Scruff by Alice Bowsher

A little while ago a surprise parcel of children’s books arrived from lovely Lefki at Cicada Books and today I’m reviewing the first – Scruff by Alice Bowsher.

Scruff is available for purchase here.

Scruff

I wanted a dog… This one was perfect! Nobody wanted him because he looked scruffy…. but I m a scruffy guy so that suited me just fine.

After picking out the scruffiest dog at the pound, the narrator is surprised to find that Scruff isn’t what he initially seemed. He doesn’t want to catch sticks… or roll in the mud or swim in the pond. What could be the problem? It turns out that Scruff just loves being pampered!

So the narrator goes along with it. They wash, brush, trim and polish together, until they are anything but scruffy! In their newly groomed state they go to the dog show… and win the prize for the dog that looks most like its owner!

A funny story that is sure to charm dog-mad little ones and their parents.

My Review of Scruff

Scruff and his owner need a haircut.

I always like to comment on the physical properties of children’s books and Alice Bowsher’s Scruff is robust and durable with a cover that would easily wipe clean from sticky fingers, making it ideal for home or school use. The illustrations are naive in style, appealing to young children, whilst being entertaining and supportive of the text, helping language acquisition, as well as being funny. I loved the fact that Scruff’s owner is not Caucasian as this helps celebrate diversity and shows young children that people of all ethnicities have status.  The majority of the other people in the book are multi-cultural in appearance too.

There’s a smashing story in Scruff that celebrates being different and helps children explore how we judge (quite literally) by appearances. Scruff does not behave like ‘normal’ dogs and I very much liked the concept of being individual because too frequently children are expected to behave as an homogeneous mass. The ending to the story shows clearly that we all have a talent for something even if it isn’t necessarily what we set out to do so that children can learn to accept themselves and find their own winning ways.

Scruff is an entertaining and informative book that could lead to all kinds of further child development as well as being enjoyed just as a story. I could envisage counting the dogs and owners at the dog show, looking for pictures of animals that look like people and finding out about them, talking about how to look after pets, producing artwork of pets and animals and so on. Scruff is a small book that packs a punch.

About Alice Bowsher

Alice Bowsher is an illustrator based in south-east London who has worked on numerous projects.

For more information, visit Alice’s website. You can follow Alice on Twitter @abowsh.

Penguin Beach by Lawrence Prestidge

My enormous thanks to Jade Callaway for offering me a copy of children’s book Penguin Beach by Lawrence Prestidge in return for an honest review which I am delighted to share today.

Penguin Beach is published by Matador Children’s Books and is available for purchase through the links here.

Penguin Beach

Clyde loves being a penguin! He’s the star of the show at London Zoo’s Penguin Beach, delighting visitors every day. From the way he waddles, to his tuxedo-like feathers, no one can resist the loveable charms of Clyde the penguin. That is, until Diego, a new penguin from Spain, arrives. Why do the visitors love his back-flips and leaps so much? And why are the other penguins so impressed by him?

Clyde must come up with a plan to drive Diego out and claim the top spot again. This is his beach. This is his spotlight. However, his mischievous plans have gone too far and Diego may be in danger. Clyde and his penguin friends go on a mission to find Diego.

Will they find him, or will the pythons, gorillas and a trio of ‘bad guys’ get in their way?

My Review of Penguin Beach

A new penguin in the zoo might just cause a few problems!

I’m going to begin by mentioning a tiny negative that I want to get out of the way before my review proper. There are a couple of cultural references, such as a mention of Downton Abbey, in Penguin Beach that I think will be lost on its readership as they would be too young to have encountered them. Having said that, we older readers who might be sharing the book with a young person will enjoy them and I certainly found myself sniggering.

Penguin Beach is really fun with a fast paced, dynamic plot that romps along. There’s humour, peril and drama as animals and humans clash and interact. The illustrations are excellent and not only give great visual appeal, but they will help support less confident independent readers, as will the short chapters, because not only do they add to the pace, but they mean a young reader can have the satisfaction of reading a complete section independently. The language is so expertly used by Lawrence Prestidge in Penguin Beach because where more challenging words are used, their context makes them understandable so that children will enjoy a story and learn at the same time.

However, it is the combination of character and theme that makes Penguin Beach such a success. With gender, race and implied sexuality cleverly woven into the narrative, children will recognise, either overtly or subliminally, characters they are aware of in their own lives so that they can explore issues and reach an understanding without even realising they are doing so as they are entertained. The bullying snake Cuddles is dealt with through others supporting one another, the outsider Taddy simply wants to find friends and have someone notice her, the human bully Benjamin is shown to be a completely different person when faced with his mum, Clyde behaves unkindly and badly when he feels his role is being threatened and so on. What Lawrence Prestidge does so well is to exemplify why people (or in this case animals) behave the way they do and to show that it is possible to change and to create friendships even with those who seems to threaten us or who are very different from us. The major theme of family is just lovely too.

