Croak compiled by Professor Phil Bishop

My grateful thanks to Kirsten at Exisle Publishing for sending me a copy of Croak compiled by Professor Phil Bishop in return for an honest review. Ironically, I had just been tweeting about how we had just counted 25 frogs visible in our 1m triangular pond when the book arrived so I dived straight in. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Exisle on 15th June 2021, Croak is available for purchase here.

Croak

Croak is a collection of delightful quotes and gorgeous photographs celebrating the underappreciated beauty of frogs. Many of the stunning, colourful images were taken by author Phil Bishop on his travels around the world. They showcase frogs in their natural habitats, paired with quotes from famous faces such as Cameron Diaz and John Steinbeck. Simultaneously amusing and illuminating, this perfect coffee table book is a celebration of one of the most varied and vibrant species on earth.

My Review of Croak

A collection of photographs and quotations.

Croak is glorious! I loved it. Firstly it is the perfect coffee table book being a relatively compact size, with an extremely high quality, vivid hard backed cover and with natural orange end papers that are reminiscent of autumnal colours. Each double page spread includes a fantastic frog photograph of the quality on the cover, alongside quotations from all manner of people. These quotations are presented on pages edged by or fully coloured like parchment so that Croak has a luxurious and timeless appeal.

At the end of the book are the species names and locations of the creatures featured with the photographer credited and some useful web site addresses for those who’d like to find out more making Croak educational.

The quotations are brilliant. They include pithy comments from writers such as Shakespeare, Voltaire and Mark Twain through actors and celebrities like Stephen Fry, Daryl Hannah and Robin Williams to renowned conservationists. What other book provides you with a frog themed joke from Tommy Cooper immediately followed by a quotation from Goethe? The quotations made me smile, gave me pause for thought and had me nodding in agreement.

Croak is a wonderful book for frog lovers, for those interested in conservation and for those looking for inspiration too. It would make a fabulous gift and I thought it was excellent.

About Phil Bishop

Phil Bishop was born and brought up in Devon, UK, where his keen interest in amphibians began. What followed was a lifetime of achievements in conservation and in highlighting the ground-breaking importance of the humble frog.

Searching for more species of amphibian, Phil travelled the world to places including South Africa, where he discovered and named a new species of frog, Arthroleptella ngongoniensis. Phil’s extensive experience in the study of frogs inspired him to compile the collection of frog-related quotes that is Croak.

Phil was a Professor of Zoology at the University of Otago, the Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Amphibian Specialist Group, and the Chief Scientist of the Amphibian Survival Alliance. In these positions, he helped to coordinate international amphibian conservation in response to the global Amphibian Conservation Action Plan. His team of students and post-docs (and often sabbatical visitors) mainly concentrated on the conservation of New Zealand frogs as they are some of the least well known frogs in the World, even within New Zealand. His lab group worked on improving methods for frog translocations, discovering new and interesting aspects of basic frog biology, amphibian diseases, monitoring endangered frog populations, and improving environmental education.

Phil has been widely published, with three previous books about frogs, several book chapters, and over 100 ground-breaking scientific papers. He was an editor of FrogLog, the world’s most popular online amphibian conservation magazine. Phil won many awards for his teaching and conservation efforts, including the University of Otago Lifetime Achievement Award 2018 and the National Conservationist of the Year Award 2018 by Auckland Zoological Park Recognising Excellence.

Phil’s passing early in 2021 is a loss keenly felt by the international scientific community. This book now serves as a tribute to a life spent at the forefront of conservation as he sought to deepen our understanding of these vitally important creatures.

The Couple by Helly Acton

My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Couple by Helly Acton. I’m delighted to be sharing my review of The Couple today.

Published by Bonnier imprint Zaffre on 27th May 2021, The Couple is available in all the usual places including here.

The Couple

The author of The Radio 2 Book Club Pick The Shelf returns with her brand new novel.

Millie is a perfectionist. She’s happy, she’s successful – and, with a great support network of friends and family (and a very grumpy cat) around her, she’s never lonely. She has her dream job at a big tech firm and is on track to become the company’s youngest ever Innovation Director. The last thing she needs is romance messing up her perfectly organised world.

Besides, normal people just don’t have romantic relationships. Everyone knows that being in a couple is a bit . . . well, odd. Sure, everybody has that one coupled-up friend who messes up the numbers at dinner parties, but it’s a bit eccentric. You know, like having a pet snake or living off the grid. Why rely on another person for your own happiness? Why risk the humiliation of unrequited love or the agony of a break-up when you can do everything yourself? No, Millie is perfectly happy with her conventional single life.

So when Millie lands a new project at work, launching a pill that stops you falling in love, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. That is, until she starts working with Ben. He’s charming and funny, and Millie feels an instant connection with him. Is this the spark that science and society are trying to suppress?

Will Millie sacrifice everything she believes in for love?

My Review of The Couple

Millie has everything under control – doesn’t she?

I was struck from the very beginning of The Couple what a brilliant premise for a story this book is. Helly Acton inverts our usual social mores and illustrates to perfection how ridiculous we can be and, actually, how offensive group social expectations are for many individuals. Here, instead of being derided for remaining single as so often happens still in today’s society, Helly Acton explores what life might be like if coupes were the abnormality, and she does so brilliantly.

Certainly there is a wonderful love story at the heart of The Couple and I was very much hoping for a conventional happy ever after ending, but the developing relationship between Millie and Ben illustrates so well, through Millie’s reactions in particular, the anxieties, self-doubts and the need to conform so many of us experience, as we put aside our innermost feelings in the face of other people’s demands. Ben works as the perfect foil to this, being true to himself and illustrating that happiness is the only ambition we really need. I thought this aspect of the book was not only perfectly developed, but I found it uplifting and encouraging too.

