Harriet’s Hungry Worms by Samantha Smith and Melissa Johns

My grateful thanks to Kirsten Knight for sending me a copy of children’s book Harriet’s Hungry Worms by Samantha Smith and Melissa Johns in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by EK Books on 9th May 2023, Harriet’s Hungry Worms is available for purchase here.

Harriet’s Hungry Worms

This funny, engaging eco story invites young readers to follow the adventures of Harriet’s ravenous compost worms as they munch their way through their wide and wonderful weekly menu.

Packed with worm facts, Harriet’s Hungry Worms is the ideal companion for worm warriors and curious composters keen to roll their sleeves up and put their kitchen food scraps to good use.

My Review of Harriet’s Hungry Worms

Harriet is feeding the worms.

I’m beginning to realise that any EK children’s book is a real delight. As with other EK books I’ve reviewed, Harriet’s Hungry Worms is beautifully produced with a real feeling of quality in its robust cover, smooth pages and perfect size for sharing in the home or school.

Harriet’s Hungry Worms is absolutely smashing. The illustrations bring alive a lovely ecological story that is filled with important information and is inspirational so that young children are bound to want their own wormery as a result of reading this book. Children learn how to create the best environment for worms and will adore the concept of using ‘worm poo’ and ‘worm wee’ to make vegetables grow. Indeed, the illustrations have a real feeling of ecology with earthy browns and greens that reflect the subject matter, giving a feeling of coherence that is so satisfying.

Aside from the brilliant wormy details, Harriet learns other skills such as responsibility as she feed the worms, and patience, because her siblings Fred and Sally seem to have better pets in the dog and the chickens, until she realises the usefulness of worms.

There’s a superb balance of text to image with perfect modelling of speech for emergent writers in Harriet’s Hungry Worms and the use of upper case letters for emphasis so that reading Harriet’s Hungry Worms provides a highly useful template. The language in the story is accessible for young independent readers too. Very young children have days of the week reinforced and the alliteration between the days and the way the worms eat is huge fun.

I also loved the facts and worm diet at the back of the book and could see this as the catalyst for further research.

Harriet’s Hungry Worms is a delight. It’s fun, informative and beautifully presented. I thought it was lovely.

About Samantha Smith

Samantha Smith lives in Melbourne with her three junior co-authors, an adopted cat, nine-hundred and ninety-seven compost worms and an impressive pumpkin vine that’s slowly taking over the backyard. As a lover of all things green, she completed doctoral research exploring young people’s relationship with the environment and how to encourage positive behaviour change. Harriet’s Hungry Worms is her first eco picture book, and she’s hoping it will inspire young worm warriors to roll up their sleeves and put their food scraps to good use.

You’ll find Sam on Instagram and can visit her website for further information.

About Melissa Johns

Melissa Johns is an artist, illustrator, an avid upcycler and a closet poet. She produces artworks predominantly made of recycled materials that lend her work a uniquely whimsical quality. Melissa is passionate about her family, her artistic creations and stimulating young minds through art and literature. Melissa has also illustrated Growing Pains and Tabitha and the Raincloud, both for EK Books.

Discussing The Rice Birds with Lindy Keane Carter

It’s my pleasure to welcome back Lindy Keane Carter to Linda’s Book Bag today to chat with me all about The Rice Birds. I had hoped to include Lindy somewhat earlier but life rather got the better of me!

Lindy has previously featured here on the blog and it’s a real pleasure to discover her latest novel. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Lindy Keane Carter

Welcome back to the blog Lindy! So you’ve published another book since you were last here. Tell us about this new work.

Thank you for having me again. I’ve brought my new historical fiction novel, The Rice Birds, set in 1849 in Charleston, South Carolina in the southern United States. The title refers to the migratory bobolinks that arrived twice a year in South Carolina’s 18th and 19th century rice plantations. The flocks could devastate the crop if the planter hadn’t timed his planting and harvesting around the arrivals. The book is not about birds! The title is a metaphor for my Irish protagonist and her friend, an enslaved house servant, runaways from a huge plantation, so they’re hunted, hungry, and hated like the rice birds.

Sounds fascinating. Why did they run away?

One of them commits a crime on the plantation, so they must flee to Charleston, earn some money somehow out of sight, and get to New York.

I love the ethereal quality of the cover. Tell me about it. 

It’s a golden rice field.

Here’s another photo that gives better idea of the grid system of waterways and dikes that flooded the fields with the tidal push of water from the creeks and rivers.

It looks very similar to the Fens where I live!