I really enjoyed Penguin Beach and whilst Miles’ routine in Primates Got Talent might not be the kind of act I’d like to see to much of (you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is…), I can envisage children being absolutely delighted with it. Penguin Beach is enormously entertaining, accessible and the kind of book that even reluctant readers will enjoy.

About Lawrence Prestidge

Lawrence Prestidge is a popular children’s author originally from Oxfordshire, best known for his children’s novel Terror at the Sweet Shop. Educated at the University of Bedfordshire, Lawrence has previously worked with Disney as well as theatres across London. Lawrence visits many different Primary and Secondary schools throughout the year and travels all around the country doing so. He is the author of four children’s books. Lawrence has spoke candidly on BBC Radio stations about how his love of writing helped him deal with depression.
You can find out more by visiting Lawrence’s website. You’ll also follow Lawrence on Twitter @LPrestidge7, and find him on Facebook or Instagram.

The Second Marriage by Gill Paul

I’m a huge fan of Gill Paul as both a person and a writer, so I broke my vow not to accept any further tours for September when Random Things Tour Organiser Anne Cater invited me to participate in the UK launch celebrations for The Second Marriage. I simply couldn’t decline. Gill has previously featured on Linda’s Book Bag when I reviewed The Lost Daughter here, and Gill wrote a superb guest post here.

The Second Marriage (Jackie and Maria in the US) was published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins on 17th September 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Second Marriage

JACKIE
When her first marriage ends in tragedy, Jackie Kennedy fears she’ll never love again. But all that changes when she encounters…

ARI
Successful and charming, Ari Onassis is a man who promises her the world. Yet soon after they marry, Jackie learns that his heart also belongs to another…

MARIA
A beautiful, famed singer, Maria Callas is in love with Jackie’s new husband – and she isn’t going to give up.

Little by little, Jackie and Maria’s lives begin to tangle in a dangerous web of secrets, scandal and lies. But with both women determined to make Ari theirs alone, the stakes are high. How far will they go for true love?

My Review of The Second Marriage

The lives and loves of two famous women.

I’m not quite sure how Gill Paul does it, but in The Second Marriage she immerses her readers into a world that we think we know something about and manages to bring it into sharp focus, giving it a vivid, emotional reality that vibrates with life. It might be the depth of research that has gone into the lives of Jackie and Maria. It might be the gorgeous quality of Gill Paul’s writing. It might be the evocative era and setting but somehow the author manages to place the reader at the heart of what ought to be familiar action in an innovative and fresh way that I found entrancing. I thoroughly enjoyed The Second Marriage.

Whilst the plot might have elements we would expect, there was so much in The Second Marriage of which I simply had no concept. I loved the way I kept being surprised and I’ll admit to heading off to Google aspects as I read too. When a book educates and entertains I feel it adds so much more pleasure to the reading and Gill Paul manages this with subtlety and skill so that The Second Marriage is a cracker of a read.

There’s a glamour to the lives of Maria and Jackie as might be expected and I loved being transported to the settings, but what I found so moving and so affecting was the insight into the women as women. Their sense of self, the way their appearance is scrutinised, the way the media depicts and shapes their personas, their relationships blended with themes of loyalty, love, power and need all come together into a read that is incredibly satisfying. At times I felt Jackie and Maria’s emotions as if I had become them. Although Ari is a catalyst for much of what happens with Jackie and Maria, The Second Marriage is very much herstory rather than just history,

It’s quite challenging to review The Second Marriage adequately because I don’t want to spoil elements for those who’ve yet to read it, and the historically accurate aspects are already known. What I would say is that Gill Paul imbues her narrative with a touch of genius so that reading The Second Marriage is immersive, hypnotising and enthralling. I loved it.

About Gill Paul

Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in relatively recent history.

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

All of Gill’s lovely books can be found here.

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

No Love Lost by Robert Crouch

No Love Lost ebook cover final

It was a privilege to help reveal the cover for No Love Lost, the sixth book in Robert Crouch’s Kent Fisher Mysteries series back in August because Robert has long been a welcome visitor to Linda’s Book Bag, kindly providing all manner of posts, including a super guest post about daring to be different when the fifth book in his Kent Fisher MysteriesNo Mercy, was published. You can read that post here. Robert featured when No More Lies was released, in a post you can see here. I ‘stayed in’ with Rob in a post you can read here, and he’s been kind enough to provide a guest post (here) shortly after his Fisher’s Fables was released and another here to celebrate No Bodies. Finally, however, I am able to share my review of one of Robert’s books as I have actually read No Love Lost! I’d like to thank Robert for sending me a copy in return for an honest review and for inviting me to participate in these launch celebrations.

