Desert Island Books with… Marjorie Mallon

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This week’s victim guest on my beautiful desert island, left in peace to read five hand-picked books for as long as they like, is author… Marjorie Mallon. To be honest, that sounds like bliss to me, and will be the only kind of foreign holiday we get this year. Let’s see which five books she has picked.

Book One- The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

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HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

I loved The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, a WWII historical fiction set in Nazi Germany. It is such a fantastic book, cleverly done, narrated by death, such an emotional read. I don’t read historical fiction often but The Book Thief is amazing. The story stays with you long after you have finished reading it. I love books that stir the deepest emotions, that make you cry, reflect and consider. For me, that’s the ultimate testament to a wonderful book. I read The Book Thief a long time ago (before I began reviewing books,) so it would be awesome to re-read this masterpiece on a desert island!

Book Two – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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The circus arrives without warning. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Against the grey sky the towering tents are striped black and white. A sign hanging upon iron gates reads:

Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn

As dusk shifts to twilight, tiny lights begin to flicker all over the tents, as though the whole circus is covered in fireflies. When the tents are aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign lights up:

Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams

The gates shudder and unlock, seemingly by their own volition.
They swing outward, inviting the crowd inside.

Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.

Another favourite of mine is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It would be such a delight to be transported to a fantastical setting where the wonders, sounds, surprises and twists and turns of magic and illusion would enthrall me. I read The Night Circus too long ago and it would be awesome to revisit this captivating book too. 

(NB. The Night Circus is also one of my Desert Island Books. You can see why I included it in my list here.)

Book Three – Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

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Mia Corvere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Destined to destroy empires, the child raised in shadows made a promise on the day she lost everything: to avenge herself on those that shattered her world.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, and Mia must become a weapon without equal. Before she seeks vengeance, she must seek training among the infamous assassins of the Red Church of Itreya.

Inside the Church’s halls, Mia must prove herself against the deadliest of opponents and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and daemons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Church is no ordinary school. But Mia is no ordinary student.

Top of my list would also be Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight. I adore his writing, and I’d bring Nevernight to make my heart beat faster with excitement. Mia’s blood lust would definitely stop me from getting bored! 

Book Four – Northern Lights (His Dark Materials Book 1) by Philip Pullman

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“Without this child, we shall all die.”

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

And I couldn’t leave behind Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, His Dark Materials #1, which I loved so much! It ticks all the boxes for me, being a fight between good and evil, light and dark, which is very me! 

Book Five – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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‘I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.’

Los Angeles Private Investigator Philip Marlowe is hired by wheelchair-bound General Sternwood to discover who is blackmailing him. A broken, weary old man, Sternwood just wants Marlowe to make the problem go away. However, with Sternwood’s two wild, devil-may-care daughters prowling LA’s seedy backstreets, Marlowe’s got his work cut out. And that’s before he stumbles over the first corpse.

I’d also have fun revisiting some books I loved as a youngster, crime and detective novels, which I still enjoy now. So, I’d bring Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep to keep me company and rekindle those memories!

My luxury item

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A good quality yoga mat so I could practice moves and get fit and supple. It would also double up as a mat to lie on too, so dual purpose!

About the Author

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M J Mallon was born in Lion city Singapore, a passionate Scorpio with the Chinese Zodiac sign of a lucky rabbit. She spent her early childhood in Hong Kong. During her teen years, she returned to her father’s childhood home, Edinburgh where she spent many happy years, entertained and enthralled by her parents’ vivid stories of living and working abroad. Perhaps it was during these formative years that her love of storytelling began bolstered by these vivid raconteurs. She counts herself lucky to have travelled to many far-flung destinations and this early early wanderlust has fuelled her present desire to emigrate abroad. Until that wondrous moment, it’s rumoured that she lives in the UK, in the Venice of Cambridge with her six-foot hunk of a rock god husband. Her two enchanting daughters have flown the nest but often return with a cheery smile.

Her motto is to always do what you love, stay true to your heart’s desires, and inspire others to do so too, even it if appears that the odds are stacked against you like black hearted shadows.

Favourite genres to write: Fantasy/magical realism because life should be sprinkled with a liberal dash of extraordinarily imaginative magic!

Her writing credits also include a multi-genre approach: paranormal, best-selling horror, supernatural short stories, flash fiction, and poetry.

She’s been blogging for many moons at her blog home Kyrosmagica, (which means Crystal Magic.) where she continues to celebrate the spiritual realm, her love of nature, crystals and all things magical, mystical, and mysterious.

Her eclectic blog shares details and information about her new releases, author interviews, character profiles and her love of reading, reviewing, writing, and photography.

Marjorie’s has recently worked with some amazing authors and bloggers compiling an anthology/compilation set during the early stages of COVID-19 entitled This Is Lockdown, which you can purchase here, and has also written a spin off poetry collection entitled Lockdown Innit, which you can buy here.

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This anthology and compilation is for everyone, wherever you live in the world. We are all experiencing the impact of COVID19 and lockdown. As writers, bloggers and creatives we express our thoughts and opinions in writing: in heartfelt poetry, pieces on isolation and the impact of COVID19 and the ‘new normal.’

There are twenty eight talented contributors, including the creative NHS Mask Making Fundraising Team of Jane Horwood and Melissa Santiago Val. The contributors come from as far afield as Australia, Canada, USA and Zimbabwe, or closer to my current home in England – in Ireland, Scotland and Italy.

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Lockdown Innit is a poetry collection of eighteen poems about life’s absurdities and frustrations during lockdown. Wherever you live in this world, this is for you. Expect humour, a dollop of banter and ridiculous rants here and there.

Amongst other delights, witness the strange antics of a swan posing by a bin and two statuesque horses appearing like arc deco pieces in a field. Check out the violin player on a tightrope, or the cheeky unmentionables wafting in the lockdown breeze!

The first book in Marjorie’s new YA Fantasy series, Bloodstone, has just been published by Next Chapter Publishing, and you can buy a copy here.

