The Lingering by SJI Holliday

I’ve long been a fan of Susi Holliday’s writing so I was delighted when one of her older books under her SJI Holliday persona, The Lingering, became the September book for the reading group to which I belong. Sadly I’m away for the meeting and won’t get to join in the discussions about it, but I’m delighted to share my review today.

Most recently I reviewed Susi’s Substitute here and previously The Last Resort here. You’ll also find my review of Willow Walk here, an interview with Susi to celebrate The Damsel Fly here and my review of her excellent Violet here.

Published by Orenda on 15th November 2018, The Lingering is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

The Lingering

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution

At once an unnerving mystery, a chilling thriller and a dark and superbly wrought ghost story, The Lingering is an exceptionally plotted, terrifying and tantalisingly twisted novel by one of the most exciting authors in the genre.

My Review of The Lingering

Ali and Jack are looking for a fresh start.

Let me say at the outset that I expected far more horror in The Lingering than I got. This is not a criticism as I’m not a horror fan and I far preferred the power of suggestion to the more overt moments of creepiness in the story! The Lingering is an impactful narrative, particularly when the reader understands that the oldest historical elements are based on real people and, without giving too much away about the plot, knowing that the author works within the pharmaceutical industry, so that where aspects might feel unusual, there’s an unnerving sense of truth and authenticity underpinning the narrative. SJI Holliday’s structure here is so clever as she makes history reverberate through the present day, as well as through the 1950’s journal of Dr Henry Baldock, making the reader wonder if a setting truly can become almost contaminated by its past.

I found the setting of Rosalind House set my nerves on edge even before the plot had begun to unfold. There’s a terrible sense of something wicked in the house, despite Smeaton’s attempts to create a positive atmosphere in the light, so that the reader is anticipating awful events. This makes the plot all the more affecting as the malevolence is uncovered. Given that I live in the Fens not far from where the story is set, I appreciated that sense of isolation the commune creates. Similarly, that claustrophobic nearby village community, where gossip and superstition can always be a good substitute for the truth, adds both atmosphere and realism.

I very much enjoyed The Lingering, even where I guessed some of the outcomes, but it was the underpinning psychological aspect that I found most engaging and disturbing. So many of the themes in The Lingering leave the reader thoughtful and unsettled. The treatment of women and of those with poor mental health, the way superstition can permeate society, the possibility of unworldliness, the themes of coercion, control and loyalty, all contribute to a malicious atmosphere that does indeed linger in the reader’s mind.

Cleverly presented, I though Ali was an abomination. I loathed her from the outset but was never quite certain whether my feelings about her would prove to be correct until the very end of the story. I couldn’t decide if she was far more insane than any of the previous inhabitants of Rosalind House had been, whether she was evil, or whether she was herself a victim of events. Obviously you’ll need to read The Lingering for yourself to find out! In fact, I suspected all the characters of duplicity at some point and because the author doesn’t uncover them all in detail I’m still pondering them and wondering what brought them to Rosalind House.

However, what I found most compelling was SJI Holliday’s exploration of what makes us evil, whether nature or nurture can play a part and how it’s the knowable that can be just as terrifying as the unknowable. We can be haunted by the supernatural, our own upbringing and past and by the actions we have carried out. In The Lingering, ghosts are the least of our worries!

The Lingering is, thankfully, not as frightening as I was expecting, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as a result.

About Susi Holliday


Susi (S.J.I.) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize. She lives in London (except when she’s in Edinburgh) and she loves to travel the world.

Her serial killer thriller The Deaths of December, featuring Detective Sergeant Eddie Carmine and Detective Constable Becky Greene was a festive hit in 2017.

Writing as SJI Holliday, she also has three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: Black WoodWillow Walk and The Damselfly – all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.

Also as SJI Holliday, her spooky mystery The Lingering was released in September 2018, followed by Violet – a psychological thriller set on the Trans-Siberian Express – in September 2019. Violet has been optioned for film.

You can find out more about Susi Holliday on her website and on Facebook or Instagram and by following her on Twitter @SJIHolliday.

Staying in with Richard Storry

Despite the fact that we’ve only just stopped staying in literally, I’m still enjoying staying in metaphorically with a range of authors. It gives me great pleasure to welcome Richard Storry to an evening in today.

Staying in with Richard Storry

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

Thanks for having me Linda.

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

I’ve brought The Cryptic Lines.

What can we expect from an evening in with The Cryptic Lines?

This atmospheric tale is part mystery and part treasure hunt, and it is set in a remote location in the crumbling old mansion, Heston Grange. The idea for this story had been in my mind for some considerable time before I actually sat down and put pen to paper. The interesting thing was that when I did eventually make a start, because it had been simmering away for such a long while the story just poured out of me, and the whole thing came together very quickly.

That must have been quite cathartic then!

