RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Helen Fisher


This is my final RONA celebration drinks post! I’ve had 33 fantastic guests chatting about their nominations and their writing. I have some interviews with some of the winners coming up, and one final guest on this slot. So, last but definitely not least, I have a nominee in the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award category with her novel, Space Hopper. Please welcome… Helen Fisher.


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

Gin (Bombay Sapphire) and slimline tonic, lots of ice please. I can drink it all night and still appear fairly sober. If you want to get all my secrets out of me, then you better get me some wine.


I’m with you on the gin, I think it’s the tonic which staves off the dehydration. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

A cocktail bar called Baskervilles in Bury St. Edmunds. I don’t get on that well with cocktails, but I like the atmosphere there and the cocktails are Sherlock-themed. One of their cocktails arrives in a little briefcase billowing with dry ice, and another comes in a little bottle that’s hidden inside a hollowed-out book.

Baskervilles cocktail

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?

For my female guest I’d be torn between Reese Witherspoon and Gillian Anderson both of whom I love as actors and who I think would be great fun. But if I have to choose, I’ll go for Reese because, shamelessly, I’d like to get her to read my book and turn it into a film. I love her book-to-screen adaptations and think she’d do a brilliant job with Space Hopper. For my male guest I’m torn between Robin Williams and Bruce Springsteen, but I think I’d cry too much if I saw Robin Williams, so let’s go with Bruce.

I love Reese, she’s been one of my idols ever since I saw Election. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am currently editing book two of a two-book deal. I say “book two”, but it’s essentially “book five” as I wrote two and a half novels after Space Hopper, which the editors didn’t feel would work as a follow-up to my first novel. It sounds so simple when I say it like that, but as you can imagine I shed a lot of tears and pounded a lot of pillows in the process. The idea for the main character in my new novel (he’s called Joe-Nathan) came from nowhere that I can put my finger on, but before I ever committed anything to paper, he had taken up residence in my head with his habits and his funny way of saying and doing things. Joe is so life-affirming that even during some very dark times he kept me going. I’m enjoying the editing, because it means I get to spend more time with him, and no apologies if that sounds plain weird.

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

There are so many proud moments for me that came from writing a novel: just finishing a novel; getting an agent; getting a publisher; buying a kitten (as promised if I ever got published) for my kids; seeing my book in bookstores and in people’s hands; writing “author” when I’m filling in a form that asks my occupation; being shortlisted for the RNA awards; having the novel I’m working on at the moment accepted by my publisher. The list goes on.

As for my biggest challenge, well, I’m not a patient person, and this work requires patience. It takes a long time to write a novel and you spend hours, days, months doing it, never knowing if anyone will read it. Writing the second novel in a two-book deal has been, by far, the biggest challenge yet. By the time I started the novel that ended up being accepted, I had lost my confidence and writing it was torture. I think that if this one hadn’t been accepted, I might have given up completely.

I think, as a still-aspiring author, that is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time! What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love to see my novels adapted to the screen. Hence my evening out with Reese.

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

Space Hopper was shortlisted for the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) award, in the category of Fantasy Romance. I don’t think of Space Hopper as a romance, but there is a lot of love in the book and the protagonist has a very nice marriage; I’m delighted to have been shortlisted and very excited to be going to a real-life awards ceremony in London. Also, there is an event this June, which was originally scheduled two years ago, and there will be lots of authors there. The thought of mingling with real authors is a dream come true. Mind you, I love mingling with anyone who can talk for hours on end about books and writing.

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

I was lucky enough to travel around the world when I was younger, with the man I would end up marrying (and then divorcing!) There are so many amazing places in the world, but I loved South Africa. Having said that, I’m drawn to Italy and if I could only travel there for holidays for the rest of my life, I’d be happy with that. I’d love to do karaoke in Japan.

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

When I was a kid, I thought all cats were female and all dogs were male. I’ve worked it out now. I blame my confusion on the fact that I watched too many cartoons in which cats had long, dark eyelashes and wore bows on their heads (because don’t all females?) and the dogs carried briefcases and wore ties. Luckily, these days animals can wear whatever makeup and clothes they want and are not so stereotyped.

I’m glad that confusion has been cleared up! 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’?

Leonard and Hungry Paul, a brilliantly written story about a friendship between two men, by Ronan Hession. I think it’s just wonderful.


Leonard and Hungry are two quiet friends who see the world differently. They use humour, board games and silence to steer their way through the maelstrom that is the 21st Century. It is the story of two friends trying to find their place in the world. It is about those uncelebrated people who have the ability to change the world, not by effort or force, but through their appreciation of all that is special and overlooked in life.

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

Saying the words “never again” a lot, with your head in your hands, should help loads. Failing that, do the boring (but effective) thing: drink pints of water before you go to bed. Problem is, when you’ve drunk that much, you stop being sensible enough to drink water before bed. Next day, if you’ve got a hangover, go for a walk, eat toast and drink tea. 

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

I can’t do two nights out in a row, so Saturday will start on the sofa eating toast, drinking tea and saying “never again”, followed by a long walk (I walk every day, nice and fast, with weights on my ankles). The rest of the weekend will involve some combination of meeting friends, watching boxsets and eating out. If I’ve got the kids, then hanging out with them, forcing them to go for a walk, playing games and shouting at the TV together is fun. I love watching programs I might not choose if it wasn’t for them. We just finished The Umbrella Academy, and I loved it.

Helen, it has been a total joy to talk to you this evening and can I just take this opportunity to say how much I loved Space Hopper? I’m very much looking forward to reading your next book.

Helen’s RONA-shortlisted novel, Space Hopper, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. you can read my recent review of Space Hopper here.


If you could go back in time to find answers to the past, would you?

For Faye, the answer is yes. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to find out what really happened when she lost her mother as a child. She is happy with her life – she has a loving husband, two young daughters and supportive friends, even a job that she enjoys. But questions about the past keep haunting her, until one day she finally gets the chance she’s been waiting for.

But how far is she willing to go to find answers?

Helen Fisher lives in the Suffolk countryside with her two children and a cat called Bear, who thinks he’s a dog. She has a background in psychology and worked as the senior evaluator in ergonomics at RNIB. She now writes for a living. Space Hopper is her first novel, published by Simon & Schuster and will be available in paperback on the 17th of March. Her second novel, also published by S&S, will be out in 2023.

