Imperfect Beginnings by Viv Fogel

My huge thanks to  Isabelle of Fly on the Wall for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Imperfect Beginnings by Viv Fogel. It’s a pleasure to share my review of Imperfect Beginnings today.

Published by Fly on the Wall on 28th February 2023, Imperfect Beginnings is available for purchase here.

Imperfect Beginnings

Imperfect Beginnings lays its poems out to rest on uncertain terrain. Visa paperwork deadlines hang in the air. New-borns, torn too early from their mother’s breast, learn to adapt to harsh guardianship.

Belonging and exile are mirrored in the stories of having to leave one’s birthmother―or motherland.

From narrative poems such as ‘My Father Sold Cigarettes To The Nazis’, Fogel takes us on a journey throughout history, spanning ancestry, wartime, adoption and peacetime, as life settles. Family, work, love and the natural world provide purpose, meaning and a sense of coming ‘home’.

My Review of Imperfect Beginnings

A collection of poems in five sections.

I’m going to be completely honest and say that I found Imperfect Beginnings challenging because it is filled with poetry of harshness and difficulty. I thought this poetry was impressive and brilliant because I found Viv Fogel’s writing searing and emotive, frequently uncomfortable and always powerful, so that she forced me to consider the world anew in an unsettling manner. 

Imperfect Beginnings is a collection about home, whether that’s a physical place that requires maintenance, or an emotion knowing something ‘will do’, a homeland, or a person long forgotten and re-encountered. There’s real depth here as Viv Fogel considers difficult subjects like belonging, birth, death, isolation, poverty and relationships, and the physical fracturing on the page of many of her lines echoes to perfection the fracturing of life she’s writing about. I found this collection very affecting in content, theme and appearance. 

The opening piece to part II, for example, is just four short lines long and stopped me in my tracks completely. If only Putin could read Viv Fogel’s words… Similarly, I’d never truly considered the word remember before. To re-member, to piece back together, to reconstruct our memories, our past and our identity. Viv Fogel gave me reason to pause and consider. Reading her poetry made me take time out from the relentless rush of life and encouraged me to reflect on my own life even whilst I was being given a privileged glimpse into hers. 

Imperfect Beginnings is challenging. It opens wounds and feels simultaneously both intimate and global in its concept. However, above all else I found this collection uplifting because in spite of the negative experiences and concepts Viv Fogel explores, there is hope  – as embodied in the final three lines of the book. But you’ll need to get your own copy to find out what I mean and I really recommend that you do. Read Imperfect Beginnings and you won’t remain unchanged.

About Viv Fogel

Viv Fogel’s poems have been published in various magazines and anthologies since the mid-70’s. She has a collection Without Question 2006 and two pamphlets (Witness 2013 and How it is … 2018) Her poems and her work are influenced by having been adopted by refugee Holocaust survivors. London based, once an art teacher, involved with community, social housing and education projects, and since the mid-80’s has worked as a psychotherapist.

She is a grandmother to 3 dual-heritage grandchildren.

For more information, visit Viv’s website. and follow her on Twitter @VivWynant.

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Cover Reveal: This Child of Mine by Emma-Claire Wilson

It’s always exciting being in at the start of a brand new book and I’m delighted to help launch into the world This Child of Mine by Emma-Claire Wilson. My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part. Let’s find out all about the book:

This Child of Mine

When Stephanie is told she’s pregnant and that she is sick on the same day, she faces an impossible choice…

After trying for a baby for so long, finding out I was pregnant was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. But in the same breath as the news I had been waiting years to hear, the doctor told me I was seriously ill.

If I carry my baby to term, I will almost certainly die.

If I proceed with treatment, my baby will not live.

My husband – the father of this child – is telling me to save myself. But with all the secrets I know he is keeping from me, I can’t trust him anymore.

What would you do?

An emotional yet uplifting tear-jerker that will have you reaching for the tissues – perfect for fans of Emma Robinson and Jodi Picoult.


My goodness This Child of Mine sounds an absolute heart-breaker. I have no idea what I’d do, but I think I’m going to have to read This Child of Mine to find out what happens in the story.

This Child of Mine will be published by Avon on 3rd August 2023 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US and through the publisher links here.

About Emma-Claire Wilson

Born in Scotland, Emma-Claire travelled the world as the child of military parents. After almost 20 years in Spain, she returned to the UK with her husband, two daughters, and rescue dog, Pip. Emma-Claire worked as a journalist for English language magazines and newspapers in Spain and in 2015 launched The Glass House Online Magazine. When not writing emotional fiction, you can find her dreaming up new book ideas or wrapped in a blanket with a book in her hand.

For more information, follow Emma-Claire on Twitter @ECWilsonWriter and on Instagram or find her on Facebook.

The Mother by T.M. Logan

Having become a big fan of T.M. Logan’s writing I’m extremely grateful to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for his latest thriller The Mother. I’m delighted to share my review of The Mother today. You’ll also find my review of The Curfew here.

Published by Bonnier imprint Zaffre on 2nd March 2023, The Mother is available for purchase in all the usual places including here.

The Mother

Framed for murder. Now she’s free . . .

A woman attends a funeral, standing in the shadows and watching in agony as her sons grieve. But she is unable to comfort them – or reveal her secret.

A decade earlier, Heather gets her children ready for bed and awaits the return of her husband Liam, little realising that this is the last night they will spend together as a family. Because tomorrow she will be accused of Liam’s murder.

Ten years ago Heather lost everything. Now she will stop at nothing to clear her name – and to get her children back . . .

My Review of The Mother

Heather is newly released from prison.

My goodness I enjoyed this perfectly crafted thriller, not least because T.M. Logan has an eye for detail that adds just enough description to bring alive his scenes without slowing pace and theme at all. The episodic nature of the plot means that The Mother would translate brilliantly into another superb television series. Indeed, I think this narrative is T.M. Logan at his best. 

One of the aspects of The Mother that I found most affecting was the way T.M. Logan illustrated how society judges by appearance, or continues to condemn those who find themselves facing adversity without knowing the full details. This prejudicial aspect lends a thought-provoking element that made me feel quite sad, even as I was enjoying the fast pace and the excitement of the plot.

And what a plot it is. It’s one of those stories that’s very difficult to review without spoilers but the narrative made my blood boil. I loathe unfairness and corruption and with so much of The Mother revolving around these two concepts, reading the story infuriated me, engaging me completely and making me totally invested in the outcomes. There’s a rapid pace that alternates between 2013 and 2023 that ensures the reader is drip fed information and is frequently wrong footed and caught up in the story, elevating their heart rate in the process. I had no idea what would happen and all the theories I developed were proven wrong through the excellent story-telling. 

In addition, I think one of the aspects that made The Mother so exciting for me, and such a gripping read, was the fact that Heather’s relentless pursuit of the truth goes so far beyond anything I’d dare attempt, that I was fascinated by her and her actions. I completely forgot that she’s a fictional character and was desperate for her to get justice. There’s quite a limited cast too with much of the action revolving around Heather, Jodie, Owen and Amy and this increases the tension and provides a sense of claustrophobia. 

I thought The Mother was excellent, finding it gripping, absorbing and exciting. I thoroughly appreciated the depth given to the narrative through the themes of justice and family and the way Heather is fiercely determined to uncover the truth of Liam’s murder – whatever the consequences. I recommend The Mother completely. It’s a super read.

About T.M. Logan

TM Logan’s thrillers have sold more than a million copies in the UK and been translated into 22 other languages for publication around the world.

His thriller, Trust Me, begins when a woman is asked to look after a stranger’s baby on a train – only for the mother to vanish. When she looks in the baby’s things, she finds a note that says: ‘Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone.’

The Curfew, coming March 2022, follows the events of a hot midsummer’s night, when five teenagers go up to the woods to celebrate the end of exams, and only four come out…

Tim’s thriller The Holiday was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback top ten. It has since won a Nielsen Bestseller Award and been made into a four-part TV drama with Jill Halfpenny for Channel 5. The Catch recently aired on Channel 5 too.

A former national newspaper journalist, Tim lives in Nottinghamshire with his family and writes in a cabin at the bottom of his garden.

For further information, exclusive writing, new releases and a FREE deleted scene from Tim, sign up to the Readers’ Club on his website. You can also follow him on Twitter @TMLoganAuthor, or find him on Facebook and on Instagram.

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This Could Be Everything by Eva Rice

My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for This Could Be Everything by Eva Rice. I’m delighted to share my review today.

Published by Simon and Schuster on 16th February 2023, This Could Be Everything is available for purchase through the links here.

This Could Be Everything

From the author of modern classic The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets comes a feel-good novel about hope, love and the powerful bond between sisters. 

It’s 1990. The Happy Mondays are in the charts, a 15-year-old called Kate Moss is on the cover of the Face magazine, and Julia Roberts wears thigh-boots for the poster for a new movie called Pretty Woman.

February Kingdom is nineteen years old when she is knocked sideways by family tragedy. Then one evening in May she finds an escaped canary in her kitchen and it sparks a glimmer of hope in her. With the help of the bird called Yellow, Feb starts to feel her way out of her own private darkness, just as her aunt embarks on a passionate and all-consuming affair with a married American drama teacher.

This Could Be Everything is a coming-of-age story with its roots under the pavements of a pre-Richard Curtis-era Notting Hill that has all but vanished. It’s about what happens when you start looking after something more important than you, and the hope a yellow bird can bring…

My Review of This Could Be Everything

There’s a yellow canary in February Kingdom’s kitchen!

This Could Be Everything is utterly charming, tenderly written and a maelstrom of emotions played out through February’s story and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the first person approach as it enabled the reader to see right inside February’s mind and witness her grief, her fears, her anger, her love, her jealousy, her hope – all her emotions – so vividly. The plot is measured and well paced to match the gradual emergence of February from her agoraphobia arising from her grief. There’s a fascinating metamorphosis that I found so affecting making me love February completely. It took me a while to warm to February, but Eva Rice’s skilful writing made me a snivelling, weeping wreck by the end of her journey. That’s not to say that this is a navel gazing morose story. Indeed, there are flashes of brilliant humour that I adored too.

Eva Rice plunges her readers into an absolutely authentic era in This Could Be Everything. Through cultural references, fashion and, especially, music, she provides so much that will resonate with those reading February’s story. I confess this aspect of the narrative made me feel quite old as I realised I was more Ann and Robert’s age at the time! However, it’s not just the brilliantly researched cultural elements that packs a punch here. Rather, societal attitudes are subtly and effectively explored so that my heart went out to Robert and Plato in particular. Eva Rice explores the concept that we are not necessarily what we seem. I loved the names of the characters. The irony is that Diana is named after the huntress, but it is February who is hunting for her place in the world and a self-understanding that takes time to happen. Similarly I loved the fact that Plato had a physical presence akin to the philosopher’s supposed size, but better still, his throw away lines are imbued with real philosophy and meaning. That said, it was Theo who held me so captivated. He’s flawed, a catalyst for change, fiercely loyal – including to himself – and as a result I thought he was wonderful.

It’s actually quite difficult to review This Could be Everything without spoiling the link between February and other readers. The effect of the novel, of Yellow’s role, of the lyrics scattered through the text, of the slight mysticism, is to enhance the reader’s own sense of self so profoundly and I think This Could Be Everything will feel very different to each reader. I found myself reassessing my own approach to life and how I might behave in the future. My own version of ‘everything’ seems to have changed. Maybe, as a result of reading This Could Be Everything, I might find pieces of blue eggshell around me too, but you’ll have to read the novel to see if it has the same impact on you. I recommend that you do because whilst This Could Be Everything is billed as a coming-of-age story, there’s no limit on what that age might be!

About Eva Rice

Eva Rice has written 5 novels and is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets– a post-war coming-of-age story that was runner-up in the 2006 Richard and Judy Book of the Year. It is currently being developed by Fudge Park (creators of The Inbetweeners) and Moonage Pictures (Pursuit of Love) as a major new TV series.

Eva has toured with bands since her early twenties. She has written the music and lyrics for Harriet a musical based on an early Jilly Cooper novel due to open in 2023. She has a geek-like fascination with pop music, and her party trick is recalling chart positions.
Follow her on Twitter @EvaRiceAuthor.

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Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime by Steve Smallman

Now, I didn’t intend to review Steve Smallman’s Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime today, but it arrived in surprise book post yesterday from Morgan, one of the lovely team at Sweet Cherry Publishing and as I had just finished another book I thought I’d have a quick look. Before I knew it I’d read and enjoyed Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime and so I’m sharing my review immediately (though I haven’t had chance to make my own slime yet!).

Published by Sweet Cherry Publishing on 17th February 2023, Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime is available for purchase here.

Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime

Maggie Sparks does NOT want to go to a new school!

Especially not one with mean students and a teacher she is sure is a VAMPIRE.

But Maggie has no choice. When their school gets closed down, she and Arthur are forced to go to Peregrine Primary. Thankfully, Maggie’s a super powerful, super smart, super talented witch. Maggie plans to use her powers to get out of going to the nightmare new school – one way or another.

All she needs is a little magic …

About the Maggie Sparks series:

Step into the magical world of Maggie Sparks: the mischievous little witch who turns every day into an adventure. Join Maggie as she learns how to tackle school, make friends and most confusing of all: understand her emotions – when she’s not facing dragons and meeting aliens, that is! Perfect to bridge the gap between Isadora Moon and Amelia Fang for young readers aged 5+.

My Review of Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime

Subsidence means a new school for Maggie.

Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime is a smashing book aimed at 5-7 year olds. It’s filled with super illustrations from Esther Hernando that help bring the story to life, and support more reluctant readers, and has so much humour, especially involving spells gone wrong and with jokes about bottoms that children will love it. The images give lots of opportunity for parents and teachers to discuss what’s happening with children and for young readers to make predictions and to examine expressions as a means to see how someone is feeling.

It’s always a joy when a children’s book includes a range of ethnicity and I loved the fact that Maggie is mixed race. A female black protagonist is just right for sharing with children either in the home or in other settings. I thought Arthur and Bat were brilliant too.

The plot zips along and is thoroughly relatable for children despite the unusual magic in Maggie’s family. There’s the experience of being in a new school, the practice of show and tell, as well as the way some children can be unkind to others, but here Steve Smallman explores such themes with wit and humour that allows for discussion and comfort. I’d love to see children writing their own stories like Maggie’s Spy Duns version and I thought the science of creating volcanic lava was just brilliant in giving status to the subject, as was Arthur’s love of his telescope. Themes of kindness, friendship and responsibility underpin the story making a lovely read for young children.

I thoroughly enjoyed Maggie Sparks and the School of Slime because it is fast paced, funny and imaginative whilst being rooted in day to day activities that children know. I also think the book is excellent value as it includes an automatic QR code for the audio just inside the front cover too. I rather wish I’d been at school with Maggie and Arthur!

About Steve Smallman

Steve Smallman has been illustrating children’s books for over 40 years and writing his own stories for slightly less. He also teaches illustration workshops in schools, including mural-painting. Steve is the author of Smelly Peter the Great Pea Eater, winner of the Sheffield Children’s Book Award 2009. When he’s not writing or drawing, Steve enjoys watching films and television, gardening, and walking in the countryside.

For more information, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveRT1, or visit his website.

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

My thanks to Olivia at Legend Press for inviting me to join the blog tour for Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger and for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.

Published by Legend Press on 28th February 2023, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six is available for purchase here.

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Three couples rent a luxury cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway to die for in this atmospheric and gripping locked-room thriller by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger.

What could be more restful, more restorative, than a weekend getaway with family and friends? Especially in an isolated luxury cabin in the woods, complete with spectacular views, a hot tub and a personal chef. The reviews are stellar.

But a deadly storm is brewing. The owner seems just a little too present. The chef reveals that the beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. And the guests have their own complicated pasts, with secrets that run blood deep. The perfect weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

My Review of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Mako has organised a trip away. 

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six is nasty. That is not a criticism, but an acknowledgement of the skilful way Lisa Unger delves into the potential darkness of the human psyche and finds it a very disturbing place indeed. There’s a malevolent tension from the very beginning that feels edgy and compelling. As the plot writhes along it makes your head spin just wondering how Henry’s story will link with that of Mako et al. I thought the plotting was really interesting and the ending was exciting and fitting. 

The locked room style setting of the luxury cabin in the woods is really well described, balancing the cabin’s perfection with an air of malevolence so that it’s a bit like watching a horror film. You know something awful will happen – with the pathetic fallacy of the storm, the isolation and the creepy story of what has happened here in the past lending a sense of supernatural and danger – but it still makes you jump metaphorically. 

There’s very much the sense of being careful what you wish for, of the balance between nature and nurture and how our past can have a terrible influence on our present. The psychological elements of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six are unsettling, unpleasant and uncomfortably enthralling. Lisa Unger explores genetics and the meaning of family in a way that makes the reader realise how little we ever really know another person. 

Other themes include entitlement, difference, mental health, and the Me Too movement in a textured narrative that is as thought provoking as it is entertaining so that Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six has a pleasing depth. 

I found the characters fascinating as, with the exception of Henry and Piper, I didn’t really warm to any of them, but Lisa Unger made me still want to understand them, to discover their secrets and to find out what happened. Indeed, I relished the consequences for the characters even though (or perhaps especially because) I didn’t like them. 

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six is one of those books that lingers after it is read. It makes the reader ponder humanity, how we are the product of our backgrounds and how we redefine and create ourselves. I enjoyed it.

About Lisa Unger

Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of twenty novels, including Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six, Last Girl Ghosted, and Confessions on the 7:45 — now in development at Netflix, starring Jessica Alba. With books published in thirty-three languages and millions of copies sold worldwide, she is regarded as a master of suspense.

Unger’s critically acclaimed novels have been featured on “Best Book” lists from the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, People, Amazon, Goodreads, L.A. Times, The Boston Globe, Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and many others. She has been nominated for, or won, numerous awards including the Strand Critics, Audie, Hammett, Macavity, ITW Thriller, and Goodreads Choice. In 2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honour held by only a few authors, including Agatha Christie. Her short fiction has been anthologized in The Best American Mystery and Suspense, and her non-fiction has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Travel + Leisure. Lisa is the current co-President of the International Thriller Writers organization. She lives on the west coast of Florida with her family.

For further information, visit Lisa’s website, or follow her on Twitter @lisaunger, Instagram and Facebook.

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The Only Child by Kayte Nunn

What an absolute pleasure to share details of my latest My Weekly online reviews. I hadn’t discovered Kayte Nunn’s writing before but I’m delighted to share details of my review of her latest book The Only Child.

Kayte has a short story in the magazine this week too so grab a copy!

Published by Orion in paperback on 16th February 2023, The Only Child is available for purchase through the links here.

The Only Child

1949 It is the coldest winter Orcades Island has ever known, when a pregnant sixteen-year-old arrives at Fairmile, a home for ‘fallen women’ run by the Catholic Church. She and her baby will disappear before the snow melts.

2013 Frankie Gray
 has come to the island for the summer, hoping for one last shot at reconnecting with her teenage daughter, Izzy, before starting a job as a deputy sheriff. They are staying with her mother, Diana, at The Fairmile Inn, soon to be a boutique hotel, but when an elderly nun is found dead in suspicious circumstances, and then a tiny skeleton is discovered in the grounds of the house, Frankie is desperate for answers.

At once an evocative, unsettling tale of past misdeeds and a crime thriller that will have you reading with your heart in your mouth, The Only Child is compulsively addictive storytelling from the bestselling author of The Botanist’s Daughter.

My Review of The Only Child

My full review of The Only Child can be found online on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The Only Child is a crime thriller, but even more it is a brilliant exploration of society, identity, history and morality that I thought was just wonderful.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Kayte Nunn

Kayte Nunn is the internationally bestselling author of seven novels including The Botanist’s Daughter (awarded the 2020 Winston Graham Award), The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant, The Silk House, The Last Reunion and The Only Child. Kayte’s novels are available worldwide in English, and have been translated into ten languages. Born in Singapore, raised in the US and the UK, she now lives in Northern NSW, Australia.

For further information, find Kayte on Instagram or visit her website. You’ll also find Kayte on Facebook.

A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

If you’re a regular visitor to Linda’s Book Bag then you’ll know I’m trying not to take on too much at the moment as life is rather busy. However, when I discovered Ethan Joella’s writing last year I simply had to participate in the blog tour for Ethan’s new book A Quiet Life. You see, A Little Hope (reviewed here) was one of my favourite reads in 2022 (see here) so I simply couldn’t resist. My enormous thanks to Fiona Brownlee for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for A Quiet Life. It’s a real pleasure to start off the tour with my review today.

Published by Muswell Press on 23rd February 2023, A Quiet Life is available for purchase here.

A Quiet Life

From the author of A Little Hopea Read with Jenna Bonus Pick – comes another “heartwarming, character-driven” (Booklist) life-affirming novel about three individuals whose lives intersect in unforeseen ways.

Set in a close-knit suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.

Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat – that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her belongings- her favourite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer–as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.

Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news – any piece of information – about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out.

After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface – and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.

In this beautiful and profoundly moving novel, three parallel narratives converge in poignant and unexpected ways, as each character bravely presses onward, trying to recover something they have lost.

My Review of A Quiet Life

Three ordinary people dealing with extra-ordinary feelings.

It’s hard to describe the emotional intensity of Ethan Joella’s writing that impacts the reader from the very first sentence. It feels a bit akin to the sensation experienced stepping from an icy air-conditioned plane onto the tarmac of a blisteringly hot tropical country. This writer has the ability to floor his readers emotionally with visceral impact. Needless to say, I adored A Quiet Life and I’m aware that the following review will not do justice to the book. 

If you’re looking for a fast paced thriller or a violent crime novel, read something else. If, however, you’re looking for a perfectly crafted, beautifully written, insight into human nature that gets to the soul of who we are and how we think and feel, then read A Quiet Life. Ethan Joella explores grief, guilt, loss, love, family, happiness and relationships with such elegance, such emotion and such insight, his words are almost too hard to bear at times. Certainly there is crime and mystery here, and there’s romance and friendship too, but the events are almost incidental. It’s the diving beneath the skin of the characters, of learning about Chuck, Ella and Kirsten, their hopes and fears, that makes A Quiet Life mesmerising. It’s impossible to set the book aside without thinking about the characters between its pages, worrying about them and wanting them to be happy. 

That said, there is still a wonderful plot as the lives of the characters intersect so that it’s impossible not to want to know what will happen to Chuck, Ella and Kirsten. Each is searching for something, whether that’s a missing child, a casual acquaintance, forgiveness or a meaningful relationship and as their stories progress they begin to find not only what they are looking for but to discover themselves, to redefine and establish their own identities and to come to terms with their own flaws and those of other people. Through his characters Ethan Joella affords his readers the opportunity to reflect on their own lives and I’d defy anyone reading A Quiet Life to remain unchanged by it. Reading this book made me deeply sad and equally uplifted. 

A Quiet Life is outstanding because Ethan Joella has the most exquisite eye for detail. His descriptions are subtle and yet convey the deepest of meanings so that just one word can evoke a seismic reaction and understanding, making the narrative profound, hopeful and utterly beautiful.

A Quiet Life is a book about kindness. It’s a book about who we are, how we think and feel, and about the lives of ordinary people who appear to be living quiet lives whilst all manner of things may be going on in the background. Thoroughly entertaining and engaging, the story gently shows the reader how to live a better, more fulfilled existence. A Quiet Life will break your heart but will mend it better than it was before. I adored A Quiet Life. I’m adding it to my list of favourite reads of 2023 and I’m off to be someone’s cardinal as a result! 

About Ethan Joella

Ethan Joella teaches English and psychology at the University of Delaware and leads community writing workshops. His work has appeared in River Teeth, The International Fiction Review, The MacGuffin, Delaware Beach Life, and Third Wednesday. Lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with his wife and two daughters.

You can follow Ethan on Twitter @JoellaWriting, find him on Instagram or visit his website. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Rivet Boy by Barbara Henderson

With life having been a little bit complicated of late, I’ve tried really hard not to take on new blog posts, but when Anne Glennie got in touch from Cranachan about Barbara Henderson’s latest children’s book, Rivet Boy, I simply couldn’t refuse. You see, Barbara is one of the most talented children’s writers of the modern era and I love her books. Consequently, it gives me enormous pleasure to participate in the blog tour for Rivet Boy by sharing a guest post from Barbara as well as my review.

Published by Cranachan’s imprint Pokey Hat on 16th February 2023, Rivet Boy is available for purchase here.

Just to prove how much I enjoy Barbara’s books you’ll find:

My Review of The Reluctant Rebel here.

My Review of The Chessmen Thief here.

My review of Fir For Luck here (also one of my books of the year in 2016).

A smashing guest post from Barbara about Fir For Luck publication day here.

Another super post from Barbara about why a book launch matters to celebrate Punch here.

A guest post from Barbara about nature and my review of Wilderness Wars here.

A guest post about novels and novellas and my review of Black Water here.

Rivet Boy

Based on real people and events, Rivet Boy blends fact and fiction to tell the story of one boy’s role in the building of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge―Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder―in 1889.

When 12-year-old John Nicol gets a job at the Forth Bridge construction site, he knows it’s dangerous. Four boys have already fallen from the bridge into the Forth below. But John has no choice―with his father gone, he must provide an income for his family―even if he is terrified of heights.

John finds comfort in the new Carnegie library, his friend Cora and his squirrel companion, Rusty. But when he is sent to work in Cain Murdoch’s Rivet Gang, John must find the courage to climb, to face his fears, and to stand up to his evil boss.

Finding Rusty

A Guest Post by Barbara Henderson

Every time I drew the curtains in my childhood home in Germany, I’d see the tower on top of the hill in the distance as my eyes glided over the thickly forested horizon. If I looked closer though, especially in the early mornings, there were squirrels in our garden, often taking over the bird feeder to the outrage of our resident robin. Streaks of rusty-red shot along fence tops and shook the branches as they jumped. I took those acrobatics for granted then.

Not any more!

I am lucky: where I live in the Highlands of Scotland, squirrels are still around – and we do get the red squirrels rather than grey. I hadn’t even seen a grey squirrel until I came to the UK as a student. Imagine my surprise when I was researching my latest book, Rivet Boy, and a squirrel made an appearance. I was researching the world of Victorian engineering – the construction site of the iconic Forth Bridge (now a world heritage site – ‘that red bridge’ in common parlance). It was a bamboozling world of rivets and cantilevers and struts and bays and lattices. Somewhere amid all the engineering jargon and tales of fatalities and grim Victoriana, there was a newspaper article: a squirrel had fallen from the bridge into the Forth below and been rescued by a passing patrol boat. Apparently, boats travelled continuously beneath the structure in case a worker was unlucky enough to fall (scores of men died in the construction), transporting men from one part of the site to another and retrieving equipment. I allowed that little image to unfurl in my imagination for a moment, before realising the incident happened after the time period when my book is set. While historical writers sometimes take liberties with timelines, I tend to try not to fly in the face of truth. Nevertheless, the squirrel on the bridge grew vivid in my mind. If a squirrel had scaled the bridge then… What if it was a regular occurrence? And as a children’s writer, I am always looking for ways to connect young readers with the hero or heroine of my story. What better way than giving my boy in the story a cute animal sidekick?

All the squirrels of my childhood bounded back into my mind’s eye. The way their eyes dart across the ground as they nibble and sniff. The way their tufty ears twitch forwards when interested, and backwards when aggressive.  The way the sunlight paints their reddish hue with gold.

The article did not mention whether the squirrel was a grey or a red.  Red squirrels were probably still dominant in that part of Scotland at the time (1888/89) so my mind was made up – I was having a red squirrel in Rivet Boy, to match the distinctive red bridge we all know and love. Sorted. All I needed was a name for it. Irritatingly, I could not settle on one. Rusty or Red were too predictable and boring, so I put a call out on social media: Help me name a Victorian red squirrel, I begged my friends, accompanying the post with a gif of a dancing squirrel. Suggestions rained in, but while I was entertained by many, I didn’t love any of them. Ironically, it was my non-writer husband who brought the breakthrough. ‘What would a child think of, Barbara? My first pet was a white hamster, and it was called Snowy. Don’t overthink it.’

He was right. Rusty it was, the very first name that had sprung to mind.

I’ll tell you a secret: there are some shortcuts in children’s writing. One of the most useful secret hacks is this: If you need a character to be lovable, then make someone else in the book love them – ideally someone less powerful like a smaller child or an animal. It sends the message that your character is trustworthy and kind. It’s a shortcut. In my book, the boy in question, like the squirrel, came straight out of a newspaper article. Apparently, 12-year-old John Nicol from Dunfermline fell from the bridge and was rescued, ‘sustaining no more than a wetting’. I decided that he was the one! A survivor is a good idea in a children’s book, believe you me. Even better if this boy spots an injured squirrel on the railway tracks and decides to rescue it. A bond develops and suffice to say that this is not the end of Rusty’s part in the story. Don’t children and animals often save the day in children’s fiction?

*taps nose*


And if all that has whetted your appetite, there’s a chance to attend an evening online launch for Rivet Boy on Saturday 4th March by clicking here.

My Review of Rivet Boy

John Nichol needs to support his family.

Whilst historically accurate and immersive, I think what is so fantastic about Rivet Boy is the way John’s circumstances are so relatable for many children in today’s society; the struggle to survive with mounting bills, single parent families working hard to keep everyone together and the need to grow up too quickly. As a result, Barbara Henderson seems to give voice to the disadvantaged of all eras, not just to John in the 1880s. Add in the Murdoch family bullying and John’s life has elements so many readers will find comfort in identifying with as they realise there are others who have similar lives. 

As always with a Barbara Henderson book, the story simply zips along embracing threat, peril, excitement and bravery, all set against a vivid historical background. I loved Cora’s feminism and the inclusion of famous characters like William Morris, Queen Victoria and Robert Lewis Stephenson, not just because they bring the story alive, but because they add interest and ideas for research outside the sheer pleasure of the narrative. There’s so much to spark the imagination, to use in a school or private project and to discover further, that Rivet Boy lasts long beyond the reading of the story. I loved the affection with which books, libraries and reading were woven through too.

However, it is the real life John who is such a wonderful character, embodying the power of an active and inquisitive mind despite his humble start in life. He shows how kindness brings reward, not least through his relationship with Rusty. Reading the Author’s Note to discover the background to Rivet Boy made it all the more affecting to have encountered John between the pages. 

Indeed, the blend of fact and fiction in Rivet Boy is yet another example of Barbara Henderson’s complete skill in bringing history to life. The pictures at the end of the book of some of those mentioned in the story are not to be missed because they show children how history is made and provide such scope for discussion and research.  

Rivet Boy is, as I had expected, quite wonderful. It’s written with brilliantly researched historical accuracy, but more than that, this exciting, engaging and affecting narrative is written with complete humanity. I loved it.

About Barbara Henderson

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.

Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition.

Follow Barbara on Twitter @scattyscribbler or Instagram for more information, and read her blog. You’ll also find her author page on Facebook.

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The Librarian by Salley Vickers

I’m lucky to belong to a brilliant U3A reading group that meets on the second Monday of the month and this month our book for discussion is The Librarian by Salley Vickers.

Published by Penguin, The Librarian is available for purchase through the links here.

The Librarian

In 1958, Sylvia Blackwell, fresh from one of the new post-war Library Schools, takes up a job as children’s librarian in a run down library in the market town of East Mole.

Her mission is to fire the enthusiasm of the children of East Mole for reading. But her love affair with the local married GP, and her befriending of his precious daughter, her neighbour’s son and her landlady’s neglected grandchild, ignite the prejudices of the town, threatening her job and the very existence of the library with dramatic consequences for them all.

The Librarian is a moving testament to the joy of reading and the power of books to change and inspire us all.

My Review of The Librarian

Sylvia has a new job.

Initially I wasn’t certain if I was going to enjoy The Librarian because at first it seemed quite lightweight and superficial. However, I was wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. There’s a wry wit in the writing style that looks right into the heart of who we are. There’s also a poetic quality to descriptions that I found vivid and clear.

Peppered with literary references The Librarian is an homage to the power and value of children’s books and reading, and I so enjoyed being reminded of stories I’ve loved over the years. The memories activated by reading The Library and the titles mentioned enhanced my pleasure in the book enormously.

However, scratch below the surface of The Librarian and there’s so much more to discover. Salley Vickers burrows beneath the thin veneer of civilisation and society to illustrate how little we know of our neighbours, our families and even ourselves. At the start I wasn’t especially enamoured of Sylvia, even though she is the pivotal character, as I found her actions frustrating and frequently foolhardy, but I thought the way she, often unwittingly, was the catalyst for action was inspired. By the end of the novel I was desperate to know what had happened to her. The twins added a humour I found appealed to me entirely, but it was Sam who held my attention most. He felt so vulnerable in his intelligence and morality, doing all the wrong things for the right reasons and having to live with the consequences. Through him there is a valuable lesson that life doesn’t play fairly and we can find ourselves in situations that have reverberating consequences for years to come. His experiences made me rage against their unfairness.

The small town setting of East Mole is a real microcosm of the world, where appearances and social hierarchies belie the truth. Several forms of prejudice are explored so that characters like Ned have to hide their sexuality and Salley Vickers conveys the late 1950s to perfection. The power of the WI, the church and those in (sometime spurious) authority is explored with incisive wit. Those who should know and behave better are frequently those who are most to blame. One of the central themes of The Librarian is a consideration of what constitutes moral behaviour. But even then Sally Vickers doesn’t allow clear cut assessment of her characters. I wanted to loathe Hugh for his treatment of Sylvia, Jeanette and Marigold, for example, and yet the author provided sufficient insight into his marriage, his personality and his love for his daughter that I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it.

I think The Librarian can be read on many levels. It’s a diverting story of provincial life but it’s also an insight into who we are and why we behave as we do. I enjoyed the plot in its own right, but since finishing it, I have been pondering The Librarian and realise there’s even more to discover should I have chance to read it again. The Librarian is my first Salley Vickers’ read. It won’t be the last!

About Salley Vickers

Born in Liverpool, novelist Salley Vickers was named, by her father, after W.B. Yeats’ poem ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’. Vickers worked, variously, as a cleaner, a dancer, an artist’s model, and a psychoanalyst before writing her first novel Miss Garnet’s Angel which became a word-of-mouth bestseller around the world. A writer of great sensitivity and ability to capture the human condition, Vickers was described by one reviewer as ‘a novelist in the great English tradition of moral seriousness’. Her novels include: Instances of the Number 3Mr Golightly’s HolidayThe Cleaner of Chartres and Cousins.

For further information, visit Salley’s website or follow her on Twitter @SalleyVickers.