Even deeper themes like parental and professional control, sexuality, relationships, loneliness and the cut-throat ethical dubiousness of international companies, ripple through the story, but whilst themes with gravitas underpin the action, The Couple remains a fresh, innovative and highly entertaining read. Helly Acton uses a fast pace, wonderful humour and hugely effective techniques such as emails, texts and Millie’s italicised thoughts, to create a fast pace, cracking enjoyment and a narrative I loved.

The characters are very engaging. Of course I was partly in love with Ben from the first moment, but even the more minor characters like the yoghurt obsessed Saskia held a fascination too because they exemplified people I have met in my own life. The more I read of The Couple, the more glad I was that I live in my world and not theirs. This is such skilful writing because I had fun reading The Couple but it made me think and made me glad to be me too.

I so enjoyed The Couple. It’s well written, enjoyable, witty, clever and brilliant entertainment. I think The Couple is the perfect escapist read – with added clout!

About Helly Acton

Helly Acton is a copywriter from London with past lives in Zimbabwe, the Middle East and Australia. She studied Law at King’s College London before following a more creative path into advertising. At 26, Helly took a career break to travel in Africa and Asia, before landing in Sydney. Six years and one life-affirming break up later, she returned home and threw herself into online dating in the city. Helly uses this experience as a single woman in her early thirties – torn between settling down and savouring her independence – as a source of inspiration.

Helly currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, Chris, their little boy, Arlo, and their little dog, Milo. Sometimes, she gets their names mixed up.

You can follow Helly on Twitter @hellyacton and find her on Instagram or visit her website for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Shortlist revealed for @HarrogateFest Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

I’m delighted to bring you news today of one of the most exciting prizes in crime fiction.

The most coveted prize in crime fiction is now in its 17th year and celebrates crime writing at its best, transporting readers around the world from Calcutta to California to the frigid North Sea. If you’d like to see the full longlist, click here.

Harrogate, 15 June 2021: The six authors shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year are today unveiled after being chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy.  Now in its 17th year the most coveted prize in crime fiction – presented by Harrogate International Festivals – celebrates crime writing at its best, transporting readers around the world from Calcutta to California to the frigid North Sea.

Follow all the excitement on Twitter with #TheakstonAward

This books on this year’s shortlist encompass a vast array of themes and topics, from white supremacy and radicalisation to PTSD and homelessness, and from nail-biting hostage situations to tales of addiction, desperation and rehab.

The six shortlisted books for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021 are:

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton (Penguin Random House UK, Viking)

The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway (Little, Brown Book Group, Constable)

Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (Bonnier Books UK, Zaffre)

The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood (Quercus, Quercus Fiction)

The public are now invited to vote for the winner via www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com and the winner will be announced on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

We Begin at the End

This year’s shortlist recognises author Chris Whitaker who hopes to claim the trophy on his first ever nomination with We Begin at The End – a powerful story of crime, punishment, love and redemption set in coastal California.

Find my review of We Begin at the End here.

Three Hours

Sunday Times bestselling author Rosamund Lupton’s thrilling story of gunmen opening fire on a Somerset School has clinched a coveted spot on the shortlist. Three Hours sets the clock ticking for the hostages in a nail-biting exploration of white supremacy and radicalisation.

 Find my review of Three Hours here.

The Lantern Men

The creator of Norfolk’s best loved forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway Elly Griffiths is hoping that her seventh prize nomination takes her one step further to take the title. The twelfth novel in the whodunnit series, The Lantern Men sees Galloway return to the fens to hunt down a serial killer.

The Man on the Street

Trevor Wood’s meteoric rise continues as the debut author goes from being selected for Val McDermid’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel at the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival to being shortlisted for the coveted trophy with his acclaimed novel The Man on the Street. As a former naval officer, Wood brings to bear remarkable insight in this story of a homeless Falklands veteran with severe PTSD turned criminal investigator.

Death in the East

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for his latest Wyndham & Banerjee novel Death in the East – described by The Times as “the best so far of an unmissable series”. A mesmerising portrait of India, Assam and East End London, perhaps this third nomination for will prove lucky for the account-turned best-selling author?

The Last Crossing

The public are now invited to vote for the winner via www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com and the winner will be announced on the opening night of Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Thursday 22 July, and will receive £3,000, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakston Old Peculier.

 Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said“This is it: the crème de la crème of crime. This shortlist really does showcase the breadth and depth of the genre. It’s going to be a fiercely fought prize this year so make sure you vote for your favourite. Until then, I look forward to raising a glass of Old Peculier at the winner’s announcement on 22 July!”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors. The longlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith.

I’ve chosen my personal winner here and am off to vote!

Staying in with Rachel Brimble

I’ve heard such good things about Rachel Brimble’s writing and have wanted to read her for simply ages. Sadly my TBR has not allowed it so instead I invited Rachel to stay in with me to tell me about one of her books. I’m glad she agreed to be here!

Staying in with Rachel Brimble

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Rachel. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought along two books! I hope that’s okay? A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady are the first two books in my latest Victorian trilogy so I thought I could share the two together.

Oo. A BOGOF – what a bookish bargain! Though here it’s bring one get one free. What can we expect from an evening in with A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady?

Drama, intrigue and romance… the trilogy (third book due for release in the autumn) is set in a brothel in the Victorian city of Bath, England. When Louisa Hill’s husband commits suicide, he leaves her house she knew nothing and a mountain of debt. She and her best friend, Nancy Bloom, travel to Bath and soon realise if they are to survive they must make the house work for them and revert back to their old professions as prostitutes.

Having survived abuse, hunger and living on the streets, the women are determined that this time around their lives will be on their own terms. The books are filled with a cast of secondary characters that give a flavour of community, but also provide a canvas to the desolation and daily threats that surrounded those living in the Victorian underworld which I hope adds excitement and mystery to the stories.

That all sounds fantastic Rachel. How do the first two books fit in?

