Talking with Mary Wood about The Jam Factory Girls

My enormous thanks to Philippa McEwan of Pan Macmillan for inviting to participate in this blog tour for The Jam Factory Girls by Mary Wood. I was lucky enough to interview Mary a few years ago in a post you can read here. Today, I’m thrilled she has agreed to stay in with me to chat about her latest book, The Jam Factory Girls.

Staying in with Mary Wood

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

My pleasure, so lovely to have female company, can we open the wine? I’ve been ‘staying in’ with hubby for months now, but as lovely as he is, it’s not like having the occasional natter with a girlfriend over a nice red.

I know the feeling! I’m not much of a wine drinker so you help yourself and I’ll pour a Bailey’s for me!

Now, drinks poured, tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I thought I’d bring my latest – The Jam Factory Girls.

Good idea! What can we expect from an evening in with The Jam Factory Girls?

Plenty of emotion. Tears, giggles, fear, love, and a feeling that you are living in 1911 on Long Lane in Bermondsey as you begin a journey with, and through, Elsie and Dot’s life. . .

The conditions they lived under at home in a tenement block and how they worked long hours for low pay and had no rights.

Their spirit and that of the Cockney women they worked with when they joined in the fight for better pay and safety measures, by daring to go on strike.

Their deep and bonding friendship and the sense of family and community they have.

But this is no cosy read, it is gritty and tells it as it is.

The Jam Factory Girls sounds fabulous and I’m thrilled it’s on my TBR Mary. 

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

The afore mentioned bottle of red – a must have for a girlie night in, some nibbles, as we’ll have a take away later, and Millie.

That’s a plan. I’ll order a pizza. Now what do I need to know about Millie?

I think you’ll like Millie. She is the Jam Factory Owner’s daughter. Brought up in a gentile way, she discovered secrets that will change hers, Elsie’s and Dot’s life.

You’ll discover what a strong young lady she is and how lonely, till she met Elsie and Dot.

Millie, will fight your corner if you need help, she’ll stand up for what is right, and she’ll battle to make your life better. She’ll never abandon you, or think herself better than you. And she will fight to get you and all women the vote.

Millie sounds a fantastic friend to have. 

But I thought we could talk fashion with her. How fascinating it would be to hear what it was like to wear such clothes as this outfit that Millie wore to her so-called-friend’s mansion, only to find her friend’s brother had ideas for her that totally went against the grain of this modern-thinking new friend of ours.

I think we’ll have a lovely time with her – I wonder what she’ll make of Pizza?

Good question Mary. I’m not sure there will be much left for her once we’ve helped ourselves! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about The Jam Factory Girls. I can’t wait to read it and I think blog readers need the following details too:

The Jam Factory Girls

The Jam Factory Girls is an uplifting and emotional novel of friendship set in the heart of pre-WWI London from bestselling author, Mary Wood.

Life for Elsie is difficult as she struggles to cope with her alcoholic mother. Caring for her siblings and working long hours at Swift’s Jam factory in London’s Bermondsey is exhausting. Thankfully her lifelong friendship with Dot helps to smooth over life’s rough edges.

When Elsie and Dot meet Millie Swift, they are nervous to be in the presence of the bosses’ daughter. Over time, they are surprised to feel so drawn to her, but should two East End girls be socializing in such circles?

When disaster strikes, it binds the women in ways they could never imagine. Long-held secrets are revealed that could change all their lives . . .

The Jam Factory Girls is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

About Mary Wood

Born the thirteenth child of fifteen to a middle-class mother and an East End barrow boy, Mary Wood’s childhood was a mixture of love and poverty. Throughout her life Mary has held various posts in office roles, working in the Probation services and bringing up her four children and numerous grandchildren, step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren. An avid reader, she first put pen to paper in 1989 whilst nursing her mother through her last months, but didn’t become successful until she began self-publishing her novels in 2011.

Her novels include All I Have to Give, An Unbreakable Bond, In Their Mother’s Footsteps and The Breckton Novels.

You’ll find more information about Mary on her Facebook page, her website (where you’ll find a three monthly newsletter and draw for new subscribers to win a signed book – competitions and all the latest news) and by following her on Twitter @Authormary.

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My Mother’s Secret by Julia Roberts

My enormous thanks to author Julia Roberts and to Sarah Hardy of Books on the Bright Side publicity for inviting me to take part in the launch celebrations of Julia’s latest book, My Mother’s Secret. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Julia has featured here on Linda’s Book Bag several times:

You’ll find an extract from Christmas at Carol’s here.

There’s a guest post from Julia about writing what you know to celebrate Alice in Theatreland here and a further guest post about the importance of books in Julia’s writing to accompany If He Really Loved Me here.

I addition, I reviewed Julia’s Time For A Short Story here and Life’s a Beach here.

Published by Bookouture on 27th January 2021, My Mother’s Secret is available for purchase here.

My Mother’s Secret

‘They told me he died, but I never believed them. I’d have known,’ she says, her voice little more than a whisper and her eyes searching mine. ‘A mother would know if her child died, wouldn’t she?’

