An Extract from The Ravenstone: The Twain by Diane Solomon and Mark Carey

The Twain Front Cover 7 6 2020 kindle

It’s far too long since I featured Diane Solomon here on Linda’s Book Bag. Last time she was here I interviewed her about her book 88 Guys for Coffee. Before that Diane wrote a super guest post all about the rewards of creativity that you can read here. That post was to celebrate her first book in The Ravenstone children’s series, The Secret of Ninham Mountain, written with Mark Carey. Today Diane is sharing an extract from the second book in the series, The Twain.

The Twain is available for purchase here.

The Ravenstone: The Twain

The Twain Front Cover 7 6 2020 kindle

Nadia and Aidan Shaw, 13-year-old twins from Cold Spring, New York found a magical black Celtic stone, the Ravenstone. It pulses with the light of shamanic power and is a vehicle for time travel! Armed with the power of the Ravenstone and their own special gifts, the twins plunged back to the fifth century, where they encountered Native Americans, ancient Celts, warring princes and a shape-shifting raven. Determined to retrieve a now-extinct healing plant, they had to depend on their courage, their faith in their friends, and luck… or was it destiny?

In the much anticipated sequel to The Secret of Ninham MountainAidan and Nadia experience a terrifyingly real vision of a massive earthquake which threatens their mother’s life. The mission to save her grows in scope as they investigate, and their subsequent trips across time and space force them to face unimaginable dangers. They must rely on their growing skills and all the powerful magic of the Ravenstone in their urgent need to stop the disaster facing the earth. Will they succeed? And at what cost?

Although this sequel does stand alone, it provides a richer experience to have read the first book, entitled The Ravenstone: The Secret of Ninham Mountain.

An extract from The Ravenstone: The Twain

Chapter 1

July 25, 2016

Heathrow Airport, London, England

“British Airways Flight BA830 to Dublin will soon be boarding at Gate 16. All passengers for Dublin please proceed to Gate 16.”

The tinny voice boomed from the broadcasting system of Heathrow Airport, near London in England. Nadia was standing behind her parents and sister in the line to check suitcases. She glanced behind her to see Aidan shoving his phone in his pocket and pulling his case closer to the counter.

“It is almost 3/4 of a mile to Gate 48! And we even have to take a tram to get there!” He had to call out over the noise of the passengers and announcements.

“How did you figure that out?”

“There’s an app for that…” he said with a grin.

She shook her head, fighting back a grin of her own. Her twin was proud of his reputation as a geek and kept up with all the latest in tech toys. He loved that he could find out just about anything with his phone. It was his “key to the universe.”

During their week in London, her brother had been an endless font of information. When they rode the London Eye, he described how this largest Ferris Wheel in the world had come to be built on London’s Docks on the River Thames. He explained how “Shandy” came about. Served in English pubs, it consisted of half beer and half ginger ale and was served to kids over here. Yuk, she thought. She preferred good old Coke.

At the Tower of London he read out loud horrific descriptions of the torture that had occurred in medieval dungeons. Through Aidan she learned the history of the amazing Royal Crown Jewels. And with what she called “ghoulish glee” he described the cutting off of Queen Anne Boleyn’s head. Although King Henry the 8th of England had been dead for close to 500 years, Nadia shivered. The whole thing was beyond creepy.

“OK guys, we’re next. Not long now. Be ready with your bags.” Their mom’s voice cut into her thoughts. Nadia pulled her wheelie-bag a little closer and plopped down on it. At least she could sit for a minute while the people in front of them checked their bags.

Her mom said, “I can’t believe I am finally going to see the Book of Kells. It’s not far from where your dad will be speaking. We can go before his lecture, this afternoon, while he is meeting with the people from the college.”

Nadia sighed. “More lines to stand in,” she muttered.

Heather chuckled. “Don’t be grumpy, Nadia, it’ll be fun. It is unique, a masterpiece. There is only one in the whole world and it will be incredibly cool.” She paused and glanced at their mom. “And Mom has wanted to see it forever…” Gen nodded and smiled at her daughter.

“Since I was in college…” Gen said. She put her arm around Nadia and gave her a quick hug. “I know – being a tourist is exhausting. But, who knows, maybe you two will gain an appreciation for ancient Irish artifacts.”

As her mother turned back toward the counter, Nadia shot Aidan a conspiratorial glance. If only her mom knew.

It was less than two weeks since the twins had returned home from 459 A.D. They had realized immediately upon their return that their actions had changed the course of their lives. In fact, they had changed history. But, since they had lived through both histories they retained memories of both. For a while they confused their memories of their “First Life,” as they decided to call it, with memories of this new, altered life. They had just begun to wrap their heads around this new reality when the whole family took off on a trip to London, and now Dublin. In a way the trip was helping them. Being in London was new for everyone so it wasn’t as obvious when Nadia and Aidan misspoke.

Nadia wondered if the fear and shock that followed their near-fatal encounter with Kane would ever leave her. She had terrifying nightmares when they returned to the current time, one of which suggested a different ending to the story. She was falling, falling, torn from Aidan, yet still able to see Kane’s face, as she hurtled into the abyss. One night she cried out so loudly her mom rushed into the room to comfort her. Gen had asked who Kane was. Nadia just clung to her mother and sobbed.

However, with every passing day the memories of their First Life faded and they began to feel more and more that the only life they had ever known was the one they returned to, the one their actions had changed forever.

Nadia was determined their First Life memories should not fade completely away and she took it upon herself to write a journal, with every detail she could recall of their incredible adventure. She and Aidan had hidden this journal in the drawer under the old mirror, with the Ravenstone, for safekeeping. She called it “The Ravenstone: The Secret of Ninham Mountain.”

So much had changed. Their dad was now a rock star in the science community. After toiling for years to find a cure for the rare disease that had taken his mother, Dr. Michael Shaw came into possession of an equally rare plant. The Black Fern had yielded many medicinal compounds and properties. Nadia and Aidan’s dad was now the chairman and CEO of the Black Fern Foundation. He was happy, fulfilled, and in demand.

Watching him now, laughing with her mom about something, Nadia grinned. She realized he was back to the dad she remembered when she was little: fun, joyful, and full of life. The fact that the twins themselves were responsible for the mysterious plant’s appearance on their father’s desk absolutely thrilled Nadia. But of course, they could never tell him.

The trip to London was a blast. Nadia loved it all; they saw cathedrals and museums and the gorgeous Parliament Buildings. Even Mom and Heather got a kick out of visiting Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station where Harry Potter was supposed to catch the Hogwarts Express. They trekked along narrow cobblestone streets, wandered along the famous outdoor markets of Portobello Road, ducked into old world shops and pubs and tried to understand what the people were saying. Same language, ha, she thought. English sounded very odd over here.