Connect with Helen:


Twitter: @HFisherAuthor

Instagram: @helenfisher_author


RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Freya Marske


It’s Friday at last and tonight I am joined by the winner of the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award 2022 for her book, A Marvellous Light. Welcome to the blog, author… Freya Marske.

Freya Marske, Fantasy Romantic Novel Award, RONAs 22

Freya, welcome to Friday Night Drinks and thank you for joining me. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m a gin & tonic girl through and through, so I’ll pore over the menu for any kind of gin that’s new to me and sounds exciting. And then I’ll add tonic in an alarming ratio that will make you wonder why I didn’t just order a martini, but trust me: the tonic is vital. Even if it’s just a splash.


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?

One of my favourite places here in Australia is a hotel in the Southern Highlands which has a gin bar attached to the restaurant (see my gin weakness above) and, even more pleasingly, also has a whisky lounge. I think we’ll start with a meal and then retire to the lounge and curl up on their velvet sofas for a good long chat.

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

I’m extremely torn when it comes to my parcel of favourite dead Dorothys, as to which of them would be the best value on a night out drinking. I would seriously consider both Dorothy Sayers and Dorothy Dunnett, so I could hurl myself into their laps with despairing pleas that they somehow teach me all the secrets of their genius—yes, right now, over this glass of wine—but I think Dorothy Parker would liven up the party best.

Similarly, much as I’d love to meet Shakespeare, I think Kit Marlowe would be a better addition to a drinking party. Just so long as nobody brings out any knives.

Great choices, although I would love to meet Dorothy L. Sayers too, I’m a huge fan. 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?

At the moment I’m in the early, groping-through-the-darkness, oh-God-why stages of drafting the third book in my romantic historical fantasy trilogy. You’d think I would be less melodramatic about it, given it is my third book in this world. But each book does have a different pair of POV characters and a slightly different narrative vibe, and hammering out the character voices always makes me feel like I’m breaking in an uncomfortable pair of new shoes for the first half of the first draft. 

Ideally, though, I’ll build up my calluses quickly and then be able to get on with finishing this trilogy. I’m really excited to be fulfilling some promises and digging my teeth into some themes and plotlines that I’ve been setting up since book 1. Here’s hoping I can pull it all off. 

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

I still get a jolt of disbelieving pride when faced with evidence that someone who is neither related to me nor a friend has read my book and enjoyed it, or found something in it that spoke to them and connected with them.

The biggest challenge has been the direct flipside of that: realising that now my joyful creative hobby is also a career, and I have contract deadlines and reader expectations to meet. There have been weeks where I can feel the tendrils of toxicity and pressure trying to sneak in, wrap themselves around the creative process and strangle all the fun out of it. But I’m determined to hold onto the joy and satisfaction that writing can produce for its own sake.

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

The biggest and best thing I can think of is flourishing longevity of career. I want to be eighty years old with a massive backlist of both SFF and romance (and any other genres I feel like picking up along the way!), still writing new books, still acquiring new readers and delighting old ones, and swanning around the world to have cantankerous opinions at festivals and conventions. 

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

Every single idea for The Next Book (of which I have…approximately seven) has realised that I’m meant to be writing my book 3 draft, and so they’ve all ratcheted up in detail and excitement. I’m planning some novellas—a format I haven’t played with before—as well as a space opera, a story about a magical medical school, and a new contemporary romance.

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?

It might just be recency bias, given it was one of the places I visited just before the pandemic put an end to international travel, but I adored Barcelona. Researching A Marvellous Light gave me an enormous fondness for early twentieth century art and design movements, and I spent a lot of time geeking out over the Art Nouveau architecture of that city. And the food. And the wine. The rest of Spain is near the top of my bucket list, too, as I’ve only seen that one city and am dying to explore the rest of the country! 

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

The one thing about me that usually elicits an “oh! That’s interesting!” is the fact that I’m a figure skater. I think more adults should get into this as a sport: there’s much less pressure if you start as an adult than if you’re a tiny flexible child, and it combines strength and athleticism with moving to music (and wearing sparkly clothes, of course). And there’s something of a life lesson in the fact that learning to fall, expecting to fall, and cheerfully getting up again every time is part of the process. The overachiever in me has had to learn that it’s good for the soul to be bad at things, sometimes, and to slowly improve through hard work. 

This is  lesson I’m still trying to take on board at the age of 49! 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 of my favourite books of all time combines history, science fiction (time travel!), screwball comedy, mystery and romance: To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. I defy anyone to read it and not finish with a huge grin on their face and a lightening of the spirit that will last for days. 


Ned Henry is a time-travelling historian who specialises in the mid-20th century – currently engaged in researching the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral. He’s also made so many drops into the past that he’s suffering from a dangerously advanced case of ‘time-lag’.

Unfortunately for Ned, an emergency dash to Victorian England is required and he’s the only available historian. But Ned’s time-lag is so bad that he’s not sure what the errand is – which is bad news since, if he fails, history could unravel around him…

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?

Drink a very boring and large amount of water before going to sleep, and then drink some more. If you wake up with a hangover anyway: stumble to the kitchen, put the kettle on for coffee, and give fervent thanks to the past version of you who knows to keep the freezer stocked with frozen hash browns.

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

Saturday mornings I’m always at the ice rink, which means I start the weekend energised! Yes, I’m aware of how insufferable this makes me sound. I think that in order to force my bones out of bed before seven o’clock, on a weekend morning when the tiny devil on my shoulder is whispering sleeeeeep iiiiiiiin, I’ve somehow Stockholm Syndromed myself into genuine enjoyment. It does help that I love skating. (“I DO love skating,” I tell myself through gritted teeth in the middle of winter, when it’s minus six degrees outside and I’m about to step into an equally cold icebox of a rink.)

After that, my perfect weekend would usually contain several hours of reading, reaching my word count goal on whatever I’m writing, lunches comprised mostly of different types of cheese on crusty bread, going to an art gallery or a theatre matinee, and then going out for dinner with friends before coming back to my place to ply them with the contents of my cocktail trolley.

Freya, you have been an absolutely marvellous and entertaining guest, huge thanks for chatting to me and I can’t wait to read your book. Please come back on the blog any time.

Freya’s RONA award-winning novel, A Marvellous Light is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. The second book in the series, A Restless Truth, is available for preorder in most places, including here!

