Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

Although I’m eschewing as many blog tours as I can at the moment in an attempt to read books languishing on my TBR, I simply had to be part of this one for Sue Moorcroft’s latest book, Under the Italian Sun. My grateful thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources at for inviting me to participate. I’m delighted to share my review today as I love Sue’s women’s fiction.

Indeed, Sue has featured many times here on Linda’s Book Bag and you’ll find the following posts:

My review of Summer on a Sunny Island

My review of Let It Snow

Discussing One Summer in Italy

An interview with Sue Moorcroft

A guest post from Sue on over-sharing and my review of The Christmas Promise

A guest post from Sue on her fantasy holiday companions

My review of Just For The Holidays

A guest post from Sue on loving a village book

My review of The Little Village Christmas

My review of A Christmas Gift

Under the Italian Sun was published by Harper Collins imprint Avon yesterday, 13th May 2021, and is available for purchase through the links here.

Under the Italian Sun

The number one bestseller is back with an uplifting, escapist read that will brighten the gloomiest day!

A warm, sun-baked terrace.

The rustle of verdant green vines.

The sun slowly dipping behind the Umbrian mountains.

And the chink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…

Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.

When Zia discovers that her mother wasn’t who she thought she was, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.

However, as she delves into the secrets of her past, she doesn’t bargain on having to think about her future too. But with local vineyard owner, Piero, living next door, Zia knows she has a serious distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…

This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?

My Review of Under the Italian Sun

Zia is looking for answers.

Under the Italian Sun is Sue Moorcroft at her most sublime. I loved every word and found this was one of those books I was desperate to finish because I wanted to know how it would end, whilst simultaneously not wanting to finish it because I was enjoying it so much.

The plot of Under the Italian Sun romps along and has just as many twists and turns as any thriller. It opens in dramatic fashion and doesn’t let up, sweeping the reader along in the narrative. There’s brilliantly (and often sexily) depicted romance, but there’s mystery and drama too so that Under the Italian Sun is an absolute cracker of a read. I think what makes it so successful is that Sue Moorcroft researches her novels so thoroughly – this time with wine growing and property ownership forming the foundation of her writing – so that the reader feels they are in authoritative and safe hands and can relax into being royally entertained. Indeed, I think this might be one of this author’s most well-crafted books. I was never entirely sure how Under the Italian Sun might end, even if I was expecting a happy resolution from the genre, and I found Sue Moorcroft’s story-telling utterly compelling and engaging. I was surprisingly emotionally invested in the story and shed a tear or two along the way because I was so captivated.

The characters are brilliantly crafted. There’s a real sense of Italian-ness about them with such a range of people and personalities that there is a character for any reader to identify with. Although Under the Italian Sun is very much Zia’s story and I loved and admired her from the very first page, I found the more minor character of Brendon totally fascinating. He is a lurking menace throughout so that whilst Under the Italian Sun is a light-hearted summer read, Brendon adds a depth and counterpoint that I thought was brilliant. As you might imagine, with a Sue Moorcroft hero, I was rather in love with Piero because he is so warmly and vividly depicted.

However, brilliant plots and compelling characters aside, what is so utterly wonderful about Under the Italian Sun is the sense of place. All of the senses are provided for so that descriptions place the reader right in Italy without them having to leave their armchair. Most successful is the sense of taste. In fact, reading Under the Italian Sun is a dangerous occupation for anyone trying to lose weight. The food is so evocatively depicted I found myself craving the items Sue Moorcroft describes. Add in smatterings of fully accessible Italian language and reading this story is akin to taking a holiday.

Alongside all of this wonderfully crafted narrative are some weighty themes so that whilst Under the Italian Sun can be read for sheer entertainment, there’s plenty to think about should readers want to. Themes of friendship and loyalty, identity and belonging, family and friendship, trust and betrayal, independence and control, amongst others create layer upon layer of added interested that I thought was fantastic.

Utterly captivating from the first moment, Under the Italian Sun is a must read and Sue Moorcroft writing at her very best. I loved it and it is my favourite of this author’s books to date. I cannot recommend Under the Italian Sun highly enough.

About Sue Moorcroft

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Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author and has reached the number one spot on Kindle UK. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

You can follow Sue on Twitter @SueMoorcroft, find her on Instagram and Facebook and visit her website.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Vegans in Iceland by Jonathan Straight FRSA

I get offered all manner of books for review and feature here on Linda’s Book Bag, and sadly I have to refuse most simply because there are only 24 hours in a day! However, when Jonathan Straight FRSA got in touch about his book Vegans in Iceland I was so intrigued by the title and the fact that sales go towards supporting the work of Sea Shepherd in Iceland that I had to accept it in return for an honest review. I was meant to be away this week and not blogging but events have conspired against me so I thought I’d return to a country I loved visiting and I’m delighted to share my review of Vegans in Iceland today.

Vegans in Iceland is available for purchase here. and on ArtBukz.

Vegans in Iceland

Are there vegans in Iceland?

Photographer Jonathan Straight hoped to find out when he visited the volcanic island. This collection of portraits documents a remarkable and thriving community; each person’s journey is different but reaches the same conclusion. From a pioneering chef to a footballer, from a former sex worker to an octogenarian, this book gives a sensitive insight into their world.

As they say in Icelandic, njóttu!

My Review of Vegans in Iceland

A series of photographs and biographies of vegans in Iceland!

