The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd

It’s almost exactly a year since I reviewed The Bloodless Boy by Robert J. Lloyd in a post you’ll find here. Consequently, when Nikki Griffiths invited me to participate in the blog tour for Robert J. Lloyd’s second book in the Hunt and Hooke series, The Poison Machine, I simply had to take part. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Melville House on 27th October 2022, The Poison Machine is available for purchase here.

The Poison Machine

In a thrilling sequel to The Bloodless Boy —a New York Times Best New Historical Novel of 2021 — combining the colour and adventure of Alexandre Dumas and the thrills of Frederick Forsyth — early scientists Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke of the Royal Society stumble on a plot to kill the Queen of England . . .

London, 1679 — A year has passed since the sensational attempt to murder King Charles II, but London is still a viper’s nest of rumoured Catholic conspiracies, and of plots against them in turn. When Harry Hunt — estranged from his mentor Robert Hooke — is summoned to the remote and windswept marshes of Norfolk, he is at first relieved to get away from the place.

But in Norfolk, he finds that some Royal workers shoring up a riverbank have made a grim discovery — the skeleton of a dwarf. Harry is able to confirm that the skeleton is that of Captain Jeffrey Hudson, a prominent member of the court once famously given to the Queen in a pie. Except no one knew Hudson was dead, because another man had been impersonating him.

The hunt for the impersonator, clearly working as a spy, will take Harry to Paris, another city bedevilled by conspiracies and intrigues, and back, with encounters along the way with a flying man and a cross-dressing swordswoman — and to the uncovering of a plot to kill the Queen and all the Catholic members of her court. But where? When?

The Poison Machine is a nail-biting and brilliantly imagined historical thriller that will delight readers of its critically acclaimed predecessor, The Bloodless Boy.

My Review of The Poison Machine

There’s a new investigation afoot.

I thoroughly enjoyed being back in the company of Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke. Robert J. Lloyd creates such a vivid sense of setting that the writing has a filmic quality providing a truly visual experience for the reader. It means The Poison Machine would make a marvellous television series and although the story is set in the 1600s, it has a Dickensian tone to the style that feels high quality. What I also really appreciated in Robert J. Lloyd’s style is that he often uses direct speech as a counterpoint to detailed description, frequently with witty understatement so that whilst the plot is fast paced and exciting, often with unsavouriness and occasional violence, there’s humour too that provides pitch-perfect balance.

As with The Bloodless Boy, The Poison Machine plot is steeped in meticulously researched historical detail, and blended with imagined events seamlessly to create an authentic and, I felt, occasionally quite a disturbing read. So much of the religious prejudice, the political machinations and the corruption of Harry Hunt and Robert Hooke’s era is all too pertinent to today’s world, making the exciting narrative feel uncomfortably and unnervingly modern as well as historically satisfying. This is a book that entertains but also makes the reader contemplate the world around them.

I think a reader needs to set aside quality time to read The Poison Machine because I kept finding myself thinking, ‘Oh. That’s interesting. I wonder if it/they were real.’ so that I kept pausing to look up references, so fascinating was the story. I also think The Poison Machine would reward several re-reads as I think there are nuances that only become clear once the full story is known.

That said, The Poison Machine is also a fast paced adventure that explores false identity, betrayal, science, religion, relationships, culture and friendships at both an international and personal level so that the reader isn’t always sure just who the heroes and villains really are, making for cracking entertainment. What Robert J. Lloyd does so well when he reveals the truth about a character, is to make the reader aware that there are layers to everyone and a simple definition of good or bad is not easily applied. He explores humanity so effectively. There’s also a salutary consideration of being careful what you wish for mixed in with murder, abduction, diamonds, and machinations of many kinds. The Poison Machine is every bit as intense, heart-thumping and diverting as any James Bond film so enjoyed today.

I confess I was glad of the cast list at the start of the book as there are quite a few names to retain. However, following on from The Bloodless Boy, in The Poison Machine, the main characters become more distinct to the reader. I especially liked the development of Grace because she refuses to conform to the norms of the times. She’s a well balanced combination of strength and vulnerability that makes her feel all the more real. I’m not sure I could endure some of her adventures with quite such equanimity!

The Poison Machine is a cracking historical thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed. Robert J. Lloyd led me on an adventure as eloquently written as any of the literary greats of the past two hundred years. I recommend it most highly.

About Robert J. Lloyd

Robert Lloyd, the son of parents who worked in the British Foreign Office, grew up in South London, Innsbruck, and Kinshasa. He studied for a Fine Art degree, starting as a landscape painter, but it was while studying for his MA degree in The History of Ideas that he first read Robert Hooke’s diary, detailing the life and experiments of this extraordinary man. After a 20-year career as a secondary school teacher, he has now returned to painting and writing. He is the author of The Bloodless Boy, which was selected by Publishers Weekly as a Mystery Book of the Year and The New York Times as a Best New Historical Novel of 2021.

You can follow Robert on Twitter @robjlloyd. You’ll also find Robert on Facebook.

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The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Edited by Patrick McGuinness

It’s well over 40 years since my French A’Level first introduced me to French short stories through Colette and Guy de Maupassant, so when surprise copies arrived of The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 1: From Marguerite de Navarre to Marcel Proust and The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 2: From Colette to Marie NDiaye, edited by Patrick McGuinness, I was delighted to be returned to my youth!

I have a feeling that I owe thanks to Emma Lubega at Penguin Random House for sending me these books as I had previously received a sampler. It’s a pleasure to share my review today.

Both published yesterday, 27th October 2022, by Penguin Classics The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 1 is available for purchase through the links here and The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 2 is available here.

The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 1: From Marguerite de Navarre to Marcel Proust

A major new celebration of the French short story

‘Nowhere have I witnessed real happiness, but surely it is to be found here…’

The short story has a rich tradition in French literature. This feast of an anthology celebrates its most famous practitioners, as well as newly translated writers ready for rediscovery. Here are decadent tales, ‘bloody tales’, fairy tales, detective stories and war stories. They are stories about the self and the other, husbands, wives and lovers, country and city, rich and poor.

The first volume spans four hundred years, taking the reader from the sixteenth century to the ‘golden age’ of the fin de siècle. Its pages are populated by lovers, phantoms, cardinals, labourers, enchanted statues, gentleman burglars, retired bureaucrats, panthers and parrots, in a cacophony of styles and voices. From the affairs of Madame de Lafayette to the polemic realism of Victor Hugo, the supernatural mystery of Guy de Maupassant to the dark sensuality of Rachilde, this is the place to start for lovers of French literature, new and old.

Edited and with an introduction by Patrick McGuinness, academic, writer and translator.

The Penguin Book of French Short Stories Volume 2: From Colette to Marie NDiaye

A major new celebration of the French short story across the twentieth century

‘A story? No. No stories, never again…’

The short story has a rich tradition in French literature. This feast of an anthology celebrates its most famous practitioners, as well as newly translated writers ready for rediscovery. Here are fables, puzzles, fairy tales, war stories and family histories, testing and expanding the boundaries of the form. They are stories about the self and the other, the centre and the periphery, experimental and existential, real and surreal.

The second volume takes the reader through the tumultuous twentieth century in the company of writers including Simone de Beauvoir and Maryse Condé, Patrick Modiano and Virginie Despentes, covering world wars, revolutions, and the horrors of the motorway service station. Along the way we meet electronic brains, she-wolves, a sadistic Cinderella, ancestors, infidels, dissatisfied housewives and lonely ambassadors, all clamouring to be heard. Funny, devastating and fresh at every turn, this is the place to start for lovers of French literature, new and old.

