The Woman in the Middle by Milly Johnson

My enormous thanks to Annabelle Wright at ED PR for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Milly Johnson’s nineteenth novel, The Woman in the Middle. It’s a real privilege to start off the tour by sharing my review.

I’m such a fan of Milly, and you’ll find her featured on Linda’s Book Bag many times:

I’ve a review of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day here

I reviewed My One True North here and it was one of my books of the year in 2020.

My review of The Magnificent Mrs Mayhew is here.

Milly was kind enough to write a piece for Linda’s Book Bag when The Mother of All Christmases was released in a post available here.

I have my review of another of Milly’s books, The Perfectly Imperfect Womanhere.

The Woman in the Middle will be published by Simon and Schuster on 14th October and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Woman in the Middle

The emotional, uplifting and completely relatable new novel from Sunday Times bestseller Milly Johnson.

Shay Bastable is the woman in the middle. She is part of the sandwich generation – caring for her parents and her children, supporting her husband Bruce, holding them all together and caring for them as best she can.

Then the arrival of a large orange skip on her mother’s estate sets in motion a cataclysmic series of events which leads to the collapse of Shay’s world. She is forced to put herself first for a change.

But in order to move forward with her present, Shay needs to make sense of her past. And so she returns to the little village she grew up in, to uncover the truth about what happened to her when she was younger. And in doing so, she discovers that sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to find the only way is up.

My Review of The Woman in the Middle

Shay’s trying to keep all the plates spinning.

A confession. I wasn’t sure to begin with that I was going to love The Woman in the Middle as much as I have other books by Milly Johnson. I needn’t have worried. It wasn’t long before I found myself completely ensnared in Shay’s life, laughing and crying as I read because of Milly Johnson’s absolute ability to shine a light on real people, their hopes, their dreams and their realities. In fact, I think I was a bit resistant at the start because I found so much to resonate with me that it made for slightly uncomfortable reading. Whilst I don’t have the marital situation or the children of Shay’s life, I’d defy any reader not to find echoes of their own thoughts and feelings in the pages of this book; echoes so deftly presented by the author who manages to present humanity with such caring compassion.

The plot of The Woman in the Middle is absolutely brilliant and I’d love to see it as a Sunday evening winter television series as it has all the elements to rival any other such production. It has several dramatic moments that add entertaining dynamism, but it is the quieter aspects, Shay’s thoughts and the mundane elements of a woman’s life that are the real strength here. The Woman in the Middle is about the difficult process of rationalising and accepting our pasts, of being comfortable in our own skin without becoming complacent, of supporting without being overbearing, of living our own lives and allowing others to live theirs. The warmth of Milly Johnson’s writing illustrates these elements perfectly but at the same time she isn’t afraid to show her readers the full extent of her characters’ personalities. Shay might be the heroine of the story but she is by no means perfect. She can be quick to speak, rash and frustrating, as well as thoughtful, loving and supportive so that I cared about her all the more as a result. There’s a depth and range across all the characters with both men and women equally treated so that The Woman in the Middle feels balanced and true to life.

Although to comment on all the themes would be to spoil the story, Milly Johnson tackles some big issues here in The Woman in the Middle. Again, there is a glorious balance of darkness and light with a down-to-earth approach that I found so engaging. What struck me most was the underlying message of kindness that weaves through the story. Sometimes that kindness is mis-placed despite being well-meaning and there are consequences, but nothing can detract from the warmth of this book. Kindness to others and to ourselves is key, but I genuinely felt that in writing The Woman in the Middle Milly Johnson has brought kindness to her readers, giving them permission to put themselves first on occasion and helping them to realise it isn’t always necessary to make yourself the filling in a sandwich of duty and responsibility.

I may have begun The Woman in the Middle a little uncertainly, but I ended it feeling uplifted, included and as if Milly Johnson had taken a long look into my head and decided exactly what I needed to read to make the world a better place for me. The Woman in the Middle is a restorative book – and not just for the characters! Don’t miss it.

About Milly Johnson

Milly Johnson was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

A Sunday Times bestseller, she is one of the Top 10 Female Fiction authors in the UK with millions of copies of her books sold across the world. In 2020, she was honoured with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and was a featured author in the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads and World Book Night campaigns.

A writer who champions women and highlights the importance of friendship and community, Milly’s characters are celebrations of the strength of the human spirit. The Woman in the Middle is her nineteenth novel.

You can follow Milly on Twitter @millyjohnson and Facebook, or you can visit her website for more information. You’ll also find Milly on Instagram.

The Woman in the Middle by Milly Johnson is published on 14th October by Simon & Schuster in hardback, eBook and audiobook. Milly will be joining My Weekly for a virtual event on Thursday 21st October at 7pm – register for free here.

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Bad Apples by Will Dean

With Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far (my review of which you’ll find here) I simply couldn’t resist breaking my self imposed blog tour ban to participate in this one for Will’s latest book Bad Apples. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Point Blank for sending me a copy of Bad Apples in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by One World News Imprint, Point Blank, on 7th October 2021, Bad Apples is available for purchase through the links here.

Bad Apples

A murder

A resident of small-town Visberg is found decapitated.

A festival

A cultish hilltop community ‘celebrates’ Pan Night after the apple harvest.

A race against time

As Visberg closes ranks to keep its deadly secrets, there could not be a worse time for Tuva Moodyson to arrive as deputy editor of the local newspaper. Powerful forces are at play, and no one dares speak out. But Tuva senses the story of her career, unaware that perhaps she is the story….

My Review of Bad Apples

Tuva’s got a new post.

My goodness. Bad Apples is a compelling, disturbing and exciting read. My poor brain and pulse are still recovering. Will Dean begins Bad Apples in dramatic style and keeps the reader entranced and unsettled throughout. Alongside all the drama – and my word, there’s drama – is an intelligent balance of quietness, nature and the prosaic aspects of life that makes the riveting plot all the more affecting and entertaining.

Within the narrative style, there’s an intimate sensation as Tuva Moodyson’s first person voice feels as if she’s speaking directly to the reader in a way that makes Bad Apples completely captivating. The atmosphere is creepy and unnerving so that I felt quite tense as I read and the descriptions of ‘Pan night’ will reverberate in my mind for some considerable time to come. It’s the use of the senses, possibly heightened because of Tuva’s hearing impairment, that really brings the text to life. The setting of Visberg is horribly clear in the reader’s mind to the extent that I almost felt I was physically present.

In a fast paced plot Will Dean sprinkles Bad Apples with hints, bluffs and clues that draw in the reader and make them think they’re ahead of Tuva, before he wrong foots them completely. I loved this aspect of the book because it adds to the tension and excitement. The plot truly made my head spin and I found my dreams held elements that I’d been reading about because Will Dean writes with such manipulative skill. The range of sentence length is superb in creating tension within the plot too.

Tuva is a brilliant character. She’s bright, sassy and witty but has a softness and vulnerability too that makes her very real to the reader. Although I haven’t read other books in this series, Will Dean’s writing ensured I was never at a disadvantage, but left me feeling that I knew Tuva completely and the author made me care so much about Tuva that now I’m determined to read the other books in the series too.

As well as being a spell binding whirlwind of a tale, Bad Apples has themes that give it such a richness. The iterative image of apples reminds the reader of biblical temptation and traditional tales like Snow White so that our knowledge of evil and danger heightens the impact of reading the book. There are elements of horror that make Bad Apples feel as if there’s something evil lurking in the reader’s peripheral vision so that the book is deliciously perturbing. Revenge, community, control, secrets, obfuscation, lies and deceit add layer upon layer of unease. I thought this was an affecting, excellent element of the text.

Atmospheric, creepy and unnerving, Bad Apples is a must read for Tuva Moodyson fans and for those of us who haven’t encountered the series before, we’re in for an absolute treat. Bad Apples is a brilliant read.

About Will Dean

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands and lived in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. His debut novel, Dark Pines, was selected for Zoe Ball’s Book Club, shortlisted for the Guardian Not the Booker prize and named a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. The second Tuva Moodyson thriller, Red Snow, won ‘Best Independent Voice’ at the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Awards, 2019, and was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020. The third novel, Black River, has been longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021. Rights for the series have been sold in eight territories (France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Poland, Czech Republic, China and Turkey).

Will lives in Sweden where the Tuva Moodyson novels are set. TV Rights to Dark Pines have been optioned by Lionsgate, the producers of Mad Men, with plans for a multi-part series featuring Tuva Moodyson.

You can follow Will Dean on Twitter @willrdean, Instagram and Facebook as well as on his YouTube Channel for further information.

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A Retrospective: A Guest Post by Tony J Forder, Author of The Huntsmen

It’s an absolute pleasure to be in at the start of a brand new series from Tony J Forder. As book one in Tony’s DS Chase Crime Series, The Huntsmen, is launched, Tony looks back on his writing career in a brilliant guest post for today’s blog tour stop here on Linda’s Book Bag.

Tony’s writing is so popular and it has been my pleasure to feature him here on the blog many, many times. You can find the following posts:

My review of Slow Slicing here

My review of Endless Silent Scream here

A guest piece from Tony about The Cold Winter Sun imperative you will find here,

A  moving post about becoming a writer here when Bad to the Bone was published

Tony also told us about writing outside his comfort zone here

His characters Bliss and Chandler from The Scent of Guilt introduced each other here.

A wonderful guest post to introduce The Autumn Tree here.

The Huntsmen is available for purchase here.

The Huntsmen

Multiple deaths following a road collision are hard enough to deal with. That the man responsible was the ex-Chief Constable of Wiltshire Police and a Knight of the Realm is worse still for those tasked to investigate the incident. But the real question they have to answer is: who was the now deceased naked female minor alongside him at the time?

DS Royston Chase is living life as an outcast in a small Wiltshire village, and is called to the scene. Paired with the bold and strident DC Claire Laney, Chase is given the task of closing the case quickly and quietly.

But when the minor’s DNA provides a familial link to a girl who vanished from her home twenty years earlier at the age of eight, Chase and Laney refuse to accept the coincidence. The pair start looking harder at the ex-cop’s life, at which point they encounter serious opposition. Perhaps deadly serious.

Because the establishment looks after its own, and soon it’s not only their bosses getting in the way of a thorough investigation. Chase and Laney find themselves seemingly at odds with everyone, fighting to save their own reputations as well as the case. But neither will rest until they identify their young victim, no matter what the cost…

A RETROSPECTIVE

A Guest Post by Tony J Forder

The first full-length novel I wrote was initially called Haunted Thoughts. Ultimately I decided that sounded too much like a ghost story, and so it became Degrees of Darkness. I wrote the first draft in around 1995. A sequel came next. This was called The Feather Man. I then wrote a third and final untitled book featuring the same cast of characters. All first draft. All with no ambitions for any of them to ever see the light of day. At that time, writing was a pleasurable hobby; writing because I couldn’t not write. Of the three, the first had something about it, so somewhere around the early noughties I edited and polished the book to the point where I was satisfied with how it read. All three books were set in London, where I was born and raised, though all of the writing occurred after I’d moved to Peterborough, where I still live.

I then decided to write a police procedural based in my new city. This was called Burnout. During the edits I realised the book was flat with little suspense, but the two main characters, DI Jimmy Bliss and DC Penny Chandler, felt real enough for me to want to feature them again. This led me to write Bad to the Bone in 2004-2005. Because writing was still no more than a hobby to me, and one I had increasingly less time to enjoy, I wrote the book with no thought of a follow-up or series of them. By this time I was quite ill (I have Meniere’s disease, a condition I gave Jimmy Bliss, something for which he does not thank me) and my hobby took a back seat.

In 2014 my dad, who was a huge fan of action-thrillers, was going through a reading slump. By this time I was feeling a little better, and so I embarked on a new journey – to write a book for him. I set sail with high hopes, and soon Scream Blue Murder was taking shape. About a third of the way through I realised I was stuck. That, combined with increased work commitments and my illness, meant putting Scream to one side. After all, a book takes as long as it takes. What did it matter? In the end it mattered a great deal because my dad passed away in the December of that year, having never got to read the book I wrote for him.

And so to 2016. In the autumn of that year I was given my redundancy notice. I immediately set about creating my own company so that I could continue working in the education sector, specialising in IT consultancy. My wife had the idea that instead of doing this full time, I should also take my writing seriously again. So in November 2016 I set about finishing Scream Blue Murder in honour of my dad, and I also responded to online requests for submissions to a publisher who specialised in crime fiction; I sent them both Degrees of Darkness and Bad to the Bone. I had no expectations of either being good enough for publication, but in my naivety I hoped the publisher might offer some guidance.

The first response I got back was to say they liked Degrees, but it would require the removal of some bad language for them to consider it. I set about making the changes and returned it to them. The next time I heard from them they offered me a two-book contract for both Bad to the Bone and, to my shock, a follow-up. Possibly terrified that if I didn’t respond immediately they might realise they’d made a mistake, I signed on 1 February 2017. This was followed swiftly by the offer of a contract to publish Degrees as well. Now, although I had this second DI Bliss book to write for them (with no idea whatsoever what it might be) I was determined to finish Scream Blue Murder. I made it clear to them that although they might have no interest in it themselves, it was a book I had to get out of my system.

Perhaps it was this distraction that caused the issues I later had transitioning from Bliss #1 to Bliss #2. The issue being, Bad to the Bone was written in and set in 2005. Yet here we were in 2017. I told my publisher I wanted to rewrite Bad to the Bone in order to bring it forward to the current year, but they told me they were already too far down the publishing road to turn back. So, I had to choose whether to continue along the original timeline for the second book and set it in, say 2006, or make it contemporary. Looking ahead for perhaps the first time, I felt a longer series would benefit from taking place in the here and now. All I had to do was explain away the twelve-year gap. After much thought, I decided I had an explanation that worked well, and might even be useful later on.

To my delight, following the release of Bad to the Bone and Degrees of Darkness, my third published book was Scream Blue Murder. Looking back, I realise these three books were so different from each other that I was hardly establishing myself as any one kind of writer. But I have to say, it didn’t matter to me at all. I was a published author, and I was about to have a series to my name. That came with The Scent of Guilt – Bliss and Chandler’s second outing. This was soon followed by the third book, If Fear Wins. And to finish off 2018, Cold Winter Sun came along. The creation of that book came as a surprise even to me, because Scream Blue Murder had always been intended as a standalone. However, I got so deeply involved with the characters that I slipped straight into a sequel and, although they hadn’t asked for it and really weren’t looking for it, my publishers released it as well.

In 2019 there were two more DI Bliss books – The Reach of Shadows and The Death of Justice. These two books helped to firmly establish the Bliss series, developing the characters and increasing my following. All seemed to be going so well. But then two things happened: firstly, I wanted to develop a standalone called Fifteen Coffins, but my publishers had other ideas; secondly, those other ideas included leaving the Bliss series behind and creating a brand new crime series for them. This left me in a real quandary. I wanted to write Fifteen Coffins, and I most certainly intended to continue with Bliss. In fact, I was already writing both new books. Eventually, my publisher told me they would take the next Bliss, but that it really ought to be the last as they wanted me to focus on something new. By the end of the year I’d decided I had more Bliss stories to tell, and I’d completed Fifteen Coffins. And so it was that I declined to hand over my new Bliss book and instead parted ways with my publisher.

Come the release of Endless Silent Scream in the spring of 2020, book #6 in the Bliss series and the first I had self-published under my imprint Spare Nib Books, I was a nervous wreck. What if my publishers had been right? What if the appetite for Bliss had waned? What if going on my own had been a terrible mistake? The proof, or so we are told, is in the tasting of the pudding. Imagine my delight, then, when Endless became my best received book to date. I achieved my best reviews and my best sales, and more than that it left the door wide open to carry on. Which came as an immense relief, because by then I had written the next, Slow Slicing. To my surprise, this book took everything up yet another notch. It was my seventh Bliss novel and it did incredibly well, ticking every box I could have hoped for.

Before the year was over, another two books hit the shelves. First there was Fifteen Coffins, a standalone set in northern California. It featured my first female protagonist, and a story set around the aftermath of a school shooting with what I hoped was a unique slant on such a tragic event. This was quickly followed by a Bliss prequel novella called Bliss Uncovered. The book came about after readers had wondered in emails and online what Bliss was like when he was younger. I didn’t like the idea of a full-length prequel as I must confess I’m not usually a fan of them, but the idea I had floating around inside my head was going to be too long for a short story. Having reached an internal compromise, I decided to write about Jimmy’s first case as a callow DC, and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

This year I have regained the rights to three books, which I have republished with new covers and minor edits. Also, I published what I consider to be my finest DI Bliss book yet, The Autumn Tree. I’m extremely proud of that one, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to top it. There will definitely be more Jimmy Bliss (I’m writing the next book now, in fact) but ahead of that I have just released the first book in a brand new UK crime series. It’s called The Huntsmen, and I think I’ve really hit the ground running with this one. At its core it is a raw, brutal, horrific story, yet I hope it’s told in such a sensitive way that the full weight of what you read creeps up on you steadily so as not to be overwhelming. Also, it was my intention for the lighter, more humorous moments to release the valve a little each time. This is a dark, dreadful tale of unspeakable tastes and desires, but told with compassion, without the more graphical element. The reader will discover the true nature of certain people, but they will not be forced to endure any of the events in graphic detail. I could have gone that way, could have put it all out there and made it a horribly twisted piece of work, but instead I chose to drip feed the revelations and leave the rest to the reader’s imagination. I can only hope I have done so successfully.

****

I’m sure you have Tony. I love your writing and I know that readers are raving about your latest book. Good luck with The Huntsmen. I’m thrilled to have it waiting for me on my TBR. Thanks so much for such a fascinating guest post. It just goes to show that the route to publication isn’t all plain sailing and that determination is key. I am absolutely certain your Dad would have been beyond proud of you.

About Tony J Forder

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Tony J Forder is the author of the bestselling DI Bliss crime thriller series. The first seven books, Bad to the Bone, The Scent of Guilt, If Fear Wins, The Reach of Shadows, The Death of Justice, Endless Silent Scream, and Slow Slicing, were joined in December 2020 by a prequel novella, Bliss Uncovered. The series continued with The Autumn Tree in May 2021.

Tony’s other early series – two action-adventure novels featuring Mike Lynch – comprises both Scream Blue Murder and Cold Winter Sun. These books were republished in April 2021, and will be joined in 2022 by The Dark Division.

In addition, Tony has written two standalone novels: a  dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, and a suspense thriller set in California, called Fifteen Coffins.

The Huntsmen, released on 4 October 2022, is the first book in a new crime series, set in Wiltshire. It features DS Royston Chase, DC Claire Laney, and PCSO Alison May.

Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK, and is now a full-time author.

You can follow Tony on Twitter @TonyJForder, visit his website and find him on Instagram and Facebook.

You’ll find all Tony’s books here and he’s also on Goodreads and Fantastic Fiction.

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Lions in Africa: The British and Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks by Chris Schoeman and David McLennan

My grateful thanks to Phillip Dean at Amberley for sending me a copy of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks by Chris Schoeman and David McLennan in return for an honest review. It might surprise Linda’s Book Bag readers to find a non-fiction book about rugby here, but being married to a Welshman, we love our international rugby and times can get very competitive here in the Hill household during the world cup, Lions’ tours or six nations! I’m delighted to share my review of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks today.

Published by Amberley on 15th August 2021, of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks is available in all good bookshops, online and directly from the publisher here.

 Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks

It was the year 1891, and the first rugby football team from the British Isles was about to embark on a tour of South Africa; any doubts about the financial sustainability of the venture were removed when mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes thumped the table and declared, ’Let them come. I shall stand security for any shortfall.’

And so a tradition began that survived the financial insecurities of the pioneer years, two World Wars, sports boycotts, and the birth of the professional era.

These tours have produced some of the finest Test rugby and some of the greatest players and sides seen anywhere in the world. The 1955 series, where Ellis Park drew 90 000 spectators and the likes of Tony O’Reilly, Cliff Morgan and Tom van Vollenhoven set the game alight; the legendary undefeated 1974 side of Willie John McBride, when arguably the finest international touring team to set foot on South African soil destroyed the Springboks; the 1997 side that conquered the then world champions when Jeremy Guscott’s snap drop goal sealed the series with one Test to go. Lions in Africa is an entertaining narrative of one of international sport’s most popular contests, and a welcome addition to any rugby fan’s bookshelf.

My Review of Lions in Africa: The British & Irish Lions and the Hunt for the Springboks

A history of the British Lions on tour in South Africa.

I confess it took me some considerable time to read Lions in Africa, because it’s so filled with facts and figures, match reports and details that there was a lot to absorb and I needed to take my time. It is, however, a book that lends itself to being picked up and set aside remarkably well.

Lions in Africa is an incredibly detailed, meticulously researched history that will absolutely mesmerise rugby fans. It would make a fantastic gift for them too. As a more casual rugby lover, I’d have liked a few more photographs to exemplify the written details, but given that the book takes the reader back to 1891 in the history and spans almost 120 years of Lions tours to South Africa, perhaps the lack is unsurprising (and indeed there is an image of that first 1891 touring team).

The tour and match details provided are very visual so that the reader can picture (and in some cases remember) the matches vividly. Facts and figures abound from team lists to match scores. However, although Lions in Africa is fascinating in its own right with passing reference to the political and social history of the eras as well as the sporting one, I think it has value far beyond simply reading it. The team lists, for example, made me want to discover what happened to players beyond their playing days. Some potted biographies are included and spark the need to find more about more of the players. This is a real added bonus in reading Lions in Africa. Add in the footnotes and bibliography and Lions in Africa become a catalyst to entertain a rugby lover for months.

Lions in Africa is written with authority but a very accessible style with human touches that really bring the tours to life. For example, when it comes to playing in the wind at an unfamiliar stadium, never trust a groundsman – but you need to read the book to find out why!

Lions in Africa will captivate passionate rugby lovers completely. It’s also a fascinating insight into the British Lions tours for the more casual rugby or sports enthusiast too.

About Chris Schoeman and David McLennan

Chris Schoeman co-authored the autobiographies of Springbok rugby legends Danie Gerber, Frik du Preez (South Africa’s Player of the Century), Os du Randt and Dawie de Villiers, as well as international cricket umpire Rudi Koertzen. He has also written several books on the Anglo-Boer War, World War I and South African regional histories.

Visit Chris’s website for more information.

David McLennan was born in Mbombela and attended the Diocesan College (Bishops) in Cape Town. He has a degree in history from the University of Cape Town. He worked in the South African archives service before becoming a dealer in rare and unusual books on Africa (Africana) with his wife Karen. They own Select Books based in Claremont (near Cape Town). The shop was established in 1986 and we have owned it since 1996. He has written a number of books related to rugby in South Africa.

Staying in with Kevin Stone

You know, it’s a real privilege to ‘meet’ new authors and find out about their books. It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Kevin Stone to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me about a book which has such an intriguing title!

Staying in with Kevin Stone

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Kevin.

Thank you so much, Linda, for the invite. I’m excited to sit down (metaphorically) and talk with you.

Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

No, thank you! I’m honoured to be here.

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

I’ve brought my novel, The Onion Ring Lovers (Guide to Vermont), which was just published August 7th. It’s my debut novel and, as I’m sure you can expect, I’m excited to share it with people. After years of writing and re-writing, and countless drafts, seeing it in print has been incredibly rewarding. Even more so is the opportunity to have it in the hands and on the screens of readers and book lovers.

Congratulations on your debut novel Kevin. You must be delighted to see it in print. What can we expect from an evening in with The Onion Ring Lovers (Guide to Vermont) A Novel?  

My family moved around frequently as a child. We never quite settled in a place to put down roots, so I often found myself in the role as an observer, an outsider looking in. In the course of one of our cross-country journeys across the United States, our family found itself in the unassuming state of Vermont. I did not know at the time what a profound effect my time in the Green Mountain state would have on me. The strain of so many moves, so little money, and one too many indiscretions had its final toll on our family. It was in Vermont that the family broke, and my parents divorced.

Gosh. What a memory. I think there’s a degree of autobiography in many books. How did this affect your writing?

It was on this foundation that I built the (fictional) story about the Suttons, a family that relocated to Vermont with the best of intentions but experienced the worst of outcomes.

Inspired by the unique and varied people of Vermont, the fiction novel is full of real and imagined places and facts. I wanted to create a picture of the Vermont that meant so much to me. Set in two timelines, the book alternates between the year that the Sutton family threw caution to the wind, sold everything, and cast their fate in running a snack stand in a year-round Christmas-themed attraction on a tiny island off the shores of Lake Champlain, and in the present, where the adult Jim Sutton returns to the state on the pretence of writing his travelogue novel The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont.

I think The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont sounds wonderful Kevin. How is it being received?

Some praise for the novel:

“What gives the book its power, however, is the autobiography that resonates behind every page. Stone has clearly harnessed deeply-felt memories in his book, and re-dressed them in fictive form. His descriptions of Vermont at its most beautiful, and later, at its most dangerous, merit reading again and again. “

Laura C Stevenson, author of Liar from Vermont

“I grew up in Vermont, and this book brought me home. The imagery is beautiful, the characters are engaging, and I didn’t see the ending coming. Stone not only captures the place but also the quirky nuance of the people in a way that is authentic and familiar, and yes, a little disturbing. Onion Ring Lovers is a strong debut novel, and it’s well worth your time. I look forward to more from Kevin Stone.”

Amazon review

Those reviews make me want to dive right in to The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont.

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

I brought a couple of things!

First, there’s a book within the book. The (fictional) protagonist of the novel, Jim Sutton, is writing his own book, The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont. Part of my (delicious) research for the book was going to some very real places in Vermont and writing reviews in Jim’s own hand. Alas, like so many authors forced to “kill their darlings,” the reviews were too long for the novel. They did not die off the page, but rather live on in digital form on the novel’s dedicated website, onionringlovers.com. This is a link to the page with Jim’s reviews.

Ha! That’s brilliant.

Second, I would like to share a recipe for low-carb, air fryer onion rings, a delicious and (marginally) healthier version of their deep-fried brethren. Delicious on their own, or with a remoulade sauce for dipping, these rings are the perfect companion to the novel!

Now that sounds just my kind of snack. What’s the recipe?

Air-Fried Onion Rings

Ingredients:

1 large sweet onion, cut into ½-inch rings

½ cup whole wheat flour

1 cup whole grain panko bread crumbs

1 egg

1 Tbsp. water

½ tsp. paprika

1 tsp. oregano

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Pinch of salt

1. Get three bowls. Fill the first bowl with a mixture of flour, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano and pinch of salt. Fill the second bowl with the egg and water beaten together. Fill the third bowl with panko breadcrumbs.

2. Coat the onion rings in flour, dip into the egg mixture. Coat with panko breadcrumbs. You may need to press the panko with your fingers.

3. Spray the bottom of an air fryer basket with non-stick spray. Place the onion rings in a single layer in the bottom of the basket. Spray the onion rings with non-stick spray. For best results, cook the rings in batches.

4. Cook at 375°F for 6 minutes. Flip and cook for another 4 minutes.

You’ve made my mouth water Kevin. Not just for the onion rings either! I love the sound of The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont too. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about it.

Thanks for having me Linda.

You head to the kitchen Kevin and get cooking and I’ll give blog readers a few more book details:

The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont

Many children wish that every day could be Christmas. For one year, Jim Sutton and his family found themselves living that dream. As dreams go, however, it turned out to be more of a nightmare.

The Suttons were not caught up in some kind of “Groundhog Day” scenario. Far from it. While each day was distinct and separate, some days seemed to echo the one before, like a rerun nobody asked to relive. From 1977 through early 1978, the Sutton clan lived as permanent residents in a year-round Christmas attraction named, appropriately enough, Christmas Town.

The chain of events leading to how precisely they came to settle on an island in the middle of Lake Champlain, Vermont is found in two words: Bob Sutton (or as he was more colloquially called: Dad). Bob Sutton pried his brood from their comfortable lives in Boston, Massachusetts to relocate to the Green Mountain State. He bought a snack stand concession in Christmas Town, where he believed they would make their fortunes in a forever Winter Wonderland. None of the Suttons expected that this outwardly idyllic setting would lead to familial betrayal and tragedy.

Twenty-two years later, a grown Jim Sutton ventures out to write his novel. His muse: onion rings. The setting: the state he once swore he would never visit again. In a rusted-out beater of a car, Jim navigates his way through the countryside, sampling onion rings for his book, The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont. When an accident strands him in the sleepy town of Strawberry Falls, little does Jim know that another dark family secret hides beneath the surface of this seemingly idyllic little New England town, a secret that some of the town residents would kill for to keep from coming to light.

The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont is available for purchase from all the online stores including through the links here.

About Kevin Stone

Kevin lives in Tampa, Florida with his family, two dogs (one very good, one naughty), two guinea pigs, a rabbit, and a menagerie of plush critters who frequently come to life through a child’s dabbling in ventriloquism, imagination, and an assertion that there is no such thing as too many animals under one roof.

Kevin’s family moved around when he grew up. A lot. From Massachusetts to Missouri, they ultimately landed in Vermont. Not having Vermonter roots offered him the unique perspective of the outsider, never fitting in as a native son, always observing from a distance. His childhood experiences inspired him to write The Onion Ring Lover’s Guide to Vermont.

There’s more about The Onion Lovers and Kevin on the website, on Instagram and Facebook and you can follow Kevin on Twitter @onionringlovers.

Daughters of War by Dinah Jefferies

It’s over a year since I’ve had the opportunity to read one of Dinah Jefferies’ wonderful books. Then I was reviewing The Tuscan Contessa in a post you can read here. Today it gives me enormous pleasure to share my review of Daughters of War and I’d like to thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Harper Collins for sending me a copy of Daughters of War in return for an honest review.

Dinah’s’ The Tea Planter’s Wife was one of my books of the year when I began blogging in 2015, and you can read my review here.

Since then I was thrilled to interview Dinah here about Before The Rains and to review The Silk Merchant’s Daughter here and The Sapphire Widow here. I also reviewed Dinah’s The Missing Sisterhere.

Daughters of War was published by Harper Collins on 16th September 2021 and is available for purchase through the links here.

Daughters of War

France, 1944.

Deep in the river valley of the Dordogne, in an old stone cottage on the edge of a beautiful village, three sisters long for the end of the war.

Hélène, the eldest, is trying her hardest to steer her family to safety, even as the Nazi occupation becomes more threatening.

Elise, the rebel, is determined to help the Resistance, whatever the cost.

And Florence, the dreamer, just yearns for a world where France is free.

Then, one dark night, the Allies come knocking for help. And Hélène knows that she cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. But secrets from their own mysterious past threaten to unravel everything they hold most dear…

The first in an epic new series from the No.1 Sunday Times bestseller, Daughters of War is a stunning tale of sisters, secrets and bravery in the darkness of war-torn France…

My Review of Daughters of War

War is raging as three sisters live through it in very different ways.

From the very first moment Dinah Jefferies wastes no time in plunging her readers right into the heart of the action so that Daughters of War captivates them immediately. The Second World War may be a well known era for historical fiction but Dinah Jefferies imbues it with a freshness and excitement that is superb to read and I adored this book.

The plot of Daughters of War simply zips along with the drama and ordinary daily life under Nazi occupation perfectly balanced so that this is a really fast paced, impossible to put down, narrative. What Dinah Jefferies does so well is to show her readers the brutality of war and its effect on the individual in a realistic way that is never simply gratuitous, so that the impact is felt all the more keenly. With beautiful writing, especially through descriptions of nature, to counteract man’s inhumanity to man, this means that there’s depth and maturity that gives Daughters of War a wonderful richness. Reading the book is a very visual experience and I could picture it all as if I were watching a film because the detail is so evocative.

The three daughters of the title Hélène, Elise and Florence are so credibly depicted as real, warm, vibrant people who transcend mere characters that now I’ve finished reading Daughters of War, I find them slipping into my thoughts as I wonder how they are after the events of the novel. Their very different personalities shine through the writing and Dinah Jefferies made me care about them completely. I desperately wanted a happy ending for them all, but you need to read the book to see if my wishes were granted. Similarly, the men in the book feel totally believable making for a very satisfying read. What I found particularly skilful in the writing was the way the girls’ mother Claudette influenced their lives even though she was physically absent from the story.

Obviously war is a major theme in Daughters of War, and I learnt new aspects that I hadn’t known about before which added to my enjoyment of the book. However, it is relationships, family, bravery, trust and betrayal, loyalty, love in many forms, and sheer human resilience that combine into a wonderful, maturely observed and eloquently presented narrative. I can honestly say that I lost myself in the story. It felt weird to look up and find I wasn’t actually in France with Hélène, Elise and Florence et al.

I think Daughters of War is the complete package and not to be missed. I thought it was excellent.

About Dinah Jefferies

Dinah Jefferies began her career with The Separation, followed by the number 1 Sunday Times and Richard and Judy bestseller, The Tea-Planter’s Wife. Born in Malaysia, she moved to England at the age of nine. As a teenager she missed the heat of Malaysia, which left her with a kind of restlessness that led to quite an unusual life. She studied fashion design, went to live in Tuscany where she worked as an au-pair for an Italian countess, and there was even a time when Dinah lived with a rock band in a ‘hippie’ commune in Suffolk. In 1985, the death of her fourteen-year-old son changed everything and she now draws on the experience of loss in her writing. She started writing novels in her sixties and sets her books abroad, aiming to infuse love, loss and danger with the extremely seductive beauty of her locations.

You can follow Dinah Jefferies on Twitter @DinahJefferies and visit her web site. You’ll also find Dinah on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Get ready for @bay_tales Live 2022

Earlier this year it was a privilege to be part of one of Bay Tales‘ fantastic online events, giving a book review of The Last Bear by Hannah Gold. You can see what I had to say here.  I also have a written review on Linda’s Book Bag here. Bay Tales co-ordinators Simon Bewick and Vic Watson have been bringing all manner of exciting virtual events since lockdown last year and you’ll find details of what’s been happening on the Bay Tales website.

Now, however, Bay Tales are going live with their first ever ‘in real life’ event and I’m delighted to bring you details:

Bay Tales LIVE 2022

Tickets are now on sale for one-day crime fiction event in the heart of Vera country. The team behind Virtual Noir at the Bar have released tickets for their first physical event – in their hometown of Whitley Bay, North Tyneside.

Bay Tales Live, a one-day crime fiction festival for readers and writers, will be held at Whitley Bay Playhouse on Saturday, 12 Feb 2022 and will feature some of the most successful UK crime writers, as well as introducing audience members to the brightest rising stars of 2022. Featured authors have had their books optioned by BBC, ITV and Netflix.

Simon and Vic

Keen to continue their habit of hosting the biggest names in crime fiction alongside new writers, Vic Watson and Simon Bewick – shortlisted for FutureBook’s Event of the Year last year – have collaborated with some of the UK’s biggest publishers to put together a programme of six panels featuring award-winning authors like Louise Candlish and Vaseem Khan as well as successful local authors Ann Cleeves and Trevor Wood.

And, just like their virtual shows, the pair couldn’t resist throwing a wildcard into the mix: inviting Dr Richard Shepherd, forensic pathologist and author of the Sunday Times bestseller Unnatural Causes, to speak at the event.

“This event is perfect for both readers and writers of crime fiction, with a little forensic pathology thrown in for good measure,” said Vic Watson who, prior to the pandemic, had been responsible for events in Newcastle and Harrogate. “The events I’ve hosted in the past, whether online or in real life, have always given audience members to connect with the featured writers. Bay Tales Live may be in a more formal setting but there will still be opportunities for people to meet the writers and get their books signed as well as to ask questions towards the end of each panel.”

After bringing hundreds of authors and readers together during the pandemic, Vic Watson and Simon Bewick would like them to connect in their hometown which also happens to be the setting for ITV’s smash hit TV show, Vera.

Local author Ann Cleeves, author of the Vera and Shetland series said: “I can’t wait to meet fellow readers and writers in Whitley Bay in February. I know it’ll be a brilliant day.”

Whitley Bay, a seaside town ten miles east of Newcastle, has seen significant investment and regeneration in recent years and the Bay Tales team are keen to raise the town’s profile by enticing crime fiction fans with a reasonably-priced day pass, leaving guests with plenty of money to spend while in the town.

Simon Bewick, who edited the NHS charity fund raising crime fiction anthology featuring Virtual Noir at the Bar authors, Noir from the Bar said: “We want to make this event truly affordable for everyone. At £30 for a full day festival featuring six panels and over twenty authors, we believe it’s the best value of its kind around.”

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I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds an absolute cracker of an event and brilliant value for money. I’m hoping I’ll be able to pack up the motorhome and head there myself on Saturday 12th February 2022.

More information regarding the full line-up and where to buy tickets can be found on the Bay Tales website.

You can also follow Bay Tales on Twitter @bay_tales and find them on Facebook and Instagram.

An Interview with Scott Lothian, Author of Deep Waters

It’s an absolute pleasure to welcome Scott Lothian to Linda’s Book Bag today. You see, Scott and I have been in touch with one another for almost three years but have never quite got our timing right! Today, however, we finally get the chance to stay in with one another to chat about Scott’s books.

Staying in with Scott Lothian

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

 Thank you for the opportunity, Linda. I am looking forward to our chat.

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

Today I brought my second novel, Deep Waters, which was published on August 2nd—the 76th anniversary of the heroic rescue of the surviving crew members of the USS Indianapolis. This is a story of a man’s life—from farm town quarterback to a crew member of the Indianapolis and on— and how he deals with a life not totally under his control. Deep Waters is very much a historical slice-of-life mystery—a combination of historical fiction with a good karma versus evil karma storyline that threads throughout and leads to the mystery-thriller ending. I am a Clinical Pharmacist by trade and I try to write character-centric stories incorporating history while using both to drive plot twists and turns.

Deep Waters sounds exactly my kind of read. I love character driven narratives. So, what can we expect from an evening in with Deep Waters?  

The reader should expect to find well-developed characters that they will love to love and some they may love to hate. Both of my books are filled with historical references related to the places and the times in each chapter, though I would not call them true historical fiction. Deep Waters is, in many ways, a hybrid novel of historical fiction with an odyssey-like life arc and a mystery-thriller ending. I believe this review sums it up well.

“Good Read – Interesting storyline with lots of twists! Great historical contexts – learned a lot. Very thrilling ending.” -5-stars (ChicagoShopper) 

You must be thrilled with that response. Deep Waters is appealing to me more and more as I also love books that don’t easily fit a genre. But tell me more about the characters. 

In Deep Waters, you get to know Jack (or Butch), a high school sophomore who is the varsity football quarterback and dating the head cheerleader, Candy. Life is good if he can avoid pissing off his father or getting beat up by his older brother. Then something happens that changes his life and he is forced to make his first big decision. I am very much a writer who holds to the contract of promise resolution, so any of Jack’s life decisions that may be second-guessed by the reader could have a different reality in the end.

Oo. Intriguing! And what about the timescale for Deep Waters?

The book takes place from 1945 through 2007 for reasons the reader will understand as they follow the story. The prologue starts in 2007 with the torture of a shipmate and friend of Jack’s, Chester, in an effort to find the rumored second atomic bomb on the Indianapolis and ends as two Knights Templar ships sail in opposite directions in the early morning hours of October 13, 1307. These two threads are the karma stories that twist around Jack’s odyssey and come together to create the “atomic” ending.

That’s some hook! What inspired you to write Deep Waters?

I was inspired to write this book by the story of the Indianapolis, amazed that this heroic story went mostly untold for decades. I thought about a “what if” scenario: what would the life of one of these men be like having survived this terrible tragedy and what if there was more to the story.

I pictured the life of a man who went through the tragedy of the sinking of the Indianapolis—four days in the water attacked by sharks and worn down by hunger, thirst and the elements. What was his life like? What if his life was filled with tragedy, hardship and disappointment? How would he handle these setbacks and how would it shape him as a man? What if there were evolving good and evil strands twisting around his life story that he had no control over, but could prove to be his ultimate undoing? I then built people around him to support his life paths and decisions.

Fascinating. And are all your characters fictional or are there elements of people you know?

This book especially has characters from my life. Jack’s family is in homage to my Janesville cousins. Also, I like to have fun with the names I use in my writing and you will find this true throughout this book. The Gardener, Marino Danielson, is named after my favorite quarterback (Dan Marino – sorry Peyton and Drew, but you are tied for #2). Chester “Gerbil” Best is named after a fraternity brother’s nickname (Gerbil) and my oldest son’s hamster (Chester). And there are many other names where the reader might catch some hidden meaning. Most every name in the book has a story, though it certainly may not be the same as the character experiences in the book.

As a Brit I might need to do a bit of further research there! I did watch a bit of American football and baseball on TV when I worked in New York but I hadn’t a clue what was going on!

In addition, as I was writing, I found that there are at least four Billy Joel song titles in the story. This was totally organic, but I may eventually have a contest to see if someone can find them all.

Ah! Now Billy Joel I do know!

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

Well, if we are chatting in the morning, it would certainly be over coffee and cinnamon rolls, since cinnamon rolls play a role in the book.

My Britishness comes out again here Scott. It has to be tea for me, not coffee!

If it were in the early evening, it would be with a cold beer or wine and chips with guacamole and salsa with a bit of a kick. I would hope this would create a comfortable down-to-earth mood for us both to converse, but I believe my books pair well with any drink from iced tea to a Manhattan. 🙂

I love a cocktail! I’ve really enjoyed hearing about Deep Waters, but how did you become a writer?

It is impossible to tell you how I came to be a writer without mentioning my first novel—so here we go. I do not remember being interested in creative writing in school, but must have come by the gene in my adulthood. The idea for my first novel, Perfect Posture, came to me during a slow, mystic windshield-wiper-driven trance-like commute home from the city. Not to date it outright, but the first chapters were written on a 286 computer. However, the book would go untouched for over a decade due to my ever-pressing duties as a loving husband and a grateful, proud father to three boys. Later in life, looking for a hobby, I started writing a somewhat-annual Christmas letter. I know what you are thinking, but these were more a comic report on what had gone wrong with the year, told with imperfect pictures and mocking commentary—very Onion-like. You will find humor throughout both books—ever lurking, but never smirking. Encouraged by many friends and my middle son, I took up the book again and ended up with a 200,000-word first novel that no agent in their right mind would even consider reading—oh, well.

I imagine they’d thing 200,000 words might need a bit of editing to be commercial!

I decided I was not going to strip the story of character development and other details just to get it read. I set out to write a murder mystery that was not Pulp Fiction or an extreme techno-thriller that showed only one speed and read like a superconductor manual. Instead, I wanted a classic evenly paced story somewhere in between. I wanted the reader to feel as if they were getting to know the characters, to care for them or to hate them as their actions might dictate. I aimed to create a palpable good versus evil tension in the reader much like that effected by Erik Larson’s classic Devil in the White City. I wanted to show a less sterile, technical or hectic side of a police investigation—a M*A*S*H-like attitude that is more true-to-life for people under constant stress than many realize. I had what I wanted in Perfect Posture and the review below really helped me understand that I may have more than a hobby here—though I am still writing for the fun more than anything else.

“Suspenseful book with great twists!! – Excellent read — and this is the author’s first book! Great fiction with Chicago area references — perfect for Baby Boomer generation. If I had the time, I never would have put it down — I love mysteries, and this one was well written with much character development. Looking forward to the author’s second book!” 5-stars (AH) 

I wrote my first novel as a hobby—for fun—and never truly thought it would come together as it did. For Deep Waters, I felt as if I had to write this novel and am very happy with the end result. Deep Waters—dedicated to the crew of the Indianapolis—may fill in some history for Perfect Posture readers, but is a totally standalone read.

I love that passion for writing you describe Scott. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about both Deep Waters and Perfect Posture. They sound highly intriguing.

Thank you, Linda. This has been fun and I appreciate you taking the time to chat.

My pleasure. Now, you make us a cocktail and I’ll tell readers a bit more about Deep Waters and Perfect Posture:

Deep Waters

What is a man’s life?

What does a man have control over as his life unfolds before and behind him?

Life starts us out with endless possible paths, then narrows our choices from paths that are desired to those that are often forced upon us.

Follow Jack as his life evolves from a high school football quarterback in Janesville, a small town in Wisconsin, to a crew member of the USS Indianapolis—the ship that delivered the nuclear bomb that helped end World War II and then suffered the worst open ocean disaster in U.S. naval history.

Watch how his life is entangled in questions of a possible second bomb on the Indianapolis and whether it leads to the nuclear destruction of a beloved American city or helps to bring to light a 700-year secret known only to the descendants of a lone Knight Templar on a remote Japanese island.

Follow the decisions Jack makes to survive and the paths he then has available to him as they narrow and lead him toward becoming a man he does not know. Find out if he will choose the right paths to survive a life not under his control.

Deep Waters is available for purchase on Amazon.

Perfect Posture

Perfect Posture aims to create a palpable good versus evil tension in the reader much like that effected by Erik Larson’s classic Devil in the White City.

A dead girl, clutching a stuffed toy elephant covered in political buttons, is found posed on a luggage carousel at O’Hare Airport. Chicago, oblivious to the evil that has gripped the city for the past two months, believes they have discovered the first victim of the errantly named “Patriotic Killer.” Only Lieutenant Jonathan Dearfield knows the truth: He must solve this case before the unimaginable happens.

Perfect Posture takes readers inside the mind of a killer, while chronicling the lives of those committed to stopping the escalating carnage. This book is rich with Chicago area history, and filled with personalities and relationships—both dark and occasionally comical—that readers will grow to love or hate as they follow the non-stop action to a twisting catastrophic end.

Perfect Posture is available for purchase here.

About Scott Lothian

Scott Lothian is a clinical pharmacist and lives in the Chicagoland area with his family. He has practiced for over 40 years concentrating in solid organ transplant, oncology and pain management, but for the past decade has been on the clinical IT side of healthcare.

He has two published novels to date: Perfect Posture and Deep Waters. He writes character-centric stories incorporating history while using both to drive plot twists and turns. The reader will always find characters who they will love to love or love to hate as well as a mix of levity and interesting history as the book spins to its exciting conclusion.

For more information, follow Scott on Twitter @ScottLothianBks, and find him on Facebook and Goodreads.

Chatting to @teacherhugradio about funny and uplifting books

As most of you know, in the dim and distant past I used to work in education; first as an English teacher before becoming Head of Department in a large comprehensive school and then I went over to the dark side into inspection and consultancy. Consequently, I was absolutely thrilled to be asked to contribute to Teacher Hug Radio by lovely Rebecca Keen recently. We recorded a chat about books that I’ve found funny and uplifting which was broadcast over the weekend.

I’d definitely recommend looking at Teacher Hug Radio‘s website as it’s filled with all kinds of interesting things – not just aspects relevant to those in education.

I thought I’d also re-share a few details about the books I chose here on Linda’s Book Bag.

Telling Tales Out of School by Chris Lowe

Chronicling the tales he had collected throughout his career in education started as a lockdown pastime for Chris Lowe. The end result is Telling Tales Out of School: fifty tales to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Prince William School, Oundle. The Tales are all based on true events or stories told to Chris by fellow teachers: stories about growing up, about learning, teaching and coping together.

All proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to the James Rutterford Trust, which is targeted at families who need financial support to enable their children at PWS to take part in school activities, school trips, to provide equipment to aid their study or to support out-of-hours school activities.

Please visit tellingtales.bigcartel.com for more information about the project and to buy Telling Tales Out of School.

You’ll find my full review of Telling Tales Out of School here.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman has got his love life planned out. He knows exactly who he wants, but is it who he needs?

Love isn’t an exact science – but no one told Don Tillman.

A thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don’s never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner.

Enter Rosie – ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ – throwing Don’s safe, ordered life into chaos.

But what is this unsettling, alien emotion he’s feeling? . . .

I read The Rosie Project and the second book in the trilogy, The Rosie Effect, long before I started blogging and reviewing but you’ll find my review of the final part, The Rosie Result here.

The Rosie Project was published by Penguin in 2014 is available for purchase through the links here.

Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

Older and Wider was published by Quercus on 2nd July 2020 and is available for purchase through the links here.

You’ll find my full review of Older and Wider here.

Into the Tangled Bank by Lev Parikian

into the tangled bank

Lev Parikian is on a journey to discover the quirks, habits and foibles of how the British experience nature. Open a window, hear the birds calling and join him.

It’s often said that the British are a nation of nature lovers; but what does that really mean? For some it’s watching racer snakes chase iguanas on TV as David Attenborough narrates, a visit to the zoo to convene with the chimps; for others it’s a far-too-ambitious clamber up a mountain, the thrilling spectacle of a rare bird in flight.

Lev Parikian sets out to explore the many, and particular, ways that he, and we, experience the natural world beginning face down on the pavement outside his home, then moving outwards to garden, local patch, wildlife reserve, craggy coastline and as far afield as the dark hills of Skye. He visits the haunts of famous nature lovers reaching back to the likes of Charles Darwin, Etta Lemon, Gavin Maxwell, John Clare and Emma Turner to examine their insatiable curiosity and follow in their footsteps.

And everywhere he meets not only nature, but nature lovers of all varieties: ramblers, dog-walkers, photographers; loving couples, striding singles, families; kite-flyers, den-builders, grass-loungers; young whippersnappers, old codgers, middle-aged ne’er-do-wells; beginners, specialists, all-rounders; or just people out for a stroll in the sun.

Warm, humorous and full of telling detail, Into the Tangled Bank puts the idiosyncrasies of how we are in nature under the microscope. And in doing so, it reveals how our collective relationship with nature has changed over the centuries, what our actions mean for nature and what being a nature lover in Britain might mean today.

Into the Tangled Bank was published by Elliot and Thompson on 9th July 2020 and is available for purchase through these links.

You’ll find my full review of Into the Tangled Bank here. I was also lucky enough to ‘stay in’ with Lev to celebrate his book Music To Eat Cake By here.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? by Fran Hill

thumbnail_Miss_What Does Inc_Mean Final

A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill’s account of one typical year shows it’s not just the pupils who misbehave.

English teacher ‘Miss’ starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She’s mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching.

Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there’s a school magazine to produce …

When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn’t want to give them, life gets complicated.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is available for purchase in most large book shops, on Amazon in paperback and ebook and from the publisher directly.

You’ll find my full review of Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? here and an interview with Fran here. I understand Fran will be interviewed by Teacher Hug Radio very soon too so don’t miss that.

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I hope there’s something in the selection that you might enjoy. I found all these books brought some much needed joy and laughter to my world!

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club, my review of which you’ll find here, I was delighted to be asked to join the blog tour for Richard Osman’s second book in the series, The Man Who Died Twice. My thanks to Ellie Hudson at Penguin for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of The Man Who Died Twice in return for an honest review.

Published by Penguin imprint Viking on 16th September 2021, The Man Who Died Twice is available for purchase through these links.

The Man Who Died Twice

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can the Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

My Review of The Man Who Died Twice

The Thursday Murder Club team have a new case.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Richard Osman’s the Thursday Murder Club I was interested to see if I’d enjoy The Man Who Died Twice as much. I didn’t. I enjoyed it much, much more. In The Man Who Died Twice, characters and setting are established (although it doesn’t matter a bit if readers haven’t read the first book in the series) and feel both familiar and much loved. Richard Osman seems to have honed his narrative art, and I found The Man Who Died Twice more coherent, more engaging and brilliant fun.

Richard Osman has a keen eye for human observation and his varied sentence structure, his witty dialogue and his ability to stop his readers in their tracks with an emotional or humorous detail – almost in passing and often dealing with the prosaic – worked perfectly for me. I laughed aloud on several occasions and there were a couple of times when I shed a tear too. There’s a well-balanced visual aspect to the writing so that readers have sufficient detail to picture the scene without slowing the tempo of the story that enhances the reading experience.

Indeed, the plot absolutely romps along with a breathless pace and ridiculously clever storytelling. With Joyce’s first person accounts keeping the reader up to date, Elizabeth is often the driving force of the action, but ironically it is Ibrahim, who features less in this narrative than in the previous book, who is the catalyst for many events. Obviously I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but I found this aspect of The Man Who Died Twice a touching element. I absolutely love the fact that the majority of the people in The Man Who Died Twice are mature or old but that they are not patronised or stereotyped by the author. Rather, Richard Osman illustrates that life is what you make it regardless of years and that being of retirement age does not mean we need to retire form life and vitality.

I thought the title was inspired as it applies to more than one character in the book, but again, it’s so difficult to say why without spoilers. Themes too, are difficult to review without giving too much away so I’ll just say that woven into a hugely engaging story are some incredibly perceptive insights into morality, loyalty, friendship, love, relationships and family so that whilst being light hearted fun – in spite of all the murders – The Man Who Died Twice has smashing depth and provides the reader with food for thought.

I absolutely loved reading The Man Who Died Twice because it’s witty, tender and entertaining. Also, I’m off to knit a friendship bracelet as I’m really rather hoping I might bump in to Bogdan in person before too long!

About Richard Osman

Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter. Hid s first novel The Thursday Murder Club became an international best seller.  He is well known for TV shows including Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. As the creative director of Endemol UK, Richard has worked as an executive producer on numerous shows including Deal Or No Deal and 8 Out of 10 Cats. He is also a regular on panel and game shows such as Have I Got News For You, Would I Lie To You and Taskmaster.

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