Homeward Bound by Richard Smith

My enormous thanks to Ben Cameron at Cameron Publicity for sending me a copy of Homeward Bound by Richard Smith in return for an honest review. What better time to share a review of a book called Homeward Bound than on a day when many of us will wish we were doing exactly that – travelling home…

Homeward Bound is available for purchase in all the usual places including here.

Homeward Bound

George is a recently widowed seventy-nine-year-old. He nearly made it as a rock star in the 1960s and he’s not happy. Tara is his teenage granddaughter and she’s taken refuge from her bickering parents by living with George. Toby is George’s son-in-law and he wants George in a care home.

George has two secrets. 1) He’s never revealed why his music career stalled. And 2) No-one knows just how much the disappointment of opportunities missed still gnaw at him. He craves one last chance, even at his age. When it presents itself, through the appearance of a long-lost distant relative – whose chequered past should set alarm bells ringing – he can’t resist.

For Tara, living with her grandfather is a way to find her own path and develop her own musical ambitions. She isn’t prepared for the clash between different generations and living in a strange house full of her grandfather’s memories – and vinyl records.

They get off to a shaky start. George takes an instant dislike to the sounds from her bedroom that seem more suited to Guantanamo Bay than anything he would call musical. But as time plays out, they find there are more similarities – neither know how to operate a dishwasher – than differences, and parallels across the generations slowly bring them to recognise their shared strengths. But when Toby inadvertently sets in motion a chain of events, it leaves Tara with the same dilemma her grandfather faced five decades before with the same life-changing choice to make.

My Review of Homeward Bound

Tara and George are unlikely housemates.

In the interests of complete honesty, I have to admit my review of Homeward Bound might be coloured slightly by the fact that my much missed Dad was called George and could always be heard singing or whistling, so that I might be predisposed to view the narrative favourably, but I so enjoyed this story. Richard Smith writes with such passion about music without it ever feeling contrived so that George’s record collection and love of music not only drives the plot, but adds an extra dimension of interest – even to readers like me who are tone deaf! I found myself Googling some of the references as I read and can genuinely say that I have found new music through reading Homeward Bound.

The plot is smashing. The balance of sadness and happiness, ambition and diffidence is so well done. There are moments of incredible tension that had me worrying what might become of George and moments of fabulous humour too. For example, I laughed aloud at George’s first solo encounter with the Internet!

I loved meeting George. He epitomises the way modern society can try to side-line the elderly even though they have so much to offer. I found it sad that his marriage had served to curtail his creativity slightly but equally I felt uplifted by his rediscovery of his musical passion through Tara. George teachers the reader that as long as we have spirit and passion, we have life, even if physically we are no longer in peak condition. Richard Smith illustrates so effectively and frequently poignantly how the different generations actually have much in common if only they gave one another a chance. Indeed, the theme of family is incredibly realistic. There’s a caring and insightful exploration of family dynamics in Homeward Bound that makes it a very realistic as well as entertaining book.

Speaking of family, I loathed Toby. I think it says something for the quality of Richard Smith’s writing that I could cheerfully have climbed into the pages of Homeward Bound and beaten Toby senseless with a care home brochure! Tara, however, is a perfect accompaniment to George and I think one of the real successes of Homeward Bound is her increasing maturity, her sense of responsibility and her surprising personal values. Homeward Bound may be a book written by an ‘older’ author with an older protagonist in George, but it holds attraction for readers of all ages.

I’d say Homeward Bound is a surprising read. I expected it to be gentle but it is also incisive and thoroughly entertaining. I really enjoyed it.

About Richard Smith

Before embarking on his new writing career, Richard Smith was a producer of TV commercials, sponsored documentaries and educational and promotional films. It took him around the world and into places not normally accessible to visitors – up to the top of the Elizabeth Tower to see Big Ben strike twelve, on a speed boat around the Needles and North Sea oil platforms, and to the Niger Delta in Africa . . . to name but a few. Worryingly two of them were featured in a British Library annual exhibition, ‘Propoganda’! Richard lives in London.

Homeward Bound is Richard’s first book, at age 71. While the story is entirely fictional, George’s record collection really is Richard’s.

You can find out more by visiting Richard’s blog or following him on Twitter @RichardWrites2.

Finding Love at the Christmas Market by Jo Thomas

I absolutely love Jo Thomas writing and it gives me enormous pleasure to share my review of her latest book Finding Love at the Christmas Market today. I still have Jo’s summer book Escape to the French Farmhouse waiting for me to read and I can’t wait!

You can read my reviews of Jo’s books Coming Home to Winter Island here, A Winter Beneath The Stars hereSunset Over the Cherry Orchard hereThe Olive Branch here and Late Summer in the Vineyard here. I also have a smashing post about Jo’s top 5 holiday destinations that you can read here.

Published by Transworld imprint Corgi, Finding Love at the Christmas Market is available for purchase thorough these links.

Finding Love at the Christmas Market

Residential-home caterer Connie has had one online-dating disaster too many. Hurt in the past and with her son to consider, now she’s feeling hesitant. Then one of Connie’s residents sets her up on a date at a beautiful German Christmas market – with the promise she’ll take a mini-bus full of pensioners along with her…

Amongst the twinkling lights and smell of warm gingerbread in the old market square, Connie heads off on her date with a checklist of potential partner must-haves. Baker Henrich ticks all the boxes, but when Connie meets Henrich’s rival William, she starts to wonder if ticking boxes is the answer.

Will Connie’s wish for love this Christmas come true, and if so – with who?

My Review of Finding Love at the Christmas Market

Connie needs to tick things off her list to find her perfect partner.

Finding Love at the Christmas Market is another lovely, lovely book from Jo Thomas. It has all her trademark elements with mouth watering food, evocative settings, and believable characters blended into a glorious, escapist read that I thought was wonderful. With so many experiencing Christmas alone or in reduced circumstances, missing family, travel and new memories, Finding Love at the Christmas Market is the perfect way to experience all the positive aspects we are denied.  Every sense from sight to sound, touch to taste and scent is catered for here. The title couldn’t be more apt because although one might expect romantic love, other forms are splendidly woven through the narrative with platonic, filial and community love playing their part in making Finding Love at the Christmas Market such a smashing story.

In fact, I thoroughly appreciated the sense of community illustrated in this motley group of pensioners led by Connie. Although she is no longer alive, Elsie is the catalyst for the action and Finding Love at the Christmas Market felt like a tribute to a real person and to so many who have left us in 2020. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Pearl holds such wisdom as she subtly steers Connie in the right direction. As for Connie herself, by the time I had finished reading Finding Love at the Christmas Market, I was feeling her emotions every bit as much as she was. She holds a kind of Everywoman quality that appeals completely. It’s such a positive experience to read about older characters who are not side-lined, but who are very much at the heart of the action.

