The Book Share by Phaedra Patrick

When I began reviewing for My Weekly. a few months ago I little realised just how many wonderful books I’d have the privilege of reading. The latest of those books is The Book Share by Phaedra Patrick.

Published by Harper Collins’ imprint HQ today, 31st March 2022, The Book Share is available for purchase through the links here.

The Book Share

It’s never too late to start a new chapter…

The utterly charming and feel-good new novel from the bestselling author of The Secrets of Sunshine and The Library of Lost and Found.

Liv Green loves losing herself in a good book. But her everyday reality is less romantic, cleaning houses for people who barely give her the time of day. So when she lands a job housekeeping for her personal hero and mega-bestselling author Essie Starling, she can’t believe her luck.

When Essie dies unexpectedly, Liv is left with a life-changing last wish: to complete Essie’s final novel. To do so, change-averse Liv will have to step away from the fictitious worlds in her head, and into Essie’s shoes. As she begins to write, she uncovers a surprising connection between the two women – and a secret that will change Liv’s life forever…

Brimming with joy and packed with a sparkling cast of characters, The Book Share is a moving reminder that it’s never too late to re-write your own story – perfect for fans of All the Lonely People and The Authenticity Project.

My Review of The Book Share

My full review of The Book Share can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The Book Share is warm hearted, engaging and thoroughly entertaining with a wonderful insight into a writer’s life and a hint of mystery that hooks the reader completely. I really enjoyed it.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Phaedra Patrick

Phaedra Patrick studied art and marketing and has worked as a stained glass artist, film festival organiser and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full time in Saddleworth where she lives with her family.

Her debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, was translated into over twenty languages worldwide and has been optioned by a major Hollywood film studio. Her second novel, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone (named Wishes Under the Willow Tree in the UK), is also under option in the US as a TV movie. Her third novel is The Library of Lost and Found, and the fourth one is titled The Secrets of Love Story Bridge (The Secrets of Sunshine in the UK).

For further information, visit Phaedra’s website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter @phaedrapatrick and Instagram.

Reblog: The Heeding by Rob Cowen, illustrated by Nick Hayes

With so many books awaiting reading and authors in the queue for blog space, reblogs are a bit like unicorns here on Linda’s Book Bag. They don’t come along very often. It has to be a special book that makes a second appearance and this is exactly the case with The Heeding by Rob Cowen, illustrated by Nick Hayes. I adored The Heeding and it became one of my books of the year in 2021 so when lovely  Alison Menzies asked me if I’d like to be part of the blog tour I couldn’t refuse!

Available here, The Heeding is out today, 31st March 2022, in paperback from Elliott and Thompson.

The Heeding

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

Across four seasons and a luminous series of poems and illustrations, Rob Cowen and Nick Hayes paint 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.

The Heeding leads 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, it 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, to grieve what’s lost and to hope for a better and brighter tomorrow.

My Reblogged Review of The Heeding

A collection of thirty-five poems with illustrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Rob Cowen

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

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

About Nick Hayes

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

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

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

Thanks to the wonderful Caitlin Raynor, I’ve had Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu sitting on my TBR since July 2021 so I’m thrilled finally to be able to share my review. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Published by Headline imprint Wildfire on 17th March 2022, Peach Blossom Spring is available for purchase through the links here.

Peach Blossom Spring

With every misfortune there is a blessing and within every blessing, the seeds of misfortune, and so it goes on, until the end of time.

It is 1938 in China, and the Japanese are advancing. A young mother, Meilin, is forced to flee her burning city with here four-year-old son, Renshu, and embark on an epic journey across China. For comfort, they turn to their most treasured possession – a beautifully illustrated hand scroll. Its ancient fables offer solace and wisdom as they travel through their ravaged country, seeking refuge.

Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. His daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, but he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down?

Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the search for a place to call home.

My Review of Peach Blossom Spring

War is coming to China.

Peach Blossom Spring is a sumptuous, mesmerising book that I loved unreservedly.

The first half of the story is a heartbreaking reflection of man’s inhumanity to man, that is being acted out in modern day Europe even as I read about 1930s China and Japan. What Melissa Fu achieves so flawlessly is to translate the macrocosm of international events into the microcosm of individual lives in a way that hits the reader with emotional force right in their very soul. As a result, Peach Blossom Spring is at once historical, modern and, I fear, prescient. I couldn’t tear myself away.

Reading Melissa Fu’s exquisite prose is to be transported back in time with Meilin and Renshu and to be immersed in the story through assiduously researched historical detail. The use of the senses, the glorious descriptions, and the perfectly wrought relationships all combine into a wonderful, wonderful story so that I felt the narrative rather than simply read it.

I thought the characterisation was pitch perfect. Henry’s transition from being Renshu, Melin’s bravery and stoicism, Lily’s search for identity and the depiction of even the most minor characters feels vivid and real. I came to know these people every bit as much as I know people in real life.

Alongside the epic sweep of the plot are themes that reflect humanity in all its guises. Melissa Fu explores what it means to be fractured from your cultural identity. She considers what makes us who we are, what the nature of family really means and how we can carry or set down the burden of the past as we live in the present. Peach Blossom Spring unrolls just as beautifully as the scroll Meilin owns.