Freya Marske, Fantasy Romantic Novel Award, RONAs 22, A Marvellous Light BOOK COVER

Young baronet Robin Blyth thought he was taking up a minor governmental post. However, he’s actually been appointed parliamentary liaison to a secret magical society. If it weren’t for this administrative error, he’d never have discovered the incredible magic underlying his world. 

Cursed by mysterious attackers and plagued by visions, Robin becomes determined to drag answers from his missing predecessor – but he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey, his hostile magical-society counterpart. Unwillingly thrown together, Robin and Edwin will discover a plot that threatens every magician in the British Isles.


My website:

My twitter:

My Instagram:

Freya Marske lives in Australia, where she is yet to be killed by any form of wildlife. She writes stories full of magic, blood, and as much kissing as she can get away with. Her hobbies include figure skating and discovering new art galleries, and she is on a quest to try all the gin in the world.

Her short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction, Andromeda Spaceways, and several anthologies. In 2020 she was awarded the Australian National SF (Ditmar) Award for Best New Talent.

Her debut novel, the queer historical fantasy A MARVELLOUS LIGHT, was published in 2021.

Connect with Freya:


Twitter: @freyamarske

Instagram: @freyamarske


The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Christina Courtenay


The next guest on the blog in my series of interviews of the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards is no stranger to my site and one of my favourite authors to interview. She is the winner of the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award for her book, Echoes of the Runes, author… Christina Courtenay.

Christina Courtenay medium size

Christina, congratulations on winning the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 and thank you very much for agreeing to come back to the blog during this celebration of the awards.

You have now won a Romantic Novelists’ Association Award on multiple occasions. Does the thrill ever start to wane or is it just as special each time? What did it mean to you to win in particular this year?

No, I don’t think the thrill would ever wane – it definitely feels very special each time it happens! I was absolutely delighted and very honoured to win with this particular book as it is a story that’s very close to my heart in many ways. It was also my first one published by Headline Review so it was lovely that it did so well and their faith in me paid off! 

For people who have not read the book yet, can you tell us what we should expect when we come to it and how it falls into the ‘fantasy’ category?

It’s a timeslip/dual time story where Ceri, a Welsh noblewoman is taken hostage by a Viking in the 9th century, and in the present day Mia uncovers secrets at an archaeological dig. When the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten, they must fight to protect what has become most precious to them … The story alternates between the two timelines, and the fantasy part is the fact that Mia owns a very special ring which is magical in that it gives her dreams and visions from Ceri’s life.

You said in your speech that this book had taken you to places you never thought you would go? What did you mean by that exactly? What has been special for you about this particular book?

Although I’d been published before, this book was a first for me in many ways – it was the first time I’d had an agent representing me and fighting my corner, my first with Headline as I mentioned, and it has a Viking setting which is very special to me. I’m half Swedish so the Vikings are part of my heritage and an era I’ve always loved. ECHOES OF THE RUNES is also the first of my books to get more than 1,000 reviews on Amazon, something I had always dreamed about. Then it won the RNA’s Fantasy Award and now it has also been shortlisted for the RWA US Vivian award. I’m just blown away by how well it’s done!

All my fellow bloggers who read Echoes of the Runes have raved about it. Why do you think people have responded to it so positively? What has been some of your favourite feedback on the book? 

I honestly don’t know but I’m so grateful for all the wonderful support I’ve received from readers, bloggers and reviewers – it means so much! I know many readers love the Viking era as much as I do and timeslip novels also seem to be very popular at the moment. (I’m very pleased about that as it’s my favourite sub-genre.) I think the best feedback an author can get is when readers say the characters stay in their mind long after they’ve put the book down, and that they want to continue to spend time in that world and can’t wait for the next book. That makes me feel all warm inside!

Readers of this book have compared you to Barbara Erskine, who is one of my favourite authors and hugely successful. How does that feel?

I don’t think I could ever be as good as Ms Erskine – she is definitely the queen of timeslip novels – but it’s a huge honour to be compared to her as I love her books!

You have said that this book allowed you to explore your heritage. Could you expand on that a little and tell us where the idea for the book came from. Is it tied to your interest in genealogy?

No, it’s not connected with my interest in genealogy as sadly I haven’t been able to prove any descent from Vikings as yet (although I live in hope!). It was more that I went to school in Sweden up to the age of 16 so of course we studied the Vikings a lot and I was fascinated by them. I was a voracious reader and also read the Norse sagas at a young age and they made a huge impression on me. My story was initially inspired by a Viking style ring I own, which is an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I visited the museum, I found the original one in a display case there and I compared the two. It was so exciting to see them together and that’s when I was struck by the idea for this book. My agent, Lina Langlee of the North Literary Agency, just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me so it seemed like it was meant to be.

Will your next novel be exploring similar themes or do you have something completely different planned?

I have continued with the Vikings in my Runes series and there are two more published now – THE RUNES OF DESTINY (which is about Linnea, the daughter of the couple in ECHOES OF THE RUNES) – and WHISPERS OF THE RUNES (following Linnea’s best friend Sara). I have just finished the edits on the fourth book in the series – TEMPTED BY THE RUNES – which will be out in December, and now I’m working on a standalone novel that will hopefully be out next year. They are all timeslip or time travel, but although they explore similar themes, the settings and characters are all different.

Thanks for chatting with me, Christina, it’s been fascinating ans I wish you luck with your upcoming plans.

You can get a copy of Christina’s award-winning novel, Echoes of the Runes, here and watch out for my review of the book coming up later in the summer.


Their love was forbidden. But echoed in eternity.

When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother’s summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiancé Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia’s grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision – and from Charles.

As Mia becomes absorbed in the dig’s discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the ‘White Hawk’, who stole her away from her people in 869 AD. 

As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe’s inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them …

About the Author

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014).  The Runes of Destiny (time travel published by Headline 10th December 2020) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Connect with Christina:


Facebook: Christina Courtenay Author

Twitter: @PiaCCourtenay

Instagram: @ChristinaCourtenayAuthor

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Introducing The Romantic Novel Awards Interview Series


For fans of romantic novels and industry insiders, The Romantic Novel Awards are the highlight of the year, where the best writing in the genre is celebrated and rewarded. The entry period for the 2022 awards is now open, closing on 30 September 2021.

To celebrate the awards, and in anticipation of next year’s ceremony, I am delighted to be bringing you a series of interviews with the winners of The Romantic Novel Awards 2021, where we will be discussing their writing, their careers, their views on what makes for an award-winning romance novel, and what winning this award meant to them.

The interviews will be running weekly every Thursday, beginning Thursday, 8 July and going right through until the beginning of September. The interviewees are:

The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award Winner – Clare Pooley for The Authenticity ProjectBantam Press

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award – Kate Hardy for A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, Mills & Boon True Love

The Romantic Saga Award – Shirley Mann for Bobby’s War, Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

The Romantic Comedy Novel Award – Carole Matthews for Sunny Days and Sea Breezes, Sphere, Little, Brown

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award – Louise Douglas forThe House by the Sea, Boldwood Books

The Fantasy Romantic Novel Award – Christina Courtenay for Echoes of the Runes, Headline Review

The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award – Milly Johnson for My One True North, Simon & Schuster

The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award – Catherine Tinley for Rags-to-Riches Wife, Mills & Boon Historical

The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award – Julie Houston for Sing Me a Secret, Aria, Head of Zeus

I’m really excited to share these interviews with you, I know you will enjoy reading them as much I have enjoyed doing them, so I hope you will join me and my guests over the coming weeks in this celebration of romantic fiction.

For more information about the awards, please visit the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards page.

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Desert Island Books with… Marjorie Mallon


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



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.


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


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


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


“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


‘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


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


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.


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.

Lockdown Innit Book Cover - kindle png

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.


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:


Twitter: @Marjorie_Mallon

Instagram: @mjmallonauthor

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Friday Night Drinks with … Kim ten Tusscher


Happy Good Friday, everyone! A lovely long holiday weekend -not that this means quite the same in these restricted pandemic times – but hopefully you will all enjoy some rest and relaxation, and hopefully a bit of sunshine if we are lucky! I am happy to be kicking off Easter with some Friday Night Drinks with author… Kim ten Tusscher.


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

I’ll drink a fresh, tropical mocktail. Something with a coconut flavour is always nice. I don’t drink alcohol myself, because I don’t like the taste, but don’t let that stop you from ordering whatever you like.


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?

Somewhere calm and quiet. Most times when I’m in a café, there is so much noise that I can’t follow the conversations and that would be such a shame being in this amazing company. So preferable a nice and quiet pub or an outside terrace.

Sounds great. The older I get, the less noise I can stand! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I would love it if Robin Hobb could join us. I’m a big fan of her stories and she’s a huge inspiration. I have so many questions about how she writes, her characters, and her world. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her at a few Worldcons and I recognized so much of what she told. I always wonder if we have a lot in common. But that might be wishful thinking. 😉

I would also invite Peter Jackson. The movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” had a huge impact on my life. They inspired me to make costumes, which resulted in being part of several movie projects myself (for example “Born of Hope”, “Ren: The Girl with the Mark”, and “Hunter’s Prey”). The films introduced me to Tolkien’s vast world and I devoured the stories. When I started writing myself, the stories naturally had to be fantasy. And of course, I’d hope I would end this night out with plans to film one of my stories. One can dream, right?

I would absolutely love to meet Peter Jackson. The Lord of the Rings films are some of my favourites, and one of the greatest achievements in cinematic history, IMHO, he has so perfectly brought Tolkein’s world to life. The scene at the end of the Battle of Helmsdeep in The Two Towers where Theoden rides out with Aragorn to face the Uruk-Hai and the Rohirrim pour down the valley is my all-time favourite. I must have seen it thirty times and it makes me want to cry every time still! Bernard Hill is also a genius. And what an amazing score by Howard Shore!

Anyway, enough of my LOTR fangirling! Now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m very busy finishing a new book. “Storm” is the final installment of the “Tales of the Downfall”. This is an epic fantasy series about a world that is almost coming to an end. Lilith (a dragon shapeshifter you might already know from “The Lilith trilogy”) is one of the main characters, but I love to write from multiple angles, so you meet many new characters. Like Nighram, a young refugee, and Kiril, a general who is struggling with choosing the right side in the war and the fact he is losing his sight.

I write in Dutch, but I’m getting my stories translated into English. So as well as finishing Storm, we are also working on the English edition of the first part of this series: “Blood“.

How I started this series is a great story. Lilith was also the main character in “The Lilith trilogy”. When I ended that series I actually wanted to leave her alone (she really deserved a quiet life, you know) and never write about her again. But fans kept asking what would happen next. For years I told them I would never write a new series about her. I didn’t even have the time, because I was already working on something else.

But the readers kept asking and eventually I started wondering about Lilith myself. And thus this new story emerged. I’m so happy my readers kept begging because the Tales of the Downfall turned out an amazing story to write. High stakes, emotional events, and challenging to write… I’m really proud of how it turned out.

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

I have had so many proud moments. Finding a publisher, the English translations, doing interviews, or being part of panels at Worldcons and festivals… But I am most proud of my latest book Blind. I have been through a tough period where I doubted everything I did. Blind was the first book I’ve finished after regaining my confidence.

My biggest challenge was trusting my own voice. Since I started writing people gave me advice on how I should do things to be successful. I’m positive that most of these people meant well, but looking back at their suggestions, they gave the signal I should change myself to meet the reader’s expectations. One of the things they told me was getting a pen name. Reasons were: women can’t write fantasy… Dutch people can’t write fantasy. In different words: I had to hide who I am to succeed. Fantasy is a genre that is not taken as seriously as it should in the Netherlands, so I always felt the need to defend my decision to write it. I am a very chaotic writer and I thought I had to change that to become better at it.

It took me more than 10 years to realise that I am really good at this craft and that I don’t have to change a thing about myself or the way I write.

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 already hinted at my biggest dream. *gives Peter Jackson a shy look.* I would love, love, love to see my stories being adapted to a movie or series. I love working together with people who are artists in other fields besides writing and see how they visualise my characters and world. And of course, a movie adaptation goes hand in hand with a bestseller, guest appearances all around the world, getting in contact with readers, and hopefully having an impact on others in the same way my favourite stories impacted me.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Of course the release of Blood. I believe this story can catapult my international career to the next level.

But the publication of Storm is even more exciting. Finishing a series is a huge thing. I’m thrilled to craft an end to the story and I can promise you: it’s going to be epic. Writing often is magic. All these clever solutions and how everything ties together… Even I am surprised by how this story is going to be. I can’t wait to share it with the readers.

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?

Traveling is something I love to do, too! My husband and I went on a camping trip to the Southwest of the USA some years ago. The most amazing place we visited was Bryce Canyon. That scenery is just out of this world. We arrived late in the day, so we drove to a look-out point to take a quick look at the view. But we decided to do a short hike straight away. It was just too gorgeous to go back to the tent without exploring a bit more.

We are planning a vacation to West Canada at the moment. But on top of my bucket list is a multiple-day dog sledding trip in Finland or Norway. Camping in the wild, building fires at night, and seeing the Northern Lights. That would be so awesome!

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

I’ll tell you something really weird about me. So weird, I haven’t met anyone who experiences this too. I have this – how shall I describe it? – it is almost a phobia for old, used metals, especially silver, copper, and gold. I’m so engrossed when I have to touch such an item. So you don’t have to be afraid I will take something out of your jewelry box ;-). And I love cake, but if I have to eat it with a fancy decorated, antique, silver fork, the cake will taste not as good as when you give me a plain stainless steel one.

Have you read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson? It’s an amazing series with a very creative magic system that uses metals. They drink potions with flakes of metals in them to be stronger and faster and manipulate their surroundings. I could handle that. But when Vin swallowed an earring from one of the other characters… Yikes!

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’?

How can I say anything else but the books by Robin Hobb? She is a master in creating amazing characters who feel so incredibly real. They are lovable (although you might scream at them sometimes out of frustration 😉 ), flawed, and intriguing. Most fantasy worlds I read about I wouldn’t want to live in, but I would book a trip to the Six Duchies or take a cruise up the Rain Wild River any day.

Start with Assassin’s Apprentice and keep reading until you’ve read all 16 books. They are definitely worth it.


The kingdom of the Six Duchies is on the brink of civil war when news breaks that the crown prince has fathered a bastard son and is shamed into abdication. The child’s name is Fitz, and he is despised.

Raised in the castle stables, only the company of the king’s fool, the ragged children of the lower city, and his unusual affinity with animals provide Fitz with any comfort.

To be useful to the crown, Fitz is trained as an assassin; and to use the traditional magic of the Farseer family. But his tutor, allied to another political faction, is determined to discredit, even kill him. Fitz must survive: for he may be destined to save the kingdom.

I am not a massive reader of fantasy but I do like to dabble from time to time and chatting with you tonight has made me fancy a bit of fantasy, so I will give it a go. 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’m sorry, I’m of no help here.

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

Sleep until late tomorrow. Then go on a hike and enjoy a picnic. And if there are no limitations to what I can wish: find a natural hot spring or warm stream to take a swim. Are you in? When I get home I’ll probably do some writing. I can get really grumpy if a few days pass without working on my stories.

Always in for a swim in a hot spring! Thank you so much for joining me this evening, I have really enjoyed our chat and feel inspired to dip in to some fantasy books and movies again now!

Kim ten Tusscher is the author of the Lilith Trilogy, which has been translated into English and can be purchased here.

Lilith trilogy EN

Inferno at her breath. War under her wings. With two men whispering mayhem in her ear, which way will she turn the bloody tide?

Lilith has only ever lived with anger and destruction. The sole dragon shifter known to humankind, she despises her life as an instrument of terror at the hands of a prophetic sorcerer. Finally fleeing years of abuse, she’s distraught when she’s captured for stealing food and forced to answer to a bitter king for her crimes.

Her former abductor Kasimirh believes fervently in his righteous calling. And though he’s lost his dragon, the sorcerer’s relentless quest to convert the heathens must go on unopposed. And if the king does not yield to his army, he’s prepared to sacrifice all the royal subjects like lambs to the slaughter.

Desperate to finally break her bond to the determined prophet, Lilith vows to stand against her merciless master and stop his savage quest with equally relentless brutality.

Can she extinguish his tyrannical reign before the realm falls to his bloodshed?

This bundle contains Bound in DarknessBroken in Twilight and Born in Light.

You can read a preview of Bound in Darkness on Kim’s website: If you subscribe to her reader’s tribe, you’ll receive a preview for Blood very soon and you’ll get a free e-copy of City of Illusions.


You can watch the book trailer for Lilith here.

Kim ten Tusscher (1979) started her professional career as a documentary photographer. In all her projects, she looked for similarities between people and tried to invalidate prejudice.

Writing proved a better way to express herself. In her stories, she combines well-written worlds and characters with great emotional depth. She doesn’t avoid intense subjects. Her stories became her window to the real world.

Kim is also an avid reader. Her taste in books ranges from epic stories like the Riyria Chronicles to the more grim A Song of Ice and Fire. Her favourite reads are the stories by Robin Hobb. What these books all have in common are morally grey and thus convincing characters.

You can connect further with Kim via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Extract: Born of Wind (Of The Elements Book 1) by J. B. Lesel


When the elements collide, the truth ignites

Meleena never quite fitted in among her fellow aquatic Meruyans, always skipping school to hide out and marvel at the natural world around her. So when she wins a place on the coveted Council Apprenticeship team, no one is more surprised than her.

As she embarks on a tour of the nations, Meleena’s curiosity catches the attention of the Warix, a race born with the power to control wind. But she is unprepared for the secrets she uncovers as she explores this new land. The Warix are locked in a deadly civil war, and her own people are being oppressed and exploited with no way out.

Desperate to resolve this tangled conflict, Meleena sets out to locate an ancient weapon sought by both sides. Can she unite these warring peoples in time to save her own?

The debut novel from J.B. Lesel throws you headlong into a diverse world where the elements take physical form to shape the lives of all. Perfect for fans of James Cameron’s Avatar, and The Last Airbender.

Born of Wind is the first in Lesel’s Of the Elements series which follows Meleena as she journeys out of her home village and into a world she has long been sheltered from. But the outside world is more complicated than she could ever have imagined, with a civil war looming and a mysterious missing pendant. It’s a fun, coming-of-age adventure with a fantasy twist that is sure to capture the imagination of all ages. The book was published yesterday and, to celebrate its release, I am delighted to be able to share an extract with you today. My thanks to Sarah Hembrow at Vulpine Press for providing me with the extract for reproduction here.


