Writing in a Pandemic Whilst Reflecting on Another: The Shaping of a Novel by Covid-19 – A Guest Post by Jennifer Jenkins, Author of Three

I’ve long been interested in Eyam and the Plague, so when I heard that not only has Jennifer Jenkins written an historical novel, Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague, about that very event and has done so whilst we endure our modern day plague, I simply had to invite her onto Linda’s Book Bag to explain what that process was like. I’m delighted she agreed and Jennifer has provided a wonderful guest post for me to share with you.

I’m also thrilled that Three is on my TBR thanks to Debbie at at Cameron Publicity. I can’t wait to read it.

Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague is available for purchase here.

Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague

In 1665 a box from London brought more than cloth from plague-ridden London to the quiet village of Eyam in Derbyshire. For the next year the villagers had to learn to live with a silent enemy. ‘Three’ tells the story of three very different women in their courageous attempts to keep themselves and their loved ones alive as Eyam closed its doors to the outside world, instead facing the malevolent danger alone. Emmott Sydell, Catherine Mompesson and Elizabeth Hancock were each determined to live and the courage each of them found was as unique as the women themselves. Will 1666 bring salvation?

This work of historical fiction, written during a pandemic whilst reflecting on another, fuses creative imagining with historical fact to bring three female protagonists to life…

Writing in a Pandemic Whilst Reflecting on Another: The Shaping of a Novel by Covid-19

A Guest Post by Jennifer Jenkins

The current pandemic hasn’t always given us many things to be grateful for but for me the gift of the pandemic was two-fold: 1) furlough allowing me the time to write, and 2) gifting me the insight of living through a pandemic so that my experience could really enrich my writing about a previous one. I found the pandemic had given me valuable insight, precious time and the ability to focus on a story I really believed I needed to tell.

Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague tells the story of the fateful epidemic of bubonic plague in the village of Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665-1666 and it foregrounds the lives and experiences of Emmott Syddall, Catherine Mompesson and Elizabeth Hancock, all real women who lived through that harrowing year.  As you read the novel, you will no doubt notice similar actions and reactions in the inhabitants of the village as you will have experienced yourself in recent times. This was deliberate on my part. The empathy I felt for my characters was made all the stronger by experiencing just a fraction of what I now understood they had been through. In our times, there has been the growing suspicion of other people, with everyone gradually withdrawing into their houses and peering out from behind closed doors with growing anxiety. There is the developing understanding of how Covid is spreading and the most effective ways to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. There were the early experimental treatments (we all saw the news reports about tonic water and President Trump’s suggestions regarding UV light and bleach!) and the desperate yet futile attempts at prevention and remedy (just like abracadabra, Emmott’s mother’s desperate attempt to keep the plague from her home in Three). During the Coronavirus Pandemic the devastating realisation of a building death toll kept us awake at night. Whilst there were lower numbers of victims in Eyam, it was as equally-devastating for them during their plague visitation as it has been for us to mourn the lamentable millions we have lost in the past year or so worldwide. In the end, a huge percentage of the village’s population had succumbed to the devastating impact of Yersinia pestis.

When I was beginning to contemplate writing this book, I reached out to my favourite historical fiction author, Tracy Chevalier (author of The Girl with the Pearl Earring), for advice on writing (she’s always been so kind and generous in sharing her wisdom) and on finding out my proposed novel’s subject she told me I was brave to write about Eyam now. Whilst it resonates with the current situation, she was concerned in a few years’ time people would want to forget about the whole concept of pandemics and not want to read it. She may well be right, but I took a deep breath and wrote it anyway and my recent reviews indicate that for now many people do want to connect with the human experience of living through such a challenging time, be it now or 300 years in the past. I wanted to show that our current experiences had been lived by others throughout history and, more than anything, I wanted to give those three women voices that could echo through the centuries to resonate with us now. One reviewer puts it like this: “It is as if these three women, who really did exist and have now been reimagined for the Covid-19 generation, have been craving someone, another woman, to put their lives properly to bed.”

Writing the novel during a pandemic brought a richness to the writing and an authenticity to the characterisation that might otherwise have been harder to achieve. One reader comments in an Amazon review that “The parallels of lockdown, social distancing, isolation, and loss of loved ones, in events 300 years apart, were striking.”

In the same year covered in the novel, London had been visited by plague, beginning in the poor parish of St Giles in the Field in the nation’s capital in May 1665. Over the next few months, it ravaged London and was the worst outbreak since the medieval global pandemic of the Black Death in the 1300s ,which had killed so many of Europe’s population. Then, an estimated 25 million people, or a third of the continent’s peoples, lost their lives to that deadly pestilence. Its return to London in the seventeenth century must have terrified everyone who lived there. By the summer of 1665, 31,159 people had died; around 15% of London’s population. It had spread rapidly; beginning with a small number of deaths and discomforting rumours, rapidly gaining speed as the victims stacked up and the fear rose to fever pitch. Snatches of news about the devastation the disease was leaving in its wake as it stalked the streets of London, would have found their way out into the other parts of the country, striking fear into the hearts of anybody hearing such reports and praying their little corner of the world would stay safe. So, when the plague arrived in Eyam, it presented a similarity to those early days of the current pandemic, when we realised there were some cases of the novel coronavirus in our own town, city or street. Somehow, it had found us and we knew from the news coming out of places like Wuhan, Italy and Spain that with it came misery.

Obviously, Eyam during 1665 to 1666 was not furnished with the scientific knowledge we have today regarding epidemiology of disease. Yet, those modern concepts of ‘transmission’ and ‘immunity’ are still represented in the novel without being explicitly understood or explained by our characters ignorant of such scientific ideas. The people of Eyam are aware that the disease seems to spread by contact and that once it finds its way into a household it is only a matter of time before the whole house succumbs to the horrifying sickness. So, they implement measures to avoid the spread of ‘plague seeds’ (their seventeenth century language for capturing the idea of contamination leading to infection), utilising the holes in the boundary stone filled with vinegar (the acid killing any infection) and the rushing water at Mompesson’s Well. At the end of the outbreak, they burned material that had come into contact with plague victims. Who knows whether they ironed their letters like folk in London did, but the concept that whatever came into your home could bring plague with it (the box of cloth received by the tailor had proven that), was matched in our early efforts of leaving our shopping and mail to stand for days, wiping everything down, using more hand gel in a week than you had previously used in a life time! When Elizabeth Hancock, living outside the village centre at Riley Farmhouse, brings eggs to sell in the village, we see a fictionalised example of the village systems in action, with the pail of vinegar for the money to be placed in and the social distancing of the women as they make their purchases.

