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.

Ghosts

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.

Giveaway

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.

Everyone is Still Alive by Cathy Retzenbrink

It’s my very great pleasure to be part of the blog tour for Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Everyone Is Still Alive today. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate and to Leanne Oliver at Orion for sending me a copy of Everyone Is Still Alive in return for an honest review.

Published by Orion imprint Phoenix on 8th July 2021, Everyone Is Still Alive is available for purchase through these links.

Everyone Is Still Alive

‘Incredibly tender’ Marian Keyes
‘A total triumph’ Nina Stibbe
‘Beautiful, moving and so funny and well-observed’ Philippa Perry

It is summer on Magnolia Road when Juliet moves into her late mother’s house with her husband Liam and their young son, Charlie. Preoccupied by guilt, grief and the juggle of working motherhood, she can’t imagine finding time to get to know the neighbouring families, let alone fitting in with them. But for Liam, a writer, the morning coffees and after-school gatherings soon reveal the secret struggles, fears and rivalries playing out behind closed doors – all of which are going straight into his new novel . . .

Juliet tries to bury her unease and leave Liam to forge these new friendships. But when the rupture of a marriage sends ripples through the group, painful home truths are brought to light. And then, one sun-drenched afternoon at a party, a single moment changes everything.

The fiction debut from Sunday Times bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink, Everyone Is Still Alive is funny and moving, intimate and wise; a novel that explores the deeper realities of marriage and parenthood and the way life thwarts our expectations at every turn.

My Review of Everyone Is Still Alive

Juliet, Liam and Charlie have moved house.

If you’re looking for a fast paced twisty thriller then look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for a brilliantly observed, witty, poignant and compelling insight into middle class England then Everyone Is Still Alive delivers it to perfection. This is such a wonderful book because Cathy Rentzenbrink shines a laser spotlight onto marriage and relationships in a way that resonates with the reader and, ultimately, gives them faith not only in the characters here, but in themselves and in humanity.

Other than a couple of larger events, little happens in Everyone Is Still Alive, but there’s a palpable intensity to the plot that is incredibly affecting. Cathy Rentzenbrink understands and presents human emotion with such clarity and honesty that it is impossible to read this book and not feel that your own soul has been partially exposed along with that of Juliet et al. It is the uncovering of what Joseph Conrad would term ‘the thin veneer of civilisation’ that held me gripped. In this one street of Magnolia Road live those maintaining a façade of domestic perfection with their juicers and au pairs whist quietly unravelling inside. I found this very moving.

The characters exemplify the impact of prosaic life perfectly. I think it illustrates Cathy Rentzenbrink’s quality of writing that although I loathed Liam with enough passion to want to shake him physically, by the end of Everyone Is Still Alive I realised how easily I had been manipulated into seeing him from Juliet’s perspective. I had been tricked into behaving just like the characters, judging others by appearances. I found the children in Everyone Is Still Alive scarily accurate. Their impact on their parents reinforced my relief that I chose not to have any, but at the same time as she explores the challenges of parenthood, Cathy Rentzenbrink also illustrates its joys and rewards too in a completely authentic and realistic manner.

Indeed it, it is the themes of Everyone Is Still Alive that make it such a triumph. Grief certainly comes through the death of Juliet’s mother and is the catalyst for her move to Magnolia Road, but there’s grief over broken relationships, a loss of personal identity, an inability to live up to the expectations of others and grief over what might have been that resonates throughout the intense, affecting prose. Add in the exploration of relationships, education, parenthood, friendships, career and identity and Everyone Is Still Alive becomes a kind of love song to who we are and who we want to be.

I so enjoyed Everyone Is Still Alive. It’s beautifully written, human and tender with a super sprinkling of dry wit that makes it thrum with interest. I really recommend it.

About Cathy Rentzenbrink

Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up in Yorkshire, spent many years in London, and now lives in Cornwall. She is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, and the acclaimed memoirs A Manual for Heartache and Dear ReaderEveryone Is Still Alive is her first novel.
For further information, follow Cathy in Twitter @CatRentzenbrink and find her on Instagram or Facebook.
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Valley of Shadows by Paul Buchanan

My very grateful thanks to Lucy at Legend Press for inviting me to take part in the blog tour for Valley of Shadows by Paul Buchanan and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. It gives me real pleasure to share that review today.