Edited and with an introduction by Patrick McGuinness, academic, writer and translator.

My Review of Both Books

Two volumes of eclectic writing spanning several centuries.

I have to apologise in advance as reviewing both Volume 1 and Volume 2 means there will be some generality to my thoughts but what we have here in these volumes is an absolute cornucopia of reading that encompasses not only many centuries, but many genres, styles and relevance to readers.

I found the introduction (repeated in both volumes) by Patrick McGuinness absolutely fascinating as he contemplates the nature of both the short story and the definition of Frenchness for their inclusion here. I loved the way in which each translator is acknowledged at the end of each story too, along with brief biographies of the authors at the end of each volume, as these features add a layer of interest as well as a feeling of community that transcends the stories themselves. I think it says something about the quality of translation too that the earlier stories in the first volume are equally as accessible as those belonging to the C20th entries in volume two.

With over 40 stories in each volume, there really is something here for everyone. Whilst I was familiar with obvious names like Balzac, Maupassant, de Beauvoir et al, I discovered so many I knew nothing about such as Sarzan by Birago Diop, so that The Penguin Book(s) of French Short Stories became a treasure trove of delight, discovering new authors, styles and literary approaches. I also found myself scuttling off to find out more about those new-to-me authors so that The Penguin Book(s) of French Short Stories have a life beyond simply reading the stories themselves. They are hugely educational whilst being totally absorbing and diverting.

As well as beautifully translated fiction with riveting stories in just about every conceivable genre, The Penguin Book(s) of French Short Stories somehow seem to enhance humanity. They encompass the real and the imagined, the corporeal world and the supernatural, war and peace, the prosaic and the exceptional, with all manner of themes that amplify the human condition and emotions from jealousy and passion through impatience and boredom to elation and love. To dip into both volumes of The Penguin Book(s) of French Short Stories is to dip into the hearts, minds and souls of writers, characters and themes across the ages.

These two volumes are filled to the brim with entertainment that the reader can return to time and again. They would make wonderful gifts and offer an enriching reading experience that I haven’t finished with yet. I’ll be returning to The Penguin Book(s) of French Short Stories time and again. I thought both volumes were excellent and really recommend them.

About Patrick McGuinness

Born in Tunisia in 1968, Patrick McGuinness is the author of The Last Hundred Days, which was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the 2011 Costa First Novel Award and won the 2012 Wales Book of the Year Award. His other books include two collections of poems, The Canals of Mars (2004), Jilted City (2010), and Other People’s Countries (2015), which won the Duff Cooper Prize and was the Wales Book of the Year. He is a Fellow of St Anne’s College, Oxford, where he lectures in French.

For further information, visit Patrick’s website, follow him on Twitter @padrigmcg.

Researching Historical Fiction: A Guest Post by Sarah Mallory, Author of The Duke’s Family for Christmas

I’m so lucky to have a copy of Sarah Mallory’s latest book The Duke’s Family for Christmas on my TBR and I’m hoping to immerse myself in it in December, However, as today is publication day for The Duke’s Family for Christmas I thought I’d invite Sarah back to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me a bit about how she researches historical fiction and luckily she agreed. As a result I have a smashing guest post to share with you today and you’ll find Sarah on the blog in other posts here. First, though, let me tell you about The Duke’s Family for Christmas.

Published by Mills and Boon Historical today, 27th October 2022, The Duke’s Family for Christmas is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

The Duke’s Family for Christmas

He has until Christmas Eve…

To make them a family!

Determined to claim the son his late wife kept secret from him Leo, Duke of Tain, is working in disguise as his tutor. Until Miss Lily Wrayford, the child’s fiercely protective guardian, discovers Leo’s true identity…and gives him until Christmas to prove she can trust him!

All Leo wants is to be a good father, but might this brave, captivating woman be the final missing piece of his family?

Researching Historical Fiction

A Guest Post by Sarah Mallory

Personally, I think it’s a bit early for the C word, but my latest book is published today, so I can’t avoid it! The Duke’s Family for Christmas is a Regency romance that ends at, well, the Festive Season. When I was writing this book, I was very much aware that many of our Christmas customs did not arrive until after the Regency Period. Charles Dickens was responsible for some of them, as was Queen Victoria.

Christmas during the Regency was more about special meals, decorating the house with evergreen plants and perhaps a visit to church in the morning. Mail coaches ran their regular service on Christmas Day, so it was not the special holiday we think of today.

However, books of the period talk of snowstorms in December, so I didn’t think it would be too far-fetched to have snow in my story. There are also reports of wassailers going from house to house, singing hymns and more seasonal songs and raising money for the poor. However, 6th December was St Nicholas Day, which was the traditional day for exchanging gifts.

All this brings me on to researching for historical novels, so here goes with a few tips, for those who are thinking of writing one.

If it’s a new period for you, read around the subject – biographies, history books, literature and music. Plays and poetry of the time are good for the use and flow of language. You also need to research your facts. Children’s history books can be very good at giving you a simple overview, then you can delve deeper into your particular interest. When I started writing, one had to visit the local library, who would order in special books if you needed them, or you could travel to the bigger city libraries. These days, many universities have primary documents online, so its worth searching for these.

You can also get a feel for the period by visiting old houses, battlefields etc. Many specialist organisations are only too happy to share their knowledge, if you ask them. For example, in one book I wanted to know how to sabotage a Regency carriage. I contacted the National Trust’s carriage museum and was put in touch with a carriage builder who told me more than I would EVER need to know for my book.

Which brings me to travel – Beware of potholes

Travel can catch out the unwary author. In the early 18th Century, roads were mainly dirt tracks and a coach took a week to travel from London to York. If you look at old coaching time-tables, the average speed for a coach was 8-10 mph. Yes the rich travelled, but most people remained close to their home.

Research is great

I love it. You can disappear down so many rabbit holes!  But remember, not everything you know needs to go into the book. Beware of information dump. You are writing fiction and too much historical detail can slow up the story.

It’s not what you say

Dialogue can be a headache for the historical novelist. You only have to listen to films from the 1930s to know that we don’t talk the same now as we did in the past. Go back 200 years and the problem is multiplied! Some authors go for modern dialogue – it’s a personal choice. A few historical words and slight changes to the arrangement of the words can give an impression of the period without leaving your reader bored or bewildered.

There is much more to it than this, of course, but everyone has to start somewhere, and if you have been itching to write that novel then the best thing is to get on and do it. You’ll learn on the job.

Sarah Mallory.


Fabulous advice Sarah. Thanks so much!

About Sarah Mallory

Sarah Mallory is an award-winning author who has published more than 25 historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon. She loves history, especially the Georgian and Regency period. She has recently moved to the romantic Scottish Highlands, where she walks long walks to plot out her latest adventure!

Sarah is also the award-winning author Melinda Hammond.

You can follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMRomance. You can also visit her excellent website and find her on Instagram or Facebook.