What else have you brought to share with us?

Some photos of hair art, a craze in the 1800’s. In my book, the two girls create hair art as a way to make money while in hiding. Creepy but impressive.

I’m not sure I’d be wearing those items Lindy!

Tell me a bit more about The Rice Birds.

You can expect to root for my poor Irish girl all the way. She arrives in America in 1849 expecting to work as an indentured servant in one of Charleston’s mansions (see the above photo of the city, which today looks much as it did then) but finds herself working in the house on a vast, remote rice plantation. There, she’s wooed by a carpenter (from County Mayo, of all places) but he betrays her, and she’s forced to flee. Just when she has the means to get on a boat to New York, an old enemy shows up in Charleston to carry out an illegal transatlantic slaving scheme and it will derail her plans.

I love the sound of this. Why did you make your protagonist Irish?

I wanted to bring an Irish voice to the historic narrative of Charleston. The Irish made so many contributions here, from 1640 on. Plus, I’m part Irish. Isn’t everyone in America?

I think so. When I was working in New York I think everyone I met claimed to be part Irish! Thanks so much for telling me all about The Rice Birds. It sounds a smashing read.

My pleasure. And by the way, you’ll learn a lot. This book is full of historical details that are based on my extensive research.

Brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing this with me.

The Rice Birds

In 1849, twin sisters fleeing Ireland’s famine arrive at New York’s seaport. Only one — Nora-is allowed to get on the boat to South Carolina to fulfil her work contract. On her master’s vast rice plantation, an enslaved worker — Pearl — befriends her. After one of them commits a crime, the girls flee to Charleston, a dangerous place for runaways. Nora frantically seeks to get back to her twin and Pearl tries to find her mother before heading north. Meanwhile, an old enemy’s illegal transatlantic scheme is about to derail the girls’ plans.

The Rice Birds, published by Evening Post Books, is available in paperback via the publisher here, or on your local Amazon site.

About Lindy Keane Carter

Lindy Keane Carter holds a journalism degree from the University of Georgia. After writing non-fiction for 40 years, she signed up for a fiction class and has won several awards for her short stories. The Rice Birds is her third novel. She’s the proud mother of three adults: two daughters and a son. She enjoys kayaking, swimming, and gardening in Charleston, South Carolina.

For further information, visit Lindy’s website or find her on Facebook.

The Cornish Hideaway by Jennifer Bibby

It was a real pleasure to stay in (here) with Jennifer Bibby last July to chat all about her debut novel The Cornish Hideaway and I’m delighted to share my review for My Weekly online today.

Published in paperback by Simon and Schuster on 230th March 2023, The Cornish Hideaway is available for purchase through the links here.

The Cornish Hideaway

All Freya has ever wanted to do is paint. So when she fails her Master’s Degree in Art, on the same day that her boyfriend decides he needs a ‘more serious’ partner, to Freya it feels like the end of the world.

Luckily, she has a saviour in the shape of best friend Lola, who invites her to the sleepy Cornish village of Polcarrow, to work in her café. With nothing keeping her in London, Freya jumps at the chance of a summer by the sea.

Freya needs time to focus on herself. But then dark and mysterious biker Angelo blows into town on a stormy afternoon, with his own artistic dreams and a secretive past, and Freya’s plans of a romance-free summer fly straight out of the window…

Heart-warming, heartfelt and romantic, The Cornish Hideaway is a novel of community, friendship and learning to love again, for fans of Jenny Colgan, Cathy Bramley and Heidi Swain.

My Review of A Cornish Hideaway

My full review of The Cornish Hideaway can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, I can say that The Cornish Hideaway is a gorgeous escapist read that will have you packing your bags and heading to Polcarrow. I loved it!

Do visit My Weekly to read more of my review here.

About Jennifer Bibby

As a lifelong lover of stories, Jennifer Bibby spent her teenage years wowing various teachers with her historical epics before finding her feet exploring the everyday lives of modern women through literature. In addition to being a bibliophile she loves classy cocktails, cake and medieval history. She’s happiest by the sea and loves to travel, and firmly believes that dinosaurs improve everything. The Cornish Hideaway is her debut novel.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @jennyfromthewr1 and Instagram.

The Hidden Creatures of Hackney by Ben Eady

One of the wonders of the bookish world is the variety of ways books actually come into being these days. When Ben Eady got in touch about his children’s book The Hidden Creatures of Hackney I knew I had to feature it on Linda’s Book Bag because I was fortunate enough to be brought up in the country in days when it was safe to roam wild around the fields and woods. Not all children are able to experience freedom and wildlife like that and The Hidden Creatures of Hackney is designed to have broad appeal, especially for families living in high-density communities.