I absolutely adored Peach Blossom Spring. I found it moving, engrossing and completely captivating. I feel it will resonate with me for a very long time. It’s quite wonderful.

About Melissa Fu

Melissa Fu grew up in Northern New Mexico and now lives near Cambridge, UK, with her husband and children. With academic backgrounds in physics and English, she has worked in education as a teacher, curriculum developer, and consultant. Melissa was the regional winner of the Words and Women 2016 Prose Competition and was a 2017 Apprentice with the London-based Word Factory.

Her work appears in several publications including The Lonely Crowd, International Literature Showcase, Bare Fiction, Wasafiri Online, and The Willowherb Review. In 2019, her debut poetry pamphlet, Falling Outside Eden, was published by the Hedgehog Poetry Press. In 2018/2019, Melissa received an Arts Council England, Developing Your Creative Practice grant and was the David TK Wong Fellow at the University of East Anglia.

Peach Blossom Spring is her first novel.

For further information follow Melissa on Twitter @MelissaLFu, visit her website and find her on Instagram. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter

It’s a real pleasure to present my latest review for My Weekly. Today I’m sharing my thoughts about Welcome to Your Life by Bethany Rutter.

Published by Harper Collins on 31st March 2022, Welcome to Your Life is available for purchase through the links here.

Welcome to Your Life

This is a love story…

Serena Mills should be at her wedding. But she’s not.

Instead, she’s eating an ice cream sundae and drinking an obscenely large glass of wine in a Harvester off the M25.

Everyone thinks she’s gone mad.

She’s left the man everyone told her she was ‘so lucky’ to find – because Serena wants to find love. Real love. A love she deserves – not one she should just feel grateful for.

So, she escapes to the big city and sets herself a challenge: 52 weeks. 52 dates. 52 chances to find love. It should be easy, right?

A story about love, forging your own path, and falling head over heels – with yourself.

My Review of Welcome to Your Life

My full review of Welcome to Your Life can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that Welcome to Your Life is an uplifting, entertaining and engaging insight into what it means to be a modern twenty something learning to accept themselves.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Bethany Rutter

Bethany is a writer, podcaster and jewellery maker. She writes books about women, bodies and clothes. She lives in Southeast London.

For further information, follow Bethany on Twitter @bethanyrutter, visit her website or find her on Instagram.

The Lost Whale by Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold’s The Last Bear was one of my books of the year in 2021. You can read my review here. I absolutely adored The Last Bear so imagine my pleasure when a beautiful copy of Hannah’s second book The Lost Whale arrived thanks to Tina Mories at Harper Collins Children’s Books. I have a huge TBR but The Lost Whale zipped straight to the top and I’m delighted to share my review today, especially as I found myself quoted within its pages!

Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books on 31st March 2022 The Last Whale is available for purchase through the links here.

The Lost Whale

The Lost Whale is the enchanting second novel from the author of The Last Bear: the bestselling debut hardback of 2021 and The Times Children’s Book of the Week, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the British Book Awards 2022 and winner of the Blue Peter Award

‘Unforgettable highly accomplished animal adventure about the connection between a boy and a whale, with strong ecological themes’ The Bookseller, Editor’s Choice

What if you could communicate with a whale?

Rio has been sent to live with a grandmother he barely knows in California, while his mum is in hospital back home. Alone and adrift, the only thing that makes him smile is joining his new friend Marina on her dad’s whale watching trips. That is until an incredible encounter with White Beak, a gentle giant of the sea changes everything. But when White Beak goes missing, Rio must set out on a desperate quest to find his whale and somehow save his mum.

Dive into this incredible story about the connection between a boy and a whale and the bond that sets them both free.

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.

My Review of The Lost Whale

Rio is staying with his grand mother in California.

As Hannah Gold’s The Last Bear was one of the best books I read last year and has been busy scooping up all kinds of awards, I had very high expectations for The Lost Whale. It did not meet those expectations, but rather surpassed them completely. Hannah Gold really does have sublime magic in her writing that is completely mesmerising.

The story is gripping, with the excitement of tracking whales romping along. However, there’s so much more here too. The Lost Whale is so imbued with emotion I think I probably sobbed through the entire second half. Rio’s narrative isn’t just about finding a lost whale, it’s about finding himself too. Hannah Gold presents to perfection the role of a child supporting a parent suffering from mental health problems so that there’s someone for other children to relate to in the story alongside a hugely important message that they are not to blame for their parent’s illness, nor are they responsible for making that parent better.

Rio’s prickly personality and less than perfect behaviour at times helps youngsters understand that sometimes our words and actions are masking our true feelings. His friendship with Marina, his love for his mother and his gradual understanding of his grand mother are all presented to perfection, so that The Lost Whale becomes both heart-breaking and uplifting. Without a trace of cloying sentimentality, Hannah Gold presents emotion with clarity and reality in a supportive and helpful manner, making her books essential reading for all – children and adults alike.

There are crucial environmental aspects to the story that are so sensitively woven into the narrative that the reader learns from Rio’s adventure without even realising. There’s nothing aggressive or patronising in Hannah Gold’s approach and, consequently, finding the ways readers can have a beneficial effect on their environment is all the more impactful. Add in a beautiful, honest, Author’s Note to children, websites, advice and contacts at the end of the book and The Lost Whale become an essential addition to any home or classroom.

