One Night In Bear Town by Nick Jones and illustrated by Si Clark

It’s over two years since I read and reviewed children’s book Sarah’s Shadow by Nick Jones in a post you can find here, so I was delighted when Nick sent me his latest children’s book One Night In Beartown in return for an honest review. Now, I’m not really accepting new books for review at the moment, but there’s such a lovely background story to One Night In Beartown that I had to feature the book here on Linda’s Book Bag. You can find out more here.

Published by Full Media today, 30th November 2020, there are several places where you can buy One Night In Beartown, including from the publisher, the author, via Kickstarter and on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

One Night in Beartown

From the award-winning duo that brought you Sarah’s Shadow comes another magical adventure…

When bear-mad schoolgirl Sandy Lane has her beloved teddy bear Berisford confiscated at school, she dreads the thought of going a whole night without his cuddles.

Little does she know that a bear-rilliant night awaits her, involving Berisford, a bear statue and many other wonderful friends!

Published by Full Media on 30th November 2020, One Night in Beartown is available for purchase here.

My Review of One Night in Beartown

Sandy’s bear, Berisford, has been confiscated at school!

One Night In Beartown is a glorious book that deserves to be snapped up by a production company and turned into a Christmas tradition along with those well known animations of books by Raymond Briggs or Julia Donaldson. It has everything from bullying to peril, adventure to joy as Sarah prepares to spend her first night without Berisford. Children and adults alike will love the themes, the storytelling and the wonderful illustrations by Si Clark.

I must dwell on the illustrations for a moment as they bring the text alive, and provide so many opportunities to use the book with individual or groups of children. With a style that will appeal to children of all ages, the pictures have a richness and depth. I loved the diversity of the bears, with some being multi-coloured and unusually patterned, because their inclusion will help convey acceptance of difference and understanding of those who don’t always look like us. The small attention to detail affords a lovely opportunity to develop numeracy, perhaps counting the number of bears in Sandy’s bedroom for example, and I could envisage children designing their own bear, so that creativity can be encouraged too.

I thought the language in One Night In Beartown was pitch perfect. Much of the vocabulary is familiar but there is also a smattering of unfamiliar words that are completely understandable in their context, allowing children to expand their vocabulary.

However, educational opportunities aside, what is so lovely about One Night In Beartown is that Nick Jones knows exactly how much children become attached to a particular toy and how they can be devastated by being parted from them. Indeed, I can see One Night In Beartown being a brilliant way for parents to broach a similar loss with their own children, providing comfort if need be as they discover all is not lost when Berisford is away from Sandy. There really is a lovely story here, based around friendship and love with gentle comeuppance for a bully and a happy ending for Sandy and Berisford.

I really enjoyed One Night In Beartown. It’s a delightful tale that children and adults alike will love. I recommend One Night In Beartown most highly.

About Nick Jones

nick jones

Nick Jones is an author based in Congleton, Cheshire, but originally from Bristol. He has written a series of joke books and an illustrated children’s book.

His first joke book, Gagged and Bound, was written during the summer of 2014 and was published by Full Media Ltd later in the year to much critical acclaim, garnering positive reviews from numerous book review websites such as Reader’s Favorite and The Bookbag.

A follow-up, Gagged and Bound 2, was released a year later and received a similarly positive response, and in 2017 Nick returned with the third instalment. Described by one reviewer as a ‘master gagsmith’, Nick’s joke style is heavily pun-based and has been compared to Tim Vine, Milton Jones and Stewart Francis.

Nick has also written an illustrated children’s book called Sarah’s Shadow, which was published in December 2017.

You can follow Nick on Twitter: @nickjonesauthor and find out more on his website.

Hector’s Perfect Cake by Lily Clarke

My enormous thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for children’s book Hector’s Perfect Cake, written and illustrated by Lily Clarke. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Hector’s Perfect Cake is available for purchase on Hector’s website, Etsy and Amazon.

Hector’s Perfect Cake

Hector is baking a cake for his Granny and he’s determined that it’s going to be perfect.

But when he discovers that the peanut butter jar is empty, Hector decides that he must head out to find some more, or else his perfect cake will be ruined.

As time begins to run out, Hector’s luck begins to run out too. He may have to accept that sometimes perfection just isn’t possible…

My Review of Hector’s Perfect Cake

Hector’s cake is missing a vital ingredient.

What a simply lovely children’s book. Hector’s Perfect Cake is just the right length to retain a child’s interest and has fabulous illustrations that enhance the story perfectly. I thought it was wonderful. I like to comment on text, illustration and layout in children’s books, and Hector’s Perfect Cake has the balance beautifully. The illustrations are completely charming and it’s lovely to have a badger as the main character rather than the dog or cat of so many children’s books. The font style and use of ‘white space’ for text means that there is clarity for reading that will support independent readers as well as adults reading the book with or to children. Similarly, the linguistic devices such as the way direct speech is set out, the variety of sentence length and the use of ellipsis and repetition, for example, all contribute to enhancing not just the pleasure in reading the story, but they model great writing for children too, so that children can employ them in their own emergent writing.