The phone call comes in the middle of the night, rousing Danni from her safe, warm bed. The police have found her mother Diana wandering miles from her house, confused and lost. Danni races to her mother’s side – and as usual, Diana doesn’t seem to want her there. But when Danni finds out that her mother is seriously ill, she decides to put the past behind her, and care for her mother in the time they have left.

But as some of Diana’s memories are slipping away, others are forcing their way to the surface. One night she breaks down and reveals that before Danni was born, she had another baby who never got to see the world. Faced with her mother’s heartbreak, Danni vows to do everything she can to bring Diana some peace, hoping that it will mend their fractured relationship too.

Yet as Danni investigates the past, tracking down the aunt she’s never met and searching for her lost brother’s resting place, her good intentions have unexpected consequences as more truths emerge. And there’s one shocking revelation which could change Danni’s life forever. Are some secrets best left buried?

A completely heartbreaking and compelling story of families, secrets, and the fierce love between mothers and children. Fans of Amanda Prowse, Ali Mercer and Jodi Picoult will smile through their tears.

My Review of My Mother’s Secret

Danni’s family has more secrets than she imagines.

My Mother’s Secret took me by surprise. I hadn’t read the blurb so I wasn’t expecting quite such an emotional read. I loved My Mother’s Secret because I thought it showed real life in a dramatic, affecting and thought provoking manner.

In a sense, My Mother’s Secret is a tale that could have happened to any one of us, with family dynamics and secrets uncovered with empathetic skill by Julia Roberts. This is its absolute strength because the writing is humane, realistic and captivating. Indeed, I found many uncannily close aspects to my own family, particularly the grief of a lost child. I want to say more, but would spoil the read for others. I particularly loved the natural dialogue because I felt as if I were witnessing the events live rather than reading about them and Danni’s first person account adds a depth I felt most keenly. I admit I wept with her on occasion.

The plot of My Mother’s Secret has a deft balance between Danni and Ben’s ordinary, everyday life, of balancing work, an elderly parent Diane, and school runs for example, that so many will identify with, alongside those huge life affecting events that give this story such pace and frequently shocking elements. This has the effect of drawing in the reader completely as they can identify with so much of the story. In fact, I’d love to see My Mother’s Secret brought to the screen either as a television series or a film because I think it would bring comfort as well as entertainment to so many.

As well as being Danni and Diana’s absorbing story My Mother’s Secret is a captivating portrait of a marriage and family too. The emotional strain on Ben and Danni is portrayed with realistic sensitivity so that I empathised with both of them as they struggled to do the right thing, even when their views were diametrically opposed. In fact, I thought each character here was so much more than a character on the page. Diana in particular held me in her thrall because she’s truly awful and yet Julia Roberts made me understand her completely so that she touched me more than I might have imagined.

Underpinning the cracking narrative, there’s a mature and thoughtful secondary theme within My Mother’s Secret of not judging others until you have the full facts that I very much appreciated. Desperately sad and emotional, but equally uplifting is its portrayal of the strength of the human spirit and the bonds that unite us too.

It’s quite difficult to review this book because I don’t want to spoil the plot but I do want to convey what an important story it is. Touching, emotional and convincing, My Mother’s Secret is a story that will resonate deeply with many readers. I thought it was excellent.

About Julia Roberts

Julia was born in West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, and began her career as a professional singer/dancer. This enabled her to travel the world in her late teens storing up experiences she has since included in her writing.

Following roles as a hostess on The Price is Right and a member of the Beadle’s About ‘hit squad’ in the 1980s, she became a TV Presenter and filmed features for Sky Sports before launching the QVC shopping channel in 1993 where she still presents today. Having always wanted to write, she penned her first book, a memoir sold on QVC, in 2013 and has since written seven full length novels, two novellas and several short stories.

You can follow Julia on Twitter @JuliaRobertsTV and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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The Godmothers by Monica McInerney

It’s always wonderful to discover a new-to-me author and as I haven’t read Monica McInerney before I was delighted to accept Megan’s request to join this EDPR blog tour for The Godmothers.

Published in the UK by Welbeck on 21st January 2021, The Godmothers is available for purchase here.

The Godmothers

Eliza Miller grew up in Australia as the only daughter of a troubled young mother, but with the constant support of her two watchful godmothers, Olivia and Maxie. Despite her tricky childhood, she always felt loved and secure. Until, just before her eighteenth birthday, a tragic event changed her life.

Thirteen years on, Eliza is deliberately living as safely as possible, avoiding close relationships and devoting herself to her job. Out of the blue, an enticing invitation from her godmothers, now both based in the UK, prompts a leap into the unknown.

Within a fortnight, Eliza has swapped her predictable routine in Melbourne, for life in the middle of a complicated family in Edinburgh. There’s no rush thing as an ordinary day any more. Yet, amidst the chaos, Eliza begins to blossom. She finds herself not only hopeful about the future, but ready to explore her past. Her godmothers have long been waiting for her to ask about her mother’s mysterious life – and about the identity of the father she has never known. But even they are taken by surprise with all that Eliza discovers.

My Review of The Godmothers

Eliza Miller’s life is about to change.