Book 1, A Widow’s Vow is Louisa’s story whose life starts to look better when she meets boxer Jacob Jackson and he comes to work at the house as the girls protector/doorman. Book 2, Trouble For The Leading Lady is Nancy’s story and is about her lifelong dream of being onstage and how, with the influence of theatre manager, Francis Carlyle, her impossible dream draws ever closer to reality…

So far the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy has been well received and I am thrilled with reader reviewers and feedback. I love writing about the lower classes of society and giving the less privileged the chance to seek their own success and, of course, find true love!

I love reading about the ‘real’ people in history Rachel. Too often we have had male HIStory of the upper classes and too little HERstory of the ordinary folk. I’ve been hearing very good things indeed about this series from other readers and bloggers.

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

I have also brought along a picture of the books that inspired the trilogy so that you and your visitors can have a better idea of the period and conditions Louisa and Nancy have experienced and survived. There is nothing more inspiring to me that finding real-life women who have fought against the odds and won, or even the women who have lost but refused to give up until the very end.

There is nothing better than empowering strong heroines and having them find the men who will be true partners to them in every sense of the word. I like to write about struggles but also inject a good dose of humour and romance into the characters’ stories so that it is palatable enough to be enjoyable. I hope that makes sense!

It most certainly does and makes me want to read the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy as soon as I can!

Book 3 is currently sitting on my editor’s desk and will be Octavia’s story who is a third woman who works at the house after Louisa saves her from Bath’s streets…

I just loved the sound of this trilogy Rachel. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about the first two books A Widow’s Vow and Trouble For The Leading Lady. I rather think I’m going to have to add them to my towering TBR pile after all! 

A Widow’s Vow

From grieving widow…

1851. After her merchant husband saved her from a life of prostitution, Louisa Hill was briefly happy as a housewife in Bristol. But then a constable arrives at her door. Her husband has been found hanged in a Bath hotel room, a note and a key to a property in Bath the only things she has left of him. And now the debt collectors will come calling.

To a new life as a madam.

Forced to leave everything she knows behind, Louisa finds more painful betrayals waiting for her in the house in Bath. Left with no means of income, Louisa knows she has nothing to turn to but her old way of life. But this time, she’ll do it on her own terms – by turning her home into a brothel for upper class gentleman. And she’s determined to spare the girls she saves from the street the horrors she endured in the past.

Enlisting the help of Jacob Jackson, a quiet but feared boxer, to watch over the house, Louisa is about to embark on a life she never envisaged. Can she find the courage to forge this new path?

A Widow’s Vow is the first in a gripping and gritty new Victorian saga series from Rachel Brimble. You won’t be able to put it down.

Published by Aria on 10th September 2020, A Widow’s Vow is available for purchase here and on other sites.

Trouble for the Leading Lady

Bath, 1852.

As a girl, Nancy Bloom would go to Bath’s Theatre Royal, sit on the hard wooden benches and stare in awe at the actresses playing men as much as the women dressed in finery. She longed to be a part of it all and when a man promised her parents he could find a role for Nancy in the theatre, they believed him.

His lie and betrayal led to her ruin.

Francis Carlyle is a theatre manager, an ambitious man always looking for the next big thing to take the country by storm. A self-made man, Francis has finally shed the skin of his painful past and is now rich, successful and in need of a new female star. Never in a million years did he think he’d find her standing on a table in one of Bath’s bawdiest pubs.

Nancy vowed never to trust a man again. Francis will do anything to make her his star. As they engage in a battle of wits and wills, can either survive with their hearts intact?

The second in Rachel Brimble’s thrilling new Victorian saga series, Trouble for the Leading Lady will whisk you away to the riotous, thriving underbelly of Victorian Bath.

Published by Aria on 4th March 2021, Trouble for the Leading Lady is available for purchase here and on other sites.

About Rachel Brimble

Rachel lives in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 25 published novels including the Ladies of Carson Street series, the Shop Girl series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin).

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association as well as the Historical Novel Society and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

To sign up for her newsletter (a guaranteed giveaway every month!), click here.

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

Older Characters: A Guest Post by Christine Webber, Author of So Many Ways of Loving

It’s so good to have lovely Christine Webber back on Linda’s Book Bag today. Christine is such a generous author. Very often writers tell me they want to be on the blog but they don’t want the effort of providing a guest post when I can’t squeeze in reading their books for review. Christine, however, is always prepared to make that effort and I’m thrilled to welcome her back here today with a post all about older characters in celebration of her latest book So Many Ways of Loving. I’d also like to thank Christine for sending me a copy of So Many Ways of Loving and I’m hoping it will reach the top of my TBR before too long.

I’m also delighted that Christine has offered a paperback copy of So Many Ways of Loving to a lucky UK blog reader too. You’ll find details later in this blog post.

Previously Christine has provided a post about writing as therapy in a wonderful post you can find here when In Honour Bound was published and about the times when reality fights its way into fiction to celebrate It’s Who We Are here.

Publishing on 17th June 2021, So Many Ways of Loving is available for pre-order here.

So Many Ways of Loving

So Many Ways of Loving is set in 2019 before the world was shocked to the core by the pandemic. And it is another story by Webber featuring people in their mid to later years.

‘This is such an astonishing part of our lives,’ says Christine. ‘And packed with unforeseen changes.’

But unlike the storylines of Who’d Have Thought It? and It’s Who We Are some of the changes in this tale are bleak and heartbreaking. However, life is full of light just when we think there is only darkness and there are many unexpected developments concerning love, location, friendship, family and, as you might guess from the cover, a dog.

Ultimately, So Many Ways of Loving is a story of hope, celebrating our zest for life. It features three main female characters in their 50s and 60s. They are all, in their own way, facing crises, and the unlikely friendship that evolves between them is sustaining for them all. Acting as a kind of link between these friends is a fourth female character who is a great support to them. Readers may spot that she has been borrowed – though is now very much older than she was – from one of the author’s other novels.

