Desert Island Books with … Brenda from Traveling Sisters Book Reviews

Desert Island Books

Welcome to another visit to my literary desert island, and this week I have stranded my fellow blogger, Brenda, from Traveling Sisters Book Reviews. Let’s see what bookish companions she has brought with her to keep her company.

Thank you for stranding me on your desert island! I look forward to spending some time with some books that I have wanted to read for a while. The books I chose to take with me are books that I have had a hard time committing to due to their length or the time it would take to focus on them. I don’t think I would have that problem if I were stranded on a desert island.

Book One – The Outsider by Stephen King


A horrifying crime.

Water-tight evidence points to a single suspect.

Except he was seventy miles away, with an iron-clad alibi.

Detective Anderson sets out to investigate the impossible: how can the suspect have been both at the scene of the crime and in another town?

Stephen King’s books intimidate by their length, and I am always putting them off. I do have a couple of books by Stephen King. This one is not the longest book I have by him, but it is the latest one I bought. I am not sure if a horror novel is the best choice to read alone on a desert Island, but I do love dark books.

Book Two – The Warmth Of Other Sums by Isabel Wilkerson


From 1915 to 1970, an exodus of almost six million people would change the face of America. With stunning historical detail, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson gives us this definitive, vividly dramatic account of how these journeys unfolded.

Based on interviews with more than 1,000 people and access to new data and official records, The Warmth of Other Suns tells the story of America’s Great Migration through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, becoming the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career.

Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country journeys, as well as how they changed their new homes forever.

This one will definitely require my full attention while reading it and will take me a while to get through. So I feel like I would need to be on a desert island to get to it and through it finally.

Book Three – Dune by Frank Herbert


Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable – and rarest – element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.

Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.

When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.

In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.

And his journey will change the universe.

I have commitment issues when it comes to long books, and this is one long book I feel like I won’t be able to commit to unless I had plenty of time. So I think one would be another perfect choice for a desert island.

Book Four – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


I believe in the resistance as I believe there can be no light without shadow; or rather, no shadow unless there is also light.

Offred is a Handmaid in The Republic of Gilead, a religious totalitarian state in what was formerly known as the United States. She is placed in the household of The Commander, Fred Waterford her assigned name, Offred, means of Fred . She has only one function: to breed. If Offred refuses to enter into sexual servitude to repopulate a devastated world, she will be hanged. Yet even a repressive state cannot eradicate hope and desire. As she recalls her pre-revolution life in flashbacks, Offred must navigate through the terrifying landscape of torture and persecution in the present day, and between two men upon which her future hangs.

I have tried to start this one a few times, but I just never take the time I need to focus on it, so I find myself putting it off. I would like to take the time and analyze it as I read it. I have watched the TV show and loved it. I think I would also spend some time thinking about the book and the TV show and comparing the two of them.

Book Five – Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Jane Austen’s subtle and witty novel of secrets and suppression, lies and seduction, brilliantly portrays a world where rigid social convention clashes with the impulses of the heart.

It tells the story of two very different sisters who find themselves thrown into an unkind world when their father dies. Marianne, wild and impulsive, falls dangerously in love, while Elinor suffers her own private heartbreak but conceals her true feelings, even from those closest to her.

This is another one I would like to take my time reading and analyze it as I read it.

My luxury item


The essential item I would like to bring with me would be a permanent pen and an endless amount of paper to make notes. I am hoping that counts as one, but if not, a pen so I could underline the things I want to remember.

About Brenda

Through Goodreads, I started doing buddy reads, and that is how I met Lindsay. We started a reading group and called ourselves the Traveling Sisters. After a few group reads, Lindsay joined our blog. We have been reading and reviewing together for over 3 years on our blog Traveling Sisters Book Reviews.

Connect with Brenda:


Twitter: @TSbookreviews

Blog Tour: The House Mate by Nina Manning; Narrated by Helen Keeley

The House Mate Audio

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the audiobook of The House Mate by Nina Manning. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting to take part and to Boldwood Books for providing me with an audio copy of the book via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.


The perfect life? …Or the perfect lie?

When Regi moves into her new house share, she’s ready for a clean slate. A new home. A new routine. A new identity…

Desperate to escape the shadow of her past that follows her everywhere she goes, Regi finds the ideal distraction in the perfect lives of others on social media.

But as innocent scrolling turns into an unhealthy obsession, Regi will soon learn that seeking perfection comes at a price…

I love to listen to thrillers in audiobook format because they always full of action and tension and they hold your interest, making whatever mundane job you are doing while listening to it just fly by. For this reason I was really looking forward to listening to The House Mate, and I did really enjoy it, with a couple of caveats.

The book is narrated by Regi, a mature student who moves into a house share with three other, much younger girls, whilst starting a foundation course at university. She is running from something in her past that is initially unnamed, but is gradually revealed throughout the course of the book. She suffers from OCD, and becomes obsessed with a ‘clean-stagrammer’ on Instagram – an obsession that gradually leans her in to trouble.

It is hard to know from early on in the book whether we can trust Regi and her narration of events. She is obviously very damaged, and she makes decisions no mentally healthy person would contemplate, so we are suspicious from the start which ramps up the tension. There are lots of hints and innuendos about violence in her past, and the narration cleverly leads us down a certain path, only to flip our perspective completely at the end. I was really surprised by the ending, which is quite a hard thing to achieve these day, given how much the domestic psychological thriller genre has been mined. The author touches on some really interesting themes and issues in the book that I don’t believe I have read about in this type of fiction book before, so that was all in its favour.

The book did have a couple of issues. I found the pacing uneven, which is a difficult thing to overcome on an audiobook rather than text which you can read faster. There was a certain amount of repetition of events which didn’t necessarily advance the plot in a couple of areas. And bits of it felt a bit far-fetched, some people might struggle to stretch their imaginations to accept that these things could happen. If you are happy to suspend your disbelief as far as necessary to enjoy an entertaining puzzle, you’ll probably enjoy this very much. If you find your pragmatism kicks in when reading to question the credibility of a plot, you might have to work a bit harder.

The author’s writing style is approachable and flows well, and the narrator was excellent. She really brought the characters to life, and her emphasis and inflection kept the story moving along evenly. I would definitely listen to other books narrated by Helen. This was a book that I needed to listen to to the end, because I wanted to know what happened, I also really liked the way that the author didn’t necessarily give us the neatly-tied-up-in-a-perfect-bow ending that might have tempted her, it made it feel more authentic in the final chapters. However, the wrap up did dump a lot of information in the last couple of chapters in a way that just enhanced how slow-burning the plot had been to this point.