Despite the fact that this is a children’s story of under thirty pages, it’s jammed with content making it a story that can be read and enjoyed time and again. In Hector’s Perfect Cake Lily Clarke explores friendship through characters like Artie and Lola who try to help Hector in his quest to find peanut butter, affording the opportunity to discuss with children how they might help and support their friends. The author looks at emotions, from excitement through disappointment to love, with the ultimate message that perfection doesn’t have to be achieved for us to be happy that I think is a fabulous concept for children to learn.

I loved Hector’s Perfect Cake. It is everything a children’s story should be and I recommend it unreservedly.

About Lily Clarke

Lily Clarke is the author and illustrator of Hector’s Perfect Cake.

Lily studied Physics at the University of York and now works as an innovation consultant in Cambridge. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she runs a small business called Lily in Space Designs, where she sells a range of illustrated products inspired by books and nature. Her favourite animals are badgers, birds and bats, (although she also loves animals that don’t begin with the letter B!).

Hector’s Perfect Cake is Lily’s first book, inspired by her own experiences of dealing with perfectionism.

You can follow Lily on Twitter @LilyClarkex, or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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Cover Reveal: The Girl in the Missing Poster by Barbara Copperthwaite

It’s far too long since I got together with the wonderful Barbara Copperthwaite at the Deepings Literary Festival in 2019 so I’m thrilled to help reveal Barbara’s brand new book The Girl in the Missing Poster this afternoon.

Barbara has featured here on Linda’s Book Bag many times, including in interview here, and again here when Flowers for the Dead had its book birthday. I reviewed Barbara’s The Darkest Lies here and Barbara provided a wonderful letter to herself in a guest post when Her Last Secret was released. You’ll find that letter here.

Today, Barbara’s latest book goes out into the world and here are all the details you need to know about The Girl in the Missing Poster!

The Girl in the Missing Poster

MISSING – Have you seen this girl? Nineteen-year-old Leila Hawkins was last seen on 24 June, 1994, when she left her parents’ anniversary party early and ran into the stormy night wearing her twin sister Stella’s long red coat. She was never seen again.

I wrap my arms around the tree trunk, pressing my cheek against it until the bark digs in and the missing poster is finally secured. I try not to look at the photograph on it. At the features so similar to mine. Perhaps this will be the year someone comes forward.

Were crucial mistakes made by detectives from the very beginning?

Could the pressure of living two lives have led my sister to run away – or even end it?

Or did someone in her tight circle of friends and family have reason to want her gone?

Someone out there must know something.

But the last thing I ever expect is a direct response from the person who took Leila. Wracked with guilt and completely alone in the world without the other half of me, I have no choice but to agree to his strange request: private, intimate details of my life in return for answers.

As the final moments of my sister’s life play out before me, I feel closer to her than I ever dreamed I’d be again. So close, it could almost be happening to me. But when I finally realise who is behind this terrifying tragedy, will I make it out alive?

From the bestselling author of The Perfect Friend, this absolutely gripping psychological thriller will keep you up all night and leave you sleeping with the light on. If you loved Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train and The Wife Between Us this book is for you!


Doesn’t that sound good? I can’t wait to read The Girl in the Missing Poster.

Published by Bookouture on 23rd February 2021, The Girl in the Missing Poster is available for pre-order here, and on Apple and Kobo.

About Barbara Copperthwaite

Barbara is the Amazon, Kobo and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers Invisible, Flowers for the Dead, The Darkest Lies, Her Last Secret and The Perfect Friend. Barbara’s latest book is The Girl in the Missing Poster.

Her writing career started in journalism, writing for national newspapers and magazines. During a career spanning over twenty years Barbara interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She is fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line.

Her first book, Invisible, was ‘totally gripping, and scarily believable’ according to Bella magazine. Its success was followed by Flowers For The Dead, which was the Sunday Mirror’s Choice Read, beating Lee Child’s latest offering. ‘Will have you looking over your shoulder and under your bed… Original, gripping, with a deep psychological impact,’ their review read.

The Darkest Lies came next, published by Bookouture, and became a USA Today bestseller. The follow-up, Her Last Secret, hit the Number 1 spot on Kobo. The Perfect Friend is a No 1 Kobo and Amazon best seller.

When not writing feverishly at her home in Birmingham, Barbara is often found walking her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy, or hiding behind a camera to take wildlife photographs.

For more information about Barbara, visit her website or her blog, find her on Facebook and Instagram or follow her on Twitter @BCoppethwait.