The word ‘immune’ is not one that would have been used by the villagers at the time but the concept of somehow being resistant to the devastating effects of plague is one they would have become gradually aware of. You only need to take a look at the colour-coded exhibit in the fascinating Eyam Museum, showing the course of plague through each household, to see how whilst some families were entirely wiped out (such as was the fate of the Thorpes), other families were utterly devastated save for just one person. Who knows what was going through that surviving person’s mind? At a time when God was often deemed responsible for natural disasters and other calamities, people of that time would often credit survival or destruction with the favour or punishment of the almighty. It is into this backdrop that we find Emmott pondering her survival when nearly all of her family have sickened and died. It seemed likely to me that she would question why that was the case and perhaps anticipate a divine purpose or a higher calling for herself. The stories of survival from our own times; such as the elderly recovering from Covid and those on ventilators finally going home from hospital to corridors lined with clapping members of staff (as was the case for one dear friend of mine), are often met with similar notions of ‘not her time yet’ and ‘he has more to do here’. In Eyam, there were very few survivors once the plague had taken hold of them, and the stories of Unwin, Margaret Blackwell and the village sexton, Marshall Howe, all featured in the novel, are relatively unique in the statistics of the Eyam outbreak.

Some of the moments from those early days of the pandemic that really moved me, are here in the book too. The singing of people from their balconies in Italy during the first lockdown in 2020 finds its 1665 equivalent in the singing of Silent Night by the villagers of Eyam on Christmas Eve in the novel, a moment of pathos also borrowed from the Christmas Truce of 1914 when British and German soldiers agreed a fragile peace for that one holy night in the trenches. The novel conveys a fragile hope that the plague would hold off for the sacred night of the coming of Jesus into the world and so we have Catherine Mompesson reliving her childhood memories, Emmott finding her voice for singing despite her grief, and Elizabeth and the Hancock family enjoying a wonderful Christmas together despite the growing threat. I too enjoyed that one day of household mingling on Christmas Day last year against the backdrop of the second wave, wearing my Christmas onesie and Santa fleece whilst eating a rapidly cooling turkey at a table outside next to a roaring log-burner. It will always be a Christmas to remember.

There was no real way to incorporate a seventeenth century version of the doorstep clap for the NHS, but the sense of gratitude that is given to Humphrey Merrill for his remedies is perhaps the closest parallel. It is through her assistance to the apothecary that Catherine, wife of the village rector, finds the respect and kinship with the village she has been craving and the thing that is just for herself and marks her as someone beyond just ‘the rector’s wife’.

Our modern times have seen sceptics of the pandemic rise up; those who believe it to be a hoax, refusing to have their freedoms restricted by social distancing or the wearing of masks, those later lamenting their decisions; early Covid victims dying in hospitals after attending Covid-parties believing the disease was an invented way to control the masses or, more recently, refusing the vaccine and succumbing to the Delta variant. In the novel, it is Marshall Howe, the gravedigger, who recovers from plague, making him conceited and overly casual with the disease and ultimately paying the price for his haughtiness and greed in the face of the disease. Plague did not discriminate any more than Covid does. Nobody can know for sure they are invincible to infection, or to passing it on to someone who will not survive their battle with it.

There were unsettling moments in the past eighteen months where religious people took risks during the Coronavirus Pandemic, believing their God would protect them and continuing to meet for services despite the advice given out by governments. Pastors of churches died, along with their parishioners, in some places in the world. Even recently I heard the sad story of a woman who refused the vaccine at the pulpit-delivered advice of her pastor and tragically died of Covid-19. Thankfully, Eyam had the benefit of not one but two wise ministers, intent on seeing as many people survive as they could. They tended the sick and the dying, moved church services outside and devised the plans for keeping those outside of the village safe too. In Catherine we encounter the tension she feels between trusting her faith in God for survival and finding a way to ease the suffering of others through her helping of Humphrey Merrill and the subsequent honing of her own skills of apothecary.

As the novel progresses, so does the suspicion the villagers feel towards their fellow villagers. They become concerned by high colour in the faces of their neighbours and enquiring about health takes precedent over the usual innocuous comments about the weather. We witness our characters doing their very best to keep themselves and their loved ones safe and yet at times taking risks, for love, for friendship, for kindness, and the consequences of these decisions are for each reader to discover. In the last year, there have likely been times when we have regarded a friend’s coughing with suspicion or whipped out a lateral flow test at the slightest hint of a headache or temperature. Such was the world inhabited by our brave characters in 1665, knowing that the consequences of infection were incredibly high.

In the first lockdown, many of us received notes through our door with offers from neighbours to help with food and medical supplies etc should someone need to self-isolate. I wrote 16 handwritten notes myself and set up a neighbourhood WhatsApp group, which led to a beautiful expression of community as people took care of each other during what felt like a very frightening time. Whilst the Earl of Devonshire, the Lord of neighbouring Chatsworth House, likely did not act in pure altruism (the deal he struck with the rector would keep plague away from his estate) when he responded to William Mompesson’s letter, the giving of provisions left at the boundary stone to keep Eyam’s parishioners fed during the plague outbreak, had echoes of this concept of community saviours. Of course, William Mompesson and Reverend Thomas Stanley’s suggestion of the cordon sanitaire and the villagers’ incredible commitment to honour it, was the ultimate expression of sacrificial love and perhaps we find the greatest modern day equivalent in the sacrifice of so many brave members of the NHS who died without proper PPE in those early months. ‘Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends‘ (John 15:13), the Bible verse used by the rectors to encourage Eyam’s villagers to accept the quarantine, found a devastatingly authentic expression in the commitment of NHS workers and carers to treat the pandemic’s earliest victims.

