The Winter Garden by Heidi Swain

I’m beginning to think lovely Heidi Swain appears on Linda’s Book Bag more frequently than I do, but I simply cannot resist her writing and although I really wasn’t going to accept any further blog tours for a while, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this tour for Heidi’s latest book, The Winter Garden. My grateful thanks to Harriett Collins at Simon and Schuster for inviting me to take part. It feels a bit of a privilege to be closing the tour.

In case you weren’t aware of how much I love Heidi’s writing, you’ll find the following posts on the blog:

My review of The Secret Seaside Escape here.

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 to celebate Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland, explaining exactly what Christmas means to her here.

Published by Simon and Schuster on 1st October 2020, The Winter Garden is available for purchase through the links here.

The Winter Garden

Will love bloom this winter?

Freya Fuller is living her dream, working as a live-in gardener on a beautiful Suffolk estate. But when the owner dies, Freya finds herself forced out of her job and her home with nowhere to go. However, with luck on her side, she’s soon moving to Nightingale Square and helping to create a beautiful winter garden that will be open to the public in time for Christmas.

There’s a warm welcome from all in Nightingale Square, except from local artist Finn. No matter how hard the pair try, they just can’t get along, and working together to bring the winter garden to life quickly becomes a struggle for them both.

Will Freya and Finn be able to put their differences aside in time for Christmas? Or will the arrival of a face from Freya’s past send them all spiralling?

The Winter Garden is the perfect read this Christmas, promising snowfall, warm fires and breath-taking seasonal romance. Perfect for fans of Carole Matthews, Cathy Bramley and Sarah Morgan.

My Review of The Winter Garden

Now, I know this is going to sound ridiculous in a book review, but reading Heidi Swain feels to me rather like coming home. I always pick up one of her books with trepidation, wondering if this time the magic of her writing won’t be there, and within half a dozen pages I know I’m in for another of her gorgeous, signature, heart warming stories brimming with love and community. The Winter Garden is no exception and I loved thoroughly enjoyed it.

Freya is a girl after my own heart. Her love of the natural world, her challenging mother, her interest in gardening (and in some of the men) in the narrative resonated with me completely. Reading about her in The Winter Garden felt as if I’d just caught up with a very dear friend. I could hear her natural voice chatting to me as I read her first person story. It was also a real treat to return to the characters I’ve met in Nightingale Square before in other Heidi Swain books. Add in the gorgeous Finn, the roguish Zak and abominable Jackson and there’s a cornucopia of new people to enjoy too. However, that said, my heart was most touched by Eloise. I found her wisdom and influence hugely affecting and I experienced a wistful longing to have met her. Even Nell gained my empathy and she’s not even human!

The plot is charming with a will they/won’t they narrative which I found very entertaining. Indeed, at one point I wasn’t quite sure which man might be Freya’s ultimate partner. I was expecting a happy ever after ending, but it wasn’t always clear I was going to get one and you’ll have to read The Winter Garden to see if I my expectations were fulfilled. What I always love about Heidi Swain’s writing is that community is at the heart of her stories. Whilst romance plays its part she illustrates beautifully that human connections, care and support are the glue that bind us all together. In today’s world I think The Winter Garden could be just the balm our frequently frazzled minds need. I felt Heidi Swain’s story telling took me back to nature and showed me true values in life.

The Winter Garden is a treat of a read. It’s perfect for a chilly winter afternoon or evening and transports the reader to a world where the path of true love may not always run smoothly, but my word, it’s worth the journey! The Winter Garden put a smile on my face and brought me happiness and I can’t think of anything better in these rather bleak times!

About Heidi Swain

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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, The Secret Seaside Escape and now The Winter Garden. 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

An Extract from Monte Carlo for Vagabonds by R.A. Dalkey

It’s a little over four years since R.A. Dalkey stayed in with me to chat all about Never Drive A Hatchback To Austria (And Other Valuable Life Lessons) in a post you can read here. Now Richard is off on another adventure and at a time when actual travel is denied so many of us, what could be better than to read an extract from his new book, Monte Carlo for Vagabonds?

Monte Carlo for Vagabonds is available for purchase through the links here.

Monte Carlo for Vagabonds

The world wants R.A. Dalkey to pay for hotel rooms and tickets, not travel around with a hammock and sneak free rides!

But R.A. Dalkey says ‘boo’ to that.

He’ll roll out his sleeping bag in Madrid’s red light district, nap on the streets of Monaco and furtively string up his hammock on Swiss farms. He’ll spontaneously teach English in Laos in exchange for rice. He’ll thumb rides anywhere from Timor to the Orange Free State. He’ll try smiling a lot, and see where it takes him. Most of the time it’s somewhere good.

As this collection of true travel stories will reveal, it doesn’t always go smoothly. Indonesian bush-fires chase him from his campsite. His shoes freeze solid in Siberia. He gets head-butted by an Albanian villager. He’s shaken by earthquakes and terrified by witching-hour excavations in Andorran valleys. And, incompetent as ever with ropes, his hammock has a habit of falling down in the middle of the night – with him in it.

Yet he wouldn’t have it any other way: travelling Dalkey-style delivers the richest of experiences. And as he shares the adventures few of us would brave, you’ll pick up gems about this crazy planet. Do you know which head of state was an Olympic bobsleigh competitor? Or how long your unattended bag will go untouched in Japan? Who’s eating all the ice cream in Pyongyang? And how do cats jump in Swedish?

Like that uncle with the rose-tinted specs and a grumpy anarchist student rolled into one, Dalkey turns up his nose at travel insurance and shows there’s more than one way to see a world that always steers us to play it safe…

An Extract from Monte Carlo For Vagabonds

The Kindness Of Strangers

Shkodra, Albania, September 2019

You know that feeling that somebody is watching you? I had it now. I tried to ignore it, but there was an insistence about it. Something in my peripheral vision was nagging at me.

I turned my head away from the sun dropping seductively over the distant hills of Montenegro, and looked out of the driver’s side window. And wasn’t completely surprised to discover an entire family looking at me in enquiring fashion.

At the front of the formation was a young-faced, attractive woman with pale skin and manicured eyebrows. She wore a lustrous green headscarf, along with the abaya that one still occasionally saw in Northern Albania. Hanging slightly behind her, a tall man with short brown hair, a moustache and carefully groomed whiskers following his jawline. Somewhere around their legs hovered an indeterminate number of children. It had to be the crew I’d just driven past on the road towards this village, only a couple of minutes before I turned into this farm track and parked up with a golden view over Lake Shkodra. They looked as though they might fancy a chat.

I rolled down the window.

“Hello,” smiled the woman, in the friendly, non-official sort of way I much prefer when it comes to unsolicited enquiries. “Where are you from?”

“South Africa!” I replied gaily. Then I waited for the usual puzzled reaction. Most places you go, people haven’t ever met a South African before. Either that or they want to know why you’re not black. Apart from that one moment in a Beijing hostel, my nationality has almost never failed as an ice-breaker.

But this lady seemed to take it all in her stride. “Well, I am Drita! This is Arber, my husband! Nice to meet you! So what are you doing here?”

That was a good question. At that precise moment I was watching the sunset, but details of what I would be doing thereafter were hazy. I’d just spent the day hiking up in the unforgettable scenery of the Accursed Mountains (that’s their name, genuine!) towards Kosovo, and the only plan I had was to find somewhere to park my hire car and nap for the night. I’d been toying with the idea of bunking down around here – perhaps even right here. A village amongst the fields outside the city of Shkodra would certainly offer a sounder, more peaceful site than anywhere closer to town would.

So I said: “Oh, I was just watching the sunset!”

“Well, do you have time for a coffee?” asked Drita. “We’re just going to see my parents. Their house is just over there.”

Just like that.

