Blog Tour: 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal And Planner Volume II by Marielle S. Smith #GuestPost

52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Vol. II

I am happy to be taking part in the blog blitz today for 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner by Marielle S. Smith. Thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for providing me with the guest post.

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‘With this book by your side, anything feels possible.’ Jacqueline Brown

Tired of not having a sustainable writing practice? You, too, can get out of your own way and become the writer you’re meant to be!

52 Weeks of Writing:

  • makes you plan, track, reflect on, and improve your progress and goals for an entire year;
  • helps you unravel the truth about why you aren’t where you want to be; and
  • keeps you writing through weekly thought-provoking quotes and prompts.

With this second volume of the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, writing coach and writer Mariëlle S. Smith brings you the same successful strategies to craft the perfect writing practice as she did in the first journal. The only difference? Fifty-three different writing quotes and prompts and a brand-new look!

Interview with Marielle S. Smith

Who are you and where are you from?

I’m Mariëlle S. Smith, a writer, writing coach, and editor. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I moved to Cyprus almost two years ago. I needed a change of place and pace and Cyprus had inspired me in the past, so… I packed my bags and got on a plane.

Why do you write? What are you hoping to achieve?

The ultimate end goal for me is to leave a legacy that I’m proud of. For me, this means I try not to work on anything that doesn’t feel a hundred percent right to me. I don’t want to look back one day and have to admit to myself, ‘Yes, that book… I wrote that for the wrong reasons.’

Have you always been writing or is it a more recent thing?

No, I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I don’t know when I started doing it; it was always there. The more recent thing is that I now admit to doing it, while it used to be more of a secret. I didn’t admit that I was serious about my writing until I was twenty-eight, and I only admitted it to one person at the time. Now, I introduce myself as a writer, so I’ve come a long way.

What do you write and why are you writing in these genres specifically?

I’m writing a lot of non-fiction at the moment, but I have co-written a lesbian romance series under a pen name, and I’m working on a young adult fantasy series.

Why do I write these things…? The romance series because we were both fed up with what that genre had to offer and wanted to add another kind of story to the pile. It was about writing more realistic love stories. It was a fun project and I would love to return to that world someday.

The YA fantasy series feels like it’s THE story that I need to tell. I’ve been working on it forever, slowly figuring out what it is I’m trying to say. I’m currently working on the sixth draft of the first book and I’m falling in love with it all over again.

As for the non-fiction, that’s about helping other people create. It’s all inspired by my coaching and editing work and the journaling I do about my own creative practice.

Is that what inspired the 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner, Vol. II?

Absolutely. 52 Weeks of Writing is directly based on the material I use in my coaching practice, the worksheets I have clients filled out. Of course, when working one on one with someone, I’ll personalise the worksheets to fit my client’s specific needs or struggles. 52 Weeks of Writing offers my coaching material in a more universal way so that any writer can work with it.

Will there be a Volume III?

Yes! It won’t be out until 1 December 2021, but the cover is already done. I’m currently testing new writing prompts and exercises for it on the members of my Facebook group, the Accountable Wordsmiths. I never intended to create a second volume, let alone a third, but once someone asked about it, the thought wouldn’t leave me alone. I tend to take that as a sign, so I can’t wait to put it all together later this year.

Thanks for sharing that with us Marielle.

You can buy a copy of 52 Weeks of Writing Author Journal and Planner Volume II here.

A printable PDF is available through: https://payhip.com/b/0YgJ Get 50% off until 31 March 2021 by using the coupon code 52WOW during checkout.

About the Author

52 Weeks Author

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor, and a writer. Early 2019, she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, where she organises private writer’s retreats, is inspired 24/7, and feeds more stray cats than she can count.

Connect with Marielle:

Website: https://mswordsmith.nl/en_GB/

Facebook: M. S. Wordsmith

Twitter: @MSWordsmithNL

Instagram: @mariellessmith

YouTube: M. S Wordsmith

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Blog Tour: Seven Days by Michelle Kidd #BookReview

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One killer. One city. One week.

July 2012 and a serial killer is terrorising the streets of London. With the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympic Games in just seven days time, Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh and his team at the Metropolitan Police have one week to find him. With the killer’s motives unknown, and a mysterious clue being left at each scene, the case takes on a menacing and personal twist. Distracted by his own demons, will DI Jack MacIntosh solve the case before it is too late?

The clock is ticking.
Tick.
Tock.

It’s my turn on the blog tour today for Seven Days by Michelle Kidd and I want to thank Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part and the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

A brand new detective series to me, I have to say that DI Jack MacIntosh is a great addition to the crime canon. This book was a fabulous thriller, set against the backdrop of a tense and claustrophobic London, sweltering under searing heat and almost boiling over with tension as the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games approaches. Against this simmering pressure cooker, Jack and his team are up against the clock to track down a serial killer who seems to be picking off victims at random.

Jack MacIntosh is a very relatable protagonist to carry the book. He seems very down to earth and approachable to his team, allowing them all to contribute and have their own ideas, which he takes seriously. He is obviously well regarded by his superiors, and has a cool relationship with his brother and other people in his life. I felt very affectionate towards him by the end of the book and would like to find out where his story goes from here. The details in the book about his past made me want to go back and read the first book in the series. In fact, I wish I had read the first book before I read this, as there were a few aspects of the book which would have made more sense with some of the back story, I think. However, I did enjoy it very much as a standalone.

