies by Philippa East

Little white lies

She only looked away for a second…

Anne White only looked away for a second, but that’s all it took to lose sight of her young daughter.

But seven years later, Abigail is found.

And as Anne struggles to connect with her teenage daughter, she begins to question how much Abigail remembers about the day she disappeared…

The Family Tree by Sairish Hussain

The Family tree

Your roots can always lead you home…

Amjad cradles his baby daughter in the middle of the night. He has no time to mourn his wife’s death. Saahil and Zahra, his two small children, are relying on him. Amjad vows to love and protect them always.

Years later, Saahil and his best friend, Ehsan, have finished university and are celebrating with friends. But when the night turns dangerous, its devastating effects will ripple through the years to come.

Zahra’s world is alight with politics and activism. But she is now her father’s only source of comfort, and worries she’ll never have time for her own aspirations. Life has taken her small family in different directions – will they ever find their way back to each other?

The Family Tree is the moving story of a British Muslim family full of love, laughter and resilience as well as all the faults, mistakes and stubborn loyalties which make us human.

This Lovely City by Louise Hare

This lovely city

The drinks are flowing. The music is playing. But the party can’t last.

With the Blitz over and London reeling from war, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for help. Fresh off the Empire Windrush, he’s taken a tiny room in south London lodgings, and has fallen in love with the girl next door.

Touring Soho’s music halls by night, pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home – and it’s alive with possibility. Until, one morning, he makes a terrible discovery.

As the local community rallies, fingers of blame are pointed at those who had recently been welcomed with open arms. And, before long, the newest arrivals become the prime suspects in a tragedy which threatens to tear the city apart.

Atmospheric, poignant and compelling, Louise Hare’s debut shows that new arrivals have always been the prime suspects. But, also, that there is always hope.

The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside

dawn brightside

Dawn Elisabeth Brightside has been running from her past for twenty-two years and two months, precisely.

So when she is offered a bed in St Jude’s Hostel for the Homeless, it means so much more than just a roof over her head.

But with St Jude’s threatened with closure, Dawn worries that everything is about to crumble around her all over again.

Perhaps, with a little help from her new friends, she can find a way to save this light in the darkness?

And maybe, just maybe, Dawn will finally have a place to call home….

Precious You by Helen Monks Takhar

precious you

Trusting you was my first mistake…

At first Katherine dismisses her early-twenties intern as a millennial ‘snowflake’: soft, entitled, moralistic. But Lily’s youth and beauty remind Katherine of everything she once was, and she soon finds herself obsessively drawn to her new colleague.

But is Katherine simply jealous of Lily’s potential – or does she sense that her intern has a dark hidden agenda? A disturbing picture begins to emerge of two women who are not what they seem – and who are desperate enough to do anything to come out on top.

As their rivalry deepens and with their backs against the wall, the consequences are about to turn deadly…

Explosive and provocative, with shocking twists at every turn, Precious You is an addictive, revenge-fuelled thriller for our age.

The Cancer Ladies Running Club by Josie Lloyd

cancer ladies

Sometimes we find friendship in the most unexpected of places…

When Keira receives her breast cancer diagnosis she doesn’t want to have to tell her children or her husband Tom, and she doesn’t want to step back from work. She doesn’t want to sit in a hospital and stare mortality in the face, nor be part of a group of fellow cancer patients. Cancer is not her club.

But, as she is forced to accept everything must change and her health becomes something she can’t rely on, Keira finds herself embracing running. Hot, sweaty running in the company of a group of brilliant, funny women each going through treatment.

One step at a time Keira is going to reclaim something. Her family, her business, her life.

Moving and uplifting, this is a novel about love, family and the power of finding your tribe.

The Illustrated Child by Polly Crosby

pc cover

Romilly lives in a ramshackle house with her eccentric artist father and her cat, Monty. She knows little about her past – but she knows that she is loved.

When her father finds fame with a series of children’s books starring her as the main character, everything changes: exotic foods appear on the table, her father appears on TV, and strangers appear at their door, convinced the books contain clues leading to a precious prize.

But as time passes, Romilly’s father becomes increasingly suspicious of the outside world until, before her eyes, he begins to disappear altogether. With no-one else to help, Romilly turns to the secrets her father has hidden in his illustrated books – realising that his treasure hunt doesn’t lead to gold, but to something far more precious…

The truth.

The Illustrated Child is the unforgettable, beguiling debut from Polly Crosby.

The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley

AH cover

What if you had a second chance at first love?

Anna and Adam meet when they are both recovering from heartbreaks of their own. Their connection is almost instant and they fall into the most passionate love affair of their lives.

Years later, the passion has faded and they have lost each other. Anna is beginning to wonder if they are meant to be forever after all when something happens that changes everything. Now, Anna is determined to find a way back to Adam, but the price she’ll have to pay is considerable. So she must decide: is a second chance at first love is worth the sacrifice?

A beautiful and emotional love story that asks, what if you had the chance for a ‘do over’ with your first love?