Why on Earth haven’t I read anything by Monica McInerney before? I have stupidly missed out on warm, engaging writing that goes right to the heart of the reader and captivates them completely. I enjoyed every single second spent reading The Godmothers. I truly loved it. There’s a wonderful skill here in conveying meaning through brilliant dialogue, a variety of sentence structure and the change in style towards the ending works so brilliantly – but you’ll need to read The Godmothers to find out why!

Although The Godmothers is very character driven, there’s a cracking plot here with past events drip fed so that the reader goes on the same journey of discovery as Eliza, with Jeannie’s past actions underpinning present events. I thought the pace was perfect because there’s an intuitive rhythm to the writing so that reading the story felt as natural as breathing. I felt absorbed into the pages and part of the action.

However, the real joy in The Godmothers is in meeting Monica McInerney’s characters. I sympathised with Jeannie completely but felt quite conflicted by my response to her. She’s complex, flawed, manic and suffering, with a deep love for Eliza, and it affected me deeply that I couldn’t decide if I forgave her actions and loved her for her intentions, or hated her completely. She’s so utterly vivid and real that I ended The Godmothers feeling that I would have found her an impossible friend to live with – or to live without. The Godmothers themselves are equally compelling, particularly Olivia for me, but it was Sullivan I thought was an absolute stroke of genius. I really don’t like children much in real life, let alone in fiction, but he is just fabulous because he acts as a foil to Eliza and Celine, allowing them to shine even more brightly in the narrative. Eliza herself is one of the most realistic protagonists I’ve read. She’s a Russian doll of a person, having clad herself in a hard shell that hides hidden talents and depths and which are gradually uncovered so that she becomes increasingly understood by the reader. I also thoroughly enjoyed the fact that there’s a variety of relationships in The Godmothers for her – not just a romantic one that so often permeates such fiction.

Indeed, relationships are so well explored here. Along with themes of metal health, truth, loyalty, friendship and identity, Monica McInerney gives great depth as well as entertainment so that The Godmothers would reward being read more than once. Yes, it’s a lovely, entertaining narrative that can be enjoyed on a relatively superficial level, but it is also a book about humanity and what makes us who we are. Monica McInerney illustrates her utter understanding of women in a way I found mesmerising.

I’m not sure I’ve done justice to The Godmothers because I don’t want to give away the plot. What I can say is that I found it just wonderful. I’m desperate to read more from Monica McInerney because she writes with wit, warmth and absolute skill. The Godmothers is a fabulous book.

About Monica McInerney

Monica McInerney is the Australian-born Dublin-based author of 12 bestselling books, published internationally and in translation in 12 languages. Her novel, The Trip of a Lifetime, went straight to number one in Australia and was a Top 10 bestseller in Ireland. In 2018, 2016 and 2014, Monica was voted in the Top 10 of Booktopia’s annual poll naming Australia’s Favourite Authors.

You’ll find more information about Monica on her website. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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Staying in with Ettie Zilber on Holocaust Remembrance Day

It’s eighteen months since I fulfilled a lifelong ambition and went to Poland to visit Auschwitz so that I could pay my respects to those whose lives were so brutally taken away. However, I must confess that I’ve never really considered those who lived in Lithuania. Consequently, on Holocaust Memorial Day, what better time to ask Dr. Ettie Zilber to stay in with me to chat about a book that has personal links for her?

Staying in with Ettie Zilber

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

Hello Linda and thank you for the invitation to stay in with you today.

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

It is a special day, as January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I have brought my book, A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America.

So what is A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America all about?

This book is all about remembrance, memory, history, reflection, human strength, courage and resilience. As children of survivors, it was important for me and my sisters to tie together our mother’s fractured anecdotes in a full and chronological testimony. We wanted to know the details, not only for ourselves, but more importantly, for our grandchildren. It is important “to remember” our history.

It most certainly is Ettie.

Mom’s stories include memories of my father, as well, as they came from the same city in Lithuania, met and fell in love in the Kovno Ghetto. Unfortunately, Papa died at the age of 66, and, while we did get some anecdotes from him over the years, we missed getting his full testimony. We were determined not to miss another opportunity, and we convinced Mama to be recorded. So, the first chapter is her full transcribed testimony from the moment the Nazis invaded her country and destroyed her world as she knew it – until the day of her liberation – 4 years in total. And, if anyone thinks that life after liberation in March, 1945 was easy – think again. It was fraught with endless dangers and challenges – many died or were killed after the war, as well.  And, this book is also about the impact of the parents’ trauma on the offspring. Thus, the subsequent two chapters are about how the Holocaust impacted my life.

As someone with no direct personal links to the Holocaust Ettie, I can only imagine what those experiences must have been like. A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America sounds like a book we should all read in order that the lives so affected are not forgotten. 

What else have you brought along and why?

I brought old family photos; I always show them, as every telling of the story is a reminder that they once lived a good and normal life before the Holocaust horrors.

Also, while many of you might think that old family photos are mundane – sure, everyone has them at home or in the attic – BUT, most Holocaust survivors were left with nothing-absolutely not one photo to remember the faces of their parents, their children or other relatives who were murdered. I realize how lucky we are because after the war, my mother made a concerted effort to collect copies of family photos from many family branches who left Europe before the war years. Therefore, we have lots of photos – and in my family – they are holy objects. I have also included a number of photos in my book.