The crime itself was baffling and intriguing at the same time. There was no obvious rhyme or reason to the murders and I could appreciate exactly why the team got lured down the false trails that they did. I fell into the trap more than once of believing it was going in a different direction, so the plot held me enthralled until the end and I didn’t guess where it was going before it was revealed. If I had a gripe, I wish there had been more details revealed at the end about the motivations behind some aspects of the killer’s behaviour, but I guess the reader is meant to draw their own conclusions about what happened and why.

There thread of the book involving DS Carmichael was a bit confusing, I wasn’t quite sure why it needed to play out the way it did, or what was the significance of one scene involving his and Jack’s pasts. I guess that maybe the first book might reveal more and I look forward to going back and catching up with that one. I do think the books would work best if read in sequence.

I really enjoyed the author’s writing style, it is easy to read, captivating and flows easily. I liked her cheeky foreshadowing references to events that have happened since the book’s setting of 2012. I think she has a really great voice, and I will definitely read more of her writing, because there was nothing I didn’t enjoy about the book. I would just advise that you read the first Jack McIntosh book first. I’m off to download it to my Kindle right now.

Seven Days is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Michelle Kidd is a self-published author known for the Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh series of novels.

Michelle qualified as a lawyer in the early 1990s and spent the best part of ten years practising civil and criminal litigation.

But the dream to write books was never far from her mind and in 2008 she began writing the manuscript that would become the first DI Jack MacIntosh novel – The Phoenix Project. The book took eighteen months to write, but spent the next eight years gathering dust underneath the bed.

In 2018 Michelle self-published The Phoenix Project and had not looked back since. There are currently three DI Jack MacIntosh novels, with a fourth in progress.

Michelle works full time for the NHS and lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. She enjoys reading, wine and cats – not necessarily in that order.

Connect with Michelle:

Website: https://www.michellekiddauthor.com/

Facebook: Michelle Kidd

Twitter: @AuthorKidd

Instagram: @michellekiddauthor

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Desert Island Books with… Kate G. Smith

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Time to pack another poor, innocent victim off to my tropical islet for a period of enforced isolation (as if we hadn’t had enough of that already, at least it’s warm there!) armed only with five books and one luxury item. Today I am stranding author, Kate Galloway Smith.

Thank you so much, Julie, for having me on your Desert Island Books feature. It’s very tricky to narrow my choice down to five books, especially as I don’t know how long I’m going to be marooned for. I’m hoping it’s a tropical beach with clear sea so I can swim in between reading, I don’t do well in the cold, which is bizarre seeing as I’m of Scottish heritage!

Book One – A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore

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Cathy and her brother, Rob, don’t know why they have been abandoned by their parents. Alone in their grandfather’s decaying country house, they roam the wild grounds freely with minds attuned to the rural wilderness. Lost in their own private world, they seek and find new lines to cross.

But as the First World War draws closer, crimes both big and small threaten the delicate refuge they have built. Cathy will do anything to protect their dark Eden from anyone, or anything, that threatens to destroy it.

I remember being given this by my Mum, as an older teen, and being completely captivated by Dunmore’s poetic writing. A Spell of Winter is hauntingly gothic, which I love in a book. It’s also quite dream-like which I think would work well whilst lying on a tropical beach, because it would draw me back to the freezing cold English winters.

Book Two – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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A plane crashes on a desert island. The only survivors are a group of schoolboys. By day, they discover fantastic wildlife and dazzling beaches, learning to survive; at night, they are haunted by nightmares of a primitive beast.

Orphaned by society, it isn’t long before their innocent childhood games devolve into a savage, murderous hunt …

Perhaps a strange choice for a desert island read, given the content, but I absolutely love this book. I studied it at school for my GCSEs and remember reading it over and over again. It totally blew me away. It’s so full of energy and life, and I just love Ralph (I also loved Balthazar Getty who played Ralph in the film adaptation when I was a young teen!) It may also make me thankful that I’m stranded on my desert island alone!

Book Three – If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane

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If faking love is this easy… how do you know when it’s real?

Laurie and Jamie have the perfect office romance
(They set the rules via email)

Everyone can see they’re head over heels
(They staged the photos)

This must be true love
(They’re faking it)

When Laurie is dumped by her partner of eighteen years, she’s blindsided. Not only does she feel humiliated, they still have to work together.

So when she gets stuck in the lift with handsome colleague Jamie, they hatch a plan to stage the perfect romance. Revenge will be sweet…

But this fauxmance is about to get complicated. You can’t break your heart in a fake relationship, can you?

Mhairi McFarlane is an author I discovered two years ago, and I have devoured everything she has written since. I have also recently been given an arc copy of her latest book, Last Night, and I can’t wait to start reading it. If I Never Met You is one of my favourites of McFarlane’s; Jaime is a gorgeous love interest and Laurie is so relatable, they’re wonderful together and I love the fake romance trope. I would use this book to escape the island into a funny, perfectly written romcom. 

Book Four – Riders by Jilly Cooper

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Brooding hero Jake Lovell, under whose magic hands even the most difficult horse or woman is charmed, is driven by his loathing of the dashing darling of the show ring, Rupert Campbell-Black.

Having pinched each other’s horses and drunk their way around the capitals of Europe, the feud between the two men finally erupts with devastating consequences at the Los Angeles Olympics . . .

