The Goldhanger Dog by Wanda Whiteley

My enormous thanks to Ben McClusky at Midas PR for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Goldhanger Dog by Wanda Whiteley and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share my review of The Goldhanger Dog today.

Published by Lammas on 26th May 2022, The Goldhanger Dog is available for purchase here.

The Goldhanger Dog

1553. Goldhanger, a tiny fishing village on the Blackwater marshes. Fifteen-year-old Dela’s strange bond with animals has her branded a witch by the locals. Running for her life, with only a rescued dog for a friend, Dela manages to find sanctuary at the palace of Princess Mary. These are dangerous times, with the boy-king Edward on his deathbed and the succession uncertain. Traumatised at first, in an alien world of spies and courtiers, Dela is befriended by a trio of acrobats and players. But when she is drawn to one of them, Fitz, she discovers he holds a terrible secret that promises to tear her fragile world apart.

My Review of The Goldhanger Dog

Dela’s life is about to change.

I had no idea what to expect from The Goldhanger Dog and as a cat lover I wasn’t anticipating a great deal if I’m honest! What I found was an absolutely wonderful historical story with just a touch of magical realism to make it absolutely entrancing. I absolutely loved this book.

The setting of the Essex marshes is so evocatively portrayed that I found myself transported back in time, travelling with Dela, Bessie and Turnspit. Wanda Whiteley’s descriptions give just enough to create an image in the reader’s mind without slowing the plot so that The Goldhanger Dog is such an absorbing read. I thought the domestic and more courtly settings were just wonderful, with the clothing, food and animals in particular bringing the story to life.

The plot itself is fascinating. It simply races along with exciting twists and turns and considerable peril perfectly balanced by quieter, emotional moments that include romance and friendship and bring a tear to the eye. Set against the historical events of the mid 1500s, what Wanda Whiteley does so well is to illustrate how national conspiracies and political manoeuvrings impact the ordinary person, through Ned and Dela. I thought the cast list at the beginning of the book was an inspired touch – especially as Fitz bears my maiden name of Fitzjohn which gave me an instant connection!

The characters are wonderful. They embody every human trait from love to hatred, obsession to selflessness, traitor to loyal friend so that the reader has a strong response to them. Dela is striking and her resilience, her power over animals and the tragic life she endures mean that it is impossible not to care completely about what happens to her. I loved Fitz too, but it was Turnspit who truly stole my heart. What a brilliant, intelligent and faithful dog he is.

The themes woven into the exciting story give it a texture I loved. Identity and belonging, hope and despair, the effect of kindness for example, are equally as relevant to today as to the 1550s so that The Goldhanger Dog feels important and resonant as well as hugely entertaining.

I absolutely loved this story. I think it would be perfect for younger teenage readers too, making The Goldhanger Dog a book the whole family can share. It’s a smashing book and I thoroughly recommend it.

About Wanda Whiteley

Wanda Whiteley is co-author of the memoir, Streetkid, which spent three months in the top 10 of the Sunday Times non-fiction bestsellers list. The Goldhanger Dog is her debut novel.

In addition to her role as founder and Editor-in-Chief of Manuscript Doctor, she is an independent consultant for Writers and Artists, and previously worked as a Publishing Director at HarperCollins for over a decade. This year, she will be running her first life-writing workshop at the Atelier de Scriitori retreat in Transylvania.

You can follow Wanda on Twitter @wanda_whiteley or visit her website for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Airside by James Swallow

My huge thanks to Maddie at Welbeck for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for Airside by James Swallow and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. I’m not only sharing my review today, but I have an insight from James about how he did his research for the book.

Published by Welbeck on 26th May 2022, Airside is available for purchase here.


Businessman Kevin Tyler’s life is imploding: he’s spent months setting up a major deal and risking everything he owns, when at the last possible moment it all falls apart.

Left high and dry, Tyler knows he is going home to bankruptcy and an uncertain future. And to add insult to injury, an overbooked flight sees him bumped off the last plane home, leaving him behind to wait out a storm until the next departure the following morning.

Stranded in a remote municipal airport, Kevin’s luck seems to have run out – until he stumbles upon an unattended bag of money that could be the solution to all his woes.

There’s just one problem – the money is part of a conspiracy of blackmail and murder, and those involved are willing to do anything to keep it . . .

