Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Cotton & Grey Candles

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The Cotton & Grey Just To Say … Thinking Of You candles were supplied by Cotton & Grey for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

© Cotton & Grey

THE BRAND

Cotton & Grey are a new brand based in Bath, UK that sell a range of beeswax candle gift sets to aid relaxation and well being. The brand started with a small pack of 20 minute beeswax candles that they put together in a small box alongside a handwritten affirmation card which they gave to a close friend who was struggling during lockdown, to help her relax and restore her well being. Their friend appreciated the sentiment, loved the idea and the gift worked! Six months later, Cotton & Grey were finalists in Gift Of The Year 2022, awarded the accolade ”Highly Commended”. The collection of candle gift sets has expanded to a collection of over 50 products as well as offering personalisation, gift wrapping, bespoke and trade services. The website shows the complete range available – https://cottonandgrey.com

PACKAGING AND DELIVERY

The candles come in a dinky box with a small ceramic candle holder. It is a beautiful yet practical gift box. Cotton & Grey use Royal Mail 1st class UK post and they do endeavour to dispatch all orders received before noon on the same day. Postage is free in the UK too. If you want next day delivery there is a small charge though.

THE PRODUCT

I was sent the ”Just To Say …Thinking About You” candle gift set which has been marketed to combine the sentiment of a greeting card with a thoughtful affordable gift. The box contains 10 small, but perfectly formed, non drip 100% beeswax candles. Each candle burns cleanly for about 20 minutes and the gentle honey aroma is certainly relaxing. You are able to order extra candles, add personalisation to the card/packaging and you can even get the candle set gift wrapped.

For Pinning Later.

MY CONCLUSION

This is a really cute gift idea and one that would be well received by candle fans. I was initially shocked by how thin and small the candles were – they are incredibly dinky – but that is probably because the candles I generally see marketed are either in glass bottles/ jars or are pretty chunky. But don’t be fooled by their size – these candles last at least 20 minutes and are pretty robust. The gentle honey aroma is just right too… not overpowering. My daughter commented that the candles with their lovely white ceramic holder could be placed anywhere – she used them in her bathroom where space is at a premium and found them very relaxing. My only concern is not to leave the candles unattended – especially if you have pets or young children – my cats are pretty inquisitive so lighting the candles in the lounge, for example, was nigh on impossible. They are ideal bathroom candles though.

My thanks to Cotton & Grey for the beautiful candle gift box .

Linda x

All photographs are by Linda Hobden, apart from where marked.

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Author Interview: Asya Semenovich

Summertime and the weather is balmy, lay on a sunbed and while away the hours with a good book …. so say me! 😊 And I have another great book to recommend and add on to your reading list – ”Fire Of The Dark Triad” by Asya Semenovich – a psychological sci-fi page turner. It is a futuristic tale of power, lust, betrayal and obsession. I loved it! Thanks to Ben Cameron for forwarding me a copy for reviewing.

BOOK SUMMARY

The ”Dark Triads” are a group of humans born with a DNA that makes them dangerous and for centuries they have wreaked havoc on Earth. Dark Triads are a rare breed, however, and display elements of narcissism. The Earth’s rulers tried to purify the human race by removing this particular gene from future generations…. but civilisation on Earth has become…. ”boring”?! Anyway, people on Earth now lacked creative spirit, so Earth’s leaders recruited an elite group of Head Hunters to recruit Dark Triads from other planets to come back to Earth. Meet Nick, the best of the Head Hunters, whose routine mission didn’t go exactly to plan….


AUTHOR INTERVIEW

I am so pleased to welcome onto the blog author Asya Semenovich ….hello Asya!

Thank you, Linda! Hello, I am Asya. I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, lived there until the time when the iron curtain started lifting, and in 1992 I left for graduate studies in the US. I got my PhD in Mathematics in 1997 from the Penn State University. After graduation I joined a tech start up, and later I worked in financial technology on Wall Street . I started writing my novel Fire of the Dark Triad while working full time as an Executive Director in Morgan Stanley. I really liked my job, but the book was progressing too slowly, and eventually I decided to leave my full-time position to focus on writing.

I live in New York, the city I love, with my husband and a daughter.

“Fire Of The Dark Triad” is a futurist tale of power, lust, betrayal and obsession. Where did you draw the inspiration to write this futuristic novel? 

I always wanted to write about things I was passionate about – freedom, especially, freedom of creative expression, the soul crushing reality of totalitarian regimes, the dangers of genetic engineering, the nature of creativity in various areas of human activities, the power of love and the great lengths people are willing to go for it.

When I learned about the psychological concept of the Dark Triad, I found that it could serve would serve as a rich and exciting basis for a sci-fi futuristic novel, and at the same time help me weave together the themes that I wanted to explore with my readers.

The Dark Triad recognizes the interplay between three character traits: Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy. Individuals described by this syndrome have little regard for others in their desire to get what they want. Many autocratic leaders such as Vladimir Putin  are perfect examples of this kind of person. In fact, in the sequel to The Fire of the Dark Triad, I’ve based the major antagonist on him. 

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create?

Currently, I’m working on an audio version of the novel and the sequel which will follow many of the original characters on a new adventure.  

I have to thank my many readers for inspiring me to pursue the sequel. I thought that I said everything I wanted to say in my first novel.  But many of my readers said that they wanted to know what happened to Nick and the other characters in their world. I also realized that there were many more ideas, I could share in a new book. 

The main theme of the sequel is the nature of manipulation:  by governments, by the media, by other people. As I thought about it, I found that the scariest part of this issue is just how easily people tend to embrace being manipulated. Perhaps it is because they feel more comfortable abandoning their free will and following someone else’s agenda. I wanted to make people think about it and search for the reason why it happens. Since the principal goal of Dark Triads is to manipulate others to do their bidding, it seemed the perfect way to continue the story.  

I also continue to deepen our understanding of the relationship between creativity and the Dark Triad syndrome. I read an article  in Harvard Business Review regarding this very issue. It states in part that “… the very thinking patterns that define the creative process and help lead to original thinking can have a maladaptive side. For example, creativity requires the inability to suppress irrelevant thoughts and inappropriate ideas.” In the sequel, I portray this connection from many different angles and pose the complex ethical problems they can cause.

 I loved the variety of characters – Who were the hardest characters to portray? Who were the easiest?  

While I tried to make all the characters multilayered and complex, the most challenging to portray was Nick, the protagonist and headhunter of Dark Triads. I wanted to write a believable male character by telling the story from his POV. It wasn’t easy, especially portraying the romantic and sexual interactions between Nick and other characters, and I am very grateful to my early readers for the feedback. 

The easiest character was the artist, Reish because I could identify with her on a deep personal level. 

I loved the main character Nick – and also the fiery flirty Lita. Do you have favourite characters? 

My favorite character is Nick, which isn’t surprising – we spent so much time together, and he was always a good company to have around thanks to his sense of humor, intensity and charm.

Lita is my other favorite character. Not only is she fiercely independent, but she is no afraid to fight for she believes in against all odds. The real life event that inspired me create her character occurred in 1968,four days after hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops poured into Czechoslovakia to crush the reforms of the Prague Spring. Eight Soviet citizens went into Moscow’s Red Square and held up banners denouncing the invasion and apologizing to the people of Czechoslovakia. These eight people knew in advance that the KGB would arrest them, but they decided they would risk their own safety to underscore their shame at their country’s behavior. Some were sentenced to lengthy terms in forced-labor camps in Siberia, some sent to psychiatric prisons, notorious for their cruelty, and some were forced into prolonged exile in remote, barren regions of the country. I wrote Lita to celebrate these heroes of freedom.

Were there any aspects of writing “Fire of The Dark Triad” that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected? 

I was surprised that the complexities of the main story and the various subplots came as easily as they did.  When I came upon plot point that was a challenge, I focused on my characters and let them lead me to a resolution. For instance, if Nick were caught between a rock and hard place, I would ask myself “What would be his next step? How would he get out of the situation?” And, he led me to find a solution.

If “Fire Of The Dark Triad” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Nick, Lita, Hilgor, Reish, Elizabeth? 

I would love Nick to be played by Alexander Skarsgard. I had his picture (as Eric from the series True Blood) on my wall during the time when I was writing Fire of the Dark Triad. He was the inspiration for Nick – funny, sarcastic, intense and fantastically good looking just like genetically improved people I describe in the future Earth in the book.

I can imagine Jennifer Lawrence as a perfect Lita; Daniel Craig as Hilgor; Denée Benton as Reish, and Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth. 

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you actually have other career aspirations? 

Ernest Hemingway, who was a major influence on my writing, once said: “In order to write about life, first you must live it.” I think I happened to do exactly as he advised, albeit unintentionally. 

Writing has always been my passion, but I didn’t have a chance to dedicate myself to it for a while. There were so many interesting things to explore in my life. I love theoretical mathematics, so I trained as a mathematician. Once I got my degree, my curiosity pushed me out of the ivory tower in the financial world. I worked on emerging technologies on Wall Street. It was an intense but fascinating experience where I met a host of interesting personalities. I used many of these life experiences in my novel.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

Yes, I love to read, always have. Naturally, speculative fiction is one of my favorite genres. Michael Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita was a huge inspiration on me. I even used a short quote from it as an epigraphic to Fire of the Dark Triad. Bulgakov’s antagonist Voland asks: “What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?” It encapsulates one of the major themes of my novel: the conflict presents by Dark Triad in society. Julio Cortázar’snovel The Pursuer has been my artist manifesto since I read it as a college student. Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris is another example of a book that influenced my writing. William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Jeff Vandermeer’s Veniss Underground are two current sci fi works which I admire as well.  

I vastly prefer reading printed books over ebooks. However, it presents only one inconvenience: a reliable way to locate a title in my library. No amount of arranging and rearranging my books by themes, periods, genres has ever helped me find a book when I want it. Sometimes I spend hours looking for a particular book on my bookshelves, and them I give up and buy a replacement just to find the original copy a week later. As you can imagine, I have many duplicates.  Otherwise paper over a screen, always. 

 Is “Fire Of The Dark Triad” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, it is on every major bookselling platform online.

If you could travel to any place on Earth to get inspiration for your next novel, where would you go and why? 

I would love to visit North Korea. It is a country that is deeply affected by the manipulation of media. I would be very curious to know what everyday people in North Korean actually think, what they believe, how many know that the world outside of their country is completely different. Since the sequel is based on the premise of the power of political and psychological manipulation and the willingness of people to accept it without question, what has happened to North Korea over its many autocratic regimes is a living example of the theme.

You was born and brought up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and emigrated to the USA in 1992.  What have you found are the main differences between the two countries?  What things have you missed from Uzbekistan? What things do you enjoy about the USA? 

I enjoy the freedoms to say and write what I want in the US. It is much more restricted in my home country. I do miss the rich cultural history of Uzbekistan and its food (although you can get more of it in New York City than any other place in the US).

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

My style can be described as Cyberpunk. I fell in love with this style as a teenager before I knew what Cyberpunk was, and over the years my devotion to this style has only been growing. To understand the style and distinguish it from goth, steampunk, rave, and industrial looks, one needs to remember the formal definition of Cyberpunk: “a subgenre of science fiction in a dystopian futuristic setting that tends to focus on a “combination of lowlife and high tech.” The cyberpunk fashion “speaks” to an urban dystopian landscape affected by highly advanced developments in science and technology. New York is a perfect example of this environment and my personal style fits right in. I love wearing black, a cyberpunk staple, zippers over buttons, snaps, loads of pockets and of course boots. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

My absolutely number one place to check for new arrivals every season is Y-3 by Adidas – a Japanese Style Cyberpunk Clothing Store in the style of Yohji Yamamoto. I have more items from this brand than from any other by a wide margin: my favorite boots, shoes, jackets, sweaters, hats are from Y-3. I originally ran into this store walking my dog in Soho, several blocks from where I live. I looked into the store window, stepped in and that was it. In fact, I love this brand so much that I named one of the main planets in Fire of the Dark Triad Y-3.I imagined its inhabitants all wearing Y-3 brand outfits! I recently mentioned it in the store, and salespeople were greatly amused. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

While I am waiting for the new arrivals to Y-3 store, I fantasize about wearing the outfit Del from Fire of the Dark Triad wears on Y-3. The upper part of her dress is a tight bodysuit made of soft gray materialthat covers the arms, chest and waist. At the hips it explodes into a haystack skirt of fluorescent red and white ribbons. The accessories are high-wedged white leather boots and black wristband studded with large pink stones. 

This dress is number one on my theoretical wish list.

Boots or Shoes? 

The answer is obvious because of the cyberpunk theme – boots, boots and boots of course! Plus, they are perfect for New York City streets. 

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For pinning later

My website darktriadbooks.com is dedicated to Fire of the Dark Triad, the soon to be published audio version, and its sequel. It has a page where I share reviews, updates on the progress of my projects, an option to subscribe to a newsletter to get news via email automatically.  

Thank you very much for chatting with us today Asya 😊. My thanks to you and Ben Cameron for the copy of the book for reviewing.

Photographs  of Asya only are by Michel Nafziger https://www.michelnafziger.com

Photographs featuring the book are by Linda Hobden.

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Until Next Sunday Book Tour

I’m so pleased to be on another book tour – this time it is to highlight an absolutely beautiful book, ”Until Next Sunday” by Audry Fryer. This historical romance is based on a true love story told via love letters.

BOOK SUMMARY

Rosina leaves Italy to build a better life, but the reality in America is nothing like the dream. She is far from the Italian countryside and the beautiful olive groves where she grew up. Here the work is endless, and the winters are cold and desolate. She never expects to find love in such a place. 
Then she met him. Gianni, the shoemaker’s apprentice, is gentle, handsome, and everything she never knew she needed in her life. 
But when Rosina falls ill and is quarantined, their future is at stake. All she can do is cling to the beautiful letters Gianni writes. Each week she tries to survive the long, lonely days until next Sunday for his brief visit. 
Will fate bring Rosina and Gianni together once more? Or are they destined to remain star-crossed forever? 
Until Next Sunday is a sweet Historical Romance inspired by a true story. It is based on actual Italian love letters which were discovered a century after they were written (some of which are contained in this book.) It is a portrait of the times, and a true immigrant experience. Feel the force with which these two lives find love, against all odds.

MY INTERVIEW

I was lost in a world of my own as soon as I started the first page and I really loathed to put the book down – a real page turner. Being based on a true story made the romance even more special so I couldn’t wait to chat with Audry about her collaboration with the family whose love this novel was based on and her delightful book. Hi Audry and welcome 😊

Hi, I’m Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. I have been writing fiction for over ten years. I have self-published two women’s fiction ebooks and one short story on Amazon prior to writing my latest historical romance novel. I live in Southeastern PA with my husband, three teen children, and two pugs, Pickles and Waffles. My oldest son is about to graduate high school. When I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, working in my flower and vegetable gardens, hiking the local trails near me, or reading a good book.

Who or what inspired you to research and write  “Until Next Sunday”?

When my husband’s uncle remarried, his wife, Laurie, had a collection of over a hundred love letters from her grandparents. She had worked with her two other sisters, Linda and Susan, to get the letters translated from Italian to English. When they could finally read the letters, the sisters were astonished by the story they told. They first pursued creating a screenplay but were advised to begin with a novel. Knowing I had self-published, Laurie asked me to write the story and I enthusiastically agreed!.

I found your latest book, “Until Next Sunday,” delightful yet sad too in places. I was amazed at how Rosina was treated both in hospital by the staff and by her own brother and his not-so-lovely wife-  and how she was virtually a prisoner due to her illness  – and how she and Gianni were able to maintain a relationship via letter writing and weekly visits. When you were researching, were there any aspects of the stories told that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?

The letters held many surprises for me. They are love letters so I expected them to have ovations of love. And there are so many beautifully written romantic overtures. However, I wasn’t expecting how honest and emotionally charged the letters would be. Rosina and Gianni didn’t hold anything back from each other! They shared their day-to-day experiences, their fears, their frustrations, and their hopes and dreams. Their personalities shown through their words. Rosina had a flair for the dramatic and Gianni held steadfast in his love for her. Plus, I was amazed how long Rosina remained in the hospital system. And, I was fascinated by her stories of living in the sanitarium in Malvern.  

I know that  “Until Next Sunday” was inspired by a true story  –  I, of course, loved both Rosina and Gianni;  but I took an instant dislike to Nurse Edna! What characters did you find the hardest to portray?  Any favourites?

Nurse Edna was among the “villains ” in the story. These “villain” characters were fictional yet I tried to make them accurate to the type of people Rosina most likely encountered. I enjoyed creating the character of Nurse Edna and the unhinged character of Elizabetta at the sanitarium. However, Dr. Solomon was difficult to portray. I needed him to be threatening but not too overt in his advances. Also, I enjoyed writing about Rosina’s family in Italy, especially Seraphina, her “evil stepmother,” her cousin Filomena, and her Aunt Teresa.

Growing up, have you always wanted to be an author or did you have other career aspirations in mind?

Growing up, I was always being creative in different ways. Originally, I pursued a career in teaching. I have Bechelor of Science degree in Elementary Education. I spent many years substitute teaching in the elementary schools and teaching pre-school. I still work part-time with pre-school and elementary homeschool students with tutoring instruction. 

When my boy and girl twins were born and my oldest was two and a half, my days of leaving the house to teach were put on hold. That’s when I decided to pursue my interest in writing. I loved to read and felt inspired to try my hand at writing a novel. 

Audry’s adorable pugs – Pickles and Waffles

 Are there any new writing plans in the pipeline?

Right now, I don’t have a project that I’m working on. There’s been interest in adding onto Until Next Sunday with either a prequel, a sequel, or a short story. So, I’m open to that. Plus, I have other novel ideas I’d like to develop.

At the moment, I’m planning to expand my website to be resource for readers with helpful articles about book and reading-related recommendations.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

I love to read. However, I’m a slow reader because I like to fully imagine the story (like a movie in my head) rather than skim it. My favorite genre is women’s fiction, historical fiction, and suspenseful fiction. Right now, I’m reading The Lost Apothecary and loving it. I read on an older Kindle that only displays books and no other distractions.

 Is “Until Next Sunday” available to purchase worldwide?

Yes, Until Next Sunday is widely distributed. Although most of our sales have been through Amazon, the eBook is distributed through Smashwords to popular vendors including Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, and more.

If you could visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for your next book, where would you go and why? 

Italy is on the top of my wishlists to visit. I’d like to tour the Campania area where Rosina called home, plus the surrounding regions of Tuscany and Rome. Also, I’d love to tour most of Eastern Europe and the UK. I find it so inspiring to explore new places.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

To go out, I like to pair a pretty top or sweater with a pair of jeans. At home, I’m usually in active wear, yoga pants or joggers and a t-shirt or hoodie. For shoes, I live in sneakers in the spring and fall. In the winter, you’ll find me in cozy boots. In the summer, I adore wearing my aqua blue crocs around my house.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I got into using Stitch Fix when the pandemic limited shopping at stores. But I often frequent Target and Famous Footwear. When I go to the outlets near me, I shop American Eagle, Anne Taylor Loft, and Eddie Bauer. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

My daughter talked me into buying a cute pair of white Berkinstock sandals. They’re both comfy and a great look. They were on my wishlist for a while. Now I need a couple of sundresses to wear to my daughter’s upcoming dance recital and my son’s graduation ceremony. 

Boots or Shoes?

Since I own more pairs of boots, I’ll go with “boots” over “shoes.” I like the look and comfort of boots. 

For Pinning Later

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

The best place to learn more about Until Next Sunday is my website: https://www.audryfryer.com/until-next-sunday/

You’ll find purchasing links there. And I’ll list them here:

Amazon:

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1132176

Apple Books

https://books.apple.com/us/book/until-next-sunday/id1609872396

Barnes & Noble

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/until-next-sunday-audry-fryer/1141003188?ean=2940165782619

Kobo

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/until-next-sunday

For my social media, go to:

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/AudryFryerWriter/

Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/audryfryerauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AudryFryer

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/awdry/_saved/

Thank you so much Audry for letting me be part of your Until Next Sunday Book Tour – I really enjoyed reading the book and was mesmerised by the story that unfolded. Thank you for the review copy of Until Next Sunday. I look forward to the sequel …. hint hint 😊

Linda x

All photographs were published with kind permission of Audry Fryer

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Author Interview: Geoffrey Paris

I recently read a memoir/true behind the scenes account of a hotel manager spanning over four decades. The book, “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” by Geoffrey Paris was an interesting account of how a shy and awkward young man coped with working long hours and being faced with embarrassing incidents from naked guests to drunken porters; and his gradual climb through the hospitality sector to become hotel manager, enduring fraudulent proprietors, incompetent waiters, con artist customers, prima donna popstars, royalty and love interests along the way. The book was an entertaining read, and it gave me an insight into the working lives of my own daughter who is a food and beverage manager (previously in hotels) and both my son and son in law who are both Head Chefs previously in hotels but both now cook in restaurants. I thought the book also gave an honest account of what to expect when working in the hospitality industry, especially useful if that is your intended career path. There is some swearing in the book and there are some adult themes discussed but neither are distracting the book flow. I received a complimentary copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager” for review purposes and my views are 100% my own.

So, after reading the book I managed to get a chance to chat to Geoffrey
Paris about his memoirs. Hi Geoffrey and welcome…

Hello! I’m Geoff. Having enjoyed a 40 year career in hospitality, as a hotel manager, mainly in Devon & Cornwall, I have semi-retired from the rigours of the job to enjoy a bit of time for myself. Having attended weekly pottery classes, I was given the opportunity to teach pottery, which I still do once a week. I concentrate on modelling, mainly marine life and animals. After 6 months out of work, I began to miss the camaraderie of hotel life so went back full-time as a receptionist at a local hotel. Ironically I am therefore working 6 days per week. So much for semi-retirement!

What made you decide to write down your memoir & stories about life as a hotel manager?

I had always kept diaries as a teenager up to the age of about 30, which helped immensely once I started to write after a particularly bad experience as a Manager at a Torbay hotel. I felt the world needed to know what we went through.

Your book highlighted for me that there can be fun times, chaos, extreme hard work, stress, companionship and loneliness in following a hotel manager based career. What were your expectations about being a hotel manager before actually becoming a hotel manager? Was it better than you thought, or worse or just different?

I actually wanted to be a chef, perhaps aided by the fact that I was incredibly shy at the time, so would be kept out of the public eye. To my annoyance, my Dad, who was paying for my college education, forced me to study hotel management. Working as a member of staff in hotels was easy in the sense that responsibilities were minor. I looked at managers and how they operated (good and bad) but still thought it an impossible hill to climb. For instance how would I, a small shy person, tell a beefcake chef what to do? I have worked for some excellent managers, for whom you would do anything, as well as alcoholic and dishonest managers, who were impossible to respect..

Were there any aspects of writing your book that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to relate than you expected?

Once in the mood, meaning no hangover, food and coffee easily available, no commitments that day, and several hours free, then I could go for it and the words just flowed. I enjoyed researching former work places on-line. Time was the main issue, what with the long hours worked in hotels, as well 6-day weeks on occasion. The editing and publishing process, with Mereo Books, being a totally new experience for me, was thrilling.

What main advice would you give a young person hoping to go into a hospitality career – aiming to become a hotel manager? What attributes do you think they should possess?

An HND or degree is one direction to start off, but chain hotels in-house training schemes are a good option, not afforded to me due to epilepsy, which in my younger days was regarded as a disability due to ignorance. You may have the opportunity to work overseas and meet some fascinating people. You may work long anti-social hours, but the rewards of seeing people enjoy themselves thanks to your hard work is satisfying. If you work your way up the ladder, which might at times be a challenge, you can end up at some marvellous hotels, have a good salary, and mix with the stars. Attributes – definitely a people person, positive, outgoing, eager to help others, and a can-do attitude. Patience, quick thinking, multi-tasking, and an eye for figures. Communication at all levels is a major factor. Understanding the needs of customers and staff.

So, we know you became a hotel manager, but as a child had you always wanted to have a career in the hotel trade or did you have other aspirations?