Oh Ettie. That has brought a tear to my eye – especially in this world when we live through selfies on our mobile phones.

I also brought a photo of a medal. My grandfather owned a medal just like this one. It is called a ‘savanoris’ medal and it was given by the President of Lithuania to all the “volunteers’ who fought in the military in the Lithuanian war of independence in 1918-1920. My grandfather was very proud of his medal and his service and he always kept his medal in his pocket. Spoiler alert!!!! It saved his life on the day of the massacre. When I went on my trip “in their footsteps” I purchased a replacement medal from an antique dealer. Was it my grandfather’s medal? I will never know…but it really doesn’t matter. It is now a part of our family’s ‘heirlooms.’

I think it is the link with your grandfather that is the vital point here Ettie. 

Tell me, why is it important for people to read non-fictional Holocaust stories?

Unfortunately, there were genocides before and also after the Holocaust. In fact, it was right after the Holocaust that the word ‘genocide’ was coined, in an attempt to describe the indescribable. But, the Holocaust is the largest and one of the most well documented events in human history.  The documentation from the Nazis themselves, from other government and military  documents, eye-witness accounts, films/images, and from survivor testimonies, fills numerous archives, university libraries, and museums. Yet, we see an uptick of Holocaust denial and distortion and a downturn in even basic knowledge about this event by the younger generations. We have also seen a huge uptick in antisemitism and racism – worldwide. Reading testimonies (or listening to recordings) about the Holocaust describe incomprehensible human cruelty and evil; but, they also offer us lessons about the human spirit, courage, strength and resilience.  Such stories are inspirational and sorely needed during challenging times.

I couldn’t agree more Ettie. Thank you so much for staying in with me to talk about A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America on such an important day. I wish you every success with your book, but also with retaining the memories of those who perished so awfully. 

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America

With the Nazi occupation of Kovno (Lithuania), her life changed forever. Zlata Santocki Sidrer was Jewish, but she survived the horrors of the Holocaust.

Gone was her normal life and her teenage dream of becoming a doctor. Instead, she witnessed untold deprivations, massacres, imprisonment, hunger and slave labor before being transported to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Her story of the death march is a testament to her fighting spirit and the limits of human endurance. Yet the challenges did not end with liberation.

Lovingly compiled from recorded interviews and researched by her eldest daughter, Ettie, this is an account of a remarkably resilient woman who raised herself out of the ashes after unimaginable hardship and sorrow. She found love and happiness where none could be expected—a secret marriage in the ghetto, escapes, dangerous border crossings, reunifications, and life-saving friendships.

Ettie’s quest to learn more about her ancestry led her to Lithuania and Poland–in her mother’s footsteps. The author reflects on the impact of her family’s experiences on her own beliefs and behaviors, thereby adding to the literature about Second Generation and transgenerational trauma.

In these memoirs she honors her family by telling their amazing story of survival and collects evidence to corroborate their painful history.

A Holocaust Memoir of Love & Resilience: Mama’s Survival from Lithuania to America is available for purchase directly from Amsterdam Publishers here with more about Ettie’s family and story too. It is also available here.

About Ettie Zilber

Dr. Zilber was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany to two Holocaust survivor parents from Lithuania and immigrated to the USA as a child. She has recently retired from a career teaching in and leading international schools in Israel, Singapore, Spain, Guatemala, China and the USA.  She researched the topic of Third Culture Kids and published the results in a book in 2009: Third Culture Kids: Children of International School Educators (available here).

Ettie is married and has three children and three grandchildren.  For more information about Ettie, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @DrZilber.

A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion

My enormous thanks to Lauren Nicholl at Faber for sending me a surprise copy of A Crooked Tree by Una Mannion in return for an honest review. Lauren obviously knows my reader taste completely and I’m delighted to share my review of A Crooked Tree today.

Published by Faber and Faber on 28th January 2021, A Crooked Tree is available for purchase through the publisher links.

A Crooked Tree

Rage. That’s the feeling engulfing the car as Ellen’s mother swerves over to the hard-shoulder and orders her daughter out onto the roadside. Ignoring the protests of her other children, she accelerates away, leaving Ellen standing on the gravel verge in her school pinafore and knee socks as the light fades.

What would you do as you watch your little sister getting smaller in the rear view window? How far would you be willing to go to help her? The Gallagher children are going to find out. This moment is the beginning of a summer that will change everything.

My Review of A Crooked Tree

Ellen’s journey home has repercussions for the whole family.

I loved A Crooked Tree because it is beautifully written, literary and simultaneously accessible so that it mesmerises the reader and captivates them completely. It’s so difficult to define where A Crooked Tree sits, as it is part coming of age story, part intimate portrait of a dysfunctional family and community, and part thriller, but however the genre is defined, this is a fantastic read. The atmosphere builds and builds throughout with dramatic repercussions that are perfectly pitched against the quieter and more emotional and reflective aspects in a plot that I found totally compelling. Add in the vivid settings, the suspicions and superstitions linked with the almost primeval past and place and A Crooked Tree resonates across time and space.