Published by Legend Press on 15th July, Valley of Shadows is available for purchase here.

Valley of Shadows

The second novel in the PI Jim Keegan series.

A reclusive millionaire hires PI Jim Keegan to look after her interests, she is currently hidden away at the legendary Chateau Marmont hotel. All Keegan has to do is humour her, keep her important papers in his office safe, and make weekly checks of her LA properties. but within a week she goes missing. Keegan suspects her ne’er-do-well young nephew of murder―but all the evidence he can find is circumstantial, and there’s a good chance the kid will get away scot free.

My Review of Valley of Shadows

Private Investigator Jim Keegan has a new case.

I thoroughly enjoyed Valley of Shadows. Paul Buchanan has written a crime thriller that has all the best nuances and qualities of modern detective noir fiction but plotted without the luxury and ease of mobile phones and the Internet in his time frame so that old fashioned qualities ripple through the story. Valley of Shadows is an excellent blend of the golden era of crime fiction and sharp modern plotting that reminded me of Poirot, Sam Spade and Columbo all in the one character of Jim Keegan.

I thought Jim Keegan was such a well wrought character. He is flawed, frustrating (ask Mrs Dodd), often misguided and foolish as well as insightful and intellectually attractive so that he feels three dimensional and vivid, without the hard boiled maverick personalities so often stereotypically attributed to middle aged men in this genre. Reading Valley of Shadows as a stand alone book works brilliantly as references to Jim’s past are effortlessly included so that the reader understands him completely, but it has certainly made me want to go back and discover him from the beginning in City of Fallen Angels. I found Mrs Dodd almost Shakespearean as a humorous foil to Jim. She provides a pragmatic balance with just a touch of quirkiness embodied in her superstitions that I found really appealing.

Speaking of superstitions, there’s an undercurrent of supernatural other-worldliness in Valley of Shadows that adds both interest and a frisson of fear for the reader. Not everything is explained and Nora’s behaviour leaves the reader wondering what the truth really is, making for an intriguing read with a sprinkling of moments when the hairs on the back of your neck raise from the creepiness.

The plot in Valley of Shadows is a corker. Quite a slow burner, but hugely compelling, it’s brilliantly designed to engage the reader completely. There’s enough of Jim’s personal life subplot to break the tension as needed without affecting the drama of the narrative. I had it all worked out really early on – as soon as Ida Fletcher’s nephew Danny Church arrived in the story – except of course, I was completely wrong. Paul Buchanan wrongfooted me in Valley of Shadows and I found the denouement hugely satisfying.

Valley of Shadows may not have the visceral violence we often expect in crime fiction; it may not be a writhing twisty psychological roller coaster, but it is a sophisticated, wonderfully crafted story that builds throughout and which I thought was excellent. I fear it might be a quiet book that many miss which would be a real injustice. I really recommend it.

About Paul Buchanan

Paul Buchanan earned a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and an MFA in fiction writing from Chapman University. He teaches and writes in the Los Angeles area.

You’ll find Paul Buchanan on Twitter @ProfBuch and Instagram.

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The Art of Loving You by Amelia Henley

Having been privileged to help reveal the cover to Amelia Henley’s second book, The Art of Loving You in a post you can see here, I’m delighted to share my review of the the book today. My enormous thanks to Amelia for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

I was utterly thrilled to find myself mentioned in the Acknowledgements after I had read The Art of Loving You.

Amelia Henley’s The Life We Almost Had was my joint book of the year in 2020 and I stayed in here with Amelia here on the blog to discuss it, having shared my review here.

The Art of Loving You will be published by Harper Collins imprint HQ on 22nd July 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Art of Loving You

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Serle, Josie Silver and Sophie Cousens.

* * * *

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?

Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.

All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again.

My Review of The Art of Loving You

Libby and Jack have a new home.