Ben is funding his book through a Kickstarter campaign that you’ll find here. I’ve had the privilege of reading The Hidden Creatures of Hackney and I can tell you it’s really worth supporting. My thanks to Ben for sending me a copy of the book. I’m delighted to share my review today.

The Hidden Creatures of Hackney

The Hidden Creatures of Hackney is a story seen through the eyes of Kiran and Karma, as they explore their neighborhood in search of a hidden magical world. The journey begins when the children find a map when playing in Granny’s attic. The map includes instructions for making devices called “Imagi-scopes”. Using these devices and through the power of imagination, they can see and interact with otherwise invisible magical creatures who inhabit each location.

Written and illustrated by award winning Creative Director, Ben Eady: this fantasy-adventure, graphic-novel for developing readers aged 5-10, is written in verse, with a hint of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a touch of The Gruffalo and a smidge of Pokémon GO. The whole family will love it!

My Review of The Hidden Creatures of Hackney

Karma and Kiran are having adventures.

My goodness The Hidden Creatures of Hackney is a clever book. Knowing that it’s a fantasy adventure book for children aged 5+ who are moving from picture books to lengthier text I was initially unsure that it hit the youngest target audience. However, I was completely wrong. What Benjamin Eady has done is produce the perfect blend of image and text to reach so many young readers. Visually The Hidden Creatures of Hackney looks like a story for middle grade children but the rhyming text accompanying the images is accessible so that this is a story emergent readers and older more reluctant readers will adore. I can see it being a real benefit to children in KS2 who find reading a challenge or unappealing.

I love the potential for literacy use in schools. Well modelled speech, a variety of rhyme patterns, and the opportunity for oracy with discussions about what Kiren and Karma see and experience, or perhaps performance through an element like the Lemur’s stick poem are all woven in to this cracking book.

Whilst the story is set in Hackney, this doesn’t limit the audience. It could be the catalyst for research of another area for children as well as a prompt for children to write similar adventures for their own environment. Animals like lemurs and tigers not usually associated with such settings add interest and prompts for geography and environmental study too. With graffiti, crafting and history included as well as nature, The Hidden Creatures of Hackney would also provide scope for so many cross-curricular activities.

However, all of that is all very well, but the true essence of The Hidden Creatures of Hackney is much more important. It’s about childhood fun, fantasy and adventure. It’s a story that stimulates imagination and provides enjoyment and entertainment for children. It’s colourful in appearance and content so that children are given real joy in reading this book.  Benjamin Eady’s The Hidden Creatures of Hackney is highly impressive and I really recommend it.

About Ben Eady

Ben Eady is an award winning creative director with 20 years industry experience across all sorts media including print, digital, video and animation. For the last 2 years he has been writing, illustrating and designing The Hidden Creatures of Hackney. Ben is also the doting dad of  Kiran, who is the inspiration for one of the main characters in the book.

If you’d like to be part of the journey for The Hidden Creatures of Hackney, you can view the Kickstarter campaign here.

You’ll find more information on Instagram or Facebook and on the website too. Ben has recently joined Twitter @H1ddenCreatures.

Writing a Sequel: A Guest Post by Brian Klein, Author of The Führer’s Prophecy

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction so it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Brian Klein, author of The Führer’s Prophecy to Linda’s Book Bag today. Brian has kindly written a fabulous guest post all about writing this sequel to The Counterfeit Candidate which I’m delighted to share with you today.

The Führer’s Prophecy is available for purchase here.

The Führer’s Prophecy

30 January 1939. Adolf Hitler makes an infamous speech at the Reichstag threatening “The annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”. This vile public proclamation is seized upon by his fanatical supporters who christen it “The Führer’s Prophecy”.

November 1943A sinister plot hatched inside Block 10 of the notorious Auschwitz deathcamp is known only to a handful of Nazis as Operation Gesamtkunstwerk. It’s a plan originated by Hitler, Himmler and Mengele and now, almost eighty years later, it’s finally ready to be actioned by the direct descendants of the Führer.

April 2022. As the world emerges from the Covid pandemic, an encrypted zoom call involving five participants, based across four continents, approves a plan that could have unimaginable consequences for the State of Israel. Chief Inspector Nicolas Vargas of the Buenos Aires Police Department and Lieutenant Troy Hembury of the LAPD join forces with Lea Katz, an elite Mossad agent, in a race against time to try and prevent the unthinkable consequences of Operation Gesamtkunstwerk.