As they walked to school, Meleena recounted to her brother the lively dinner discussion of last night. They passed the wood- and onion-shaped cottages of the town, enclosed by sapling trees forming fence posts, entangled with strings of kitten’s ear ivy. She made a mental note to draw that later, when she’d gotten her journal back.

“Well, it sounds like you really should go visit Kelrick in Dlawn’Edo. I know he can be… difficult, but there’s more to the Council than just him.”

She made a face. “Why didn’t you follow Dad and Kelrick’s footsteps and join the Meruyan government?”

“I’ve seen their world, but I’m happy right here. Plus, I have a wife and daughter of my own whose future I must protect, but if adventure interests you, I wouldn’t write off the Council so quickly.” He adjusted his glasses.

They passed the main square, where the day’s bustle had already begun, with Meruyan holding baskets to collect fresh foods from the marketplace; sea-beast drawn wooden carts traversed the streets, led by farmers bringing fruit from farm to shops.

They rounded a corner leading down the lane to the old schoolhouse, built like a conjoined ring of wooden onions—an onion-cake, frosted with moss from years of exposure to the moist coastal air. Other teens were visible from all directions down the stony lanes.

They approached the doors and Tomiyan opened them to let her in. “Just ask Dad for a tour of his study tonight,” he said and left it at that.

School went as expected. Talla, the only overachiever of the class, shot her hand up and answered every question with ease, while Meleena and the rest of the students sighed, groaned, threw paper birds, sometimes at Talla’s head, and did everything else bored students do. Everyone except Joru, Talla’s twin brother. He sat beside Meleena, always looking at her.

A gill breather. What a hokey place this was. Meleena tried to ignore him, leaning on her elbow and facing away from his batting eyes.

He was shy, but his intentions were clear. She had already told him it would never happen. For this, Talla especially despised Meleena. “You broke his heart, you flirt!” she would howl at any occasion.

But Meleena couldn’t make herself love the guy, or blame herself for existing. And that was that. Whatever. Just one more year putting up with this and she’d be free, but free to do what? Her family was right, there were no options anyway.


After school, she slunk home, hands in pockets with nothing to draw and no ideas for an apprenticeship. In her room, she dropped her backpack on the floor, flopped onto the bed, heart sinking. No journal to scribble her thoughts, or her way through problems.

A knock startled her and she uttered a noise muffled by a face-full of bedsheets.

Her father spoke through the door, “Meleena, I wanted to show you something. I spoke to Tomiyan, he said you seemed down.”

She sat up. “I’m fine.”

“Well, he suggested I show you my study.”

“I’ve seen it.”

“I just thought…” His voice trailed off. “I could help you pick an apprenticeship.”

The wooden floor creaked as he stood outside the door. Her heart sank further at the thought of his judgment.

“—Maybe I can convince your mother to give your journal back sooner…”

Meleena opened the door. Shadows danced on his face from the luminous worm-shell candles that lit the hallway at night.

“Sounds like a deal.”

She followed her father to the room she scarcely visited. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and glass cases pillared the middle. He lit the worm-shell candles and led her to one particularly large case to the left of his desk.

“This is where I keep the most precious artifacts.”

Meleena lifted her glasses and inspected rolls of parchment, metal-plated shells, dusty leather-bound books, broken copper gadgetry, and inscribed parcels.

Her father opened a dusty book titled Gifts of the Warix: The End of the Wet Ages. “This book contains everything the Meruyan have learned from the Warix about how to live on land. Everything wooden, from homes to paper, land-farming, fire for heating and cooking. Wouldn’t you like to meet a Warix someday?”

Meleena ignored him. He was trying to get her to apprentice for the Council, but it wasn’t going to work. But she was running out of time and ideas.

“There’s more to the council than you think…” Her father handed her a scroll to read:

Legend of Peoples.

1–Meruyan: Aquatic people of the Water Spirit. Government: Meruyan Nation, Run by the Council. Capital: Dlawn’Edo

2–Warix: Forest people of the Earth Spirit. Government: Two Enemy Nations.

Sen’Drorn Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the state.” Centuries old, run by Emperor Ryogrim and advisors. Capital: Sen’Drorn City.

Sen’Prin Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the people.” Small, split-off nation, run by Governess Arenay. Capital: Sen’Prin City.

3–Hyish: Reptilian people of the Fire Spirit. Government: many clans, trading-based hierarchy, Mayfee clan most prominent. Capital: none, nomadic.

“What is this?” Meleena ran her fingers over the waxy scroll. It appeared there was more going on outside her village than she realized. “A Hyish?” She’d never even heard of that.

“Yes—reptilian people who live in tribes all over the world—be it forest, grasslands, or desert. They invented glass, you know, like those in your glasses.”

The thought of sketching and documenting their culture piqued Meleena’s interest. She’d love to meet a reptilian person one day. Outwardly, she merely shrugged and returned the scroll.

Maybe the council idea wasn’t so bad, after all. Not like she had any better ideas.

“What else is here?”

Her father handed her a horn. Turning it over, she ran her finger over the etched markings running along its surface. “I’ve never seen a horn like this… it’s like the farmers brand on pon-urchin spines, but this seems… daintier?”

“A Warix horn. Far away in the Arctic City, where both Warix and Meruyans live, it has become trendy to brandish Meruyan symbols. You could visit if you joined the council’s apprenticeship. There is a reason your mother and I raised you here, it’s safe. But there is more to the Meruyan nation than fishing villages. I promise it.”

As Meleena took the horn into her hands, a tangible part of a creature from a distant land, the world outside the village felt real for the first time. She wasn’t excited about the idea of working for the council, but it was starting to look like the best option at least as an apprenticeship. A chance to leave the town, at least she could sketch wildlife, and quit later, maybe run away to live in the forest… yes, great ideas were forming.

“Fine, I’ll sign up the council apprenticeship.”

She helped herself to an object. A small box with a golden frame caught her eye. She held it flat in her palm, opening it to find… a wooden bauble, shaped like a droplet.

“Well, you can’t simply join. The council is the hardest apprenticeship. You will need recommendations and diligence in your final year of school.”

He almost had her there.

“Maybe it’s not worth it then; I’ll just clean out pon-urchin carcasses. Why was this junk in here?” Meleena turned over the trinket. It was crudely whittled into the shape of a ram’s head, with gleaming white eye holes. The light seemed to be emanating, curiously, from within.