The Widdershins Series by Helen Steadman

It’s rare that I reblog a previous review, but I was so impressed by Helen Steadman’s writing that when  Anne Cater of Random Things Tours invited me to participate in this blog tour for Helen’s Widdershins Series I had to take part. I loved both Sunwise and Widdershins and am delighted to reshare my reviews today. I’m lucky enough to have Helen’s The Running Wolf on my TBR too. However, let me tell you about the Widdershins Series:

The Widdershins Series 

Jane Chandler is learning the art of healing while John Sharpe wants to rid the world of witchcraft. In an English town gripped by superstition and fear, two destinies collide in these absorbing historical novels based on true events.



 England, 1649. A sadistic witch hunter. An apprentice healer accused of witchcraft. Can she escape the hangman’s noose?

When John’s parents die at the hands of a witch, he faces a choice: an easy life with a woman who serves Satan, or a hard life with a preacher who serves God. The cursed orphan chooses the church. Raised on raging sermons, he discovers his true purpose: to become a witchfinder and save virtuous souls from the jaws of hell.

In a town mesmerized by superstition and fear, two destinies collide. As John rounds up the local witches, Jane gets more than she bargained for when bartering with the apothecary. Instead of trading herbal remedies, she finds herself on trial for consorting with the devil. Can she prove her innocence, or will she be condemned to death?

If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise.

Buy Widdershins here to find out whether good triumphs over evil.

Recommended for fans of The FamiliarsTidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.


‘There is a madness come upon England of late.’

England, 1650. A sadistic witch hunter. An innocent healer and her child accused of witchcraft. Can they escape the hangman’s noose?

Filled with vengeance, John will stop at nothing in his sworn mission to free the world from the scourge of witchcraft. When his quest to vanquish evil is thwarted by Jane, he decrees that she must die.

After defeating the witchfinder, Jane must continue her dangerous healing work. Alone in a hostile and superstitious village, she struggles to keep her little girl alive.

Determined to keep his vow, the witchfinder must put mother and daughter to death. When John brings the witch hunt to Jane’s home, can she save herself and her child from certain slaughter?

If you like historical novels based on real witch trials, you’ll love Helen Steadman’s Sunwise, the sequel to Widdershins.

Buy Sunwise here to find out whether good triumphs over evil.

Recommended for fans of The FamiliarsTidelands and The Witchfinder’s Sister.

My Review of Widdershins

Jane learns the ways of natural healing from her mother. John is an orphan affected by his bad luck. Each is a product of their time.

Widdershins is absolutely brilliant. Read it.

I’m not sure I can bring myself to say anything else, so wonderful was this story, but I’ll try.

Set in the mid seventeenth century, Widdershins paints the most vivid and disturbing portrait of the times. Helen Steadman shows humanity (or frequently the lack of it) nature, superstition, the church and authority, relationships and life at all levels in a totally absorbing and disturbing read. On occasion I could hardly bear to continue and I kept stopping to put down the book and recover my composure before I read the next part so enraged was I by the attitudes displayed. I had a good idea intellectually about the era and how women were treated, but I’ve never experienced that knowledge so viscerally and emotionally as I did when reading Widdershins.

The characters of Meg, John, Jane, Tom, Annie et al were described so wonderfully through their speech and actions that they came alive as I read. I utterly loathed John but understood him completely so that alongside my hatred, Helen Steadman made me feel sorry for him too. That is masterful writing. I don’t want to reveal any of the plot for fear of spoiling the read for others but there were elements in Jane’s story that had me exclaiming aloud and giving her advice until my husband thought I’d gone quite crazy.

Widdershins is inspired by actual events but this is no dry retelling of our history. Helen Steadman is as much a witch in her spellbinding ability to enthral the reader as any of those in the story. I’m not usually overly fond of dual narratives but the stories of Jane and John absorbed me entirely and as their lives began to converge my heart genuinely thumped louder. Widdershins is historical fiction at its best, but it’s also a roller coaster read of emotion and thrills too.

I really like the way Widdershins is divided into three sections, perhaps representing the superstitious number three and its significance in the holy trinity and folklore that underpin the story.

However, an aspect that I think really took Widdershins from a very good read to an outstanding one for me was the overall quality of the prose. There’s a cracking plot, historical accuracy, naturalistic dialogue befitting the era and wonderful characterisation, but best of all is the beauty and rawness of the language. The natural descriptions took me back to my childhood and I felt there wasn’t a word out of place. I was there with Jane picking elder flowers for example.

Initially I wasn’t especially looking forward to reading Widdershins as I thought it might be dry and ‘worthy’. Instead I discovered a vivid and dynamic story that transported me back in time it and cannot recommend Widdershins highly enough.

My Review of Sunwise

Witch finder John Sharpe is back to rid the world of his perceived evil.

Having so enjoyed the fabulous Widdershins by Helen Steadman, I knew I was in for a treat with Sunwise and I wasn’t disappointed. There’s a glorious and frequently harrowing intensity to Helen Steadman’s narrative style, coupled with a vibrant historical accuracy that hypnotises the reader and transports them to a world of superstition, tradition, religion and persecution. I cannot begin to express just how authentically accurate Sunwise is, or to comprehend the level of diligence and research that must have gone in to its creation. This is a marvelous example of historical fiction.

I thought the plotting of the novel, with alternate chapters given to John Sharpe and Jane Driver exemplified perfectly the balance of good and evil, religion and superstition, women and men. Sunwise presents a seventeenth century world as vividly as if the reader is experiencing it first hand and yet with themes that are as fresh and relevant to today’s century – from abuse to corruption, greed to love. It’s impossible not to be drawn into the events because of the fabulous quality of Helen Steadman’s writing.

The fervour of John’s obsessive religious viciousness is thoroughly terrifying, and he’s a character I could hardly bear to read whilst simultaneously being unable to avert my eyes. He brought out the very worst in my personality and I wished him personal pain and suffering with a passion that made me feel quite uncomfortable.

Conversely, Jane enhanced all that is good and positive in the face of adversity. I desperately wanted her to have a happy ending and you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out if my wishes were fulfilled!

If you love historical fiction that is authentic, fascinating and compelling with characters that thrum with life then look no further than Sunwise. Helen Steadman has established herself as a brilliant writer with the power to be as spellbinding as any of the witches John Sharpe is hunting. I thought Sunwise was brilliant and connot recommend it highly enough.

About Helen Steadman

helen steadman

Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the seventeenth-century Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by the Shotley Bridge swordmakers, who defected from Solingen, Germany in 1687. Helen’s fourth novel is God of Fire, a Greek myth retelling about Hephaestus, possibly the least well-known of the Olympians. Helen is now working on her fifth novel.

Despite the Newcastle witch trials being one of the largest mass executions of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.

The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who defected from Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.

You can follow Helen on Twitter @hsteadman1650 and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Instagram and Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

An Interview with Romantic Novelists’ Association Media Star of the Year 2022 Finalist Rachel Gilbey

It’s an absolute pleasure today to welcome fellow blogger and friend Rachel Gilbey to Linda’s Book Bag. Rachel is a fabulous blogger at Rachel’s Random Reads and a huge supporter of romantic fiction, meticulously organising blog tours through Rachel’s Random Resources, as well as being an avid reader. Rachel has been nominated several times and as a previous winner of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Media Star Award, she has again made it through to the final for 2022. I’m delighted Rachel agreed to be interviewed today.

An Interview with Rachel Gilbey

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Rachel and congratulations on your RNA Media Star Award nomination.

This isn’t the first time you’ve been nominated and you’ve won the award in the past. How does that make you feel?