It’s impossible to review The Lost Whale without reference to the utterly outstanding illustrations from Levi Pinfold that pepper the text, bringing the narrative to life and engaging even the most reluctant of readers. There’s an emotional quality that draws in the reader and adds such depth and allure.

I fear I haven’t done justice to The Last Whale. Should you take a dictionary of superlatives I think they could all apply to this engaging, moving and enthralling book. The Lost Whale is utterly magnificent and the world is a better, kinder, place with this story in it. I could not have loved it more.

About Hannah Gold

Hannah Gold worked in the film and magazine industries before taking time out to pursue her dream of writing. She lives in Lincolnshire with her tortoise, her cat and her husband.

For more information, visit Hannah’s website, or you can follow her on Twitter @HGold_author, or find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with PN Johnson

I was devastated not to be able to read today’s featured book as it sounds fabulous and I’ve seen some wonderful reviews for it. Sadly my TBR simply couldn’t accommodate it.

However, I’m thrilled that PN Johnson has agreed to stay in with to chat all about his debut. Let’s see what he has to say:

Staying in with PN Johnson

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Phil.

Thank you for inviting me! It’s terrific to be here.

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’ve brought my debut, Killer in the Crowd. It’s a murder mystery thriller which I’m hoping you’ll absolutely love!

What can we expect from an evening in with Killer in the Crowd?

Music, warmth and a great read, I hope! Killer in the Crowd is a story I’ve wanted to tell since I worked on a University Entertainments committee as a student. Although it’s set today, it takes us back, behind the scenes to reveal secrets from the early 80’s punk scene.

Oo. Just the time I was at university and seeing punk bands. Tell me more! 

It’s a fast moving action thriller which offers escapism, entertainment and excitement. I hope readers will really fall for my protagonist, Cath; she’s an ordinary teacher with an extraordinary secret – her mum was an infamous punk princess, who vanished when Cath was just seven years old. Cath reforms her mum’s old band, with four former punks now heading towards their sixties, determined to rekindle their youth and reveal the truth about what happened to Cath’s mum. It’s a tale of passion, determination and discovery.

I’m all for characters in their sixties Phil!

This extract is from the opening night of the tour, when this ordinary girl goes from teacher to star. We join Cath waiting to perform with Décolleté. Dressed as her missing mother, Cath’s hoping to elicit information from fans to find the truth about what happened to the infamous and much loved Betzy Blac:

I wanted to hug them all for getting me this far, and I knew I couldn’t let them down, despite feeling a little lost without Trav, my talisman and biggest fan. I knew he would have been there if he could. Well-wishers had sent messages, as had our new management, but they just flowed over me. I was concentrating on getting it right. I had one go, one throw of the dice: it was now or never. I had to be as good, if not better, than I’d been at the try-out gig in London, and this was the start of a tour, the opening night. It had to be a success.

The crowd was piling in and the house music was playing. The bar queues were growing and I sneaked a look around the curtain in the wings. A security guy checked me out and then nodded as I craned my neck to see the people who’d actually paid to see me. They were a wide range from old fans to students whose parents might have been Décolleté fans themselves. There were even some families, couples with teenaged children. I took a deep breath and went back into the dressing room, my confidence slipping.

The hour before we went on felt like an age. I kept going over the set list in my mind and wishing we’d had even more rehearsals, but it was like sitting an exam: there could always have been more time spent revising. I was testing myself—what was the second verse of Two Lovers in One Night? No, I couldn’t remember, but I kept telling myself it would all come back.

Steve Hewitt, the tour manager, looked in and smiled. He’d seen it before. “You’ll be fine. Believe it! Okay, stage time. Have fun, girls. Give them a taste of heaven.”

He muttered something into a mic on a headset and motioned to us to go on.

We moved silently into the wings and waited, unseen by the expectant crowd. Suzi patted me on the back and whispered: “Go Cath: be Betzy!”

I gave her a smile; for all her bravado, I could tell she was nervous too. I was here, in Mum’s place, about to lead her band through the set list of singles she’d taken to the top more than thirty years before—the outrageous, pioneering, punk princess rock chick that was Betzy Blac. She’d been praised by one generation and despised by another, even including her own mother. Her screaming sensuality had demanded to be heard, and demanded a place in music history. Now she was a legend reborn, alive in me: the daughter she never saw grow up.

It was time. The house music stopped and the lights went out. The expectation came to boiling point, the crowd started to clap and chant. It became a torrent and then a roar. As I walked forward my make-up hardened in the almost instant heat as the lights burst on and flooded the stage. I was feeling almost naked before this image-hungry crowd, hundreds of eyes on me as phone cameras flashed and I fed the online frenzy.

To the sound of rapturous shrieks and applause I tilted my head back and waited for the follow spot to close in on my face, the rest of the stage going dark until I screamed the magic words: “Oi scumbags! The bitches are back! We’re Décolleté, and this, this is for you.

Suzi and the band took their cue, just as they had with Mum all those years ago. Décolleté were alive, and full of fire: their fingers less nimble, their bodies less taut, but their passion still as strong. There was a split second of silence before Suzi shrieked and jumped into the air, her hands hitting the strings of her red Fender guitar. The assault on the ears of those in front of us began. Speakers flexed in cabinets, spewing airborne emotion at the speed of sound. The opening power chords screamed out. Cassie’s desperate drums demanded to be heard. Heads shook and waved in front of me, people jumped and cheered. The lights burst on and off like a supernova as I scanned the heaving crowd.

