Newport Writers – An Anthology of Poetry and Prose

It’s always a real pleasure to discover new to me authors and poets and so I’m delighted to participate in the blog tour for the the Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate. I’m very pleased to share my review today.

Published on 7th November 2021, the Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose is available for purchase here.

Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose

Welcome to our first anthology.

Since the group started, it has always been Tony’s vision to put together a collection of stories and poems penned by our members.

Please proceed with caution – these short stories and poems will introduce you to the alternative side of Newport: ghostly grandparents, a displaced porpoise, a little bit of Welshness, two philosophical security guards, a child whose food plays music, the awesome side of autism, a woman who made teddy bears in a concentration camp, and much more.

Take a whirlwind tour through bereavement, love, regret and parenthood. Laugh and defy fate as you run the gamut of life’s experiences – seen through the eyes of a bunch of writers who celebrate their individuality.

You will meet a diverse group of people who enjoy what they do and want to share it with you.

We invite you to sit back with a cuppa or maybe something stronger, relax and enjoy what promises to be a whirlwind ride…

My Review of

Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose

An anthology of poetry, prose and flash fiction.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose because it has such an eclectic mix of styles with something to suit every reader taste. What’s so good about this anthology is that it can be read in the order it’s presented, but equally it is rewarding simply to dip in and see what’s there. It’s possible to read several pieces over a lunch break with the satisfaction that the reader has enjoyed complete works and been highly entertained.

There are so many pieces in this anthology that I absolutely loved, especially Rebecca Baker’s Writers Anonymous and Words by Janet Williams because those pieces seemed so perfectly attuned with word craft. However, each entry is a small gem waiting to be discovered. Within the short prose pieces I felt the authors had encapsulated as many twists and fulfilling plots as any full length novel I have read. All of the senses are catered for from being soaked to the skin to associating music with food so that the anthology feels immersive and engaging. There’s also a wide range of human experience from birth, through school, jobs and marriage to death so that the anthology has resonance for every reader. The themes within Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose are heat-felt and perceptive. Grief, love, jealousy, racism, oppression, hope, joy, memory and identity are just some of the aspects running through the writing and I do feel I might need to re-read the anthology several times over before I scratch the surface of all the meanings.

The variety of style is incredibly interesting. I enjoyed trying out the poetry aloud as rhyme and free verse gave very different results when spoken rather than just read so that I found nuances of meaning I might have otherwise missed. This means that there’s more to Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose than just passively reading it, giving a vibrancy and engagement.

Adding to my enjoyment were the small biographies about each author because they made the people behind the writing come alive.

Reading Newport Writers Anthology of Poetry and Prose is an absolute treat. Don’t miss the chance to meet a hugely talented group of writers.

About the Newport Writers

We are a diverse group from south Wales with over 20 members, covering a broad age range and a variety of styles within the sphere of writing. We include poets, novelists, writers of flash fiction and short stories, plays and film scripts.

We published an anthology in February 2020 entitled Newport Writers – An anthology of poetry and prose. Available from Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.

We met on Zoom during the pandemic, but have now found a venue in central Newport where we can get together with plenty of space for social distancing.

We hold an Open Mic night once a month at popular Newport coffee shop Horton’s, and in the summer of 2021 we participated in several spoken word events.

Some members of our group are available to read and offer critique, and we have a proofreader among our membership.

For more information, follow the Newport Writers on Twitter @NewportWriters or join them on Facebook.

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A Special Cornish Christmas by Phillipa Ashley

It’s far, far too long since I featured Phillipa Ashley here on Linda’s Book Bag – and if I’m honest, I’m only partially doing so today! Last time I was sharing an extract from Spring on the Little Cornish Isles (see here) and prior to that I was spotlighting Summer at the Cornish Cafe here.

Today, however, I’m finally reviewing Phillipa’s writing and am thrilled to share details of my latest My Weekly review which is of Philippa’s A Special Cornish Christmas. Although I have a mini-review below, my full review of A Special Cornish Christmas is on the My Weekly website here.

Published by Harper Collins imprint Avon on 11th November, A Special Cornish Christmas is available for purchase through the links here.

A Special Cornish Christmas

This Christmas everything is about to change…

When Bo Grayson and her friends meet a mysterious fortune teller, she gives each woman the same prediction: You will meet the love of your life by Christmas Day.

But Bo quickly dismisses this as nonsense. And with the festive season in full swing, she has plenty to keep her busy: creating the seasonal menu for her Boatyard Café, getting her rock and roll dance group ready for their Christmas show – and avoiding thinking about last December, when her fortune took a turn for the worse…

Besides, she definitely isn’t ready to open her heart again. But will fate – and perhaps a sprinkle of Christmas magic – change her mind?

