Staying in with Claire Huston

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Now, usually I say how delighted I am to stay in with my guests here on Linda’s Book Bag. This time, as I welcome lovely Claire Huston, I’m especially pleased because, not only do I know Claire in real life, I know she’ll have brought something wonderful to eat with her!

My huge thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Rachel a full recovery from Covid 19 as soon as possible.

Staying in with Claire Huston

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Claire. It seems ages since we were together in real life.

Thank you for inviting me to stay in. I’m delighted to be here!

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

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I’ve brought my debut novel, Art and Soul. It’s been quite a long journey to publication, and I’m thrilled to finally be sharing it with the world.

Huge congratulations on Art and Soul Claire. What can we expect from an evening in with the book?

Art and Soul is an uplifting contemporary romance. It features a resourceful heroine, an initially grumpy but eventually rather dashing hero, and a fair bit of cake for good measure!

I KNEW there would be cake. I’m delighted that there is too!

The romance is a slow burn, but those have always been my favourite stories: it’s fun to see how two people who we can see are meant for each other gradually come to realise the same thing.

Oh, I couldn’t agree more Claire.

For those who love a wedding, there are a few of those too as the heroine – Becky Watson – works behind the scenes to keep her clients’ celebrations disaster-free.

Becky’s best friend – Ronnie – owns a cake shop. So the book gives you a chance to join the characters in enjoying a generous slice of perfect sponge or a delicious chocolate brownie.

And art lovers can enjoy a quick jaunt to London and The National Gallery as well as to the local galleries in the Comptons, the story’s fictional setting.

What could be better than to travel to such places vicariously whilst we can’t go in real life?

What else have you brought along and why (and please let it be cake)? 

I’m a keen amateur baker and, as cake features regularly in Art and Soul and on my blog, it seemed rude not to bring some with me!

It most certainly would have been. What have you brought?

Old school sponge cake with white icing and multicoloured sprinkes

The first is simple old school sponge cake with white icing and rainbow sugar sprinkles. This cake is the favourite of the hero in the book and eventually becomes an important plot point. It is a classic and an enduring favourite.

That is so tempting Claire. I can imagine it warm with custard too!

Cappuccino swirl layer cake with caramel buttercream

The second is a cappuccino swirl layer cake. I chose this one as I baked it quite recently and managed to surprise myself with how well it turned out! It’s absolutely delicious, and I say that as someone who doesn’t drink coffee. I recommend it to everyone.

I don’t drink coffee either but I think I might like a slice or two of this!

My website has a page here dedicated to the recipes for the cakes featured in Art and Soul if anyone would like to bake one themselves. There are also over a hundred other recipes on my website if you’d rather make brownies, blondies or biscuits.

Oh, I know all about those recipes Claire. You usually share one just when I’m doing a fast day and it’s torture. If Art and Soul is half as good as the baking you do, we readers are in for a real treat. Thanks so much for staying in with me to tell me all about it.

Thank you for having me to stay.

Art and Soul

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A heart-warming, uplifting romance served with a generous slice of cake. Perfect for fans of Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and Cathy Kelly.

There’s no problem Becky Watson can’t fix. Except her own love life…

Struggling single mother Becky Watson longs to revive her career as a life-fixer, working miracles to solve her clients’ problems, no matter how big or small. Since the birth of her two-year-old son she has been stuck preventing wedding fiascos for the richest and rudest residents of the Comptons, a charming, leafy area of southern England known for its artistic heritage.

So when semi-reclusive local artist Charlie Handren reluctantly hires Becky to fix his six-year creative slump, she’s delighted to set him up with a come-back exhibition and Rachel Stone, the woman of his dreams.

Though they get off to a rocky start, Becky and Charlie soon become close. But as the beautiful Rachel becomes Charlie’s muse, Becky is forced to wonder: will giving Charlie everything he wants mean giving up her own happily ever after?

Art and Soul was published on 23rd April 2020 and is available for purchase here.

About Claire Huston

Claire Huston author photo 2020

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art and Soul is her first novel.

A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for all the cakes mentioned in Art and Soul on Claire’s website, along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

For more information, visit Claire’s website. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaraVal, and find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Goodreads.

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An Extract from Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan

Sing backwards cover

When Bei Guo from Midas PR got in touch about Mark Lanegan’s book, Sing Backwards and Weep, I was utterly fascinated by both title and premise and I’m dreadfully disappointed I simply couldn’t fit in a read and review for the blog tour. However, I’m delighted that I have an extract from Sing Backwards and Weep to share today.

Sing Backwards and Weep will be published by White Rabbit on 30th April 2020 and is available for purchase online in all good bookshops including here.

Sing Backwards and Weep

Sing backwards cover

“Mark Lanegan-primitive, brutal, and apocalyptic. What’s not to love?” Nick Cave, author of The Sick Bag Song and The Death of Bunny Munro

From the back of the van to the front of the bar, from the hotel room to the emergency room, onstage, backstage, and everywhere in between, Sing Backwards and Weep reveals the abrasive reality beneath one of the most romanticized decades in rock history-from a survivor who lived to tell the tale.

When Mark Lanegan first arrived in Seattle in the mid-1980s, he was just “an arrogant, self-loathing redneck waster seeking transformation through rock ‘n’ roll.” Within less than a decade, he would rise to fame as the front man of the Screaming Trees, then fall from grace as a low-level crack dealer and a homeless heroin addict, all the while watching some of his closest friends rocket to the pinnacle of popular music.

In Sing Backwards and Weep, Lanegan takes readers back to the sinister, needle-ridden streets of Seattle, to an alternative music scene that was simultaneously bursting with creativity and saturated with drugs. He tracks the tumultuous rise and fall of the Screaming Trees, from a brawling, acid-rock bar band to world-famous festival favourites with an enduring legacy that still resonates. Lanegan’s personal struggles with addiction, culminating in homelessness, petty crime, and the tragic deaths of his closest friends, is documented with a painful honesty and pathos.

Gritty, gripping, and unflinchingly raw, Sing Backwards and Weep is a book about more than just an extraordinary singer who watched his dreams catch fire and incinerate the ground beneath his feet. Instead, it’s about a man who learned how to drag himself from the wreckage, dust off the ashes, and keep living and creating.