The challenge was how to write a story that included so many tried and tested traditional elements, while retaining a freshness and originality. I think I can say I succeeded, since, to my amazement, the book has received dozens of glowing reviews, both in its paperback and audio formats.

You must be delighted with that response. 

Subsequently, in response to demand, I added a sequel, The Enigma of Heston Grange.

They both look very atmospheric Richard.

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

I have also brought a photo of the actor, Jake Urry, who recorded the audio versions of both books, and who made a truly wonderful job of bringing the stories to life. I thought it would be interesting to include his photo, since his recording voice makes him sound several decades older than he really is!

I’m glad you said that as I was thinking he looks about 12!

I will never forget the first time I heard him deliver the opening words of The Cryptic Lines – his vocal tone was so atmospheric that it gave me the shivers. Needless to say, I was delighted when he later agreed to record the second instalment too.

I imagine you were! Thanks so much for telling me about The Cryptic Lines Richard. Let me give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details:

The Cryptic Lines

Set in a sprawling gothic mansion in a remote coastal location, somewhere in the British Isles, the elderly recluse Lord Alfred Willoughby is deciding what is to become of his vast fortune after his death.

Whilst his head is telling him to leave nothing at all to his wastrel son, Matthew, his heart is speaking differently.

After much deliberation, in a last-ditch attempt to try and show to his son the importance of applying himself to a task and staying with it to the end, he devises a series of enigmatic puzzles cunningly concealed within the lines of a poem – the cryptic lines.

If he completes the task successfully and solves the puzzles he will inherit the entire estate; but if he fails he will receive nothing.

However, from Lord Alfred’s Will it emerges that Matthew is not the only interested party. The mysterious old house holds many secrets, and nothing is as it first appears…

The Cryptic Lines is available for purchase here.

About Richard Storry

The first time Richard ever really thought that he wanted to become an author was while he was still at school. At the age of 14 he attended a Literature Weekend where the guest author was Leon Garfield. Over the course of that weekend Richard was encouraged to write a short story for a competition, which was judged by Leon – and he won! Richard always remembered the story he wrote for that occasion and, in fact, a re-vamped version now appears in his collection of short mystery tales, The Book of Names.

It was some years before “The Cryptic Lines” was born. The kindle version was published in February of 2015, with the paperback following a few months later and the audio not long after that. Since then Richard has continued to write. At this point, there are fourteen books available in total. Number 15 is complete though not yet published, and number 16 is about three quarters complete.

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

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2023 by Lia Leendertz

I don’t know if it’s the ex-teacher in me, but I always feel September is the beginning of a new start and with The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2023 by Lia Leendertz heading for publication at the beginning of next month, now seems the perfect time to review it. My enormous thanks to Hazel O’Brien at Octopus for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Published by Octopus imprint Gaia on 1st September 2022 The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2023 is available for purchase through the links here.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide


Reconnect with the seasons in Britain and Ireland with this month-by-month guide to the world around us – including key dates, tide tables and garden tasks; constellations and moon phases; sunrises, folk songs, seasonal recipes plus a ‘bun of the month’; and – because 2023 will be a good year for planet spotting – the solar system and the zodiac.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023 gives you the tools and inspiration you need to celebrate, mark and appreciate each month of the year in your own particular way. Divided into the 12 months, a set of tables each month gives it the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, providing practical information that gives access to the outdoors and the seasons, perfect for expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There are also features on each month’s unique nature, with this instalment following the swirling micro world of the garden pond through the year.

You will find yourself referring to The Almanac all year long, revisiting it again and again, and looking forward to the next edition as the year draws to a close.

This year’s edition is illustrated by artist Whooli Chen.

My Review of The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide

A guide to 2023.

What an absolute gem of a book. This is a nature lover’s dream. The Almanac might be pocket sized but it packs an almighty punch. The hard backed version is robust and durable so that it will last a whole year of reading, re-reading and dipping in to. I loved the red silk bookmark that adds a sumptuous feel too. The illustrations by Whooli Chen are beautiful and I couldn’t decide if they would have been even better in colour or whether that would detract from their exquisite subtlety. Either way, they add a lightness of touch that balances the stark and effective tide tables or phases of the moon.

It’s no exaggeration to say I feel somewhat in awe of the research and detail in The Almanac. It’s astonishing. There is something here for every reader and not just those who are nature lovers. Certainly there is information about the natural world and I loved the concept of following the life of an ordinary garden pond throughout the year, but there’s so much more besides. Written in an accessible style with some super smattering of humour in a conversational tone, readers will find recipes and songs, notable dates and traditions, the zodiac and gardens so that there’s everything from the seas to the skies contained here. It’s evident from the acknowledgements that The Almanac has been a collaborative effort and I really think that collaboration makes it more than the sum of its parts.

I found The Almanac engaging, interesting, entertaining and informative. It would make a brilliant gift for anyone interested in the world around them – or for anyone who is impossible to buy for. It’s fascinating and it’s living in our motorhome for the whole of 2023.