James Swallow’s Research for Airside

With Airside being set in and around an airport and all the years of travel I’ve done on business, it would be true to say I’ve been unknowingly researching it for a long time! But once I had decided what the core plot of the novel was about, I threw myself into learning as much as I could about the inner workings of civil airports, mostly in the UK and Europe. It’s fascinating to peek behind the curtain – as passengers passing through, we only skate over the everyday workings of airports, but there’s a whole population of people busy behind the scenes making sure it all runs smoothly. A less pleasant part of my research for Airside was into the darker parallel world, learning about the illegal criminal networks involved in drug smuggling and human trafficking around the fringes of Europe, which underpins some aspects of the novel’s plotline.


It most certainly does James. You made me re-evaluate my whole understanding of airports, and I’ve taken hundreds of flights.

My Review of Airside

Kevin Tyler is having a bad day.

Not having read James Swallow before I wasn’t sure what to expect from Airside. What I got was a fast-paced, cleverly written, highly visual narrative that would make a brilliant feature film. It comes as no surprise to discover the author is also a screenwriter. Alongside a pacy read, however is a fascinating manipulation of readers as James Swallow forces them to confront their own morality and consider what they might do in Kevin’s situation.

James Swallow presents an eye-opening, credible scenario of the levels of violence and corruption behind the façade of normality in an airport that made me feel naïve and unthinking. Plotted within the traditional unities of time, overnight, place, in a remote airport, and action in the possession of the bag of money, James Swallow brings a fresh approach. There’s considerable brutality here but somehow it doesn’t feel gratuitous. Rather James Swallow helps the reader understand how our pasts – whether we suppress domestic violence or are steeped in national, collective aggression – shape our present lives. I thought this added depth and interest to the fast paced plot.

I didn’t warm to any of the characters, except perhaps Maddie, but that didn’t stop me being invested in what happened to them. Almost all, from Kevin, through Von Kassel to Oleg, have some level of criminality that illustrates just how easy it is to become embroiled in illegality. The great touch here though, is the difference between Kevin’s hapless situation and Olen’s inherent and intense brutality. What the author does is to make the reader consider a scale of criminality that doesn’t lead to easy conclusions. There’s an almost Shakespearean quality to the flawed individuals here.

Airside is highly entertaining, and although it’s a book I wouldn’t normally read, I found it engaging and interesting. Those who enjoy this kind of thriller will absolutely love it. Oh, and if you’re reading Airside whilst contemplating a new career, you might just want to think about engineering!

About James Swallow

James Swallow is a New York Times, Sunday Times and Amazon bestselling author, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) nominee, a former journalist and the award-winning writer of over fifty books, along with numerous scripts for video games, radio and television.

His Marc Dane novels are fast-paced action thrillers featuring a former MI6 field officer turned private security operative; NOMAD, the first in the series, is published in the US by Forge. Book two – EXILE – will be on sale in May 2019.

For further information visit James’ website and follow James on Twitter at @jmswallow.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed

A confession. I’ve had A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed on my TBR since December 2019. Consequently, when Nikki Griffiths got in touch to tell me about the 20th anniversary celebrations of A Key to Treehouse Living‘s publisher Melville House, I jumped at the chance to be part of the celebrations by reviewing the book at long last. I’m delighted to share that review today.

A Key to Treehouse Living was published by Melville House on 12th March 2020 and is available for purchase here.

A Key to Treehouse Living

An epic tale of boyhood from a unique and unforgettable new voice .

William Tyce is a boy without parents, left under the care of an eccentric, absent uncle. To impose order on the sudden chaos of his life, he crafts a glossary-style list, through which he imparts his particular wisdom and thoughts on subjects ranging from ASPHALT PATHS, CAMPFIRE and NIGHT RAT to MORTAL BETRAYAL, SANITY and REVELATION.

His improbable quest—to create a reference volume specific to his existence—takes him on a journey down the river by raft (see MYSTICAL VISION, see NAVIGATING BIG RIVERS BY NIGHT). He seeks to discover how his mother died (see ABSENCE) and find reasons for his father’s disappearance (see UNCERTAINTY, see VANITY). But as he goes about defining his changing world, all kinds of extraordinary and wonderful things begin to happen to him…

My Review of A Key to Treehouse Living

A personal alphabetical (ish) list.

If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure what it is I’ve just read in Elliot Reed’s A Key to Treehouse Living as it has an unconventional structure that seems as if it’s a fairly random set of alphabetical entries but that hides a personal history that is affecting and engaging. This is a quirky, moving, insightful book that is part stream of consciousness and part highly controlled narrative. Early on William Tyce explains that alphabetical order sometimes isn’t right to be presented alphabetically and then goes on to prove it, and his logic is totally convincing so that A Key to Treehouse Living feels as if it educates the reader about William as well as entertains them.