Before my review proper, I must comment on the physical properties of this non-fiction hardbacked book, Vegans in Iceland is beautifully produced. The weighty hard backed cover provides long lasting durability and the smooth, thick, glossy pages give a sensation of exquisite quality as they are turned. Contrast the stark black and white photography against the white space surrounding the clear and engaging text and this is a book to savour. I love the fact that its sales help support environmental work in the seas around Iceland too.

Vegans in Iceland is a dramatic, compelling and compassionate portrayal of the vegan community in Iceland who frequently find themselves at the margins of society because of their eating preferences. I had no idea, for example, that some restaurants are afraid to list vegan dishes for fear of reprisal and I’d never previously heard of the Cube of Truth. Although the focus is on people, Jonathan Straight provides a fascinating insight into the country too. His portraits cover Icelandic elements ranging across a wide range of subjects from football to weightlifting, sex work to television and grief to protest, so that the book provides a multi-layered insight into a relatively unknown country.

However, it is the people who make Vegans in Iceland such an interesting book. Artistic photographs show them at their best and provide an intimate understanding of who they are as individuals. Here we have a wide range of creative, passionate individuals sensitively portrayed by Jonathan Straight. I found Alda the most affecting because they are furthest from my own experience.  I liked the fact that the portraits are slightly more weighted towards women too with more women than men featured because I felt this gave a voice to those not usually associated with the Icelandic persona. The text accompanying the excellently composed photographs works so well because it is simply factual. These are pen portraits provided without judgement or authorial comments so that readers can make up their own minds and respond individually to the people presented in Vegans in Iceland.

Vegans in Iceland is never going to be a mainstream book, but it is intriguing, high quality and fascinating. It’s important too because it raises awareness of vegan issues without preaching or patronising, so that it is thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and viewing it and it has certainly made me consider some of my own food preferences and practices.

About Jonathan Straight

Dr Jonathan Straight is a British writer and photographer based in Yorkshire. He specialises in documentary, portrait and street genres, generally working in black and white. He had no formal training in photography, rather learning at the knee of his late father who was a keen and talented amateur. Receiving a 35mm camera for his 10th birthday and carefully watching his father at work in a home darkroom gave him sufficient grounding to go on and make his own work.

Having enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, he now continues to work on various photographic projects as well as being involved in different businesses and charities.

He was shortlisted for Portrait of Britain 2019, has had photographs published in various places and has held several exhibitions of his work.

In 2018, he published Blood, Sweat, Tears and Helicopters, a documentary study of the Israeli ambulance service. This followed two weeks embedded with different ambulance crews around the Country, and successfully demonstrated the diversity of the organisation and the population it serves.

In 2020, he published Vegans in Iceland, a series of portraits of members of the Icelandic vegan community interspersed with images of Icelandic vegan food and associated messaging. His initial visit to Iceland was inspired by the work of writer Hallgrímur Helgason.

For more information, follow Jonathan on Twitter @planetstraight, visit his website and find him on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Emily Midorikawa

I can’t believe how long it is since I last featured Emily Midorikawa here on Linda’s Book Bag. Then I was reviewing her book A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf jointly authored with Emma Sweeney. You’ll find my review here and a super guest post from these two ladies concerning sisterhood in modern times here. Now, it’s the first of two publication days for Emily’s latest book, Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice and I’m thrilled she has agreed to stay in with me today to tell me all about it.

Staying in with Emily Midorikawa

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

I’m delighted to be here, Linda. Thanks so much for having me.

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

I’ve brought my latest book, Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, which comes out today, 11th May 2021, in the US and on 20th May in the UK.

Happy US publication day! What’s Out of the Shadows about?

It’s a group biography about several nineteenth-century women who achieved rockstar-like levels of celebrity, and enormous political and cultural clout – all thanks to their supposed abilities to contact the dead.

Gosh – that’s quite a subject! Tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with Out of the Shadows?

An unusual insight into the late nineteenth century, at least I hope so. My book focuses on six women who can be regarded as leading lights of the Victorian Spiritualist movement. American sisters Kate, Leah and Maggie Fox left behind relatively humble backgrounds to become the talk of New York society, and spark an international séance craze. But things would eventually go spectacularly wrong for the Fox sisters and their lives would end in bitter infighting and mutual recrimination.

The Fox sisters sound like many families I think! What about the other women?

London-born Emma Hardinge Britten, a renowned orator, famous for delivering her speeches while in a trance, became so popular that she was asked to deliver New York City’s first public commemoration to the assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Victoria Woodhull used her reputation as a clairvoyant to ultimately make an even bigger political splash. Following a trailblazing career on Wall Street as the proprietor of the first female-owned brokerage firm, she went on to become the first woman to run as an American presidential candidate. And as for Georgina Weldon, after her husband tried to have her locked away in an asylum, she retaliated in a very public way, fighting him in the courts and the press, and becoming a prominent campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws. Georgina became so famous, in fact, that she ended up as the face of the iconic Pears soap brand.

Oh! I think we all know that image. Goodness. I’m thrilled to have Out of the Shadows on my TBR as I think it sounds utterly fascinating.

What else have you brought along this evening Emily, and why have you brought it?