There are such beautiful themes here. Jo Thomas understands that what we all need is human connection, friendship and the chance to follow our hearts. Relationships in Finding Love at the Christmas Market are not perfect. Characters are affected by self-doubt, illness, grief and disability and yet we are shown that there is always love even in the bleakest of times. Finding Love at the Christmas Market is exactly the kind of book we all need, especially in the difficult times we’ve been experiencing.

Distil the essence of Christmas – love, simplicity, family and friends and this is what you have in Jo Thomas’ writing. Finding Love at the Christmas Market is a wonderful, heart-warming read for any time of year and I loved it.

About Jo Thomas

jo thomas

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her husband and three children.

You can visit Jo’s website, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @jo_thomas01.

Looking Back On 2020 Including My Favourite Reads

Well 2020’s been a bit of a year hasn’t it? I don’t usually share my books of the year until 31st December but have decided as of today I am taking a break from blogging and social media until 2021.

For me 2020 actually began to go pear shaped at 1.35AM on Boxing Day morning 2019 when we got an emergency call out to my Mum and had to dash round to sort her out. She was unwell for several weeks and looking after her has been an ongoing issue throughout the year. Between then and New Year I discovered the slight discomfort in my cheek was actually coming from an abscess in a tooth. Several visits to a specialist in Cambridge, another in Melton Mowbray and many hundreds of pounds poorer, it transpires the infection has probably been dormant for years as I had a rogue hidden canal between two tooth roots. I’ve had the tooth extracted and the one event in the diary for 2021 so far is an indirect sinus lift and an implant to look forward to, although with the spiralling cases of Covid I may postpone that treatment until I’ve had the vaccine!

Speaking of Covid, some of you know that my husband and I are nick-named the CLASHes – the Curse of Linda and Steve Hill – because, although we love travel, wherever we go there seems to be a problem. For example, we’ve had a car bomb in Spain, an earthquake in Cyprus, massacres in Egypt, floods after 27 years of drought in Africa and all kinds of ‘adventures’. I was even beaten up by a kangaroo in Australia and of course, when we visited Uluru, one of the driest places on earth, it rained.

When I tell you that we were meant to be touring China in September this year, flying into Wuhan and then, after the tour, we should have been boarding The Diamond Princess for a return to Japan on a cruise, you might see what those friends mean about the kind of luck we bring! We had intended to return to Barcelona in May and cruise the Norwegian Fjords in June after heading back to India for most of March as we’ve only ever been to Mumbai, and the centre of India to tiger reserves, before. Sadly none of those things came to pass.

We did, however, decide to blow my forthcoming lump sum from when I turn 60 in April 2021 on a motorhome. We collected it on 1st October and, before the second lockdown and then being slammed into tier 3, we managed to have a day trip to Hunstanton, two nights in Sutton-on-Sea and two nights in the Norfolk Broads as we didn’t have to use any facilities that brought us into contact with others. Oh the glamour! Not quite the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China but we saw an otter, a seal and a marsh harrier and we appreciate how lucky we are to have been able to get away at all.

I have been exceptionally cautious during the Covid pandemic, to the extent that I have been ridiculed and vilified by some! But when one of its consequences is to thicken the blood and my husband has already had a stroke when he was 56, I’m happy to be scorned if it means it keeps him safe. Add in my 87 year old mother whose shopping I take twice a week and I know I’m doing the right thing until we are all vaccinated.

It hasn’t been all doom and gloom though. I was thrilled to feature in both Woman’s Own and Woman’s Weekly this year and in a local magazine The Village Diary as well as on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that you can listen to here if you’re remotely interested! I’m on about 20 minutes in after Justine Green and Kate Humble!

I’ve ‘attended’ all manner of online book events and it was a great honour to interview Elly Griffiths for the Deepings’ Literary Festival November Nights a few weeks ago.

With gardening, and the home gym, books have been a complete distraction in 2020. Like many others, for a while I couldn’t settle to reading, and at one point when I was getting upwards of 200 email requests a day for blog slots I thought hard about continuing to blog because about two hours a day were spent just trawling through and answering emails, but eventually I settled into a pattern and when I simply couldn’t concentrate on reading I did something else. I have made the decision not to accept new blog tours in 2021 aside from those I have already accepted, books I’m desperate to read or if requests come directly from authors.

That said, I have managed over 150 reads and 293 blog posts in 2020. I never give stars for a book on Linda’s Book Bag because it feels like too blunt an instrument to me. I do, however, keep a spreadsheet where I score books out of 100. Those attaining 95+/100 become my books of the year so I don’t have any limits like top 20. It simply depends on what I enjoyed the most and it is those books I’d like to highlight here today.

They are presented in the order I read them, NOT in rank order! If you click on the titles, you will be able to read my full reviews.

Three Hours – Rosamund Lupton

three hours

Three hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds.

It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.

It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.

It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. From the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

The First Time I Saw You – Emma Cooper

The First Time I saw you

Six-foot-two Irish man who answers to the name Samuel McLaughlin.
Has weak shins and enjoys show tunes.
If found, please return to Sophie Williams.

Before Sophie met Samuel she saw the world in grey.
Before Samuel met Sophie, he never believed in love at first sight.

When they first meet, something tells them they are meant to be.
But fate has other ideas.

Now they have lost each other and can’t see a way back.
But they’ve already changed each other’s lives in more ways than they ever expected…

Dear Life – Rachel Clarke

dear life

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

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

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

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

The Snow Collectors – Tina May Hall

The Snow Collectors

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

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

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

Wild Spinning Girls -Carol Lovekin

Wild Spinning Girls Cover

If it wasn’t haunted before she came to live there, after she died, Ty’r Cwmwl made room for her ghost. She brought magic with her.

And the house, having held its breath for years, knew it. Ida Llewellyn loses her job and her parents in the space of a few weeks and, thrown completely off course, she sets out for the Welsh house her father has left her. Ty’r Cwmwl is not at all welcoming despite the fact it looks inhabited, as if someone just left..

It is being cared for as a shrine by the daughter of the last tenant. Determined to scare off her old home’s new landlord, Heather Esyllt Morgan sides with the birds who terrify Ida and plots to evict her. The two girls battle with suspicion and fear before discovering that the secrets harboured by their thoughtless parents have grown rotten with time. Their broken hearts will only mend once they cast off the house and its history, and let go of the keepsakes that they treasure like childhood dreams.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda – Elisabeth Gifford

Lost Lights of St Kilda Cover

A sweeping novel set on the Scottish island of St Kilda, following the last community to live there before it was evacuated in 1930.

When Fred Lawson takes a summer job on St Kilda in 1927, little does he realise that he has joined the last community to ever live on that desolate, isolated island. Only three years later, St Kilda will be evacuated, the islanders near-dead from starvation. But for Fred, that summer is the bedrock of his whole life…

Chrissie Gillies is just nineteen when the researchers come to St Kilda. Hired as their cook, she can’t believe they would ever notice her, sophisticated and educated as they are. But she soon develops a cautious friendship with Fred, a friendship that cannot be allowed to develop into anything more…

In Five Years – Rebecca Serle

in five years

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan has been in possession of her meticulously crafted answer since she understood the question. On the day that she nails the most important job interview of her career and gets engaged to the perfect man, she’s well on her way to fulfilling her life goals.