There are many more examples of parallels between now and Eyam back then, and I am sure if you choose to read the novel the parallels with our own recent experiences will make themselves obvious to you. Readers talk about the connection they feel with the characters as they go through situations and scenarios we now recognise so much more clearly. The novel I have written has found its unique expression because of the lens of the pandemic through which it is written. I think the pandemic sucks as much as the next person but I will always be grateful for those two precious gifts it gave me: time and perspective.

****

Thank you so much. What an utterly brilliant piece Jennifer. I agree with Tracy Chevalier that I don’t especially want to read about OUR plague in fiction, but the chance to find connection and solace through historical novels seems to me to be a wonderful opportunity to heal. I love the concept of herstory too and cannot wait until Three: A Tale of Brave Women and the Eyam Plague reaches the top of my towering TBR.

About Jennifer Jenkins

Jennifer Jenkins lives in a village just outside of Rugby, Warwickshire, with her husband David (illustrator of the book’s cover), her two sons &and her dog. Jennifer loves all things literary (including writing her own poetry), in particular historical fiction and Shakespeare, and supports local schools with Religious Education & spiritual development.

Jennifer’s first novel, Three, is the tale of three brave women who lived through the plague visitation of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665-1666. Jennifer originally taught the Eyam plague to her class of seven year olds, sparking an interest in the Derbyshire village that has led to her first novel.

You can find out more by visiting Jennifer’s website, or following her on Facebook, Twitter @jenkins_writer and Instagram.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

With Olive Kitteridge and Olive, Again STILL waiting for me on my TBR I was determined to read Elizabeth Strout this year and so when Georgia Taylor at Penguin asked me to participate in the blog tour for Elizabeth Strout’s latest book Oh William! I jumped at the chance and am thrilled to start off the tour by sharing my review today.

Oh William! is published by Penguin Viking and is available for purchase through the links here.

Oh William!

Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband – and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a tender, complex, decades-long partnership.

Oh William! captures the joy and sorrow of watching children grow up and start families of their own; of discovering family secrets, late in life, that alter everything we think we know about those closest to us; and the way people live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. ‘This is the way of life,’ Lucy says. ‘The many things we do not know until it is too late.’

My Review of Oh William!

Lucy is writing about her ex-husband William.

Oh William! is utterly glorious and I loved every moment spent reading it. I’d had high expectations of Elizabeth Strout’s writing, but I had no idea her sparse, glowing prose would be so imbued with feeling and emotion. Elizabeth Strout conveys meaning so beautifully, just as much through what isn’t said as by what is, so that Lucy’s voice rings so clear and true. Lucy’s narrative style, her exclamations and her broken sentences sound so natural that they make everything she tells the reader about William completely understandable and relatable.

There isn’t a conventional plot in Oh William!, but rather a conversational narrative that is part character presentation, part memoir and part romance in its component parts that all somehow add up to a reading experience far outweighing the actual content so that this book is fantastic.

William is so clearly drawn that I felt I knew him as if he’d been part of my life. He’s flawed, selfish, generous and frequently frustrating. However, whilst this is ostensibly a narrative about William, in reality it is Lucy the reader comes to know so well. Through her asides, her glimpses into the past, her meetings with other characters and her ongoing relationship with William we are presented with a complex woman whom it is impossible not to admire and care about. Even the most minor character has resonance and importance in the text  and is vivid and engaging, even when they are not especially likable or admirable.

Having said Elizabeth Strout makes her reader understand the characters in Oh William! so thoroughly, the real joy in reading the book is the underpinning universality of their lives. This makes reading Oh William! an almost cathartic experience. Through Lucy’s descriptions of William, Catherine et al we come to know ourselves just that little bit better, whilst simultaneously realising we can never really have that understanding of ourselves entirely completely, nor can we thoroughly know other people. Even with Lucy, we are never fully told the aspects of her early life alluded to in the story, for example, so that the mystery of life at the heart of this book still retains some of that very mystery.

Because Elizabeth Strout writes with such skill, it’s quite hard to review Oh William! I found it mesmerising, captivating and completely immersive. I know this is going to sound weird, but I enjoyed reading it so much it was almost painful – physical. I thought Oh William! was wonderful and cannot recommend it highly enough.

About Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, as well as The Burgess Boys, a New York Times bestseller, Abide With Me and Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize. She lives in New York City and Portland, Maine.

You can find out more by following Elizabeth Strout on Twitter @LizStrout and visiting her website. There is also a Facebook page.

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A Woman Made of Snow by Elisabeth Gifford

My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Elisabeth Gifford’s A Woman Made of Snow and to Corvus books for sending me a copy of A Woman Made of Snow in return for an honest review.

In 2020 Elisabeth Gifford’s The Lost Lights of St Kilda was one of my books of the year and you can read my review of that book here. Previously it was a privilege to host guest piece from Elisabeth about the Harris setting for her book Secrets of the Sea House, alongside my review here and I have a review of the stunning The Good Doctor of Warsaw here.

A Woman Made of Snow was published by Corvus on 7th October 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

A Woman Made of Snow

A gorgeous, haunting, and captivating novel of a century-long family mystery in the wilds of Scotland, and one woman’s hunt for the truth.

Scotland, 1949: Caroline Gillan and her new husband Alasdair have moved back to Kelly Castle, his dilapidated family estate in the middle of nowhere. Stuck caring for their tiny baby, and trying to find her way with an opinionated mother-in-law, Caroline feels adrift, alone and unwelcome.

But when she is tasked with sorting out the family archives, Caroline discovers a century-old mystery that sparks her back to life. There is one Gillan bride who is completely unknown – no photos exist, no records have been kept – the only thing that is certain is that she had a legitimate child. Alasdair’s grandmother.

As Caroline uncovers a strange story that stretches as far as the Arctic circle, her desire to find the truth turns obsessive. And when a body is found in the grounds of the castle, her hunt becomes more than just a case of curiosity. What happened all those years ago? Who was the bride? And who is the body…?

My Review of A Woman Made of Snow

Caro’s married life is not quite what she anticipated.

