Desert Island Children’s Books: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

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My choice of children’s classic to take to my desert island in October was one beloved by many, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

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Alice in Wonderland is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

I’m so behind with these posts, but better late than never!

I actually listened to Alice in Wonderland on audiobook in October and I really enjoyed this way of consuming it, it reminded me of when I read the book to my daughters before they were old enough to read it for themselves, so it was a double jaunt down memory lane. Is there a generation that hasn’t fallen in love with the eccentric story of Alice who goes on a fantastical journey through a world down the rabbit hole?

Every time I go back to Alice, I rediscover parts of the story that I have forgotten, and characters that I have loved which don’t make it into the Disney film. Many people’s main memories of Alice are from the movie, but if you read the actual text, there are loads of fun details that didn’t make it into the film. My favourite is still Alice being stuck in the cottage when she has grown huge and hearing a conversation about ‘Little Bill’ coming down the chimney, who she then proceeds to kick into the air without actually knowing what kind of creature Little Bill is (he is a poor lizard, it turns out.)

This is a book that it is possible to enjoy as much, if not more, as an adult than a child, because you can appreciate the absurdity and the sly humour of the writing much better. I am always in awe of Lewis Carroll’s imagination when I read this book, he has created a world that has delighted children for more than 150 years and continues to remain delightful to this day. What an achievement, to write a book that is so timelessly enchanting that people are still reading and enjoying it more than a century later, and whose characters are instantly recognisable around the world.

This will remain one of my favourite books of all time as long as I can pick up a novel, and it is one I will return to often when I need reminding of the innocence and joys of childhood and all that is fanciful and ridiculous. It is a huge gift to be able to revisit and embrace that child-like wonder in a world that can feel darker and more cynical by the day.

You can buy a copy of Alice in Wonderland here.

About the Author

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Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898), better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, was an English writer of children’s fiction, notably Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass. He was noted for his facility with word play, logic, and fantasy. The poems “Jabberwocky” and The Hunting of the Snark are classified in the genre of literary nonsense. He was also a mathematician, photographer, inventor, and Anglican deacon.

Carroll came from a family of high-church Anglicans, and developed a long relationship with Christ Church, Oxford, where he lived for most of his life as a scholar and teacher. Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, Henry Liddell, is widely identified as the original for Alice in Wonderland, though Carroll always denied this. Scholars are divided about whether his relationship with children included an erotic component.

In 1982, a memorial stone to Carroll was unveiled in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. There are Lewis Carroll societies in many parts of the world dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works.

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

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I am very late posting my Desert Island Children’s Book choice for September, but it was a choice that is worth waiting for. September’s choice is a favourite of many, it’s Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, and it is the perfect children’s classic to pick up for an autumn read.

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‘Oh, it seems so wonderful that I’m going to live with you and belong to you. I’ve never belonged to anybody – not really’

When a scrawny, freckled girl with bright red hair arrives on Prince Edward Island, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are taken by surprise; they’d asked the orphanage for a quiet boy to help with the farmwork at Green Gables. But how can you reject a child like an unwanted parcel, especially when she tells you her life so far has been a ‘perfect graveyard of unburied hopes’?

So the beguiling chatterbox stays. Full of imagination, spark and spirit, it is not long before Anne Shirley wins their hearts.

Anne Shirley is one of my favourite characters is all of children’s literature. So fond am I of the Anne who has lived in my head since I first read Anne of Green Gables *cough* years ago, I have never been able to watch any of the adaptations of the Anne books that have been made (despite the fact that everyone tells me how excellent they are) because I really don’t want my version supplanted by someone else’s.

Why do I love Anne so much? The main reason I think is the same reason I love Jo March from Little Women, because she is someone I immediately related to. Not the fact that she is an orphan, I have two loving parents still, or that she lives on a farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. But Anne is bookish, and a day dreamer and has a vivid imagination and all of these things made her my fictional kindred spirit.

Having reread Anne of Green Gables again, I still love Anne as much as ever, and relish the tenderness of the story of the wild, red-headed orphan who comes by mistake to the Cuthbert farm, but proceeds to melt the hearts of the shy Matthew and prim, gruff Marilla until they cannot imagine what they did before she arrived to light up their lives. She gets into lots of fun scrapes, and maintains a rivalry with Gilbert Blythe throughout the book, until he does something that melts even Anne’s stony heart at the end of the book – you’ll have to read the other six books in the Anne series to find out what happens between them in the future.

The writing in these books is delightful. L. M. Montgomery really brings the community of Avonlea to life, and peoples it with all manner of amusing characters for Anne to interact with. The setting is perfect, and we experience falling in love with the beauty of Prince Edward Island along with Anne, to the extent that it has long been a destination high on my bucket list, and I know I am not the only person who feels this way about the books. My cousin Michelle cites Anne of Green Gables as her motivation for travelling to PEI.

The relationship between Anne and the Cuthberts is beautiful and tender and moving, and I defy anyone not to be moved by it. Following Anne through her subsequent years in the rest of the series is equally enchanting, and I can highly recommend the whole series. Definitely one to have on a desert island for repeated consumption.

You can get your copy of Anne of Green Gables here.

About the Author

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Lucy Maude Montgomery (1874-1942) was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada, the setting for Anne of Green Gables. She left to attend college, but returned to Prince Edward Island to teach. In 1911, she married the Reverend Ewan MacDonald. Anne of Green Gables, the first in a series of “Anne” books by Montgomery, was published in 1908 to immediate success and continues to be a perennial favourite.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Heather Martin

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Tonight I am delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks by an author whose authorised biography of Lee Child has just been published in paperback, so we are enjoying a big celebration tonight. Please welcome to the blog… Heather Martin.

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Heather, welcome to the Little Book Problem  virtual bar and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you for the invitation! Since we are celebrating the launch of The Reacher Guy in paperback, I thought I’d crack open something bubbly, but a rosé, because when not drinking coffee, black, my biographical subject Lee Child has a sneaking preference for pink drinks. If he’s eating a hamburger he’ll wash it down with strawberry milkshake.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I think I would whisk you off to Balthazar on Spring Street in downtown Manhattan. I lived just round the corner from there for a year while I was working on the biography, in a New York University complex on Bleecker Street known as Silver Towers. Weirdly and by complete coincidence, my apartment number was the same as Lee’s on the Upper West Side. It’s noisy at Balthazar, but irresistibly glamorous – full of beautiful people and gleaming with brass and mirrors. On our way out we might pick up a loaf from the bakery, or stop by the deli counter at Dean and DeLuca on Broadway. Except I fear it may be a casualty of COVID …

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 think immediately of my all-time literary hero the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who already inhabits my head, but I doubt I’d be able to lure him out of the library. So I’ll probably go for Pep Guardiola or Arsène Wenger: they’ve never heard of me, so they don’t realise how much we have in common, but I think we’d hit it off. And then Toni Morrison. I was supposed to meet her at a literary gala in New York, but sadly she was unwell on the night. The intensity of writing in Beloved rivals that of Nina Simone live at the Montreux Jazz Festival.  