It would almost be possible to read A Key to Treehouse Living as if it were a non-fiction book, dipping in at random, but that would undermine the opportunity to get to know William as effectively. From the very first entry, his narrative voice is clear and strong and by the end of the book the reader feels as if they have been on a journey of self-discovery with him. I thoroughly enjoyed the manner with which William’s life is drip fed to the reader, with quirky memories and what has happened to the uncle with whom he was left by his father, gradually revealed. The short entries add to the pace so that A Key to Treehouse Living is a book that seems to race along.

William displays the full gamut of emotions in his entries, and as a result he becomes clearer and clearer in the reader’s mind as a soul who is lost, grieving, bewildered and desperate for adult love and affection. Moreover, the reader comes to realise that William is intelligent, insightful and endearingly odd. He’s very vividly portrayed.

I found A Key to Treehouse Living warm, witty and hugely entertaining. It was also quirky, funny and surprisingly emotional. I’m so glad I finally got round to reading it.

About Elliot Reed

Elliot has lived many places and done different things for a living. His goal for a long time has been to write fiction that people want to read. He earned his MFA from the University of Florida. He published his first novel, A Key to Treehouse Living,  in 2018. The novel is written as a series of brief, glossary-style entries that subtly build a story over time. He’s also published short stories, interviews, and essaysand believes there are many ways to write exciting stories that we’ve never heard before. He finds good fiction is usually both delightful and frightening.

For further information, visit Elliot’s website.

You might like to catch up with the other Melville House 20th anniversary celebrations too:

The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson

I adore Barbara Henderson’s children’s books and am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her latest, The Reluctant Rebel.

You’ll find other books by Barbara featured here:

My Review of The Chessmen Thief here.

My review of Fir For Luck here (also one of my books of the year in 2016).

A smashing guest post from Barbara about Fir For Luck publication day here.

Another super post from Barbara about why a book launch matters to celebrate Punch here.

A guest post from Barbara about nature and my review of Wilderness Wars here.

A guest post about novels and novellas and my review of Black Water here.

My review of The Siege of Caerlaverock alongside a guest post from Barbara about Heraldic poetry hereThe Siege of Caerlaverock was also one of my 2020 Books of the Year.

Published by Luath on 30th May 2022, The Reluctant Rebel is available for purchase in all good bookshops including directly from the publisher here.

The Reluctant Rebel

There it is again, hope. The defeat and the despair I can stand, but it’s the hope that kills me, as if the Cause wasn’t lost, as if Father hadn’t died in vain. As if any one of us could possibly come out of this alive…

Following the death of his father, 13-year-old Archie MacDonald has lost faith in the Jacobite Cause. Having witnessed their clan’s terrible defeat at the Battle of Culloden, Archie and his feisty cousin Meg flee back to Lochaber to lie low.

Or so they think.

Until the fugitive Prince’s life depends on them.

When Prince Charles Edward Stuart looks to the people of Borrodale for help, will the young stable boy support the rebellion that has cost him so dearly?

With enemies closing in, the Prince’s fate now rests in the hands of a stable boy and a maid with a white cockade.

Who will survive this deadly game of hide-and-seek?

My Review of The Reluctant Rebel

Prince Charles Edward Stuart needs assistance.

The Reluctant Rebel is just fabulous and has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from Barbara Henderson’s brilliant writing for children.

Firstly, there’s a breath-takingly exciting plot that is steeped in historical accuracy that can only arise from meticulous research. The tone created through Archie’s first person account is spot on; it’s totally accessible to young readers and yet sounds so much part of the era of the book, bringing the era alive.

Particularly poignant at the moment, given current world events, The Reluctant Rebel gives relatable insight into why different sides fight and what the consequences are for those ordinary people caught up in conflict. I think it would be a perfect catalyst for discussion in both school and home. Barbara Henderson always gives a strong voice to the lowly of society, the servants and children, so that she affords them a status and respect young readers will love. Archie isn’t entirely convinced the cause is worth the losses suffered and through him the author illustrates that decisions are not always easy to make. I thought Barbara Henderson’s ability to be thought provoking in an accessible manner was absolutely spot on.

Themes of family, loyalty, grief and bravery are pinned to the narrative like the white cockade attached to Meg’s hair so that Barbara Henderson illustrates so effectively how helping and supporting those we care about is a valid, valiant activity. Through Archie and Meg the author conveys a morality that feels authentic without being preachy or patronising. There’s a real deftness of touch here that shows just how well the author understands her target audience.

Whilst The Reluctant Rebel is an exciting story for independent individual readers, it would make a superb book for a KS2 classroom. Steeped in history, brilliantly written in a way that models the effective use of description, tension and direct speech especially well, with an historical timeline and glossary included, there’s so much here to ignite a child’s imagination, to inspire and to explore.

