Staying in with Rosemary Johnston


It’s a real pleasure to welcome Rosemary Johnston to Linda’s Book Bag today as the book Rosemary has brought along to discuss as we stay in together sounds exactly my kind of read. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Rosemary Johnston

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

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

I have brought along my debut novella Source. It is about a woman, Kate, who returns to the west of Ireland with her teenage daughter Lavinia. She has come to clear out the family farm after the death of her parents. She isn’t really interested in anything that has been left behind at the farm except her father’s dictionary. The next day, she bumps into an old boyfriend, Brian, and together they discuss what has become of their lives and the reasons why Kate left to go and live in England. But it is also a book about migration and how, when we leave, we take our language with us, and as we migrate and change, so do words. But something of our original lives, or the meaning of the original words remains behind.

It sounds brilliant. What can we expect from an evening in with Source?

I suppose you’d call it literary fiction. But it is also a novella so it is quite short, only 12,000 words. You could read it all in one evening. It’s quite an emotional read, maybe a bit dark at times. There were parts of it that made me cry when I was writing it! I couldn’t believe the things the characters were saying to each other! But it has an uplifting ending.

I love a book where I can have a good cry Rosemary. What else will I find between the pages of Source?

It’s also quite thought-provoking, I think, in the parts of the book that about words and their etymologies. But it isn’t a difficult book to read. Because the main character, Kate, is interested in words, and what you can learn about the history of a word from the information contained in dictionaries, I decided to try and let her create a little sub story using only Viking words. When I started looking into it, it is amazing how many there are still in everyday use. But I finish the book with three Viking words which I think have a beautiful sound and I think if those words were spoken by someone from the north of Scotland, they’d sound just the same today as they sounded when spoken by the Vikings 1000 years ago. Those three words have also a very beautiful meaning. But if you want to know what those words are, you need to buy the book and read it to the end!

I think we certainly do. Source sounds so fascinating. I love the concept of words themselves being part of the story, not just the vehicle for telling it.

I like to think of this book like a song, something you could sing, or that sings to you. Like one of those evenings of singing and story telling with something to drink to make it all flow better.

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

I’ve brought along a bottle of wine, a Pouilly Fumé, because it is referred to in the book, but it is a nice wine too. And will no doubt help with conversation. The craic, as they say! I’ve also got some music, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. Very atmospheric.

Well quite! And what’s that you’ve got?

It’s an extract from Source.

An Extract from Source

“Keep that book,” said Kate.

“What is it?” asked Lavinia.

“Poetry. Patrick Kavanagh.”

“Did granny like poetry?”

“No, she never read anything. It was your granddad’s book. There’s a dictionary somewhere. Keep that as well.”

Kate took the book from her fair haired, freckled daughter. She looked through its thick, mildewed pages for the poem that had been her first introduction to grown up poetry, many years ago. She could almost see her younger self, sitting cross legged and hesitant in front of the bookcase, not sure if it was permitted or not, to read grown up poetry.

Her father had found her there and asked what she was reading.

“Ah!” he said “Kavanagh! Great choice.”

And he opened the book and started to read:

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew

That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue.”

He gave her back the book and said “We should pay more heed to the poets.”

At the time Kate had taken it as a general piece of advice.

“He liked poetry and history and languages,” Kate said. “The things he loved I came to love.”

“How did they meet?” asked Lavinia.

“He came to Connemara on the back of his friend’s motor bike. It was to the wedding of a cousin of his friend. Granny was there. Love at first sight. He wooed her with the poetry and all that.”

“Is this what you wanted?” asked Lavinia, handing an old book to Kate.

“Yes, that’s it. It’s his dictionary.”

Despite Kate’s claim that the objects in the house would provoke no sentiment, holding the dictionary filled her with that empty feeling that loss could fire at you; clearly the person who had made use of the book was no longer here to do so.

“It’s very precious.”

“That old thing?” Lavinia held her hand across her mouth. “That smell. It’s making me gag.”

“You don’t need to be so dramatic about it,” said Kate, smelling the book. But it was true, the book was musty, as if all the old words had gone off a bit, unused and trapped inside. Let us out! they might whisper. And the words in it might well be the key to unlocking the past. But the odour the trapped words gave off seemed to hold within it an accusation that it was the past itself that was tainted, no matter which words were chosen to describe it. Kate set the book down.


I’m intrigued Rosemary. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Source. You pour yourself a glass of wine and turn up Bruce and I’ll give blog readers a few more Source details:


Kate and her teenage daughter return to Ireland to sort through what is left of the family farm. But in doing so, Kate is brought to all the reasons she left many years ago. She can find no attachment to the objects of her past until she comes across her father’s dictionary.

Can words be the way for her to unlock the past? Can they help pave the way towards reconciliation? Can they help us understand ourselves?

Source is a book about beginnings and homeland and the words that accompany us on our journey.

Source is available in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

About Rosemary Johnston

Rosemary Johnston grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland and lives in North Yorkshire with her family. She has written for adults and children, and regularly writes articles on poetry, language and history. Her plays have been produced at the Gateway Theatre in Chester and she has completed a debut novel The Children of Angels’ Eyrie. She is an editor of Vixen Magazine.