Thank you so much for having me Linda. If I thought I was in shock the first time I was nominated, nothing can compare to discovering I was on the shortlist for a 5th year in a row this year. Utterly amazing and entirely grateful to anyone that nominated me.   And given I am the current Media Star, I honestly didn’t in my wildest dreams think I would be on that shortlist again this year.

Your nomination is much deserved Rachel!

What was it like when you won previously? 

I’d imagine it was a bit like when you won it yourself previously.  Completely overwhelming, and almost a full year on still can’t believe that I won. It was amazing, and I still remember Jean Fullerton when handing over the award to me, checking that I would be ok to organise her next blog tour!

I think the smile on your face says it all! I was delighted for you as you’re such a champion of romantic fiction.

Last year’s RNA Industry Awards and Winter party was the first big book event I believe since the start of the pandemic, so it was just wonderful to see so many people that I had missed over the previous 18 months or so, in the flesh.  To me the parties (and invite to them) are the true prize of being shortlisted – as there is nothing like an RNA party.

I quite agree and am only sorry I can’t be there again this year. It’s the fantastic people that make it such a brilliant event.

A mix of top and upcoming romance authors, a lot that I have either read or worked with in one place, with typically a mix of people working in the industry too, normally makes for a fantastic evening.  And the award and winning was just the cherry on top of a rather special cake!

That being said I do have the trophy and certificate in pride of place on my media centre unit, where I can see them whenever I look up and they always make me smile.

I bet! My Media Star award is still in pride of place too!

This was the first time I’ve ever won anything on merit and it still feels incredible.

And no-one can take that away from you.

So, what do you think is so special about romantic fiction?

For me it is all about escapism, ever since I was a young teen (may have been pre-teen), reading my first Mills & Boons, I have been hooked on romance. I love the feel good factor of the genre, the ability to lose yourself in a story and with the books I tend to read have a happy ending.

It takes you away from the gritty reality of life, and anything that can give you pleasure, and make you believe that there could just be a man out there for you (even when you aren’t the traditional / stereotypically beautiful woman), has to be a good thing.

I think you’re absolutely right Rachel. There’s someone for everyone and we all need that escapist happiness that romantic fiction delivers in spades, whatever our relationship status or appearance. 

What would you say to those who never read romantic fiction?

I’d say that most genres almost certainly have a romantic storyline in them whether it is at the heart of the story or not. In crime we often learn about the detectives personal lives, and I find myself drawn to their relationships just as much as I am to the crimes they are solving.

Romantic fiction is so much more than the “bodice rippers of yesteryear”, they feature real characters, relationships (romantic / friendship / family), and tend to be characters you can really relate to, while also being able to lose yourself into a fictional world.

I agree. It’s all about relationships of all kinds and if we strip those out of other genres there’s not often much left!

Is there anything you’d like to see more or less of in romantic fiction? 

I am a sucker for an exotic destination and love being able to travel with my books too, and would love to see more than just France / Spain / Italy / Greece featured in the main summer releases.  There are so many other great holiday destinations that characters could go to!

Oh yes! I love a bit of vicarious travel too. 

Of course an increase in diversity in all of its forms race / sexuality / disability would be good to see too.

And age (for those of us in out 60s?)

Linda, if you are looking for books with older protagonists, make sure to check out Maddie Please, Judy Leigh to name two authors that instantly jump to my mind with older characters.

I will! Thanks for the suggestion Rachel.

Is there a ‘go to’ romantic author whose books you never miss?

You know asking a mother who her favourite child is, would probably get you a more definite answer, than asking a book lover for her “go to” romantic author.

My must read every single book author list is far too long to start naming here! But if you insist I absolute can’t get enough of…. Actually I tried to start typing and then realised I don’t have a spare hour to tell you, and even then I would miss some.  But they do regularly feature on my blog!

Brilliant answer. 

Which romantic novelist do you think is too much under the radar and deserves more recognition?

Ah now that’s an interesting question – Holly Martin jumps to mind for this one – she is the absolute queen of the big romantic gesture, and her books are just wonderful.

Oo. I’ve just checked and I haven’t read nearly enough of her books. 

Is there a romantic book you haven’t read that you’re itching to get to?

Pretty much all the ones on both my Netgalley shelf and also my actual bookcase, not to mention the many hundreds of other books on my kindle that I really would like to read!

What I can say with certainty though is that when The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan (which is out on 27th October) arrives from Amazon, I will be 110% itching to finish whatever I am currently reading that day in order to read that.

Ok so Jenny Colgan, Milly Johnson, Jill Mansell, Cathy Bramley, Carole Matthews, Ali McNamara, Sarah Morgan, Jo Thomas, Sophie Kinsella, Lindsey Kelk are just some of my all time favourite authors of romantic fiction – which I possibly should have just started naming two questions ago.

The trouble is, there are so many fabulous authors and books in the romantic genre that there aren’t enough years in our lives to read them all!

Which has been your favourite romantic read this year so far? 

As you may be starting to realise I am rubbish at picking favourites, I just love so so many books.

But standouts include the final three books of the Hedgehog Hollow series by Jessica Redland (ah yes another go to author, speaking of which have I mentioned Nicola May for that yet too, or Julie Caplin, Sandy Barker, Heidi Swain!).

Guilty Women by Melanie Blake – couldn’t get enough of it, and eagerly awaiting her next book (another drop everything author, can you see why I can’t ever pick what book to read next, I’d drop everything for more authors than there are days in a month!).

Lost Luggage by Samantha Tonge – another memorable book from the year, from another go to author, with such a unique concept behind it, that has stuck with me a lot too.

Three very different choices which just goes to show the variety within romantic fiction I think.

What other genres do you enjoy?

I tend to enjoy crime / thriller and psychological thrillers too which I tend to read as palate cleansers every few romance, just for a bit of variety.

Absolutely. Variety is the spice of life…

You’re a blogger so could you tell us a bit about your blog and what blogging entails for you please?

For the past 7 years I have been blogging as Rachel’s Random Reads, and at the moment the actual blogging is me writing and sharing reviews of books I’ve read, to spread the book love to as many people as I can.

I used to run regular features, on there too, but since setting up Rachel’s Random Resources (Linda, bet you’re wondering why it took me so long to mention it!) where I organise blog tours for authors I have a lot less time for the blogging part of my life.

I was wondering…

However it’s through blogging that I have met so many wonderful authors, publishers, fellow bloggers and truly feel that I have found where I belong in the world – amongst fellow book lovers. Especially at RNA events, where I really am with my tribe!

You really are and it is most definitely where you belong. And long may Rachel’s Random Reads and Rachel’s Random Resources continue! Huge congratulations again Rachel on your fifth nomination for the RNA Media Star Award and thanks so much for being on Linda’s Book Bag today. 

Thank you so much for having me Linda.

About Rachel Gilbey

Since starting her popular blog Rachel’s Random Reads over seven years ago, Rachel has discovered just how much the book community means to her, and has even created her own ideal job of organising blog tours at Rachel’s Random Resources. She loves reading a wide range of genres, but particularly enjoys contemporary romantic fiction. She lives just outside central London, which she says is useful for attending book events, and indulging in her passion for West End musical theatre.

For more information, follow Rachel on Twitter, find her on Facebook and Instagram or visit her blog and website.

An Unplanned Series: A Guest Post by Robert Crouch

Lovely Robert Crouch has been a frequent feature on Linda’s Book Bag in several posts you’ll find here. Today I’m delighted to welcome Rob back as he contemplates how he came to write the Kent Fisher series of books with a simply wonderful guest post celebrating getting to the eight book in the Kent Fisher series, No Escape.