Did I have time to visit an authentic Albanian home as the guest of a highly hospitable, curious Albanian family? I think you know the answer by now. Moments like this were the Holy Grail of travel! The rarest of experiences – those money couldn’t buy and no tour guide had faked. Ever since things had worked out just fine with Mr Hans in Oslo all those years ago, I’d long had a policy of seizing invitations like this in much the same way a cowboy wrestles a calf to the ground. They didn’t come around all that often.

On those occasions when invitations like this had presented themselves, nothing but good had come of it. Saying ‘yes’ to exceedingly fresh acquaintances had led to classic Aussie barbecues in Adelaide, home-cooked Cantonese dinners in Guangzhou, giving English lessons in Laos, street cricket in Sri Lanka, spontaneous sake with drunken Japanese businessmen, dancing in Pyongyang parks, and – just two days earlier as I’d waited for the ferry to Durrës – getting served in a Bari restaurant that was extremely reluctant to consider waking up the chef as early as seven-thirty in the evening. The latter encounter with an Italian speaker had me more convinced than ever that the only reason not to engage people, accept invitations and be willing to hang with them was if you sensed a bad vibe. And on top of that were quite sure you weren’t imagining it.

So I grinned and said: “Why, yes I do! I’ve got all the time in the world, in fact.”

I proceeded to follow the family a few metres further along the rutted track, which curled downhill through the field. I cruised up to the back fence of what had to be Drita’s parents’ home. Then they waved me into the driveway in the gathering darkness.

Hospitality must have sat deep in the blood in this part of the world. Drita’s father had been given precisely zero warning that his daughter was going to bring a random stranger to visit. Yet he beamed with joy and greeted me like a long-lost son. It was as though my appearance was the cherry on top of his evening. (I briefly had my doubts about that when he tried to head-butt me along with his firm handshake, but I understood just in time that this must have been how men of his generation greeted each other around here.)

He ushered us through a typically spacious, orchard-like Balkan garden like a man on a mission. I was instantly reminded of Piotr, our man from the train to Pervouralsk. Dad didn’t speak anything but Albanian – and I’d gotten no further in the last 48 hours than finally mastering the five-syllable word for ‘thank you’ – but that sure wasn’t going to stop us having a chinwag. Not if he had anything to do with it.

Drita’s stocky father, whose eyes were still sharp and to whom a lifetime of country air had evidently been good, showed us into the house. As you’d expect of a parental abode in the country, it leaned towards the old school. Just what I wanted! We took off our shoes and were all invited into a large, minimalist lounge on the left. The armchairs, sofa and low coffee table took up only one corner of the room. Apart from a wall unit with a few photos and the like, there wasn’t a lot else to look at. But it didn’t matter, because this place palpably had the spirit of a happy home.

The old boy sank into his favourite armchair. (Have you ever met an old man without one?) Drita’s mother appeared – she also looked young and healthy for a grandparent, with her brown hair, switched-on face and ready smile. We all sat down, apart from the kids, whose number I could now firmly put at three and who were all younger than ten. They would proceed to spend most of the evening running in and out of the room. Between Drita’s basic English and Arber’s rudimentary German, we communicated after a fashion.

“My father says you’re a good boy!” translated Drita after the first grinning outburst from Dad.

“Well, he wouldn’t say that if he really knew me, but tell him I say thanks for having me. No, wait, I can say it myself! Fah…leh…min…DEH…rit!

Everyone was very impressed at that, despite my hopeless, halting delivery. It’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

Bukur!!” bellowed Dad in delight, slapping me on the knee.

I gathered that bukur meant something positive and good.

Schön,” confirmed Arber.

I nodded, and made a note to use the new term as soon as I got the chance. And as ‘coffee’ somehow turned to boiled sweets, soft drinks, raki and then a multi-plate buffet dinner, there were plenty of moments to press it into action. And each time, the old boy roared with glee. It’s amazing how one word can keep people who don’t speak the same tongue entertained for a whole evening.

But every now and then – like when Pops went to chase the kids around the house, or when Arber laid out a towel on the ground and performed evening prayers before dinner – I was left with an opportunity to reflect. I pondered the chances of this having happened if I’d been travelling the way normal people did. If I hadn’t been pottering about random fields in a car, with no place to go and half an eye on a good parking spot in which I could sleep, these people would never have chanced on me. No, I’d have been chewing listlessly on my dinner in some dire hotel canteen back in Shkodra. I was again reminded, too, of the value of travelling solo. Slim are the chances of sleeping in front seats when you’re on the road with the missus, at least in my experience. And a pair never looks as though it might be short of someone to talk to, either, and so a couple is far less likely to be approached by innocent, friendly strangers up for a chat.

It was only when the women withdrew to prepare dinner, brought all the food to our table and then proceeded to eat in some unseen separate room that I grasped quite how traditional an experience this evening really was. Northern Albania was nominally Muslim, though I’d seen (and heard) zero action around the mosques and minarets. I’d gotten the distinct impression that people in Albania weren’t at all religious in practice, but it seemed this family embraced the lifestyle to a greater degree than some. Yes, there was raki in the house, but this was purely for unsuspecting visitors. And though Mom didn’t wear a headscarf, Drita was one of very few women I’d seen wearing an abaya.

Being waited on to such a degree at dinner and then not be joined by the cooks was a little awkward for me at first, but I quickly distracted myself with the spread on the coffee table. Lamb on the bone, cheese, bread, potato and carrots kept me busy and enthusiastic enough that nobody noticed I was giving a wide berth to my culinary bête noire, the foul and disgusting tomato. Some consider me a fussy eater – rubbish, I say, the only thing I don’t eat is salad and all its ingredients! – but on nights like this one I did have my fears. I had no control over the menu! What if they brought great piles of tomatoes, olives, avocados and peppers – a realistic possibility in this part of the world – and I had to try and eat them? My stomach turned at the mere thought of having to gnaw my way through the sickly, salty horrors of an olive. But luckily the cooks guessed well.

They were certainly way more prepared to throw a banquet than I would have been if a traveller rocked up on my doorstep without warning. (Given the typically perilous state of my fresh supplies, they’d be lucky to get baked beans and crackers.) Domestic preparedness like this always impresses me. I wished I could have spoken to my hosts properly, but the language barrier is just such a thorny one after a while.

And Albanian was nothing if not impenetrable. It was famous for not being remotely related to any other language – you weren’t going to be able to pick up the odd word here and there, as you might with Dutch or Italian. It didn’t even sound like anything else, as I’d already gathered listening to the car radio. The only thing it reminded me of was, in fact, Irish Gaelic, and then only because of the way they said mirë, which meant ‘good’ and seemed to come up a lot. It’s not pronounced the way it looks. It’s pronounced in a way that rhymes with a Wicklow fishwife screeching at her kids to ‘c’mere’. I’d grown so familiar with mirë that I even slipped it in as an alternative to bukur now and then.

But despite my extensive vocabulary, conversation did start to run out at a certain point. At which Arber had the genius idea of video-calling his brother. Said sibling lived in Bristol and spoke terrific English. Seeing me enjoying North Albanian hospitality seemed almost to bring a tear to his eye. He spoke with great wistfulness about the old country and how well people were going to take care of me. He was lovely. Sometimes technology really is a marvel.

By the time the evening was ready to wrap up, my lowly plans for the night had become knowledge amongst the company. Thus it had been agreed that I could sleep over at Arber and Drita’s place in Shkodra itself. Well, I wasn’t going to complain at the chance to lie down on something soft! It’s very difficult, I have noticed over the years, for people not to make such offers after you tell them you’re planning to sleep in the car.

We said our goodnights and faleminderits to our hosts out in the garden. Just like before, Drita’s mother offered only a handshake. As for Dad, I was ready for the light butting of foreheads this time around. I decided it was a fun custom once you were used to it. You could pretend to be a goat for a moment, and I’m all for that.