You can follow Rosemary on Twitter @angelseyrie1901.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year edited by Allie Esiri

Like many others, I’ve been a bit miserable in recent times and when a surprise copy of A Poet for Every Day of the Year edited by Allie Esiri turned up in surprise book post from the lovely Hannah Bright at Midas PR, I was thrilled and actually quite emotional. My enormous thanks to Hannah for sending me a copy. I’m delighted to share a review of A Poet for Every Day of the Year today.

Published by Pan Macmillan in hardback tomorrow, 30th September 2021 A Poet for Every Day of the Year is available for purchase through the links here.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year

Allie Esiri’s beautiful gift anthology, A Poet for Every Day of the Year, is the perfect introduction to 366 of the world’s greatest ever verse writers.

Perfect for reading aloud and sharing with all the family, it is bursting at the seams with familiar favourites and exciting new discoveries. Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, Christina Rossetti and Emily Bronte sit alongside Roger McGough, Wendy Cope, Imtiaz Dharker, Leonard Cohen, Sylvia Plath and Ocean Vuong.

Each of the 366 poems features a small introduction that gives a sense of who the writer was, and not just the greatness of their work. Some offer insightful biographical details or key historical context, while others may provide quirky, humorous anecdotes.

The day-to-day format of the anthology invites readers to make poetry a part of their daily routine, and makes sure that they discover something inspirational, life affirming, provocative, moving or entertaining each and every day.

My Review of A Poet for Every Day of the Year

366 poets and poems.

I could not love A Poet for Every Day of the Year more. I confess I haven’t read the whole book yet as I am savouring the dated poems and poets each night so that this is a gift of a book that will last me the entire year. However, the format is the same for every day and includes an insightful and accessible potted history of the poet, with reference to social, historical and biographical detail that stirs such an interest in the reader that A Poet for Every Day of the Year provides even more entertainment by acting as a catalyst for further reading and research. For example, when I opened my copy on the day I received it, the poet was John Clare who just happens to have lived three miles from where I am, but there are other poets I’m much less familiar with so I have an introduction that can lead me to discovering more of their work. This adds to the significance and joy in reading A Poet for Every Day of the Year.

The Contents of A Poet for Every Day of the Year list the poem and poet for each calendar day although I prefer not to look at that properly until next year when I’ve enjoyed a daily surprise from the book.  With poets from Angelou to Wordsworth there really is something for any and every reader. One of the absolute pleasures here is the attention to more marginalised poets such as those from the LGBTQIA+ community so that A Poet for Every Day of the Year feels inclusive and engaging.

Allie Esiri’s introduction zings with passion for poetry and reading it is a true pleasure. I don’t want to spoil the discovery for others but she raises some interesting questions about context and the balance between poet and poem in the reader’s consideration that had me thinking when I wasn’t dipping in to the poems.

I also had fun with the index of first lines at the end of A Poet for Every Day of the Year, reading them aloud like performance poetry and seeing if they would work as found poems in their own right! This anthology has so much to offer and every time I think about it next to the bed ready for me to read last thing at night it brings happiness and a smile to my face.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year is utterly wonderful and an absolute must for any lover of poetry, of words, of people. It’s also a perfect gift for any reader at any time of the year. It feels sumptuous, substantial and captivating. I loved it unreservedly and it’s one of my books of the year because it brings human connection and joy to the reader. What could be better than that?

About Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri, who read Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge University, is an accomplished curator and host of live poetry events at The National Theatre, The Bridge Theatre, and at Hay, Oxford, Bath and Cheltenham literary festivals. Her anthology A Poem for Every Day of the Year was in the best books of the year list in The Times and the Observer and the audiobook is read by Helena Bonham Carter and Simon Russell Beale. Her anthology, A Poem for Every Night of the Year was a best book of the year in The Times and the New Statesman and won the IBW 2017 book award.

You can follow Allie on Twitter @AllieEsiri and find her on Instagram. There’s more information on Allie’s website too.

Dogs in Disguise by Peter Bently and illustrated by John Bond

My enormous thanks to Tina Mories at Harper Collins for sending me a surprise copy of the children’s book Dogs in Disguise by Peter Bently and John Bond in return for an honest review.

I’ve previously reviewed another of John Bond’s children’s books – Mini Rabbit Come Home –  here on Linda’s Book Bag.

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books on 16th September 2021 Dogs in Disguise is available for purchase through the links here where you’ll also find an audio sample.

Dogs in Disguise

An exciting new collaboration between the Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning author Peter Bently and the incredibly talented illustrator John Bond!

Dogs come in all kinds of colours and sizes
But when no one’s looking they put on DISGUISES.

A joyful peek into the crazy antics of all sorts of dogs in disguise! Dressing up in clothing they find at home, these adventurous pooches blend into the crowd at all the places dogs aren’t allowed, like the store, the cinema and the swimming pool! But, not all of their disguises go quite to plan, with hilarious results . . .

From schnauzers in trousers to cosmonaut cockapoos, this jaunty rhyming text from hugely popular, award-winning author, Peter Bently, with brilliantly witty illustrations from John Bond, creator of the Mini Rabbit books, will have children howling with laughter!

My Review of Dogs in Disguise

You might think you know dogs, but they could be in disguise right under your nose.

