Staying in with C.F. Barrington

It’s a real pleasure to welcome C F Barrington to Linda’s Book Bag today to stay in with me to chat all about his latest book about to be released in paperback as I think it sounds brilliant and I’m sure you will too!

Let’s find out more:

Staying in with C F Barrington

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

Thank you for inviting me, Linda. Staying in is something we’ve all been getting very used to over this last year or so isn’t it?

It certainly has. This new ‘freedom’ feels a bit weird to me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought with me my debut novel – The Wolf Mile – which was by launched Head of Zeus adventure imprint, Aries Fiction, on 6th May in e-book and is about to come out in paperback on 5th August.

How exciting Chris and congratulations. Is The Wolf Mile a stand alone?

It is the first in a five-book saga about The Pantheon, with Book 2 (The Blood Isles) launching in October 2021 and Book 3 (The Hastening Storm) coming in spring 2022.

You must be thrilled to be writing such a series. Tell me a bit more about The Wolf Mile.

I’ve chosen it tonight because the story – and indeed the genre – has sparked much discussion amongst my early readers, because it is hard to pin into a single category and defies my many attempts to condense it into a snappy teaser.

You’ve got me intrigued now.

The most concise description came from one of my advance readers, who said it was ‘Fight Club with swords’. I’ll take that! And my agent (Laura Macdougall at United Agents) said it had ‘elements of The Hunger Games’ when she first read it.

I love a book that doesn’t readily fit a precise genre and this sounds so exciting. What can we expect from an evening in with The Wolf Mile?

It is a story which, first and foremost, is inspired by a sense of place. Apart from a sojourn into the forests of the Highlands, the book’s action all takes place in the closes, tunnels and rooftops which flow from the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. Indeed, it was Edinburgh’s Old Town which really allowed the story to manifest. The dark, malevolent history of the Old Town and its stunning architecture and rumours of tunnels and secret passages, set my mind ticking. I am sure that the whole concept of The Pantheon could not have come together if it had not been for my life in and around Edinburgh.

This aspect of Edinburgh sounds perfect to inspire a series.

The story was also prompted by two other factors: Firstly, I had always wanted to take my love of historical fiction and coax it into a modern thriller – without going down the well-trodden route of some sort of time-travel. Secondly, after a career spent in major gift fundraising for charities and universities, I had communicated with many very wealthy individuals and I got to wondering what makes someone excited when they can buy everything? As the book asks….. Imagine riches beyond your wildest dreams. What would you do with them? Travel the world? Buy a yacht? Now times it by ten.  A hundred. We’re talking mega-wealth – the kind that buys governments, shapes economies, enervates security forces and makes a mockery of justice systems. NOW what would you do with it? Less certain?

Crikey – that’s got me thinking…

In ancient times, the wealthy of Rome spent their money and energies on forsaking human life in the gladiatorial stadia – and that’s where the concept of The Pantheon grew from in my head.

The Wolf Mile charts the rise of Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron as they are plucked from their normal lives to become players in The Pantheon, a secret game bankrolled by the world’s wealthy elite and watched online by thousands. Warriors from seven ancient civilisations are trained, sworn to allegiance, then pitted against each other in battles amongst the claustrophobic alleys which flow from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and filmed in real-time.

The Wolf Mile sounds thrilling.

Set in today’s city, this is very much a modern thriller, but it mixes elements of historical fiction, as well as a sweeping romance over the five-book series, which takes the protagonists from friends, to sworn enemies and finally to lovers. So when Aries came along and declared it was, above all, adventure fiction, it was perfect – because this is exactly what the saga is: A twisting, turning, relentless adventure with a big cast of characters, which propels the protagonists on a journey more horrifying and wondrous than they could ever have dreamed, into a world which perhaps we all secretly wish we experience.

I’m hooked! I need to add The Wolf Mile to my TBR immediately. How is it being received?

The book has yet to launch in paperback and so reviews are only just beginning to come in. But comments so far include:

‘Featuring two compelling yet flawed lead characters, an intriguing mystery and unrelenting action, I can’t wait to see where Mr Barrington takes us in the future.’

‘It is a very cool idea and I think if done right will become one of my favourite secret societies.’

‘Get ready for a rip-roaring adventure through the streets of Edinburgh – The Wolf Mile is the perfect escapist read!’

You must be delighted with those responses.

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

I’ve brought a few of my photos of the Old Town which have helped inspire me.