An Extract from Sing Backwards and Weep


At first his warning didn’t register, my mind fixated on the pinprick ending of the morning’s routine, the relief from what at this point was only a dull, aching pain.

“Police,” the African cab driver whispered again in a thick accent while motioning with a roll of the eyes and quick hunch of his shoulders to look in the rearview mirror where, sure enough, the three young guys following in the van behind looked like undercover cops, eager to beat someone’s ass. Maybe mine.

My six-foot-four cross-dressing drug buddy St. Louis Simon and I had just scored a bag of dope and a bag of coke, both of which I had thrown somewhat carelessly in my unbuttoned shirt pocket. I had a sack of new rigs stuffed in the front pocket of my tight pants as I hadn’t expected to encounter the authorities today. Now I felt totally exposed.

Another ten blocks across Seattle’s Capitol Hill and it was obvious we were indeed being followed. As the car pulled up just down the street from my building I hopped out and started walking up the sidewalk, trying my best to act naturally. Simon got out the other side and, wearing a trailer-park-style denim skirt and wedge shoes that made him even taller, started to cut across the gravel lot between buildings where out the corner of my eye I saw two guys tackle him to the ground . . . not good. I was almost to the corner when a short, young cop in jeans and muscle shirt suddenly jumped around in front of me, held a badge in my face, and said, “Hold on a second, buddy! Where ya off to so fast, buddy?”

Hands raised automatically, I did my best full-of-shit, bewildered, what’s-this-all-about look.

“I’m just going home.” I pointed dumbly to my apartment building.

“What’s this?” he asked, reaching out to squeeze the drugs through the thin cloth of my shirt.

“What the fuck, man? I live here! What do you want?” I yelled while pulling away from him with phony indignation. In my head, I quickly calculated how sick I’d be in jail before making bail since I hadn’t done a shot yet that morning. Down the street, I could see both Simon and the cab driver sitting curbside in handcuffs, feet in the gutter, the entire backseat pulled out of the cab.

“Okay, man, let’s see some ID.”

In my mind, I saw my passport upstairs on the coffee table covered in crack pipes and the huge pile of used syringes next to it. That wasn’t going to be an option.

“I don’t have it on me. My name is Mark Lanegan.”

The cop narrowed his eyes, took a hard look at me, then said, “Didn’t you used to be a singer?”

After walking me back down the street to the surveillance van, he took a small black-and-white photo off the dashboard: a guy they wanted for auto theft and who looked something like me. He had me sign it with a ballpoint pen, then let us be on our way.

About Mark Lanegan


Mark Lanegan (b. 1964) is an American alternative rock musician and singer-songwriter who is widely regarded as one of the most influential musicians of our time. He is the founding member of influential psychedelic grunge band Screaming Trees and was a full-time member of Queens of The Stone Age between 2000-2014 when he also penned the theme song for Anthony Bourdain’s award-winning TV show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown with QOTSA front man Josh Homme. He has collaborated with a long list of industry heavy weights over the years, including Massive Attack, Moby, Warpaint, UNKLE, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Eagles of Death Metal amongst others. Lanegan lives in Los Angeles.

You can follow Mark on Twitter @marklanegan and visit his website for more information. You’ll also find him on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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Staying in with Matthew Ross


My enormous thanks to Dylan (get well soon) and Sean at Red Dog Press for inviting me to participate in today’s blog tour. I’m thrilled to welcome one of their authors, Matthew Ross, to stay in with me and chat about his new book.

Staying in with Matthew Ross

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

It’s an honour to be invited. And we’re all staying indoors now aren’t we – thank you, Baked Potato!

We are indeed!  So tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?


I’m very pleased to bring you my debut novel, Death Of A Painter – I hope you enjoy it. It’s been described as a darkly comic crime caper, and perhaps during these difficult times a little humour may lighten the mood – some levity in our murders, as it were.

You’re absolutely right Matthew. I’m only sorry I haven’t had time to fit in Death Of A Painter to my reading yet as I’ve been hearing great things about your debut. Tell me more about what we can expect from an evening in with Death Of A Painter.

Death Of Painter is a comic crime caper featuring an electrician by the name of Mark Poynter as our reluctant protagonist. He comes back to his work site one day to discover his colleague has been murdered – Mark finds himself the prime suspect whilst at the same time worried he was in fact the intended target for the killer. And so, he tries to get himself out of the situation helped and hindered by his crew of idlers, slackers and gossips.

Interesting! Why did you choose a building site as that seems quite an unusual setting?

I chose to set my characters in the building trade because firstly that’s my own background but also I’m a big fan of crime and mystery fiction, and I’ve always been a bit partial to stories where the lead character isn’t necessarily a detective but an ordinary person thrown into an extra-ordinary situation.

Interesting point! I think we’re all in extra-ordinary situations now!

I’ve been asked how I feel about launching my first book in the middle of a global pandemic, and to be honest I’m simply far too busy at the moment to worry about not getting to pop the champagne with friends and family at a launch party. Life’s been turned upside down. Everybody’s normal world has been put on hold. At home, we’ve turned spare corners of the house in to operational office spaces so my wife and I can work remotely. We’ve had to somehow cram in full-time jobs whilst prioritising home-schooling our two young boys. Add on top of that the constant desire to keep in contact with elderly parents living alone: my mother-in-law is in New Zealand and my own mother is forty miles away. Near or far, distance is irrelevant right now, with the lockdown restrictions in place they may as well be on the other side of the Moon. There’s no question: trying to maintain communication and trying to organise groceries and essentials to them is more pressing in the grand scheme of things. There’ll be plenty to celebrate once we’re all through this and back together again.

You’re absolutely right. I couldn’t agree more. But tell me a bit more about Death Of A Painter too.