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?

In some ways it started a year ago, when The Reacher Guy was first published in hardback. But really it started five years before that, when I first met Lee Child over dinner at the old Union Square Café in New York. Or maybe even earlier, when I picked up my first Reacher book and couldn’t put it down. Or when I learned to speak Spanish in London last century, since it was when I read Reacher in Spanish that Lee and I first started talking seriously about his work. Origins are always mysterious: who knows where things begin? Right now I’m exploring some of the more literary angles of my subject, themes I couldn’t pursue in the original book. I’m not looking too far ahead.

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

Many proud moments, but I think I’ll go for the time Lee Child interviewed me for The Big Thrill, which is the monthly magazine of the International Thriller Writers organisation. That was pretty cool, and is all thanks to the lovely Kimberley Howe and editor Dawn Ius. The hardest thing has been signing books: I always worry I’ll spoil them. And overcoming the multiple disappointments of releasing my book during (virtual) lockdown.  

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!

I’m happy with what I’ve achieved. And I’m not sure I have an arena. But bearing in mind my answer to your last question, I suppose I still dream of doing just one big live event with Lee, so we can celebrate my story of his life in the same room, and so I can finally rise to the challenge of signing books for people in person! I’ve had so many heartwarming messages from readers: I’d love a chance to meet them. Otherwise my biggest personal ambition is to help my two musician sons buy a place they can convert into a rehearsal and performance space …

Two great things to aim for there, and not unrealistic! What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

I think many of us have got out of the habit of making plans. I’m looking forward to seeing my first short story in Everyday Kindness, an anthology edited by the amazing L. J. Ross in aid of Shelter – that’s coming out in November, and my story, inspired by an act of compassion within a local community, is called ‘Goodbye, Wendy’. And I’m excited about the first ever Lee Child Symposium at the University of East Anglia next spring and the official opening of his archive at the British Archive for Contemporary Writing. That should be pretty special. 

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Everyday Kindness is a charity anthology of short, fictional stories of kindness, edited by LJ Ross. These uplifting tales of hope and of small, everyday kindnesses are intended to support wider, positive mental health goals and foster wellbeing through the act of reading tales of goodwill inspired by others. Featuring authors across the spectrum of literature, some international bestsellers and award-winning writers amongst them, this is a unique collection of words.

All proceeds from the book will be donated to Shelter, a charity that helps millions of people a year struggling with bad housing or homelessness.

Authors include: LJ Ross, Adam Hamdy, Alex Smith, Alexander Gordon Smith, Alison Stockham, Anne O’Leary, Barbara Copperthwaite, JD Kirk, CL Taylor, Caroline Mitchell, Chris McDonald, CK McDonnell, Claire Sheehy, Clare Flynn, Darren O’Sullivan, David Leadbeater, Debbie Young, Deborah Carr, Emma Robinson, Graham Brack, Hannah Lynn, Heather Martin, Holly Martin, Ian Sainsbury, Imogen Clark, James Gilbert, Jane Corry, Jean Gill, JJ Marsh, Judith O’Reilly, Kelly Clayton, Kim Nash, Leah Mercer, Liz Fenwick, Louise Beech, Lousie Jensen, Louise Mumford, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Marcia Woolf, Mark Stay, Marcie Steele, Natasha Bache, Nick Jackson, Nick Quantrill, Nicky Black, Patricia Gibney, Rachel Sargeant, Rob Parker, Rob Scragg, SE Lynes, Shelley Day, Casey Kelleher, Sophie Hannah, Victoria Connelly, Victoria Cooke, Will Dean.

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 always find favourites tricky, as I’ve been fortunate to experience many wonderful things. I’ll always have a soft spot for Aix-en-Provence in France, where I spent two seemingly blissful years as a very young child, and more than once I’ve dreamed of going to live in Sevilla, in Andalusia. I love Hawaii’s Waimea Bay, especially if I can stay again at the house on the point and watch pods of dolphins at play from my garden. But right now I’d love just to go home to Perth, and sit on Cottesloe Beach listening to the rainbow lorikeets as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean, and fall asleep to the sound of the waves, then maybe drive 250 miles north up the coast to Geraldton to visit the place where I was born. It could be a round trip, come to think of it: Oahu to West Australia via a stopover in New Zealand … 

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

As a young teenager I was a member of the West Australian Junior Ballet Company. But then I gave up ballet for music and spent a year in Paris taking lessons with two famous Latin American guitarists, the Brazilian Turibio Santos and the Uruguayan Óscar Cáceres. I had a guitar made for me by legendary Paris luthier Daniel Friederich. I still have it today – a true collectors’ item.

Wow, that sounds like a fascinating period of your life. 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’?

Right now my big recommendation is The Sound Mirror, by Heidi James, the exquisitely interwoven tale of the wounded Tamara and her two grandmothers, one a first-generation immigrant from India and the other of Italian descent. It’s a long time since I read a book that blew me away from the opening page, the opening sentence, even. This story is both instructive and deeply moving, accommodating not just one but three distinctive voices, each of equal authenticity. It’s a true tour de force and a reading experience of almost violent intensity. After that you’ll probably want to read her previous one, So the Doves, also published by Bluemoose Books, which is an equally gripping read and was featured as a Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month.

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Tamara is going to kill her mother but she isn’t the villain. Tamara just has to finish what began before her, and put an end to the damage encoded in her blood.

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?

Hey, the conversation has been so enjoyable, and I’ve been nibbling on these delicious canapés from the menu I had planned for my 2020 launch party at the Groucho Club, so I think a hangover is the least of my worries. 

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

I think you’ve set the tone, so there will be books, and chat about them, and music. A bit of sunshine if I’m lucky. Maybe I’ll walk across London Fields to All Saints in Haggerston to hear my son play the organ on Sunday morning; perhaps the younger one will cook lunch or dinner. Is Endeavour still showing on television? 

Haether, I have had an absolute blast, you are a fascinating drinking companion and I only wish we could have done this for real. Thank you so much for joining me tonight.

Heather’s biography of Lee Child, The Reacher Guy, is out now in all formats, including paperback, and you can buy a copy here.