A good, solid domestic thriller exploring some novel, current and fascinating topics. If this genre is your bag and you are looking for something a bit different, give it a try.

The House Mate is out now and you can get the audiobook here.

Please do make sure you check out the other reviews from the bloggers taking part in the tour for some different perspectives.

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About the Author

Nina Manning author profile pic

Nina Manning studied psychology and was a restaurant-owner and private chef (including to members of the royal family). She is the founder and co-host of Sniffing The Pages, a book review podcast. Her debut psychological thriller, The Daughter in Law, was a bestseller in the UK, US, Australia and Canada. She lives in Dorset.

Connect with Nina:


Facebook: Nina Manning

Twitter: @ninamanning78

Instagram: @ninamanning_author

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sarah Mallory


Welcome to another Friday night on the blog and tonight I am having a cheeky tipple with fellow RNA member, author…. Sarah Mallory.

Sarah Mallory Rona Rose 2012

Welcome to the blog, Sarah, thank you so much for joining me this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Bubbly! I thought a nice glass or two of fizz would be a good way to celebrate the weekend, and the fact that my latest book, Forbidden to the Highland Laird, has just been published.

And thank you for inviting me to your virtual bar: I am imagining ultra modern – swish black and chrome fittings, comfortable chairs, soft chatter and the gentle chink of glasses around us.


Do you know, I’ve never wondered how people envisage my imaginary bar before, that’s really interesting! 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?

I would whisk you away to our local inn. It is a couple of miles from my home and set on the edge of a beautiful bay of the loch. Being winter, we would have to sit inside by the log fire. In summer, when the weather is good, we sit out on the decking, looking out over the bay until the sun goes down.

The view from the inn

Sounds wonderful, I love Scotland. 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?

One could definitely be Victoria Wood. I loved her comedy and was so sad when she died and I realised there would be no more of her genius stand-up routines or series like Dinner Ladies. I would love to talk to her about the north (we lived for 30 years very close to where she grew up) and to listen to her observations. On anything and everything!

A man… now that is more difficult.  I spend a lot of my time looking for heroes for my historical romances – guys who look like heroes, that is, but we all know that a handsome face and body does not always mean a great mind or an interesting character. I think I would like to invite Stephen Fry. He is clever, witty (but not, I believe, cruel) and it would be so interesting to talk to him – or just to listen to him and Victoria Wood chatting!

Great choices. Victoria Wood is a very popular pick. Rightly so, I absolutely loved her too. 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?

Currently I am writing a romance set in Regency England. My second book in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series has just been accepted (another reason for bubbly!) and after talking with my editor we thought it would be a good idea to have a break before writing the third. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about the Highlands, but in the 18th century it was a harsh place to live, and the history is pretty bloody. There were clan rivalries, religious unrest and, of course, the Jacobite uprisings. Much as I love an adventure, I am enjoying writing something set in an English country house.

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

Proudest moment? Oh, goodness, writing-wise, that is difficult, because there are so many.  Every time one of my books is published it never fails to give me a buzz, and the feeling that I am a “real” writer. However, the icing on the cake was to win the RoNA Rose award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013: to receive that accolade was very special.

Rona Rose 2013

As for my biggest challenge, hang on a moment while I refill my glass and think about that one!  Okay…I think the biggest challenge – and it is an ongoing one – is to actually finish writing a book. You see, I get an idea, and it is wonderful, the best thing ever. But then I have to write the darn thing, hours and hours of sitting at a desk, putting down in words this marvellous idea, filling in the details and setting the scene. You get to a stage where you think, “this is rubbish” and you want to walk away. But you battle through it, getting the rest of the story down. Sometimes a book just flies onto the page, but there will still be that little moment of doubt. Most writers will tell you, you just have to write through it.

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 suppose I would really like to have one of my books turned into a best-selling movie! But that wouldn’t really be my achievement. Having written the book, my work is done 😊

On a more practical note, years ago I started writing a series of books following the history of an English family from its beginnings in sixteenth century right up to Waterloo. I am so busy enjoying myself writing historical romances that this project sits on the back burner, and I keep saying to myself, “One day”…..

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

I am excited about starting another Regency romance. It will be a mixture of Cinderella and battle-weary soldier romance (which is as much as I can give away, so it’s no good plying me with more drink, I won’t say more!). That, and my third book in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series, will fill my writing time for most of the next twelve months.

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?

My favourite place is now my home! We made a tour of Scotland in 2016 and I fell in love with it, especially the Highlands and Islands and two years later I am living here! How wonderful is that? I had a lifelong ambition to live by the sea (which may have something to do with being born in the West Country, where you are never far from the coast) and at long last I have achieved that dream.

I really wouldn’t mind too much if I didn’t travel far outside Scotland for a while (except to see my family, of course). There is so much history to explore here, so many castles, lochs and glens to see, then there is Edinburgh and the borders – if I tried to do everything I wouldn’t have any time for writing at all! As for going further afield, I am not one for sitting on a beach, but I have enjoyed some fabulous battlefield tours, including Waterloo and Corunna (Northern Spain, where the British were chased out by Napoleon’s army, but that’s too long a story for tonight!)

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

Oh, that’s a tough one, I spend most of my time making up interesting lives for my characters rather than living it up myself!  However, I did once loop the loop in a WWII Tiger Moth…

Ooh, that’s a good one! 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’?

Can’t give you one book, but there is one author who is a must-read for me. Milly Johnson. Her books are a real treat; funny, touching stories of people battling through Life to find happiness. To find themselves, really. The Teashop on the Corner is still one of my favourites. Times are tough at the moment and I find her books a great tonic when one needs a lift.


Life is full of second chances, if only you keep your heart open for them.

Spring Hill Square is a pretty sanctuary away from the bustle of everyday life. And at its centre is Leni Merryman‘s Teashop on the Corner, specialising in cake, bookish stationery and compassion. And for three people, all in need of a little TLC, it is somewhere to find a friend to lean on.

Carla Pride has just discovered that her late husband Martin was not who she thought he was. And now she must learn to put her marriage behind her and move forward.

Molly Jones‘s ex-husband Harvey has reappeared in her life after many years, wanting to put right the wrongs of the past before it is too late.

And Will Linton‘s business has gone bust and his wife has left him to pick up the pieces. Now he needs to gather the strength to start again.