That night Dannie falls asleep only to wake up in a different apartment with a different ring on her finger, and in the company of a very different man. The TV is on in the background, and she can just make out the date. It’s the same night – December 15th – but 2025, five years in the future.

It was just a dream, she tells herself when she wakes, but it felt so real… Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four and a half years later, when Dannie turns down a street and there, standing on the corner, is the man from her dream…

The Switch – Beth O’Leary

The Switch

Eileen is sick of being 79.
Leena’s tired of life in her twenties.
Maybe it’s time they swapped places…

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbours and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

Hamnet Cover


On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

The House at Silvermoor – Tracy Rees

The House at Silvermoor

England, 1899. A new century is dawning, and two young friends are about to enter into a world of money, privilege and family secrets…

Josie has never questioned her life in a South Yorkshire mining village. But everything changes when she meets Tommy from the neighbouring village. Tommy has been destined for a life underground since the moment he was born. But he has far bigger dreams for his future.

United by their desire for something better and by their fascination with the local gentry, Josie and Tommy become fast friends. Wealthy and glamorous, the Sedgewicks of Silvermoor inhabit a world that is utterly forbidden to Tommy and Josie. Yet as the new century arrives, the pair become entangled with the grand family, and discover a long hidden secret.

Will everything change as they all step forward into the new dawn…?

We Begin at the End – Chris Whittaker

We Begin at the End

‘You can’t save someone that doesn’t want to be saved . . .’

Thirty years ago, Vincent King became a killer.

Now, he’s been released from prison and is back in his hometown of Cape Haven, California. Not everyone is pleased to see him. Like Star Radley, his ex-girlfriend, and sister of the girl he killed.

Duchess Radley, Star’s thirteen-year-old daughter, is part-carer, part-protector to her younger brother, Robin – and to her deeply troubled mother. But in trying to protect Star, Duchess inadvertently sets off a chain of events that will have tragic consequences not only for her family, but also the whole town.

Murder, revenge, retribution.

How far can we run from the past when the past seems doomed to repeat itself?

A Wedding at the Beach Hut – Veronica Henry

The Wedding at the Beach Hut Cover

Escape to Everdene Sands, where the sun is shining – but is the tide about to turn?

Robyn and Jake are planning their dream wedding at the family beach hut in Devon. A picnic by the turquoise waves, endless sparkling rosé and dancing barefoot on the golden sand . . .

But Robyn is more unsettled than excited. She can’t stop thinking about the box she was given on her eighteenth birthday, and the secrets it contains. Will opening it reveal the truth about her history – and break the hearts of the people she loves most?

As the big day arrives, can everyone let go of the past and step into a bright new future?


Hello, Again – Isabelle Broom

Hello Again

Philippa Taylor (Pepper to her friends) has big dreams. When she closes her eyes, she can picture exactly who she ought to be. The problem is, it’s about as far away from her real life in a small coastal town in Suffolk as she can imagine.

So when her elderly friend Josephine persuades Pepper to accompany her on a trip to Europe, she jumps at the chance to change her routine. And when Pepper bumps (literally) into the handsome Finn in Lisbon, it seems as though she might have finally found what she’s been looking for.

But Pepper know all too well things are rarely as they seem. Her own quiet life hides a dark secret from the past. And even though she and Finn may have been destined to find each other, Pepper suspects life may have other plans as to how the story should end.

A romantic and sweeping story about friendship, love and realising that sometimes it’s about the journey, not the destination.

A Saint in Swindon – Alice Jolly

When a stranger arrives in town, with a bulging blue bag and a whiff of adventure, the neighbourhood takes notice. When he asks for his meals to be sent to his room and peace and quiet for reading, curiosity turns to obsession.

Each day he stays there, locked in his room, demanding books: Plath, Kafka, Orwell, Lawrence, Fitzgerald, James, Bronte (the eldest), Dickens, Dumas, Kesey – on and on, the stranger never leaving his room. Who exactly is he? What is he reading? And will it be able to save us from the terrible state of the world?

Written by award-winning author Alice Jolly, and based on an idea by the book lovers of Swindon town, this funny and, ultimately, dystopian tale, reminds us of the importance of literature in an increasingly dark world.

A Hundred Million Years and a Day – Jean Baptiste Andrea

a hundred million

Stan has been hunting for fossils since the age of six. Now, in the summer of 1954, he hears a story he cannot forget: the skeleton of a huge creature – a veritable dragon – lies deep in an Alpine glacier. And he is determined to find it.

But Stan is no mountaineer. To complete his dangerous expedition, he must call on loyal friend Umberto, who arrives with an eccentric young assistant, and expert guide Gio. Time is short: the four men must descend before the weather turns. As bonds are forged and tested, the hazardous quest for the earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

Mike Craven – The Curator

The Curator

It’s Christmas and a serial killer is leaving displayed body parts all over Cumbria. A strange message is left at each scene: #BSC6

Called in to investigate, the National Crime Agency’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are faced with a case that makes no sense. Why were some victims anaesthetized, while others died in appalling agony? Why is their only suspect denying what they can irrefutably prove but admitting to things they weren’t even aware of? And why did the victims all take the same two weeks off work three years earlier?

And when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch things take an even darker turn. Because she doesn’t think Poe is dealing with a serial killer at all; she thinks he’s dealing with someone far, far worse – a man who calls himself the Curator.

And nothing will ever be the same again . . .

Sunny days and Sea Breezes – Carole Matthews

Sunny days

Jodie Jackson is all at sea, in every sense.

On a ferry bound for the Isle of Wight, she’s leaving her London life, her career, and her husband behind. She’d like a chance to turn back the clocks, but she’ll settle for some peace and quiet on her brother Bill’s beautifully renovated houseboat, Sunny Days.

But from the moment Jodie steps aboard her new home, it’s clear she’ll struggle to keep herself to herself. If it isn’t Marilyn, who cleans for Bill and is under strict instructions to look after Jodie, then it’s Ned, the noisy sculptor on the next-door houseboat. Ned’s wood carving is hard on the ears, but it’s made up for by the fact that he’s rather easy on the eyes.

Bustled out of the boat by Marilyn and encouraged to explore with Ned, Jodie soon delights in her newfound freedom. But out of mind isn’t out of sight, and when her old life comes knocking Jodie is forced to face reality. Will she answer the call or choose a life filled with Sunny Days and Sea Breezes?

The Life We Almost Had – Amelia Henley

The Life We Almost Had

This is not a typical love story, but it’s our love story.

Anna wasn’t looking for love when Adam swept her off her feet but there was no denying their connection, and she believed they would be together forever.