The mountain setting is both threatening and protective. I thought the title A Crooked Tree was inspired. Not only is there a physical crooked tree that acts as a way marker on the wooded trail, but the reasons why a tree might become crooked underpin perfectly the themes of the story in a touching metaphor, especially with regard to Libby and her father. It’s not possible to explain more without spoiling both character and plot, but suffice to say, this is impressive and absorbing writing.

I felt tense much of the time I was reading because of the lurking and claustrophobic sense of dread, and the wistfulness and unhappiness that is so integral to Libby’s narrative voice. This effect penetrates the reader’s psyche until they are completely hooked, feeling Libby’s emotions with her. In fact, I adored the characterisation because of Una Mannion’s sensitive portrayal of flawed individuals doing their best. I think every one of us will have felt Libby’s rage, sadness, guilt, shame, excitement and fear at some point in our lives. Even Faye, whose actions ought to be reprehensible, garners our understanding and empathy.

A Crooked Tree is an atmospheric and affecting read that I thought was wonderful. With pitch perfect plotting, A Crooked Tree is frequently poetic and imbued with emotion that is perfectly balanced against action. This is a book to savour, to touch the reader and to celebrate. I loved it.

About Una Mannion

Una Mannion was born in Philadelphia and lives in County Sligo Ireland. She has won numerous prizes for her work including the Hennessy Emerging Poetry Award and the Doolin, Cúirt, Allingham and Ambit short story prizes. Her work has been published in The Irish TimesThe Lonely Crowd, Crannóg and Bare Fiction. She edits The Cormorant, a broadsheet of prose and poetry.

You can find out more about Una by visiting her website and finding her on Instagram.

Nicky & Vera by Peter Sis

All kinds of surprise books pop through my letterbox and I try to catalogue them and read them in the order they arrive. That said, I was so drawn to Peter Sis’ children’s book Nicky & Vera that arrived unexpectedly last week that I simply had to share my review today. My enormous thanks to Oliver Wearing at Norton for sending me a copy.

Published by Norton Young Readers today, 26th January 2021, Nicky & Vera is available for purchase here and directly from the publisher Norton.

Nicky & Vera

In 1938, twenty-nine-year-old Nicholas Winton saved the lives of almost 700 children trapped in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia – a story he never told and that remained unknown until an unforgettable TV appearance in the 1980s reunited him with some of the children he saved.

Czech-American artist, MacArthur Fellow, and Andersen Award winner Peter Sís dramatises Winton’s story in this distinctive and deeply personal picture book. He intertwines Nicky’s efforts with the story of one of the children he saved a young girl named Vera, whose family enlisted Nicky’s aid when the Germans occupied their country. As the war passes and Vera grows up, she must find balance in her dual identities one her birthright, the other her choice.

Nicky & Vera is a masterful tribute to a humble man’s courageous efforts to protect Europe’s most vulnerable, and a timely portrayal of the hopes and fears of those forced to leave their homes and create new lives.

You can see Nicholas Winton meeting those he saved here.

My Review of Nicky & Vera

The true story of Sir Nicholas Winton.

Oh my word. What a moving, beautiful book Nicky & Vera is. I must mention the wonderful physical quality of Peter Sis’s book. The slip cover is smooth and luxurious with flaps that give readers critical information both about the author and Nicholas Winton. Underneath the slip cover is a robust hard backed book that has the ghostly indented imprint of a train that I found very affecting. Nicky & Vera is a book that will withstand much use in the home or classroom. In the author’s note there is further information that can be read independently by more confident young readers or by older readers.

Within the pages of Nicky & Vera the story of Sir Nicholas Winton and one of the children he rescued, Vera Gissing, is simply written with an accessible font and sentence structure. This simplicity not only makes the book appeal to young readers, but it enhances the depth of the story too by way of contrast between presentation and subject. What Peter Sis has managed to do is to bring to life, and make personal, a story that was reality to so many during WW2. Indeed, although I understand the reading age of the story is around 6-8, the manner of presentation means this book would afford the opportunity for older, less confident, readers to succeed in reading a complete book and gain a positive sense of success.

However, it is the illustrations that are magical in conveying the real narrative. There’s a softness and ghostliness to them that is so moving. It feels slightly embarrassing to say that an illustration in a child’s picture book moved me to tears, but when I turned the page to see the pictures of the children Nicholas Winton saved within the adults standing up for him, it really brought home to me just what a hero this man was. As Peter Sis himself says, we talk very loosely about heroes – a young man scoring a goal in football perhaps, or a cricketer scoring a century, but Nicky & Vera teaches children (and adults) the true meaning of the word – Nicholas Winton was an unassuming young man whose actions saved the lives of 669 children. That’s a real hero.

Nicky & Vera is a lovely, lovely book. It is historically accurate, engaging, beautifully illustrated and very moving. Peter Sis has created a book that will endure every much as well as Raymond Briggs’ When the Wind Blows and is every bit as important.

About Peter Sis

Peter Sís is the Czech-born author/illustrator of three Caldecott Honor books, including The Wall, which also won the Sibert Medal. He is the first children’s book illustrator to win the MacArthur Fellowship, and also won the Hans Christian Andersen Award. He lives in Irvington, New York.