As for the book itself, I actually feel rather positive. In recent months, the way the politics, the culture and the attitudes were turning, it felt as though people were looking for a return to the ‘cozy crime’ sub-genre, seeking something modern but nostalgic at the same time, something with a bit of humour and a bit of escapism. And so, I hope, this is the right time for Death Of A Painter – because tonally it’s neither the traditional body-in-the-library ‘cozy crime’ nor is it graphic, dark Scandi-noir, but somewhere in the middle. I like to think it has a similar tone to, say, the wonderful ‘Montalbano’ series by Andrea Camilleri insofar as the murders if looked at close-up would be pretty gruesome and savage, but they happen off-stage and instead we see how they affect and influence the lives and behaviours of our characters who have already got concerns of their own to be getting on with.

Some early readers of Death Of A Painter have said they thought it was more a novel about family and friendship than solving a murder – I’m happy with that.

I bet! That sounds exactly my kind of read Matthew. I shall have to bump Death Of A Painter up my TBR!

What else have you brought along and why?

fathers day card ross

Here’s a Father’s Day card made for me by my seven-year old son (Proud Dad!).

That’s very cute. But why a Father’s Day card?

It seemed apt for a number of reasons.

Firstly, in Death Of A Painter my character Mark still finds the loss of his father quite raw and it influences his decision-making as he tries to navigate his path along the grey margins of criminality.

I can sympathise with that. I miss my father dreadfully.

Secondly, I’ve come to realise that Mark’s loss was actually my own way of expressing mine. To cut a long story short, I had a fun hobby as a comedy writer that was gaining traction with the potential of becoming a possible new career. However, in the same three-month period my work situation changed, my father died and my first child was born – as you can imagine it was a bit of a head-scrambler. Something had to give, and it was the writing. After a few years the itch to write came back itchier than ever however I felt the full-length novel was more where my focus was, and so I began to write. The end result was Death Of A Painter.

I wonder why life has a habit of throwing everything at us in one go Matthew? You must now be so pleased that you’ve actually scratched that itch after those two life altering events.

And then, thirdly, my absolute most favourite feedback received was when my book was described as “Father’s Day Fiction” by which they meant it was the sort of novel you could buy for someone as a gift, someone that doesn’t ordinarily read books and feel confident that they’d get stuck in and enjoy it. Exactly what I wanted to hear because having been influenced by that kind of fast-paced, commercial fiction such as Dick Francis and Lee Child, and a lifelong lover of TV’s light-hearted criminal capers such as Minder, New Tricks, Death In Paradise and so many more, that was exactly what I’d aspired to write – something I’d want to read on holiday.

I think that Death Of A Painter sounds truly wonderful Matthew. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about it. I wish you every success with your debut and here’s to many more books in the future.

Death of a Painter



When Mark Poynter discovers a murder on his worksite all of his financial problems suddenly seem a lot closer to home: was this a warning his debts are overdue?

Suspected of being the killer and worried at being the intended victim, the murder only makes Mark’s money problems worse, leading him to turn to the local villain, Hamlet, who has his own unique repayment plan in mind for Mark.

When two more deaths plunge him even further into debt, Mark finds himself faced with a choice – help the police and clear his name or help the villain and clear his debt.

Set in the Medway Towns on the grey margins of criminality, where no job’s too big, no dodge’s too small …

Death Of A Painter is the first in a new series of darkly comic crime fiction novels featuring the beleaguered builder Mark Poynter, aided and hindered in equal measure by his trusted crew of slackers, idlers and gossips, and the lengths they go to just to earn a living.

Published by Red Dog Press yesterday, 27th April 2020, Death of a Painter is available for purchase here.

About Matthew Ross

Matthew Ross

Matthew Ross was born and raised in the Medway Towns, England. He still lives in Kent with his Kiwi wife, his children and a very old cat.

He was immersed in the building industry from a very early age helping out on his father’s sites during school holidays before launching into his own career at 17. He’s worked on projects ranging from the smallest domestic repair to £billion+ infrastructure, and probably everything in between.

A lifelong comedy nerd, he ticked off a bucket-list ambition and tried his hand at stand-up comedy. Whilst being an experience probably best forgotten (for both him and audiences alike) it ignited a love for writing, leading to various commissions including for material broadcast on BBC Radio 4 comedy shows.

Matthew moved into the longer format of novel writing after graduating from the Faber Academy in London in 2017.

Death Of A Painter is his first novel and the first in a planned series of stories featuring Mark Poynter and his associates.

Matthew enjoys reading all manner of books – especially crime and mystery; 80s music; and travelling and can’t wait for the next trip to New Zealand to spend time with family and friends.

You an follow Matthew on Twitter @mattwross and visit his website for more information.

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Staying in with J. F. Burgess

A place of Reckoning cover

I’m delighted to be joining Love Books Group in commencing the blog tour for J. F. Burgess today, by staying in with the author and finding out all about his latest book. My thanks to Kelly for inviting me to participate.

Staying in with J. F. Burgess

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

A place of Reckoning cover

A Place of Reckoning. I chose this because it’s my latest crime novel and naturally I’m keen to spread the word about it. The book took around nine months to write and publish and I really enjoyed the process because the research I did for inspiration was fascinating.

The book shows the huge social divide between rich and poor in society, and poignantly reveals how, deep down, both ends of the class scale still suffer from family feuds and dysfunction. The rich and powerful can be equally as dangerous as the criminals in our society. Greed, power and the protection of reputations can lead supposedly respectable men to do desperate things.

The wealthy elite can hire the finest lawyers money can buy to represent them in court, as well as prestigious public relations firms to spin their criminality into acts of charity and goodwill. Such individuals are often shielded from prosecution by corporate law and their greedy allies who have similar interests. Street criminals cannot afford such luxuries and resort to murder, kidnap and other criminality.

When these two worlds collide, the consequences are deadly!

I bet they are. It must have been fascinating to delve into those worlds.

To ensure my facts were accurate I read and dissected a book written by a journalist who spends tons of time with various traveller communities, in both Ireland and the UK. A retired Crime Squad officer from Ireland contacted me to say he enjoyed the book immensely because the characters were similar to those in his daily investigations. So my research really paid off. Here’s what he had to say…

“I am a retired Crime Squad Officer in Ireland and your book and details are incredible and almost the same when I was serving. I could go on but I better not. Great book!”

How brilliant J.F. It must be incredibly gratifying to have that level of endorsement. So, what can we expect from an evening in with A Place of Reckoning?