But now they had been walking and standing all morning and Nadia’s feet hurt. She wanted to get on the plane and veg out for the flight. All morning she had felt out of sorts, a kind of foreboding and darkness overshadowing her every thought. At least I get to sit here and rest for a minute.

“Nadia, honey, can you reach into my bag and find my aspirin, please?” Her mom spoke from just in front of her, and Nadia stood up and popped open the flap on her mom’s handbag, hanging on her shoulder. She rummaged around.

“Wow, Mom, you have a lot of stuff in here!”

“Don’t you start, too. Your father said he doesn’t know why I pack a suitcase when everything I own is already in my purse. He never lets me forget the day he found duct tape and Gummy Bears in my bag.” Gen chuckled. “One never knows what one will need,” she added in her terrible attempt at a Queen of England accent. “Oh, and while you’re in there, pull out that peach-colored envelope. That’s the invitation I told you about… for my class reunion in Dallas. A woman I went to school with, now an artist, made the card. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Nadia handed her mother the little bottle of aspirin, then pulled out the envelope. She found the card inside, a beautiful hand-painted flower in lilac and purple and pink. “Wow, really cool, Mom. That’s gorgeous.” The ornate calligraphy spelled out an invitation to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Dallas, the following weekend.

She didn’t hear her mom’s reply, for the dark cloud that was stalking her all morning closed in around her. Suddenly she felt incredibly dizzy and practically fell back down on her case.

She could hear Aidan mutter from beside her, “Whoa…”

She glanced over at him and the dizziness got even worse. “Aidan, do you feel that?”

He nodded.

Everything around her began to dissolve. The other passengers, the kiosks, and even the airport walls faded out of focus. Turning forward, hoping to regain her balance, Nadia watched as the baggage counter and then her parents and sister Heather began to slip away, morph, then finally disappear.

In their place there now stood huge buildings, like a busy section of some bustling city. Directly in front of her stood what appeared to be a high-end luxury hotel, with a carved granite facade and towering marble pillars. There were flags flying over the glistening curved glass entrance which was graced with an ornate fountain in front of the doors. Even the sidewalk was made of polished granite. The enormous center tower was faced almost entirely with reflective glass and seemed to touch the clouds. A skyscraper.

And even more bizarre, what began as a vision was now quite real. Nadia and Aidan were standing on the sidewalk in the blazing sun facing the hotel entrance. Behind her she could hear the roar of city traffic and could feel the wilting heat from the sun above and the pavement below.

All this happened in just a few moments. She felt Aidan grab her hand and all of these new sensations surged and intensified.

We are clearly not in London anymore, Nadia thought. But where?

A man with a briefcase walked past Nadia so fast and close she feared he would knock her down. Yet even though he was looking straight at her, it didn’t appear as if he saw her at all. What on earth is going on, is this a vision?

“What’s happening, Aidan? Are we in interstitial time again?” Nadia’s heart was pumping.

“I can’t tell… It feels so real, but I don’t think anyone can see us. I have no idea where we are though, do you? Do you recognize anything?”

She shook her head, hard. She looked around and spotted a street sign on the corner. McKinney Avenue, it read. Where was that? The dizziness was gone now, but she was so alert her skin tingled. What was happening to them?

Before she could say anything further to her brother, a deafening crack rent the air and the earth seemed to shift under her feet. Glancing down, she saw cracks forming in the pavement, but then the noise in front of her yanked her attention back. The enormous hotel tower was swaying and vibrating, and as the building undulated, cracks opened up in the front wall.

For just a moment, she fought another bout of terrible dizziness, then Nadia watched in horror as the huge glass doors shattered as if in an explosion. The enormous sign over the entrance way now read “The Ritz Car” instead of “The Ritz Carlton,” as it broke away from the building and a chunk of the sign fell with a crash to the pavement below. The two uniformed bellhops ran for cover, then disappeared in a cloud of dust and rubble.

But that was just the beginning, now the entire building began to crumble.

She looked over at Aidan who was shouting at her and shaking her arm. She couldn’t hear a word he was saying over the noise of the splitting concrete, glass, and granite.

“Oh my God, Aidan, what’s going on?” she screamed.

Then she stared back at the hotel, which was tumbling down in slow motion right in front of them.

Aidan leaned over to her ear and hollered, “We’ve got to get out of here, it’s an earthquake!”

And they were right in the middle of it.

But where should they go, where could they go? Chaos was all around them. They stood frozen and watched in stunned horror as the beautiful skyscraper in front of them dissolved into enormous piles of stone and glass. In the cacophony, the rubble fell all around them, but nothing touched them. Dust blew up in waves and clouds, blocking their view. Within seconds they couldn’t even see each other. Before she realized what she was doing, Nadia tore her hand from Aidan’s grasp to cover her mouth.

Standing lost and alone in the clouds of dust, Nadia began to sob in terror. Then the noise slowly began to fade, and suddenly, she could begin to make out her mom and dad just ahead of her in the check-in line.

She groped for Aidan’s hand and cried out in relief. As the sights and sounds of Heathrow Airport slowly returned, she reached up to wipe the tears from her cheek. She expected to find stone dust and grime all over her face but it was smooth and dry. Even the tears had been part of the vision. Or whatever it was. She couldn’t stop shaking. She was still clutching tight the invitation from her mom’s handbag.

Aidan’s arm came around her shoulders and he gave her a squeeze. He was breathing hard and was clearly as shocked as she was. But there was no dust or grime on his face, either. They had just been standing in the middle of an earthquake – a big one – but they were not hurt or even touched by the debris.

“Oh, man.” Aidan shook his head.

Nadia said, “Well, was that a dream? You know, one of those waking kind of things?”

“Oh, you mean a lucid dream?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so, unless it was someone else’s dream and we were in it by mistake. That felt way too real.”

“And, hey, just like at American Stonehenge, it seems like no time passed, again. Look, we are no closer to checking in our bags. Time stopped again, Aidan.”

He nodded. “You’re right. But what was that all about?”

“Oh, no!” She was staring down in horror at the invitation in her hand. “Aidan, look.” She held it up for him to see.

Aidan’s face paled.

Nadia felt as though she’d been punched in the gut. She could hardly breathe. That is where Mom is going. OK, you have to pull yourself together and stop shaking. She was grateful time had frozen during their ordeal so she had a moment to collect herself. Her breathing had not yet returned to normal when Gen turned to them.

“Good grief, sweetie, are you all right?” Gen reached out to place the back of her hand on her daughter’s forehead. “Are you sick? You’re as white as a sheet!”

Chapter 2

“So, Aidan, what are we going to do?”

After the brief flight from London to Dublin, they had checked into adjoining rooms in a small hotel in the heart of the city, near Trinity College. Dad was going to be a guest-speaker at an international workshop later that afternoon. They had not found a moment during the flight, or the cab ride to the hotel, where they could talk without being overheard. But Nadia’s mind had been going a mile a minute about the earthquake they had just experienced and she knew Aidan was thinking of little else as well.