As you might imagine, my research has taken me to many unusual and out-of-of the-way locations. Here I am, four months’ pregnant with my first baby and ankle-deep in snow, at the site of the Fox family’s former home in the rural hamlet of Hydesville, in New York state. Even close to two centuries on, this is still a site of pilgrimage for believers in the sisters’ powers, and also people like me who are interested in the Foxes’ historical legacy. On this site, so the story goes, the youngest sisters, Kate and Maggie, first began to communicate with the spirit of a travelling salesman, said to have been murdered and buried beneath the cellar by a former occupant of the house.I’ve also brought along this pair of my late Great Aunt Jessie’s opera glasses, which, although not directly related to my book, seem to me to symbolise a couple of its key themes. One is the very human desire to want to retain a link with departed loved ones, one which the women I write about certainly made the most of – and some would say exploited. The other theme is that of theatre. Two of my six subjects had a background in performance.

That would make sense…

Before establishing herself as a ‘trance lecturer’, Emma Hardinge Britten had a West End and Broadway career. And Georgina Weldon, who hailed from an aristocratic background, had been a real favourite at the musical soirées and amateur theatrical performances of Britain’s high society. In the case of the other women, too, there was more often than not a sense of heightened drama at their private spirit readings and the mass séances in packed concert halls of their wildly popular public tours.

And last but not least, I’ve got some tea and biscuits for us to enjoy. I’m pregnant again at the moment, with the baby due next month, so I can’t have anything much stronger than that. But in a way, the tea is an apt choice, as it’s the drink that’s most sustained me through the research, writing and seemingly endless rewriting of Out of the Shadows.

As someone addicted to tea and biscuits I’m more than happy with that Emily. Congratulations – on your forthcoming child and on Out of the Shadows. I think I’m going to love it when it hits the top of my TBR pile! Thank you so much for staying in with me and chatting about these extraordinary women.

Thanks for having me Linda.

Now, you pour the tea and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a bit more information about Out of the Shadows: 

Out of the Shadows

Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

Queen Victoria’s reign was an era of breathtaking social change, but it did little to create a platform for women to express themselves. But not so within the social sphere of the séance – a mysterious, lamp-lit world on both sides of the Atlantic, in which women who craved a public voice could hold their own.

Out of the Shadows tells the stories of the enterprising women whose supposedly clairvoyant gifts granted them fame, fortune, and most important, influence as they crossed rigid boundaries of gender and class as easily as they passed between the realms of the living and the dead. The Fox sisters inspired some of the era’s best-known political activists and set off a transatlantic séance craze. While in the throes of a trance, Emma Hardinge Britten delivered powerful speeches to crowds of thousands. Victoria Woodhull claimed guidance from the spirit world as she took on the millionaires of Wall Street before becoming America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon narrowly escaped the asylum before becoming a celebrity campaigner against archaic lunacy laws.

Drawing on diaries, letters, and rarely seen memoirs and texts, Emily Midorikawa illuminates a radical history of female influence that has been confined to the dark until now.

Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice is be published by Counterpoint LLC today, 11th May 2021 in America and will be released in the UK on 20th May. Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice is available in all the usual places including Amazon, Blackwell’s and Book Depository

About Emily Midorikawa

Author image courtesy of Rosalind Hobley

Emily Midorikawa is the author of Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, published by Counterpoint Press on 11 May 2021. She is also the co-author of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontё, Eliot and Woolf (written with Emma Claire Sweeney). Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has been published in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, the Paris Review, The Times and the Washington Post.

You can find out more about Emily at emilymidorikawa.com. She’s also on Twitter @EmilyMidorikawa, Instagram @midorikawaemily and Goodreads.

Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan

My enormous thanks to the lovely folk at  to Team Bookends for sending me a surprise copy of Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan. I’m a huge fan of Sheila’s writing and it’s an irony that I haven’t managed to read as many of her books as I would like since I began blogging.

It has been my pleasure to listen to Sheila speak about her writing on several occasions both virtually and in real life, most recently on 21st April, when I was thrilled to be in a select Zoom group call organised by Ellie Morley, Marketing Executive at Headline.

Previously when Sheila celebrated the paperback publication day for The Women Who Ran Away, I was delighted to be able to share an extract from the book here.

Sheila and I stayed in together here to chat about Her Husband’s Mistake.

Also on the blog Sheila previously told me all about her inspiration for another of her books My Mother’s Secret in a guest post that you can read here. I reviewed My Mother’s Secret here.

Today, however, I am sharing my review of Sheila’s latest book, Three Weddings and a Proposal.

Three Weddings and a Proposal will be published by Headline Review on 20th May 2021 and is available for purchase here.

Three Weddings and a Proposal

At the first wedding, there‘s a shock

The second wedding is unexpected

By the third, Delphie thinks nothing could surprise her. But she’s wrong . . .

Delphie is enjoying her brother’s wedding. Her surprise last-minute Plus One has stunned her family – and it’s also stopped any of them asking again why she’s still single. But when she sees all the missed calls that evening, she knows it can’t be good news. And she’s right.

Delphie has been living her best life, loving her job, her friends, her no-strings relationships and her dream house by the sea. Now she has to question everything she believed about who she is and what she wants. Is her mum right – is it time to settle down? Or does she want to keep on trying to have it all?

Each wedding of a glorious summer brings a new surprise. And as everything Delphie thought she had is threatened, she has the chance to reshape her future . . .

My Review of Three Weddings and a Proposal

Delphine Mertens has life fully under control – probably.