As a lover of horses and loveable rogues, the Jilly Cooper series was, and still is, a firm favourite of mine. Rupert Campbell-Black is the perfect bad boy who I’m certain would keep me entertained on those long island nights. Riders is such a joy; it’s the perfect mix of funny, exhilarating, sexy, naughty, and swoon worthy. In fact, writing about it here makes me want to go and restart the series again for the umpteenth time, they’re so re-readable.

Book Five – Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

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‘There was something else out on the sea by the rocks – something dark that seemed to lurch out of the waves . . . What could it be?’

Julian, Dick and Anne are spending the holidays with their tomboy cousin George and her dog, Timothy. One day, George takes them to explore nearby Kirrin Island, with its rocky little coast and old ruined castle on the top. Over on the island, they make a thrilling discovery, which leads them deep into the dungeons of Kirrin Castle on a dangerous adventure. Who – and what – will they find there? 

Finally, another island, I’m sensing a theme! My love of reading started very young, and I have my parents to thank for that. I used to get through Enid Blyton books at a speed, and I was always a Famous Five fan, none of this Secret Seven nonsense! I used to want to be George but was always a real-life Anne. Reading the Famous Five books gave me a sense of adventure and made me think that anything was possible. We’d go on holidays to the Lakes and I’d adventure with my brother and cousins and pretend to be fighting thieves and smugglers with a make-believe dog our side. I think taking this on my desert island with me would reignite some of that adventurous spirit that I’d need to build a camp and explore the terrain. 

My luxury item

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I really feel like I should pick something sensible here, like a pen knife or a multi-tool, so I can build a shelter and forage confidently. But I think I’d actually take a notepad and pen (if they can count as one item?) because just imagine the stories that might come to mind in such a wonderful setting.

About Kate Galloway Smith

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Kate Galloway Smith is a writer, editor, and an HCPC registered Occupational Therapist.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Kate can be found writing romantic comedies in Norwich, where she lives with her daughter and their cat and an increasing number of house plants.

Kate’s debut book, You’ve Got Mail, was published on 8 February. It’s the story of Grace Wharton who receives an email dumping her from a relationship she’s not even in. Kate is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and You’ve Got Mail went through their New Writer’s Scheme. The association and the help they give writers has been life-changing for her. She has not only realised her dreams of being a published author, she has also made so many incredible friends. If you’re a writer of romance, she’d highly recommend checking them out.

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It’s been fun, but I think we should stop seeing each other. Thanks for a great laugh x

When Grace Wharton is dumped by email from a relationship she isn’t even in, she adds it to the list of ways her life hasn’t quite panned out: twenty-five, single, and working a dead-end job she doesn’t enjoy. She fires off an angry response to Mr Obnoxious – how dare he try to dump someone over email?! – knowing that telling off a random stranger online means she has reached an all-time low.

Everything changes when her boss asks her to go to a big sales conference to secure an important client. Her partner is Jack Lockett, company Casanova and Grace’s long-time crush. What’s more, he seems very interested… But Mr Obnoxious keeps sending her emails and Grace keeps replying. Only to make sure he doesn’t send any more heart-breaking emails, obviously.

Grace’s life has suddenly gone from stagnant to brimming with possibilities. But is it all too good to be true?

You can buy a copy of You’ve Got Mail here.

Connect with Kate:

Website: https://www.kategallowaysmith.com/

Facebook: Kate Galloway Smith

Twitter: @WritingItToday

Instagram: @writingittoday

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Book Review: Saving The World by Paola Diana #BookReview

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A passionate call for international gender equality by a leading entrepreneur; this smart, accessible and inspiring book makes the case for why all nations need more women at the top of politics and economics.

`The status of women is a global challenge; it touches every human being without exception. How is it possible that countries where women have achieved political, economic and social rights after exhausting struggles remain seemingly indifferent to the egregiousness of other nations where the status of women is still tragic? The time has come to help those left behind.’

My thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR and the author for providing me with a copy of this book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed it honestly and impartially.

I have always been a feminist. The eldest of four girls, brought up by my parents to value education and believe that, if we worked hard, there was nothing we weren’t capable of achieving, I have always believed that women are capable of getting to wherever they want to go given unfettered opportunity. However, as soon as I became aware of the differences between boys and girls, it also became clear that unfettered opportunity was not on offer. As a child born in 1972, when I entered the world of work as a corporate lawyer there was still a huge imbalance in favour of men in this discipline. I was often the only female in a room full of clients and other lawyers, and sexism was rife on both sides of the table. And law was one of the better careers for sexual equality at the time.

Things have undoubtedly improved in the intervening thirty years for women in the workplace, and I am glad that the trajectory is in the right direction, because I am now the mother of two daughters and have three step-daughters. I, in turn, am now raising them to be feminists, to value and make the most of their education, to believe there is no opportunity that is not open to them if they strive for it, and to understand that their value lies not in how they look, or their relationship to any other person, but in their own characters and abilities. I want them to be self-sufficient in every respect, because self-sufficiency is what allows you to be free.

I have sadly heard from younger generations over the years that feminism is no longer necessary, that the battle has been won and equality has been achieved. In fact, feminism has become something of a dirty word in modern times. It saddens me because, whilst these women may believe it is true for them in their individual lives, it is far from true for all women worldwide. And feminism has never been an individual effort, it has always required women coming together and supporting and helping one another to achieve progress. We cannot stand on the shoulders of the women who carved the path for us with their blood, sweat and tears and declare the job done because we are satisfied with our particular circumstances, knowing that women the world over are still struggling and suffering. Even more importantly, it requires the understanding and support of the people who have the power, men.