Nadia covered her confusion and shock as best she could, after the horrible vision, but her mom kept asking her what was wrong. Oh, how she longed to tell her, to warn her! But what could she say that didn’t involve telling her mother about the Ravenstone? Using the stone might be the only way to save her. Or she and Aidan had to somehow convince her not to go to Dallas. They just had to.

Aidan had come to the room Nadia was sharing with Heather, to grab a private moment to talk. When their older sister headed for the bathroom and turned on the shower, they found their opportunity.

“OK, that gives us plenty of time,” said Aidan, nodding toward the bathroom. “Every time Heather takes a shower the water table drops.” He pulled his iPad out of his backpack and began signing into the hotel’s Wi-fi.

Nadia said, “I can’t believe we were in the middle of an actual earthquake –happening right around us! And oh my God, Mom is going to be there! In that very hotel!” She repeated, “Aidan, what are we going to do?

“Hang on, hang on, Nadia, we don’t know it is going to happen when Mom is there–”

“Seriously, Aidan? You think this is a coincidence? Give me a break. Why else would we see it? And why would the vision start the instant I touched that invitation?”

“OK, OK, you’re right. Good point.” Aidan chewed on the inside of his cheek. “But let’s try to be calm about it. We aren’t going to help by throwing a fit.”

Nadia knew her twin was as upset as she was, but she also knew he had a different way of dealing with stress than she did. Aidan slowed down and got all analytical. She took a deep breath and focused on being calm.

Aidan said, “What I don’t get… is how is this even happening? We don’t have the Ravenstone and we’re thousands of miles from all of the places of power where we’ve had visions before. You know, the mirror, the chamber–”

“Um, Aidan–”

Aidan carried on, oblivious of Nadia and what she was trying to tell him.

“If only we had the Ravenstone.” He groaned. “We could go back and do something to stop this.”

“Aidan, hang on.”

Nadia hauled her suitcase up onto the bed, zipped it open and hunted around through clothes and shoes.

Aidan muttered on, not paying attention to her. “We could stop Mom from going… or do something!”

Nadia turned to face her brother. “Earth to Aidan!”

He looked at her and his eyes focused on the object in her hands. He blinked and she saw the lights come on in his brain. Nadia was holding the Ravenstone. “How –how did that get here?”

“I brought it, boy genius.”

“But we talked about that! We agreed it wasn’t safe!”

Nadia grimaced and searched around for a reply.

“How on earth did you get it through airport security? Where was it? Was it in your backpack? It must have shown up… it must have looked like a weapon!”

I’m not going to be put on the defensive, now, she thought. I am glad I brought it. There was power, safety, somehow, having it with us. “Well… it wasn’t in my backpack. It was in my suitcase. I rolled it up in pajamas and tucked it between my shoes.”

Aidan stood up so fast his iPad fell to the floor. “Geez, Nadia, what if the airline lost our stuff? What if they sent it to Singapore or something?”

“Now you need to calm down. Mom and Dad are going to hear you.” Nadia motioned to the door joining their rooms.

Aidan glanced at the door as well. “OK, OK.”

Nadia continued, “I know we decided to leave it at home in the mirror. But, at the last minute, I just couldn’t leave it behind. I just couldn’t! I don’t know why. I just had to bring it.”

He stared at her in silent disbelief.

“It gives us options, Aidan. Come on, just a minute ago you said you wished we had it. Well, here it is.” She watched her brother, as the anger slowly drained from his face.

Pressing her advantage, Nadia said, “You know we would never have even seen that vision if we didn’t have the Ravenstone with us!”

Aidan nodded slowly. “OK, you’re right.”

Nadia took a deep breath. “So, how do we stop Mom from being in an earthquake?”

“I don’t know,” her brother replied. “But, don’t worry, we just have to think about this…”

“Well, we can’t just grab the Ravenstone and head off somewhere, we don’t even know where to go, where to start.” Nadia was pacing back and forth in the tiny hotel room.

“Right,” he replied. “But we have to stay calm.”

His sister nodded. She sighed, then flopped down on the other bed, right across from Aidan. “I feel so alone over here. We don’t have Patrick in the mirror… I feel like there is no way we can figure this out.”

Aidan scratched his chin and scowled. “There is a way, there has to be. Look at everything we figured out before. Just don’t panic, Nadia, we have time – Mom isn’t going until next weekend. So we have a few days. Besides, with time travel, maybe that doesn’t matter anyway, we can always go back, after it happens, to before the earthquake.”

“No!” Nadia sat up straight. “I don’t want this to happen. At all. It feels like too big a risk, Aidan. I don’t want to be stuck trying to undo it. I want to stop it before it happens. It’s Mom!” Nadia was near tears.

Aidan swallowed hard and nodded. “And you know, there’s another piece to this.”

She took a deep breath. “I’m listening.”

“Even if we could stop Mom going, we can’t let all those other people die.”

His sister’s eyes opened wide.

Aidan continued. “We can’t just save her. We have to somehow stop the earthquake from happening at all.”

There was silence for a moment. They stared at each other, then Nadia looked down at the stone in her hands. It began to glow with a deep golden-red inner light. Then it pulsed slowly. Is this the way the stone tells us we are on the right track?

About Diane Solomon and Mark Carey

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Diane Solomon enjoyed a wonderfully diverse career path that included her own variety show on BBC TV in England and major tours with Glen Campbell and Kenny Rogers. Her highly successful singing career has given way to her lifelong dream of being a writer.

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Mark Carey is a retired biologist. As a scientist he was immersed in the probable, in retirement he pursues the possible and considers the improbable. He has dabbled in voice-over work and sculpting and is a lifelong, devoted naturalist.

The Ravenstone: The Twain is their second collaboration as authors. The first was The Ravenstone: The Secret of Ninham Mountain, book one in the Ravenstone series.

They live in New Hampshire, in America, on untouched acres of forest and streams. They spend many hours designing gardens and meadows, playing with their three dogs, and watching wildlife. This involves saving turtles from pups, and plucking the occasional porcupine quills out of a little English Cocker Spaniel’s face.

You can follow Diane on Twitter @dianesolomon and Mark @MarkCareyWriter.  You’ll find them on Facebook and Goodreads and can visit their website for more information.

Staying in with Chaelli Cattlin

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I was so disappointed I simply couldn’t accept Chaelli Cattlin’s latest book for review as I am utterly snowed under. However, I’m delighted he agreed to stay in with me today to tell me all about it anyway. My thanks to Ben Cameron at Cameron Publicity for putting us in touch with one another.

Staying in with Chaelli Cattlin

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Chaelli.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?

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This is my latest book, The Café with Five Faces, What the Walls Heard, 2018-2019. I chose this one as it’s a continuation of the 2018 book and with some currently relevant content.

It’s a really unusual title. What can we expect from an evening in with The Café with Five Faces, What the Walls Heard, 2018-2019.