We still had to get back to town, mind you. As far as I could gather, the plan was that we’d all pile into my hire car. No problem for me, of course, except I had a raki in my guts and Arber told me this was very bad. “Polizei!” he kept saying, suggesting that the limit here was zero and that he should take the wheel. Again, no problem for me, but was it a problem for the car rental people? I’d signed a bunch of stuff in Albanian and had no idea what it amounted to, but I knew for sure that car hire companies were forever being difficult about extra drivers. (A desperately irritating money-making thing almost certainly traceable to our friends in the insurance industry. Why can’t any person with a licence drive a given car? That’s why we have licences.)

It was a dilemma: did I drive ‘drunk’ or hand the keys to a guy who might prove to be an issue in the event of an inspection of the papers in the glove box? One thing I did know was that the chances of getting pulled over were truly outstanding. Never in my life had I driven in a country with so much roadside police presence. It was as though Enver Hoxha and his paranoid regime were still running the place. Most drivers seemed far more cautious than I had come to expect following previous trips to the Balkans, so I’d gotten the impression the locals took these patrols seriously too. I hadn’t yet had a spot-check, which gave me a nervous feeling that I was due. Especially on a Saturday night, every traffic officer’s favourite of the week.

Since I couldn’t explain my concerns about the extra driver thing in a way Arber would grasp, and thought perhaps an Albanian speaker would have more chance of explaining away such a ‘misdemeanour’ than my failing a breathalyser test, I decided to let him be our chauffeur. At least he knew the way. We’d probably get the journey over quicker.

In the event, he drove a little too slowly and carefully. We only had about ten kilometres to cover, but my how they dragged. I held my breath every time we saw lurking blue lights, which was often. I knew from bitter experience that crawling vehicles could attract as much attention as racing ones. And the longer we were on the road, the more exposure we had to the boys in blue. But I held my tongue and let him drive his way. It was with enormous relief that we pulled up outside his house unscathed after what felt like about an hour.

Then my heart sank – Arber discovered he’d left the house keys back at the in-laws’ place. You had to be kidding me! I’d only just dodged a free stay in an Albanian jail, and now we were going to have to make a return journey?

*

I love this extract. It really makes me want to pack my bags, put Monte Carlo for Vagabonds in my hand luggage and head off!

About R.A. Dalkey

R.A. Dalkey (nom de plume) was born in Cape Town, holds British citizenship and now lives halfway up a steep, wooded incline on the edge of Vienna. Between growing up amidst the euphoria and disappointments of post-Apartheid South Africa and settling (Brexit-permitting…) in Austria at 35, he’s lived in the USA, Australia and the UK.

An incorrigible dreamer, he’s driven outback trucks in Australia, spent two years trying to be a professional golfer and slept rough everywhere from Monte Carlo to Siberia, visiting over 70 countries along the way. Including Ireland, where he cracked up every time he rode the DART train past a town called Dalkey, and an author name was born.

As for the occasional bout of work, he’s known to do his fair share of editing magazines and writing. Under his own name, his words have been published by GQ, Reader’s Digest, The Sunday Times, Australian International Traveller, Die Presse, Autosport, Sports Illustrated and Reuters, to name just a handful.

For more information, find R.A. Dalkey on Instagram and Goodreads or follow him on Twitter @mygreenjacket.

Staying in with Michael Shotter

It’s so exciting ‘meeting’ new to me authors and today I am delighted to welcome Michael Shotter to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me all about his latest release.

Staying in with Michael Shotter

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Michael and 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?

The book I’m currently most excited about is Shards, which is a short-fiction anthology, and my most-recent release. It’s currently available as a paperback or Kindle Edition eBook at Amazon and is the first of my books that can be read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

How exciting. Congratulations. I’m beginning to develop a taste for short fiction Michael, so what can we expect from an evening in with Shards?

I think one of the strongest aspects of the book is that it has a little something for everyone. Each of the eight stories included in Shards has a bit of a different feel and touches on some different themes and concepts while staying true to the overarching literary style I’ve established over the past few years. As a result, there are moments that are a bit sci-fi, actiony, fanciful, mysterious, or even humorous. Still, I think the most potent, most recurring elements in the book tend to focus on horror as many of the characters find themselves in unsettling, often-terrifying situations via a variety of circumstances.

Shards sounds fascinating and as if there’s something for every reader. 

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

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I decided to bring along a few adult beverages, primarily to emphasize that Shards is a book that’s very much written for adults. Not that it’s particularly or excessively explicit but it certainly deals with some subjects that likely wouldn’t be appropriate for most young readers.

Now I’m intrigued!

That said, I could absolutely imagine at least a few folks choosing to curl up with Shards after a nice, stiff drink in anticipation of becoming a little, pleasantly freaked out, and ideally, thoroughly entertained.

I think that sounds an offer I can’t refuse Michael! You pour us one of those adult beverages and I’ll give blog readers a little more information about Shards. Thank you so much for staying in with me to tell me all about it.

Shards

When worlds collide, the effects can range from subtle to profound. In this first-ever, short-fiction collection from the author of 309 and The Big Men, experience the intrigue, excitement, and terror of such events from a variety of perspectives as each unique tale unfolds.

This collection includes the hit novelette, “Academic Displacement,” and seven all-new stories sure to please fans of thrilling, thought-provoking, and engaging prose.

Shards is available for purchase here.

About Michael Shotter

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

For more information about Michael and his writing, visit his Goodreads page, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @shotterwriting.

The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson by Lauren H. Brandenburg

My enormous thanks to Fern at Lion Hudson for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson by Lauren H. Brandenburg and for getting Lauren to stay in with me to chat all about the book. I’m delighted to host Lauren and to share my review of The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson too today. Not only that, but I have a smashing chance for one blog reader to win a paperback copy of The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson, along with Lauren’s first book, The Death of Mungo Blackwell. Details below!

Staying in with Lauren H. Brandenburg

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

Oh my goodness! Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s definitely worth the travel.

You’re very welcome. So, tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson. It’s such a cosy read for an evening in and is full of such lovely characters. I can’t wait for you to meet them! And it’s my newest release, so I hope you’ll get a few sneak peeks into my little village of Coraloo and all its goings-on.

I have actually met them Lauren and I’m sharing my review below. I very much enjoyed my trip to Coraloo! For those who’ve yet to go there, what can they expect from an evening in with The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson?

It’s definitely a story of love, traditions, superstitions, and finding yourself amidst distraction. I’m always a bumbling mess when I need to go on about my writing, so I’ll let one of my endorsers tell you what she thought: “In a sea of cookie-cutter novels, The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is a refreshing and imaginative tale of freshly sharpened scissors, feuding families, and finding peace in the bonds that truly bind us together. Brandenburg has again proven that she possesses that most rare and wonderful gift . . . the gift of storytelling.”

Wasn’t that so kind? Sigh… I melted at ‘storytelling’.

That’s a lovely summing up of The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson Lauren and one I completely agree with.

You can also expect to be wrapped up into an on-going festival and all the funny shenanigans that go into planning the most talked about wedding in the history of Coraloo.

That’s true! What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I have brought hot cocoas for us – my husband makes it for me every morning. I don’t really like coffee because it just doesn’t taste as good as it smells – my characters don’t favor it either. And I prefer to have tea in the early afternoon. So cocoa it is! Do you take marshmallows with your cocoa?

I most certainly do! You can come again if you’re going to bring drinks like this. I don’t drink coffee either for exactly the same reason so cocoa is perfect.

Because I prefer to shop local shops whenever possible, blueberry cake and lemon poppy seed cake from a friend’s bakery. She used to own a cupcake empire but has decided to try something new. And a super fun bookish fact: for the first-time readers see a bakery (not to be confused with the macaron shop in the flea market) in Coraloo – Torte di Jami. It’s actually named after my sister-in law Jami who makes fabulous cakes for any occasion… even weddings!

That looks wonderful. I’ll have a slice after our chat.

And… since The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is about a wedding, I thought I would share a wedding photograph with you from my own wedding. This is my most favorite of all our pictures because the photographer caught us spontaneously goofing off during our post-wedding photo session. Twenty years later and laughter still fills our marriage.