Staying in with C. P. Riches

Once again I’m frustrated by the fact I simply cannot read every book that comes my way. However, I am fortunate that authors are willing to stay in with me to chat about their writing. Today I’m delighted to welcome C.P. Riches to Linda’s Book Bag.

Staying in with C.P Riches

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

Hi Linda, the pleasure is all mine. Thanks very much for inviting me to your site. It really is a haven for juicy book content here and I love what you are doing to showcase authors and satisfy hungry readers everywhere.

Ha! ‘inviting’ – I like what you did there! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought along my debut the novel The Invite and I can’t wait for you to read it!

Congratulations on your debut. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Invite?

Quite simply, readers will be snatched away from reality and endure a rollercoaster ride for the night.

The Invite is a fantasy fiction novel where one girl’s phone obsession sparks a sinister chain of events…

The reader will be taken on perilous journey where the boundaries of technology and real life become blurred for troubled teen Lindsey Hoodwink who must face her demons in a quest for survival or escape.

Crikey, that sounds a fast paced experience!

A prior warning though, readers can expect to experience every emotion under the sun in one fell swoop. The Invite might only be a quick read, but I wanted it to pack a punch. Apologies in advance if your whole evening has just been stolen from you!

I think The Invite sounds great. What have readers thought so far?

One reader stated: ‘I couldn’t put this book down! The concept was very original, but a very true representation of the modern-day problems with addiction to social media and technology. If you’re looking for a teenage drama with a twist, then I would highly recommend The Invite.’

How wonderful. You must be delighted with that kind of feedback.

Aside from being a flipping good read (ok maybe I’m a little biased, getting carried away even) on a more serious note, The Invite aims to encourage readers to really think about their unhealthy phone and social media habits. The whole concept for the story was inspired by my very own family and friends, many of whom were practically glued to their screens all the time. This made me realise that even I was obsessed.

I think many of us are Chris.

I never set out to preach the message of addiction, an idea just came to me and I ran with it. If it means that I made one reader offer a moment’s thought to how much they use their phone, then that is enough for me.

I hope you enjoy Lindsey’s night of torment.

You’ve really intrigued me. I might have to try to squeeze in a read of The Invite now after all!

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

Can I say my smartphone to be controversial? I joke of course.


Given that this is my debut novel, some bubbles might be in order. I’m not typically a big fan of Champagne to be honest. Beer is my usual tipple of choice. However on the day I finally made my dreams a reality, the moment myself and my fiancé Jenny popped the cork, never felt so sweet. Any sniff of an occasion now and I will gladly put the champers on ice. Ok I guess bubbly might be a bit overkill given that we are in another lockdown, so I have included a picture of my publishing toast above. FYI it also just happened to be Halloween.

Oh, I’m rather partial to champagne Chris so if you’d rather have a beer I can help you out with the bubbles! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Invite. I think it sounds a thrilling read and I wish you every success with it.

The Invite

Lindsey Hoodwink’s only escape from a turbulent teenage existence is through her smartphone.

When the perfect chance to gain social status and bag the boy of her dreams is unfairly snatched away, Lindsey’s smartphone is once again there to pick up the pieces.

But when an unexpected ‘invite’ diverts all attention, the boundaries of technology and real life, become unbelievably blurred…

In a perilous quest against the tyranny of addiction, will this troubled teen learn the lesson on what it really means to escape?

The Invite is available for purchase here.

About C.P. Riches

C.P Riches is a British author who writes fantasy fiction novels for both teenagers and adults.

His debut novel The Invite was published in 2020 and is available on Amazon now.

The author graduated with Honours from The University of Central Lancashire in 2011 before working as a Journalist for a year. He has since gone on to apply his skills in the educational publishing and recruitment sectors. He is passionate about green living and often blogs about the serious implications of climate change in his spare time on his site.

C.P Riches lives on the outskirts of Merseyside with fiancé Jenny and loves to spend his spare time climbing walls, growing veg and watching sports.

For more information, follow C.P Riches on Twitter @CPRiches1 or find him on Instagram and Facebook.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

Having just interviewed Hannah Gold for the I’d Rather Be In Deeping magazine (interview here) and with Hannah being a local to me author who, along with Elly Griffiths, is one the Deepings Literary Festival children’s writing competition judges, I was thrilled when Tina Mories of Harper Collins Children’s Books asked me if I would like a copy of Hannah’s The Last Bear for review. With an endorsement by Michael Morpurgo on the front cover to The Last Bear how could I refuse? I’m delighted to share that review today. I was reading a proof copy with artwork by Levi Pinfold to come, but you’ll find examples of the wonderful illustrations here.

The Last Bear is published by Harper Collins Children’s Books on 18th February 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Last Bear

Imagine making friends with a polar bear… The Last Bear is perfect for readers of 8+, beautifully illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold – winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal and illustrator of Harry Potter 20th anniversary edition covers.

“This is an important first novel, important for us, for polar bears, for the planet. It is deeply moving, beautifully told, quite unforgettable.” Michael Morpurgo.