Can all three find the comfort they are looking for in The Teashop on the Corner? And as their hearts are slowly mended by Leni, can they return the favour when she needs it most?

Oh, I love Milly and her books, she’s a Yorkshire lass like me! 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?

Well, not mixing my drinks helps, but I have no failsafe, I’m afraid, apart from not drinking too much (and remember, I have been doing most of the talking!). I try to finish with a soft drink, keep a water bottle by the bed in case I wake up thirsty, and drink tea in the morning. Lots of tea, then egg and chips for lunch. Plus a couple of painkillers if really necessary.

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

A perfect weekend would be to potter about the house for the morning, then take my lovely dog Willow for a walk along the shore – but that depends on the weather of course!


Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me tonight, I’ve really enjoyed it and I wish you success with you new book.

Sarah’s very first Highland romance is now on the shelves – Forbidden to the Highland Laird is the first in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early years of the eighteenth century, it has a reluctant laird, a beautiful Highland lass, it has a touch of adventure mixed in with the romance.  You can buy a copy here.


Exchanging elegant society balls for clan wars, Logan Rathmore has returned to Scotland as the new Laird of Ardvarrick. Peace is within grasp when he meets musician Ailsa McInnis from a rival clan.

Her stubborn pride and innocence fascinate him—but with her now under his protection, he must do nothing to abuse her trust. The fragile peace is dependent on his being able to resist the forbidden temptation she presents…

Sarah Mallory is an award-winning author who has published more than 30 historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon. She loves history, especially the Georgian and Regency. She won the prestigious RoNA Rose Award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013. Sarah also writes romantic historical adventures as Melinda Hammond.

After living for many years high on the Yorkshire Pennines, Sarah moved to the Scottish Highlands in 2018 and now lives by the sea, enjoying a whole new adventure.

You can find out more about Sarah and her writing on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Guest Post: From Cuddly Slugs to Neighbours From Hell by Margaret Macklin

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Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by author Margaret Macklin where she talks about her varied writing career, combining writing for children and penning romantic suspense novels. Over to you, Margaret!

From Cuddly Slugs to Neighbours From Hell by Margaret Macklin

I hope my title says it all…
I started writing five years ago, after a serious illness. Writing a book seemed a wonderful idea – a new challenge.
The first two are centred around a ten-year-old boy whose life is changed by the ‘magic of the ancients’. Danny steps through the lightning tree and into another time, another place – it’s medieval England, 1334. Humorous tales of medieval monarchs, magic and historical events…
Each day, we feed the wild birds, the squirrels, the hedgehogs and a beautiful red fox. One day, after scattering a few slug pellets, I felt guilty and a story concerning a delightful family of slugs, took off! The book encourages children to care for wild animals and also tell the truth. It is a story where the children are smarter than the adults. One kind lady said it should be available in every school.
My bio explains how my next book, The Fortune Teller’s Handbook evolved. It was my first romantic crime thriller. As I’d received many 5 star reviews, I began another in the same genre – Revenge, Secrets and Lies – published in June this year.
I’ve been asked (by friends and family)  to write a sequel to the former, which is quite a challenge, however, now I’ve got going, it’s a lot of fun. I write everyday, for a couple of hours, nevertheless, a book usually takes around twenty months to complete.
All my books are available from Amazon.
Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Margaret, it’s good to know the possibility exists for anyone who wants to write in more than one genre.
Margaret’s latest book, Revenge, Secrets and Lies is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


I started writing five years ago after a serious illness. I found writing to be a wonderful form of distraction and very therapeutic…

After publishing three children’s books I wanted to branch out and try something new, perhaps I should add a few murders to my stories! The Fortune Teller’s Handbook is my first romantic crime thriller. The little book in question really does exist – it’s from the Victorian era – yellowing pages, falling apart and its advice, at times, rather alarming. The book was discovered in a box of possessions once owned by my husband’s long deceased great-aunts – I’m sure they would be delighted that I found it so useful!

Revenge, Secrets and Lies demonstrates what can happen to ordinary people when their lives are taken over by ‘the neighbour from hell’. A gripping tale of romance, intrigue and enduring friendship. Fascinating characters and more than a touch of dark humour…

My home is surrounded by a very large garden with a small deciduous wood at the top – in the spring it come alive with wild cherry trees, primroses, bluebells and cyclamen. As you can imagine, the garden keeps me very busy as does my new rescue cat – Evie…

Connect with Margaret:

Facebook: Margaret Macklin

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Book Review: The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

This review was featured on Twinkl as part of their Christmas campaign.


Will all three women have their Christmas wishes come true?

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

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

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

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

The only thing better than one Christmas romance is three.

This week I am taking part in the One More Chapter Readalong for The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker and I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you today.. My thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I was just in the mood for an uplifting, festive read when I picked up this book, the news is quite depressing at the moment isn’t it, and what a perfect choice this is for anyone looking for something to warm their cockles and bring a sprinkling of Christmas cheer into their lives. It also addresses one of the burning questions of the age – is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

The book follows three friends who meet on holiday aged eleven and forge a bond that survives over the years, despite the fact they all live on different continents. Fast forward a couple of decades and all of the girls are at some kind of cusp in their lives with issues that need a shake up. Will swapping homes and Christmases for one year provide the catalysts they need to move to the next stage of their lives?

The premise of the book is charming and it works perfectly. Cue the opportunity for the author to transport us to three very different countries for three very different Christmases. In Oxford, Melbourne and Colorado, the three girls are taken in by their friend’s families and find out how the other half does Christmas. Warm beaches, snowy mountains and the English countryside provide the perfect backdrops against which the girls can explore unique Christmas traditions, and maybe make new friends, even of a romantic variety! The author does an absolutely fabulous job of drawing the different environments and transporting the reader there. This book is armchair travel at its most enticing and I felt like I had been transported to the locations in the novel. I defy anyone to come away from reading this book and not wish they could be snow-shoeing through a quiet, Colorado forest or doing a horseback tour of Australian wineries. My passport is itching just thinking about it, especially given my lack of travel this year.

For me, the most compelling thing about this book is the portrayal of the friendship between the three girls. Each of the characters was perfectly drawn and absolutely believable, and the dynamic between them realistic and charming to read. I have two very close groups of female friends who mean the world to me and are the first people I would turn to, in times of trouble and turmoil, but also in times of joy and success. I recognised immediately the workings of the friendship between these women, even went it was sent slightly off track, and it was such a joy to read. I so wanted everything to work out for them, shared their happiness and disappointment throughout and, by the end, I didn’t want to leave their company. I felt like they had become my friends, and I really want to know how things end up for them.