It’s impossible to convey just how exquisite a writer Elisabeth Gifford is. From the very first line of A Woman Made of Snow to the final full stop, the beauty of the writing is almost luminous so that I loved this book. I can’t decide if I feel sorry for readers who’ve yet to discover Elisabeth Gifford’s writing because they are missing literary fiction of the highest quality, or jealous of them because they have such a wonderful treat in store.

Settings and descriptions are completely transporting in A Woman Made of Snow. Elisabeth Gifford writes with a painterly, almost photographic, quality that is just wonderful. I was completely entranced by her descriptions because they have the power to move the reader emotionally at the same time as providing a glorious sense of place. The landscape of ice is especially evocative and takes the reader on the same journey as Oliver as clearly as if they were by his side.

The plot is captivating. Weaving history, societal attitudes, mystery and relationships into a dual timeline that mesmerises the reader Elisabeth Gifford entertains completely so that I felt the emotions of Oliver, Charlotte, Caroline and Yarut as intensely as if they were my own. In fact, I felt a whole range of emotions reading A Woman Made of Snow from deep rage towards Sylvia through admiration for Charlotte to joy in other aspects that I can’t mention for fear of spoiling the read for others.  I thought the manner with which the strands of the story became linked together was exceptional. A Woman Made of Snow is an absolute masterclass in entrancing writing.

I found all the characters real and vivid because alongside the drama, the more prosaic aspects of their lives add veracity to who they are, making them feel authentic. I loved watching the dynamics of the relationship between Martha and Caro unfold and found the feminist strand of the narrative developed through Charlotte hugely appealing. However, what touched me more than I anticipated, was the respect that Elisabeth Gifford gave to more minor characters like Mary and to the Inuit people so marginalised by the whaling fleets. This had the effect of making A Woman Made of Snow even more arresting and affecting, especially when underpinned by the meticulous research that has obviously gone into the story for the historical aspects.

Alongside the feminism and mystery in A Woman Made of Snow, other themes provide a rich texture that combine into a read that is of the highest quality. Attitudes to race, identity, social status, travel and exploration, the environment, the arts, family relationships, marriage and parenthood are just some of the aspects that pulsate through the narrative. A Woman Made of Snow might be a gloriously entertaining story, but it’s also a thought provoking and contemplative one too.

Evocative, entertaining and emotional, A Woman Made of Snow is a gorgeous book and I adored it.

About Elisabeth Gifford

Elisabeth Gifford grew up in a vicarage in the industrial Midlands. She studied French literature and world religions at Leeds University. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Oxford OUDCE and an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway. She is married with three children, and lives in Kingston upon Thames. A Woman Made of Snow is her fifth novel.

For further information, you can find Elisabeth on Facebook, visit her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @elisabeth04Liz.

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Celebrations at the Chateau by Jo Thomas

It’s been a real joy to read and review Celebrations at the Chateau by Jo Thomas for My Weekly magazine on their online platform.

I love Jo Thomas’s books and most recently reviewed Finding Love at the Christmas Market here. I also have the following reviews of Jo’s books on Linda’s Book Bag:

Coming Home to Winter Island here

A Winter Beneath The Stars here

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard here,

The Olive Branch here

Late Summer in the Vineyard here.

I also have a smashing post about Jo’s top 5 holiday destinations that you can read here.

Published by Penguin Corgi on 28th October 2021, Celebrations at the Chateau is available for purchase through the links here.

Celebrations at the Chateau

When their grandfather dies, Fliss and her sisters are astonished to inherit a French chateau! Travelling to Normandy to visit the beautiful if faded house, they excitedly make plans over delicious crepes and local cider in the town nearby.

But they soon discover the chateau needs major work, a huge tax bill is due . . . and there’s a sitting tenant to whom they owe a monthly allowance.

Unable to sell but strapped for cash, Fliss determines to spruce up the elegant old rooms and open a B&B. But, why is Jacques, the local mayor, so hostile? How did Fliss’s grandfather come to own the place anyway? And will Jacques and Fliss be able to put their differences aside to save the chateau?

Inspired by Escape to the Chateau, this cosy and uplifting novel to curl up with, from the author of Escape to the French Farmhouse and Finding Love at the Christmas Market.

My Review of Celebrations at the Chateau

My full review of Celebrations at the Chateau can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, I can say that Celebrations at the Chateau is a wonderful, warm hearted book that transports the reader to a glorious French setting and makes them feel thoroughly entertained and happy!

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review of this super book!

About Jo Thomas

jo thomas

Jo Thomas worked for many years as a reporter and producer, first for BBC Radio 5, before moving on to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and Radio 2’s The Steve Wright Show. In 2013 Jo won the RNA Katie Fforde Bursary. Her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher, was a runaway bestseller in ebook and was awarded the 2014 RNA Joan Hessayon Award and the 2014 Festival of Romance Best Ebook Award. Jo lives in Pembrokeshire with her husband and three children, where cooking and gathering around the kitchen table are a hugely important and fun part of their family life.

You can visit Jo’s website, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @jo_thomas01. Jo’s also on Instagram.

The Missing Trick by Robin Jacobs and illustrated by Aimee Wright

It was a delight to find a surprise copy of children’s book The Missing Trick written by Robin Jacobs and illustrated by Aimee Wright in my book post a few weeks ago. My grateful thanks to Lefki at Cicada for sending it to me in return for an honest review.

Published by Cicada on 2nd September 2021, The Missing Trick is available for purchase here.

The Missing Trick

Louis is a young street magician. He is setting up for his show but he can’t find his rabbit anywhere. He looks inside his hat but finds only a bouquet of flowers, which is caught by a a passing woman as he throws it away in disgust. He looks under his cups, spilling out dozens of balls, which are pounced upon by a group of kids. An endless string of scarves comes out of his sleeve and is wrapped around the neck of a posh lady…. With each trick, his audience grows, and unbeknownst to Louis, his show is unfolding brilliantly… But WHERE could that pesky rabbit be hiding???

Finally, Louis looks in his bag…. climbs in it…. and disappears. Now the rabbit AND Louis are missing! The audience hold their breaths until, POOF! Louis appears on the table in a puff of smoke. They erupt in a roar of applause. Louis, bemused, notices them for the first time. He takes off his cap to take a bow. The rabbit is sitting on his head. This is funny but also empowering story about a child, unaware of his own talents, who creates a diverse community around him, delighting in his show.