My goodness I enjoyed Three Weddings and a Proposal. It’s simply gorgeous and is a perfect example of women’s fiction at its very best, because of Sheila O’Flanagan’s consummate story telling. I loved Delphie’s conversational tone from the very beginning because it was like I was listening to a friend chat with me, or even as if I were inhabiting her mind so that I found myself becoming her and seeing everything through Delphie’s perspective. I thought the couple of allusions to the Covid pandemic as if it were in the past were deftly done, so that whilst it didn’t play any part in this narrative, Sheila’s O’Flanagan’s story seemed more realistic and credible because the pandemic was mentioned in passing rather than ignored. But most of all I loved the narrative itself because it’s a hugely entertaining, utterly believable story with some major weight behind it. The plotting is razor sharp, often surprising and always captivating with just enough descriptive detail to enhance and colour the text beautifully.

That weight and depth of Three Weddings and a Proposal comes through the exploration of what it means to be a modern woman; to have relationships, a career, parenthood and family responsibilities. Sheila O’Flanagan’s story is actually quite feminist without deriding any counter perspectives,  but rather illustrating how we can be supportive of one another so that Three Weddings and a Proposal felt mature, interesting and above all else, a story with characters I could relate to entirely. In illustrating how Delphie learns to be comfortable in her own skin whilst stepping out of her comfort zone I thought Sheila O’Flanagan had achieved more for female self esteem and self-help than any non-fiction book might have managed.

Indeed, I thought Delphie was fantastic. Her experience of working in a male dominated environment, her relationship with Ed and her friendship with Sheedy and Erin held my attention completely. Reading Three Weddings and a Proposal completely transported me into their world. What I thought worked so well was that the men are not all useless idiots that sometimes happens in women’s fiction. Here they have identity, flaws and attractions that made the whole story all the more real.

Three Weddings and a Proposal Is a fabulous book. Rounded characters experiencing real life events that any reader can relate to in a superbly plotted narrative mean this book is ideal for escaping into. I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it completely. I thought it was brilliant.

About Sheila O’Flanagan

Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of bestselling chart-toppers, including Her Husband’s MistakeThe HideawayWhat Happened That NightThe Missing WifeMy Mother’s Secret and All For You (winner of the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award). After working in banking and finance for a number of years, Sheila’s love for writing blossomed into curating stories about relationships in all their many forms.

You can follow Sheila on Twitter @sheilaoflanagan, or find her on Facebook or Instagram and visit her website for more details.

The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson

With Punch, the only children’s novel by Barbara Henderson I’ve yet to read but which is sitting waiting on my TBR, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for her latest book The Chessmen Thief. My grateful thanks to Antonia Wilkinson for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of The Chessmen Thief in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today along with a wonderful guest post on writing action scenes from Barbara.

The Chessmen Thief was published by Cranachan’s imprint Pokey Hat on 29th April 2021 and is available for purchase in all the usual places including directly from the publisher here.

To see why I love Barbara’s writing so much you can find:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chessmen Thief

Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.

The precious Lewis Chessmen―which he helped carve―hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.

One false move could cost him his life.

The Chessmen Thief

Action scenes and how to write them

A guest post by Barbara Henderson

The final edits for The Chessmen Thief were complete. My editor and I had spent almost two hours on the final phone call, the one where we haggle over hyphens and discuss semi-colons, sometimes removing them only to put them back in. The book was a wrap. I leaned back into my chair and asked her: ‘Now that we’re done, can you tell me – which bit of the book do you actually like best?’

She thought for a moment. ‘The action scenes,’ she answered simply.

‘Me too.’

It really is strange – I am not particularly drawn to action films, but in children’s books, these pages of increased pace and raised stakes are essential to engage today’s young readers. Moreover, their magic seems to reel in readers like me in the same way. An action scene works like a quick turbocharge of energy, giving the plot new momentum.

I am not suggesting that I am an expert at all – there are far more experienced authors for children around. But I am more than happy to share what I have learned so far. Ladies and gentlemen, according to my limited wisdom, here is how an action scene should work. I am drawing on chapters 13 and 14 of The Chessmen Thief to show what I mean. 😊

Number 1: Come from a place of calm before introducing the threat.

When the wind picks up and carries us in the exact direction we want to go, we step away from the oars and relax. I climb the first level of the mast where I like it the best. No one judges me there or asks me questions.

Until I see it in the distance. Unmistakeable: another vessel, making straight for us.

Number2: Take a moment to describe your character’s reaction. It works best if the other characters do not recognise the danger. This technique is called dramatic irony – the reader understands more than the characters do, heightening the tension.

My stomach tumbles and my lungs do something they have never done before: refuse to inhale and exhale. Instead, a strange kind of panting is all I am capable of, with the weight of all the oceans in the world on my heart.

‘Raiders!’ I shout, but all that emerges from my throat is a croak. The men below are singing and sharing a quick horn of ale before their muscle power is required again, and a couple are relieving themselves over the side of the boat. ‘Raiders!’ I yell, a little louder, but still no one pays me any heed.

Number 3: Up the jeopardy. The reader needs to understand what is at stake.

As the ship approaches, I can see the straggly beards of men who have lived long apart from any kind of company. Their swords are rusty but sharp. There are spears, axes and halberds, and all manner of weapons.

