Ever Rest by Roz Morris

The world was a very different place when I met Roz Morris for afternoon tea at a book launch in London almost two years ago. Today I am delighted to share my review of Roz’s latest book, Ever Rest. My enormous thanks to Roz for sending me a copy of Ever Rest in return for an honest review.

Published yesterday, 3rd June 2021, Ever Rest is available for purchase in all the usual places including here.

Ever Rest

Twenty years ago, Hugo and Ash were on top of the world. As the acclaimed rock band Ashbirds they were poised for superstardom. Then Ash went missing, lost in a mountaineering accident, and the lives of Hugo and everyone around him were changed forever. Irrepressible, infuriating, mesmerizing Ash left a hole they could never hope to fill.

Two decades on, Ash’s fiancée Elza is still struggling to move on, her private grief outshone by the glare of publicity. The loss of such a rock icon is a worldwide tragedy. Hugo is now a recluse in Nepal, shunning his old life. Robert, an ambitious session player, feels himself both blessed and cursed by his brief time with Ashbirds, unable to achieve recognition in his own right.

While the Ashbirds legend burns brighter than ever, Elza, Hugo and Robert are as stranded as if they were the ones lost in the ice. How far must they go to come back to life?

My Review of Ever Rest

The repercussions of Ash’s disappearance 20 years ago continue.

I had absolutely no idea what kind of book I was about to read when I picked up Ever Rest, but I hadn’t expected such an intense, beautifully crafted work of literary fiction. There’s a smooth sophistication to Roz Morris writing that makes for a really pleasurable read, especially when it’s coupled with natural dialogue and a variety of sentences where exposition and description are perfectly balanced. Ever Rest feels like a book of real quality. There’s a quietness somehow, that belies the intensity of emotion presented that I found quite mesmerising. Similarly, the description is frequently poetic but never self-conscious so that I had a truly striking image in my mind’s eye as I read.

There’s no fast paced thriller here, but rather an insightful understanding of character and the emotions we experience. I was fascinated by each of the characters, although I didn’t especially warm to any of them. This was because they are presented so vividly, flaws and all, so that the reader has a better understanding of them than the characters do of themselves. Roz Morris explores so deftly the way the past shapes our present, and how, like Ash, we can become frozen in the personas others impose upon us so that we lose sight of our true selves. I found Ever Rest a highly thought provoking read as a result. I found Ash’s presence so cleverly wrought. He’s been missing for years but is still the catalyst for the action here.
I loved Roz Morris’ authoritative presentation of the music world and the exploration of fame and its impact. From paparazzi to security, artistic endeavour to charitable fund raising, loyalty to betrayal, Ever Rest affords the reader a glimpse into an unfamiliar world and I finished the book feeling glad I have never been exposed to the pressures fame can bring. So many here compromise their lives because of the control and manipulation of others that Ever Rest is quite a disturbing book as well as an entertaining one.
I thought the title was inspired. There’s a convincing exploration of the risks and thrills of mountaineering with the need to provide Ashten with his ever, or eternal, rest. The things that happen to those who remain, or rest, behind, and the dominance of Everest the mountain itself, all swirl through this beautifully crafted book.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ever Rest. It’s sophisticated, written with sensitivity and aplomb and thought provoking too.

About Roz Morris

Roz Morris writes fiction and essays about unusual ways we can be haunted and how we seek people and places we belong with. Her work has been profiled by The Guardian, Literature Works, the Potomac Review, Rain Taxi and BBC Radio. Her novel Lifeform Three was longlisted for the World Fantasy Award.

Her fiction has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, although you won’t have seen her name on the covers – she began her career in secret, ghostwriting fiction for big-name authors.

Her own novels have been described as ‘profound tales and compelling page-turners’, with fine-honed language, unforgettable characters, and gripping, unusual storylines. Plaudits include a top-ranked title in the American Library Journal programme, a longlisting for an international award alongside Neil Gaiman and a finalist position in the People’s Book Prize 2017.

She is a writer, journalist, fiction editor and the author of the Nail Your Novel series for writers. She teaches creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper in London and is also the author of a series for writers – Nail Your Novel.

For more information, visit Roz’s website, follow her on Twitter @Roz_Morris and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Dead Ground by M. W. Craven

Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers will know just how much I enjoy M.W. Craven’s writing. Consequently, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Dead Ground, the fourth book in the Washington Poe series from lovely Beth Wright at Little Brown in return for an honest review.

When I say that the first two of M. W. Craven’s books in the series were on my books of the year list (here) in 2019 and the third a book of the year in 2020, you’ll understand how delighted I am to share my review of Dead Ground today.  You can read my review of The Puppet Show here, of Black Summer here and of The Curator here.

Published by Little Brown imprint Constable on 3rd June 2021, Dead Ground is available for purchase through these links.

Dead Ground

Detective Sergeant Washington Poe is in court, fighting eviction from his beloved and isolated croft, when he is summoned to a backstreet brothel in Carlisle where a man has been beaten to death with a baseball bat. Poe is confused – he hunts serial killers and this appears to be a straightforward murder-by-pimp – but his attendance was requested personally, by the kind of people who prefer to remain in the shadows.

As Poe and the socially awkward programmer Tilly Bradshaw delve deeper into the case, they are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions: despite being heavily vetted for a high-profile job, why does nothing in the victim’s background check out? Why was a small ornament left at the murder scene – and why did someone on the investigation team steal it? And what is the connection to a flawlessly executed bank heist three years earlier, a heist where nothing was taken . . .

My Review of Dead Ground

Poe’s in trouble again.

Now, I rarely read a book series because I have so many books awaiting my attention that I don’t want to be tied in to one author. However, not only do I make an exception for M.W. Craven, I think I’d probably walk over hot coals to get my hands on his latest book. This time, Dead Ground, the latest in the Washington Poe series, convinces me that Craven is one of the most brilliant story tellers around. Dead Ground is an absolute corker.

Dead Ground opens with a dramatic, if seemingly unconnected scene to the ensuing narrative, that ensnares the reader from the very first moment. As Tilly and Poe find themselves involved in an unconventional murder, the threads of the story interweave in a thrilling and dynamic manner that makes me wonder just how devious this author’s own mind really is. I found Dead Ground plunged me into a world of conspiracies, drama and events that I found convincing, disturbing and utterly mesmerising. As usual with M.W. Craven, short, fast paced chapters with tantalising cliff hangers imbued with humour, drama and some deliberate obfuscation mean that it is impossible not to read on. Obviously I can’t say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling the read for others, but it is breakneck and exciting.

The relationship between Poe and Tilly is pitch perfect for those who’ve read the whole series, settling into familiar patterns, but M.W. Craven ensures anyone coming to the series afresh can understand and appreciate it easily because of the throw away asides to new or returning characters. This is such skilled writing. What I always find unsettling is the world Tilly inhabits. She makes me question my own online habits so that whilst reading Dead Ground is glorious entertainment, it does raise questions for the reader about their own behaviour too, making it educational as well as thrilling.

Beware if you pick up a book by M.W. Craven. Your life will no longer belong to you. He will hold you spellbound until you’ve read every brilliantly crafted word. He is, without question, one of the most captivating crime writers around and Dead Ground is a fantastic addition to the Washington Poe Tilly Bradshaw series. I thought it was fabulous.

About M.W. Craven

mike craven

M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle, returning after 31 years to take up a probation officer position in Whitehaven, eventually working his way up to chief officer grade. Sixteen years later he took the plunge, accepted redundancy and became a full-time author. He now has entirely different motivations for trying to get inside the minds of criminals. His first novel featuring Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, The Puppet Show, was published by Constable to huge acclaim, and won the 2019 CWA Gold Dagger Award.

M. W. Craven lives in Carlisle with his wife, Joanne. When he isn’t out with his springer spaniel, or talking nonsense in the pub, he can usually be found at punk gigs and writing festivals up and down the country.

You can follow M.W. Craven on Twitter @MWCravenUK and visit his website for more information or find him on Facebook and Instagram.

The Getaway by Isabelle Broom

My enormous thanks to the lovely Isabelle Broom for sending me a much desired proof of her latest novel The Getaway in return for an honest review. Regular Linda’s Book Bag readers know just how much I adore Isabelle’s writing and I’m thrilled to share my review of The Getaway today. I was thrilled to interview Isabelle for the Deepings Literary Festival Easter offer back in April too.

Isabelle Broom has featured here on the blog so many tome and you can find the following posts:

I ‘stayed in’ with Isabelle here to celebrate Hello, Again and I reviewed the book here

I have interviewed Isabelle more fully here.

I’ve also reviewed Isabelle’s book One Winter Morning hereMy Map of You hereA Year and a Day here and The Place We Met here. One Thousand Stars and You is still looking at me from the shelf above my head!

Published by Hodder and Stoughton on 10th June 2021, The Getaway is available for purchase through the links here.

The Getaway

Most people travel to Croatia for its endless sunshine, pebbly beaches and crystal clear sea.

Kate goes there to disappear.

She needs to escape from a life that has fallen apart in spectacular and public fashion, and no one on the beautiful island of Hvar knows who she is or what she’s running away from.

Until she meets another lonely soul.

Alex is different to any man Kate has ever known, yet the connection between them is undeniable. She soon begins to open up in ways she never has before – not even to herself. But Kate is not the only person in Hvar hiding secrets. And, as she is about to discover, it is always only a matter of time before the truth catches up with you . . .

My Review of The Getaway

Kate’s life is a mess.

It’s no exaggeration to say I inhaled The Getaway greedily, putting life on hold until I had savoured every word. I adored it and could simply not tear myself away. The Getaway has everything for the most wonderful immersive, escapist read. Certainly it fits its genre to perfection and I was expecting romance and a positive resolution, but Isabelle Broom writes with such grace and beauty that there is an added dimension of enjoyment that is so satisfying. Her descriptions of places are perfect. Having been to Hvar I recognised some of the settings because they are so vividly and accurately described. Reading The Getaway is a true feast for the senses with everything from the sound of cicadas, to the sight of salt crystals on eyelashes, so that it feels like being plunged into the most idyllic world.

Aside from the accurate and evocative descriptions, however, there are wonderful, rounded characters who garner strong reactions in the reader. With a relatively small cast, I felt I got to know the people of The Getaway intimately, especially Kate and Alex, to the extent that their experiences, emotions and actions felt as convincing to me as if they were my own. I can’t imagine any reader not recognising at least one of Kate’s traits, desires or hurts and empathising with them. As an aside, I loved too the fact that she wears glasses. So few heroines are presented this way so that she felt all the more tangible to me.

As might be expected, from Isabelle Broom, relationships form the backbone of the plot, with familial, romantic and business partnerships presented fully. I adored watching the relationship between Kate and Alex unfold because not only was it romantic, it felt utterly believable. At one point I thought I was going to have to climb into The Getaway and perform a somewhat unpleasant physical action upon James!

However, wonderful settings, fabulous, entertaining, romantic plot and vivid characters aside, The Getaway is so much more. It’s difficult to say much about themes without spoiling the story, but The Getaway illustrates how we are affected by others, how our lives are what we make of them, how we cannot expect others to define us and how we shouldn’t just accept it when they do. Isabelle Broom explores identity, secrets, self-confidence and mental health in a subtle, clever and sensitively constructed manner so that not only did I want to hold and comfort her characters, I felt the need to give the author a hug too. The Getaway thrums with humanity and understanding in a manner I found extremely affecting.

I’ve thought hard about how to sum up The Getaway but it is, quite simply, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. I loved The Getaway unreservedly and it’s one of my favourite reads this year. Don’t miss it.

About Isabelle Broom

isabelle broom

Isabelle Broom was born in Cambridge nine days before the 1980s began and studied Media Arts in London before a 12-year stint at Heat magazine. Always happiest when she is off on an adventure, Isabelle now travels all over the world seeking out settings for her escapist fiction novels, as well as making the annual pilgrimage to her second home – the Greek island of Zakynthos. Currently based in Suffolk, where she shares a cottage with her dogs, Max and Julius, and approximately 467 spiders, Isabelle fits her writing around a busy freelance career and tries her best not to be crushed to oblivion under her ever-growing pile of to-be-read books.

For more information, visit Isabelle’s website. You can also follow her on Twitter @Isabelle_Broom or Instagram and find her on Facebook.

Staying in with Bentley Turner

Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day so that I could read all the books that I’m offered. Sadly that isn’t possible, but at least today I can stay in with Bentley Turner to chat about one of his books. Let’s find out more:

Staying in with Bentley Turner

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Bentley. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought The File on Thomas Marks.  The reason I’ve chosen it is because it is the first mystery I’ve written that has been accepted for publications.  It will be published in June by the Global Publishing Group.

How exciting. Congratulations. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The File on Thomas Marks?

The File on Thomas Marks is a mystery about a young, intelligent man who is somewhat naïve about those who work in law enforcement or simply has too much confidence in the legal system, or both, because he becomes the leading suspect in the murders of two women, even though he claims he’s innocent.  The question is, is he guilty?

That sounds like a very intriguing question indeed!

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

Sometimes readers are interested in how a writer came up with the idea for the story or novel they’ve read.  At least, this has been my experience.  So, I thought I’d say something about how the idea for The File on Thomas Marks came to me.

Great idea. What happened?

Actually, several years ago I had tried writing a lengthy short story that featured two detectives who investigated two murders.  This was my first story about detectives.  Yet, over the years I had read numerous mysteries―short stories and novels―that featured detectives, but I had never tried writing a story about detectives.  At the time, primarily because I enjoyed the characters in the story so much, I wondered why I had not tried writing about detectives sooner.  Although the short story was entirely different from The File on Thomas Marks, it caused me to try writing a full-length mystery about two detectives investigating at least two or three murders.  I should mention that I enjoyed writing a plot filled with twists and turns, too, which I found out was not necessarily that easy to do―at least, not initially.  Eventually, the process came easier as more “What if . . .?” questions came to me.  Hopefully, readers who buy the mystery will enjoy it.

I think they will Bentley! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The File on Thomas Marks

The File on Thomas Marks

In this suspenseful thriller, Thomas Marks, a young, intelligent man, admits to being with two women just before they were murdered.  Though detectives don’t believe him, he claims to be innocent.

The only problem is none of the evidence corroborates his story nor confirms the guilt of anyone else.

When another suspect surfaces, Thomas thinks he’s in the clear, but appearances can’t always be trusted.

Will an arrest stick?

Find out in this mystery mayhem of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end.

The File on Thomas Marks is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo and Nook.

About Bentley Turner

Bentley Turner, a pseudonym, has written several short stories and numerous poems that have been published in literary journals and anthologies. Under his legal name he has written several articles for academic journals, numerous chapters for scholarly books, numerous entries for encyclopedias and other reference books, and several books of nonfiction published by academic and reference publishers.

The Bliss Myths: A Guest Post Tony J Forder, Author of The Autumn Tree

It’s a real thrill to welcome Tony J Forder back to Linda’s Book Bag with a fabulous guest post about his protagonist DI Bliss in celebration of the latest thriller The Autumn Tree. The Autumn Tree is part of a series but I have found all the books work brilliantly as stand alone reads too.

Tony has featured on the blog many, many times and you’ll find the other posts as follows:

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.

Published on 24th May 2021, The Autumn Tree is available for purchase here.

The Autumn Tree

DI Bliss returns in another stunning crime thriller.

After a young woman is found strangled to death, Bliss is called to the scene. When he learns that one of his business cards was found among the victim’s clothing, and he is told what was written on the back of it, Bliss is immediately troubled. The card was one of five he handed out to trafficked young women he and his team had previously rescued from a shipping container.

When he sees the victim, Bliss realises she was not one of those saved that day. So whose card does she have? Any why? And is it connected to her murder?

The murder investigation proves to be more complex and challenging than the team could possibly have imagined. But just as they think they have it figured out, they learn that depravity has no boundaries…

When dark desires have no limitations, anything is fair game.

***

THE BLISS MYTHS

A Guest Post by Tony J Forder

With my ninth DI Jimmy Bliss book now available, I thought it was time to look at some of the things that have been written about him over the past few years. Much of it may well be true, but are there also some myths in need of dispelling? I believe there are, which is what I hope to do here.

Bliss’s Baggage

Many people are under the impression that Bliss entered the fray in book one already weighed down by tons of baggage and only adding to that burden as the book unwound. In my view that entirely depends on what you consider to be ‘baggage’, and I believe it somewhat misrepresents the character. As the author, I look at Jimmy and see a man who had a wonderful childhood in an unbroken home, who followed his father’s footsteps into the police force and still does a job he cannot bear to be away from. I see a man who met, dated and married a woman who understood him and his commitment to the job, and whom he would undoubtedly still be with had she not been murdered. To me, that loss is his only piece of genuine baggage, because he doesn’t even consider his health problem to be a burden. His loneliness and general negative outlook stem from that one terrible incident that took his soul mate away. The rest of it is life… something we all have to negotiate.

Bliss’s Bosses

There are two things you have to understand about Jimmy Bliss when it comes to the more senior officers: first, he has no time for the politically ambitious types who have little experience out on the streets; and second, he is willing to like those who prove likeable and respect those who earn it. If you think about it, while he loathed his Superintendent in the first book, he got on well with the Chief Super. When he returned to the city, he traded verbal blows with his DCI, but had a decent relationship with his Det Supt. As time moved on, even he and his DCI at the time arrived at a place of mutual understanding and respect. So yes, he is a cussed sod at times, and he does not suffer fools easily. Occasionally he’ll consider an instruction to be more of a suggestion, a rule something pliable to be bent. But at his core he gives people a fair shake and is not afraid to hold his hands up when he gets it wrong.

Bliss’s Roving Eye

I’ve had a few complaints about Bliss being a sexist, especially in the wake of the first book. I usually consider most criticisms, but this one I dismiss out of hand. It’s a complete no brainer. To me, this is a perfect example of the way language has been twisted and manipulated to suit a specific point of view, and I simply won’t have it. It’s a modern day malaise, and I find it lazy and infuriating. Yes, Jimmy has a roving eye. Yes, if he spots an attractive women he won’t immediately turn his gaze away, and yes he does admire a shapely calf or two. But for him to actually be a sexist, if we take the true meaning of the word, he would have to objectify women, he would have to demonstrate prejudice or actually discriminate against women on the basis of their sex, and this is patently not the case with Bliss. His best friend right from the word go is Penny Chandler, his female DC. He treats her with respect, as an equal, and yes during their banter he might make the odd remark, but the very first page of the first book has Chandler accusing him of being willing to jump the bones of an unearthed skeleton, yet absolutely nobody has ever complained about that. Sadly, we live in an age in which the mere act of admiring a woman’s physical attributes can lead to a man being accused of being a sexist, when in fact the word is simply being terribly misused and abused by some seeking to signal their virtue. Also, it seldom – if ever – works the other way around.

Bliss Colouring Outside The Lines

There are a few people who believe the police service – no longer a force, we must remember – and everyone in it operates within the rules of PACE at all times, that they are lean, mean, robotic machines adhering to the rules and going about their daily lives putting law and order ahead of justice at every turn. In this same world, coppers live perfectly normal family lives, partake only occasionally of the odd libation, don’t gamble, play away from home, or accidentally ever trip an unruly suspect down the stairs. In short, they are idealistic but not overly realistic.

So let’s get real, shall we? I don’t doubt that some uniforms and detectives meet these parameters, but are they necessarily the majority? Because to err is to be human. We humans have strengths and weaknesses, we occasionally succumb to temptation, sometimes we are less moral than we might prefer, we get things wrong and make bad decisions. And many have no problem at all with the ends justifying the means.

Some readers and even the odd writer look down their noses at lead characters whose lives have gone off the rails. They consistently sell the idealistic notion of policing, often suggesting that the alternative is a rough mixture of The Sweeney and Life on Mars TV shows. The truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in the middle. But they know best, you see, because they have authenticity in the shape of police insiders to guide them. Their outlook fails to appreciate the fact that many of us do, even if we sometimes choose to liberally dust our work with fiction.

I can’t deny it… Jimmy Bliss does colour outside the lines at times. But he’s no maverick, speeding around town in a souped-up Ford, leaping over bonnets, punching every villain who oozes across his path, and neither does he wave around a smoking Uzi in each hand. He’s just a hard-working DI who knows his own mind, is able to think for himself, and has a sense of justice that at times manages to overlook the odd protocol or procedure in favour of banging up ‘chummy’. He’s an old dog who really doesn’t want to learn new tricks, because the ones he’s used to have served him so well. Oh, and I should perhaps also mention that he’s fictional, a character in a work of fiction that looks to entertain as well as inform. Bliss may not always adhere to every line of PACE, but he takes each situation as it comes and reacts accordingly. That one isn’t mythical, and it’s also just fine with me.

***

That’s wonderful Tony. Thank you so much for providing us with such a brilliant insight into Bliss. I agree – he’s a true individual – even if he is a fictional character!

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 now continues with, The Autumn Tree, released on 24 May 2021.

Tony’s other series – two action-adventure novels featuring Mike Lynch – comprises both Scream Blue Murder, and Cold Winter Sun. These books were republished in April 2021.

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, released in November 2020.

Tony lives with his wife in Peterborough, UK, and is now a full-time author. He is currently working on the first book of an intended new crime series, whose working title is The Huntsmen.

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.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Fiona Cane on A Song Unsung Publication Day

I love being in at the start of a brand new book, especially when it is by an author I should have featured here more frequently than I have, so it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome back Fiona Cane to the blog today to tell us all about her new book. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. In addition, you can be part of the book’s journey as there’s a very special UK giveaway too. Read on for more details!

Last time Fiona was here she was writing about the impact of Haiti for her book The Other Side of the Mountain, in a post you will find here.

Staying in with Fiona Crane

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag Fiona. It’s lovely to have you here.

Hello Linda, and thank you very much for inviting me. I’ve been looking forward to this evening hugely.

Which of your books have you brought along this evening and why have you brought it?

I have brought along my latest book A Song Unsung because, today, I am celebrating its publication day.

Oo. Happy publication day Fiona! So what can we expect from an evening in with A Song Unsung?

A Song Unsung is a coming-of-age story about an impressionable teenage girl who falls under the spell of a beautiful singer with a mysterious past. It is set against the bohemian backdrop of Soho’s jazz basements and coffee shops of the late fifties, and a Sussex village during the long hot summer of 1976, so we can expect a wonderfully nostalgic evening.

I remember that summer so well. Tell me more…

1959 was a wonderful year to be young. The streets of Soho buzzed with the sound of jazz and Rock and Roll played in late-night sweaty basements, where beatniks danced with bare foot girls until the early hours. By day, teenagers with money to spare hung out in coffee shops, sitting at sticky Formica tables, drinking cappuccinos as the latest hits blared out of the jukeboxes. And in the French, and the Coach and Horses, painters, boxers and actors, mixed with writers, musicians and prostitutes.  There were delis, charcuteries, Algerian coffee stores, Italian, Greek, Indian, Chinese, German and French restaurants. The air was thick with the fug of cigarette smoke, and the notorious gangs, which controlled the gambling and protection rackets, prowled the streets.

That sounds wonderfully evocative. 

1976, on the other hand, will be forever remembered for its seemingly endless summer. It was swelteringly hot, the mercury hitting ninety day after day. Lawns cracked, tarmac melted on the roads, plants withered in the parched fields and flowerbeds and, with fewer aphids to feed on, there was a plague of ladybirds, who feasted on human sweat to stay alive. With no rain for forty-five days, the country was running out of water. The government’s advice was to bathe with a friend, put a brick in the cistern, let wilting flowers die, and cars go dirty. People queued at standpipes. The land was parched and, with the rivers and reservoirs drying up, water had become a precious commodity, more valuable than gold.

It certainly was! What else have you brought along and why have you brought it.

It’ll come as no surprise to you that I drove here on my Vespa, wearing, as you can see, my tank top, flares and platform shoes (and probably a little too much blue eyeshadow), armed with a bag of goodies.

It was quite a vision actually Fiona!

But before I tell you what they are, I’ll just pop on the extremely mellow A Song Unsung Soundtrack – Spotify to get us in the mood.

That’s perfect.

Martha Palmer, one of the central characters, is a waitress at a coffee shop owned by Giovanni Fiori, an exuberant Italian who sees life through a prism of Italian proverbs. It would have been remiss of me, therefore, not to have brought along a cappuccino – although I doubt mine reaches his exacting standards – and a Negroni, Giovanni’s favourite cocktail. I have also brought Bo Rivers’ trumpet, because it is such a beautiful object and, when played by a skilled jazz musician, the most exhilarating instrument to listen to. I toyed with the idea of bringing a Space Hopper (too big), and a Starsky and Hutch dvd (bit anti-social), but in the ended I opted for The Best of Jackie, hilariously sub-titled, The best thing for girls – next to boys. It’s Song’s central character Natasha James’ bible, and a gloriously nostalgic shrine to my teenage years. Linda, you can expect a really good laugh when we flick through it.

I think I might remember that edition from my youth Fiona… I certainly remember my Space Hopper! It’s been wonderful staying in with you this evening to hear about A Song Unsung and to relive my teenage years of 1976. Thanks so much for staying in with me.

Thank you for a fabulous evening and, as Giovanni might say, eat well, laugh often, love much. 

I will!

A Song Unsung

Set against the bohemian backdrop of Soho’s jazz basements and coffee shops of the late fifties, and a Sussex village during the long hot summer of 1976, A Song Unsung is a coming-of-age story about an impressionable teenage girl who falls under the spell of a beautiful singer with a mysterious past.

‘Powerful, evocative with such a big heart. Once I started I couldn’t put it down.’ Dreda Say Mitchell.

Soho 1958. Martha Palmer, an aspiring singer working in a coffee shop, is desperately short of cash. She’s been scouted by a photographer. The money’s good. But there’s a catch …

Sussex 1976. Nothing much happens in teenager Natasha James’ life. Her mother has taken to her bed and her father, the local doctor, is preoccupied with his patients. But when the magnetic Martha Palmer moves into her village, Natasha is drawn into a glittery world of extravagant parties, steeped in the embroidered rhythms of jazz.

But who is the mysterious Martha Palmer? And why is she the keeper of so many secrets? Desperate to fill in the gaps of Martha’s past, Natasha uncovers a heart-breaking love story, the truth of which threatens to destroy all that she holds dear.

A Song Unsung is published today, 27th May 2021, and is available for purchase here.

A Song Unsung UK Paperback Giveaway

Lovely Fiona has offered a paperback copy of A Song Unsung for a lucky Linda’s Book Bag reader. The giveaway is open to UK postcodes and I’ll need the winner’s address for Fiona to send the book, but details won’t be retained beyond that! For your chance to win, click here. Giveaway ends at UK midnight on Thursday 3rd June.

About Fiona Cane

Independent author, Fiona Cane, graduated from Exeter University with a degree in Philosophy. She worked in London in film PR, before moving back to Sussex where, as a married mother of two, she divided her time between coaching tennis and writing books.

To date, she has published two mysteries, Killing Fame, and The Gatethe psychological thriller, When the Dove Cried – and the critically acclaimed literary thriller, The Other Side of the Mountain.

You can follow Fiona on Twitter @FiBee49, find her on Facebook and visit her website.

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The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain

Having adored Jo Spain’s Six Wicked Reasons which I reviewed here, I was thrilled to receive a copy of Jo’s latest book The Perfect Lie from Milly Reid at Quercus in return for an honest review.

Published by Quercus on 13th May 2021, The Perfect Lie is available for purchase through these links.

The Perfect Lie

He jumped to his death in front of witnesses. Now his wife is charged with murder.

Five years ago, Erin Kennedy moved to New York following a family tragedy. She now lives happily with her detective husband in the scenic seaside town of Newport, Long Island. When Erin answers the door to Danny’s police colleagues one morning, it’s the start of an ordinary day. But behind her, Danny walks to the window of their fourth-floor apartment and jumps to his death.

Eighteen months later, Erin is in court, charged with her husband’s murder. Over that year and a half, Erin has learned things about Danny she could never have imagined. She thought he was perfect. She thought their life was perfect.

But it was all built on the perfect lie.

My Review of The Perfect Lie

Erin’s life is about to change.

What an absolute treat of an author Jo Spain is. I absolutely loved The Perfect Lie because I had no idea how it would be resolved and it captivated me from the very first word to the final full stop. The quality of plotting is magnificent. After a very dramatic opening there are unexpected moments that make for such an exciting and bewitching book that I simply couldn’t tear myself away from The Perfect Lie. It was one of those reads where I was pondering it all the time I wasn’t actually reading it. The different timescales weave together smoothly and convincingly and it’s an absolute masterclass as Jo Spain creates a kind of narrative DNA helix of twisting and exciting events. Initially I had no idea how the threads would come together and to say more would spoil the story for others but The Perfect Lie is a corker of a story.

The characters are deftly defined and Jo Spain explores magnificently the manner in which we all hide part of our essential selves to ensure the reader is never entirely sure whom to believe or trust. I loved the way that Danny is the catalyst for action so that whilst he isn’t present directly, he drives the story forward. Erin’s first person account is so clever because there’s a permanent frisson of intrigue and danger about her story that really elevated my pulse as I read. Erin is a flawed character, being occasionally reckless, stubborn and always slightly an outsider – from her family and her place in American society – so that I found her gripping and convincing.

Not only is The Perfect Lie hugely entertaining but the themes that weave throughout the story give it an added dimension that makes it feel fresh and maturely presented. Identity is key and Jo Spain explores how we present ourselves to others, and indeed to ourselves, with absolute precision. I found this aspect fascinating. Add in themes of corruption at so many levels, family and relationships, professionalism, grief, trust and healing and The Perfect Lie resounds with aspects with which any reader can find resonance in their own lives.

Jo Spain is a brilliant writer and The Perfect Lie is an equally brilliant book. I loved it.

About Jo Spain

jo spain

Jo Spain is a full-time writer and screenwriter. Her first novel, With Our Blessing, was one of seven books shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition and her first psychological thriller, The Confession, was a number one bestseller in Ireland. Jo co-wrote the ground-breaking RTE television series Taken Down, which first broadcast in Ireland in 2018. She’s now working on multiple European television projects. Jo lives in Dublin with her husband and their four young children.

You can follow Jo on Twitter @SpainJoanne, and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

My Love Life and Other Disasters by Josa Keyes

When I first began blogging in 2015, Josa Keyes, writing under the name of Josa Young, was one of the very first authors I posted about. Then I was reviewing Josa’s Sail Upon the Land in a post you can read here.  (My apologies to Josa for the quality of that early post – thankfully the blog has evolved since then!)

Today I’m not only reviewing Josa’s new poetry collection My Love Life & Other Disasters, but Josa has kindly provided a poem not included in that book for you to enjoy.

My Love Life & Other Disasters will be published on June 1st and is available for pre-order here.

My Love Life & Other Disasters

Written before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the poems explore the strangeness of isolation, complex variations of grief, the idiosyncrasies of modern dating, and other snapshots of life, both funny and sad. Some poems have been published previously in the Telegraph, the Amorist magazine, and for poetry projects relating to the pandemic. Josa Keyes performs her poetry regularly.

My Review of My Love Life & Other Disasters

A volume of personal poetry.

There’s an almost brutal intensity to My Love Life & Other Disasters that impacts the reader like a blow as Josa Keyes lays bare her hopes, her grief and her frailties. At the risk of being sexist I think this is a collection those identifying as female will appreciate the most as the poet explores identity, the female shape and the loneliness of rejection.

So many themes swirl through My Love Life & Other Disasters that here is resonance and familiarity for any reader to appreciate. The desire to be loved, either by a partner or a parent, the fear and anger at cancer, the small moments of personal triumph, exploration of the prosaic from rancid house smells to the more esoteric like Wyatt’s poetry all add strata that mean this collection gives up more to the reader the more frequently it is read. I found, too, that reading the poems aloud gave them an even greater vibrancy and sense of emotion.

Very few poems in My Love Life & Other Disasters are written in conventional rhyme and I thought the free verse illustrated Josa Keyes’ feeling of being adrift and cut loose by illness, age and grief so effectively. I loved too her use of natural imagery and nods to literary and artistic history such as In the British Museum, as well as her allusions to modernity with references to Tinder perhaps, or the soda bread making craze of the recent pandemic. I found that this wide ranging approach provided a wry humour to counterbalance the more emotional writing that considers divorce, violence and loneliness. The Loneliest Fetishist is a masterclass, for example, in providing an entire narrative in two pages of verse that would translate into a brilliant short play for television.

My Love Life & Other Disasters certainly reads as a rather poignant biography of the poet’s own life, but at the same time it provokes memories and links in the reader’s own mind so that reading this collection is a very personal experience. I think My Love Life & Other Disasters will be entirely different for each individual and that is just wonderful. Read it for yourself to discover what I mean!

***

An Exclusive Poem from Josa Keyes

Mistletoe villanelle

Clark kissed Beth beneath the mistletoe
It seemed the start of something wonderful
But all their joy was transformed into woe

Beth couldn’t do enough to spoil her beau
But over her adoring eyes Clark pulled the wool
At Christmas they’d kissed beneath the mistletoe

On Tinder Clark posed as single, met Trish and Joe
He wasn’t all that fussy about whom he pulled
He wasted Beth’s money on cocaine, booze and blow

Mistletoe is a parasite I’ll have you know
It takes hold of its host and drinks until it’s full
Why do we kiss beneath the leeching mistletoe?

It’s unfair to say we reap exactly what we sow
But all our dreams are glass so be careful
That they don’t smash and tumble into woe

Beware of parasites, they have a certain glow
Irresistible to born romantics on the pull
Take care that when you kiss beneath the mistletoe
Those lips are true and romance doesn’t curdle into woe.

About Josa Keyes

Josa Keyes (formerly Young) is a journalist, novelist, poet and content designer living in London. She has held senior editorial positions at Vogue and the Times, and other glossies and broadsheets. Her first novel, One Apple Tasted, was published by Elliot & Thompson in 2009. Her second, Sail Upon the Land, was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Award in 2015.

My Love Life & Other Disasters is her first poetry collection.

With a BA from Cambridge, she took her Master’s in Creative Writing at Brunel in 2019, supervised by Bernardine Evaristo. She achieved distinction and won the Arts & Humanities Faculty dissertation prize. She has been performing her poetry regularly in London since 2016.

For further information, follow Josa on Instagram and Twitter @JosaKeyes or visit her website.

Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin

My enormous thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Emmet and Me by Sara Gethin and to publishers Honno for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that (rather inadequate) review today.

Published by Honno on 20th May 2021, Emmet and Me is available for purchase here.

Emmet and Me

Summer 1966: When her father comes home with lipstick on his collar, ten-year-old Claire’s life is turned upside down. Her furious mother leaves the family and heads to London, and Claire and her brothers are packed off to Ireland, to their reclusive grandmother at her tiny cottage on the beautifully bleak coast of Connemara. A misfit among her new classmates, Claire finds it hard to make friends until she happens across a boy her own age from the school next door. He lives at the local orphanage, a notoriously harsh place. Amidst half-truths, lies and haunting family secrets, Claire forms a forbidden friendship with Emmet – a bond that will change both their lives forever.

My Review of Emmet and Me

Claire’s life is about to change.

I have absolutely no idea how I am going to write a coherent review of Sara Gethin’s Emmet and Me because I lack the vocabulary to convey its power, its beauty and its importance. I found it completely outstanding.

Sara Gethin’s eloquent writing is enormously affecting. The reality of the world around Claire that she doesn’t fully comprehend is all the more realistic, more horrifying and more entrancing for the reader because we view it through Claire’s eyes. Sara Gethin manages to convert her adult meaning through a totally convincing child’s point of view in Claire’s first person narrative so that I felt I was as close to Claire as any of the characters in the the book become.

And what characters the others are too, driving the narrative of Emmet and Me in a way that is emotionally mesmerising and completely heart-breaking. Each person is perfectly depicted, generating an overwhelming sensation and feeling of connection in the reader. Claire’s Grandma is especially complex, relatable and believable, her taciturn nature masking suffering that is so realistically portrayed. I loved Emmet unreservedly and his life and story broke my heart, not least because it is predicated on real experiences. Oh my goodness, Emmet is powerfully wrought so that I’ll be thinking about him for years to come. I was desperately affected by the gradual uncovering of his personality and his circumstance and in fact had to stop reading at one point to regain my composure because Sara Gethin conveys him so brutally and so tenderly that I was quite undone by her words. I loathed some of the minor characters and wished I could have climbed into the book to treat them as they were treating others. Indeed, Emmet and Me brought out terrifyingly strong feelings of malevolence and violence, as well as love, in me. This is an incredibly powerful book.

Equally, Claire’s family dynamics, their experiences and the outcomes of their actions, and of the actions of those around them, will resonate with me for a very long time. In Emmet and Me Sara Gethin explores what makes us who we are, how our early lives shape and affect us years later and how our love, our relationships, our fears, our guilt and our loyalties can be manipulated and changed in ways far beyond our control. Emmet and Me isn’t just wonderful, wonderful story-telling, it’s a love song to humanity, a cry aloud for the oppressed and the shunned, and an insight into a world many of us will, thankfully, never experience.

I’m aware that I haven’t really reviewed Emmet and Me in any coherent way. I don’t want to spoil the narrative for others by saying too much about the plot based on half-truths and rumour, leading into a stark clarity that stuns, for fear of spoiling the read for others. What I can say is that Emmet and Me is one of the most moving, most profound and most memorable book I’ve ever read. It’s going straight on my books of the year list. Emmet and Me is exceptional, so shout it from the roof tops. I’m going to tell everyone I know to read it immediately.

About Sara Gethin

Sara Gethin grew up in Llanelli. She has a degree in Religion and Ethics in Western Thought and worked as a primary school teacher in Carmarthenshire and Berkshire. Writing as Wendy White, she has had four children’s books published, and the first of these won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014. Her debut novel, Not Thomas, was shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize and The Waverton Good Read Award. While west Wales is still home, Sara spends much of her time in Ireland. Emmet and Me is her second novel for adults.

For more information, visit Sara’s website and blog,  find her on Facebook and Instagram and follow her on Twitter @SGethinWriter.

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Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination by Tara Pontier

Now, I’m trying not to accept too much new material for Linda’s Book Bag at the moment, but when I heard that Tara Pontier, author of Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination children’s book is only six herself I couldn’t resist featuring it. My enormous thanks to Tara’s Mum Ciara for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Published on 10th April 2021, Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination is available for purchase here and from Little Book Writer.

Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination

This book was written by a six year old girl called Tara.

One day she asked her Mum if she could write a book. She began by narrating a story, then drawing pictures and writing. Using her imagination, she tells a story of a fantasy day in the life of a dream princess.

This book is written in simple English that is easy to understand and read. Includes a mini workbook with decoratively framed pages to inspire all the little writers out there, so that the child can write, draw and narrate their own story at the end. It is ideal for children who are learning to read and would have an interest in creating their own stories.

Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination will help encourage parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers to unlock the powerful imagination of a child. You can be amazed by the wonderful stories they come up with. It should be a beautiful memory to cherish. The idea of the book is that it can be a keepsake to treasure. Hopefully it can ignite a spark for writing and narrating within children. Enjoy the experience and keep the memory safe in this little book.

Stay tuned for more in the series of Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination!

My Review of Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination

Who can resist a book written by a six year old? Not me!

Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination is a lovely story for young children. The clear, accessible and large font with a perfect balance of white space against vibrant pictures means that Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination can be enjoyed by early readers independently, as well as with adults sharing the story with them.

The story itself is perfect for young children, told as it is by Tara Pontier’s six year old voice, so that friends, racing together, having dinner and a picnic and eating chocolate cake, are all elements that children can recognise, making them part of the story telling experience too. The one day time frame works brilliantly as Princess Tara wakes up, goes to school, plays with her friends and goes back to bed because it is well within the experience of the target audience. I think children will love these recognisable elements that can then act as a catalyst for their own writing.

However, there’s more to Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination than a simple story. Great thought has gone into the encouragement of a child’s imagination. After enjoying Princess Tara’s adventures with her friends, children have the opportunity to be creative in the second half of the book which is dedicated to prettily bordered blank and lined pages where children can write their own stories and draw their own illustrations. This means that Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination can become part of a child’s history and a family keepsake to enjoy for years to come – possibly being shared with a child’s own children in the future.

As well as developing literacy, through the simple sentences using the connective ‘and’ which models early writing, there’s opportunity for numeracy too, perhaps counting the beautiful butterflies that adorn the page corners. I think in another story it would be even better to have some children of different ethnicities in the images too so that Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination is completely inclusive.

Princess Tara’s Amazing Imagination is a smashing concept, an accessible story and a real catalyst for creativity. I thought it was great.

About Tara Pontier

Tara Pontier is 6 years old. She decided to write a book one day and so it began! She narrates and illustrates her own stories and writes them down in her journal. It is a wonderful use of imagination, hence the name of the book. This is her first book of many more to come. Stay tuned for more Princess Tara and her Amazing Imagination books!

I was so amazed by my daughters imagination that I was compelled to encourage other parents to get their children drawing and narrating. If they are at the age where they can write, it is a wonderful thing to encourage. 

– Tara’s Mum, Ciara.

This book is inspiring young children to unlock the powers of their own imagination and also to help parents encourage drawing, narrating and writing.

A child’s imagination is a beautiful discovery and this book is a sentimental keepsake for parents and children to enjoy together. Let’s harness that creativity!

There’s more about Tara, her books and other activities on the website LittleBookWriter, Facebook and Instagram.