In my opinion, the most powerful stories reflect how society is at any given point in time. Classic books that spring to mind are Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (the Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolution), Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (Victorian poverty and the Poor Laws) and Irvine Welsh’s cult classic Train Spotting (post-punk culture before the rave scene kicked off the second summer of love in the late 80s).

Bearing this in mind, A Place of Reckoning fits into the police procedural category, but it’s so much more that. In true Agatha Christie style, there are several unexpected, shocking twists, and a sense of unease that something isn’t right throughout, a burning undertow, connecting a deeply flawed rich family with dark secrets to historical crimes that could destroy them.

You are REALLY making me want to read A Place of Reckoning as soon as I can. I’m thrilled I have it on my TBR pile.

With any story I think it’s important to make the characters memorable and relatable. Readers love a fly on the wall look into the lives of others, especially those characters they can empathise with. I think that’s the whole reason crime dramas are hugely popular on TV these days: viewers, like readers, love to follow the protagonist’s journey and see how, with the help of a team, they can overcome what at first appears insurmountable.

Plotting intricate deceptions to engage readers’ thoughts and feelings adds to the intrigue and makes the whole journey more immersive and enjoyable whilst they try to solve the main mystery.

I think your readers will love how the story develops through creative plot structure and deceptive character psychology until the jaw-dropping finale my readers tell me they never saw coming.

Here are a few quotes from reader reviews:

 ‘Be ready to lose some sleep over this book. It has five stars for a reason… I wish I could give it ten.’ M Kapugi, Goodreads

‘What an amazing storytelling talent J.F.Burgess has!!! A Place of Reckoning is an utterly gripping psychological thriller: a real page-turner.’ Audrey Gibson, Goodreads

‘DI Blake and Lucy Stryker make a fantastic team to solve this dark mysterious case. It’s a crime thriller full of suspense which will grip you until the end… hugely enjoyable!’ Shiva Patel, Goodreads

In conclusion…

A Place of Reckoning is a chilling psychological murder mystery full of suspense and deadly twists, that shows believable characters and the everyday struggles they face in an ever-changing world ruled by deviously corrupt and dangerous people.

Because when the powerful are pointing the finger, you’d better watch your back…

I’m absolutely intrigued by the insight you’ve given us into A Place of Reckoning. It sounds dramatic and absorbing.  

What else have you brought along and why?

I’ve brought along the inspiration and ideas behind the DI Tom Blake crime series.

I’d like to provide some context and background to what influenced me to create DI Tom Blake.

Readers can gain further insight here.

I’ve taken a look. Brilliant. What about setting too?


There is a strong sense of place in my books. Stoke-on-Trent is my hometown and since the 1980s it’s gone through some very tough times with the loss of all its industrial jobs in the mines and steel industry. Famous pottery firms, such as Royal Doulton, collectively shed another thirty thousand jobs in the 90s. This, combined with ten years of austerity and major local government cuts, has led to a major rise in crime. This is reflected in Cops Like Us, a BBC2 documentary following the Hanley police who inspired my books. Those officers even used the same dilapidated 1960s station before moving into the fire station next door.

Staffordshire Constabulary is one of the most cut forces in the UK, with a loss of over 560 officers. Because mental health charities have had their funding cut by local government, Hanley’s officers are left to cope with issues caused by unemployment and addiction. Officers now find themselves dealing with non-police related problems, such as suicides and mental ill health, on top of tackling crime and the rising addiction to a street drug called Monkey Dust, which causes users to become violently unpredictable and gain extreme strength. It’s inspiring to see what a wonderful job the Constabulary’s depleted ranks do in the face of such complex challenges.

All this real crime and post-industrial dereliction has helped and inspired me to develop DI Tom Blake, his team and the crimes they investigate. That’s not to say other locations don’t feature in my books. We go to Miami, Ibiza and Turkey in first book!

This has been so interesting J.F.. Thank you very much indeed for affording us a glimpse into A Place of Reckoning. I think it sounds fabulous:

A Place of Reckoning


Three women. Two bodies. One deadly secret.

Pottery tycoon Charles Lancaster knows who kidnapped his wife.

He’s sure it was the brutally dangerous ex bare-knuckle fighter, Patrick Dunne. Patrick promised to avenge his son who died in a tragic accident in one of Charles’ factories. It’s an open and shut case…

 …until a headless body turns up in a remote Peak District pool, its back tattooed with a cryptic Tarot card. As Detective Inspector Tom Blake and FBI profiler Lucy Stryker dig into the mystery, they unearth long-buried secrets about an historic conspiracy and a clandestine cult. But with a sadistic killer on the loose, and everyone hiding things, it’s not just the victim’s life that hangs in the balance. Will anyone get out alive?

Because when the powerful are pointing the finger, you’d better watch your back…

A Place of Reckoning is available for purchase here.

About J. F Burgess


J. F. Burgess grew up in Stoke-on-Trent and spent many years doing less than ideal jobs in and around the Potteries five towns, before finally taking the plunge and quitting work to follow his creative side. As a keen horse-racing fan, he started off in 2007 self-publishing betting how-to manuals. This is his main business, but his real passion is for crime fiction, both reading and writing.

Inspired by authors such as Mel Sherratt, Peter James, Val McDermid, James Oswald, Kate Ellis, Martina Cole and Ian Rankin, and in need of a new challenge, J. F. Burgess decided to try his hand at writing crime fiction.

After months of hard slog and sheer determination, he finished his first novel: The Killer Shadow Thieves. This is the first in a planned series of gritty crime fiction books set in Stoke on Trent, involving charismatic DI Tom Blake and his larger-than-life sidekick DS Jon Murphy.

The follow-up, The Deadly Legacy, is a cult serial killer thriller, with a 200-year-old secret at the heart of a plot full of unexpected twists, which push the relationships of a rich pottery family into life-threatening conflicts.

J. F. Burgess writes tense, gripping, crime fiction mysteries with a twist – or urban crossbreed, as he calls it. His thrillers take you deep inside the criminal mind.

J.F. Burgess lives with my wife and family in Stoke-on-Trent, England.