About Lia Leendertz

Lia Leendertz is an award-winning garden and food writer based in Bristol. She writes regularly for the Daily Telegraph, The Garden, Simple Things, the Guardian and Gardens Illustrated. Her reinvention of the traditional rural almanac has become an annual must-have for readers eager to connect with the seasons, appreciate the outdoors and discover ways to mark and celebrate each month.

For further information, follow Lia on Twitter @lialeendertz, visit her website, or find her on Instagram.

The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul

I adore Gill Paul’s writing so I couldn’t be happier than to participate in the blog tour for Gill’s latest book, The Manhattan Girls by sharing my review today. My huge thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

Recently I reviewed Gill’s The Collector’s Daughter My Weekly’s online magazine in a post you’ll find here.

Previously Gill featured on Linda’s Book Bag when I reviewed The Lost Daughter here, and Gill wrote a superb guest post here. I reviewed The Second Marriage here too.

The Manhattan Girls was published by Harper Collins’ imprint Avon on 18th August 2022 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Manhattan Girls


An impossible dream.

The war is over, the twenties are roaring, but in the depths of the city that never sleeps, Dorothy Parker is struggling to make her mark in a man’s world.A broken woman.

She’s penniless, she’s unemployed and her marriage is on the rocks when she starts a bridge group with three extraordinary women – but will they be able to save her from herself?

A fight for survival.

When tragedy strikes, and everything Dorothy holds dear is threatened, it’s up to Peggy, Winifred and Jane to help her confront the truth before it’s too late. Because the stakes may be life or death…

A new novel from the internationally bestselling author, Sex and the City meets the 1920s in this sweeping tale of love, loss and the everlasting bonds of friendship. Perfect for fans of Fiona Davis, Dinah Jefferies and Chanel Cleeton.

My Review of The Manhattan Girls

Four women become unlikely friends.

Every time I read a Gill Paul book I think, ‘Oh. Gill Paul’s writing is getting better and better. This is her best book to date.’

Guess what? I think The Manhattan Girls is her best book to date! I adored it.

Gill Paul writes with a cinematic accuracy so that reading The Manhattan Girls is more like being in the settings with the characters rather than reading about them. From food to clothing, and from real people and places, to imagined situations and conversations, the writing is a feast for the senses that makes for such an immersive and satisfying read. Through her assiduous research, Gill Paul takes what you think you know about real women in history, turns it on its head and makes it a truly gripping and engaging her-story. In The Manhattan Girls she excels at bringing legendary people into sharp modern focus so that they are utterly fascinating.

I loved the plot and was torn between reading and enjoying the fabulous story-telling as an imaginative and compelling narrative and looking up what happens to see if it was a true event. I didn’t want to give myself any spoilers because I was thoroughly enjoying the read regardless of the fact these are real people involved in it. What works so brilliantly is the silky-smooth blend of fact and fiction that makes The Manhattan Girls an absolute delight to read. There’s such a vivid sense of the era with prohibition and drunkenness, post war austerity and excess, patriarchy and feminism, for example, so that every exquisite moment feels relevant and authentic.

There are weighty themes wrapped up in the narrative too with some sensitive issues explored, but never in a prurient or excessive manner. I won’t reveal too much for fear of spoiling the story. What Gill Paul does so brilliantly is to show humanity in all its facets, so that The Manhattan Girls is a sensitive, mature and intelligent consideration of what it meant to be a woman in the society of the time.

And what women they are. Other than Dorothy Parker, I was unaware of the other women presented here, but as a result of reading The Manhattan Girls I feel I have come to know them intimately. I have been horrified by some of their actions and reactions, I’ve cheered for some of their successes and feel almost as if I have lived vicariously through them. I could not have enjoyed meeting Jane, Dottie, Winifred and Peggy more. In particular, I thought the way Gill Paul presented Dorothy Parker was every bit as witty and scalpel sharp as the woman herself was thought to be, but at the same time she is made human and frail too so that she’s all the more real.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I adored The Manhattan Girls. It’s simply glorious. It’s beautifully written, wonderfully researched and hugely entertaining. The Manhattan Girls is one of my books of the year and you’d be a fool to miss it.

About Gill Paul

Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in the twentieth century and often writing about the lives of real women. Her novels have topped bestseller lists in the US and Canada as well as the UK and have been translated into twenty languages. The Secret Wife has sold over half a million copies and is a bookclub favourite worldwide. This is her twelfth novel. She is also the author of several non-fiction books on historical subjects. She lives in London and swims year-round in a wild pond.

Gill’s novels include The Second MarriageAnother Woman’s HusbandThe Secret Wife, about the romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar, who first met in 1914,  Women and Children First about a young steward who works on the Titanic and The Affair set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love while making Cleopatra. No Place for a Lady is about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.

