Blog Tour: Coyote Fork: A Thriller by James Wilson #BookReview

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British journalist Robert Lovelace travels to California to report on the social media giant Global Village. He’s horrified by what he finds: a company—guided by the ruthless vision of its founder, Evan Bone—that seems to be making journalism itself redundant. Appalled, he decides to abandon the project and return home.

But as he leaves he has a disconcerting encounter that sends him off in a totally different direction. Soon he finds himself embarking on an increasingly fraught and dangerous mission. The aim: to uncover the murky truth about Evan Bone’s past and his pathological disregard for the human cost of the behemoth he has created.

Robert’s quest takes him from San Francisco to a small college town in the Midwest, to the site of a former hippie commune in northern California, introducing us to a range of vivid characters and confronting us with the price we pay—online trolling, the loss of privacy, professional ruin—for living in an “interconnected” world. Finally, he makes a startling discovery—and is thrown into a completely unforeseen existential dilemma.

A timely, stylishly written, and brilliantly conceived metaphysical thriller, Coyote Fork carries us on an unforgettable journey, before bringing us face to face with the darkness at the heart of Silicon Valley itself.

It is my turn today on the blog tour for Coyote Fork: A Thriller by James Wilson. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Slant Books for my copy of the novel, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is a little too scarily prescient to be an entirely comfortable read at the moment. An interesting mix of thriller, dystopian tale and morality story, it is quite different to most thrillers you will read at the moment. It has distant echoes of one of my favourite authors, John Wyndham, in the way it blends a fascinating story with undertones of science fiction and a focus on warnings against fatal paths that the human race seems to be taking. If you are looking for something unsettling that will make you think whilst keeping you entertained, look no further.

Out narrator is Robert Lovelace, a journalist who has just lost his job when his newspaper was taken over by tech mogul, Evan Bone. Incensed by the way Bone’s gigantic media company seems intent on dominating the world, taking over from all traditional news and information channels (sound familiar?), bulldozing any obstacle in his path, whilst simultaneously failing to stop the online bullying rife on his platform, Lovelace travels to California to investigate Bone and see what dirt he can dig up. The journey takes him to unexpected and dangerous places.

The books has plenty of tension, and twists and turns to keep the reader on his toes. We travel from a tech billionaire’s mansion in San Francisco to a remote Indian settlement at the foot of a mountain. The mystery behind Evan Bone’s past centres around an abandoned commune in California that seems to have two different sides to it, depending on who you ask. In his quest to find out what has moulded and driven Bone to where he is, Lovelace has to unravel what went on at the commune before it fell apart, whilst at the same time running from the shadowy figures who seem to be following him and trying to discredit him before he can report his findings.

The most fascinating part of the book is the exploration of developments in technology and social media, where that is leading us as a society and if that is somewhere that we really want to go. The developments in the online world will be familiar to all of us, including the less savoury side. The perils that the author explores here are all too prevalent already – online trolling, fake news, grooming, underground communities that incite violence and hatred, polarisation of society – we can see how these operate to the detriment of our lives in some ways already. The author takes this further and asks where it is leading? How do we deal with it? Is there a way back? His conclusions are startling and unexpected but, even if you find them unbelievable, it will have to exploring your own ideas about where we might be headed.

A very different, thought-provoking and disturbing read, that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Definitely worth a read.

Coyote Fork: A Thriller is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour as detailed on the poster below:

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About the Author

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James Wilson is a London-based writer. His previous novels include The Dark Clue, The Bastard Boy, The Woman in the Picture, Consolation, and The Summer of Broken Stories. He has written BBC TV and radio documentaries, and is the author of a work of narrative nonfiction, The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America, which won a Myers Outstanding Book Award.

Connect with James:

Website: http://www.jameswilsonauthor.com/index.htm

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Guest Post: A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold

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When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

Today I am delighted to be showcasing the new novel by one of the small percentage of male authors in the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A Wing and a Prayer by M. W. Arnold will be published by Wild Rose Press on 9 November and the author, known as Mick to his friends, has kindly written me a post about what it is like to be a man in the RNA, and also given me an extract from the book to share with you.

It’s a (wo)man’s world by M. W. Arnold

I am a very lucky chap, in that I have a very understanding and trusting lady wife. Why? Well, I am very fortunate to be a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. Still no clearer? I’ll elaborate.

Back in 2013, I’d made the decision to turn my writing hobby into something a little more serious. A little research turned up the website of the RNA and subsequently, their New Writer’s Scheme. At slightly past midnight on the correct date, I sent off my email, applying to join and got lucky. Someone had to drop out and I was emailed asking if I’d like to join. Dashed silly question.