One evening before the pandemic, a friend and I toured the Old Town cameras in hand. We ended up climbing onto buildings and lying in the middle of roads, getting carried away discovering the dark, brooding essence of The Pantheon.

It was great fun and hopefully the images provide a taste of what to expect in The Wolf Mile.

These photos make me want to travel to Edinburgh immediately! As it’s a bit of a trek from here in south Lincolnshire I’ll just have to go vicariously through reading The Wolf Mile. Thank you so much for staying in to tell me all about it. I think it sounds a cracking start to your new series. Let me me give blog readers a few essential details:

The Wolf Mile

An action-packed adventure thriller, where modern-day recruits compete in an ancient, deadly game in the streets of Edinburgh.

Welcome to the Pantheon Games. Let the streets of Edinburgh run with blood…

The Games are the biggest underground event in the world, followed by millions online. New recruits must leave behind their twenty-first century lives and vie for dominance in a gruelling battle to the death armed only with ancient weapons – and their wits.

Tyler Maitland and Lana Cameron have their own reasons for signing up. Now they must risk their lives and join the ranks of seven ancient warrior teams that inhabit this illicit world. Their journey will be more extraordinary and horrifying than anything they could have dreamed, testing them to breaking point.

Let the Season begin.

Published by Head of Zeus imprint Aries Fiction on 5th August, The Wolf Mile is available for purchase through these links.

About C F Barington

C F Barrington spent twenty years intending to write a novel, but found life kept getting in the way. Instead, his career took him into major gift fundraising, leading teams in organisations as varied as the RSPB, Oxford University and the National Trust.

When his role as Head of Communications at Edinburgh Zoo meant a third year of fielding endless media enquiries about the possible birth of a baby panda, he finally retreated to a quiet desk beside the sea and discovered the inspiration for the Pantheon saga.

Raised in Hertfordshire and educated at Oxford, he now divides his time between running over the hills of the Lake District and dog walking on the beaches of Fife.

For more information, visit C F Barrington’s website and find him on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter @barrington_cf and Instagram which shows lots of his hill-running adventures with his spaniel, Albie!

Cecily by Annie Garthwaite

It’s a real privilege to begin a blog tour and I’m thrilled to commence the tour for Cecily by Annie Garthwaite. My enormous thanks to Georgia Taylor at Penguin Random House for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of Cecily in return for an honest review. I love historical fiction and am delighted to share that review today.

Cecily is published by Penguin today, 29th July 2021, and is available for purchase through the links here.


The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Told through the eyes of its greatest unknown protagonist, this astonishing debut plunges you into the closed bedchambers and bloody battlefields of the first days of the Wars of the Roses, a war as women fight it.

My Review of Cecily

Cecily Neville has ambitions.

What a cracking historical fiction Cecily is. It’s quite difficult to believe Cecily is a debut novel because it’s written so compellingly. Annie Garthwaite has taken a little explored character from history and created a vivid, portrait of a woman at the heart of political life. Cecily leaps from the page as a real woman, flawed, ambitious, loyal, duplicitous, strong and vulnerable. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting her. It was the characterisation in Cecily that really captivated me. I so appreciated having a fresh female perspective on a well-known historical period.

Aspects of the plot are familiar to those who enjoy this era (and given that I grew up in the next village to Fotheringhay where my parents were married, I loved the references to it) but Annie Garthwaite gives them a vibrant innovative presentation that enhances history and truly brings it to life. She weaves in back stories and relationships so that the scene is clearly set, ensuring her reader has a thorough understanding of the social and political times, without ever slowing the pace or providing too much extraneous detail. I thought the balance was excellent and was transported back in time brilliantly.

I think the immediacy and pace in Cecily is enhanced by the continuous present tense because it makes the book feel as if it is happening now rather than several hundred years ago. That said, the narrative style and authorial voice fits the era perfectly giving an added layer of authenticity. Add in the iterative image of strategic chess that runs through the book and Cecily becomes a narrative treat of intrigue, manipulation and politics at international, national, local and personal level. Here we get insight into the world of real people. However, regardless of the obviously exemplary historical research that makes Cecily authentic and engaging, this book has as many twists and turns as any psychological thriller or crime fiction, making it appealing to a wide range of readers and a captivating read. The frequent short sentence hooks at the end of chapters compel the reader to continue and I found I had consumed the story almost without realising.

With vivid characterisation, carefully crafted writing and meticulous research, Cecily is a satisfying read for any lover of historical fiction. But what gives Annie Garthwaite’s Cecily the edge is the feminism; the insight into, and the appreciation of, a strong woman in a world of men. Cecily may have been a woman of her time, but Annie Garthwaite makes sure she has resonance and relevance in today’s society. Great stuff!