These are the issues explored in this fascinating book by Paola Diana, who is setting out the case for why feminism is still relevant and necessary in modern society, why equality has not yet been achieved for women worldwide and why, most importantly, everyone should be striving for it, regardless of gender, because gender equality helps everyone. The countries that have the best track record for this across the globe are the most prosperous and happiest. The book gives details of all the ways in which women are still treated as second class around the world, from veiling and FGM to economic inequality and political under-representation in the western world. The way it is written is not dry and academic, it is easily accessible to all and I wish all would read it.

A lot of what Paola is saying here I agree with, but there are also some new points and a lot of things to think about. It made me reassess some of the decisions I have taken in the past and some of my current behaviours and given me ideas of what more I can do, for myself and on a larger scale, to try and further the cause. However, I do think parts of it need updating again because things are in constant flux. In particular, she seems to see the UK as a beacon of hope in this area, which maybe it is in relation to her native Italy but, as a woman growing up and living here, there is still so much to be done. The part where she discusses the effect that electing a misogynistic male to a position of power has on the discourse of feminism, as happened in the US with Trump, has sadly now happened here two, with a serial philanderer sitting as our PM and no women in positions of power in the UK cabinet obviously promoting feminism as a cause celebre. The UK is no female utopia, as has been shown as women have been disproportionately effected by the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

I enjoyed this book very much, and found it very thought-provoking. I read it in a single day, it is fascinating and very easy to digest. I wish there were more solutions available, but I agree that education is key. Education for women the world over to empower them, and education for men as to how equality between the sexes will help them too. Because, most of the male problems that I hear discussed in conversations about gender equality arise from that same inequality, from the unreasonable demands put on men, from toxic masculinity, from rigid and unnatural roles imposed on our genders for no reason other than outdated traditions. I think we need to change the narrative around this issue as a starting point. It has always been framed as a fight – battle of the sexes, gender war, fight for emancipation – the implication being that there are winners and losers and that giving power and equality to women takes something from men. This is not and should not be the case. We are human beings, all with something to offer, and we should all be working together for the happiness and benefit of all. Society would work so much better for everyone, on both a macro and micro scale, if we had this approach. We have to share this world, so let us share it and work together to improve it as a single, human race. This is the big takeaway from this book, and education of the next generations is key to achieving it. This book makes me want to do my bit, and I hope other people, male and female, will read it and feel the same.

Saving The World is out now and you can buy it in paperback here.

About the Author

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A native of Italy, Paola achieved a BA in Political Science and an MA in Institutional Relations from the University of Bologna before probing into the world of Italian politics. Since the day that she embarked on a career directing the Think Tank in support of former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s political campaign, Paola has never been one to adhere to gender stereotypes – challenging the ideologies of male supremacists at every opportunity.

Connect with Paola:

Website: https://www.paoladiana.com/

Twitter: @paoladiana_

Instagram: @paoladiana_

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Blog tour: Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker #BookReview

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THIS MOTHER’S DAY YOU WILL CALL HER MUMMY

Glamorous, beautiful Mummy has everything a woman could want. Except for a daughter of her very own. So when she sees Kim – heavily pregnant, glued to her phone and ignoring her eldest child in a busy shop – she does what anyone would do. She takes her. But foul-mouthed little Tonya is not the daughter that Mummy was hoping for.

As Tonya fiercely resists Mummy’s attempts to make her into the perfect child, Kim is demonised by the media as a ‘scummy mummy’, who deserves to have her other children taken too. Haunted by memories of her own childhood and refusing to play by the media’s rules, Kim begins to spiral, turning on those who love her.

Though they are worlds apart, Mummy and Kim have more in common than they could possibly imagine. But it is five-year-old Tonya who is caught in the middle…

CALL ME MUMMY. IT’LL BE BETTER IF YOU DO.

I’m delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Call Me Mummy by Tina Baker. My thanks to Sahina Bibi of Viper Books for inviting me to take part and for supplying me with a digital copy of the book for review purposes. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

It’s your worst nightmare as a parent, losing your child. Even them disappearing out of your sight for a second has your heart plummeting to your shoes and panic grabbing you by the throat. So imagine if they really were gone and you had no idea where or if you would ever see them again. This is the nightmare scenario explored in this book, and the author paints such a vivid picture that my heart was in my mouth from start to finish.

This story is told by three voices. Kim, the mother whose daughter is taken from under her nose whilst out shopping; Mummy, the woman who takes the child in desperation; and Tonya, the abducted girl. This is a very effective construction, as we get to see the story from all sides and it reveals a lot of intimate thoughts and consequences of the abduction that you might not have thought about. Because the reaction of neither woman in the aftermath of the kidnapping is exactly what you’d expect if you have ever given the matter any serious thought.

As well as exploring what motivates such actions by a woman, and what the parents of the missing child might be going through, the book explores the reactions of the world at large, and how we, as an amorphous group rather than individually, judge people on surface appearances without really knowing all the facts. Kim is the ‘wrong sort’ of mother, and she is judged harshly and cruelly as a result. She doesn’t play the sympathy game properly, and people troll and abuse her, despite the fact she is a victim. The pressure put on her family, how it affects her other children, her friendships and her relationships, is all explored with a keen eye and I’m not sure it’s Kim who comes off worst in my judgment by the end.