We Just Clicked by Anna Bell

we just clicked

A fabulously funny, feel-good novel that will make you laugh until you cry, for anyone who’s ever presented a perfectly-filtered life online to hide the unglamorous reality.

Izzy Brown has always dreamed of being an Instagram influencer. So when her colleague and fellow Instagrammer Luke suggests they ‘fake date’ to boost their profiles, Izzy says yes – against her better judgement.

Now Izzy’s profile tells the story of a confident, glamorous thirty-something with the perfect boyfriend, and her follower numbers are shooting upwards. So what if Izzy can’t stop bickering with Luke, his habit of checking his quiff in every single mirror is driving her insane, and behind the scenes she’s hiding a secret heartache? Everyone tells a few fibs on social media, right?

But when Izzy runs into Aidan, the mysterious stranger who saved her the day her world fell apart two years ago, major sparks start to fly between them. Izzy’s sure she can have the online success she’s always dreamed of, whilst continuing to fall in love – and heal her heart – in real life. After all, Aidan doesn’t use social media… what could possibly go wrong?

No Regrets by Tabitha Webb

No regrets

You only regret the things you don’t do, right?

Stella is having a bad week. A bad year, maybe. She loves her young boys, really she does, but her glittering career feels like a lifetime ago and she can’t even remember the last time she had sex…

Ana has already had sex three times today. It was good enough. Better than most. Not the best though – he was long gone, and probably bad news anyway. She just can’t help thinking, what if?

Dixie knows her dating life needs a spring clean. She’s reset her age (again), uploaded some new pictures, but certainly isn’t looking for Mr Right – nothing good ever comes from getting attached!

Maybe it’s time the three friends shake things up a little, before it’s too late…

Fresh, fearless and hilariously honest, don’t miss the debut novel from Tabitha Webb – coming soon!

All About Us by Tom Ellen

All about us

One moment in time can change your life forever…

Ben’s always loved the month of December, but with his marriage to Daphne on the rocks, this year it’s missing its usual magic. So when his old flame Alice gets back in touch, Ben can’t help wonder: did he make the right choice all those years ago?

Yet everything changes one night when a twinkly-eyed stranger sells Ben a mysterious watch, the hands frozen at one minute to midnight. Opening his eyes the next morning, Ben is astonished to find that he has been catapulted back to 5th December 2005: the day he first kissed Daphne, leaving Alice behind.

Now Ben must make the biggest decision of his life, all over again. But this time around, will he finally find the courage to follow his heart?

All About Us is a deeply moving novel about love, loss and heartbreak – and how, with the help of a little magic, it’s never too late to find the one you’ve been searching for.

We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza


So new, and not out until 2021 I only have the details from the evening’s brochure!

Asking For A Friend by Andi Osho


Again, so new, and not out until 2021 I only have the details from the evening’s brochure!

The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson


Once again, I’d like to thank the team at HQ for the invitation and the opportunity to find out about all these fabulous sounding books, as well as the copies I was able to bring home with me. I think I’m in for a real reading treat.

I wonder which books appeal most to you?

Writing Strong Females: A Guest Post by K.T. Lee, author of Calculated Reaction

calculated Reaction full

I can’t believe it’s almost two years since I stayed in with K.T. Lee to chat all about her book Calculated Deception in a post you can see here. With K.T.’s latest book Calculated Reaction, now available, I simply had to ask her all about how she writes such strong female characters and luckily she agreed to do so!

Calculated Reaction is available for purchase here.

Calculated Reaction

Calculated Reaction

Special Agent Alexis Thompson is eager to get back to work after getting shot on her last FBI assignment. When she discovers that the man who ordered the hit has sent one of his spies to an energy research facility, Alexis convinces the CIA to send her to take him down. This time, Alexis is bringing along her new partner, Waffle, a highly-trained explosives detection dog.

Matt Brown is a former Navy SEAL who is now working as an engineering professor. He also helps his friend, CIA Operations Officer Cam Mitchell, whenever his skills are needed. When Alexis goes undercover, Cam sends Matt along to try to keep Alexis from coming home in a body bag.

Matt and Alexis soon discover that their enemy’s plans go far beyond good old-fashioned espionage. With the clock ticking, Alexis and Matt must figure out how to stop a dangerous explosion before they become collateral damage.

Calculated Reaction is Book 4 in The Calculated Series. All books in The Calculated Series may be enjoyed as standalone novels or as a series.

Writing Strong Women

A Guest Post by K.T. Lee

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, it’s the quiet voice that says ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Calculated Series

Strength is, at its core, the ability to remain determined and courageous when faced with adversity. In some cases, the strength displayed by the characters in the Calculated books is the more obvious sort of strength, such as their ability to defend themselves or utilize their weapons skills to neutralize a criminal. Equally compelling to me, however, is their strength of character – the years of dedication and internal motivation required to achieve their physical strength or their courage in the face of unimaginable circumstances.

In each Calculated book, the notion of strength is explored through characters of all genders. While there are plenty of examples in literature of a damsel in distress, the heroines in my books join a legion of books turning this trope on its head. That’s not to say that the men in my series are pushovers by any means – they too bring skills to the table, forming an integral part of a compelling and interesting team. The teams that result demonstrate collaboration and confidence, and a fair amount of good-natured teasing that is possible when partners respect one another enough to have a little fun, even while chasing down villains.

