Blog Tour: The Darkness Within by Graeme Hampton #BookReview

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You can run… but death will always find you

A man is discovered on a leafy North London street, fighting for life after a brutal beating. DI Matthew Denning and his team are quickly called in to to track down the monster responsible.

Except the victim is hiding secrets of his own. His name shows that he was reported missing two decades ago – but it’s clear that the missing person is not the same man lying broken in a hospital bed.

A visit to a squalid East London flat unearths a victim with his throat slit, his body left to decompose. A sad end to any life – but when it is identified as former DCI Frank Buckfield, star of the Met police, the case takes on a new significance.

Two seemingly unrelated cases – but as Denning, along with DS Molly Fisher, investigates further, they uncover links between the two victims that lead back to a ring of silence cloaking the blackest of crimes.

But as Denning and Fisher try to track down a killer with revenge on their mind, they find themselves pitted against a psychopath who will kill to keep their secrets hidden. Can they uncover the truth, before they end up the latest victims?

I am thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for The Darkness Within by Graeme Hampton. Huge thanks to Sarah Hardy of Books On The Bright Side Publicity for my place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This is the first book I have read by this author and, if I hadn’t been told it was part of a series, I would not have known simply from reading it. The fact I hadn’t read the previous books did not detract from my understanding or enjoyment of this book at all, it works perfectly as a standalone.

The book pulled me in to the story immediately, opening as it does with the rather gory discovery of the dead body of a retired police officer. From the very beginning, the author does not hold back from giving us a graphic insight in to the way a police investigation works, the pleasant and very unpleasant together. This was the most appealing part of the book to me, looking at how investigations are really happen and how the police have to juggle demands on their time, decide what to prioritise, and how those decisions can be political rather than in the best interests of the victims. It’s very sobering, to be honest.

At the beginning there seem to be two separate crimes to be investigated, one of which is more important to the top brass than the other. Luckily, the two voices we hear from throughout the book, DI Denning and DS Fisher, are not above ignoring orders from above if it goes against their instincts, and they seem to each have  a good nose for something fishy, as well as a tenacity in getting to the bottom of a crime. They are the kind of police you would want on your case if you ever needed them.

I found the book very compelling. It was extremely easy to read, and gripping enough to make me race through the pages, so that several hours flew by like minutes. I absolutely love it when a book draws you so far in to the world the author has created between the pages that you are fully living it and don’t want to be pulled out. Honestly, this is one of the best examples of the genre I have read for a while and I look forward to going back and reading the preceding books in the series. I thought the two main characters were well developed and interesting enough to easily carry the story and I really enjoyed getting to know them personally as well as professionally.

An all-round great story which will keep you engrossed and entertained for however long it takes you to read it. Highly recommended as a great distraction in these lockdown days.

The Darkness Within is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Please check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour for alternative views on the book:

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About the Author

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Graeme Hampton was born in Paisley, and grew up in Stirling. After leaving school, he trained as a stage manager and worked in London for a number of years. He returned to Scotland in his late twenties to study for a BA in English Literature at Stirling University.

His first novel, Know No Evil – featuring Met detectives DI Matt Denning and DS Molly Fisher – was published in 2019 by Hera Books. This was followed by Blood Family in January 2020. The Darkness Within is the third novel in the series.

Graeme lives in Hastings, East Sussex.

Connect with Graeme:

Website: https://www.graemehampton.com/

Twitter: @Gham001

Instagram: @graeme_hampton

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Blog Tour: Parallel Lines by R. J. Mitchell #BookReview

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PARALLEL LINES is the story of a deadly rivalry on both sides of the law.

With criminal rival and would be underworld kingpin Declan Meehan on the verge of controlling Glasgow’s lucrative illegal drug trade, Detective Sergeant Angus Thoroughgood vows to bring him down. An edgy and fast-paced crime thriller set in the seedy criminal underworld of Glasgow, Scotland, Parallel Lines is the first book in the long-running Thoroughgood series.

With Meechan bludgeoning his competition into submission, seizing the city piece by piece, his conflict with Thoroughgood gets all too personal when Celine Lynott, the woman who broke Angus’ heart ten-years earlier, falls for his nemesis.

Parallel Lines sees author RJ Mitchell drawing from his 12 years of experience as a Glasgow police officer to drag readers into the city’s sleazy underbelly to encounter the violent and lawless stories that can be found there.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Parallel Lines by R. J. Mitchell, the first in the DS Thoroughgood series. I will be reviewing the next two books over the coming weeks. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author and publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Welcome to the seamy criminal underworld of Glasgow in all its gory glory. This book will take you on a rollercoaster ride through the dark side of life in Glasgow and introduce to some of the people trying to battle it. These are real people, both the criminals and police, and the author doesn’t pull an punches showing us their true faces, warts and all.

The main protagonists in the book are DS Gus Thoroughgood and underworld kingpin Declan Meechan. The two have a history of butting heads from their opposing sides of the good/evil divide, to the extent that you wonder whether their enmity is purely professional, especially when we find out there is a woman involved in the mix. So far, everything is set up for a rip-roaring thriller with plenty of tension, and this is eactly what you get.

The author pulls no punches with the action on the page here. The book opens with the police being called to the scene of an armed robbery in progress and only gets hotter from there on. Be warned, this book is full of authentic violence that is described in great detail. There are fights, shootings, stabbings, murder, arson, all of it in full colour, so if you are remotely squeamish, this may not be the book for you. However, it feels completely authentic and necessary for the book, for the feel of what it is really like to have to live and work in this world.

There are some great characters in this book and both sides, and I love that the author has given them lives and personalities that you may not expect but feel very real. Thoroughgood goes speed dating, his sidekick Hardie is over-weight and henpecked. Even the vicious gangsters have feelings and problems in their romantic lives. You get the impression that the author is pulling these people from real life and setting them down on the page, which makes for an interesting read.

The book has its flaws. The characters use a lot of Glaswegian dialect which I am sure is authentic but can occasionally be hard for the non-native to read. There is a lot of description, particularly of street names and locations in Glasgow that sometimes slowed down the action and could maybe do with a little trimming in places. The book is incredibly male in tone, which I fear may be a little off-putting for some female readers. I did wonder whether the behaviour of the officers was entirely authentic throughout – there were a couple of parts where their action seemed a little cartoonish, which jarred a bit with the violent authenticity of most of it. However, these were minor niggles in what was, overall, a refreshing and entertaining read.

This book felt like something a bit different in the genre, a truthful peak into the criminal world of Glasgow. I enjoyed the change of beat from some of the books I have read recently. I am looking forward to reviewing the next two books in the series over the coming weeks and seeing what is next for DS Thoroughgood. I had become quite fond of both him and Hardie during the course of the book. Hopefully you will join me.

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

Please do follow the rest of the tour for more reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

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(Pictured Author RJ Mitchell , crime writer , former Herald & Evening Times sports writer and ex cop. He is pictured at the old firing range within the the former Strathclyde Police college in Oxford Street ,next to the Sheriff Court. He has just announced that he has signed a four book deal with McNidder & Grace . His next crime novel The Shift is due out in the spring. It is based on his experiences as a rookie cop in Glasgow. As a cop he had spent many hours in this building over 20 years ago. It was the kind permission of Alistair Brand of Stallan-Brand architects who took over the building earlier this year and found out about the authors history with the place. Photograph by Martin Shields Tel 07572 457000 http://www.martinshields.com FEE PAYABLE FOR REPRO USE NB -This image is not to be distributed without the prior consent of the copyright holder. in using this image you agree to abide by terms and conditions as stated in this caption. All monies payable to Martin Shields (PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE THIS CAPTION) This image is intended for Editorial use (e.g. news). Any commercial or promotional use requires additional clearance. Copyright 2015 All rights protected. first use only.)