On the other hand, on the surface, Mummy is the complete opposite. She looks like the kind of woman you might place a child with if they needed a good home. But no one knows what goes on behind closed doors or in the mind of a person, and outward appearances can be deceptive. The book reminds us not to take things at face value and not to believe everything we see. Less than perfect people are capable of empathy, care and love, and the most respectable looking people can be battling with demons.

The book also explores the effect that childhood trauma can have on a psyche and the kind of people we turn into. Despite the fact of what Mummy did, the author tries to dredge up some sympathy for her when we hear about her past, although it is the thinnest of thin threads to hang on to. The author does manage to make clear the pain that not being able to have a child causes to a woman, and for that alone you have to feel for Mummy. But Kim’s pain is greater. Losing a child is like losing an essential part of yourself. But if you can understand the pain a woman feels when they lose a child, then you must also be able to feel the pain of a woman who can never have one to begin with, the two things are inseparable.

The author explores this issue with searing understanding and honesty, but not in the direction you might expect, and what she has produced as a result is a dark, twisted, terrifying but absorbing read that will keep you awake at night and leave you with thoughts and questions that might be painful to address. This is a confident and accomplished debut and is highly recommended for anyone who likes a thought-provoking, gripping but uncomfortable read.

Call Me Mummy will be released in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats on 25 February, and in paperback in September 2021 and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other wonderful blogs involved in the tour as detailed below for alternative reviews of the book:

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About the Author

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Tina Baker, the daughter of a window cleaner and fairground traveller, worked as a journalist and broadcaster for thirty years and is probably best known as a television critic for the BBC and GMTV. After so many hours watching soaps gave her a widescreen bum, she got off it and won Celebrity Fit Club. She now avoids writing-induced DVT by working as a Fitness Instructor.
Call Me Mummy is Tina’s first novel, inspired by her own unsuccessful attempts to become a mother. Despite the grief of that, she’s not stolen a child – so far. But she does rescue cats, whether they want to be rescued or not.

Connect with Tina:

Website: http://www.tinabaker.co.uk/books

Twitter: @TinaBakerBooks

Instagram: @tinabakerbooks

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly #BookReview

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In December 2018, after fifty years of belly-laughs, energy and outrage, Billy Connolly announced his retirement from live stand-up comedy. It had been an extraordinary career.

When he first started out in the late sixties, Billy played the banjo in the folk clubs of Scotland. Between songs, he would improvise a bit, telling anecdotes from the Clyde shipyard where he’d worked. In the process, he made all kinds of discoveries about what audiences found funny, from his own brilliant mimes to the power of speaking irreverently about politics or explicitly about sex. He began to understand the craft of great storytelling. Soon the songs became shorter and the monologues longer, and Billy quickly became recognised as one of the most exciting comedians of his generation.

Billy’s routines always felt spontaneous. He never wrote scripts, always creating his comedy freshly on stage in the presence of a live audience. A brilliant comic story might be subsequently discarded, adapted or embellished. A quick observation or short anecdote one night, could become a twenty-minute segment by the next night of a tour.

Billy always brought a beautiful sense of the absurd to his shows as he riffed on his family, hecklers, swimming in the North Sea or naked bungee jumping. But his comedy can be laced with anger too. He hates pretentiousness and calls out hypocrisy wherever he sees it. His insights about the human condition have shocked many people, while his unique talent and startling appearance on stage gave him license to say anything he damn well pleased about sex, politics or religion.

Billy got away with it because he has always had the popular touch. His comedy spans generations and different social tribes in a way that few others have ever managed.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories brings together the very best of Billy’s storytelling for the first time and includes his most famous routines including, The Last Supper, Jojoba Shampoo, Incontinence Pants and Shouting at Wildebeest. With an introduction and original illustrations by Billy throughout

The fourth category in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book by an author you would like to meet.’ I could not choose between two authors for this challenge, so I decided to do one in paperback and one in audiobook format. The first book I have chosen is Tall Tales and Wee Stories by Billy Connolly. As an interesting aside, this was the last book I bought in an airport, on a trip to New York in February 2020. Remember the days of buying books in airports? I  wonder when they will come around again!

I’ve been a massive Billy Connolly fan for many years. I’ve got lots of DVDs featuring his standup and travelogues, and I was lucky enough to see him live twice. He never fails to make me laugh, even just on a chat show. So it was with great sadness I heard about his retirement, although entirely understandable in his circumstances.

I was looking forward to reading this book in which he has gathered many of his most famous stories for posterity. Billy never really told ‘jokes,’ they were always funny anecdotes and tales, often poking fun at himself or other absurdities he saw in every day life. He often talked about sex and bodily functions, and was very sweary and he makes no apology for that, so the book would not be for anyone who did not like this in his live shows because Billy is exactly the same in the book as when performing. If you did love his humour though, you will find many of your favourite stories within these pages.

The book is split in to chapters on different, loosely connected topics, but otherwise it is fairly randomly organised with just little anecdotes and longer ones interspersed with comments, thoughts and musings on his life and career. Some people won’t like it because it isn’t a particular linear format, but then Billy’s comedy was never like that. He would start on a topic and then wander off at a tangent when other things occurred to him before looping back round to the original story (or sometimes not!), so the book is a good reflection of his style and really brought him to life for me.