Older Characters

A Guest Post by Christine Webber

Linda Hill has very kindly asked me to provide a guest contribution to Linda’s Book Bag. I’m delighted and grateful to be allowed to do this. It’s such a great blog and it gives me the opportunity to tell you about my latest novel So Many Ways of Loving, which is out on 17th June. This is another story about mid to later life people – which is my thing nowadays.

Linda asked me why I find writing about older characters so interesting. The main answer is that when I was in my mid-fifties, I got very bored with novels about anguished thirty-five year olds. Quite apart from everything else, that was pretty much the age of the average reader I’d written all my non-fiction for during the years I worked for Hodder and Bloomsbury. To be honest, I wanted a break from them.

Also, I wanted to read about older people who were vital and vibrant and negotiating new romance, new businesses, new locations, new family circumstances and so on, but also dealing with grown up children and elderly parents; in other words, I wanted novels about the sort of individuals I knew and encountered all the time. Far too often, it seemed to me, older characters in books were mere caricatures. They tended to lose their spectacles constantly, and generally to be a bit daffy, if lovable. Also, they were never the leading protagonists. I felt that should change. Clearly, lots of other authors were thinking the same way as there are many more books out now with older characters at their heart. And a jolly good thing too!

So, in 2016, I wrote Who’d Have Thought It? which was about a busy GP called Annie, who had been dumped but was ready to embrace single life again. I loved her! However, I didn’t give her an easy ride to new romance because negotiating that kind of change against the busy background of mid-life is always going to be complicated. In her case there were adult daughters doing unwise things with unwise people. There was a demented dad in a nursing home, as well as a good friend who became ill. But essentially it was a funny and romantic book and much to my delight, loads of readers loved the characters and this confirmed for me that there was a need for books for older readers with a storyline that they could relate to.

It's Who We are Cover

My second novel in this genre was It’s Who We Are, which was more ambitious in that there were five leading characters over fifty. That story is about family secrets and what you might discover in the filing cabinets of ageing or dead parents. I had intended to kill off one of the five, but he wouldn’t lie down and die. Instead, he went on to have a passionate relationship  which I had not expected to write. That’s one thing about developing older characters. They have their own ideas about what they want to do. And they have a level of common sense that has been learned the hard way, which is refreshing.

In So Many Ways of Loving the focus is on the bonds of new friendships which often surprise us. I’m a great believer in people constantly looking to increase their social circle at all ages. My circumstances and location changed completely three years ago and I’m very lucky in that I’ve made half a dozen new pals since then, all of whom are very special to me. We need fresh friends because we are constantly changing, and sometimes we grow apart from other adults we’ve been close to in the past.

There are other threads in the story – not least widowhood – which is something I’ve had to cope with myself and wanted to write about. Additional themes are new romance, house moves, the support of step-families and the threat of serious ill-health. You could say then that it’s very much a mix of what happens to most of us, if we’re lucky enough to live to be old.

Finally, perhaps my favourite character of all is a dog. Never underestimate the power of a pooch to transform a life. No wonder he’s on the cover!

****

Thank you so much Christine. That’s such an inspiring post. As a middle aged woman of sixty I could not agree with you more. We middle aged (and older) folk have much to offer and I think So Many Ways of Loving might just show everyone that there’s life in the old ones yet!

UK Giveaway – A Paperback Copy of So Many Ways of Loving

I’m thrilled to offer a paperback copy of So Many Ways of Loving to a lucky UK blog reader. Christine has kindly said she’ll post one out and for your chance to be the lucky recipient, click here.

Giveaway ends at UK midnight on Sunday 20th June 2021. Your details will not be retained beyond this date. Winner to provide a UK postal address for receipt of the book.

About Christine Webber

Christine Webber tried various careers in her younger days – she was a classical singer, a Principal Boy in pantomimes, an undistinguished actress as well as a piano and singing teacher. Fortunately, for her, when she was thirty, she managed to get a job in television as a continuity announcer, and shortly thereafter she became a news presenter at Anglia TV. Finally, she had found an occupation she liked that other people thought she was good at. This was a massive relief.

In her early forties, she married the love of her life, Dr David Delvin. Soon afterwards, she decided  to leave news presenting in order to train as a psychotherapist, and she also became a problem page columnist for various publications including TV Times, Best, BBC Parenting, The Scotsman and Woman. In addition, she regularly broadcast relationship advice on Trisha, The Good Sex Guide…Late and from the BBC’s Breakfast sofa.

In her fifties, she and her husband set up a practice in Harley Street, and they worked together there and collaborated on several books. They also wrote the sex/relationships content on www.netdoctor.co.uk and penned a joint column for the health section of The Spectator.

Over the decades, Christine was commissioned to write ten self-help books including Get the Happiness Habit, How to Mend a Broken Heart and Too Young to Get Old.

Now, in her seventies, her focus is on the issues of mid and later life. As well as writing novels, she makes video podcasts on positive ageing and writes a column for various regional papers on that theme. She is also a life coach specialising in health and ageing.

You can follow Christine on Twitter @1chriswebber, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

With both Stacey Halls’ previous books awaiting my attention and calling to me from my TBR, what better way of ensuring I actually read her than by participating in the blog tour for Mrs England? My enormous thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to take part and to the team at Bonnier for sending me a copy of Mrs England in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Bonnier Zaffre on 10th June 2021, Mrs England is available for purchase through the links here.

Mrs England

Mrs England is a gripping feminist mystery where a nanny must travel to Yorkshire to a grand house filled with secrets. For there’s no such thing as the perfect family…

‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’

West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

My Review of Mrs England

Nurse May has a new position.