Reblog: The Abattoir of Dreams by Mark Tilbury

I think reblogs must be like buses. You don’t do any in almost six years of blogging and then two come along in a month for the same author! Today I’m delighted to re-share my review of a book that was one of my books of the year in 2017; The Abattoir of Dreams by Mark Tilbury. Mark is in the process of rebranding his novels and I shared details of another, You Belong To Me, here.

The Abattoir of Dreams was released yesterday, 26th November 2020, and is available for purchase here.

The Abattoir of Dreams

How do you prove your innocence when you can’t remember the past?

Michael Tate has not had an easy life. With his father in prison, and his mother dead, Michael was sent to Woodside Children’s Home.

Now an adult, Michael wakes up from a coma in hospital suffering from amnesia and paralysis. Confused and terrified, he is charged with the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend, Becky. He also learns he attempted to end his own life.

Detective Inspector John Carver is determined that Michael is sent to prison. With no way of defending himself, Michael is left in a hospital bed awaiting transfer to remand. But then strange things start to happen, and his childhood comes back to haunt him with a vengeance.

Will Michael ever discover the truth about Becky’s murder?
And why is DI Carver so keen to make him suffer?

The Abattoir of Dreams is a bitter sweet story of murder, innocence and abuse.

My Review of The Abattoir of Dreams

When Michael Tate wakes in hospital without memory, he finds himself accused of his girlfriend Becky’s murder.

Let me just say, that had I not been asked to be part of the launch celebrations for The Abattoir of Dreams I would never have read it because it’s so far out of my comfort zone even the Hubble telescope wouldn’t be able to find it!

Abattoir of Dreams was so brilliantly written I could hardly bear to read it. Covering terrible themes of sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse The Abattoir of Dreams makes for very uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing reading. Having worked in education and inspected child protection, I know just how realistic the scenarios Mark Tilbury presents really are, despite their truly horrific nature. So, regardless of not wanting to read on, I found I couldn’t tear myself away as Mikey’s memories gradually began to reappear.

If you’re easily offended by bad language and disquieting themes then perhaps this isn’t the read for you, but The Abattoir of Dreams was written so effectively and realistically that I found these elements added to the atmosphere and never felt gratuitous. I believe not reading The Abattoir of Dreams would have left me a poorer individual. There’s quite considerable violence too that I found far more affecting than any film I might watch. At times my heart rate was elevated as I read, especially in the denouement which is, ironically, one of the less graphic parts of the story.

The characterisation is so effective. As the layers are peeled back and we find out what happened to put Mikey in hospital, we also understand his background as a child and how he has developed into the young man he is. There are villains aplenty who are startlingly depicted, but it is the victims, like Liam, who impact most on the reader. In fact, one of the characters that appealed to me most was the dog, Oxo.

However, despite the gritty, disturbing and frequently horrifying aspects of Abattoir of Dreams, it is not entirely bleak and unremitting. There is real love and friendship exemplified and the supernatural element gives us all hope too.

I can’t say I enjoyed reading The Abattoir of Dreams because it disturbed me, but it’s a book I won’t forget in a hurry as it engendered a range of emotions in me from rage to horror, sadness to hope and pity to murderous thoughts. I thought it was brilliant.

About Mark Tilbury

mark tilbury

Mark lives in a small village in the lovely county of Cumbria, although his books are set in Oxfordshire where he was born and raised.

After being widowed and raising his two daughters, Mark finally took the plunge and self-published two books on Amazon, The Revelation Room and The Eyes of the Accused.

He’s always had a keen interest in writing, and having had seven books published by an indie publisher, has decided to return to self publishing. After successfully publishing The Last One To See HerA Prayer For The Broken followed in October 2020.

When he’s not writing, Mark can be found playing guitar, reading and walking.

You can follow Mark on Twitter @MTilburyAuthor, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

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Staying in with Julienne Brouwers

Now, there might be a slight feeling of deja vu with this post as I stayed in briefly with Julienne a short while ago. Sadly we had to remove that post as there was an issue with the cover of the Double Deceit. Since then, the fabulous team at Head of Zeus have collaborated with Julienne to create a cracking new cover and what a cracking cover it is. I still haven’t had time to read Double Deceit, but I’m delighted to welcome (back) Julienne to Linda’s Book Bag today. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Julienne Brouwers

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

Hello Linda. Thank you very much for having me. I did not know your website before. I am from the Netherlands, but I am truly impressed!

That’s very kind. Thank you!

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

Double Deceit, which is my first thriller in English. I have written two thrillers in Dutch, my mother tongue and I am very excited I can broaden my horizon now. The story in itself is easily relatable to and I very much hope that readers in the UK will enjoy the book as well.