Writing a Sequel

A Guest Post by Brian Klein

I didn’t really expect to write a sequel, even though I did leave the ending of The Counterfeit Candidate open for one. To be honest I was overwhelmed by the public reaction, as thousands of reviews demanded a sequel. In addition, the film company who optioned the rights to the novel pointed out that an America streamer such as Netflix would insist on knowing there could be a season two. Those two factors combined to inspire me to work on a new idea for a sequel.

My ideas come from looking back at history for inspiration. I studied Modern History and Politics at university, and I find that looking AT true stories and real characters inspire me to then fictionalise events based on a ‘What If’ theory. Just like its predecessor, The Führer’s Prophecy deals with a ‘What If’ scenario, where Hitler does not die in 1945 and the possible consequences of that fact in the present day.

Given the fact that I’m Jewish, it’s extremely difficult writing about one of the evilest men in history, who was obsessed with wiping out the Jewish race, but equally I have to remind myself I am writing a novel and therefore I try and make him a three-dimensional character, however hard that may be.

The main characters in The Führer’s Prophecy are now ten years older, and I guess somewhat wiser than before. John Franklin is now a man in hiding, looking for revenge and obsessed with carrying out an attack on the Jewish people – hence his fanatical approach to Israel. Vargas and Hembury have seen it before and so nothing surprises them about the lengths Franklin will go to, in orderto fulfil his grandfather’s prophecy.

The Führer’s Prophecy is a phrase used by Hitler sympathisers and followers which arises from a speech Hitler made in January,1939 at the Reichstag. During it he publicly proclaimed his desire to wipe out all the Jews in eastern Europe and so in the novel, his descendants vowel to deliver that pledge through an attack on Israel.

I find it inspirational to work with real-life characters and to imagine how they might have behaved had they not died when they did, and what choices they might have made that could have changed history and affect the way we all live today.


I think The Führer’s Prophecy sounds fabulous Brian and am delighted it is on my TBR. Equally, I fear history may not have led us to a more humane approach to others than the one you describe here…

About Brian Klein

Brian Klein is an award-winning Television Director, with over twenty-five years’ experience in the industry. His work regularly appears on Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC and Sky. Amongst his directing credits are twenty-eight seasons of the iconic car show, Top Gear and seven seasons of A League Of Their Own Roadtrip, Sky One’s highest rating entertainment show. He has also directed two feature-length films for BBC Worldwide and five entertainment specials for Netflix. The Führer’s Prophecy is a sequel to his best-seller, debut novel, The Counterfeit Candidate.

For further information, visit Brian’s website. You can also find Brian on Instagram.

There’s Been A Little Incident by Alice Ryan

My enormous thanks to Amy Watson at Head of Zeus for sending me a copy of There’s Been A Little Incident by Alice Ryan in return for an honest review. I wasn’t intending on reading There’s Been A Little Incident quite yet but couldn’t resist its siren call and so I’m delighted to share my review today.

There’s Been A Little Incident is published by Head of Zeus and is available in all the usual places including here.

There’s Been A Little Incident

Molly Black has disappeared. She’s been running away since her parents died.

But this time, or so says her note, she’s gone for good.

There’s Been a Little Incident is an award-winning debut about grief, family and the people who are there for you when you can’t be there for yourself.

My Review of There’s Been A Little Incident

Molly is missing.

What a complete and utter joy. I just adored There’s Been A Little Incident. It’s everything I had hoped and more. I don’t know what it is about Irish writers, but Alice Ryan fully deserves an enduring place in that line of natural storytellers who create emotional, life affirming books not easily forgotten. 

In a sense, there’s very little plot here although there are surprises along the way. Molly goes missing and her extended family decide to look for her. But saying that is to miss the fact that There’s Been A Little Incident encompasses the whole of humanity in its structure. Here we have life and death, happiness and sadness in glorious technicolour. I laughed out loud reading There’s Been A Little Incident, and found myself moved to tears too.

Molly is a fabulous character and the mirror held up so that everyone else can finally see themselves clearly. Grief, loneliness, addiction, appearances, fear and shame are just some of the emotions experienced by the Black family, and it takes Molly, who is, ironically, absent for much of the narrative, to enable each person to find their true selves. I thought the way Alice Ryan created the underpinning theme of grief in particular was simply stunning. 