Years later, cracks have appeared in their relationship. Anna is questioning whether their love can really be eternal when a cruel twist of fate delivers a crushing blow, and Anna and Adam are completely lost to one another. Now, Anna needs Adam more than ever, but the way back to him has life-changing consequences.

Is a second chance at first love really worth the sacrifice? Anna needs to decide and time is running out…

A beautiful and emotional love story that asks, how far would you go for a second chance at first love? Perfect for fans of The Man Who Didn’t Call and Miss You.

The Siege of Caerlaverock – Barbara Henderson

The Siege of Caerlaverock Paperback FOIL FINAL JUNE 20203 (2)

Enemies within.

Enemies without.

Nowhere to hide.

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

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

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

Betty – Tiffany McDaniel

‘A girl comes of age against the knife’

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter

Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty and violence – both from outside the family and also, devastatingly, from within. When her family’s darkest secrets are brought to light, Betty has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters in her rural town of Breathed, Ohio.

Despite the hardship she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters and her father’s brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all she bears witness to, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write.

A heartbreaking yet magical story, BETTY is a punch-in-the-gut of a novel – full of the crushing cruelty of human nature and the redemptive power of words.

Our Story – Miranda Dickinson

Our story

Otty has just landed her dream job. She’s about to join the writing team of one of the most respected showrunners in TV. And then the night before her first day, she’s evicted from her flat.

Joe has been working with Russell for years. He’s the best writer on his team, but lately something has been off. He’s trying to get his mojo back, but when his flatmate moves out without warning he has other things to worry about.

Otty moving into Joe’s house seems like the perfect solution to both their problems, but neither is prepared for what happens next. Paired together in the writing room, their obvious chemistry sparks from the page and they are the writing duo to beat. But their relationship off the page is an entirely different story, and neither of them can figure out why.

And suddenly the question isn’t, will they, or won’t they? It’s why won’t they?

An epic and modern love story for our times, we will all see ourselves reflected in Otty and Joe. We are our own biggest barriers and this novel explores what happens when we get out of our own way. And it is glorious.

Older and Wider – Jenny Eclair

‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

A Year of Living Simply – Kate Humble

If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy.  And yet attaining happiness has become, it appears, anything but simple. Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is all too often peddled as the sure fire route to happiness.  So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young?  Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt?

So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness?  Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy.  Do we need to take a step back, reprioritise?  Do we need to make our lives more simple?

Kate Humble’s fresh and frank exploration of a stripped-back approach to life is uplifting, engaging and inspiring – and will help us all find balance and happiness every day.

The Stolen Sisters – Louise Jensen

Sisterhood binds them. Trauma defines them. Will secrets tear them apart?

Leah’s perfect marriage isn’t what it seems but the biggest lie of all is that she’s learned to live with what happened all those years ago. Marie drinks a bit too much to help her forget. And Carly has never forgiven herself for not keeping them safe.

Twenty years ago the Sinclair sisters were taken. But what came after their return was far worse. Can a family ever recover, especially when not everyone is telling the truth…?

The Salt Path -Raynor Winn

Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.

The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.

This Time Next Year – Sophie Cousens

This Time Next Year Cover (1)

Get ready to fall for this year’s most extraordinary love story

Quinn and Minnie are born on New Year’s Eve, in the same hospital, one minute apart.

Their lives may begin together, but their worlds couldn’t be more different.

Thirty years later they find themselves together again in the same place, at the same time.

What if fate is trying to bring them together?

Maybe it’s time to take a chance on love…

Gobbledy – Lis Anna-Langston

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.

The Boy Between – Amanda Prowse and Josiah Hartley

Bestselling novelist Amanda Prowse knew how to resolve a fictional family crisis. But then her son came to her with a real one…

Josiah was nineteen with the world at his feet when things changed. Without warning, the new university student’s mental health deteriorated to the point that he planned his own death. His mother, bestselling author Amanda Prowse, found herself grappling for ways to help him, with no clear sense of where that could be found. This is the book they wish had been there for them during those dark times.

Josiah’s situation is not unusual: the statistics on student mental health are terrifying. And he was not the only one suffering; his family was also hijacked by his illness, watching him struggle and fearing the day he might succeed in taking his life.

In this book, Josiah and Amanda hope to give a voice to those who suffer, and to show them that help can be found. It is Josiah’s raw, at times bleak, sometimes humorous, but always honest account of what it is like to live with depression. It is Amanda’s heart-rending account of her pain at watching him suffer, speaking from the heart about a mother’s love for her child.

For anyone with depression and anyone who loves someone with depression, Amanda and Josiah have a clear message—you are not alone, and there is hope.

337 – M. Jonathan Lee

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.

The Clearing – Samantha Clarke

This house has been a regular presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My heart has sunk a little every time I walk in . . .

Samantha Clark enjoyed a busy career as an artist before returning home to Glasgow to take care of the house that her parents had left behind. Moving from room to room, sifting through the clutter of belongings, reflecting on her mother’s long, sedated years of mental illness and her father’s retreat to the world of amateur radio and model planes, Samantha began to contemplate her inheritance.

A need for creativity and a desire for solitude had sprung up from a childhood shaped by anxiety and confusion. Weaving in the works and lives of others, including celebrated painter Agnes Martin and scientist of dark matter Vera Rubin, The Clearing is a powerful account of what we must do with the things we cannot know.

The Flip Side – James Bailey

It’s New Year’s Eve and Josh has a high-flying proposal planned. An exclusive pod on the London Eye, with champagne, truffles and the ring. It’s perfect.

Until she says no. And they have to spend the next 29 excruciating minutes alone together.

By the time Josh is back on the ground, his whole life is up in the air. He’s managed to lose his girlfriend, his job and his flat.

Realising he can’t trust his own judgement, Josh puts his faith in fate. From now on he will make every choice by flipping a coin. It’s reckless and scary, but Josh has tried the right way and look where he ended up.

And what if the girl of his dreams is just one flip of a coin away?

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Milly Johnson

It’s nearly Christmas and it’s snowing, hard. Deep in the Yorkshire Moors nestles a tiny hamlet, with a pub at its heart. As the snow falls, the inn will become an unexpected haven for six people forced to seek shelter there…

Mary has been trying to get her boss Jack to notice her for four years, but he can only see the efficient PA she is at work. Will being holed up with him finally give her the chance she has been waiting for?

Bridge and Luke were meeting for five minutes to set their divorce in motion. But will getting trapped with each other reignite too many fond memories – and love?

Charlie and Robin were on their way to a luxury hotel in Scotland for a very special Christmas. But will the inn give them everything they were hoping to find – and much more besides?

A story of knowing when to hold on and when to let go, of pushing limits and acceptance, of friendship, love, laughter, mince pies and the magic of Christmas.

Gorgeous, warm and full of heartfelt emotion, I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day is the perfect read this winter!


Phew! That’s quite some list. I don’t know whether it was the quality of the books, my need for escapism in 2020 or something else but these particular books have stayed with me throughout the year and I’ve loved them. I only wish I could have included all those that scored 90-94% in my personal ranking system too! So, with this many books bringing me such joy, which was my overall favourite?