There are no polar bears left on Bear Island. At least, that’s what April’s father tells her when his scientific research takes them to this remote Arctic outpost for six months. But one endless summer night, April meets one. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, April begins the most important journey of her life…

This moving story will win the hearts of children the world over and show them that no one is too young or insignificant to make a difference. The Last Bear is a celebration of the love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for our world and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s.

My Review of The Last Bear

April’s father has a new job in the Arctic Circle.

I’m slightly at a loss to know how to review The Last Bear. It is one of the most glorious children’s books I’ve ever read, with a depth and understanding shining through Hannah Gold’s writing that is enormously affecting. The Last Bear deserves to take its place alongside the canon of the best of children’s fiction. Add in the breathtakingly beautiful illustrations by Levi Pinfold and this is a book to gift, to cherish and to return to time and again.

Firstly, the plot is gripping, fast paced and totally believable, despite the unusual premise of a small 11 year old girl befriending a polar bear, so that even the most reluctant of young readers cannot fail to be ensnared and captivated. It isn’t just the narrative proper that holds such power, but the death of April’s mother in the past, and the potential for events in the future that leave the reader thinking about The Last Bear long after the final page is read.

The environmental aspect of The Last Bear is, of course, vital to the plot and overall message that humans need to do more to protect the environment. Shrinking ice caps, plastics in the sea, and the negative impact of humans on the natural world underpin the story. However, whilst this might sound as if The Last Bear is preachily worthy, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Hannah Gold integrates these aspects so naturally and so brilliantly that they have incredible power almost without the reader realising. Through April’s adventures, The Last Bear inspires readers to want to make a positive difference to the planet.

It comes as no surprise to me to learn that Hannah Gold has worked in film and magazine industries because the sensory elements of her writing make the story leap from the page. Every sense is catered for so that the reader is placed alongside April, experiencing life on Bear Island with her, just as vividly as if they were actually there. I was totally transported by this aspect of The Last Bear.

The characterisation in The Last Bear is stunning. With most of the narrative involving April and Bear with her father alongside, there is the opportunity to see right into the soul of these characters because they are presented with such humanity and insight in a totally accessible manner. April is not easily accepted by her peers and those children who feel as if they are slightly an outsider will find solace and inspiration in April’s story. I love the fact that she has an affinity with nature, that she illustrates that although she’s an 11 year old girl she has the ability to affect change and be interested in the world around her. However, it was the intimacy of her relationship with Bear and her father that almost broke me. Her need to be loved, her desire for attention from her heartbroken, grief stricken, work obsessed father and the way she listened to the natural world had a physical effect on me. There’s a profound sadness that made me weep and an ultimate feeling of hope that imbued me with positivity. I’d defy a reader of any age not to be moved and affected by this book.

With websites for further investigation and a letter and note from the author too, The Last Bear is a book that speaks directly to children of all ages and makes them part of the story, not just of this bear, but of the planet as a whole. I feel it might just be one of the most important children’s books of the decade. It’s beautifully written, exciting and moving to read and as close to perfect that a children’s book can be. I thought it it was wonderful, utterly outstanding, and cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold worked in the film and magazine industries before taking time out to pursue her dream of writing. She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat and her husband.

For more information, visit Hannah’s website, follow her on Twitter @HGold_author, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr

I first encountered The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr when I ‘attended’ The #Quercus2021 Word of Mouth event last October. I wrote about that event here. I was delighted that The Prophets was included in a goody box I was sent prior to that event because I studied slavery and emancipation in the USA as part of my degree and am thrilled to share my review today.

The Prophets was published by Quercus imprint Riverrun on 5th January 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Prophets

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

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

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

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

My Review of The Prophets

The Halifax slave plantation, Empty, seethes with emotions from love to hate, fear to triumph, guilt to joy so that Robert Jones Jr has woven a searing tale that unsettles, educates and leaves the reader reeling.

I think The Prophets might divide reader opinion and I have to admit that it took me a while to settle into the narrative style, but I ended up completely mesmerised. I did not find The Prophets an easy book to read for several reasons. Structurally it is complex and although the narrative is essentially linear with a pace that races along, there are layers of religion, history, myth and black culture outside my white, middle aged, British perspective and experience. With many voices and perspectives, it needs the reader to concentrate; to listen as closely to what isn’t said or written, as much as to what is uttered aloud or evident on the page, so that it’s a book that obfuscates and reveals in equal measure. This is by no means a criticism, but rather equates to one of the book’s strengths. Robert Jones Jr ensures his reader questions their beliefs, their assumptive understanding of the past and people, and gives them food for thought long after they have closed the pages of The Prophets. I found it disturbing, enlightening and completely, horrifyingly compelling.

Robert Jones Jr’s writing is sumptuous, even when he is describing the most unpalatable scenes or truths. Descriptions are vivid, poetic and haunting and each seems imbued with emotional depth making for a truly remarkable read. The slave plantation may be called Empty, but life here is so clearly depicted that I felt The Prophets had an astounding visual quality that made it tangible.

Similarly, the characters are a kaleidoscope that shifts and changes with each twist of the narrative. Sexuality and gender is blurred and fluid so that kings can be female for example, adding to the depth and mystery in the writing. Although Samuel and Isaiah’s homosexual relationship is the catalyst for much of the action precipitated by Adam, I found the women the most compelling characters. Maggie and Essie in particular illustrate all the oxymoronic explorations of power and subjugation that Robert Jones Jr weaves through the story.