Colours changed, from deep reds and cool blues to brilliant white and everything in between, darting in and out of the smoke billowing on to the stage. The stage crew followed the script to the letter. Fans were raising their hands, cheering and calling my mother’s name, wanting me to be her, reborn, to glimpse what once was. And all the time I wondered: was the killer out there? Watching, waiting, wanting to end the show once and for all?

While I played Betzy Blac on stage, Mum was somehow still beside me, somehow cheating death. There were tears in my eyes and pain in my throat, but I sang, screamed and thrust my way through her raw, uncompromising, love-hungry lyrics.

Song rolled into song and the lighting and stage moves worked well. I hadn’t realised how much I’d absorbed during those intense rehearsals in London. The crowd were loving it and when I took a moment to appeal for information, as I’d done at our first gig, Mum’s face appeared behind me with the number the police had provided. The crowd clapped as I asked them to help me find my mum and Raven’s killer, then the lights dropped, leaving just a follow spot on Mum’s face and the number.

Suzi played an elongated intro into Raindance and the crowd erupted as the lights came back up. As I sang this international best-selling love song, I thought of Trav still in the States as I sang the last line: “So the storm tried to wash our love away, but we swayed together throughout the pain, and you and I’ll dance forever, in the falling rain.”

The audience joined in and carried on after I’d finished, wanting to reprise the chorus, but it was time to press on.

“Okay, let’s turn it up. Remember this one? Hot Lips, Cold Heart!” I shrieked, and the band took their cue. Adrenalin surged as we performed the set list. The encores were welcomed as Mum’s hits were blasted out while camera phones flashed and arms waved.

We came off stage after the second encore with the crowd still banging their feet on the floor and clapping loudly, chanting “Décolleté!” over and over again. But we’d had enough, we were exhausted. As I walked back to the dressing room a warm glow spread through me. Yes! I’d got through it. I hadn’t frozen, forgotten the lyrics or faltered. I’d managed to play my mum with her band to her audience and they’d loved it.

Wow. I loved that Phil. 

Phew! And there’s so much to come. My stories are for rainy days and lonely nights, sunny beaches and poolside cafes. They’re for anyone who enjoys great locations and gripping tales, with protagonists you want to fall for, laugh with and cry for, and… there’s a Hollywood ending waiting to be revealed!

Sounds brilliant. How is Killer in the Crowd being received?

I was lucky enough to have two great main reviewers. Music legend Steve Harley from Cockney Rebel, a truly great artist, said it was: “Utterly compelling, with an ending that comes like a bolt from the blue.” Nick Crane, TV presenter (Coast) and travel writer, said it was: “A real escapist page-turner with plenty of plot twists, oodles of drama and a compelling cast. Terrific.”  Another reviewer said it: “has it all! Readers will enjoy this curvy spine-tingler. I loved the finely woven romance in this novel.” – Jonann Sandvig. Yes, there is a “will they won’t they” love story hidden between the covers too!

You must be thrilled with those responses. I think I’d adore Killer in the Crowd.

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

Well, as Killer in the Crowd is about a famous female punk band reforming to solve a mystery, I thought you’d enjoy a post gig feast! I’ve been in a few dressing rooms after gigs and you’d be amazed what some bands want! From sandwiches to curries, crisps to cake, plus of course, booze and lots of water. So, here is a selection of post gig goodies  – pizza, curly sandwiches, a few bags of salt and vinegar crisps, and some Pinot Grigio, larger and fizzy water!

Any guest who brings food – even curled sandwiches is always welcome…

And, as music is my closest companion when I’m writing, I brought a playlist of songs from that era, and beyond, from Chrissie Hynde and the pretenders with Stand by You, Patti Smith – Because the Night, through to current artists including   The Summer Set, Blossoms and a little chilled Ibiza. My book is dedicated to musicians, because they give us the soundtrack of our lives. Music can save us from our darkest thoughts and add magic to our most precious moments of love.

You won’t mind if I add a little Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music too I hope!

One secret confession I’ll reveal here…I actually cried when I wrote the ending of Killer in the Crowd, they were tears of happiness. And I’m pleased to say, I’m told that I’m not the only one who’s read it and done that either, so be prepared for a warm fuzzy feeling and a big happy smile when you get to the encore. Hey, do start – the pizza’s are particularly good. I hope you enjoy Killer in the Crowd! And thanks so much for inviting me! It’s been fun.

It has! Thanks so much for staying in with me Phil. I think I’d love Killer in the Crowd. Now, yoy dish up that pizza and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details:

Killer in the Crowd

Live music is in her blood, but as the death threats arrive, she fears there’s a killer in the crowd.

Cath Edgley is a normal schoolteacher at a normal high school… until she hears the shocking news that fading rock star Raven Rain has been murdered.

Because, to Cath, Raven Rain is more than just a picture on a magazine – he was also the ex-lover of her missing mother, Betzy Blac, lead singer of ’80s punk girl band, Décolleté. A woman who went missing over 30 years ago.