I’m very glad to hear that Lauren. It’s been lovely staying in with you to chat about The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson. Thanks so much for being here. You cut a slice of poppy seed cake whilst I tell Linda’s Book Bag readers all they need to know about The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson and The Death of Mungo Blackwell as I know they are going to want to read both books and maybe enter the giveaway to win copies.

The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson

Roy Blackwell has proposed to Margarette Toft. A controversial decision given their families are sworn enemies!

Soon Coraloo’s feuding clans are competing to organize events for the most talked about wedding of the year… and glorious chaos ensues! But as the depth of the two families’ animosity becomes clear, Roy and Margarette’s relationship begins to falter.

Then Roy unearths a town secret involving the mysterious marriage of Innis Wilkinson and a murder. Parallels between the past and present rock the couple even further.

But, as the whole truth comes to light, Roy and Margarette learn more than they could have imagined about love, family, and finding a place in the world.

Heart-warming and charming, The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson will inspire joy and laughter.

Published by Lion Hudson on 23rd October 2020, The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is available for purchase here.

The Death of Mungo Blackwell

Charlie Price, whose world has come crumbling down after a lapse in judgement leaves him unemployed, finds himself flung into the chaotic world of the Blackwells when he relocates to Coraloo with his socialite wife, Velveteen, and shy son, Gideon. Here Charlie attempts to make a living as a “picker”, reselling under-priced items he picks up at the market.

The Blackwells are a family with an extraordinary history and astounding traditions, which include attending their own funerals before they die! Their ways are questionable and their stories about deceased relatives are as bold as their red hair, but it is their eclectic wares that keep tourists coming back to their market in the town of Coraloo.

Some of the Blackwells welcome him with open arms, but others resent pickers and want him thrown out of the market .Charlie soon finds this new way of life under threat and his quest for simplicity seems to be crumbling. Perhaps it’s time for Charlie to have a funeral of his own…

Published by Lion Hudson, The Death of Mungo Blackwell is available for purchase here.

My Review of The Death of Innis Wilkinson

Roy Blackwell’s engagement to Margarette Toft might not be straightforward!

What an utterly beguiling story The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is. I found it charming, humorous, thoroughly entertaining, and quite unlike other books. I loved the dead pan manner with which Lauren H. Brandenburg dropped the most unlikely of comments into her narrative so that I had to keep doing a double take. This added a smashing depth of pleasure. Reading The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson reminded me of the television series Pushing Daisies because of the unusual narrative style mixed with wonderful humour.

Although the narrative has both historical dates and present day modernity with the internet for example, the Coraloo setting and the kaleidoscope of characters gives the story a timeless feel that is thoroughly engaging. As a result, I think the appeal of The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson will endure long after other stories feel passé. Add in the attention to detail, the wonderful descriptions provided by Lauren H. Brandenbug and this is a story that has the effect of a pebble in a pond. Meanings, links and connections ripple across the narrative in a mesmerising manner.

So many themes and connections hold this narrative together, much like the lace on the ancient wedding dress. Echoes of Romeo and Juliet, need, identity, missed opportunity, love and appreciating what might be right under our noses if only we took the time to look give depth and poignancy amongst the humour and entertainment.
There’s a gentle story that escalates the closer Roy and Margarette get to their wedding and that is woven between stands of historical feuds and events that I found totally absorbing, but the real joy in reading The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is the characterisation. I loved Roy and Margarette unreservedly. They are a constant amongst the eccentric people living in Coraloo whose singular and individual behaviours are hugely entertaining.
Offbeat, quirky and utterly charming with a hint of romance, magic, murder and menace, The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson is a smashing story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I really recommend it.

Giveaway

For your chance to win a paperback copy of BOTH The Death of Mungo Blackwell and The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson, click here. Open internationally. The giveaway closes at UK Midnight on Sunday 1st November 2020. The publisher is responsible for sending the prize.

About Lauren H. Brandenburg

Lauren H. Brandenburg is a mentor, speaker, and author who happily blurs the lines between traditional genres. She is the author of The Death of Mungo Blackwell and The Marriage of Innis Wilkinson. As a former English teacher, and now homeschooling mom, Lauren combines her love of “the what if” with her spirit of adventure and faith to delight and encourage readers young and old. She lives with her husband, Jamie, and two children in a lovely little town just south of Nashville, Tennessee where they laugh a lot.

For more information, visit Lauren’s wonderful website here, and follow her on Twitter @LHBrandenburg and on Instagram lhbrandenburg.

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The death of the sentence by Richard Doyle

I don’t read enough experimental writing so I am grateful to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Richard Doyle’s The death of the sentence. I’m sharing my review today.

Independently published, The death of the sentence is available for purchase here.

The death of the sentence

The death of the sentence is the debut role of the writer; the plight of the poetry pamphlet; an inventive homage; science in the novel; science fiction in the real world; prose spaceship and singular music; both fun –

Simple in style yet steeped in emotion, I recommend The death of the sentence for poetry newbs and aficionados alike – Dystopic.co.uk

My Review of The death of the sentence

A collection of experimental writing.

Given that The death of the sentence is only a few pages long, Richard Doyle packs an enormous amount into this collection. Featuring both poetry and prose the reader can dip in and find much to ponder.

My favourite piece was My novel as it made me think about the books I’ve read and to see if I could think of a work to fit each of Richard Doyle’s categories so that reading The death of the sentence became an interactive experience.

Richard Doyle’s writing techniques are fascinating. His use of repetition in alive, for example, creates a feeling of history repeating itself whilst providing an oxymoronic intimate distance between the two voices. So much of what is written can be interpreted on many levels giving the reader cause to think. Pushbike Passion may well have a literal sense with a bicycle tyre puncture, but the impression of emotional hurt, possibly even of religious iconography, gives many layers to appreciate and this is true of the pieces across the collection.

Underpinning all the writing in The death of the sentence is a sensation of unfulfilled desire and ambition that I think would resonate with any aspiring writer as well as with readers. It is as if Richard Doyle feels he has not achieved his potential. Add in the many literary references, with images of the galaxies and nature, and there is a profound sense of the universal insignificance of humankind that I found affecting and thought provoking.

I am aware that my comments are very much my own personal responses to The death of the sentence and I think this is what makes it work so well. Richard Doyle’s writing is obviously personal to him but it affords the reader an opportunity to consider their own life and their role in the world. I found The death of the sentence very interesting.

About Richard Doyle

Richard Doyle is an old-school SF fan who began writing seriously in 2001. He has a Diploma in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and collaborated on a book in 2006. He has had poems published in the UK poetry magazines Orbis and Sarasvati and is a regular member of the Bristol Stanza Poetry Group.

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Endless Skies by Jane Cable

It’s far, far, too long since Jane Cable appeared on Linda’s Book Bag with a guest post explaining how the past is never dead, to celebrate her novel Another You. You can read that post here and it is equally relevant to Endless Skies! Today, with thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in this blog blitz, I’m delighted to share my review of Jane’s latest book, Endless Skies.

Endless Skies is available for purchase here and is 99p in ebook until the end of today.

Endless Skies

As archaeologist Rachel excavates a World War Two airfield, could a love story from the past hold a lesson for her as well?

After yet another disastrous love affair Rachel has been forced to leave her long-term position for a temporary role as an Archaeology Lecturer at Lincoln University. Rachel has sworn off men and is determined to spend her time away clearing her head and sorting her life out. But when one of her students begins flirting with her, it seems she could be about to make the same mistakes again…

She distracts herself by taking on some freelance work for local property developer, Jonathan Daubney. He introduces her to an old Second World War RAF base. And from her very first visit something about it gives Rachel chills…

As Rachel makes new friends and delves into local history, she is also forced to confront her own troubled past. Could a wartime love story have any bearing on her own situation? Could this time be different?

My Review of Endless Skies

Rachel’s new job might be interesting!

I thoroughly enjoyed Endless Skies because it has a wonderful blend of history and modernity that borders the mystical but retains total credibility so that I found it fascinating. It’s a cracking multi-layered love story too.