At the front, almost leaning over the hull of their galley, are three raiders with coils of rope around their bodies, ready to throw weighted hooks across—and only now do I see what the front of their ship is made of! It’s not water glistening on the wood—it’s reinforced with iron spikes and they mean to ram us! ‘TURN THE SHIP!’ I yell down with all my might.

Number 4: Give your protagonist something to do.

Suddenly, I am pulled off my feet backwards, the huge hand of the Jarl on my shoulder. ‘Here, boy!’ He thrusts something into my hand, slicing into my palm a little as he does: a dagger, and oh Lord, it is sharp!

Number 5: The best action scenes have an active protagonist.

With a terrible clang, a huge metal hook lands over the side of our ship, a rope attached. It tautens almost immediately: the raiders are pulling our ship towards theirs, weapons in hand.

Our men scatter and take refuge, but something possesses me to do exactly the opposite. Darting to avoid the missiles and arrows, I run towards the hooks.

This, I am sure, is why the good Lord provided the dagger. I slash at the hook-rope attaching the ships to one another.

Number 6: You can’t beat a cliff-hanger.

With a final gasping effort, this rope, too, snaps. The enemy ship is only two horse-lengths away. Soon a warrior of strength and stature will be able to jump. Oh no: they are readying themselves!

But then something happens that I have not foreseen. Behind me, there is a commotion; a box is knocked over, heavy footfalls thud on the deck. And then, right past me, Jarl Magnus raises his shield as he runs, mounts the gunwale and, literally, leaps into the air over the whirling waves.

Number 7: Know when to stop.

Relentless action scenes can be exhausting to read. Follow any action scene with a chapter or so of calm – it’s an opportunity for deeper characterisation and perhaps moments of light-heartedness too. Your readers need a break. Let them have it! My protagonist Kylan is going to spend the next chapter learning to play chess!

***

And what a magnificent job he does of that Barbara. Thank you so much for this wonderful guest post. I think you’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a real taste of The Chessmen Thief. It also helps put my review into conext!

My Review of The Chessmen Thief

Thrall Kylan’s life is about to change.

Barbara Henderson wastes no time in plunging her readers into a fast paced, action packed, thrilling story that had my heart beating fast even if I am half a century older than the target audience for The Chessmen Thief. With fights and fugitives, enslavement and escapes, this book is an absolute cracker of a read.

One of the aspects that always impresses me in a Barbara Henderson children’s book is the absolute authority of her writing, arising out of assiduous research, and her wonderful ability to present her narrative at the perfect pitch for her target audience without patronising them. The author is unafraid to include difficult issues like death but does so with such a deft touch that The Chessmen Thief feels organic and natural, allowing for consideration of feelings and emotions in a safe environment for young readers. I confess The Chessman Thief brought a tear to my eye as well as making my heart thump! The narrative voice is also perfect for the era and yet is simultaneously accessible so that there’s a vivid sense of history behind the story too.

The plot of The Chessmen Thief is so exciting. It races along, sweeping the reader with it, so that even the most reluctant young reader couldn’t fail to be entranced. With the Viking myths and legends underpinning the narrative, The Chessmen Thief deserves its place in the canon of storytelling every bit as much as those traditional tales. Much is often said about twist and turns in narratives, but there was a point in The Chessmen Thief when I was stopped in my tracks at an unexpected moment that matches any adult book I’ve read.

I loved meeting Kylan and watching his development. He is by no means perfect, as the title of the book might suggest, but my word he’s vivid, vibrant, realistic and multi-faceted. Through Kylan Barbara Henderson gives status to the young, the underdog and the oppressed, providing hope for those who feel similarly diminished in society making The Chessmen Thief an important as well as an entertaining book. It’s educational too, with a glossary of terms and author’s note so that the story could be used in all manner of ways to develop vocabulary, history, geography, research and literacy in a school or home environment. I envisage that the chess theme coupled with the smashing illustrations to begin each chapter will lead to an increased interest in playing the game amongst readers of all ages. Other characters are equally as compelling. I think middle grade children in particular would find immense enjoyment in acting out scenes from the book; in being Jarl Magnus or Asleifsson because they feel so real.

As well as discovering Kylan’s personality, I also loved the themes woven through The Chessmen Thief. Trust and betrayal, family and belonging, religion and corruption, violence and diplomacy, all provide depth and quality that is, quite frankly, astounding.

The Chessmen Thief is an absolutely excellent book. I thoroughly enjoyed it because not only is it skilfully written, dramatic and compelling, it made me remember what it was like to be young again, to be completely captivated by reading and to find a childlike joy in a book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Barbara Henderson

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

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

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

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A Taste of Home by Heidi Swain

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m a huge fan of Heidi Swain’s women’s fiction – and you’d be right. I am. Consequently, it gives me enormous pleasure to be part of the blog tour for Heidi’s latest book, A Taste of Home. My enormous thanks to Harriett Collins for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of A Taste of Home in return for an honest review. Before I share that review, here are other Heidi Swain features you’ll find on Linda’s Book Bag:

My review of The Winter Garden here.

My review of The Secret Seaside Escape here.

My review of Poppy’s Recipe for Life here.

My review of Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market here.

A ‘staying in’ post with Heidi to chat all about Sunshine and Sweet Peas In Nightingale Square here.

A guest post from Heidi to celebrate Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls at the Winter Wonderland, explaining exactly what Christmas means to her here.