For more information, visit J.F. Burgess’ website, find him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter @burgess1012.

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tour poster

The Secret Seaside Escape by Heidi Swain

the secret seaside escape cover

It’s no secret that I love Heidi Swain, both as a person and as a writer, so it will come as no surprise that although I said I wouldn’t have time to read for review to participate in Heidi’s blog tour for The Secret Seaside Escape, and she kindly provided a smashing guest post for me all about where she would like to escape to, I simply couldn’t resist reading the book. Consequently I have my review of The Secret Seaside Escape for you too today!

Heidi is a regular visitor to Linda’s Book Bag and you’ll find other posts as follows:

My review of Poppy’s Recipe for Life here.

My review of Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market here.

A ‘staying in’ post with Heidi to chat all about Sunshine and Sweet Peas In Nightingale Square here.

A guest post from Heidi Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland, explaining exactly what Christmas means to her here.

Heidi’s latest book, The Secret Seaside Escape is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Secret Seaside Escape

the secret seaside escape cover

Following a shocking revelation within her family, Tess Tyler is looking to escape her hectic city life – and where better to hide than Wynmouth, the seaside town she visited as a child, with its sandy beaches, stunning rock pools and welcoming community. But little does she realise, Wynmouth isn’t quite the haven she remembers it to be, and her real life is still threatening to catch up with her . . .

Also returning to Wynmouth is Joe. Having fled over a decade ago after an accident that changed his life forever, he’s back and is determined to face his demons. But, like Tess, Joe realises that the town is nothing like he remembers and quickly his arrival brings old tensions to the surface.

As the pair begin to familiarise themselves with the town they once knew, they each realise that the secrets they carry are becoming harder to conceal – but will revealing them bring the answers they’re looking for? Will Tess and her new friends finally get the second chance they’ve been hoping Wynmouth will give them?

The three places I would like to visit when the lockdown is over…

A Guest Post by Heidi Swain

Hello Linda! Thank you so much for hosting The Secret Seaside Escape blog tour today and for inviting me to share three places I would like to visit when the lockdown in finally over. Obviously, I have many more than three destinations on my list, but I’ve managed to narrow it down and I’m sharing those that I’m craving the most.

As you all know, I write two titles a year for Simon and Schuster – a summer and a Christmas book – and that means it can be tricky trying to squeeze in time off. I haven’t had a holiday since 2016 and so earlier in the year, I promised myself that when the first draft of Book 11 was submitted, and before The Secret Seaside Escape was published, I would treat myself to a few days away. Needless, to say I haven’t been able to keep that promise, but I will definitely be heading there, later in the year. So where was I dreaming of?

Tess Tyler takes herself off to the Norfolk coast in The Secret Seaside Escape and that was where I’d set my sights on too. There are many beautiful coastal spots in Norfolk and a firm favourite of mine is Wells Next the Sea. It has everything you could wish for in a seaside resort – a beautiful beach, a pretty harbour, woodland walks, seals, birds, fabulous food and wonderful places to stay. I’ve been visiting since I was a child and have very happy memories of the place. There are special spots in both the town and nearer the beach which were firmly fixed in my mind when I was creating wonderful Wynmouth and I can’t wait to go back and see them again. The thought of eating fish and chips while sitting on the harbour wall is very appealing right now!

Smockmill - field view - February

Olly in the woods

Next on my list is a trip back to the woods. Every week my son and I head to our local patch and take a walk through the trees and along the river. We take our time, listening to the birds, watching the squirrels and admiring the changing seasons. This year we are going to have a huge gap in our local patch observations. The snowdrops were barely over the last time we were able to visit and now the birds are busy nest building. We’re compensating with extra time in the garden, but it’s not quite the same. I’m very much looking forward to seeing our favourite mighty oak and beech friends again.

Me and Mim

Last on my list, but by no means least, is my home city of Norwich. Please don’t read this and roll your eyes and say ‘she had the whole world to choose from and she’s picked places within a fifty-mile radius!’ because I know I have and I’ll tell you why. The reason why I’ve stayed so close to home is because this lockdown has made me very aware of how much I take my freedom for granted. It turns out, the places I love most are nearby and the things I love doing are the simplest pleasures.

Right now, a run into Norwich for Bubble Tea with my daughter, a lunch with my RNA Chapter chums, a wander around the majestic castle and calm cathedral all sound like heaven to me and I can’t wait to visit them again. And don’t even get me started on the quirky shops in the cobbled Lanes or the packed shelves in the Millennium library!

I bet you all have places you can’t wait to visit again too, don’t you? Do let me know where they are and why you’re missing them. I’d love to know. And in the meantime, stay safe and stay at home my darlings – take a fictional trip to Wynmouth with me and we’ll all escape to the seaside together.

H x

Thank you so much Heidi. I think we’re all looking forward to escaping when we can. I loved heading off to Wynmouth and here’s my review:

My Review of The Secret Seaside Escape

Tess is running away.

Heidi Swain’s The Secret Seaside Escape is pure happiness and sunshine in book form. I adored heading off to Wynmouth and being transported to the Norfolk coast. There’s such a glorious sense of place in Heidi Swain’s descriptions so that I felt I was walking around the village and on the beach with Tess. I thoroughly appreciated the fact that there are vagaries of weather that lend a realism alongside the escapism too. Tess is just as likely to be blown about by a squall as have her freckles deepen in the sunshine so that the story has an underlying credibility.

And what a story there is in The Secret Seaside Escape. We might well be expecting a happy ever after ending from this genre, but my goodness there’s quite a journey to get there with exploration of some weighty themes and a plot that romps along with several surprises along the way. There’s a characteristic sense of community that this author always explores so well, but there is the added piquancy of a turbulent past for Wynmouth villagers too, that intrigues and enthralls completely. I was desperate to get to the bottom of the dynamics between Joe and Sam so that it actually felt as if I were Tess, rather than reading about her. These were real people I cared about, not characters in a book. Tess in particular appealed to me. She embodies the modern successful woman and still has flaws and desires that make her utterly compelling. I finished reading The Secret Seaside Escape feeling as if I wanted to visit her in Wynmouth because she felt like an old friend.

