Linda’s Book Bag 2021 Books of the Year

Brace yourselves. This is going to be a long blog post! It’s time to share the books I enjoyed reading the most in 2021.

Goodreads tells me I have read 155 books this year, but that isn’t quite the full picture as not all the books I’ve read appeared there. I’ve read a few others I haven’t reviewed because I haven’t enjoyed them – who needs to spread negativity in today’s world?

I’ve read some that will be part of my My Weekly online reviews in the spring so I haven’t shared them yet. I was thrilled to be asked to do this, to be interviewed here and even more happy when I was asked to continue for the rest of the financial year! It made up for being asked to appear on the Sky Arts Book Club which I declined as it was recorded just as the dreaded Delta variant of Covid hit London. I was so disappointed not to go.

I’ve read some books for blog tours in 2022 (and yes, I know I’ve said it before but I really am cutting back on those in 2022!) and a few to provide cover quotations for books that have yet to be published. I think that amounts to 180 (ish) books read.

If I’m honest, I found 2021 tough and was quite depressed at times and then cross with myself when I had so much to be thankful for. Yes, my 60th birthday was in lockdown – my second that way, but I was thoroughly spoilt.

I ‘attended’ so many online bookish events that I lost count, and even appeared in some, including giving a somewhat impassioned review of Hannah Gold’s children’s book The Last Bear with Bay Tales that you can see here and completing four online sessions with fellow bloggers Anne, Jo and Tracy starting with this session and ending with this one.

I had a brilliant time with fellow bloggers Anne, Kim and Julie in an interview you can watch here, and loved being interviewed on Instagram (which was a real revelation to me as I have no idea how that platform works) by Fiona Mountain for the RNA.

I also interviewed Jay Blades of The Repair Shop about his memoir Making it in an online event for The Deepings Literary Festival. You’ll find my review of Making It here.

I loved sharing my uplifting and comedic books on Teacher Hug Radio with Rebecca Keen and it was a real thrill to be invited to participate in the BBC Radio 4 Book Club where I got to speak with Rachel Joyce about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, my review of which you will find here. You can listen again here too!

Back in September I received an email from Team Inspire saying ‘We wanted to ask if you would be willing to write a letter or poem for our book, keeping within the themes detailed above about your own journey, or something that you feel would help inspire others. We know your contribution would be greatly received and valued by our readers, as well as helping us achieve our target of £10,001 for the Princes Trust.’ I duly sent off a letter and was delighted just before Christmas to find that it has been accepted for publication in The Power of Letters and is available for pre-order here.

I also found myself in another publication, Breathe Magazine, with fellow bloggers Anne, Jo, Noelle and Steph.

Towards the end of the year I gave a talk to the local WI about blogging and was featured here on Twinkl with my review of The Christmas Carrolls. The folk at David Nieper also got in touch to say they would like to start up their Linda’s Book Bag column again in late spring/early summer for their customer magazine after a Covid caused hiatus.

So you see, I can’t complain can I? Add in the fact that we managed to get away in Bryan the Motorhome (named after the urbane Mr Ferry) for 31 nights including for our 38th wedding anniversary and, on reflection 2021, wasn’t a bad year at all!

My 2021 Books of the Year

However, it’s time to share those books I have enjoyed the most in 2021. As regular Linda’s Book Bag readers know. I never add star ratings here. They are simply too imprecise for me even though I have to use them on Amazon and Goodreads. When I’ve finished reading a book, and before my judgement is affected by my beginning a new one, I write my review and add an immediate ’emotional reaction’ mark out of 100 to my spreadsheet. When I look back over that spreadsheet any book scoring 95 or above simply becomes a book of the year. I feel bad for any scoring 94 but there has to be a cut off somewhere!

My favourite books in previous years can be found by clicking the dates:

2020   2019   2018   2017   2016

My full reviews and buy links can be found by clicking the titles. The books are presented in the order I read them and I thought they were all absolutely brilliant.

The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .

Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien

A straw man hung above my door like a ward of protection. Really it was a lure to charm my dead husband back. But it, like my other delusions and lies, drew lightning.

Ten years after the death of her husband, Rosa struggles to move on and takes solace in rituals and superstition. Sol, a young fisherman, braves the sea to prove himself to an absent father. As a storm rips through the small community, disaster lays bare old secrets. Rosa and Sol’s lives tangle in tragic circumstances, forcing them to face the truth about themselves and the ones they loved.

Straw Gods is the debut novella-in-flash from Tom O’Brien, a heart-wrenching drama both moving and exhilarating, perceptively exploring the effects of grief and the lasting bonds of family and friendship.

The Last Bear by Hannah Gold

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

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

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

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

You, Me & The Sea by Elizabeth Haynes

Compelling, moving and teeming with feral desire: contemporary story of love and redemption set on a remote, windswept Scottish island from the bestselling author of Into The Darkest Corner and The Murder of Harriet Monckton.

Rachel is at crisis point. A series of disastrous decisions has left her with no job, no home, and no faith in herself. But an unexpected job offer takes her to a remote Scottish island, and it feels like a chance to recover and mend her battered self-esteem.

The island’s other inhabitants are less than welcoming. Fraser Sutherland is a taciturn loner who is not happy about sharing his lighthouse – or his precious coffee beans – and Lefty, his unofficial assistant, is a scrawny, scared lad who isn’t supposed to be there at all.

Homesick and out of her depth, Rachel wonders whether she’s made another mistake. But, as spring turns to summer, the wild beauty of the island captivates her soul. For the first time in years she sees the hope of a better life – if only she can break the deadlock between two men who are at war with one another, and with themselves.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? by Fran Hill

thumbnail_Miss_What Does Inc_Mean Final

A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill’s account of one typical year shows it’s not just the pupils who misbehave.