In The Reluctant Rebel Barbara Henderson brings history to life magnificently. She’s a real talent and it’s a privilege to have read The Reluctant Rebel. I loved this story. Don’t miss out on it, whatever age you are!

About Barbara Henderson

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.

Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition.

Follow Barbara on Twitter @scattyscribbler or Instagram for more information, and read her blog. You’ll also find her author page on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Giveaway: Two tickets to any @MargateBookie event

Having just been involved in my local Deepings Literary Festival I’m delighted to bring details of another festival a little bit further from South Lincolnshire where I live. The lovely festival organisers are giving away two tickets to an event of the winner’s choice and I’m delighted to share this with you.

Here’s what they told me:

Margate Bookie, the friendly lit fest by the sea, is back, live and in-person once more from the Turner Contemporary. This year, it’s gearing up to be an action-packed Jubilee weekend of great authors, unique performances and incredible events. Their fab line-up includes novelist Maggie Gee, BBC Radio 1 medical expert Dr Radha Modgil, comedian Rosie Wilby, and social media sensation Felicity Hayward.

From debut novelist Chloe Timms, the IsleWrite and 14 Magazine anthologies, and the Live Launch of their third ZineThe Open Arms, they’ve got it all. And who can forget the official launch of their founder and CEO Andreas Loizou’s latest book, The Story is Everything.

They’re also binging us some fantastic workshops from Elise Valmorbida on outsiderness, and Zoe Gilbert is there to help us write some Seaside Stories. And just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, their annual Bookie Poetry Slam returns for Part 5, headlined by emcee and broadcaster, The Repeat Beat Poet.

To celebrate, we’re giving away a pair of tickets to any event in their action-packed programme. For your chance to win, simply comment on this bog post and we’ll pick a winner at random on Monday 30 May.

Head to the Margate Bookie website to check out their full programme and find them on Twitter @MargateBookie, Facebook and Instagram.


Doesn’t that sound great? If you’d like two tickets to an event of your choice simply comment on this blog post by 5PM on Monday 30th May and a random winner will be chosen by Margate Bookie.

(Please note this is independent of Linda’s Book Bag – I’m just sharing!)

Staying in with Lorna Hunting

A month ago I had the pleasure of meeting Lorna Hunting at the Deepings Literary Festival when we chatted all about her latest book. Although I didn’t have time to read it, I knew it would be popular with many Linda’s Book Bag readers so I asked Lorna if she would stay in with me to chat about it. Luckily she agreed so let’s find out more:

Staying in with Lorna Hunting

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Lorna. 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 New Beginnings on Vancouver Island the seeds of which were sown by my mother telling me about our Canadian forebears when I was a child. It’s “faction” in that I’ve taken an actual journey my 3X great grandparents made in 1854 as the basis for this novel and woven fictional characters around it. My family are not in the book, but I have used their diaries and papers for inspiration and detail. It’s an interesting period in history and not many people are aware that colliers left the UK to set up home just off the west coast of Canada. The cover says it all – historical fiction with romance.

That sound wonderful. What can we expect from an evening in with New Beginnings on Vancouver Island?

You can expect to begin in Cumberland, travel to Liverpool and then emigrate in a 19th century three-masted sailing ship around Cape Horn in winter. To share the hopes and expectations of young enthusiastic colliers from Whitehaven and Brierley Hill who have signed up to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Some will find love and others will not survive the trip. Those running away from trouble will learn that it’s not that easy to shake it off. On arrival adjustments must be made by all since a new country means new ways and for some of the settlers this takes a lot of getting used to.

I love the sound of that – and I’ve been round Cape Horn in a force 10 so I think I’d probably find that journey very relatable! How is New Beginnings on Vancouver Island being received?

Amazon reviews include –

“Lorna’s research has given us a compelling historical novel that kept me captivated from the first page. Thanks to the beautiful narrative, I felt I too was on this epic journey to Canada and I’ve done some travelling in my time, but none as tough as this. A stunning read.”

“This is without doubt one of my top reads of the year. Engrossing and page turning from start to finish – I cannot wait for Lorna’s next book.”

“A fascinating historical romance… The book will appeal to many types of reader: those interested in historical romance, sailing ships and a detailed account of rounding Cape Horn and sailing through the Pacific, and to those interested in the life of a British Cumbrian mining community and its hardships and the opportunities offered by Empire and the chance to build a new life. It also shows how Empire was built by very ordinary men and women. Thoroughly enjoyable and a compelling book.”