Like last year (see here), there are two which scored the highest marks jointly and they were Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton and The Life We Almost Had by Amelia Henley. Both books couldn’t be more different from one another and yet they both have an emotional quality I found exceptional.

However hard and unusual 2020 has been, books have remained a constant in my life. I am incredibly grateful to all the authors, publicists, blog tour organisers and publishers who have sent me books for review. I cannot thank you all enough. Similarly, to all of you who follow Linda’s Book Bag, those who share my blog posts and support me, I want to say thank you for helping me share the book love. I hope you’ve found a book to bring you joy through my posts over the year.

Here’s hoping 2021 will be happy and healthy for all of you. Happy New Year!

Linda x

Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal by Stella Eden

With 2020 having been such a difficult year and 2021 fast approaching I think now seems the perfect time to review Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal by Stella Eden as so many of us will be reflecting on our lives and perhaps making some new resolutions for next year. My grateful thanks to Stella for sending me a copy of Stella’s Open Road Trip in return for an honest review.

Published on 12th October 2021, Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal is available for purchase here, and directly from the author here.

Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal

This journal is funky, colourful and totally interactive. You can write on the pictures – your ideas, what you need to do, planning adventures, making to do lists and absolutely anything else you may want to write, draw and stick in. Be as creative as you want to.

My Review of Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal

An interactive self-awareness book.

In a sense, there isn’t a great deal of content to review in Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal as, star shaped corner illustrations aside, many of the pages here are blank. However, that is by no means a criticism because from the vibrant and quirky front cover, through the naïve illustrations on other pages, Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal absolutely invites readers to express themselves and to rediscover their child like enjoyment in life.

Where there is content, there are activities suggested like random dot-to-dots, or the suggestion to learn a new word, perhaps even in a new language – things that can distract a troubled mind without overwhelming them. I also really loved the word play and puns that lift the spirit so that I may well ‘paws for thought’ and I can certainly envisage completing a list of ‘books I want to read’! Many of the illustrations and suggestions are repeated throughout the book and although I think some may not appreciate this aspect, I thought that repetition fitted the book’s purpose perfectly. Stella Eden encourages us to start over as many times as we like and makes us realise that a destination isn’t necessarily reached by only one road. The only aspect I might have liked to be different is the book’s title as I think some may prefer ‘My’ as opposed to ‘Stella’s’ open road trip, but again this is ameliorated by the concept that you are joining Stella and have a friend to support you along the way. In addition, there is a place to write your name and make the book your own right at the very start.

I must just mention the physical attributes of the book too as it feels high quality with smooth pages, bold and colourful images and is a great size. It would fit in a handbag or large pocket and yet has space enough for reader self expression, art work and engagement.

I think Stella’s Open Road Trip Journal would make a great gift – to yourself as well as others – as a means to start afresh at any point in the year, not just on January 1st.

About Stella Eden

Stella Eden is an author and digital artist who raises awareness about domestic abuse and coercive behaviour through her motivational writing and speaking.

For further information, visit Stella’s website or follow her on Twitter @StellaEden1. You’ll also find Stella on Instagram and Facebook.

Dead Perfect by Noelle Holten

Now, I have a TBR pile that is enormous with over 900 physical and over 1200 ebooks awaiting my attention so I am not actually accepting new blog tours at the moment. That said, I think it tells you something about my love of Noelle Holten’s writing that I readily agreed to participate in the paperback tour for her third D.C. Maggie Jamieson novel, Dead Perfect. My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books on the Bright Side publicity for inviting me to take part.

If you read my review of Noelle’s Dead Inside here, and Dead Wrong here, you’ll see why I was so keen to read Dead Perfect.

Out now in ebook from One More Chapter and published in paperback on 24th December 2020, Dead Perfect is available for purchase through the links here.

Dead Perfect

A murdered woman…

When the body of a young woman is found in a local park, DC Maggie Jamieson knows she’s dealing with no ordinary killer.  The murder victim has been disfigured; her outfit changed to resemble someone else.  Someone Maggie knows all too well…her close friend Dr Kate Moloney.

A determined detective…

Maggie is determined to keep her friend safe, but with Kate already struggling with a threatening stalker, Maggie now fears Kate’s life is in real danger.  Who else would want to harm Kate and why else would the killer be turning his victims into exact replicas – his living dolls?

Can Maggie find the depraved killer?  Or will Kate become his next living doll?

My Review of Dead Perfect

This case for Maggie is personal!

I rarely read a series of books and when I do I find it tricky to recall what happened in the previous book, but Noelle Holten has the ability to plunge her reader right to the heart of Dead Perfect without missing a beat from the previous book, whilst simultaneously not requiring them to have read anything before to grasp what is happening effortlessly.

Short fast paced chapters, natural dialogue and realistic police procedures threaded throughout Dead Perfect keep the reader hooked right the way through and make for an exciting read. I love the way the pace escalates towards the denouement with the next book in the series set up so cleverly. What I enjoyed so much about the plot of Dead Perfect was the fact that although it contains surprises, it never feels unrealistic. On occasion I’d have liked the police to behave differently, but at no point did I feel their actions were not completely authentic.

In Dead Perfect, Maggie’s personality is further developed so that I felt I really had come to know her well, and further to that I cared about her even more. She is by no means perfect, frequently quick tempered, sometimes reckless but loyal and determined so that she has a credibility for the reader. Indeed, I found her psychology almost as engaging as the plot.

An aspect of Dead Perfect that I found quite disturbing was the author’s understanding and knowledge of crime, of criminal psychology and of previous real life cases that add extra layers of interest but at the same time made me wonder just what kind of authorial mind can create this kind of book! Noelle Holten knows exactly how much to reveal to her readers to create tension, to make them anxious and to keep them turning the pages, desperate to know the outcome of the case.

Dead Perfect is another crime book winner from Noelle Holten. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am still wondering what might happen next in the lives of Maggie et al. I will just have to read the next book in the series to find out!

About Noelle Holten

Noelle Holten is an award-winning blogger at www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk. She is the PR and Social Media Manager for Bookouture, a leading digital publisher in the UK, and a regular reviewer on the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast. Noelle worked as a Senior Probation Officer for eighteen years, covering a variety of cases including those involving serious domestic abuse. She has three Hons BA’s – Philosophy, Sociology (Crime & Deviance) and Community Justice – and a Masters in Criminology. Noelle’s hobbies include reading, author-stalking and sharing the #booklove via her blog.

Dead Inside was her debut novel with Killer Reads/Harper Collins UK and the start of a new series featuring DC Maggie Jamieson.

For more information about Noelle, follow her on Twitter @nholten40, find her on FacebookAmazon and visit her blog.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Sharon Bairden

Back in 2018 I was delighted to share my views on I Am… a book arising out of a creative writing group in which lovely Sharon Bairden was involved. You’ll find that post here. As I’m not really taking on new blog material at the moment, I somehow missed being involved in the launch of Sharon’s debut novel Sins of the Father. I know what a wonderful writer Sharon is so I simply had to invite here onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a bit more about Sins of the Father and luckily she agreed to be here!