Now, I’m at least 55 years older than the intended audience for Dogs in Disguise and a cat lover but I adored this book. Firstly, it has a thick, robust cover that will withstand many readings – both in the home and in other early years settings – that makes it feel high quality. The end papers are vibrant and colourful and there’s a richness to the colours used throughout that would make group use very easy because the images are strong and captivating. Indeed, the illustrations are an absolute delight to readers of any age. They bring a real smile to the face and I can imagine young children laughing with joy at some of the dogs’ antics, especially when Barney disguises himself as a tree!

The language is accessible and funny with lots of jokes that will appeal to small children (and adults!) so that Dogs in Disguise is engaging and entertaining. I do have my usual small criticism in children’s books that I prefer not to have words entirely in upper case letters in the middle of sentences, as I prefer to model expected use more conventionally. However, the language is fantastic for language learning. There’s a natural rhythm to the writing that makes the book easy to read aloud with a smashing rhyme scheme that increases vocabulary and means the book can also be used as a game as non-reading children guess the word to rhyme with the previous one. Some have full rhyme like ‘big’ and ‘wig’, but on other occasions the rhymes are homophones for example, so that Dogs in Disguise could be a brilliant tool for teaching developing writing.

In fact, there are many ways Dogs in Disguise can enhance home and classroom settings. Young children might take on role play for some of the situations included in Dogs in Disguise so that they develop interactive skills and imagination. The different activities the dogs get up to could easily lead to classroom discussions about hobbies; the various breeds of dogs might lead to children speaking about their own pets and thereby developing oracy skills or research skills as they find out more about each breed and so on. Numeracy might come through counting the different dogs or bones in the end papers perhaps.

But if all that sounds quite worthy, the real success of Dogs in Disguise is that it is an absolute joy. It might offer all manner of educational uses, but most of all this children’s book is witty and vibrant, arrestingly and charmingly illustrated, and enormous fun to read. I loved it!

About Peter Bently

Peter studied languages at Oxford University, England, and lives in Devon with his wife Lucy and their two children. After a career as a non-fiction editor, he turned to writing for children soon after the birth of his son Theo. Egmont published his very first children’s book, the bestselling A Lark in the Ark, which was shortlisted for the Red House award and the inaugural BookTrust Book of the Year awards.

Peter also wrote King Jack and the Dragon, which was shortlisted for the Kate Greenway Medal and selected as one of the American Library Association’s Notable Books of the year. Among his other titles, the hilarious The Great Dog Bottom Swap was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, which he won in 2011 with Cats Ahoy!

You’ll find more information on Peter’s website and you can follow him on Twitter @PeterBently and Instagram.

About John Bond

John Bond is an illustrator, author and artist. He grew up on a farm in the Cotswolds and went on to study a degree in Illustration at Kingston University, London. He now lives and works in Worthing on the south coast. His studio is based at Colonnade House.

With a background in animation and digital media, he spent 7 years working at an award winning creative agency – designing and directing a multitude of projects for broadcast, digital, and interactive content.

He now works independently as an illustrator and artist, balancing commercial jobs with self initiated projects alongside running his own online store. Bond’s work has been exhibited in galleries worldwide and he has spoken at industry events such as PictoplasmaGlug and Pecha Kucha.

For more information, visit John’s website, follow him on Twitter @iamjohnbond and Instagram or find him on Facebook.

Staying in with J. R. Weaver

Whilst it’s simply not possible for me to read and review all the books I’m offered, nor to invite every author onto Linda’s Book Bag, I do try to accommodate as many as I can. Today I’m delighted to feature J.R. Weaver to stay in with me because I think he has a fascinating story to tell!

Staying in with J.R. Weaver

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

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

Thanks for having me over Linda 😊 Hi everyone I’m JR Weaver, the man behind The Addiction Manifesto, which is based off my experiences that I encountered during my quest to get sober from drugs and alcohol.  It’s about the trials and tribulations on the road to finding recovery.

Crikey. That’s quite a background to a book. What can we expect from an evening in with The Addiction Manifesto

Readers will find a real-life glimpse into the personal struggle that anyone in recovery deals with on a daily basis.  Originally this was my own personal journal, my ‘hope manual’ so if you can imagine that I’m writing all of this with the goal of convincing myself to believe in myself so that I can achieve sobriety.

That sounds a very brave thing to do.

I started writing a few months into my journey and I had people in recovery criticize me that I didn’t understand the process of recovery enough to write a book about it. And what they said is true but what I did understand is addiction after living it day for day for 27 years.

What made you turn your writing from your ‘hope manual‘ to a book then?

I write to free people from the chains of addiction, if my book can help someone navigate thru those early relapse obstacles and reach long-term sobriety then all the years that I spent living on the streets, homeless and hopeless, lost and confused to the point of nearly destroying myself will have served a bigger purpose.

That’s incredibly altruistic. I hope The Addiction Manifesto helps others in the way you want it to. It sounds like a very powerful read.

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

Cyber drinks on me, of course non-alcoholic lol, but seriously let me tell ya how you can save 15% on your car insurance by switching to Geico lol!

I’m not sure about the insurance but I’m perfectly happy to have a mocktail!

Thanks so much for staying in with me and being so honest about your experiences. 