Calculated Deception

In Calculated Deception (Book 1), engineering professor Ree Ryland used tough personal experiences as fuel to sharpen her self-defense skills. While these skills help her best a formidable opponent, it is her refusal to put her students and others at the university in danger to maintain her own personal safety that gives the FBI their big break…and results in strong and independent FBI Agent Parker falling for the professor.

Calculated Contagion 2

This book kicks off a series that features imperfect heroines triumphing over their own challenges and external villains. Vaccine scientist Dani begins to overcome a traumatic experience with the help of her CIA allies and the courage she must find in order to stop a plot to release a bioweapon in Calculated Contagion (Book 2).

Calculated Sabotage

In Calculated Sabotage (Book 3), Quinn‘s fierce skills and love for her friend allow her to realize that strength isn’t all physical – by accepting help from other experts, she learns how to build a team. The physically formidable Cam Mitchell is a strong and compassionate partner to Quinn once they begin to trust one another.

Calculated Reaction

In the newest release in the series, Calculated Reaction (Book 4), Special Agent Alexis Thompson’s strength comes from not giving up after being shot by an enemy in the prior books. Yes, she must meet the FBI’s stringent physical requirements to get back out in the field, but she does this by overcoming grueling physical therapy and reinventing herself to keep both her mind and her body strong. And when former Navy SEAL Matt Brown meets the charming and quick-witted agent (and her canine companion, Waffle), it is her strength at recognizing the value their collaboration brings to the table that ultimately leads to them saving the day together.

That’s fascinating K.T. Thank you so much. I love the way you show that strength comes from all aspects, not just the physical part of a person.

About K.T.Lee


K.T. Lee is a writer, mom and engineer who grew up on a steady diet of books from a wide variety of genres. When K.T. began to write the kind of books she wanted to read, she mixed clever women and the sciences with elements from thrillers (and a dash of romance) to create The Calculated Series.

Find out more about K.T.’s books at her website or find her talking about writing, science, and cute animals on Instagram and Facebook. You can follow K.T.Lee on Twitter @KTLeeWrites.

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke

dear life

It’s just over three years ago that I sat with my sister in the palliative room at a small local hospital, stroking my Dad’s head and reassuring him as died. The grief I felt then remains as raw and eviscerating now, so when Little Brown’s Emily Moran asked me if I would like a copy of Rachel Clarke’s Dear Life in return for an honest review, I honestly wasn’t sure. I’m so glad I accepted.

Dear Life will be published by Little Brown on 30th January 2020 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Dear Life

dear life

As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable.

Rachel’s training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing – even the best palliative care – can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love.

And yet, she argues, in a hospice there is more of what matters in life – more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world.

Dear Life is a book about the vital importance of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter – to a father, to a profession, to life itself.

My Review of Dear Life

A doctor’s personal view of life and death.

What a book. I had reservations about reading Dear Life by Rachel Clarke as I thought I might find its subject matter too personal and difficult or the author too introspective, patronising or condescending. I’m not a great lover of memoir writing either. So when I consider the negative approach I had to beginning this read I’m slightly embarrassed by just how far from the truth I was. Dear Life is a wonderful, wonderful book that any person facing death (and yes I do mean ALL of us) should read. It is magnificent and has been an absolute privilege to read.

In a world frequently filled with negativity, Dear Life is an oasis of hope and joy. Rachel Clarke has restored my faith in myself and in humanity, for which I cannot thank her enough. She demystifies death and presents in a beautifully written way, the manner in which we can live life to the full even as our own mortality and that of those we love is a stark, and often close, reality. Her style is honest, straightforward, poetic and completely captivating. I simply could not stop reading even when my vision was blurred by the tears her words brought me to. With sensitivity, knowledge and skill in Dear Life Rachel Clarke has made me glad for all the moments of my life; not just those positive, happy memories, but also the times when I have suffered physical and emotional pain, been stressed or unhappy, because she exemplifies how every single experience is part of a life lived and that, even as we die, we can still do so with dignity and love.

Whilst Rachel Clarke explores her own life and the death of her father, Dear Life isn’t simply a memoir. It references history, geography and literature. There are world events and real people scattered through its pages. I loved the quotations that head up each chapter, and found comfort in them as much as the delight in the mentions of my favourite poet John Donne. There’s a practical Postscript of links and advice where readers can research more about how to prepare for their own future, including their own death. As a result, Dear Life transcends the sum of its parts to be something much much greater and more important.

Having mentioned death so many times when reviewing a book called Dear Life, let me say there is nothing mawkish or sensationalised here, but rather a compassionate love song to humanity, to love and friendship and to living our best lives whatever our circumstances. I think Rachel Clarke is a genius because Dear Life is a superlative book. It moved me, it helped me and it made me glad to be alive. I cannot recommend Dear Life highly enough. It is both life affirming and life changing. Just buy it. Dear Life may be the most important book you ever read.