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Fifteen-year-old Amelina Scott lives in Cambridge with her dysfunctional family, a mysterious black cat, and an unusual girl who is imprisoned within the mirrors located in her house.

When an unexpected message arrives inviting her to visit the Crystal Cottage, she sets off on a forbidden path where she encounters Ryder: a charismatic, perplexing stranger.

With the help of a magical paint set and some crystal wizard stones, can Amelina discover the truth about her family?

Connect with Marjorie:

Website: https://mjmallon.com/

Twitter: @Marjorie_Mallon

Instagram: @mjmallonauthor

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Pearl by John Steinbeck; Narrated by Hector Elizondo #Audiobook

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‘In the town they tell the story of the great pearl – how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man’s mind.’

The Pearlis Steinbeck’s heartbreaking short parable about wealth and the darkness and evil it can instill in even the most generous of men’s hearts.

Category 13 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge is ‘Read a book with less than 100 pages.’ John Steinbeck’s classic, coming in at a mere 96 pages, falls cleanly within this remit. (Yes, I am now doing the categories completely out of order and have yet to review books to fit categories 7, 11 and 12. They are coming, I promise.)

I haven’t read any Steinbeck novels since school, and I am wondering why because The Pearl is so stunning, in both the writing and the story itself, that I now feel like I need to go and pick up more of his work.

This is the story of Kino, his wife Juana and their baby Coyotito who live a hand-to-mouth on the shores of the Gulf until Kino, a fisherman, finds a huge and exquisite pearl that he believes will elevate his family from the cycle of poverty which traps them. He longs for opportunity and education for their son, so that he will not be prey to being kept down by their fear and lack of knowledge. However, greed and envy, the determination of those above to keep them down and the fear of the unknown of those around them, conspire to rob Kino of his dreams.

The writing is beautiful from the very first page. It is not flowery, but powerful, with the descriptions of the simple life of the fisher folk bringing their world to stark life. Their fear and panic when misfortune befalls their child, their rage when they know they are being manipulated and robbed by lack any ability to prevent it, the unfairness of their situation burns brightly on the page through Steinbeck’s prose, and leaps from their into the soul of the reader. I felt their pain very keenly and deeply, and was left with lasting pain on their behalf long after the book was finished.

Despite this being a very short book, Steinbeck manages to explore in detail the themes of evil in the hearts of man. How one person’s good fortune inspires darkness in the hearts and minds of others, and how difficult it is for people to break out from under the yoke of poverty when to do so does not serve the people who benefit from exploiting them. If this book does not make you angry, I would be very surprised.

This book is a shining example of how to write. Not a word is wasted, and the picture is painted in the reader’s mind’s eye with clarity and intensity. It is both inspiring and daunting to read as a writer, demonstrating what lofty heights are possible and making one despair of ever getting anywhere close to them.

The Pearl is out now in all formats and you can get a copy here.

About the Author

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John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. (February 27, 1902 – December 20, 1968) was an American author and the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature winner “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception.” He has been called “a giant of American letters.”

During his writing career, he authored 33 books, with one book coauthored alongside Edward Ricketts, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and two collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas The Red Pony (1933) and Of Mice and Men (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece and part of the American literary canon. In the first 75 years after it was published, it sold 14 million copies.

Most of Steinbeck’s work is set in central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explored the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyman protagonists.

The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede; Narrated by Ray Porter #Audiobook

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When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

As the passengers stepped from the airplanes, exhausted, hungry and distraught after being held on board for nearly 24 hours while security checked all of the baggage, they were greeted with a feast prepared by the townspeople. Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches. Linens and toiletries were bought and donated. A middle school provided showers, as well as access to computers, email, and televisions, allowing the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

Over the course of those four days, many of the passengers developed friendships with Gander residents that they expect to last a lifetime. As a show of thanks, scholarship funds for the children of Gander have been formed and donations have been made to provide new computers for the schools. This book recounts the inspiring story of the residents of Gander, Canada, whose acts of kindness have touched the lives of thousands of people and been an example of humanity and goodwill.

Category 10 in the Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021 is ‘Read a book with a vehicle on the cover,’ so I chose this non-fiction book from my TBR pile, bearing the image of a plane. I have been meaning to read The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede for a long while, and this provided the perfect opportunity, although I actually ended up listening to this as an audiobook.

No one who was alive and of sufficient maturity to understand what was happening on 9/11 will ever forget where they were when the planes struck the World Trade Centre. A day on which the evil that man was capable of wreaking on their fellow man was terribly evidenced to the eyes of the world. Well, this book displays the other side of that coin and demonstrates the love, generosity and selflessness that humans can lavish on one another at times of great need. Whilst the world reeled in the face of absolute, unbelievable horror, the airline passengers who found themselves stranded in Gander, Newfoundland on that terrible day saw the antithesis of this is the welcoming people of this tiny place.

I had never really thought about what happened to all the hundreds of planes that were in the air, bound for the USA, when the terrorist attacks caused the closing of US airspace until I came across this book but the story of what happened to those planes, or a small proportion of them anyway, is unbelievable and fascinating as laid out in the pages of this book. How the hundreds of stranded flights were handled by the air traffic controllers, then at the over-whelmed airports, then by the places they ended up, is all laid out here as shining examples of what can be achieved by good-hearted people rallying to the cause and performing amazingly under pressure. Everyone was united in the horror at what had been done in New York and determined to support people affected by showing them that goodness still existed in a world gone mad.

I have to tell you that I spent nearly the whole of this book on the verge of tears (not great when you are listening as you drive!), because all the stories are so moving. I have visited the WTC site and 9/11 museum since that awful day and seen the aftermath of the horror. It is something that will never leave me – and rightly so because it is only by remembering these things and understanding (as far as it is possible to understand such evil and madness) why they happened that we can take steps to ensure we personally act in a way that tries to ensure they don’t happen again. So, to read stories of the opposite side of the coin, that reassure you that good still exists in the world, that most people are basically decent and loving – well, it restores your faith in humanity. Given some of what is going on now and the rhetoric we see, we need reminding of this from time to time.

I really loved this book, it moved me in a way I wasn’t expecting and that doesn’t come often in non-fiction and I will definitely come back to it again when my soul needs a lift. It is strange to say that any book dealing with the events surrounding 9/11 can be uplifting, but it is definitely true of this book. I can’t recommend it enough if you are feeling jaded and need reminding that good people exist in the world.

The Day The World Came To Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland is available in paperback and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jim DeFede has been an award-winning journalist for sixteen years, first with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, and then with the Miami New Times. His work has appeared in TalkThe New Republic, and Newsday. He is currently a metro columnist for the Miami Herald.

Connect with Jim:

Facebook: Jim DeFede

Twitter: @DeFede

Instagram: @jim_defede

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Book Review: The Sweetest Charade by Jadesola James #BookReview

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Delysia Daniels didn’t intend any of this. Accidentally tagging the wrong person in a slightly racy photo could have happened to anyone. But when the slipup gains her thousands of followers and a much-needed opportunity, she takes full advantage. Fake dating an uptight history professor complete with the proverbial stiff upper lip will raise both their profiles, if she can just get him to agree.

Dr. Alexander Abbott-Hill isn’t delusional enough to believe his sudden popularity is due to his fascinating lectures. Agreeing to a high-profile, all-expenses-paid trip across the country isn’t exactly a hardship, although getting along with an online influencer might be. But he doesn’t plan on Delysia. She’s smart, beautiful, and far more…everything…than he’d imagined.

Fake relationship aside, neither of them is very good at pretending. Add their instant attraction and undeniable chemistry, and it isn’t long before they realize this fictional relationship is going to change their lives—just not the way they thought.

A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my sincere thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

This wouldn’t be the kind of book I would normally pick up, I have to say, and I wasn’t 100% sure how I was going to feel about it. Having read the blurb, I did have a concern that it might be too geared towards American audiences for my tastes (as I have said before, I sometimes find books written for the American market more saccharine than appeals to us cynics here in the UK) and the subject matter too shallow. Still, one of the reasons I blog is to push my reading out of my comfort zone and keep open-minded so I accepted Jadesola’s offer of a copy of the book, and, boy, am I glad I did.

All of my fears were totally unfounded and I thoroughly enjoyed this story from start to finish. Two mismatched people meet in the most unlikely of circumstances and enter a fake relationship for their mutual benefit and, despite the fact that the premise under which they meet could seem ridiculous, the author is skilled enough to make it entirely plausible in this digital age. I could see exactly why Delysia would want to fake the relationship with Alexander. Why Alexander goes along with it is a bit more of a stretch, but she makes it work well enough and, when the chemistry starts to fizz on the page you soon forget all that anyway and just go along for the fun of the ride.

I really enjoyed the jaunt into the lives of influencers and how they operate and, I have to say, I’d quite like the opportunity to get paid to do all these fantastic things and wear amazing clothes. (Alas, I fear I am too old and not attractive enough for this to be a feasible career path for me at this stage of my life.) The luxury train journey was a particular highlight of the book, as I love travelling in the US, and train travel always seems so glamorous when it appears on the page. The author does a wonderful job of bringing it all to vivid life through her words and I did feel like I had experienced the trip with Delysia and Alexander by the end of the book.

The main draw of this book, as it should be, it the relationship between the two romantic protagonists and how it develops though. As I said earlier in the review, there is real heat between the two of them in this fake relationship/opposites attract story, and it manages to be spicy without being so lewd it will offend those of more sensitive sensibilities. It is a find line to walk but this author navigated it admirably and I believed in the relationship wholeheartedly.

Jadesola gives Delysia believable and sympathetic motives for taking a life path that might otherwise seem shallow and detract from the depth of character she needs to attract a man like Alexander and I was with her every step of the way. In fact, I was surprised at just how much real emotion and range the author managed to convey in this story, but the fault for that lies with me and nowhere else. I should know better than to come to any book with pre-conceived ideas about a genre and I have certainly been taught a lesson here, one that I will take with me into my future reading adventures. Never judge a book by its cover, and never judge a novel by others that share nothing with it other than a loose genre, you may end up missing out on some great reads.

There was nothing about this book I didn’t like. Great characters, great plot, great settings, great chemistry. I highly recommend it to all lovers of romantic fiction and look forward to more titles by this author.

The Sweetest Charade is out now in the UK as an ebook and an audiobook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

Jadesola James loves summer thunderstorms, Barbara Cartland novels, long train rides, hot buttered toast, and copious amounts of cake and tea.

When she isn’t writing, she’s a reference librarian and a scholar of American romance publishing. Her hobbies include collecting vintage romance paperbacks and fantasy shopping online for summer cottages in the north of England.

Connect with Jadesola:

Website: https://jadesolajames.com/

Facebook: Jadesola James

Twitter: @JJ_Nicola

Instagram: @jadesolajames

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Friday Night Drinks with… Brian Stewart

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Welcome to the end of another week and it’s time to unwind with drinks and chat with another fabulous literary guest. Tonight I am joined for Friday Night Drinks by author… Brian Stewart.

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

Friday evenings are usually beers. I subscribe to a beer club so I’ll be sampling one or two of them. (They’re almost all delicious, though I’m not a fan of the fruity sour ones.) I may sample the odd glass of rum later!

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?

There are so many options in Dundee these days for food, drink and entertainment. The Dundee Rep is always interesting and quirky, the DCA great for food, and the rum cocktails at the King of Islington are amazing! In Broughty Ferry itself, we love Sol Y Sombra for tapas, and the Fisherman’s Tavern has a great range of beers. The Fort Hotel’s beer garden has been a godsend during lockdown, especially on a sunny evening.

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Sounds like Dundee is the place to be! 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?

Stephen Fry for sure. He has such a breadth of knowledge and has made it cool for an arts/media person to be knowledgeable about science. Previously people in the media were totally ignorant about anything scientific and treated it as a jokey item at the end of the news. I’m sure he would be fantastic company, though I’d struggle to get a word in.