No Love Lost was published on 17th September is available for purchase here.

No Love Lost

No Love Lost ebook cover final

How can a simple job interview end in complete carnage?

When Mandy Paige seeks Kent Fisher’s help to find the mother who abandoned her as a baby, he has no idea of the mayhem his investigation will unleash. With only a photograph of a woman he once knew, he discovers she left her office one Friday afternoon twenty years ago and never returned.

Did Helen Cassidy escape an abusive husband or was she abducted and murdered?

People connected to Helen begin to die in mysterious circumstances. An old foe returns, leaving cryptic messages on the windscreen of Kent’s car. He seems to know Kent’s every move, hounding and taunting the sleuth, attacking those who can help him solve the mystery.

When the main suspect dies, Kent’s investigation lies in tatters – until he realises he’s not the one pursuing the killer. The killer’s pursuing him.

My Review of No Love Lost

Mandy’s arrival in Kent’s life leads to more than he could imagine!

No Love Lost May be the sixth book in the Kent Fisher series but not having read the others did not diminish my extreme pleasure in this one and it works perfectly as a stand alone narrative. I do think I would have appreciated the subtleties of some of Kent’s relationships more had I read the other books in the series but actually that has simply had the effect of making me determined to catch up with the series from the beginning.

Robert Crouch has a smooth writing style that makes No Love Lost effortless to read, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the action. And what action there is! The book opens in dramatic fashion and maintains a cracking pace throughout, never missing a beat. I loved the endings of each chapter as they often surprised me, were always gripping and meant I simply had to read on. There’s a smashing visual quality to the narrative too so that natural images and descriptions enhance the impact of the action. I could envisage the scenes very vividly. No Love Lost would translate brilliantly to the small screen.

I found the themes of No Love Lost all too pertinent to today’s society. The concept of commitment, fidelity and trust underpins the fast paced action and with side issues such as local government restructuring, the use of technology and the drama of revenge all swirling through the writing, not only does the book entertain wonderfully, it provides relatable food for thought.

What I thoroughly enjoyed too was the lack of expletives in the language and the ability to create drama and tension without the use of extreme gore to convey the drama. Instead, I found myself falling for Kent Fisher as a person, seeing the real man and finding him plausible and human. I rather hope he’ll find some sustained happiness in the next book. I must confess, however, that Columbo was probably my favourite character because he provides light relief in amongst the tension.

No Love Lost is an absolute cracker of a book that deserves a wide audience. I found it hugely exciting, cleverly plotted and very entertaining. I’m sure that had No Love Lost been written by a famous author, film and television companies would be falling over themselves to turn it into a screen production. Robert Crouch’s writing is excellent and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

About Robert Crouch

Robert Crouch and Harvey

Robert Crouch is the author of the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. Set in today’s world, the books pay homage to the traditional murder mystery and classic whodunit.

Based on his career as an environmental health officer, Kent Fisher is a different kind of detective, described as ‘unique in crime fiction’ by one reviewer.

Having left environmental health, Robert now writes full time from his home on the East Sussex coast. He loves walking on the South Downs with his wife, Carol, and their Westie, Harvey, reading crime fiction and photography.

You can find out more on Robert’s website, by following him on Twitter @robertcrouchuk or by finding him on Facebook.

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Staying in with Emma Cooper

It feels far too long since lovely Emma Cooper has appeared on Linda’s Book Bag. The first time was when I shared an extract from Emma’s No Wonder in a post you can read here. Earlier this year I reviewed Emma’s fabulous The First Time I Saw You. My review is here, but The First Time I Saw You will be making another appearance at the end of December as it is one of my books of the year.

Today, I’m thrilled to stay in with Emma to hear all about her latest book. I would like to thank Alara Delfosse at Headline for inviting me to be part of the launch celebrations for If I Could Say Goodbye.

Staying in with Emma Cooper

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

Hello Linda, wow! I love your book cases!

Thanks! Though I’m rapidly running out of space… Tell me, (as if I didn’t know!) which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I have brought along my new Women’s Fiction novel If I Could Say Goodbye which I’m so excited to see out in the world … I can’t believe it’s my third book!

Congratulations Emma and happy publication day for last Thursday! So , what can we expect from an evening in with If I Could Say Goodbye?

It’s a story about Jennifer Jones who is married to a wonderful man called Ed, they have two young children and she is very happy with her life, very settled. But at the beginning of the story, Jen’s sister Kerry is tragically killed in a road accident by pushing Jen out of the way and so what follows is the story of how Jen deals firstly with her grief, her own mortality and then the guilt of why she is still and alive when her sister isn’t.