The Café with Five Faces, What the Walls Heard, 2018-2019 takes place in a fictional café in the north of England. There are five rooms in the café, each with its own regular clientele and themes (although there is occasionally some crossover of both). The rooms are all named after cities with which I have a particular affinity and have spent a lot of time, ranging from months to several years. Cape Town conversations mainly deal with the development of politics in the period covered by the book and are rather opinionated. Budapest is a space for would-be artists (writers, musicians, TV producer / presenters, et al) while Beirut is more for the romantics, even though most of it fails! Granada is for those interested in travel experiences, and Hebden Bridge is gossipy, but also delves into issues such as surrogacy and mental health. The key point is that (almost) everything is based on my first-hand experience, sometimes understated and sometimes exaggerated, and is recounted by myself as the owner / barista and by the characters in each room.

This sounds so intriguing! What have readers been saying about The Café with Five Faces, What the Walls Heard, 2018-2019?

Reviews have included:

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars: So impactful!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: Like a Wiki-slash-Lonely-Planet with personal stories behind it; it’s informative and reads like a best friend you don’t really know; a nice gift to those who love but for some reason can’t travel at this time because it feels like a mini world in a book format.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: Coffee lovers, café sitters, travellers and those who find themselves engrossed in eavesdropping on others’ conversations will enjoy this.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: The kind of everyday conversations people have when they get together with their friends to catch up to talk about life, politics, football and such topics; it made me feel part voyeur as if I was sitting there in the corner, listening in.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: Perfect for people who enjoy unobtrusively listening in occasionally to the conversation at the next table; a light-hearted read but bringing in all sort of topics from travel to today’s political situation in a very readable way.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars: This cosy little book was just what I was looking for with amazing cultural aspects and views, world cuisine and coffee culture, casual yet provocative conversations and last but not least a multi-cultural, know-it-all cafe owner with great insights about food and drinks, who also has a level of nonchalance I wish to have in life; a delicious reading experience.

 It sounds as if it’s being received very well.

What else have you brought along and why?

dessert

As I am a barista specialising in third-wave / speciality coffee, I have brought along a range of single origin coffees made in a variety of ways, along with some Hungarian desserts and a selection of characters from The Café with Five Faces. I’ve also brought a lot of photographs; these can be seen here.

I enjoyed looking at the photos very much Chaelli, though as a tea drinker who never drinks coffee I haven’t a clue what third-wave coffee means!

I could also bring along a song or two by Jimez, my failed writer, but that might be asking for trouble!

It might indeed! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Cafe with Five Faces. Tell you what, as I never drink coffee, you make your favourite for me to try whilst I tell blog readers more about The Café with Five Faces.

The Cafe with Five Faces

cafe with 5

The Café with Five Faces, hardly surprisingly, is a café with five distinct areas, each named after a city or town with which the author has a special affinity. Although there is some crossover between the rooms, both in terms of characters and storylines, each space has its own central themes.

Beirut is a room for personal stories and aspired or failed romance, usually of the latter variety (and the author is well-versed in the latter). Budapest is a room for aspiring artists, writers and musicians, usually of the thwarted variety (and, again, the author has relevant experience). Cape Town is a room mainly for men and mainly for politics, exclusively of the pro-liberal and anti-Brexit persuasion, with a bit of football thrown in for good measure. Granada is an outdoor space for raconteurs of travel anecdotes for readers suffering from wanderlust. Last, but not least, Hebden Bridge is a Yorkshire-style tearoom frequented by the over-fifties and just a little bit gossipy.

There’s something for everyone – just choose your room with care!

The Cafe with Five Faces is available for purchase here.

About Chaelli Cattlin

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Chaelli Cattlin is a traveller, observer and coffee fanatic. His ‘day job’, teaching English, has given him a lifetime of travel and his natural nosiness has helped him to get to know and observe people from all around the world.

These days, he is studying for a Diploma in Coffee Skills and has so far taken courses in Beirut, London, Cape Town, Bogotá and Villa de Leyva (Colombia). He as picked coffee on two different estates in Colombia. His focus is ‘third wave’ / ‘speciality’ brewing methods, such as Chemex, V60, Aeropress and Siphon, although he has been trained in Barista skills working with espresso-based coffees as well.

He has been a writer for a long time, starting with children’s adventure stories written when barely a teen, through to materials and courses for English language teachers, and an as yet unpublished travelogue.

Chaelli Cattlin lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

You’ll find more on Facebook and you can follow The Cafe with Five Faces on Twitter @thecafewith5fa1, or visit the website.

Slow Slicing by Tony J Forder

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I’m delighted to be helping begin the blog tour for Slow Slicing by Tony J Forder on publication day today. My thanks to Sarah at Book on the Bright Side for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Slow Slicing, the seventh book in his DI Bliss series.

Being a local author to me Tony is a regular here on Linda’s Book Bag and we have met several times in person. Covid 19 permitting, we’re looking forward to welcoming Tony to The Deepings Literary Festival in 2021.

I ‘stayed in’ with Tony to discuss Scream Blue Murder in a post you can read here and I shared my review of that book here.

Other posts include:

My review of Endless Silent Scream here

A guest piece from Tony about The Cold Winter Sun imperative you will find here,

A  moving post about becoming a writer here when Bad to the Bone was published

Tony also told us about writing outside his comfort zone here

His characters Bliss and Chandler from The Scent of Guilt introduced each other here.

Published today, 10th August 2020, Slow Slicing is available for purchase here.

Slow Slicing

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WHEN DEATH BECOMES THE KINDEST CUT OF ALL

When slices of flesh and body parts are discovered in different areas of the country, DI Bliss and his team are tasked with running the operation. After Bliss realises the victims have been subjected to a specific form of torture, it leads him to a cold case involving the brutal and bloody murder of a woman in London twenty-six years earlier.

As the team discover links between their victims, the murdered woman, and gangland crime, they begin a dangerous investigation into both the past and the present. But Bliss is stumped, unable to decide if the current spate of mutilations are acts of revenge or the result of ageing criminals seeking to hide their despicable actions. Following a leak to the media, Bliss’s reaction may have dire consequences.

With the hunt for the victims at fever point, Bliss uncovers evidence steering him in the direction of one particular individual. The only problem being, his prime suspect is the one person it cannot possibly be. When Bliss orders a sting operation, the astonishing truth is revealed. And that’s when things really start to go wrong…

My Review of Slow Slicing

Jimmy Bliss has his work cut out – literally – in this new case!

There’s a real skill in writing the seventh book in a series that doesn’t need readers to have encountered the series before in order to enjoy it completely. Tony J Forder has that skill in spades. Slow Slicing may be book seven in the DI Bliss series but it works equally well as a stand alone book.