Themes of betrayal, race, sexuality, guilt and all forms of love are so intricately woven in this narrative that it holds the reader spellbound. I can’t profess to having understood every nuance or sentence in The Prophets, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t left me moved, appalled and enthralled. Sometimes I felt a visceral response without truly comprehending why. Not all readers will find The Prophets accessible but I would urge them to read it nonetheless. It’s an astounding book.

About Robert Jones Jr

Robert Jones, Jr. is a writer from Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned both his B.F.A. in creative writing and M.F.A. in fiction from Brooklyn College. His work has been featured in The New York TimesEssence and The Paris Review. He is the creator of the social justice social media community, Son of Baldwin. The Prophets is his debut novel.

You can follow Robert on Twitter @SonofBaldwin for more information and visit his website. You’ll also find Robert on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Tom Brown on The Corporate Menagerie Publication Day

My enormous thanks to Michelle Stannard at Digivolve Media for putting me in touch with Tom Brown so that we can stay in together to chat all about Tom’s brand new book. I love finding out about unusual texts and I think Tom’s book fits that perfectly! Let’s find out what he told me:

Staying in with Tom Brown

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

Thank you for having me Linda.

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

I’ve brought The Corporate Menagerie. The Corporate Menagerie is a book about people, their behaviours and relationships and uses animals and other creatures as the human analogies. This anthropomorphising seemed to me a neat way of achieving my twin objectives for the book, which is to educate and entertain, and to reach the widest potential audience. Most of the characters are known to me – and indeed will be recognisable to many readers – as people I have met, worked with, or enjoyed a relationship with during my lifetime, many through business, hence the title.

The Corporate Menagerie sounds fascinating Tom and I understand it is out today so very many congratulations. What can we expect from an evening with The Corporate Menagerie?

My inspiration and motivation for The Corporate Menagerie derives from my experience of working with a diverse range of individuals over the years, which has given rise to a deep-seated belief that many have a limited understanding of how to relate to people on an individual level or to manage, motivate, and collaborate with others.

Ha! Having worked with literally thousands of people through my own career Tom, I totally agree! 

I wanted to produce something different from the academic, technical approach and the plethora of books on the subject of human behaviour and to strike a balance between knowledge and enjoyment. To elaborate on the uniqueness of The Corporate Menagerie, the narrative is provided in verse, and the challenge here was to use different poetic styles and length to maintain interest and enjoyment for the reader.

That sounds quite a challenge. I’m intrigued by The Corporate Menagerie. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought a couple of illustrations as I decided at the outset that The Corporate Menagerie needed to be illustrated to enhance its appeal. I did not want to use cartoon type illustrations as I felt this might reduce the integrity of the content and I managed to find an excellent illustrator who understood my desire for classy illustrations that would illuminate the message from each character.

Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Corporate Menagerie Tom. Happy publication day and I hope it does really well for you. 

Thanks Linda. It feels quite daunting putting my book up for evaluation by experienced, qualified people and I will keep my fingers crossed that it has some appeal for you.

I’m sure it will! Let me give blog readers a little more information:

The Corporate Menagerie

The Corporate Menagerie is a study in human behaviour and relationships, which uses animals, birds, insects and even the odd dinosaur to portray the diverse human characters whom Tom has met throughout his life and his work.

Here, you will explore a wide range of ‘people’ issues from leadership, personal development, emotional intelligence, and some of the more sensitive topics such as diversity, bullying and absence management.

These creature analogies combine serious topics in a poetic, thoughtful and light-hearted way, to highlight issues that affect us all. The Corporate Menagerie is a great learning tool or simply an entertaining and enjoyable read.

The Corporate Menagerie is available for purchase here.

About Tom Brown

Tom is a Chartered Banker (MICBS) by profession and spent 28 years working for RBS until 1997, latterly as Chief Manager (Retail Banking).

Since then,  he has been owner/manager of Training Concepts (TCL), which specialises in the design and delivery of soft skills development programmes. During this time, the Company has gained four National Training Awards.

Additionally, from time to time, Tom has acted as an external student project evaluator at Edinburgh Napier University Business School.

In tandem with Tom’s work for his business, and being a prolific reader, he has, since leaving the financial services industry, cultivated a keen interest in writing, particularly poetry, which has resulted in him producing a number of short stories and poems, none of which he has, so far, sought to publish.

Tom did, however, in 2018, self-publish a niche Book, Pride of Lions, which captured Celtic Football Club’s unique and successful pursuit of the European Cup in 1967 which stills sells steadily. As a result of this relative success, Tom undertook to produce The Corporate Menagerie which he is once more self-publishing. He did not pursue a publishing deal for either Book.

Tom is 69, and lives in Edinburgh with his wife, Alison. He has four grown up children and five grandchildren and enjoys all sports, especially football and cricket, reading and music. Writing is Tom’s passion.

You can find out more by visiting Tom’s website, finding him on Facebook or following him on Twitter @TomBrownAuthor1.