My Review of The Missing Trick

Louis has lost his rabbit for his magic tricks.

As with all other books from Cicada that I’ve read, The Missing Trick is another top quality children’s picture book. It’s beautifully produced with a solid, robust cover and illustrated end papers that fit the story brilliantly so that there’s a feeling of luxury attached to it. The durability of the cover means this book would be perfect for both home and pre-school settings.

The story is charming as Louis pulls all kinds of items out of his pockets, sleeves and cloak as he searches for the missing rabbit. I can imagine children having great fun predicting what might emerge and The Missing Trick is great for developing vocabulary as all kinds of items appear that children can name. There’s also a lovely joke as Louis also disappears as well as the rabbit.

Other jokes are visual as the fantastic illustrations underpin the story superbly, such as the bunch of flowers ending up with the couple obviously in love. The illustrations as just wonderful – vibrant, colourful, engaging and so well balanced against white space. Louis’s expressions would be perfect for exploring feelings and emotional literacy with young children. However, what I loved most about The Missing Trick was the diversity included in the illustrations. When Louis finally reappears out of his bag of tricks, the audience is filled with people of colour so that all children will find someone to relate to in the story. It really is wonderful, and sadly infrequent, to find such diverse ethnicity in children’s books.

I loved too, the underpinning message that we may have talents that we’re unaware we have. Louis is surprised by the crowd’s reaction to his antics in searching for the rabbit as he entertains them unwittingly. It’s a super idea to show children that how we see ourselves may not be how others see us and it’s a boost to confidence.

The Missing Trick is a delightful picture book full of fun that young children will adore.

About the Authors

Aimee Wright is a young illustrator living and working in Northumberland. Graduating with First Class Honours form Leeds Arts University in 2019, she has since worked with a range of clients. Drawing in pen and ink, her character-filled illustrations evoke nostalgia whilst also drawing directly from contemporary life.

There’s more about Aimee on her website.website.

C K Smouha is a children’s author living and working in Bristol. She is the author of Born Bad (Cicada, 2018), Sock Story (Cicada, 2019) and The Problem With Pierre (Cicada, 2020).

Discussing #Isolate with Chris Malone on Publication Day

It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome back Chris Malone to Linda’s Book Bag today. We stayed in together exactly a year ago when Chris’s first book in her #Glitch series, #stoptheglitch was published and you’ll find that post here. Chris has a brand new book out today and I’m delighted she’s agreed to return to tell me all about it.

Staying in with Chris Malone

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Chris and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me again. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Hi Linda, it is such a pleasure to spend some time with you exactly a year after we first met. On that occasion, I brought a copy of #stoptheglitch, and today the next thriller in the Glitch series is published, #isolate.

Oo. Happy publication day Chris. What can we expect from an evening in with #isolate?

#isolate is not what you might expect from the title. It refers to a proliferation of off-grid eco-communities, called earths, enabling 21st century dissenters to ‘isolate’ themselves from mainstream society, which they see as having become unethical.

It is also an anti-tech thriller: ‘A vision of our digital dependency and how to subvert it.’

I think #isolate sounds perfect for our current world Chris. Tell me more.

Miranda, the narrator, describes earths as, ‘Alternative communities, created by stealth, down muddy paths, taking advantage of relaxed planning restrictions.’ She says, ‘Attempts at self-sufficiency are gaining ground alongside a counter-culture of urban homeworking. People are sticking two fingers up at the life which let them down, and joining #isolate. Isolate from society. Isolate from the power games which use loaded dice. Isolate with people who they trust. Hide and thrive. Protect and survive.’

That sounds an appealing proposition to me!

These communities are connected by a nationwide band of ‘runners’ who communicate through alternative-tech ‘okes’. One of my pre-publication readers said: ‘Against the backdrop of 18 months of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, the concepts of earths, okes and runners are a convincing glimpse into a possible future.’

I have a horrible feeling that future is possibly already here Chris.

#isolate explores the challenges thrown up by ‘growing tensions between the desire to live off-grid, and the need to be connected to others, between wealth and poverty, between localised autonomy and centralised control.’

‘A thoughtful take on post-pandemic society: a challenge to the old order, with new priorities ahead,’ #isolate is, as one reader put it, ‘Uncomfortably close to home, just a couple of steps beyond where we are as a society today: the corruption within parliament; technological glitches; the desire to lead a simpler life are all so current.’

But the two main characters, Robin and Miranda, are each isolated too. Robin, who narrated #stoptheglitch, is a figurehead for the dissenters. She has unwillingly become a celebrity, championing the ethical life, but all she really wants is obscurity, and isolation out in her clifftop home. Robin is, ‘the unassuming seeker of solitude.’

I rather like the sound of Robin.

At the start of the book, Miranda is the flip-side. She is driven, intent on success. This is how she describes herself: ‘Tougher than the best boots you can buy. Quicker than Usain Bolt. Sharper than a scalpel. I want to be able to attack a problem, find an out-of-the-box solution and enact it before anyone else has even guessed step one.’

‘Miranda keeps turning her back, to us the reader, to her friends, to the system, even to safety, so we never quite know what she’s going to do next, or where her true allegiances lie.. The faceless person – a spy – possibly one of the most isolated people in the world – in a different way, to Robin in Caernef.’

Another reader said: ‘I love the precarious and symbiotic nature of the relationship between Miranda and Robin.’

Although this isn’t my usual genre Chris, I think #isolate sounds fascinating. Who do you see as your readership?

I think that the eco-conscious will enjoy reading #isolate. One reader says: ‘I work in climate and energy, and in the push to reach net zero by 2050, then some of the things advocated in the earths – recycling, reuse, extended product lifespans, integration of digital tech, active travel (walking/cycling), using local networks/skills/services – would be useful pathways to lower carbon emissions.  But difficult to say if society is ready to make this kind of shift.  But then again, that’s something fiction can deal with!’