Robert James Mitchell was brought up in Stirling. Mitchell was initially detailed beat duties out of the former Blackhill Police Office and then Baird Street Police Office in the former ‘D’ Division, or the North, as it was known to all the men who served in the division. In January, 2007, while recovering from an appendicitis, Mitchell decided to write the first draft of ‘Parallel Lines: The Glasgow Supremacy‘, drawing heavily on his own experiences and featuring the characters of Detective Sergeant Gus Thoroughgood and DC Kenny Hardie.

Connect with Robert:

Website: https://rjmitchellauthor.co.uk/

Facebook: R J Mitchell Crime Writer

Twitter: @spitfiremedia

Instagram: @spitfire_07

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Blog Tour: The Lake House by Christie Barlow #BookReview

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I’m delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Lake House, Book 5 in the popular Love Heart Lane series by Christie Barlow. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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There’s a newcomer to the village of Heartcross and she’s never been more in need of a friend.

Ella is ready to start afresh ––and that could mean there’s love on the horizon in the form of the gorgeous Roman, the local water taxi driver. Every day Roman is there to ferry Ella to the restaurant on the other side of the lake and every night he makes sure she gets home safe. But Roman has secrets of his own…

Can the Love Heart Lane community offer Ella a chance of a new life? Or will the ghosts of her past catch up with her?

Although this is the fifth book in this series, you don’t need to have read any of the previous books in the series to be able to enjoy this one, it works perfectly well as a standalone. Although, I have to warn you that you will probably want to go back and read all the previous ones once you have finished this, so it could be dangerous for your bank balance!

At the beginning of the book, we meet Ella at the lowest ebb of her life. She has been betrayed and loses everything that is important to her, and has no idea what she is going to do with her life, until her best friend Callie swoops in and carries her off to the tiny village of Heartcross where Callie plans to help Ella get back on her feet. After all, Heartcross is a magical place.

This probably sounds very saccharine, especially if you are off a cynical disposition, but if you are a fan of light romances, I promise you that this book is heartwarming and absolutely full of charm, thanks to the skill of Christie’s writing. You won’t be able to help getting invested in Ella’s fate, and the goings on in Heartcross, especially once you get to know the other characters in the book.

Particularly Dolores. I absolutely loved Dolores. Christie has created someone so vivid and alive that she jumps off the page of the book and straight in to your imagination fully formed, and she is a total firecracker. She is one of those women that you hope you will turn in to when you get old, still full of life and joy and hope. I loved the way she is there to show Ella that there is so much for her to live for, even though she has been hurt and let down, and the end to her personal story really moved me. I had a tear in my eye at the culmination of her plot line.

Despite the fact that this is a light romance, Christie managed to create a lot of tension in the novel, because there were several ways that the story could have gone, although the main catalyst that began the book was actually the least fascinating mystery in the end. The story of Dolores, of how Ella integrates into the Heartcross community, the way she works to help them, whilst healing herself at the same time, and her friendship with Roman were all so wonderful and compelling that, by the time Ella’s old life rears it ugly head again, we barely care. We know Ella is better off where she is now, and we care more about her new life and her old. This is a joy of the book, we all develop and recover and move on just as Ella does, Christie really carries the reader along with the story.

This book was just the tonic that I needed to read after two very heavy, dark reads, dismal January weather and more tragic news. The real world is a bit of a crappy place to be at the moment, Heartcross is a much happier and warmer place to exist for a few hours. It is a place that really crawls under your skin and cheers you from the inside out. Pure escapism, which we all need a bit of at the moment. I have just downloaded Starcross Manor to my Kindle, I’m sure once you visit Heartcross, you’ll want to return too.

The Lake House is out now in ebook format and will be published as a paperback in April. You can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour for alternative reviews and other content:

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About the Author

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Christie Barlow is the author of ten bestselling romantic comedies including A Home at Honeysuckle Farm, Love Heart Lane and Clover Cottage. She lives in a ramshackle cottage in a quaint village in the heart of Staffordshire with her four children and two dogs.

Her writing career has come as a lovely surprise when Christie decided to write a book to teach her children a valuable life lesson and show them that they are capable of achieving their dreams. Christie’s dream was to become a writer and the book she wrote to prove a point went on to become a #1 bestseller in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia.

When Christie isn’t writing she enjoys playing the piano, is a keen gardener and loves to paint and upcycle furniture.

Christie is an ambassador for the @ZuriProject alongside Patron of the charity, Emmerdale’s Bhasker Patel. They raise money and awareness for communities in Uganda.

Christie loves to hear from her readers and you can get in touch via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Connect with Christie:

Website: https://christiebarlow.com/

Facebook: Christie Barlow Author

Twitter: @ChristieJBarlow

Instagram: @christie_barlow

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Friday Night Drinks with… Linda Tyler

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Welcome to another weekend, although the days all kind of feel the same at the moment, don’t they? Except, there is no home schooling at the weekend, hurray! And it’s also time for my favourite feature of the week, Friday Night Drinks. This week I am delighted to be sharing a tipple with author… Linda Tyler.

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

Thanks very much for inviting me. I’ll have a G&T, please. Could I also have some cheesy bits, as the G&T will make me peckish? Slainte mhath!

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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?

A walk with the dog on the beach of a tiny village I know by the sea, with a single street light on the sea wall to ensure we could see where we were going. The village inspired my debut novel, Revenge of the Spanish Princess, a swashbuckling adventure set in the late 1600s. Afterwards, we’d find a warm and welcoming café still open and drink hot chocolate.

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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?

Lord Emsworth – famous, if fictional. I refuse to think of him as dead. I’d like to meet up at his place, Blandings Castle, where I hope as many of the castle inhabitants and visitors would be able to join us and Lord Em. His feckless and amiable son Freddie, his bossy sister Constance and the efficient yet flowerpot throwing secretary Rupert Baxter come immediately to mind. Interestingly, Alex MacDonald, the Laird in my lattest novel, is also a fan of PG Wodehouse.

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My other choice would be Lady Hester Stanhope, aristocrat, adventurer, antiquarian and one of the most famous travellers of the early 1800s. Beautiful and clever, she lived with her unmarried uncle, the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and acted as his society hostess and political private secretary. When he died, she embarked on her travels. In Athens, the poet Lord Byron dived into the sea to greet her, en route to Cairo she was shipwrecked off Rhodes and she crossed the Syrian desert dressed as a Turkish male, carrying a sword and riding an Arab stallion. What a woman.

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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’m working on a time-slip novel, set in Scotland in the present day and in the 1950s. I’ve recently finished writing a medieval Highlander romance and my husband is having fun competing with the bare-chested, tattooed warrior. In March I have a My Weekly Pocket Novel, Summer Intrigue, coming out, with a very different type of hero – polite, charming and sensitive, but still decidedly masculine.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment was when I wrote the dedication to my debut novel. It was to my first grandson, ‘who loves pirate stories’, even though he’s far too young to be able to read the book.

Getting published in the first place has to have been the biggest challenge. Most authors must send their work out countless times before receiving that wonderful email.

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!

To write the most amazingly successful novel set in a hot climate, have it made into a film and be invited to watch the filming on location.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

A stay on the isle of Mull, postponed from last year because of lockdown. As well as looking forward to the unspoiled  scenery, I’m also hoping it will prompt an idea for another book. Clearly, the novel set in hot climate is a little way off yet.

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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?

I’m so lucky that in my previous job as a lecturer I was able to visit some wonderful countries, including India (I’ll never forget emerging from the airport into the heat, noise, colour and chaos of a Delhi night) and Australia (a pillion ride on a motorbike round Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne was thrilling), but I have to say my favourite holiday was when my husband and I splashed out (excuse the pun) on a Caribbean cruise. I loved  every  minute of it, including the catamaran trip a few of us made off St Lucia and the exotic sea life seen when snorkelling.

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There are still so many countries on my bucket list, but top at present is to spend a month on a family-run vineyard in Tuscany. That’ll be the novel set in a hot climate…

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

I’ve been driven on a vintage bus by Prince Michael of Kent. My husband was presented with an award by HRH for the restoration of a railway carriage and afterwards Prince Michael drove us round Brooklands Museum. It’s on the site of the old race track in Surrey – but we travelled at a suitably stately pace.

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’?

There are far too many books I love! But if I must choose one, it would be Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. The novel is a parody of rural melodramas which were popular in the 1930s. It has erotically boiling porridge, an Aunt Ada who once saw ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ and the cheerfully efficient Flora who takes the Starkadder family in hand. Reading this attracted me to passionate pastorals!

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand.

A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

You’ve picked my favourite novel of all time! Number one pick in my Desert Island Books feature last year. 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 honestly don’t drink enough for this to happen. But Jeeves swears by whisked together raw egg, Worcester sauce and red pepper. I might try it if absolutely necessary.

That sounds suitably vile! A good enough reason not to over-indulge if that is what you’d be faced with drinking next day. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

A long country walk with the dog and in the evening an open fire, a game of Pictionary or Articulate with friends and wine with an excellent dinner  – cooked by someone else, as I’m no cook.

Thanks for having me!

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Sounds fabulous. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to join me, Linda, I have had a delightful evening.

Linda particularly excited about her latest release, The Laird’s Secret, as it’s her first pure romance. Her debut novel and the book to be published in March are romantic adventures. The Laird’s Secret is based on her experiences when she moved to the north east of Scotland – although she stresses the novel isn’t autobiographical! She loves the wild beauty of the Aberdeenshire coastline and living in an old farmhouse. The book is set in 1953 and tells the story of Christina Camble who gives up her photographer’s job and her flat in London and moves to Scotland. Her expectation of a peaceful life is thrown to the wind when she meets handsome but reserved Alex MacDonald, the Laird of Craiglogie, a man physically scarred and emotionally wracked by his experiences in World War Two. As they cautiously get to know one another, Christina finds herself living in his house and involved in his life. She soon becomes friends with Alex’s sister, Fiona, but discovers she has made an enemy of glamorous Helen, who wants Alex for herself.

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When trust has been destroyed, could you learn to love again?

In 1953 life is getting back to normal after the war and Christina Camble is one of those looking to the future. But her trust in men is destroyed when she discovers her fiancé has a wife and child. She gives up her job and flat in a bid to escape London and moves to Scotland, where she hopes to get her life back on the right track. 

Christina’s expectation of a peaceful life is interrupted when she meets handsome but reserved Alex MacDonald, the Laird of Craiglogie, a man physically scarred and emotionally wrecked by his experiences in World War Two. As Christina and Alex cautiously get to know one another, she soon finds herself embroiled in his life and living in his house. 

Christina discovers she has made an enemy of family friend, Helen, who wants Alex for herself. As Helen sets her sights on Alex, she succeeds in driving a wedge between him and Christina. 

Will Alex and Christina find their happy ever after, and is it possible for two damaged people to ever learn to love and trust again?

The Laird’s Secret will be published by Bloodhound Books on 18 January as an ebook and a paperback and you can pre-order your copy here.

Linda Tyler’s debut novel, Revenge of the Spanish Princess, a swashbuckling romantic adventure set in the Mediterranean in the 1600s, won a Romance Writers of America competition and was published in April 2020 by DC Thomson as a My Weekly Pocket Novel. Her second novel, The Laird’s Secret, a romance set in rural Scotland in the 1950s, was commended in a Scottish Association of Writers’ competition and was released in January 2021 by Bloodhound Books. She has a further Pocket Novel coming out in March 2021, Summer Intrigue, a Regency romance in which the hero and heroine set out to unmask a spy for Napoleon Bonaparte at a country house party. Linda has also had short stories published in the UK, the USA and Australia. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

 Born in London, Linda moved progressively north until settling with her husband in a village on the edge of the Scottish Highlands.  She has a PhD and is a former university lecturer and a practitioner in child law. She has kept chickens, bred dogs and raised children. Linda now runs holiday accommodation, sings in a local choir and is walked daily by the family dog.

Find out more about Linda and her books on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager; Narrated by Cady McClain & Jon Lindstrom #BookReview

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What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into a rambling Victorian estate called Baneberry Hall. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a memoir called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon.

Now, Maggie has inherited Baneberry Hall after her father’s death. She was too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist.

But when she returns to Baneberry Hall to prepare it for sale, her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the pages of her father’s book lurk in the shadows, and locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place that hints of dark deeds and unexplained happenings. 

As the days pass, Maggie begins to believe that what her father wrote was more fact than fiction. That either way, someone – or something – doesn’t want her here. And that she might be in danger all over again….

This is the first book I have chosen this year as part of the 2021 Reading Challenge for my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club. (If you love books, you must check it out, it is the friendliest part of the internet for bibliophiles). The challenge is to read a new book every fortnight that fits the prescribed category for that two-week period.

The first category is ‘A book that was a Goodreads top read of 2020.’ I have again vowed to try and pick unread books from my TBR to fit the challenge categories, rather than buy new ones. So I chose this book, as I had it already as an audiobook.

I love to listen to Riley Sager novels as audiobooks. There is always so much action and tension in his books that they keep the narration rolling along, despite the fact that the narrators always read a lot slower than I could read them myself if I sat down with the paperback. This one was no exception, and it made me eager to get on with my chores so that I could listen to the next segment. The only drawback was that I could not use this audiobook to send me off to sleep at night as I sometimes do, it was too scary! I was afraid I would have nightmares, or frighten myself to death if I woke up in the night and caught sight of my reflection in the bedroom mirror.

The book is told in the voices of two narrators. The first is Maggie who, in the present day, returns to the ‘haunted house’ that her family fled from when she was five years old. Her family grew rich on the back of a book detailing their experiences in the ‘House of Horrors,’ but the experience has marred Maggie’s life since and, on the death of her father, Maggie returns to the house to find out what really happened back then. The second narrator is the voice of Maggie’s father, Ewan, telling the story of their time in the house as detailed in the book. But it is fact or fiction? Honestly, the reader/listener can’t really know until right at the end of the book, both stories (the one in the book, and the book itself) are very convincing. The audiobook is voiced by two different narrators for Maggie and Ewan who are both excellent and it works really, really well as a listen.

There are lots of twists and turns in the book that keep the reader gripped and guessing, right to the end. Parts of it a really unsettling, I quite often felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end and, as I said, I was afraid to listen to it just before sleep. All great signs of this type of ghost story/thriller and things I have come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. If you have enjoyed his books before, you will like this one.

Yes, it’s preposterous. Yes, the ending is absolutely ludicrous. Yes, you have to suspend your disbelief so far that it will feel like it is hovering over the Grand Canyon. But these are the things that make this kind of book so much fun and why this book was so popular that it ended up in the Goodreads Top Reads of 2020. It gave me everything I expected in spades and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Can’t wait for his next book.

Home Before Dark is out now as an ebook and audiobook, and will be published in paperback in July, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer. Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller that’s been translated into more than 25 languages. His subsequent novels, THE LAST TIME I LIED, LOCK EVERY DOOR and HOME BEFORE DARK, were instant New York Times bestsellers. His newest thriller, SURVIVE THE NIGHT, will be released in June.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

Connect with Riley:

Website: https://www.rileysagerbooks.com/

Facebook: Riley Sager Books

Twitter: @riley_sager

Instagram: @riley.sager

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Desert Island Books with… Diane Chandler

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Welcome to my first guest Desert Island Books feature of 2021 and I am delighted to have stranded author Diane Chandler on my remote island today. Im hoping it’s a bit warmer there than it is here at the moment!

First of all, let me congratulate you on being crowned an RNA Media Start of 2020! What a wonderful accolade. On reading your blog, I was astounded that you read nearly 200 books last year, many of them as part of your book blogging role. The blogging community provide such an incredible support in nurturing newly published books which is so appreciated. 

And thank you too for inviting me to share my five favourite books. I don’t get through half as many as you each year, Julie, but still it’s so hard to choose when you’re an avid reader, isn’t it? For a big birthday a few years back, a friend gifted me this oil painting of the spines of my favourite books. It hangs proudly in my kitchen and I often find myself gazing at it and diving back into all those fabulous reads. Now, some years on, there would be another 20 to add to these, but I’ll happily choose a few books from this painting to read over and over again on my sunny desert island.

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Book One – The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguru

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In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past . . .

A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House, of lost causes and lost love.

On arrival in the tropics (where I hope my island would be) I’d like to settle down on the sand and begin with what I call a ‘quiet’ novel. Set in the late 1930s, The Remains of the Day is about a head butler, Stevens, who proudly presides over his staff at a lavish English country house and serves his master, Lord Darlington, with an unquestioning loyalty. One might even say with a certain blindness, as war gathers on the fringes of their languid existence. When Miss Kenton arrives as the chief housekeeper, she and Stevens develop a professional friendship, which he treats with the utmost propriety. And in so doing, he misses out on love. Some twenty years later, he takes a drive to visit Miss Kenton who has moved across the country and yet still carries a torch for him, and once again he fails to seize the opportunity for love which is staring him in the face. 

The writing is sumptuous, slowly drawing readers in and moving us deeply. Very little happens, and yet everything is happening inside the hearts and minds of the characters. And, astoundingly, the author’s mother tongue is Japanese. I teach creative writing alongside my publisher, Stephanie Zia, and we stress the importance of a character’s journey; that there should be some change within them by the novel’s end. Yet Stevens is a character who does not change – and that is the very point with this novel, leaving the reader with a lingering sense of what might have been.

Book Two – The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver 

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This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

Having gazed out to sea for a while to let that novel settle, eventually I would shuffle up against a palm tree, and be ready to tackle my next choice. The Poisonwood Bible is about an American family of four daughters who move to Africa, swept along to another continent without choice by their missionary father, who is working to convert African souls to Christianity. This ignorant man is totally oblivious to the culture and values of the African villagers, and there are many entertaining moments where they exhibit their superior intelligence. The mother, meanwhile, tries her best to cushion the existence of her daughters against the harsh conditions in which they find themselves (including the odd deadly snake or two…) For me, this was a wonderfully emotional read. I used to work in overseas aid, including a stint on the Africa desk and always love to read books set in Africa. Moreover, increasingly in the publishing world I hear that, ‘the only goal for an author is to create emotion in their reader’ and boy does this book do that. It’s a little hard to get into, as one of the daughters has developed her own special language and it is she we meet first, but we soon get used to her code.

The opening line of the novel is also a gem. At our creative writing workshops we often study the opening lines of novels – that all-important first hook. The Poisonwood Bible opens with the line, ‘Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.’ A mysterious opening if ever there was one! I would definitely be reading this book again and again… and hoping there were no snakes sharing my desert island with me!

Book Three – We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver

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Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of a boy named Kevin who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who had tried to befriend him.

Now, two years after her son’s horrific rampage, Eva comes to terms with her role as Kevin’s mother in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband Franklyn about their son’s upbringing. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about motherhood. How much is her fault?

In Lionel Shriver’s hands this sensational, chilling and memorable story of a woman who raised a monster becomes a metaphor for the larger tragedy – the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

I think I’d be ready then to speed up the pace and danger somewhat, and would turn to this novel about a mother and her son, Kevin, who carries out a mass murder at his American high school. We follow their journey from his birth to imprisonment. Not only is it brilliantly written – the language, the pace, the structure – but its theme of nature or nurture; whether her son Kevin was born evil or whether he became bad as he grew up, is explored in fascinating and forensic depth. I read it just after I’d had my daughter and was struggling to cope at home – and it blew me away. Well, you bring yourself to a novel, don’t you? And I brought myself to this one as a fragile new mother, wanting only the best for my baby and devoting all my days to her needs (albeit struggling with that). And I concluded that the mother in this novel was ultimately a bad mother; that she lacked empathy and, above all, generosity of spirit towards her son. 

Some years later, I came to the book again during a creative writing class, where we deconstructed it, chapter by chapter, to explore how Lionel Shriver had built this amazing novel. And once again, I found myself completely absorbed and oblivious to the author’s techniques, simply sucked in by her story-telling. As a writer, you tend to vaguely deconstruct novels as you read – what was their purpose with such and such a chapter? How did they move the plot or character forward? But I’m sure I could read this novel again and again and still be unaware of the stupendous ending I’m about to come upon. Interestingly, Lionel Shriver was not a mother herself when she penned it, which makes it a stunning feat of imagination too. At my book club, recently, we were discussing American Dirt, including the controversy of ‘cultural appropriation’ surrounding it. (American author, Jeannie Cummins’ first person protagonist is a Mexican woman escaping to the USA, and many Latinx people criticised her for audaciously believing she understood what it was to be a Mexican.) We all agreed that so many books would not be here without such incredible stretches of imagination – including We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Book Four – The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

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For 15-year-old Michael Berg, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. The woman in question is Hanna, and before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems.

Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to realize that the person in the dock is Hanna. The woman he had loved is a criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. But then suddenly, and terribly, it does – Hanna is not only obliged to answer for a horrible crime, she is also desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

After a calming walk around the island, I‘d be ready to settle down again for something ‘quiet’. When I was a student of modern languages many decades ago, I spent a summer living in West Berlin. This was when the Berlin Wall was still standing – and indeed a period of tension between East and West. I absolutely loved living and working in such an exciting city and since then have been a sucker for any novel set in post-war Germany. Especially an exquisite love story. The Reader is such a love story – but with an incredible twist. Set just after the second world war, it’s about a fifteen-year old boy who is seduced by a voluptuous German woman in her thirties. They spend the summer making glorious love in her apartment, after which the boy reads to her – novels, poetry, anything beautiful – because, as it transpires, she cannot read. And then suddenly the woman disappears. One day the boy arrives at her flat to find it vacant and emptied of all her possessions. Many years later, during the infamous Nazi War Trials, the boy is a law student and taken to watch one of the criminal trials by his tutor. There, in the dock, is the woman. To say more would be too much of a spoiler – perhaps I’ve gone too far already ☺ but this is a sumptuous novel of huge depth. Translated from the German. 

Book Five – Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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1910. Amiens, Northern France. Stephen Wraysford, a young Englishman, arrives in the French city to stay with the Azaire family. He falls in love with unhappily married Isabelle and the two enter a tempestuous love affair. But, with the world on the brink of war, the relationship falters.

With his love for Isabelle forever engraved on his heart, Stephen volunteers to fight on the Western Front and enters the unimaginable dark world beneath the trenches of No Man’s Land. From award-winning writer Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong is an exceptionally moving and unforgettable portrait of the ruthlessness of war and the indestructability of love.

I first read Birdsong when I was in my twenties and caught up in the excitement of living abroad in Brussels, with the emphasis firmly on fun. By day, I worked as a political lobbyist, by night, I partied – and at the weekends we would head off to Paris, or Amsterdam for all that these cities had to offer. Such a hedonistic and carefree existence. And then I read Birdsong. The opening chapters are about an equally carefree young man, Stephen, who arrives in Amiens with his job and lodges with a well-to-do family. He begins a torrid affair with the unhappily married wife, a tale of lust and burning love which we readers experience in all its sizzling detail. And then, World War One breaks out, and Stephen finds himself recruited to the trenches, going over the top, firing and being fired at. 