A Taste of Home was published by Simon and Schuster on 29th April 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

A Taste of Home

Fliss Brown has grown up living with her mother on the Rossi family’s Italian fruit farm. But when her mother dies, Fliss finds out she has a family of her own, and heads back to England with Nonna Rossi’s recipe for cherry and almond tart and a piece of advice: connect with your family before it is too late…

Fliss discovers that her estranged grandfather owns a fruit farm himself, on the outskirts of Wynbridge, and she arrives to find a farm that has fallen into disrepair. Using her knowledge gleaned from working on the Rossi farm and her desire to find out more about her past, Fliss rolls her sleeves up and gets stuck in. But what will she discover, and can she resurrect the farm’s glory days and find a taste of home…?

My Review of A Taste of Home

An end is only a beginning for Fliss.

I’m always nervous when a favourite author has a new book out because I’m terrified I’m going to be disappointed. With Heidi Swain’s A Taste of Home not only did I find my fears unfounded, but I think this might be one of my favourite of her books so far.

The plot is engaging, entertaining and enchanting as Fliss Brown searches for her family roots in the environs of Wynbridge. Heidi Swain writes with such warmth and an understanding of community and human nature that it is impossible not to be captivated by her stories. I loved the awareness of buying locally, of pulling together as a community and of mutual support that has been such an important facet of life in recent times but that is explored here completely naturally in a way that transports the reader away from the cares of the world. A Taste of Home is a complete comfort read. I ended the book feeling soothed and happy – that all was well in the world. Add in the beautifully written romance, and A Taste of Home is the perfect escapist read for the summer.

It was a true pleasure to be back in Wynbridge and the Fens which are where I live because Heidi Swain sets her scenes vividly and accurately. The flatness, the farmlands, the precocious weather all combine to make a wonderful sense of place. Even better, although it was lovely to revisit Wynbridge and encounter a few familiar names from other of Heidi Swain’s books, it doesn’t matter at all if the reader hasn’t met them before. A Taste of Home stands independently.

I loved Fliss from the very first page. She’s such a rounded, perfectly written character, being sensitive and strong, feisty and loyal but self-deprecating and vulnerable too. The narrative tone of A Taste of Home is conversational too so the reader feels as if they are right inside Fliss’s mind, experiencing events with her directly rather than simply reading about them. Of the male characters, it was Eliot and Grandad who held my attention the most and I confess I have been keeping half an ear out for the throaty roar of a Ducati ever since I started this book!

I found it interesting that, although there are several minor characters in A Taste of Home, and I usually find big casts tricky to retain in my head, with this story every single person felt distinct and real. I loved meeting them all, even the scoundrels amongst them!

A Taste of Home is a fantastic book. Heidi Swain has created the perfect blend of realism and romance to capture the heart of her readers. I loved it.

About Heidi Swain

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Heidi Swain is the Sunday Times bestselling author of several novels including The Cherry Tree CafeSummer at Skylark FarmMince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas MarketComing Home to Cuckoo CottagePoppy’s Recipe for LifeSleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair, The Christmas Wish ListThe Secret Seaside Escape, The Winter Garden and now A Taste of Home.  She lives in Norfolk with her husband and two teenage children.

You can follow Heidi on Twitter @Heidi_Swain and visit her blog or website. You’ll also find Heidi on Facebook and Instagram.

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Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church by Tracy Rees

I’ve more or less abandoned reading ebooks because of my weird sight and I’m trying NOT to take on blog tours at the moment, but when I heard that one of my favourite authors, Tracy Rees, had a new novel out from Bookouture I knew I had to break all my intentions and read it. My enormous thanks to Sarah Hardy for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church. It’s a real privilege to share my review on Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church publication day.

Tracy has been a regular on Linda’s Book Bag, and it has been my privilege to meet her several times in real life too. Although Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a contemporary novel, Tracy has an excellent selection of historical fiction that I’ve adored reading. 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 hereFlorence 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 today, 7th May 2021, Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is available for purchase here.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church

‘This may just have saved my life…’ The hurried scribble in the dusty visitors’ book catches Gwen’s eye. Just like that, she is drawn into a mystery at the heart of the pretty village of Hopley, and her troubles seem to fall behind.

When tragedy strikes, Gwen Stanleyfinds herself jobless and heartbroken. With nowhere else to turn, she retreats to Hopley, a crumbling little village in the sun-dappled English countryside. Wandering the winding lanes and daydreaming about what could have been, Gwen feels so very lost for the first time…

Until one day she pushes through the creaking doors of a tiny stone church on the edge of the village, forgotten by nearly everyone. There she stumbles on a little book full of local secrets. It might just change her life.

My Review of Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church

Having loved Tracy Rees’s historical fiction, I wasn’t sure how a more contemporary setting would appeal, but I needn’t have worried. The author’s ability to create a sense of place through perfectly balanced details, to draw in the reader to her story and to move them too, is still here in a gorgeous, entertaining and uplifting manner. Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a perfect example of positive, warm-hearted fiction and I loved it.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church has everything for a wonderful, immersive story that is utterly captivating. As well as romance as we’d expect from this kind of book, there’s mystery and social conscience too so that the story provides many layers of interest. I loved the way connections are explored and reading Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church made me wonder about those who have passed through my life fleetingly.