You must be delighted with those responses Lorna.

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

I’ve brought a pair of Staffordshire figures that made the original trip in 1854. I’ve brought them because it’s interesting that with limited space on the ship my forebears took the trouble to travel with something so breakable, so they must have been important to them. I’m guessing they were probably a wedding present they didn’t want to leave behind. The other thing is that it’s a miracle they have survived this long intact. Passed down over the years they are now safely back in England after over 160 years. They have no financial value except for their provenance. It’s a privilege to have them, but I have to admit it’s quite a responsibility to be the keeper of these country folk and they are on a very high shelf.

Oh wow! What a fabulous story. No wonder you’re feeling the responsibility of keeping them intact. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about New Beginnings on Vancouver Island. I think I’d love it. Let me give readers a few more details:

New Beginnings on Vancouver Island

The year is 1854 and Stag Liddell, a young collier from Whitehaven, signs up to work in Vancouver Island’s new coal mines. Whilst waiting for his ship to Canada, he meets ambitious school teacher Kate McAvoy who is also making the trip.

As the ship nears its destination, Stag and Kate’s relationship begins to blossom, but damning information comes to light and a pact made years before comes into play.

Will their budding romance survive these devastating revelations? And will they both achieve their dreams in this new land?

New Beginnings on Vancouver Island is published by Goldcrest and available for purchase here.

About Lorna Hunting

Lorna was born and brought up in Lincolnshire in the UK. After teaching the piano and raising a family, she exhibited and lectured on antique Chinese textiles in the UK, New York, China and Hong Kong. Following on from that she studied and taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS] in London gaining a doctorate in Chinese history. She now writes historical fiction full time and lives in Stamford in a very old house with stone walls and lots of beams. Just the place for a historian. She is very fond of rabbits.

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

Shelley Wilson Introduces The Last Princess

Whenever I meet Shelley Wilson – whether that’s in person or online – I’m always in awe of what she achieves. Today it gives me enormous pleasure to hand over Linda’s Book Bag to Shelley as she introduces her latest book, The Last Princess in a super guest post.

The Last Princess was published yesterday, 24th May 2022, by BHC Press Books and is available for purchase directly from BHC Press, on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & NobleWaterstonesGoogle PlayKobo and Apple Books.

The Last Princess

Northumbria, 866 AD

Edith still has much to learn about the art of ruling a kingdom, but when her family is murdered, she’s faced with the challenge of staying alive.

As a young woman in Anglo-Saxon England, Edith finds it hard to be heard above the Eldermen who are ripping the kingdom to pieces, but nothing can prepare her for the arrival of the pirates and the Vikings. Torn from her homeland and sold into slavery, she’s determined to survive at any cost.

Finding allies in the unexpected and enemies closer to home, Edith clings to her dream of returning home one day to reclaim her throne and to exact revenge on those who harmed her family.

Early Praise for The Last Princess:

This fast-paced historical novel builds on an obscure Anglo-Saxon king’s life to tell an empowering tale of a girl’s journey to fully embrace a new world, a new culture…as she grows into her own as a warrior. Edith’s fierce and often violent quest for revenge is juxtaposed with lovely, life-affirming moments of friendship and love in an engaging first-person narrative.” – Kirkus Reviews

I LOVED this quick fantasy read. I can’t wait to share with my students once I get a copy.” – Dawn, Teacher & Goodreads Reviewer

WOW! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it! This story is absolutely amazing.” – Rebecca, Goodreads Reviewer

Introducing The Last Princess

A Guest Post by Shelley Wilson

I love joining Linda on her amazing blog and scaring her half to death with talk of werewolves, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. I was over the moon when she agreed to let me hang out with her again, although after I chat about my latest release she might never invite me back!

Hmm – I’ll wait until I see what you have to say! I know you and your scary stuff Shelley…

Are you ready to set sail for an epic adventure?

Go on then!

My new release, The Last Princess, was published through BHC Press (24th May 2022). You’ll be happy to hear there are no supernatural creatures in this one. However, I do chop off quite a few heads with an axe or two. Sorry, Linda.

Why doesn’t that surprise me Shelley? Dare I ask, what can we expect from The Last Princess?

In The Last Princess, you’ll meet Edith, a feisty Anglo-Saxon princess who loses everyone she cares about in the first chapter, before being dragged off by pirates and sold to a Viking Jarl as a slave – and you thought you were having a rough day!

I take it Edith doesn’t take this lightly?

Edith might have dealt with a lot but she is the daughter of a king and that drives her desire for revenge. She wants to get home and punish the man responsible for killing her family and trying to kill her. Unfortunately, she is now in a foreign land working as a slave for a Viking Jarl and his family. Even more confusing is Leif, the handsome son of her owner who seems to enjoy teasing her.