Before I share that though, let me tell you about No Escape, which is available for purchase here.

No Escape

One reckless moment, so many lives.

Gemma Dean goes missing one chilly October morning, leaving behind her phone. Texts hint at secrets far darker than Kent Fisher could ever imagine.

When a body is found in his burned out car over a hundred miles away, murder brings the past crashing into the present with the first in a chain of painful discoveries.

Struggling to make sense of a past that threatens to devastate his future, Kent faces his most personal and challenging investigation so far.

But how will he deal with the fallout from one reckless moment that cost so many lives?

An Unplanned Series

A Guest Post by Robert Crouch

On the 19th September 2022, a reader posted a five star review that ended with the following paragraph –

‘I held off writing a review as I wanted to get the second book and see if it was as good. Now I’m on book SIX in the series and it’s STILL rocking along with the same energy, enjoyment and real-life background that’s utterly engrossing, with no sign of becoming formulaic. Wonderful!’

Forgive me for blowing my own trumpet, but when you’re struggling to write Book Nine in the series, and your thoughts keep flirting with an idea for a different novel, you need all the encouragement you can get.

And there you have it in a nutshell – the joys and struggles of writing a series.

Readers want them. They love them, often reading one after another in rapid succession, the way viewers binge watch series on catch up TV. After completing the first two Kent Fisher murder mysteries, I had no plans or ideas for a third.

I only wrote a second novel because the first one had environmental health officer, Kent Fisher, investigating a serial killer. The concept posed several awkward questions that challenged the credibility of the story.

Why was an environmental health officer (EHO) investigating a murder?

Did a relative of the victim pop down to the town hall and ask if an EHO could slip in some sleuthing between food hygiene inspections of local restaurants?

That’s what was happening in No Bodies, the first novel in the series at this point.

So I wrote a second book, which would become the first in what was starting to look suspiciously like a series in the making. Kent had to be drawn into investigating a murder. Disguising a killing as a work accident came to me while I was out on my South Downs district, thinking about murder between food hygiene inspections.

The idea became No Accident, the first Kent Fisher murder mystery. While investigating the accident, he uncovers a perfect murder, which turns out to be the start of his troubles.

Many years were to pass before the novels were published and I had to consider writing a third. Readers enjoyed the first two, liking the characters, the backstory and the complex whodunits. Many also wrote how much they enjoyed something fresh and different from the usual police procedurals on the market.

Could I write a third?

The first two novels were planned in great detail over several years. And how many times could I get away with an EHO investigating a murder? I had visions of him ending up like Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, relying on relatives and people she knew to provide the sleuthing opportunities.

Kent was a bit of a loner, running an animal sanctuary outside of the day job. He had commitment issues, which meant his love life was a series of short encounters. He lacked the time and large family to support a series of murder investigations.

Or was this fear and self-doubt talking?

One of the other key features readers enjoyed were the glimpses into environmental health work. A health and safety at work accident investigation in the first, infectious disease control in the second.

Could I select some of the other diverse areas of my work as a basis for stories? This could stop them becoming formulaic, further stretching the credibility of my character and the stories.

Don’t ask me where the idea came from, but the opening lines popped into my thoughts one day. It was delivered by an elderly resident in a luxury residential home.

The old man’s grip tightens on my forearm. “They’re killing me.”

Now Kent could have been walking through the main lounge after inspecting the home’s kitchens, but this could become repetitive. Indeed in subsequent stories, I make sure there’s always a chef apologising for not having a body in the freezer.

Instead, Kent took his West Highland white terrier, Columbo, to the care home on a ‘Pets as Therapy’ visit. A few weeks later, the man dies and has to be buried by the local council as he has no relatives to arrange or pay for a funeral. (This was another environmental health aspect to slip into the novel.)

Kent’s drawn into a third murder investigation in No Remorse.

I forged ahead without any planning, not wanting to keep readers waiting. Equally, I wasn’t sure I could produce a third novel, so plunging straight in didn’t allow time for any doubts to defeat me. When I completed the novel, this method became the template for the future.

It also demonstrated the importance of the backstory – the animal sanctuary, his problems at work during a time of Government spending cuts, his romantic encounters, and the characters that had become a family to me. Readers agreed, enjoying these elements, which often added a humorous, cosier counterpoint to the grim aspects of murder.

Determined to avoid repetition, I had the police seek Kent’s help with a cold case in the fourth novel, No More Lies. In No Mercy, the fifth story, I created the restaurateur from hell to wreak havoc on social media after his business was given a poor hygiene rating. When he was murdered in one of his walk-in chillers, Kent became a suspect.

Personal issues in the backstory allowed me to end each novel with a problem and a hook. Of course, this meant the next novel had to answer any questions raised. This meant I had to consider these questions before I could give much thought to the next murder.

And all the time, readers keep telling me each story was better than the previous one, adding to the pressure.

In the sixth novel, No Love Lost, Kent, the hunter, became the hunted. It stuck to the template, but this time his past was under the spotlight. Still with one eye on avoiding formula or cliché, I risked another personal novel for the seventh in the series, No Going Back. This time it was the drowning of a friend and fellow hunt saboteur at the heart of the story.

As I wrote the first draft of the novel, it had the feeling of being the last.

It’s difficult to keep the stories and investigations fresh and inventive. Sooner or later, I’ll produce a novel that doesn’t meet the standards of the previous ones. Then there’s the continuity challenge, which becomes more difficult with each new book in the series.

I keep records of the main characters and events in each novel, but not always the details I need. I’m forced to check back for something as simple as a character’s hair or eye colour, which interrupts the creative flow.

Then, just as I felt sure No Going Back would be the last in the series, I finished with a cliff hanger ending. The moment I wrote the final sentence, I knew I couldn’t leave it there.

Was this my subconscious rebelling? Was I worried about letting down my readers?

No Escape, the eighth novel, was another deeply personal story for Kent Fisher, but one which showed his vulnerabilities. It dragged me out of my comfort zone and opened up a fresh possibility. Could Kent become a private investigator after leaving environmental health?

I don’t know how readers will react to this new approach. I’ve no idea whether it will work.

Then again, I never planned to write a series of eight novels either.


What an absolutely wonderful guest post Rob. You illustrate so brilliantly the writing process and an author’s self-doubts and efforts. Thanks so much.

About Robert Crouch

Robert Crouch and Harvey

Robert Crouch brings something familiar but different to the traditional murder mystery.

Drawing on his experiences as an environmental health officer, he created amateur sleuth, Kent Fisher. Being neither a police officer nor a private investigator, Kent brings a fresh and original twist to the classic whodunit.

When he’s not writing most complex murder mysteries, Robert enjoys roaming the gentle hills and beautiful coastline of the South Downs with his wife. Armed with a camera or two, he likes to capture the wildlife and settings that play such a big part in his novels.

You can find out more on Robert’s website, and if you sign up to Robert’s reader’s group here, you’ll receive a free copy of Fisher’s Fables. You can also follow Robert on Twitter @robertcrouchuk and find him on Instagram and  Facebook.

Spooky Ambiguous Edited by Lorna Brookes

With a week to go until Halloween, my huge thanks go to Daphne Denley, one of the contributors to a most timely collection, Spooky Ambiguous, edited by Lorna Brookes, for arranging to have the book sent to me in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Crumps Barn, Spooky Ambiguous is available for purchase here.