Oh dear. Amelia Henley’s books should definitely come with a warning. If you’re not prepared to put your life on hold as you read and to have your heart completely destroyed, to wade through entire boxes of tissues and to wonder if you’ll ever recover, then don’t pick up The Art of Loving You. It broke me completely and I loved it.

It’s the heightened emotional tension that is so brilliantly created that makes The Art of Loving You such an affecting read. I felt completely entranced as I read; anxious, tense and yet filled with warmth and love too. It’s some considerable skill from an author to be able create such atmosphere. I genuinely had to pause at times to give my physical responses to Amelia Henley’s writing time to abate and at one point when I was waiting to go in to the dentist, I was crying so hard at what I read, the person in the next car donned their mask and came to see if I was all right!

I thought the characters were wonderful. There’s a relatively small cast so that the reader gets to know them intimately. I found it fascinating how Owen and Norma, who are hardly present, help shape so much of what happens. The relationship between Libby and Jack is, of course, at the heart of the narrative and is totally convincing, mesmerising and heart-breaking as well as being uplifting and suffused with hope, but it was the other forms of relationship, especially those created through chance and the butterfly effect, that I found completely fascinating. The relationship between Libby and her mother and Alice exemplifies perfectly how families work, but at the same time in The Art of Loving You we see how family is a loose concept. Sid’s influence on so many of the relationships is natural, realistic and convincing and I thought the presence of Liam and Noah worked so well to illustrate the fluidity of relationships, the randomness of those we form relationships with and, perhaps more importantly, how we can never truly know what is going on in another person’s life.

The plot is brilliant. On the surface The Art Of Loving You is a fairly simple love story. Except it isn’t. I can’t say too much more because it would spoil the read, but fate, the blurring of realities, and the full gamut of human emotion and experience from love to hate, joy to despair, life to death weaves through the story so that The Art of Loving You can be enjoyed on many, many levels. Again, theme is impossible to write about in a review as to discuss the topics presented here would uncover aspects a reader needs to discover for themselves. Let me just say that they are wonderful, brilliantly explored and utterly, utterly convincing.

I am aware that this review is vague and unsatisfying, but Amelia Henley has written such a deep and beautiful story with such intricacy and depth that anything more will spoil the experience of reading The Art of Loving You for others. Let me just say that, should you read this book, you won’t be left unaffected or unquestioning and you’ll definitely want to be more Jack! The Art of Loving You is wonderful. Don’t miss it.

About Amelia Henley

Amelia Henley is a hopeless romantic who has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories.

Amelia also writes psychological thrillers under her real name, Louise Jensen. As Louise Jensen she has sold over a million copies of her global number one bestsellers. Her stories have been translated into twenty-five languages and optioned for TV as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Louise’s books have been nominated for multiple awards.

The Life We Almost Had was the first story she’s written as Amelia Henley.

You can follow Amelia on Twitter @MsAmeliaHenley and find her on Instagram or Facebook.

You can find out more about Amelia writing as Louise Jensen by visiting her website, finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter @Fab_fiction.

The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness by Laura Bambrey

I’m absolutely thrilled to be able to share my review of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness by Laura Bambrey today. My enormous thanks to SJ at TeamBATC for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and for sending me a copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness in return for an honest review.

The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase through these links.

The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness

The perfect feel-good read from an exciting new voice in women’s fiction, for fans of Heidi Swain, Cathy Bramley and Jenny Colgan.

Tori Williamson is alone. After a tragic event left her isolated from her loved ones, she’s been struggling to find her way back to, well – herself. That’s why she set up her blog, The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, as a way of – anonymously – connecting with the outside world and reaching others who just need a little help sometimes.

When she’s offered a free spot on a wellbeing retreat in exchange for a review on her blog, Tori is anxious about opening herself up to new surroundings. But after her three closest friends – who she talks to online but has never actually met – convince her it’ll do her some good, she reluctantly agrees and heads off for three weeks in the wild (well, a farm in Wales).

From the moment she arrives, Tori is sceptical and quickly finds herself drawn to fellow sceptic Than, the retreat’s dark and mysterious latecomer. But as the beauty of The Farm slowly comes to light she realizes that opening herself up might not be the worst thing. And sharing a yurt with fellow retreater Bay definitely isn’t.  Will the retreat be able to fix Tori? Or will she finally learn that being lonely doesn’t mean she’s broken . . .

My Review of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness

Tori is off to a retreat to review for her blog.

The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness is an absolute belter of a book. I loved it unreservedly. Laura Bambrey has crafted a witty, moving and entertaining read that completely captivated me.

I thought the blog entries at the start of each chapter were brilliant and, although The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness is escapist entertainment of the very best kind, the messages in these chapter openings are actually truly inspiring and helpful to those experiencing similar feelings of guilt, worthlessness and loneliness as Tori does. They left me feeling encouraged and uplifted so that as well as being diverted from the cares of the world by The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, I actually benefitted from it emotionally and mentally too.

The Welsh retreat setting provides the perfect backdrop to the action because there’s a fantastic unity of place that complements the characters beautifully. Laura Bambrey adds just the right amount of physical description to place her reader at the heart of the action without ever slowing the pace. The exercises and activities at the retreat feel completely authentic and convincing with the effect of making the reader relax into the reading in a way that mirrors the manner Tori learns to let go of some of her anxieties. Alongside this authenticity is a plot that races along to the extent that I had to put life on hold until I had devoured The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness.

I loved meeting the cast of characters in The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness. Whilst there are recognisable aspects of people who would run or visit this kind of retreat, such as having beards and dreadlocks, or wearing white floaty clothing, these aspects never feel stereotypical, but rather make the reader feel included in the narrative by Laura Bambrey through a shared understanding. I was in love with Bay myself from the very beginning and desperately wanted Tori to distance herself from Than and fall in love with Bay too but you’ll need to read the book to see if that actually happens. Indeed, Than’s prickliness and Rowan’s entrepreneurial activities counteract perfectly the softer personalities of those like Doreen and Lizzie so that it feels as if all life is here in the community on the farm.

However, what I found so special about The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness was the balance between light hearted comedy and sensitive emotional depth because it made the book all the more affecting. As well as exploring aspects of loneliness, Laura Bambrey provides insight into mental health in many forms, relationships, friendship and family whilst touching on social media and its benefits and dangers in an accessible, engaging and compelling manner.

I thought The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness was a wonderful example of its genre and have put it straight on my list of favourite reads this year. Laura Bambrey entertains, comforts and delights her reader in equal measure in The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness. It’s fabulous. Don’t miss it.

About Laura Bambrey

Laura Bambrey was born in Dorset but raised in Wales. She’s worked as a trapeze choreographer, sculpture conservator and stilt walker, amongst others, and spent most of her time collecting stories from the people she met along the way.

She has spent many years as a book blogger and reviewer of women’s fiction and now lives in Devon with her very own romantic hero and a ridiculously fluffy rabbit named Mop. The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness is her début novel.

For further information, follow Laura on Twitter @LauraBambrey, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Iain Hood

My grateful thanks to Will Dady at Renard press for putting me in touch with Iain Hood so that we could stay in together to chat about Iain’s debut book. Let’s find out what Iain told me:

Staying in with Iain Hood

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Iain.

Thanks for inviting me!

Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

A pleasure. I love staying in. My wife and I, who had our kid later in life, joke that we had her just so we had an excuse to stay in, because actually we were sick of going out.

That sounds quite a drastic way of making the decision! 

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

I’ve brought along This Good Book. It’s the fifth novel I’ve written, but the first one to be published, by the wonderful Renard Press. If I had dreamed of a publisher who ‘gets’ This Good Book the way Renard do, I would have thought it a for-definite opium pipe dream.

That’s lovely to hear. I think smaller independent publishers are brilliant actually Iain. Mind you, I think we need to have a conversation another time about how you know what an opium pipe dream feels like!

So, what can we expect from an evening in with This Good Book?

This Good Book is the story of two artists, Susan Alison and Douglas, trying to create the best art they can, while always aware that the ideas of ‘good’ art, ‘great’ art, the ‘best’ art are illusory, and can kill the art and, sometimes, the artist.

Crikey. That’s quite some premise. Tell me more!

Susan Alison narrates throughout, and this is her story told, as she says, the way her mithair likes a good story told. It’s Susan Alison’s description, explanation, maybe her apology, and her confession, if you like. The tone of the novel is a wicked dark humour paired with a fearlessness in terms of the ideas that get thrown around (God, art, love, death, mother: the ‘big’ words, as James Joyce has it) that I learned 100% from Dame Muriel Spark, that greatest of Scottish novelists. Susan Alison and Douglas can bicker like siblings, and lob hand grenades of intentional or accidental insult at each other. They can also make each other laugh until laughing makes their bellies hurt and think until thinking makes their heads hurt.

That sounds fascinating. What genre would you say This Good Book is?

This Good Book is a book that has a crime and a trial in it, but it’s not a crime novel, more a novel like Alexander Trocchi’s Young Adam. It has horror in it, but it’s not a horror story: more in the tradition of ‘The Horror’ in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It is a romance and a love story, but not a romance about the love relationship between the two protagonists.

This transcendence of genre mirrors the transcendence that both Susan Alison and Douglas seek in and from their art; a cut-through to meaning independent of form. And now I can hear Susan Alison and Douglas, simultaneously shouting out ‘Woooooo!’ Their howling derision at my pretentious description. And Susan Alison is  like, ‘Independent of form, is it?’ And Douglas adds, ‘Oh aye, total cut-through!’ And Susan will kill it, with a final kiss off, ‘You know, I think I heard a semi-colon in there.’ They’re like that, the two of them.

Susan and Douglas sound utterly wonderful. I can’t wait to meet them when I read This Good Book and I’m delighted it’s on my TBR.

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

I’ve brought along the entire back catalogue of the Glasgow rock band Mogwai. Mogwai’s music was instrumental in the writing of This Good Book (there’s a wee joke in there for the initiated: most of Mogwai’s music is lyric- and singing-free).

Now I’m intrigued – and not a little ashamed to say I’ve never heard of Mogwai!

When I started planning This Good Book, the plan simply consisted of a list of Mogwai track titles that I thought might fit with the things I wanted to write about. This was a rich seam for mining: ‘Angels versus Aliens’, ‘The Lord is Out of Control’, ‘Like Herod’, ‘No Medicine for Regret’, and the track title that kicked it all off for me, ‘You Don’t Know Jesus’. Eventually the plan mutated into something else, but weaving the Mogwai track titles into the text was fun, helped the writing, and helped construct Susan Alison’s somewhat peculiar synthesised idiolect.

One plot thread in the book is enhanced (or even just understood, though I do try to explain as well) if you know some of the lyric-based songs of Mogwai, because Susan Alison appears to experience premonitions based around Mogwai lyrics. This is mystifying to Douglas and us, and Susan Alison herself, as she says, ‘Prophecy is all in the saying what the future holds. But Mogwai tunes? What kind of prophecy is that? It’s not exactly the time and date of the Apocalypse. Not unless, you know, you’ve seen them do ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ live.’ (Mogwai play extremely loud live, in case you don’t know your Mogwai stuff.)

Maybe we can play the music turned down a bit then…

We can either listen to songs associated with This Good Book (as you got to know them, or know them in this context, a game could develop of seeing how many track titles you can spot in the text). Or we could listen to the more mellow and quiet stuff they do; it is a relaxed staying-in evening we are after, correct?

That sounds more my thing actually…

Though maybe I’ll bring some drinks along and as the evening wears on, we might be heard stomping around to ‘How to Be a Werewolf’ or even ‘Like Herod’!! You never know.

You never know indeed Iain. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat all about This Good Book. You put on some Mogwai music (quietly) and I’ll tell blog readers a bit more about the book:

This Good Book

‘Sometimes I wonder, if I had known that it was going to take me fourteen years to paint this painting of the Crucifixion with Douglas as Jesus, and what it would take for me to paint this painting, would I have been as happy as I was then?’

