The Deepings Literary Festival 2022

At last! I can hardly believe that we can finally go ahead with the 2021 Deepings Literary Festival – albeit a year late in 2022. As many of you know, I live in a cluster of Deepings in South Lincolnshire that includes Deeping St Nicholas, Deeping St James, Market Deeping, Deeping Gate and Deeping St Nicholas and whilst we may not be the metropolis of London, we certainly know how to host a literary festival! You’ll find previous Linda’s Book Bag posts about the previous festivals here.

There are details on the Deepings Literary Festival website and all tickets can be bought through Stamford Arts Centre here.

There will be book signings at every event so remember to bring some cash!

Thursday 28th April

As we want to be as inclusive as possible, the festival starts with a free event – Read Dating – in the Deepings Library from 10-12 on Thursday 28th April where you can meet a host of local authors, chat with them about their books and find your next great read.

The festival continues at 4.PM on Thursday afternoon with Clara Barley, author of The Moss House. I’m really excited to be interviewing Clara, not least because she used to be my student! There are only a couple of tickets left for this event so be quick if you want to know all about Gentleman Jack’s Anne Lister!

Limited tickets are available here.

Friday 29th April

We start our Friday programme at 10.00 AM with local girl Christina James who will be talking about Murder in the Fens, before answering audience questions. Tickets available here.

2 PM Friday afternoon welcomes with a very rare real life festival appearance from John Marrs whose book The One has been a Netflix sensation. If you like your thrillers dark and twisty don’t miss this event. I’ve been busy thinking up fiendish questions to ask but we’d love your questions too! Tickets available here.

In complete contrast to John we move on to Songs of Praise favourite Pam Rhodes who will be leading us in a sing-along with her presentation in the Priory Chursh at 4.30 PM. I’ll be dashing across from John’s book signings to join in the fun. Tickets available here.

From the Priory Church it’ll be another mad dash for me to head to Molecey Mill for our Deepings Meets Barnsley evening at 7.30 featuring Deepings Literary Festival favourite Milly Johnson with Jack Land Noble. Tickets available here.

Saturday 30th April

We’re thrilled to be able to offer a Deepings Literary Festival BOGOF at to start our Saturday offer as Jane E. James and Lynda Stacey converse with one another about their creepy, crime filled writing. Tickets are available here.

As Jane and Lynda finish their event, at 11.00 AM I’ll be back at Molecey Mill interviewing Kit de Waal whose debut My Name is Leon is currently being made into a BBC series. Tickets are available here.

My next event will be at 2 PM with Deepings Library borrowers favourite William Shaw whose Alex Cupidi series has been shortlisted for numerous events. I love William’s approach to readers and am thrilled to get the chance to ask him questions. Have yours ready too! Tickets are available here.

If controversy rather than crime is your preference then you might like to head to find out all about Jackie Weaver’s authority at 2.30 PM! Tickets are available here.

I am delighted that the next event I’m involved with is to interview Louise Candlish all about her thrillers, one of which, Our House, has recently been a hugely successful television series. We’ll be at Molecey Mill at 5.30 PM. Tickets are available here.

We’re then off to the dark side with horror writer Neil Spring at 8 PM. Neil will be telling us all about the real life events that inspire his writing. Tickets, if you’re brave enough, are available here.

Sunday 1st May

We’re heading from Market Deeping to Mumbai with Vaseem Khan at 11 AM on Sunday 1st May. Not only will Vaseem be answering my questions along with those from the audience, but he’s giving a fascinating insight into the world of his writing in an author talk. Tickets are available here.

Our final event is with television personality Francis Pryor in West Deeping at 2.30PM. As you can see – this event is already sold out so if you’re thinking of coming to any of the others grab your tickets quickly!

You’ll find all the events here. We look forward to seeing you and to putting the Deepings on the literary map. Who needs London when we have Lincolnshire?

A Publication Day Extract from Witches by Brenda Lozano

It’s publication day for Witches by Brenda Lozano, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary, and I’m thrilled to have an extract to share with you from this intriguing sounding book. I have recently been enjoying quite a bit of fiction in translation and would like to thank Milly Reid for sending me a copy of Witches.

Published by MacLehose Press today, 14th April 2022, Witches is available for purchase through the links here.


A remarkable novel by one of the most exciting new voices in Latin America today

This is the story of who Feliciana is, and of who Paloma was.

I had wanted to get to know them, but I realised right away that the people I needed to know better were my sister Leandra and my mother. Myself. I came to understand that you can’t really know another woman until you know yourself…

Weaving together two parallel narratives, Witches tells the story of Feliciana, an indigenous curandera or healer, and Zoe, a journalist: two women who meet through the murder of Feliciana’s cousin Paloma.