About Rachel Clarke

rachel clarke

Rachel Clarke is a current NHS doctor and former television journalist who cares passionately about standing up for her patients and the NHS. She originally read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University before making current affairs documentaries about subjects as diverse as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Al Qaeda and the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She retrained as a doctor in her late twenties, graduating in 2009. She now works in palliative medicine, believing that helping patients at the end of life experience the best quality life possible is priceless.

Rachel lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.

To find out more about Rachel, visit her website, follow her on Twitter @doctor_oxford or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in With Chris McDonald, Author of A Wash of Black

A wash of black

It’s always a joy being in at the start of an author’s writing journey and I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Chris McDonald’s A Wash of Black. My enormous thanks to Dylan at Red Dog Press for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. I’m thrilled that Chris is staying in with me to chat about A Wash of Black.

Not only am I staying in with Chris today, but there’s a fabulous giveaway for you (and me) to enter too at the bottom of this blog post. One lucky person will win a signed hardback edition of A Wash of Black, along with a Go Away I’m Reading tote bag and a luxury bookmark.

Staying in with Chris McDonald

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

Thank you for having me! I’ve been hankering for an invite!

Well you’re most welcome. We have a pretty good idea but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it? 

I’ve brought A Wash of Black, my debut novel. I have chosen it as I am very proud of it. Also, it’s the only one I’ve got!

A wash of black

Congratulations on your debut Chris. Let’s hope A Wash of Black is the first of many as I’ve been hearing fabulous things about it. Tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with A Wash of Black?

I’m really bad at blowing my own trumpet, I find it uncomfortable! Soooo I’m going to let other people blow the trumpet for me. The early reviews from authors I really like have been so lovely. Here is a selection!

TM Logan, author of the Richard and Judy book club pick The Holiday, called it a ‘pacy murder mystery full of deceit, suspicion and revenge.’

Rob Parker, author of the Ben Bracken series, called it ‘a superb tale deftly told with a human touch and a real eye for detail, with a true ‘just one more chapter’ moreishness.’

Noelle Holten, author of Dead Inside and the forthcoming Dead Wrong, called it ‘a clever, chilling and absolutely addictive debut novel.’

I hope this trio of delightful quotes have sold it to you!! There is also a humorous homeless Scot, a gritty Manchester setting and a range of likeable and nefarious characters to get to know!

You must be totally delighted with those comments. I’ve heard excellent things from my fellow bloggers too so I think I’m going to have to add A Wash of Black to my TBR pile immediately!

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

emily blunt

Emily Blunt is here, as she would be who I cast as DI Erika Piper in the film adaptation.

Oh. If I knew we were having acting greats I’d have dressed up a bit more.

I listened to a lot of instrumental music whilst writing, so Explosions in the Sky would soundtrack our evening in. If you’ve never listened to them, start with Your Hand in Mine and go from there. I’ll expect some tweets thanking me for making your life that little bit more beautiful!


Er. I think I might be showing both my age and ignorance here Chris as I’ve never heard of them, so this evening is a great time to discover more.

And, as well as talking about the book, we’ll watch Fargo, as all that snow and beautiful cinematography may have been the initial spark for the opening scene. Visually at least.

Oh. I love Fargo. So quirky. I think I’m going to enjoy that. Thanks for staying in with me Chris. You’ve really whetted my appetite for A Wash of Black so you stick the video on and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a little bit more information about your debut:

A Wash of Black

A wash of black


Anna Symons. Famous. Talented. Dead.

When the body of a famous actress is found mutilated on an ice rink in Manchester, recreating a scene from a blockbuster film she starred in years ago, DI Erika Piper must find the culprit; the media-dubbed ‘Blood Ice Killer.’

Having recently returned to work after suffering a near fatal attack herself, she must once again prove her worth. But when another body is found, and the killer issues a personal threat, Erika must put her demons aside and crack the case, or suffer the deadly consequences.

Published by Red Dog Books on 4th February, A Wash of Black is available for pre-order here and directly from the publisher here.

About Chris McDonald


Originally hailing from the north coast of Northern Ireland and now residing in South Manchester, Chris McDonald has always been a reader. At primary school, The Hardy Boys inspired his love of adventure, before his reading world was opened up by Chuck Palahniuk and the gritty world of crime.

He’s a fan of 5-a-side football, has an eclectic taste in music ranging from Damien Rice to Slayer and loves dogs.

Find out more by following Chris on Twitter @cmacwritescrime and Instagram and there’s more with these other bloggers too:




For your chance to win a signed hardback edition of A Wash of Black, along with a Go Away I’m Reading tote bag and a luxury bookmark, click here.

Please note that this giveaway is run independently of Linda’s Book Bag.

Bad Island by Stanley Donwood

bad island

I don’t think I’ve reviewed an entirely graphic novel here on Linda’s Book Bag before and I’d like to thank Hannah Sawyer at Penguin for sending me a copy of Stanley Donwood’s Bad Island in return for an honest review.