Before her father could answer, a deep rumbling began. Rolling thunder. They looked up, startled. A baby cried somewhere in the distance.

Hurried footsteps pounded, getting louder—Vivia and Tomiyan appeared in the doorway. Vivia gripped the doorposts, panting. “A flash storm has broken out!”

“There’s an evacuation to the underwater community already underway,” said Tomiyan through bated breath from the hall. “My family is waiting in the kitchen. We have to go, now!”

The rumbling continued.

Loroh furrowed his brow. “That’s strange, it seemed so clear earlier this evening.”

“Does that matter?” Tomiyan said. “A tornado has sprung up and has already smashed some cottages at the edge of town!”

Meleena’s heart pounded as she ran behind her parents and Tomiyan down the hall. She had forgotten to return the carving and had absent-mindedly shoved it into her pocket. I guess I’ll return this when the storm passes. Can’t exactly go back now.

Tomiyan’s wife held a restless infant and stood as they entered the kitchen. Something crashed on the roof.

Meleena and her family ran through the village towards the beach, their straw shoes slapping the stone pavement. The wind pushed them, though there weren’t any storm clouds above. Stars winked at her against the boundless darkness.

As they reached the beach, they saw other Meruyans wading into the ocean. As the waves lapped at their bodies, fins sprouted on forearms and calves. Some plunged in headfirst, arms extended. Meleena had experience with this: a steep drop not far offshore.

Still, there hadn’t been a night evacuation in years. She barely remembered the last time. Storms this bad didn’t come along every season. Meleena spotted their village elders who ran the community. She spotted Talla and Joru. Joru blushed, then faced away from her, and Talla scowled in her direction.

Meleena shivered in the cold night air. More Meruyans dove straight into the crashing waves and out of sight. Meleena, like most, stashed her glasses in a pocket: she wouldn’t need them again until life on land resumed.

Trembling under the weight of her world falling apart, Meleena stole a blurry glance toward her village being torn asunder. At least this bought her some time to decide on apprenticeships. Then she, alongside her family, dove into the dark waves.

If that small segment has whetted your appetite for the book, Born of Wind is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and is currently free to read if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. You can buy a copy here.

About the Author

J.B. Lesel is a fantasy writer living in California and sometimes in the forests of Germany. When she’s not writing or lounging like a cat, she has an unusual hobby of volunteering abroad with strange wildlife. She has a Master of Science in Psychology, working in content writing and data analytics. BORN OF WIND is her debut novel.

Connect with J. B:


Facebook: J. B. Lesel

Twitter: @JB_Lesel

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Desert Island Books: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Illustrated by Jules Feiffer

Desert Island Books

My penultimate Desert Island book is one of my absolute favourite childhood novels. I used to take The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster out of Askern Library every single week, so my apologies to all the other children of this particular area of South Yorkshire who never got to read this marvellous book because it was perpetually out on loan to me! One wonders why my parents never bought me my very own copy as a present, given how often I read it, but they didn’t and I never owned it until I bought my own copy aged 24!


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

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

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

This is the story of Milo, a young boy who finds life very boring and can’t see the point in anything, until one day he comes home from school and finds someone has left him a mysterious package containing a toy tollbooth. With nothing better to do with his afternoon, Milo decides to play with it, and finds himself transported to another land, where he goes on a fantastical odyssey, meeting many strange creatures and carrying out feats of derring do along the way. When he finally comes home, his life is changed, as is the conclusion of all good children’s adventure stories. So far, so obvious.

What made this book so attractive to me as a child was the same thing that made me love C.S Lewis’s Narnia stories and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. The story is transportive, whisking the reader away from every day life and into the magical world of the Lands Beyond, which is inhabited by characters never to be met in the real world. Juster has built a believable, 3D world within the pages of this book, full of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and experiences that a child can live and breathe through the power of his words. There are characters here to fall in love with and whom they will not want to leave behind. It was many years before I could read the part where Milo has to return to the real world, leaving behind Tock, the Humbug and all his new friends, without shedding a tear, and I think this was why I took the book from the library week after week, so I could reunite the gang again and again in my pre-bedtime hours. This is what great children’s books do, they create a world that becomes very real to a child, and one they want to return to repeatedly.

But, there is so much more to this book than a great story and beloved characters, and it is this extra quality that makes me want to have the book with me on my desert island. This book is very, very clever. While transporting the reader on the journey through the kingdom of Wisdom with Milo, it is teaching and exploring ideas about our world, the importance of knowledge, the excitement of learning and why we should try to look at everything around us a little differently. As you get older, the book can be appreciated on a whole different level, and the ideas that Juster explores in the book become clearer and gain more meaning as you mature and have more understanding of the world. Coming back to the book as an adult, the book makes my heart sing with the joy at the word play throughout the book. The author twists and twirls common words like a majorette twirls a baton, throwing them in the air and making them perform delightful and entertaining contortions in mid-air. Anyone who loves language and the exploration of ideas will chuckle in glee at the author’s allegorical story-telling, and marvel at the imagination which produced this masterpiece. I think I enjoy and appreciate the book now perhaps even more than I did as a child. It appeals to the word nerd inside me, and I never fail to come away from the story without a huge smile on my face and a gladdened heart.

So, the joy of this book for me, and the reason I would want it on my desert island is two-fold. Firstly, it reminds me of the immense pleasure I took in reading as a child, how I lost myself in faraway worlds and fantastical characters, all the while anchored to my own, normal life. The pleasure instilled in you as a child in reading is something that never leaves you and will see you through tough times throughout your life, as recent events have proven. I have never lost the joy I felt as a youngster in discovering a new world through words, and I hope I never will. Alongside this, the pleasure in revelling in what is just a very intelligent and brilliantly constructed novel that offers me something new each time I read it is something to be treasured. There are many ideas within this book to take away and apply to your life, including my favourite line:

So many things are possible, just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

I just want to say a word about the illustrations that accompany this book. I had never come across anything quite like Jules Feiffer’s scratchy, black-and-white interpretations of Juster’s world before, and I found them really intriguing. An interesting mix of showing the story, but also leaving something open to interpretation by the reader. I must have spent hours pouring over the double-page illustration in Chapter 19 showing all of the various demons chasing Milo and his friends and trying to make out the individual characters. These drawings appeal equally to adults and children, and fans of Quentin Blake’s illustrations will find them particularly attractive I think.