In the tiny village of San Felipe in Jalisco province, where traditional ways and traditional beliefs are a present reality, Feliciana tells the story of her life, her community’s acceptance of her as a genuine curandera and the difficult choices faced by her joyful and spirited cousin Paloma who is both a healer and a Muxe – a trans woman.

Growing up in Mexico City, Zoe attempts to find her way in a society straitjacketed by its hostile macho culture. But it is Feliciana’s and Paloma’s stories that draw her own story out of her, taking her on a journey to understanding her place in the world and the power of her voice.

This captivating novel of two Mexicos envisions the writer as a healer and offers a generous and distinctly female way of understanding the complex world we all inhabit.

Translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary

An Extract from Witches

It was six at night when Guadalupe came to tell me they had killed Paloma. I don’t remember times or dates, I don’t know when I was born because I was born like the mountain was, go ask the mountain when it was born, but I know it was six at night when Guadalupe came to say they killed Paloma as she was getting ready to go out, I saw her there in her room, I saw her body on the floor and the shine for her eyes on her fingers and I saw her hands they were two in the mirror and the shine was on both like she had just put it on her eyes, like she could get up to put some on mine.

Paloma loved many men who didn’t love her back and she loved many men who did, they came one after another to her vigil and her vigil was like a vela. My sister Francisca and I had Paloma from my father’s side, she was the only thing we had from his family, she was the daughter of my father’s brother Gaspar, who also is dead. Paloma was the only one who carried the curandero blood of my father and my grandfather and of my great-grandfather the curandero, she was the one who taught me what I know, she was the one who told me, Feliciana, you’re a curandera because you carry it in your blood. She told me, This is how you do this thing or the other and that’s not how you do that, and she told me, You have the Language, love, she was the one who said, Feliciana, you are the curandera of the Language because yours is the Book. Paloma cured many men who didn’t love her and many men who did, she cured many people and told others their future and told them the future of affections in bloom or of affections that had wilted and turned to hate, and people liked her for that, because she was good at giving advice about love, people laughed with her and they went to her because she was good at giving advice about love.

Death called to Paloma three times. The first time it called to her was when she fell in love with a politician, death laid its egg in her then. It called for her the second time when she loved a loveless man and that time death trilled its song in her ear. The third time death called to her was when she loved a man from the city who had a disease still unborn but soon to be, and death sang to her as clear as the sun that it would come to her at six the night Guadalupe came to me to say they killed her with the shine on her fingers and I saw her in the mirror two times and two times she looked so alive except for the stain of blood spreading under her. A terrible hour, I remember that terrible hour. For me, it was six at night everywhere in the world, six at night today and yesterday and tomorrow, and for all time, and even though each place has its own clock, its own time and its own tongue, for me the only time and tongue and the only words were those ones because Guadalupe had come to say they killed Paloma. It was six at night and shadows fell across the milpa, it was exactly six at night when the Language left me.


Doesn’t that sound intriguing?

About Brenda Lozano

Brenda Lozano is a fiction writer, essayist and editor. Born in Mexico City, she studied literature in Mexico and the United States. She has participated in literary residencies in the US, Europe and Latin America, and her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Mexico20 and Bogotá39. She edits the literary journal Make in Chicago and is part of Ugly Duckling Presse in New York. She is the author of two earlier novels, Todo nada (2009), which is currently being adapted for the screen, and Cuaderno Ideal (2015), recently published by Charco Press in an English translation by Annie McDermott as Loop, and a book of short stories, Cómo piensan las piedras (2017). In 2015, she was recognised by Conaculta, the Hay Festival and the British Council as one of the most important authors under forty years of age from Mexico, and in 2017 she was selected by the Hay Festival for Bogotá 39, a list of the most outstanding new authors from Latin America. She currently lives in Mexico City.

You can follow Brenda on Twitter @heraclesmigato.

About Heather Cleary

Heather Cleary is a translator and writer based in New York and Mexico City. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications. In addition to her translation work, Heather has served on the jury of the National Book Award in Translation (2020), the Best Translated Book Award (2016), and the PEN Translation Award (2015), and often speaks about contemporary Latin American literature and/or translation. She holds an MA in Comparative Literature from NYU and a PhD in Latin American and Iberian Cultures from Columbia University, and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

You can follow Heather on Twitter @_heathercleary and visit her website for further information. You’ll also find Heather on Instagram.