US politics both fascinates and appalls me – the Trump years were unbelievable – so I’d like Kamala Harris to be there so that she can explain both it and her place in the whole thing. Has she any real hope for the future of that country?

Great choices. 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?

The most recent novel that I (self-)published was quite dark, involving fake news and online abuse. Around October 2020, when we were heading back into lockdown after a month or so of hope, I was quite depressed by the whole situation and also by the world I was writing about. 

I decided that the only thing to do was to write something a bit lighter! So I started a novel which is almost a comedy-crime caper story, and I’m firing on with that now. I’m a pantster when I write, so I’ve written several chapters and thrown loads of odd characters into the mix. I now need to clarify the crime so that I can get it all done. (The hero is writing a novel and has exactly the same issues!)

Life imitates art! Sounds like fun. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

After I self-published my first novel, friends told me they really liked it – and I mean, really liked it, even though they said they’d been prepared to lie and tell me they liked it. That was great. My daughter-in-law’s uncles have read my books and raved about them. Every positive review gives me a glow of pleasure. These are the best moments.

The biggest challenge has been trying to get a break in a very crowded field. I’ve seen other authors manage it but I’ve never quite done it myself. There is always hope though.

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’d like recognition as being a good writer and someone who produces something a bit different, with a bit of an edge and serious social/political commentary underlying it. Almost all the reviews of my books acknowledge this, but I’d like it to be more widely known. And my sister reckons there’s a great TV series ready to be made out of my books!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Getting this novel finished, getting the two manuscripts that are almost ready out there, then re-edit the new novel and get it out to agents and publishers (I’ll tell them it’s the first in a planned series, and if it gets picked up I’ll quickly do some planning!). Also excited about travel – see the next question!

I like your style (although your secret is out now, you do realise?). 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?

So many places we’ve been to and loved! We adore Canada (and Canadians); Australia was just so wondrous; China was really interesting. I’ve an ongoing love affair with the Algarve and Lanzarote – I could happily spend several weeks of the year in each of those places.

But if pushed I’d go for New Zealand. We were there in 2020, getting home just as COVID struck. The scenery is amazing – like a bigger version of Scotland – and the people are lovely. There’s so much space. Great beer, wine and food too! We know people who made the move there, and others who wished they had, and I can see why – despite that huge distance.

Bucket list? At present we have plans to do an Antarctic trip, and also a tour of Japan, though these are currently pending due to COVID. I still have a fantasy about driving an open-top Thunderbird down the Florida Keys or the Pacific Highway…

I can highly recommend driving the Overseas Highway in an open-top car, finishing with a strawberry daiquiri in Sloppy Joe’s – one of my favourite trips ever! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I generally like to know what’s going on! I could never do a trip where the next two nights’ accommodation wasn’t booked. And when we have a settled, agreed plan for something, I do freak out a little if the plan changes. I have an issue with spontaneity, I suppose, but I’m getting better (though my wife would probability disagree).

You and I sound like birds of a feather; I am a mega-planner and have to be in charge of all our holidays. It is part of the reason I used to plan holidays for other people! 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’?

This is just so difficult! Most of the books I’ve read have their own merits, and many are unique in so many ways. Some authors – Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde amongst them – have broken completely new ground and need to be read. Others who have written long series of novels have hit moments of absolute brilliance – Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow, Ian Rankin with In a House of Lies.

If pushed, I would say that His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet was a must-read: different and just perfect.

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The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

I loved this book, it is a stunningly original piece of writing. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I wish! Too much red wine kills me, especially if I don’t take on enough water, so I watch that – I only drink it with a meal, with maybe a final glass afterwards. Too much strong beer is bad. I can only handle one or two whiskies of an evening. Generally I’m OK with rum and coke (or gin and tonic) so if I’m in it for the long haul, I stick to that. 

The only hangover cure is time: have a slow, easy day afterwards with lots of fluid, lots of sugar, several naps, and a couple of beers in the evening before an early night.

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

If I was somewhere warm then a day on the beach would be ideal. But in Scotland it would be a walk or a cycle to enjoy the peace and the space. A good film in the evening is always nice.

Brian, thank you for chatting with me this evening, it has been great fun.

Brian’s latest book, The CalDat Investigation, is a techno thriller set in Scotland. It is available in ebook format and you can buy a copy here. The book formats part of a three book series, but they can be read in any order.

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Glasgow PI Grant Cairns is asked to investigate a company called Caledonia Data (CalDat) which is suspected of being a conduit for dark money and fake news. As he follows a lead, he finds himself linking with an old colleague, ex-DS Amanda Pitt, who has become obsessed with explaining a murder at a Glasgow hotel, where the murderer could not possibly have known the victim and who died at the scene.

The two of them find their investigations are linked, and that an online hate campaign against an MSP could have fatal consequences for her.

Meanwhile, Martin McGregor’s past life comes back to haunt him, and the world of online abuse becomes very personal for him.

Brian Stewart was born in Rutherglen (near Glasgow) and brought up in Grangemouth. He went to Glasgow University and Jordanhill Teacher Training College, and taught in Edinburgh before moving north to the Highlands. He lived and worked there for many years in education in various roles, including as an OU maths tutor. In 2017 he and his wife moved to Broughty Ferry to be nearer their families.

Having retired from education, he is focused on my writing.

He and his wife enjoy travelling. Highlights have included cycling in Alaska, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, and climbing Vesuvius. They’ve seen Uluru at dusk and at dawn, and swum in the Olympic pool under Sydney harbour bridge. Furthest north they’ve been was North Cape, west was the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, and of course New Zealand took them furthest east and south. All of that background will seep into his writing in due course in some way or another.

When not writing, he tries to keep fit and to play the guitar and golf (not simultaneously). He is in Broughty Ferry Rotary and also supports his District in his role as Assistant Governor in District 1010. One of the great bonuses of being a Rotarian is the ability to visit other clubs – most recently in Hong Kong and in Blenheim (South Island). He keeps in contact with other writers through social media, writers’ events, and the Angus Writers’ Circle, whose members are a really supportive bunch.