What an absolutely wonderful book Mrs England is. I’ve heard great praise for Stacey Halls’ writing but until I opened the pages of Mrs England I hadn’t appreciated what a beautiful, evocative and skilled author she is. Mrs England is fabulous. The settings are so clear that I could hear the rush of the waterfall or see the elements of nature that are so authentically depicted.

Ruby May’s first person narrative is alive with vivid detail, with direct speech that is totally authentic for the era and an underlying feeling of menace and secrecy that I found totally captivating. Stacey Halls’ prose has all the best elements of poetic description but is never hyperbole. Rather, she creates an atmosphere that reverberates with exquisite tension so that the reader is completely transported to the early twentieth century.

The plotting in Mrs England is taut and sophisticated. In essence, it’s fairly simple as Ruby finds her place in the England family home, but there are so many layers to uncover. I loved the gradual revealing of Ruby’s past and I was reminded of some of the great classics by Stacey Halls’ writing. Ruby is every bit as compelling as any Austen heroine and the intense portrait of middle class lifestyles in Hardcastle House was equally as authentic as Mansfield Park.

The characters are so clear and realistic that I felt invested in their lives from the very first moment. Ruby is an absolute triumph and the exploration of the psychological aspects of her personality is subtly and convincingly conveyed so that I was desperate for her to be happy and to succeed.

It’s tricky to say too much about themes without spoiling the story because everything is so intricately woven together creating a mesmerising narrative. Personality, control, manipulation, relationships, friendship, nature and nurture, and guilt and secrets all combine into an utterly compelling and fascinating read.

I’m only sorry that I haven’t found time to read Stacey Halls before now. Mrs England is an absolute triumph. It’s sophisticated, spellbinding and thoroughly entertaining. I thought it was just brilliant.

About Stacey Halls

Stacey Halls was born in 1989 and grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, the Independent, the Sun and Fabulous. Her first book, The Familiars, was the bestselling debut hardback novel of 2019, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. Stacey Halls is available for interview, to write features and events. Stacey lived in Hebden bridge where the book is set while writing Mrs England and has done extensive research include at the Norland Nanny school in Bath. Key themes include ‘gaslighting; women & power and the fetishisation of nannies.

For more information about Stacy, visit her website. You can follow Stacy on Twitter @stacey_halls, and find her on Instagram too.

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Fragile by Sarah Hilary

It’s far too long since I last read a Sarah Hilary book and I’m delighted to rectify that by sharing my review of Sarah’s first stand alone novel, Fragile on publication day. My enormous thanks to Hannah Corbett at Macmillan for sending me a copy of Fragile in return for an honest review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Fragile.

Fragile is published today, 10th June 2021, by Pan Macmillan and is available for purchase through the links here.

Fragile

Everything she touches breaks . . .

Nell Ballard is a runaway. A former foster child with a dark secret she is desperate to keep, all Nell wants is to find a place she can belong.

So when a job comes up at Starling Villas, home to the enigmatic Robin Wilder, she seizes the opportunity with both hands.

But her new lodgings may not be the safe haven that she was hoping for. Her employer lives by a set of rigid rules and she soon sees that he is hiding secrets of his own.

But is Nell’s arrival at the Villas really the coincidence it seems? After all, she knows more than most how fragile people can be – and how easy they can be to break . . .

My Review of Fragile

Nell is looking for Joe.

When I first began reading Fragile it took me a moment to tune in to a different genre from Sarah Hilary, but within a very few pages I was utterly mesmerised, drawn into a narrative that is, at times, achingly beautifully written, so that reading it is almost as unbearable and affecting as the emotions Nell feels. I thought Fragile was superb because it’s multi-layered, creepy, intense and so compelling that I found myself thinking about it and trying to predict what might happen at times when I wasn’t actually reading it.

The prose in Fragile is intense, gorgeously written and such a swirling maelstrom of psychological insight that I felt almost physically affected by its impact. Sarah Hilary places her reader into the very bloodstream of her characters making them experience the same events and emotions as do Nell and Meagan, in particular, with razor sharp clarity. The intensity of the relationship between Nell and Joe could not be more perfectly conveyed. Very often, this effect is achieved through the senses of taste and smell in a thoroughly unusual and captivating manner.

Sarah Hilary’s plot seduces her reader completely because reality and self-deception are so closely aligned it is impossible to know quite whom to trust. Nell, for example, is simultaneously unreliable, and yet totally truthful, so that her first person narrative had my brain reeling. I found myself as lost and trapped in Fragile as any of the characters. In essence the plot is relatively simple – Nell becomes a housekeeper – but my goodness to say that is to belie a fascinating narrative of truly manipulative, controlling and scarily realistic people. Each character deserves the contempt and horror of any rational reader and yet each one is so fragile, so human and so believable that I found myself empathising and supporting them even in their most dubious or heinous actions.

It’s the themes of hatred and love, obsession and control, loyalty and deception that add such a spellbinding dimension. Sarah Hilary takes the dark human potential that resides in us all in Fragile and shows us not just what her characters can do, but holds up a mirror like the one in Robin’s room, to illustrate to us just how evil a potential we may have. I have no idea if the resonances were deliberate, but I also found myself reminded of Macbeth, of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, of The Lotus Eaters all of which added to my enjoyment too. This makes Fragile unsettling, compulsive and affecting.

I’m conscious that I haven’t really said much about the plot as I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but Fragile is a book that almost inveigles itself into the reader’s psyche. Sarah Hilary has a spellbinding ability to create an almost dreamlike atmosphere that leaves her reader feeling as drugged as Joe might be.

I thought Fragile was truly excellent. It enveloped me so that I was spellbound throughout. Just brilliant.

About Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary’s debut Someone Else’s Skin won the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year, was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and The Observer’s Book of the Month. In the US, it was a Silver Falchion and Macavity Award finalist. No Other Darkness, the second in the series, was shortlisted for a Barry Award. The sixth in her DI Marnie Rome series Never Be Broken is out now. Her short stories have won the Cheshire Prize for Literature, the Fish Criminally Short Histories Prize, and the SENSE prize. Fragile is her first standalone novel.

Sarah is one of the Killer Women, a crime writing collective supporting diversity, innovation and inclusion in their industry.

For more information, follow Sarah on Twitter @Sarah_Hilary, find her on Facebook and Instagram or visit her website.

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An Extract from Guardians at the Wall by Tim Walker

My enormous thanks to Tim Walker for sending me a copy of his latest book Guardians at the Wall in return for an honest review. I’m really looking forward to reading it as soon as I can. Today, however, I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from Guardians at the Wall with you.

Tim Walker has featured frequently on Linda’s Book Bag; and most recently we stayed in together to chat all about his book, Arthur Rex Brittonum, in a post you can read here.

Tim also introduced PERVERSE – a collection of short prose and verse, sharing a poem with us in a post you can see here.

It was my pleasure to share an extract from Arthur Dux Bellorum here and Tim has introduced his book Uther’s Destiny in a post you can see here, as well as previously writing a fabulous guest post about fiction and fear when the second book in his A Light in the Dark Ages series, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, was published, and you can read that post here.

Guardians at the Wall

A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes.

Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding ancient riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, 1,800 years earlier, Commander of the Watch, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen.

These are the protagonists whose lives brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.

How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology dirt rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by his gaming mates and the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust?

Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

An extract from Guardians at the Wall

Student and Tutor Meeting

[archaeology student, Noah, visits the Head of Archaeology for her opinion on his find]

I skirted around the two-storey sandstone building and ducked through a doorway into a well-lit reception area and stood before Mavis, the marketing assistant.

“Hi Mavis, is Maggie in?” I chirped, picking up the latest issue of Archaeology Magazine. Professor Maggie Wilde was pictured on the cover, standing on the battlements of the reconstructed section of wall, gazing northwards towards the unconquered barbarians. She was already a celebrity archaeologist and would have made the perfect foil for Harrison Ford’s movie character, Indiana Jones, with her wild, windswept strawberry blonde hair framing a striking face with cute freckles across her nose, and twinkling pale blue eyes. Her glossy lips suggested she knew the value of a warm smile or pout in a room full of men. ‘It’s like fancying your mum’s friend’, Dave had once remarked.

“She’s on a conference call to the States. Wait if you like, she’ll be finished soon,” Mavis replied, in a cultured Edinburgh accent. Posh Scottish.

“She’s the pin-up girl of British archaeology,” I quipped, flashing the magazine cover.

“I don’t know what she uses to keep her skin so flawless,” Mavis sighed.

“Perhaps she discovered an ancient potion?” I offered, flicking through the pages to the article. I had been hovering around when the photographer had taken her photos that day – maybe I was in the background of one of the pictures? I sat and read. ‘Hadrian’s Wall Gives Up Its Secrets’, the headline declared. The Vindolanda reading tablets were described as, ‘the find of the century.’ My broad idea for my dissertation was for it to be based on translations from some of the tablets – those that related to the lives and living conditions of the soldiers garrisoned at Vindolanda and other forts in the early years of Hadrian’s Wall. I had been cropped out of the photos.

“They couldn’t have been more excited if they’d discovered Moses’s tablets,” I quipped.

“You can go in now,” Mavis said, her voice dragging me away from the article. I had read half of it, and resolved to return to it when I came out.

Professor Maggie Wilde’s room was bigger than the reception area, with two walls given over to floor-to-ceiling book shelves – one with books and the other with boxes of academic reports and maps. No doubt Mavis had labelled and sorted them, as Maggie gave the air of being disorganised. She was an anomaly – a successful career academic who reputedly hated being tied down to boring tasks, like report-writing, collating documents, copying and filing; a creative free-thinker who was skilled at persuading others to unburden her of boring or repetitive tasks. She held two positions – Head of Archaeology at the Trust, and part-time Archaeology Professor at Newcastle University.

“Ah, Noah, come in. Just move those over there and sit,” she said, pointing to a couch piled high with maps and printouts. I moved the items and sat, twiddling my thumbs, watching the crown of her ginger head, waiting until she looked up. I had literally bumped into her at the student placement reception a few days earlier, and she had welcomed me with a firm handshake. I had blurted that I’d seen her Hadrian’s Wall documentary on television, feeling like a needy fan as soon as I’d said it. She had smiled and asked me what I hoped to achieve during my placement and listened intently, planting her stylish heels as if she had nowhere else to go, a strange thing in a room where people were mingling in groups. I was grateful for her full attention and pleased when she invited me to call on her expertise any time.

“If it’s a bad time I can come back?” I offered.

“There never seems to be a good time, so now will do,” she said, removing her reading glasses and fixing me with a warm and welcoming smile. “I’ve just had a two-hour conference call with members of the US Archaeological Society, so I could do with a distraction.” She leaned forward and picked up the marble figure Mike had brought to her hours earlier. He must have thoroughly cleaned and polished it before presenting it to her.

“I just wanted to hear what your thoughts are on that little lady,” I said. “Do you think she’s a female deity?”

She turned it over in her slender fingers and her shoulders twitched. “Ooh, I felt a slight shock, like static on a jumper,” she said, placing it gently on her blotter. “Yes, most likely female, judging by the full-length robe. The slight tummy bump suggests she might be pregnant, so perhaps a fertility symbol. I’ll send it to the curator at the Hancock Museum for her opinion. She’ll give me a better idea of where it fits into the Brigantes’ belief system. Some of their gods were twinned with Roman deities as the polytheistic Romans were keen to encourage local worship in their temples. Once we know roughly how old it is, we can look for other carvings or figures from that period and make a guess as to which deity it is. I agree with Mike; it could be a goddess whom the household would supplicate for good fortune, fertility or protection from evil spirits. Come and sit in the chair.”