You can follow Gill on Twitter @GillPaulAUTHOR, visit her website and find her on Facebook for more information.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Little House by the Sea

It’s an absolute pleasure to participate in the blog tour for Tracy Rees’ latest book, The Little House by the Sea and I’d like to thank Sarah Hardy for inviting me to take part. I’m delighted to share my review today.

I’m a huge fan of both Tracy’s contemporary and historical writing as you’ll see from the following:

I reviewed The Little Christmas House here.

Tracy’s The Rose Garden as my first ever online review for My Weekly magazine in a post you’ll find here.

You’ll find my review of Tracy’s contemporary novel Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church here.

Amy Snow was one of the first books I ever reviewed on the blog here.

I reviewed Florence Grace here and had a wonderful guest post from Tracy about the appeal of the C19th that you can read here.

Florence Grace was one of my Books of the Year in 2016 and you’ll see it featured here.

I also reviewed Tracy’s The Hourglass here and Tracy was kind enough to provide a guest post all about her memories of Richmond when Darling Blue was published. Darling Blue is still on my TBR but it’s just over a year ago that I reviewed The House at Silvermoor here.

Published by Bookouture on 24th August 2022, The Little House by the Sea is available for purchase here.

The Little House by the Sea

The cottage gate swings open to reveal the inky-blue sea and the sandy cove beyond. It’s exactly how Kitty imagined it, except she didn’t expect to be standing here alone…

Thirty-year-old Kitty Roberts spends her days searching for the perfect home for two… until her boyfriend, the only man she’s ever loved, dumps her. Devastated to lose not only her first love but her best friend too, she flees to the tiny seaside village where she spent carefree summers as a child, before her family fell apart.

At first, Kitty’s escape proves to be exactly what she needs – golden sunsets over warm, sandy beaches, lovably eccentric new neighbours and even a blush-inducing run-in with Cory Hudson, a handsome, professional surfer with a heart-stopping smile.

But just as Kitty feels herself beginning to heal and allows herself to open up to Cory, he reveals that his time in the seaside village is nearly up. What’s more, some surprising reactions to Kitty in town make her wonder if her connection to this place might go deeper than she thought.

It seems there’s a secret in her family’s past that is about to turn Kitty’s life on its head once more… Is she ready for the truth? And will it bring her and Cory closer together, or drive them apart?

A page-turning story that will make you smile, laugh and wish you could visit the little cottage by the sea! Absolutely perfect for fans of Jenny Colgan, Heidi Swain and Carole Matthews.

My Review of The Little House by the Sea

Kitty Roberts’s life is about to change.

What I so love about Tracy Rees’s writing is the absolute confidence that it will be beautifully written, perfectly plotted and emotional, with fabulous characters I can believe in and gorgeous descriptions that transport me wherever the author chooses. The Little House by the Sea is all of those things and more. I loved it. There isn’t a dissonant note throughout so that reading The Little House by the Sea is absorbing, entertaining and incredibly satisfying.

In amongst a carefully plotted story that weaves several strands into a brilliant narrative, is a lightness of touch that includes humour through Roly, balanced by depth of theme in the past lurking in Kitty’s family with just a tiny sprinkling of magic from Agatha that allows the reader to choose their own interpretation. There’s everything here from love and relationships, to family and friends and from ambition to acceptance in many forms. I loved the fact that Kitty isn’t defined by a man, but finds her place in life independently so that The Little House by the Sea feels surprisingly feminist as well as romantic. The plot is believable even where there are surprises which makes the story so engaging. It feels as if any reader could experience life like Kitty, making her relatable and appealing.

Indeed, the characters are fabulous, and I adored the way the small town  of Pennystrand means everyone knows everyone else’s business. What I found so refreshing was that whilst the full range of characters is present, we get to know a few really thoroughly, making them vivid and real. I thought Kitty was depicted to perfection; possibly because her obsession with houses matches my own!

I don’t know about Tracy Rees, but I so enjoyed The Little House by the Sea that I’m not finished with the people of Pennystrand – or the town itself – so I hope we’ll hear more in the future. I can’t stop thinking about the place because of Tracy Rees’s evocative descriptions or about the people because I feel they are completely authentic. I just loved this feel good, heartening and thoroughly entertaining story and I really recommend The Little House by the Sea as a breath of fresh (sea) air!

About Tracy Rees

Tracy Rees was the first winner of the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. She has also won the Love Stories Best Historical Read award and been shortlisted for the RNA Epic Romantic Novel of the Year. A Cambridge graduate, Tracy had a successful career in non-fiction publishing before retraining for a second career practising and teaching humanistic counselling. She has also been a waitress, bartender, shop assistant, estate agent, classroom assistant and workshop leader. Tracy divides her time between the Gower Peninsula of South Wales and London.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @AuthorTracyRees or visit her website for more information. You’ll also find Tracy on Instagram.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

After She’d Gone by Alex Dahl

My word, reviewing for My Weekly is giving me the opportunity to read some spectacular books. Today I’m delighted to share details of my latest review for the My Weekly website. Today I am sharing my thoughts on the excellent After She’d Gone by Alex Dahl.