Staying in with Michael Steward

If I couldn’t go to China as planned in 2020, the least I can do is read books set there! It gives me enormous pleasure today to welcome Michael Steward to Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me and tell me all about his debut novel that can transport me to China. Here’s what he told me:

Staying in with Michael Steward

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

No problem, thanks for having me. I’m more than happy with a night in these days, my going out days are all but behind me now. In truth, 10.30pm is a late night for me nowadays!

Oh me too. I’ve always been more of a morning person. So, 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 debut thriller novel, Harvest, which is available now from Amazon.

Congratulations on your debut. What can we expect from an evening in with Harvest?

Well, it’s a dark thriller really and probably ended up a lot darker than I intended when I first set out to write it.

Ha! I think writers often find the characters and events take over and they end up with a different book to the one they planned. Tell me more.

My protagonist, private detective Ed Vaughan, takes the case of a missing British teacher in China and it all goes a bit wrong for him and partner, Andy McEwan, while they are over there. So it’s probably right up the street of readers who enjoy private eye/international mystery type books with a few twists and turns. The early reviews have been quite favourable, and people seem to be enjoying it, which is pleasing.

I bet  – and a relief too no doubt! Did you find Harvest difficult to write?

I would say that being a crime reporter has definitely helped me in some aspects of writing the novel. Obviously news writing is a very different skill to novel writing but the discipline of having to get words on the page at the end of each day definitely helped. I can’t phone my editor at 5pm and say I wasn’t feeling inspired to write anything today. I’d probably receive a barrage of angry words down the phone! So, that, and having some knowledge of policing and the criminal justice system has helped along the way for sure.

That’s fascinating. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along a plate of authentic street noodles from Beijing. I spent about six weeks travelling around China in 2013 as part of an extended 10-and-a-half month honeymoon with my wife.

Crikey. That’s some honeymoon. We had a mini-break to Paris almost 40 years ago!

If I’m honest, I found the food took a little bit of getting used to, and wasn’t at all like the Chinese takeaways back home. My wife and I both agreed that some of the best food we had was from the street vendors, who would cook up a storm right in front of you. My character, Ed Vaughan, certainly enjoys his food, and so it’s only right that I bring a slice of Beijing with me tonight.

I’m really envious of that China trip Michael. We were meant to be touring China in 2020, flying into Wuhan to begin three weeks of discovering the country. Funnily enough that didn’t happen!

I loved China, and it was on the honeymoon trip that I first got the idea for Harvest. I was handed a Falun Gong leaflet in Hong Kong after leaving China, and did some research about the group. It was an eye-opener to say the least, and the Shufen Lam organisation in my novel is based on Falun Gong.

Now I’m going to have to investigate Falun Gong a bit further. Tell you what. You cook up a few noodles and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details about Harvest as I think it’s exactly the kind of book they’ll love. Thanks for staying in with me to chat about it Michael. I think it sounds brilliant.


When Laura Clayton, a British teacher working in Beijing, goes missing, former Met detective-turned private investigator Ed Vaughan is hired to search for her.
But within hours of arriving in the Chinese capital to start their investigation, Vaughan and partner Andy McEwan are brutally attacked. The injuries are superficial but the message is clear; stop looking for the girl or else.

But with the help of a confident young translator and a consular officer, the pair begin to unravel clues into Laura’s disappearance.

With their own lives at stake, the case leads the two private eyes to a place darker, and more depraved than they could have ever imagined.

Published on 24th February 2022, Harvest is available for purchase here.

About Michael Steward

Michael Steward is a crime journalist for the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star in Suffolk, UK. He is married, with two young daughters and lives in Bury St Edmunds, UK. He is keen on football, and having played himself in the non-league for Bury Town, also regularly attends Portman Road to see his beloved Ipswich Town play.

For further information, follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelReporter.

Breakneck Point by T. Orr Munro

Since I began reviewing for My Weekly I have had the privilege of reading so many brilliant books. Today I’m delighted to share my views on Breakneck Point by T. Orr Munro.

Published by HQ on 14th April 2022, Breakneck Point is available for purchase here.

Breakneck Point

A gripping new crime series for fans of Val McDermid, Jane Casey, Cara Hunter and Mare of Easttown

CSI Ally Dymond’s commitment to justice has cost her a place on the major investigations team. After exposing corruption in the ranks, she’s stuck working petty crimes on the sleepy North Devon coast.

Then the body of nineteen-year-old Janie Warren turns up in the seaside town of Bidecombe, and Ally’s expert skills are suddenly back in demand.

But when the evidence she discovers contradicts the lead detective’s theory, nobody wants to listen to the CSI who landed their colleagues in prison.

Time is running out to catch a killer no one is looking for – no one except Ally. What she doesn’t know is that he’s watching, from her side of the crime scene tape, waiting for the moment to strike.