I am grateful to be able to spend some time with you and your readers.  I hope it shed some light on a dark subject, writing about addiction might not put a Pulitzer in my future but it will help me sleep better at night because I helped spread the message of recovery.  Thank you!!

You are very, very welcome. Let me give readers a few more details about The Addiction Manifesto.

The Addiction Manifesto

2020 International Book Awards Finalist for Health: Addiction & Recovery

“Some people won’t believe in you, and that’s ok, this journey isn’t about them. It’s about you.”

The Addiction Manifesto has been uniquely designed to provide you with a new perspective on recovery and will show you that anything is possible. In this deeply personal book, JR Weaver has crafted a raw insight into his life and how he’s been affected by substance abuse over the past 20 years. He details his recovery process and how he’s dealt with loss.

With this book he wishes to help people on their journey to recovery. His realistic approach details his journey to try to have a normal life again.

If you’re going through addiction recovery or want to help someone who is… This book allows you to gain a greater understanding of substance abuse and its many challenges.

You’ll find a trailer for The Addiction Manifesto here. The Addiction Manifesto is available through your local Amazon site.

About J.R. Weaver

JR Weaver is an army veteran and person in long-term recovery who is passionate about the health and wellness of others. He is looking to assist millions of people in different parts of the world through their journey to recovery as he details his experience and struggles with the hope of championing a global recovery revolution.

You can follow J.R. Weaver on Twitter @jrweaver0, or visit his website for further information. You’ll also find him on Facebook.

The Problem with Poppy by Emma Sandford, illustrated by Olena Osadcha

Anyone who knows me will realise that I love wildlife and nature so I’d like to extend my enormous thanks to Nick Jones at Full Media for sending me a copy of the children’s book The Problem with Poppy by Emma Sandford and illustrated by Olena Osadcha in return for an honest review.

The Problem with Poppy is published by Full Media in conjunction with the Rainforest Trust UK and is available for purchase here.

The Problem with Poppy

Poppy the porcupine has always wanted to make a friend, but her defensive nature prevents her. When a young tiger cub stumbles upon her one day in the rainforest, she reacts badly and scares him away.

Determined to change her ways, she sets out to find him, but little does she know that the tiger cub is about to have a problem of his own. In the face of danger, will Poppy find a way to save the day?

The Problem with Poppy is a picture book aimed at children aged 4-8 and is the debut by British author Emma Sandford. Illustrated by Ukrainian artist Olena Osadcha.

The Problem with Poppy by Emma Sandford is a perfect combination of fun and learning that any little kid will love.” – Readers’ Favorite ★★★★★

The Problem with Poppy is the first in a series called The Sumatran Trilogy. The second book, What’s Troubling Tawny?, will be published in December 2021 and the third book, Hooray for Heidi!, will be published in June 2022. The Trilogy has been written in partnership with Rainforest Trust UK.

My Review of The Problem with Poppy

Rory is frightened by Poppy!

The Problem with Poppy is a charming children’s book with a profound and meaningful message that includes both implied and obvious meanings so that it can be explored on different levels with children within the intended age range. Poppy’s loneliness arising out of her literal and metaphorical prickliness shows children how to make friends and overcome their own feelings and develop emotional literacy, whilst the capture of Rory by poachers can be explored with older children to teach them about conservation and wildlife protection. Indeed, The Problem with Poppy can be used far beyond its obvious intention with geographical research projects in the classroom and at home to discover more about the Sumatran forest, or to learn about both tigers and porcupines for example. I loved this element of the book.

The language in The Problem with Poppy is quite challenging but this is by no means a criticism. The book will need an adult for younger readers to access it fully, but more confident KS1 children can tackle it themselves and both the context and illustrations alongside the narrative mean that children can gain new knowledge and vocabulary as they enjoy the story. I can see teachers using The Problem with Poppy to develop writing skills as the use of ellipsis or italics in this narrative can be transferred to children’s own emergent writing.

Speaking of illustration, Olena Osadcha’s images in The Problem with Poppy are simply wonderful, especially the facial expressions of Rory and Poppy which again support children learning about emotions really well. The colour scheme works perfectly for the forest setting with many greens and browns.

The Problem with Poppy is a sensitive, well thought out book that has a depth sometimes missing in children’s stories. Perfectly enjoyable at face value as a children’s story with just enough peril and a positive resolution, it has the potential to be shared and read on many levels so that it has value for several years. I thought it was excellent.

About Emma Sandford

Emma Sandford is a children’s author based in Cheshire.

For many years, Emma had wanted to write a children’s book that draws on her own experiences and helps young children overcome certain emotional issues they may have. The Problem With Poppy is a fun way of teaching kids that while everybody has a natural defence mechanism, there is a time and a place to use it.

You can find out more on Emma’s website.

About Olena Osadcha

Olena Osadcha is a Ukranian digital artist / illustrator based in Kiev. She is passionate about design and has a particular interest and love for children’s book illustration.

Cover Reveal: The Nemesis Effect by Michael Shotter

It’s a little while since Michael Shotter stayed in with me to chat all about his book Shards in a post you can read here. Today, rather excitingly we are launching Michael’s brand new novel The Nemesis Effect. I’m delighted to have an exclusive cover reveal to share.