Yes I wanted to be a fighter pilot or work in submarines, but due to my epilepsy drugs, which as a teenager knocked me for six, could not pursue a career involving high academic standards. I couldn’t even become a chemist, which has always interested me. Chain hotels would not touch me, which nowadays would be classed as discrimination, so I was restricted to privately owned hotels. But I didn’t give up!

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

I don’t always have time to read, but since publishing my memoirs, all I read now are other memoirs/autobiographies. My favourite author is probably Thomas Hardy. ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ is a favourite. On holiday I might buy a thriller at the airport.

Is “More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager” available to purchase worldwide?

Most definitely. Through Amazon, WH Smith, Waterstones, Blackwells, etc, as well as from my publisher Mereo Books.

When you are booking a holiday for yourself at a hotel – what criteria do you look for when choosing where to go?

I always read the Trip Advisor reviews, both good and bad, and form a general opinion. I prefer leisure facilities, a good food recommendation, and a hotel with character. I also check the booking.com prices (if listed) to compare the tariff. Location is fairly important.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

At home jeans and polo shirt. Slippers inside. At work, suit trousers, white shirt, tie, black shoes and socks.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Marks & Spencers where I buy all my clothes. Shoes from Clarks. Groceries/weekly shop stuff from Sainsbury’s.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Trainers, so I can go back in the gym…., but not in a hurry 😊 I need some more swimming shorts, different colours – from M&S.

Boots or Shoes?

Always shoes. I did have some boots once as a teenager, but it was too much of an effort putting them on/off. I can’t wear Wellington boots because I have smallish feet and large calves, so can’t get into a Wellington. If anyone knows where I can buy wider ones, please let me know!

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Website: www.geoffparis.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/geoff.paris.5
Twitter: http://Twitter.com/ParisGeoff

And for my ceramics: www.geoffparispottery.com

Instagram: www.parisgeoffpottery

Geoffrey Paris is the author of More Sauce Madam? The Adventures of a Hotel Manager – a candid, eye-popping memoir of more than four decades working in hotels, restaurants and pubs. Geoff’s book is published by Mereo Books (paperback, £12.99) and available through the publisher, book shops and internet booksellers.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Geoffrey Paris – apart the foodie photo which is by Linda Hobden showing food made by my eldest son Chef Dan!

My thanks to Geoffrey Paris for the review copy of ”More Sauce Madam? The Adventures Of A Hotel Manager”.

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Waterbury Winter Book Tour

I’m so pleased to be part of the ”Waterbury Winter” book tour to celebrate the latest novel by author Linda Stewart Henley. Definitely a heart warming story that draws you in with its array of lovable characters – a story of friendship,and real life. This delightful story is a great book to pack in your holiday suitcase or download on your kindle to read whilst lying prone on the sunbed! I loved it!

BOOK SUMMARY

Barnaby Brown has had enough of freezing winters, insurmountable debt, a dead-end job, and his solitary life as a young widower with no one but his beloved parrot Popsicle. He yearns to move to California and reawaken his long-lost early life as an artist. But new troubles come in threes. His ancient car crashes into a snowbank. Popsicle escapes through a window carelessly left open. 

A New York gallery owner offers to represent Barnaby’s paintings—but is he on the up-and-up? All of it serves to shock Barnaby into confronting how low he has sunk, and he vows—again and again—to change. He has a few obstacles, starting with his heavy drinking and long-term neglect of his ancestral home. As he takes steps toward a better life, he re-discovers the value of old friendships and latent talents seen in new light, and finds the courage to consider a second chance at love. Rejoining the mainstream of life presents several startling mysteries he must unravel, with a few mortifying but enlightening stumbles.

A heart-warming novel about ordinary people reclaiming their dormant potential, Waterbury Winter celebrates the restorative value of art and the joy to be found in keeping promises.

Find out more about Waterbury Winter by visiting GoodReads or the author’s website. You can also purchase it on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and Bookshop.org.

MY INTERVIEW

It is with great pleasure to welcome Linda Stewart Henley onto the blog! Hi Linda!

Hello 😊 I’m Linda Stewart Henley , author of Estelle: A Novel. (Among other honors, it won Silver in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for Historical Fiction and was a finalist for The Eric Hoffer Book Awards as well as for the 2021 Nancy Pearl Award). Waterbury Winter is my second novel. I live in Anacortes, Washington, with my husband.

I’m an English-born American and I choose settings for my novels in places I have lived. These include New Orleans (Estelle) and Connecticut (Waterbury Winter)

Who or what inspired you to write “Waterbury Winter”?

During  a visit to see family for Christmas one year in a snowy part of the country, my husband and I stopped by a drugstore. It was December 26th. We were the only people in the store except for the cashier at the checkout counter.  He asked us how our Christmas was. Fine, we said, and asked him the same question. “Well, I was here, and my car broke down.” That man, unknown to him, became the model for Barnaby Brown, a lonely man who doesn’t celebrate Christmas and whose car breaks down.