*****

[At the same location in the year 180 CE, Roman centurion, Gaius Atticianus returns home after a fractious meeting to be confronted by his wife, Aria]

He entered his courtyard in a state of shock to be met by Aria, legs apart in her combative stance, holding the Brigantia effigy in one hand, a look of anger in her eyes.

“What do you mean by sending Paulinus to give me this carving of the local goddess, Brigantia? You know full well that we have a shrine to the water goddess of my people, Sulis, who is twinned with your goddess Minerva, and is the deity who watches over this house and our family! Have you forgotten the time our prayers and the healing waters of Sulis restored our little Brutus when he had the sweating fever?”

“Sulis be praised. But my love, it was a gift from the wife of my scout whom we saved from despoilment and murder,” Gaius replied in his well-practised conciliatory tone. She had resurrected the unhappy memory of his fears that his little son would succumb to the same fever that had robbed him of his first family.

“Then you have kept your promise and delivered it to me. But it cannot remain here, or our own goddess will desert us. You shall not see it again and do not ask me about it.” Gaius knew not to argue further when her temper was raised. She looked both magnificent and terrifying when her red mane was raised and her crystal eyes turned icy with rage. But like the storms of Britannia, it would soon blow out and she would be his sweet Aria again.

“You are wise, as always, my love,” he whispered, now more eager than ever to soak his weary bones and clear his troubled mind. He would withhold his bad news from her and mull it over. Gaius skirted around her and went to the kitchen to seek out Longinus to make preparations for his bath. He would be up at dawn to prepare once again for battle with the Caledonii, or to lead a guard to Coria with their wives, cohort valuables, and the report blaming him for the attack. But that was tomorrow. Tonight, he would eat with his family and sleep in the arms of his beloved Aria.

****

Now doesn’t that sound perfect for lovers of historical fiction and dual time lines?

About Tim Walker

Tim Walker at Caerleon

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After attaining a degree in Communication Studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

To find out more you can visit Tim’s website.  You can follow Tim on Twitter @timwalker1666 and you’ll find him on Instagram, Goodreads, Amazon and Facebook.

The Heeding by Rob Cowen, illustrated by Nick Hayes

My enormous thanks to Alison Menzies for sending me a copy of The Heeding by Rob Cowen with illustrations by Nick Hayes in return for an honest review. I’m thrilled to share that review today.

The Heeding will be published on 17th June by Elliott and Thompson and is available for pre-order here.

The Heeding

The world changed in 2020. Gradually at first, then quickly and irreversibly, the patterns by which we once lived altered completely.

The Heeding paints a picture of a year caught in the grip of history, yet filled with revelatory perspectives close at hand: a sparrowhawk hunting in a back street; the moon over a town with a loved-one’s hand held tight; butterflies massing in a high-summer yard – the everyday wonders and memories that shape a life and help us recall our own.

Across four seasons and thirty-five luminous poems and illustrations, Rob Cowen and Nick Hayes lead us on a journey that takes its markers and signs from nature and a world filled with fear and pain but beauty and wonder too. Collecting birds, animals, trees and people together, The Heeding is a profound meditation to a time no-one will forget.

At its heart, this is a book that helps us look again, to heed: to be attentive to this world we share and this history we’re living through, to be aware of how valuable and fragile we are, to grieve what’s lost and to hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

My Review of The Heeding

A collection of thirty-five poems with illustrations.

I’m slightly at a loss to know how to review The Heeding. I found it such an affecting book that I’m unsure any review I might attempt can do it justice.

Redolent of great literary traditions, Rob Cowen’s poems made me think of such luminaries as Gerard Manley Hopkins (especially The Windhover) of Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush, of Seamus Heaney, and of John Donne’s For Whom the Bell Tolls because the quality of the writing is so superb. And yet Rob Cowen builds on those literary traditions, techniques and allusions, and makes them fresh, modern and absolutely perfect for the year 2020 he is describing, through a richness of language that is breath-taking. There is nothing derivative here, but rather an absolutely personal, and simultaneously universal, exploration of our modern world. There’s no shying away from the events of 2020 with references, for example, to the Black Lives Matter movement, through social distancing and the national interest in gardening, to the impact of the pandemic on South Asian people. I thought The Heeding was exceptional because reading it helped me make sense of the year we’ve lived through.

There are so many images and motifs of death whether they occur through Covid, war, nature or accident that The Heeding ought to be a depressing collection but it is far from it. Rob Cowen explores death’s effect by ultimately uplifting the reader, reminding them of human connection, of nature’s fortitude and of how we can endure even in the most difficult of times. His poetry illustrates how we can heed the world around us in the three ways outlined at the beginning of the collection; by observation, by taking care and by protecting. The Heeding isn’t simply a collection of wonderfully evocative poems, but it is a guide to readers on how to reconnect with the natural world, with our emotions and to be more mindful and observant. I felt that in reading The Heeding I’d been given the gift of relearning simply how to be, that I had lost over 2020.

A whole gamut of emotion underpins every single syllable so that each poem in The Heeding is an affecting reading experience. Rob Cowen presents rage, anger, relief, grief, despair, joy and hope in a beautifully written maelstrom I found mesmerising. For example, the last line of The Lovers made me chuckle aloud and the final line of Last Breaths made me weep but I was totally undone by Pharmacy Cake. Ironically, because each of those poems has humans at its heart, it was the iterative motif of nature in so many of the other poems that I found so effective. I loved the innovative compound adjectives such as those in Starling. I loved the sometimes tricky punctuation that exemplified the poet’s problematic feelings. I loved the italicised speech that made me hear the voices. The Heeding rewards rereading time after time because so much thought has gone in to the selection of each beautifully crafted phrase that there is new meaning to be found each time. Quite frankly I am astounded by Rob Cowen’s writing.