Let’s find out more about The Nemesis Effect:

The Nemesis Effect

Tom Hallett was an ordinary man, living an ordinary if pleasant-enough life, his world, perfectly shaped and managed by the wonders of technology and the handful of elite “executives” who control it.

Thus, the young man finds himself completely unprepared when a chance encounter and a twist of fate bring him face to face with the most terrifying event in human history.

Can a simple archivist, a keeper of the records of other people’s deeds, rise to the occasion or will he remain an ordinary citizen, powerless and subject to “The Nemesis Effect?”


Sounds intriguing doesn’t it?

Published on 19th November 2021, The Nemesis Effect is available for pre-order here.

About Michael Shotter

Michael Shotter is a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a lover of science, fiction, and fantasy, his works aim to push beyond the boundaries of traditional genre fiction into new and exciting realms born from literary craftsmanship.

For more information about Michael and his writing, visit his Goodreads page, find him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram and  Twitter @shotterwriting.

The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy

My enormous thanks to Rhiannon Morris at FMcM Associates for inviting me to be part of the blog tour for The Storyteller of Casablanca and for putting me in touch with the author Fiona Valpy for today’s blog tour stop. It’s a real honour to close the tour.

I wasn’t going to review The Storyteller of Casablanca because I am absolutely inundated with books that I ‘have’ to read, but having heard such wonderful things about it from the other bloggers on the tour I couldn’t resist fitting it in. I’m delighted to be able to chat with Fiona about the book and to share my review today.

Let’s find out what Fiona had to tell me:

Staying in with Fiona Valpy

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

It’s my pleasure – it’s great to meet you and I love nothing better than a relaxing night in!

It’s great to meet you too. I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The Storyteller of Casablanca, my new novel which was out on 21st September.

A slightly belated Happy Publication Day! What can we expect from an evening in with The Storyteller of Casablanca?

It’s a dual timeline book which tells the story of Josie Duval, a 12-year-old refugee from France, whose family have fled to North Africa to escape the German occupation and attempt to get their papers in order to sail for America. Josie’s story unfurls through the eyes of Zoe Harris, a modern-day expat, who’s come to live in Casablanca with her husband who works in the shipping industry. As the novel unfolds, we learn that something is wrong in Zoe’s marriage and her story becomes entwined with Josie’s.

Where did you get the idea for The Storyteller of Casablanca?

I was inspired to write it when a gentleman in America contacted me to say how much he’d enjoyed reading some of my books and that he wished someone would tell the story of his wife’s time spent in Casablanca as a refugee during the war years. I emailed him back, but got no further reply. He had piqued my interest though. So I started doing some research and discovered this whole strand of war history that I hadn’t known much about before. I’d watched the iconic Bogart and Bergman movie, of course, but it largely ignores the story of the thousands of refugees who ended up in Casablanca as they tried to escape.

What an interesting catalyst for the story. I’ve never seen the film – maybe I should. Was The Storyteller of Casablanca a departure for you then?

The Storyteller of Casablanca includes some themes that I’ve explored in my previous books – what happens to ordinary people when their lives are turned upside down in extraordinary times, for example, and how tales of courage and determination can help inspire us in our own lives. But it was also a joy to delve into a new culture and to read more widely around the subject. I had a research trip to Morocco planned but then the pandemic hit and everything was cancelled – it forced me to be more creative with my research and it became a wonderful escape from lockdown, vicariously roaming the beaches and souks. Storytelling is another important theme and there are many stories told in this book in different ways.

My word. I’ve been to Morocco and you certainly bring it to life accurately. I can’t believe you haven’t been there Fiona!

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

I’m going to whisk us away to Morocco with some honey cakes and mint tea. I’ve also brought some items that appear in the book, to whet your appetite: a little gold star on a chain; a coral-pink feather; a sliver of jade-green sea glass; and a faded signature on a piece of blue paper. Each one is significant, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why…

Ah! Now I wasn’t going to read The Storyteller of Casablanca before this evening Fiona as I was so pressed for time. However, I heard so many magnificent things about it that I simply HAD to fit it in. Once I’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details I’ll share my review!

Thanks so much for staying in with me Fiona. I’ve loved hearing more about The Storyteller of Casablanca.

The Storyteller of Casablanca

In this evocative tale from the bestselling author of The Dressmaker’s Gift, a strange new city offers a young girl hope. Can it also offer a lost soul a second chance?

Morocco, 1941. With France having fallen to Nazi occupation, twelve-year-old Josie has fled with her family to Casablanca, where they await safe passage to America. Life here is as intense as the sun, every sight, smell and sound overwhelming to the senses in a city filled with extraordinary characters. It’s a world away from the trouble back home—and Josie loves it.

Seventy years later, another new arrival in the intoxicating port city, Zoe, is struggling—with her marriage, her baby daughter and her new life as an expat in an unfamiliar place. But when she discovers a small wooden box and a diary from the 1940s beneath the floorboards of her daughter’s bedroom, Zoe enters the inner world of young Josie, who once looked out on the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, but who knew a very different Casablanca.

It’s not long before Zoe begins to see her adopted city through Josie’s eyes. But can a new perspective help her turn tragedy into hope, and find the comfort she needs to heal her broken heart?

Published by Lake Union on 21st September 2021, The Storyteller of Casablanca is available for purchase here.

My Review of The Storyteller of Casablanca

Zoe’s in a new home.

What a simply sumptuous read The Storyteller of Casablanca is. I loved it because Fiona Valpy has created a multi-layered, beautifully written and emotional narrative that mesmerises her reader.

The Storyteller of Casablanca is a perfect title for this book as there are multiple storytellers; from Zoe’s first person contemporary account, through Josie’s diarised narrative, to references to traditional, allegorical, cultural and mythical stories. Add in the iterative image of sleuthing through the Dorothy Sayers books and the relevance and importance of the library, particularly for Josie and there is a literary richness that captivates in Fiona Valpy’s writing.

And richness is a word so easily used to describe Fiona Valpy’s glorious settings in Morocco. She manages to place her reader at the heart of the action through her use of the senses, as well as through historical detail that creates a vivid and colourful sense of time and place. I learnt so much about Morocco in the 1940s as well as recognising the Morocco I have visited because the writing is so authentic. One of the aspects I found so brilliant was the reference to food. Kenza’s cooking in particular made me long to return to Morocco.

The plot is wonderful. I’m not usually a great fan of dual timelines, but the themes that link Zoe and Josie are so relatable and universal that the movement between both eras feels smooth and, actually, essential, in conveying the themes Fiona Valpy weaves into her writing. Through Josie’s innocent eyes and Zoe’s jaded ones we find a real depth of love in many forms, with aspects of trust and betrayal, the need to learn from history, examination of family and friendship, belonging and isolation, grief and happiness all building into an affecting, bewitching story.

I loved the women in The Storyteller of Casablanca. What I thought worked so well is that history is so often the domain of men, but here Fiona Valpy considers the role of women in an authentic and moving way. The narrative feels somehow true to the times it relates and to the characters between its pages. Meeting Josie, I became as obsessed with her as does Zoe. But it was Zoe who captivated me most. Her obsessive behaviour, her failing marriage and her sense of isolation in the midst of bustling Casablanca felt absolutely convincing.

Reading The Storyteller of Casablanca felt as if I’d been given a very precious gift. It’s a book that weaves a magical spell around the reader, entertaining them beautifully even as it educates but most of all moving them through a greater understanding of what love means in so many forms. Don’t miss it.

About Fiona Valpy

For further information, visit Fiona’s website, follow her on Twitter @FionaValpy and find her on Instagram and Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Dennis Roth

It’s always such a privilege to part of an author’s journey and it gives me great pleasure today to welcome a new to me author, Dennis Roth, to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me all about his debut book. Let’s see what he told me when we spent an evening ‘in’ together.

Staying in with Dennis Roth

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Dennis.

Thanks, I’m thrilled to be here with you. Coming across the pond electronically is easier than by boat or plane. A lot cheaper too.

It certainly is! Thanks for agreeing to stay in with me.

I love staying in and being with my wife whom I’ve known since high school. Part of that is having lived in very close quarters aboard a 30-foot sailboat for several years in the Bahamas and Caribbean. On board we learned the skills needed to be alone together.

I imagine so. And how lovely to be together after all these years too.

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

I’ve brought my debut novel The Bastard’s Inheritance from my series The Bastard’s Trilogy. A prequel to it is coming out in late spring of 2022 and a sequel in 2023.

That’s certainly an attention grabbing title. As The Bastard’s Inheritance is your debut it seems unusual to have a prequel coming out after this one. How did that happen?

I didn’t realize I had a trilogy on my hands until I was just finishing The Bastard’s Inheritance. Though it is the first to be published, it is actually volume #2. Now I’ve filled my plate with deadlines for two more novels before the first is barely out the door.

That’s going to keep you busy. So, what can we expect from an evening with The Bastard’s Inheritance?

The Bastard’s Inheritance is a character driven novel, written from the points of view of the four most important characters.

I love character driven books. Tell me more. Who are the characters?

The legitimate son, the bastard son, the legal advisor to the family, and the son’s girlfriend. We explore their individual thoughts and feelings as the two sons, one a dreamer and the other a narcissist, grow through their coming-of-age years and find themselves thrust into a struggle of good versus evil in the guise of a fight over inheritance. We look at the advisor who is the catalyst for familial difficulties and we find a man too weak to accept the responsibilities of his actions. The girl friend grows from an orphaned childhood into the legitimate son’s guiding strength. In a complicated ending, the winner and the loser of the battle is decided only in the mind of the reader.

That sounds very intriguing indeed.

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

The Shore

From 36ON 81OW

I’ve brought two of my watercolor paintings.

Forget the books Dennis. Those paintings are simply wonderful.

You see, I believe we can live many lives. Not only have I completely re-made my life three times over, (from engineer/businessman to watercolorist to novelist) I have this feeling deep inside that centuries ago I was an Italian scholar/merchant from Siena. Donato Rossini feels like it would have been my name.

That’s such an interesting point of view. But how did the paintings come about?

After I retired (young) from engineering without an apparent direction for my life, my wife gave me an instant watercolor painting set. Just add water and stir! After producing a stack of ill composed and muddy paintings, something clicked inside and I found friends in the pigments and paper. Together we produced some lovely, thought-provoking pieces. These are two of them.

They really are stunning images Dennis. It has been so interesting hearing about The Bastard’s Inheritance. I wish you every success with it. Thank you so much for staying in with me.