Spooky Ambiguous

Ghosts and vampires, zombies and werewolves. A mirror with danger at its heart. A child is delighted to discover she is a witch, and a village disappears under a fairy curse. Then a selkie finds her way back to the waves, before a blood moon rises, bringing its own secrets …

Full of the spooky and the gothic, fairy tales and poetry, this is a brilliant and intriguing collection where nothing and no one is as they seem.

Bringing together authors from across the UK: featuring Penny Ayers, Michael Bartlett, Patrick Booth, Amaris Chase, Holly Anne Crawford, Ivor Daniel, Amanda Jane Davies, Daphne Denley, J. J. Drover, Harriet Hitchen, Rebecca McDowall, Jane Phillips, Angela Reddaway, Joe Robson, Margaret Royall, with illustrations by Lorna Gray

My Review of Spooky Ambiguous

Now, I don’t ‘do’ Halloween, feeling like Leslie in Michael Bartlett’s Mirror Mirror that it’s ‘American-inspired rubbish’ and I rarely read anything spooky because I don’t like being scared, so really Spooky Ambiguous should be a book for me to avoid. Hmm. I really enjoyed it!

Filled with slightly intangible, ethereal and hugely atmospheric illustrations from Lorna Gray that add to the mystery of the book and enhance the writing, Spooky Ambiguous has something for every reader. There’s a Gothic rather than overtly horror genre feel to the collection (although that’s represented too, particularly in Joe Robson’s Penance) with both poems and short stories from such a wide range of writers that this eclectic volume really is greater than the sum of its parts.

There are elements one might expect with a collection under the title Spooky Ambiguous with werewolves, selkies, ghosts and so on, but there’s historical and geographical detail, literary allusion and some wonderful writing too, particularly with regard to vivid or disturbing descriptions so Spooky Ambiguous has depth and quality. I especially appreciated the sense of place that is created in so many entries whether that’s a crypt, a closed road or a newly renovated house.

The different entries entertain brilliantly and of course, some will appeal to some readers more than others, but what works so well here is the exploration of themes. There’s identity and appearance, stereotypical attitudes and feminism, control and deception as well as death, relationships and science. However, the most affecting element of the collection, as the title might suggest, is the ambiguity between the corporeal and other worlds. Here there is a blurring of lines so well represented by the illustrations as well as the writing so that there is a murkiness, and not every story is completely resolved, further enhancing the reader’s disquiet and thoughts.

I thoroughly enjoyed Spooky Ambiguous. I appreciated having both poems and prose, first and third person perspectives and a collection that can be dipped into or read in the order presented as I did. If like me, you view the concept of trick or treat anathema, I think you’ll be missing a trick if you don’t treat yourself to this eclectic collection instead. Embrace the otherworldliness and, like me, you might be surprised, but if you’re a reader hoping for a cure for diabetes – watch out!

About Lorna Brookes

Lorna Brookes is an illustrator, most commonly seen filling children’s books with animals for Crumps Barn Studio. She’s also occasionally an author. She loves re-imagining the natural world in print. Her background in archaeology and Fine Art is a significant influence. She is married and lives in a very rural corner of Gloucestershire.

For further information, follow Lorna on Twitter @CrumpsBarnBooks.

An Extract from Ruby Roy and the Murder in the Falls by Rima Ray

Today it’s my pleasure to share an extract from Ruby Roy and the Murder in the Falls by Rima Ray. I had hoped to share this almost a month ago but life and blog demands outwitted me, but I think you’ll agree it was worth waiting for! My enormous thanks to Ben at Cameron Publicity for facilitating this.

Published on 3rd May 2022, Ruby Roy and the Murder in the Falls is available for purchase here.

Ruby Roy and the Murder in the Falls

Meet Dr. Ruby Roy. She is a twenty-nine-year-old, goofy, warm, and absent-minded professor in her third year at Baron University, located a few miles from the Falls. A plus-size woman of mixed Indian and Canadian roots, and cursed with an overactive imagination stemming from watching too many Bollywood and Disney films, Ruby is struggling to make her mark and stay out of trouble.

It doesn’t help matters that she keeps stumbling into a series of embarrassing incidents, even as she desperately tries to keep her superiors in the College happy. Unfortunately for Ruby, things take a turn for the worse when she discovers Professor Peter Malcolm’s dead body in his office. But who could have killed him? And why? And why does the Detective investigating the case look like a famous Hollywood actor?

Suddenly all the Poirot, Marple, Sherlock Holmes, and Father Brown books she loves reading seem to have come to life as she finds herself in the middle of a real-life murder mystery. And with the murderer on the loose, no one is safe. With the help of her husband, Cleo, her very own Watson, Ruby tries to solve the mystery before she is next on the killer’s list!

An Extract from Ruby Roy and the Murder in the Falls

Chapter 1

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL fall day in October. Located in Rosewood, New York, a few miles from the majestic Niagara Falls, Baron University’s campus was recently voted “the most scenic campus in the Northeast.” The weather was a bit cold—a sign winter was coming. The occasional chilly breeze left students and faculty exiting buildings clutching their coats or burying their heads in hoodies, eager to head home to huddle. Despite the chill, the sun was still shining bright. Fall leaves glistened while strewn untidily all over the campus grounds. They formed a colorful mosaic of yellows, oranges, and reds.

Dr. Ruby Roy was just stepping out of Bailey Hall, the College of Business building on campus. She shivered slightly as she clung to her new men’s plus-size Ralph Lauren suit. The tiny piece of cloth with the Ralph Lauren logo was still visible at the helm.

“How would people know it’s Ralph Lauren if I remove it?” Ruby had complained when her husband, Cleo, suggested she remove the tag.

At five foot seven inches with honey-complexioned skin, warm chocolate-brown eyes, jet-black pixie-cut hair, and a plus-size frame at 190 pounds, Ruby Roy was hard to miss. She had led an eventful life prior to joining Baron. The sole offspring of a white Canadian mother and an Indian father, she was a dual American and Canadian citizen. And by age twenty-nine she had lived on almost every continent—thanks to her dad’s job as a diplomat.

Ruby looked sideways to see if her ride had arrived. She made for a curious figure on the sidewalk with her eccentric style. At present, she had paired her Ralph Lauren suit with a floor-length black skirt. She had accessorized her outfit with sparkling Tiffany & Co. diamond studs nestled on her lobes. Her look may appear conservative at first glance, but the yellow and black Snoopy socks that adorned her practical Dr. Scholl’s footwear suggested otherwise. As did the tiny red hearts on the yellow scarf around her neck. And the pink beanie covering her head and ears—a Care Bear logo displayed prominently on the side. Her style was an amalgamation, a reflection of her eccentric personality. Fancy yet whimsical, luxurious yet pragmatic, classic conservative yet colorful and childlike.

Her suit, for instance, was a recent online purchase. A pricy one at four figures, it was an aberration in her online purchase history, which consisted primarily of ten to twenty-five–dollar impulse buys from Amazon. Mostly cute stationery and T-shirts with famous cartoon characters such as Goofy, the Rugrats, Snoopy, and Mickey and Minnie. She had not planned on buying a new suit, especially not one from the men’s department. However, given her trusted black Calvin Klein suit had developed tears and stains from daily use and the women’s 1X suit was out of stock online, she didn’t have a choice. As a business school professor, she was expected to have a couple of suits at the ready for classes and other professional events.