What works so effectively is the way in which Molly’s absence enables each family member to reassess their own lives. Uncle John remains a fairly pivotal constant, but others like Danny and Lady V experience epiphanies that are moving, engaging and absolutely realistic. I’d go so far as to say that reading There’s Been A Little Incident is equally as important and profound for the reader as it is for the characters because there’s a moment, a character or a feeling that is relatable for every reader. As well as a riveting, entertaining and emotional story, this book is a subliminal self-help manual! 

That makes There’s Been A Little Incident sound somewhat ‘worthy’. It isn’t. It’s huge fun, witty, and sensitive. I thought it was totally wonderful and cannot recommend it highly enough. Don’t miss it. 

About Alice Ryan

Alice Ryan grew up in Dublin. After moving to London to study at the LSE, she spent ten years working in the creative industries, holding roles in publishing, film and TV. She was Head of Insight and Planning at BBC Studios before returning to Ireland. She now works at The Arts Council of Ireland and lives in Dublin with her husband Brian and their daughter Kate.

For further information, follow Alice on Twitter @Alice_Ryan.

Staying in with Emma Venables

It’s an absolute privilege to start off a blog tour and today I’m thrilled to welcome Emma Venables on the eve of publication to tell me all about her debut novel. My enormous thanks to Julia Forster for inviting me to take part.

Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Emma Venables

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

Hi Linda, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog!

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

I’ve brought along my debut novel, Fragments of a Woman, which will be published by Aderyn Press on 1st June 2023.

Happy publication day for tomorrow Emma. I know this is your debut so tell me a bit about how Fragments of a Woman came into being?

It has been a long road to publication – the novel was originally part of my Creative Writing PhD thesis which examined representations of German women in fiction about the National Socialist era and has been through many drafts and re-drafts, writes and re-writes, since then to become the book it is today. It’s a bit surreal to finally see it in print but I’m so excited to finally share it with the world.

I bet you are! What can we expect from an evening in with Fragments of a Woman?

I wrote Fragments of a Woman in an attempt to challenge the stereotypes we have of German women during the National Socialist era/World War Two and to give a voice to women whose stories may have been confined to the dregs of history (such as the character Gisela). I wanted to really sink in and examine the complexities of women’s experiences during this era and the decisions they might have had to make to survive. As a result, I didn’t feel I could write a novel with just one main character so there are five protagonists: Liesel, Lore, Ingrid, Greta, and Gisela.

That must have taken considerable plotting. I think it’s always fascinating to get herstory as well as history and can’t wait to read Fragments of a Woman. I’m so glad it’s on my TRB.

Fragments of a Woman is not always an easy read (a lot of it was difficult to write – at times I was in tears myself!) but if I’ve done my job right there will be pockets of joy and moments of intense sadness when reading the novel. Katie Munnik, author of the brilliant, The Aerialists, said it is ‘filled with hard love and raw light’ and I just love that description.

What a wonderful description.

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

Can I bring Berlin?

All of it? We can try to fit it in!

Here is the city that has relentlessly occupied my imagination for the past fourteen years and forms the backdrop of the majority of Fragments of a Woman. Whenever the wheels of a plane I’m on hit the tarmac in Berlin, I feel this strange sense of calm come over me. Perhaps it’s because I know that I’m going to find stories and characters I hadn’t expected to as I wander around the streets, visit museums and memorials. When researching and writing Fragments of a Woman, I went to Berlin several times and I’d always come back with extra bits I wanted to add to the novel – for example, Lore’s chapter on the beach with Wilhelm was inspired by a photograph I saw in The Topography of Terrors – and eventually I had to rein myself in. There’s a fine line in historical fiction between enough historical detail and information overload. Much of the research that didn’t make it into the novel has found its way into my short fiction and my second novel which follows Lore in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.

I think many authors find is hard to jettison so much of their research Emma.

I’ve also brought a gin and tonic which is my drink of choice.

Indeed you can. Many authors bring wine which makes me ill so I’m delighted to share a G+T with you instead.

One of the images I have in my head whenever I think of Fragments of a Woman is of Gisela and Volker in one of their Berlin bars – Gisela in her navy-blue tea dress and Volker in his purple waistcoat – dancing, with their glasses full. I love their friendship in the early parts of the novel, the fact they’re each other’s safe space in a world that’s tilting on its axis.

I have a feel that the kind of friendship you describe here Emma, is still very much needed today. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat all about Fragments of a Woman. It sounds an intense and affecting book which I’m very much looking forward to reading. 

Now, you pour us a drink and I’ll give reader’s a few more details about tomorrow’s publication.