My Review of Breakneck Point

My full review of Breakneck Point can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that Breakneck Point is a fast paced, exciting, crime thriller from a writer I think will be winning all the awards in future. I thought it was brilliant.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About T. Orr Munro

Orr Munro was born in Hampshire to an English mother and a Greek/Armenian father who later moved to Devon. After university she trained as a CSI, then became a secondary school teacher. She changed career at 33 to become a police and crime journalist. She has since returned with her family to live in North Devon, the setting for Breakneck Point. Her time as a CSI provided much of the inspiration for the novel, shining a light on what happens behind the crime scene tape.

You can follow Tina on Twitter @TinaOrrMunro and Instagram.

The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola

Having absolutely loved The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola, reviewed here, I was thrilled when a copy of Anna’s latest book, The Clockwork Girl, arrived. My enormous thanks to Alex Layt for sending me a surprise copy.

Published by Orion on 3rd March 2022, The Clockwork Girl is available for purchase through these links.

The Clockwork Girl

Paris, 1750.

In the midst of an icy winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, chambermaid Madeleine Chastel arrives at the home of the city’s celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter.

Madeleine is hiding a dark past, and a dangerous purpose: to discover the truth of the clockmaker’s experiments and record his every move, in exchange for her own chance of freedom.

For as children quietly vanish from the Parisian streets, rumours are swirling that the clockmaker’s intricate mechanical creations, bejewelled birds and silver spiders, are more than they seem.

And soon Madeleine fears that she has stumbled upon an even greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the very heart of Versailles…

A intoxicating story of obsession, illusion and the price of freedom.

My Review of The Clockwork Girl

Madeleine has a new position.

The Clockwork Girl is absolute, unadulterated, brilliance. I thought it was fantastic.

Anna Mazzola has an intelligent deftness of touch that transports the reader completely to Paris of the late 1700s. The sights, sounds, aromas, politics, history, people, events and so on combine into an enthralling read that I found stunning. I could not devour The Clockwork Girl quickly enough and yet I didn’t want it to end because it captivated me so completely. There’s an atmosphere of mystery, menace and the strong sensation that there is something rotten at the heart of Paris, that simply ensnares the reader. If I say that, with all the recent horrors in the world, I have struggled to concentrate fully on anything but that The Clockwork Girl held my attention unwaveringly, it might convey what a mesmerising narrative this is.

The Clockwork Girl is an inspired title because, not only is this a story about automata, but Madeleine’s social class and her history mean that she is treated like an automaton. Women, children and the poor are deemed less than human, giving a disturbing historical insight that reverberates today. Themes of corruption – both of the flesh and the mind – at all levels made my blood boil because I was so invested in the narrative. Relationships from the most manipulative to the most caring and supportive give strata of interest alongside an exciting, sublimely plotted and thrilling story so that I think if I were to reread the story time and again I’d discover something new on each occasion. Honestly, I could not have been more impressed by Anna Mazzola’s crafting of historical detail with fictional creation.

Madeleine is a triumph. In a sense The Clockwork Girl is a feminist story as Madeleine survives against the backdrop of male dominance, corruption and manipulation. She’s the perfect balance of strength and vulnerability that makes her credible, engaging and a person whom the reader is desperate to succeed. What works so well in The Clockwork Girl is the illustration that whilst men hold all the power, it is women who are at the heart of events. Amongst those men, Reinhart and Lefevre illustrate the extremes of obsession possible in the human psyche in a compelling manner.

It’s hard to convey just what a triumph The Clockwork Girl is. It’s beautifully written without shying away from the brutal and disturbing. It’s creepy and believable in equal measure. It’s filled with clockwork creations but with humanity at its heart. I absolutely adored The Clockwork Girl. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2022.

About Anna Mazzola

Anna Mazzola is an award-winning and critically acclaimed novelist. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, won an Edgar Award in the US and was nominated for the Historical Writers’ Association’s Debut Crown in the UK. Her second novel, The Story Keeper, was longlisted for the Highland Book Prize.

You can follow Anna on Twitter @Anna_Mazz and visit her website for more information. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Jacobé & Fineta by Joaquim Ruyra, translated by Alan Yates

It was a real surprise to find Jacobé & Fineta by Joaquim Ruyra, translated by Alan Yates in my book post. My enormous thanks to Fum D’Estampa Press for sending me a copy. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Fum D’Estampa Press on 23rd April 2022 Jacobé & Fineta is available for purchase here.

Jacobé & Fineta

Hauntingly beautiful, stark and deceptively complex, Joaquim Ruyra’s short stories have long been celebrated as some of the most important and iconic pieces of literature in the 20th century Catalan canon.