The book that is guaranteed to make your Christmas, perfect for fans of Sarah Morgan and Heidi Swain.

My Review of A Special Cornish Christmas

My full review of A Special Cornish Christmas can be found on the My Weekly website here.

A Special Cornish Christmas is filled to the brim with warm, vivid characters I cared about and I loved the book. Imbued with food, dance and romance, there’s a touch of Christmas magic between the pages.

Do visit My Weekly to read my full review here.

About Phillipa Ashley

Philippa Ashley

Phillipa Ashley writes warm, funny romantic fiction for a variety of international publishers. The first two books in her best-selling Cornish Café series made the Amazon Top 20 and Top 10 chart in 2016.

Phillipa lives in a Staffordshire village with her husband and has a grown-up daughter.

You’ll find more about Phillipa on her website and on Instagram or Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @PhillipaAshley.

Staying in with Chick Yuill

My thanks to Rhoda Hardie for putting me in touch with Chick Yuill so that we could stay in together to chat about Chick’s latest book.

Staying in with Chick Yuill

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

Thank you for inviting me. It’s never a hardship to stay in and share the company of a book lover.

I agree wholeheartedly with that Chick! Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

 

I’ve brought my sixth and latest novel Talking to Calippa Cumberland. And I’ve chosen it for several reasons. The most obvious is that it’s a Christmas tale and the season of goodwill will soon be upon us. So it seems an appropriate choice for an evening by the fireside towards the end of November.

It does. Tell me more.

But I’ve also chosen it because it represents a new challenge for me. It was the first time I’d written in the first person as a woman which involved me familiarising myself with aspects of life of which, as a mere man, I have no direct personal experience. Part of my ‘research’ was asking one of my daughters a series of questions to which she responded with a shake of her head, ‘Dad, I will answer this, but only once. And don’t ever ask me again! ’So it’s particularly interesting for me to be talking about the book in the company of a woman reader.

That must have been quite a challenge. What made you choose to write from the female perspective?

It wasn’t just the technical writing challenge that drew me to the central character and the topic. It was also that I wanted to try to enter into the experience of what it’s like to be a woman in what is still often ‘a man’s world’. And I think it’s my little protest against the misogyny that is still all too prevalent in our culture.

That’s fabulous. It’s such a shame we have to confront issues like misogyny and racism still. 

What can we expect from an evening in with Talking to Calippa Cumberland?

Well, I hope that the first thing we’ll find is a compelling and convincing story.

The plot takes us through a series of Christmas Eves from 1976 to 2019 as Lori Bloom negotiates the ups and downs of life. Calippa Cumberland is her imaginary childhood friend who remains a presence into adulthood and becomes the imagined recipient of Lori’s reflections in the journal in which she jots her reflections and records her hopes and fears. It’s very much a story about the need for companionship.

That sounds very interesting.

But I also wanted to explore the power of imagination for both good and ill, not just as a creative force in art and literature but as being at the very heart of whatever faith we hold to, whatever values we seek to live by, and whatever future we want for ourselves and the world around us. And the whole thing is a recognition that life is about losing and finding, about being lost and being found.

Oh yes. I think we need to refocus on our individual ability to create good in the world. How has Talking to Calippa Cumberland been received so far?

Here are a couple of comments from early readers that have really encouraged me:

‘A beautifully crafted story, I got completely lost in it and found myself forgetting that the words of a female in all her growing up highs and lows were written by a man…’

 ‘Wow. What a book! I’ve loved all of your books but this one…… I say it again. Wow! Thank you for writing it.

Guys, can I very heartily recommend Talking to Calippa Cumberland as something that just should be among the books you have to read!’

Those are such wonderful comments Chick. You must be delighted. 

Anyhow, here’s an excerpt from the book  –  one of Lori’s journal entries after major surgery:

Dear Calippa

Well, I’ve lost a lot in these last few months. Half of my insides, for a start – with a long scar to remind me of it every day of my life from now on. And, of course, I’ve lost any prospect of giving birth, being a mother, watching a child to whom I have given life grow up – though even without the cancer diagnosis, the combination of the (until now) ever-present endometriosis, the all-too-swiftly passing years, and my bad fortune and ill judgement in matters of love have meant that I’ve known the chances of that were diminishing rapidly. Those are real and painful losses. But, for all that, as someone whose name I can’t remember once said, much still remains. I’m still alive. I’m still a woman. I’m still Lori Bloom. There are still people who love me. And I’m still writing these letters to you!

And I think I’m learning more and more that living and losing go hand-in-hand. To live is to lose. Some of the people who’ve been important in my life have died, many of my memories have faded, half of my life is over. But, for good or ill, I am who I am because of all that’s happened and all I have lost.