What I didn’t realise (and this is very silly in hindsight) was that this was very much a group dominated by women. Can you see what I meant yet? Now the purpose of the New Writer’s Scheme is to help, well, new writers. Once a year you may send in a completed (or partial) draft of what you’re writing. This will then be critueqed by a published writer. If you’re reading this as a ‘would be’ writer, then you know exactly how much of a boon this is. It certainly helped me get published.

One of the highlights of the year is the annual conference and this is where I found our exactly how much the women outnumbered the men. I think it’s about 98% women and 2% men, at last count. So, you can see what I mean about having a trusting lady wife, those are better odds than any dating agency you’ll get! To say I was nervous on my first conference was to state the obvious.

I needn’t have been though. They really are the biggest bunch of friendly, helpful loving folk. I went through a rather difficult time a while back and in the last conference held prior to all this 2020 mess, I discovered just how many friends I had. I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that I may not have made it through that conference without them.

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Mick, I’m glad the RNA is welcoming – maybe we can persuade more men to join and even up the numbers a little!

Now for an extract from Mick’s new book, A Wing and a Prayer:

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path.

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground.

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river.

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet.

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty.

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!”

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings.

If you appetite has been whetted for Mick’s latest book, A Wing and a Prayer is out this coming Monday and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels. 

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife. 

Finally, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. A Wing and a Prayer will be his second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sandra Danby

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As we enter another lockdown here in England, virtual drinks is the best we can all hope for. Fortunately, I am old hand at the practice and tonight I am delighted to welcome to my little blog bar for Friday Night Drinks, author… Sandra Danby.

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

A tall tumbler of Seedlip Garden zero-alcohol gin with tonic and a slice. All the flavour of gin without the headache. Seedlip is a new discovery. I’m loving it! If I’m out of Seedlip, I will be drinking a large mug of Yorkshire Tea, builder strength, no sugar.

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Sounds like we have similar tastes in beverages. 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?

To Gabi, my favourite chiringuito in Spain where you sit barefoot with the sand between your toes. I love to sit with a cold San Miguel zero beer in my hand and watch the sun go down as the scents of barbecuing sardines and the local fried fish speciality, fritura malagueña, drifts on the warm breeze. Gabi is an open-air restaurant on the beach at El Palo, a little fishing village near Málaga. It’s a quiet old-fashioned place where Spanish families go on holiday rather than foreign tourists. Best late on a summer evening, it features in my second novel Connectedness.

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Sounds idyllic. 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?

I’d invite two artists who I think would be fascinating together. Pablo Picasso and Tracy Emin inspired me to make art the focus of the story in Connectedness so I’d like to bring them together. Picasso died in 1973 in France. Emin would have been nine or ten then so to my knowledge they never met. But I wonder what they would talk about? 

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 straightening out the kinks and twists in the plot of my third novel, Sweet Joy. It’s the sort of job that has to be approached with a completely clear head or things can get out of hand and ideas mysteriously disappear. It’s incredibly satisfying when connections are made and my brain says ‘of course that goes there’ when I’ve had a blank spot for a while. Sweet Joy is third in the Identity Detective series of adoption reunion mysteries. I love writing these stories. I become a kind of hybrid author, devising clues and red herrings like Agatha Christie, connecting historical mysteries with characters today as Lucina Riley does, and adding a dash of romance like Mary Stewart. At the moment my head is very much in wartime London, what it was like during bombing raids, how everyone woke in the morning not knowing what the day may bring.

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

My proudest moment was publishing my first novel, Ignoring Gravity, in 2014. I wish my parents had been alive to see me achieve my dream. They encouraged me to write stories as a child, making my own magazines, then studying English and training as a journalist. But my dream was always to write novels. Without doubt the biggest challenge has been indie publishing. Although my background as a journalist has served me well with the nuts and bolts of publishing my own books, I’m not a natural saleswomen or PR. At heart I am a happily-solitary writer in a garret with a kettle and a continuous supply of teabags. Yorkshire Tea, of course.

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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 have outlines for books four, five and six in the Identity Detective series, so that is my first goal. After that I aim to take a sidestep and write standalone novels set in the part of Yorkshire where I grew up. The settings are beautiful – Connectedness is set partly on the cliffs at Bempton and Flamborough – and there are so many fascinating true stories that I know will kickstart my imagination. My real challenge is to decide which story to write first.

cliffs at New Roll-Up, Bempton Cliffs - photo @SandraDanby

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Book four in the Identity Detective series is bubbling along at the moment. No provisional title as yet. Like all my novels it’s a dual timeline story set today and, this time, the Seventies. I’m thinking bell-bottoms, tank tops, glitter and platform boots. Ziggy Stardust and Marc Bolan, Alvin Stardust and Suzi Quatro, some mysterious graffiti which appears in York, and a foundling left on the doorstep of a flat in a London mansion block. 

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?

Oh so many. Places I’ve been that I long to return to… America for the wide expanses, the huge horizons and natural beauty of Yosemite and Point Reyes, both in California, and Monument Valley in Arizona. The Alhambra in Granada, Spain for the architectural perfection and sheer beauty. Berlin, Germany, for the streetlife, the museums and the wonderful choice of zero alcohol beers. On my bucket list are Denali National Park in Alaska, a cruise up the Norwegian Fjords to the Arctic Circle, and New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings vibe.

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

I hit a mean forehand crosscourt winner but a rubbish smash. Once tennis courts reopened after lockdown this spring, I played twice a week and the improvement in my technique was amazing. I just need to keep it going. Meanwhile, I follow the tennis results daily and watch on television when I can.

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 Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. My go-to series, I have the paperbacks and also the Audible recordings. The first, The Light Years, introduces the three generations of the extended Cazalet family at the grandparents’ home in East Sussex as they await the verdict of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as he negotiates with Hitler in 1938. The five books take us through the war years, ending in the Fifties when the children from the first book are now parents themselves. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read and listened to these books from beginning to end, when I start the first I must read through to the end. I can’t leave the family in the middle of the war!

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Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles is a thrilling yet charming five-book series of novels that follows the secrets and yearnings of the Cazalet family of Home Place, Sussex through three decades of middle-class life.

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?

There are some really good zero-alcohol options out there though they can be pricey, which seems crazy considering they are missing a vital ingredient. When I did partake of sauvignon blanc, I alternated a glass of wine with a glass of water. 

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

Reading the newspapers, a walk in the country lanes, and a good tennis match on television followed by a snooze on the sofa.

Sounds perfect, although the tennis may have to wait a while! Thank you for joining me on the blog, Sandra, I have really enjoyed chatting to you.

Sandra’s latest book is Connectedness, the second book in her Identity Detective Series and you can buy a copy here.

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TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Connectedness is a tale of art, adoption, romance and loss, moving between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain and birthplace of Pablo Picasso.

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane – who we first met in Ignoring Gravity – to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted. She is now writing Sweet Joy, third in the ‘Identity Detective’ series.

You can connect further with Sandra via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Book Review: A Bicycle Built For Sue by Daisy Tate

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Getting on her bike will change everything…

Sue Young has never asked for much apart from a quiet life. She’s always been happy with her call centre job and dinner on the table at six o clock; that was until a tragedy tore her tranquility into little shreds.

With her life in tatters, Sue is persuaded to join a charity cycle ride led by Morning TV’s Kath Fuller, who is having a crisis of her own, and Sue’s self-appointed support crew are struggling with their own issues. Pensioner Flo Wilson is refusing to grow old, gracefully or otherwise, and a teen goth Raven Chakrabarti, is determined to dodge the path her family have mapped out for her.

Can the foursome cycle through saddle sores and chaffed thighs to a brighter future, or will pushing themselves to the limit prove harder than they thought?

I’m delighted to be posting my review today of A Bicycle Built For Sue by Daisy Tate. Daisy kindly provided me with a digital proof of the book for review, and I have done so honestly and impartially.

I’m so far behind with writing my reviews at the moment, that I need to apologise for anyone waiting for one from me, which is at least four or five people. As much as I like to think that I am a ruthlessly organised blogging robot, and most of the time I am, underneath I’m just a fallible human and I’ve been thrown off course in recent weeks. I am doing my best to get back on track and all outstanding reviews will be posted in the next few weeks, I hope.

So, this review should have gone up yesterday and my apologies go to Daisy for being a day late. But now I have got round to posting, I have to say that this book took me totally by surprise.

This is a book I went into with absolutely no pre-conceptions or expectations. I hadn’t seen any reviews or heard anything about it at all. Daisy approached me and asked me to read it, and the blurb sounded interesting, so I agreed. It started off as a quite fun, pleasantly different family saga, but over the course of the novel evolved into something so much more profound and I was completely blown away. I’m now wondering why I haven’t seen more buzz around this book, because it is something quite special.