One of the aspects of Endless Skies that I absolutely loved was its Lincolnshire setting. My home county rarely features in fiction and Jane Cable manages to create its atmosphere and aviation history so vividly without over dominating the story. The references to Hemswell and the antique centre took me right back there and added an extra layer of pleasure to my reading. Jane Cable has a deft touch in providing enough physical detail to paint a picture but without slowing the plot and I found her direct speech utterly natural so that I felt as if I were listening in to Rachel’s conversations. This all combined to immerse me into teh narrative.

I found the characters in Endless Skies very realistic. They could so easily be any one of us that they appeal completely. Rachel’s actions are rash and foolhardy on occasion, but who hasn’t done something they regret at some point? This aspect of her character made me sympathise with her far more. I wanted her to be happy, and I wanted to know what had happened to her in the past because I cared about her. I thoroughly enjoyed Jane Cable’s uncovering of Jonathan and her depiction of Ben felt sadly all too possible.

Indeed, the themes woven into the characterisation are very affecting. Grief and regret, love and friendship, the past and its echoes, emotional depth and shallowness all add up to a rich texture that I felt had a universal relevance and have left me thinking after finishing the book. It’s hard to explain too much more without spoiling the reading experience for others.

However, setting, character and theme aside, Endless Skies is a cracking narrative. I loved the echoes of the past that underpinned present action. I found the pace just right for a character driven story with a smashing balance of action and more reflective parts so that the book felt as if it had a maturity to it that I very much appreciated.

Endless Skies is a super book. Historical, romantic, realistic and engaging, Endless Skies provides fabulous entertainment. I very much recommend it.

About Jane Cable

Jane Cable writes romance with a twist, that extra something to keep readers guessing right to the end. While her books are character driven her inspiration is always a British setting; so far a village in Yorkshire (The Cheesemaker’s House), a Hampshire wood (The Faerie Tree), gorgeous Studland Bay in Dorset (Another You) and rural Lincolnshire (Endless Skies).

Jane was born and raised in Cardiff but spent most of her adult life living near Chichester before she and her husband upped sticks and moved to Cornwall three years ago.

Jane published her first two novels independently and has now been signed by Sapere Books. She am an active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and contributing editor to Frost online magazine.

You can follow Jane on Twitter @JaneCable, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

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#Quercus2021 Word of Mouth Best Sellers Evening

Last year, when the world wasn’t in chaos, I was thrilled to attend the Quercus Word of Mouth Best Sellers evening where I was excited to meet several authors and to receive some fabulous books coming out in 2020. You can read all about that event here.

One of the aspects of life in a Covid 19 world that I have found most frustrating is not being able to meet up with fellow bloggers and authors on an almost weekly basis and if I’m honest, I may have had enough Zoom and online events to last me a lifetime! However, when an invitation to attend the virtual #Quercus2021 arrived in my inbox, I knew this was an online event I simply couldn’t miss and I signed up right away.

Imagine my delight when a box of fabulous goodies arrived the day before #Quercus2021, generating much excitement about the night to come. When I opened it up I found an abundance of treats:

Now, of course, my difficulty was to decide which stage to attend as I wanted to hear every session, but sadly that wasn’t possible. The main part of the evening was introduced by Quercus marketing director Bethan Ferguson.

The sessions included:

Lucy Anne Holmes, author of Women On Top Of The World interviewed by her editor Katy Follain

Lucy-Anne Holmes is a writer, actress and campaigner living in Sussex. She is the author of three previous novels which were published in ten countries, and of Don’t Hold My Head Down, her funny and eye-opening personal sexual odyssey. Lucy-Anne was also the founder of the No More Page 3 campaign to convince the owners and editors of The Sun newspaper to cease its Page 3 feature, which showed photos of topless models. The newspaper withdrew this feature as a result of the movement. When she is not working on Women On Top Of The World, Lucy-Anne is on a training course to become a sacred sexual priestess.

Women On Top Of The World

‘A brilliant testament to those reclaiming their sexual power’ – RUBY RARE

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISSIE HYNDE, JENNY ECLAIR AND MANY OTHERS

What goes through a woman’s head while she’s having sex?

Women on Top of the World is a collection of 51 first person testimonies by 51 women from around the globe, from all ages and from all walks of life. Searingly honest, they reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings during sex to writer Lucy-Anne Holmes. The result is an incredible compendium of true disclosures that are funny and sad, shocking and tender.

Every experience is different, unique and fascinating. From 19-year-old Melodie in the UK to 32 year-old Wambui from Kenya and 74-year-old Lucy in New Zealand, we as readers are led down as many paths as there are ways to have sex. There are heterosexual women, gay women, bisexual women, queer women, monogamous women, polyamorous women, non-binary women and transgender women. There is beautiful sex, bored sex, auto-sexuality, crazy sex, tantric sex, sad sex and sex that is experienced as colours and melted toffee.

A range of hugely talented, cutting-edge artists from all over the world – both male and female – have given their visual interpretations with rich and remarkable illustrations that convey the range of emotions contained within these intimate revelations.

The result is a stunning, transportive book that will help quench the obvious thirst for narratives for women by women about their journeys of sexual self-discovery.

Published on 25th February 2021 Women On Top Of The World is available for pre-order here.

I was fascinated by the conversation about Women On Top Of The World and think it’ll be a life changer for some women!

Selina Flavius, author of Black Girl Finance

Selina Flavius is a London-based Senior Account Exec who created and runs the coaching platform Black Girl Finance. A conversation with a colleague about investing and financial goals prompted Selina to research how BAME women fare when it comes to their money and finances – and, after reading the ethnicity pay gap statistics, was determined to help women start thriving financially. After carrying out a mini survey about how best women respond to information about finances and doing a web-design course, she put her thoughts into action and launched her website and Instagram account in April 2019 to create a safe space for women to talk all things money. Black Girl Finance is Selina’s first book.

Black Girl Finance

START FINANCIALLY THRIVING WITH BLACK GIRL FINANCE

We don’t like thinking about money, do we? We think maths, we think spreadsheets, we think boring. But Selina Flavius, founder of Black Girl Finance, wants to show that there can be another, better way. A way to start making our hard-earned money work even harder for us.

Selina Flavius created Black Girl Finance to address the unique difficulties Black women and women of colour face due to the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. Since we literally can’t afford to wait for change, we need to start changing things up for ourselves. From challenging money mindsets to teaching key skills, such as how to set up an emergency fund and where to start with budgeting, investing and saving, Black Girl Finance provides a safe space for a community of unapologetic, ambitious, money-minded women to get real about their finances.

Black Girl Finance is the guide every woman needs to kick-start their financial journey. Packed with tips, tricks and tools, as well as statistics, personal stories, goal-setting exercises and straight-talking advice, this will be your go-to helping hand when it comes to making your financial goals a reality.

Published on 21st January 2021, Black Girl Finance is available for pre-order here.

The advice from Selina on the night was crystal clear and incredibly helpful. Don’t miss Black Girl Finance!

Francesca Specter, author of Alonement

Francesca Specter is a London-based journalist and founder of the platform and podcast, Alonement. Prior to launching alonement in 2019, Francesca was the deputy editor of Yahoo! Lifestyle. She has formerly worked as a reporter at the Daily Express, and her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Telegraph and Grazia. She holds an M.A. degree in Magazine Journalism from City University, London, and she has been nominated for several awards for her work, including the PPA Digital Rising Star award. Alonement is Francesca’s first book.

Alonement

How to be alone and absolutely own it, by founder of the Alonement blog and podcast, Francesca Specter.

Being alone has a serious branding issue. We’ve only ever had negative language to talk about flying solo – but what about when time spent alone is restorative and joyful? What if it’s something you crave? What if it’s even just an hour you’ve carved out for yourself in the middle of a hectic week?

Enter: Alonement, Francesca Specter’s empowering new word to express valuing your own company and dedicating quality time to yourself, whoever you are and whatever your relationship status.