Warned by a string of mystery text messages to “trust no one”, Cath is inspired to solve the mystery of her mum’s disappearance, once and for all.

Cath finds herself thrust into the sordid underbelly of the ’80s music scene, when rock and roll played second fiddle to the sex and drugs.

Along the way, she also finds herself playing a new role: unwitting replacement lead singer for Décolleté on their first tour in over 30 years.

Can Cath find the killers before she becomes their next victim?

Are the superstars she encounters all that they seem?

And what exactly happened to the punk superstar, Betzy Blac?

If you love mystery thrillers with a musical twist, then you’ll love Killer in the Crowd, the debut novel from P N Johnson.

Published by Burning Chair on 31st March 2022, Killer in the Crowd is available for purchase here.

About PN Johnson

As a TV Newsreader, Reporter and Producer for both BBC East and ITV Anglia, Phil Johnson covered everything from tracking down criminals in Spain and going on high-octane police chases, to interviewing pop stars, politicians and celebrities. Phil Johnson was also the face and voice of Crimestoppers in the eastern region for many years and created the successful TV series: “999 Frontline”. Now living near Norwich, Phil loves music, sailing, and bringing exciting new characters with amazing stories to the page. His second novel is due out this summer and others are getting ready in the wings.

For further information, follow Phil on Twitter @PhilJohnson01.

The Green Indian Problem by Jade Leaf Willetts

My enormous thanks to Will Dady at Renard Press for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Green Indian Problem by Jade Leaf Willetts and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

Published by Renard Press on 30th March 2022, The Green Indian Problem is available for purchase directly from the publisher as well as Bookshop.org, Waterstones and Blackwells.

The Green Indian Problem

Set in the valleys of South Wales at the tail end of Thatcher’s Britain, The Green Indian Problem is the story of Green, a seven year-old with intelligence beyond his years – an ordinary boy with an extraordinary problem: everyone thinks he’s a girl.

Green sets out to try and solve the mystery of his identity, but other issues keep cropping up – God, Father Christmas, cancer – and one day his best friend goes missing, leaving a rift in the community and even more unanswered questions. Dealing with deep themes of friendship, identity, child abuse and grief, The Green Indian Problem is, at heart, an all-too-real story of a young boy trying to find out why he’s not like the other boys in his class.

Longlisted for the Bridport Prize (in the Peggy Chapman-Andrews category)

My Review of The Green Indian Problem

Green (Jade) Waters is a seven year old boy trapped in a girl’s body.

The Green Indian Problem is outstanding. It would be difficult for me to have loved this book more and it has gone straight on my list of books of the year.

Green is a phenomenal creation. Trapped inside a female shell is a boy whose seven and a half year old voice sings from the page with love, empathy and an honesty that is heart breaking. The language Green uses is relatively simple in keeping with his age, and is so completely authentic that I wanted to climb into the pages, buy him a new bike and hug him tightly. His views on everything from God to bullies are convincing, insightful and endearing.

I found all the characters in The Green Indian Problem simply brilliant. Even the most minor character is real and convincing. Set against a backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, Green may not understand all the socio-political references, but he conveys them in a way that the adult reader understands instantly. This is such skilled and affecting writing.

Jade Leaf Willetts has a perfect insight into human relationships so that he presents the full spectrum from the darkest, abusive ones to the most unselfish loving ones. As a result, The Green Indian Problem might be a relatively brief narrative, but it is steeped in wisdom. It’s quite difficult to convey the emotional impact of Green’s narrative, but I’d defy any reader to encounter his life and remain unchanged by the events he describes and the life he lives.

Alongside the theme of sexual identity are many other concepts such as acceptance, domestic abuse, death, criminality, family, friendships, relationships, education, depression, and so on. These may seem negative but in The Green Indian Problem, Jade Leaf Willetts presents reality through Green’s eyes with such tenderness and perception that the book is actually uplifting and positive whilst remaining realistic.

It is quite had to review this book without revealing events and outcomes. Whatever you do, don’t let The Green Indian Problem be a book that slips under the radar. It is sublime in content, emotion, characterisation and the writing craft. I absolutely adored it. The Green Indian Problem is totally wonderful.

About Jade Leaf Willetts

Jade Leaf Willetts is a writer from Llanbradach, a strange, beautiful village in South Wales. He writes about extraordinary characters in ordinary worlds and has a penchant for unreliable narrators. The Green Indian Problem, his first novel, was longlisted for the 2020 Bridport Prize in the Peggy Chapman-Andrews category. Jade’s poetry has been published by Empty Mirror, PoV Magazine and Unknown Press. His short story, ‘An Aversion to Popular Amusements’ was shortlisted for the inaugural Janus Literary Prize. He is currently working on a coming of age follow-up to The Green Indian Problem.

For further information, visit Jade’s website or follow him on Twitter @jade_leaf_w. You’ll also find Jade on Instagram.

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An Extract from The Dark of the Stars by William Hamilton

I confess that I had not heard of William Hamilton but when I was asked if I’d be interested in sharing details of his only novel, the YA The Dark of the Stars and an extract with Linda’s Book Bag readers I was intrigued. It gives me great pleasure to do so today.

The Dark of the Stars will be published by Authority on 28th March 2022 and is available for purchase here.

The Dark of the Stars

Robert doesn’t expect much from the summer of his fifteenth year. Abandoned by his foster parents, left behind by his friends, he’s prepared to spend much of his time dreaming about the world outside.

But then a strange milkman appears at his house, offering him an opportunity that’s unlike anything his mind ever conjured-a safari to an exotic faraway land called Santania, which is not on any map. There, they’ll deliver medicine to a disease-ridden population and perhaps look for some stolen diamond – if they can avoid the diabolical and power-mad doctor who lords over the country’s frightened population.

On this adventure through the most beautiful and unforgiving of lands, Robert will find danger, intrigue, and romance, and discover the meaning of true friendship and self-reliance. Robert’s fifteenth summer might just be the most incredible and awakening one yet . . . if he only has the courage to take that first step.

An Extract from The Dark of the Stars

1: Cotter Pins

Few people visited this house in London, and with good reason.

There was nothing remarkable about it. Hidden by weeds at the end of a short, cracked-asphalt drive, it was dull white, lacking all the warm touches of home, tucked forgettably away in a cul-de-sac. In fact, the mailman often skipped the place entirely. Robert himself never would have been here if it weren’t for a social worker, who’d insisted upon it. He doubted his foster parents would’ve minded much if he simply disappeared.

Eager to get on with it, he knelt at the end of the drive, by the kerb, hammering at the bolt in the pedal of his bicycle, the privet hedge where it leaned shaking with every blow. So intent was he in this pursuit that he barely heard the rattle of a milk crate, the garden gate click, feet passing him, and a bottle put down on the doorstep.

Returning, the footsteps paused, and a shadow fell over him.

“That’s no way to hit it out,” said a voice.

Robert did not look up but noted the pointed shoes of worn grey leather with pinkish dust in the cracks. He disliked that style of shoe, and almost felt the same about the slightly foreign accent of the speaker, but not quite as much.

To make the man leave, he muttered sourly, “We didn’t order milk for today. Won’t want any for a month. Sam and Linda left for Spain this morning, and I’m leaving as soon as I’ve fixed these blasted pedals.”

A pause. A tsk. “Well, flattening the bolt like a rivet won’t help. Give me the hammer and I’ll show you what to do.”

Robert tipped his head back and regarded the milkman, who was now squatting at his side. His hair was too long and billowed around his head like a vapour, and his chin suggested he’d never yet needed to shave. He seemed about three years older, a slight young man in frayed jeans and a shirt with a psychedelic pattern of rainbow colours. He was not like any milkman Robert had ever seen.

I suppose I have nothing to lose, Robert thought, handing him the tool.

“Sam and Linda, eh?” the milkman said, surveying the situation.

“Yes. The place is theirs.”

“They went off to Spain and left you.”

It wasn’t a question, so Robert didn’t answer. It wasn’t the first time he’d been left out of things by his foster parents. They made it no secret that while they found the checks Child Services sent them quite favourable, Robert himself was merely tolerable.

Placing the biggest hammerhead under the pedal, the milkman picked up the nut Robert had placed on the ground, screwed it a little way back on, and struck it with the light hammer. Removing the nut, he struck again, this time on the threaded end of the pin, which flew out and rolled upon the drive.

“That was neat,” said Robert, examining the pin. “You haven’t even damaged the thread. Thanks!”

He hoped his voice did not indicate his dislike of milkmen who dressed like this one and were smaller than him by at least a few stone. After all, he’d done him a favour. He added, “I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’ll replace this and leave the other pedal. It’s loose, but ought to hold.”

“It won’t. Fetch me a hacksaw and punch and I’ll fix it for you.”

“We’ve a saw, but I don’t think there’s a punch.”

“Then I’ll use the cotter pin I knocked out instead. Get the saw.”

“The what pin?”

“Cotter pin. That’s what pins that hold pedals are called.”

“You’ve worked in a bike shop?”

“No, but they’re called that.”

“Were you a builder’s mate recently?”

“Why do you think that?”

“Brick dust on your shoes. And you’re new to this milk round.”

The milkman laughed. “It’s not brick dust. I’ll maybe explain in a moment, but first, fetch the saw.”

Robert started toward the garage at the rear of the drive, but upon hearing the telephone ring inside, dashed into the house.

It was John, his friend. At first, he was glad to hear from him, but shortly into the conversation, the black mood he’d had while kneeling on the sunny drive, hammering the pedal, returned. After listening to a myriad of poorly-constructed excuses for a short while, he said, “So you’re not waiting for me.”

“We’ve waited for two hours already! Don’t sound so pissed off.”

“Might I find you tomorrow at Spalding youth hostel?”

“Yes. Hey!” said John. “I’d wait if it was only me but there’s four of us. And Vic has set his heart on getting to his girlfriend’s house this afternoon. He’s very keen on her, and her parents expect us.”

“I know. I understand. See you, I suppose.”

He did not suppose, truthfully, and did not go immediately back to the bicycle. There wasn’t much point, now. He’d be stuck in no man’s land, likely for the whole rotting summer. The milkman would’ve left by now, anyway. Why had his friends stayed at Victor’s house and not come to see what had delayed him? In that band of friends, he had always feared being one of too many. Now, he was sure of it.

He slowly climbed the stairs, at each step becoming more deeply certain that he would not be at the youth hostel the next day. In his room, Linda’s sewing room, which was barely more than a closet, two bicycle panniers and a rucksack lay beside the bed, with a partly rolled sleeping bag on top. His legs felt heavy as he reached for a family photograph—the only one he had—and stared at the kind faces of his parents. They weren’t beautiful, but they’d been his, and the way they’d wrapped their arms protectively around his chubby five-year-old frame had been rather a beautiful feeling. One he seemed to forget more and more, with every passing day.

He sat on the bed and at last bowed his face onto the bag—his father’s—inhaling the smell of feathers and his old sweat. Through his mind tumbled the words he’d heard from John, along with words he should have said back. Jealousy, divergence, lost comradeship, moments of lost happiness…

Behind his closed eyelids, he saw his parents, that day on the jetty. He’d seen a rock among gentle waves, a cracked mass that looked like a solid slab, though it tilted sharply toward the sea, slick and black with seawater. He’d stepped on it and turned back to cry to his parents how close he’d climbed to the waves, how brave. But with frost and the buffeting waves of winter, the rock mass cracked beneath him.

The broken rock fell, and he fell…

****

With that opening, a character named Linda and a place called Spalding (there’s one eight miles from where I live) I think I might just have to read this one don’t you?

About William Hamilton

Renowned evolutionary biologist, William Hamilton (1936-2000) was a naturalist and geneticist who was well known for his wide-ranging and influential research. At his funeral service in the chapel of New College, Oxford, he was described as “the greatest evolutionary biologist since Charles Darwin.” His official biography is Nature’s Oracle published by Oxford University Press in 2013. Between 1995 and 2005, they also published three volumes of The Narrow Roads of Gene Land, his collected scientific papers.

The Dark of the Stars is his only novel, written largely in the 1980s, edited and published posthumously, and is scheduled for publication on March 28, 2022.

Staying in with Lawrence G. Doyle

I’m a woman of a certain age. Middle age. Or perhaps leaning towards a bit older than that. Consequently when Lawrence Doyle got in touch about his latest book I knew I had to invite him onto Linda’s Book Bag to chat all about it. After all, 60 is the new 40 isn’t it?

Staying in with Lawrence Doyle

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Larry. 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’ve brought along my latest book, Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done!. This is the second book in a series I’m doing on retirement. My original motivation to tackle this subject can be summed up in one word – FEAR. I was reaching the age where I began to think seriously about exchanging the world of work for a life of leisure and, frankly, the whole idea scared me. I’ve been very fortunate in my career, and I knew I could handle the financial aspects of retirement. No, what worried me was time. I was used to putting in 50+ hours of work a week. What would I do when I suddenly had all that time to fill? I really didn’t know. So, during my last year of employment, I decided to cut back on the work hours and to use the extra time to reconnect with the hobbies and interests of my youth and to find new ways to express my creativity. I considered it a sort of “practice retirement” and began writing about my experiences, most of which were very fun and funny. This became the first book. I enjoyed it so much that when I retired I decided to write this sequel.

I love the sound of Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG…What Have I Done!. You see, I took the plunge and gave up work, living off my savings until I finally got a pension last year so that I could have adventures with my husband. 

What can we expect from an evening with Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done!?

Fun! The book is a collection of humorous essays written in a style inspired by three of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Dave Berry.

That sounds great. What sort of adventures do you have?

I don’t tackle big adventures, like climbing Mt. Everest or jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Instead, I focus on everyday activities centered on what I consider the 3Cs of retirement – community (meeting new people and building a network of other retirees), creativity (finding new artistic outlets), and contribution (volunteering and community service). I hope readers find the book entertaining, and that it encourages them to get out there and make the most of retirement.

I love that sentiment. I’m convinced retiring is just the start of a new life and those 3Cs are perfect!

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

As I mention, this is the second book in my retirement series. The first book ,Adventures in Retirement, Book 1, was published a few years ago, so I’ve brought that along too. It has more than 200 reviews on Amazon, with 75 percent of readers giving it a four- or five-star rating. Here’s a sampling of some reviews:

5.0 out of 5 stars Laugh out loud funny

We’re getting terrifyingly close to retirement at our house so got this to see one man’s take on the subject and I was not disappointed. I love the author’s writing style, like he’s speaking directly to you, and some of his adventures were truly laugh out loud funny. It’s a fun read and would make an excellent gift for someone close to retirement. The kayak story was hysterical!! As was his job exit strategies! Oh, just get it, read it, pass it on…

5.0 out of 5 stars LOVED this book

LOVED this book. It’s a lot of fun for anyone who’s retiring — and anyone who’s not. Doyle has written a funny, engaging, and relevant book about how to expand your life by expanding your outlook and stepping outside (sometimes WAY outside) your comfort zone. His wry, self-deprecating humor and his gameness for anything will make you want to tag along with him, whether he’s deep-sea fishing, learning why bowling is now cool, or sharing some (excellent) travel tips based on what he’s figured out the hard way all over the world. This book is endearing, a fast and hilarious read, and THE gift you want to give any friend who’s embarking on either retirement or a new chapter in his or her life. I read it and began to paint again. See what adventures it inspires for you.