My goodness. That’s impressive. Writing in another language can’t be easy. I tried to learn Dutch once and gave up!

So, what can we expect from an evening in with Double Deceit?

Expect an evening of curling up on the couch, unexpected plot twists and revelations, and being drawn into a book you won’t want to put down anymore – well that’s what the first readers said about it. It supposedly has a fast and easy flow to it, that I hope will go down well.

That sounds like my kind of book. Tell me more.

The thriller is set in Amsterdam and provides a glimpse of everyday life in the Dutch capital. The lead character is a strong and relatable woman, struggling after the sudden death of her husband as she’s left behind to take care of her toddler. Her determination to carry on though, in the face of everything – and to go far beyond what many would dare to, for the sake of finding answers and justice for her husband’s death – is intended to be inspiring. It’s a thriller at heart, with many twists and turns, but there’s an element of romance as well, and a deeper message touching on the transient nature of life.

I think Double Deceit sounds brilliant. And I like the thought of going back to Amsterdam. I haven’t been there since my tenth wedding anniversary!

What else have you brought along and why?

I have brought with me a pack of stroopwafels, a typical Dutch rich, caramel cookie that people from abroad usually love. Perhaps it would be nice to combine this with a cup of tea of a fine English blend? Tea is one of the favourite drinks of my main character Jennifer as well, however for a large part of the book she’s struggling to stay away from wine, which she has resorted to, in an attempt to drown out her grief over the loss of her husband and the secrets she discovered about him after he suddenly passed away.

Tea and a plate of stroopwafels sounds absolutely perfect to me!

When I started writing this book in Dutch, almost ten years ago, I lived in Amsterdam and found this vibrant city a truly inspiring environment – the canals, the little bridges, all the bikes cycling around like crazy.

I think it would be perfect to visit Amsterdam through Double Deceit Julienne. I still can’t believe you’ve written in a language that isn’t your first one.

I have always had a soft spot for the English language – I lived in the UK for a few years as a child and later in the US for a year – so I felt incredibly blessed when I met editor and translator Sarah Fencott to help me with writing the English version, Double Deceit, further shaping the story along the way as well.

It sounds to me as if Double Deceit would be a fantastic read Julienne. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about it. Now, you pour the tea and plate up the stroopwafels whilst I’ll tell readers more about Double Deceit.

Double Deceit

What if you were framed for a murder you didn’t commit? A gripping, addictive thriller for fans of Angela Clarke, Mel Sherratt and Rachel Lynch.

Jennifer Smits is a young mother, married to a hotshot lawyer and living in Amsterdam. Her world explodes when her husband is found dead at a holiday park during a weekend getaway. Convinced that the police have failed in their investigation, she embarks on a desperate quest for the truth – but the deeper she digs, the more she gets enmeshed in a tangled web of lies, spun by a ruthless law firm.

As Jennifer’s search for answers intensifies, her grip on reality weakens. Barely able to manage her patients at the health clinic, or take care of her young son, Jennifer is at risk of losing it all – even her closest friends begin to desert her. And then a chance encounter with a charming stranger sparks a new chain of events that plunges her deeper into a world of threats and corruption. Soon, she begins to fear for her life – but who can she trust, and how far will she go in pursuit of the truth?

This is a gripping, addictive thriller that will make you question everything, including the flaws of forensics. Could we all be framed for a murder we didn’t commit?

Double Deceit is available for purchase here.

About Julienne Brouwers

Julienne Brouwers worked as a pharmaceutical scientist and medical physicist before becoming a writer. She lives in the Netherlands, with her husband and three children, where she has published two successful thrillers, and lived in the UK and US for a total of four years.

You can follow Julienne on Twitter @JulienneAuthor, Instagram and Facebook.

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Discussing War in the Valleys with Francesca Capaldi on Publication Day

It’s an absolute pleasure to help begin the blog tour for War in the Valleys by Francesca Capaldi today. My enormous thanks to Sarah Hardy at Books on the Bright Side publicity for inviting me to participate in the celebrations. I’m delighted to welcome Francesca to Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me today.

Staying in with Francesca Capaldi

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

Hi there Linda. Thanks for inviting me over on this chilly evening. I’m glad to see you’ve got a good fire burning.

We need a warm fire in November! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening.

I’ve brought along my latest book, War in the Valleys, the second in my Valleys series, published today, November 25th.

Happy publication day Francesca. How exciting! So, what can we expect from an evening in with War in the Valleys?

A bit of a rollercoaster ride with emotional lows and heartfelt highs along with some argy-bargy between the characters. Also a bit of shouting, on the reader’s side, at the more despicable personalities, or at least, some fervent tuts and head shakes!

Oo. I love a book  that makes me get involved with the characters. What inspired you to create War in the Valleys?