Although there are several minor characters that add interest and variety to the story, it is Gwen and Jarvis who create the fabulous pivotal detail. I was desperate for them both to find happiness and thought the manner with which Tracy Rees explored Gwen’s grief after tragedy and Jarvis’s indolence arising from his perceived failure was sensitively constructed. Initially I wasn’t keen on either of them, though I felt more empathy for Gwen, but Tracy Rees made me fall in love with both these warm, flawed, vivid people until I really hoped they would fall in love with each other – though you’ll have to read the book to find out what actually happens.

The narrative unfolds incredibly naturally so that it feels like it could happen in any small place where the sense of community is gradually being eroded. With Jarvis and Gwen working together to raise funds to restore the church roof, their efforts become a metaphor not only for the building, but for their own lives and the community as a whole, illustrating beautifully and inspiringly what can be achieved. I felt that Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church could give impetus to others to get involved in their local communities and even if it was just enjoyed as a story it would provide a sense of belonging that is so important in today’s fractured world.

Although the plot is essentially quite simple with two people fund raising to repair a church roof, that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely absorbing with so many themes swirling through it. Tracy Rees considers identity, community, belonging, friendship, loyalty, family, ambition and self-belief so that Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church feels multi-layered and textured in a manner I adored. I wanted to move to Hopley, to join in with the events and to meet Gwen and Jarvis in person.

Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church is a gorgeous book. I finished it with that sense of satisfaction of being royally entertained and feeling more positive about the world. I now know how Tracy Rees writes contemporary fiction as well as the historical fiction I am used to from this author. She does it brilliantly and I cannot wait for more. I loved Hidden Secrets at the Little Village Church.

About Tracy Rees

Born in Wales, Tracy Rees has been called “the most outstanding new voice in historical fiction” by Lucinda Riley and her books are paperback and kindle bestsellers. She was the winner of the Richard and Judy ‘Search for a Bestseller’ Competition. A Cambridge graduate, she had a successful eight-year career in nonfiction publishing and a second career practising and teaching humanistic counselling before becoming a writer.

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

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The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures Part One: Starting Over by Holly Hepburn

Although I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Holly Hepburn a few times at the wonderful Simon and Schuster TeamBATC blogger evenings, it’s far too long since she featured here on Linda’s Book Bag when I was reviewing Holly’s Star and Sixpence series.

Today, 6th May 2021, marks the release of Holly’s latest book The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures and I’m delighted to be able to share the first two chapters with you.

Let me give you a few more details first though!

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase through these thinks.

The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures

When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her only connection to London broken, she moves home to York to be near her family and to begin to build a new life.

Taking a job at the antique shop she has always admired, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of his parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men who represent two different happy endings.

But can Hope trust herself to choose the right man? And will that bring her everything she really needs?

Read The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures first two chapters for yourself!

About Holly Hepburn

Holly Hepburn has wanted to write books for as long she can remember but she was too scared to try. One day she decided to be brave and dipped a toe into the bubble bath of romantic fiction with her first novella, Cupidity, and she’s never looked back. She often tries to be funny to be funny, except for when faced with traffic wardens and border control staff. Her favourite things are making people smile and Aidan Turner.

She’s tried many jobs over the years, from barmaid to market researcher and she even had a brief flirtation with modelling. These days she is mostly found writing.

She lives near London with her grey tabby cat, Portia. They both have an unhealthy obsession with Marmite.

You can follow Holly on Twitter @HollyH_Author and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Making It by Jay Blades

My enormous thanks to Jay Blades’ assistant Jo for sending me a copy of Jay’s autobiography, Making It, in return for an honest review. I was thrilled to receive it in advance of interviewing Jay for my local Deepings Literary Festival Easter offer. It was wonderful to speak with Jay directly and although Jay and I didn’t discuss Making It too much for fear of spoiling the read for others, we all felt we had come to know Jay Blades the man, rather than Jay Blades TV presenter by the end of the evening because he was so generous in his responses to my questions.

Today I’m delighted to share my review of  Making It.

Making It will be published by Pan Macmillan imprint Bluebird on 13th May 2021 and is available for pre-order through the publisher links here.

Making It

‘We had our hardships, and there were times that we didn’t have a lot of food and didn’t have a lot of money. But that didn’t stop me having the time of my life.’

Making It is an inspirational memoir about beating the odds and turning things around even when it all seems hopeless. In this book, Jay shares the details of his life, from his childhood growing up sheltered and innocent on a council estate in Hackney, to his adolescence when he was introduced to violent racism at secondary school, to being brutalized by police as a teen, to finally becoming a beloved star of the hit primetime show The Repair Shop.

Jay reflects on strength, weakness and what it means to be a man. He questions the boundaries society places on male vulnerability and how letting himself be nurtured helped him flourish into the person he is today. An expert at giving a second life to cherished items, he speaks about how his role as a restorer mirrors his own life – if something’s broken, you can always find a way to put it back together.

My Review of Making It

The autobiography of popular television presenter Jay Blades.

Although some of the aspects covered in Making It like the author’s dyslexia, have been alluded to, or even well documented, in recent times, Making It is a wonderful, detailed insight into the life and personality of Jay Blades.

I loved the honest, conversational style achieved with ghost writer Ian Gittins. What impressed me most was that Jay Blades doesn’t spare himself from an intense, unforgiving spotlight that sometimes belies the jovial cheeky chap we know from his television programmes. There are passages in Making It that are violent, brutal and very frequently accompanied by surprising expletives that, far from alienating the reader, draw them in and have the effect of making them love, admire and respect Jay Blades all the more. He has made mistakes, some of them quite appalling, and yet he comes across as the kind of man you’d want in your life. Even though I know the author is now a successful celebrity, I frequently felt tense as I read, wondering how he was going to overcome the latest obstacle life was throwing his way.