Aside from the incredible quality of Rob Cowen’s writing, Nick Hayes’ stark impactful black and white illustrations bring the whole collection in The Heeding into sharp focus. The images enhance the reader’s understanding and deepen the enjoyment in, and appreciation of, the poems. Because the pictures have a traditional woodcut appearance they also deepen the sense of value in this collection, giving the impression that life and skill can persist even in the darkest of times. The pictures manage to be both brooding and dramatic whilst also feeling sensitive and tender.

Searing, profound and visceral, The Heeding is an important, raw and moving collection I won’t forget or be parted from. I absolutely adored it. It’s one of my books of the year.

****

Alison Menzies at Elliott and Thompson kindly gave me one of the fabulous illustrations to share too:

About Rob Cowen

Rob Cowen is an award-winning writer, hailed as one of the UK’s most original voices on nature and place. His book, Common Ground (PRH; 2015) was shortlisted for the Portico, Richard Jefferies Society and Wainwright Prizes and voted one of the nation’s favourite nature books on BBC Winterwatch. His poems have featured on Caught By The River and in Letters to the Earth (Harper Collins). He lives in North Yorkshire.

You can follow Rob on Twitter @robbiecowen and find out more on his website. You’ll also find Rob on Instagram.

About Nick Hayes

Nick Hayes is a writer, illustrator and print-maker. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller, The Book of Trespass (Bloomsbury; 2020). He has published graphic novels with Jonathan Cape and worked for many renowned titles. He has exhibited across the country, including at the Hayward Gallery. He lives on the Kennet and Avon canal.

You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickhayesillus1 and find him on Instagram. You’ll find examples of his illustrations in his online shop.

Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh

I have loved everything I’ve ever read by Katie Marsh so when Emma Knight at Hodder sent me a copy of Unbreak Your Heart I was thrilled. I chose Unbreak Your Heart as a ‘hot book’ at a recent online discussion with fellow bloggers Tracy Fenton, Jo Robertson and Anne Cater and have been saving it up to read as a treat. Having recently been away with no phone signal or wi-fi, affording me some extra reading time, finally I have my review to share.

It is far too long since I’ve featured Katie here on Linda’s Book Bag. Last time I was reviewing The Rest of Me in a post you’ll find here. I reviewed My Everything here when I first began blogging (and how the blog has changed since then!). I have a review of A Life Without You here and of This Beautiful Life here which was also one of my books of the year in 2017.

In addition, I was thrilled to host a guest post here by Katie all about the playlists of her life when This Beautiful Life was published and honoured to attend the book’s launch.

Unbreak Your Heart was published by Hodder on 27th May 2021 and is available for purchase through these links.

Unbreak Your Heart

Seven-year-old Jake’s heart is failing and he doesn’t want to leave his dad, Simon, alone. So he makes a decision: to find Simon someone to love before he goes.

Beth is determined to forget the past. But even when she leaves New York to start afresh in a Lake District village, she can’t shake the secrets that haunt her.

Single dad Simon still holds a candle for the woman who left him years ago. Every day is a struggle to earn a living while caring for his beloved son. He has no time for finding someone new.

But Jake is determined his plan will succeed – and what unfolds will change all three of them forever.

My Review of Unbreak Your Heart

Beth needs a new start.

It’s going to be tricky to convey just how much I loved Unbreak Your Heart. I know Katie Marsh is a fantastic author but here she has surpassed herself, creating a wonderful narrative that I not only adored, but feel privileged to have read.

Let me be honest. Generally I do not like children and I’m not remotely interested in them. Consequently, it is indicative of Katie Marsh’s glorious, mesmerising, writing that I could not have cared more about Jake, finding him endearing, moving and captivating. I desperately wanted him to thrive, to have his physical heart unbroken and to be successful in finding his Dad, Simon, a new girlfriend. Jake felt so real to me that I might even have to alter my anti-children attitude!

The relatively small cast of characters creates a real intimacy in this narrative, making Unbreak Your Heart all the more intense and emotional. Beth’s story is gradually uncovered so that the reader gets to know it at the same time as others in the narrative. She needs her emotional heart, and indeed her spirit, unbreaking. This careful unfolding had the effect of making me feel part of the action and I loved the book all the more for it. I wanted Beth to be the woman Jake is so hoping for for Simon, but you’ll need to read Unbreak Your Heart to see if she is. I also loved the development of Simon in the text. What Katie Marsh does so skilfully is to illustrate how initial impressions may not always give us the real person, and their behaviours might be masking underlying pain.

Such a theme of inner reality is just one of the aspects of Unbreak Your Heart that makes it so wonderful. Certainly Katie Marsh writes about love and relationships, friendship and family, but this book is predicated on a life-threatening medical condition that is so well researched that I found it almost unbearably convincing and authentic. Jake’s story broke my heart every bit as much as it did the others in the book. That said, there’s real humour here as well as exquisite pain so that Unbreak Your Heart is perfectly balanced and entertaining, as well as captivating and moving. What is so brilliant is that this could actually be the story of any one of us. Much of the plot is based in fairly ordinary, everyday events, so that any reader can identify with what happens to the characters, making for a truly immersive read.

I adored Unbreak Your Heart. It made me laugh and it made me cry. I had had high hopes of Unbreak Your Heart and Katie Marsh fulfilled and surpassed every single one. This is a book I won’t forget in a hurry. I absolutely loved it.

About Katie Marsh

katie

Katie Marsh had a ten-year NHS career before leaving to write full-time. She lives in the countryside with her family, and is the author of four novels, including the 2018 World Book Night pick My Everything and the e-book bestseller A Life Without You. She loves strong coffee, the promise of a blank page and stealing her husband’s toast.

You can follow Katie on Twitter @marshisms, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook.