Staying in with Caron McKinlay

It’s only fairly recently that I have ‘met’ Caron McKinlay online, but I’ve already discovered what a lovely person she is and I am thrilled to welcome her to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me all about her debut novel. Let’s find out what she had to say.

Staying in with Caron McKinlay

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Caron and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

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

Thank you for inviting me, I am so happy to join you, I’ve been following your social media posts and reviews for ages now.  They are always so brilliant, and I have found so many new authors through reading them. I have brought along my debut book The Storytellers.

That’s really lovely of you to say. I’m so glad you enjoy my reviews. So, tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with The Storytellers?

The Storytellers has been described as The Midnight Library meets Mhairi McFarlane and I am delighted with that vibe. Set in real life and the afterlife it has a speculative edge and a feminist thread. And it deals with the themes of grief, love, identity and esteem.

Crikey. That’s some elevator pitch. Tell me more.

So expect and evening of romance, humour and mystery. A few early readers said they laughed out loud at some points, and I hope we can find something to smile about too. All three women have different senses of humour so hopefully at least one of them will resonate with you.

Three women?

Ronnie is focused on her teaching career but will do anything to snare Graham even if that means pushing past her sexual boundaries. Nikki is fed up with downing sambuca and one night stands in Blackpool and wants true love and a white picket fence. Mrs Hawthorne is grieving but when she meets Charles who is a lonely widow something sparks between them.

But as the sun sets and the evening progresses, the book gets darker. Expect swearing, threesomes, and death.  Perhaps it’s time to for a glass of red wine before we meet The Gatekeeper who will reveal the women’s fates? None of the women really like him and I don’t think he will fare any better with us. But then I’m not sure how I would react if some stranger told me I was dead too.

Well quite! I can’t imagine it would be the best news! I’m not sure about a glass of wine. I’m beginning to think I might need something stronger for an evening in with The Storytellers!

Although the narrative deals with three women and their toxic relationships with men – the story itself is uplifting. One early reader said it was like getting a message from the Fairy Godmother she didn’t know she needed. And Francis Quinn said she was so engrossed she missed her stop on the train!

That’s a brilliant response. You must be thrilled Caron.

It is such an exciting and scary thing to put your heart out into the world so I do hope when its published on May 16th that readers enjoy it too, it means a lot to me.

I’ve been hearing VERY good things about The Storytellers. A slightly belated happy publication day and many congratulations. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along V E Schwab to persuade her to sit and read my book – there wouldn’t be any other way I could get it to her! I absolutely adored The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and although I don’t have her talent, I would still love to hear her thoughts on mine.

I’m sure we can persuade her!

But since that is an impossible feat. I have brought along my favourite dinner for us. I’m probably showing my age as its quite an eighties thing. But I hope you enjoy Steak Diane. The question is of course do you want these potatoes made into mash or chips to accompany it?

Chips of course!

And don’t forget the coconut rum, pineapple and cream for our Pina Coladas. On top of the red wine and rich food I think we might fall asleep on the sofa. Or do you think we might make last drinks at the pub? I’m game if you are?

Oo. Let’s have a Pina Colada here and then head to the pub. You never know, we might meet our own Graham and Charles! Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat about The Storytellers Caron. I’ve really enjoyed it and am delighted I have a copy to read just as soon as I can. Now, you mix the cocktails and I’ll give readers a few more details about the book:

The Storytellers

Trapped between life and the afterlife, three women meet and share their stories while discovering the truth about the men in their lives—and about themselves.

Suspended in an eerie state of limbo, an entity called the Gatekeeper tells Nikki, Ronnie, and Mrs. Hawthorne they are on the cusp of entering the afterlife—but only if the women can persuade him that in their earthly lives, they knew the meaning of love.

Fragments of their memories return, plunging them back into their pasts, and forcing them to face the desires, disappointments, addictions, lies, and obsessions they battled in life.

But before time runs out, will they find the answer to the ultimate question: what is love?

The Storytellers was published on 16th May 2022 by Bloodhound and is available for purchase on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

About Caron Mckinlay

Caron grew up in a mining town on the east coast of Scotland where her dad would return from the pit and fill her life with his tall tales and encourage her to tell her own. Despite this, she never thought about making a career in writing – that was what posh people did, not someone from a working-class council estate.

After living in Italy for a while and the birth of her daughters, she became a teacher and taught in various secondary schools before becoming a headteacher in Merseyside.

However, her father’s death came as a shock and was the cause of deep introspection but her emotions gave birth to a short story, Cash, which was published in the Scottish Book Trust’s anthology, Blether. A second chance at love also spurred an early retirement and a move to Edinburgh where she lives happily with her husband.

When not blogging, reading, and writing, Caron spends her time supporting her daughters, Francesca and Paola, who fill her with pride and joy. She doesn’t enjoy exercise – but loves running around after her grandsons, Lyle and Noah, to whom she is devoted.

Caron had three childhood dreams in life: to become a published author, to become a teacher, and for David Essex to fall in love with her. Two out of three ain’t bad, and she’s delighted with that.

​Caron is often hanging around on social media and she loves to hear from readers so please feel free to contact her.

You’ll find all Caron’s links here, but for further information, visit her website, find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @CaronMcKinlay and Instagram.

Tell Me Your Lies by Kate Ruby

I’ve had Tell Me Your Lies by Kate Ruby calling to me from my TBR for many months and I was delighted to be invited onto the blog tour for it by the folk at Midas PR. It’s a real pleasure to share my review of Tell Me Your Lies today.

Tell Me Your Lies was published by Simon & Schuster on 28th April 2022 and is available for purchase through the links here.

Tell Me Your Lies

You think she wants to help.
You’re wrong.

Lily Appleby will do anything to protect the people she loves. She’s made ruthless choices to make sure their secrets stay buried, and she’s not going to stop now.

When her party-animal daughter, Rachel, spins out of control, Lily hires a renowned therapist and healer to help her. Amber is the skilled and intuitive confidante that Rachel desperately needs. But as Rachel falls increasingly under Amber’s spell, she begins to turn against her parents, and Lily grows suspicious.

Does Amber really have Rachel’s best interests at heart or is there something darker going on? Only one thing is clear: Rachel is being lied to. Never quite knowing who to believe, her search for the truth will reveal her picture-perfect family as anything but flawless.

Loosely based on a true story, this is perfect for fans of Sabine Durrant, Teresa Driscoll and Kate Riordan – the perfect read to be devoured in one sitting, bursting with tension, layered characters and relationships which are never as simple as they first seem . . . 

My Review of Tell Me Your Lies

Rachel needs help.

I’m not sure I’d call Tell Me Your Lies a psychological thriller, as I didn’t find it a fast-paced read that left my heart thumping. In essence the plot is about a young woman, Rachel, with an addictive personality whose family, and her mother Lily in particular, pay Amber to assist. It is also, however, much, much more than that and a magnificent psychological insight that is truly compelling. I thought it was a cracking read.

There’s a malevolent undertone from the very first page of Tell Me Your Lies that makes the reader wonder just what kind of narrative they are going to get. Kate Ruby drips hints like poison so that the reader becomes intoxicated with wanting to find out what happens. The first person voices of Lily and Rachel and the final chapter have the effect of making the reader feel they are part of the process. They are involved in the conversations and the plot every bit as much as the characters. Even the chapter endings are like mini barbs, hooking in the reader still further. What worked so brilliantly for me was that I simply didn’t predict the final outcomes and I have a feeling that I’ve been manipulated by the author every bit as effectively as the characters manipulate each other. This is such skilled writing.

I loathed all three main women but my goodness I found them fascinating; from the self-destructive Rachel through the controlling, domineering Lily to the too-good-to-be-true Amber, there’s a veracity, a universality, that feels absolutely right. The fact that Tell Me Your Lies is loosely based on a real life Amber makes the toxic dynamics all the more interesting. Indeed, Amber is the perfect name for her character as, just as insects become trapped in natural amber, this Amber traps others in her thrall, increasing their vulnerability and suggestibility. That said, the pronouns of the title could relate to any of the three women. At no point is it entirely clear just who is telling whom the lies. Every single one – Rachel, Lily, Amber – is so wonderfully flawed and mesmerising.

Dripping with vitriol, deception and truth, Tell Me Your Lies is a cracking read. It’s about control, coercion, nature and nurture and the lies we tell ourselves. Kate Ruby creates truly toxic family dynamics that leave the reader reeling. It’s uncomfortable to read and yet it doesn’t let the reader put it down. I thought it was fabulous.

About Kate Ruby

Kate Ruby is a producer and screenwriter, with a highflying career in television. Tell Me Your Lies, a psychological thriller, is her debut novel and is currently in development for a major TV show. As an executive producer for drama, she spent a decade at the BBC, working on shows including Spooks and Being Human. Currently Head of Television for a global production company, she has worked on major Netflix shows including Watership Down, Traitors and The English Game. She has recently worked on the BBC/HBO adaptation of JP Delaney’s bestselling thriller The Girl Before, starring Gugu Mbatha Raw and David Oyelowo.

For further information, follow Kate on Twitter @katerubybooks.

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What Eden Did Next by Sheila O’Flanagan

It’s almost exactly a year since I reviewed the lovely Sheila O’Flanagan’s Three Weddings and a Proposal here on Linda’s Book Bag and I’m thrilled to be able to share my review of Sheila’s latest book What Eden Did Next for the blog tour today. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part.

Previously when Sheila celebrated the paperback publication day for The Women Who Ran Away, I was delighted to be able to share an extract from the book here.

Sheila and I stayed in together here to chat about Her Husband’s Mistake.

Also on the blog Sheila previously told me all about her inspiration for another of her books My Mother’s Secret in a guest post that you can read here. I reviewed My Mother’s Secret here.

Published by Headline on 28th April 2022, What Eden Did Next is available for purchase through the links here.

What Eden Did Next

Five years after the death of her firefighter husband, Eden knows better than anyone that life can change in an instant. Now, instead of the future she had planned with Andy, she has Lila – the daughter he never got the chance to meet. And instead of Andy, she has his family.

Then Eden meets someone. Someone she knew before Andy, before Lila, before the tragedy. Someone who reminds her of how she used to be. But Andy’s mother has other plans. And Eden is facing an impossible choice. One that could tear a family apart . . .

Honest and emotionally gripping, What Eden Did Next is an irresistible, sometimes heart-breaking, ultimately joyful, novel of love, loss – and finding your own way to happiness.

My Review of What Eden Did Next

If you’re looking for a fast paced, twisty Adrenalin packed read, find something else. If, however, you want a story that speaks to the heart and soul of who we really are, that understands grief, and loss, and hope, and leaves you totally satisfied as you finish reading, then What Eden Did Next is exactly what you need. I adored it and might even go so far as to say it is my favourite Sheila O’Flanagan book.

There’s romance and a traditional love story here, but more than that there’s an exploration of love in many forms. Sheila O’Flanagan presents to perfection the ways love can shape us both positively and negatively, how it can consume and overwhelm us, and how it can make us behave totally unselfishly and in the worst ways imaginable. What Eden Did Next also looks at family, community and friendship and makes the reader feel included and heartened.

Whilst there are dramatic moments, the plot is relatively gentle but all the more engaging for being totally realistic. This is because it makes What Eden Did Next feel completely authentic. Eden could be any one of us, making her relatable and striking. I loved meeting her. Equally, I adored Elizabeth for her lightness of touch and her philosophy of making the most of life. I found Valerie all too domineering and frequently wanted to shake the Petras, Michelles and Krystles of the cast so that it really did feel as if I’d met real people. I found all life represented here without cliche or contrivance, but rather this community sparkles and engages in its very normality. I thought this was absolutely wonderful writing.

What Eden Did Next is a glorious insight into the roles women assume in society and the support and pressures families can bring. It’s warm, mature and insightful. I loved it and recommend it unreservedly.

About Sheila O’Flanagan

Sheila O’Flanagan is the author of nearly 30 bestselling novels including Three Weddings and a Proposal, The Women Who Ran Away, Her Husband’s Mistake, The Hideaway, The Missing Wife and All For You (winner of the Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award). She lives in Dublin with her husband.

You can find out more by following Sheila on Twitter @sheilaoflanagan, or finding her on Facebook or Instagram and visiting her website for more details.

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An Extract from OVERLAND By Richard Kaufmann

Anyone who knows me also knows I adore travel and when I heard that OVERLAND by Richard Kaufmann could take me on my travels without leaving my home I was intrigued. I’m thrilled to have an extract, translated by Rachel Ward, from OVERLAND to share with you today.

Published in March 2022, OVERLAND is available for purchase here.

Overland

Richard Kaufmann once travelled to Morocco, unintentionally with no money, simply because he had set off without any kind of plan. It changed him, and the way he travelled in future. Here, he shares his stories and vision for how we can all holiday in comfort, without wrecking the environment. And we don’t have to take especially long, or go particularly far. We find the most beautiful destinations when we travel overland. Normally we never see them, because we fly right over them.

OVERLAND is a mix of witty travel stories about trips around Europe, to Morocco and Iran just by train or coach and contains thought-provoking essays about slow traveling.

An Extract from OVERLAND

When Time Goes by Like It Does on a Train

Travelling by train means giving up control. We sit down and it carries us away. If sheep wander onto the track, the train comes to a halt and a crew member announces something like: “There is currently a delay of several minutes to our journey, due to technical difficulties.”

Soothing processes such as this give us the certainty that – thanks to dozens of people working behind the scenes – we only have to keep breathing and we’ll get there. There’s a romance to train travel that no other means of transport can beat. Films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Limited portray a sophisticated railway lifestyle, where people dress for dinner in the restaurant car as if they’re on their way to the opera. Romances blossom in generous private cabins and the staff are as discreet and refined as if this were a 4-star hotel.

This image is a very long way from reality – that goes without saying. Yet the same romanticism creates an enduring myth that persists (despite the realities) to this day.

People dream of journeys lasting several days: on the Trans-Siberian Railway, for example. Crossing continents by train may seem as nostalgic as the idealised rail journeys of the movies. Why the hell would anyone spend that long on a train when there are quicker alternatives? A flight from Frankfurt am Main to London takes just two hours. By train, it’s eleven, on a good day. Almost six times as long. Not to mention how many times more expensive it is to book a train ticket.

The arguments for rail travel get ever thinner. Particularly when it comes to holidays, framed as a fortnight that children and parents alike can look forward to. Two hours of screaming kids are bad enough, so imagine the horror of eleven hours and numerous changes. You have to be crazy or plagued by ethical scruples. But there’s no need for you to be either as brave or as honourable as this makes it sound.

Time on a train can – without exaggeration – be the best part of a journey. If you enter into it, you can experience hours of relaxation in a travelling living room, listening to music, watching your favourite series or films, eating peanuts and going on excursions to the dining car for a hot meal and a cool beer. Even changes can be an opportunity for a little bit of exercise or a miniature city break. These are the very things we want in a holiday: peace, time for ourselves. It’s even possible with children! You just have to be prepared. For a good train journey with kids, you need drawing materials, books and digital games. Or better still, board games. While little Phillip is trying to build a hotel on Chausseestraße (or The Angel Islington), fields of oilseed rape whizz past the windows. Look down from a huge bridge at the deep, forested valley below and you’ll soon forget to be cross about losing that rental income.

The time we thought we never had is there for us on the train. Why? Because for once there’s no alternative. There may be many reasons why we feel so harassed in our everyday lives. But our sheer range of options is a major one. In the 2010s, people talked about FOMO, fear of missing out. It is paralysing, plunges us into turmoil and the fear of spending time on the second-best, anxiety that we could be somewhere else, have something better. As a result, we often do nothing. Doing nothing is the only way of being sure we aren’t doing the wrong thing. OK, so you could argue that up there in the aeroplane I’m just as hemmed in without distractions. Up there, I can think about life too, eat cheese on toast with a can of beer and edit videos on my mobile phone.

And that’s true. But if people enjoy this period of reflection, consumption and production, why chose this of all places to cut back? I think that we should free ourselves of the idea that the holiday doesn’t start till we reach our destination, and that the happiness we find there ends with our departure. It makes us forget all the frustrations and times of waiting, the waste that we experience while we are there. Worse still, we steal our own pleasure in what might be the two calmest phases of our whole journey.

If we don’t have screaming children with us, that is. The journey out can be so much more than a chance for contemplation, it can be a period of ultimate peace. Our mental image of our destination towers ahead of us, full of expectations that haven’t yet been cashed in.

The slower the better, because the closer we come to our destination, the closer we come to reality. And that is never as wonderful as the world of our imagination.

Our destination may spoil us with surprises, we may meet people who send us off in new directions. Yet every place is destined to disappoint.

We have to accept that our ideas, our romanticism, are part of us. And we have to treat them accordingly. That is why we very often speak about holiday memories, or about trips we never want to miss out on. And we should value our expectations in the same way: they are the feeling of anticipation, of looking forward, from the moment we book. The feelings of happiness that help us get through weeks and months in the office. It’s a little like love. The quicker we get to the destination, the worse it was.

  1. So what do we do with this insight? How can we tend the pleasure in advance? How can we immeasurably heighten the pleasure of anticipation?

Let’s make the travel time a hall of mirrors for our reflections. We just have to direct our impatience down the right lines. Let’s use all our senses as we approach a place: to do so, we look out of the window on the journey and watch the landscape changing.

As we travel south, the trees gradually change and you can see the light growing warmer. Heading north, we notice differences in architecture or dramatic rock formations. These changes don’t force themselves on our attention. We have to be alert to perceive them. The more we internalise this, the more our emotions are synchronised with the place where our passion for travel is taking us.

Watching a film set in our destination, or listening to music, can help us feel even more emotionally connected. We can take a book and learn a few words of another language, or read about the history of another place.

We can make plans for where we’ll go when we get there: what we want to see, what we’re longing to try. Then we’re tired out and doze a little, with one eye shut while the other keeps staring greedily out of the window.

Then we can stretch our legs a little. Return to our seats with a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass while watching the lake and the reflected rays of the sun curving as we pass by. “Un bicchiere di vino…” – How do you say please again? “Per favore.”

The trees lengthen, the light warms and the seat has already bonded in some way with the shape of our body, so that in the end we’re a little sorry to leave the train. Our eyes thrill at the sight of the glass-domed station roof as we arrive. Suddenly we have to fight our way through crowds of people again.

Now we no longer have a book sitting next to a wine glass in a temporary living room that can give us a safe glimpse into the culture and language of this country. We’re forced to function again. Which way is the hotel? Where is the underground station? Do we need a taxi? Where can we get some cash? Then we leave the station through heavy wooden doors and an ensemble of buildings spreads out in front of us.

We’re catapulted into the heart of the city. Mopeds whizz past us and there are people everywhere, hurrying in every direction. Suddenly there are just so many options. We’re pleased that all this is tangible at long last.

Our expectations are replaced by reality. And it is boundlessly beautiful. Yet all the same we miss the interplay of images in our minds, just a little. For a millisecond, we grieve for the sense of anticipation and the relief from having to take decisions. Arriving after a journey means the end of the unique freedom to make progress without active involvement on our part.

****

Oh dear. That has made my desire to get travelling again even more acute. I want to experience the slow approach to travel right now!

About Richard Kaufmann

Photo (C) Sophie Valentin

Richard Kaufmann is a writer and free journalist. His topics include Sustainability, Future and Travelling. He was a cofounder of the German printed magazine transform in Berlin and editor in chief till 2019. After that, he published his first book LANDREISEN on RAZ EL HANOUT, which was released as an English Edition in 2022 as OVERLAND. More publications in German language can be found at in agora42, GEO Saison, der Freitag or ze.tt (ZEIT Online). He got a BA in International Communication Management from University of Applied Sciences in Holland in Amsterdam. Today he lives in Leipzig, Germany.

For further information please see Instagram.

A Paperback Publication Day Guest Post by Charlotte Butterfield, Author of By This Time Tomorrow

I have the most incredible respect for English teachers – after all, I used to be one, so when I realised that Charlotte Butterfield not only has a book out in paperback today, but is also an English teacher I simply had to ask her how one affects the other. Luckily, Charlotte agreed to tell me and I have a super guest post to share with you to celebrate today’s publication of By This Time Tomorrow.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton in paperback today, 12th May 2022, By This Time Tomorrow is available in all formats through the links here.

By This Time Tomorrow

Jessica Bay has it all – and it’s all too much. Between moody teenagers, a hectic job and a husband who can recall that the last time they slept together was 632 days ago but somehow can’t remember to put the bins out, Jess is close to breaking point.

Desperate for change, she moves the family to a tiny island in the English Channel. An island that has a secret: it can take you back in time to relive any day in your past. To have another go at doing it right.

But as Jess becomes dizzy with the fact that she can, she forgets to consider if she should. Because changing even one moment in your past will change your whole future in unknowable ways. How much of her supposedly imperfect life is Jess willing to gamble? And will she realise the risks before she loses everything?

The joys of being a writer and an English teacher…

A guest post by Charlotte Butterfield

Whether it’s getting six of my most eager Year 9 girls to brainstorm titles for my new book based on a quick blurb, or scanning my register for good character names, it’s fair to say that being an English teacher has very real benefits when it comes to being a writer. It also means that in theory I know what a comma splice is; how to use a fronted adverbial along with the best of them and can spell ‘onomatopoeia’ (which I even managed to shoehorn into my latest novel, don’t ask me how).

As any teacher will attest to, during term time you’re a hamster on a wheel, so the only writing I tend to do while teaching consists of ‘Remember your capitals for proper nouns and you’ve written three pages with no paragraphs.’ But come the holidays I switch off from marking, planning and reports and reacquaint myself with my fictional friends, so the first drafts of all my books have all been written in the long summer holidays.

Inspiration-wise, a school is a never-ending source of stories. My new novel, By This Time Tomorrow, is about a harried mum of two teenagers, and while two of my own three children are just entering this hormonal paradise, my teen students were convenient unknowing muses, although thankfully none of them was quite as bad as my entirely made-up Molly and Liam! A staff room is also one of the best places in the world to eavesdrop for future plotlines, although sitting there with a notebook and pen frantically scribbling down what my colleagues are divulging is seemingly frowned upon and ‘makes people feel uneasy’. Who knew?

It’s not all positive though, one of my Year 7 students came skipping in to class after Christmas once to say that my second novel Crazy Little Thing Called Love – about a woman taking a vow of celibacy after a series of disastrous relationships – was in her Christmas stocking. I then had to have a very embarrassing conversation with her mother that went a little like this:

‘Hello, firstly, thank you so much for buying my novel for Harriet* (*not her real name) I really appreciate the support, but it’s not really suitable for an eleven year old; I write adult fiction’ [Cue sharp intake of breath from said mother as I suddenly realised what she thought I meant] ‘no, no,’ I gushed quickly, ‘not that type of adult fiction!’ [Cue relieved exhalations]. She then confiscated the book, read it, liked it, reviewed it and suggested me for her book club. She’s now one of my good friends, so I deftly managed to sidestep that potential landmine, sell a few more copies and make a prosecco-buddy into the bargain! All’s well that ends well.

****

All’s well that ends well indeed Charlotte! Reminds me of a time a parent donated some books for the school library. One made Fifty Shades of Grey look like a Ladybird book!

About Charlotte Butterfield

Contrary to the impression her novel might give, Charlotte Butterfield loves her life just as it is. A former magazine editor, she was born in Bristol in 1977 and studied English at Royal Holloway. She moved to Dubai by herself on a one-way ticket with one suitcase in 2005 and left twelve years later with a husband, three children and a 40ft shipping container. She now lives in the Cotswolds, where she is a freelance writer and novelist. Her first novel won a Montegrappa award at the 2016 Emirates Festival of Literature, and she went on to publish three romantic comedies with One More Chapter (previously Harper Impulse). By This Time Tomorrow is her fourth novel, and the first published by Hodder & Stoughton.

For more information, follow Charlotte on Twitter @CharlieJayneB and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy by Elliot Kruszynski

One of the joys of blogging is that I never know quite what is going to arrive in my post box, and recently I was delighted to find a copy of the children’s book Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy by Elliot Kruszynski.

I’ve previously reviewed another of Elliot’s books, Special delivery, here.

Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy by Elliot Kruszynski was published by Cicada Books on 5th May and is availale for purchase in all good bookshops and online including here.

Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy

This second book in the Wooford McPaw series takes on the subject of the cosmos and everything within it. In his distinctively humorous, somewhat subversive tone, Elliot Kruszynski (in the guise of the Prof) looks at how our understanding of our place within the universe has evolved from the days of Ancient Greece, to the discoveries of Copernicus and Gallileo, through to Newton and then to Einstein and Hawking. In and amongst these stories, we find out about how the universe may have been formed, the birth and death of stars, different types of galaxies, our own solar system and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.

Krusysnki’s comprehensive but easily understood texts are brought to life in comic-style panels with plenty of dialogue and discussion bringing the subject alive, and providing a refreshingly new take on the broadest of all subject matters!

My Review of Professor Wooford McPaw’s History of Astronomy

A dog professor explains astronomy!

I can’t review History of Astronomy without first commenting on the super quality of the hardbacked book. It’s beautifully produced with a thick, robust cover that would make it ideal for home or classroom use. The illustrations that accompany the text are bright, colourful and strike just the right balance between cartoon style and maturity for a reader aged 7-11.

The text is perfectly balanced to image so that there isn’t an overwhelming amount to read, but that said, my goodness is this book packed with facts and there’s an excellent and useful glossary at the end. History of Astronomy covers 5BC to the present day and even looks into the future with possibilities for astro-physics giving all kinds of useful information and catalysts for further study and research. I can imagine children’s imagination being so captivated by History of Astronomy that they become obsessed with the subject and the book would be a fabulous addition to KS2 classrooms. It could support science and technology as it is, but equally literacy is enhanced as vocabulary is challenging but made accessible. History projects might spring from the mentions of the Ancient Greeks, Newton and Einstein for example. At the risk of sounding sexist, I think History of Astronomy could be just the book to engage boys in reading too. I loved the fact there is a simple game to play at the end of the book too so that children could share this in peer reading and have fun at the same time. There’s also some very witty retorts from Professor Wooford McPaw’s sidekick Teley that add to the fun aspect.

History of Astronomy is a smashing children’s book. Not only did I enjoy reading it, I learnt new things too. What could be better than that?

About Elliot Kruszynski

Elliot Kruszynski is a London-based writer and illustrator who has worked with clients including the New York Times, Air BnB, Camden Brewery and Deliveroo. He illustrated and designed Bleep Bloop and Spot the Bot (Laurence King, 2019) and has two books in development with Walker/Candlewick (titles TBC).

You can follow Elliot on Twitter @EKruszynski and Instagram.

Place and Belonging: A Guest Post by Ruth Druart, Author of While Paris Slept

Sometimes there’s a book that calls to me completely but somehow I simply haven’t had time to read it. Such is the case with Ruth Druart’s While Paris Slept. Now with Ruth’s next novel The Last Hours in Paris heading our way in July I simply had to invite Ruth onto Linda’s Book Bag. I’m thrilled Ruth agreed to come and has provided the most brilliant guest post about place and belonging.

Before I share that post with you, let me give you some details about Ruth’s  books:

While Paris Slept

Paris 1944
A young woman’s future is torn away in a heartbeat. Herded on to a train bound for Auschwitz, in an act of desperation she entrusts her most precious possession to a stranger. All she has left now is hope.

Santa Cruz 1953
Jean-Luc thought he had left it all behind. The scar on his face a small price to pay for surviving the horrors of Nazi Occupation. Now, he has a new life in California, a family. He never expected the past to come knocking on his door.

On a darkened platform, two destinies become entangled. Their choice will change the future in ways neither could have imagined…

Published by Headline Review, While Paris Slept is available for purchase in all formats through the links here.

The Last Hours in Paris

Paris 1944. Elise Chevalier knows what it is to love…and to hate. Her fiancé, a young French soldier, was killed by the German army at the Maginot Line. Living amongst the enemy Elise must keep her rage buried deep within.

Sebastian Kleinhaus no longer recognises himself. After four years spent fighting a war he doesn’t believe in, wearing a uniform he despises, he longs for a way out. For something, someone, to be his salvation.

Brittany 1963. Reaching for the suitcase under her mother’s bed, eighteen-year-old Josephine Chevalier uncovers a secret that shakes her to the core. Determined to find the truth, she travels to Paris where she discovers the story of a dangerous love that grew as a city fought for its freedom. Of the last stolen hours before the first light of liberation. And of a betrayal so deep that it would irrevocably change the course of two young lives life for ever.

The Last Hours in Paris will be published by Headline Review on 7th July and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Place and Belonging

A Guest Post by Ruth Druart

Place. Identity. Sense of belonging. Home. These words speak to all of us, but especially to those who have been displaced, voluntarily or not. Personally, I only started to think about these concepts, when I left my home country at the age of twenty-three. It was supposed to be temporary move, but I ended up staying in France, pursuing a career in international education and raising three boys.

Bringing up children in a culture that is not your own brings its own challenges, and although France is only across the water from the UK, I soon discovered many differences that I hadn’t been expecting. Most of them were, at the worst, frustrating and bewildering, but the hardest for me to adapt to was the French system of education, yet I put my own children through it. I came to the conclusion that it was more important for them to have a sense of belonging to the country in which they were growing up, and so rather than send them to an international school, such as the one where I was teaching, they attended local French schools. I sometimes wondered how they may have developed differently if they’d grown up in the UK, and it made me think about how much culture forms part of our identity. This idea inspired me to write my first novel, While Paris Slept. I wanted to write about a child who was thrown from one culture into another, and how this disrupts his sense of identity and his sense of belonging.

Teaching in an international school, where students come from all over the world and often move every three years, gave me the ideal opportunity to explore these ideas further. I started a Masters in International Education with Bath University, focusing on Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and their sense of belonging – a TCK is someone who has been brought up with more than one culture. Through interviews with students at my school and other TCKs (aged 11-15), I discovered they do have a strong sense of belonging, though it might not be the same as that of a monocultural child. They may not feel they belong to one particular country; in fact, they may feel close ties to more than one country, and have trouble naming one as home. For these people, the question, ‘where do you come from?’ is not a simple one. Primarily, their sense of belonging is more towards people; foremost their families, and then to the international community as a whole – to other people like them. For example, a Japanese/Hungarian person might form a connection with a French/Spanish person. This theme of sense of belonging comes through in While Paris Slept as the characters question their sense of home and what it really means. Is it a place, or is it the people we love? And who’s to say you have to name only one country as your home? Having both British and French nationalities now, I don’t feel any less British than I was before, but I do have another culture and country where I feel at home, and I find this enriching. Only when I had to learn another language, did I truly come to fully appreciate my mother tongue. What a delight to be able to express myself perfectly and to be understood! If I hadn’t had this experience, I’m not sure I would have written a book at all. I think I had to experience culture shock first hand to be inspired to write about it. After having struggled during my first years in France, I wanted to portray this feeling of ‘unbelonging’ through a child’s perspective in While Paris Slept.

Sam, who’s grown up in America and only speaks English, is suddenly thrown into Le Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris, at the tender age of nine. He doesn’t speak the language or understand the culture, and his parents struggle as they watch him flounder and suffer, but do they love him enough to put his happiness before their own? This is the question at the heart of the book. The main theme is parental love, though the story also touches on sense of identity and the importance of place and home. I wanted the reader to experience a foreign country through this boy’s eyes, to be in his head, as he struggles with culture shock and a sense of alienation. I also wanted the reader to empathise with Sam’s parents who gave him up, then survived Auschwitz and desperately want their child back.

The story reaches a resolution years later when Sam is older and wise enough to see things with a more rounded perspective, and comes to realise that ‘home’ can mean more than one place, more than one country, and even more than one set of parents.

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That’s wonderful Ruth. Thank you so much. I have a feeling that even when we’re ‘home’ we can experience ‘unbelonging’ too. You’ve made me even more determined to get While Paris Slept to the top of my TBR pile and I can’t wait to get my hands on The Last Hours in Paris too!

About Ruth Druart

Ruth Druart grew up on the Isle of Wight, moving away at the age of eighteen to study psychology at Leicester University. She has lived in Paris since 1993, where she has followed a career in teaching. She has recently taken a sabbatical, so that she can follow her dream of writing full-time.

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

The Secret Voices by M J White

A little while ago I reviewed The Start of Something by Miranda Dickinson for My Weekly in a a post you’ll find here. Now Miranda is back with a brand new name, M J White, and a brand new genre in The Secret Voices. I’m thrilled to be reviewing The Secret Voices for My Weekly today.

I also reviewed Miranda’s Our Story here on Linda’s Book Bag and it was one of my books of the year in 2020.

Published by Canelo’s imprint Hera on 28th April 2022, The Secret Voices is available for purchase through the links here.

The Secret Voices

They said they’d keep me safe.

They said, ‘It’s okay, Hannah. You know you can trust me.’

They lied.

When eight-year-old Hannah Perry goes missing in the small Suffolk village of St Just, the community is rocked. Heading up the investigation is Acting DS Rob Minshull, but he’s out of his depth in a case that seems to mirror the disappearance of a young boy, seven years ago. That search ended in unimaginable tragedy…and Minshull is praying that history won’t be repeated.

But with an investigation full of dead ends, and a kidnapper taunting the police with sinister deliveries of Hannah’s belongings and cryptic notes, the young girl’s life hangs perilously in danger.

Until Dr Cora Lael enters the picture. A psychologist with a unique ability, Cora’s rare gift allows her to sense emotions attached to discarded objects. When she is shown the first of Hannah’s belongings, she hears the child’s piercing scream.

With few leads on the case, could Cora prove Hannah’s only hope? And as time runs out, can they find Hannah before history repeats itself…?

A twisty, original and utterly gripping detective thriller that fans of James Oswald and LJ Ross will love. Don’t miss the crime thriller debut from the bestselling women’s fiction author, Miranda Dickinson.

My Review of The Secret Voices

My full review of The Secret Voices can be found on the My Weekly website here.

However, here I can say that The Secret Voices is a highly unusual, fresh and engaging approach to a police procedural story that hooks in the reader through Dr Cora Lael and leaves them wanting the next book in the series – now! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About MJ White

MJ White is the pseudonym of bestselling author Miranda Dickinson, author of twelve books, including six Sunday Times bestsellers. Her books have been translated into ten languages, selling over a million copies worldwide. A long time lover of crime fiction, The Secret Voices is her debut crime series. She is a singer-songwriter, host of weekly Facebook Live show, Fab Night In Chatty.

For more information, follow M J White on Twitter @MJWhite13

Miranda on Twitter @wurdsmyth, on Instagram or find her on Facebook. You can also visit her vlog and website.

Staying in with David Lui

The plan today was to be walking Three Shires Head on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border whilst away in our motorhome. Covid has had other ideas. However, every cloud has a silver lining and I’m delighted to welcome David Lui to Linda’s Book Bag far sooner than anticipated as a result! David is staying in with me to tell me about his debut novel.

Staying in with David Lui

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag David and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thanks so much for inviting me! I’m excited for this staying in.

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

I’ve brought my first novel, When Hope Calls, which is the first in a series about human trafficking. It’s a heavy topic, I know, but one that I believe still needs a voice in the literary world. The reason I chose this book is because, after five years of publication, I still believe in the power of awareness; that if everyone could be aware of the global issue of human trafficking and modern slavery, something can be done about it.

I think you’re right David and books really do have the power to bring difficult topics to the world’s attention. 

Another reason I’ve chosen to bring this book is because the third book in the series, When Hope Dawns is just out in the US and scheduled to be released in the UK on 15th May, so I’m very keen to share it with the world!

What can we expect from an evening in with When Hope Calls?

I’d say that’s a tough question to answer! Based on reader reviews, I’d say you could expect suspense, thrills, anticipation, frustration, grief, and even anger. Hope and hopelessness, that’s the tightrope you might find yourself on as you read When Hope Calls. As you see the criminal underworld from the eyes of a kidnapped child, and then from the perspective of her rescuers, readers often have to come to terms with their own beliefs about social justice and privilege.

That sounds brilliant. I love a book that makes me challenge my perceptions.

Like any flight to a worthy destination, I’d say, expect turbulence. Trust me, it’ll be worth it!

I think it will! What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought a guest post all about the power of fiction!

Oo. Go ahead then!

The Power of Fiction

It is often said that art imitates life. But what about the other way around? Can life imitate art? The simple answer is yes. This is especially true when it comes to fiction. Fictional stories can have a real impact on the people who read them. They can influence how we see the world and how we interact with others. Sometimes, they can even change our lives for the better. The stories we read have a profound effect on our lives. We learn behaviour, attitudes, and beliefs from the characters in fiction. These fictional characters can also change us for the better.

Fiction offers a multifaceted take on how the world is like, much like a beautiful kaleidoscope. When most people think of ways to learn about the world, they think of textbooks and documentaries. But what about novels and stories? Fiction can offer a different perspective on how the world can be, and it’s often more interesting than non-fiction. For example, in the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield is a teenager who is kicked out of school and ends up living on his own. Through his eyes, we see the world in a different way than we would if we were reading a textbook on teenage delinquents. We see the beauty in small things, and we understand Holden’s thoughts and feelings better than if we were just given facts about him. Stories catch our imagination, and in teen lingo, they catch our feels. The world comes alive through fiction, whether it’s books or movies or TV shows.

Fiction offers audiences a window into another person’s world. At the same time, it offers a new lens to see our own character in all its beauty and ugliness. We may see ourselves (all too often) as the protagonist, the hero, fighting for the lowly, overcoming mountainous challenges, triumphing over the villain. This personal association is empowering, to the point of granting us the resolve to make real changes in our daily lives. The movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty comes to mind, where a man living a nondescript 9-to-5 life goes on the craziest life-changing adventure in pursuit of a photojournalist. As strange as it sounds, that movie was like a wake-up call for me, reminding me that adventure is always, always just a decision away, no matter how entrenched I was in a mundane lifestyle. The revelation was nothing short of invigorating, and I’ve heard similar stories from people who have read my book When Hope Calls, which ends with a direct call to action. I’d like to think that, by extension, any impact my readers make on the world for good can be attributed to, you guessed it, my works of fiction.

Last but not least, fiction breaks through walls of what can or cannot be. Works of fantasy, adventure, action, thrillers, romance, even horror…they expand what we define as the realms of possibility. Who told us what cannot be done, or how things should be? Chances are, we were taught from textbooks, from works of nonfiction. I’m not against facts and figures, but there is a huge difference between learning about the world, and accepting the world as it is. Fiction gives us a sledgehammer against conformity, against convention, against the unjust systems that remain in society. Fiction is power, because so long as we can imagine a better future, we can hope and fight for a better future.

In that sense, life not only imitates art–life kneels to art, realising that true power to change lies in the imagination of every single consumer of fiction.

In summary, there is no question about whether fiction can impact real lives. In fact, might I be so bold as to say, fiction can define and redefine lives. From the bedtime stories of our childhood days, to the doorstoppers that keep us up at night, fiction comforts us, transports us, saves us, empowers us. Fiction can be friend or foe, building us up or tearing us down, sentence by sentence, word by word.

Take all that as you will, but know this: You can take it, anytime you wish, anywhere you find yourself. The power is in your boundless imagination.

That’s absolutely brilliant David. Thank you so much for sharing those thoughts with us. I do agree that the emotional element of fiction can affect us far more deeply than the more rational approach of non-fiction. Thank you so much for staying in with me and sharing your thoughts and telling me about When Hope Calls. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

When Hope Calls

Based on a true human trafficking story, this gripping novella tells the impossible rescue story of a humanitarian organization that receives a call from a mysterious girl named Mya, telling them she had been kidnapped.

They don’t know who she is. They don’t know where she is. All they have is a phone connection.

Every clue draws them closer to her rescue…or pushes them to desperation.

Within the next twelve hours, they must each be tested to their limit.

The clock is ticking, the odds are against them…will they be able find Mya?

When Hope Calls is available for purchase here.

About David Lui

David Lui is a psychologist and writer based in Sydney. In both his practice and writing, he is dedicated to fighting modern slavery and human trafficking.

You can sign up to David’s newsletter here for further information and find him on Facebook.

Franklyn : No Ordinary Fox by Nick Jones

Regular readers of Linda’s Book Bag will know just how much I enjoy children’s books and I’m delighted to review one of their latest, Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox by Nick Jones. My enormous thanks to Nick for sending me a copy and for his patience in waiting for a review. Now, instead of putting out a review today, I should be off in Bryan the motorhome. So, there are some benefits of having holidays cancelled when you get Covid. You can fit in another book instead!

You’ll find my review of Nick’s One Night in Bear Town here and of Sarah’s Shadow here.

Published on 3rd March 2022 by Franklyn Financial Management , Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox is available for purchase here.

Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox

Franklyn is not like other foxes. He eats nuts and berries, is kind to all animals and would never knock your bin over!

Sadly, the other foxes don’t like his differences, and one day the local bully, Mitchell, forces him to leave town.

Franklyn’s one friend, Florence, is sad to see him go and worries that she’ll never see him again. But she won’t be worried for long – after all, Franklyn is no ordinary fox!

My Review of Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox

Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox is quite lovely. As I always expect from a book by Nick Jones, it has wonderful illustrations that are utterly charming and perfect for the target age group being child-like and engaging without being childish. The natural colours of browns and greens fit the environmental aspect of the story and the balance of text to image means younger or reluctant readers won’t be daunted by huge tracts of written word. In a similar manner to the illustrations, the language of Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox is pitch perfect. There’s challenging vocabulary that increases literacy but it is accessible through the context and illustrations.

As well as being a charming story in its own right, Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox has wonderful themes that educate children in a subtle and effective manner. It allows children to engage with nature and the environment as they learn about urban foxes and how they survive in the human world. It affords bullied and vulnerable children to identify with the concept of being bullied and with true friendship as Franklyn and Florence find friendship and happiness. Nick Jones also explores co-operation as Franklyn works with the rabbits and he shows just how much stronger and happier we are if we are kind and work with others rather than against them. There are hints of sustainability too, such as when Florence’s gifted plant from Franklyn becomes home to the chrysalis, so that I can imagine all kinds of projects springing from reading this book. I’d love to see children sowing seeds from the fruits they eat and seeing what happens for example, just like Franklyn does.

And Franklyn must be acknowledged for being a fantastic role model. He doesn’t rise to provocation from Mitchell, but responds with a smile and equanimity that diffuses difficult situations. His difference is celebrated in the book, giving status to children who themselves feel as if they don’t quite fit in. Indeed, I think the lessons of Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox are relevant to all of us – not just the children who are the target audience for the book. We could all do with using a smile in the face of aggression sometimes!

Franklyn: No Ordinary Fox is another smashing addition to Nick’s writing. I really recommend it.

About Nick Jones

nick jones

Nick Jones is an award-winning children’s author based in Congleton, Cheshire.

His first children’s picture book, Sarah’s Shadow, was published in December 2017. In 2018 the book won Best Picture Book in the international Readers’ Favorite book awards. It also received an honourable mention in the Purple Dragonfly Awards’ ebooks for children aged 6+, and Runner-Up in the Book Excellence Awards.

His second children’s picture book, One Night in Beartown, was published November 2020 and is set in Congleton where Nick lives. Inspired by the Bearmania event that took place in 2011, the story follows a bear-obsessed little girl who has a magical night to remember when her teddy bear Berisford, a bear statue and the Bearmania painted bears all come to life.

In December 2021 Nick published his third picture book, One Christmas in Beartown. Book critic Linda Hill gave the book five stars, saying: “One Christmas in Beartown is a wonderful story of how friendship can help us face our fears.”

Nick’s fourth book, Franklyn – No Ordinary Fox, was published in 2022 by Franklyn Financial Management. Nick also owns children’s book publishing company Full Media, which publishes his books and those by other children’s authors such as Emma Sandford, Jocelyn Porter and Izzy Rees.

You can follow Nick on Instagram and Twitter @nickjonesauthor and find out more on his website.