And this change in his fortunes was something of an epiphany for me and my callow self. To think that all those doddery old men, who paraded or were pushed in wheelchairs at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day, were once vivacious young men, alive with lust and vigour. My respect for the whole world grew – and I too grew up. It is this juxtaposition in the novel that has always stayed with me. I’m actually not very good at re-reading novels, because I remember them well and there is no discovery second-time around, but this is one I have returned to. Perhaps, in fact, this is my favourite novel of all.  

My luxury item

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Well, my gorgeous ragdoll cat, George, is one of my special comforts in life, but I see he’s not allowed. So I’d opt for my laptop and indulge in my passion of writing. After all that heavy reading I’d need to laugh at George’s @catsdoingbooks antics on Instagram too. But I guess there’d have to be some power source to charge it, so maybe that’s a naughty choice too…?!

About Diane Chandler

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Diane Chandler’s first novel, The Road to Donetsk, draws on her experience of managing overseas aid programmes, and won the People’s Book Prize. Her second, Moondance, tackles the emotional impact of IVF fertility treatment on a loving couple. Only Human, her third novel, is about a woman struggling to find meaning in life after her husband cheats on her and her only daughter is about to fly the nest. Diane co-runs Creative Writing Workshops London with Stephanie Zia of Blackbird Digital Books, and also coaches aspiring writers. She is the host of http://www.Chiswickbuzz.net Book Club, Words with Wine in W4

Diane also co-runs Creative Writing Workshops London and they have just devised a host of new online workshops, on topics from eg. the use of colour, texture, sounds/smells/taste, to eg. voice, self-editing and getting published. They also continue with our workshops for beginners – on character, plot, dialogue and setting. Each stand-alone session costs £20. Small, safe groups of max 6 participants – and nobody has to read out unless they wish to. More details at their website.

Although Diane loves to read literary fiction, her three novels are commercial women’s fiction and the latest, Only Human, came out in September 2020 during a lucky lull in the pandemic. Published by Blackbird Books, it is set in West London and is about a middle-aged woman, Anna, who gave up her career to be a stay-at-home mum. Her daughter is now chopping at the apron strings and she’s just discovered that her husband of 20 years is having an affair. What should she do next with her life? You can buy a copy of the book here.

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The Bonds are, seemingly, a tight family unit, until one fateful summer when the temptations of lust and love come for them all…

Tiger mum Anna, who gave up her career to build the perfect home life in London’s leafy Chiswick, is shocked to the core when she discovers that her husband of 20 years is having an affair.

Her daughter meanwhile is transforming into a tricky teen chopping at the apron strings.

Then Jack walks into their lives. Sophie’s first boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for the whole family and Anna gradually discovers new purpose for herself.

But when yet more deceit creeps in, tensions soar.

Anna is propelled through a tangled web of secrets and lies towards a devastating climax.

Connect with Diane:

Website: https://www.dianechandlerauthor.com

Facebook: Diane Chandler Author

Twitter: @Dchandlerauthor

Instagram: @dianechandlerauthor

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Guest Post: The Sifnos Chronicles by Sharon Blomfield

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Photo credit: Brian Richardson

Quirky and beguiling, often unwittingly funny, and always so utterly kind, the people of the Greek island of Sifnos charm and fascinate. They roar past on motorbikes with whole families squeezed on top, plus whatever earthly goods they can manage to hold on to. They live their lives in the open, their shouts, their squabbles, and their laughter in plain view of anyone who takes the time to notice. Open-hearted and spontaneous, they ply strangers with countless gifts… … and, impromptu, they invite a passing traveller to their wedding.

Filled with encounters and observation, gentle humour, and more than one unforeseeable twist, The Sifnos Chronicles is a narrative tale that takes readers along on this traveller’s journey through whitewashed alleys, into homey tavernas, across ancient marbled paths through the hills, and ultimately into the heart of this magical isle.

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog Sharon Blomfield, who is going to tell us about the inspiration behind her travel memoir, The Sifnos Chronicles. Over to you, Sharon.

When The Muse Speaks by Sharon Blomfield

I still recall the exact moment, know precisely where I was sitting in that Greek island taverna. The taste of fresh herbs in the revithokeftedes, those chick pea fritters I’d polished off, still lingers on my tongue. My nose quivers still at thoughts of the hot olive oil that hung in the air. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat had just stuck his head through the front door and had started into another of those faux-Shakespearean soliloquies of his. It was at that very instant that the island itself grabbed me by the hand and gave a firm yank. There’s a book here, it said, and you are the one who must write it.

A book? A whole book? Not me. It was short articles I wrote, travel stories, not books. Plus, the ferry was about to arrive and in minutes would take me away. My time on Sifnos was finished.

The island, though, had other ideas about that.

When I’d arrived on Sifnos three weeks before, I’d found pretty much what I’d expected of a Cycladic Greek isle. Blue skies, marshmallow-white buildings, crimson bougainvillea spilling over it all. But almost right away I sensed something else, something quite curious, a sensation I’ve never felt anywhere else on my travels. It was as though I’d landed somehow in the middle of a story, one with a whole cast of characters carrying on around me, wandering through my days. Every morning the same ones would flock to the square to inspect the fishmongers’ wares, never to buy, merely to see who caught what last night. There was the family who thought nothing of squabbling in view of everyone in their taverna, the bossy mother-in-law  in the corner peeling potatoes, the kids who’d ignore their mother’s loud orders and run in from the street and back out at will, the husband who’d bury his head in the TV and ignore it all, who we watched once turn up the volume when there were too many customers and he couldn’t hear. The Happy Greek my own husband dubbed him. That tall man in the fisherman’s hat who pretended to be Italian and thus more sophisticated, but wasn’t either, who you’d see every day squish himself into the cab of his tiny three-wheeled truck and tootle off across the island in search of someone – anyone – who’d pay attention to his latest outlandish antics. For those weeks I threw myself into their midst, waited to see what would happen and wisely as it turned out, recorded everything I could recall in my journal at night, laughing at so much of what I’d observed once more.

I revelled too in the kindnesses I’d received. The kindnesses, oh my. The generosity. The hearts so wide open, so willing to embrace even a random traveller like me. There were sweet treats galore at the end of most meals. The man who, after we’d paid, would invent a different excuse every time to pour us an ouzo. “To fight off the cold,” it was one balmy night, then he’d sit with us and chat for another hour or so. There was Coffee Shop Lady whose warm hand on my shoulder one morning spoke the words our lack of a common language couldn’t. And the dear woman we called Grandma who cut a bouquet of roses from her garden for me once, but snipped off every single last thorn before she’d hand them over.

The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle, the book that muse of an island coaxed out of me, begins on that ferry two years later, this time in the moments before it lands on Sifnos again. Finished with this island, I was not. Hardly. Those characters and their faces were as real to me as though I’d seen them all yesterday.

I was under no illusions, though. We two Canadians were but tourists here, mere blips in the passing crowd that had surely numbered in the thousands in the two years since we’d been gone. Memories of us, if wisps of them remained at all, would have dimmed to almost nothing.

But once again, this island had its own opinion about that. As we walked down the alley on our way to dinner that first night, Grandma was exactly where I expected to see her and she rushed toward us with a smile and warm hugs once more. The Happy Greek was right where we’d left him and he spotted us right away as we crossed the square on our way toward his place. “You!” he exclaimed as we neared and his index finger practically jabbed my husband in the chest. “Two years,” he marvelled at how long we told him it was we’d been away. Inside, our usual table, the one with the best view of the goings-on, was still vacant and we sat down right where we’d left off. Ouzo man was soon back at it once more. Fisherman Hat guy too.

Over the next four weeks, there were more people to see again, and new ones as well, and twists of fate we never saw coming. A photograph my husband did on the first trip popped up again and in one heart-stopping moment cemented his connection forever with a family of fishermen and their tiny seaside village. A chance encounter netted us an impromptu invitation to one of those quintessentially Greek island weddings. High on a hill at the end of the island, the church was white and blue-domed, of course, and surrounded by the Aegean on almost four sides. The ceremony, bathed in the warmth of the late afternoon sun and presided over by two black-hatted priests, smashed forever my illusions about Greek Orthodox religious practice and how sombre it is.

That muse was right. A whole book was what I was living on Sifnos, and when at the end of a month we returned home, I began in earnest to write The Sifnos Chronicles, my tales from this Greek isle.

When a place calls to your heart as strongly as this one has to mine and says you must return, you must. As often as it insists you must. Nine more times to Sifnos since the events in that book and counting, in our case. And always, the island has made known its demands of me. There’s a second book now too. Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales, set six years later in that tiny fishing village, tells more of the fun, of the relationships with this island and its people and how they’ve grown. There is too my blog, The Sifnos Chronicler.

The message Sifnos had for me that day in that taverna was loud. I can’t wait to see this pandemic in the rear view mirror, to get back to my island again, to see what else it has in store.

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Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Sharon, it’s made me want to travel to Sifnos immediately. Let’s hope we are all able to visit our favourite destinations again soon.

If you would like to get your own copy of The Sifnos Chronicles  and do some armchair travelling whilst stuck at home, you can buy a copy hereThe Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales is also available here. But if you’re on Sifnos, drop into To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop, in Apollonia. (https://www.facebook.com/Το-Βιβλιοπωλείο-The-Bookshop-Sifnos-270568056317513) Independent book stores everywhere need our support now more than ever.

About the Author

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I am a writer and traveller who on my wanderings has found myself somehow invited to tour an odd hobbit-like house in the South Seas, to drink wine in the kitchen of a sunburned chalet in a high Alpine pasture, and to be a guest at a Greek island wedding. My stories and photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, among them The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Boston Globe and France’s Courrier International. I live in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada with my photographer husband and fellow traveller, Jim Blomfield. 

The year 2006 brought us to Greece for the first time, to the island of Sifnos. It was meant to be a one-time visit but what I hadn’t counted on was how the kindness of its people and the unexpected adventures we encountered there would melt my heart and how we’d be drawn back almost every year after that, always for a month at a time. How Sifnos would turn me into a book author and a blogger. 

Connect with Sharon:

Website: http://www.sharonblomfield.com/home.html

Facebook: Sharon Blomfield

Twitter: @SharonBlomfield

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Desert Island Children’s Books

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Last year I had such fun listing and re-reading the twelve books that I would take with me to a desert island that it spawned a whole new guest blog feature and, I have decided to do it all over again this year, but with children’s books. Yes, this is nothing more than a thinly disguised excuse to read my childhood favourites over the course of the year, and I am totally unapologetic for that. In these turbulent times, what could be more natural and comforting than to retreat to the warmth of the books that saw you safely through childhood?

The premise is the same as last year. I will be revealing and reviewing the twelve children’s books that I would take with me, should I be stranded alone forever on a desert island. One per month throughout the coming year. I’ll tell you what it is I particularly love about them; why they are the books that I read over and over again as a child, and why they still speak to me as an adult, and what I continue to love about them.

I will be reading one of my twelve picks per month and reviewing it on the last day of the month but, like last year, I am trailing the twelve by listing the thirteen books that almost, but didn’t quite, make the final cut. Some of my all-time favourites, that I would be loathe to leave behind but had to sacrifice to make room for the top dozen.

Let’s kick off shall we.

Pony Club Camp by Josephine Pullein-Thompson

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The last glorious swansong of the West Barsetshire Pony Club sees the Major run a camp for the Pony Club members.

Noel and Henry have now left school and have returned as instructors to deal with the loose and the runaway, and that’s just the ponies. The Pony Club members are even worse. 

As a pony-mad girl in the early eighties, the books written by the Pullein-Thompson sisters were a staple of my childhood library, and Pony Club Camp was my absolute favourite. This story of camping with ponies, doing horseback treasure hunts and gymkhanas, was aspirational and the day I finally went to Pony Club Camp myself was a dream come true, even though it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the one in the book!

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

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The Borrowers live in the secret places of quiet old houses; behind the mantelpiece, inside the harpsichord, under the kitchen clock. They own nothing, borrow everything, and think that human beings were invented just to do the dirty work. Arrietty’s father, Pod, was an expert Borrower. He could scale curtains using a hatpin, and bring back a doll’s teacup without breaking it. Girls weren’t supposed to go borrowing but as Arrietty was an only child her father broke the rule, and then something happened which changed their lives. She made friends with the human boy living in the house…

Normally the idea of unseen creatures living in the corners of your house would be a plot line to scare a child rigid, but the story of Pod, Homily and little Arriety who live under the floorboards and exist by ‘borrowing’ human items to adapt for for their own use is just charming. I was fascinating by the clever way they adapt our huge items for their tiny lives. I loved all five books in the series, but the first time you meet them is always the most memorable.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley

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Milly-Molly-Mandy lives in a tiny village in the heart of the countryside, where life is full of everyday adventures! Join the little girl in the candy-striped dress as she goes blackberry picking, gets ready to throw a party for her friends and goes to her village fete – whatever Milly-Molly-Mandy and her friends are up to, you’re sure to have fun when they’re around.

I’m not really sure what the appeal of the Milly-Molly-Mandy stories was to me as a child because, looking back, she didn’t do anything hugely exciting. Her life was fairly ordinary and simple, you wouldn’t think that they held as much appeal as stories that whisked a child away somewhere magical, but I loved them nonetheless. Maybe their appeal was their simplicity and innocence, it was like having a friend sleeping over in your bedroom every night. Plus, it was like a collection of short stories, perfect for early readers to master their reading independence.

Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John

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Lucien’s teasing of Dani leads to an accident with far-reaching consequences. Annette is intent on revenge and does all she can to make life a misery for Lucien. His only friend is the old man up the mountain who recognises his skill in carving wood and gives him new hope. Set in Switzerland this story of Annett, Lucien and Dani has caught the imagination of countless children.

My sister borrowed this book from our school library and somehow it never got returned; I still have the school copy to this day (sorry, St. Mary’s School!) This was my first experience of a book taking me away to a different country with its strange customs (I know it’s only Switzerland, not Swaziland, but we never travelled abroad when I was a child, Switzerland seemed exotic!) I was particularly obsessed with the children getting gingerbread bears from the church Christmas Tree as a gift and coveted the one with the twisted nose.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

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The Wild Wood seems a terrifying place to Mole, until one day he pokes his nose out of his burrow and finds it’s full of friends. He meets brave Ratty, kind old Badger and the rascally Mr Toad, and together they go adventuring . . .

But the Wild Wood doesn’t just contain friends, there are also the sinister weasels and stoats, and they capture Toad Hall when Mr Toad is in jail. How will he escape? And can the friends fight together to save Toad Hall?

I don’t think I need to explain why I loved this charming story of animals acting like people; nervous Mole, adventurous Rat, sensible Badger and the bumptious Mr. Toad. I think I strongly related to Mole as a child, which is why I particularly relished his growing bravery and friendships.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar And Six More by Roald Dahl

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WHAT if you stumbled upon a boy who could talk to animals?

WHY is a hitchhiker both a saviour and a threat?

HOW can a man see without using his eyes?

SEVEN EXTRAORDINARY TALES OF MAGIC, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE.

I remember us studying The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar in English at junior school, and I fell in love with Dahl’s more adult, dark storytelling and was eager to read the rest of the short stories in this volume. My first exploration of stories that were slightly less wholesome and cartoonish than what I read at home, a stepping stone to the world of grown up literature.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

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‘If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle – certain to be’

When Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen are forced to spend their entire summer at school they don’t imagine they will have a particularly interesting time. But that’s before they stumble upon a mysterious castle set in beautiful, abandoned gardens. Could this really be an enchanted castle? Don’t be a duffer, there’s no such thing. But with the air thick with magic, the sun blazing down, and a maze hiding a sleeping girl at its centre, the holidays might just be looking up…

This is probably the least well-known of this author’s books but it was my absolute favourite. Absolute pure magic for a child to read, a proper childhood fairytale that you really wish you could be in yourself as a reader.

Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster

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A trustee of the John Grier orphanage has offered to send Judy Abbott to college. The only requirements are that she must write to him every month and that she can never know who he is.

Judy’s life at college is a whirlwind of friends, classes, parties and a growing friendship with the handsome Jervis Pendleton. With so much happening in her life, Judy can scarcely stop writing to ‘Daddy-Long-Legs’, or wondering who her mysterious benefactor is…

I was given this book by my mum, for whom it was a childhood favourite, and I think this is why I have such fond memories of it, it was something I shared with her and we could discuss together, rather than books I read which she never had. One of my first experiences of the joy of books being enhanced by sharing your love of them with other people. I’ve experienced that the other way since with my own children, and it is a joy that can’t be over-stated.

The Tree That Sat Down/The Stream That Stood Still/The Mountain of Magic by Beverley Nicholls

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Deep in the enchanted forest Judy helps her granny run The Shop Under the Willow Tree. They sell all sorts of wonderful things, such as boxes of beautiful dreams carefully tied up with green ribbon.

But then Sam and the charming Miss Smith, a witch in disguise, open a rival business. The newcomers are not only cheating their customers, but also plotting to destroy Granny’s shop.

Can Judy save the wood from their wickedness?

I was actually introduced to this series via the third book, which I received as a Sunday School prize when I was nine, but as soon as I finished it I pestered my parents to get me books one and two. This series still has the most terrifyingly evil pair of villains ever written in children’s literature. When I was a pre-teen, they scared me silly.

Trebizon by Anne Digby

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New girl Rebecca Mason arrives at Trebizon, the famous boarding school, after everyone else has already made friends. Lonely and anxious to prove herself, Rebecca writes something for the school magazine that unexpectedly triggers a row and half the school turns against her. Luckily, she discovers she has friends after all, the best friends any new girl could hope for.

I was introduced to the Trebizon books by my friend, Lisa, and soon fell in love with this school series. I was a huge fan of Enid Blyton’s boarding school stories, and Anne Digby’s Trebizon series were a more mature version. Set in a Cornish boarding school, they dealt with slightly more adult topics across the fourteen books and they were a firm favourite.

Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold by Terry Brooks

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Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention…

Such as the fact that the kingdom is falling into ruin. The barons refuse to recognize a king and taxes haven’t been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, is laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, is plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren’t enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learns that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, has challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death – a duel no mere mortal can hope to win.

But Ben Holiday has one human trait that even magic can’t overcome. Ben Holiday is stubborn.

Terry Brooks is much better known for his Shannara series of fantasy books, but I fell completely in love with the Landover series, of which Magic Kingdom For Sale/Sold is the first book, when I first read them. The story of a man disillusioned with the modern world who buys a magic kingdom, believing it to be an elaborate hoax, only to find it is real but very far from a magical fantasy realm, is just bewitching. I’ve just discovered there is a sixth book in the series which I’ve never read, so I guess I’ll be revisiting these from the beginning at some point this year.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

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For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different.

Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason.

Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams!

The only reason this book is on the runner-up list and not top of the master list, is that this was one of the books on my main Desert Island Books list last year. One of my favourite books of all time, you can read my review of this book from last year here.

The Ship of Adventure by Enid Blyton

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An amazing voyage around the beautiful Greek islands becomes an exciting quest to find the lost treasure of the Andra!

Philip, Dinah, Lucy-Ann, Jack and Kiki the parrot are plunged into a search for hidden riches – with some ruthless villains hot on their trail! Will they find the treasure before it’s too late?

Really, this is just representative of all of Enid Blyton’s books. I grew up with her, and her books guided me through all of my early reading experiences. Starting off with her collections of fairy stories and Mr Pinkwhistle (how was this ever allowed?), through the Faraway Tree books and the Magic Wishing Chair to The Secret Seven and the Mystery series, I loved them all and devoured every one. The Famous Five were my absolute favourites, and they will be making an appearance in the final twelve, but a special mention has to go to the Adventure series, and this book in particular, which I think was the best. I know she is problematic and very unfashionable, but she is the cornerstone of my love of reading and I still have all of my Enid Blyton books, because they hold huge sentimental value for me.

So, those are the thirteen childhood favourites that are close to my heart but didn’t quite make the final twelve. Join me on 31st January to see the first one that forms part of the twelve childhood favourites that I would take to my desert island.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Serena Fairfax

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Welcome to my first Friday Night Drinks of 2021 and, sadly, it will be a rather subdued affair as not only am I doing Dry January as usual, but we are again in lockdown here in England. Still, I am sure tonight’s guest will brighten up all our evenings with some interesting conversation. Welcome to the blog, author…. Serena Fairfax.

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Welcome to my virtual bar, Serena (the only type we can visit these days!), thank you so much for joining me this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking Mojito that originated in Cuba (gorgeous place). It’s a mix of  fresh mint leaves, white rum, a dash of syrup, lime juice, soda water( all to taste) and crushed  ice. I’ll raise a glass to Ernest Hemingway whose favourite tipple this was during his 20 years as a fixture of Havana. 

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I am partial to a Mojito myself when I’m not off the alcohol. 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?

If we can pretend we’re not circumscribed by lockdown restrictions, you and I would wind up in the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club in south London, where we’d hear live music amid bohemian vibes, eat our hearts out and tap our feet to the sounds of the nine-piece band playing everything from soul, jazz, funk and swing to golden oldies.

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?

It would have to be Casanova  (1725 – 1798) who, apart from being a notorious gambler and womanizer, became a spy for the French and Head of the first state lottery.   He led a colourful life, wrote nineteen works, the best known of which is his Memoir   Histoire de ma vie that runs to 3,700 pages of manuscript. Pushed into becoming a lawyer, a job he hated, he really wanted to pursue a career in medicine.  

The other guest would be Ada Byron, Countess Lovelace (1815-1852) the daughter of Lord Byron and  his wife Anne Milbanke who studied maths and science under a Cambridge don and who he referred to scathingly as the Princess of Parallelograms.  Ada, who suffered from migraines, inherited her mother’ s mathematical genius and was very ambitious.  She met Charles Babbage who was recognised eventually as the inventor of the machine that was a forerunner of the modern computer.  Ada developed various ingenious programmes enabling complex maths calculations.  Sadly, she was addicted not only to horse racing, where she invariably betted and lost big, but also to laudanum and had to admit to her husband that she’d pawned all the family jewellery.  

 I think we’d be open-mouthed with fascination as the two of them chatted away.

What brilliant choices, that would be a fascinating evening! 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?

Well, I’m taking a rest from the launch of my latest release Mango Bay. I’ve got an idea for a spy story but it’s in a seminal state and may well end up a something quite different. I hope not though as I want to try my hand at writing crime and thrillers, a genre that I love reading. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment was when the publishing house, Robert Hale, accepted my first romantic novel Strange Inheritance way back in the dark ages.  I’d submitted it to Mills & Boon who’d rejected it but Hale accepted it and also the next one, Paint Me A Dream

The research bit of writing always challenges me. It’s not something I like at all although it has to be done for authenticity’s sake.  It has got much easier what with the emergence of nifty search engines. 

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!

Well, who doesn’t hanker after a stonking six-figure advance and a blockbuster movie deal! 

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m not really someone who plans. I just sort of lurch from one idea to another and it’s more exciting just to grab what fate throws at one. 

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?

I have to disappoint you but I don’t have a favourite place. All my journeys are special and unique.  At the top of my bucket list is a visit to Borneo   that was dashed by the march of Covid last year. Next on the list is Madagascar with its phenomenal range of animal and plant life. I’m not into riding a zip line or abseiling down the 810 metres of the Burj Khalifa. 

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

I wish I owned some ancient needlework samplers but they’re very pricey so I do the next best thing and collect reproductions of them. They look lovely on the sitting room wall.  The oldest English sampler is dated 1598, worked in metal thread and silk in linen by Jane Bostocke and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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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’?

It has to be The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte who’s a palaeontologist at Edinburgh University.  Be introduced to  the largest land animal ever to have lived on earth and some chilling, ugly predators.  It’s a fascinating, infectious and thrilling account of a species that has captured everyone’s imagination. 

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66 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the earth. Today, Dr. Steve Brusatte, one of the leading scientists of a new generation of dinosaur hunters, armed with cutting edge technology, is piecing together the complete story of how the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years.

The world of the dinosaurs has fascinated on book and screen for decades – from early science fiction classics like The Lost World, to Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo, and the monsters of Jurassic Park. But what if we got it wrong? In The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, top dinosaur expert Brusatte, tells the real story of how dinosaurs rose to dominate the planet. Using the fossil clues that have been gathered using state of the art technology, Brusatte follows these magnificent creatures from their beginnings in the Early Triassic period, through the Jurassic period to their final days in the Cretaceous and the legacy that they left behind.

Along the way, Brusatte introduces us to modern day dinosaur hunters and gives an insight into what it’s like to be a paleontologist. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is full of thrilling accounts of some of his personal discoveries, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex, and feathered raptor dinosaurs preserved in lava from China.

At a time when Homo sapiens has existed for less than 200,000 years and we are already talking about planetary extinction, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a timely reminder of what humans can learn from the magnificent creatures who ruled the earth before us.

That sounds so interesting, I’ll have to add it to my wishlist. 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?

To avoid a hangover tuck into a spicy Vindaloo accompanied by piles of yellow rice (the turmeric in the rice helps) before the hard drinking starts. The best thing to cure a hangover is eating a hearty breakfast, staying hydrated and sleeping it off. 

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

I’d decompress by switching off my mobile phone and social media and allowing my dog to take me to on a long walk through Battersea Park.  After that I’d cook and freeze a few meals for the forthcoming week and then try to master playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. 

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Serena, thank you so much for being my first guest of the new year, it has kicked 2021 off to a great start.

Serena’s latest book, Mango Bay, is out now and you can read my recent review of it here. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, you can buy it here in both ebook and paperback formats.

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Jazz clubs, yacht clubs, aunty bars and a Bollywood beauty shadowed by her pet panther. This is glamorous Bombay in the late 1950s.

Love has blossomed in London between vivacious Scottish Presbyterian, Audrey, and clever Indian lawyer, Nat Zachariah.

When the happy newlyweds move to Nat’s exotic homeland and the striking family villa, Audrey must deftly navigate the rituals, secrets, intrigues and desires of his Bene Israel Jewish community, and adjust to perplexing new relatives.

In time, the past unlocks, old family ties unravel, lies are exposed and passions run high as different generations fall out. Then something shocking happens that undoes everything. Will this marriage that has crossed boundaries survive?

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England, and worked in a London firm for many years.

Some of her novels have a strong romantic arc although she burst the romance bubble with one quirky departure. Other novels pull the reader into the dark corners of family life and relationships. She enjoys the challenge of experimenting and writing in different genres.

Her short stories and a medley of articles, including travel perceptions and her reviews of crime fiction and thrillers, feature on her blog.

Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena traded in bricks and mortar for a houseboat that, for a hardened land lubber like her, turned out to be a big adventure. A few of her favourite things are collecting old masks, singing and exploring off the beaten track.

Serena and her golden cocker spaniel live in London.

You can connect with Serena via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

 

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A New Blogging Year, What Will It Bring For A Little Book Problem?

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I’m a bit late with my Happy New Year/ blogging intentions post. After all, it’s the sixth of January, we are almost a week in. This is very unlike me, I am a Type-A, anal, organised, get-it-done-on-day-one type.

This is deliberate, and indicative of how I intend the year to proceed. My main intention (not resolution, not making any of those this year. They are just pressure, I never end up keeping them, then I feel guilty. It’s a whole big hiding to failure from Day One) is just to cut myself some slack this year, particularly when it comes to blogging. I’m just going to ease up, take a step back and stop putting so much pressure on myself to do things a certain way or measure up to a certain ideal. This is supposed to be a fun hobby, not another set of obligations and I’m planning on returning to that mindset. Fewer deadlines, more doing what I feel like doing.

We all know 2020 was a pretty dire year for so many reasons, and there were times where it was really hard going. It was books that saved me much of the time, and I read more in a year than I ever have before – 186 books in total. There were other times though, when I had taken on too many blog tours, was reading books because I HAD to, rather than wanted to, and felt obliged to review them on a certain date, that it just added to the stress, rather than relieving me of it. As we kick off 2021 in yet another lockdown, I’m determined that won’t happen again.

I still intend to carry on blogging fully, and have lots of things planned for the blog (more on that below), but some things I am going to be doing differently. Less reading to a timetable and more free reading. Fewer blog tours but more trying to engage authors and promote books in other ways (although I’ve not made a great start with this for January – oops!). Putting the fun back into blogging and making it feel less like an obligation, which it can become if you over-commit. When this happens, the authors aren’t getting the best of me, so I think we will all benefit.

All of my blog features – Friday Night Drinks, Desert Island Books and Romancing The Romance Authors – will continue, and I’m currently dreaming up new ones to work on. I’ll be doing some blog tours, but a maximum of two per month from March onwards. I am still open to approaches for non-time-critical reviews and guest posts from authors and publishers, so please don’t feel afraid to approach me. I am sure there will be something I can do for you in most circumstances.

I’ve set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal at 120 for the year, which isn’t too much pressure. I had a lot of fun with my personal Desert Island Books last year, so I will be continuing that this year with my Desert Island Children’s Books. The introductory post for that is going up on Saturday, so please follow along. I’m also attempting the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge again, and I am determined to see that through to the end this year for the first time. Here are the prompts, if anyone is interested in joining in.

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I’m planning on concentrating more on my writing this year. I am on the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme for another year and have two manuscripts on the go. I am enrolled in Sophie Hannah’s Dream Author Coaching programme, and I’m determined that this is the year I really kick my writing ambitions in to gear. Maybe some day soon I’ll be on the other side of someone’s book review blog. That’s my dream.

20th January marks the fourth anniversary of my first post on A Little Book Problem. I can’t believe how far I have come in that time. Over 700 posts and 7,000+ followers across all platforms. Site views doubling year on year and now, thanks to the RNA, award-winning. It’s so much more than I ever imagined when I typed that first, tentative post four years ago. To celebrate, I’m going to be doing a huge giveaway, so watch this space for details coming up next week.

I’m hoping for a happier, healthier new year for all of us in 2021. I know we aren’t off to the best start, but I’m hoping brighter days are on the horizon. The time will come when we can all get together in person again, hug and laugh and celebrate in the sunshine. In the meantime, I am so grateful that I have books, and the wonderful camaraderie of the bookish community, to see me through. Thank you all for your support, and I look forward to sharing more book love with you over the coming months.

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