Of these short stories, Jacobé and Fineta stand out as masterpieces of their genre in terms of their powerful descriptions of the towns and countryside of the Mediterranean coastline and the subjects they cover.

Accompanied by Ruyra expert and critic Julià Guillamon’s introduction, Alan Yates’ sublime translation in this limited edition brings them to a new audience.

My Review of Jacobé & Fineta

Two short stories in translation.

This slim volume is an intense and fascinating read. In fact, there’s a literary cadence that makes the writing more like listening to harmonious music than reading.

In Jacobé and Fineta the writing is intense, poetic and sumptuous, conveying meaning through subtle implications as much as through obvious exposition. I’m not sure I gathered every nuance of meaning, but I found the writing mesmerising. In Jacobé, for example, the story can be taken at face value as the tragic tale of a person suffering a physical and mental breakdown. Equally, however, there’s a sense of allegory, a religious exploration of the way the sins of the fathers are visited on offspring so that the story is multi layered and perplexing even as it is beautifully written and engaging.

Fineta echoes Jacobé’s unworldliness so that reading this pair of stories makes the reader feel as if they have glimpsed a kind of time slip. It’s as if Jacobé and Fineta are a type of literary string theory with unbroken connections affecting characters long after events have taken place and linking them firmly with the past. The stories are thought-provoking as a result.

Joaquim Ruyra’s prose is translated exquisitely by Alan Yates. Images of nature, especially the sea, are beautifully depicted so that the rhythms of the writing appear to emulate the tides themselves. In contrast to nature, the people in these two stories feel discordant and unable to maintain their place in the natural scheme of life whilst simultaneously appearing as if they are completely part of the universe. This makes reading Jacobé and Fineta feel somehow otherworldly.

It’s quite hard to define my response to the two stories in Jacobé and Fineta. The prose is quite beautiful and completely mesmerising.  I think I’d have to say I am in awe of them even if I’m unsure I have grasped their nuances fully. I really recommend that you read them for yourself.

About Joaquim Ruyra

Joaquim Ruyra i Oms was a Catalan short-story writer, poet and translator, considered a key figure in modern Catalan literature and one of the great narrators of the 20th century. Besides his literary work, he was also aware of linguistics and participated in the First International Congress of Catalan Language.

About Alan Yates

Alan Yates, born in Northampton in 1944, studied Modern Languages at the University of Cambridge. From 1968 he taught in the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Sheffield where he was promoted in 1990 to a personal Chair in Catalan Studies. Early retirement in 1999 enabled him to cultivate his enthusiasm for literary translation (exclusively Catalan-English), for which he has been awarded various distinctions.

Shadow Girls by Carol Birch

I’ve had Shadow Girls by Carol Birch calling to me from my TBR for many months so it’s a real pleasure finally to be able to share my review today. My grateful thanks to Kate Appleton at Head of Zeus for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Published by Head of Zeus imprint Apollo on 14th April 2022, Shadow Girls is available for purchase through the links here.

Shadow Girls

Combining psychological suspense with elements of the ghost story, Shadow Girls is a literary exploration of girlhood by the Booker Prize-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie.

Manchester, 1960s. Sally, a cynical fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, is much too clever for her own good. When partnered with her best friend, Pamela – a mouthy girl who no-one else much likes – Sally finds herself unable to resist the temptation of rebellion. The pair play truant, explore forbidden areas of the old school and – their favourite – torment posh Sylvia Rose, with her pristine uniform and her beautiful voice that wins every singing prize.

One day, Sally ventures (unauthorised, of course) up to the greenhouse on the roof alone. Or at least she thinks she’s alone, until she sees Sylvia on the roof too. Sally hurries downstairs, afraid of Sylvia snitching, but Sylvia appears to be there as well.

Amidst the resurgence of ghost stories and superstition among the girls, a tragedy is about to occur, one that will send Sally further and further down an uncanny rabbit hole…

My Review of Shadow Girls

Sally’s a smart girl at school.

Any reader looking for a visceral, fast paced and twisting plot won’t find it in Shadow Girls. They will, however, find a quiet, menacing malevolence that lurks under the surface creating a tension that inveigles itself into the reader’s mind. I found Shadow Girls beautifully written, atmospheric and very creepy.

What Carol Birch does so well in Shadow Girls is to take the monsters of childhood; the shadowy corners, the echoing school corridors, the unexplained noises that we all know so well, and weave them into a spellbinding narrative that mesmerises, making the reader feel as if they are there in the corner of the room watching Sally as she negotiates the smoke like details just out of the corner of her eye. I loved how the plot built quietly and, except for a couple of dramatic moments, almost prosaically, to its conclusion because it made the events all the more relatable. Add in the hooks of music, especially the discordant or indistinct notes that feel as if they are not quite real and Carol Birch has created a disturbing, compelling narrative. Her writing is exceptional.