I really enjoyed reading your book, “Waterbury Winter ” and I particularly enjoyed the characters of Barnaby, Julia, Lisa & Sean. What character did you particularly enjoy writing about? What character was the hardest to portray?

Julia was the hardest. I had to make her relationship with Barnaby believable. I think it worked because they were both lost, haunted by their past, and stuck when they met.

Researching for your novel must have been quite interesting…for example, the brass button collections, the social work aspect, ice fishing … did you discover anything that shocked you or uncover some nugget of information that was unexpected? 

I didn’t know anything about Waterbury when I started the novel, so yes, everything surprised me. More about that in the next question.

The novel is based in New England and yet you live across the continent in Washington State. What made you pick that location for the novel?  

I wanted a location that had seen better days, just like Barnaby. Waterbury seemed right because its once famous brass industry had disappeared. It seemed like the perfect setting for the story of a man who struggles to redeem himself.

Growing up, did you envisage yourself as a writer or did you have other career aspirations?

I never saw myself as a writer until my first novel was accepted for publication in 2020. Until then, I was just playing with words, trying to learn how to write fiction. I spent my entire career working as an administrator at institutions of higher education.

Is “Waterbury Winter ” available to purchase worldwide?

I’m not sure if it’s available worldwide, but it’s for sale through Amazon in the USA, Canada, Europe, and the UK.

If you could visit any place in the world to inspire your next novel, where would you go and why? 

My next novel is set in the UK at the start of WWII. I’d love to go there to confirm that I’ve accurately represented the places I write about there. I haven’t lived in England since I was sixteen. 

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I’m not working, and most people in my part of Washington State prefer casual clothes. The rainy climate doesn’t allow for stylish shoes and many people enjoy hiking. So we wear a lot of hiking gear, even when we’re not on the trail. Having spent time in the Southern United States, where people tend to dress up more, I sometimes wish we had opportunities to wear more interesting clothes. I do have a few nice dresses, mostly summer ones. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

I miss the big department stores like Nordstrom’s. I like clothing boutiques, places where the sales people want to help you find suitable clothes. The personal service is much more fun for me than online shopping. 

Boots or Shoes?

Both! I can’t imagine wearing street shoes in the mud and snow. I had to learn about this. When I first moved to Washington, I went on a hike in the Cascade Mountains. It was early spring, and the creeks were overflowing. It was impossible to keep to the trail without wading through the water. I wore hiking boots that I’d bought in California, and they weren’t waterproof. I walked all day with wet feet. After that, I went to REI and bought a sturdy pair of waterproof boots. 

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Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

              www.lindastewarthenleyauthor.com

              www.facebook.com/lindastewarthenley

THE BOOK TOUR DATES

Great to chat to you Linda! Thank you so much for the advance copy of your book and inviting me onto your book tour! I’ve had a blast!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission of Linda Stewart Henley.

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Review: Calidad Home Silk Pillowcase

DISCLAIMER ALERT: The silk pillowcase has been supplied by Calidad Home for the purpose of this review however all opinions expressed are 100% mine.

Do you suffer from bed head hair in the morning? Are you battling to keep cool at night when your menopausal body is making you sweat? Are you looking for a hypoallergenic pillowcase? Then I might have the answer for you – the Calidad Home Silk Pillowcase! I was sent a gold silk pllowcase to try out and here’s what I thought….

THE BRAND

It was a chance conversation many years ago that founder Michelle had with a girlfriend about waking up with hair resembling a birds nest, and her friend remarking that she found sleeping on a silk pillow helped not only her hair but her skin too, that introduced Michelle to the delights of silk. Michelle did extensive research into silk, and after discovering the world’s most luxurious silk – 100% Mulberry Silk, 22 Momme, Grade 6A , long strand silk – Michelle began selling 100% Mulberry Silk pillowcases in 2018. Her brand, Calidad Home, was born. “Calidad” is Spanish for quality and is an apt name as these pillowcases ooze a combination of luxury, quality, thickness and durability. Apart from pillowcases, the website offers a variety of giftboxes – ideal presents for all occasions. The website: www.silkpillowcase.co.uk

PACKAGING /DELIVERY

The silk pillowcases are luxuriously packed as befits a luxurious item – the letterbox box had “silk” quotes on it and the silk pillowcase was well wrapped to prevent postal damage. There is currently free fast delivery in the UK (1 – 3 days) and, at a cost, next day UK delivery, standard delivery to Ireland and worldwide delivery also available.

THE PRODUCT

There are a range of delightful colours of the website, and there is bound to be a colour or two that will fit in with your decor. I received the pillowcase in ”gold” but other colours available include white, grey, ivory, light pink, charcoal, dark pink, tie dye pattern, dark blue, taupe, black, light blue, leopard print, aqua, jade, zebra print, snakeskin, and lilac. The pillowcase itself is 50cm x 75cm – fits standard UK pillow sizes.