I guess I’ve really known that ever since that Christmas Eve in Kendrew’s Department Store all those years ago. You’ve been a constant reminder that losing and – for want of a better word – lostness is always there. But now I’m daring to hope that alongside the sadness of losing there might be the joy of finding something of what’s been lost and even the hope of discovering things that I never knew were there.

Thanks for giving me some space to puzzle and muddle my way through all this.

Your friend, Lori

I love that piece. It has really made me want to read Talking to Calippa Cumberland.

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

 

I’ve taken the liberty of bringing a bag with four things in it without which I fear writing would be impossible for me  –  a bag of coffee beans, my grinder, my temperature control kettle and my wonderful aeropress coffee-maker –  the simplest but most effective coffee-maker ever invented and the best £30 that anyone can ever spend.

Ah, now, I’m a tea drinker. How does coffee help you write?

Here’s my coffee-making ritual before I settle down to write.

First I grind the beans. Only fresh coffee will do.

Then I put a heaped scoop of coffee into the aeropress

Next I heat the kettle to exactly 80 degrees  – the optimum temperature for making coffee, pour the water into the aeropress exactly up to the mark

After all that, it’s time to press down the plunger, allowing the coffee to run gently into my mug

And finally and blissfully and slowly I sip the coffee and savour the life-enhancing, mind-sharpening surge of caffeine

Now I can face the hard but addictive work of writing.

Let me make some for you right now!

Actually, Chick, you make yourself a coffee and as soon as I’ve given Linda’s Book Bag readers a few more details about Talking to Calippa Cumberland, I’ll make myself a pot of tea and we can chat a bit more. Thanks so much for staying in with me this evening. I think I’m going to love reading Talking to Calippa Cumberland.

Talking to Calippa Cumberland

It’s half past four on Christmas Eve, 1976. Lori Bloom, aged three and three-quarters, is leaving a busy department store with her mother when the tannoy announces that a child in reception is lost and crying for her parents.

The impact on Lori is immediate. ‘Calippa Cumberland’, the mysterious girl with blonde hair and a curious name, becomes her imaginary friend and a constant presence into adulthood. For as one Christmas follows another, Lori finds herself confronting painful questions and in need of a companion in whom she can confide.

But will there ever be someone Lori can completely trust?

And will Christmas Eve ever be about finding and being found, rather than losing and being lost?

Published by Instant Apostle on 22nd October 2021, Talking to Calippa Cumberland is available for purchase through the links here.

About Chick Yuill

Chick Yuill is a passionate communicator and works as a freelance broadcaster, speaker and writer. He is the author of six novels. Currently he presents Faith, Hope & Love every Friday on Premier Christian Radio. In addition, he has the dubious distinction of being the only Christian speaker to have been featured on the tenth anniversary highlights of the Jeremy Kyle Show. But that’s a story in itself!

You can find Chick on Facebook on his website and you can follow him on Twitter @chickyuill1.

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Poetic Justice by Mark Tilbury

I’m a huge fan of Mark Tilbury’s writing and he doesn’t feature here on Linda’s Book Bag nearly often enough. Today I’m delighted to share my review of Mark’s latest release Poetic Justice.

It’s a year since I reshared my review of The Abattoir of Dreams in a post you’ll find here. The Abattoir of Dreams was one of my books of the year in 2017.

My review of Mark’s You Belong To Me is here.

Published on 18th November 2021, Poetic Justice is available for purchase here.

Poetic Justice

Five twisted tales of murder and revenge.

Time doesn’t heal; it’s an incubator for old wounds.

Lucy’s return – No one remembers Lucy at the school reunion, but she remembers them. Especially one boy who made her life hell, and now she’s going to do the same to him.

The Tallyman– Donna is in debt, and the loan shark is making her life unbearable, with increasingly vile demands when she can’t make her payments. But her elderly neighbour, Elsie, has the perfect solution to get rid of the tallyman once and for all.

Last Orders – Jeff Tully’s wife has left him. Trying to run his pub single-handedly, he increasingly turns to his barmaid, Alyson, for help. But when Alyson tells him of her own troubles, they hatch a plan to get rid of Alyson’s violent, abusive husband. But will Jeff live to regret he ever got involved with his barmaid?

Ballad of the Unsung Hero – Retired shopkeeper Jennifer Price is at her wits end. Her husband Kenneth thinks more of his fishing than he does of her. But when she meets the man of her dreams at a spiritual church, Jennifer is hell-bent on getting her man – whatever it takes.

Private Museum – Retired nurse Mandy Rostron never thought she’d find love again after her husband died, but in Anthony Mallard she’s found the perfect gentleman. Or so she thinks. Mallard has some very dark secrets in his basement, or his Private Museum as he calls it, and Mandy is about to discover the truth about the man of her dreams.

My Review of Poetic Justice

A collection of short stories and poems.

Poetic Justice has all the trademark Mark Tilbury elements of grittiness, aggression, violence, humanity and a touch of the supernatural that I was expecting, but I hadn’t reckoned on the poetry that precedes each of the five stories. The poetry is intense, carefully crafted and works so well between stories, both as an indication of what’s to come and as a kind of palette cleanser, so that moving on to the next story feels as if there is a fresh discovery to be made.

The stories themselves are smashing examples of Poetic Justice so that the anthology could not have been better named. There’s a wickedly dry humour within the collection and all the twists and turns of a Mark Tilbury narrative are present. I think any one of these stories could become a full length novel and they feel like a distillation of skilful plotting and great storytelling. They would translate into a cracking television series of standalone drama too.

I loved the variety in the writing, with the italics for thoughts and internalised feelings so that the reader gets a totally clear understanding of what is going on the minds of the people created here. There’s real variety with both first and third person narratives so that although there are only five stories in Poetic Justice, there’s a kind of richness to the reading experience. I particularly enjoyed the conversational tone of Lucy’s story as it created an intimacy, making the reader almost complicit in Lucy’s actions and the ending of this one made it my favourite story but you’ll need to read the anthology to see if you agree! I found it unusual to have chapters in short stories and this added to the sense of pace and drama in Poetic Justice.

Mark Tilbury knows how to present the dark, simmering underbelly of humanity with absolute authority, but what I found most thought-provoking, however, was the author’s exploration of themes from a female perspective. At the risk of sounding sexist, I hadn’t expected a male author to provide such an insight into how marriage, revenge, passion, love, bullying and, indeed, sexism, affect women.

Poetic Justice is a collection that packs a punch. It’s quite difficult to define in many ways with crime and psychological drama as obvious genres, but the anthology seems to contain more than that too. Poetic Justice feels somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I really enjoyed it but beware. If you live near a place called Benzington you might want to think about moving!

About Mark Tilbury

mark tilbury

Mark lives in a small village in the lovely county of Cumbria, although his books are set in Oxfordshire where he was born and raised.

After being widowed and raising his two daughters, Mark finally took the plunge and self-published two books on Amazon, The Revelation Room and The Eyes of the Accused.

He’s always had a keen interest in writing, and having had seven books published by an indie publisher, has decided to return to self publishing. After successfully publishing The Last One To See HerA Prayer For The Broken followed in October 2020.

When he’s not writing, Mark can be found playing guitar, reading and walking.

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

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The Lost by Simon Beckett

My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Lost by Simon Beckett. I’m delighted to share my review of The Lost today.

The Lost will be published by Orion imprint Trapeze on November 25th 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Lost

A terrific thriller from one of our finest crime writers at the top of his game.’ Peter James

A MISSING CHILD

Ten years ago, the disappearance of firearms police officer Jonah Colley’s young son almost destroyed him.

A GRUESOME DISCOVERY

A plea for help from an old friend leads Jonah to Slaughter Quay, and the discovery of four bodies. Brutally attacked and left for dead, he is the only survivor.

A SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH

Under suspicion himself, he uncovers a network of secrets and lies about the people he thought he knew – forcing him to question what really happened all those years ago…

My Review of The Lost

Jonah’s not having a good day!

I have absolutely no idea how I’ve failed to read Simon Beckett before as, if The Lost is anything to judge by, I’ve been missing out dreadfully. The Lost is an action packed, high adrenaline, fast paced thriller that kept me riveted to the pages even in those moments when I thought Jonah’s actions were fool hardy. Simon Beckett’s style of writing creates this effect so well because he understands exactly how to vary sentence length for impact, how to create an almost Dickensian atmosphere and setting, how to end chapters with hooks that compel the reader to continue, and how to provide just enough violence and gore to shock without turning the reader off from the narrative. I thought his writing was brilliant. The plotting kept me guessing, wrongfooted me and left me reeling.

Aside from the thrilling story, what I so enjoyed was the creation of Jonah Colley’s character. Jonah is the driving force in story and the tragedy in his past colours his actions. When there were times I felt he behaved unreasonably or foolishly, Simon Beckett made me understand why Jonah made the choices he did so that I cared about him. His physical injury acted as a wonderful metaphor for his emotional and intellectual pain too and Jonah is the embodiment of guilt, love and determination. His obsession with tracking down Owen Stokes and his complicated relationship with Gavin both add to the pacy story and to his character.