Published by Head of Zeus on 18th August 2022, After She’d Gone is available for purchase here.

After She’d Gone

Unsettling, gripping and glamorous. A timely psychological thriller about the danger of beauty, the lure of power, and the fierce love of a mother for her son.

Liv keeps a low profile in Sandefjord, Norway: she’s just another tired single mother, trying to make ends meet. She has never told her son about the secrets she carries or the life she lived before he was born. She will do anything to keep him safe.

Anastasia‘s life is transformed when she moves from Russia to Milan to work as a model. She’s rich. She’s desired. But there’s a dark side to the high-pressure catwalk shows; the sun-baked Italian palazzos; the drink-fuelled after-parties hosted by powerful men. Soon, she will do anything to escape.

Selma is a journalist in Oslo. She’s investigating scandals in the modelling industry, but can’t get her article published. Then a woman goes missing in Sandefjord. Now Selma is about to uncover the biggest story of her life…

My Review of After She’d Gone

My full review of After She’d Gone can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, what I can say here is that After She’d Gone is a disturbing, totally compelling insight, into a brutal world that I found equally horrific and mesmerising. I thought it was superb.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Alex Dahl

Alex Dahl is a half-American, half-Norwegian author. Born in Oslo, she studied Russian and German linguistics with international studies, then went on to complete an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University and an MSc in business management at Bath University. A committed Francophile, Alex loves to travel, and has so far lived in Moscow, Paris, Stuttgart, Sandefjord, Switzerland, Bath and London.

She is the author of four other thrillers: Cabin FeverPlaydateThe Heart Keeper, and The Boy at the Door, which was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger.

For further information, follow Alex on Twitter @alexdahlauthor, Instagram and Facebook.

Spotlighting The Power of Letters by Team Inspire

It is almost a year since I received the following email from Team Inspire:

We’re a team of colleagues from Pitney Bowes Ltd who are taking part in ‘The Prince’s Trust Million Maker challenge’, where we’re aiming to raise over £10,001 for this wonderful charity to help in the support of young adults to build better futures.

To raise these funds, we’re creating an inspirational book of stories from people across all walks of life, sharing their life experiences and showing how facing difficult situations head-on, became their greatest triumph.  To know you are not alone; can also help, especially by learning from other’s experiences. To read, how from adversity, you can find hope and by having hopes and dreams you CAN achieve an optimistic future.

Our book will be in paperback, titled ‘The Power of Letters’. There will be three different themes; Hopes and Dreams, Reflections and Optimistic Futures, whether it’s a love letter, an apology, a letter of recommendation, a thank you or a simple note in your lunch box, many great things start with just a letter.

We want to appeal to a large audience aged 16+ with the idea that you don’t need to read the whole book in one sitting; you can pick a page any page for some inspirational words to help steer your mind set for the day.

So why are we telling you this?  –

We wanted to ask if you would be willing to write a letter or poem for our book, keeping within the themes detailed above about your own journey, or something that you feel would help inspire others. We know your contribution would be greatly received and valued by our readers, as well as helping us achieve our target of £10,001 for The Princes Trust.


Well I simply couldn’t refuse could I?

I was delighted to submit, and have accepted, a letter in The Power of Letters (pp160-162 if you’re interested). Although I’d love to review The Power of Letters as I think it’s a fabulous book I didn’t think it was ethical to write a review of a book I’ve written for. There is a magical feeling in turning the pages and finding your name in such a book.

The Power of Letters has contributions from actors like Nicholas Pinnock, writers like Tina Baker, public figures like Alastair Campbell to anonymous people and the ordinary ones like me tucked away in Fenland Lincolnshire. There are helpful web addresses and telephone numbers at the end where anyone experiencing some of the challenging aspects of life explored in the letters can turn for help. I think it’s a wonderful book and the ex-teacher in me feels glad to have to have contributed to The Prince’s Trust through whose work young lives are able to change.

Instead of a review, let me give you details about The Power of Letters:

The Power of Letters

What you hold in your hand is a collection of letters and poems, showcasing the value of what a positive mindset can achieve. To help remind people to believe in themselves. With a positive frame of mind, you can achieve anything you want. This book shares real-life experiences from everyday people (some famous) from young and old for a diversity of thought across different life journeys.

Challenges can come in all shapes and sizes, and mental health in all its guises does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone, any race, gender and at any age, with varying impact. No matter what you are going through and dealing with, it is always good to know that you are not alone. Our collection of letters will inspire you and remind you that others have triumphed over adversity, and you will, too.

We believe by learning from other people’s true experiences and reflections, you too can find hope.


I do hope you’ll be able to support this book.