About Annie Garthwaite

Annie Garthwaite grew up in a working-class community in the north-east of England. She studied English at the University of Wales before embarking on a thirty-year international business career. In 2017 she returned to her first love, books, and set out to write the story of a woman she had always felt drawn to: Cecily Neville. This became her debut novel, Cecily.#

For more information, follow Annie on Twitter @anniegarthwaite and Instagram, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

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Staying in with Gary Wright

I’ve been hearing very good things about Gary Wright’s debut novel and am delighted to have it on my TBR pile. As a result, whilst I’m waiting to get to it, I asked Gary if he would stay in with me to chat about it and luckily he agreed. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Gary Wright

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

Hi Linda, and thanks so much for having me.

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

I’m really happy to be sharing my debut novel, A Parent Apart.  I’ve always loved to write and play with words, and when lockdown came along I took the plunge and finally put pen to paper with a story that had been formulating in my head for years.  I’m very, very proud of it.

What can we expect from an evening in with A Parent Apart?

Well, the basic premise of A Parent Apart is the fall out following the death of a child, the police investigation into it and the recriminations that arise from it.  It’s hard to say much more without giving away certain things, but I hope that whets your appetite.

It does indeed. I’ve seen fabulous reviews so I can’t wait to read A Parent Apart for myself. So, is it a crime novel?

I’ve found it hard to define a genre in which A Parent Apart fits.  It has elements of crime, elements of drama and a whole lot of tragedy.  I’m yet to find someone who hasn’t cried at some point while reading it!  My favourite review actually consisted of someone telling me how much they hated me because they had cried so much while reading it!

Oo. That’s definitely my kind of read. Although I have over 900 physical books on my TBR and more again in ebook I think I might just have to bump it up a bit! Tell me a bit more…

The thing I love about it is that crime novels conventionally have a goodie and a baddie.  A Parent Apart doesn’t – the lines are blurred between good and bad, between right and wrong.  It explores the grey areas and the human flaws that are so often overlooked when a story such as this is written.

I’d love to share with you, if I may, the reason that I wrote this book.

Of course.

11 years ago, I was a fit, healthy and active police officer.  I was 27 years old and played many sports, had just got married and was hoping to start a family with my beautiful wife (she’s still beautiful, by the way!).  It was a few days before my sister’s wedding that it happened first.  I passed out, without knowing why.  I ignored it, and managed to get through the wedding weekend (but I can’t remember anything about the wedding itself). Unfortunately, I passed out again days later, and was eventually diagnosed as having an incurable disease of the heart muscle (I am very lucky – my disease is normally only diagnosed post-mortem – when you have already died from it).

What? That sounds awful…

The two episodes of passing out were likely to have been cardiac arrests – the same as those suffered by Fabrice Muamba or, more recently, Christian Eriksen.  I was fitted with an internal defibrillator (I now have both a pacemaker and a defibrillator inside me.  Pesky hearts).  I was medically retired from the police aged 29, and – without wanting to sound melodramatic – made a bucket list of things that I wanted to do.  Not a written list, just a mental checklist in my mind.  Having children was top of that list, and we have been blessed with two absolute beauties (Florence and Sully).  I also was determined to write a book, just for myself, and just so that I could feel the satisfaction of completing such a feat.  And I did it.  I’m so, so proud of it, and the feedback I got was so good that I decided to self publish.  I didn’t want to go down the route of ‘agent, publisher’ as I just wanted to get it out there with no pressure.  I edited it myself, I made the cover myself, everything is my own work.  And for those reasons, and aside from my children, it is my greatest accomplishment.

Aside from bringing a tear to my eye already Gary, I cannot believe how you’ve triumphed so much over adversity. You must be so thrilled with your achievements. My hat is well and truly off to you.

Bearing those achievements in mind, what else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

A photo, if that’s okay?

It is.

It’s a picture of my kids.  Becoming a parent to my babies was the best thing that has ever happened to me, bar none.  They are my reason for getting up in the morning, for working so hard (I own a coffee shop with my wife in Ramsgate Harbour), and for fighting ill health to stay here just a little bit longer.  They also gave me the empathy I needed to write this book, to be able to feel the emotion that the characters in the book do.  Put simply, they are my everything and I wanted to share that with you.