Staying in with Sharon Bairden

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

Tell me, (as if I didn’t know!) which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Hi Linda, thank you for inviting me along to a night in with you! It’s great to be in your company tonight! I’ve brought along Sins of the Father with me tonight. This is my debut novel and it was published by Red Dog Press on 27th November 2020. So this is all very new and exciting for me!

Congratulations Sharon. How exciting. Tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with Sins of the Father?

Sins of the Father is probably not going to be a warm and fluffy night in I’m afraid but it is perfect for those who like a walk on the darker side of life. It is a contemporary psychological suspense novel based in Glasgow and it explores the impact of trauma from childhood through to adulthood.

I think it sounds brilliant Sharon and I know it has been very well received. Readers are raving about Sins of the Father.

Author, SE Lynes, described it as “Authentic and raw, gritty and gripping. The depiction of unrelenting abuse is all the more powerful for happening mainly in the reader’s mind; the portrait of severe mental illness as the only viable response is both harrowing and heart shattering. I yearned for this villain, for this wee soul, to find peace.”

That’s fantastic. 

My main character, Rebecca, is not always the most likeable of characters and writing a character like this is something I really wanted to do, as I love to read an unlikeable and unreliable protagonist.

Oh I agree. It’s fascinating to see how characters are created. Will readers eventually feel positively towards Rebecca?

I hope that anyone who reads it comes away with some empathy and understanding for Rebecca and that it offers some thought around systems that can adversely affect vulnerable individuals.

Sins of the Father sounds very thought provoking and reminds me of some of the youngsters I have taught in the past.

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

If I’d been coming along in person tonight, I’d have probably brought some gin along with me, as I think some alcohol to calm the nerves might be in order! Readers have told me that the prologue was one of the darkest they had read. The prologue was actually taken from an episode of sleep paralysis, something I’ve lived with for a number of years. One night after a particularly vivid episode, I wrote it all down and from that Rebecca was born.

Oh! Sleep paralysis sounds awful. Let’s have that gin and share the prologue with readers Sharon:

Prologue Rebecca, Kirkintilloch 2018

It began the same way as always—a sense that something was lurking in the room, a black shape casting its malevolent shadow over her; the feeling of dark beady eyes feasting on her, sharp fingers pinching gently at first then becoming faster, more furious until their claws were digging into her skin, tearing at her muscles until she was sure that they would be ripped apart. In a bid to escape, she bit down hard on the unknown creatures, feeling their small bones crunch against her teeth but her bites didn’t register; they didn’t stop the relentless grabbing, crawling over her, touching her body, making her squirm, crawling up onto her chest until her breath almost left her. Struggling against them, she fought with every nerve in her body to break free, pushing until she felt herself being propelled forward, faster, more furious, the wind sounding a mighty roar, escalating to hurricane force, its violence pulling the skin back from her face as she tried desperately to soar to freedom; the 3 vibrations pounding in her head, increasing until the point she felt that every bone in her face would shatter but still the creatures chased, grabbing at their prize and unwilling to let go. Her heart pounded in her chest so hard that it felt as though it were about to break free, she was sure she was going to have a heart attack or a stroke right here, right now, such was the intensity, until finally she forced herself to stretch out her index finger, pushing it forward, screaming to break free and whoosh it was gone. Just like that. The storm had ended and as she watched the small black hands still grabbing, they slowly faded away; dimmed in their ferocity and it was quiet again. Still. Forcing her eyes to open fully, taking deep breaths, her heartbeat slowing down, she reached out and grabbed the torch lying next to her bed. Turning it on, she slumped back on her pillows as she checked her hands and face for the tell-tale marks of the teeth and claws, although she knew there would be none. In the safety of the light, her breathing slowed as she gradually became aware of the familiar surroundings, the weight lifted from her shoulders and the demons retreated to wherever they came from. 4 She could feel something warm brush up against her, rough fur as a wet nose burrowed into her palm. It was the dog. She gave a start as the memories filled her head. She turned. The cold, stiff body of the man was lying next to her, curled up on his side, his dead eyes never leaving her. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out as the dog lay down and howled.

Goodness me. That’s so atmospheric. My heart is thumping. I can’t wait to read the rest of Sins of the Father Sharon. I’d love to hear you read that at a festival.

As I’ve been missing all the book festivals this year with Covid, I’d probably bring along a few of my book tribe (I hope you have enough space!) I have really missed meeting up with fellow bloggers, readers and authors over the year. These weekend festivals are my holiday each year and they leave me feeling revitalised and inspired to write. So this year I’ve been feeling a bit like a flat battery without my festival fixes!

They are all very welcome! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Sins of the Father and happy Christmas Sharon!

Sins of the Father

Lucas Findlay thinks he has struck gold when he marries Rebecca, but she married him for one reason only – to destroy him.
When her past comes back to haunt her, Rebecca begins to disconnect from herself and the world around her. As secrets are unearthed, she begins to fear for her sanity… and her life.
With her world unravelling around her, Rebecca clings to her determination to make Lucas pay, whatever the cost.
But someone must pay for the sins of the father…

A chilling page-turner from a sharp new Scottish voice.

Published by Red Dog Books, Sins of the Father is available in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

About Sharon Bairden

By day Sharon Bairden is the Services Manager in a small local independent advocacy service and has a passion for human rights; by night she has a passion for all things criminal. She blogs over at Chapterinmylife and is delighted to be crossing over to the other side of the fence to become a writer.

Sharon’s debut novel, Sins of the Father, was released in November 2020 and is published by Red Dog Press

Sharon lives on the outskirts of Glasgow, has two grown up children, a grandson, a Golden Labrador and a cat. She spends most of her spare time doing all things bookish, from reading to attending as many book festivals and launches as she can. She has been known to step out of her comfort zone on the odd occasion and has walked over burning coals and broken glass – but not at the same time!

Follow Sharon on Twitter @sbairden.

Snap by Belinda Bauer

Given that I simply didn’t get round to writing a review of last month’s U3A Book Group book, I’m delighted today to share my review of this month’s choice, Snap by Belinda Bauer, especially because I’ve been wanting to read Snap for ages.

Published by Penguin on 23rd August 2018, Snap is available for purchase through the links here.



On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long.

But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. . .

My Review of Snap

Jack wants answers about his mother’s murder.

I’ve seen mixed reviews about Snap, and I would agree that grumpy detectives with a chip on their shoulder like Marvel are very prevalent in crime fiction and that I did have to suspend my disbelief at the neatness of some of the plotting, but I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed Snap nonetheless.

There’s a cracking pace to Snap, partly achieved by the short snappy (forgive the pun) chapters so that I thought I’d just read one more, and then another, devouring the narrative very quickly because I found it highly entertaining.  Even at sentence level the writing is pared down, brisk and sharp with naturalistic dialogue that drives the story on so that reading it becomes absolutely addictive.