The idea grew from the first book, Heartbreak in the Valleys, which itself was inspired by a Welsh great grandfather’s World War 1 record. It’s set in a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, based on the one in which my mother and grandmother were born – Abertysswg. In fact, my great gran, Mary Jones, has a cameo role in the novels, as she would have been there, as a young mother of four, in 1916. I’m not sure what Gran would have made of appearing in a novel, but it would certainly have been useful having her around now. The research has given me a good insight into what it was like for my ancestors, but nothing beats first-hand experience.

What a lovely way to remember your great gran. I bet she’d be thrilled to be included. 

What else have you brought this evening and why?

For a start, some Welsh cakes and tea for us to enjoy. Gran liked her cups of tea, as do my characters. The teapot should be brown and covered with one of Gran’s favoured knitted cosies, but sadly I have neither. Instead, I’ve brought my mum’s 1960’s Elijah Cotton Staffordshire ware (and my snazzy teapot!), along with a 1930s cake stand of my dad’s.

That’s wonderful. But keep your voice down. My husband is Welsh and if he finds we have Welsh cakes we won’t get a look in! Do Welsh cakes feature in War in the Valleys?

Poor Violet, in War in the Valleys, would have been glad of a whole, undamaged tea set, and to be able to purchase the ingredients for Welsh cakes (or bakestones, as she calls them). My mum used to make Welsh cakes when I was a child, and I’ve carried on the tradition.

I’ve brought Cerys Matthew’s CD, Tir, so we can play Sosban Fach, which my mother used to sing to me as a child. I’m sure a lot of the songs on the album would have been heard at concerts by my characters.

That’s a song I’ve heard many times Francesca. Lovely isn’t it? But what’s that you’re holding?

I’ve also brought a photograph to prop up on the mantelpiece, taken by my father in 1973, of Abertysswg, looking more like it would have done in 1916 than it does today. You can see the Workmen’s Institute and the public house, the McLaren Arms (the McKenzie Arms in the novel), along with the Ainon Baptist Chapel, now all sadly demolished.

I think photographs can inspire both memories and writing Francesca. Abertysswg is not a million miles from where my husband was brought up so when we’ve eaten most of the Welsh cakes I’ll call him in and he can take a look too. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about War in the Valleys. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Thank you for having me round for an evening in, Linda. It’s been good to chat.

It has. Now, you pour some tea and I’ll give readers a few more details about War in the Valleys:

War in the Valleys

WW1 marches on, but Violet faces her own battle at home…

July 1916. Young mother, Violet Jones, lives a tough life in the Rhymney Valley, caring for 4-year-old Clarice and baby Benjy on her own while soldier husband Charlie fights on the Front Line. But when tragedy strikes, Violet’s life becomes even harder.

While they may be far from the battlefields, the effects of WW1 take their toll on the small mining community of Dorcalon, with food becoming scarce and more and more of their young men losing their lives.

With very little money coming in, and two babies to care for, Violet takes in a relative to help make ends meet. But far from easing her burden, it might turn out to be the worst decision she’s made.

As the Great War takes its toll on the nation, Violet faces her own battle. All alone in the world, can she protect her children, and herself? And will she ever find joy out of the depths of despair?

A captivating, emotional saga set in WW1 – will tug on your heart-strings and bring a tear to your eye. If you like Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin or Sheila Newbury you will adore this beautiful Welsh saga.

War in the Valleys is published by Hera today, 25th November 2020, and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Francesca Capaldi

Several years ago, Francesca Capaldi pursued a childhood dream and joined a creative writing class. Lots of published short stories, a serial, and four pocket novels later, she’s now explored her mother’s ancestral history for a series of novels set in a Welsh colliery village. A history graduate and former teacher, she hails from the Sussex coast but now lives in Kent with her family and a cat called Lando Calrissian.
For further information about Francesca, visit her blog, find her on Facebook or follow her in Twitter @FCapaldiBurgess. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

337 by M Jonathan Lee

Having read, thoroughly enjoyed and reviewed here M. Jonathan Lee’s Broken Branches some three years ago, I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read and review his latest book 337 as part of the launch celebrations. My enormous thanks to Holly at Hideaway Fall for sending me a copy of 337 and for arranging for me to ‘stay in’ with Jonathan today.

Staying in with M. Jonathan Lee

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

Hi Linda, it’s great to be here! Thank you for having me. Glad you’ve got the heating on, it’s so cold outside!

Let me know if you need the heating tweaking up a bit as we chat. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought my newest and most exciting novel with me – 337. It comes out later this year on the 30th November and I thought I’d give you all a little preview of what’s been going on in the Hideaway Fall cabin this year.

Not long to go now then. Happy publication day for 30th November! What can we expect from an evening in with 337?