The Power of Letters is available for purchase here.

For more information about Team Inspire, visit their website, follow them on Twitter @powerofletters1 or find them on Instagram.

Staying in with Bob Farrand

It’s always a pleasure to meet a new to me author and I am very pleased to welcome Bob Farrand to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me about his debut novel.  Let’s find out what Bob had to tell me:

Staying in with Bob Farrand

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

Hello Linda, thank you so much allowing me to suggest my book for your blog.

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

The Snake That Bites its Tail is my first novel and is the culmination of half a century of thoughts and daydreams while relishing half a century as a magazine publisher.

That sounds quite some gestation period! What can we expect from an evening in with The Snake that Bites its Tail.

So much of the story is drawn from my life experiences although I assure you, I am not a murderer. Or then again, could I be? Which of us is truly conscious of who we really are and how others see us?

That’s a very good point. 

As Clive James wrote after first sighting a portrait of himself he barely recognised:

And so, this other man slowly appears

Who is not me as I as I would wish to be,

But is the me I try not to see

I have a feeling we all feel like that from time to time Bob!

My story deals with the all-too-common life experiences of ordinary folk. People who live with mental illness, financial problems, parental control, divorce, a yearning for stability and family kinship and the cruelty of a guilt warped by outdated moral codes.

More importantly, the novel examines mankind’s instinctive need to control others and to seek vengeance when wronged. Can the killing of another human being ever be justified and how much free will do we, as humans possess? Our hero, Robin Farnham, may be guilty of four vengeance killings although he remains doggedly convinced of his innocence.

That sounds intriguing. Tell me more about Robin.

Robin is a retired magazine publisher who, on being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, attempts suicide to spare his family his slow deterioration. He awakes in a dementia home to be told the police suspect him of murder and under the care of enigmatic psychiatrist, Dr Peter Lakmaker, we begin to unravel the traumas of Robin’s life.

We learn of his possible involvement in not one but four murders, all acts of vengeance, all of which he could have committed.

Lakmaker also treats Jane Foster, a 16-year-old who runs away from home after being sexually abused by her adoptive father. Jane traces her birth mother, is involved in a loveless marriage as she searches for the family she was denied as a child and eventually settles into a long-term gay relationship. She and Robin meet in the year 2000, when she starts working in his business and we finally begin to unravel some of the truths hidden inside both their lives.

I have a feeling there’s even more to discover…

Along the way, we learn of the mysterious Ouroborous bracelet Robin found as a teenager and the impact it has exerted on his life. We meet Krait, a disturbing character who is also counselled by Lakmaker and Kraits revelations about Robin and Jane lead us into the harrowing but plausible climax.

My word. The Snake That Bites Its Tail sounds very profound as well as an incredible read.

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

My working life was spent in magazine publishing, the past thirty years running my own business involving food and drink magazines, awards, exhibitions, training programmes all to do with fine food and drink. In 2000, Hamlyn published my Cheese Handbook, a very personal selection of my 80 favourite cheeses.

Did you say cheese? You can come again. I love cheese!

Over the course of 35 years, my business has become a leading influencer in the world of artisan food and drink. We set up the World Cheese Awards, now the largest and most important global cheese event. Each year, it is held in a different country although this year, perversely, it was scheduled to be held in Kiev but has now been rearranged for Wales. We set up The Great Taste Awards, the most respected independent food accreditation scheme in the world, where some 15,000 different food and drink products are assessed each year.

Oh. I know a woman who’d be happy to act as a judge. Just saying…

One significant event during my career was the real stimulus for The Snake that Bites its Tail.  The disastrous business failure I suffered in the early 1990’s which is graphically depicted in the novel prompted me to turn to 19th century philosophy for guidance and ultimately prompted me to write the novel. Understanding the motivation behind vengeance, how and why it has rarely ever been controlled and has inspired philosophers to argue mankind’s behaviour is mostly instinctive and involves little or no free will.

This in turn pushed me to examine the wider implication of life and death, faith and non-faith and time as a circular dimension.

While finishing the novel gave me great satisfaction, I believe what I truly enjoyed more was the learning process. I had written 1500 articles on food and drink for years, but the disciplines involved in creating a 100,000-word book are entirely different. Literary festivals, online courses and some very critical but nevertheless constructive editors all helped me gain understanding of techniques needed for character building, dialogue, pace and engaging the reader. The learning curve was sharp but fascinating.

I imagine it was Bob. I think you sound the living embodiment of ‘What doesn’t break us, makes us stronger’! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about the fascinating sounding The Snake That Bites Its Tail. I think you should serve up some cheese and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details.

The Snake That Bites Its Tail

In 1965, nineteen-year-old Robin Farnham believes he ran over an old man but on stopping his car, finds no body, merely a gold bracelet of a snake biting its tail.