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Lee Child is the enigmatic powerhouse behind the bestselling Jack Reacher novels. With millions of devoted fans across the globe, and over a hundred million copies of his books sold in more than forty languages, he is that rarity, a writer who is lauded by critics and revered by readers. And yet curiously little has been written about the man himself.

The Reacher Guy is a compelling and authoritative portrait of the artist as a young man, refracted through the life of his fictional avatar, Jack Reacher. Through parallels drawn between Child and his literary creation, it tells the story of how a boy from Birmingham with a ferocious appetite for reading grew up to become a high-flying TV executive, before coming full circle and establishing himself as the strongest brand in publishing.

Heather Martin explores Child’s lifelong fascination with America, and shows how the Reacher novels fed and fuelled this obsession, shedding light on the opaque process of publishing a novel along the way. Drawing on her conversations and correspondence with Child over a number of years, as well as interviews with his friends, teachers and colleagues, she forensically pieces together his life, traversing back through the generations to Northern Ireland and County Durham, and following the trajectory of his extraordinary career via New York and Hollywood until the climactic moment when, in 2020, having written a continuous series of twenty-four books, he finally breaks free of his fictional creation.

Heather Martin is a lapsed guitarist, a linguist and literary critic, and the authorised biographer of legendary thriller writer Lee Child. She writes regularly for CrimeReads and her short story ‘Goodbye, Wendy’ will appear in Everyday Kindness edited by L. J. Ross and released on November 13 by Dark Skies Publishing. She lives in London and tweets @drheathermartin. 

The Reacher Guy was published in 2020 by Little, Brown UK and Pegasus Books (US) to critical acclaim from The Times, The Telegraph, The Irish Times and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is due out in paperback on October 21. Kenilworth Books have pristine first-edition hardbacks with double-signed bespoke book prints; Blackwell Books have the paperback with double-signed bookplates. Ian Rankin writes: ‘Here is a biography as gripping as one of Lee Child’s own bestsellers. Heather Martin digs deep to uncover nugget after nugget. Trust me, this is gold.’ 

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Desert Island Books with… N S Ford

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It’s cold, wet and windy here in South Yorkshire today, summer is definitely over, so I could quite fancy a sojourn on a warm, tropical island myself right now. Unfortunately, it is not me being whisked away to a deserted island with five books to read at leisure today, but author… N S Ford. Let’s see what she has chosen to take with her.

Book One – Villette by Charlotte Bronte

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Villette is the story of Lucy Snowe, who after an unspecified family disaster, travels from her native England to the fictional French-speaking city of Villette to teach at a girls’ school, where she is drawn into adventure and romance. 

Villette by Charlotte Brontë. Probably my favourite 19th century classic, Vilette is even superior to Jane Eyre, in my opinion. The book is narrated by Lucy Snowe, a school teacher who appears to be stoic and unromantic but who has a vivid inner life. There is romance, comedy, gothic horror, tragedy, all in one incredibly well-written novel. I’ve read it a few times – I’d be happy to read it many more times on the desert island! – and am always awed by Charlotte Brontë’s talent. She was 37 when Villette, her last novel, was published in 1853. Had she not died only 2 years later, who knows what more this brilliant writer could have achieved?

https://nsfordwriter.com/character-of-the-month-lucy-snowe/

Book Two – Collected Poems by Philip Larkin

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Since its publication in 1988, Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems has become essential reading on any poetry bookshelf. This new edition returns to Larkin’s own deliberate ordering of his poems, presenting, in their original sequence, his four published books: The North Ship, The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows. It also includes an appendix of poems that Larkin published in other places, from his juvenilia to his final years – some of which might have appeared in a late book, if he had lived.

Preserving everything that he published in his lifetime, this new Collected Poems returns the reader to the book Larkin might have intended: it is, for the first time, Larkin’s ‘own’ collected poems.

Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. I was first introduced to Larkin’s poetry at college, when I studied his collection High Windows and found that it really spoke to me. Some people dislike his poetry, as it can be depressing, but I prefer to read about real feelings, however uncomfortable they are. Larkin’s poems were published by Faber in a collected edition in 1988, with a 2nd edition in 2003. My absolute favourite poem is ‘Solar’ and indeed it’s about the sun, which will be very relevant to my desert island.

https://nsfordwriter.com/money-sex-death-and-sunshine/

Book Three – The Other Side of the Sky by Arthur C. Clarke

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The Other Side of the Sky presents a glimpse of our future: a future where reality is no longer contained in earthly dimensions, where man has learned to exist with the knowledge that he is not alone in the universe. These stories of other planets and galactic adventures show Arthur C Clarke at the peak of his powers: sometimes disturbing, always intriguing.

The Other Side of the Sky by Arthur C Clarke. I re-read this short story collection every few years and my old copy is falling apart! I ought to sellotape it together before taking it to the desert island. These 14 stories are wonderful examples of classic science fiction; funny, playful, sad, sinister, hopeful, suffused with lyrical wonder. They are amazingly prescient and were written well before the first human was launched into space. The most famous story in the collection is ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’. My highlights are ‘Out of the Sun’ and ‘The Star’. Again, we’re talking about the sun! And I should also have a clear view of the night sky from the desert island, perfect for pondering Arthur C Clarke’s themes.

https://nsfordwriter.com/the-other-side-of-the-sky-arthur-c-clarke/

Book Four – Little Women by Louise May Alcott

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Meg – the sweet-tempered one. Jo – the smart one. Beth – the shy one. Amy – the sassy one.

Together they’re the March sisters. Their father is away at war and times are difficult, but the bond between the sisters is strong.

Through sisterly squabbles, happy times and sad, their four lives follow different paths, and that discover the growing up is sometimes very hard to do. . .

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Strangely enough, I didn’t much like this book when I was younger  – perhaps I found it too moralistic – but I have grown to appreciate the wisdom in it. The characters feel like friends and they would keep me company on the island! I recently re-read the book, having treated myself to a new copy which included both volumes (the 2nd volume is sometimes called Good Wives – which wasn’t Alcott’s idea). As with The Beatles, everyone has to have a favourite March sister. I think Beth is underrated and she has a special place in my heart.

https://nsfordwriter.com/little-women-louisa-may-alcott/

Book Five – Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down by Nicey and Wifey

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Put a cup of tea in your hand, and what else can you do but sit down? This wonderful new book is a celebration of that most British of life’s cornerstones: taking a break, putting your feet up and having a breather. There is, however, a third element that any perfect sit down requires and it is this: biscuits. As Nicey so rightly points out, a cup of tea without a biscuit is a missed opportunity. Finding the right biscuit for the right occasion is as much an art as it is a science, and it is a task that Nicey has selflessly worked on for most of his tea drinking life.