I wrote this book as a challenge to myself, to see if I could write a novel where the entire story hinges on the last word, which changes your view about many of the characters you’ve travelled through the story with. I’ve always been fascinated by the human condition and what leads people to do the things they do, and this story explores how the consequences of just one event can ripple through the years, changing everything. Expect all your perceptions to be challenged, nothing is as it seems.

You manage that brilliantly. I thought 337 was fabulous and am delighted to share my review below.

My own Nanna, Frances Joan died whilst I was writing the story and I remember feeling very panicked in her last few days that knowledge would disappear with her. This gave me the idea for a character disappearing without a trace, in just the same way as the knowledge.

Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope 337 can be a constant reminder of Frances Joan. Ironically, it’s the anniversary of my Dad’s funeral today so this conversation feels especially poignant.

What else have you brought along and why?

Well, I have brought a few picnic supplies with me, if you wouldn’t mind joining me for a cup of tea and a sandwich?

Always ready for a cuppa and a sandwich in this house!

You’re lucky that the basket is actually full of food today – we’ve been using it to haul 337 books around, my kids were very disappointed at the lack of sausage rolls!


I bet that took some lugging about. Why did you use a picnic basket?

A fraught family picnic in the park is what starts the whole novel in motion and is the last time young Samuel sees his mother so it seemed only right. Here’s a sneak peek at how the picnic goes down for the Darte family…

Everything is spread out on the blanket in front of us: an array of sandwiches, sausage rolls, tomatoes, lettuce, vol-au-vents, crisps, celery, cheese, crackers. We wait patiently as she removes the cling film from each item. Gramps lights his pipe and we all wait a little longer until he has finished smoking. I watch the smoke disappear into the blue sky and wish for a moment it was me. Eventually, Gramps collects his plate and begins to fill it with food. Again, we all wait, watching in silence until he has finished. Then he places his plate down on the grass next to him and bows his head solemnly. He closes his eyes and reopens them, and that is an indication that we can now join in.

Oh yes! I loved the opening of 337 as you headed towards the picnic memory Jonathan. In fact, I loved the entire book and once I’ve given blog readers some further information I’ll be sharing my review. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about 337.  


337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth.

Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

337 will be published by Hideaway Fall on 30th November and is available for pre-order here. Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only.

My Review of 337

Samuel’s grand mother is dying.

I had no idea what to expect from 337, but I hadn’t anticipated quite such a wonderful, poetic and beautifully written narrative. I was drawn in from the very first moment as M. Jonathan Lee took me into the story as if I were there visualising it with him in an almost dreamlike state. It’s that blurring of memory, truth and reality that ripples through the book so effectively that had me completely entranced. I found the physical structure of the writing superb too. M. Jonathan Lee knows exactly when one word is sufficient to convey incredible meaning. Repetition, description, plotting, direct speech – every aspect of a writer’s craft combines in 337 to be so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a brilliant book.

The characterisation is wonderful. Told from Sam’s perspective, the reduced palette of characters in 337 means that there is an intensity to the narrative and all through the book I wasn’t entirely sure how reliable a narrator Sam was. His direct appeal to the reader means that they are taken directly into his confidence and yet his flexible approach to working from home introduces a slight sense of disquiet. I found this hugely effective. Particularly realistic for me was Sam’s time at his grand mother’s bedside. So many of the thoughts Sam experienced as he waited for her to die resonated with me from when I sat with my own father waiting for his final breath. I found this very, very moving.

It’s difficult to say too much about the plot, although in one sense very little happens, as this is a story of people and the reverberations of past actions rather than present ones, but I found it riveting. When M. Jonathan Lee inverts reader perceptions and expectations, I found my response quite visceral. Those whom I perhaps should have forgiven in the story I felt got what they deserved anyway. I was glad some things occurred as they did. I know this is vague but you’ll have to read the book to see what I mean.

The themes of 337 are magnificent. M. Jonathan Lee knows exactly how to shine a laser light into the human soul and lay it bare for all to see. Truth is at the heart of the narrative, but it’s a truth distorted by time, by memory and perception, so that it leaves the reader wondering how much of their own memory is blurred and created rather than actual. Themes of love, betrayal, manipulation, guilt, family, addiction and self awareness add layers of interest and emotion so that reading 337 is quite a highly charged experience. I couldn’t tear myself away.

Indeed, 337 is an intense, beautifully written exploration of humanity that I adored. I fear it may be a quiet book that many potential readers miss but I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About M. Jonathan Lee

M. Jonathan Lee (also known as Jonathan Lee) is an award-winning novelist who has had two novels in the top 10 Amazon charts. He was born in Yorkshire, northern England where he still lives today.

His first novel, the critically-acclaimed The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012 and is the first in the loosely titled The ‘The’ trilogy.

M. Jonathan Lee works closely with Rethink and Mind Charities to raise awareness of mental health issues, and is a regular commentator on the BBC.

His latest novel, 337, is due out on 30th November 2020 and is published by Hideaway Fall.

You can follow M. Jonathan Lee on Twitter @MJonathanLee, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

Introducing A Box of Stories @aboxofstories

It’s less than a week since Ahmed got in touch from A Box of Stories to see if I might be interested in featuring this super book box initiative on Linda’s Book Bag. Now, although I’m not really accepting new blog material I thought it sounded intriguing so I asked him to explain more.

This is what he told me:

At A Box of Stories, our surprise book boxes introduce readers to amazing new authors and stories. Over 70 million books are destroyed each year, resulting in many never making it into the hands of people that might otherwise love them. By scanning thousands of titles and using real reader recommendations, each box saves four books and allows our community to discover titles beyond the obvious bestsellers.

Well I could hardly resist finding out more so I agreed to take one of A Box of Stories boxes to see what I thought. I have to say, I’m very impressed.

There are there several book boxes to choose from and you can click on each one to discover more:

Surprise box of 4 fiction books

Surprise box of 4 mixed books

Crime, Mystery and Thriller box of 4 surprise books

Young Adult box of 4 surprise books

Latest Releases: Fiction box of 4 books

Light Reads box of 4 surprise books

Historical Fiction box of 4 surprise books

Books are chosen for the boxes using algorithms that are simply beyond me, but that allow meaningful book boxes to be created.

You can choose a one off box or, with a discount, you can take out a subscription. There’s also a special first time subscription purchase discount of 30% for Linda’s Book Bag readers so read on for more information.

My Surprise Box of 4 Fiction Books

I ordered my box of mixed fiction on Thursday evening after 8PM, had an order confirmation and tracking number first thing on Friday and the box arrived within the 48 hour Royal Mail Tracked window on Monday lunchtime.

The box that arrived was excellent in robustness, so that even though it had suffered slightly at the hands of postie the books inside were in pristine condition. I think that’s a really important aspect of this book box, as A Box of Stories ships not only to the UK, but to Ireland, Austria, Belgium, France Germany, Malta, the Netherlands and Poland.

What could be better in these uncertain Covid times than being able to send a wonderful surprise of books to family and friends you might not be able to see? Prices start from £14.99 and there is even a gift card you could send so that recipients can choose their own box.

With a percentage of profits going to charity too, this sounds like a fantastic idea.

It was lovely to discover recyclable brown paper keeping the books snug as well as a cheerful postcard that makes an excellent bookmark.

My box included two hard backed and two paperback books, all in absolutely perfect condition, all for £14.99 delivered.

I looked up the current prices on a well known online store for the editions I had received and discovered The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan is selling for £17.99, and £7.15 in paperback. Plume by Will Wiles is currently £13.46 in hardback and £7.18 in paperback, the edition of Bev Thomas’ A Good Enough Mother is £12.15 although a different edition is £7.29 and finally, a paperback of Camilla Grebe’s The Ice Beneath Her is £5.71. Even at the lowest prices these four books would have cost me £27.33 and the editions I actually received come to £49.31. Either way, this represents superb value for four books in my A Box of Stories box, especially as there is free shipping in the UK.

I really am incredibly impressed by A Box of Stories. I like the concept of ‘saving’ books that have been ‘quiet books’ that readers would love, but that might not have had huge marketing budgets behind them so that they have been missed. I like the idea of getting a bargain – who doesn’t? And I love the idea that charities working for literacy will benefit from sales too.

If others are interested, A Box of Stories offers bloggers an affiliate programme. Any blog readers who fancy one of the book boxes can have 30% off their first subscription using the code LindasBookBag. although as I’ve only just taken part, it might take a couple of days for the code above to become active. I don’t think you can go wrong really! Visit the A Box of Stories website, follow them on Twitter @aboxofstories or find them on Facebook for more information.

Love in Lockdown by Chloe James

When Ellie Pilcher at Harper Collins provided a copy of Love In Lockdown by Chloe James in return for an honest review, I wasn’t sure whether a lockdown story would be for me. However, I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Avon today, 23rd November 2020, in ebook Love in Lockdown is available for purchase through the links here.

Love in Lockdown

Do you believe in love before first sight?

Lockdown is putting Sophia’s life on pause – just as she planned to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest. He’s going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until the night he hears a woman crying from the balcony under his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

Can they fall in love during a lockdown?

My Review of Love in Lockdown

Relationships need working on in lockdown!