Well I feel privileged to have ‘met’ them Gary. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about A Parent Apart. It sounds utterly wonderful and I wish you every success with it. Let me tell Linda’s Book Bag readers a little more:

A Parent Apart

Decisions define us. Decisions have consequences. Who lives… And who dies.

In Beachbrook, on the south coast of England, Andrew had a choice to make. Save his daughter, or save her friend. A decision no parent should have to face, but one that sets in motion a tragic series of events.

With the decision came a dark secret, one that Andrew thought he could keep hidden from his family, his friends and the police.

Two families collide as grief-fuelled recriminations expose the human flaws that haunt us all. The protection of self, the security of family and the fear of losing it all.

Published on 24th June 2021, A Parent Apart is available for purchase here.

About Gary Wright

Gary was a police officer for ten years before a hereditary heart condition brought an abrupt end to his career. He loved policing, and wanted to find an outlet to allow that passion to continue. Combining his enjoyment of writing with a job he could no longer do, his debut novel, ‘A Parent Apart’, was born.

Gary lives on the coast of Kent with his wife and two young children. He owns a coffee shop in Ramsgate Harbour.

You can follow Gary on Twitter @Gaz_Wright83 or Instagram for further information.

Always, in December by Emily Stone

My enormous thanks to the Team Bookends for sending me a copy of Always, in December by Emily Stone in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Always in December is published by Headline Review in audio and ebook on 5th August and is available for pre-order here.

Always, in December

Heartbreaking. Life-affirming. Truly unforgettable.  Always, in December is the timeless, stay-up-all-night love story you’ll take straight to your heart.

If you loved One Day, Me Before You and the hit movie Last Christmas, this is the perfect book for you.

Josie Morgan never looks forward to December. It’s always a reminder of the life she lost, twenty years ago. Now, she always switches off the radio when Christmas music comes on. She always wants to tear down the tinsel her flatmate insists on pinning up. And she always posts a letter she knows will never be read.

Max Carter never expected to find himself stranded in London just days before Christmas. He never expected it would be so hard to say goodbye to a woman he hardly knows. Then again, he never expected to fall in love.

But, this December, when Josie’s letter leads her to Max, a chance encounter will change their lives in the most remarkable way. And their story is only just beginning . . .

From London to Manhattan, from Edinburgh to the English countryside, Always, in December is a romantic journey that’s impossible to forget.

My Review of Always, in December

Posting a letter can be life changing.

It’s impossible to believe that Always, in December is a debut novel as it is as close to perfection as it is possible to get in its genre. Emily Stone has created a simply fabulous story that I found totally captivating. I actually don’t really want to write a review or fear of sullying its memory.

The story is gorgeous and if the rights to turn Always, in December into a film aren’t snapped up immediately, there’s no justice. Emily Stone creates a wonderful plot set mostly over one year, with humour, emotion, surprise and the most exquisite skill. The structure is perfect, direct speech entirely naturalistic and settings given a glorious sense of place without snagging the pace at all. It must be said too, that whilst the narrative begins and ends in December, the story is simply wonderful to read at any time of the year. I consumed Always, in December over two of the hottest days of the year and was so entranced I noticed neither the weather nor time passing because I was spellbound. I’m quite an emotional reader, and frequently shed a tear when I read, but in Always, in December, Emily Stone reduced me to huge, wracking sobs because it touched me so much.

The characters are brilliant. Even the most minor person feels realistic and vivid so that it was difficult to remember these are not actual people. Josie is a triumph. Her sense of justice, her strength and her vulnerability are woven into one of the most convincing romantic heroines I’ve encountered. I wanted her to succeed and achieve her happy ever after with every fibre of my being, but you’ll need to read Always, in December to see if I got my wish! I loved the way absent characters help shape both character and plot too, because Emily Stone illustrates how we are the sum of our past as well as our present and possible future.

The themes explored in Always, in December elevate it from an excellent romantic story to a narrative of depth and sensitivity too. Grief, childhood, relationships, friendship, ambition, courage, practicality, family, career and talent are just a few of the aspects to this glorious story that make it so enjoyable, so moving and so enchanting.

I genuinely could not have loved Always, in December more. It’s quite simply wonderful. It’s my favourite read of the year so far – even if it did break me!

About Emily Stone

Emily Stone lives and works in Chepstow and wrote Always, in December in an old Victorian manor house with an impressive literary heritage. Her debut novel was partly inspired by the death of her mother, when Emily was seven, and wanting to write something that reflected the fact that you carry this grief into adulthood, long after you supposedly move on from the event itself.

For more information, follow Emily on Twitter @EmStoneWrites.