5.0 out of 5 stars but loved this book

This was a gift for my manager at work for his retirement. He almost never likes the gifts I give, but loved this book. Told me he stayed up to 2am reading it. I read the free preview on Amazon and busted up myself. I suggest reading through preview before buying, and make sure whom you give this too isn’t a serious personality type. It does have some adult language in it.

5.0 out of 5 stars Good advice in a hilarious fun read!

I loved it! Fun, easy read full of sound advice given with humor and humility. Follow the author through a self discovery journey while laughing out loud. I’d recommend this book to all those facing retirement or already retired!

Oh those responses are wonderful. You must be thrilled. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done! Larry. I’m going to apply your 3Cs to my life even more now. Let me give readers a few more details:

 Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done!

Wondering what you’ll do in retirement? Concerned about how you’ll fill the time? You’re not alone. Millions of people retire every year and most find it challenging to figure out what to do with the next chapter.

Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done! takes a lighthearted look at the author’s efforts during his first two years of retirement to uncover all that it has to offer. Join him as he explores:

  • The most dangerous of sports, flyfishing.
  • The true appeal of the batting cage.
  • Surviving a pandemic by inventing endless at-home activities.
  • The not-so-true story behind a legendary zombie attack.
  • Wasting countless hours on video games.
  • Dog training for humans.
  • Making vegetarian meals that aren’t completely inedible.
  • Forging weapons of minimal destruction.
  • And much, much more!

Adventures in Retirement, Book 2: OMG … What Have I Done! is available for purchase here and Adventures in Retirement, Book 1: A hilarious journey into the unknown world of excess time, limited responsibilities, and an uncertain future here.

About Lawrence G. Doyle

Lawrence G. Doyle spent 32 years as a professional writer and now enjoys life as a happy retiree.

For further information, visit Lawrence G. Doyle’s website, or find him on Twitter @LAWRENCEGDOYLE1.

The Whale Tattoo by Jon Ransom

Having attended the online launch for Jon Ransom’s The Whale Tattoo and stayed in with Jon, here, to chat about the book I was desperate to fit in a review. I’m delighted to share that review today and would like to thank Kate Beal at Muswell Press for sending me a copy of The Whale Tattoo.

Published by Muswell Press on 3rd February 2022, The Whale Tattoo is available for purchase in all good bookshops and online, including directly from the publisher, from Bookshop.org and Gays the Word.

The Whale Tattoo

When a giant sperm whale washes up on the local beach it tells Joe Gunner that death will follow him wherever he goes. Joe knows that the place he needs to go is back home.

Having stormed out two years ago, it won’t be easy, nor will returning to the haunted river beside the house where words ripple beneath the surface washing up all sorts of memories. Joe turns to his sister, Birdee, the only person who has ever listened. But she can’t help him, she drowned two years ago.

Then there’s Tim Fysh, local fisherman and long-time lover. But reviving their bond is bound to be trouble.

As the water settles and Joe learns the truth about the river, he finds that we all have the capability to hate, and that we can all make the choice not to.

Ransom’s fractured, distinctive prose highlights the beauty and brutality of his story, his extraordinarily vivid sense of place saturates the reader with the wet of the river, and the salty tang of the sea.

My Review of The Whale Tattoo

Joe’s home, but life isn’t easy.

The Whale Tattoo is an astonishing book. Jon Ransom’s writing manages to be simultaneously brutal and violent as well as poetic and moving. The quality of his prose is mesmerising. There’s such variety of sentence structure, an ebb and flow of past and present that mimics the tides against which the book is set, and an incredibly vivid and vital appeal to the senses that at times it’s almost unbearable to read. This is not a criticism, but more a wonderment at the impact of such writing. The settings are so vividly depicted that the reader can smell and taste them every bit as much as Joe can.

There is, ironically, much that might offend a reader in The Whale Tattoo, with many expletives, quite explicit sexual reference and considerable mention of bodily fluids, and yet Jon Ransom’s writing remains tender and affecting. Discovering Joe’s complex relationship with his father, with his sister Birdee, with his lover Fysh and with the river is transfixing. The liquidity of the prose, the references to water, and the impact of such water in the plot, create an almost dreamlike state so that it is difficult to know what Joe is remembering accurately, what he has devised for his own purposes and what is a manifestation of his considerable grief.

And grief is central to the narrative to the extent that Joe’s mental health is unbalanced and yet perfectly understandable. Jon Ransom is exploring the nature of grief, of identity, of memory and family relationship in The Whale Tattoo in the most innovative and convincing ways. But seeping through all of this complex, compelling narrative is love. Joe learns that love and hate are very much interwoven and his adoration of Fysh is so beautifully presented that I could feel his emotions almost viscerally.

The Whale Tattoo is almost impossible to review. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s disturbing, honest and seeps into the psyche of the reader in the same way water pervades the narrative. I thought Jon Ransom’s writing was outstanding. The Whale Tattoo is not a book I’ll forget in a hurry.

About Jon Ransom

Jon Ransom was a mentee on the 2019 Escalator Talent Development scheme at the National Centre for Writing. He was awarded a grant in 2021 by Arts Council England to develop his next novel. Ransom’s short stories have appeared in Foglifter Journal, SAND Journal, Five:2:One, and most recently in Queer Life, Queer Love. He lives in Cambridgeshire.

Follow Jon on Twitter @JonLRansom and Instagram.