The characterisation is so skilful. Sally’s increasing paranoia, her flawed reasoning and her self-justification when her actions are less than kind should make her repugnant. Instead she is a genuine, tangible creation who could be any one of us, making her all the more affecting for the reader. There’s a level of self-destruction and isolation that begins with her trapped in the middle of two sets of twin siblings so that why she is as she is and why she becomes who she becomes is thoroughly understandable. It’s not possible to add more for fear of revealing too much. Pamela and Sylvia too are utterly real so that their lives at school feel completely authentic.

The themes of Shadow Girls are fascinating. There’s an unflinching exposition of girlhood, with its rebellions, petty jealousies, cruelty and vulnerability that fixes the narrative even when other aspects of the story feel supernatural and other-worldly so that Shadow Girls is brilliantly balanced. I loved the fluidity of friendship, of reality, of time and place.

It’s hard to define Shadow Girls and I suspect it may divide opinion among readers. I thoroughly enjoyed it, finding the literary nature of the prose, the psychological mystery and the delving into the darker side of the human psyche all superbly presented.

About Carol Birch

Carol Birch is the award-winning author of twelve novels, including Turn Again Home, which was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and Jamrach’s Menagerie, which was a Man Booker Prize finalist and long-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award. Born in Manchester she now lives in Lancaster.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:


Shy and Mighty by Nadia Finer

My enormous thanks to Cora Siedlecka for sending me a copy of the children’s book Shy and Mighty by Nadia Finer in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by DK Children’s Books on 7th April 2022, Shy and Mighty is available for purchase through the links here.

Shy and Mighty

Our noisy world sometimes feels like it’s not made for shy people. This book will help children understand shyness and find their inner voice.

Shyness is often misunderstood. It’s not a personality flaw, it’s a complex trait with many positive aspects. However, shyness means many kids struggle to speak up in class, get involved in activities, make friends, put themselves forward, and compete. As a result they can miss out on exciting opportunities, and are often overlooked, ignored, and sidelined… but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Introducing Shy And Mighty, a brand new book that offers an insightful way of looking at the subject that will comfort and reassure shy children and can help them to overcome the aspects of their shyness that are holding them back, without pretending to be something they’re not.

Featured in the pages of this heartwarming book, you can find:

-Practical advice aimed at 7-9 year olds on how to take small steps to achieve your dreams, how to work with other -people, and ways to get your views heard
-Bright, fun illustration helps to digest complex topics like understanding body language and appearing more confident
-Features relatable, and often challenging situations but offers activities, solutions, and coping strategies for children
-Book is divided into two sections Shy (which is about understanding shyness) and Mighty (how to thrive with your shyness)

Did you know that over the last 15 years, the incidence of shyness in children has rise from 40% to 48%? So with shyness already on the rise, as well as an over-reliance on technology and an impact on social integration due to COVID-19, there have been fewer opportunities for young people to develop their social skills. That’s why Shy and Mighty includes simple tools and ideas to help children take small steps to get more involved, share their ideas, and make friends, whilst also exploring the science behind shyness, the potential costs of shyness, and more in a completely accessible and easy-to-understand format for young readers.

A must-have volume for shy children aged 7 to 9, this inspiring book can also come in handy for parents, carers, educators and even librarians who are seeking to understand the challenges faced by shy kids, and equip them with skills to feel braver and to thrive in social situations.

Shy and Mighty can help kids go from invisible, to invincible!

My Review of Shy and Mighty

Shy and Mighty is, as might be expected from a  DK book, a robust, beautifully produced hard backed book that feels high quality.

What an absolute joy to open a children’s book and find the end papers illustrated  with a range of children from all ethnicities. Immediately Shy and Mighty feels inclusive and friendly. It’s a real pleasure to find characters in wheelchairs too. Sara Thiekler’s images are pitch perfect for the target audience, with just the right level of maturity and child like appeal for KS2 youngsters. That said, Shy and Mighty is an invaluable tool for shy people, or their friends and family, whatever their age.

I loved the way Nadia Finer begins Shy and Mighty by sharing her own shyness because this immediately gives the reader someone to relate to. The language the author uses is incredibly well matched to the target audience too. She explains how our brains control our shyness, and outlines the physical responses in our bodies for example, but she does so in an accessible, easy to understand language without ever patronising the shy child.