An Extract from Chicago May by Harry Duffin

It’s always a sadness that I simply cannot read every book I’m offered, but whilst I turn down 90%, occasionally I find one that I simply have to feature because it intrigues me so much. Such is the case for Chicago May by Harry Duffin and I’m delighted to share a small extract from the book with you today.

Chicago May was published by Cumulus on 26th April 2021 and is available in all good bookstores and online including here.

Chicago May

Sixteen-year-old peasant girl, May Sharpe, steals from her abusive father, and flees Ireland, to chase her dream of a new life in America. Arriving penniless and friendless in 1919’s America, May has to choose between honest poverty, or crime. Beautiful May is charmed by successful con-man, ‘Society’ Eddie. With her new lover’s guidance, teenage May soon becomes the city’s ‘Queen of Crooks’.

But Joe, a stubborn local cop, has fallen for the spirited May. He is determined to save her from herself, and having to spend her life in prison. In the midst of her glitzy life, he confronts May to make a decision; a decision which would threaten, not only her new-found fame and fortune, but her young life…

An Extract from Chicago May

May’s new life had started with a crime, but she had not expected to end her life as a criminal.

Her lawyer had been dismayed when she told him that she wouldn’t speak in her own defense. She wouldn’t give the sensation-seeking gallery in the court the satisfaction of hearing her beg for mercy. May Sharpe was not a beggar, she was a thief. Not so long ago, back in her own country, she would have been hanged for what she had done. So be it.

She spent the night alone in her bleak cell preparing her suicide. For despair had replaced her fiery defiance. The infamous Irish beauty had only one defiant act left in her.

With an effort she pulled herself up on the bars. Pushing her head through the noose, she felt the twisted rope tighten against her skin. As she let go, the noose tightened, forcing  blood to rush to her head like a blow. The drumming in her ears was deafening. Then, as the air drained from her lungs in a strangled cry, she was falling, falling.


How’s that for a dramatic taster? Sounds good doesn’t it?

About Harry Duffin

Award-winning British screenwriter, Harry Duffin has worked extensively in UK television for such hugely popular series as ‘Howards Way’, ‘Eastenders’ and ‘Coronation Street’. As Head of Development for Cloud 9 he was responsible for seven major television series, including ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ starring Richard ‘John Boy’ Thomas, and ‘Twist in the Tale’ featuring William Shatner.

He is co-creator of the hit teen series ‘The Tribe’, produced by Cloud 9, which ran for 260 episodes and has a growing world-wide fan base.

Chicago May is his first novel, adapted from his own screenplay of the same name.

For more information about Harry, visit his website and follow him on Twitter @duffin26.

Under a Greek Moon by Carol Kirkwood

My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the launch celebrations for Carol Kirkwood’s Under a Greek Moon and to Elizabeth Dawson at Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Harper Collins on 8th July 2021, Under a Greek Moon is available for purchase through the links here.

Under a Greek Moon

She can escape Hollywood, but can she escape her past?

A-list actress Shauna Jackson has the perfect life. Fame, fortune, marriage. Or so it seems.

Running from a scandal, Shauna must return to the place that changed her life twenty years ago, the idyllic Greek island of Ithos.

Captivated once more by her island escape, bittersweet memories resurface of one summer, one unforgettable man, and a long-hidden secret.

Can Shauna take the chance to confront her past?

My Review of Under a Greek Moon

Shauna Jackson’s life isn’t as perfect as her fans might think.

What a super, summer read Under a Greek Moon is. Taking the reader from Ireland to Los Angeles and on to Greece, Carol Kirkwood has created an escapist voyage of discovery for both the reader and for Shauna so that reading the book is like taking a break from everyday life.

I loved the glamour of Under a Greek Moon because it gave me a glimpse into an unfamiliar world in a realistic way balanced by the reality of Shauna’s Irish past and upbringing. It was a sheer delight to sail on the yacht in the Greek waters so that I felt as if I were on holiday as I read. There’s a smashing quality to the setting details that allows the reader to picture the scenes without detracting from the narrative. I have a tiny criticism in that my preference is not for brand names to be attached to items but here they add to the sense of privilege and wealth so I forgive the author, especially as her descriptions of food were totally mouth-watering.

Carol Kirkwood’s plot is cleverly structured so that the reader has glimpses into the past as well as present action, adding interest and appeal to the story. Not only is there conflict at many levels, and romance, but there’s mystery too so that Under a Greek Moon will appeal to a wide range of readers.

I thought the characters were brilliantly wrought. Shauna’s mother in particular, although she plays a seemingly small role, is a clever catalyst for action and felt absolutely realistic. I loved meeting Roxy, Shauna’s feisty, loyal friend and if it were possible, I would definitely like to spend time with Demetrios! However, it is Shauna who is the literal and metaphorical superstar. Her rise to stardom and the reality that can lie behind such a persona is so well presented. It’s difficult to explain too much without spoiling the plot, but I particularly enjoyed Shauna’s ambition, her dignity and her integrity in the face of adversity.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the cast and the smashing story, I think what drew me so much to Under a Greek Moon was the uncovering of themes. Carol Kirkwood shines a spotlight on friendship, desire at many levels, whether that be in occupation or romance, on family and relationships, on loyalty and trust, on responsibility and burden so that I felt Under a Greek Moon had smashing depth as well as light entertainment in a perfect balance.

Under a Greek Moon is gorgeous summer reading (or indeed any time reading when you need some sunshine in your life). It’s glamorous, romantic, entertaining and escapist. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

About Carol Kirkwood

Carol Kirkwood is one of the BBC’s most loved TV presenters, best known for presenting the weather. She lights up viewers’ homes every day, appearing on programmes such as BBC Breakfast, Strictly Come Dancing, Wimbledon Tennis Fortnight, and Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 Breakfast Show.

She is hugely popular with fans and Carol frequently trends on Twitter. Beyond the television screen, she can often be found ensconced in a book, singing, dancing, and driving fast cars.

For more information, follow Carol on Twitter @carolkirkwood or find her on Facebook.

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Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

I’m delighted to participate in the blog tour for Ghosts by Dolly Alderton. My enormous thanks to Hannah Sawyer at Penguin for inviting me to take part and for sending me a copy of Ghosts in return for an honest review.

Ghosts was published in paperback yesterday, 22nd July 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.


Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling. Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion into dementia.

Dolly Alderton’s debut novel is funny and tender, filled with whip-smart observations about relationships, family, memory, and how we live now.

My Review of Ghosts

Ghosts was a most surprising book. I had actually been expecting a light romcom read but Ghosts has far more depth and thought-provoking elements than I anticipated.

There’s a traditional base to the book as Nina and her 30 something friends look for love and develop relationships in an almost balletic dance of modern lifestyles. Plenty of alcohol and sexual activity weaves through their experiences, but Dolly Alderton uncovers entirely how this type of life impacts her characters so that it almost becomes a confessional or, indeed, a handbook of how to navigate life, presented through a hugely entertaining and frequently revealing read.

I found Nina’s first person story very affecting, not least because she is the conduit for the other characters so that I understood her all the more as she described the lives of her friends, particularly Lola. I did feel the men were generally presented somewhat stereotypically and negatively, but this was balanced by the depiction of Nina’s father whom I found to be empathetic and emotionally moving. His illness is all too familiar in today’s world and Dolly Alderton weaves it into the narrative with a raw unsentimental truth that I thought was excellent.

The plot follows a year in Nina’s life. That said, there is more of a series of events rather than a cosy narrative and I enjoyed Ghosts all the more for it. I was occasionally shocked, occasionally dismissive and scornful, and occasionally filled with admiration for some of Nina’s behaviour so that she became a real person to me and I felt I had been given a crystal clear insight into a troubled young woman. Indeed, reading Ghosts made me so glad that I don’t have to inhabit the kind of world Nina lives in, so acerbically and artfully does Dolly Alderton describe it. There’s a rawness at times – a bit like scraping a limb on a brick wall – in reading this book because it stings and chafes the reader’s psyche.

I found Ghosts perfectly titled. Characters ghost one another, their lives are filled with the ghosts and memories of their pasts and some feel as if they are becoming ghosts of their former selves. Again it is Bill, Nina’s father, who embodies this most poignantly as his memory fades and his confusion increases.

I finished Ghosts feeling sad for the thirty something generation, and as if I’d been given a privileged understanding of a world where contentment seems scarily and poignantly all too frequently out of reach. I think Ghosts might polarise readers, but I thought it was a moving, realistic portrayal of a desperate generation. I thoroughly appreciated it.

About Dolly Alderton

Dolly Alderton is an award-winning author and journalist based in London. She is a columnist for The Sunday Times Style and has also written for GQ, Red, Marie Claire and Grazia. She is the former co-host and co-creator of the weekly pop-culture and current affairs podcast The High Low. Her first book Everything I Know About Love became a top five Sunday Times bestseller in its first week of publication and won a National Book Award (UK) for Autobiography of the Year. Ghosts is her first novel.