The fact she is a princess and heir to the throne of Northumbria remains her secret. As far as Leif and his family are concerned she is a lowly slave with a knack for getting into trouble and saving the life of the Jarl’s youngest son.

Over time, Edith warms to the Vikings and this is reciprocated as she is given a mentor to train her on how to fight. Solveig is a shield maiden who takes no prisoners. She is moody, tough, and funny, and although she is always quick to put Edith in her place, the warrior and princess build a strong bond of friendship.

As this is a Viking story I’m sure you can guess what’s coming. Yep, epic battles, plenty of blood, gore, and axe fights, longboats and invading armies, and a smidge of romance.

Actually, despite you decapitating folk, I love the sound of The Last Princess Shelley. So where did you get the idea for The Last Princess?

The story inspiration for The Last Princess came from my love of genealogy and a DNA test I did. The results showed my DNA is 38% Scandinavian and with my overly active imagination I put two and two together and came up with ‘I’m descended from a Viking!’ The characters began to bubble up in my head after that and Edith’s voice was pretty loud.

Actually, I can definitely accept you’re descended from a Viking!

As with all my YA novels, my main character is a young girl with as many challenges as I can physically throw at her, but with an inner strength that needs to be teased out by her supporting characters.

I love exploring themes of loyalty, family, friendships, and confidence, and I hope Edith’s story resonates with my readers.

Solveig is probably my favourite character as she is feisty, sassy, and strong willed – everything I wish I’d been as a teenager.

Certainly everything you are as an adult!

What research did you do?

Moving from fantasy and supernatural stories to historical fiction has been an adventure in itself. I adored the research process for The Last Princess, heading off to York and Northumberland in my campervan to visit sites and learn more about the Viking raids.

Writing about a specific point in our history means I can’t just make stuff up this time. I needed to explore an authentic timeline that included real Anglo-Saxon places and people. The clothing, weapons, and customs needed to be investigated thoroughly, and I spent hours reading books and articles, and watching documentaries on Viking history.

The favourite part of my research was visiting Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland which plays a big part in this novel. In The Last Princess, the castle is a wooden fort but still stands proud on its rocky plateau where there has been a stronghold for over 1,400 years.

I think Northumberland is quickly becoming one of my favourite places to visit. My daughter accompanied me on my research trip, and aside from me embarrassing her by pretending to be an invading Viking running up the sand dunes, I think she was as impressed as I was. We’ve returned twice and have another trip booked later this year.

I might see you there in our motorhome. I love Northumberland.

Standing on the beach facing the North Sea and imagining what it must have felt like seeing the Viking ships on the horizon was inspiring. Our visit included a day trip to The Holy Island of Lindisfarne where we saw the world-renowned Viking Raider Stone and learned more about the Viking raids of 793 AD.

I’d love to go there.

I chose to set The Last Princess in 866 AD when the Great Heathen Army captured York. It meant I could integrate this large force into the story.

Researching this book was a lot of fun and I’ve already started working on an idea for a future Viking novel. Perhaps I’ve set sail on an epic adventure of my own?

I bet you have Shelley! Thanks so much for introducing The Last Princess to us. Those who are on Twitter can find out more using the following too: 

@ShelleyWilson72 #YA #NewRelease #TheLastPrincess #BHCPress #Vikings

About Shelley Wilson

Shelley is an English multi-genre author. She has written nine young adult/middle-grade supernatural, fantasy, and historical novels, a children’s meditation book, and six motivational self-help titles for adults.

She is a proud single mum of three and lives in the West Midlands, UK. Shelley loves travelling in her VW camper searching for stories. She also enjoys paddle boarding, Tudor and Viking history, supporting Leeds United, and obsessing over to-do lists!

You can find out more on Shelley’s website, by finding her on Facebook, Twitter @ShelleyWilson72 and Instagram or via her publisher.

Only May by Carol Lovekin

With Carol Lovekin one of my all time favourite authors I was delighted when Anne Cater of Random Things Tours asked if I’d like to be involved in the blog tour for Carol’s latest book Only May. I’m thrilled to share my review today and would like to thank Carol for including me in the acknowledgements of Only May which was a huge surprise and delight to me, as was finding myself quoted on the back cover alongside Louise Beech and Joanne Harris as follows:

GHOSTBIRD: ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ Joanne Harris
SNOW SISTERS: ‘… a novel of magic, of potent spells, and of great beauty.’ Louise Beech
WILD SPINNING GIRLS: ‘an author with magic in her writing whose words enhance the lives of those who read her.’ Linda’s Book Bag,

You see, Carol’s Snow Sisters was my outright book of the year in 2017, and I reviewed it here. Carol’s Wild Spinning Girls was another of my books of the year in 2020 and I reviewed Wild Spinning Girls here. I still have Ghostbird waiting for me on my TBR.