Between open-plan offices, two-for-one vouchers and co-habiting with partners and friends, most of us don’t know how to be alone – yet our life-long relationship with ourselves is the most important one we’ll ever have. A reformed ‘extreme extrovert’ who struggled to spend even an hour alone, Francesca made the resolution in January 2019 to improve her solitude skills. Having spent two months of lockdown by herself, Francesca knows better than most how to optimise the quality of time spent alone.

Packed with practical tips, insights from key experts and lessons from guests of the Alonement podcast – including Alain de Botton, Florence Given, Konnie Huq and Camilla Thurlow – Francesca reveals how we can all thrive alone, whatever our circumstances, and harness the untapped power of some meaningful time with me, myself and I.

Published on 4th March 2021 Alonement is available for pre-order here.

Ali Benjamin, author of The Smash-Up in conversation with her publicist Ana McLaughlin

Ali Benjamin is the author of the young adult novel The Thing About Jellyfish, an international bestseller and a National Book Award finalist. The Next Great Paulie Fink was named a top children’s book of the year by Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, the New York Public Library, and the Los Angeles Public Library. Her work has been published in more than twenty-five languages in more than thirty countries. Originally from the New York City area, she now lives in Massachusetts. This is her first adult novel.

The Smash-Up

Life for Ethan and Zo used to be simple. Ethan co-founded a lucrative media start-up, and Zo was well on her way to becoming a successful filmmaker. Then they moved to a rural community for a little more tranquility–or so they thought.

When newfound political activism transforms Zo into a barely recognizable ball of outrage and #MeToo allegations rock his old firm, Ethan finds himself a misfit in his own life. Enter a houseguest who is young, fun, and not at all concerned with the real world, and Ethan is abruptly forced to question everything: his past, his future, his marriage, and what he values most.

Ambitious, startling, witty, and wise, Ali Benjamin’s debut novel offers the shock of recognition as it deftly tackles some of the biggest issues of our time. Taking inspiration from a classic Edith Wharton tale about a small-town love triangle, The Smash-Up is a wholly contemporary exploration of how the things we fail to see can fracture a life, a family, a community, and a nation.

Published on 23rd February 2021, The Smash-Up is available for pre-order here.

Phoebe Wynne, author of Madam

Phoebe Wynne worked in education for eight years, teaching Classics in the UK and English Language and Literature in Paris. She is both British and French, and currently spends her time between France and England. Madam is her first novel.

Madam

Light a fire they can’t put out…
For 150 years, above the Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat as a beacon of excellence in the ancestral castle of Lord William Hope. A boarding school for girls, it promises a future where its pupils will emerge ‘resilient and ready to serve society’.
Rose Christie, a 26-year-old Classics teacher, is the first new hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose feels overwhelmed in the face of this elite establishment, but soon after her arrival she begins to understand that she may have more to fear than her own ineptitude.
When Rose stumbles across the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor – a woman whose ghost lingers over everything and who no one will discuss – she realises that there is much more to this institution than she has been led to believe.
As she uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, Rose becomes embroiled in a battle that will threaten her sanity as well as her safety…

A brooding, mesmeric novel with a feminist kick, perfect for fans of Naomi Alderman, Madeleine Miller and Margaret Atwood.

Published on 18th February 2021, Madam is available for pre-order here.

Having heard Phoebe Wynn speak about Madam and read from it, I’m utterly thrilled I found a proof copy in my box of goodies!

Candice Brathwaite, author of Sista, Sister in conversation with Remi Sade and with a book that is so new that Candice is still writing it and we only got to hear about it last night. Candice was absolutely brilliant – honest, passionate and absolutely compelling.

Candice Brathwaite is the hugely popular influencer and founder of Make Motherhood Diverse – an online initiative that aims to encourage a more accurately representative and diverse depiction of motherhood in the media. She has worked with brands such as Pampers, Ella’s Kitchen and Specsavers, and has appeared on countless panels to discuss modern motherhood. Her writing has appeared in Stylist, the Metro and the Huffington Post. As Sista, Sister is still a work in progress, I’ll tell you about Candice’s I Am Not Your Baby Mother instead!

I Am Not Your Baby Mother

baby mother

It’s about time we made motherhood more diverse…

When Candice fell pregnant and stepped into the motherhood playing field, she found her experience bore little resemblance to the glossy magazine photos of women in horizontal stripe tops and the pinned discussions on mumsnet about what pushchair to buy. Leafing through the piles of prenatal paraphernalia, she found herself wondering: “Where are all the black mothers?”.

Candice started blogging about motherhood in 2016 after making the simple but powerful observation that the way motherhood is portrayed in the British media is wholly unrepresentative of our society at large.

The result is this thought-provoking, urgent and inspirational guide to life as a black mother. It explores the various stages in between pregnancy and waving your child off at the gates of primary school, while facing hurdles such as white privilege, racial micro-aggression and unconscious bias at every point. Candice does so with her trademark sense of humour and refreshing straight-talking, and the result is a call-to-arms that will allow mums like her to take control, scrapping the parenting rulebook to mother their own way.

Published in paperback on 4th March 2021, I Am Not Your Baby Mother is available for purchase here.

Dawnie Walton, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev in conversation with Sarah Shaffi.

Dawnie Walton was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (2018) and holds a journalism degree from Florida A&M University (1997). Formerly an editor at Essence and Entertainment Weekly, she has received fellowships in fiction writing from MacDowell and the Tin House Summer Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

An idol of Afro-punk. A duo on the brink of stardom. A night that will define their story for ever.

Opal is a fiercely independent young woman pushing against the grain in her style and attitude, Afro-punk before that term existed. Despite her unconventional looks, Opal believes she can be a star. So when the aspiring British singer/songwriter Neville Charles discovers her one night, she takes him up on his offer to make rock music together.

In early seventies New York City, just as she’s finding her niche as part of a flamboyant and funky creative scene, a rival band signed to her label brandishes a Confederate flag at a promotional concert. Opal’s bold protest and the violence that ensues set off a chain of events that will not only change the lives of those she loves, but also be a deadly reminder that repercussions are always harsher for women, especially Black women, who dare to speak their truth.

Decades later, as Opal considers a 2016 reunion with Nev, music journalist S. Sunny Shelton seizes the chance to curate an oral history about her idols. Sunny thought she knew most of the stories leading up to the cult duo’s most politicized chapter, but as her interviews dig deeper, a nasty new allegation from an unexpected source threatens everything.

Provocative and haunting, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev introduces a bold new name in contemporary fiction and a heroine the likes of which we’ve not seen in storytelling.

Published on 20th April 2021, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is available for pre-order here.

Hearing the conversation between Sarah Shaffi and Dawnie Walton about The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, I cannot wait to read it and as it was in my goodie box it won’t be long before I get started!

Jo Spain, author of The Perfect Lie -in conversation with Lisa Howells 

Jo Spain is a full-time writer and screenwriter. Her first novel, With Our Blessing, was one of seven books shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition and her first psychological thriller, The Confession, was a number one bestseller in Ireland. Jo co-wrote the ground-breaking RTE television series Taken Down, which first broadcast in Ireland in 2018. She’s now working on multiple European television projects. Jo lives in Dublin with her husband and their four young children.

I love Jo Spain’s writing and I cannot wait for The Perfect Lie. See what you think:

The Perfect Lie

He jumped to his death in front of witnesses. Now his wife is charged with his murder.

Five years ago, Erin Kennedy moved to New York following a family tragedy. She now lives happily with her detective husband in the scenic seaside town of Newport, Long Island. When Erin answers the door to Danny’s police colleagues one morning, it’s the start of an ordinary day. But behind her, Danny walks to the window of their fourth-floor apartment and jumps to his death.

Eighteen months later, Erin is in court, charged with her husband’s murder. Over that year and a half, Erin has learned things about Danny she could never have imagined. She thought he was perfect. She thought their life was perfect.

But it was all built on the perfect lie.