Over the years I have tried to interest my children in the books I loved passionately as a child, but very few of them have had the same appeal for them as they did to me. Often they now seem so dated that modern children can’t relate, and I am sure all bookworm parents will recognise the disappointment when your child rejects one of your beloved classics out of hand. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of only a few titles that are equally beloved by me and both of my daughters, who each now have their own copy. The book needs no further testament to its timeless appeal than that.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a wonderful book for any child, or any adult who wants to remember what it was like to be a child, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


Norton Juster was born on June 2, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, just prior to the Great Depression. There are still a number of people who attribute that catastrophic event directly to his birth.

He grew up in Brooklyn, studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and spent a year in Liverpool, England, on a Fulbright Scholarship, doing graduate work in urban planning and learning to ride a motorcycle.

After spending three years in the U.S. Navy (1954-1957), he began working as an architect in New York. He opened his own firm and within a few years moved to Western Massachusetts and expanded his practice as Juster-Pope-Frazier. Their projects included the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, educational and cultural projects throughout New England, and a number of buildings for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. He taught architecture and planning at Pratt Institute in New York and was Professor of Design at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, from 1970-1992.

He began writing seriously while in the Navy. His first book, The Phantom Tollbooth, was published in 1961. Winner of the George C. Stone Centre for Children’s Books Award, it is recognised as a classic and continues to be treasured by children and adults throughout the world. It was made into a feature film by MGM in 1969 and, more recently, into a musical. In 2007, it was produced at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.. The nationwide tour will start in 2008

Other books he has written include The Dot and the Line, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film by MGM and famed animator Chuck Jones; Alberic the WiseOtter NonsenseAs: A Surfeit of Similes; and the Caldecott Medal winner The Hello Goodbye Window. His latest book, Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, is the sequel to The Hello Goodbye Window.

Mr. Juster is retired from the practice of architecture and from teaching but continues to write. He is currently adapting a short story he wrote into ballet and is working on several new books.

Norton Juster is lives in Western Massachusetts. He has a daughter and a granddaughter.

Connect with Norton:

Twitter: @NortonJuster1

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Tempted By… Bookshine and Readbows: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart


Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer.

Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too.

Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world?

Today’s Tempted By is long overdue, but better late than never I believe and it has been worth waiting for. I don’t often get enticed into buying middle grade books, unless it is for my daughters, but I really loved the sound of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart.

The book was brought to my attention by this review, written by the lovely Steph over at Bookshine and Readbows blog. I didn’t really need to read further than the line ‘This the book I wanted Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series to be’ to know that I wanted to read it, but then she goes on to describe the book as ‘steampunk-ish’ in style which sealed the deal. I really love her descriptions of the writing as having a bit of snark (I am all about the snark) and then references some of my all time favourite authors as comparators – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams? How could I not want to pick up this book?

Steph waxed lyrical about this book, and when Steph waxes lyrical, I am always listening. I love Steph’s cheery blog – that name alone let’s you know that this a cup-half-full person doesn’t it – she has been one of my longest and most avidly-followed blogs since I first discovered this community and she is a generous and supportive blogger too. People like her are the reason I love this community so much. Make sure to pay her blog a visit at

If you would like to get a copy of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart for yourself, or anyone else, you can buy it here.

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Book Review: Mordew by Alex Pheby


GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. 

The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it. 

So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns… 


I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with this book. It was on page 13, before I even got to the start of the story and I was reading the Dramatis Personae. I came across a reference to ‘a family of elephants, unfamiliarly labelled,’ and that was it. I knew then that this was an author in whose imagination I was really going to enjoy getting lost. (Although, I’m not happy at how the unfamiliarly labelled elephants’ story turns out, Mr Pheby!)

Mordew is an amazing feat of a novel. Dense, rich, complex, perplexing and rewarding, it requires a commitment of reading and is not going to be for everyone. However, if you are a fan of gothic fantasy, dedicated and imaginative world-building, challenging characters and ideas that ask questions of you, a book that demands participation from the reader, rather than sitting as an idle bystander to the story, you will love this. It reminded me so much of my first experience of reading Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, and left me with the same desperate anticipation to read more that I felt at the start of that trilogy.

The book describes a complicated world that is an entirely new creation and takes some time to ease yourself into. There are so many new ideas and new terms to get your head around (the glossary for this books runs to a massive 84 pages), and it is all so alien at first that the less-than-intrepid reader may be tempted to give up, feeling the going too hard. Don’t do that. Once you get over the first hurdles and suss out the terrain, the writing has such cadence you will ease into its rhythm, it will sweep you along and the sights to be found up ahead are more than worth any early effort. I promise you, this book will reward you one hundredfold for perseverance and you will be desperate for more, even once you reach the end of the 500+ pages.

The book isn’t always easy, there are some shocking developments that will rock the reader to the core. Sacrifices are made. Disturbing imagery abounds. Unfamiliarly labelled elephants! It is hard at times to know who to trust, who to pity, who to love. Good characters do bad things. Bad characters do good things, no one is entirely virtuous or entirely contemptible. In this way, if no other, Mordew is as our world and this is how we go on an emotional journey with Nathan through the pages and the streets of Mordew.

The ending may not be as you would expect or wish, but the author has set it up brilliantly for the second part of the projected trilogy and, I am hoping that it is well underway and we are not going to have to wait Game-of-Thrones-esque lengths of time for part two. This can’t be the end, it just can’t. There has to be more, an alternative, a salvation. I need to know what it is, I’m fully invested in this world, this journey now.

I had high hopes for this novel and it delivered on them in every respect, and then some. I’ve not read anything like this for a long time and it deserves wide attention and respect. Pick up a copy today and you’ll be thanking me tomorrow.

Mordew is out now in hardback and as an ebook, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author


Alex was born in Essex, but moved to Worcester in his early childhood. He has masters degrees in critical theory (Manchester Metropolitan University) and creative writing (Goldsmiths) and a doctorate in critical and creative writing from the UEA. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Greenwich.

Alex’s work deals with madness and social exclusion, loss, and the middle ground between reality and fantasy. Critics have described his writing style as strange, poignant, and luminous.

Connect with Alex:

Twitter: @alexpheby

Instagram: @alexpheby

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