He self-published Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigations. The next in the series, The Deaths on the Black Rock, was published by ThunderPoint on October 23rd 2018. For the follow-up he went back to self-publishing, and The CalDat Investigation came out in February 2021.

You can find out more about Brian and his writing via Twitter and Instagram.

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Desert Island Books with… Diana Jackson

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I am delighted to be hosting a special extra edition of Desert Island Books this week. I normally like to leave a week between guests, just so I can pop over and have a tidy around, change the palm leaves, plump up the sand dunes, air out the driftwood shack, replenish the coconut supply… the usual type of thing. However, I’m squeezing in an extra castaway this month, as she had to postpone her shipwreck earlier in the Spring. So let’s maroon author, Diana Jackson, on the island now and see what she has taken with her.

Book One – The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as the Ring is entrusted to his care. He must leave his home and make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to the Crack of Doom, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. There he must destroy the Ring forever and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

I’ve only read this twice in my life. The first time was so memorable. My sister and I read it aloud to each other between Christmas and Easter one year, as teenagers three years apart. It was a time when we really bonded; a friendship which has lasted a lifetime.

Being a large tome; three books in one really, I don’t think I would tire of it.

Book Two – The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis’s dazzling allegory about heaven and hell – and the chasm fixed between them – is one of his most brilliantly imaginative tales, as he takes issue with the ideas in William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.

In a dream, the narrator boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, from the disgruntled, ghostly inhabitants of Hell to the angels and souls who dwell on the plains of Heaven.

This powerful, exquisitely written fantasy is one of C.S. Lewis’s most enduring works of fiction and a profound meditation on good and evil.

This is nothing to do with divorce but is an allegorical account of heaven and hell, along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, but easier to read. It is a meditation that challenges the way we look at life. I love books with messages in picture language, pilgrims or journeys. I know that this this would inspire me to write if I was set on a desert island, because each time I’ve read it a different ‘truth’ leaps out at me.

Book Three – Skallagrigg by William Horwood

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Skallagrigg unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy; and with Daniel, an American computer games genius.

Skallagrigg – whatever the name signifies, or whoever he is – will come to transform their lives. And William Horwood’s inspired, heart-rending story of rescue and redemptive love will undoubtedly touch his readers’ lives, based as it is on a real-life story.

For some reason this is my favourite book of all time. Why? It had such an impact on me, leading to understanding and embracing the truth that all people should be valued. I had always been a strong upholder of equality but, following reading Skallagrig, I looked at folks I met in a different way. It is the quest of a young girl with cerebral palsy who searches for the origins of Skallagrigg, tales which she heard in hospital as a child. Esther has an extremely supportive father who was in the IT business in the 1980’s and ensured that she had every opportunity to reach her potential and explore her dreams in spite of her disabilities. Her link with Arthur, a lad with cerebral palsy who resided in a grim hospital in the 1920’s contrasts with Esther’s life. It is not an easy book to explain in one paragraph. My copy is dog-eared but that doesn’t matter. It is precious nevertheless.

Book Four – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Oh, this was a difficult one! So many of the classics, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, have influenced both my love of reading but also my writing too. Set in the wilds of the windy Yorkshire moors, it is the vivid descriptions, the intensity of passion and feeling, the supernatural element that love transcends our time on this earth; all these elements bring this novel into sharp focus today, even though I have not read the book since I was a young adult. 

Book Five – The Bible

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The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization, and also the most difficult to interpret. It has been the vehicle of continual conflict, with every interpretation reflecting passionately-held views that have affected not merely religion, but politics, art, and even science.

So many books in one. History, songs, prayers, stories, parables, messages, memoir, witness statements; familiar tales known throughout my life but opening The Bible still has the ability to surprise me and it would take me a long while to read it all, or I could just dip into it.

My luxury item

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A pencil. I reason that I would be resourceful and find dried leaves, bark or even rocks and stones to write on, but a pencil would be a life saver emotionally, enabling me to write letters to family, friends and others (even though I knew I couldn’t send them) and a diary. I could also disappear into another world in my own imagination and scribe novels, escaping from my own precarious situation for a while.

About the Author

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Diana Jackson now lives in Fife where she and her husband have become deeply committed to community life in Kinghorn. Before this pandemic curtailed some activities, Diana has enjoyed volunteering; working with the ‘Kinghorn in Bloom’ crowd, ever improving the beautiful areas of Kinghorn and Pettycur; a volunteer at Kirkcaldy Foodbank and also helping her husband at various Rotary events through the year. Her book The Healing Paths of Fife’ tells her story of relocating to Fife in the form of an allegory ~ a walk along the beautiful coastal path.

Diana released the second novel in her ‘Mystery Inspired by History Series’, MISSING, Past and Present just before the lock down overtook life in the UK, back in March 2020.

Until winter 2015 they lived in the heart of Bedfordshire, UK, where Diana was a teacher of English and Business Studies. Having been made redundant, (probably due to being too old at 55 years!) Diana decided to launch a writers’ collaborative publishing company and through this she is still in touch with many authors back in Bedfordshire. She took eighteen months off to settle into her new life in Scotland, but now she has taken up the mantle once more, both in writing and publishing.

Diana’s initial inspiration to write her first novel ‘Riduna’ was her great grandmother, an Alderney girl, leading to the conception of the ‘Riduna Series’. Having said this she stresses that her novels are purely fiction. She takes the reader from the mid Victorian era through to 1920 and plans a third in the series to the mid thirties.

Her other projects include compiling a memoir and writing a murder mystery, ‘Murder, Now and Then’ which was inspired by a true story ~ an unsolved murder in Bedfordshire in 1919. The first novel in Diana’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

What links Diana Jackson’s projects? ~ Her fascination for social history, her love of research and using her imagination to create believable characters living in the periods she is studying.

You can buy a copy of Diana’s latest novel, MISSING, Past and Present here.

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Betrayed by her husband’s disappearance and almost destroyed when her foster son vanishes, Dorothy is left almost destitute. With little hope she trudges the countryside, reflecting on all she had left; her memories. Squatting in an empty farmhouse she is haunted by the ghost of an 18th Century aspirant nun, whose presence stirs her out of despair.