This is a really cheering read with the perfect flavour of Christmas to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday. I would highly recommend it to all fans of romance looking for a bit of Yuletide cheer. And, as for that burning question at the beginning – is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Of course it is, and that is a hill I am prepared to die on.

The Christmas Swap is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


I’m a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list. I love exploring new places, outdoor adventures, and eating and drinking like a local when I travel, and many of my travel adventures have found homes in my novels. I’m also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

My first novel, a romantic comedy set in Greece and inspired by my real-life love story, was published in June 2019 by One More Chapter (HarperCollins). In 2020, two follow-ups in the Holiday Romance series hit the shelves: That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney. My novel, The Christmas Swap, is a stand-alone inspired by some of my own Christmas adventures, and I am currently writing my 5th book (the 4th in the Holiday Romance series) and 6th book (a stand-alone), with plans for 7 and 8!

Connect with Sandy:


Facebook: Sandy Barker Author

Twitter: @sandybarker

Instagram: @sandybarkerauthor

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Gilli Allan

Romancing The Romance Authors

The next fabulous author appearing on the blog to talk about writing romance is Gilli Allan.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey. Why romance?

Thank you for having me.

I am answering the first two questions together as they are linked.

Publishing journey sounds like a defined route from ‘Go’ to the winning tape. Mine has been more like a maze, which I am still blundering about in. I sometimes feel as much of a newbie now as I did when I started many decades ago when, on my first attempt, I amazingly found a publisher within a few months of writing ‘the end’!  But it was a false dawn.  I have been main-stream published, Indie, main-stream and then Indie again.  After many decades ‘in the business’ I am still waiting for my breakthrough.

As for the type of book I write….

My ambition as far back as infant school was to be a commercial artist like my dad. So, although I wrote continuously as a teenager, I regarded my outpourings as an expression of my own unsatisfied romantic (and romanticised) yearnings, not an early flowering of literary talent. And the stories, although full of love and longing, were quite dark. Even in my early thirties, the lightbulb moment was not in response to an urgent need to tell stories, but to find a possible alternative to going back out to work after I’d had my son.

It was only once I’d begun, with the serious intention of writing something publishable, that the obsession kicked in.

I initially chose romance because I thought, wrongly, that it would be easier to write than another genre and I did not believe myself capable of writing anything more mould-breaking.  But even in that first book I could not keep within the accepted ‘romance’ parameters of the time. The darkness I was attracted to as a teenager was still there. I wrote then and still write about contemporary women in challenging even heartbreaking situations. They deal with the slings and arrows of life in whatever way they can. They, and those around them, have back-stories that make them the people they are. They are not necessarily noble or perfect, rich or drop-dead gorgeous. They don’t always make good decisions. They trip and they fall.  But there will always be a developing love theme within the story.

What inspires your stories?

Real life is the inspiration behind my stories, but this doesn’t mean I always use my own experience or that I have a worked-out synopsis before I start. I begin with a sketchy idea about the main characters and their back stories, and the scenario in which they first meet. I then wind them up, set them going and see what happens. Often, I put them in a world I already have some experience of – as with Buried Treasure.  I have been involved with conference planning in an ancient university, so that was my set. I also have an interest in and a family connection to archaeology, so my research was not exactly easy, but it was accessible.

It is only when I am in the process of writing that real inspiration comes, but unpredictably in fits and starts. This technique is slow as I only gradually get to know my characters, which then involves a huge amount of backtracking and editing when, at a late date in writing the story, I realise something important that I need to explain, foreshadow or drop hints to.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

This is a bit difficult as I admit I don’t read a lot of romance.  There are the good old standbys – Austen, Heyer and the Brontés  – and I admit a youthful attachment to Ethel M Dell who was an extraordinary author for her time. Writing in the very early decades of the twentieth century – her books, full of turbulent but chaste emotions – were very appealing to naïve and innocent girls. But read with my cynic’s hat on, they are wonderfully funny.

But these days….?  Jo Jo Moyes, Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

I’m sorry, I can’t pick one.

Which romantic hero would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

Freddie from Cotillion, by Georgette Heyer. It took me a while in life, but I discovered it is far better to make friends with someone and only then fall for him, than to lust after the rake.  He is always handsome, always arrogant, always unreliable and always a narcissist – in love with himself more than he is ever in love with you.  Freddie and I would just hang out, and perhaps go for a trot along rotten row in a cotillion of course.


What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

I joined after I’d been published so never benefited from the NWS, but have always been glad of the friendship, the support and the terrific resource of information and help – from emotional difficulties right through the gamut to technical problems.  There is always someone who will offer a shoulder to cry on, give you a name of someone who is likely to know that pesky piece of info you can’t find, or a route to solve some horrid computer-based glitch.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

I have one piece of advice – not particularly related to romance as such – but to writing in general. Don’t wait until after you’ve been to all the work-shops, lectures and read all the ‘how-to’ books.  Begin writing NOW.

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is Buried Treasure and you can buy a copy here.


In the early stages of carving out a career as an Events Organizer, Jane Smith arrives at Lancaster College (part of an ancient university) to scope it out as a possible venue for a conference she is organizing.But damaged by a disastrous first love affair and hyper-sensitive about her lack of education, Jane is constantly driven to shore up her fragile self-esteem and to prove herself.

Theo Tyler is a ‘desk’ archaeologist working as a part-time teacher at Lancaster College. His background makes him a curiosity to some – had his mother not been a rebel his own passage through life would have been gilded. The reality was chaotic and, in his young adulthood, further disrupted by a violent relationship.He hates people’s fascination in his ancestry and his unorthodox past, rather than in his present achievements.

There is no necessity for Jane and Theo ever to meet. He is part of the faculty, but she is there to meet and be shown around by the hospitality manager, so their first encounter is unplanned and unpromising. But Jane has a family connection to a significant historic archaeological discovery and Theo wants to organize a conference. Even with these possible points of contact, the gulf between them is far too wide ever to be bridged. Or is it?

Can a mystery, a possible conspiracy, and the missing evidence that could solve a puzzle, draw the threads of their lives together? After all, treasure is not always what it seems. 

About the Author

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Gilli Allan began to write in childhood – a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the fiction.

After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as an illustrator in advertising, and only began writing again when she became a mother. 

Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration.

She was published by Accent Press, now Accent Headline, and each of her books, TORN, LIFE CLASS, FLY or FALL as well as the independently published BURIED TREASURE, have won a Chill with a Book Award.

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian and medievalist Thomas Williams, is also a writer. He is published by William Collins.

Connect with Gilli:


Facebook: Gilli Allan

Twitter: @gilliallan

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Book Review: The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn


Two attorney brothers. Two bullet-riddled corpses. Two sides to the story.

Ten years ago, a capital murder case in the heart of Texas split the Lynch family in two. Now, estranged lawyer brothers Travis and Jake Lynch find themselves on opposing sides of the courtroom in a high-profile, grisly double murder case—with another accused criminal’s life on the line. Conscience-stricken Travis left his high-powered law firm to become a public defender, while bullish Jake rose to become District Attorney. The case pits brother against brother in a contest of wits, wills, and legal savvy that will shake the justice system to its core: both Lynches are convinced they’re in the right, but the truth turns out to be more complicated—and deadly—than either could have possibly imagined.

A drug deal double-cross turns lethal, leaving two corpses and one victim paralyzed for life. The victim never saw the gunman, but he knows one name: Sam Park. Travis defended Sam’s brother years before, and his heart won’t let him turn down the case, even knowing it’ll bring him face-to-face with Jake after ten years of cold silence. Jake, meanwhile, runs afoul of the Austin political machine and needs a high-profile conviction to win a tough upcoming election. And Sam, the star witness and prime suspect, won’t talk—not to Travis, and certainly not to the high-and-mighty DA—and time is running out.

Can these feuding brothers put aside a decade of enmity in the name of true justice? Or will the truth of what really happened that bloody night go to the grave with Sam Park?

Today I have my second guest reviewer of the week. This time Sandra Forder has reviewed The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn and I am grateful to her for providing this fabulous review. My thanks also go to Maria Inot at TCK Publishing for inviting the review and for providing the digital copy of the book for that purpose. The book has been reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book follows the story of Travis and Jack Lynch, brothers working on the same side of the law but with opposing views on the death penalty. It is about so much more than the senseless murder of the ‘Rich Kids’ by Mark, Sam, and Roger.  Told with flashbacks to a previous case, it’s a tale about the decimation of a family bond when brothers Travis and Jack take different sides in a murder trial. Then the Rich Kids murder case leads them back to each other. I loved reading the unfolding dynamic within the family.

The flashbacks which are spread throughout the book give a deeper insight into the divide between the brothers. They help you understand why they have progressed in their careers in the way they have. Coming from a well-known family of lawyers, Travis is like an outsider and is resistant to accepting any help, even though he is struggling with paying his own bills. Unbeknownst to him, more and more work starts coming his way which he doesn’t question as he is focused on helping the Parks with their son Sam’s case. He had previously represented the other brother. You can see his need to help those in need outweighing his need to pay the bills.

When I first started this book, I did wonder what year I was in, but the need to know soon waned as I delved further into the story. I really came to like and picture Travis as he worked to help those who couldn’t afford representation. The juxtaposition between his life and that of Jake was shown without overstating it.

It was great to see the way Jake acted in his role as DA. The way he had the measure of people without them realising he was onto them. This is shown with his interactions with those in his office but also at the club with his Dad.

The killing of the ‘Rich Kids’ was slightly confusing, it seemed like they were just shot with no real argument or causation. I understand the boys thought the ‘Rich Kids’ had $5000 to buy the drugs from Sam, but why did someone shoot? Later in the book Sam is in custody for the killings but was he actually the one who pulled the trigger?

The appearance, and reappearance, of Christine Morton is key to the story. She is a hard-nosed journalist, who not only helps Jack get information he needs, she is also passing important findings to Travis too.  When I was first reading her, she came across as hard, but she softens as the story progresses which I liked. It gave her a softness which she had been lacking but was realistic in its portrayal.

When the trial starts, Travis realises someone has been helping him with his case from behind the scenes.

This book is about finding justice in a sea of injustice. It also shows how bridges can be rebuilt after they are burnt.

There is a lot to like in this book, so much so it kept me reading to the end. There are few areas where I would have liked the author to take a little time to clarify things, but overall, I enjoyed reading it.

The Guilty Die Twice is out now as a paperback and ebook, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


Don Hartshorn is an author, freelance editor, volunteer mediator, and globetrotter. He draws inspiration for his stories both from man’s highest aspirations and from his petty, grimy motivations. After traveling the world for the US government and doing time as a prisoner of Corporate America’s well-oiled machine, this Texas native son has come home to roost in San Antonio. And there he’ll stay—until the next big adventure comes calling.

Don is the author of the legal thriller The Guilty Die Twice published by TCK Publishing.

Connect with Don:


Twitter: @donhartshorn

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sharon Bairden


It is always an absolute joy when one of my fellow book bloggers becomes a PUBLISHED AUTHOR, and such a monumental event has happened this week to the owner of Chapter In My Life blog. She has very kindly agreed to join me for a celebratory Friday Night Drink, so welcome and congratulations to my fellow blogger and PUBLISHED AUTHOR…. Sharon Bairden.


Sharon, firstly, huge congratulations on publication of your debut novel this week. I am so delighted for you, I must get you a drink. What would you like?

Hi Julie, thanks for inviting me along! It’s been so long since I’ve had Friday night drink with anyone, so it’s lovely to be here! My tipple tonight is a Rhubarb and Ginger Gin with dry ginger and lots of ice!


Cheers! 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?

Oh so many places to choose from but I’m going to go for a book themed one. We would be at Bloody Scotland, Crime Writing Festival in Stirling for the opening night ceremony. We would be taking part in the torchlight procession from Stirling Castle, carrying our flaming torches down the cobbled streets to the Albert Halls. Then we would be heading to the Golden Lion for drinks and catching up with all the bookish people!


What a great idea, going to a literature festival is top of my list of things to do once we can get out in the world again. 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?

This is so difficult to answer! But I’m going to go with William McIlvanney, who sadly passed away in 2015. William is fondly remembered as the Godfather of Scottish crime fiction and secondly I’ll go with my #Twinnie, who you all know as author and blogger, Noelle Holten. We have missed all of our bookish weekends this year, so it would be rude not to invite her! (plus I know she would sneak in all my other dinner dates, allowing me to cheat on your question!)

Fantastic, two amazing blogger/authors for the price of one! 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, as I am writing this, I am nervously awaiting publication date for my debut novel, Sins of the Father. I’ve also submitted my second novel and keeping everything crossed for this. I’m around 10k into book three. I guess along with working full time and writing/blogging I’ve kept myself busy!

I suppose, like lots of other people, I’ve always wanted to write but firmly believed writing was for “other people.” Then I met the book community! Five years ago I set up a blog after meeting other book bloggers online. This led to me meeting up with them at book festivals up and down the country and getting a real sense of community and support from those in the business, from bloggers, writers and publishers. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give it a go myself!

I took part in a number of workshops and courses and started writing seriously for the first time. Then two years ago, I went along to Crime and Publishment, a weekend writing course run by authors, Graham Smith and Michael J Malone. This gave me the boost and confidence I needed to get my butt in the writing seat and finish what I had started! That same year, I won a typewriter signed by Linwood Barclay in the First Line competition at Theakston’s Crime Festival in Harrogate. Linwood also signed a book with the words, “now go and write the book” and the rest is history!

That’s so inspiring to me, as a fellow blogger who is trying to be brave enough to put a book out into the world! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

I think my proudest moment has to be receiving the email from Red Dog Press telling me they wanted my book! I squealed so loudly, I’m sure the whole country heard it! The biggest challenge is facing the daily “imposter syndrome”. I’m still pinching myself to check it is all real!

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!

Ha, ok, definitely going to cheat here! To walk into Waterstones and see my books on the shelf and to appear on a panel at Bloody Scotland.

I can relate to the first of those ambitions, and I’m sure both are within your reach. What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Well obviously with the pandemic, my live book launches have been cancelled but I have been doing lots of online events which have been great fun! I have everything crossed that next year we will be able to return to some form of normality and I hopefully have a couple of events lined up!

Fingers crossed. 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?

You ask such difficult questions! Abroad, I think I’ll go with Krakow. I visited a couple of years ago and I fell in love with the city, the architecture, the history and the culture and I’d definitely go back there! Top of my list, too many to mention but I’m sticking with home this time and going with a tour of the North of Scotland, to all the beautiful places and islands my country has to offer that I’ve never been to yet!

I loved Krakow too, such a beautiful city. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Ha, if I tell you it wouldn’t be a secret would it! And I always worry I’m not really that interesting enough. However, I have walked over broken glass and burning coals and I’d recommend that everyone tries it at least once in their lives!

That’s a great fact! 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’?

One book! How on earth can I recommend just one book! Sorry to everyone I’m not mentioning here! But ok, a slight cheat but I’ll go with Douglas Skelton’s Davie McCall series. Douglas is a fantastic Scottish author and everyone really needs to read his books! All of them!

Glasgow’s mean streets just got meaner. Can Davie McCall survive?

Meet Davie McCall. Beaten, bloody… brutal. Irrevocably damaged by the barbaric regime of an abusive father, and haunted by memories of his mother’s murder, there is a darkness inside him.

Enter Joe the Tailor. A sophisticated crimelord with morals, he might be the only man in the city Davie can trust. But then the bodies begin to mount…

In 1980s Glasgow, the criminal underworld is about to splinter. Battle lines are drawn, and the gap between friend and enemy blurs as criminals and police alike are caught in a net of lies, murder and revenge that will change the city forever. 

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?

If you know a failsafe plan to avoid a hangover can you please tell me! The older I get the worse my hangovers get! My go to cure is a full Scottish breakfast (no beans though!) and sugary tea!

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

After drinking that much I’d probably be in my bed all weekend! But I reckon a little log cottage up in the Highlands with a real fire, lots of books and good TV.

Sounds perfect. Sharon, thank you for a fab evening, I wish you massive success with the book, which I can’t wait to read, and I hope we can meet up in person when the world gets back to some kind of normality!

Sharon’s debut crime novel, Sins of the Father, is out now from Red Dog Press and you can buy a copy here.


Lucas Findlay thinks he has struck gold when he marries Rebecca, but she married him for one reason only – to destroy him.

Trauma runs deep

When her past comes back to haunt her, Rebecca begins to disconnect from herself and the world around her. As secrets are unearthed, she begins to fear for her sanity … and her life.

Truth will out

With her world unravelling around her, Rebecca clings to her determination to make Lucas pay, whatever the cost.

Forgive his sins

But someone must pay for the sins of the father…

By day Sharon Bairden is the Services Manager in a small local independent advocacy service and has a passion for human rights; by night she has a passion for all things criminal. She blogs over at Chapterinmylife and is delighted to be crossing over to the other side of the fence to become a writer.

Sharon’s debut novel, Sins of the Father, is out November 2020 and is published by Red Dog Press

Sharon lives on the outskirts of Glasgow, has two grown up children, a grandson, a Golden Labrador and a cat. She spends most of her spare time doing all things bookish, from reading to attending as many book festivals and launches as she can. She has been known to step out of her comfort zone on the odd occasion and has walked over burning coals and broken glass – but not at the same time!

You can find out more about Sharon on her blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Book Review: Fake Law: The Truth About Justice in an Age of Lies by The Secret Barrister


Could the courts really order the death of your innocent baby? Was there an illegal immigrant who couldn’t be deported because he had a pet cat? Are unelected judges truly enemies of the people?

Most of us think the law is only relevant to criminals, if we even think of it at all. But the law touches every area of our lives: from intimate family matters to the biggest issues in our society.

Our unfamiliarity is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to media spin, political lies and the kind of misinformation that frequently comes from loud-mouthed amateurs and those with vested interests. This ‘fake law’ allows the powerful and the ignorant to corrupt justice without our knowledge – worse, we risk letting them make us complicit.

Thankfully, the Secret Barrister is back to reveal the stupidity, malice and incompetence behind many of the biggest legal stories of recent years. In Fake Law, the Secret Barrister debunks the lies and builds a defence against the abuse of our law, our rights and our democracy that is as entertaining as it is vital.