Published by Honno on 18th May 2022, Only May is available for purchase here.

Only May

Listen. The bee walks across my finger, slow as anything and I can see through the gauzy wing, to the detail of my skin. You aren’t looking in the right place.

If you look her in the eye and tell a lie, May Harper will see it. And if she doesn’t see it, the bees will hum it in her ear. Her kind mother and her free-spirited aunt have learned to choose their words with care. Her beloved invalid father lives in a world of his own, lost in another time, the war he cannot forget.

On May’s seventeenth birthday, a casual evasion from her employer hints at a secret hiding at the heart of the family. Determined to discover the truth, May starts listening at doors… She begins watching the faces of the people she loves best in all the world, those she suspects are hiding the biggest lie of all.

My Review of Only May

May can see lies.

Only May is, quite simply, wonderful. I absolutely adored it. From the very first sentence May’s conversational narrative voice is hypnotic so that through her Carol Lovekin seems to slip an enchantment over the reader, drawing them into her bewitching story-telling from the very first page. There’s mystery here that swirls over the story in much the same way Carol Lovekin describes the mists in her stunning writing. I’d defy any reader to find an author who writes description quite so convincingly, so evocatively and so mesmerisingly as this writer.

Indeed, Carol Lovekin’s beautiful, mellifluous writing is suffused with love and a kind of hiraeth, a longing, that permeates the narrative of Only May. This is a story about family, belonging and identity. About choices and the way love and hate are so closely aligned. About how blood is thicker than water. And about society and the public personas we present. I am, genuinely, in awe of Carol Lovekin’s ability to present women with such insight, such clarity and such tenderness. That said, Billy is a wonderful character too. His physical and mental injuries are sensitively portrayed so that the reader falls in love with Billy every bit as much as Esme did.

May is an amazing creation. She’s fierce, vulnerable and completely individual. Her strong alignment with nature balances perfectly how she finds herself untethered from the truth despite her ability to detect lies. It’s as if she is Mother Nature personified and yet she feels completely authentic as a seventeen year old girl on the cusp of adulthood and all the knowledge that maturity can bring. Reading May’s story broke my heart and mended it in such a way that I experienced my emotions physically. Through May we learn that our past can shape us as far as our present but that our future is in our own hands.

Wise, warm and wonderful, Only May is a book to touch your very soul. I absolutely adored it. Don’t miss it.

About Carol Lovekin

Carol Lovekin has Irish blood and a Welsh heart. She was born in Warwickshire and has lived in mid Wales since 1979. A feminist, she finds fiction the perfect vehicle for telling women’s collective stories. Her books  reflect her love of the landscape and mythology of her adopted home.

You can follow Carol on Twitter @carollovekin, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook.

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The French House by Jacquie Bloese

When a book has two stunning covers for the e-book and hardback like The French House by Jacquie Bloese, how can a reader resist? I’m thrilled that The French House is my latest online My Weekly magazine review.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton on 28th April 2022, The French House is available for purchase through the links here.

The French House

In Nazi-occupied Guernsey, the wrong decision can destroy a life…

Left profoundly deaf after an accident, Émile is no stranger to isolation – or heartbreak. Now, as Nazi planes loom over Guernsey, he senses life is about to change forever.

Trapped in a tense, fearful marriage, Isabelle doesn’t know what has become of Émile and the future she hoped for. But when she glimpses him from the window of the French House, their lives collide once more.

Leutnant Schreiber is more comfortable wielding a paintbrush than a pistol. But he has little choice in the role he is forced to play in the occupying forces – or in his own forbidden desires.

As their paths entwine, loyalties are blurred and dangerous secrets forged. But on an island under occupation, courage can have deadly consequences…

Lyrical, moving and compelling, this is a novel about wanting to hear and learning to listen – to the truths of our own hearts. Perfect for lovers of The NightingaleThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and All the Light We Cannot See.