From dunking to the Digestive, the Iced Gem to the Garibaldi, everything you’ll ever need to know about biscuits is in this book, and quite a lot more besides. Is the Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? And have Wagon Wheels really got smaller since your childhood, or have you just got bigger? Unstintingly researched, Nicey and Wifey’s Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down does exactly what it says on the biscuit tin. So go on. Take a weight off, put the kettle on, and enjoy.

Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down by Nicey and Wifey. The go-to book when I need cheering up! I last read it in early 2020 when the first lockdown was imminent and things were looking scary. Based on a website, which is now quite old in internet terms, this is a funny, quirky book about three traditional British past-times – drinking tea, sitting down and eating biscuits. When I’m on the island, sitting down (but lacking the tea and biscuits) it will be nice to have a reminder of home and to laugh for the hundredth time at the author’s rant about pink wafers.

https://nsfordwriter.com/nice-cup-of-tea-and-a-sit-down-nicey-and-wifey/

My luxury item 

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Let’s ignore the practicalities of shipping an iron-framed 98-year-old upright piano to a desert island and of the humidity, sand, insects etc that will affect the piano once it’s there. Playing the piano is a great way to relax and enjoy music. I was taught up to Grade 5 but I didn’t maintain my skills, particularly once I’d left home and didn’t have anywhere to keep the instrument. However, I’ve had it in my home for a couple of years now and I try to practise almost every day, when time and family life allows. My favourite sheet music to play is Ludovico Einaudi, Depeche Mode and Radiohead.

https://nsfordwriter.com/sheet-music-review-radiohead-the-piano-songbook/

About the Author

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N S Ford is a book fanatic, blogger and cat lover who lives in the UK with her family. She has a First Class degree in English. When not reading or blogging, she juggles her writing time with parenting, working in heritage and playing the piano.

N S Ford’s debut novel, We Watch You, is out now and you can buy a copy here. I will be reviewing the book on the blog tomorrow.

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FOUR FRIENDS. THREE ENEMIES. TWO TRAGEDIES. ONE TERRIBLE TRUTH.

A small English town is rocked by the disappearance of a local woman, Tina. As the search continues, someone is targeting her former best friends for revenge. Lauren, Jess, Claire. They all hide secrets. Who knows what they did? Who’s watching them? The truth is stranger and far more sinister than they can ever imagine.

A dark, twisty thriller which will grip you until the very last page.

Connect with N S Ford:

Blog: https://nsfordwriter.com/

Twitter: @nsfordwriter

Instagram: @nsfordwriter

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Desert Island Books with… Rosanna Ley

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I’m off to Spain for a few days today, so I am not as jealous as I usually am at the thought of today’s castaway sitting in the sunshine with all the time in the world to read, as I will be doing that myself. I did, however, fail to stuff the latest James Patterson hardback that I really wanted to read, Jailhouse Lawyerinto my luggage as it was far too big and heavy, much to my disappointment. My guest today, author Roasanna Ley, will not have that problem as there are no weight limits when you travel virtually. Let’s see what she has chosen.

Book One – A Poem for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri

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A Poem For Every Day of the Year is a magnificent collection of 366 poems compiled by Allie Esiri, one to share on every day of the year. Reflecting the changing seasons and linking to events on key dates – funny for April Fool’s Day, festive for Christmas – these poems are thoughtful, inspiring, humbling, informative, quiet, loud, small, epic, peaceful, energetic, upbeat, motivating, and empowering!

If I were stranded on a desert island with only five books to read again and again, then I’m guessing I would be looking for something more than fiction. Enter A Poem for Every Day of the Year as complied by author and editor Allie Esiri. This is a wonderful collection and since there really is a poem for every day of the year, there will be something new to read (and maybe also learn by heart?) every day. By the end of the year (and I have just realised that this volume could function as a calendar too), I will have forgotten each poem so then I can simply start again… The collection reflects the changing seasons which will keep me grounded on the island (literally) and the links to certain events and dates will make me feel nostalgic – hopefully in a good way. A poem for every mood will satisfy all my conflicting emotions as I fight to survive and hopefully be empowering too. I love poetry and never make enough time to read it. Problem now solved…

Book Two – Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

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Women in Love begins one blossoming spring day in England and ends with a terrible catastrophe in the snow of the Alps. Ursula and Gudrun are very different sisters who become entangled with two friends, Rupert and Gerald, who live in their hometown. The bonds between the couples quickly become intense and passionate, but whether this passion is creative or destructive is unclear. In this astonishing novel, widely considered to be D. H. Lawrence’s best work, he explores what it means to be human in an age of conflict and confusion.

I very rarely read a book a second time – even those I love – with the exception of the books I have studied academically. Out of all the books I have studied, I’ve found those of DH Lawrence the most rewarding. His writing first inspired me to write many years ago and certainly influenced my writing hugely in the early days and beyond. I love the way he writes about landscape (although the intensity and the detail is somewhat out of fashion these days). I can literally drown in his language! I never studied ‘Women in Love’ but I found it inspirational and crammed with earthy, sensual descriptions – of love and landscape. This book about the love affairs of two sisters was also Lawrence’s response to a cultural crisis: the ‘progress’ of the modern industrialised world which arguably led to the carnage of the First World War. It therefore definitely warrants a re-read over forty years later. I think I would find it hugely satisfying and I could wallow in Lawrence’s prose to my heart’s content.

Book Three – The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

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It is 1895. Robert Wallis, would-be poet, bohemian and impoverished dandy, accepts a commission from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker to categorise the different tastes of coffee – and encounters Pinker’s free-thinking daughters, Philomenia, Ada and Emily. As romance blossoms with Emily, Robert realises that the Muse and marriage may not be incompatible after all.

Sent to Abyssinia to make his fortune in the coffee trade, he becomes obsessed with a negro slave girl, Fikre. He decides to use the money he has saved to buy her from her owner – a decision that will change not only his own life, but the lives of the three Pinker sisters . . .

I feel as if I will need a comedy to lift my spirits during dark days on this island, but I don’t read many comic writers, so… I decided to choose a book by one of my favourite authors, ‘The Various Flavours of Coffee’ by Anthony Capella which made me laugh and cry at the same time – an impressive achievement. I’d love to read it again and I have the feeling that I would discover so much more second time around as the author takes me on an exotic, delicious and historical journey filled with humour and poignancy. The story also contains lots of coffee, which has to be a good thing. Anthony Capella also writes brilliant psychological thrillers under the name of JP Delaney – is there no end to this author’s talents? Perhaps re-reading ‘The Various Flavours of Coffee’ will give me some valuable insight on how he does it…

Book Four – How To Stay Alive: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Any Situation by Bear Grylls

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Do you know how to…
Survive a bear attack?
Make fire from virtually nothing?
Fly a plane in an emergency?
Survive in the most extreme conditions?
Bear Grylls does.
There is barely a terrain he hasn’t conquered or an extreme environment he hasn’t experienced. From his time in 21 SAS, through to his extraordinary expeditions in the toughest corners of each of the seven continents, Bear has accumulated an astonishing wealth of survival knowledge.
Now, for the first time, he is putting all his expertise into one book. How To Stay Alive will teach you all of the essential skills you need to survive in the modern world.

I’m not a very practical person. I have trouble with my balance and my sense of direction and I’m terrified of spiders. Hence, I won’t be good on the island, apart from the fact that I quite enjoy spending time alone. So, my next choice is here to help me survive physically: ‘How to Stay Alive: The Ultimate Survival Guide for Any Situation’. It’s written by Bear Grylls of course, and if you were stranded on a desert island, why wouldn’t you want a book by Bear telling you how to survive? I haven’t read it yet since I haven’t had the need, but apparently it can help you survive a bear attack (hah – he should know), make fire from virtually nothing, fly a plane in an emergency and just generally survive in the most extreme conditions. Bear knows what he’s talking about since there is barely (geddit?) a terrain he hasn’t conquered or an extreme environment he hasn’t experienced. When it comes to survival knowledge, if Bear doesn’t have it, then it doesn’t exist. 

Book Five – Easy Learning Italian by Collins Dictionaries

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A handy 3-in-1 Italian study book: grammar, verbs and vocabulary in one volume, ideal for beginners who need a clear and easy-to-understand Italian reference and revision guide.

This book gives you the essential tools to help you progress quickly in your study of Italian. The grammar, verb and vocabulary sections have been designed for all those learning Italian at school, in an evening class, for work or for leisure.

With its clear, user-friendly grammar, all the most important Italian verbs shown in full, and an extensive vocabulary guide, this book gives you all the elements to start speaking and writing with confidence in Italian.

I’ve always meant to learn Italian. I love Italy and if I were to be born again and could choose my country of birth, I would be Italian, no contest. So here I am on a desert island with (presumably) no one to distract me. Why not learn the Italian language? There wouldn’t be anyone to laugh at my poor efforts and I could practice as much as I wanted. I feel as if I could become fluent if I really tried and had enough time, and what better guide to help me than ‘Easy Learning Italian Complete Grammar, Verbs and Vocabulary (3 books in 1): by Collins Dictionaries. Who knows – if my luck’s in, I might even get rescued by an Italian, and then I could at least communicate with the guy…

My luxury item

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You will have heard this before of course, but I need to write, I love to write and so a spiral notebook set with pen attached and everlasting ink (and paper) would be perfect. Or perhaps Bear Grylls knows how to make writing materials from a palm tree?? 

About the Author

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Rosanna Ley has written ten novels published by Quercus Books and translated into fourteen different languages around the world.

Rosanna has worked as a creative writing tutor for over 30 years. She has led courses for colleges and universities in England, and mentored and appraised the work of new writers. She now runs her own writing retreats and holidays in the UK and in stunning locations in Europe. She has worked with community groups in therapeutic settings and completed an MA in creative writing for personal development in order to support this.

Rosanna loves reading, playing tennis and walking on the beach in West Dorset where she lives. Her favourite writing place is anywhere with a sea view.

Rosanna’s latest novel The Orange Grove was published by Quercus in June 2021. You can buy a copy here.

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Holly loves making marmalade. Now she has a chance to leave her stressful city-job and pursue her dream – of returning to the Dorset landscape of her childhood and opening Bitter Orange, a shop celebrating the fruit that first inspired her. 

Holly’s mother Ella has always loved Seville. So why is she reluctant to go back there with Holly to source products for the shop? What is she frightened of – and does it have anything to do with the old Spanish recipe for Seville Orange and Almond cake that Ella keeps hidden from her family? 

In Seville, where she was once forced to make the hardest decision of her life, Ella must finally face up to the past, while Holly meets someone who poses a threat to all her plans. 

Seville is a city full of sunshine and oranges. But it can also be bittersweet. Will love survive the secrets of the orange grove?

Connect wit Rosanna:

Website: https://rosannaley.com/

Facebook: Rosanna Ley Novels

Twitter: @RosannaLey

Instagram: @rosannaleyauthor

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Desert Island Books with… Mick Arnold

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Today’s strandee will be better equipped to deal with isolation on my desert island than many, I think, as he has certain useful practical skills. However, he will still need intellectual and emotional stimulation, so let’s see what books he is taking with him to provide that. He is author… Mick Arnold.

Book One – The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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This is a story of many different things.

Of a terrible war and an occupied land

Of the Balicki children who are determined to survive

Of a dangerous journey from war-torn Poland to Switzerland

Of a paper knife that gives them the courage to carry on when nearly all hope is lost.

The Silver Sword is the first adult novel I recall reading, and it’s stuck with me ever since. First published in 1956, this is the deceptively simple story of how a group of Polish children traipses across war-torn Europe in search of their father, picking up a troubled stray boy along the way. None older than 16, this is such a moving story which kept me guessing right until the end. For a novel seemingly aimed towards what would now be called the YA audience, this is such a powerful story full of the best and worst of humanity during the terrible conflict, which was World War 2.

Book Two – Guards! Guards! By Sir Terry Pratchett

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‘It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hotdogs to the rest.’

Insurrection is in the air in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Haves and Have-Nots are about to fall out all over again.

Captain Sam Vimes of the city’s ramshackle Night Watch is used to this. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. Well, to drink more. But this time, something is different – the Have-Nots have found the key to a dormant, lethal weapon that even they don’t fully understand, and they’re about to unleash a campaign of terror on the city.

Time for Captain Vimes to sober up.

I was already a huge fan of the work of Terry Pratchett by the time this novel came out. It didn’t need it, but I knew I had to read this novel as soon as read the tag – Captain Sam Vimes is searching for a dragon he believes could help him with his enquires. Who wouldn’t want to read on to find out what happens? Pratchett’s creation of the Discworld surpasses that of Tolkein’s Middle Earth – or at least it does in my opinion. To this day, if I need to cheer myself up, I’ll pick up a Discworld novel and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Guards! Guards!; and I never get tired of it. Pratchett creates such vivid pictures of each and every character, no matter how minor they are to the plot, which means I always find something new each time I read the book.

Book Three – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

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‘Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.’

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. IMHO, the novel in the series which transformed it from purely a children’s series and into the worldwide phenomenon it became for all ages.  Barely giving you a chance to catch your breath, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a roller coaster of a story, full of mystery and suspense, and more action than you could shake a stick at. This is still one of my favourite reads when I need to relax my mind.

Book Four – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Rumour has it Artemis Fowl is responsible for every major crime of the new century.

Just twelve years old and already he’s a criminal genius, plotting to restore his family’s fortune with a spot of corruption and kidnapping.

Kidnapping a fairy for ransom, to be precise.

Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous – and extremely high-tech – fairies. But he may have underestimated their powers. They will fight back. Is the boy about to trigger a cross-species war?

Let the misadventure begin.

I know it may seem that I’ve picked a lot of non-adult books, but just because a book is written with one audience in mind, doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to another. Think an evil twelve-year old James Bond, but with magic and fairies! This book takes you from Vietnam to the city of Haven inside the Earth, via Ireland.  Forget the awful Disney film, this is a rock ‘n’ roller of  book which will make you believe in fairies.

Book Five – The Christmas Promise by Sue Moorcroft

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On a snowy December evening, Sam Jermyn steps into the life of bespoke hat maker Ava. Sparks fly, and not necessarily the good ones.

Times are tough for Ava – she’s struggling to make ends meet, her ex-boyfriend is a bully, and worst of all, it’s nearly Christmas.

So when Sam commissions Ava to make a hat for someone special, she makes a promise that will change her life. She just doesn’t know it yet…

I am a huge fan of Christmas romance and they don’t come any better than this novel. Sue Moorcroft is one of my favourite authors and this is one of her best. A story about someone who hates the Christmas period, this hits all the right spots. Laugh-out loud one minute, pass-me-the- tissues, the next. Forget watching The Sound of Music this coming yuletide, treat yourself to a copy of The Christmas Promise and learn why you should love Christmas.

My luxury item

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I’m going to be practical for my one item. For me, it’s essential, especially as it’s a desert island. I must have a good-sized hat. I burn in the sun easily, so I’d need something like a fedora to protect the back of my neck and the top of my head.

About the Author

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

He’s the proud keeper of two cats bent on world domination, is mad on the music of the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and humoring his Manchester United-supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. Wild Blue Yonder is the second novel in his Broken Wings series and he is very proud to be a part of the Vintage Rose Garden at The Wild Rose Press.

Mick’s latest book, Wild Blue Yonder, is available here.

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Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a Captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.

Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.

In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Desert Island Books with… Jill Piscitello

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Today I am transporting another literary traveller to my virtual desert island with only five books and one luxury item to keep them company. Today’s willing strandee is author… Jill Piscitello.

Book One – 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.

To date, I have not read The Bible cover to cover.  However, I imagine if stranded on a desert island, this is the one book that I would want to have with me.

Book Two – The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale

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The phenomenal and inspiring bestseller by the father of positive thinking. THE POWER OF POSITIVE THINKING is a practical, direct-action application of spiritual techniques to overcome defeat and win confidence, success and joy.

Norman Vincent Peale, the father of positive thinking and one of the most widely read inspirational writers of all time, shares his famous formula of faith and optimism which millions of people have taken as their own simple and effective philosophy of living. His gentle guidance helps to eliminate defeatist attitudes, to know the power you possess and to make the best of your life.

A tried and true read to encourage faith in one’s own abilities to persevere, to reduce stress and worry, to tackle problems, and to (of course) maintain a positive outlook regardless of circumstance.  This book would provide the extra dose of optimism needed if marooned in the middle of nowhere.

Book Three – Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

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Pippi Longstocking is nine years old. She has just moved into Villa Villekulla where she lives all by herself with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase full of gold coins. The grown-ups in the village try to make Pippi behave in ways that they think a little girl should, but Pippi has other ideas.

She would much rather spend her days arranging wild, exciting adventures to enjoy with her neighbours, Tommy and Annika, or entertaining everyone she meets with her outrageous stories. Pippi thinks nothing of wrestling a circus strongman, dancing a polka with burglars, or tugging a bull’s tail.

This childhood favourite would elicit fond elementary school memories of one of my first introductions to chapter books.  I remember being fascinated by Pippi’s outrageous life, non-traditional pets, and friendships.  Pippi’s adventures might help my new castaway-self find the joy in making discoveries and having new experiences on the island.

Book Four – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

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Jane Eyre ranks as one of the greatest and most perennially popular works of English fiction. Although the poor but plucky heroine is outwardly of plain appearance, she possesses an indomitable spirit, a sharp wit and great courage.

She is forced to battle against the exigencies of a cruel guardian, a harsh employer and a rigid social order. All of which circumscribe her life and position when she becomes governess to the daughter of the mysterious, sardonic and attractive Mr Rochester.

However, there is great kindness and warmth in this epic love story, which is set against the magnificent backdrop of the Yorkshire moors. Ultimately the grand passion of Jane and Rochester is called upon to survive cruel revelation, loss and reunion, only to be confronted with tragedy.

This classic book lacks for nothing and is a joy to revisit over and over again.  A coming of age tale infused with love, secrets, betrayals, 3D characters, and a setting that envelops the reader.

Book Five – A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford 

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A WOMAN’S AMBITION…
In the brooding moors above a humble Yorkshire village stood Fairley Hall. There, Emma Harte, its oppressed but resourceful servant girl, acquired a shrewd determination. There, she honed her skills, discovered the meaning of treachery, learned to survive, to become a woman, and vowed to make her mark on the world.

A JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME…
In the wake of tragedy she rose from poverty to magnificent wealth as the iron-willed force behind a thriving international enterprise. As one of the richest women in the world Emma Harte has almost everything she fought so hard to achieve-save for the dream of love, and for the passion of the one man she could never have.

A DREAM FULFILLED-AND AVENGED.
Through two marriages, two devastating wars, and generations of secrets, Emma’s unparalleled success has come with a price. As greed, envy, and revenge consume those closest to her, the brilliant matriarch now finds herself poised to outwit her enemies, and to face the betrayals of the past with the same ingenious resolve that forged her empire.

My first four book choices came easily.  The fifth was a challenge.  I wanted this book to be an entertaining, fictional read.  I finally decided on one of my favourites, A Woman of Substance, because this expertly written saga has it all.  Emma’s story begins in the servants’ quarters in the Yorkshire moors and follows her ascension from poverty to power and wealth.  Her tale of perseverance, grit, and determination never gets old.  Love, betrayals, a vivid story world, and a cast of complex characters round out this unforgettable book.  An added bonus for someone stranded on a desert island is the hours slipping by unnoticed due to an 800+ page count.