I vividly remember an evening in 2016 when I went out to dinner with a group of around eight of my closest friends. Earlier that day, the retrial of a footballer previously convicted of rape had resulted in an acquittal, and conversation inevitably touched on this current hot topic. To my dismay, there were lot of harsh words directed at the victim in the case, with assertions that she was clearly a ‘liar,’ that the law needed to do something about the problem of ‘fake claims’ of rape and the subsequent destruction of the lives of ‘obviously innocent’ men. I refer to dismay, because this is what I felt upon realising that my group of well-educated, largely liberal, tolerant, engaged and generous friends were so ill-informed as to what the acquittal of this footballer really meant with regards to the honesty of the woman involved and the appropriateness his behaviour. None of them had actually read any detail as to the facts of the case or the grounds on which he had been acquitted, they had simply accepted at face value the many sensational and inaccurate news reports on the case. It was eye-opening. I tried my best to explain why these assumptions were untrue, but was not entirely successful as a lone voice crying against a storm of popular misinformation.

I mention this story, because it is one of the cases referred to by The Secret Barrister in their new book, Fake Law, in which they try to counteract some of the inaccurate stories we are constantly being fed by various sections of society, including the media, vested interest groups and, sadly, to an increasing degree, our own government, why this misinformation is so damaging to the very fabric of our society and why each of us on a personal level should care. Reading this book, for me, is like reliving most of the Twitter arguments I have had over the past five or so years, much more clearly articulated. In fact, I first stumbled across the Secret Barrister on Twitter in 2018 on a thread regarding the hot topic of that particular moment, the arrest of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks for the ‘crime of defending his own home,’ a story that is discussed in the opening chapter of this book, and I have been an ardent fan ever since.

The book sets out many of the most contentious legal firestorms of the past few decades, recaps on what the general public have been lead to believe about these issues by certain factions, explains very clearly why much of the information we have been fed is misleading at best and downright dishonest in some cases, and then asks why it may be the interests of certain parties for us not to be given the whole truth about these matters, and what negative consequences for each of us arise when we nod along with this misinformation. For anyone taking the time and trouble to read the book and really think about what the author is saying, it is a deeply disturbing read.

Coming as I do from a background in law myself, I am familiar with the majority of the legal issues and concepts that The Secret Barrister puts forward in the book, hence why many of the cases they highlight here are ones that have had me personally raging on Twitter. However, the writing is set out clearly with the lay reader, not the legally educated, in mind and all of the principles are set out in a basic fashion using simple language and illustrated with easy to digest examples and comparators. Anyone can pick up this book and understand the points being made. In addition, The Secret Barrister has a delicious turn of phrase, and an absolutely wicked tongue which is truly pleasurable to read. I know if we met we would get along famously. I raise as particularly delightful examples their glorious descriptions of potential pleasures lost due injurious cases of negligence on page 83, their sly references to ‘neo-Dickensian sportswear retailers’ and their accurately unflattering assessment of the mental capabilities of a former Justice Secretary at the bottom of page 93. This is no dry, dusty tome to be waded through as if studying a textbook, this is an entertaining, informative and, ultimately, important text that is accessible to everyone who has an interest in understanding more about their legal rights and why it is important that we do not allow them to be undermined by factions with any agenda other than the best interests of us as individuals, and society at large, at their heart.

Because this stuff matters to all of us, whether we realise it or not. The law and the legal justice system underpins the very fabric of our society, ensures the smooth running of our lives and even our safety and liberty. You may think, as we are encouraged to do, that, if you are a law-abiding citizen, being kind to your fellow man and minding your own business, the law has little to offer you. You would be wrong. The law, and your ability to turn to it for redress when you are wronged, is what is preventing you from being irreversibly mangled by an intoxicated surgeon in a botched operation and then uncompensated; from a manufacturer selling you a faulty dishwasher without liability when it subsequently burns down your house ; from an ex-partner maliciously being able to keep you from seeing your children because you doinked the babysitter; from your boss capriciously firing you because he doesn’t like the fact you wear brown shoes with a black suit to work; from you being wrongfully identified as an armed robber by the short-sighted bank teller who came to work without her contact lenses that day and banged up for a ten stretch; or from a government deciding that the freedom of religion is no longer a human right exercisable by the denizens of our country and forcing you into trying to find an affordable house with a priest-hole in which to hide the unfortunate administrator of your future clandestine religious services. Extreme examples? Maybe but I think they illustrate the main point being made through the book. The law is for everyone, and we all need to protect its integrity and our access to it. My favourite quote from the book, which neatly sums this up with a comparison to a ‘giant game of Jenga,’ falls at the end of Chapter 8. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

I made pages and pages of notes on this book in preparation for writing this review, and there are so many more things I could say, but I run the risk of getting on my personal hobby horse, rather than writing a book review, and The Secret Barrister rides this hobby horse with much more elan than I ever could, so you should just read the book for yourself. I love the law, I have since I was 13 and first became entranced by the idea of pursuing it as a profession. Even though I no longer practice, it still fascinates me intellectually, and I am horrified at the way it is being eroded, and with the presumed consent of large swathes of the population. It genuinely scares me, if I’m being honest. The fact that this consent is being gained by the dissemination of lies and distortions of fact is abhorrent. This is why you need to read this book. Understand what you are being fed and why, so you can make informed decisions about what to believe and what to support. Don’t allow yourselves to be conned. Knowledge is power.

I have read this book twice this year, it is so good and, since this book was published in September, there have been so many more examples of misinformation arousing misdirected public outrage on legal matters. The government have passed a statute which breaches international law, whilst telling us they haven’t. Only this week there were false claims that the approval of the first vaccine against COVID by the UK regulator was a Brexit benefit. These falsehoods are being perpetuated by Government ministers, people we elected to act in our best interests, including the Attorney-General and the Lord Chancellor, who are supposed to protect the integrity of the law. As I recently completed the second read through, I had visions of the poor Secret Barrister sitting despairingly in their writing garret, self-medicating with gin as they frantically scribble daily addendums to this book, emailing increasingly harried messages to their beleaguered publisher, trying to keep up to date with the latest chipping away of the legal framework on which we all depend. Their desk is covered with dozens of sodden post-its, used to mop up their tears of frustration as they fight the rising tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf us. They have my deepest sympathies.

The fact this happens is outrageous. Be outraged. Refuse to accept it. But how can we reject these actions when many of us don’t even know we are being lied to? The media are complicit in the deceit. We deserve better and we should demand it. We need a basic legal education for all, and a media that reports on these things honestly. We currently have neither. What we do have are individuals such as The Secret Barrister, and a wealth of other lawyers and legal commentators who are trying to shine a light on these fabrications and why the law matters to all of us and deserves protection.

Seek them out, arm yourselves with information and decide for yourselves what it important. Start here, with this book, it’s a great read, and an important one. It’s my book of the year for 2020. Sadly, I fear the people who most need to read it are the very ones who won’t.