Bad Island will be published by Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton on 13th February 2020 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Bad Island

bad island

A wild seascape, a distant island, a full moon. Gradually the island grows nearer until we land on a primeval wilderness, rich in vegetation and huge, strange beasts. Time passes and things do not go well for the island. Civilization rises as towers of stone and metal and smoke, choking the undergrowth and the creatures who once moved through it. This is not a happy story and it will not have a happy ending.

Working in his distinctive, monochromatic lino-cut style, Stanley Donwood carves out a mesmerizing, stark parable on environmentalism and the history of humankind.

My Review of Bad Island

A tale told entirely in black and white woodcut style images.

I opened Bad Island and when I realised there was no text at all I thought I might struggle to engage with the book and find it impossible to review. Not a bit of it. In Bad Island Stanley Donwood has created an all too horribly familiar narrative through mesmerising images.

There is indeed a narrative in Bad Island as Stanley Donwood homes in on an island that represents the planet and takes the reader through natural evolution, including mythical beasts and dinosaurs from prehistoric man through to the industrial revolution to war and terrorism. Here, in stark and affecting black and white is what humans have done to the world. Stanley Donwood has portrayed a very disturbing message with terrifying accuracy. Bad Island left me pondering the outcome as I wondered about the end of the book. I was unsure if it was totally bleak or if, because of the repetition of three images, there is a glimmer of hope after all. Either way, Bad Island has disturbed my equilibrium and given me much to think about.

The images are incredibly effective. Some of the patterns reminded me of the visual disturbances I have experienced with a migraine. This is by no means a criticism as they represent the ‘headache’ of what we have done to the planet. Each page delivers more, the more it is viewed, so that there is a microcosm of the history of the world that made me feel uncomfortable at best and actually quite ashamed. Erupting volcanoes, storms and forest fires rage across the pages and with everything that has been happening in Australia of late, Bad Island could not be more prescient.

I picked up Bad Island thinking it wouldn’t really be for me and have been proved completely and utterly wrong. Stanley Donwood has created a narrative of the very history of humanity. He has shown in stark relief what we have done to the planet, creating emotions I wasn’t aware a series of black and white images would stir in me. I’m left saddened and ashamed and even more determined to do more to help the environment. I really recommend that you try Bad Island for yourself. It’s disturbing, moving and terrifying.

About Stanley Donwood

stanley donwood

Stanley Donwood is the pen name of English artist and writer Dan Rickwood. Stanley is a graphic designer, artist and writer. He has worked with the British band Radiohead since 1994, producing the artwork for all their albums and promotional materials. He is also the author of numerous books including Catacombs of Terror!, Slowly Downward and Small Thoughts. His collaboration with Robert Macfarlane, Ness, was published in November 2019.

You can follow Stanley on Twitter @StanleyDonwood or visit his website for more information. You’ll also find him on Instagram.

Stay Up With Hugo Best by Erin Somers

Stay up with Hugo Best

I have absolutely no idea who sent me a copy of Stay Up With Hugo Best by Erin Somers although it could have been Tinder Press‘s lovely publicists Rosie Margesson or Ellie Morley.

However, my thanks to whoever sent it in return for an honest review!

Published by Tinder Press in paperback on 23rd January 2020 Stay Up With Hugo Best is available in all formats through the publisher links here.

Stay Up With Hugo Best

Stay up with Hugo Best

June Bloom is twenty-nine, broke, and an aspiring comedy writer.

Hugo Best is a beloved late-night chat show host – and notorious womaniser – who invites her to his mansion for Memorial Day Weekend.

Charting the four days June and TV icon Hugo Best spend together, Stay Up with Hugo Best is both a smart and timely exploration of sexual politics in the #MeToo age, and the hilarious and poignant story of one young woman’s stumble into adulthood.

My Review of Stay Up With Hugo Best

A chance meeting with Hugo Best after the end of his television series leads to a weekend away for June Bloom.

Now, I’ve seen mixed reviews of Stay Up With Hugo Best and I don’t think it’s a book that will please all readers because it doesn’t have a fast paced plot of twists and turns. Indeed, with a few exceptions, little actually happens over the four days of the book, but that is its entire point. Stay Up With Hugo Best shines an incisive spotlight on identity and fame and finds them wanting. There’s no unexpected ending here, but rather a mature, sometimes saddening and always fascinating exposition of the self through June Bloom’s first person narrative.

Erin Somers writes about ambition, and the way we use one another for self-promotion that ultimately leads to failure, in a manner that put me in mind of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Both June and Hugo reminded me of Willy Loman because Erin Somers explores in sexual, physical, intellectual, emotional and social ways who we are and how we construct ourselves for others and use our attributes to manipulate others for our own benefit. I found both main characters, June and Hugo, equally distasteful and simultaneously mesmerising. Their personalities, balanced alongside the inclusion of real people and events gave a credibility to the text that enhanced its themes because I could relate to them as a reader.

The setting has scalpel sharp observations and descriptions of all social classes and especially aspirational America. New York, Hugo’s house and the various bars are depicted vividly in an uncompromising manner that almost made me feel as if I were observing from a height, somehow looking down on the action and places. Stay Up With Hugo Best feels intimate and atmospheric even as it entertains.