That sounds quite emotional. Tell me more.

Now I know this sounds like a very sad tale but as with my other books there are a lot of laughs along the way as Jen tries to make the most out of her life by having more adventurous sex with her husband and taking up roller-booting! My books may break your heart but I always, always try to put it back together by the end.

Hmm. I’m not sure I believe you Emma. You shredded my heart when I read The First Time I Saw You!

What else have you brought along and why?

Well, just stay there for a moment, Linda … *pops out to the car and returns with two-meter-tall thank you card* Can you just give me a hand fitting it this through your door? Thank you, there we go!

Crikey, that’s enormous. What are you doing with it here?

I have brought along a thank you card filled with messages from the hundreds and hundreds of authors who you’ve helped and supported over the past few years.  What we all love so much is how you help not just the well established authors with big publishing houses but also new writers as I was myself when you first supported me. Thank you for everything.

Oh my goodness Emma. You’ve brought a tear to my eye. It’s my pleasure and I’m thrilled to think I might have helped occasionally along the way. You’re very kind.

I’ve also brought with me The Best of Aretha Franklin because Jen’s sister Kerry loved her, and a homemade white chocolate cheesecake to go with it.

This is one of my favourite recipes and it plays a part in a heart-breaking scene where Jen is trying her best to carry on as if everything is fine, but we can see through Ed’s eyes that Jen is really struggling.

What a perfect combination Emma. I love Aretha Franklin’s music and cheesecake is such a treat. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat all about If I Could Say Goodbye. I can’t wait to read it but I know I’ll need to stock up with tissues first!

Thank you for having me over Linda, it’s been wonderful to be able to say thank you in person x

It’s been lovely having you here Emma. You serve up some cheesecake and I’ll provide the details about If I Could Say Goodbye:

If I Could Say Goodbye

Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes and Cecelia Ahern, If I Could Say Goodbye is sure to ‘break your heart but put it back together again’ (Katie Fforde)

Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more.

Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.

When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family.

Jen was never able to say goodbye to her sister. But what if she could?

Would you risk everything if you had the chance to say goodbye?

Published by Headline on 17th September 2020, If I Could Say Goodbye is available for purchase through the links here.

About Emma Cooper

emma ccooper

Emma Cooper is a former teaching assistant, who lives in Shropshire with her partner and four children. She spends her spare time writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-four years, who still makes her smile every day. Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations.

For more information. follow Emma on Twitter @ItsEmmacooper and on Facebook. You can also visit her website.

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Staying in with Jo Lambert

It’s far too long since lovely Jo Lambert has appeared on Linda’s Book Bag. Last time I was reviewing her novel Watercolours in the Rain in a post you’ll find here. Jo has also previously written a super guest post, telling us about writing in the first person and you can read that blog post here. Another of Jo’s books, The Other Side of the Morning, featured here. Today I’m delighted to stay in with Jo to find out what she’s been writing of late.

Staying in with Jo Lambert

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Jo. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me on this occasion.

Thank you for inviting me. It’s lovely to take a break from writing…

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

I’m currently writing a trilogy set on the south Cornish coast. The first book, Shadows on the Water, has just been published and it’s the one I’ve decided to bring with me today.

Congratulations on a new series. What can we expect from an evening in with Shadows on the Water?

Love, loss, family, friendship and suspense – all the usual ingredients you’ll find in my books. The icing on the cake for me was writing the story set against such a wonderful backdrop. The fictitious estuary towns of East and West Kingswater were created from a mix of Dartmouth and Fowey. They are places I’ve been to many times and made it much easier to give my characters a ‘home’  and create the scenes for the book.

That sounds wonderful Jo. I think we could all do with a trip to Cornwall! 

What else have you brought along and why?

A cream tea for us to share. An absolute must if you visit Cornwall isn’t it? I know there’s this thing about which comes first, jam or cream but on the Cornish side of the border it’s definitely jam first! Will you pour or shall I?

You pour Jo. I can’t hold myself back from those scones. A cream tea is one of my very favourite things and it always makes sense to me to put the jam on first even all the way up here in Lincolnshire! Did you bring anything else?

I always create a playlist for my books. Mood music which helps me write some of the scenes. If I had to choose one track from the list it would be Maggie Reilly’s Every Time We Touch which is  the theme for Ava and Alex my central characters.

And finally I’ve brought along a couple of photos. One of Dartmouth and one of Fowey. Without photographic memories like these it would not have been possible to create the feel of my fictitious estuary town of Kingswater.  We’re hoping to go back to Fowey in early October – more research for book 3!

I can quite understand why you want to return as soon as you can Jo. Let’s hope you get there! Shadows on the Water seems to fit the setting perfectly. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about it. Now, pass me another scone please whilst I add a few more details for blog readers about Shadows on the Water.