Will Dorothy’s resilience win through? Will she find peace and more importantly will she ever learn the truth?

MISSING Past and Present is a captivating, genealogical mystery with a ghostly presence. If you like compelling, emotionally charged British mysteries then you’ll love Diana Jackson’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

She is also the author of Search for the Pearl Inside Yourself, a recently published book of encouragement for young adults, school and college leavers who have lost their way in life a bit. Especially pertinent following this pandemic. It was published in March 2021 and is available here.

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Do you know a young person or young adult who needs some encouragement to find their way in life?

It may be a pupil or student, your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, grandchild, neighbour or a friend.

The person you have in mind might lack self-belief, but all they need is a nudge to guide them to think more positively about themselves. 

Here is a book of encouragement with quotations and ideas to help them to let go of those things which are holding them back and

 to discover the pearl inside …

Connect further with Diana:

Website: www.dianamaryjackson.co.uk

Blog: dianamj.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Riduna

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Book Review: Trust Me by T. M. Logan #BookReview

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TWO STRANGERS. A CHILD. AND A SPLIT SECOND CHOICE THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.

The chance encounter

Ellen was just trying to help a stranger. Giving a few minutes respite to a flustered young mother sitting opposite her on the train. A few minutes holding her baby while the woman makes an urgent call.

Five minutes pass.

Ten.

The twist

As the train pulls into a station, Ellen is stunned to see the woman step off the train and rush away down the platform, leaving her baby behind.

Then she discovers a note in the baby’s bag, three desperate lines scrawled hastily on a piece of paper:

Please protect Mia
Don’t trust the police
Don’t trust anyone

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Anyone who has read any of T. M. Logan’s previous novels will know what to expect when they come to his latest book, which is the unexpected. King of the unreliable narrator, prince of the unexpected twist, the only thing you can be sure of in a T. M Logan is that you can’t be sure of anything until you have turned the final page.

So, the title of his latest book, Trust Me, is very apt, because you never know who you can trust in this story including the main protagonist, Ellen. Everyone has hidden motives and deep-seated desires driving them on in certain directions, not all of which are obvious from the beginning. Good luck weaving your way through the maze of this novel.

The book starts off with a fascinating premise right from the beginning. A distraught mother asks you to hold her baby for a moment while she takes a call. Then she never comes back. What would you do? Would you do what Ellen does? Chances are you wouldn’t, because Ellen isn’t like you or I, and she has her own particular set of circumstances that are driving her on. The situation she finds herself in with the baby is the culmination of a perfect storm in her life, and puts her in a dangerous situation that she could never have anticipated. There were times when I was shouting at the book, open-mouthed at the decisions she was making, but still understanding why she did it. The author has created a character that is out of the ordinary but very sympathetic at the same time, I really enjoyed reading her.

Like all of this authors books, there is intrigue and secrets and double-dealing. What I found different from his previous books was the pacing. This book is absolutely full of action from start to finish which was very refreshing and made me turn the pages at double speed. Don’t get me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed the more internal, personality-based thrills of his previous stories, but it was really great to see something different from this writer, showcasing his versatility. Definitely not the case of resting on his laurels and repeating what had proved successful before. I love authors who are willing to take risks and chances in their work.

This is a thriller with a great premise and interesting protagonist which really delivers on its promise and kept me glued to it from start to finish. Perfect for devouring in a single sitting on a sunny afternoon, on a sun lounger or garden chair, it will whisk you away from the every day and take you on a rollercoaster ride.

A really great read that might be my favourite yet from T. M. Logan and has definitely cemented him as one of my favourite psychological thriller writers.

Trust Me is out now in hardback, audiobook and ebook formats and will be published in paperback on 5 August and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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TM Logan’s thrillers have sold more than a million copies in the UK and are published in 19 countries around the world including the USA, South Korea, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Greece and the Netherlands.

Tim’s brand new thriller, TRUST ME, begins when a woman is asked to look after a stranger’s baby on a train – only for the mother to vanish. When she looks in the baby’s things, she finds a note that says: ‘Please protect Mia. Don’t trust the police. Don’t trust anyone.’ TRUST ME is out now in hardback, e-book and audiobook.

His previous novel, THE CATCH, is about a father who becomes convinced his daughter is about to marry a man with terrible secrets. Terrified that his cherished only child is about to marry a man who is not what he seems, Ed sets out to uncover the truth – before it’s too late…

His thriller THE HOLIDAY was a Richard & Judy Book Club pick and spent ten weeks in the Sunday Times paperback top ten. THE HOLIDAY takes place over a sweltering summer week in the south of France, as four best friends see the holiday of a lifetime turn into a nightmare of suspicion, betrayal and murder. Tim’s debut LIES was one of Amazon’s biggest selling e-books of 2017 and was followed by 29 SECONDS in 2018.

Tim was a national newspaper journalist before turning to novel-writing full time. He lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children, and writes in a cabin at the bottom of his garden.

Connect with T. M. Logan:

Website: https://www.tmlogan.com

Facebook: T M Logan Author

Twitter: @TMLoganAuthor

Instagram: @tmloganauthor

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Anise Eden

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Today I am delighted to be joined on the blog for Romancing The Romance Authors by author, Anise Eden, who is chatting all things romance writing.

Welcome, Anise, tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

Julie, thank you so much for having me! It’s an honour to be here.

I write edge-of-your-seat, deeply emotional suspense novels with romantic elements and laugh-out-loud moments. I enjoy writing series that follow one couple throughout, allowing their relationships to grow and develop over several books. Mental health themes often appear in my work, since I have experience as both a psychotherapist and a patient. I consider my job well done when people tell me they stayed up way too late reading my books, and then demand sequels! 

My first foray into writing was a paranormal romance trilogy, The Healing Edge Series, published by Diversion Books. Now, I am writing for Tangled Tree Publishing, with my fourth novel, Dead Sound, releasing on October 12. I’m working on the sequel, Dead Keen, as we speak.