Whilst The Lost can be enjoyed as an entertaining thriller that would make a superb television series, there are many other layers of interest. It’s tricky to say too much without spoiling the plot but Simon Beckett explores the blurred lines between those who break, and those who enforce, the law. He considers the lengths we might go to to protect those we love. He explores natural justice, good and evil, the ability if the human mind to believe what it wants to believe regardless of the truth and so on, giving The Lost a psychological interest that I loved.

I thought The Lost was an exciting, deftly crafted thriller with vivid characters. As a result Simon Beckett has a new reader fan.

About Simon Beckett

Simon Beckett is the No.1 International Bestselling author of the David Hunter series. His books have been translated into 29 languages, appeared in the Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller lists and sold over 10 million copies worldwide. A former freelance journalist who has written for The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday and The Observer, the inspiration for the first David Hunter novel came after a visit to the world-renowned Body Farm in Tennessee introduced him to the work of forensic anthropologists.

As well as co-winning the Ripper Award in 2018/19, the largest European crime prize, Simon has won the Raymond Chandler Society’s ‘Marlowe’ Award and been short-listed for the CWA Gold Dagger, CWA Dagger in the Library and Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year.

Simon’s stand alone novel, Where There’s Smoke, was adapted into a major ITV two-part drama.

For more information, visit Simon’s website, or follow him on Twitter @BeckettSimon, Facebook and Instagram.

Winter Festival Online 2021 from @camlitfest

Many of you know that I’m involved with my local Deepings Literary Festival (save the dates 28th April to 1st May 2022!), but in the mean time, I’m delighted to bring you details of another fabulous online festival starting today, 17th November 2021, from the Cambridge Literary Festival.

Beginning with Dame Gillian Beer at 6.30 this evening through to debut novelist Natasha Brown joining poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine at 6.30PM on Sunday, there’s an event to suit the taste of every lover of books.

Some events are streamed live, others recorded and all are available for the price of one £25 festival ticket, available here with the ability to watch again online for up to seven days after the festival so that ‘attendees’ can dip in and out of the festival at their leisure.

At just over £1 an author I think that’s a bargain not to be missed!

What’s On

The full programme is:

Doesn’t that look like a stunning line up?

I’ll be listening in to as many events as I can manage as they happen and catching up later with those I can’t attend at the time.

Don’t forget to get your ticket here.

Safely Gathered In by Sarah Schofield

My enormous thanks to Zoe Turner of Comma Press for sending me a copy of the short story anthology Safely Gathered In by Sarah Schofield in return for an honest review. It gives me enormous pleasure to share that review today. I also spoke about Safely Gathered In recently online here too.

Published by Comma Press on 4th November 2021, Safely Gathered In is available for purchase through the links here.

Safely Gathered In

A woman grows increasingly annoyed by her husband’s emails, offering advice and reminders even months after his death…

A taxidermist dreams of preserving one of his clients after she takes him out for a coffee…

A grieving nurse is troubled by her daughter’s fascination with The Iron Lady…

In Safely Gathered In, Sarah Schofield probes at the heart of what forms us and what we, in turn, form. The stories collected here expose the spaces that words often fail to reach and examine how objects – both manmade and natural – can reflect the darkest manifestations of grief and disconnection.

From the child acting out a family betrayal in the comfort of her dolls house, to the sister making wind-up toys from the dead birds she finds on her doorstep, this debut collection ventures into the surreal and delivers a sense of unease that leaves us questioning why we gather the things we do.

My Review of Safely Gathered In

A volume of 17 short stories.

I’m not quite sure how to review Safely Gathered In as it is quite unlike other short story collections I’ve read. There’s a slightly surreal, unworldly quality to it with a kaleidoscopic blend of the prosaic, the dystopian, the futuristic, the unusual and the ordinariness of life, all melded into gorgeous prose that I found quite astounding. Safely Gathered In is beautifully written, intelligently constructed and utterly mesmerising. Direct speech feels natural and convincing, settings are evocatively depicted and characters spring to life in just a few words through Sarah Schofield’s wonderfully balanced writing.

In each story contained in Safely Gathered In there’s an intense microcosm of life and the emotions we experience, frequently projected through the objects with which we surround ourselves. Sarah Schofield’s final sentences in every story are a physical blow to the heart and soul of the reader as she distils all the meaning and emotion of the story into one stunning conclusion. Many of the emotions are on the darker spectrum of grief and loneliness with a longing for what the characters have lost or are searching for, making for a highly affecting read. Alongside the variety of voices and points of view, this has the effect of drawing in the reader and making them feel, as well as understand, how the characters themselves feel.

I’m aware I haven’t properly articulated what Safely Gathered In is, but that is because it’s so difficult to pin down. The collection is about grief, desire, ambition, loss, longing, unrealistic expectation, family, friendships, marriage and relationships. It’s about our past, our present and our future. It’s about the importance of the objects in our lives and the futility of attaching so much importance to them. I think it best to say Safely Gathered In is about humanity and you should read it. I thought it was excellent.

About Sarah Schofield

Sarah Schofield’s stories have been published in LemistryBio-PunkThought XBeta LifeSpindles, Conradology and The New Abject (all Comma Press), Wall: Nine Stories from Edge Hill Writers (EHUP), Best of British Short Stories 2020 (Salt), Spilling Ink Flash Fiction AnthologyBack and Beyond Arts Publication, Litfest’s The Language of Footprints, Synaesthesia Magazine, Lakeview International Journal, Woman’s Weekly and others. She has been shortlisted for The Bridport Prize and the Guardian Travel Writing Competition and has won the Orange New Voices Prize, Writer’s Inc and The Calderdale Fiction Prize.

Sarah is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University and runs writing courses and workshops in a variety of community settings. Her debut short story collection, Safely Gathered In, is published by Comma Press in 2021.

For further information, follow Sarah on Twitter @saraheschofield, visit her blog or find her on Instagram.

Dark Winter by David Mark

I’m somewhat late to the party reading Dark Winter, the first in the DS Aector McAvoy series from David Mark, but all good things are worth waiting for aren’t they? Dark Winter was the choice at my U3A book group this month, and I’m very pleased to share my review today.

Dark Winter is available for purchase through the links here. You’ll notice two cover designs as Dark Winter can be found with both, but I read the version with the eye so I’m including both on Linda’s Book Bag!

Dark Winter

DS Aector McAvoy is a man with a troubled past. His unwavering belief in justice has made him an outsider in the police force he serves, a good man among the lazy and corrupt.

Then on a cold day in December he is the first cop on the scene when a young girl is killed in Hull’s historic church – and the only one to see the murderer. A masked man, with tears in his eyes…

When two more seemingly unconnected people die, the police must work quickly. Only McAvoy can see the connection between the victims. A killer is playing God – and McAvoy must find a way to stop the deadly game.

My Review of Dark Winter

DS Aector McAvoy has a new case.

Dark Winter is a fast paced, compelling story that I found utterly riveting. Gorier than my usual reads I round David Mark’s writing ensnared me from beginning to end because it hardly gave me time to breathe. Although this a police procedural thriller, it is pared down so that none of the routine of police work slows the pace of the narrative which is moved on quickly through snappy dialogue, making for a dynamic story. My only slight quibble is that I’m not sure if I would have preferred the story without the epilogue. That said, it ensures I’m thinking about Dark Winter long after I’ve finished reading it.

The depiction of Hull is stark, violent and brutal and yet there’s an underlying compassion from David Mark that alleviates the bleakness with an understanding of how a place can become so dark and how the people living there are affected. I loved the iterative metaphor of the snow running through this narrative. Vividly described to enhance the settings, it equally adds to the atmosphere in Dark Winter, redolent of covering over the truth, providing a cleansing, and melting the hardened emotions and attitudes of the characters.

The characters themselves are intriguing. Aector McAvoy is a man with a past and what we’re told within Dark Winter ensures he is cared about by the reader and yet leaves them desperate to discover more. Hector’s integrity, his flaws, his rashness and his absolute sense of justice make him so interesting that I’m delighted I have more books in this series to find out more about him. I found myself comparing him to Frankenstein’s creation as I read to the extent that I cared about the events that have made him who he is.

In amongst the breathless and dramatic story are some sensitive and thought-provoking themes too. As well as the vivid exploration of how teams coalesce and shift in allegiance, there is insight into PTSD in many forms, justice, grief, hope, family, habit, self-destruction and so on that I think would reward several readings. I raced through Dark Winter because I found it an exhilarating read, but I think that if I were to read it again I’d discover even more through the nuances of David Mark’s excellent writing.

I might be late discovering David Mark’s DS Aector McAvoy series, but my goodness I’m delighted I have so many books to catch up with. If Dark Winter is anything to judge by, I’m in for some dramatic and exciting reads. I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the series.

About David Mark

David spent more than fifteen years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with the Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.

He has been championed by such industry luminaries as Val McDermid, Peter James, Mick Herron and Martina Cole.

He has written eight novels in the McAvoy series: Dark Winter, Original Skin, Sorrow Bound, Taking Pity, Dead Pretty, Cruel Mercy, Scorched Earth and Cold Bones as well as two McAvoy novellas, A Bad Death and Fire of Lies, which are available as ebooks. McAvoy returned in 2021 with the prequel Darkness Falls, and new instalment Past Life was published on November 1st 2021.