Fragments of a Woman

Five women, trapped by duty, fighting to survive…

Gentle Ingrid puts her life at risk when she tries to save her beloved daughter from her husband’s zealous beliefs.Liesel, a lesbian, marries a gay man in hopes that they can feign the ideal marriage and, in doing so, protect each other from persecution.

Lovesick Greta, spurned by Liesel and lost, joins the Resistance, then disappears.

Gisela, a prostitute once contentedly in control of her own destiny, is incarcerated at Ravensbrück, where she must fight for a future she cannot yet imagine.

While Lore, craving a life beyond Berlin, wifedom and motherhood, steps down a dark and dangerous path.

Exploring themes of motherhood, identity, trauma, fascism, and survival, Fragments of a Woman offers a nuanced and heartbreaking exploration of what it meant to be a woman living under National Socialist rule.

Praise for Fragments of a Woman:

A remarkable and memorable book, filled with hard light and raw love.” – Katie Munnik

“A novel that chronicles with an unwavering eye and sharp empathy the daily horrors of war.” – Douglas Cowie, author of Noon in Paris, Eight in Chicago

“Strong and original… heart-breaking… lives are ripped apart, lives are lost, love is forgone and love conquers as each of these trapped women attempts to survive.” – Jane Fraser

Fragments of a Woman is published by Aderyn Press in paperback on 1st June 2023 and is available to purchase from your local bookshop or directly from the publisher.

About Emma Venables

Emma Venables‘ short and flash fiction has been widely published in magazines and journals. Her short story, ‘Woman at Gunpoint, 1945’ was a runner-up in the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2020. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and has taught at Royal Holloway, University of London and Liverpool Hope University.

For further information you can follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaMVenables, or visit Emma’s website. You’ll also find Emma on Instagram.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Sidle Creek by Jolene McIlwain

My enormous thanks to Nikki Griffiths at Melville House for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Jolene McIlwain’s Sidle Creek. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Melville House on 18th May 2023, Sidle Creek is available for purchase here.

Sidle Creek

Set in the bruised, mined, and timbered hills of Appalachia in western Pennsylvania, Sidle Creek is a tender, truthful exploration of a small town and the people who live there, told by a brilliant new voice in fiction.

In Sidle Creek, McIlwain skillfully interrogates the myths and stereotypes of the mining, mill, and farming towns where she grew up. With stories that take place in diners and dive bars, town halls and bait shops, McIlwain’s writing explores themes of class, work, health, and trauma, and the unexpected human connections of small, close-knit communities. All the while, the wild beauty of the natural world weaves its way in, a source of the town’s livelihood – and vulnerable to natural resource exploitation.

With an alchemic blend of taut prose, gorgeous imagery, and deep sensitivity for all of the living beings within its pages, Sidle Creek will sit snugly on bookshelves between Annie Proulx, Joy Williams, and Louise Erdrich.

My Review of Sidle Creek

A collection of short stories.

Sidle Creek took me by surprise. Stupidly I hadn’t realised that all the stories revolve around the one place; the Sidle Creek of the title. This has the effect of deepening the impact of the stories and creating simultaneously the sense of community and of isolation that life in a small town often has. Jolene McIlwain writes with such beauty and economy that not a word is wasted and yet both nature and humanity are presented in their most raw state. I thought this collection was exceptionally good, completely moving and beautifully written.

With a few exceptions, these stories are frequently just a few paragraphs long – more akin to flash fiction – but each is steeped in emotion so that it is impossible to read them quickly. Rather, they need to be savoured and given the reader’s full attention to be fully appreciated. Perfectly crafted, the narratives don’t actually feel consciously created at all. They feel organic, natural and as if they have always been part of a literary canon. There’s real elegance in Jolene McIlwain’s writing even when she’s conveying the darkest of theme or action.

Every aspect of life is present between the pages of Sidle Creek. Life and death, relationships of all kinds, nature, employment, mental, emotional and physical health, great pragmatism and deep spirituality are presented with affecting insight. It’s impossible not to react in a kind of primeval and visceral manner to the writing in Sidle Creek. For example, I confess I was thoroughly undone by The Fractal Geometry of Grief and Seeds in particular. Indeed, all these stories pulsate with emotion, truth and luminosity, making them unforgettable. 

Sidle Creek is intense, literary and filled with a stark beauty conveyed through exquisite and varied prose. I thought this collection was quire, quite wonderful. I absolutely loved it.