Erin Somers writes with a sassy style incorporating acerbic wit and dark humour with an eye for humanity that makes for a highly entertaining read in Stay Up With Hugo Best. I found it uncompromising, expertly crafted and actually quite moving. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would encourage readers to try it for themselves.

About Erin Somers


Erin Somers’ writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House Open Bar, Ploughshares, American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, the Cincinnati Review, and many other publications.

She holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire and was a 2016 NYC Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow and a 2016 Millay Colony resident. Erin lives in New York with her husband and daughter.

Stay Up with Hugo Best is her first novel.

For more information, follow Erin on Twitter @SomersErin, or visit her website.

Discussing Wartime for the Shop Girls with Joanna Toye

wartime for the shop girls

My enormous thanks to Jen Harlow at Harper Collins for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for Wartime for the Shop Girls by Joanna Toye. I have this gorgeous looking book awaiting reading and I’m delighted that Joanna has agreed to stay in with me today to tell me more about it.

Staying in with Joanna Toye

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

Thank you for asking me! It’s a nice change from a night in the air raid shelter or huddled under the stairs while the bombs drop….

I expect it is! I think I probably know the answer to this but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

wartime for the shop girls

You’ve probably gathered by now I’m re-living the Second World War. I’ve brought along Wartime for the Shop Girls, my second book, which was out yesterday 23rd January.

Happy publication day for yesterday Joanna!

It’s the follow up to my first novel, A Store At War, which introduced Lily, Gladys and Beryl and life behind the shop counter in Marlow’s department store.

A Store at war

I think they both look fabulous Joanna. What can we expect from an evening in with Wartime for the Shop Girls?

Most of all, I hope enjoyment! Despite it being set in wartime – or maybe because of it – it’s not a dismal read. ‘Uplifting’ and ‘heartwarming’ are a couple of the words that have come up in reviews. It’s about how the characters have to pull together to face up to whatever life throws at them, big and small, and in wartime the challenges were constant. Loved ones were  far away – partings the length of which we can’t imagine. Daily and nightly worries for your own safety, and theirs – no FaceTime, no e-mails, no phone calls then! – and letters months apart, if they came at all. Going to work exhausted after another night of air raids, coming home to a meagre meal. But at the same time, Lily and her friends fret about exactly the same things as today – a promotion at work, a change of routine, clothes, shoes, hair. Most importantly, in Lily’s case, what to do about the boy you really like, but who looks like he might be lured away – not once, but twice in the course of the book. Thankfully she’s got a sense of humour, and her mum, and her mates to turn to. They need her support too – Gladys’s boyfriend goes to sea and Beryl’s having a baby.

I think you’ve described such a compelling story. I’m thrilled that I have Wartime for the Shop Girls waiting to be read.

What else have you brought along and why?

gas mask

Right, so I’ve brought my gas mask and tin hat, I doubt we’ll need them, but one for you, too, Linda, just in case.

Oo. I’m really claustrophobic. I’m not sure I like the look of that gas mask Joanna…


And of course, something to eat… sandwiches – there’s meat paste, Bovril or Spam straight from America.

I used to love Spam fritters for lunch when I was at school.

Oh, and a cake made with dried egg (am I treating you or what?)



To drink, there’s Vimto or a flask of sugarless tea.  While we tuck in we can listen to some great dance band music  – ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ is Gladys’s favourite – and to round off we can sing along with Vera Lynn to ‘We’ll Meet Again’. Hope we do,  Linda – and thanks again for asking me!

It’s been my pleasure Joanna. Though once you’ve heard me sing a few bars of We’ll Meet Again I’m not sure you’ll want to stay much longer, let alone come back. I’m tone deaf! Thanks so much for being here and telling me all about Wartime for the Shop Girls. Now, pass those spam sandwiches whilst I tell everyone more about the book:

Wartime for the Shop Girls

wartime for the shop girls

It’s 1942 and as shortages of staff – and goods – begin to bite, young Lily Collins is thrilled to step up to sales junior in her job at Marlow’s department store.

But bombs are still falling and Lily and fellow shop girls Gladys and Beryl need a stiff upper lip to wave boyfriends, husbands and brothers goodbye, especially with a baby on the way and grim news on the wireless. When Jim, who works with Lily at the store, seems restless, things are bad enough, but nothing can prepare Lily for the secrets that come tumbling out when her favourite brother comes home on leave…

Somehow, she must keep smiling through. Community, family and friends rally round as her home town – and the whole country – is tested once again.

Wartime for the Shop Girls was published by Harper Collins on 23rd January 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Joanna Toye

Joanna Toye

Joanna Toye is a former BBC scriptwriter and producer. She worked for over 30 years on Radio 4’s much-loved ‘The Archers’, as well as on ‘Crossroads’, Family Affairs’, ‘Doctors’ and ‘EastEnders’. She has nine previous TV and radio spin-off books to her credit, but ‘A Store At War’ was her first original novel, the first in a series of four. It draws on her Midland roots and vivid family memories of the Second World War, as well as anecdotes and research into how shopping used to be – long before the internet was ever thought of!