Shy and Mighty considers different situations like school or home where a child might feel shy and offers practical coping strategies, but what is so important is that Nadia Finer makes it absolutely clear that a child doesn’t need to change who they are, that there is nothing wrong with being shy. The author emphasises that being yourself is acceptable, that none of us is perfect and that the messiness of being who we are can also be our mightiness.

I thought the small tasks in the ‘Mighty Mission’ circles were excellent and I can see Shy and Mighty being an invaluable resource to adults supporting shy children, especially to teaching assistants in schools. Indeed, despite being an outgoing sixty something, I found some of the sections like the one on ‘Take control’ had valuable advice for me too.

Speaking of educational settings, although I can see Shy and Mighty being an absolute boon to a shy youngster at home, there’s so much within its pages that it would be brilliant for classroom use. Not only does the book help shy readers to understand themselves, it enables their peers to understand them too. Shy and Mighty could support PSHE perfectly.

Shy and Mighty is an excellent book with multiple uses. I think it is an invaluable addition to children’s lives.

About Nadia Finer

Nadia is a regular speaker in schools and runs the Mighty Mob, which is an online program to help shy kids feel braver, more able to speak up and join in, and more comfortable to be themselves.

For further information, visit the Shy and Mighty website, or follow Naida on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @nadiafiner.

About Sara Thielker

Sara Thielker was born in beautiful Oxford, and now lives in Wiltshire.

Sara’s illustrations are an extension of her love for the earth. She practices green living as much as possible, always printing on recycled or sustainable paper and does not use plastic packaging for any of her products.

When Sara is not illustrating you can often find her outside exploring with her family or in her kitchen creating vegan meals or treats.

For further information, visit Sara’s website or find her on Instagram and Twitter @SaraThielker.

Geraniums by Marlene Hauser

My enormous thanks to Marlene Hauser for sending me a copy of Geraniums in return for an honest review. I so enjoyed Marlene’s writing in Off Island, reviewed here, that I knew I would enjoy Geraniums and I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by The Book Guild on 28th April 2022, Geraniums is available for purchase here.


Lily Preston, clever beyond her years, is only four when she realises her family is headed for disaster. While she, older sister Mags and younger brother Artie are dragged around America and the world during the 1960s and early ’70s by their military father Jack, he propels their mother, gentle, green-fingered Lauren Rose, to the edge of insanity through mental and physical abuse. A cat-and-mouse game of escape and entrapment ensues, testing Lily’s resilience, resourcefulness and family loyalty to the limit.

Jack, an emotionally scarred war veteran, enlists the help of his equally formidable mother Emma to turn his children against the fragile Lauren Rose and drive her away. Their next mission is to make Lily and her siblings conform to a strict, unforgiving code of behaviour and crush their spirited natures. Rebellion is met with increasingly harsh penalties.

Jack brings new women into his children’s lives, but Lily vows that, no matter what, she will one day trace her real mother, compelled to by the enduring bond between them. Love arrives in the form of high-school sweetheart Diego, who helps her in her quest to break free from Jack and Emma’s control. When their persecution of her reaches bizarre new heights, Lily is forced to stand up to them in public and assert her right to independence, a college education, the chance to fulfil her dream of becoming a writer… once she has achieved the longed-for reunion with her mother.

My Review of Geraniums

Lily’s life is a struggle.

Geraniums is a beautifully written and compelling literary fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. Marlene Hauser has a style that ensnares the reader because of her ability to step inside the minds of her characters and enable the reader to experience, through them, the events of the novel. There’s a painterly writing style too, with descriptions that place the reader at the heart of the narrative.

The plot is elegantly wrought, with Lily’s perspective leading the reader through the events of her family’s life in such a realistic way that it is clear any generic family could be just as dysfunctional, controlling and abusive as Jack’s so that Geraniums makes the reader realise that we never truly know those around us or understand quite what they may be capable of doing.

The characterisation is a triumph. I wanted to loathe Jack completely and yet Marlene Hauser made sure I understood why he and his vile mother Emma behaved the way they did so that both of them gained my sympathy on occasion, even as I wanted their complete destruction and downfall. The desire for public recognition and personal affirmation after abusive and traumatic pasts is so clear in their behaviours that I think reading Geraniums gives a clarity to the reader about how we shouldn’t be too quick to measure, judge or respond to others.

I loved Lily unreservedly. That’s not to say that she isn’t flawed, being stubborn, duplicitous and devious at times, but again it is circumstance that makes her as she is so that she feels alive and vivid. I was desperate for her to succeed. Although Geraniums spans many years and has quite an extensive cast of secondary characters, it always feels intimate and intense, because each person encountered along the way adds depth to the narrative.