I would say that those of a nervous disposition should look away now. I found some of the descriptions in Slow Slicing very gruesome and way beyond my normal comfort zone, but still essential and integral to the plot so that they never felt gratuitous. Indeed, although I had to read some elements through narrowed eyes, I found these passages helped me understand just how such crimes could work.

Insight into the workings of police investigations is threaded carefully throughout so that there’s credibility and status behind the storytelling. The plot is deviously constructed so that it is both credible and surprising. It did make me wonder how on Earth Tony J Forder came up with such a riveting story because it is exciting, entertaining and utterly surprising.

Used to Tony J Forder’s accurate descriptions of the Peterborough area near my home that always bring pleasure, this time I relished the added geographical, cultural and historical details that I wasn’t expecting. I felt this added a richness to the storytelling, making for a very satisfying read.

I really appreciated the manner in which the cold case linked to this investigation gave the feeling, through Bliss’s reactions, that the police do care about victims, even a quarter of a century on – that there is the potential for humanity within an establishment that is sometimes viewed as uncaring and remote from the very people it is supposed to support and protect. Whilst there are still those within Tony J Forder’s police who are less than perfect, the humanity feels like something a reader can really relish.

Bliss’s underlying loneliness comes through so well too. There’s a lesson to be learnt here. Slow Slicing isn’t just a cracking crime story, but a lesson in not making ourselves detached from feelings and humanity. Bliss shows how we all, regardless of what we might believe, need companionship and a sense of belonging. This element balanced the more cruel and violent aspects perfectly I thought.

Although Slow Slicing had the elements of story-telling, policing and character I have come to expect from reading Tony J Forder’s work, this time it felt somehow darker and even more accomplished. I thought Slow Slicing was an excellent read.

About Tony J Forder

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Tony J Forder is the author of the bestselling crime thriller series featuring detectives Jimmy Bliss and Penny Chandler. The first four books, Bad to the BoneThe Scent of GuiltIf Fear Wins, and The Reach of Shadows, were joined by The Death of Justice, on 9 September 2019 with book number six, Endless Silent Scream, on 9 March 2020.

Tony’s dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, featuring ex-detective Frank Rogers, was also published by Bloodhound Books. This is a stand-alone serial-killer novel. Scream Blue Murderan action-adventure thrillerwas published in November 2017, and received praise from many, including fellow authors Mason Cross, Matt Hilton and Anita Waller. The sequel, Cold Winter Sunwas published in November 2018.

Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK, and is now a full-time author.

You can follow Tony on Twitter @TonyJForder, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

You’ll find all Tony’s books here and he’s also on Goodreads and Fantastic Fiction.

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The Secret Letters by Taryn Leigh

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Having been privileged to reveal the cover for Taryn Leigh’s The Secret Letters a few weeks ago, I am delighted to be sharing my review today as part of the blog rour run by Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources.

The Secret Letters is published today 9th August 2020 and is available for purchase on Amazon and all online bookstores, as well as from the Taryn Leigh directly.

The Secret Letters

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Rachel, saved from an attack twelve years before by a faceless stranger, never got to thank him, never knew his name.

Despite the devastation she chose to rise above it to help others from their pain by becoming a psychologist… Her only issue now is that she’s an expert at fixing everyone else’s problems, and blind to her own.

After a long relationship with her boyfriend Will starts to go south, she turns to her best friend Amelia for guidance.

Suddenly her world is turned upside down when tragedy strikes and she’s left with no one to comfort her but Will’s rude older brother Ruari.

Paralysed by fear, she struggles to take grip of her life, until the day when anonymous letters begin to appear from the stranger who saved her twelve years before.

My Review of The Secret Letters

Rachel deals with others’ problems but isn’t good at dealing with her own.

The Secret Letters is a highly entertaining story that I really enjoyed. Whilst I was able to guess many of the plot reveals, this was by no means detrimental to the read because Taryn Leigh structures her novel in a very satisfying way. There’s a super balance between dramatic moments and quieter aspects so that The Secret Letters feels complete and rewarding.

One of the elements that I thoroughly enjoyed was the sense of place. I’ve loved visiting South Africa in the past and The Secret Letters enabled me to visit an area, Pretoria, that I haven’t been to and to relive some of the experiences, like safaris, that I have been on. The descriptions of food too add an extra element of realism that left me feeling quite hungry at times.

I found Rachel an intriguing character. She can be insightful and completely blinkered. She can be generous and selfish. She is both strong and vulnerable, occasionally behaving foolishly and recklessly so that she embodies traits that so many readers will recognise. On occasion I found myself desperate to tell her to do something differently!

Whilst the plot is quick and entertaining it was the exploration of theme in The Secret Letters that appealed to me most. Taryn Leigh has a sensitive insight into the way we can be self-delusional, how our past can so deeply affect our lives and how true family and friendship is something that doesn’t always come easily but might need to be worked on in order to thrive. The impact of fear on an individual is almost tender in its portrayal.

The Secret Letters is an entertaining narrative with a real sense of humanity running through it. I enjoyed reading it.

About Taryn Leigh

Taryn

Taryn Leigh is a South African Author, who spent her childhood with her nose buried in books. Her love for reading transpired into her ambition to become an Author.

Taryn Leigh’s first book, Perfect Imperfections, is available in Paperback, eBook and AudioBook. She lives in Pretoria with her husband and son.

Find out more by visiting Taryn’s website, finding her on Instagram and Facebook or following her on Twitter @tarynleighbook. You can also join her fan group on Facebook for giveaways and special news: Taryn Leigh’s Official Fan Group.

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All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle

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It’s a few years since I was first overawed by meeting Mike Gayle at one of those glorious rooftop book events at Carmelite House, so featuring Mike’s latest book, All the Lonely People, here today, is some compensation as those events can’t go ahead at the moment. I am trying to persuade Mike to be part of the Deepings Literary Festival next year so you never know! My grateful thanks to Jenny Platt for inviting me to participate in the All The Lonely People blog tour and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

All the Lonely People is available for purchase here.

All the Lonely People

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Hubert Bird is not alone in being alone.

He just needs to realise it

In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.

But Hubert Bird is lying.

The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.

Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.

Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.
Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .

Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?

My Review of All the Lonely People

Hubert Bird is living a life of loneliness.

All the Lonely People is a wonderful book that I loved because Mike Gayle gets to the very heart of humanity and finds its potential in spite of adversity and trying times. I finished reading All the Lonely People with joy in my heart and a tear in my eye.

There isn’t the dramatic fast paced plot that writhes with tortuous twists and turns that so many books rely on in All the Lonely People, but instead Mike Gayle presents a simultaneously heart-breaking and uplifting insight into humanity through a completely plausible, and therefore all the more compelling, narrative that hooked me, held me and changed me. I feel a better person for the experience of reading this book. All the Lonely People made me fully appreciate my own life.

I fell in love with Hubert Bird instantly. His direct speech develops his character so convincingly. I think the fact his name was my wonderful, much missed Dad’s middle name, predisposed me to think positively of him, but it’s more than that. Hubert is a true gentleman, an Everyman of the modern era, but he is also realistically flawed, stubborn, proud and doesn’t always help himself. As result I wanted to crawl into the pages of All the Lonely People and hug him tightly. I think he’ll remain with me for a very long time.

However, All the Lonely People is so much more than character and plot. The setting and the people in it could be transported to any area because the themes are so utterly relevant to modern society. It’s difficult to define just how Mike Gayle has done so, but he has shone a light onto the very fabric of modern Britain, found it wanting and offered a possible solution that I genuinely believe could change lives for the better. A sense of community, of belonging, and the means to achieve it, is woven throughout this fabulous book in a way that touches the heart of the reader.

Other themes of love, family, relationships, racism, class, mental health, employment to name but a few, swirl through the writing, especially in Hubert’s early life in Britain, having arrived from Jamaica, so that there is an element to resonate with every reader. Although secondary to the action, I found Hubert’s relationship with David, for example, incredibly affecting. The themes of All the Lonely People are so pertinent and so sensitively handled. It’s heartbreaking to think much of the prejudice Hubert experienced on arrival in London still lurks in our society and so many are experiencing the loneliness he finds in his life.

All the Lonely People is a gorgeous exploration of love, friendship and community that I cannot praise highly enough. I feel privileged to have read it. I thought it was utterly wonderful.

About Mike Gayle

Mike Gayle

Mike Gayle was born and raised in Birmingham. After graduating from Salford University with a degree in Sociology, he moved to London to pursue a career in journalism and worked as a Features Editor and agony uncle. He has written for a variety of publications including The Sunday Times, the Guardian and Cosmopolitan. Mike became a full time novelist in 1997 following the publication of his Sunday Times top ten bestseller My Legendary Girlfriend, which was hailed by the Independent as ‘full of belly laughs and painfully acute observations,’ and by The Times as ‘a funny, frank account of a hopeless romantic’. Since then he has written thirteen novels including Mr CommitmentTurning Thirty and The Man I Think I Know. His books have been translated into more than thirty languages.

For more information, find Mike on Facebook, visit his website or follow him on Twitter @mikegayle.

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The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce

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My enormous thanks to Rosie Margesson at Headline for sending me a copy of The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce in return for an honest review. I was thrilled to receive it as I loved Harriet’s debut Blood Orange and you can see my review of that book here. I was delighted to meet Harriet Tyce at a bookish event that you can read about here, because Blood Orange was one of my Books of the Year in 2019.

Published on 23rd July 2020, The Lies You Told is available for purchase through the links here.

The Lies You Told

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Can you tell the truth from the lies?

Sadie loves her daughter and will do anything to keep her safe.

She can’t tell her why they had to leave home so quickly – or why Robin’s father won’t be coming with them to London.

She can’t tell her why she hates being back in her dead mother’s house, with its ivy-covered walls and its poisonous memories.

And she can’t tell her the truth about the school Robin’s set to start at – a school that doesn’t welcome newcomers.

Sadie just wants to get their lives back on track.

But even lies with the best intentions can have deadly consequences…

My Review of The Lies You Told

Coming back to London from America isn’t the panacea Sadie hopes!

What a thoroughly gripping, unpleasant and compelling book The Lies You Told is. I had a horrible feeling of dread throughout so that by the time I’d finished reading it I felt quite wrung out.

I have no idea how Harriet Tyce’s mind works to write like this, but as the plot advances, threads tie up and reveals happen, there’s a sensation of having been taken into a story that begins innocuously enough, before slamming the reader into a twisted and ugly world.

To begin with I wasn’t entirely sure of the pace, but my goodness, having read the book, I understand how that initial slow burn was absolutely essential to the success of the narrative. Indeed, I think The Lies You Told would reward multiple readings fully to appreciate how cleverly it is plotted and written. The structure of the book mirrors the experiences Sadie has, so that the reader is irresistibly involved in the action too.

Characterisation is cracking. Harriet Tyce shines a laser focus on the bitchy, selfish aspirations of the privileged middle classes and the Establishment so that I found myself seething with indignation and anger as I read. Her depiction of motherhood is both entertaining and totally alarming as she illustrates how lives can change as a result of one comment or action and as she blows apart the conventional concept of motherly love. Reading The Lies You Told made me extremely glad that I have never had children of my own. Add in the legal elements, and The Lies You Told becomes a narrative that can be enjoyed on many levels.

The title is so fitting for the book as lies underpin so much of the action. Harriet Tyce manages to get her reader to trust no-one in all aspects of the narrative, making for a dynamic and dramatic story. I can’t say more for fear of spoiling the story, but there’s an awful lot here that resonates with some high profile people and events happening in the world today!

I loved the themes explored in The Lies You Told too. Of course there are relationships considered at many levels, but the professional ones and those between mother and child shine through. With swirling ambition, power, bullying, manipulation, jealousy and deception, The Lies You Told is a book that uncovers the dangers and corruption lurking at the very heart of society.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first began reading The Lies You Told. What I got was a super thriller of a read that kept me gripped. Great stuff.

About Harriet Tyce

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Harriet Tyce grew up in Edinburgh and studied English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford University before practising as a criminal barrister for the next decade.  After having children she left the Bar and completed with distinction an MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia. Blood Orange was her first novel.

You can follow Harriet on Twitter @harriet_tyce and visit her website for more details. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

Hush Little Baby by Jane Isaac

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Although I’m cutting right back on blog tours and am, with a few exceptions, taking as much of August off from blogging as I can, I simply had to support lovely Jane Isaac and her new thriller Hush Little Baby – not least because I still owe her a scone from our last meeting in real life! My thanks to Vicky Joss for inviting me to participate in the blog tour. As well as my review of Hush Little Baby, I have a fabulous, and slightly stomach turning, guest post from Jane today, all about research!

You’ll find other posts featuring Jane on the blog here.

Published by Aria on 23rd July 2020, Hush Little Baby is available for purchase here.

Hush Little Baby

Book cover

Someone stole a baby…

One sunny day in July, someone took three-month-old Alicia Owen from her pram outside a supermarket. Her mother, Marie, was inside. No one saw who took Alicia. And no one could find her.

They silenced her cry…

Fifteen years later, a teenager on a construction site sees a tiny hand in the ground. When the police investigate, they find a baby buried and preserved in concrete. Could it be Alicia?

But the truth will always out.

When Alicia disappeared, the papers accused Marie of detachment and neglect. The Owens never got over the grief of their child’s disappearance and divorced not long after. By reopening the case, DC Beth Chamberlain must reopen old wounds. But the killer may be closer than anyone ever suspected…

An Experiment in the Name of Research

A Guest Post by Jane Isaac

I love research. It underpins the stories we write. I’ll admit I probably do far too much of it. Sometimes it’s only for an odd sentence, sometimes it’s a thread that runs through the entire book. Research comes in all shapes and sizes, but after eight novels, there is nothing for me that matches the personal experiment I carried out for my latest book.