English teacher ‘Miss’ starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She’s mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching.

Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there’s a school magazine to produce …

When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn’t want to give them, life gets complicated.

The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

‘A beautiful book – not just heartwarming but heart healing’ Chris Riddell

A big grey elephant is following Olive’s father around. It leaves with him for work and trails behind him when he comes home, keeping him heavy and sad. Every day, Olive wishes it would disappear.

When she is asked to bring something old and wonderful to show her class, Olive immediately wants to bring her old bike – but she will need her father’s help to fix it. Teaming up with her cheery grandad and best friend Arthur, she sets out to chase the elephant away.

Together by Luke Adam HAwker

A beautiful book to connect us after such a challenging time.

‘Dark clouds were looming in the distance. We watched them gather, and we wondered… When will it come? How long will it last?’

A monumental storm brings huge and sudden change. We follow a man and his dog through the uncertainty that it brings to their lives. Through their eyes, we see the difficulties of being apart, the rollercoaster of emotions that we can all relate to, and the realisation that by pulling together we can move through difficult times with new perspective, hope and an appreciation of what matters most in life.

An Act of Love by Carol Drinkwater

It was an idyllic summer. Until they had to escape.

France, 1943.

Forced to flee war ravaged Poland, Sara and her parents are offered refuge in a beautiful but dilapidated house in the French Alps. It seems the perfect hideaway, despite haunting traces of the previous occupants who left in haste.

But shadows soon fall over Sara’s blissful summer, and her blossoming romance with local villager Alain. As the Nazis close in, the family is forced to make a harrowing choice that could drive them apart forever, while Sara’s own bid for freedom risks several lives.

Will Sara be reunited with those she loves?

And can she ever find her way back to Alain?

By turns poignant and atmospheric, this is the compelling new novel from Sunday Times bestselling author Carol Drinkwater about the power of first love and courage in our darkest hours.

Listening Still by Anne Griffin

Jeanie Masterson has a gift: she can hear the recently dead and give voice to their final wishes and revelations. Inherited from her father, this gift has enabled the family undertakers to flourish in their small Irish town. Yet she has always been uneasy about censoring some of the dead’s last messages to the living. Unsure, too, about the choice she made when she left school seventeen years ago: to stay or leave for a new life in London with her charismatic teenage sweetheart.

So when Jeanie’s parents unexpectedly announce their plan to retire, she is jolted out of her limbo. In this captivating successor to her bestselling debut, Anne Griffin portrays a young woman who is torn between duty, a comfortable marriage and a role she both loves and hates and her last chance to break free, unaware she has not been alone in softening the truth for a long while.

Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin

Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara. A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet – a bond that will change both their lives forever.

The Getaway by Isabelle Broom

Most people travel to Croatia for its endless sunshine, pebbly beaches and crystal clear sea.

Kate goes there to disappear.

She needs to escape from a life that has fallen apart in spectacular and public fashion, and no one on the beautiful island of Hvar knows who she is or what she’s running away from.

Until she meets another lonely soul.

Alex is different to any man Kate has ever known, yet the connection between them is undeniable. She soon begins to open up in ways she never has before – not even to herself. But Kate is not the only person in Hvar hiding secrets. And, as she is about to discover, it is always only a matter of time before the truth catches up with you . . .

The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness by Laura Bambrey

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 . . .

Always, in December by Emily Stone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh

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

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

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

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

The Heeding by Rob Cowen

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

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

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

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

Croak by Phil Bishop

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

This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech

Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.

Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy … she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.

Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.

When these three lives collide – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.

A topical and moving drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart.

The House Beneath the Cliffs by Sharon Gosling

A remote yet beautiful village. A tiny kitchen lunch club. The perfect place to start again.

Anna moves to Crovie, a tiny fishing village on the Moray Firth, for a fresh start. But when she arrives, she realises her new home is really no more than a shed, and the village itself sits beneath a cliff right on the edge of the sea, in constant danger of storms and landslides. Has she made a terrible mistake?

Yet as she begins to learn about the Scottish coast and its people, something she thought she’d lost reawakens in her. She rediscovers her love of cooking, and turns her kitchen into a pop-up lunch club. But not all the locals are delighted about her arrival, and some are keen to see her plans fail.

Will Anna really be able to put down roots in this remote and wild village? Or will her fragile new beginning start to crumble with the cliffs . . . ?

Beautiful, moving and utterly absorbing, The House Beneath the Cliffs is a novel of friendship and food, storms and secrets, and the beauty of second chances.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight.

He is a pillar of his local community.

He is also a murderer.

When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed.

As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love – and revenge.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year by Allie Esiri

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.

Nature’s Treasures by Ben Hoare

The world is filled with curious objects made by plants, animals, and even by the Earth itself. Dive into this collection of more than 100 intriguing items from the natural world and discover the stories behind them.

Learn how bristly mouths help huge whales capture tiny animals, how minute scales make butterflies shine in the sunlight, and how studying a leaf skeleton can tell us how it transports food. A bird egg, a lump of coal, a cacao pod, a mermaid’s purse, a fossil, a pine cone, an owl pellet, and a chrysalis – all tell a story. Arranged into four chapters: Animals; Plants, fungi, and algae; Minerals and rocks, and Made by nature, objects are shown with truly stunning photography and colourful illustrations to help explain the science behind them. The lively descriptions by best-selling nature writer Ben Hoare explore the remarkable tales of each item and all are packed with fascinating information.

Nature’s Treasures takes you on a tour of our planet through commonplace-but-incredible objects made by nature itself. This book is for every inquisitive child who loves to spot things when exploring outside and wants to know more about the wonderful and mysterious natural world.

The Collector’s Daughter by Gill Paul

An unforgettable discovery
In 1922, Lady Evelyn Herbert’s dreams are realised when she is the first to set foot inside the lost tomb of Tutankhamun for over 3,000 years.
A cursed life
But the months after the discovery are marred by tragedy, when Eve’s father dies suddenly and her family is torn in two. Desperate to put the past behind her, Eve retreats into a private life with her new husband.
A deadly choice
But she is harbouring a dark secret about what really happened in Egypt. And when a young woman comes asking questions years later, the happiness Eve has finally found is threatened once more…

Silenced by Jennie Ensor

A teenage girl is murdered on her way home from school, stabbed through the heart. Her North London community is shocked, but no-one has the courage to help the police, not even her mother. DI Callum Waverley, in his first job as senior investigating officer, tries to break through the code of silence that shrouds the case.

This is a world where the notorious Skull Crew rules through fear. Everyone knows you keep your mouth shut or you’ll be silenced – permanently.

This is Luke’s world. Reeling from the loss of his mother to cancer, his step-father distant at best, violent at worst, he slides into the Skull Crew’s grip.

This is Jez’s world too. Her alcoholic mother neither knows nor cares that her 16-year-old daughter is being exploited by V, all-powerful leader of the gang.

Luke and Jez form a bond. Can Callum win their trust, or will his own demons sabotage his investigation? And can anyone stop the Skull Crew ensuring all witnesses are silenced?

Silenced is the compelling and gritty new thriller by British author Jennie Ensor. A gripping story of love, fear and betrayal, it’s Romeo and Juliet for our troubled times.

Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond

Your big secret is out. What next?

For Lara and her daughter Eliza, it has always been just the two of them. But when Eliza turns eighteen and wants to connect with her father, Lara is forced to admit a secret that she has been keeping from her daughter her whole life.

Eliza needs answers – and so does Lara. Their journey to the truth will take them on a road trip across England and eventually to New York, where it all began. Dreams might have been broken and opportunities missed, but there are still surprises in store…

Anything Could Happen is a warm, wise, funny and uplifting novel about love, second chances and the unexpected and extraordinary paths life can take us down.

Fall by West Camel

Twins Aaron and Clive have been estranged for forty years. Aaron still lives in the empty, crumbling tower block on the riverside in Deptford where they grew up. Clive is a successful property developer, determined to turn the tower into luxury flats.

But Aaron is blocking the plan and their petty squabble becomes something much greater when two ghosts from the past – twins Annette and Christine – appear in the tower. At once, the desolate estate becomes a stage on which the events of one scorching summer are relived – a summer that shattered their lives, and changed everything forever…

Grim, evocative and exquisitely rendered, Fall is a story of friendship and family – of perception, fear and prejudice, the events that punctuate our journeys into adulthood, and the indelible scars they leave – a triumph of a novel that will affect you long after the final page has been turned.

The Visitors by Caroline Scott

From the highly acclaimed author of The Photographer of the Lost, a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick, comes a tale of a young war widow and one life-changing, sun-drenched visit to Cornwall in the summer of 1923…

Esme Nicholls is to spend the summer in Cornwall. Her late husband Alec, who died fighting in the war, grew up in Penzance, and she’s hoping to learn more about the man she loved and lost.

While there, she will stay with Gilbert, in his rambling seaside house, where he lives with his former brothers in arms. Esme is fascinated by this community of eccentric artists and former soldiers, and as she gets to know the men and their stories, she begins to feel this summer might be exactly what she needs.

But everything is not as idyllic as it seems – a mysterious new arrival later in the summer will turn Esme’s world upside down, and make her question everything she thought she knew about her life, and the people in it.

Full of light, laughter and larger-than-life characters, The Visitors is a novel of one woman finally finding her voice and choosing her own path forwards.


So there you have them. Last year I had a tie for my overall book of the year but this year there is one book that scored top marks for me.

Given the recent controversy over romance books and their perception of them as somehow second class in the book world I cannot be more thrilled than to have a romance book as my winner. Who says romance books don’t exist?

My 2021 Book of the Year

My outright book of the year is Always, in December by Emily Stone. I read Always, in December in July and I don’t think a day has passed where I haven’t thought about it. It’s beautiful, affecting and unexpected.


Thank You

I’d just like to end this blog post by thanking all of you who have taken the time to visit Linda’s Book Bag to read my reviews and the other bookish posts I’ve published. My special thanks to my fellow bloggers who share my posts across their social media platforms. This is very much appreciated. I am eternally grateful to the authors, publishers, publicists and media brands who send me the books, even when they know there’s very little chance of a review. And perhaps most importantly, my thanks to the authors who pour their hearts and souls into their writing, so that readers like me can inhabit new worlds, travel to new places and meet new people all from the comfort of our own homes. What would we have done without books these last two years?

Happy New Year everyone. I hope 2022 brings you all you wish for.

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures by Holly Hepburn

What better way to end my 2021 blogging than by sharing the latest in my online reviews with My Weekly? This time it’s of The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures by Holly Hepburn and you’ll find it here. I was delighted to feature the first part in The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures in May last year in a post you’ll find here, and now all four parts of the story have been combined into one novel.

Holly also featured here on Linda’s Book Bag when I was reviewing her Star and Sixpence series.

Published by Simon and Schuster on 6th January 2022, The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures

The brand new novel from Holly Hepburn, perfect for fans of Cathy Bramley and Katie Fforde. Originally published in four parts this is the full story in one package. 

When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her only connection to London broken, she moves home to York to be near her family and to begin to build a new life.

Taking a job at the antique shop she has always admired, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of her parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men who represent two different happy endings.

But can she trust herself to choose the right man? And will that bring her everything she really needs?

The brand new novel from Holly Hepburn, author of Coming Home to Brightwater Bay.

My Review of The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures

My full review of The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures is an utterly charming, romantic read with added mystery and whole lot of uplifting warmth.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Holly Hepburn

Holly Hepburn has wanted to write books for as long she can remember but she was too scared to try. One day she decided to be brave and dipped a toe into the bubble bath of romantic fiction with her first novella, Cupidity, and she’s never looked back. She often tries to be funny to be funny, except for when faced with traffic wardens and border control staff. Her favourite things are making people smile and Aidan Turner.

She’s tried many jobs over the years, from barmaid to market researcher and she even had a brief flirtation with modelling. These days she is mostly found writing.

She lives near London with her grey tabby cat, Portia. They both have an unhealthy obsession with Marmite.

You can follow Holly on Twitter @HollyH_Author and find her on Instagram.

Poppy’s Christmas Wishes by Annette Hannah

I’m taking a bit of a blogging break over the next couple of weeks but I’m delighted to close the blog tour for Annette Hannah’s Poppy’s Christmas Wishes by sharing my review today. My thanks to Rhea Kurien for inviting me to participate.

I am a real lover of Annette’s writing and she has featured here on Linda’s Book Bag previously, most recently when I reviewed her The Cosy Little Cupcake Van here. Annette has also featured here when I reviewed her debut novel Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Café and we stayed in together to chat all about it.

Published by Orion imprint Dash on 2nd December 2021, Poppy’s Christmas Wishes is available for purchase here.

Poppy’s Christmas Wishes

What would you wish for if you were granted three wishes?

For the first time she can remember, Poppy is dreading Christmas. Unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend after moving across the country for him, there’s nothing cheery about the festive season this year.

Dragged to a Christmas ball by best friend Layla, Poppy meets gorgeous actor Gabe, who stars as a genie in a play. When he asks her what three wishes she would make, she realises it’s quite simple: love, a job she’s happy in and, just once in her life, to do something extraordinary.

Gabe and Poppy make a pact to help each other make their dreams come true. As they tick off their wishes, their friendship blossoms… But, as they discover, sometimes, what you want for Christmas isn’t necessarily what you need…

A delicious romance to snuggle up with this festive season from the author of Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Café and The Cosy Little Cupcake Van.

My Review of Poppy’s Christmas Wishes

Poppy has moved to Bramblewood.

It was a real pleasure to return to Bramblewood with Poppy and catch a glimpse of some characters and settings I am becoming familiar with. However, Poppy’s Christmas Wishes needs no prior knowledge of Annette Hannah’s books and is a stand alone helping of total festive joy. There’s a real warmth and genuineness in Annette Hannah’s writing that makes Poppy’s Christmas Wishes a lovely book to curl up with – even when Poppy’s life isn’t going according to plan!

I loved the plot here. There’s a naturalness to events so that even the most dramatic moments feel authentic and Annette Hannah has a real talent for presenting really well-balanced humour and emotion so that I laughed aloud and found a moistness in my eye as I read. Poppy’s Christmas Wishes left me feeling uplifted and satisfied as I finished the book. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have depth too. Without spoiling the plot I will say that there are some profound emotional challenges for some of the characters and an exploration of workplace harassment from Brian adds an extra dimension to the read that is hugely satisfying. There are some really unexpected moments in the story that I found just wonderful.

The characters feel so true to life. I loved Poppy and Gabe from the moment I met them and I desperately wanted them to be together and have a happy ever after ending, but you’ll need to read Poppy’s Christmas Wishes to see what the outcome is! I thoroughly appreciated the way sexual preference is woven so effortlessly into the story. There’s no moralising or heavy handedness, but rather a gentle understanding of people. I think it is this humanity and sensitivity towards human emotion that makes Annette Hannah’s writing so appealing. Even as she entertains her readers and brings them happiness, she doesn’t shy away from her characters’ flaws, poor choices or inappropriate behaviours so that Poppy’s Christmas Wishes provides a glimpse into the real world of real people.

However, what I enjoyed most about Poppy’s Christmas Wishes was the sheer festive fun of it. A trip to New York, amateur dramatics, romance, wishes and, oh my goodness, the glorious food that is becoming one of this author’s trademarks, make Poppy’s Christmas Wishes sheer escapist fun. Poppy’s Christmas Wishes fizzes with entertainment and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

About Annette Hannah

Annette Hannah Author Pic

Annette Hannah is a Liver Bird who relocated to leafy Hertfordshire in the 80’s and now lives near a river with her husband, two of their three grown up children and a crazy black cocker spaniel. She writes Romantic comedies in settings inspired by the beautiful countryside around her and always with a nod to her hometown.

She worked in Marketing for many years as a qualified Marketeer which she loved as it tapped into her creative side. As an avid reader, she began to review the books she read, became a book blogger and eventually plucked up the courage to fulfil her life long dream of writing a book.

For four years she was a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s new writers’ scheme, during which time she wrote a book a year. After signing a two book deal with Orion Dash in 2020 she graduated to full member of the organisation and is also their Press Officer. She loves long walks along the river, travelling to far flung places and spending time with her friends and family.

You can find out more by visiting Annette’s blog or website and following her on Instagram and Twitter @AnnetteHannah.

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The Visitors by Caroline Scott

I adored Caroline Scott’s The Photographer of the Lost reviewed here. It was one of my top reads in 2019. Sadly her next novel When I Come Home Again is still awaiting my attention so I knew I had to break all my intentions not to accept new blog tours and read Caroline’s latest book, The Visitors. My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate. It’s a real privilege to close the tour and I’m thrilled to share my review today.

The Visitors was published by Simon and Schuster on 9th December 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Visitors

From the highly acclaimed author of The Photographer of the Lost, a BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick, comes a tale of a young war widow and one life-changing, sun-drenched visit to Cornwall in the summer of 1923…

Esme Nicholls is to spend the summer in Cornwall. Her late husband Alec, who died fighting in the war, grew up in Penzance, and she’s hoping to learn more about the man she loved and lost.

While there, she will stay with Gilbert, in his rambling seaside house, where he lives with his former brothers in arms. Esme is fascinated by this community of eccentric artists and former soldiers, and as she gets to know the men and their stories, she begins to feel this summer might be exactly what she needs.

But everything is not as idyllic as it seems – a mysterious new arrival later in the summer will turn Esme’s world upside down, and make her question everything she thought she knew about her life, and the people in it.

Full of light, laughter and larger-than-life characters, The Visitors is a novel of one woman finally finding her voice and choosing her own path forwards.

My Review of The Visitors

Esme is on her way to Cornwall.

It’s going to be hard to convey quite what a beautiful book The Visitors is. It has a luminosity and an almost ethereal allure that captivates from the very first sentence. I was completely lost between the pages of The Visitors. The quality of Caroline Scott’s prose is astounding. It is lyrical and occasionally brutal so that not only do we have a real insight into the very souls of the characters, but our own emotions are heightened by reading this story. Descriptions are so vivid and clear it almost felt as if I were there with the characters, and the intimacy of their lives touched me completely.

The plot is exquisitely crafted, blending Esme’s nature writing and her time in Cornwall alongside the men’s experiences in WW1 to perfection. The balance of light and shade between the settings is heart rending and adds to the heightened sensation of reading The Visitors. I genuinely felt physical emotion reading this narrative, like an ache deep inside, because it is so sensitive and touching. I think that what works so well in The Visitors is the authenticity of even the most dramatic aspects of the plot. It feels as if the author has written with her heart and soul as well as with meticulously researched authority.

I loved all the characters because they are so fully rounded and convincing. Initially I loathed Sebastian because of the way he reacted to Esme, but by the end of The Visitors I understood completely why each person in this story behaved the way they did. I’m not sure I forgive them all their actions and this is one of the successes of the story. Caroline Scott doesn’t preach or steer her reader to any particular conclusion so that the narrative resonates long after the story is finished. Cornwall itself feels as much a character as any of the humans as it is so perfectly, visually, described, but Esme is the real star of the narrative. She embodies the hopes and fears, the trials and tribulations of an entire generation of women. Her uncertainty about her position in society, her present and future roles and the way she questions the veracity of her past make her fascinating and frequently heart-breaking. In Esme, Caroline Scott has afforded the reader a crystal clear glimpse into post war England and given them a whole new understanding of how lives were altered.

The themes of The Visitors are very much of the era, but equally resonate today, making this such an affecting read. Friendship and loyalty, love and relationships, trauma and healing, the power of nature and the spoken or written word, forgiveness and personal growth weave through the pages in a glorious mosaic of meaning that I found enthralling. I loved the ultimate message of making the most of life, of being creative and of forgiving ourselves as well as others.

The Visitors is a beautiful book. That beauty comes through glorious prose, perfect storytelling and wonderful characterisation but somehow those elements seem to blend into something far greater than the sum of their parts. This is a haunting book that will linger with me for a very long time. I absolutely loved it and cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Caroline Scott

Caroline Scott

Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France. The Photographer of the Lost was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick.

You can follow Caroline on Twitter @CScottBooks, or visit her website for further information.

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Guardian Angel: A Book of Poems by Laura Fitton

My thanks to Laura Fitton for kindly sending me a copy of her poetry anthology Guardian Angel: A Book of Poems in return for an honest review.

Guardian Angel: A Book of Poems is available for purchase here.

Guardian Angel: A Book of Poems

Some people say that writers write their best stuff from influential life events. Guardian Angel is a compilation of poems that Laura Fitton has written over the years. They are personal and from the heart.

Laura touches topics people find difficult to speak about, such as death and dying, the grieving process, feelings of loss and topics around friendship, pets and Laura’s career as an NHS frontline nurse.

Dedicated to her best-friend Sofie, who sadly died before her 21st birthday, and who Laura believes to be her Guardian Angel; the poems will make you laugh and make you cry.

My Review of Guardian Angel: A Book of Poems

A collection of poems.

Guardian Angel is a collection that covers a range of human emotions any reader can relate to.

Whilst I preferred Laura Fitton’s poetry in free verse rather than rhyme, the regular rhyme scheme fits perfectly the poems where it is used, because it maintains a regularity and control that we need when dealing with the themes Laura Fitton explores. In Guardian Angel Laura Fitton doesn’t shy away from death, grief and loss. I found My Best Friend Sophie – Our Story particularly affecting because of the life not lived as it made me think of my still born great niece. Similarly, the fact that Laura is a nurse and suffered Covid herself made Covid 19 – A Silent Killer all the more affecting. A Flashback to Southall horrified me. The action and violence here would make a riveting television drama, but it packs such a punch (literally and metaphorically) because it is based on Laura’s experiences. In Guardian Angel she shows us humanity with all its flaws and compassion.

It is the themes of human experience that give Guardian Angel its strength and appeal. Here we have family, relationships, friendship, sexuality, violence, caring and the whole range of human emotion whilst simultaneously coming to know the poet a little bit too. It feels as if Laura Fitton is sharing her innermost thoughts and the reader is privileged to hear them.

Is Guardian Angel the most literary poetry anthology I’ve encountered? No. But that is its strength. Through Guardian Angel Laura Fitton shows how the ordinary person can use poetry to make sense of their lives and might even encourage others to try writing their grief down as a means to begin healing. Consequently, Guardian Angel is one of the most accessible and heart felt anthologies I’ve read and its accessibility will bring succour and comfort to many because Laura Fitton writes from her truths. I hope her own Guardian Angels continue to watch over her.

About Laura Fitton

Laura Fitton is a poet, author and nurse as well as an award winning film producer. She is author of Guardian Angel A Book Of Poems. Laura is a supporter of the LGBT community.

Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraFitton2 and Instagram.

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark

Today, I’m delighted to share my review of The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark which was the book discussed at my reading group this month.

The House by the Loch was published by Two Roads on 13th June 2019 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The House by the Loch

Scotland, 1950s

Walter MacMillan is bewitched by the clever, glamorous Jean Thompson and can’t believe his luck when she agrees to marry him. Neither can she, for Walter represents a steady and loving man who can perhaps quiet the demons inside her. Yet their home on remote Loch Doon soon becomes a prison for Jean and neither a young family, nor Walter’s care, can seem to save her.

Many years later, Walter is with his adult children and adored grandchildren on the shores of Loch Doon where the family has been holidaying for two generations. But the shadows of the past stretch over them and will turn all their lives upside down on one fateful weekend.

The House by the Loch is the story of a family in all its loving complexity, and the way it can, and must, remake itself endlessly in order to make peace with the past.

My Review of The House by the Loch

Walter keeps his family close.

I’m going to be totally honest and say that to begin with I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy The House by the Loch. Initially it felt a little too descriptive. However, once I attuned myself to Kirsty Wark’s writing and realised that setting is absolutely essential to the narrative I realised my original concern was entirely misplaced and I ended up absolutely loving this evocatively written story. It’s difficult to say too much about plot for fear of spoiling the story for others, but I found The House by the Loch captured me completely.

The loch, the countryside and the physical buildings are beautifully presented so that I could envisage them in my imagination. Kirsty Wark’s writing had the ability to transport me right into the setting and I found her dialogue felt so real it was as if I were listening in to conversations rather than reading about them. The House by the Loch is a visual and auditory feast to the extent I did actually forget I was reading a book.

The characters are vivid and real, depicted through carefully crafted nuances so that I cared about them all. The portrayals of Walter, Carson and Jean in particular held me spellbound. Jean’s brittle, glittering, alcohol fuelled life felt every bit as tragic to me as any Shakespearean character and I frequently felt that Walter was a man more sinned against than sinning. It was Carson who gained my compassion the most. Her relationship with Walter, her guilt, her ambition and her development through the novel felt so true to life.

Indeed, it is relationships that make The House by the Loch such a compelling read for me. Kirsty Wark explores what family love and loyalty is, and how it can affect us, with such sensitivity that she managed to reduce me to tears several times. Her uncovering of truths, her exploration of addiction and mental health, of family, grief and guilt all blend into a hugely affecting read that builds through beautiful writing, understanding of humanity and moving plotting.

The House by the Loch is intense with feeling. It’s moving, emotional and ultimately hopeful. I began unsure if I’d like it and ended thinking it was a wonderful read.

About Kirsty Wark

Kirsty Wark is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who has presented a wide range of BBC programmes for more than twenty five years, from the ground-breaking Late Show to the weekly arts and cultural review show The Review Show and the nightly current affairs show Newsnight. Kirsty has won several major awards for her work, including BAFTA Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Broadcasting, Journalist of the Year and Best Television Presenter.

Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award, as well as nominated for the International DUBLIN Literary Award.

For further information follow Kirsty on Twitter @KirstyWark and find her on Instagram.

Fall by West Camel

My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for West Camel’s Fall. I’m very pleased to share my review of Fall today.

Published by Orenda on 9th December 2021, Fall is available for purchase here.


Twins Aaron and Clive have been estranged for forty years. Aaron still lives in the empty, crumbling tower block on the riverside in Deptford where they grew up. Clive is a successful property developer, determined to turn the tower into luxury flats.

But Aaron is blocking the plan and their petty squabble becomes something much greater when two ghosts from the past – twins Annette and Christine – appear in the tower. At once, the desolate estate becomes a stage on which the events of one scorching summer are relived – a summer that shattered their lives, and changed everything forever…

Grim, evocative and exquisitely rendered, Fall is a story of friendship and family – of perception, fear and prejudice, the events that punctuate our journeys into adulthood, and the indelible scars they leave – a triumph of a novel that will affect you long after the final page has been turned.

My Review of Fall

Aaron and Clive are estranged twins.

Fall is exactly my kind of book. I loved it because it is exquisitely written, elegantly constructed and completely mesmerising. West Camel’s writing is beautiful. The variety of his sentences means that depth of feeling and meanings are conveyed with almost a visceral intensity. West Camel’s use of the senses, his direct appeal to the reader and his atmospheric prose are truly captivating.

There’s a tension, an air of expectation, bordering menace from the very first moment in Fall that ensnares the reader. The oppressive heat adds to the atmosphere and the switch between past and present tenses for the two time lines adds weight and immediacy, linking both eras perfectly. Whether the nod to Cain and Abel suggested by the fact the twins have names beginning with A add C was intentional I don’t know, but it added a sense of danger lurking in the back of my mind as I read.

In many ways the plot is relatively simple, as Clive wants Aaron out of the tower block he wants to develop, but that belies the intricacies of West Camel’s narrative that only finally fit together as the story reaches its last sentence. In the same way that Zoe’s tower block has secret passages, so reading Fall is the literary equivalent of viewing an Escher painting. Perspectives and truths shift and change so that I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Indeed, Fall is perfectly entitled. Here we have fallings out, physical falls, falls from grace and favour, and so on, that build layers of interest in the story. As soon as I’d finished reading Fall I wanted to read it again as I’m sure there is even more for me to discover. I’m convinced it’s no coincidence that the tower is called Marlowe Tower, because of the connotations of intrigue and links to themes of ambition, power and manipulation in Christopher Marlowe’s life and works that thread through Fall. It’s hard to explain further without spoiling the plot but Fall is such convincing storytelling.

Part of the delicious intensity in reading Fall comes thought the fabulous characterisation. The almost psychic link between Aaron and Clive and between Annette and Christine feels so convincing. Although Aaron seems more prominent in the story because he is still living in Marlowe Tower, Fall feels balanced and nuanced. I found Zoe both abhorrent and fascinating and at no pint could I decide whether she had been entirely honest or entirely duplicitous so that she’s a really flawed, but compelling, individual.

Add in simmering racism, secrets and lies, community and design, relationships and identity and Fall is a book that feels simultaneously modern and timeless. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2021. I thought it was excellent.

About West Camel

Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in higher education and business before turning his attention to the arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist, and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his work as editorial director at Orenda with editing The Riveter magazine and #RivetingReviews for the European Literature Network.

He has also written several short scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres, and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. His debut novel, Attend was published in 2018, and was shortlisted for the Polari First Book Prize and longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award. His second novel, Fall was published in December 2021.

You can follow West on Twitter @west_camel and visit his website.

Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond

I couldn’t be more grateful to the lovely folk at Team Bookends and to Milly Reid at Quercus for sending me a copy of Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Quercus in ebook on 14th December and other formats next year, Anything Could Happen is available for pre-order through the links here.

Anything Could Happen

Your big secret is out. What next?

For Lara and her daughter Eliza, it has always been just the two of them. But when Eliza turns eighteen and wants to connect with her father, Lara is forced to admit a secret that she has been keeping from her daughter her whole life.

Eliza needs answers – and so does Lara. Their journey to the truth will take them on a road trip across England and eventually to New York, where it all began. Dreams might have been broken and opportunities missed, but there are still surprises in store…

Anything Could Happen is a warm, wise, funny and uplifting novel about love, second chances and the unexpected and extraordinary paths life can take us down.

My Review of Anything Could Happen

Life hasn’t always been straightforward for Lara and Ben.

Not having read Lucy Diamond before I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from her writing. What I got in Anything Could Happen was fabulous story-telling, perfect characterisation and the most wonderful reading experience. I loved Anything Could Happen unreservedly from the very first word. There’s just enough description to create a sense of place, Lucy Diamond’s direct speech is natural and convincing and her narrative is spellbinding.

What drew me in so completely was that there are no unrealistic heroes, no super human wonder women between the pages of Anything Could Happen, but instead I found glorious, flawed, perfectly imperfect human beings that were real, vivid and as important to me as any real person I know. I was so invested in the outcomes for Lara, Eliza, Ben and Kirsten that I put life on hold, unable to tear myself away until I discovered what the final outcomes were in their lives.

The plot is so brilliantly crafted. It follows the natural rhythms of ordinary life so beautifully, enchanting the reader and drawing them into the story completely. This makes Anything Could Happen relatable and emotional because there is something for every reader to identify with here. Relationships, family, love, second chances, loss and being true to yourself are just some of the wonderful themes explored with such humanity.

Anything Could Happen is a tender, realistic exploration of the ‘What ifs’ of life that I found utterly gorgeous, utterly convincing and a total must read. I adored this book. It’s one of my favourite reads of the year.

About Lucy Diamond

Lucy Diamond grew up in Nottingham and went to university in Leeds where she studied English Literature. After graduating, she lived in Oxford, London and Brighton, working in publishing and at the BBC. She now lives in beautiful Bath where she writes full-time.

As a Sunday Times bestselling author with sixteen novels, two digital novellas and a Quick Read under her belt, Lucy writes with warmth and honesty about the joy and surprises, as well as the complications, that love, family and friendships can bring. Her seventeenth novel, Anything Could Happen, is out as an ebook this December and published in hardback January 2022.

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

Self-Help for the Helpless by Shelley Wilson

How can it possibly be over two years since lovely Shelley Wilson featured on Linda’s Book Bag? Then I was reviewing one of Shelley’s children’s books, Meditation for Children in a post you’ll find here. Previously, Shelley ‘stayed in’ with me here. I’ve also interviewed Shelley here on the blog and she has explained here why she writes for the self-help market. Speaking of which, I have reviewed another of Shelley’s self-help books, Motivate Me: Weekly Guidance for Happiness and Wellbeing here too.

Today, thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours I am reviewing another of Shelley’s books, Self-Help For The Helpless.

Self-Help for the Helpless is available for purchase here.

Self-Help for the Helpless

Bestselling self-help author and award-winning personal development blogger Shelley Wilson takes the fear out of self-help and makes it fun, helping you to make easy, positive changes to improve your life right now. Includes her 31-day self-help toolkit.