Initially I wasn’t at all sure I was going to enjoy Love in Lockdown. I found a little too much direct speech for my reader taste and Chloe James’ writing was a bit too close to the real experience of lockdown. However, suddenly I clicked into the rhythm of the narrative and found I actually rather enjoyed the story. Of course there was a lot of direct speech. Chloe James was illustrating the reality of human contact in lockdown. We all had to rely on phones and online chat. Her portrayal of the pandemic situation was so well written that it placed me back into the early weeks of the first full national lockdown incredibly effectively. This is very clever writing. I could identify with, and remember, so many of the references that I felt I was part of the narrative too. I think this is a real strength. Those living alone, in anonymous flats or who are feeling disconnected from society because of Covid 19 might well find considerable solace in Love in Lockdown as it has the potential to make them feel part of the world, albeit vicariously.

Essentially Love in Lockdown is an unusual love story for unusual times. I very much appreciated that Jack and Sophie’s relationship is not based on appearance, but that they gradually get to know one another through interaction and not immediate physical attraction. There’s a charm to this that is quite heart warming and by the end of the Love in Lockdown I wanted them to have a happy ever after ending – although you’ll have to read it for yourself to see if that happens! I enjoyed the secondary characters too, especially because they represent the full range of society from children to the elderly because it made the story feel more inclusive.

However, what I most enjoyed about Love in Lockdown was the overarching message that, although we may have a ‘new normal’, life does go on; birth, marriage, death, love, friendship and community are all still there for us. We may need to reach out for them differently, but with sensitivity towards others and a small amount of effort, life is till there. If there are those, like me initially, who felt reading a book set during the pandemic might be a bit too much, I’d say give Love in Lockdown a try. You might find that you really enjoy it. I did.

About Chloe James

Staying in with Kelly Creighton on Problems with Girls Publication Day

It’s a real thrill to be staying in with Kelly Creighton on publication day to discuss her brand new novel Problems with Girls. I’m delighted she’s here so let’s see what Kelly has to tell us:

Staying in with Kelly Creighton

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Kelly. I’m delighted to welcome you here. 

Thank you for having me over on your fabulous blog, Linda.

Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. I rather think I know, but tell me Kelly, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Problems with Girls is the book I have brought. It is book 2 in the DI Harriet Sloane series rounding the series out as distinctly feminist and is out today!

Happy publication day Kelly. What can we expect from an evening in with Problems with Girls?

The Sloane series is set in East Belfast and has that typical dark NI humour, but I also hope it says something about our society at the minute, which crime fiction usually does. It deals with cyberbullying, mental health and how young women are an invisible part of our society in Northern Ireland.

It sounds as if the DI Harriet Slaone series is incredibly pertinent to today’s society. So, what else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I have brought a bottle of Merlot. I wish I could drink red wine but unfortunately it gives me migraines. I have to stick to white wine.

Oh. I’m with you on that. I can’t drink wine. 

Harriet enjoys a glass of Merlot though, sometimes too many. It would be the perfect accompaniment to the book and I know of a writer who did read an ARC copy and had a glass or two as he did. To mark the launch of the book today (20 November) I am having an online event on Zoom this evening called Crime and Cocktails. It is a b.y.o.b. event to celebrate great new books that have come out lately, or will be shortly, by myself, James Murphy, Simon Maltman, Sharon Dempsey and Cara Finegan.

What a brilliant way to celebrate Problems with Girls publication day in these strange times. Have a wonderful time Kelly. I understand readers can still sign up for this event. Thanks so much for staying in and telling us a bit about the book. You pour yourself a glass of white wine and I’ll give everyone all the details they need for Problems with Girls.

Thanks Linda!

Problems with Girls

Where are the young women here? Can you even see them?

After taking some leave, DI Harriet Sloane comes back to work at Strandtown PSNI station, East Belfast, to be faced with a murder case. A young political activist has been stabbed to death in the office of a progressive political party where she works as an intern. The killer seems to have a problem with girls, and is about to strike again.

Set in 2018, a month after the Belfast Rape Trial and the #ibelieveher rallies that took place throughout Ireland, this novel asks questions about cyberbullying, mental health and consent.

Problems with Girls is a fast-paced detective novel that will keep you gripped till the very last word.
Problems with Girls is perfect for fans of Denise Mina.

Published by Friday Press today, 20th November 2020, Problems with Girls is available for purchase directly from the publisher.

About Kelly Creighton

Kelly Creighton is a creative writing teacher and the author of the DI Sloane novels, as well as the psychological thriller The Bones of It which was the San Diego Book Review 2015 Novel of the Year and longlisted for the Kate O’Brien Award.She also writes short stories, having edited short story journal The Incubator for years. Kelly Creighton published her first short story collection Bank Holiday Hurricane to critical acclaim and it was longlisted for the 2018 Edge Hill Prize and shortlisted for a Saboteur Award. She lives in Co Down, Northern Ireland.

For more information about Kelly, visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @KellyCreighto16.