Shadows on the Water

After the tragic death of her fiancé, Ava Warren is slowly rebuilding her life.  She has a supportive family, great friends and a job she loves, managing holiday letting company Estuary Escapes in her home town of Kingswater. Another relationship is the last thing she wants or needs. Until one evening she meets Alex Penhaligon.

Alex’s father Sam owns Heron’s Gate Vineyard and Alex has recently returned from California, where he has been working for the past five years.  A case of mistaken identity gets them off to a bad start. But discovering his error, Alex is anxious to make amends and soon persuades Ava that he’s not quite as arrogant as she thinks he is. As their friendship begins to turn into something much deeper, Ava wonders whether she can at last put the past behind her and make a new future with Alex.

But someone is watching.  A man who not only thinks Ava should be his but also holds a long term grudge against Alex. And he’s determined to get his own way irrespective of the lengths he has to go to or who gets hurt in the process.

Set in Cornwall Shadows on the Water is a story of family ties, lost love and tangled loyalties.

Shadows on the Water is available for purchase here.

About Jo Lambert

Jo Lambert lives on the eastern edge of the city of Bath. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors.  She has been writing since 2008. Her first five books, a set of linked romantic sagas following the lives of several families in rural West Somerset, were followed in 2015 by Summer Moved On, a contemporary romance set in South Devon. A sequel, Watercolours in the Rain was published 2017,

In June 2018 Jo signed to Choc Lit and her debut A Cornish Affair, set in North Cornwall was published in 2019 under their Ruby Fiction imprint.

Her latest novel Shadows on the Water is due for publication on 26th July. It is the first in a three book series. She is currently busy working on the second which will be published next year.

When she isn’t writing she reads and reviews. She also has an active blog.  Jo loves travel, red wine and music and long as it has a great melody and lyrics. Oh and she often takes the odd photograph or two…

For more information you can find Jo Lambert on Facebook, Instagram and her website. You can also follow her on Twitter @Jolambertwriter and read her blog.

A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble

My grateful thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to participate in the publication celebrations for Kate Humble’s A Year of Living Simply: My Journey From Complexity To Contentment. It’s a real honour to be sharing my review on publication day and to help start the tour.

A Year of Living Simply is published today, 17th September 2020, by Octopus imprint Aster and is available for purchase through the links here.

A Year of Living Simply

If there is one thing that most of us aspire to, it is, simply, to be happy.  And yet attaining happiness has become, it appears, anything but simple. Having stuff – The Latest, The Newest, The Best Yet – is all too often peddled as the sure fire route to happiness.  So why then, in our consumer-driven society, is depression, stress and anxiety ever more common, affecting every strata of society and every age, even, worryingly, the very young?  Why is it, when we have so much, that many of us still feel we are missing something and the rush of pleasure when we buy something new turns so quickly into a feeling of emptiness, or purposelessness, or guilt?

So what is the route to real, deep, long lasting happiness?  Could it be that our lives have just become overly crowded, that we’ve lost sight of the things – the simple things – that give a sense of achievement, a feeling of joy or excitement? That make us happy.  Do we need to take a step back, reprioritise?  Do we need to make our lives more simple?

Kate Humble’s fresh and frank exploration of a stripped-back approach to life is uplifting, engaging and inspiring – and will help us all find balance and happiness every day.

My Review of A Year of Living Simply

An investigation into making life simpler.

I loved A Year of Living Simply totally unreservedly. I loved meeting the people between its pages, I loved being chatted to by Kate Humble’s gloriously conversational style, I loved seeing nature and discovering Kate’s successes and failures so that when I was away from the book I was thinking about it and I loved the sense of belonging I found when I picked it up again.

I’d defy anyone to read A Year of Living Simply and not be inspired to change something in their life. It may be something as simple as sorting a shelf (and I have) to a more life altering action as deciding to live off grid, but Kate Humble’s honest, beautifully written book feels like a true catalyst for change at the most personal of levels. This isn’t a self-help book but my word it delivers food for thought and ideas to enhance any reader’s life. It also affords a glimpse into the life of the author that feels a privilege to see.

It took me a long time to read A Year of Living Simply because I had a considerable amount going on in my life but every time I returned to it I found it complete balm for the soul. It was akin to meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen for years and yet it’s as if you only saw them a couple of hours ago. And In the same way Kate Humble discovers new skills, I learnt all manner of things from her warm, conversational, humane style. I’m usually sceptical of celebrity endorsements for books, but the comments attached to A Year of Living Simply are absolutely right. It is a treat of a read.

As well as the warm, witty and frequently self-deprecating style that makes Kate Humble’s writing so engaging, there’s so much that educates and informs the reader. The accompanying monochrome illustrations have no right to evoke such beauty and emotion, but they do. And they fit the writing perfectly, especially as Kate Humble writes with painterly prose when she is describing landscape so that A Year of Living Simply transports the reader into nature from the comfort of their own home. I didn’t have to be buffeted by wind and rain on a long walk as Kate Humble does it for me, but equally her words made me want to get outside, made me appreciate what I have and made me behave slightly differently as a result.

Although I’ve always admired her public persona, I’ve now fallen head over heels in love with Kate Humble – and her writing, which is joyful, entertaining and fascinating. Don’t miss A Year of Living Simply. In a world where’s been considerable ugliness recently, A Year of Living of Living Simply is a thing of beauty. At the very least it will provide you with joy and a sense of belonging and community, but it also might just change your life. It’s wonderful.

About Kate Humble

Kate Humble is a farmer, writer, conservationist, entrepreneur and one of the UK’s best-known TV presenters. She started her television career as a researcher, later presenting programmes such as ‘Animal Park’, ‘Springwatch & Autumnwatch’, ‘Lambing Live’, ‘Living with Nomads’, ‘A Country Life for Half the Price’ and ‘Back to the Land’. Her last book, Thinking On My Feetwas shortlisted for The Wainwright Prize and The Edward Stanford Travel Writing Award.

For more information, follow Kate on Twitter @katehumble, or visit her website. You’ll also find Kate on Instagram and there’s more with these other bloggers:

The Suspects by Katharine Johnson

You know, there are both pleasures and problems in being a blogger. A pleasure is being offered and sent fabulous books on a regular basis. A problem is getting round to reading them all. Lovely Katharine Johnson sent me a copy of The Suspects in return for an honest review almost 18 months ago and it is only now that I have managed to fit in reading it. My enormous thanks to Katy for a copy of her book.

The Suspects is available for purchase here.

The Suspects

Shallow Grave meets The Secret History in this quirky psychological thriller

When you’re bound together by secrets and lies who do you trust?

Bristol, 1988.

Five young graduates on the threshold of their careers buy a house together in order to get a foot on the property ladder before prices spiral out of their reach. But it soon becomes the house share from hell.

After their New Year’s Eve party, they discover a body – and it’s clear they’ll be the first suspects. As each of them has a good reason from their past not to trust the police, they come up with a solution – one which forces them into a life of secrets and lies.

But can they trust each other?

My Review of The Suspects

A house share leads to more than might be expected…

What a cracking book! I can’t decide if I wish I’d read The Suspects sooner or I’m pleased to have been able to read it for the first time now. Either way, it’s a super, fast paced thriller that kept me guessing right to the last page and I thought it was excellent. I have to comment on the cover too. The balance of light and shade reflects the balance of good and evil, light and shade, in the characters’ lives. There’s a sense of always looking over your shoulder, of wondering when or if you might be found out that is such an important aspect of the story. I loved the creation of time in The Suspects too. The era is clear and authentic with board games, music and television adding to the picture without ever dominating.

The plot is tautly constructed so that Katharine Johnson kept me guessing about who had done precisely what throughout. Whilst all the characters are implicated in actions that are at best foolish and at times illegal, I believed in them completely. I can see how easy it would be to be sucked into their lives and I found it fascinating. Reading The Suspects made me wonder how I might have responded as the events unfolded. The pace is breathless and although it’s a short book it did take me a while to read because I had to give myself a break to allow my pulse to slow at times. I found it incredibly exciting.

Told from Emily’s first person point of view The Suspects has a claustrophobic, dangerous, intimacy that creates a brilliant atmosphere of menace. It’s the interplay between the characters, their rationale for their behaviour and the way Katherine Johnson explores how our actions have repercussions across the decades that I found so compelling. Back stories and truths are gradually uncovered through such skilled writing that the reader has a thorough understanding of every one of the housemates. Each of these young people has a flawed and very realistic character. Selfish, ambitious, foolish, insecure, duplicitous – they are all at fault and yet I didn’t blame any one of them. I felt as much part of their story, because of the excellent writing, as they are themselves. The Suspects is as much about friendship and identity as it is about crime and I loved that element.

It’s so hard to review The Suspects without revealing something that might spoil the read for others. Let’s just say I thought it was a superb story that held me entranced throughout and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Katharine Johnson

Katharine Johnson is the author of gripping psychological and historical suspense stories set in the UK and Italy. It’s always the whydunit that intrigues her most. Katharine’s characters are flawed but not evil – they’re ordinary people who through a bad decision find themselves in nightmarish situations.

Born in Bristol, she currently lives in Berkshire. As a journalist she’s written for a variety of magazines, mostly about home and lifestyle. She has a passion for crime novels. old buildings and all things Italian (except tiramisu.)

When not writing you’ll often find her drinking coffee, exploring cities, restoring her house in Italy or out walking with her partner in crime-writing, Monty the spaniel, while thinking up plots.

For further information, follow Katy on Twitter @kjohnsonwrites, visit her blog or find her on Instagram and Facebook.

Staying in with Billy Moran

With the kind of year 2020 has been, I think Billy Moran’s Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing might be just the book we all need! I was so sorry I couldn’t squeeze in reading it in time for the blog tour, but I am thrilled that Billy has agreed to stay in with me to tell me all about it instead. My grateful thanks to Howard Davidson at Sauce Materials Books for inviting me to participate in this tour.

Staying in with Billy Moran

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Billy.

Thanks for having me – nice place.

Thanks – bit dusty though as I haven’t bothered much over lockdown! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

 

I’ve brought along a copy of my debut novel Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing because it’s out today!

Oh! How exciting. Happy publication day. Congratulations.

It’s got a nice, bright retro rave flyer front cover (by an amazing designer called Alex Kirby), with some kind quotes from writers I really look up to on the back, and 349 pages of fun and drama in between!

Sounds great. So, what can we expect from an evening in with Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing?

Expect a bit of a rollercoaster ride – Eleanor Oliphant meets Agatha Christie at a rave!

I love that description!

There’s a quirky, naughty, lovable group of characters to hang out with, a crime mystery to keep you hooked, some family tragedy to pluck on the heart strings, some 90s nostalgia to turn back the clock with, and as I’m a writer on Horrible Histories by day, hopefully I’ll make you laugh once or twice along the way too. It’s a bit of a paean to and parody of self-help books as well and there’s a concept in there – can you find happiness by following a set of rules?

I think Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing sounds absolutely brilliant. I know your Horrible Histories well so I imagine I’m in for a treat with this book. 

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

Well I’m always the one that DJ’s at parties. I’ll usually play anything from Taylor Swift to Chic, and Wham to David Bowie, but today I’ve brought along a party playlist not everyone’s going to like, because it’s all rave music from 1992.

Ah. Let me just nip and get some earplugs…

I’m sorry Linda – but it will usually make someone get up and dance you didn’t expect to. If no-one else is coming round, maybe it will be you?

Well I must admit, I do like a bit of a bop! Maybe you’ll join me?

Plus I’m in the party mood of course – it’s a big day. My book isn’t about rave, and the rave scenes are in fact described as being totally silent for our main character, as if he is already re-living them, even as he experiences them for the first time – but this was my writing playlist, which helped me recapture the extraordinary feeling of 1992.

I do think music can be incredibly evocative Billy.

I’ve also brought along a cocktail called a Rosemary Gimlet. I believe every party should start with a strong cocktail, except perhaps a Christening. This one has gin, lemon and rosemary syrup – you’re going to love it, and then fall over. Have three and you’ll change your mind about the playlist I promise.

I’m a bit of a lightweight when it comes to drinking but I do like a cocktail and if it helps drown out some of that music, I’m in!

Finally, I have brought along my hangover pre-cure. This is a winner: one Berocca; one Dioralyte sachet; two soluble aspirin; one Nytol; a few drops of Echinacea; all mixed up in a pint of tap water. You’ll thank me on the morning.

I have a feeling I might just need it! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing Billy. Happy publication day again. Now, if you could just turn that music down a fraction, and mix me a Rosemary Gimlet, I’ll give blog readers all the information they need about Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing:

Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing

Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing

Chris Pringle: simpleton, casualty or local hero?

Propped up by biscuits, benefits and a baffling faith in his plan, he lives in a world where every day is obsessively the same: wedged in his recliner, watching murder mysteries, taking notes. Until the day a serious and peculiar crime stumps the local police – and Chris announces he can solve it.

Accompanied by a loyal crew of chancers, committed to making amends, and pursued by a depressed Detective Inspector, trying to join the dots, Chris heads back to the raves of his past, where a heartbreaking personal tragedy lies abandoned. But what exactly is Chris Pringle looking for? Has he really worked out the way to find it? And what will happen if he does?

A quirky, nostalgic, heart-warming mystery for fans of Gail Honeyman, Agatha Christie, Jennifer Egan, Ian Rankin, Matt Haig, Irvine Welsh, Ben Aaronovitch, Dave Eggers, Jon Niven, John Kennedy Toole, Belinda Bauer and Harland Miller.

Published by

Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing… is available for purchase from Amazon, Waterstones and Bookbub.

About Billy Moran

Billy Moran is an award-winning television writer for shows including Horrible Histories. He grew up in the West Country, where his teenage years were rudely interrupted by the Second Summer of Love. Since then he has been embracing mysteries, craving solutions and writing lots of lists. He lives in London and has two children, two cats, one football team and several favourite detectives. Don’t Worry, Everything Is Going To Be Amazing is his debut novel.

You can find Billy on Goodreads.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

 

The Diver and the Lover by Jeremy Vine

My grateful thanks to Jenny Platt at Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy of The Diver and the Lover by Jeremy Vine in return for an honest review.

Published by Coronet on 3rd September 2020, The Diver and the Lover is available for purchase through the links here.

The Diver and the Lover

Soaked in sunlight, love and the mysteries surrounding a famous artist The Diver and the Lover is a novel inspired by true events.

It is 1951 and sisters Ginny and Meredith have travelled from England to Spain in search of distraction and respite. The two wars have wreaked loss and deprivation upon the family and the spectre of Meredith’s troubled childhood continues to haunt them. Their journey to the rugged peninsula of Catalonia promises hope and renewal.

While there they discover the artist Salvador Dali is staying in nearby Port Lligat. Meredith is fascinated by modern art and longs to meet the famous surrealist.

Dali is embarking on an ambitious new work, but his headstrong male model has refused to pose. A replacement is found, a young American waiter with whom Ginny has struck up a tentative acquaintance.

The lives of the characters become entangled as family secrets, ego and the dangerous politics of Franco’s Spain threaten to undo the fragile bonds that have been forged.

A powerful story of love, sacrifice and the lengths we will go to for who – or what – we love.

My Review of The Diver and the Lover

Meredith and Ginny need one another for very different reasons.

I had seen a few mixed comments about The Diver and the Lover so I was intrigued to read it for myself. I very much enjoyed it, not least because of the sweeping scope of the narrative which draws in the reader beautifully.

Jeremy Vine has meticulously researched Dali’s painting Christ of St John on the Cross that has been the catalyst for the story, and blended factual detail, events and real people with character and fiction in an entertaining, intriguing and absorbing read. I confess my ignorance of many elements of this story, so that I found my pleasure in reading The Diver and the Lover extended beyond the confines of the smashing narrative as I looked up various aspects, having been interested by their inclusion in the book. I’m desperate to see the painting for myself now too.

I found the title intriguing. Certainly there are several divers and lovers within the narrative, but the title could refer entirely to Adam, or someone like Meredith might be the lover through her love of Dali, art and family or perhaps The Diver and the Lover could represent a more allegorical concept with characters diving into relationships and free-falling from sanity, from their usual lives and from normality. I loved this almost contradictory aspect to contemplating the story. I think The Diver and the Lover rewards a contemplative approach to reading it as the more I thought about the narrative, the more I found.

And it’s a cracking narrative. With Ginny and Meredith at its heart, The Diver and the Lover spans geographical location from Scotland to Spain and delves into the history of Franco as well as Dali and Hollywood film so that there really is something for any reader here. From a relatively quiet beginning that reminded me of Elizabeth Buchan’s writing, the narrative builds until there are dramatic moments that I simply wasn’t expecting. I thought the balance between national and personal drama was very well achieved, and with the factual detail cleverly woven into the story I believed in the plot completely.

I found the characters fascinating. Meredith’s mental health condition, Ginny’s transition from child to woman, the arrogance of Dali and the diffidence of Adam spiced with Siobhan’s scheming jealousy, all created a cast of believable people. Indeed, I would have loved to tell Siobhan what I thought of her in person!

However, plot and character aside, once again it was theme that made The Diver and the Lover such a compelling read for me. Jeremy Vine explores passion and obsession so that his own interest in the painting shines through alongside the characters’ emotional, sexual, monetary and artistic desire, making for an intense atmosphere that I found captivating. I so enjoyed the way love is presented too. What touched me most was Meredith’s desperate desire to find family love and the overall message that fame and fortune pale into insignificance when place alongside friendship, acceptance and belonging felt very moving. There’s a brilliantly depicted picture of both avarice and altruism and when these themes are placed alongside real world events as they are here in The Diver and the Lover they make for a super read.

I thought Jeremy Vine’s blend of history, fiction and theme made The Diver and the Lover an interesting, engaging and actually very moving story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

About Jeremy Vine

Jeremy Vine is one of the UK’s best-known broadcasters. He presents a weekday show on Radio 2, radio’s most popular news programme. He also presents Jeremy Vine on Channel 5, a daily current affairs programme, and he fronts Eggheads, one of the longest-running quiz shows in British TV history.

Jeremy is an accomplished journalist and writer and has previously published two works of non-fiction.

He lives in Chiswick with his wife and their two daughters.

For more information, follow Jeremy on Twitter @theJeremyVine and find him on Facebook.