You can follow Joanna on Twitter @JoannaToye and there’s more with these other bloggers:

Blog tour poster

Daring to be different? A Guest Post by Robert Crouch, Author of No Mercy

no mercy front reviewcopy

I’m thrilled to welcome back Robert Crouch to Linda’s Book Bag today to celebrate his latest book, No Mercy.

Robert Crouch has been a smashing guest several times, most recently when No More Lies was released in a post you can see here. I ‘stayed in’ with Rob in a post you can read here, and he’s been kind enough to provide a guest post (here) shortly after his Fisher’s Fables was released and another here to celebrate No Bodies.


Rob’s latest book, No Mercy, was published on 16th January and is available for purchase here.

No Mercy

no mercy front reviewcopy


Highways Inspector, Derek Forster, couldn’t go on after the death of his wife. Even though he had a secret lover, he took his own life. Or did he?

Samson Capote, the restaurateur from hell, brutally attacked and left to die in a deep freezer. Did he antagonise too many people? Was he sharing Forster’s secret lover?

Millionaire entrepreneur, Clive Chesterton, falls from his yacht and drowns in Sovereign Harbour. Why did he have Forster’s missing journals in his cabin?

When Kent Fisher becomes a murder suspect, he realises he could be the next victim of a killer who shows no mercy.

Can Kent connect the deaths and solve the mystery before the killer gets to him?

Daring to be different?

A Guest Post by Robert Crouch

When publishers say they’re looking for new talent, something different, a unique voice, it makes me smile. In my experience, they mean something similar to what they already publish.

Different means risk and publishers need to sell books and make a profit, after all.

I didn’t choose to write something different. I chose to write something distinctive.

As an avid fan of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse, I love the classic whodunit. Whether the police or an amateur detective investigates, the stories are always complex mysteries that twist and confound with red herrings, plenty of suspects and motives buried deep.

They can be set in a locked room, a country mansion or in today’s world of social media, serial killers and scams. Whatever the setting, whoever the characters, these baffling mysteries must challenge investigators, sometimes leaving deep scars.

When I decided to try my hand at a classic whodunit, it seemed logical and natural to stick to what I knew best. Environmental health officers (EHOs) are law enforcers. They follow the same rules and procedures as the police. EHOs carry out taped interviews with witnesses and suspects, taking offenders to court when necessary.

I’ve no idea how crime fiction readers react when they check out my books and discover an EHO investigating murders. Those who read my books and leave reviews like the concept. Having characters different from the usual crop of traumatised police detectives appeals to these readers. They enjoy the glimpses into the world of environmental health and the distinctive characters and storylines it offers.

But at their heart is a dogged investigator who’s drawn into a murder, literally by accident. Or No Accident, as the first in the series is called. He’s investigating a fatal work accident, which is really a murder. It’s a perfect murder only he can solve.He becomes a local hero and gets drawn into more investigations. He can’t go looking for murders to investigate. The police do that. He’s not a private investigator for hire either.

It’s both a challenge and a delight to come up with new cases for Kent Fisher to investigate and keep it fresh and exciting. I’m sure Agatha Christie faced similar challenges with Miss Marple. And that’s part of the fun, part of the enjoyment, I hope.

There’s also something romantic and appealing about an ordinary person solving a complex murder, especially in this age of DNA profiles and forensics. Not that Kent Fisher is ordinary in any way. He simply doesn’t have the facilities, technology and systems available to the police. He has to use his personal skills and contacts and investigate in a more traditional way.

So far, with the release of the fifth novel, No Mercy, I hope I’ve managed to keep the series fresh and believable. There are jokes, comparing Kent to Jessica Fletcher. Chefs apologise for not having a body in the freezer for him to investigate. His bosses wonder whether he investigates during work time, using work facilities. (He’s already been suspended three times for treading on toes.)

The fun and humour are all part of my goal to entertain people with something distinctive and exciting yet familiar. Were the series to be televised (and I live in hope), I want it to appeal to all the family. I’d like it shown at 8pm on a Sunday evening. This places the novels at the cosy end of the crime fiction spectrum, but they’re still based in today’s world with all its warts.

I also wanted to avoid the traumatised detectives that seem to be everywhere at the moment.

I gave Kent Fisher a healthy lifestyle, a love of running over the South Downs in Sussex, where the novels are set. He owns an animal sanctuary where he cares for abandoned, injured and unwanted animals and pets. He’s a resolute environmentalist, opposing the destruction of the natural environment.

A typical investigator he’s not. But like many law enforcers, he hates unfairness and injustice. He has to speak out, to take action, to fight for the underdog, as I did during my long career as an environmental health officer.

Now I’m happy to let Kent Fisher fight my battles. He’s not your usual investigator and the settings and stories are not your standard police procedural or serial killer thriller. But in most other respects, they remain faithful to the traditional murder mysteries and classic whodunits I enjoy reading.

So, not that different.