For further information follow Dolly on Twitter @dollyalderton, find her on Instagram or visit her website.

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The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

I’ve been a fan of Deborah Moggach’s writing for years and it is a great disappointment to me that she hasn’t featured here on Linda’s Book Bag more frequently. Indeed, the only other of her books I have read and reviewed since I began blogging is The Carer in a post you can read here. Consequently I was thrilled to receive a copy of Deborah’s latest book, The Black Dress from both Louise Swannell and the folk at Team Bookends. I’m delighted to share that review today. My thanks to  Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour.

Published by Tinder Press on 21st July 2021, The Black Dress is available for purchase here.

The Black Dress

Pru’s husband has walked out, leaving her alone to contemplate her future. She’s missing not so much him, but the life they once had – picnicking on the beach with small children, laughing together, nestling up like spoons in the cutlery drawer as they sleep. Now there’s just a dip on one side of the bed and no-one to fill it.

In a daze, Pru goes off to a friend’s funeral. Usual old hymns, words of praise and a eulogy but…it doesn’t sound like the friend Pru knew. And it isn’t. She’s gone to the wrong service. Everyone was very welcoming, it was – oddly – a laugh, and more excitement than she’s had for ages. So she buys a little black dress in a charity shop and thinks, now I’m all set, why not go to another? I mean, people don’t want to make a scene at a funeral, do they? No-one will challenge her – and what harm can it do?

My Review of The Black Dress

Prudence needs a new man in  her life.

The Black Dress is Deborah Moggach at her most incisive, most skilled and most entertaining. This is an absolute corker of a story because it defies genre and entertains on so many levels.

There’s a brilliant plot in The Black Dress as Pru sets about rebuilding her life. I loved the division of the structure into four separate parts, especially when there are some real surprises along the way. So much of what happens to Pru is prosaic and ordinary, and yet so much is shocking and extraordinary too, that Deborah Moggach achieves the perfect balance in her acerbic observations of a woman in her late middle age.

Pru is a complete triumph. Her wry, conversational, persona draws in the reader so that they are as much a part of the story as Pru herself. Pru speaks directly to the reader in such a convincing manner that I found myself replying to her rhetorical questions out loud, so clever is Deborah Moggach’s writing.  Although Pru isn’t especially principled and frequently displays negative characteristics, she gains the reader’s trust and empathy completely so that it is impossible not to want her to triumph and be happy. Duplicitous, manipulative, vulnerable, caring and lonely, I thought she was utterly magnificent.

Aside from fabulous characterisation and a cracking narrative, it is Deborah Moggach’s humour and wit that shimmers throughout to make The Black Dress an absolutely joyous book. Certainly she deals with darker themes of death and grief, adultery and loneliness, controlling behaviours and identity, in ways that give depth and interest, but The Black Dress is incredibly funny too. It might be that I am not far off Pru’s age myself, but I felt her comments about life were so sharp, so pertinent and voiced to perfection how I might have described things, if only I had the same skill, that The Black Dress was a book that spoke right to me.

I think readers may need a level of maturity fully to appreciate The Black Dress, but I found it warm, witty, scalpel sharp and fabulous entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

About Deborah Moggach

deborah moggach

Deborah Moggach is the author of nineteen successful novels including the bestselling Tulip Fever. In 2012, her novel These Foolish Things was adapted for the screen under the title The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and starred Judi Dench, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith.

An award-winning screenwriter, she won a Writers’ Guild Award for her adaptation of Anne Fine’s Goggle-Eyes and her screenplay for the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was nominated for a BAFTA.

Her television screenwriting credits include the acclaimed adaptations of her own novels Close Relations and Final Demand, as well as Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate and The Diary of Anne Frank.

Deborah has been Chairman of the Society of Authors and worked for PEN’s Executive Committee. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she was appointed an OBE in the 2018 New Year’s Honours List for services to literature and drama.

You can find out more on her website. You’ll also find Deborah on Facebook.

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The Forevers by Chris Whitaker

Having loved every word written by Chris Whitaker, I could not have been happier than to receive a copy of his first Young Adult book, The Forevers. My enormous thanks to Molly Holt at Bonnier Books for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Chris has previously written three books for adults and you’ll find my review of Tall Oaks here, of All the Wicked Girls here and We Begin at the End here.