Heidi Swain explores so beautifully, and somehow completely naturally, the real values of life in The Secret Seaside Escape too. Top of the range cars and money can’t buy happiness and Tess and Hope both have to learn that they cannot always control life or have the outcomes they want for themselves and others. Love, family and other relationships, the impact of over-work, loyalty, friendship, secrets and community form a fascinating backdrop that held me spell bound. The more I’ve thought about The Secret Seaside Escape since I finished it, the more I think it might just be Heidi Swain’s best book yet!

When it comes to feel good fiction, Heidi Swain is an absolute expert. She makes her readers laugh, and cry, and leaves them feeling they have had the highest quality entertainment along the way. The Secret Seaside Escape is an utter joy and I loved it.

About Heidi Swain


Heidi Swain is the Sunday Times bestselling author of several novels including The Cherry Tree CafeSummer at Skylark FarmMince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas MarketComing Home to Cuckoo CottagePoppy’s Recipe for LifeSleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair, The Christmas Wish List and of course, The Secret Seaside Escape. She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two teenage children.

You can follow Heidi on Twitter @Heidi_Swain and visit her blog or website. You’ll also find Heidi on Facebook

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The Perfect Couple by Jackie Kabler

The Perfect Couple

It’s far too long since I featured lovely Jackie Kabler on Linda’s Book Bag and I’m delighted to be reviewing her latest book The Perfect Couple today. My enormous thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in this tour.

Previously I’ve introduced Jackie’s The Dead Dog Day here, reviewed The Deadline here, revealed the cover for The Development (complete with my quotation on the front) here and helped launch Jackie’s less cosy Am I Guilty? (which is still on my TBR) here.

Published by Harper Collins imprint, One More Chapter, on 17th April 2020, The Perfect Couple is available for purchase through these links.

The Perfect Couple

The Perfect Couple

The perfect couple … or the perfect lie?

A year and a half ago, Gemma met the love of her life, Danny. Since then, their relationship has been like something out of a dream. But one Friday evening, Gemma returns home to find Danny is nowhere to be seen.

After two days with no word from her husband, Gemma turns to the police. She is horrified by what she discovers – a serial killer is on the loose in Bristol. When she sees the photos of the victims she is even more stunned … they all look just like Danny.

But the police aren’t convinced by Gemma’s story. Why has no one apart from Gemma seen or heard from Danny in weeks? Why is there barely a trace of him in their flat? Is she telling them the truth, or are there more secrets and lies in this marriage than meets the eye?

My Review of The Perfect Couple

Gemma’s return home finds husband Danny missing.

Oh my. I absolutely loved The Perfect Couple because it’s so cleverly written, totally compelling and brilliantly plotted being part police procedural and part psychological thriller. Throughout, I was simply unable to stop reading The Perfect Couple because I needed to know what would happen next and whether my theories and predictions would be proved correct. They weren’t. Jackie Kabler kept me guessing all the way through The Perfect Couple and entertained me flawlessly at the same time so that I finished the book feeling as if I’d had a smashing, all-consuming read.

I thoroughly enjoyed the structure of the book. The third person police sections were perfectly balance by Gemma’s first person accounts so that I was never sure how much of her part of the narrative was true. I found character actions and direct speech natural and convincing so that it felt as if this was an account of real people who held me in their thrall.

Whilst Gemma is obviously the central character and the one we find out most about, I thought all those featured had a human and engaging quality. I’d love to see the police team featured in future novels. What I found so interesting was the rationale for character actions as much as what those actions were. Jackie Kabler is exploring human nature extremely convincingly within the narrative.

I am unable to say too much about other themes as to do so might undermine or spoil The Perfect Couple for others, but the sense of justice, of the role of social media, the depth to which we really know those around us, loyalty and so on that echo throughout make for such a rounded book that I was incredibly impressed.

I was completely spellbound by The Perfect Couple. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Jackie Kabler’s lighter writing I was expecting to be entertained, but The Perfect Couple exceeded all my expectations and I recommend it wholeheartedly. It’s a cracking story.

About Jackie Kabler

Jackie Kabler

Jackie Kabler is the author of the Cora Baxter Mysteries, a series of murder mysteries set in a television newsroom. Jackie worked as a newspaper reporter and then in television news for twenty years, including nearly a decade on GMTV. She later appeared on BBC and ITV news, presented a property show for Sky, hosted sports shows on Setanta Sports News and worked as a media trainer for the Armed Forces. She is now a presenter on shopping channel QVC. Jackie lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, who is a GP.

You can follow Jackie on Twitter @jackiekabler, visit her website and find her on Instagram.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Perfect Couple full banner

Blaze Dog Detective: The Magic Flag Mystery by Lin Anderson and Donald McKay


My enormous thanks to fellow blogger Lou at Bookmarks and Stages for ensuring I received a copy of children’s book Blaze Dog Detective: The Magic Flag Mystery by Lin Anderson and Donald McKay in return for an honest review.

The first in the Blaze Dog Detective series, The Magic Flag Mystery was published on 8th April by Dunedin and is available for purchase here.

Blaze Dog Detective: The Magic Flag Mystery


When the famous fairy flag of the Clan MacLeod disappears from a locked room at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, the police immediately call in Blaze Dog Detective.

After all his scenting skills on the island are legendary.

With his team of Rosa, Rory and wee brother Laoch, Blaze leads the chase to rescue this magical flag before it can be spirited away from the island forever.

My review


Blaze Dog Detective: The Magic Flag Mystery

Blaze is about to use his nose on a new adventure.

I thought I might just dip into The Magic Flag Mystery as I was between books and a children’s story would be a good filler. That was a complete underestimation of how good a story The Magic Flag Mystery is! I loved it. I might be around half a century older than the target audience but it had me spellbound.

There’s a thrilling plot of theft, baddies, danger and peril with so many exciting events along the way that the pace is fast and compelling. An undercurrent of magic enhances the mystery through Granny Beaton’s crystal ball, and through the communications between animals, and between them and humans, especially with regard to Blaze and Rosa. Circling crows give a sense of menace and secret passages and tunnels add to the atmosphere so any reader of any age will be enchanted by this narrative. Short chapters with cliffhanger endings would draw in the most reluctant reader and I wish I were about 9 reading The Magic Flag Mystery by torchlight under the bed covers because I know I’d be totally enraptured!