Let’s hope fiction can show us the way then! What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

When we met before, I was struggling with a coeliac diet, and failed to bring any food to share, but I think you will be pleased to hear that today I bring with me the aroma of home baking. Like many others, my prowess with a bread-maker has improved. My husband and I have been perfecting recipes for (gluten, lactose and sugar-free) cake. I am hoping you will enjoy a ‘dicky-bird’s piece’ of fresh homemade bread with lashings of butter, and a slice of carrot cake, with a pot of good strong breakfast tea. From a real teapot.

That sounds like my ideal food experience Chris. You can come back again!

We have to listen to ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets because it is Miranda’s ringtone. I once took my class on a school trip to Gustav Holst’s birthplace in Cheltenham, followed by a picnic in the park. I was listening to this music while writing several passages in #isolate.

That kind of atmospheric music must have really helped with your concept.

I have also brought with me a copy of #stoptheglitch, to remind us of our conversation a year ago, and a small silver bee, Arcadian Bee, with unusual powers.

Wonderful. And will there be another Glitch book?

Now well-into writing the third and final book in the Glitch series, #FutureProof, I am focusing on the blurred boundaries between actual and digital realities. #FutureProof is narrated by Poppy. Three books, three interwoven stories, shared with the reader by three very different strong but imperfect women.

I always love strong female characters Chris.

Me too. One reader said, ‘It’s refreshing to have female leading characters who do not rely on their appearance or hide behind a man in order to succeed.’

Quite right. Thanks so much for staying in with me on #isolate publication day Chris. I love the sound of this book and I’m sure readers will want a few more details so you pour that strong tea and I’ll tell them more:

#isolate

‘We have gone so far down the slippery slope of progress, that we all now need to call a halt.

We are slaves to technology, we are polluting our planet at an alarming rate, and too many of our leaders are concerned with lining their own pockets rather than enabling hardworking citizens to thrive.

Even more astounding is the emerging evidence that responsibility for the glitch lay, not with cyber-terrorists, not with the #isolators, but with our own government.

Friends, there is a way forward …’ Robin FitzWilliam, summer 2025

Set after the events of the glitch, Miranda investigates who is behind the series of attacks on national infrastructure in a race against time to prevent a total lockdown of technology. Her arch enemy, Robin, a misfit who is bold enough to speak out, and who lures mavericks into making an ethical stand to challenge the status quo, might be her only hope.

Now, framed with murder and on the run from the authorities, Miranda is determined to get as deep into Robin’s campaigns as she can, to live and breathe Robin, not only to be her shadow, but to be her. Meanwhile, #isolate is gaining momentum, playing out in the countryside and the cities against the backdrop of a looming general election.

An ingenious algorithm is used to promote #Spoiler: ‘Legitimately spoil your ballot paper and be counted.

Make a difference!’ How is it all linked? But more importantly, who can she trust?

Published by Burton Mayers today, 15th October 2021, #isolate is available for purchase in all the usual places including Blackwell’s and Hive.

About Chris Malone

Following retirement from a busy education career, Chris’s first two novels, Zade and #stoptheglitch were published in 2020. Chris was the first female thriller author to join Burton Mayers Books. The second novel in the Glitch series, #isolate, is released a year after publication of #stoptheglitch.

Having returned, with her husband, to live in Herefordshire, Chris is now enjoying a quieter pace of life, renovating the house, rewilding the garden, reading, writing and campaigning. She has willingly swapped her smart black heels for sturdy boots.

For more information about Chris, visit her website and follow her on Twitter @CMoiraM.

Spotlighting Her Secret War by Pam Lecky on Publication Day

It’s publication day for Her Secret War by Pam Lecky and I’m delighted to bring you details all about this wonderful sounding book. I’m lucky enough to have a copy of Her Secret War on my TBR pile thanks to the team at Avon and I can’t wait to read it.

Published by Harper Collins’ imprint Avon on 14th October 2021, Her Secret War is available for purchase through the links here.

Her Secret War

A life-changing moment

May 1941: German bombs drop on Dublin taking Sarah Gillespie’s family and home. Days later, the man she loves leaves Ireland to enlist.

A heart-breaking choice

With nothing to keep her in Ireland and a burning desire to help the war effort, Sarah seeks refuge with relatives in England. But before long, her father’s dark past threatens to catch up with her.

A dangerous mission

Sarah is asked to prove her loyalty to Britain through a special mission. Her courage could save lives. But it could also come at the cost of her own…

A gripping story that explores a deadly tangle of love and espionage in war-torn Britain, perfect for fans of Pam Jenoff, Kate Quinn and Kate Furnivall.

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Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

About Pam Lecky

Pam is an Irish historical fiction author with Avon Books UK/Harper Collins. Pam is represented by Therese Coen at the Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency, London.

Her Secret War, a WW2 thriller, will be released on 14th October 2021. The second book in the series will be released in 2022.

The Bowes Inheritance, her debut novel, was awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion; was shortlisted for the Carousel Aware Prize 2016; made ‘Editor’s Choice’ by the Historical Novel Society; long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Award; and chosen as a Discovered Diamond in February 2017.

June 2019, saw the release of No Stone Unturned, the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery series, set in the late Victorian era. This was closely followed by the sequel, Footprints in the Sand, in March 2020, which is set in Victorian Egypt. Pam is currently working on the third book in the series.

You can follow Pam on Twitter @pamlecky or visit her website for further information. You’ll also find Pam on Instagram and Facebook.

The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees

It’s a real thrill to be featuring The Rose Garden by Tracy Rees today as it is the first of a run of books I am reviewing for My Weekly magazine for their online platform. I was very excited to be invited to review for them. You can see an interview with me here on the My Weekly website.

I’m a huge fan of Tracy Rees’s writing and she has featured here on Linda’s Book Bag many times.

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

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

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

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

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

The Rose Garden was published by Pan Macmillan on 19th August in ebook and is also available for purchase in paperback through the links here.

The Rose Garden

Every house has its secrets . . .

For twelve-year-old Ottilie Finch, London is an exciting playground to explore. Her family have recently arrived in Hamstead from Durham, under a cloud of scandal that Otty is blissfully unaware of. The only shadow over her days is her mother’s mysterious illness, which keeps her to her room.