Dark Winter was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel (where he was Reader in Residence) and was a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Times bestseller. Dead Pretty was long-listed for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2016, as was Cold Bones in 2019.

David’s Radio 4 drama, A Marriage of Inconvenience, aired in 2017. His first novel has been adapted for the stage and was a sell-out smash in Hull. He has also written for the theatre and has contributed articles and reviews to several national and international publications. He is a regular performer at literary festivals and is a sought-after public speaker. He also teaches creative writing.

For further information you can follow David on Twitter @davidmarkwriter, visit his website and find him on Facebook and Instagram.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens

Some of you know that when I was working I used to fly off to Jersey every six weeks or so to do some consultancy work in the schools there. With that in mind, how could I resist taking part in the blog tour for Just Haven’t Met You Yet, set in Jersey? Add in the fact that I absolutely adored Sophie Cousen’s This Time Next Year (my review of which you’ll find here) and which was one of my Books of the Year in 2020 and I’m thrilled to participate by sharing my review. My enormous thanks to Rachel Kennedy for inviting me to participate. I also spoke about Just Haven’t Met You Yet in an online event you can find here.

Published in paperback yesterday, 11th November 2021 by Penguin Random House imprint Arrow (now Century), Just Haven’t Met You Yet is available for purchase through these links.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet

Tell me the story of how you two met…

Laura has built a career out of interviewing people about their epic real life love stories.

When she picks up the wrong suitcase at the airport, Laura wonders if this could be the start of something that’s written in the stars.

From piano sheet-music to a battered copy of her favourite book, Laura finds in the bag evidence of everything she could hope for in a partner.

If Laura’s job has taught her anything it’s that when it comes to love, you can’t let opportunity pass you by. Now Laura is determined to track down the owner of the suitcase, and her own happy ending.

But what if fate has other ideas?

My Review of Just Haven’t Met You Yet

Laura’s off to Jersey for work.

Just Haven’t Met You Yet is a brilliant escapist read with a wonderful balance of romance and humour to lift the spirits and entertain thoroughly. I really enjoyed it.

The Jersey setting is wonderful. Without getting bogged down in extraneous detail, Sophie Cousens brings the island to life to the extent that, having visited the island over 70 times already, she had made me want to return immediately. The references to weird spellings and pronunciations, the glorious bays and fabulous food, the intimacy of everyone knowing everyone else, the country lanes and the driving etiquette are perfectly conveyed, bringing the setting to glorious life.

And it’s a smashing story with all the elements a reader hopes for in a rom-com. Moments of physical humour are balanced against witty dialogue and emotional intensity so that the narrative has the ability to make the reader laugh and find a tear in their eye. As a result I found Just Haven’t Met You Yet totally engaging. It’s one of those stories where I find myself wondering how the characters are doing now I’ve finished reading.

It’s Laura who is the lynchpin of the action. She’s a wonderful creation. Romantic, with unrealistic attitudes to life, accident prone and liable to find herself in awkward situations, she embodies warmth, vivacity, and the basic human desire to love and be loved in return. I was desperate for her to have her happy every after ending, but you’ll need to read Just Haven’t Met You Yet to see if she does! The more minor characters add depth and texture and Gerry in particular takes Just Haven’t Met You Yet beyond the expectations of this genre. The changes in his life are those many of us, or those we love, are facing so that he truly tugs at the heartstrings.

Underneath the witty story and engaging people, however, are themes that impact on the reader more profoundly than might at first be realised. The ways in which we allow ourselves to be defined by our past, by our professions, by others and by habit is woven throughout the narrative so that I finished reading Just Haven’t Met You Yet determined to take greater control over my own life. I hadn’t expected quite such a profound response to what is, essentially a light and entertaining book. I think this illustrates enormous skill from Sophie Cousens.

I loved Just Haven’t Met You Yet because it allowed me to travel and meet new people from the comfort of my own home. Sophie Cousens made me care about every one of the people I met along the way, even Suki. Even better, Just Haven’t Met You Yet is a perfect example of the rom-com genre that brings a smile to the face and leaves the reader feeling happier than when they started reading. What could be better than that?

About Sophie Cousens

Sophie Cousens is a writer of romantic fiction based in Jersey, where Just Haven’t Met You Yetis set. Her previous novel published by Arrow, This Time Next Year, has reached huge success in the UK, having sold 150,000 copies across all formats in just six months. This Time Next Year has also achieved huge success in the US as a New York Times bestseller and Good Morning America Book Club pick.