The characters are wonderfully drawn. Blaze’s first person narrative is utterly convincing so that although he is a dog telling the tale completely authentically, the authors create his persona in a way that makes the reader feel as in tune with him as is Rosa. Whilst the people and animals are vivid and appealing, the setting of Skye is also so powerfully depicted the place become a character too. I loved this quality in the writing.

I enjoyed The Magic Flag Mystery without reservation. It seemed to have the appeal that reminded me of my childhood addiction to Enid Blyton but with a fresh and modern feel that is unique to this setting and these characters too. I fear The Magic Flag Mystery might be a quiet book with little recognition but it deserves to be lauded and shared. It’s a cracking tale of adventure and excitement that is just what readers of all ages need in these trying times.

About Lin Anderson

lin anderson

Lin Anderson is best known as the creator of the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod series of crime thriller novels, and for her part in founding the annual ‘Bloody Scotland’ crime writing festival.

For more information, follow Lin on Twitter @Lin_Anderson or visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

You can also follow Blaze on Twitter @Blazespage and find out more here.

Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro

escape routes

In the current global climate, I can think of no better title for a book than Escape Routes! My enormous thanks to Caitlin Raynor at Headline for a surprise copy of Escape Routes by Naomi Ishiguro in return for an honest review.

Published by Headline imprint Tinder Press on 6th February 2020, Escape Routes is available for purchase through the links here.

Escape Routes

escape routes

Characterised by its own brand of pleasingly unsettling magic, Naomi Ishiguro’s Escape Routes matches the inventiveness of David Mitchell with the fairy-tale allure of Angela Carter.

A space-obsessed child conjures up a vortex in his mother’s airing cupboard. A musician finds her friendship with a flock of birds opens up unexpected possibilities. A rat catcher, summoned to a decaying royal palace, is plunged into a battle for the throne of a ruined kingdom. Two newlyweds find themselves inhibited by the arrival in their lives of an outsized and watchful stuffed bear.

Whether snared in traps artfully laid for them, or those of their own making, the characters in Naomi Ishiguro’s delightfully speculative debut collection yearn for freedom and flight, and find their worlds transformed beyond their wildest imaginings.

My Review of Escape Routes

A collection of innovative short stories.

It’s going to be impossible to define Escape Routes easily as Naomi Ishiguro’s writing transcends genre, blending and mixing both recognisable and intangible new elements into something fresh, innovative and bewitching. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection which took me several days to read because I found the stories intense and needed to savour and absorb them, giving them the attention they so richly merit.

Reading Escape Routes is a bit like watching the world through a distorted lens. So much of literary history and tradition seems to lurk below the surface, with echoes perhaps of Mary Shelley or Dickens, but as I read, those allusions and connections seemed transient so that it felt like a brief glimpse of a half remembered dream. I thought this effect was just brilliant. I have no idea if that is what the author intended, but it makes for an intriguing and frequently unsettling read. There’s a mystical, magical atmosphere to the stories with a layer of evil in many that echoes traditional fairy or tales or morality stories.

Each individual story, including the three part The Rat Catcher, is a total gem, being carefully crafted, peopled with vibrant and varied characters and plotted with surgical precision so that the endings are surprising and enormously entertaining. Themes of identity, loneliness and being ensnared, swirl like the frequently menacing birds that often feature too. I think the first story in Escape Routes, Wizards, was the one I enjoyed the most, partly because it sets the scene for the theme of inadequacy that so many characters feel, and partly because I felt the greatest emotional connection through Naomi Ishiguro’s wonderful writing.

So many of the characters display beautifully articulated traits that readers will recognise and empathise with. Whilst I loathed Evgeny in Accelerate, I thought his spiral into fragmentation was superbly illustrated by the writing, especially when punctuation was used sparingly so that the mechanics of the text reflected the experience of the character. Many of the characters are ever so slightly absurd too so that it is possible to laugh at them or, in fact, with them. Indeed, despite the darkness of many of the stories, there’s humour and lightness of touch too. I thought the whole collection was so well chosen and balanced, especially with the way The Rat Catcher was split into three parts across the other stories.

Imaginative, unsettling and with a magical undercurrent Escape Routes is a fascinating collection. It is wonderfully entertaining, surprising and just the right amount of. disturbing. I really recommend it.

About Naomi Ishiguro


Naomi Ishiguro studied writing at the University of East Anglia and is a former bookseller and bibliotherapist at Mr B.’s Emporium in Bath. She lives in London.

You can follow Naomi on Twitter @NaomiIshiguro.

Staying in with Liz Treacher

The Wrong Envelope

You know, some books appeal to me entirely and it’s desperately disappointing when I can’t fit them into my reading because I’m inundated. Liz Treacher has one such book and so I simply had to ask her onto Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me and tell me all about it.

Staying in with Liz Treacher

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

Thank you very much for inviting me!

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

The Wrong Envelope

I’ve brought along The Wrong Envelope, a feel-good novel set in Devon, 1920 about a determined post lady called Evie Brunton. It’s a humorous romance, (witty rather than slushy) but it also gives a glimpse into what it was like being a young working woman just after the First World War.

It sounds utterly wonderful Liz. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Wrong Envelope?

The novel begins when Evie’s quiet but satisfying life as a village post lady is turned upside down by the arrival of an impetuous London artist called Bernard Cavalier. Evie is initially horrified by Bernard’s wild and outrageous behaviour, but over the course of the summer, his spontaneous approach to life begins to appeal to her. However Bernard is clumsy and selfish and he brings chaos in his wake.

The Wrong Envelope is a dive into 1920’s Devon with its rugged coastline, rolling hills and high-hedged country lanes. But not everything is idyllic. 1920 was a difficult time in Britain and the shadow of the First World War still hung over everyone. Young women who had possibly lost loved ones in the war were now losing their new-found freedoms as well. Jobs which had been handed to them during the conflict were being taken away again. The novel uses humour and irony to explore how hard it was for women like Evie to chart a meaningful course through life.