I could hear his voice telling these familiar, and some unfamiliar, stories very clearly. Parts of it made me laugh out loud and I had to keep stopping to read bits aloud to The Irishman who kept asking me what I was laughing at. It was a book that really cheered me up during this lockdown. However, it is not the same as watching Billy perform, and you realise how much his expressions and gestures and movements added to the comedy of his story-telling. The ‘Wildebeest’ example illustrates this best. It is many people’s favourite story of Billy’s, but it just isn’t as funny when you can’t see him doing the vacant expression of the wildebeest and the actions of the lions as they plan their attack.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this but it can’t replace Billy’s performances, and I for one will miss him terribly. I wish I could have met him in real life just once before Parkinson’s started to take effect. I’m sure it would have been great craic.

Tall Tales and Wee Stories is out now in all formats except audio and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Sir William Connolly, CBE is a much-loved Scottish comedian, musician, presenter and actor. He is the recipient of a BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award and is regularly voted the nation’s favourite stand-up comedian. Billy was born and raised in Glasgow and now lives in America. He announced his retirement from live performance in December 2018.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sandy Barker

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Tonight I am delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks by the author of one of my favourite festive books of 2020, fellow RNA member… Sandy Barker.

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Sandy, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

This is a little concoction my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Sanderella’ with tequila, Aperol, grapefruit juice, fresh lime, bitters, and a spritz of sparkling water – delicious!

That sounds lovely, could you mix me one too, please? If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

We’re spoiled for choice in Melbourne, but first we’d go for drinks at Eau de Vie, a fantastic speakeasy in the heart of the city, styled like one from the 30s, right down to the décor and how the staff are dressed. They have these incredibly innovative cocktails and the largest collection of by-the-glass whiskey in the city. Then we’d head to Movida, a Spanish restaurant where everything on the menu is share plates, and the food is sublime – including a bottle of Spain’s finest red! Then we’d head to the National Gallery of Victoria for a live musical performance, some art after dark, and some brilliant Aussie wine!

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Caitriona Balfe – she is one of my fave actors and seems like she’d be brilliant fun – and Henry Cavill – for his formidable mind 😉

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am just putting the finishing touches on a stand-alone novel set in the world of reality television. It came about because last year, when we were in the midst of our very strict lockdown here in Melbourne, a colleague created a sweepstakes for the latest season of The Bachelor. For fun, I wrote sarky episode recaps for my colleagues. I mentioned them to an author friend and we started brainstorming a book idea. My main character is the woman who writes the recaps of The Stag for an online magazine and she may just get invited onto the show as a contestant… you will just have to wait and see!

That sounds fun! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest (and most surreal) moment was holding my first book, One Summer In Santorini, in my hands in June 2019. Second proudest was handing copies of my 4 book, The Christmas Swap, to my parents, who I dedicated it to.

My first book

The biggest challenge has been keeping up this cracking pace. Until recently, I worked full-time (now down to 4 days a week), and in 2019 and 2020 over 16 months, I had 4 books published. I have also written 2 more and have planned the next 2 after that. But this is what I love and, eventually, I plan to write full-time.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I look forward to the day when I am a full-time author – hoping that will be sometime next year – and I would love to sell one or more of my books to a filmmaker. I see the stories filmically as I write, and I think any one of them would be great on screen.

What have planned that you are really excited about?

I am particularly excited about the stand-alone I am working on – I think readers will love it, she’s such a fun character to write. And I am also excited about the next books in The Holiday Romance series – 1 written and 1 planned. And I think there’s another Christmas book in the pipeline too.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Fave place? Goodness, that is hard.

We lived in Bali for 2 months in 2018 and I loved it so much, I set the next book in the series there – I’d go back and live there in a heartbeat.

I also love Greece – that’s where my partner and I met and we went back to the Cyclades Islands for our ten year anniversary on another sailing trip.

New Zealand will always be a favourite destination – we’ve been 3 times and it is most likely that Aussies will be able to travel there sometime this year.

And I would LOVE to live in Tuscany – perhaps for a few months to mark my next milestone birthday.

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I auditioned for Australian Survivor in 2001 and was selected as an alternate. If any of the 8 women on the show had stepped down, I would have been on it. But alas …

Wow, that would have been a cool thing to have done, I used to love watching that show. Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is one of the best books I’ve ever read, if not the best book. It haunted me for months after I finished it.

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Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart.

Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld.

As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I try to avoid a hangover by drinking water all through the night (which we’ve done – you’re welcome 😉) and taking a Vitamin B tablet before bed. If it’s been a particularly big night, I’ll have a banana or a glass of milk too.

If I fail in this endeavour, lots of tea the next day – tea, tea and more tea and some headache tablets. When I’m feeling marginally better, I’ll jump on my spin bike and sweat it out.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Reading, watching movies, drinking wine, calling family and friends – or even a day trip out to some wineries or to the coast for lunch.

Sandy’s is the author of three books in the Holiday Romance series, One Summer in Santorini, That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney.

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Sandy’s latest book is The Christmas Swap, a Christmas romance set across three continents. You can read my review of the book here (hint: I loved it), and buy a copy here.

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Will all three women have their Christmas wishes come true?

Christmas is coming and best friends ChloeJules, and Lucy are needing change… so swapping homes for the holidays could be the perfect present for all of them!

Australian Chloe spends her Christmas in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England. She is totally star-struck when she discovers who lives across the road.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend her Christmas on a beach with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away is just what she needed.