In Hush Little Baby, I have a victim buried in concrete. Concrete holds some preserving properties – a delicious fact if you’re a crime writer because it opens upmany possibilities for the story. But it presents problems too. My body had been immersed in a concrete block for several years when the casing was disturbed on a building site, uncovering the person inside. What would it look like after all this time? What DNA evidence would be available for identification purposes? These are areas I neededto answer so that readers could follow the story through the eyes of Beth, my investigating detective.

Researching these points proved quite tricky. I tried all my current forensic and pathology contacts and, needless to say, they could speculate on the DNA and forensic front but had never dealt with this particular situation and couldn’t be exactly sure what it would look like. I read books and researched online, but there hasn’t been a huge amount of research done on bodies buried in concrete and the science was quite complex; I needed a lay person’s explanation. I was struggling and beginning to wonder if I should drop the idea. Then I decided to do my own experiment.

One Sunday afternoon, I eyed up the pig’s shoulder my daughter got out of the fridge, ready to roast for dinner. And it gave me an idea. Research has taught me that pig is similar to human skin. Depending on conditions, most bodies breakdown during the first six months after death. Why don’t I bury the pig’s shoulder in a bucket of concrete and leave it in my garden for a while?

So, much to the delight of my neighbours (and the disgust of my daughter – I won’t tell you what we ate for dinner that Sunday!), hubby and I took a little trip to the local DIY store, bought some concrete mix and did just that. The bucket sat in my garden for many months with a pot plant sitting on top. I knew it was completely sealed because the flies stayed away and my dogs showed no interest.

Fast forward to last May. Remember that beautiful hot bank holiday weekend? We were having quiet family time, catching up with jobs around the house while neighbours BBQ’d with friends and families in the surrounding gardens. I remember finishing my chores, sitting in the garden and eyeing up the bucket. The meat had been encased for almost a year; it was time to find out what it looked like inside.

The pot plant was moved. My hubby got his sledge hammer out of the shed and whacked the plastic bucket hard. The concrete smashed open. And for the first few seconds it was an extraordinary sight – the pig’s shoulder was exactly the same as when it was buried – the meat was pink and raw; even the skin hadn’t discoloured. What we didn’t realise was that as soon as it hit the air, it would go into rapid deterioration. By rapid, I mean super quick – the smell was putrid! And our neighbours were having these lovely BBQs with their loved ones only metres away…

Cue panic. Hubby broke up the concrete, burnt off the remnants of meat still attached to the stone, wrapped it in bags and disposed of it in the bin. I thought hard. What could I do with the joint to stop it smelling? I couldn’t put it in the wheelie bin like that. So, thinking on my toes, I wrapped it in a bag and put it in our freezer. Frozen meat doesn’t smell, right? I planned to put it out on refuse collection day.

When we’d finally finished clearing up, hubby and I came inside. But no matter how much we cleaned and showered and changed, the fetid odour still hung in the air. We thought it was in our noses, sprayed air freshener, lit candles. Eventually the smell faded and we went to bed.

The following morning, I came downstairs and could immediately smell rotting meat. We had friends coming for brunch, I needed to start cooking. But something wasn’t right. I opened the freezer and the stench slapped me in the face.

Brunch turned out to be takeaway of sorts eaten in the garden that day. Ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive my hubby was driving out of our village – the pig’s shoulder in a carrier bag hanging out of the driver window because he wouldn’t have it in the car – off to bury the rotting meat at the edge of a disused airfield nearby. And I was emptying my freezer in case the smell had infiltrated the other food in there!

I’ve since found a wonderful scientist and former crime scene manager who specialises in bodies buried in concrete and she has been wonderfully helpful with my research. But I’ll never forget that weekend we broke into our concrete. Needless to say, my expert was incredibly interested in our experiment!

Jane, that’s hilarious. I’m never coming to you for a BBQ or a roast dinner. Now I’ve read Hush Little Baby I can see why you needed to conduct this research!

My Review of Hush Little Baby

A cold case might only be the beginning!

I thoroughly enjoyed Hush Little Baby. Indeed, I had originally said I couldn’t review in time for today’s blog post but I began reading just to get a feel for the book following Jane Isaac’s guest post and before I knew it I was engrossed in the story!

Although Hush Little Baby is the third in the DC Beth Chamberlain series, it didn’t matter at all that I hadn’t read the previous book in the series because Jane Isaac’s plotting is so cleverly constructed there was enough information to give me all the detail I needed without adversely impacting on this narrative or slowing it down. There’s a wonderful sense of control in the writing that means it’s a pleasure simply to lose yourself in the plot. There’s a fast pace, partly achieved through short, impactful chapters, and partly through the twists and turns of the case so that Hush Little Baby is equally convincing and exciting and totally entertaining. I found the dialogue very realistic too.

Beth is a smashing character. She is all the more appealing to me because she doesn’t have the unrealistic baggage that so many female characters in police narrative seem to be overburdened with. Certainly she has a past and her vulnerabilities and anxieties, but these feel integral and natural making her someone I believe in completely.

As well as enjoying the story and characters, I found the underlying themes of Hush Little Baby compelling too. The impact of the past on the present, how we construct our own truths and memories, and how we judge others, are concepts that slip along underneath the plot so that there is a hugely satisfying depth to the story that made me think. Resolutions in life are not always neatly sewn up and choices are not always easy to make. Jane Isaac presents these ideas sensitively so that they have real impact.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hush Little Baby and am delighted that the book ends with potential for a future story with Beth Chamberlain. I shall look forward to reading it.

About Jane Isaac

jane

Jane Isaac is married to a serving detective and they live in rural Northamptonshire, UK with their daughter and dogs. Jane’s debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, introduces DCI Helen Lavery and was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’

The Truth Will Out, the second in the DCI Helen Lavery series, was nominated as ‘Thriller of the Month – April 2014’ by E-thriller.com and winner of ‘Noveltunity book club selection – May 2014’.

Jane’s ninth novel, Hush Little Baby, is the third in the highly acclaimed DC Beth Chamberlain (Family Liaison Officer) series.

You can follow Jane Isaac on Twitter @JaneIsaacAuthor and visit her web site. Jane is also on Facebook.

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The Siege of Caerlaverock by Barbara Henderson

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I adore Barbara Henderson’s children’s fiction and so I’m genuinely thrilled to be starting off the blog tour for her latest book The Siege of Caerlaverock by hosting a wonderful guest post and sharing my review.

In case you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Barbara’s children’s books before, I have featured several here on Linda’s Book Bag. You will find:

My review of Fir For Luck here (also one of my books of the year in 2016).

A smashing guest post from Barbara about Fir For Luck publication day here.

Another super post from Barbara about why a book launch matters to celebrate Punch here.