We have the story of three very different women thrown together into friendship by a quirk of circumstance, who seem to have very little in common to begin with, but it becomes apparent that this is an illusion and they can relate to one another in unexpected ways. And when it boils down to it, for me, this is the fundamental take away from the novel. That, as human beings with human emotions and the experiences of living, we all have more in common that we know if we just stop, listen and try to understand.

The characters in this book are very disparate but all relatable. We have teenage Raven, trying desperately to find her place in a world where she doesn’t know where she fits, or who she is. Her parents have certain expectations of her, but she is not sure if they fit with her needs and the process of asserting her individuality in the face of their demands is a painful one. There is Sue, whose contented view of her life is shattered by a tragedy she did not see coming and which has filled her with guilt and doubt to the point that she can’t see her way forward. Then we have Flo, a septuagenarian who worries that time is running out and is resisting old age with every fibre of her being. An unlikely trio who find ways to bond and help each other out.

They decide to take on the challenge of a charity bike ride along the route of Hadrian’s Wall, with daytime TV host, Kath, who has her own demons and relationship problems to deal with. Over the course of the challenge, all four women learn so much about themselves and what they want and need going forward, drawing strength from one another along the way, that they come out at the other end different people with changed perspectives and new levels of self-awareness.

This may seem like an extremely unlikely scenario, but the author writes with such honesty and conviction, such charm and understanding that the resulting story is something so moving and truthful that it reduced me to tears. By the end of the book I was completely in love with all of these amazing females and their relationships with each other that I was cheering them on to the finish and beyond, and I was very sorry when the story ended. The whole thing was humorous and charming and entertaining, but with some serious issues underpinning the narrative that were handled in a very sympathetic and illuminating way. I adored everything about it, it may end up being one of my books of the year and that was certainly not something I was expecting when I began it.

This is an astonishing story hiding beneath an unassuming facade. The blurb doesn’t do the depths of the tale justice and I wish it had much more buzz surrounding it. It needs to be out there, being read and discussed and loved and praised. I hope this review is a start. Read the book. Shout about it. It deserves it.

A Bicycle Built For Sue is out now as a ebook and will be published as a paperback and audiobook in January. You can buy a copy here and the ebook is currently a 99p bargain!

About the Author

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Daisy Tate loves telling stories. Telling them in books is even better. When not writing, she raises stripey, Scottish cows, performs in Amateur Dramatics, pretends her life is a musical and bakes cakes that will never win her a place on a television show. She was born in the USA but has never met Bruce Springsteen. She now calls East Sussex home.

Connect with Daisy:

Website: https://daisytatewrites.com/

Facebook: Daisy Tate

Twitter: @DaisyTatetastic

Instagram: @daisytatewrites

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Blog Tour: One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson #BookReview

One Kiss Before Christmas - Blog Tour

I am delighted to be be taking my turn on the blog tour today for One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s RandomResources for inviting me on to the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

Ashleigh could use a little Christmas magic. She’s still living in Brighton with her Nan — who could give the Grinch lessons in how to be miserable — her acting career has been reduced to playing one of Santa’s elves, and not even the prospect of a friend’s winter wedding can cheer her up…

That is until Olivier, the gorgeous French chef, reappears in her life. Or more accurately, next door.

When they were teenagers, Olivier would spend every other Christmas with his mother, who just happens to be Ash’s neighbour and owner of the best chocolate shop in England.

If anyone can bring a little sparkle back to Ash’s life, it’s Olivier. All she needs is one kiss before Christmas…

Gosh, these are stressful times, aren’t they? Another Covid-19 lockdown starts tomorrow. EU are sending final demands to Boris over Brexit. Terrorist attacks on our continental neighbours. And Election Night in the US with who knows what constitutional crisis looming over there, whichever side wins. It’s enough to give anyone sleepless nights.

The only thing to do is what I always do at such moments, and bury my head in a happy, stress-free, fictional world where none of the above things are happening and all the problems are of a romantic nature, which you just know will get resolved happily by the end of the novel. The book which has been fulfilling this need over the last few days is One Kiss Before Christmas by Emma Jackson, and what a beautiful job it did.

I was on board with this book from the first page where our heroine, Ash, is dressing as an elf. You heard correctly… an elf. She is going to spend the Christmas season working at a kind of Christmas pageant on a farm. This immediately reminded me of happy times as, every year I have taken my children to just such a place near Harrogate, where they have visited Santa, ice skated, Nordic skied through a forest lit with glowing, wintery light tableaux and solved a Christmassy maze. This book is the closest I will get to that experience this year I think, since Covid has killed all such frivolous, pleasurable activity stone dead, so thanks for allowing me that virtual experience, Emma!

Any character for whom the pinnacle of their year is dressing as an elf is going to have my sympathy, and Ash needs all the sympathy we can give her, as the rest of her life is a disaster. No real career (not sure being an elf counts, as it is fairly seasonal work!), not love life to speak of, a Christmas-hating Granny as a housemate and absentee parents. Not much to bring her comfort and joy this year. Until her childhood friend and neighbour, Olivier, rocks up from Paris to spend Christmas with his mum.

Ah, Olivier! He is everything you want in a sexy, three-quarters French romantic lead. Handsome, charming, courteous, slightly troubled and smelling largely of chocolate. Can’t think of much more to ask for there. Oh, and he can cook! Marry him on the spot, girl. It is like Emma has tapped into those fantasies you have in private moments. (Just don’t tell the Irishman, he is convinced he is my fantasy man!)

So all is set for a rekindling of childhood crushes, peppered with the problems of what will happen when Christmas is over, giving plenty of romantic tension to the plot. This is all set against the perfect, postcard backdrop of Brighton at Yuletide, with the glittering Pavilion, busy pier and quirky Lanes, all to be explored by our amorous pair as the reacquaint themselves. The author has wrung every bit of Christmassy joy from the setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking an armchair trip to the south coast for a few hours. Emma has come up with some great hooks for the story in this book. I particularly enjoyed their trip to the aquarium for inspiration for Olivier’s project (turtle poo, anyone?), and the drama of the covert Christmas lights operation. The book is full of sweet and funny moments that fulfil every wish you might have for a romantic Christmas story.

This is a charming, funny, touching and enjoyable festive romance that kept me occupied and distracted for a pleasant few hours this week. I loved all the characters, the plot and the setting, and relished every minute spent in the fantasy world that the author has created. If you are looking for a romance novel to transport you away from current, depressing reality, ease you gently into the Christmas spirit and fill you with romantic, Yuletide cheer, look no further. This is a great read.

One Kiss Before Christmas is out now as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. Her latest romantic comedy, SUMMER IN THE CITY, was released in June 2020.

Emma also writes historical and fantasy fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE was published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Desert Island Books with… Helen Matthews

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Today I have marooned author Helen Matthews on my isolated atoll with only five novels and one luxury item standing between her and madness. Let’s see what literary companions she has chosen, shall we?

Thanks for inviting me, Julie. I’ll be happy on the desert island for a while but please send a helicopter drop of more books after I’ve been there a couple of months.

I’m drawn to the darker side in my own writing and in my reading choices: flawed characters, unreliable narrators, unexplained deaths and hidden secrets. As well as psychological thrillers, I also read what I’d call ‘state of the nation’ novels by the likes of John Lanchester and Jonathan Coe, plus I try to keep up with literary fiction and books shortlisted for major prizes. When it came to choosing my desert island books, I was surprised to find I was drawn to thought-provoking books and some classics.

Book One – The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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Leningrad, September 1941.

Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

I discovered Helen Dunmore in the early 2000s, initially through her psychological suspense novels. Long before Gone Girl made the genre as popular as it now is, Dunmore was writing atmospheric twisty novels that stripped away layers from the characters to expose the darkness of their hearts. In her novels the bad guys don’t necessarily win: Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Zennor by Darkness; Mourning Ruby and With Your Crooked Heart are all dark reads, but they’re Iiterary in style with breath-taking imagery that gives a visceral satisfaction to the reading experience. Dunmore was a poet and writer of short stories before she turned to longer form but, later, she focused on historical novels. For my desert island book, I’ve chosen The Siege, set in Leningrad in September 1941 when Hitler’s troops surround the city and put it into lockdown. The novel is meticulously researched and depicts a level of human suffering we can scarcely imagine – boiling up shoe leather to make soup and, the ultimate sacrilege, using books to make a fire. The characters, a young couple, Anna and Andrei, and Anna’s father, are so psychologically real you feel as if you are with them, experiencing their suffering and terror along with their will to survive. The book has mini-epic qualities so there’s plenty to reflect on when I’m on the desert island.

Helen Dunmore died, aged 64, on the same day as my mother in June 2017 and I read her moving final poem ‘Hold Out Your Arms’, in which she reflected on her own death, at Mum’s funeral.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days.

Book Two – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

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From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.

When My Brilliant Friend was published a few years ago the author’s identity was a closely guarded secret. There are four books in Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels including Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; The Story of a New Name, and The Lost Child. The novels became word of mouth best sellers and have since been broadcast and filmed but I’ve not felt the need to watch the film because the books were so vivid. The novels are deceptively simple and tell the story of best friends, Lena and Lila, growing up in poverty in a working-class district of Naples in the 1950s. Both girls are extremely bright and must battle to get an education. Against a background of violence, prejudice in post-War, politically turbulent Italy, their lives pan out quite differently. The friendship between the women spans decades, yet we know from the opening of the first book that Lila has disappeared and read through the quartet of novels, desperate to unpick what happened to her. In putting the spotlight on her ‘brilliant friend’, Lila, the narrator, Lena, draws us in while her own story, equally transformative, emerges more slowly. Reading this novel was an immersive experience and I can only compare it with the joy I felt as a child when I first discovered the thrill of reading.

Book Three – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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The heroine of Tolstoy’s epic of love and self-destruction, Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.

Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

A long time ago, when I was reading English at Liverpool University, I remember a professor telling us that Anna Karenina was the perfect novel. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his reasons why! He also thought, in his opinionated way, that War and Peace was flawed. On the desert island I’ll need some massive epics to keep me engaged so I’ll pick up the challenge and decide for myself if this is the perfect novel. Choosing a nineteenth century classic rather than a serious contemporary novel is interesting. Why didn’t I go for Hilary Mantel? I’ve enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and have yet to tackle The Mirror and the Light but I can’t explain why that didn’t attract me.

Anna Karenina is superficially a love story that turns sour and ends in tragedy but it’s a universal story that still has resonance today. In many countries and cultures, twenty-first century Anna would be treated equally cruelly for leaving her husband and abandoning her son (thought that wasn’t her intention) to be with her lover, Vronsky. The world Tolstoy depicts is teeming with the vanished world and culture of pre-revolutionary Russia – a world that can only be explored in the pages of a novel and in the imagination.

Book Four – Beloved by Toni Morrison

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It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a harrowing story because it reflects the reality of a black woman’s experience in slavery. Even after escaping to Ohio, Sethe, the main character, still isn’t free. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, and by guilt, and her life is still unbelievably hard. The book made a profound impression on me when I first read it many years ago so I think it will be interesting to reread with a new perspective on the legacy of slavery from, for example,  the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, we used to smugly pretend to occupy some kind of moral high ground due to leading the movement to abolish slavery, but we can no longer turn a blind eye to how the likes of Bristol’s Edward Colston masqueraded as a philanthropist, while making his fortune as a slave trader. Novels like Beloved challenge us to be more empathetic and to better understand the legacy of slavery and how it still has an impact today.

Book Five – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

Profuse with her inimitable wit and charm, Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most beloved novels, and stands among literature’s greatest love stories.

With so many books and so little time, I’m not normally a big re-reader but I make an exception for Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels at least four times but, if I have to choose one, it will be Pride and Prejudice. The superb characters and calm predictability of the plot with so many setbacks along the way to the happy ending, will soothe me when I’m alone on the island.

I live in Hampshire not far from the village of Chawton, where Austen spent her last years and wrote her greatest novels. Her mother and sister, Cassandra, are buried in the local churchyard but Jane’s grave is in Winchester Cathedral. We think of the Austens as a well to do, middle class family but, in fact, they were downwardly mobile. Jane was born in the rectory at Steventon, where her father was the vicar. After his retirement, the family moved to Bath and lived in rented apartments that were far from grand. After the father’s death, the Austen women became increasingly impoverished and moved to Southampton where one of Jane’s brothers supported them. At last their fortunes changed. Another brother,  Edward Austen, had been adopted when he was a young boy by wealthy relatives, who had no children of their own (that was a thing back then). Part of the deal was that Edward changed his name from Austen to Knight. He inherited two vast country estates, one in Kent and another in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, described by Jane as ‘the Great House’. When Edward came into his inheritance, he offered his mother and sisters a substantial house in Chawton where they settled for the rest of their lives. During her lifetime, Jane actually received two marriage proposals and turned both of them down. She and her sister, Cassandra, were incredibly close and I’m guessing that Jane understood perfectly well that, if she got married and had children, her time wouldn’t be her own – she’d never be able to write. Cassandra took on Jane’s share of household tasks so her sister could devote herself to her writing. Isn’t that amazing? Every author needs a Cassandra in her life.

My luxury item

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I’m a keen cyclist so would love a bike to ride around the island.

About Helen Matthews

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Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was  published by Darkstroke Books in September 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

Helen’s latest novel Façade is psychological suspense and was published on 17 September this year by Darkstroke Books. It’s dark and twisty family noir and  reviewers have said they couldn’t put it down. You can buy the book here.

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A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.

Silence echoes louder than truth.

When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.

Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.

Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.

The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.

As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.

Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com/

Facebook: Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7

Instagram: @helen.matthews7

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Guest Post: Networking For Writers by Lizzie Chantree

NFW by Lizzie Chantree

I am delighted today to be hosting a guest blog post by Lizzie Chantree, who has just launched her new book, Networking For Writers, and she is going to tell you all about it.

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Are you swamped with book marketing and looking for a way to find new sales? Learn simple and effective networking techniques, to grow your readership and connect with other authors and book lovers, today!

Whether you are a new or experienced writer, self-published or traditionally published, this book will show you how to grow your readership and author network, through some of the most powerful of all marketing tools – word of mouth and recommendation. 

This book will show you:

How networking can help you sell more books.

Why author branding is important.

How networking hours work.

Specific Facebook groups for writers

How to utilise social media to grow your readership.

How not to waste valuable writing time.

How to make our marketing more effective.

Throughout Networking for Writers, we will explore running or attending book signings, hosting seminars, finding a writing buddy or mentor, author networking groups, social media planning and so much more.

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog today, Julie. Hello everyone. My name is Lizzie Chantree and I write women’s fiction books, full of feisty women with unusual businesses. Writing books can be an incredible way to meet likeminded people in the writing community, but it can also be quite isolating at times and marketing can feel like an uphill struggle.

In my new book, Networking for Writers, I talk about some easy to follow ways to simplify your book marketing, build a strong author brand, improve your social media followings and so much more. Whether you are a new or experienced writer, self-published or traditionally published, there are ways to grow your readership and author network, through some of the most powerful of all marketing tools – word of mouth and recommendation. 

Having a network of friends, family, colleagues, readers, business owners and contacts can give your work a head start and make it stand out from the crowd. Books, especially, can get lost in a sea of new releases. Thousands are published each day. What can you do to make your work fly off the shelves? Hopefully this book might give you a head start!

In Networking for writers, I explain how to use simple and effective networking approaches, to grow your readership and connect with other authors and book lovers.

In my book, I talk about:

  • How networking can help you as a writer
  • Author branding
  • Facebook groups
  • Networking hours
  • Hashtags for writers
  • Your timelines

One important aspect of building a network is time management. I give tips on:

  • How not to waste valuable writing time
  • How to simplify your marketing plan
  • How to make your marketing more effective
  • Apps that might help save time
  • Scheduling social media posts

When I published my first book, I had no idea about marketing and even the thought of the word made my legs tremble. Today, I see it as an interesting and exciting part of my day, that doesn’t eat into my writing time. What a difference a few years can make. I have been very fortunate that all of my books to date have become international bestsellers in multiple categories, with one recently winning a Readers Favourite book award. I believe my success in finding readership, is due to my network.

Networking is about being social, but it is also about structure, discipline and focus. In my book I offer insight into the tools I use to stay productive, find writing time and to have room left to step away from work and give myself space to breathe and let creativity blossom.

I also mention how I learnt to host multi-author book signings, run seminars about networking and event planning, to stand up in front of a crowded room and speak at writing conferences, and more. These skills have given me a great foundation, not only to write books, but to be able to share my networking ideas with the writing community, in the hope that it helps them to follow their own dreams and creative path and to find time to do what they love to do most – write more books!

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Lizzie, that sounds like a marvellous tool for writers who need guidance on how to approach the marketing side of being an author, which I know does not come naturally to a lot of people, so thank you for sharing that with us.

Networking for Writers is out now in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

Lizzie is the author of the novels If You Love Me, I’m Yours, Ninja School Mum, Babe Driven, Love’s Child and Finding Gina.

Connect with Lizzie:

Website: https://lizziechantree.com/

Facebook: Lizzie Chantree Author

Twitter: @Lizzie_Chantree

Instagram: @lizzie_chantree

Pinterest: Lizzie Chantree

Goodreads: Lizzie Chantree

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Desert Island Books: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Desert Island Books

For my tenth, personal Desert Island Books, I have chosen Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Gaudy Night is the twelfth book in Sayers’ detective series featuring her aristocratic sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, and is, in my opinion, her best novel. I first discovered the book via a recommendation from my school librarian as a teenager. It was the first novel by this author that I encountered and, despite the fact that I have subsequently read all the Wimsey books and enjoyed them, this remains my runaway favourite. I have reread it numerous times during the past 34 years and have taken something different from it on each occasion. Because this is no normal detective novel, and I will explain why.

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Harriet Vane has never dared to return to her old Oxford college. Now, despite her scandalous life, she has been summoned back . . .

At first she thinks her worst fears have been fulfilled, as she encounters obscene graffiti, poison pen letters and a disgusting effigy when she arrives at sedate Shrewsbury College for the ‘Gaudy’ celebrations.

But soon, Harriet realises that she is not the only target of this murderous malice – and asks Lord Peter Wimsey to help.

There is so much going on in this novel, so many different layers and attractions to the story, that it rewards the reader with a new experience every time you pick it up, regardless of the number of times you have read it before. The first time I read it as a teenager, there was no possible way that I could have understood and appreciated all the themes and nuances of this novel, but that did not stop me falling in love with it immediately, and my affection and appreciation for the book has only deepened over the intervening decades.

This is no straightforward detective novel, although it works extremely well purely on that level. The mystery involves a vicious campaign of terror in a women’s college at Oxford University. The ‘terror’ is rather genteel by the standards of today’s crime novels, but the setting for this book is the Oxford of a bygone era. It is set in the inter-war years, where women were just finding emancipation and being admitted to such hallowed institutions as universities, where certain levels of behaviour were expected from women still, and the divisions between the sexes were more firmly delineated. Against this polite backdrop, the acts of the person with a grudge against the college seem almost deranged and dangerous and there is a high level of tension and fear running through the novel. The fact the author manages to make the plot so menacing without having resort to murder is the first evidence of her skill.

Aside from the detective aspect of the novel, this is also a passionate love story. Fans of Wimsey, particularly those who read the novels in order, will be aware that Harriet Vane was first introduced into the world of Wimsey in the novel Strong Poisonwhere she finds herself on trial for murder. She becomes the subject of Wimsey’s romantic affections, but resists his advances for five years. Gaudy Night is the book in which Harriet finally begins to realise that her feelings for Wimsey may not be as platonic as she has always believed, and she begins to explore them more deeply and honestly, and to see him in a new light. It becomes clear that her fears about entering into marriage, particularly to a wealthy, intelligent, successful and powerful man, will require her to give up her own independence and career may be unfounded, and that maybe Wimsey, despite his family’s ancient heritage and traditional background, maybe be a new breed of man who wants a wife who is an equal. Again, the romance and passion in the book are, due to the time at which this was written, are written coyly and through suggestion and innuendo, but this has the effect of somehow making them more intense, not less so. Another nod to the skill and genius of Sayers’ writing.

This leads neatly on to the main subject matter of the book, which is the exploration of female emancipation and what this means for the balance of power and responsibilities between the sexes. This is a world which is having to build relationships and expectations between the genders anew, where women are making choices between old gender stereotypes and fresh opportunities and men are having to adjust their attitudes to match, and there is resistance in some quarters, and from both sides. It is a fascinating window for those of us born into the modern era when these things are taken for granted onto what the struggle was like for those women who paved the way for our modern freedoms, and it is clear that this is something the author is passionate about herself. It has been suggested that Harriet Vane is an autobiographical character, through whom Sayers explored some of her own feelings about her place in the world. Sayers was one of the first women ever to receive a degree from Oxford, when females were admitted to these honours, and also admitted to a level of sexual freedom that was unusual amongst women at the time. Reading Gaudy Night, it is impossible not to conclude that the book is largely a treatise on Sayers’ view of women’s roles in the society in which she lived, how they were changing and the struggles they faced, both external and internal, and it is absolutely fascinating when read as such.

This is a hefty book, and densely written. The language is rich and descriptive and peppered with poetry, Latin and Greek quotations and musical and literary references. This is a scholarly work, written clearly by an academic mind and exceeds any expectations one might have of works of detective fiction. This is no pulpy crime novel, this is a book that is worthy of sitting alongside any classic novel on then bookshelves of the well-read, and I truly wish that it had a wider modern audience. Whilst the works of Agatha Christie are still widely read and celebrated, the works of Sayers seem more likely to slip into obscurity, and I think this is a crying shame because they are just as good in every way, and her skill may exceed Christie in some areas. Gaudy Night is the pinnacle of her work, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who enjoys detective novels set in this period, and enjoys some mental stimulation.

If you have never read any Sayers, I would advise either starting at the beginning with Whose Body?, the first book in the Wimsey series, or Strong Poison, the book which introduces Harriet Vane, and save Gaudy Night until you have eased your way into the world of Wimsey and fallen in love with him, then watch Harriet do the same in this truly astonishing achievement in detective fiction. I promise you will love it. Come back and call me out if you don’t.

Gaudy Night is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency.

In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world’s most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

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