When young local girl Mabs is offered the chance to become Mrs Finch’s companion, it saves her from a desperate life on the canals. Little does she know that all is not as picture-perfect as it seems. Mabs is about to become tangled in the secrets that chased the Finches from their last home, and trapped in an impossible dilemma . . .

My Review of The Rose Garden

My full review of The Rose Garden can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, I can say that The Rose Garden is a sumptuously written historical drama that I adored, with vivid and engaging characters, wonderful settings and a plot that grips the reader. I loved it!

Do visit My Weekly to read more of my review.

About Tracy Rees

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

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

About My Weekly Magazine

You can follow My Weekly on Twitter @My_Weekly and find them on Facebook and Instagram. The My Weekly website is here.

Tackling Difficult Topics in Fiction: A Guest Post by Bella Cassidy, Author of Shoot the Moon

Some of you will be aware that five years ago, just a few weeks before my Dad died, we lost our great-niece Emma Faith at full term about 90 minutes before her birth. You can imagine how devastating Emma’s loss was to the family and to my niece and her husband in particular.

When I realised that Bella Cassidy’s book, Shoot the Moon, tackles such difficult aspects of life, albeit in a light-hearted manner, and this week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, I simply had to ask Bella to write a guest piece for Linda’s Book Bag.

Before I share that post with you, let’s find out about Shoot the Moon which is available for purchase here.

Shoot the Moon

In a world of brides wearing black, disorderly doves, and weddings on mountains – what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot it seems, when you also have a heart-broken photographer who’s secretly given up on romance.

Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.

When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Highlands – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.

Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.

Tackling Difficult Topics in Fiction

A Guest Post from Bella Cassidy

This week marks Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it’s made me think about the fact that I’ve written three novels, two of which feature women losing their babies through miscarriage or stillbirth.

I’ve often wondered why I should have been drawn to research and write about these issues – having been lucky enough never to have experienced them personally. Family history briefly mentions that I was a rainbow baby – born after my mother had a miscarriage – and I’ve always been grateful to the baby who came before me. Also, in a previous life I co-founded a baby swimming company, and in 2006 one of my franchisees, Tamsin Brewis, suggested we fundraise for Tommy’s, the baby charity.

the extraordinary ordinary

I rang her to hesitantly check my estimate that Water Babies has since raised nearly £2million for the charity. ‘Er no, we’ve raised over four, and as of the end of this month it will be £4.5million.’

Wow.

And then it came back to me, the conversations we had with the staff at Tommy’s when Tamsin and I originally went to see them: the woman who’d had 18 miscarriages over six years, before she’d finally managed to give birth to a healthy baby. The women who easily fall pregnant, only to continually lose their babies; or those who find it impossible to conceive. Then there was the devastating cruelty of the phrase, ‘It’s nature’s way’ – clearly still an attitude today, given that one of the first things you see on Tommy’s home page is the sentence, ‘Losing a baby should never be ‘just one of those things’’. And on another, the hashtag #breakthesilence.

Tommy’s was started in 1992 to challenge the lack of answers surrounding premature birth. Since then it’s grown to be the UK’s largest charity researching the causes and prevention of pregnancy complications, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal death. Thanks to the charity putting research into practice at specialist clinics across the UK, the rates of heart-breaking losses are falling year on year -and it aims to have halved them by 2030.

When we visited the organisation in 2006, people just didn’t talk about miscarriage. And the strange thing is that now, in 2021, people still don’t really talk about, nor write about it. Just like I remember being hugely irritated by the attitude of a major childbirth organisation who told me, ‘We don’t want to publicise how potentially difficult breastfeeding can be’ – meaning it can hit new mothers like a sledgehammer when it turns out to be really hard – miscarriage and stillbirth are still something that women have to suffer almost in silence, despite it affecting every part of their life, often for the rest of their lives.

I was extremely grateful to be able to interview one of my former colleagues, who sadly lost her baby at twenty-one weeks. We spoke for over an hour, our voices low amongst the chatter and clatter of the café where we met, and I was shocked to discover the depth of pain she’d experienced, but so impressed by her strength and resilience, as well as the love woven into her story.

Next, I spent days scrolling through websites and chat rooms – women’s (and men’s) grief shading every page. I now know that a hospital can organise a full funeral, with a hearse, a tiny coffin and bearers to carry it, should you want. I watched a heart-breaking documentary, ‘Still Loved’, learning that 7,000 babies are stillborn, across the world, every single day. I read that if a baby dies after 20 weeks the mother will be encouraged to have a ‘natural birth’ – and I couldn’t begin to imagine the trauma of having to go through that.

It was like I’d entered a completely hidden world – reading page after page on a subject that remains taboo, yet affects so many.

For in the UK, it’s estimated that one in four pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. One. In. Four. That’s just so much grief that’s just not being talked about, nor depicted in the stories we read and watch. Thus creating a vacuum; when really women should be able to see their experiences reflected back at them, should they want.

I think I now understand why I’ve written my novels: because the memories of walking around the wards in Tommy’s have stayed with me. Fifteen years ago, I was privileged to see the tiniest of babies thriving under the hospital’s care; and the scores of cards lining the hospital walls, sent by grateful parents who’d never believed they’d one day carry their baby home. And it became deeply embedded in me how lucky I’ve been. For not only was I fortunate to give birth to two healthy babies, but I thrived during both pregnancies; never knowing the acute anxiety of ‘what if it goes wrong again.’

I have debated and deliberated over the cover of my first published novel, Shoot the Moon – executed, admittedly, in a bit of a rush. I find myself handing the book to people, saying, ‘It actually contains much deeper themes of attachment hunger and miscarriage than the cover might imply.’ Which is ironic, for I’ve always remembered Jojo Moyes expressing her frustration that, “So many women who write about quite difficult issues are lumped under the ‘chick lit’ umbrella. It’s so reductive and disappointing.” I for one was delighted when the term lost its traction in the UK – although interestingly it’s currently enjoying a strong resurgence in the US.

Yet numerous people in publishing have reassured me that the cover is right for the genre – and admittedly the novel does also contain doves flying amok, jaunts on borrowed horses and the traditional love story arc necessary for a contemporary romance. But I remain uncomfortable – and will one day change it for something less ‘lightweight’.