Why romance?

When I wrote my debut novel, I didn’t know I was writing a romance. I’d only read one romance novel before in my life, back in college. I just wrote the book that was begging to come out, and then consulted some knowledgeable friends who told me I’d written a paranormal romance novel. Since then, I’ve learned a lot more about the romance and suspense/thriller genres, so I have a much better handle on what I’m writing! Everyone’s creative process is different, though, and for me, I can’t write to a “formula,” so to speak. I have to simply write what’s in me to write, and find the appropriate label for it later, tweaking as necessary. I’d say the fact that all of my books so far have included romantic elements is a reflection of the fact that I am myself a hopeless romantic who is heavily focused on matters of the heart. 

What inspires your stories?

That varies wildly. My debut novel, All the Broken Places, started out as a mashup between exploring my own struggles with anxiety and wondering about the origins of paranormal abilities. Once the initial idea appears, the characters take over, and they can lead me anywhere. For example, my upcoming novel, Dead Sound, originated from a question that formed in my mind: how would an Old Testament-style prophet be greeted if they appeared in the 21st century? Before I knew it, I was writing a thriller. The creative process is truly a mystery.

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

I’m a relative newcomer to the genre, having just discovered it after I was told my first book was a romance novel. I thought, “If that’s what I’m writing, I should probably familiarize myself.” Now I’m completely hooked and in a process of discovery! The first romance series I devoured were by Charlaine Harris (Sookie Stackhouse) and Kate Elliott (Spiritwalker). Favourite authors I’m currently reading are Rosanna Leo (whose entire back catalogue I’ve now read), Talia Hibbert, and Sariah Wilson. 

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

I’m not sure how the author would categorize her book, but I would recommend Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I love a book that is beautifully written and has a little bit of everything, and Outlander definitely fits that description. An epic love story, history, action, adventure, science fiction, medicine—and that’s just for starters. Plus, Gabaldon is an incredibly gifted artist with a poetic flair. Oh, and bonus: the TV series inspired by her books is pure catnip!

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What if your future lay in the past?

1946, and Claire Randall goes to the Scottish Highlands with her husband Frank. It’s a second honeymoon, a chance to re-establish their loving marriage. But one afternoon, Claire walks through a circle of standing stones and vanishes into 1743, where the first person she meets is a British army officer – her husband’s six-times great-grandfather.

Unfortunately, Black Jack Randall is not the man his descendant is, and while trying to escape him, Claire falls into the hands of a gang of Scottish outlaws, and finds herself a Sassenach – an outlander – in danger from both Jacobites and Redcoats.

Marooned amid danger, passion and violence, her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.

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

Continuing on the Outlander theme, while this weekend wouldn’t be romantic (I mean, she’s SO taken!), I’d love to spend a couple of days with heroine Claire Fraser showing me around 18th century Paris. With her quick wit, fierce heart, and dry sense of humour, I think she’d be fabulous company. I also really want to meet Bouton, the dog that works at the hospital. And if her dressmaker could fit me in, all the better!

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

I relocated from the US to Ireland three years ago, and joining the RNA has been a fabulous opportunity to connect with writers and become part of the community in my new home. While in lockdown, I was able to join a video call with the Irish chapter, and it was delightful to meet with fellow area romance writers. I am eager to attend a chapter meeting in person when it becomes possible, and I look forward to the next RNA conference. There is nothing quite as much fun as “geeking out” with people who love to talk writing, publishing, and romance as much as I do!

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

I would share one of my favourite quotes by Rumi, which has been a guiding light for me in creative pursuits: “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will never lead you astray.”

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My new thriller, Dead Sound, was so much fun to write! It draws a lot on things I know about personally, such as working in a hospital setting, life in Washington DC, and Irish leading men (my husband is from Cork). It also dives into some of the topics I most love to explore, from the worlds of medicine and mental health to the complex relationships between power and truth. You can pre-order a copy here.

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The tender scars on her abdomen throb as memories of the attack come rushing back, flooding her mind and sending her heart racing…

Psychotherapist Neve Keane knew that returning to work at the hospital after being stabbed by a patient would be difficult. But entering her unit only to be surrounded by a crowd of people claiming they need her help to stop the apocalypse—that’s more than she bargained for.

When the crowd’s leader turns out to be a mutual patient of Neve and her best friend, streetwise Irish doctor Cornelius O’Brien, they are both pulled into a Byzantine plot that transforms Capitol Hill General into a dangerous place where threats and betrayals lurk around every corner.

Then their mutual patient falls into a mysterious coma, and the clues he left behind lead Neve and Cornelius straight into Washington, DC’s ugly underbelly, a world of shadowy political forces with long arms and deadly intentions.

As they race to unravel the threads of a sinister conspiracy that leads from their hospital all the way to the White House, Neve and Cornelius realize they might be fighting to stop the end of the world, after all—provided they can survive the week with targets on their backs.

About the Author

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Author photo © OC Photography

Following the advice to “write what you know,” ANISE EDEN is the author of suspense novels with thriller, romance, and paranormal elements. Her qualifications include growing up in countryside where rattlesnakes and cougars jumped out of nowhere; living with family members who are a little bit psychic; and having her life saved on more than one occasion by her SEAL Team of guardian angels.
After college, Anise soaked up life in NYC, Washington DC, and points in between. She tried her hand at grooming horses, scooping ice cream, and designing billboards before returning to school to become a psychotherapist. Though she left that field after many rewarding years, Anise remains a passionate mental health advocate.
Continuing her real-life adventures, Anise is now exploring life in Ireland with her husband and their small, benevolent canine dictator. While her books have won multiple awards, Anise’s propensity for dropping glass objects while barefoot makes it highly likely that her next win will be a Darwin Award.
Dead Sound was the Winner of the 2019 IRWA Golden Opportunity Contest in Romantic Suspense.
Connect with Anise:
Facebook: Anise Eden
Twitter: @aniseeden
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Blog Tour: This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin #BookReview

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I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.

Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?

Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin. My thanks to Gail for asking me to take part in the tour and for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. As always, I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This Much Huxley Knows is a very unusual but brilliantly crafted novel of observation on life, society and relationships, as seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy, which lends it refreshing honesty on the subject. Huxley experiences things without filter and, whilst he can’t always interpret everything he sees or hears, his bluntness in describing his experiences gives a brutal candour to events that enlightens and delights the adult reader that this book is aimed at.

Huxley is an awkward child, slightly out of kilter with his peers and starting to understand that he is not quite in sync with everyone around him, leading to a sense of loneliness and isolation that is quite heart-breaking to read. He longs to have a best friend, and his keen understanding that his closest friend might only be friends with him because their mums are close, is painful to read of. Whilst being noisy, disruptive and sometimes disobedient, Huxley has a good heart, and recognises his own feelings of isolation reflected in others – his neighbour Mrs Vartan, classmate Samira and neighbourhood outcast, Leonard. This sense of comradeship leads Huxley to reach out in friendship in ways that the adults surrounding him don’t understand and thus, causes alarm, but we wonder in the end who is most accurate in their assessment of others, the cynical adults or the open-minded and open- hearted little boy.

The author has done a quite astounding job of placing herself firmly in the shoes of this small child. Written in the first person entirely from Huxley’s perspective, I completely believed in Huxley’s voice throughout, and it felt totally authentic. The way he hears things but can’t quite interpret them, his natural curiosity, his obsession with crafting his trademark brand of ‘joke’ in every sentence and with Thomas the Tank Engine, were all immediately recognisable as the way children behave. The adults’ lack of awareness of how much Huxley is taking in and processing to begin with, and how he gradually makes them see him and take him seriously I recognised from my own parenting experience – children are like tiny sponges made up of big ears and nosiness – and Gail just brought the real experience of childhood to the page and used it to shine a light on human behaviour in a way that is frighteningly illuminating.

Huxley is a totally lovable character that I defy anyone not to adore by the end and the story is both painful and uplifting at the same time. Full of the genuine confusion, pain, joy and wonder of growing up, and an excoriating insight into the mistakes and follies of adults, this book is really unlike anything you have read before and I absolutely loved it. It has left me with a really warm glow and a feeling of satisfaction and I can’t recommend it highly enough for something quite out of the norm but hugely rewarding.

This Much Huxley Knows will be published in ebook and paperback formats on 8 July and you can preorder a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the upcoming stops on the tour for alternative reviews:

THIS MUCH HUXLEY KNOW blog tour

About the Author

1. Gail Aldwin H&S

Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.

Connect with Gail:

Website: https://gailaldwin.com/

Facebook: Gail Aldwin

Twitter: @gailaldwin

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Blog Tour: A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham #BookReview

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Delighted to be taking my turn on the tour today for A Racing Murder by Frances Evesham. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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A winning horse. A fierce rivalry. A sudden death. 

Belinda Sandford thrills to the cheers of the crowd as her beautiful grey racehorse, ‘Butterfly Charm’, thunders past the finishing post first at Wincanton Racecourse. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world.

But joy soon turns to despair as a stewards’ enquiry overturns the result and awards the race to her long-time rival, Alexandra Deacon.

When Alex is found dead in suspicious circumstances, a host of accusing eyes turn to Belinda and her distraught mother begs Adam Hennessy, her neighbour, retired police officer and publican, to help clear her daughter’s name.

As Adam, and local hotelier Imogen Bishop, dig deep into the murky and powerful undercurrents of the horse racing world, they lay bare the lives and loves of local jockeys, grooms, trainers and owners. 

They soon uncover a web of secrets hidden within the spectacular Somerset countryside as they strive to find the killer in time to prevent more murders.

I absolutely love a mystery set in the world of racing – Dick Francis is one of my all-time favourite authors – so I jumped at the chance to read and review this book, despite the fact that I had not read the first Ham Hill mystery book. The fact that I was new to the series did not matter at all, this book works perfectly well as a standalone, but it did make me want to go back and read A Village Murder, which is the first book.

The book is set in a quaint, rural village in Somerset, as you would expect for a cosy, murder mystery, with picturesque houses, a lovely hotel and snug pub… and all the usual bickering, rivalry and intrigue that seems to abound in such backwaters. I live in a small village in Yorkshire and we never have any murders, but the rest of the plot rings very true as to the goings on in a rural setting. They are always gossip central, and no one can ever keep anything quiet, so the idea that a group of locals could solve a murder through wagging tongues and their personal contacts I find entirely feasible!

I really love the gang of characters that the author has created here, especially Imogen and Adam and the friendship between them. They are very authentic, well-rounded and likeable characters, and I love the way Frances has included intrigue and tension in their personal lives, as well as the murder mystery, to push the plot along. In fact, it is the characterisation in particular that has made me want to go back and read the first book in the series and find out more of their back stories, although there is enough information contained in this book to enable the reader to enjoy this storyline without making that necessary.

The murder plot is gentle, not especially gory, but entertaining and diverting and kept me guessing throughout. I loved the peek inside the world of racing and thought Frances had captured that world very well compared to other books I have read written by people actually involved in it (as I said, I am a fan of the genre, and I come from a town where horse-racing is one of our biggest industries). Frances’s writing is very engaging and extremely easy to read, so the pages just slip by. This is a book you can easily devour in one indulgent afternoon without any strain, and you will probably want to as you race to find out whodunnit.

A great book for fans of M.C. Beaton, Betty Rowlands and other cosy mystery writers. Lovely setting, attractive characters and an enticing and gripping plot, what more can you ask for from a book? Thoroughly enjoyable.

A Racing Murder is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book:

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About the Author

IMG_1626 frances evesham

Frances Evesham is the bestelling author of the hugely successful Exham-on-Sea murder mysteries set in her home county of Somerset, and the Ham-Hill cosy crime series set in South Somerset.

Connect with Frances:

Facebook: Frances Evesham Writer

Twitter: @FrancesEvesham

Instagram: @francesevesham

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