About Jolene McIlwain

Jolene McIlwain’s fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and appears in West Branch, Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, New Orleans Review, Northern Appalachia Review, and 2019’s Best Small Fictions Anthology. Her work was named finalist for Glimmer Train’s and River Styx’s contests and semi finalist in Nimrod’s Katherine Anne Porter Prize and two American Short Fiction’s contests. She’s received a Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Grant, the Georgia Court Chautauqua Faculty scholarship, and Tinker Mountains’ merit scholarship. She’s taught literary theory/analysis at Duquesne and Chatham Universities and she worked as a radiologic technologist before attending college (BS English, minor in sculpture, MA Literature). She was born, raised, and currently lives in a small town in the Appalachian plateau of Western Pennsylvania.

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

There’s more with these other bloggers too:


Watching from the Wings by Christine Webber

It’s far too long since Christine Webber appeared here on Linda’s Book Bag with a guest post all about older characters in celebration of her book So Many Ways of Loving which is still waiting for me on my TBR. I’m delighted to rectify the fact that Christine has been missing by sharing my review of her latest book Watching From the Wings. My enormous thanks to Christine for sending me a copy of Watching From the Wings in return for an honest review.

Watching From the Wings was published on 23rd April 2023 and is available for purchase here.

Watching From the Wings

Watching From the Wings is a heartwarming tale of devotion, friendship, joy and passion, but also one involving disappointment, duplicity and betrayal. We all have our own journey of love. Katharine’s is more complex than most. And she comes to realise that she has always chosen the wrong door whenever she had the chance to exit by a more promising one.

At the age of 62, can she make a fresh start, or is it too late?

My Review of Watching From the Wings

Katharine is an aspiring actor.

What a smashing book. I thoroughly enjoyed Watching From The Wings because it is a well paced, involving and engaging story that has a resonance of truth making it highly entertaining and satisfying. The plot feels authentic and realistic even though it’s set in a theatrical world most of us know little about. Incidentally, I think Watching From The Wings would make a brilliant television series because the plot has depth and some real surprises along the way. 

I always know how much I’ve enjoyed a book and how effective the characterisation is when I have an emotional reaction to the people in the story. I this case, I absolutely loathed Nicholas. I wanted to climb into the book and punch him. Hard. As a result, initially I was incredibly frustrated by Katharine. She infuriated me as she lost sight of her individuality in her relationship with Nicholas. Katharine is an absolutely fabulous character because Christine Webber gets right inside the head of a young woman and then again when she is older in the story, giving readers of any age something relatable. There’s true development here. I loved it when I reached the later timescale and Katharine had matured, even though she remains a flawed person. She’s so true to life. 

And Moira was a triumph of loathsomeness. One of the real pleasures in reading Watching From The Wings was absolutely hating some of the characters. Equally, watching their growth and development was also thoroughly entertaining and I adored Simon and Cleo from the start. Indeed, everyone needs a Cleo in their life. Even the most minor characters have a vitality that makes them lifelike and realistic. 

There’s also a convincing flavour of realism through cultural references to actual theatre productions, television and actors so that Watching From The Wings feels true and engaging. The reader gets a vivid insight into the world of theatre that I found fascinating. I also thoroughly appreciated the exploration of a marriage and of relationships, friendships and family, control and trust and manipulation and self-doubt. These felt like grown up themes that added very pleasing depth. Most of all I loved the message that the time to start living your life to the full is now, regardless of your age or past experiences.

Filled with warm humanity, experience, emotion and entertainment, Watching From The Wings is an engaging narrative that I thoroughly enjoyed. I really recommend it.

About Christine Webber

Christine Webber tried various careers in her younger days – she was a classical singer, a Principal Boy in pantomimes, an undistinguished actress as well as a piano and singing teacher. Fortunately, for her, when she was thirty, she managed to get a job in television as a continuity announcer, and shortly thereafter she became a news presenter at Anglia TV. Finally, she had found an occupation she liked that other people thought she was good at. This was a massive relief.

In her early forties, she married the love of her life, David Delvin. Soon afterwards, she decided it was time to leave news presenting to train as a psychotherapist and she also became a problem page columnist for various publications including TV Times, Best, BBC Parenting, The Scotsman and Woman. In addition, she regularly broadcast relationship advice on Trisha, The Good Sex Guide …Late and from the BBC’s Breakfast sofa.

In her fifties, she and her husband set up a practice in Harley Street, and they worked together there and collaborated on several books. They also wrote the sex/relationships content on http://www.netdoctor.co.uk and penned a joint column for the health section of The Spectator.