The themes and topics of the fifty years of Jay Blades’ life covered in Making It are sadly all too familiar in today’s society. The author deals with family and relationships of all kinds, including absentees fathers; with drugs and racism, violence and education, homelessness and the need to belong, with convincing and frequently emotional and touching clarity. But as Jay Blades says in his introduction, this is by no means a self pitying book. The more the reader reads, the more they comprehend what it means to be a warm, intelligent, black man simply trying to do his best. My heart went out to the author, particularly because of his dyslexia, and his work with the disadvantaged and displaced made me respect him completely.

However, aside from being entertaining, interesting and engaging, I think Making It is an important book. Through his own, very personal experiences, Jay Blades gives permission for readers, especially men, to show and accept their vulnerability without embarrassment. He gives hope to all that, rather like the items that feature in the television programme The Repair Shop, for which he is most well known, there is always the possibility to create something new and beautiful from something – or someone – broken or damaged.

I finished reading Making It feeling as if I had been on quite a journey with Jay Blades, that I had been given a privileged insight into a life and world that I would never otherwise have known and that I had been given the gift of something uplifting and positive. I thoroughly, thoroughly, enjoyed every word.

About Jay Blades

Originally from Hackney, Jay is dyslexic and after leaving school at fifteen with no qualifications, he eventually managed to get back on track studying for a degree in criminology and philosophy at Buckingham University before finding his true vocation in restoration.

Jay is an inspirational motivator and was the former co-founder of award-winning social enterprises Out of The Dark and Street of Dreams. Working with disengaged and disadvantaged young people, Jay was able to mentor and support thousands of individuals over the years to realize their full potential.

To find out more, follow Jay on Twitter @Jay_n_Co and Instagram or find him on Facebook. There’s more on Jay’s website too.

Crab, Dab and Blenny by Peta Rainford

My grateful thanks to author and illustrator Peta Rainford for sending me a copy of Crab, Dab and Blenny, her latest children’s book, in return for an honest review.

Peta is becoming a regular author here on Linda’s Book Bag, most recently when I reviewed Milly’s Marvellous Mistakes here.  I have a review of Peta’s The Niggle here alongside a smashing guest post from Peta about fitting illustrations to text in her books (although sadly the giveaway has now ended) and another review of Isabella’s Adventures in Numberland here. I also reviewed Peta’s Jacob Starke Loves the Dark here. It’s a real thrill for me to find myself quoted on the covers of some of Peta’s books too!

Crab, Dab and Blenny was published on 4th May 2021 and is available for purchase here.

Crab, Dab and Blenny

Fish friends Dab and Blenny are upset by the plastic that washes into their lovely rockpool home. Crab, on the other hand, just LOVES the shiny bright colour…

But when Blenny gets caught in plastic twine, Crab finally understands the danger of plastics in the ocean.

A fun, rhyming picture book with an important environmental message.

My Review of Crab, Dab and Blenny

I love the fact a child can write their name in the front of this book as it gives a sense of ownership over reading, immediately engaging them with the text. And what an important story Crab, Dab and Blenny is. Peta Rainford explores the impact of plastics in the sea in a way that both educates and entertains so that the impact of Crab, Dab and Blenny is phenomenal.

Crab, Dab and Blenny is written like a narrative poem with smashing rhyme that gives a natural rhythm when the book is read aloud, but equally has a great variety of vocabulary that helps promote a child’s reading and writing. As ever with a Peta Rainford book, the illustrations are glorious with a cartoon style that appeals to children but that still maintains the integrity of the different creatures so that readers can learn about their characteristics. I thought the way their expressions changed would be wonderful for exploring feelings and emotions, especially with children on the autistic spectrum. The balance of text to image is perfect. Each page is a work of art that draws in readers and holds the attention completely.

Indeed, I thought it was wonderful how the underwater world was brought alive for young children with references to different sea flora and fauna because Crab, Dab and Blenny creates an awareness of a world many of the target audience have never, and may never, experience. There are many possibilities for further investigation and research so that Crab, Dab and Blenny has importance and resonance beyond its pages.

The story in Crab, Dab and Blenny is exciting, with peril as a Blenny finds himself in danger and it is fantastic for children to realise they have a part to play and can make a difference to the environment. Crab, Dab and Blenny empowers young people and gives them status.

I thought Crab, Dab and Blenny was utterly brilliant. Peta Rainford understands  children so well. Crab, Dab and Blenny considers the difficult issue of plastics in the sea, but the author makes it accessible without ever being patronising, and it is entertaining and actually uplifting, as well as educational, so that it is a really fantastic book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Peta Rainford

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Peta writes and illustrates her funny picture books on the Isle of Wight, where she lives with her husband, daughter, and hairy jack russell, Archie.

Peta loves going into schools to share her books and inspire children in their writing and art. She has appeared at a number of festivals and other events, including: Barnes Children’s Literature Festival, Isle of Wight Literary Festival, Exmoor Dark Skies Festival and Ventnor Fringe.

She is one of the organisers of the inaugural IW Story Festival.

You can find out more by following Peta on Twitter @PetaRainford and visiting her website. You’ll also find Peta on Facebook.