In 1981, sixteen-year-old Jane Foster is sexually abused by her adoptive father and attacks him before fleeing to London where she consults Dr Peter Lakmaker, a psychiatrist.

In 2021, now retired, Farnham is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and prescribed a drug on clinical trial. He attempts suicide but awakes in hospital to be told he is suspected of murder. Protected from the police by Dr Lakmaker, Robin is encouraged to write about his life to monitor the new drug’s effectiveness.

Over a period of half a century, Robin and Jane’s lives are interrelated although it is not until the year 2000, they finally meet. Robin’s quest for the truth behind his involvement in not one, but three murders and Jane’s tormented search for her birth parents and the close family relationship denied her as a child are muddied by the strangely prophetic Oroborous bracelet Robin wears and the appearance of the vengeance seeking Krait.

Separating fact from fiction has rarely presented more of a challenge, for the characters in the story or the reader.

The Snake That Bites Its Tail was published by Matador on 22nd February 2022 and is available in all the usual places including here. The author’s proceeds are all donated to the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation.

About Bob Farrand

During half a century in magazine publishing, Bob Farrand launched the Guild of Fine Food; published the magazines Fine Good Digest and Good Cheese; created the Great Taste Awards alongside the World Cheese Awards and trained over 20,000 UK staff working behind cheese counters in specialist food retailers and supermarkets. In 2000 he wrote The Cheese Handbook (Hamlyn) a personal selection of eighty great cheeses. Bob lives near Shaftesbury, Dorset, with his wife Linda. The Snake that Bites its Tale is his first novel.

You can follow Bob on Twitter @bobsfoodblog and Instagram.

Staying in with Nicola Matthews

Sometimes a book comes along that I am desperate to read but I simply can’t fit it in with the other commitments I have. Such is the case with Nicola Matthews’ debut book. However, I do have time to chat with Nicola all about it and luckily she agreed to stay in with me today.

Staying in with Nicola Matthews

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

Thank you very much for inviting me.

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

I’ve brought along my debut novel, Kitty Canham. The novel is based on real events that took place in the early eighteenth century, here, on our Essex backwaters. I am so excited to share with you something of Kitty’s intriguing story; the very thing that inspired me to write.

Oo. I love a blend of fact and fiction. What can we expect from an evening in with Kitty Canham?

I love to be transported to another time and place when I read. Kitty travels from Essex to London and further afield, but it is the liminal landscape of the estuary on which I live and which Kitty would have walked 300 years previously, that really took my imagination. It was lock down when I started writing, so I found myself immersed in the area’s haunting beauty. Some of my Amazon reviewers call the novel ‘immersive’ or as one said in a different way, ‘This is a story that captures the imagination and allows one to be lost in its pages.’

That’s such a lovely thing to hear. Congratulations.As well as landscape, tell me a bit about Kitty.

How a character deals with dilemmas fascinates me. Kitty is a feisty and passionate woman who finds herself struggling against the conventions of the age, sometimes making progress, at other times finding the tide of expectation too difficult for her. In forging her own path, she faces moral dilemmas that are not easily settled.

Sounds intriguing.

It is important to me not to put characters in ‘goody and baddy’ categories. People are complex and when things go badly it is usually because of faulty communication and wrong expectation. Kitty is surrounded by people who are not inherently bad but who sometimes make terrible choices or who withhold truth to misguidedly protect another. My hope is that all my characters, draw you into their lives and leave you feeling that you know them and have travelled with them.

I think the people in Kitty Canham sound vivid and real Nicola.

My background in theatre is, perhaps, evident in my writing. When I write I see every scene unfolding before me in 3D. The characters are active: their presence and movement always comes to me before their facial features. Maybe this is so for most writers. I’ll have to ask about.

I have seen review that suggest Kitty Canham would be perfect for television or film so you could be right!

Another factor is that a story needs to be told in an evening in the theatre. Kitty Canham is not a light read, in terms of content, but it is an easy read. The narrative takes you on a journey that spans a number of years. However, it is told in a linear fashion. It starts at the beginning and ends at the end, making it perfect for an evening of reading. As one reviewer puts it, ‘Loved this book from the beginning with the story weaving through the varied life of Kitty at pace. Such a visual read. Hardly put it down till finished.’

That’s so refreshing to hear. I’m not always keen on multiple timelines. So, how is Kitty Canham being received?

I expect every author wants to feel that their efforts have enriched their readers lives. Another reviewer suggested that the novel did just that, for her anyway,

‘I absolutely loved this book and heartily commend it to anyone who would love to escape for a few hours into another era and environment. I feel so much richer having read it.’

That is fantastic and makes me want to read about Kitty even more!

That is, I suppose, my greatest accolade and my hopeful expectation for anyone having an evening in with Kitty Canham.

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

I had planned to bring along a picture of the backwaters, because I could wax lyrical about the landscape all day. But then I remembered this antique perfume bottle. I bring it because this little bottle blindsides Kitty at a time when she is beginning to realise that her life at home is becoming untenable. It opens her to possibilities she never would have imagined. It is the emblem of both her hopes and her inevitable sorrows.