All The Wicked Girls was one of my books of the year in 2017 and last year We Begin at the End featured here as one of my favourite reads, cementing Chris as one of my essential ‘go to’ authors.

The Forevers was published by Bonnier Young Adult imprint Hot Key Books on 8th July 2021 and is available for purchase in all good bookshops and online including here.

The Forevers

What would you do if you knew the world was going to be destroyed by a huge asteroid in one month? The mesmerising YA debut from the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel 2021 and the New York Times Bestselling author of We Begin at the End.

They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.
The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?

My Review of The Forevers

The world will be annihilated in a month.

Being used to Chris Whitaker’s adult fiction it took me a short while to attune to his YA writing and to grasp the UK setting, but it wasn’t long until I was as entranced as ever because Chris Whitaker has the ability to ensnare the reader without them realising.

The Forevers can be enjoyed on so many levels. It’s perfectly possible to read The Forevers as a straightforward coming of age story about a group of young people with Mae at the heart of the action, and it would be totally entertaining with that approach. However, The Forevers is so much more. Over the timeframe of a month Chris Whitaker has managed to distil the very essence of humanity into a microcosm of the world that is absorbing, moving and terrifyingly prescient. Whilst the threat of an asteroid capable of wiping out the world is almost science fiction, the themes of morality, choice, loyalty and faith add a profound layer to the more familiar ones of family and friendship so that this is a book that echoes in the mind long after the final page is turned. The Forevers is a love story, a thriller, a murder mystery, a social commentary, a dystopian prediction, and above all else, a brilliantstory. When I’d finished reading The Forevers I felt quite unsettled, wondering how I might react in similar circumstances, because the writing is so thought provoking.

There are disturbing and challenging concepts that make The Forevers so important. Without wishing to spoil the story for others, I would say Chris Whitaker doesn’t shy away from difficult issues like sexuality, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, grief, addiction and so on, making the book a narrative that can support young adult readers whilst entertaining them. I thought the way themes were woven into the plot so that the reader learnt about them at the same time as Mae was sublime. Having begun the read unsure if I would find it as affecting as other books by this author, I ended up completely moved, affected and changed by its impact. Alongside such intelligent and important themes there is also a cracking plot. Opening in dramatic fashion with a death, Chris Whitaker leads his reader through a cleverly orchestrated story where frequently not everything is as it seems. I adored this aspect of the text.

I loved meeting the characters. Mae’s feistiness, her aggression and hard exterior are all perfectly balanced by her fierce loyalty and vulnerability so that she becomes a kind of Everywoman. She also has a fabulous wit and humour that alleviates the desperate situation everyone is living through. Every single person in The Forevers is vivid and three dimensional, but, rightly, it is the young people who hold the attention the most. I adored Felix’s efforts in love, frequently wanted to slap Hunter and hold and comfort Hugo, because these young people reminded me of those I’ve taught in the past as they felt so real.

The Forevers is one of those books it’s hard to review without spoiling the read for others, but, even though I’m 40+ years older than the target audience, I found it hugely entertaining, frequently morally terrifying and totally disquieting. I thought The Forevers was excellent.

About Chris Whitaker

Chris Whitaker is the award-winning author of Tall Oaks, All the Wicked Girls and We Begin at the End. All three books were published to widespread critical acclaim, with Tall Oaks going on to win the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award.
An instant New York Times bestseller and the #1 Indie Next Pick, We Begin at the End was also a Waterstones Thriller of the Month, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Pick and a Good Morning America Buzz Pick. It is shortlisted for both the Gold and the Steel Dagger Awards, and for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year.

When not writing, Chris works at his local library, where he gets to surround himself with books.
Chris lives in the UK with his wife and three children.

You can follow Chris on Twitter @WhittyAuthor and visit his website for further information.

Giveaway: The Godmothers by Monica McInerney

I loved The Godmothers by Monica McInerney and reviewed it here back in January to help celebrate the ebook. Today, The Godmothers is released in paperback by Welbeck and I’m thrilled that they have allowed me to offer a giveaway here on Linda’s Book Bag to celebrate. You’ll find details of that giveaway later in this post, but first let me tell you about The Godmothers.

The Godmothers is published by Welbeck and is available for purchase in all good bookshops and online including 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.

Just to remind you how much I loved The Godmothers, you’ll find my review here.


A Paperback Copy of The Godmothers by Monica McInerney

For your chance to win a paperback copy of The Godmothers, click here.

Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Wednesday 28th July 2021. Winner must supply a UK address in order to receive their prize.

Open in the UK and Republic of Ireland only.

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.