I especially enjoyed the injection of dark humour, the way my pulse increased on occasion and the touching moments that illustrate just how it isn’t only the victim of a murder who is affected by the event. Whilst I guessed some aspects of the story, there were also some surprises that made me exclaim aloud so that Snap is a compelling read.

With the odd exception I can’t reveal for fear of spoiling the book for others, I enjoyed meeting all the characters in Snap, but it was Jack who held my attention most. His desperate desire to hold his dysfunctional family together is poignant, and unfortunately all too possible for some youngsters in today’s society and he reminded me of students I have taught in the past. I found his sense of honour amongst thieves, alongside Louis, far more acceptable than some of Marvel’s behaviour and tactics. Snap illustrates that life isn’t necessarily straightforward and that morality can have very blurred edges.

Indeed, it is the exploration of moral and legal right and wrong, of whether the end justifies the means that I found so intriguing about Snap. Reading the book made me think, and it was intriguing how Belinda Bauer made me empathise more with the criminals than the police. I was also made quite uncomfortable about how disinterested we can be about other people’s lives and how they can be living lives of deep awfulness but we choose not to get involved, not to notice or offer help. Add in themes of family, loyalty, manipulation, loss and grief and even mental health and Snap can actually be read on a deeper level than just as a really good crime thriller.

Snap is a fast-paced, exciting read that I very much enjoyed. It’s sheer escapism and I found it a brilliant distraction from the real world.

About Belinda Bauer

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa and now lives in Wales. She worked as a journalist and a screenwriter before finally writing a book to appease her nagging mother. With her debut, Blacklands, Belinda was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger for Crime Novel of the Year. She went on to win the CWA Dagger in the Library for her body of work in 2013. Her fourth novel Rubbernecker was voted 2014 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. In 2018 her eighth novel, Snap, was longlisted for the Man Booker prize. Her books have been translated into 21 languages. She has also written the thriller High Rollers under the pen-name Jack Bowman.

You can find out more by following Belinda’s publisher tweets @BelindaBauer or visiting her Facebook page.

A Murderous (and exciting) Two Book Giveaway from John Nightingale

It’s almost exactly four years since I interviewed John Nightingale about his thriller The Appearance of Murder in a post you can read here. I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t managed to read The Appearance of Murder, especially as Ian Rankin asked for a copy of the book in his Christmas stocking and it featured as one of the 2015 books of the year in The Times! However, I hope to rectify that omission from my reading soon, not least because the second book in John’s David Knight Series, The Direction of Murder has just been published and is sitting waiting for me on my TBR pile.

It’s a real pleasure and privilege today to be able to run a giveaway for both books in John Nightingale’s David Knight Series with one lucky blog reader receiving a hard back copy of both The Appearance of Murder and The Direction of Murder.

Before I tell you how to enter, here are the details you need about both books:

The Appearance of Murder


Crime writer David Knight is dragged back into a past in which it seems he might have fathered a child or even committed murder. Neither possibility is going to be popular with his wife Kate.

The trouble is that David hasn’t a clue about what actually happened…

The Appearance of Murder was published by Spider Monkey Books and is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here and directly from the publisher here.

The Direction of Murder

David Knight returns…

Crime writer David Knight finds himself a little out of his comfort zone when asked to develop the script for a film of one of his novels. And yet a week in a moated country house with A-list stars is too good to miss, even if the director is notorious for playing with the emotions of his actors, and everyone else.

It is only when he discovers that his detective is being portrayed by a method actor, who appears to believe he actually is Tom Travis, that David becomes seriously uneasy. Nor does it help that he has caught the eye of the director’s glamorous, and very rich, wife.

But that is only the start. David finds himself at the centre of events that not only involve unusual murder weapons and locked rooms, but sudden death.

Can David find a way of keeping fiction and reality apart?

The Direction of Murder is available for purchase directly from the publisher and on Amazon.


Don’t those two books sound brilliant? You can enter to win a hardbacked copy of BOTH The Appearance of Murder and The Direction of Murder by clicking here.

This giveaway ends at UK midnight on Sunday 20th December 2020. The winner will receive their books directly from the author John Nightingale.

About John Nightingale


John Nightingale is a thriller writer and creator of the David Knight and Jane Charles series. Before becoming a full-time novelist, John worked as a civil servant in a number of different roles, including as  an expert on pensions, playing a leading role in sorting out the Maxwell pension scandal.  He lives and writes in London and Suffolk and is married and has two daughters.

You can find out more by visiting John’s website and you can follow him on Twitter @johnnightingal4.

Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis

My enormous thanks to Isabelle Kenyon for sending me a copy of the chapbook Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis in return for an honest review. I am not supposed to be taking on new blog material but I love poetry and have always been so impressed by Fly on the Wall‘s publications that I simply couldn’t resist.

You’ll find a performance of Medusa Retold here.

Published by Fly on the Wall Press on 1st December 2020, Medusa Retold is available for purchase here.

Medusa Retold

A feminist retelling of the Medusa myth, set in a run-down, modern seaside town, Medusa Retold is filled with the magic and fury of the original tale.

In this telling, loner Nuala is difficult and introverted, fascinated by creatures of the sea. Athena becomes her best friend and first crush, and together they form a duo which is ripped apart by circumstance, leaving Nuala unprotected, unable to save herself.

A long-form poem of poignant motifs which recur throughout, the poem is a mythic puzzle, an epic for ordinary girls, and a love letter to the sea.

My Review of Medusa Retold

Medusa Retold is a small book that packs a punch. Sarah Wallis takes the character of Medusa from Greek mythology and blends the traditional expectations of that story into a new, fresh and modern narrative poem about a strong young woman, Nuala, who has relevance to today’s society and yet embodies elements of the traditional Medusa tale so effectively.

I thought the quality of Sarah Wallis’s writing was excellent. The serpent like sibilance of the letter s as Nuala begins her journey gives a sinister effect and ensures the Medusa image of snakes lurks menacingly in the periphery of the reader’s mind, creating a feeling of unease in the reader. The same technique helps create the susurration of the sea that is so important a motif in this poetry so that Medusa Retold is an auditory experience as well as a reading one and indeed, all the senses are catered for in this poetry. The iterative image of the sea is beautifully woven through the writing. The power of the sea fades at the point where Nuala feels her life is over following Athena’s death, and its absence impacts the emotions of the reader as they experience Nuala’s loss with her.

I thought it fascinating how the internal rhyme of the poetry becomes stronger and more apparent later in Medusa Retold when Nuala is constrained in a relationship that confines her, so that the structure of the writing mirrors its meaning. The italics of Nuala’s first person sections contrasts with the third person narrative of the rest of the poetry making for an intimate insight into Nuala’s innermost thoughts and a highly effective means of affecting the reader’s perceptions. I loved the fact that towards the end, Nuala’s first person narrative is then no longer italicised. It felt to me that although her body may be destroyed, her spirit had strengthened and would live on. I actually found this very moving.