Sandy is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

She lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins. This was followed by two more books in the series, with two to come! The Christmas Swap, Sandy’s fourth novel, was released in 2020 and celebrates her favourite time of year, and she is currently working on a stand-alone romcom set in the world of reality television.

You can find out more about Sandy and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Book Review: Starstruck by Emma Bennet

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When newly divorced Kate finds school friend, now super famous rock star Joseph Wild, on her doorstep, her whole quiet, ordinary life is thrown into disarray.

Joseph has broken up with glamorous actress Genevieve Moore, and needs somewhere to retreat to until the paparazzi interest in his marriage calms down. Kate agrees to help him out and drawn to his simple, self-effacing charm, soon finds herself falling in love.

But can she cope with the problems a relationship with such a high profile celebrity brings? What happens when he jets back to his regular life of stardom in L.A.?

And how will Genevieve react when she finds out Joseph has moved on? She can’t possibly allow anything to sully her ever-so carefully crafted public image.

Falling in love with a rock star is tougher than you’d think…

My thanks to Emma Bennet for inviting me to review her novel Starstruck and providing me with a digital copy of the book for this purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I thoroughly enjoyed this gentle and charming romance by Emma Bennet. It took me by surprise, actually, because it was very different to what I was expecting having read the blurb. I thought it would be big, glitzy and full of drama, given the pop star angle (plus I was coming to it straight from Ruthless Women by Melanie Blake, so I was kind of in that zone), but it snuck up on me with it’s down-to-earth plot and subtle charms. It was actually just what I needed as a breath between a lot of very dark and dramatic storytelling and I was hooked from very early on. I fairly raced through it and, by the end, I was totally in love with all of the characters and ready for them to get a happy ending.

Our main protagonist is Kate, a newly-divorced, single parent who has settled into a happy routine with her son, managing her holiday properties and maintaining a good relationship with her ex-husband. When she reads about the marriage break up of her old school friend, Joseph Wild, who has become a famous pop star, something makes her reach out the hand of friendship to him. However, she is unprepared for the feelings he will arouse in her, or the disruption he will bring to her quiet life.

Kate is a sympathetic and believable character that I identified with from the start. As a single parent myself, who has juggled a personal life with bringing up young children and trying to protect them, she might be the closest character I have come across to what I went through in real life and I really felt that Emma has captured the tumult of emotions and worries you go through in that scenario. It has been a while since I so strongly related to a protagonist in a novel and I felt everything she was feeling. Her relationship with her son, her mother and her ex-husband all rang true to me.

Joseph is a great romantic foil for Kate although, not having met any world-famous pop stars myself, I can’t say how realistic he is as a character. I suspect few of them are as self-effacing as Joseph, but I loved him anyway and anyone more brash and arrogant would not have attracted the quiet and gentle Kate. The development of their relationship is fabulous to read. The tension and conflict in the book is very personal and low-key, not huge dramatics and fireworks and, for me, that made it all the more authentic. Despite the fact the book involves a pop star and actress, the book reminds us that, in the end, they are just people with a lot of the same feelings, problems and cares as the rest of us, especially when it comes to relationships and family matters.

This book unexpectedly wormed its way under my skin, gave me great pleasure while I was reading it and left me with a warm afterglow. A really rewarding read. Plus, cool cover!

Starstruck is out now in paperback and ebook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Emma grew up and lived in London, before falling in love and moving to Wales to marry her own hero. Emma now lives with her husband, for children, and many animals a few miles outside of a small Welsh market town. She can often be found in rivers attempting to control two overexcited chocolate labradors.

Six charming romances are currently available from the Amazon bestselling authoress:

Number 1 Australian kindle bestseller, ‘His Secret Daughter’, is the heart-rending story of Iris, a woman falling in love with the father of her child. The only problem is she never told him they had a daughter.

The beautiful landscape around her home gave Emma the inspiration for ‘The Green Hills of Home’, a tale of love and duty in which country girl Gwen struggles to save her family home and avoid her feelings for her handsome, suave new boss. Is he quite all he seems?

‘Snowed in for her Wedding Day’ is a novella picking up Gwen’s story as her wedding day approaches, but with terrible weather, and an absent groom, will she have the happy ending she so deserves?

‘Just Desserts’ is a novella about confused chef Leah, who’s falling for her handsome French co-worker Jean-Claude, but meant to be marrying to Dan in just a few weeks! Who will she choose?

‘Her Perfect Hero’ was released in July 2015 as ‘I Need a Hero’, it’s a lovely comic romantic read for anyone who’s ever searched for Mr Right (and failed to find him!). Despair of Bronte, a romance writer, incapable of spotting when the perfect man is right next door! Full of horses, country houses and dentists, just beware of the foul-tempered cat Mr Darcy!

New release, ‘Starstruck’, proves that falling in love with a rock star is harder than you’d think! When newly divorced Kate finds school friend, now super famous rock star Joseph Wild, on her doorstep, her whole quiet, ordinary life is thrown into disarray. Is the attraction between them enough to make up for all the hurdles they have to cross if they want to be together?

Emma likes (in no particular order): cake, books, Cary Grant films, prosecco, chocolate, guinea pigs, knitting, quilting and happily ever afters!