Over the decades, Christine was commissioned to write ten self-help books including Get the Happiness Habit, How to Mend a Broken Heart and Too Young to Get Old.

Now, in her seventies, her focus is on the issues of mid and later life. She makes video podcasts on positive ageing and writes a column for various regional papers on that theme. She is also a life coach specialising in health and ageing. But she has no plans for any more non-fiction books. Instead, for the past five years she has concentrated on writing novels for and about older people. Previous titles in this genre have been Who’d Have Thought It? and It’s Who We Are.

So Many Ways of Loving, which made the shortlist of 2022’s Selfie’s awards, is about the major life changes we have to expect as we age, the possibilities of new beginnings as well as our crucial need for good friends and family.

Christine’s latest book, out in April 2023, is Watching From The Wings, a heart-warming tale of a woman finding her real self in her sixties.

You can follow Christine on Twitter @1chriswebber, visit her website and find her on Instagram and Facebook.

The Vienna Writers Circle by J.C. Maetis

My huge thanks to Georgia Taylor at Penguin for sending me a copy of The The Vienna Writers Circle by J.C. Maetis in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published in paperback by Penguin imprint Viking on 13th April 2023, The Vienna Writers Circle is available for purchase through the links here.

The Vienna Writers Circle


Austria, 1938: The Vienna Writers Circle meets at Café Mozart to share hopeful stories during a hopeless time.

But when the Nazis take over, everything changes. With their Jewish families’ now under threat, the writers hide using false identities, their stories becoming their only salvation.

Then a local policeman begins a dangerous mission to help them. But he faces conflicts of his own: having declared his love for a beautiful Romani-gypsy girl, Deya Reynes, he fears that she too will be sent to her death.

When all they have left is courage, will they survive?

My Review of The The Vienna Writers Circle

The Nazis are in Vienna.

The Vienna Writer’s Circle is a difficult read. This is because it is written with intensity, veracity and menace and the details of the  prologue linger in the reader’s mind making them tense and uneasy throughout. At times, J.C. Maetis writes with such detail and vivid precision, the story’s brutality is almost unbearable. However, The Vienna Writer Circle is also filled with hope, with people like Josef, and those whose bravery and support for others floods the reader with positivity. 

The plot obviously calls on the history of the Second World War and many elements are familiar. However, J.C. Maetis’s meticulous research and fresh approach brings alive the writing culture of Vienna with reference to many real life characters such as Sigmund Freud so that the blend of fact and fiction adds to the pleasure in immersing yourself in the story. Initially, the narrative builds fairly slowly with a more philosophical uncovering of events, but rapidly builds to a fast pace, ending with pulse elevating excitement and indeed, terror. This structure seems to echo the way the rise of Nazism was initially fairly ideological until it translated into brutality with chilling effect. 

The characters are strongly depicted and convincing, but what I found most poignant about the people in The Vienna Writers Circle was the fickleness of humanity, it’s brutality and the way so many are forced to renounce their sense of identity and self. This is a profound theme in the novel as the definition of Jewishness in order to persecute, the need to change identities and to behave out of one’s own moral boundary for self-preservation, and the exploration of mob rule where individual humanity is suppressed is starkly and affectingly conveyed. Add in the constant, underlying anxiety that no-one knows whom they can truly trust and J.C. Maetis engenders similar discomfort in the reader. This makes The Vienna Writers Circle disturbing and effective.

At the risk of stating the obvious, The Vienna Writer’s Circle is about story. The stories we tell ourselves to make life and history palatable, the narratives we construct to enable us to endure life, about real narratives written by created and actual writers, and about the power of storytelling in humanity – indeed in life and death.

I can’t say I necessarily ‘enjoyed’ The Vienna Writers Circle because it was so convincing and far too redolent of what is happening in modern Europe today, but I found it totally compelling and very moving. This is a novel that feels raw, intelligent and far too realistic. I thought it was excellent and a must read for those who are fascinated by the era. Its effect resonates long after it’s read.

About J.C. Maetis

J.C. Maetis is better known as British thriller writer John Matthews whose books have sold over 1.6 million copies and been translated in 14 languages. Maetis is the name of his father’s Jewish family, who left Lithuania for London in 1919 in the wake of Jewish pogroms. However, many of his extended family sadly died when Hitler invaded Lithuania in 1941, and so this book is a tribute to them. Maetis now lives in Surrey, England, and is working on his second book, The Fortune Teller of Berlin.

For further information you can follow J.C. Maetis on Twitter @JohnMat85980724.