Published on 13th May 2021, The Perfect Lie is available for pre-order here.

Robert Jones Jr., author of The Prophets in conversation with Simon Savage

Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned both his B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. His work has been featured in The New York TimesEssenceGawker, and The Grio. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin, which can be found on Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Medium, Tumblr, and Twitter. He is also currently working on his second novel.

The Prophets

In this blinding debut, Robert Jones Jr. blends the lyricism of Toni Morrison with the vivid prose of Zora Neale Hurston to characterise the forceful, enduring bond of love, and what happens when brutality threatens the purest form of serenity.

The Halifax plantation is known as Empty by the slaves who work it under the pitiless gaze of its overseers and its owner, Massa Paul. Two young enslaved men, Samuel and Isaiah dwell among the animals they keep in the barn, helping out in the fields when their day is done. But the barn is their haven, a space of radiance and love – away from the blistering sun and the cruelty of the toubabs – where they can be alone together.

But, Amos – a fellow slave – has begun to direct suspicion towards the two men and their refusal to bend. Their flickering glances, unspoken words and wilful intention, revealing a truth that threatens to rock the stability of the plantation. And preaching the words of Massa Paul’s gospel, he betrays them.

The culminating pages of The Prophets summon a choral voice of those who have suffered in silence, with blistering humanity, as the day of reckoning arrives at the Halifax plantation. Love, in all its permutations, is the discovery at the heart of Robert Jones Jr’s breathtaking debut, The Prophets.

I thought The Prophets sounds fantastic and I cannot wait to read it as it was in my goodie box.

Published on 5th January 2021, The Prophets is available for pre-order here.

Luvvie Ajayi Jones, author of The Fear-Fighter Manual in conversation with Sarah Shaffi

Luvvie Ajayi is an award-winning author, podcast host, and sought-after speaker who thrives at the intersection of comedy, justice, and professional troublemaking. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellerI’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, and her site, AwesomelyLuvvie, is where she covers all things culture with a critical yet humorous lens. She runs her own social platform, LuvvNation, which is a safe space in a dumpster fire world.

The Fear-Fighter Manual

From the New York Times bestselling author of I’m Judging You, a hilarious and powerful book that talks about how to tackle fear–that everlasting hater–and live boldly and audaciously in spite of all the reasons we have to cower

Luvvie Ajayi is known for her trademark wit, warm voice, and exceptional integrity. But even she’s been challenged by the enemy of progress known as fear. She was once afraid to call herself a writer because she was afraid of the title. She nearly skipped out on doing a TED talk that changed her life because of imposter syndrome. Also, she’s deathly afraid of bugs. And, as she shares in Professional Troublemaker, she’s not alone.

We’re all afraid of asking for what we want because we’re afraid of hearing “no.” We’re afraid of being different, of being too much or not enough. We’re afraid of leaving behind the known for the unknown. But in order to do the things that will truly, meaningfully change our lives, we have to become professional troublemakers: people who are committed to not letting fear talk them out of the things they need to do or say.

With humor and honesty, and guided by the influence of her inspiring and professional troublemaking grandmother, Funmilayo Faloyin, Luvvie walks us through what we must get right within ourselves before we can do the things that scare us; how to use our voice for a greater good; and how to put movement to the voice we’ve been silencing–because truth-telling is a muscle.

The point is not to be fearless. It is to know we are afraid and to charge forward regardless, to recognize the things we must do are more significant than the things we are afraid to do. This book shows you how she’s done it, and how you can, too.

Published on 2nd March 2021, The Fear-Fighter Manual is available for pre-order here.

I loved the interview an am definitely going to start taking up space as Luvvie suggests!

Sarah Knight, author of I Knew This Was A Bad Idea in conversation with Clemmie Telford

Sarah Knight’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k, has been published in more than twenty languages, and her TEDx talk, “The Magic of Not Giving a F**k,” has nearly five million views. All of the books in her No F**ks Given Guides series have been international bestsellers, including Get Your Shit Togetherwhich was on the New York Times bestseller list for sixteen weeks. Her writing has also appeared in Glamour, Harper’s BazaarMarie ClaireRed, Refinery29, and elsewhere. After quitting her corporate job to pursue a freelance life, she moved from Brooklyn, New York, to the Dominican Republic, where she currently resides with her husband, two feral rescue cats, and a load of lizards.

I loved the energy with which Sarah spoke and will be investigating her books as soon as I can.

(My *!) Again, I don’t have details to share yet of I Knew This Was A Bad Idea, because Sarah hasn’t finished writing it yet, so I’ll share Sarah’s latest No F**Ks Given book instead.

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k Journal

Are you stressed out, overbooked and underwhelmed by life? Fed up with pleasing everyone else before you please yourself? Finding it hard working from home? Then it’s time to stop giving a f**k.

This irreverent and practical book explains how to rid yourself of unwanted obligations, shame, and guilt – and give your f**ks instead to people and things that make you happy. From family dramas to having a bikini body, the simple ‘NotSorry Method’ for mental decluttering will help you unleash the power of not giving a f**k and will free you to spend your time, energy and money on the things that really matter.

Published on 29th October 2020, The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k Journal is available for pre-order here.

So you can see, an evening with Quercus is an eclectic and entertaining experience and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope you’ll find a book or two that appeals to you too!

If you’d like to see the full catalogue of brilliant looking new fiction coming in 2021, see the Quercus Word of Mouth Bestsellers Digital Catalogue.

Gobbledy by Lis Anna-Langston 

My enormous thanks to Lis Anna-Langston for sending me a copy of her children’s novel Gobbledy in return for an honest review.

Gobbledy is published today, 20th October 2020 in the UK and 24th October in the US, by Spark Press and is available for purchase through the links here.

Gobbledy

Ever since eleven-year-old Dexter Duckworth and his brother, Dougal, lost their mom, everything has been different. But “different” takes on a whole new meaning when, one day just before Christmas (or Kissmas, as they call it), Dexter finds a golden rock in the forest that hatches into an adorable alien. Gobbledy is smarter than he seems and is lost on planet Earth. Before long, Gobbledy takes Dexter, Dougal, and their best friend Fi on an adventure of friendship, family, and loss—one that requires them all to stay out of trouble, protect Gobbledy from a shadowy group called the Planetary Society, and prepare for their school’s Winter Extravaganza Play, where Dexter has to be a dreaded Gingerbread Man.

Gobbledy is a fun-filled holiday story that adds up to two brothers, three friends, unlimited jars of peanut butter, a ketchup factory, and one little alien far, far from home.

My Review of Gobbledy

Dexter’s school project isn’t going to plan!

Gobbledy is utterly brilliant and I loved every word. I may be half a century older than Lis Anna-Langston’s target audience but I was completely captivated by her story-telling. This is a truly wonderful book that would appeal to any reader regardless of age because it is written with humanity and has such skilful story-telling. There are some lovely illustrations too.

The plot of Gobbledy is riveting. There’s intrigue and peril, adventure and humour, all mixed with sensitively portrayed emotions of love, friendship and grief in a story that romps along. I was totally captivated. Add in aliens, thieves, school teachers, ketchup, glowing rocks and Christmas and this is a story that deserves to become a children’s classic. I couldn’t put it down because I was desperate to know what might happen next in this dramatic and exciting story.

The characters are glorious. Poor Mr D trying to manage two boys, a precarious job and his grief over his wife, illustrates perfectly how adults can behave in ways that seems harsh but that simply reflect how much they actually care. Dougal’s sensible and logical attitude balances Dexter’s chaotic personality to perfection. So many children will be able to relate to Dexter’s ability to get into trouble unwittingly. I loved the fact that it is Fi, the main female character, who is the most technologically minded because she gives status to girls who enjoy less traditional roles. Her friendship with Dexter shows how genders can mix and care for one another without hidden agendas or being considered unusual, giving valuable messages to children as they enjoy the story.

The star of the narrative is undoubtedly Gobbledy himself. He may be alien, but he embodies such deep humanity that I wanted to reach into the pages of Gobbledy and hug him tightly.