That’s such a refreshing approach Rob. I’m with you all the way!

About Robert Crouch

Robert Crouch and Harvey

Robert Crouch writes the kind of books he loves to read.Books ranging from the classic whodunit by authors like Agatha Christie, the feisty private eye novels of Sue Grafton, thrillers by Dick Francis, and the modern crime fiction of Peter James and LJ Ross.

He created Kent Fisher as an ordinary person, drawn into solving murders. He’s an underdog battling superior forces and minds, seeking justice and fair play in a cruel world.These are the values and motivations that underpinned Robert’s long career as an environmental health officer.

He now writes full time from his home in East Sussex. When not writing, he’s often find walking on the South Downs with his West Highland white terrier, Harvey, taking photographs and researching the settings for future Kent Fisher mysteries.

You can find out more on Robert’s website, by following him on Twitter @robertcrouchuk or by finding him on Facebook.

Payback by R.C. Bridgestock

Payback bc

It gives me enormous pleasure to participate in the blog tour for R.C. Bridgestock’s Payback today. It’s three and a half years since I reviewed here When The Killing Starts, having ‘met’ this husband and wife writing duo vicariously online. Since then I have reviewed Poetic Justice here but even better, I had the opportunity to meet Bob and Carol in person at Capital Crime last September.

I’d like to thank Emily Glenister at The Dome Press for inviting me to participate in the Payback blog tour.

Payback is available for purchase here.


Payback bc

Charley Mann left Yorkshire for the Met and a fast-track career – but now she’s back, she’s in charge and the area’s first young, female DI.

Her hometown, the Yorkshire countryside, and her old friends all seem unchanged but appearances can be deceptive.

When a brutal murder is discovered, Charley is forced to question everything, and the interest of her ex – reporter Danny Ray – doesn’t make it easier.

My Review of Payback

Back on home turf, DI Charley Mann’s first day is off to a dramatic start.

I thoroughly enjoyed Payback as it is a carefully crafted and meticulously plotted crime thriller. I think it’s the attention to detail from authors who know police procedures so intimately that makes Payback so intriguing. I felt I learned a great deal at the same time as being hugely entertained.

The way Charley Mann’s character is gradually revealed throughout Payback is masterful, particularly when it comes to her back story which is drip fed tantalisingly throughout and creates super potential for future stories. Charley is the perfect blend of newness and experience, strength and vulnerability that makes her fascinating. I found her entirely real and vivid. She also has a reckless streak that adds an extra frisson of tension to the narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other members of her team too so that I feel I have come to know an entirely new set of people.

It is no surprise that the authors have been involved in television drama series in the past, as the descriptions and sense of place are captivating and enormously visual in Payback. I was able to envisage the settings perfectly as all my senses were catered for. I enjoyed the local folklore element that is included because it gave texture to the setting. I also found the naturalistic dialogue and dialect thoroughly enhanced my reading experience.

There’s a cracking plot to enjoy in Payback. I really appreciated the balance between procedural information and pacy events so that I was never quite sure what might happen next. I was desperate for Charley and her team to solve the case and whilst Payback is concluded in a very satisfying way, I am intrigued to see what the next case will be.

The themes of Payback give added depth to the narrative. Sexuality, power, corruption, trust, self promotion and public duty, the press and the impact of money on our services make this a realistic and modern read that I found engaging and impactful. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series as I think R.C.Bridgestock have an absolute winner here.

About R.C. Bridgestock

RC Bridgestock Author Photo

R.C. Bridgestock is the name that husband and wife co-authors Robert (Bob) and Carol Bridgestock write under. Between them they have nearly 50 years of police experience, offering an authentic edge to their stories. The writing duo created the character DI Jack Dylan, the ninth book of which was published by The Dome Press in 2019, along with their backlist.

Bob was a highly commended career detective of 30 years, retiring at the rank of Detective Superintendent. During his last three years, he took charge of 26 murders, 23 major incidents, over 50 suspicious deaths and numerous sexual assaults. He was also a trained hostage negotiator with suicide interventions, kidnap, terrorism and extortion. Bob was seconded to a protracted enquiry investigating alleged police corruption in another force. He worked on the Yorkshire Ripper and Sarah Harper murder, and received praise from Crown Court Judges and Chief Constables alike for outstanding work at all ranks, including winning the much-coveted Dennis Hoban Trophy.

As a police civilian supervisor, Carol also received a Chief Constable’s commendation for outstanding work.

The couple are the storyline consultants / police procedural on BAFTA-winning BBC1 police drama Happy Valley and series 3 of ITV’s Scott and Bailey, and are presently working with Scott Free Production scriptwriters on two commissioned TV drama series.

The couple pride themselves on being up-to-date on past and present day UK police procedures, and as a result, Bob is regularly sought by UK television, radio and national and local newspapers for comment on developing major crime incidents etc. They have also taken part in BBC Radio 4 (Steve) PUNT P.I.

Carol and Bob are also patrons and ambassadors for several charities.

You can find Carol and Bob on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @rcbridgestock and visit their website for more information.

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Payback Blog Tour Poster