Ruby had briefly debated getting the XL size for women, which was available, but she had decided against it after recalling her last unfortunate online purchase. The one time she had hastily ordered a pantsuit one size down, it had ripped in the middle of her conference presentation at the downtown Hilton in Chicago—right in the middle of her slide on “seamless structures,” exposing her posterior and her pink Hello Kitty underwear. For the rest of the afternoon, the incident had left her immobile, unable to get up from her seat to greet the conference chair or other participants at the end. The torturous situation had lasted for two more hours. All the while, she had been forced to continue remaining seated amongst a bunch of Catholic priests who had promptly assembled for the next session on “Exploring the Role of God in Vincentian Education.” Ruby had felt conspicuously out of place in the sea of black and white, as she felt the frequent glares of the messengers of God surrounding her as they discussed all things divine. That day, Ruby had prayed to God to be rescued. And her prayers were finally answered when her husband, Cleo, managed to save her from the conference room, replacement pants in tow.

Ruby rechecked her iPhone. It had been several minutes since she had texted Cleo to pick her up. She looked closely at the parked cars nearby, hoping to catch their “midnight green” 2020 Toyota Camry. It was a recent big purchase. “The only one left,” assured the fawning salesman as he egged them on to get it. It was a peculiar shade—blue and green with a slight shimmer. And like a kid in a candy store or a cat enchanted by a bright red laser pointer, Ruby couldn’t resist all things pretty and shiny. An hour into their first visit to the dealership, the contract had been signed. They had used Cleo’s insurance information since Ruby couldn’t drive, a fact that had amused Cleo when he had first met her at a Tim Hortons café in Montreal three years earlier. He couldn’t believe that the same woman who had just completed a five-year PhD program at McGill, two master’s degrees before that at Cornell and Toronto, and a bachelor’s at Princeton had not been able to master the simple yet essential skill of driving.

It wasn’t necessarily due to lack of effort, Ruby had assured him that day. She had tried learning in New Jersey while doing her bachelor’s. But then there was that somewhat unfortunate incident in driving school when she had mistakenly taken a right turn instead of a left in a residential neighborhood. Resulting in the car—with Ruby and the hapless, screaming driving instructor—breaking through the front door of a neighbor’s house and stopping inches short of bumping into the residents. A Mr. and Mrs. Jorgensen, an older couple in their eighties who were unfortunately in their birthday suits. Empty nesters enjoying some intimate time alone, only to be rudely and shockingly interrupted by a big gray Ford SUV right in the middle of their living room. Mr. Jorgensen, a World War Two veteran, had later said the incident had been “far worse than surviving D-Day at Normandy.” In the aftermath, Ruby’s father, Dr. Roy, a senior diplomat at the World Bank, had to heavily compensate the Jorgensens and the driving instructor to allow his daughter to continue her studies uninterrupted. His sole request to his only child when she came up to him to apologize after the debacle was, “Please don’t drive, sweetheart. It’s just not safe with you.” And that effectively had ended Ruby’s early efforts and interest in learning to drive…


…As Cleo drove off campus, passing the “Welcome to Baron University” sign, Ruby abruptly exclaimed. “Wait! We must go back! I forgot my backpack.”

“Really?” Cleo said. “You know this is only the hundredth time this has happened.”

“I know, I know . . . I’m sorry. I don’t know why I keep forgetting,” Ruby replied apologetically.

“Okay, no worries, let’s go back.”

Cleo dropped Ruby off at the front of Bailey Hall. The sun was just about to set. The skies were pinkish-red, and one could see the silhouettes of a line of birds flying away in the distance. The temperature had dropped by a few more degrees.

“I’ll be right back,” Ruby promised as she stepped out of the car. She shivered.

“You need my jacket?” Cleo asked as he moved his hand to the zipper.

“No, thanks.” Ruby smiled. “You’re such a gentleman. But I’ll only be a few minutes.”

“I aim to please, Madame.” Cleo grinned. His Quebecois French accent mildly came through on the last word.

Ruby blew him an air kiss and walked toward the building. Just then, the Belmont clock tower on campus chimed. Ruby turned around to see that the clock had struck six. She used her Baron University ID to unlock the building door, then she rushed to the elevators to get to her office on the third floor.

As she stepped out of the elevator, a figure in a black overcoat hurried past her down the stairs. She couldn’t tell who it was but surmised it was likely a faculty member or the cleaning staff.

The hallway to her office appeared dark and deserted. The motion-sensor lights turned on as she walked toward her office. Ruby walked past all the tables and chairs strategically placed for students to sit and work on during the day. The business school faculty offices were located at the far-right corner of the third floor, past all the vending machines. As she got to her door, she fumbled, trying to retrieve her office keys from her coat pocket. She noticed that the light was still on across the hallway. It was her chair’s office: room 365C.

That’s unusual, she thought. He is usually gone by this hour.

She debated if she should drop by and say hello. Since the Christmas party, she had been avoiding one-on-one interactions with her chair, barring the mandatory college and department meetings. On the surface, there wasn’t any reason to actively avoid him. Akin to the dean, he had understood her clumsiness and had said that all was good. But Ruby still felt guilty every time she saw him.

In a split second, she decided to let go of her guilt and stop by for a quick visit. He isn’t going to eat you, she assured herself. She walked gingerly toward his door, firmly pushing her glasses up her nose. She knocked. Lightly at first. No answer. Then a bit louder. Still no answer.

“Dr. Malcolm,” she called out. “Pete . . .” she said, remembering her chair preferred the more casual moniker.

Still no response.

Mustering a little courage, Ruby gently pushed open the door to his office.

“Hey, I just wanted to say—”

She froze at the sight in front of her.

Dr. Peter Malcolm was seated in his chair. His face was pointed slightly up. His mouth was wide open, and his eyes, large and round as a fish’s, stared blankly at Ruby.

A knife handle was protruding from his chest, blood staining the area.

“P-P-Pete . . .” Ruby stammered.

Suddenly she felt something hit her from behind. Then everything went black . . .


I love that extract! I think Ruby sounds just the kind of character I’d like to find out more about.

About Rima Ray

Rima Ray spent her childhood in Kuwait, Qatar, India, the Philippines, Japan, Canada, and the US, surviving the first Gulf War in Kuwait and the triple disaster in Japan. She holds Bachelors’ and Masters’ Degrees from Cornell University and Ph.D. from McGill University.

These days Rima leads a more peaceful life as a professor in upstate New York with her husband Frederik. Apart from reading mysteries and working on her next Ruby Roy novel, she enjoys eating Asian food and spending time with her Maine Coon cats, Million and Nobel.

Her next book Ruby Roy and the Hawaiian Mystery is currently in the works.

For more information visit Rima’s website. You can also find Rima on Facebook and Instagram and follow her on Twitter @RimaRay2022.

Keep it In The Family by John Marrs

I’m a huge fan of John Marrs – both as a man and an author – so I couldn’t be more delighted than to participate in this blog tour for his latest book, Keep It In The Family. My huge thanks to Zara Gillick and Rhiannon Morris for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Keep It In the Family and to FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of Keep It In The Family in return for an honest review.

I was privileged to interview John at the Deepings Literary Festival earlier this year and he and his books have featured on Linda’s Book Bag many times. You find all those posts here.