Thanks Linda.

The Bastard’s Inheritance

In the 1970s, in western Pennsylvania, a multi-millionaire’s singularly selfish decision destines his two sons, half-brothers, to wage war in a winner-take-all battle for the family legacy. The father, wealthy Henry Molnar, shares a secret with his lawyer and best friend, Murray Applebaum; a secret so damaging and powerful that neither has ever dared to reveal its truth.

But the final whispered directives of Molnar set in motion a series of events with far-reaching consequences for his family. With his last breath, Molnar instructs Applebaum to disclose the existence of his illegitimate son, Phillipe-André Desforges.

The surprise revelation at Molnar’s funeral thrusts the family members onto paths of deception, corruption and blackmail.

Revenge infused hatred and contempt for his father and his empire permeate Phillipe-André’s daily thoughts. It compels him to employ an arsenal of devious strategies to wrest control of Molnar Enterprises from his benevolent brother, Jason Molnar.

With such high stakes, Jason as the bequeathed chairman of the board must garner the psychological strength to withstand his half-brother’s siege. The consequences of failure will deliver to Phillipe-André what he has long believed to be rightfully his.

The Bastard’s Inheritance is available for purchase here.

About Dennis Roth

 After earning an engineering degree from MIT, Dennis Roth founded what has become one of the largest structural engineering firms on the east coast of the US. He retired young and lived with his wife on-board their 35-foot sailboat, Second Wind, in the Caribbean. After enjoying a thousand magnificent sunsets and then burying the anchor, he moved to watercolor painting. His innate skills blossomed into beautiful, nationally shown and awarded landscapes and seascapes that he exhibited and sold in his art gallery, Studio Phase 3. Since 2012 he has dedicated his creative energies to writing poems and stories which in addition to being published in journals and magazines, have been collected in his two chapbooks, Reflections & Other Musings and Harry & Other Stories. And now he has created The Bastard’s Trilogy anchored by the new novel The Bastard’s Inheritance.

Dennis Roth is a teacher at heart. Since high school, he has shared his knowledge, serving as a tutor of students in math and science, as an instructor and lecturer to architectural and engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, and as a teacher of his unique watercolor techniques to budding watercolorists.

On the side, Dennis Roth has learned Spanish and Italian to help him understand more fully the cultures of Mexico and Italy during his months-long visits to those countries.

For further information, visit Dennis’s website, follow him on Twitter @writedennisroth, find him on Instagram and Facebook.

Giveaway: The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman

I’ve been taking a small blogging break this week as I recharge my batteries but I can think of no better way to return to blogging than by hosting a giveaway for Hannah Beckerman’s brand new book, The Impossible Truths of Love.

My enormous thanks to Kealey Rigden Senior Communications Manager at FMcM Associates for affording me this opportunity. I have three paperback copies of The Impossible Truths of Love to give away to three lucky UK readers. You’ll find details of how to enter below.

The Impossible Truths of Love will be published by Lake Union on 5th October 2021 and is available for pre-order here.

The Impossible Truths of Love

From bestselling author Hannah Beckerman comes a moving story about memory, secrets, and what it really means to feel that you’re one of the family.

When Nell’s father makes a deathbed declaration that hints at a long-held secret, it reignites feelings of isolation that have plagued her for years. Her suspicions about the family’s past only deepen when her mother, Annie, who is losing her memories to dementia, starts making cryptic comments of her own.

Thirty-five years earlier, Annie’s life was upended by a series of traumas―one shock after another that she buried deep in her heart. The decisions she made at the time were motivated by love, but she knew even then that nobody could ever understand―let alone forgive―what she did.

As the two women’s stories unravel, a generation apart, Nell finally discovers the devastating truth about her mother’s past, and her own.

In this beautifully observed and emotionally powerful story of identity, memory and the nature of family, Hannah Beckerman asks: To what lengths would you go to protect the ones you love?


Doesn’t that sound utterly wonderful? Why not enter the giveaway?


For your chance to win one of three paperback copies of The Impossible Truths of Love by Hannah Beckerman, click here.

Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Monday 4th October 2021 and is open to those with a UK postal address. FMcM Associates will send winners their copies of The Impossible Truths of Love directly. Any data gathered will only be retained until prizes have been awarded.

About Hannah Beckerman

Hannah Beckerman is a bestselling author and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide. She is a book critic and features writer for a range of publications including The Observer and the FT Weekend Magazine, and has appeared as a book pundit on BBC Radio 2 and Times Radio. She chairs literary events across the UK, interviewing authors and celebrities, and has judged numerous book prizes including the Costa Book Awards. Prior to writing her first novel, Hannah was a television producer and commissioning editor for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel, and for two years lived in Bangladesh, running a TV project for the BBC. She now lives in London where she writes full-time.
For further information, visit Hannah’s website, follow her on Twitter @hannahbeckerman and Instagram or find her on Facebook.

Celebrating The Moscow Affair publication day with Nancy Boyarsky

It’s a real pleasure to welcome back Nancy Boyarsky to Linda’s Book Bag as we celebrate her brand new book out today.

Previously Nancy stayed in with me when Liar Liar was published in a post you can see here. I was also privileged to host an extract from Nancy’s book The Entitled and you can read that extract here.