Have you ever felt helpless? Are you struggling to understand why you feel disconnected from your friends or family? Are you mystified by the words self-help, self-care, and personal development? Are you looking for answers but really have no idea where to begin?

In this beginner’s guide to personal development and understanding self-care, Shelley Wilson will show you how looking after your own needs can be a powerful tool for your mental, physical, and emotional health so you can begin making important changes today.

Discover what self-help means, how to become more self-aware, understand core values, and have fun mapping out what your best life looks like. Shelley includes tips, tools, and techniques and shares her 31-day self-help toolkit.

Be the person you deserve to be and join bestselling self-help author and award-winning personal development blogger Shelley Wilson on a journey of self-discovery.

My Review of Self-Help for the Helpless

A self help book!

Self-Help for the Helpless is a little cracker of a book because Shelley Wilson guides her readers to accept responsibility for their own health, success and well being whilst providing practical and accessible ways to change their lives for the better. It’s a no nonsense book that had me nodding in agreement and realising I CAN do something to improve my life the way I’d like. Shelley Wilson writes with such engagement and honesty about her own self-discovery that she is totally inspirational.

Self-Help for the Helpless is written in a conversational style the makes the reader feel as if a close friend is supporting them along their path to a happier and more fulfilled life. Little touches of humour are interspersed with honest and revealing aspects from the author’s own life so that Shelley Wilson really does practice what she advocates here, giving an authenticity to her advice that makes it all the more effective. I loved the references to ‘should’ because it felt as if Shelley Wilson had been listening in to many a conversation I’ve had and the ‘advice’ I’ve been given. Here Self-Help for the Helpless gave me permission to be myself and provided the practical tools I might need to achieve that balance.

In amongst the celebrity books about mental health or the plethora of self help manuals littering bookshops, Self-Help for the Helpless is a quiet, practical oasis of calm that I found motivating and inspiring.

Now, where’s that wretched internal parrot because I want a word with it!

About Shelley Wilson

Shelley Wilson is a multi-award-winning blogger and author. Her motivational and personal development blog has received numerous awards and was named a Top 10 UK Personal Development Blog. She is the author of How I Changed My Life in a Year!, How I Motivated Myself to Succeed, Motivate Me! An Oracle Guidebook, and Meditation for Children. Shelley divides her writing time between motivational non-fiction for adults and the fantasy worlds of her young adult fiction. She resides in Solihull, West Midlands, UK, where she lives with her three teenagers.

Find out more about Shelley on her author blog or via her personal development blog. You can also follow Shelley on Twitter @ShelleyWilson72 and find her on Facebook (or here on Facebook for YA writing) and Instagram.

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The Couple on Maple Drive by Sam Carrington

My grateful thanks to the lovely team at Avon for sending me a copy of The Couple on Maple Drive by Sam Carrington in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share my review today – publication day.

It’s far too long since I last featured Sam here on Linda’s Book Bag. Then I was sharing details of Sam’s Bad Sister. Before that I was delighted to host a guest post here from Sam all about the allure of psychology alongside my review of Sam’s Saving Sophie.

Published today, 9th December 2021 by Avon Books, The Couple on Maple Drive is available for purchase through the links here.

The Couple on Maple Drive

You think you’d know a killer if you met one?

Think again.

When Isla McKenzie is brutally mugged, it’s her boyfriend Zach who’s there for her, who moves in to look after her when she can barely bring herself to leave the house.

But then something else happens, right on their doorstep. And it’s almost like someone’s out to get her…

Can Isla and Zach find out the truth before it’s too late? …Or at least before the secrets they’re hiding from each other surface?

Because those may be even deadlier

My review of The Couple on Maple Drive

Isla’s recovering from a mugging.

It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of The Couple on Maple Drive as it’s a slow burn thriller that builds gradually, but once I was into the narrative I thoroughly enjoyed this deftly plotted book. I loved the podcasts that drip feed information and some obfuscation so that the reader isn’t entirely sure how the book might be resolved. The short sentence hooks at the end of each chapter add urgency and engagement, even if they did mean my life wasn’t my own as I was compelled to read on. As the pace increased towards the denouement I appreciated all the more the way Sam Carrington had constructed the story so that it all came together so satisfyingly. This is very clever plotting.

Despite the fact that I I didn’t really warm to Isla, I was fascinated by the way Sam Carrington made me care about her in The Couple on Maple Drive. I think it’s the depth of the psychological element to the story that creates such a response. Isla’s gradual emotional and mental recovery from the attack is so well depicted. I also thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of how we become who we are; how our past helps construct who we are in the present. The psychological aspect of The Couple on Maple Drive is very convincing.

Indeed, I think it is the way the reader gradually uncovers what is happening at the same time as does Isla that makes the story so successful. Add in themes around business practices, competitiveness, friendships and relationships, family and memory and The Couple on Maple Drive becomes layered and interesting beyond just the entertaining story. I found it made me think about society and those around me with a sharper perspective.

I really enjoyed The Couple on Maple Drive although, to mis-quote the Christie’s Crime Addicts podcasters, I’m not sure I would feel safe in the bay!

About Sam Carrington

Sam Carrington lives in Devon with her husband and three children. She worked for the NHS for 15 years, during which time she qualified as a nurse. Following the completion of a Psychology degree she went to work for the prison service as an Offending Behaviour Facilitator. Her experiences within this field inspired her writing. She left the service to spend time with her family and to follow her dream of being a novelist.

For further information visit Sam’s website and follow her on Twitter @sam_carrington1 and Instagram. Find her on Facebook too.