Fake Law: The Truth About justice in an Age of Lies is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law.

The law can often feel to the public like an alien and impenetrable world, linked to everyday life only by selective news reportage and artistically-licensed tv dramatisation. The Secret Barrister aims to bridge that gap by providing a candid, and hopefully accessible, explanation of our criminal justice system, of how it works, and of how, all too often, it doesn’t.

The Secret Barrister has written for the The Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, iNews, Esquire, Counsel Magazine and Solicitors Journal, and has appeared in The Sun, The Mirror and Huffington Post.

In 2016 and 2017, the Secret Barrister was named Independent Blogger of the Year at the Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards. In 2018, they were named Legal Personality of The Year at the Law Society Awards.

The Secret Barrister is a patron of FRU (Free Representation Unit) and the Aberdeen Law Project.

Their debut book, Stories of The Law and How It’s Broken, was a Sunday Times bestseller for 24 consecutive weeks, and was named the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2018 at the Books Are My Bag Awards.

Connect with The Secret Barrister:


Facebook: The Secret Barrister

Twitter: @BarristerSecret

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Book Review: The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan


Reading this is going to change how you see Britain, especially its politics. The way we are used to hearing about Britain’s politics is through the filter of our media. This book, however, delves below the surface to the underlying realities and from there, a very different politics emerges. This is a politics which starts and ends with people realising their potential.

From Britain’s shifting political centre of gravity The Britain Potential pieces together a politics that is neither left nor right, is not of division and polarisation but is about integration, balance, and unity. It offers an entirely fresh, genuinely humanistic vision grounded in actual developments both historical and contemporary. This is a politics viewed as something at work in daily life which is not being reported in the media and that no political party has yet spelt out. 

Told through stories, The Britain Potential helps readers take the pulse of the country and understand for themselves what ‘remedies’ will be effective. It offers ways forward, and hope, for people newly interested in politics, the politically homeless, people dissatisfied with life in Britain, leaders and activists of all kinds, public servants, business people, and people in communities. People around the world, who look to Britain, should find much of interest.

Britain has enormous potential, but is it realising it? For too many the answer is no. This is a book about what it takes to realise that potential, as individuals, families, communities, organisations and as a country. The Britain Potential is in our hands.

Today, I am pleased to be sharing my thoughts on The Britain Potential by Jim Cowan. I would like to thank the author for inviting me to review the book and for providing me with a paperback copy for that purpose. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Ever since the Brexit referendum in 2016, I have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised by the British political system. There is currently no viable political party on offer that seems to align with my ideals of the government that this country needs. What we currently have is clearly not working, the situation in this country is getting worse and worse. We are becoming more polarised as a society, people are angry, scared and isolated, they don’t feel served by society as it currently stands. And from what I see daily on social media, I know I am not alone in my frustration and disillusionment.

So, it was with interest that I picked up this book by Jim Cowan, which promised to give me a new vision of politics for Britain, one which sounded much more like the perfect vision I would have for how our country should work. Where we all feel more connected and involved in the running of the country, invested and active, rather than having things imposed upon us by a ruling class over which we, as individuals, feel we can have very little influence.

This book contains a lot of interesting ideas about a new way of moving forward in the UK, by passing more power and decision-making to the people at a local level, so that everyone can feel invested and engaged in making their own society better in a way that works for their particular circumstances. An ability of local organisations and authorities to tailor services to what is needed in their specific area, rather than a homogenised approach from central government that does not address specific regional needs, with the role of central government being to support and encourage these local initiatives. Where the focus is on listening and responding to the articulated needs of the end users of services, ie US, rather than on controlling and managing us and forcing us to mould ourselves into a centrally-mandated stereotype. This would allow people autonomy, and an ability to invest and believe in themselves, to live a truly individual and authentic life. For each one of us, and consequently the country as a whole, to realise our full potential.

I’m going to be honest, this is not an easy book to read. Despite being only around two hundred pages, it is dense with information, packed with some complicated jargon and utilising concepts that were totally alien to me and took some time to absorb and understand. Bits of it took me a couple of read throughs to totally grasp, it is not a relaxing book to take to bed with you at night (although I did.) However, once I got into it, I was totally absorbed and really fascinated by the ideas being mooted. I found the examples of places and organisations already operating along these lines truly inspiring and the picture that Jim paints of what Britain could be like, tempting and aspirational. If you are at all interested in politics and the way that our society could be improved for the benefit of everyone, it is truly an hopeful read.

I have to tell you, I came away from this book feeling quite emotional, which was entirely unexpected. I was left thinking ‘if only.’ If only this could be how we lived, everyone working to the best of their abilities for the betterment of society for everyone. I can see how this works at a micro level, both in Jim’s examples and when looking at my own small rural community, which is filled with village initiatives, community support and just individual acts of kindness and care. But can this be amplified to a national level? Looking around at how things currently operate at the macro level, it actually looks less and less likely. I see our society moving in the opposite direction, with a Government intent on taking more and more power to itself, rather relinquishing it, with our society become more selfish, small-minded and inward-looking, rather than exploring ways of working with others to the benefit of all. The over-riding national sentiment seems to be that helping and caring for others means losing something ourselves, rather than enhancing our lives. All movements for equality are met with resistance by people who see it as them having to give something up, rather than pulling everyone up to the same level. It makes me despair.

I loved the ideas in this book, but when Jim concludes that we are currently a long way from achieving this utopian version of our society, and the only way to get there is by a slow, incremental change rather than radical reform, I believe he is right. This vision is but a speck on the horizon, and I don’t currently see the path ahead from here to there.

The Britain Potential is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

I have focused on political and social change in Britain for over 40 years.

This has been reflected in all areas of my life.

Community development, encompassing many different roles, has been at the heart of my work from the early 70s until 2012.

Between 1968 and 2005 I acquired five social science degrees, including a PhD.

I was also an honorary visiting research fellow for 10 years up until 2016.

In my personal life, I’ve practiced a socially engaged form of Buddhism for over 40 years which has enabled me to develop my consciousness more fully and realise more of my potential.

Since 2012 I have been meticulously researching what has been, and is, happening across Britain.

All these aspects, work, personal and social, academic study and research come together in this book.

It is four voices of doing, thinking, being, and researching that you will hear as you read The Britain Potential.

Connect with Jim:


Twitter: @thebpotential

Instagram: @thebritainpotential

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