My Review of The French House

My full review of The French House can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The French House is an absolute triumph of storytelling, evocative writing and magnificent characters.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Jacquie Bloese

Jacquie Bloese, an alumna of the Curtis Brown Creative course, has a strong personal connection with the subject matter of The French House. She grew up on Guernsey, and is in love with both the island setting and its history. The character of Émile is loosely inspired by her great-grandfather, who suffered permanent hearing loss as a young man. Jacquie has worked as a publisher of English Language Teaching materials for a variety of publishers including Penguin Random House, Scholastic and Oxford University Press. The French House, which was commended in the 2020 Caledonian Novel Award as ‘a brilliantly moving historical novel’ and was a finalist in the 2019 Mslexia First Novel Award, is her debut novel.

For further information, follow Jacquie on Twitter @novelthesecond and visit her website. You’ll also find Jacquie on Facebook and Instagram.

The Botanist by M.W. Craven

When a surprise copy of M.W. Craven’s The Botanist, book five in the Washington Poe Series, dropped into my parcel box I think you probably could have heard my shriek of delight in space. My enormous thanks to Beth Wright at Little Brown for sending it to me. I’m thrilled to share my review of The Botanist today.

You can read my reviews of The Puppet Show here, of Black Summer here, of The Curator here. and of Dead Ground here.

Indeed, the first two books in the series were on my books of the year list (here) in 2019 and the third a book of the year in 2020.

Published by Hachette imprint Constable on 2nd June 2022, The Botanist is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Botanist

‘I swear I’m one bad mood away from calling it black magic and going home . . .’

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe can count on one hand the number of friends he has. And he’d still have his thumb left. There’s the insanely brilliant, guilelessly innocent civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw of course. He’s known his beleaguered boss, Detective Inspector Stephanie Flynn for years as he has his nearest neighbour, full-time shepherd/part-time dog sitter, Victoria.

And then there’s Estelle Doyle. It’s true the caustic pathologist has never walked down the sunny side of the street but this time has she gone too far? Shot twice in the head, her father’s murder appears to be an open and shut case. Estelle has firearms discharge residue on her hands, and, in a house surrounded by fresh snow, hers are the only footprints going in. Since her arrest she’s only said three words: ‘Tell Washington Poe.’

Meanwhile, a poisoner the press have dubbed the Botanist is sending high profile celebrities poems and pressed flowers. The killer seems to be able to walk through walls and, despite the advance notice he gives his victims, and regardless of the security measures the police take, he seems to be able to kill with impunity.

For a man who hates locked room mysteries, this is going to be the longest week of Washington Poe’s life . . .

My Review of The Botanist

Washington Poe has two new cases.

Oh my goodness it was good to be back with Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw. The Botanist is fabulous. Less visceral than other books in the series, but possibly more devious, there’s an increased sophistication in M.W. Craven’s brilliant, intelligent, exciting writing that had me held spellbound.

Each brief chapter is an absolute masterclass in thriller writing. There’s fabulous dialogue imbued with Poe’s wit and Bradshaw’s innocence, fast pace, perfectly crafted plotting and a hook at the end of every chapter that compels the reader onwards. It’s impossible not to be entirely obsessed by reading The Botanist.

Aside from a breath taking plot that simply doesn’t let up and that I don’t want to spoil by saying too much, The Botanist weaves science, retribution, the media and corruption into the narrative so that the reader feels educated as well as entertained. In the same skilful manner with which M.W. Craven ensures those not familiar with Poe and Bradshaw have an insight into their pasts that never slows the pace, so aspects of social history and science are seamlessly woven into the story. It gave me enormous pleasure to find a softer side to Poe in The Botanist that felt exactly right for his character.

The eponymous character is a cracking creation and an excellent depiction of the fine line between brilliance and evil. There’s considerable depth of research into an egotist’s psyche here that lends depth and authenticity to the story. What I enjoyed so much is that even when we, and Poe, know who the perpetrator is, we have no idea how he is committing his killings or how he might be apprehended. I loved the level of tension this gives.

I don’t read all the books in any series because there are simply too many books to get through. M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe Series is the exception and I don’t read these either. I devour them. And then feel completely unsettled until I know I have the next book in the series to read. If you’ve yet to discover Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw you must. Each narrative works perfectly as a stand alone story, but this series deserves to be read from the beginning. I’m totally hooked and possibly obsessed by M.W. Craven’s writing. The Botanist is equally as brilliant as the rest. I absolutely loved it.

About M.W. Craven

mike craven

Multi-award winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author. The Puppet Show, the first book in his Cumbria-set Washington Poe series, was published by Little, Brown in 2018 and went on to win the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger in 2019. It has now been translated into twenty-one languages. Black Summer, the second in the series, was longlisted for the 2020 Gold Dagger as was book three, The Curator. The fourth in the series, Dead Ground, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and is shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

You can follow M.W. Craven on Twitter @MWCravenUK and visit his website for more information or find him on Facebook and Instagram.