For being unable to conceive is heart-breaking, just as the loss of a child is deeply traumatic; leaving women (and men),as one mother described it, ‘being left grasping at something permanently just out of reach’.

Or, as my colleague told me, quietly, leaning over the table in the café, “The majority of the time I’m totally fine. It is what it is. She was never a person, I don’t have a memory of her, I’m totally fine. It’s just three days of the year when I crack and go into the ‘I should be inflating a balloon tonight’, and instead I’m sat there crying.”

So you see, to me, my cover feels a little too much like the phrase, ‘just one of those things.’ Just one of those things: like difficult breastfeeding, caesareans and miscarriage, that women are expected to cope with – quietly. Dismissed as ‘not that important’ by society – just as the research Tommy’s now carries out was also deemed unnecessary, thirty years ago.

I am immensely proud of the money Water Babies has raised for the charity – money that’s paid for the creation of a research centre in Warwick. It’s ten years since I stepped away from my company, but if I can still do one thing to help #breakthesilence it’s by continuing to write honest novels that reflect the depth and breadth of the hardships so many women experience, yet rarely hear being spoken about. Although, in the future, I’ll aim for more complex covers. Ones that pay proper tribute to lives which demonstrate the courage of the extraordinary ordinary; as opposed to being ‘just one of those things.’

****

What a wonderful post Bella. You have expressed so much of what our family experienced. I think guest posts like this and books like Shoot the Moon are essential for breaking down the barriers to difficult topics. I know your book is a light hearted read with some weighty topics and I agree that finding the ‘right’ cover is a difficult balance, but what’s that old adage? Never judge a book by its cover!

Thank you so much for sharing this with us and huge congratulations on all your fund raising success.

About Bella Cassidy

Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… Just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper.

She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.

She’s done a lot of research for writing a weddings romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.

Bella Cassidy is the pen name of Jess Morency and you can follow Jess on Twitter @meHappyShed or visit her blog or website for further information. You can also find Jess on Instagram. Bella is on Facebook and Instagram.

Baby Loss Awareness

If you have been affected by baby loss, please visit the Baby Loss Awareness Week website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BLA_Campaign.

Tommy’s

Tommy’s is dedicated to finding causes and treatments to save babies’ lives as well as providing trusted pregnancy and baby loss information and support.

Visit the Tommy’s website for further information. You can follow Tommy’s on Twitter @tommys, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Water Babies

Water Babies believes confidence starts with baby swimming. Their vision is a world where the physical and emotional development of every child is fully supported and nurtured from birth.

For more information, visit the Water Babies website, follow them on Twitter @WaterBabies or find them on Facebook and Instagram.

Pug Actually by Matt Dunn

My enormous thanks to Gariella Drinkald at Midas PR for sending me a copy of Pug Actually by Matt Dunn in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Harper Collins imprint HQ on 14th October, Pug Actually is available for pre-order here.

Pug Actually

When your dog plays Cupid…what could possibly go wrong?

Loyal rescue pug Doug wants his adoring owner Julie to find unconditional love and happiness – and he knows she won’t find either in the arms of Luke, her married boss.

Doug is terrified that Julie will become a lonely cat-lover if she stays single too long, but he can’t let her fall for any more of Luke’s empty promises. Julie needs to move on – and Doug is convinced that Tom, a newly divorced V-E-T, is perfect for her (despite his questionable occupation).

There’s just one problem: Julie and Tom can’t stand each other.

Doug doesn’t quite understand the quirks and complexities of human relationships, but he won’t let that get in the way of his mission to bring Tom and Julie together. After all, being a ‘rescue’ works both ways…

My Review of Pug Actually

Doug doesn’t like Julie’s boyfriend Luke one little bit.

Pug Actually is an absolute delight. Certainly it’s obvious from the cover, the genre and blurb that this will be a ‘happy ever after’ kind of read but my goodness the journey getting there is just glorious. It’s witty, entertaining and totally captivating and escapist reading that I loved. Reading Pug Actually brought me total joy, a smile to my face and some laughing aloud moments.

Told from Doug the pug’s point of view, there’s an innovative approach to the traditional rom-com in Pug Actually that works perfectly as Doug’s narrative voice shines through, immediately enchanting the reader and making them complicit in his actions to try to make Julie happy. As someone who doesn’t like dogs much, I thought Doug was magnificent. And because there is a relatively reduced palette of characters, Matt Dunn ensures the reader has absolute insight into their personalities through Doug’s astute and perceptive observations. I loathed Luke with a passion – enough to want to do him physical injury and whilst I’d have jettisoned him months ago, the writing is so convincing that I could accept Julie’s relationship with him. Her frustrating acceptance of Luke’s duplicity, her insecurity and her love for her Dad all had a totally realistic and authentic tone that drew me in and made me want her to be happy.

The plot zips along with brilliant pace and Pug Actually was one of those books I simply had to consume over a couple of days because not only did I want to discover how Doug’s plans might work out, but I loved it so much I didn’t want to set it aside. It’s a skilful thing to write a novel that makes a reader feel so happy but Matt Dunn has managed it brilliantly here.

Whilst Pug Actually is a light-hearted, uplifting read, it has some more weighty themes weaving through it too, giving it depth as well as entertainment. Jim’s grief over his wife’s death, marriage and security, trust and deception, new beginnings and self-sabotage mean that Pug Actually provides the reader with the perfect balance of food for thought and entertainment. Matt Dunn has the ability to illustrate humanities frailties with sensitivity and yet still keep a lightness of touch that is so much fun to read.

I loved Pug Actually. The world needs more people (and I use the word ‘people’ deliberately) like Doug in it. And if we can’t actually meet them in real life, what better than to read about them? I can’t recommend the fabulous Pug Actually highly enough. Just buy it!

About Matt Dunn

Matt Dunn is the author of numerous romantic comedy novels, including the bestselling The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook and A Day at the Office. He’s also written about life, love, and relationships for various publications including The Times, Guardian, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Company, Elle, and The Sun.

For more information about Matt, visit his website, follow him on Twitter @mattdunnwrites or find him on Facebook and Instagram.