The themes are cleverly woven into the story so that difficult concepts such as grief and truth, economics and employment, education and friendship bubble alongside the action, making for an affecting and educating read whilst entertaining flawlessly. I confess to shedding a tear as I read.

Lis Anna-Langston’s Gobbledy makes it onto my books of the year for 2020. It is absolutely fabulous and brought me complete joy. Don’t miss it.

About Lis Anna-Langston

Lis Anna-Langston was raised along the winding current of the Mississippi River on a steady diet of dog-eared books. She attended a Creative and Performing Arts School from middle school until graduation and went on to study Literature at Webster University. She is a Parents’ Choice Gold and a Moonbeam Book Award winner. Twice nominated for the Pushcart award and Finalist in the Brighthorse Book Prize, her work has been published in more than forty publications including: The Literary Review, The Merrimack Review, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, Sand Hill Review and dozens of other literary journals.

She draws badly, sings loudly, loves ketchup, starry skies, fireflies, French hip hop & stories with happy endings, (or rather) aliens. Very happy aliens.
Find out more by visiting her website.

Special Delivery by Elliot Kruszynski

My enormous thanks to Lefki at Cicada Books for a copy of children’s book Special Delivery by Elliot Kruszynski in return for an honest review.

Published by Cicada on 13th August 2020, Special Delivery is available for purchase here.

Special Delivery

When you’re waiting for a new baby, expect the unexpected!

Today is a very special day. Sophie Duck is expecting the arrival of her new baby brother!

But Delivery Dude keeps bringing the wrong babies. First a baby mouse, then a baby elephant, then a crocodile, a giraffe, an anteat-er a rabbit and a hippo. ‘These babies are NOT my brother!’ shouts Sophie – but Delivery Dude insists that he never makes mistakes. Sophie’s house is filling up to the rafters when the doorbell rings again. ‘NO MORE!’ shouts Sophie, but thankfully this time Delivery Dude is followed by his Stork boss, a load of very cross parents who have come to collect their babies… and Sophie’s Mum and Dad, who have brought a very special delivery…

My Review of Special Delivery

The wrong delivery keeps arriving!

As usual with a Cicada children’s book, I am impressed by the quality of production. There’s a robust hard cover that means Special Delivery is durable and the end papers as well as all the illustrations are bright, colourful and quirky. I loved the fact that many of the illustrations are made from fairly simple shapes that older children, perhaps sharing this book with a younger sibling, could emulate to enhance their own artistic skills. I especially liked the double page spread that is all illustration where images can be shared, discussed and numeracy introduced, perhaps counting the number of wrong babies that have arrived or looking at emotions through the expressions on the mother bird’s face. Indeed, there’s considerable potential for interaction with Special Delivery.

Learning aside, the story is lovely. I can see Special Delivery helping parents introduce the concept of a new baby to young children so that they are helped to adjust to a changing household. I think it would work well with adoptive children too, making sure they know how special they are once the correct baby arrives. With the wrong animal babies being delivered until a very special delivery of the correct baby for the house there’s good humour that children will love. Repetition of key phrases builds language confidence for young children, adding in an almost pantomime feel that appeal to children and adults alike.

Special Delivery is a super children’s book. It’s bright, colourful and charmingly presented. I know exactly who I’m sharing my copy with!

About Elliot Kruszynski

Elliot Kruszynski is a London-based writer and illustrator who has worked with clients including the New York Times, Air BnB, Camden Brewery and Deliveroo. He illustrated and designed Bleep Bloop and Spot the Bot (Laurence King, 2019) and has two books in development with Walker/Candlewick (titles TBC).

You can follow Elliot on Twitter @EKruszynski.

Boomerville at Ballymegille by Caroline James

My grateful thanks to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Caroline James’s Boomerville at Ballymegille. It’s far too long since Caroline featured on Linda’s Book Bag. Last time she was here Caroline was celebrating her novel The Best Boomerville Hotel in this post. On other occasions Caroline provided her top ten writing tips here, when Coffee, Tea, the Caribbean and Me was published and allowed me to interview her here.  Caroline also told me about writer’s block and I reviewed her novel Jungle Rock here.

Today, I’m delighted to share my review of Boomerville at Ballymegille.

Published on 6th October 2020, Boomerville at Ballymegille is available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Boomerville at Ballymegille

 

Boomerville is back!

Join Hattie and Jo as they head to Southern Ireland to open Boomerville Manor, a holiday retreat for guests of ‘a certain age’. There’s Irish craic and shenanigans aplenty for the colourful cast of characters as everyone gathers for the grand opening.

Meet Melissa, an ex-cabaret singer running from her abusive husband, and Bill, a bachelor bullied from beyond the grave by the ghostly voice of his mother. Along with local bobby Harry the Helmet, ageing aquatic team the Boomerville Babes, eccentric artist Lucinda Gray, and heartthrob Finbar Murphy, they gather in Ireland and the fun begins. But murder is in the air and there’s mischief afoot. Will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Set in the beautiful Irish countryside, Boomerville at Ballymegille is a heart-warming story of friendship, fears and new beginnings.

My Review of Boomerville at Ballymegille

Change is afoot for Jo and Hattie.

Not having read The Best Boomerville Hotel, I wasn’t sure how I’d pick up the threads in Boomerville at Ballymegille, but I needn’t have worried. Caroline James’ smooth writing style incorporated all the basic information I needed fully to appreciate the various back stories without slowing the pace of this narrative so that I was immediately completely engaged. However, reading Boomerville at Ballymegille has made me want to go back and read The Best Boomerville Hotel too!

The plot of Boomerville at Ballymegille is fast paced, unexpected and a real pleasure to be immersed into. There’s romance and passion, murder and mayhem, humour and sadness all perfectly balanced into a hugely entertaining and ultimately heart-warming read. I loved the two Boomerville settings too as Caroline James includes some lovely description that brings both the English and Irish places alive for the reader. It truly feels as if it would be possible to pick up the phone and book a stay.

There’s a rainbow of characters to love, to like, to despise and to admire within the pages. I thought Hattie was magnificent because of her no nonsense approach and her enjoyment of food. Every time she appeared in the story I found my emotions heightened. It was through Hattie that I felt empathy for all the others and she’s a real scene stealer when it comes to humour. It took me a while to warm to Bill, but my word he redeemed himself and in fact his story held some of the most affecting moments for me. I’m not usually keen on books that have multiple characters but in Boomerville at Ballymegille I felt every single one had earned their place in the story, was vivid and real, making me understand them fully.

One of the most glorious aspects of Caroline James’ Boomerville at Ballymegille is the fact the narrative isn’t populated only with 30 somethings. Here we have a cast of characters illustrating that life doesn’t end when we turn 40, that there is a world out there to discover and enjoy, that we have talents we can uncover and use, and that friendship and romance might be just round the corner. In placing her characters in the settings and situations she does, Caroline James somehow instils a sense of self-worth in the reader that I really appreciated.

Reading Boomerville at Ballymegille is a bit like having a holiday. It’s written with such warmth and humour, incorporating pathos and levity in a finely tuned balance that it feels like pure escapism mingled with complete realism. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the residents of Boomerville and my stay alongside them. Smashing stuff.

About Caroline James

Best-selling author of women’s fiction, Caroline James has owned and run businesses encompassing all aspects of the hospitality industry, a subject that often features in her novels. She is based in the UK but has a great fondness for travel and escapes whenever she can.

A public speaker, which includes talks and lectures on cruise ships world-wide, Caroline is also a consultant and food writer. She is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association, the Society of Women’s Writer’s & Journalists and the Society of Authors and writes articles and short stories, contributing to many publications. Caroline also runs writing workshops.

In her spare time, Caroline can be found walking up a mountain with her two Westie dogs, sipping raspberry gin or relaxing with her head in a book and hand in a box of chocolates.

You can find out more about Caroline on her website and by following her on Twitter @CarolineJames12. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

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