Sophie previously worked in TV in London for over twelve years, producing The Graham Norton Show, Big Brother and Ant and Dec. Sophie has also previously published an eBook only romantic comedy novel How To Get Ahead In Television which was shortlisted for the 2015 Romantic Novelist Association Awards. She relocated from London to Jersey and balances her writing career with working for an arts charity, taking care of her two small children and enjoying small island life.

You can follow Sophie on Twitter @SophieCous and Instagram.

Food, Glorious Food: A Guest Post from Poppy Alexander on The 12 Days of Christmas Publication Day

Earlier this year I reviewed Poppy Alexander’s The Littlest Library here. Today I’m thrilled to host a guest post from Poppy on The 12 Days of Christmas publication day.

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.

The 12 Days of Christmas is published by Orion today, 11th November 2021, and is available for purchase through these links.

The 12 Days of Christmas

‘All the joy of Christmas in one delicious, utterly mouth-watering package’ JULIE CAPLIN

The most magical time of the year…

For the first time in ten years, Freya is back in the little village of Middlemass for Christmas. The streets might be twinkling with fairy lights, but after the recent loss of her mother, she’s never felt less festive.

Forced to sleep under the same roof as her handsome neighbour Finn, Freya realises she’s going to need a distraction – fast! So she sets herself a challenge: to cook the ’12 Days of Christmas’. Her delicious food soon brings the villagers together, and as each day passes, old friendships are renewed, memories stirred and there’s even the flickering of romance…

She was only meant to stay for the holidays, but could Middlemass – and Finn – steal her heart forever?

Food, Glorious Food!

A Guest Post by Poppy Alexander

Hopefully it’s not just because I’m a glutton – although I am – but some of my fondest memories of Christmases past revolve around food, and my planning for Christmas future always starts with a list of the lovely things I would like to feed friends and family when we all come together (as hopefully we will this year!).

I was delighted when Linda invited me to share some of my favourite foodie Christmas thoughts and memories. Where do I begin?

I remember, when I was a teenager, there was a crowd of us sprawled uselessly and untidily around the kitchen table, the big brown tea pot steaming gently in the middle, and my poor mother, slaving away, rolling pastry and batch baking mince pies for the freezer. The rain was pouring down outside, but we were there, cosy and warm, hoovering up mince pies as fast as my mother could get them out of the oven. I am sure she was absolutely thrilled with us…My children insist they are too old for it now, but I still insist they are home on Stir it up Sunday – five weeks before Christmas when the puddings are traditionally made – so each member of the family can stir the batter and make a secret wish. Nigella Lawson’s recipe from her book ‘Christmas’ is my starting point for Christmas pudding, although I vary the flavourings a little. Last year’s effort– we only needed a small one, sadly -had a good glug of Cointreau and some extra orange zest in the mix, and it was delicious (if I say so myself) served with soft, billowing clouds of cream, whipped with icing sugar and even more Cointreau.

I deliberately allow my TBR pile to become bigger than ever at Christmas, as only reading beats eating as my secret Christmas pleasure. Some of my favourite books evoke fabulous Christmas food images too: who can forget Bob Cratchett’s family stuffing spoons into their mouths while they waited for their roasted goose – the Victorians knew how to write about Christmas – or the Christmas feast in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the White Witch was vanquished? This year, I will be reading some proper, gory crime, perhaps the latest from Kate Rhodes’ fabulous Scilly Islands series, along with some glorious romances to lift the spirits: Anything by Jules Wake or Veronica Henry does it for me, or you might find me re-reading an all-time favourite such as Jilly Cooper’s Riders, Austen’s Emma for the comedy or Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier for the heart-aching love story and the haunting atmosphere. Also, who doesn’t love a pirate?

Nigel Slater always writes superbly about food of course; my favourite Christmas cake recipe is from his Christmas Chronicles, which is a beautifully evocative read; a copy of this, with a glass of sloe gin and a comfortably glowing fire, and is the perfect way to slide, deliciously into the Christmas season. The cake has none of the usual Christmas spices in it – no, honestly, bear with me! –but is stuffed with fat, juicy dried fruits, peel and butter and all good things… I have had several people who profess to loathe Christmas cake accept a slice and then come back for more.

I have been wanting to write The Twelve Days of Christmas for a while and I adored contriving a recipe for each day of the famous carol – I detail all the recipes at the back of the book. It seemed to me that Freya’s sadness could be healed by her talent for and love of food, and that the Christmas holidays – along with the idea of a community coming together through food –creates such a wonderful catalyst for a romantic relationship to grow, although I didn’t want to make things too easy for Freya and Finn, so they find plenty of obstacles along their way…

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Sold! Books, romance and food. That’s a totally winning combination for me Poppy. I can’t wait to read The 12 Days of Christmas. Thanks so much for such a smashing guest post.

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.

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