Keep It In The Family was published by Thomas and Mercer on 25th October and is available for purchase here.

Keep It In The Family

In this chilling novel from bestselling author John Marrs, a young couple’s house hides terrible secrets―and not all of them are confined to the past.

Mia and Finn are busy turning a derelict house into their dream home when Mia unexpectedly falls pregnant. But just when they think the house is ready, Mia discovers a chilling message scored into a skirting board: I WILL SAVE THEM FROM THE ATTIC. Following the clue up into the eaves, the couple make a gruesome discovery: their dream home was once a house of horrors.

In the wake of their traumatic discovery, the baby arrives and Mia can’t shake her fixation with the monstrous crimes that happened right above them. Haunted by the terrible things she saw and desperate to find answers, her obsession pulls her ever further from her husband.

Secrecy shrouds the mystery of the attic, but when shards of a dark truth start to emerge, Mia realises the danger is terrifyingly present. She is prepared to do anything to protect her family―but is it already too late?

My Review of Keep It In The Family

Mia and Finn have bought a house.

It’s going to be impossible to review this book without giving too much away so I fear there will be a vagueness to my comments as I don’t want to spoil the story. From a dramatic prologue right through to the jaw dropping finale, Keep It In The Family is a fast paced, twisty and disturbing read that I found myself unable to put down. There were aspects I didn’t want to read and yet I couldn’t tear myself away, such was the power of John Marrs’ writing.

There’s a really interesting narrative structure in Keep It In The Family, with the story predominantly told from Mia and Finn’s perspectives as well as Debbie and Dave’s, from that of an unknown person and interspersed with more dispassionate transcripts that act as a contrast to the intensity of the story. I thought this was an excellent technique because it gave me a chance to catch my breath and heightened the tension of the other narrative elements.

In Keep It In The Family John Marrs explores maladjusted relationships at their most extreme in a fast paced and compelling plot that left my head reeling. I kept thinking of Tolstoy’s ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ except here it’s more ‘each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own way.’ Keep It In The Family is a terrifying, convincing insight into nature versus nurture that is spellbinding and the most horrifying aspect is that the story is completely believable.

What’s so unnerving is that Keep It In The Family explores really positive themes like love, loyalty, the desire to protect the innocent, and, obviously, family relationships, but this is no joyous, uplifting read. Rather, John Marrs illustrates to perfection the warping of values, how we justify our actions and the deep potential for evil that exists in the most unsullied of characters. I’ve always desired to practice mindfulness properly, framing the moment with complete concentration. Now I’m not so sure, but you’ll need to read the book to find out why!

The characterisation is outstanding. From Finn to Mia and Dave to Debbie each person is so complex, realistic and mesmerising that I almost felt tainted by reading about them, by their subtleties and by their actions, however evil or innocent they may be.

I’m not sure if I can say I enjoyed Keep It In The Family because it was so utterly, overwhelmingly, absorbing and unsettling in a way that makes the reader wonder just what is going on in the minds of those around them. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that through his storytelling in Keep It In The Family, John Marrs has made me question my own sanity and actions. All of that said, I thought Keep It In The Family was absolutely brilliant and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a cracking read!

About John Marrs


John Marrs is an author and former journalist based in Northamptonshire. After spending his career interviewing celebrities from the worlds of television, film and music for numerous national newspapers and magazines, he is now a full-time author. In 2021, his speculative novel The One was adapted into a 10-episode drama series for Netflix by Misfits creator Howard Overman, and his seventh novel What Lies Between Us has been optioned by Renee Zellweger’s production company at MGM TV.

You can visit John’s website for more information, or you can find him on Facebook and Instagram.  Follow him on Twitter @johnmarrs1.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Empire by Michael Ball

It’s an absolute pleasure to be involved in the launch celebrations for The Empire by Michael Ball and I would like to thank Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be part of the blog tour. I’m delighted to be able to share my review of The Empire today.

The Empire was published by Zaffre on 13th October 2022 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Empire

Welcome to The Empire theatre

1922. When Jack Treadwell arrives at The Empire, in the middle of a rehearsal, he is instantly mesmerised. But amid the glitz and glamour, he soon learns that the true magic of the theatre lies in its cast of characters – both on stage and behind the scenes.

There’s stunning starlet Stella Stanmore and Hollywood heartthrob Lancelot Drake; and Ruby Rowntree, who keeps the music playing, while Lady Lillian Lassiter, theatre owner and former showgirl, is determined to take on a bigger role. And then there’s cool, competent Grace Hawkins, without whom the show would never go on . . . could she be the leading lady Jack is looking for?

When long-held rivalries threaten The Empire’s future, tensions rise along with the curtain. There is treachery at the heart of the company and a shocking secret waiting in the wings. Can Jack discover the truth before it’s too late, and the theatre he loves goes dark?

Musical theatre legend Michael Ball brings his trademark warmth, wit and glamour to this, his debut novel.

Enjoy the show!

My Review of The Empire

Jack is finally back in England.

I’m always somewhat sceptical when celebrities write a book, but The Empire is an absolute delight, resonant with all the front of house glamour and backstage shenanigans that only someone like Michael Ball, with his first hand knowledge of musical theatre, could produce with such attention to detail and authenticity. It’s absolutely steeped in colourful characters, Machiavellian plots and a fast-paced, hugely entertaining story that I simply devoured. I loved the authorial style too because there’s a vivid appeal to the senses that brought settings alive.

Initially when I saw the cast list at the start of the book, (albeit perfectly in tune with any theatre programme) my heart sank. I thought I’d never keep all the individuals clear in my head, but I was completely wrong. Michael Ball has created a distinct set of people that are memorable and believable with personalities that leap from the page. I was immediately in love with Jack, but particularly enjoyed the gradual uncovering of Lady Lillian Lassiter’s character as, through her, Michael Ball illustrates love, ambition, history and the ways in which our past shapes our lives. Between the pages of The Empire are heroes and charlatans, rich and poor, liars and cheats, stoics and the brave, those with courage in all kinds of forms as well as cowards and bullies, all rubbing along with the contemptible and the admirable in equal measure. I just loved how all the people are connected in a kind of kaleidoscopic dance worthy of any theatrical finale, making for an enthralling read.

I thought the plot was excellent. It has pace and dynamism with some unforeseen surprises along the way that are completely enthralling. I’m desperately hoping for more narratives involving some of the key players in future books because they have taken on a vivid reality in my mind through reading The Empire. Indeed, The Empire is such an inspired title. It’s a physical theatre, but so much more, with criminal empires, family empires and enough historical reference to engender an unsettled time of Empire for the country when social norms were being challenged and tested. I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of identity, of our place in society, of team work and of honour that pervade what is a smashing narrative and which add depth and interest.

The Empire is sumptuous, warm and witty with just the right balance of light and shade. Its division into acts is pitch perfect for the subject matter and it would make a fabulous theatre or television production too. The Empire felt joyous to read, surprisingly emotional and exciting, and I absolutely loved it.

About Michael Ball

Michael Ball OBE is a singer, actor, presenter and now author. He’s been a star of musical theatre for over three decades, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Musical twice, he’s also won two BRIT awards and been nominated for a Grammy. Michael regularly sells out both his solo tours and his Ball &Boe shows with Alfie Boe and has multiple platinum albums. The Empire is his first novel.

For further information, visit Michael’s website, follow him on Twitter @mrmichaelball and find him on Instagram and Facebook.

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