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://www.emma-bennet.co.uk/

Facebook: Emma Bennet

Twitter: @romanceemma

Instagram: @romanceemma

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Blog Tour: Gordon Square by Tracy Martin-Summers #Spotlight

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It is my turn on the blog tour today for Gordon Square by Tracy Summers-Martin and I am happy to be shining the spotlight on the book. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

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On a cold blustery November night, Detective Sergeant Mike Brugge and his partner Detective Constable Mel Bailey come across a girl, age unknown, in the parkland in Gordon Square. She was frail, malnourished, dirty and covered in excrement.

What had happened to this girl?Why was she covering down, shielding her eyes from the light, with a look of horror on her face? She appeared to be non-coherent, totally unengaged and would not speak to anyone. Nothing could penetrate the world where her soul had taken solace.

Mike and Mel set out to find out where she had come from and what had been per plight. Revealing hypnosis sessions allow them to glimpse some of her pain suffering.Follow their story deep into the horrors that unfold, causing chaos and turmoil among their own lives.

The detectives are about to discover a horrific, gut-wrenching story, that spanned over four decades. But will it end?

I’m shining the spotlight today on this thriller which has great reviews on Amazon and is described as a gripping crime novel with lots of twists and turns and relatable and likeable protagonists. The book is taking a tour, so make sure you follow some of the blogs listed below to read some reviews of the book for yourself.

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If you would like to get hold of a copy of the book, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Tracy was born in Harrow Weald, Middlesex in 1964, growing up in a loving family home. She married her first husband in 1990, has two grown up children and a granddaughter.

She studied a variety of topics via module learning, embarking on City and Guilds and NVQ courses, ranging from a brief spell in hairdressing to administration and now works for a utility company in North West London.

Tracy has numerous hobbies consisting of landscape painting to landscape gardening and always likes to paint the scene, even if it’s changing the colour scheme, yet again, within her home.

Tracy has always enjoyed writing and used to write short stories for her own children’s amusement but it has only been in the last few years that she has taken this more seriously and has gone on to write her first debut crime detective Novel called Gordon Square.

Tracy Married her second husband in 2014 and now lives in Bedfordshire in a sleepy hamlet where she writes whenever she gets a spare moment.

Connect with Tracy:

Website: https://www.tracymartinsummers.co.uk/

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman; Narrated by Lesley Manville #BookReview

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In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved killings.

But when a local property developer shows up dead, ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ finds themselves in the middle of their first live case.

The four friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, might be pushing 80, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?

It’s book three of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period. The third category is ‘A book by someone who is famous for something else.’

I have chosen The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, who is obviously better known for being the co-host of Pointless as well as presenting other TV shows. This was one of the biggest books of 2020 and I’m glad I finally got around to reading it!

I am often a little wary of picking up a book that has had as much positive hype as this had, for fear of being disappointed, but I have to say that I was charmed and delighted by this book, which gave me everything I was expecting and so much more. It is a fun, cosy crime novel, as you would expect from the blurb, infused with the humour of four OAPs investigating a crime in their retirement village, but it is also an affectionate and authentic look at what it means to get older and the challenges and obstacles that brings.

Four friends in a retirement village set up an amateur sleuthing group to mull over cold cases, details of which have, rather naughtily, been squirrelled away by a retired female Detective Inspector, who is now in a coma after a stroke. The remaining members recruit a replacement, just in time to investigate a real crime that lands on their doorstep, when a local property developer turns up dead. They employ all kinds of tricks and wiles to infiltrate the official police investigation (highly improbably, but this isn’t meant to be realistic in this regard, it is all very tongue in cheek) and exhibit some real ingenuity in cracking the case. The joy and gusto with which they embrace the investigation are entertaining to read about. Richard has created four different, realistic and absolutely delightful characters to take us through the story. They are very unlikely friends, but gel brilliantly together and I adored each of them. Man-mad Joyce, fiery ‘Red Ron,’ the ex-Union agitator, cerebral and methodical Ibrahim and Elizabeth, queen bee with a mysterious past in … well, we never quite know what it is she did, but their are hints from which we can draw our own conclusions. Age has dulled none of their faculties and, add to this their age-earned no-longer-give-a-toss attitudes and they are a force that no one can withstand, certainly not the unfortunate police officers who are given their ‘help’ in the investigation.

However, aside from the fun and games of the investigation, the book gently explores what it means to get older and the challenges that brings. Loss of partners and friends, memory loss, neglect by children, the feeling of being a burden, loneliness, being misunderstood and treated like you have suddenly become ‘less’ than you were before, are all explored here with kindness and care. Richard does not belittle or mock his characters for their ageing bodies or minds, he acknowledges that, whatever age you are, we are all the same inside and deserve the same care and respect, and that these people still have a great deal to offer society and the people they come into contact with. He offers them dignity, agency and excitement and we enjoy going along with them for the ride. He has really captured their voices, and the things that they care about (an obsession with cake being one!) and I just really loved his portrayal of them all.

This book is warm, fun, humorous, kind, enchanting, intelligent and entertaining. It was exactly the tonic I needed at the time I read it (during the grim, cold, dark January lockdown days) and left me with a warm glow at the end. I cannot wait for the second book to come out this autumn. Lesley Manville is the perfect narrator for the audiobook, she really brought the characters to life, and the audio version also includes a 45-minute interview of Richard Osman by Marian Keyes at the end, which was a bonus delight. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a bit of a lift.

The Thursday Murder Club is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Richard Osman is a British television producer and presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first and, so far, best novel.

Connect with Richard:

Twitter: @richardosman

Instagram: misterosman

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