Susan Alison MacLeod, a Glasgow School of Art graduate with a dark sense of humour, first lays eyes on Douglas MacDougal at a party in 1988, and resolves to put him on the cross in the Crucifixion painting she’s been sketching out, but her desire to create ‘good’ art and a powerful, beautiful portrayal means that a final painting doesn’t see the light of day for fourteen years.

Over the same years, Douglas’s ever-more elaborately designed urine-based installations bring him increasing fame, prizes and commissions, while his modelling for Susan Alison, who continues to work pain and suffering on to the canvas, takes place mostly in the shadows. This Good Book is a wickedly funny, brilliantly observed novel that spins the moral compass and plays with notions of creating art.

A novel about Glasgow, about art, and about obsession. This Good Book will have you gripped from the opening chapter to its disturbing conclusion. Iain Hood is an original new voice in Scottish fiction. Colette Paul

Published by Renard Press on 30th June 2021, This Good Book is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

About Iain Hood

(Photograph © Jeremy Andrews)

Iain Hood was born in Glasgow and grew up in the seaside town of Ayr. He attended the University of Glasgow and Jordanhill College, and later worked in education in Glasgow and the West Country. During this time he attended the University of Manchester. He now lives in Cambridge with his wife and daughter. This Good Book is his first novel.

You can follow Iain on Twitter @iain_hood.

Staying in with Lynda Renham

I can’t believe how many years have passed since I interviewed Lynda Renham in a post you can find here. Today Lynda has returned to stay in with me and tell me all about her latest book.

Staying in with Lynda Renham

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

It’s an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.

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

I’ve chosen my new novel The Lies She Told, which was released on the 5th July and is available in hardback, paperback and E format. It’s a novel I am very excited to share with you.

I love the atmospheric cover Lynda. What can we expect from an evening in with The Lies She Told?

A great deal of tension, murder, friendships, lies and you may find yourself learning a little about village life in Oxfordshire too. You will make new friends too with Detective Sergeant Harper and Detective Inspector Tom Miller. Most of all, you should expect a gripping evening because I’ve been told that it is very hard to stop reading once you begin the novel.

The Lies She Told sounds really exciting and quite a bit different to some of your comedy writing that I’m more familiar with.

So, what else have you brought along, and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought some music by Jocelyn Pook, particularly the soundtrack from ‘The Staircase’ because I played it a lot while writing the novel.

Oh! I confess I’ve never heard of Jocelyn Pook! And what’s that I can see you’ve brought too?

I’ve also bought a fan because the story is set during a sweltering summer.

It looks as if we’re about to have a bit of real sweltering summer too, so it’s a perfect time to read The Lies She Told! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about it Lynda. It sounds a great read. You put on Jocelyn’s music and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a bit more information about The Lies She Told.

The Lies She Told

A quiet village, a friendly community, a brutal attack.

The Lies She Told is set in a quiet Oxfordshire village. Meet Detective Sergeant Beth Harper. Beth has lived in the village most of her life. The crime rate is low, and that’s how everyone likes it. Then Detective Inspector Tom Miller comes from London.

Meet Tom Miller, who immediately clashes with Beth. Beth feels a recent tragedy in Tom’s life will affect his judgement as a police officer. No sooner has Tom arrived and the village is turned upside down. A local school teacher is brutally attacked and left for dead in her home. Could this be a burglary gone wrong, or could it be connected to Tom’s troubled past?

The Lies She Told is available for purchase here.

About Lynda Renham

Lynda Renham is the author of many popular romantic comedies and gripping psychological thriller novels. Lynda studied creative writing at the Open University. She lives in Oxford, UK. She has appeared on BBC radio discussion programs and is a prolific blogger. Lynda is also an avid photographer. When not writing, she can usually be found wasting her time on Facebook or crocheting blankets.

You can find Lynda on Facebook, Instagram and on Twitter @Lyndarenham. You can also visit her website for further information.