I love the sound of The Wrong Envelope Liz. I’m rather fond of between the wars settings.

A fun thing about the novel is that Evie’s timid mother turns out to be the real heroine. As the story unfolds, quiet, dithery Mrs Brunton learns to stick up for herself and what she believes is the right thing to do.

Aha! The quiet ones are often the ones to look out for!

Readers say they enjoy the retro feel of the book, but also the twists and turns of the plot which will have you guessing right till the end.

I cannot wait to read The Wrong Envelope. It sounds exactly my kind of story.

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

Two things – something to look at and something to eat!

My grandmother

I’ve brought along a photo of my grandmother. She was born in 1901, so she was always a year younger than the year. When this portrait was taken in 1917 she was sixteen and had just started working for the War Office.

What a simply wonderful photo. Doesn’t she look glorious? Why this photo though?

After she died, we found a suitcase full of letters written to her by a soldier during and after the First World War. The suitcase was tiny, small enough to fit into a bureau, and it was tied up carefully with a green gingham ribbon. I was fascinated by the language of the letters – the cheerfulness and bravado of a soldier trying to woo a young lady. They quickly became the inspiration for the novel.

That’s so romantic. What a wonderful catalyst for your writing.


I’d also like to bring along a plate of scones, complete with cream and jam. Evie’s mother, Mrs Brunton, is a prolific scone maker and her cream teas punctuate the novel and even propel the plot!

Oh you can come again Liz. I think I might just be addicted to cream teas. I don’t get them often so thank you for bringing them along – and for staying in with me to chat about The Wrong Envelope. You pour the tea and I’ll tell blog readers a bit more about The Wrong Envelope.

The Wrong Envelope

The Wrong Envelope

Summer 1920 and two different lives are about to collide.

Evie Brunton loves her job. Twice a day, she spins along the narrow lanes of Devon on her bicycle, delivering letters from a heavy post bag. When the flamboyant London artist, Bernard Cavalier, drops like a meteor into her sleepy village, everything changes. Bernard is supposed to be painting for an important exhibition, but the countryside has its own charms, in particular his young post lady…

The Wrong Envelope is available for purchase here.

About Liz Treacher

liz treacher

Liz is a writer and an art photographer. She lives in the Highlands of Scotland beside the sea. Her love of images influences her writing.

Her debut novel, The Wrong Envelope, is a romantic comedy, set in Devon, England, in 1920. It tells the story of Bernard, an impulsive artist and Evie, his determined post lady. Light and witty and full of twists and turns, The Wrong Envelope captures the spirit of another age – when letters could change lives.

The sequel, The Wrong Direction, follows Evie and Bernard to London, and charts their further adventures in Mayfair’s high society. Wild parties, flirtatious models, jealous friends – Bernard and Evie must negotiate many twists and turns if they are to hold on to each other.

To find out more, visit Liz’s website, follow her on Twitter @liztreacher or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Strangers by C. L. Taylor

Strangers cover

It’s always a real thrill when C. L. Taylor has a new book out and I’m delighted to be helping celebrate the release of her latest, Strangers. My enormous thanks to Sanjana Cunniah at Avon books for inviting me to participate.

Other reviews of C. L. Taylor’s books here on the blog include The Missing, The Treatment, The Fear and Sleep.

Strangers was published by Harper Collins’ imprint Avon on 2nd April 2020 and is available for purchase through these links.


Strangers cover

Ursula, Gareth and Alice have never met before.

Ursula thinks she killed the love of her life.
Gareth’s been receiving strange postcards.
And Alice is being stalked.

None of them are used to relying on others – but when the three strangers’ lives unexpectedly collide, there’s only one thing for it: they have to stick together. Otherwise, one of them will die.

Three strangers, two secrets, one terrifying evening.

The million-copy bestseller returns with a gripping new novel that will keep you guessing until the end.

My Review of Strangers

Three people linked more closely than they imagine.

It’s always a real pleasure to dive into a new C. L. Taylor novel and Strangers didn’t disappoint, not least because I hadn’t read the blurb for the book and had absolutely no idea how Ursula, Gareth and Alice’s stories might come together so I was kept guessing right until the end of the story.

Whilst there’s the usual twisty, fast pace and thrilling plot that I’ve come to expect from this author, I found Strangers more poignant than her other books because, although each character is flawed, even the most conventionally wicked or unhinged among them is harbouring a sadness, a completely understandable reason for their behaviour and an underlying loneliness and pain that I found very affecting. Indeed, the title Strangers is so apposite because, C.L. Taylor makes the reader understand that no matter how well or little we think we know someone, there’s always a crucial part that is unknowable, separate and unique to them. Ursula’s strand in particular brought this home to me very effectively as I discovered the reason for her compulsion to steal.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the characters and felt even the most minor ones were distinct and realistic. Whilst I found some of their attitudes and actions so frustrating I wanted to shake them, I was equally concerned for them too because C.L. Taylor made me care about them. Although the three main characters of Gareth, Alice and Ursula have their own clear and distinct narratives, again it was Ursula to whom I felt closest. Her seeming self-destruction felt so poignant.

The themes of loneliness, guilt, society and the impact of social media, stalking, domestic abuse, mental health and dementia and so on that weave in and out of the plot give a texture and depth that made me contemplate not just the lives of those in the book, but of others in my life and made me wonder how well I have supported them or made assumptions about them. I found this aspect of Strangers enormously unsettling. There’s a brilliant microcosm of society presented in Strangers that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining and that underpins the action without ever over dominating because of C. L. Taylor’s skilled writing.

Strangers is a super read. Cleverly plotted, sensitively handled and exciting, I found it an absorbing and exciting narrative that I fully recommend.

About C.L. Taylor


C.L. Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and son. She started writing fiction in 2005 and her short stories have won several awards and have been published by a variety of literary and women’s magazines.

C.L. Taylor was voted as one of the Bestselling Adult Fiction Debut Authors of 2014 in The Bookseller.

You can follow C.L. Taylor on Twitter @callytaylor and find out more about her on her web site. You’ll also find her on Facebook.