Welcome Back Nancy Boyarsky

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Nancy and happy The Moscow Affair publication day.

Thanks for having me back Linda.

The Moscow Affair is your latest and sixth P.I. Nicole Graves mystery. Tell us a bit about it.

My new mystery takes you to a tour ship docked in Moscow. You’re set to cruise the Volga from Moscow to Saint Petersburg.

Now that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

This was a trip I took several years ago, and it was fun to revisit while couped up during the Covid year of 2020. One of my reviewers, Mally Becker, author of The Turncoat’s Widow, described The Moscow Affair like this, “An update of the traditional Cold War spy novel with a determined protagonist and a twisty, fast-paced plot that could be ripped from today’s headlines.”

That sounds brilliant. Tell me a bit more about your trip.

My impressions of the Russian people: dour, unsmiling, unfriendly. Did you know Russians aren’t prompted to smile from an early age like Americans. Think of all the times your mother, aunt, grandma, whatever, said, “Where’s that pretty smile?” or “Why are you looking so sour?” One of our tour guides said she enjoyed working with American tourists, but it took getting used to because “they smile too much.” What a comment that is on Russian culture. They believe that smiling for no good reason is a sign of insincerity. A smile from a stranger can be considered an insult. Hard to believe, but there it is!

I think I’d find that hard. I do a lot of smiling – I have one of those faces that can’t help it! What aspects from your trip have you employed in The Moscow Affair?

I also describe other aspects of Russian culture, including food and fashion that point up the many differences between Russia and the West. I’ve used a larger canvas for this story than in my other mysteries with a conflict of international importance that might lead to war between Russia and Ukraine.

Does that take us away from Nicole then?

The heart of the story is Nicole’s flight from the cruise ship after she witnesses the murder of a fellow passenger. She is hunted by the Moscow police, not a good situation for a foreigner in Russia who can’t speak the language and knows no one. Always resourceful, she enlists the help of the mysterious Olga Marozova. Later, Nicole’s perennially missing fiancé, former MI6 agent Ronald Reinhardt, makes an appearance.

How did you learn so much about Moscow after a single visit?

Right. It was a cruise along the Volga that only gave me three days in Moscow. For research, I turned to the internet, which allowed me to revisit the city and its favorite tourist spots. It gave me a 360 degree view of Red Square. During The Moscow Affair, Russia is preparing for its annual May 6th military parade, which is to take place there.

I think many author have had to be resourceful for research in recent times Nancy.

So, have you brought along anything Russian to share?

To give you a taste of Russia’s food, I’ve brought some of the amazing hamburgers served by a popular fast-food chain in Russia, Black Star Burgers. Of course, hamburgers are thoroughly American, but Moscow’s take on them is yummy. These are served on Russian black bread with tons of cheese, bacon, and a deliciously gooey sauce made with truffle oil. The burgers come with black disposable gloves, because Russians consider eating with their hands unsanitary and uncouth. They may have a point, at least about the sanitation aspect, don’t you think?

I certainly do!

To drink, we have your choice of chilled government-issued Putin Vodka (although Putin himself is reputed to be a tee-totaller). Russian style, aka all you can drink. Or you can have tea, which is also very popular there.

It’ll be tea for me Nancy. Vodka is not something I enjoy. And who have you brought along?

I’ve brought the heroine of my book, Nicole, and her sister Stephanie, the perennial screwup. Oddly, Reinhardt isn’t along. I’m wondering what’s happened to him. Has he disappeared again? Please don’t mention this to Nicole. It might spoil the festive mood.

My lips are sealed. I love the sound of The Moscow Affair Nancy. Thanks so much for spending a little bit of publication day with me. If you put the kettle on to make the tea, I’ll give readers a few more details about The Moscow Affair.

The Moscow Affair

In this fast-paced mystery, P.I. Nicole Graves agrees to an unusual, short-term assignment working for MI6 in Russia. It sounds straight-forward, even pleasant: a two-week luxury riverboat cruise on the Volga, observing a group of fellow passengers and filing a daily report on their activities. It’s simple enough, except for one caveat: No matter what these people do, she’s to tell her handler at MI6—no one else, especially not the Russian police. When one of the riverboat passengers winds up dead, Nicole realizes this assignment was anything but straightforward.

Soon, Nicole is immersed in a high-stakes game of murder and espionage where trusting a stranger can be as deadly as a bullet.

Published today, 21st September 2021 by Light Messages, The Moscow Affair is available for purchase through the links here.

About Nancy Boyarsky

Nancy Boyarsky is the bestselling author of the award-winning Nicole Graves Mysteries, of which The Moscow Affair is the latest in the series. The Entitled was on Apple Books list of most anticipated fall books of 2020. Nancy’s first mystery, The Swap, won a gold medal in the Eric Hoffer Book Awards.

Before turning to mysteries, Nancy coauthored Backroom Politics, a New York Times notable book, with her husband, Bill Boyarsky. She has written several textbooks on the justice system as well as articles for publications including the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, and McCall’s. She also contributed to political anthologies, including In the Running, about women’s political campaigns. In addition to her writing career, she was communications director for political affairs for ARCO.

You can find out more about Nancy by following her on Twitter @NancyBoyarsky, visiting her website, or finding her on Facebook.