Now you’ve intrigued me completely Nicola. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Kitty Canham. I think it sounds fabulous. Let me give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details:

Kitty Canham

This is a fictional story woven around real life events that took place on the North Essex coast.

It is 1739. A woman had to be strong to make her way amid the conventions of the age. When the withheld truths that uphold those conventions begin to unravel around Kitty, she finds herself alienated from all she knows and loves.

Through an unexpected invitation she visits London society. There she becomes the keeper of a secret, which leads her into a deception of her own.

With few options Kitty determines to live a conventional life, but when tragedy strikes, misunderstandings follow and her life unravels once more. All the while she keeps her secret close, but the time will come when she can keep it no longer.

Kitty Canham is published by Hall House Press and is available for purchase here.

About Nicola Matthews

Nicola Matthews has always been involved in the creative industries, particularly in theatre and art. However, she primarily considers herself a storyteller and observer of the human condition. Nicola loves the enneagram and anything that picks our personalities apart! Nicola also loves her family, the countryside, and evenings round a campfire musing with friends. Poetry has been a constant companion, and she has published a small anthology called Anxt and other poems. Kitty Canham is her debut novel.

For further information, visit Nicola’s website, follow her on Twitter @nicola_author or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

I Am Ill With Hope: poems and sketches by Gommie

When George Spender got in touch from Samander Street about I Am Ill With Hope: poems and sketches by Gommie I knew I simply had to read and review it. I’m delighted to share my review today and would like to thank George enormously for sending me a copy of I Am Ill With Hope: poems and sketches by Gommie.

Published by Salamander Street on 27th September 2022, I Am Ill With Hope: Poems and Sketches by Gommie is available for purchase here.

I Am Ill With Hope: poems and sketches by Gommie

In 2019 poet-artist Gommie began walking the coastline of an England with nothing but a backpack, a tent and an unusually large collection of pens. His aim? Searching for hope during increasingly hard times.

From losing his way on the Dover Hills to bankruptcy in Rhyl and wild camping in Scarborough, Gommie’s extraordinary journey is still ongoing, and his findings, a deeply moving mixture of texture, illustration, poetry and verbatim conversations, are a gentle homage to the often-overlooked places we inhabit and the frequently forgotten voices we hear.

My Review of I Am Ill With Hope: poems and sketches by Gommie

Intimate, personal and moving I Am Ill With Hope is exquisitely simultaneously painful and uplifting to read. Gommie has created found poetry that speaks for us all, but especially the lonely, the ordinary person and those who still believe in hope and love. I found reading I Am Ill With Hope gave me a physical sensation in my chest as if my very heart were being squeezed. There’s both a literal and metaphorical connection with humanity to be found here. I didn’t actually read the introduction until after I’d read the poems and when I did I found myself quite undone by Gommie’s hoest, self-deprecating words.

The presentation of the entries in I Am Ill With Hope truly affects their meaning. I especially loved those where I had to search amongst the illustrations to find the words – in much the same way as Gommie has searched across England and Wales to find those whose voices echo through the poems. More affecting still is the way the poet searches for himself along the way. We are all always looking for meaning in life and Gommie’s collection shows that so effectively.

The illustrations add depth and poignancy. I know absolutely nothing about art, but they seem simultaneously to have an intensity and a looseness so that they feel emotional and immediate, as if Gommie has taken the time to look closely at things others see only superficially and record their transience.

There’s something profound about how the ordinary or the marginalised in society have been given a sense of status and, indeed, immortality through I Am Ill With Hope. The collection is precisely of its time and yet also timeless, touching on themes of human connection, mental and physical health, loneliness and love, identity and belonging. I found it touched me deeply. I really recommend others to read it because I think they will find a little part of themselves they didn’t even realise was lost. I did.

About Gommie

Gommie pictured with Emilia Clarke courtesy of Salamander Street

Oliver Gomm is an artist, poet and former actor. Following a breakdown in 2016, he decided to quit acting and began walking the coasts of England and Wales. Starting in Devon, he travelled through Ramsgate, Winstable, Faversham, Sheerness, Pitsea, Southend, Basildon, Ipswich, Felixstowe, Lowestoft, Cleethorps, Grimsby, Hull, Spurn Point, Bridlington, Scarborough, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, across Hadrian’s wall, Bowness-on-soloway, Carlisle, Workington, Whitehaven, Barrow, Whitstable, Lancaster, Blackpool, Preston, Liverpool, Flint and Rhyl.

Gommie won the Soho House Newcomer award presented by Kate Bryan. With lockdown, the walking tour ended. Gommie lost a project, but he gained a method. His work is currently being exhibited as part of the Soho House Collection.

You can find Gommie on Instagram or visit his website.