I thought the title Geraniums was inspired. I have no idea if this was deliberate, but with the symbolism for geraniums being happiness and friendship, this is exactly what they represent for Lauren Rose, being literally smashed to pieces even as her dreams are being metaphorically destroyed. Geraniums can also represent cleverness and ingenuity – both traits that Lily has – so that this book feels carefully and meticulously crafted. Not a word is wasted in Marlene Hauser’s exquisite prose.

Whilst the themes of Geraniums are dark and disturbing with abusive relationships and violence at the core, this is not a depressing book. Rather, it feels tender and insightful because, through Lily, the reader finds positivity. Poor mental health, manipulation, coercive relationships, PTSD and crime are certainly major themes, but so too are strength and resilience, loyalty, determination, endeavour and success so that it feels as if all life can be found between the pages of this slim novel.

I really enjoyed Geraniums. It’s one of those stories that remains with the reader long after the book is closed, making them think about its characters and themes and wonder what is happening to them now. Geraniums deserves a wide audience because it is a piercing insight into humanity and what makes us who we are. Don’t miss it.

About Marlene Hauser

Marlene Hauser is a professional writer based in Oxford, UK, where she lives with her husband and teenage son. She served as editor of the Writer’s New York City Source Book and originated the television film Under the Influence, going on to serve as Associate Producer and Technical Consultant. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University and has received numerous awards, including a residency at the Millay Arts Colony in Upstate New York.

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

First Born by Will Dean

Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn (reviewed here) was one of my books of the year in 2021 so I could not have been happier when Jenny Platt invited me to participate in the blog tour for Will’s latest stand alone novel, First Born. I’m delighted to share my review of First Born today.

I previously reviewed one of Will’s Tuva Moodyson novels, Bad Apples here too.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton on 14th April 2022, First Born is available for pre-order through the links here.

First Born


Molly lives a quiet, contained life in London. Naturally risk averse, she gains comfort from security and structure. Every day the same.

Her identical twin Katie is her exact opposite: gregarious and spontaneous. They used to be inseparable, until Katie moved to New York a year ago. Molly still speaks to her daily without fail.

But when Molly learns that Katie has died suddenly in New York, she is thrown into unfamiliar territory. Katie is part of her DNA. As terrifying as it is, she must go there and find out what happened. As she tracks her twin’s last movements, cracks begin to emerge. Nothing is what it seems. And a web of deceit is closing around her.

Delivering the same intensity of pace and storytelling that made The Last Thing to Burn a word-of-mouth sensation, First Born will surprise, shock and enthral.

My Review of First Born

Molly’s twin sister Katie has died in New York.

I thoroughly enjoyed First Born because it’s brilliantly plotted, twisty and exciting. It’s one of those books that doesn’t let you put it down until you’ve devoured it completely. It’s also impossible to say anything more about the plot without spoilers!

The pace is fast and engaging so that just when the reader thinks they have the measure of events, Will Dean wrong foots them. There’s a bubbling undercurrent of menace and mis-trust that leaves the reader feeling uneasy and desperate to know the outcome of the narrative.

It’s difficult to identify quite why, but First Born couldn’t have been set anywhere better than New York. The descriptions of the city are sharp and authentic and I think the concepts that it’s a city that never sleeps, a place where people can be anonymous and a place where it’s possible to start again and reinvent yourself in the way Jimmy the street vendor has done for example, are presented perfectly here.

The characterisation is fascinating because First Born explores identity, jealousy, obsession and vulnerability with razor sharp perception. I loved the insight into the relationship between Molly and Katie. Molly’s peril obsessed OCD is both convincing and pitiful, in the true sense of the word, whilst simultaneously feeling astute and sensible so that the reader has empathy for her whilst being grateful they are not like her. This has the effect of drawing in the reader to the story and making them question their own behaviours and habits.

As well as the intriguing plot in First Born there are layers of interest that add depth and texture. The dark web, exploitation, fame, revenge, relationships from the sexual through the familial to the platonic, are all aspects that thrum through the story. As a result I found First Born completely fascinating as well as entertaining.

It’s tricky to review First Born without giving away too much about the plot, but First Born is a cracker of a book and I really recommend it.

About Will Dean

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson thriller, Red Snow, won ‘Best Independent Voice’ at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019, and was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020. The third novel, Black River, was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021. Rights for the series have been sold in eight territories (France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Poland, Czech Republic, China and Turkey).

Will lives in Sweden where the Tuva Moodyson novels are set. TV Rights to Dark Pines have been optioned by Lionsgate, the producers of Mad Men, with plans for a multi-part series featuring Tuva Moodyson.

You can follow Will Dean on Twitter @willrdean, on Facebook, Instagram and on his YouTube Channel for further information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too: