Staying in with Christina Jones

My enormous thanks to Rosanna Hildyard from Headline Accent for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Summer at Sandcastle Cottage by Christina Jones and for making sure I got to stay in with Christina to chat all about the book. I’m devastated I didn’t have chance to squeeze in reading Summer at Sandcastle Cottage too as I’ve been hearing wonderful things about it.

Staying in with Christina Jones

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

Thank you so much for inviting me, Linda – it’s great to be here – and this is all lovely and cosy.

Thank you! I rather think I know, but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought Summer at Sandcastle Cottage, my latest and only-just-published, romantic comedy novel – and I’ve chosen it because it’s my first full-length book for quite some time and it (or rather the characters, the village and the cottage) finally dragged me kicking and screaming out of my “can’t write/won’t write” doldrums, and I love it for that.

I think many authors have been struggling to write of late Christina and will understand what you mean. So what can we expect from an evening in with Summer at Sandcastle Cottage?

Well, hopefully some lovely sunny summer days by the sea in Firefly Common, catching up with the lives, loves and laughter, as well as the mishaps and mayhem, of Kitty, Jemini and Apollo. They – along with their rescue dogs and Jemini’s toddler daughter, Teddy – had been through some very tough times and had eventually found their sanctuary and moved into Sandcastle Cottage in my e-book novella, Christmas at Sandcastle Cottage – which should have been The End.

Why did you decide to continue the story?

But I knew I couldn’t just leave them there. I had to know what happened to them – I loved them (as I’ve mentioned previously, I hadn’t fallen in love with characters or writing for a few years – so this was a bit of a revelation!). I knew Sandcastle Cottage was only a short-term rental home for them – and I wanted to know what was going to happen to them when the 6 months lease was up. Would they be homeless again? They’d all settled so well into the village, had found work, made friends – and there were now people in their lives they really didn’t want to leave behind.

However, after so long of only writing short stories and e-book novellas, I wasn’t really sure if I’d still got my writing mojo, and was a bit scared about putting the book out there for an early review – and then I got this back from my reader –  and it was ok… it was more than ok. I cried.

“I have just finished the book!! Absolutely adored it – so you, at your brilliant best. I wanted to finish it to see what happened but now I am bereft at leaving everyone behind. What a tonic when we are all feeling so down and dreary. I am sure it will be a huge success.”

How absolutely wonderful. You must be thrilled with that response. I’m desperate to read Summer at Sandcastle Cottage too as I keep hearing wonderful things about it.

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

I’ve brought fish and chips!

Oo. You can come again. Delicious!

I love fish and chips, but also fish and chips – or rather The Silver Fish Bar on Firefly Common’s High Street – play a huge part in the lives of the residents of Sandcastle Cottage. The Silver Fish Bar is an old-fashioned eat-in or take-out chippie – with a back-of-the-shop restaurant with gingham tablecloths, plates of white sliced bread and butter, and Brown Betty teapots. It is always packed with Firefly Common residents and holidaymakers alike.

I cannot think of anywhere I’d rather be. The Silver Fish Bar sounds my kind of establishment Christina.

Oh, and I’ve brought a picture of “the common” too – I took this last year when I visited in between lockdowns. This is the real life common in the real life seaside village that forms the basis for Firefly Common.

I think we might need to take a walk there after the fish and chips to shed a few calories!

And I’ve also brought a photo of the steps down to the beach where I used to play and swim and where Kitty now sits and daydreams in my book.

That’s gorgeous. Why is it so important?

The village is where my great-aunts lived and where I spent practically all my childhood summers – and where I go back as often as possible. My great-aunts are long gone – but their houses that I stayed in are still there, unchanged… they had beach huts and beach chalets too – also gone. The common where they lived has been tamed, and a lot of the village has changed with time – but it’s still my favourite place in the entire world – and now, as Firefly Common, it’s been reborn as the sleepy beach café and bucket and spade seaside village it used to be.

It sounds utterly wonderful Christina – as does Summer at Sandcastle Cottage. Thank you so much for staying in with me to chat about it. You dish up those chips and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details about Summer at Sandcastle Cottage:

Summer at Sandcastle Cottage

After trials, tears and a torturous break-up, Kitty Appleby has finally found where she’s meant to be. Tumbledown Sandcastle Cottage, in the delightful seaside village of Firefly Common, is home, and Kitty’s eccentric band of friends and neighbours are enjoying a glorious summer.

There’s just one tiny little problem. Sandcastle Cottage doesn’t belong to them. And Mavis Mullholland, Kitty’s landlord, is on her way home from her round-the-world cruise . . .

Kitty can’t bear to lose the community that’s welcomed her in. But secretly, she can’t bear to leave Sandcastle Cottage without finding out more about the mysterious and enigmatic Vinny . . . Why can’t she stop thinking about him, when she’s faced with losing everything?

Published by Headline Accent, Summer at Sandcastle Cottage is available for purchase here.

About Christina Jones

Christina Jones, the only child of a schoolteacher and a circus clown, has been writing all her life. As well as writing romantic comedy novels, she also contributes short stories and articles to many national magazines and newspapers.

She has won several awards for her writing: Dancing in the Moonlight won the Romantic Novelist’s association New Writer’s Award; Going the Distance was a WH Smith Fresh Talent Winner; Nothing to Lose, was shortlisted and runner-up for the Thumping Good Read Award with film and television rights sold; Heaven Sent was shortlisted in The Melissa Nathan Comedy Romance Awards and won a Category Award; Love Potions won the Pure Passion Award; The Way to a Woman’s Heart was short-listed for the Rom-Com of the Year; and An Enormously English Monsoon Wedding won The Reviewer’s Choice Award.

Summer at Sandcastle Cottage is Christina’s 22nd full-length romantic comedy novel.

All Christina Jones’ novels are currently available, either in paperback or e-book format, and after years of travelling, she now lives in rural Oxfordshire with her husband and several rescued cats.

You can follow Christina on Twitter @ChristinaJ2021. You’ll also find Christina on Facebook.

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An Extract from The Night Gate by Peter May

I’m absolutely thrilled to have a copy of The Night Gate by Peter May on my TBR and even more delighted that Peter has chosen an extract from his latest Enzo Macleod book for me to share with you today. My enormous thanks to Sophie Ransom at Midas PR for sending me a copy of The Night Gate which I’ll be reviewing later and for inviting me to participate in this blog tour.

Free Events

You might also like to know that Peter is supporting local independent bookshops and libraries by taking part in an online tour to celebrate The Night Gate. Tonight, 23rd March 2021, he will be speaking at Sheffield library from 6.30-7.30 PM and you can register for this FREE online event here. You’ll find the full details and dates of Peter’s virtual tour here.

The Night Gate was published on 18th March 2021 by Riverrun and is available for purchase through the links here.

The Night Gate

In a sleepy French village, the body of a man shot through the head is disinterred by the roots of a fallen tree. A week later a famous art critic is viciously murdered in a nearby house. The deaths occurred more than seventy years apart.

Asked by a colleague to inspect the site of the former, forensics expert Enzo Macleod quickly finds himself embroiled in the investigation of the latter. Two extraordinary narratives are set in train – one historical, unfolding in the treacherous wartime years of Occupied France; the other contemporary, set in the autumn of 2020 as France re-enters Covid lockdown.

And Enzo’s investigations reveal an unexpected link between the murders – the Mona Lisa.

Tasked by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle to keep the world’s most famous painting out of Nazi hands after the fall of France in 1940, 28-year-old Georgette Pignal finds herself swept along by the tide of history. Following in the wake of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa as it is moved from château to château by the Louvre, she finds herself just one step ahead of two German art experts sent to steal it for rival patrons – Hitler and Göring.

What none of them know is that the Louvre itself has taken exceptional measures to keep the painting safe, unwittingly setting in train a fatal sequence of events extending over seven decades.

Events that have led to both killings.

The Night Gate spans three generations, taking us from war-torn London, the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, Berlin and Vichy France, to the deadly enemy facing the world in 2020. In his latest novel, Peter May shows why he is one of the great contemporary writers of crime fiction.

An Extract from The Night Gate

‘Have you ever been to the Isle of Lewis, monsieur? It’s in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.’

‘I know of it, but I have never been.’

‘A brutal place, by all accounts. It is first in line to welcome the gales that have gathered their strength across five thousand kilometres of Atlantic Ocean. A windbreak for the mainland beyond.’

He wonders where on earth this can be leading, but forces himself to contain his impatience as he waits for her to resume her story. Which, at length, she does . . .

Poor Georgette was as sick as a dog during her six-hour ferry crossing from Mallaig to the Isle of Lewis. It was the furthest north, and west, she had ever been, and she was not enjoying it. The rail journey from London to Fort William the previous day had been long and tedious. Poor weather had denied her any sight of the magnificent views afforded by the west coastline of the Highlands of Scotland. The remainder of the journey from Fort William to Mallaig had passed almost entirely in cloud, mist descending from the heavens, and she spent an uncomfortable night in a basic lodging house in the town.

The blackout was still in force when the ferry left at first light, cleaving a difficult passage around the Isle of Skye and across a stormy Minch. In spite of the rain and the sea spray she had spent most of the journey on deck, her coat flapping furiously around her legs, back to the wind as she retched into the brine.

The wind died a little as they sailed, finally, into the lee of the island’s east coast, and the fishing port of Stornoway emerged from the mist. Headlands to north and south took dark shape before vanishing into the featureless bog of the hinterland beyond. And it was with shaking legs that Georgette stumbled down the gangplank on to the dock and felt the world still moving. Even though the concrete beneath her feet was sunk in solid bedrock.

Sea-weary fellow passengers pushed past her, greeted by loved ones, friends or family, and were quickly swallowed by the smirr that drifted across the town like a mist. She heard idling engines rev, then accelerate into the gloom of the day, and it seemed that only a few minutes had passed before she was left standing on her own, a wet and forlorn figure clutching a sodden cardboard suitcase. The road that ran off around the southern flank of the town was lined by houses and shops that seemed painted on gauze, insubstantial, almost transparent, and she watched for the lights of the vehicle she had been told would pick her up.

It was nearly fifteen minutes before finally she heard the distant rumble of a heavy motor, then saw the lights of a canvas-covered military truck taking shape as it rumbled on to the quay. A cheery, ruddy-faced young soldier flung open the passenger door and leaned out an arm to give her a hand up.

‘You look a bit wet, love,’ he said.

‘So would you if you’d stood for six hours on the deck of a ferry emptying your stomach into a storm, then waited twenty minutes in the rain for your lift.’ She hauled herself up the passenger seat and hefted her suitcase into her lap. She glared at the driver. ‘You’re late.’

His grin widened. ‘Feisty one, aren’t you? They can be a bit rough, them crossings. Never know when the ferry’s going to arrive.’

He crunched into first gear, manoeuvred his truck through a three-point turn, and pulled out on to the road, turning hard left and over the narrow spit of land dividing inner and outer harbours. The inner harbour was packed with trawlers and small fishing vessels sitting cheek by jowl on a high tide and towering over the quayside. Beyond water that reflected a pewtery sky, a hill rose darkly into darker trees, and the lights of a forbidding-looking building emerged from the shadow of the hillside, fighting to penetrate the murk.

The driver lowered his head to look up at it. ‘Lews Castle,’ he said. ‘That’s where you’re staying.’ ‘Is that where you’re stationed?’

‘No, we’re at the RAF base out towards Point.’ And he flicked his head vaguely to the west. Then he snuck a glance in her direction. ‘I thought you was French. They said you was. And here’s me practising my parlez-vous anglais.’

‘Sorry to disappoint.’

He grinned. ‘Not disappointed at all, love. Whatever nationality you is.’

And in spite of herself she blushed.

*

And now, of course, I need to bump up The Night Gate and read it sooner rather than later!

About Peter May

Peter May was an award-winning journalist at the age of just twenty-one, winning ‘Young Journalist of the Year’. He left newspapers for television and screenwriting, creating three prime-time British drama series and accruing more than 1,000 television credits. May is published in 32 languages, has sold several million copies worldwide as well as winning numerous awards. His novel I’ll Keep You Safe (2018) was no.1 and his next novel, The Man With No Face, no.2 in The Times charts. His most recent novel Lockdown was in The Sunday Times bestseller lists for 6 weeks. In recent years, Peter has won the Best Crime Novel Award for The Blackhouse at Bouchercon in the US, Entry Island won the Deanston Crime Book of the Year and Specsavers ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read Award.

For more information, follow Peter on Twitter @authorpetermay, visit his website or find him on Facebook.

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The World At My Feet by Catherine Isaac

If you’re a regular visitor to Linda’s Book Bag it’ll come as no surprise to you to know how thrilled I was to receive a surprise early proof copy of Catherine Isaac’s The World At My Feet from the fabulous Sara-Jade Virtue at Simon and Schuster. I love Catherine’s writing and so I was delighted when Megan Denholm from EDPR asked me if I’d like to participate in the launch celebrations for The World At My Feet. It gives me great pleasure to share my review to day (and to wish Megan happy birthday!)

Catherine’s Messy, Wonderful Us was one of my books of the year in 2019 and I shared an extract from it here. I also reviewed it here. I adored Catherine’s You, Me, Everything which I reviewed here and was delighted to chat with her about that book on Linda’s Book Bag in a post you can read here.

The World At My Feet is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase through the links here.

The World At My Feet

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, The World At My Feet is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.

The secrets that bind us can also tear us apart…

1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule.

2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn’t set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears.

From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World At My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime.

My Review of The World At My Feet

Gardener Ellie has a problem.

Reading a new book by a favourite author is always a terrifying concept. What if I don’t like it? I didn’t like The World At My Feet. I loved it!

Whilst The World At My Feet had all the beautiful, descriptive and humane writing I have come to expect from a Catherine Isaac novel, this time there was an added extra. It’s somewhat difficult to articulate, but I felt as if the author had somehow invested more of herself in the narrative and as a result I felt even more personally affected. There’s not only Ellie’s agoraphobia that is so well researched and realistically conveyed, but the Romanian historical details are rich, deep and authoritative, making for a story that penetrates the reader’s mind and leaves them thinking about the narrative long after the book is closed. Indeed, after I’d finished reading the story and being entertained, I found The World At My Feet kept creeping back into my mind.

There’s a wonderful depth to the writing in The World At My Feet. Catherine Isaac’s ability to appeal to all the senses is glorious. The descriptions of Ellie’s garden lifted my spirits and it is no exaggeration to say that I was compelled to go out into my own garden as a result of my reading, so that it had a positive effect on my own emotional well-being, because I experienced the same lift from nature as does Ellie.

I loved meeting Ellie. She is such a complete human being who is battling an awful condition. She illustrates so effectively how we are affected by our past, even when we try to block it out and how metal illness is equally as life changing as physical illness. The World At My Feet conveys through Ellie the importance of love, of nature, family and friends which I think has enormous resonance in recent times. She had my sympathy and my empathy even when her realistic, flawed persona made her behave in ways I wanted her to reconsider, making her feel like a metaphor for life. I cared about her completely and she got right under my skin. It would spoil the story to say how and why her relationships with Guy and Jamie made me feel as they did, but I can say they had a visceral and profound impact on me, causing me to shout at the characters and to weep tears of joy and sadness at some of the outcomes.

Although I always profess that I’m not keen on dual timelines or multiple perspectives in books, I found Harriet’s story equally as engaging as Ellie’s. It might sound ridiculous, but because The World At My Feet is based in real events that I remember, I completely forgot that Harriet and Ellie are fictional characters. I think it’s the authority behind the writing that created such an effect.

Alongside the wonderful characters and perfectly balanced plotting are themes that elevate The World At My Feet beyond a beautifully told love story – a love story not just romantically, but within families too. Catherine Isaac explores identity – of culture, of place, and of our real and social media personas so that reading The World At My Feet gave an insight into how we construct ourselves for others. Loyalty and trust, true friendship and responsibility also underpin the story, adding layers to uncover, but it was the realistic portrayal of Ellie’s situation that held my attention so completely. I think reading The World At My Feet might just be life changing for some, giving them hope at difficult times.

I’m aware that I haven’t really done justice to The World At My Feet. If readers are looking for a light, fluffy diversion they may be disappointed. If, however, they want a book that explores humanity, is romantic, is transporting and is an utterly brilliant multi-layered read then Catherine Isaac’s The World At My Feet is exactly what they are looking for.

About Catherine Isaac

Author photo Catherine Isaac

Catherine Isaac was born in Liverpool and was a journalist for many years before she wrote her first book, Bridesmaids, under the pseudonym Jane Costello. She wrote nine novels under that name – all bestsellers – before You Me Everything was published under the name Catherine Isaac in 2018. It was selected by the Richard & Judy Book Club, has been translated into 24 languages and a movie is in development by Lionsgate and Temple Hill. In 2019 she won the Romantic Novelists’ Association award for Popular Romantic Fiction. She lives with her husband and three sons.

You can visit Catherine’s website for more information and follow her on Twitter @CatherineIsaac_. You’ll also find Catherine on Facebook.

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Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott

My enormous thanks to Sriya Varadharajan at Penguin Random House for inviting me to participate in this blog tour for Behind Closed Doors by Catherine Alliott. I’m delighted to share my review today.

It’s far too long since I read a Catherine Alliott book and you’ll find my review of Wish You Were Here in a very early blog post, here.

Behind Closed Doors is available for purchase through the links here.

Behind Closed Doors

From the outside, anyone would think that Lucy Palmer has it all: loving children, a dashing husband and a gorgeous home.

But when her marriage to Michael comes to an abrupt and unexpected end, her life is turned upside down in a flash.

As the truth of her marriage threatens to surface, Lucy seizes the opportunity to swap her house in London – and the stories it hides – for a rural escape to her parents’ farmhouse in the Chilterns.

But Lucy gets more than she bargained for when she moves back to her childhood home, especially when it throws her into the path of an old flame.

Coming face-to-face with her mistakes, Lucy is forced to confront the secrets she’s been keeping from herself and those she loves.

Is she ready to let someone in? Or will she leave the door to her past firmly closed . . .

My Review of Behind Closed Doors

Lucy’s life is about to change.

I thoroughly enjoyed Behind Closed Doors although it really wasn’t what I was expecting! The cover made me think of women’s fiction and the strap line made me think of a thriller and one of the great successes of Behind Closed Doors is that it doesn’t fit neatly into any one genre. There is a crime of sorts, there are the conventional elements of women’s fiction like relationships and family, but there’s also humour and depth so that somehow the book becomes more than the sum of its parts. This is a book about life.

I loved Catherine Alliott’s conversational first person style because it felt as if Lucy were a close friend and we were catching up with one another. This gave an intimate and compelling atmosphere. What I think works so well about the plot is the ordinariness of so many of Lucy’s experiences. Much of what she endures in dealing with her husband and parents could be happening literally behind any closed door and I thought the presentation of what everyday life can be was so cleverly, sensitively and convincingly conveyed. That’s not to say Behind Closed Doors is a ‘worthy’ narrative. Far from it. It’s hugely entertaining. Lucy’s parents in particular lend a bitter-sweet lightness that balances the story perfectly. Here we get an insight into other people’s lives that we may normally take for granted or dismiss. I don’t want to spoil the story at all but there is a comment from Ingrid towards the end of the book that I thought was sheer genius.

Lucy herself is such an engaging character. It was wonderful to meet a middle aged woman with her flaws and perfections that I could engage with fully. She combines weakness and strength in a manner that makes her  completely relatable. I thought Catherine Alliott balanced characters really well too. There’s a large enough cast to provide a cross section of society but with a focus on half a dozen main people that gives depth and intimacy.

And speaking of depth, the themes of Behind Closed Doors are rich and varied. From domestic control to identity, family and friendships, loyalty and duty to ageing and excessive behaviour, Catherine Alliott presents a rich and varied snapshot of life. I think any reader would find a character or situation in Behind Closed Doors that resonated with them.

Behind Closed Doors wasn’t entirely what I was expecting but between its pages I found an entertaining, touching, thought-provoking and compassionate story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I finished the book feeling that all was right with the world and what could be better than that?

About Catherine Alliott

Catherine Alliott is the author of fifteen bestselling novels including About Last Night, My Husband Next Door, A Rural Affair, One Day in May, The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton, and Wish You Were Here. She lives with her family in Hertfordshire.

You’ll find Catherine on Facebook and Instagram.

Staying in with Michael Coolwood on Not in My Name publication day

It’s always a joy to be part of a brand new book’s journey into the world and it gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Michael Coolwood to Linda’s Book Bag Today. Michael’s Not In My Name is published today and Michael kindly agreed to stay in with me to tell me all about it.

Staying in with Michael Coolwood.

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Michael.

Thanks. I haven’t spent this amount of time in a bag for many years now.

I should hope not! Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

My pleasure. Apart from everything else, it’s really cold outside.

At least we’re cosy in here. Now, I know I know, but which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought along Not in My Name. I’ve chosen it because of the date –the book is set during the start of the 2003 Iraq War and we’ve just had the 18 year anniversary of that particular disaster. We’ve also just had wrapped up the latest Brexit deadline, although I’m sure it won’t be the last. That’s relevant because the book is about Brexit, although not directly.

It’s also publication day for Not In My Name isn’t it? Congratulations! So, what can we expect from an evening in with Not in My Name.

Firstly, and most importantly, it’s a really good mystery. A cosy mystery, specifically. Much like Agatha Christie, Agatha Raisin and Her Royal Spyness it’s designed to give the readers a challenging puzzle to solve with a cosy atmosphere and nice characters. You get extra points for reading it whilst wrapped in a duvet or in front of a wood fire.

That sounds like the perfect kind of book to me Michael!

You can also expect a story where the politics are unapologetically left wing. The characters are a group of anti-war activists who live on a farm on the outskirts of Birmingham. That being said, the politics of the novel shouldn’t be alienating to those who don’t think of themselves as on the left as, in 2021, everyone in the UK seems to have concluded that the Iraq War was an absolute disaster. It’s one of the only things we can truly agree on.

Sounds fascinating. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along the music of Brass Against, particularly the song Take the Power Back. You can hear it here.

Brass Against are a brass band that do covers of Rage Against The Machine songs. In case you’re not familiar with Rage, they were an anti-capitalist rock group that rose to popularity in the late 90s. You may remember them as having an xmas #1 single in 2009 with Killing in the Name. It knocked whatever X-Factor song was aiming for #1 that year into second place. 2009 was a simpler time.

You’re making me feel old Michael. I’ve never heard of them before tonight…

Anyway, anyway, Brass Against take the screaming guitars and pounding bass of Rage and produce brass band arrangements that are quirkier whilst losing none of the fury of the original music.

They certainly do!

I grew up playing in brass bands – marching bands as part of the Boys’ Brigade, jazz bands at school and then ska punk bands once I left. There’s something deeply satisfying to me when someone takes a brass band, something which can be a little stodgy and linked to jingoism, and then uses it as a political tool.

So how would you link this track to Not In My Name?

Not in My Name is all about political resistance and alternate models of patriotism. It’s also caught between two time periods. It’s set in 2003, just as the war in Iraq was kicking off, but it’s not about the Iraq War, it’s about Brexit. The book is using the past to talk about the present. As such, I thought a modern band covering music from the 90s with traditional instruments but covering subjects such as police violence and pro-democracy protest fits the book quite well. Plus, the music slaps and Sophia Urista, who sings on most of the tracks, is a phenomenal rapper.

Not in My Name

Private Eye meets Agatha Christie…

What if the British people had been given a vote about invading Iraq in 2003. And the referendum split the nation with a 52% to 48% yes vote. A young activist is beaten to death after an anti-war demonstration. The police say her murder was random. It wasn’t. More activists will be murdered. The activists only trust each other. Maybe that trust has already been betrayed. Witty, political and provocative, this New Adult mystery is based on real events, and keeps the reader guessing to the very end.

Published by Claret Press, today 20th March 2021, Not in My Name is available for purchase here.

About Michael Coolwood

Michael Coolwood writes feminist cosy mysteries, science fiction and fantasy.  His work is deeply political and his characters are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. This is partly due to a respect for passionate, caring people, and partly because cuts to the health service in the UK have ensured he can barely leave the house due to his swamp of health problems.

For more information, visit Michael’s website or find him on Facebook.

An Extract from Spirit of the Horse by Pam Billinge

I can’t believe it’s four years since I had the pleasure of hosting a super guest post by Pam Billinge here on Linda’s Book Bag when The Spell of the Horse was published. Today, I’m very pleased to host an extract from Pam’s latest book, The Spirit of the Horse and I’d like to thank Stephanie from Blackbird Books for inviting me to participate in this celebratory blog tour.

Published by Blackbird, The Spirit of the Horse is available for purchase here.

The Spirit of the Horse

When Pam follows her dream to a farmhouse with five acres in northern France, she is able to live alongside her horses for the first time. Here, in the heart of nature, deeper insights are revealed into the healing connection between horse and human and the incredible power of presence to transform. Might it be that learning to honour and communicate with another species helps us to reframe the way we perceive each other, as well as how we might see ourselves?

A pioneer in embodied horse-led therapy and leadership development, Pam’s story is interwoven with those of inspiring individuals and groups she has supported: from people experiencing relationship breakdown to large organisations looking for culture change; from the bereaved or lonely to the confused wishing to explore what next. Steeped in simple wisdom, the stories offer the reader a pragmatic, mindful template for personal transformation.

‘It is with grace that horses lead us gently to a place where forgiveness is possible and self-compassion takes the place of contempt. They draw us into a non-linear dimension where we can sink into the infinity of the moment and know deep peace and harmony.’ – Pam Billinge

An Extract from The Spirit of the Horse

Love

December 2015

Since arriving in Wiltshire I had continued to be single. The romantic disappointments of the previous decade left me with no appetite for building a new relationship. And besides, re-establishing myself and my business took just about all the creative energy available to me. I felt self-contained, independent and cheerful. Exposing myself again to the risk of heartbreak was not on my agenda at all.

Then my dog died. Holly was one of two Jack Russells I bought as pups. With her sister Milo, who had passed away the year before, she was at my side for just on 18 years, longer than any other living thing, bringing me light and comfort through the darkest of times. I had adopted another younger dog already, Maisie, but carrying Holly into my car for the final visit to the vet’s was no less excruciating. In saying goodbye to her, I was also forced to confront in full the loss of her sister, whose essence had lived on with her litter mate.

Sometimes, when people ask me if I have children I reply ‘Yes, but they all have four legs.’ It usually raises a laugh and lightens the moment. My pets are the closest thing to kids I have experienced. Some might pity me, find it sad, emotionally unhealthy or anthropomorphic. Many understand the depth of attachment possible with a domestic pet. My life has been illuminated by the presence of my four-legged family members, canine and equine. The enduring inter-species understanding I have developed with each of them over long periods brings profound dimensions which I hold dear.

When I went home without Holly I felt utterly alone. Other bereavements were rekindled: my brother, parents, friends. Kind gestures and words were offered, but what I most needed was a hug and someone to sit beside me and share my sorrow.

I was no stranger to internet romance. I had previously been on dates (mostly just the one!) with men a foot shorter and a foot taller than me, with farmers and financiers, builders and beekeepers. There was the dinner with the son of a published culinary critic who complained about the perfectly acceptable food and wine and shouted at the chef ‘You do know who I am don’t you?’ before he stormed out, and the meal with a landscape gardener which ended prematurely when I set fire to the tablecloth. He heroically threw the blazing fabric to the floor and stamped on it to quell the flames, melting the soles of his new shoes in the process. He didn’t call me again. Then of course, there were the men for whom ‘separated’ meant still living with their wife but not having sex, and those for whom ‘divorced’ meant the ink was only just dry on the decree nisi and whose bile leeched from every pore.

Thus it was with an open mind and an attitude of curiosity that I sought once again to improve my love-life. My search was surprisingly short. A photograph of a Jack Russell who looked disarmingly like the dogs I had lost led me to John. Ten months after meeting for coffee one Saturday morning, he came to live with me.

*

And now, of course, I really want to read the rest of this!

About Pam Billinge

pam

Pam Billinge is a therapist, coach and author who specialises in embodied horse-led learning. This unique approach relies entirely on the emergent relational process between horse and human. At her bases in the UK and in France, Pam supports people of all nationalities, ages and walks of life with their personal and professional development. Through her workshops and her writing Pam wishes to share the healing wisdom of horses whilst advancing the cause of this sometimes much-misunderstood species. She hopes also through her work to reconnect us with the natural world from which we are too often separated.

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The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander

I made the mistake of declining to take part in the blog tour for The Littlest Library by Poppy Alexander because I was snowed under with tours in March, but lovely Ellen Turner at Orion kindly sent me a copy for review anyway. I’d just finished a book when The Littlest Library arrived and so I picked it up to have a look at the first page. Two hours later I was still reading and not doing what I was supposed to be doing. Then, I had a tour postponed for today so it gives me enormous pleasure to share my review of Poppy Alexander’s book on publication day.

The Littlest Library is published by Orion, today 18th March 2021 and is available to buy through these links.

The Littlest Library

It’s only the beginning of her story…

Jess Metcalf is perfectly happy with her quiet, predictable life – it’s just the way she likes it. But when her beloved grandmother passes away and she loses her job at the local library, her life is turned upside-down.

Packing up her grandmother’s books, she moves to a tiny cottage in a charming country village. To her surprise, Jess finds herself the owner of an old red telephone box, too – and she soon turns it into the littlest library around!

It’s not long before the books are borrowed and begin to work their magic – somehow, they seem to be bringing the villagers together once more…

Maybe it’s finally time for Jess to follow her heart and find a place to call home?

My Review of The Littlest Library

Jess needs a new direction in life.

The Littlest Library is an absolute treat of a book. Poppy Alexander writes with warmth and humanity and some glorious touches of natural imagery that make this story a joy to read.

I loved the characters residing in Middlemas. Jess, of course, takes centre stage, but she is so realistic of the self-fulfilling prophecies that many of us steer our lives by, that I found her instantly likeable and extremely easy to relate to. I so wanted her to find happiness. In creating Middlemas, Poppy Alexander illustrates with absolute clarity, and considerable tenderness, the types of people who live in these communities. There’s the perfect amount of back story for all threaded into Jess’s narrative to bring alive characters like Diana and Rebecca totally realistically. I felt I knew each person thoroughly. I particularly loved the way in which Mimi is the catalyst for so much of the action. Her death, her books and her annotations help bring about relationships, resolutions and happiness for so many in Middlemas and yet she isn’t physically present. I thought this was such skilful writing.

The plot is, of course, typical of its genre with the trials and tribulations of finding love and happiness and I think that is what makes The Littlest Library such a triumph. I read it when I wanted a touching, romantic story that I could rely on to bring me joy. The Littlest Library did that completely.

However, whilst The Littlest Library is a perfect example of romantic women’s fiction, that doesn’t mean to say it is lightweight. Poppy Alexander explores themes of community and belonging, identity and grief, duty and expectation, ambition and suppression with complete accomplishment. There are so many kinds of relationship illustrated in this lovely story. Obviously romance plays its part, but relationships between sisters, friends, husbands and wives, parents and children and so on give depth and colour to the story so that readers can identify with characters and situations beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed escaping to Middlemas and being part of the village community for a while. Reading Poppy Alexander’s The Littlest Library was like taking a short, restorative break in a place I love. It’s well written, entertaining and completely uplifting. I really recommend it most highly.

About Poppy Alexander

Poppy Alexander wrote her first book when she was five. There was a long gap in her writing career while she was at school, and after studying classical music at university, she decided the world of music was better off without her and took up public relations, campaigning, political lobbying and a bit of journalism instead. She takes an anthropological interest in family, friends and life in her West Sussex village (think, The Archers crossed with Twin Peaks) where she lives with her husband, children and various other pets.

Poppy Alexander also writes as Rosie Howard and you’ll find my review of The Homecoming here, of  A Vintage Year here and you can find out what happened when we stayed in together here.

For more information about Poppy, visit her website, follow her on Twitter @SarahWaights and find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Giveaway and Discussion: Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay

I’m beside myself with disappointment today because I simply couldn’t fit in reading Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay in time for the blog tour that is currently running. The paperback of Every Last Fear will be out in September so hopefully I can read it then! However, I do have a wonderful hard backed copy of Every Last Fear to give away to a lucky UK reader today and I’m delighted to be staying in with Alex to find out more about the book. My enormous thanks to Lauren Tavella at Head of Zeus for putting us in touch with one another.

Staying in with Alex Finlay

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Alex  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?

I’ve brought Every Last Fear, which just released, and I’m excited to share with UK readers.

From what I hear, we readers are very excited to read it! What can we expect from an evening with Every Last Fear?

I hope you can expect twists and turns and, if I did my job right, maybe even a tear, as you trace the fate of the Pine family.  It’s the story of a family made infamous by a true crime documentary who are found dead while on holiday, leaving their surviving son to uncover the truth about their final days.

Every Last Fear sounds brilliant and I love a book that has an emotional connection. What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought the poster for the fictitious documentary featured in the novel.

That’s fabulous! Now I’m really intrigued.

And I’ve also included a photo of a friendly guy who we met wandering in and out of shops in Tulum, Mexico, a place featured in the opening of the novel.  “Smiley” makes an appearance in the story.

Smiley is most welcome Alex. Thanks so much for introducing Every Last Fear. Let me give Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details. 

Every Last Fear

Keep your family close, because your enemies are closer.

University student Matt Pine has just received devastating news. Nearly his entire family have been found dead while holidaying in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI aren’t convinced – and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy thrusts his family into the media spotlight again. Seven years ago, Matt’s older brother, Danny, was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his teenage girlfriend. Danny has always sworn he was innocent, and last year, a true crime documentary that claimed he was wrongfully convicted went viral.

Now his family’s murder is overlapping with Danny’s case, Matt is determined to uncover the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison. Even if it means putting his own life in danger, and confronting his every last fear.

Published by Head of Zeus imprint Aria on 2nd March, Every Last Fear is available for purchase through the links here.

Every Last Fear Giveaway

For your chance to win a hardbacked copy of Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear, click here. Giveaway open to UK readers only. The prize will be sent directly from the publisher and your details will not be retained beyond the closing date. The giveaway ends at UK midnight on Sunday 21st March 2021.

About Alex Finlay

Alex Finlay is the pseudonym of an author who lives in Washington, D.C.  Born in the American South, Alex spent years traversing the globe, from a tropical island in the Pacific to a small village in the UK to a remote region in the Far East.  But it was on a trip to beautiful Tulum, Mexico where he was inspired to write Every Last Fear.  The novel is an Amazon Editors’ Pick, an Indie Next pick, a LibraryReads selection, as well as a Newsweek, Goodreads, BuzzFeed, BookBub, and PopSugar, most anticipated book of the year.

You can find out more on Alex’s website and you’ll find Alex on Instagram and Facebook.

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Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller

It feels like I’ve been waiting a very long time for a new book by Claire Fuller because I adore her writing. I’m thrilled to share my review of her latest novel, Unsettled Ground today and I would like to thank Hannah Sawyer for sending me a copy of the book in return for an honest review.

When I first began blogging in 2015, Claire Fuller’s debut Our Endless Numbered Days was one of my books of the year and you can read my review here. When I reviewed Claire’s second book Swimming Lessons here, I was privileged to interview her too. I then reviewed Claire’s wonderful third novel Bitter Orange here.

Published by Penguin Fig Tree, Unsettled Ground is available for purchase through these links. I’m delighted that Unsettled Ground has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Unsettled Ground

What if the life you have always known is taken from you in an instant?

What would you do to get it back?

Twins Jeanie and Julius have always been different from other people. At 51 years old, they still live with their mother, Dot, in rural isolation and poverty. Inside the walls of their old cottage they make music, and in the garden they grow (and sometimes kill) everything they need for sustenance.

But when Dot dies suddenly, threats to their livelihood start raining down. Jeanie and Julius would do anything to preserve their small sanctuary against the perils of the outside world, even as their mother’s secrets begin to unravel, putting everything they thought they knew about their lives at stake.

Unsettled Ground is a heart-stopping novel of betrayal and resilience, love and survival. It is a portrait of life on the fringes of society that explores with dazzling emotional power how we can build our lives on broken foundations, and spin light from darkness.

My Review of Unsettled Ground

Dot’s death uncovers an unsettling chain of events.

When you’ve loved everything an author has ever written and they have a new novel it’s always an anxious moment. Picking up Unsettled Ground I wondered whether the magic of Claire Fuller’s writing would be present. It was. But more than the exquisite luminosity of her prose that I have come to expect, Unsettled Ground has an even deeper and more emotional resonance than ever. I thought it was superb.

In essence, the narrative is simple. A middle aged set of twins, Jeanie and Julius, find themselves in financial difficulties after the sudden death of their mother, Dot. However, Unsettled Ground took me a long while to read. Its intensity, its profound exploration of relationships, grief, deceit, pride and love meant that I needed to savour each word and allow myself to absorb and process the nuances and emotions threaded into the story. Unsettled Ground is a rather like an onion that Janie might grow in their garden. Each chapter peels back a layer of humanity that is breath-taking in its comprehension of what makes us who we are. Indeed Dot’s human flaws are the driving force behind the narrative.

It’s no spoiler to say that Dot dies in the first few pages of Unsettled Ground, but her influence is dominant throughout. She is a much a presence as the twins and the catalyst of so much of the action. She’s such a compelling and complex woman that I ended Unsettled Ground not knowing if I loathed or pitied her, if I loved her or despised her. I would say that by the end of the book I was broken by the impact of her on Julius and Jeanie. Dot made me rage and made me weep.

The claustrophobic relationship between Jeanie and Julius is utterly absorbing. Claire Fuller made me want them to get away from one another and live totally separate lives whilst simultaneously hoping they’d never be parted. I thought about them, Jeanie particularly, when I wasn’t reading about them. More minor characters like Bridget are equally compelling. They somehow reflect society perfectly without ever becoming stereotypes or pastiche so that all life is present within the pages of Unsettled Ground.

Alongside the psychological relationships aspect of Unsettled Ground, there is a dark wryness and a tense thriller too. I found my pulse elevated as Jeanie found herself emotionally and physically threatened. I kept pausing in my reading as I wasn’t sure I was going to like what happened next and yet I couldn’t let go of the novel. I thought Claire Fuller’s manipulation of me as a reader was just fabulous.

Perfectly plotted, and beautifully written with brilliant characterisation, Unsettled Ground is Claire Fuller crafting the narrative at her most sublime. I thought it was a wonderful book.

About Claire Fuller

Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.

You can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaireFuller2 and visit her blog. You’ll also find Claire on Facebook and Instagram.

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Audio

Staying in with Beth Morrey

I’m so disappointed not to have been able to read and review Saving Missy by Beth Morrey in time for my slot on the blog tour as I have heard wonderful things about it with rave reviews from other bloggers. I’d like to thank Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and for putting me in touch with Beth so that we could stay in together today to find out more about Saving Missy.

Staying in with Beth Morrey

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

Thank you for inviting me! I actually love staying in, even after months of lockdown.

We’re certainly well practiced at it aren’t we? Now, I rather think I know but tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

I’ve brought along my debut novel, Saving Missy, because I think it could provide a bit of warmth and hope in these difficult times.

We most certainly could do with some comfort Beth! Tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with Saving Missy?

Missy Carmichael is a proud, spiky, and very lonely old woman who you might not initially warm to. I wanted to create a flawed, layered character who had a rich and sometimes thorny past, and I hope that as the book progresses, readers will come to understand Missy, and maybe love her as much as her dog, Bobby, does. When I wrote the book, I set out to make people cry in a happy way, and I hope that’s what the story achieves – I was after the lump-in-throat quality of It’s a Wonderful Life! Darkness making way for light.

From what I hear Beth, you’ve managed that beautifully. I truly cannot wait to read Saving Missy. It’s so wonderful to have older protagonists too. Why did you choose to do that? 

There’s a poignancy and stoicism in old age, and I wanted to reflect that in my protagonist – the depth and mystery, triumph and tribulation of a long life. Missy’s story plays out against the backdrop of 20th century history, and I was really interested in that intersection of personal and national events. The narrative incorporates the suffragette movement, the introduction of the pill, the Brexit referendum, the closure of libraries…  Missy is, to a certain extent, the product of her environment, her background and upbringing. We all are.

We are indeed. So what else have you brought along and why have you brought it?

Well, I’ve provided a bottle of white wine, because Missy drinks a lot of it! And cake, because there are at least three significant cakes in the book, including a delicious courgette cake. I’ve brought you some flowers that are appropriately figurative, since Missy is keen on flower symbolism. I’ve gone for zinnias, which represent lasting friendship. As an extra guest, I’ve invited my own dog, Polly, although she is not remotely sociable and will climb on the furniture and leave dog hairs everywhere.

Not to worry. I’ll get the hoover out when you’ve gone!

Blackadder is a running theme in the book, as I’m a massive fan, so I’ve brought a DVD of the second series, and perhaps we can watch an episode or two. I do a very good impression of Queenie. The final thing I’ve brought is some post-it notes, to play The Name Game. There’s a deleted scene from an early draft of Saving Missy, where they play this at Sylvie’s house on Christmas Day. Everyone has famous names on their foreheads, and they all have to guess who they are. Denzil is Anneka Rice, Sylvie is Minnehaha, and Missy is Clarissa Dalloway.

Wine, cake, flowers, a dog, a classic sitcom and a parlour game! It’ll be a busy evening in.

I think we’re going to have a wonderful evening Beth. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about Saving Missy. Now, you cut the cake and pour yourself a glass of wine whilst I put the kettle on for a cup of tea for me and tell blog readers a bit more about Saving Missy

Saving Missy

Seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

Missy Carmichael is prickly, stubborn – and terribly lonely. Until a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new. Something wonderful.

Missy was used to her small, solitary existence, listening to her footsteps echoing around the empty house, the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock. After all, she had made her life her way.

Now another life is beckoning to Missy – if she’s brave enough…

Published by Harper Collins, Saving Missy is available for purchase through the links here, as well as via Hive and Bookshop.org.

About Beth Morrey

Beth Morrey is a former TV producer who worked on various shows including Channel 4’s The Secret Life of Four Year Olds and ITV’s 100 Year Old Drivers. After several attempts at completing a full-length novel, she finally achieved it just before her 40th birthday. Saving Missy has sold in 17 countries, and was one of the top ten bestselling debuts of 2020. Now Beth is a part-time writer, and full-time harassed mother, dog-walker and caterer.

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

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