A guest post from Barbara about nature and my review of Wilderness Wars here.

A guest post about novels and novellas and my review of Black Water here.

The Siege of Caerlaverock will be published by Cranachan imprint Pokey Hat on 6th August 2020 and is available for pre-order here.

The Siege of Caerlaverock

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Enemies within.

Enemies without.

Nowhere to hide.

12-year-old Ada is a laundress of little consequence, but the new castle commander Brian de Berclay has his evil eye on her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have secretly fed the young prisoner in the tower.

But when the King of England crosses the border with an army over 3000 strong, Ada, her friend Godfrey and all at Caerlaverock suddenly find themselves under attack, with only 60 men for protection.

Soon, rocks and flaming arrows rain from the sky over Castle Caerlaverock—and Ada has a dangerous choice to make.

Heraldic Poetry behind The Siege of Caerlaverock

A Guest Post by Barbara Henderson

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To tell you the truth, I have always been drawn to coats of arms. I walked past our family one, framed in the hallway of my parents’ house, every day of my childhood (I was born a ‘Haas’). It was displayed as an example of an old family crest at our nearest medieval castle, and I was a frequent visitor throughout my childhood and youth, particularly during the annual medieval festival with re-enactments – you got in free if you dressed up in medieval attire. Who could resist that?

Caerlaverock photo Barbara Henderson

I do love a good castle ruin too – you know, the kind that leaves a lot to the imagination. But I was also fascinated by heraldry in general – the symbolism, the motto, the flattery in the poetry. You could think of heraldry as a precursor to PR – it managed how a family or clan was perceived.

When I visited Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries with my family, I had no idea that I was about to be assailed by a new story which would conquer my heart to the extent that I simply had to write it. I often see displays in museums and castles which interest me, but this exhibition on a medieval siege was utterly compelling – because it came with a story attached! A medieval heraldic poem about the siege survives to this day, and it gives us a unique insight into the events which took place exactly 720 years ago this summer.

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The poem was written in the fashionable French, most likely by a court poet to the King:

In chronicles of great monasteries
It is found that King Edward […]
In the year one thousand three hundred
Of grace, on the day of Saint John,
Was at Carlisle, and held a great court,
And commanded that in a short time
All his men should prepare themselves,
To go together with him
Against his enemies the Scots.
Before the appointed day
The whole host summoned was ready;
And the King with his great household
Immediately set forward against the Scots.

I found it so exciting to read the description of this great train of warriors, their horses and banners and tents. Each of the 87 knights travelling with the King is described separately, with their heraldic symbols and heroic deeds mentioned while the vast army of archers and soldiers remain unnamed.

It is likely that the author was a court poet due to the flattery he uses, portraying Edward as fierce but fair:

‘The King is dreadful, fierce and proud…nevertheless, he is soon reanimated with gentle kindness, if they seek his friendship and are willing to come to his peace.’ As a storyteller, I had to decide whether to ‘buy’ some of the more positive portrayals of the King’s actions, as a court poet may not always have told the truth. My story was from the point of view of the besieged, so I skipped through some of the poem detailing all the King’s most valued knights. One of the squadrons was led by the Crown Prince, so this campaign was a bit of a who’s-who of the royal elite. Once they get there, the description of the castle is striking (and I agree wholeheartedly with the last lines!):

Caerlaverock was a castle so strong

 that it did not fear siege…

It was formed like a shield,

for it had only three sides in circuit,

with a tower at each angle…

with a drawbridge, well made and strong.

It had also good walls and good ditches,

all filled to the edge with water;

and I believe you will never see 

a castle more beautifully situated than it.’

Nevertheless, over the next couple of days, the 60+ defenders of Caerlaverock were no match for the ‘three thousand brave men at arms’. The poet details the violent resistance from within the castle:

‘Huge stones showered upon them,

And quarrels and arrows

That with wounds and bruises

They were so wearied and exhausted

That it was with great difficulty they retired.’

But the greatest moment for me came when the poem mentioned the ‘Lady of the castle’! So many knight-stories focus on warfare, jousting and valour that the female characters all but disappear. I had already resolved to tell the story from the point of view of a female servant, but this was remarkable – the decision maker at Caerlaverock at the time may well have been a woman!

Caerlaverock eventually ‘begged for peace and put out a pennon’. According to the poet, the King ‘gave them life and limb, a to each a new robe.’ In other words, the King granted all the survivors mercy. Some medievalists do not believe this version of events, citing Edward I’s fearsome reputation for brutality, but according to an eminent medieval scholar, this is not an impossible version of events. Edward was at the very beginning of his campaign and may well have attempted to win over hearts and minds at this point.

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I remember being close to tears when I first read and annotated the poem. What a gift it was!

As I see it, historical fiction is like a washing line. There are certain fixed events and facts which hold the story in place – the pegs if you like. This heraldic poem gave me plenty of those! But in between those, the fabric can flutter whichever way the story takes it, bright and lively against the sky. I hope that The Siege of Caerlaverock captures some of the spectacle the castle dwellers would have witnessed all those centuries ago!

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My goodness, yes it does Barbara!

My Review of The Siege of Caerlaverock

Ada may only be a kitchen maid but she is in the thick of adventure.

Wow. The Siege of Caerlaverock is absolutely brilliant. I cannot praise it enough.

Steeped in meticulously researched history, this is no dry reimagining of true events, but a living, vibrant story that held me spellbound. I’m beginning to wonder if Barbara Henderson is some kind of enchantress as she seems to have the ability to transport her readers so completely to whatever it is she is writing about. Her use of the senses is hugely evocative so that reading The Siege of Caerlaverock is an absolute delight. The inclusion of historical detail is done at such a human level that the past leaps from the page through Barbara Henderson’s skilled and dramatic writing.

The story is completely compelling. The pace of the plot, the realistic settings, the exciting narrative; indeed, every element of the book is totally pitch perfect. My heart was thumping at times because the level of peril, the danger and the excitement were so masterfully conveyed.

I loved meeting Ada and Godfrey. They are imbued with such life and friendship in spite of their social differences and the brief time they spend together, that they resonate long after the last page of the story has been read. I’m wondering now what has happened to Ada because she feels so real. I loved the balance between Ada and Godfrey too because young readers can see that gender doesn’t have to define or constrain  an individual. Brian de Berclay makes for the kind of villain that turns the blood cold and yet is so fascinating it’s impossible not to be riveted by his presence.

I genuinely think Barbara Henderson may be the most talented children’s writer in a generation. I am awestruck by her skill. Her books are, quite simply, fantastic and The Siege of Caerlaverock is the latest in a wonderful body of work. Whatever you do, whether you have children in your family or are reading for yourself, don’t miss this one. It’s an absolute cracker.

About Barbara Henderson

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Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.

Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition.

Follow Barbara on Twitter @scattyscribbler for more information, and read her blog. You’ll also find her author page on Facebook.

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