There’s an ambiguity to the ending of Medusa Retold that I loved. I hope Nuala manages to fulfil her desire because in a few brief pages I felt I had come to know her thoroughly. She comes from water and ends in ethereal air making her a motif for all women.

I’m sure some readers will shy away from poetry but I think they are missing a vivid experience here. Medusa Retold might be a chapbook of only a few pages, but it is a truly fascinating read.

About Sarah Wallis

Sarah Wallis is a poet and playwright based in Scotland. She has an MA in Creative Writing from UEA and an Mphil in Playwriting from Birmingham University. Theatrical residencies include Leeds Playhouse and Harrogate Theatre. Her stagework includes Laridae and work for Leeds Fringe including The Scarecrow Child and A Stage of One’s Own.

Recent publications include The Interpreter’s House, Selcouth Station, Thimble and Ellipsis with work forthcoming from Lunate, Eyewear – Best New British & Irish Poets 2019 -20 – and her chapbook from Fly on the Wall Press, Medusa Retold is out in December 2020.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @wordweave or visit her website.

Staying in with Brian Pendreigh

It’s always such a frustration that I can’t accept or read every book I’m offered and today I’m featuring Brian Pendreigh because I love the sound of the book he’s brought along to share with me and even if I can’t fit in reading it, you might like to!

Staying in with Brian Pendreigh

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

I am very grateful to you for showing an interest, giving me your time and allowing me space on your blog.

It’s a pleasure. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it? 

The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition, which has just come out. I have had quite a few books out before, mainly books about films and film stars. But this is my first novel.

How exciting. Tell me more.

Actually a version came out in 2011 and got amazing reviews from people like Ian Rankin, Andrew Marr and Barry Norman. They called it things like compelling, breath-taking and a work of “mad metaphysical genius”. All the talk then was of the printed book being finished and my agent placed it with a new ebook company. But then the publisher went bust and it just disappeared. I have now reworked it. I have always had a publisher and agent before, so self-publishing and raising awareness is a new challenge.

My word. What a start to the life of The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition Brian. It sounds as if it’s a fascinating read. What can we expect from an evening in with The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition?

A unique and hopefully enjoyable experience. The basic premise is of a man in LA seemingly being sucked into the action of classic movies he fell in love with as a boy in Scotland in the 1960s and 1970s. And we do not know if it is real or in his head or why this is happening.

The 1960s and 1970s are very much my era! I think I’d find The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition quite nostalgic.

There is a lot of nostalgia, a lot about love and loss, and obviously a dash of magical realism. And now the story continues, with new characters in three related stories or chapters, leading to a second ending, not a revised or alternative ending, but a second ending in a way that I have never known any other book attempt. I think it adds new meaning and depth to everything that goes before. The initial reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, people are being really moved by the story, but the difficult bit is getting the word out there. I have worked on this, on and off, for over 30 years and finally it is exactly where I want it to be.

I’m delighted to be part of that journey with you Brian and I hope readers will find The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition through this blog post. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Sixty-three years of life, the ups and downs, happy and sad the memories, and joy and laughter through the tears. Oh yeah, also some ale, gin and champagne. Not moderation anyway, never. I’ve also brought a short extract from the book:

‘I want to report a murder,’ says the visitor.

‘Sit down,’ says the man behind the desk. There is a hard edge in his voice. He is a man who says no more than is necessary, sometimes not even that much.

‘Who was murdered?’ he asks.

His visitor takes a deep breath, considers the question ‘Who was murdered?’, and weighs up his response.

‘I was,’ he says.

The policeman’s face shows not a flicker of reaction. He picks up another piece of paper and begins to read it, as if the topic of discussion has turned out to be too trivial to warrant any further attention.

‘Do you want to hear my story or not?” asks the visitor. “I don’t have much time left. A day, two days, a week at the most. And then I will be gone.’

‘Where?’ asks the policeman.

‘The movies,’ says the man.

‘I’m disappearing into the second dimension,’ says the man. Quickly reconsidering the melodrama inherent in his comment, he feels he must elaborate. ‘The movies are taking me over,’ he says. ‘Taking over my thoughts. Taking over my body. I can walk and talk but I have no life of my own anymore, no life outside the movies.’

Most people in this city are taken over by the movies. That is why they are here. Serving beers. Waiting tables. Just waiting. Waiting for the big break that will turn them into the next Tom Cruise, or the next Julia Roberts. But more likely the only movies they will ever make will involve sex with strangers filmed by other strangers. They are no more than children when they come to LA. They quickly grow old, lose their looks and mislay their innocence. Every day the policeman sees people who have been taken over by the movies. They live in trailer parks and dirty, cramped apartments, and they turn tricks on Sunset Boulevard until their own suns set. He has looked on their corpses, abused by drugs and sexual perversion and sees a dream that turned into a nightmare. They were dead long before they were taken to the morgue.

The man from the seventh row looks at the policeman.

‘The name’s Batty,’ he says at last. ‘Roy Batty.’


Now, of course, I want to read on! I’ll join you in a glass of that champagne in a minute Brian when I’ve just given readers a few more details about The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition, as I’m sure they will have been intrigued too. Thanks so much for staying in with me to tell me all about what sounds like a really interesting read.

The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition

In Los Angeles, a man is sucked into the action of the classic films he fell in love with as a boy in Scotland, The Graduate, The Magnificent Seven, Blade Runner, Braveheart. Is this real? Or in his head? And why? And who or what is Rosebud?

Ultimately The Man in the Seventh Row is about childhood and adulthood, about love and loss and the possibility of redemption and it is about cinema and the nature of reality.

Acclaimed by the critics in its original version in 2011, it is literary fiction, with a lot of nostalgia and more than a dash of magical realism. It now transcends the confines of the novel, as the narrative concludes in a short story with different characters Sometimes She’ll Dance.

In the UK, The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition can be ordered through most bookshops, from Amazon and Waterstones. It can also be ordered from Brian post-free (in the run-up to Xmas) in the UK via the book’s Facebook page. In the US, you’ll find The Man in the Seventh Row and Related Stories of the Human Condition through Barnes and Noble

About Brian Pendreigh

Brian Pendreigh is an award-winning writer and journalist, whose regular outlets have included The Guardian (1999-2007), The Times and The Scotsman. He has written several film books and most recently was editor of The Times on Cinema (2018). He was twice Britain’s Film Journalist of the Year and his work has been picked by the Scottish Examination Board for English interpretation questions. He is a keen long-distance runner and pub quizzer (with wins on Mastermind, Eggheads, 15 to 1 and Only Connect). He lives in Portobello, Edinburgh. His lounge overlooks the Pentland Hills and his bedroom looks out to the sea and romance.

You can follow Brian on Twitter @BrianPendreigh or @ManInSeventhRow and visit his Facebook page for further information.