(Blogger’s note: A Woman of Substance is currently available for 99p on a Kindle special deal)

My luxury item

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Besides books, another essential item that I could not live without would be a blanket for cool nights.  I’m one of those people who is always cold.  Having a blanket handy would provide a huge dose of comfort.

About the Author

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Jill Piscitello is a teacher, author, and an avid fan of multiple literary genres. Although she divides her reading hours among several books at a time, a lighthearted story offering an escape from the real world can always be found on her nightstand.

A native of New England, Jill lives with her family and three well-loved cats. When not planning lessons or reading and writing, she can be found spending time with her family, trying out new restaurants, traveling, and going on light hikes. 

Jill’s upcoming novella, Tinsel and Tea Cakes, has been contracted by The Wild Rose Press as part of the Christmas Cookies series and will have a cover reveal soon.

Hair stylist Scarlett Kerrigan lost her job and her apartment. To alleviate a touch of self pity, she succumbs to her stepmom’s pressure to attend a wedding in the New Hampshire White Mountains. Unfortunately, she runs into the vacation fling who promised the moon but disappeared without an explanation. Months have passed, but she is not ready to forgive and forget.

After a chaotic year, executive Wes Harley settles into his family’s event venue, The Timeless Manor. His carefully structured world is shaken to its core when Scarlett arrives for the Victorian Christmas wedding weekend. The feelings he never quite erased flood to the surface.

When secrets are revealed, will a magical chateau and a sprinkle of tinsel be enough to charm Scarlett?

Jill is also the author of Homemakers’ Christmas published by Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Publishing and you can buy a copy of that book here.

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One woman’s journey from nothing to everything…

A recent error in judgment has deposited Cricket Williams, her daughter, and a son spiking a high fever into a homeless shelter. A touch of Christmas magic is sprinkled upon her family when an eccentric volunteer invites them into her New England farmhouse. Blindsided with the proposition of a contractual living arrangement, Cricket is seized with renewed hope for her future.

Boris Glynn is in town visiting his grandmother but harbors a secret that will impact her life and the lives of his dearest friends. Complications arise when he is unable to restrain himself from pursuing his grandmother’s beautiful new neighbor.

As Cricket begins to succumb to Boris’s attention, her new world is shaken by a series of events that have the potential to destroy her plans for a fresh start.

Connect with Jill:

Website: https://jillpiscitello.com/

Facebook: Jill Piscitello

Twitter: @Piscj18

Instagram: @jillpiscitellobooks

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Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

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I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

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Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

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Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

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Desert Island Books with… Adrienne Vaughan

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Today I am delighted (if that is not a weird thing to say!) to be stranding on my literary atoll, romance author… Adrienne Vaughan. Let’s see what bookish delights she has selected to be her companions in isolation.

Book One – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

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Romantic, heroic, comic and tragic, unconventional schoolmistress Jean Brodie has become an iconic figure in post-war fiction. Her glamour, unconventional ideas and manipulative charm hold dangerous sway over her girls at the Marcia Blaine Academy – ‘the crème de la crème’ – who become the Brodie ‘set’, introduced to a privileged world of adult games that they will never forget. 

 Set between the wars, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark might at first appear to be a ‘light’ read, but don’t be misled. For me, this slim, witty, exquisitely written book is a slice of history poised at a moment in time before things change forever. It’s also a wonderful portrayal of a very influential woman, flaws and all and the fact that I’m still applauding her, here in 2021, would please her no end, for she is indeed, still in her prime!

Miss Jean Brodie teaches at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. Charismatic, beguiling and unconventional, she’s a force of nature, rebelling against the shackling morality and conventions of the time in her own sublime way.

Totally devoted to her ‘girls’ – known as the ‘Brodie set’, Miss Brodie is also fond of reminding everyone that she’s ‘in her prime’. And though the story spans quite a few years – effortlessly moving back and forth following the girls’ lives – it seems Miss Brodie remains in her prime throughout. A philosophy I’ve happily adopted!

Although, an excellent teacher, Miss Brodie veers off the curriculum revealing her own tragic love story to the girls, thereby bringing them into her confidence. However, when one of her closest choses to betray her and the layers begin to peel away, it’s hard not feel every nuance of agony on behalf of our heroine; having devoted her whole life to her ‘girls’ and career.

Stylish, pared down writing, laser-like attention to detail and so much more going on than what’s being said! I highly recommend this classic be read more than once.

Book Two – Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier

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On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him.

But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.

 I write Romantic Suspense, and if there’s one standalone shining example of this genre, it’s Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier.On the surface the story of a young woman who, while working as a Lady’s companion, meets the recently widowed Max de Winter and in true ‘holiday romance’ style they fall madly in love and marry almost immediately. However, once they leave the glamorous south of France for Manderley, Max’s family home on the Cornish coast, the new Mrs de Winter – our heroine – begins to realise that although Rebecca might be dead she haunts every room, and is being deliberately ‘kept alive’ by the equally ghoulish housekeeper, Mrs Danvers.

Mesmerising and atmospheric, Manderley and it’s fabulous coastal setting are so vivid I feel as if I’ve been there and this, combining with a cast of beautifully yet sparsely drawn characters, makes it a book that really takes hold. Not only because I’m desperate to find out what happened to Rebecca, (I know but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to know again!) but I’m also desperate for our hero and heroine to be once more happily in love.

I read it again only recently, and it’s still so highly addictive, I devoured it in two days. A masterpiece, from the unforgettable opening  ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’ – to the closing – ‘And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea’. Oh, and there are spaniels too and  as I’ll be missing mine, it’s a must for me.

Book Three- Notes from A Small Island by Bill Bryson

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In 1995, before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire to move back to the States for a few years with his family, Bill Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.

His aim was to take stock of the nation’s public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite; a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy; place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells; people who said ‘Mustn’t grumble’, and ‘Ooh lovely’ at the sight of a cup of tea and a plate of biscuits; and Gardeners’ Question Time. 

 US travel writer and author Bill Bryson was leaving the UK to go back to America, and before he left came up with the brilliant idea of travelling around the whole of Great Britain on public transport and diarising his experience. First published in 1995, Notes from A Small Island  by Bill Bryson has sold millions of copies and well deserves its place on this list and in my heart. Not only does it manage to portray the deep and wonderous love the author has for his adoptive country, while at the same time making us laugh out loud at things we say and hear every day. But it also portrays such stoicism, resilience and gritty fortitude, that at times it moves me to tears. I’m a great fan of PG Wodehouse, and Bill Bryson’s writing has that same effortless elegance that can capture a character, nuance and even a nation in just a handful of words.

I always think of this book when anyone mentions ‘St Martin in the Fields’, because I recall Bill’s mystified fascination with this small island’s delectation for weird and wonderful place names, and for some reason the words ‘St Dionysius Behind the Wardrobe’ pop into my head, which always makes me smile.

A book of true charm, that will remind me of home and perhaps even fondly of Marmite, though that might be going a bit far!

Book Four – The Van by Roddy Doyle

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Shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize, and set in a Dublin suburb during the 1990 World Cup, this completes a trilogy which began with “The Commitments” and “The Snapper”. Jimmy Rabbite Sr seeks refuge from the vicissitudes of unemployment by joining a friend in running a fish-and-chip van.

Another book that truly deserves its place in my heart, is The Van by Roddy Doyle. Roddy writes with such affection, admiration and a certain amount of pride for Jimmy and his long-time pal Bimbo –  two out of work Dubliners in the 1980s – that this story is both hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. It’s a story of true friendship, as these middle aged men battle to overcome numerous obstacles, trying desperately to make a success of their new project, a derelict chip van.

All the characters are adorable, infuriating and so beautifully drawn – I just loved Jimmy’s wife, the indomitable Victoria – and anyone familiar with this wonderful city would surely have come across their like along the way.

I read this novel for the first time on holiday many years ago and a particular scene featuring a dead cat and a deep fat fryer made me so helpless with laughter, my husband raced to my aid, for fear I would not only fall off my lounger – which I had – but off the balcony too!

We were in Turkey, but in my head I was overhearing a fabulous story told in a solid Dublin accent on top of a bus heading towards An Lár! (The city centre)  Another book that takes me home.

(Blogger’s note: I would have allowed Adrienne to take the entire Barrytown Trilogy with her to her desert island as it is available in a single volume, which would be a permissible way of sneaking in an extra two novels in the form of The Commitments and The Snapper, both of which are also excellent. Mainly because I am a HUGE fan of Roddy Doyle myself and these three are my favourite of his books.)

Book Five – Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

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This is the bestselling true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, Seabiscuit.

In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.

Misunderstood and mishandled, Seabiscuit had spent seasons floundering in the lowest ranks of racing until a chance meeting of three men. Together, they created a champion. This is a story which topped the bestseller charts for over two years; a riveting tale of grit, grace, luck and an underdog’s stubborn determination to win against all odds.

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand is a story of the triumph of the underdog over every obstacle imaginable. Set in the US during the Depression, the blurb says ‘In 1938 one figure received more press coverage than Mussolini, Hitler or Roosevelt. He was a cultural icon and a world-class athlete – and an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse by the name of Seabiscuit.’ It’s the true story of three men and their dreams for a racehorse, the well-bred,  but misunderstood Seabiscuit. Like all the best ‘true-life’ stories, you couldn’t make it up but when wealthy businessman Charles Howard, sets reclusive trainer Tom Smith the task of finding him a racehorse to bring on, Tom not only finds Seabiscuit but the troubled yet talented jockey Red Pollard; another underdog. The trio went on to win everything in American racing.

But this book is so much more than that, it’s a snapshot of yet another pivotal moment in history, the reality of the effects of the Depression rawly told and the will to survive easily mistaken for hard-nosed ambition and vice versa. Yet interlaced throughout this wonderful tale are heart-warming love stories, human for human, man for animal and animal for man. The connection between all the characters – including this remarkable little horse –  so vivid, so real, that every time Red gets into the saddle my heart starts to pound and I’m whispering in Seahorse’s ear as they make their way to the start, you can do this, boy, this one is yours.

As you can probably tell, I love horses and feel their part in the building of our world is often underplayed; we owe these noble creatures so much.

Laura Hillenbrand is a fantastic writer, truly deserving of her best seller status, and she clearly loves history but I suspect, having read this, horses are a particular passion too. Truly magical and highly recommended.

My luxury item

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Having read and re-read all these wonderful books, I’ll be totally inspired and will have to write! I write by hand, then type what I’ve written as a first edit. If I’m only allowed one essential, can it be a stock of spiral bound note books please?  I know I won’t have a pen, but if I can devise a way of making ink with leaves, plants or whatever I can find on the island, I can resort to using a quill, which – if there’s wildlife – should be available in abundance. 😊

About the Author

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Adrienne Vaughan is an award-winning author of 5 Star romantic suspense.

She has written three highly acclaimed novels, The Hollow Heart, A Change of Heart and Secrets of the Heart, together with an award-winning collection of poetry and short stories, Fur Coat & No Knickers. Her short story Dodo’s Portrait was short-listed for the Colm Toíbín Award at the Wexford Literary Festival in 2018.

Adrienne was brought up in Dublin and lives in rural Leicestershire with her husband, two cocker spaniels and a rescue cat called Agatha Christie – ‘We never know who she’s going to kill next!’ 

Two of her favourite places in the world are the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland and the coast of South Devon, both great influences on her writing. 

And although being a novelist has always been her dream, she still harbours a burning ambition to be a Bond girl!

Today, she runs a busy PR practice, writing novels, poems and short stories in her spare time.

Do check out Adrienne’s debut novel, The Hollow Heart, which is the first in the Heartfelt series, three standalone novels set in Ireland and New York. It is currently on offer at the special price of 99p/99c and is available here.

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Marianne Coltrane is a feisty, award-winning journalist who is far from lucky in love. Taking a broken heart, a bruised career and her beloved terrier, Monty, off to the west of Ireland she is determined to embrace a quieter life. But when she literally runs into Ryan O’Gorman, one of the most infuriating men in the world, she wonders if moving to this tiny island is the right decision after all. He’s an actor who’s just landed the biggest role in movie history and he loathes journalists. One thing they do have in common is they both think their chance of true love has passed them by, but of course, fate has other ideas.

Filled with a cast of colourful characters, betrayal and heartache and ultimately love and laughter, this twisting tale takes us from Ireland to New York and back to an island you’ll never want to leave.

Connect with Adrienne:

Website: http://adriennevaughan.com/

Facebook: Adrienne Vaughan

Twitter: @adrienneauthor

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

Awards

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.

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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.

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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:

Website: http://www.christinacourtenay.com

Facebook: Christina Courtenay Author

Twitter: @PiaCCourtenay

Instagram: @ChristinaCourtenayAuthor

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