SILK – THE BENEFITS

There are lots of known benefits about sleeping on a silk pillow :

  • it reduces fine lines and wrinkles – umm I’ve not had the pillowcase that long to say whether I have noticed a reduction to my wrinkles … so watch this space!
  • sleeker, smoother hair (no more bedhead hair) – My hair hasn’t been like a bird’s nest in the morning 😊
  • Hydrating glowing skin – when you sleep on a cotton pillowcase, cotton is an absorbent material that will suck the moisture out of your skin. Silk is a natural product and has an amazingly smooth texture that doesn’t snag or dry out your skin. My son has tried out the pillow for a few weeks – his acne has cleared up significantly.
  • Hypoallergenic – the pillow is a repellent against bed mites, dust and pollen. As both my son and I suffer from hay fever (grass pollen and tree pollen respectively) I found it greatly reduced my itchy eyes and my son currently has been ok too.
  • Cooling to sleep on – a big plus for me! I hate a warm pillow!! As silk is a natural product, the pillow will keep you cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • Durable and strong – not tested this aspect but silk is 5 times stronger than steel. Michelle’s own children have had pillow fights and the pillowcases haven’t suffered. I believe you. The pillowcases feel thick and substantial and are well made and finished.

LAUNDRY ADVICE

The pillowcase is fully machine washable. The advice is to wash on a cool wash (30°) inside out, the company recommends Ecover and no stain removers. I followed the advice to the letter. There were a couple of dribble stains that did not fully disappear after washing but are hardly noticeable. The pillowcase was quick to dry – tumble drying is not recommended and the advice was to dry laying flat. I don’t have an area where I could lie the pillowcase to dry , so I did put it on my washing line to dry. After washing, the pillowcase did crease a lot but a cool iron solved that problem quickly.

CONCLUSION

I like this pillowcase. It certainly looks good, has many benefits and is machine washable to boot. I love the variety of colours available and the silk pillowcase makes a gorgeous gift whether on its own, in a giftbox or as part of a larger pamper giftbox. My thanks to Michelle for giving me the opportunity to review, enjoy and reap the benefits of this lovely silk pillowcase.

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All photographs were taken by Linda Hobden,

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Author Interview: Andreas F Clenow

What do you get when a Zurich -based financier/best selling investment guide author decides to write a novel? A thoroughly entertaining crime mystery set amongst the world of secretive private banks in Switzerland. A Most Private Bank is the debut novel by Andreas F Clenow, a fictional story but one based on a world that does exist – the world of financial empires, rich kids, private banks and criminal empires. The novel oozes charisma, mystery, seduction, romance and enough twists and turns to keep you hooked. The characters you can visualise in your mind … Sandra (the faithful secretary/lifesaver); Jim Dixon – the middle aged dealmaker with a fallen past; Christina Rosenbaum – the young , rich, stunning & flirtatious client; …. the sidekick, police officer, spy, bank manager, gun slingers… Oh, and Jim’s knowledge and addiction to the finest Swiss watches. Add a pinch of passion. Definitely fast paced, definitely page turning and in a setting that gives it that added wow factor. Highly recommended.

I caught up with author Andreas F Clenow to find out more about his writing, his finance career and ….cows! Hi Andreas!

Hi Linda, and thank you for having me! I am quite possibly the only Swiss financier in the world who can brag about having grown up in a place with the tourist slogan “Cow Densest Town of Sweden.” I left my native country some twenty years ago after going on a business trip to Geneva that turned out to be a little longer than planned. Rather than going back North, I found a wife, moved to Zurich, founded a hedge fund, got a son and bought a house. It’s been an interesting ride.

“A Most Private Bank” is your debut novel – a fictional crime mystery set among the world of secretive private banks.   What inspired you to write a novel ? 

I have wanted to write a novel for decades but I wasn’t sure if I had anything really interesting to say.  I believe that, at least for most of us, it takes life experience to craft a vivid world and to tell a meaningful story. This story plays out in the secretive and amoral world of hidden money, a world that I know well, perhaps too well. 

We’re now all starting to get used to regular data leaks, again and again showing that so many banks and bankers are little more than highly paid grifters. I wanted to show my take on this, to tell stories from the inside without actually exposing real people to legal or physical danger. Most of all, myself.

And of course, now that finance, hedge funds and banks are getting a bad rep, and deservedly so, I thought perhaps we could get #notallhedgefundmanagers trending on twitter… 

You are a Zurich-based financier – so are your characters based on observations of people you’ve come across in the past and incidents you’ve experienced ? Who were the hardest characters to portray?

This was overall a very tough call. My book takes place in Zurich over a single week, and it involves only a handful of key characters. In reality, almost all people and scenes are based on real events, experienced by myself or people close to me. Of course, all characters are combined, based on multiple real people and the actual events involved far more people over a far longer time. My own role in these events vary just as widely. While my main character’s place is always front and centre, mine may have been anything from a key participant to an unwilling observer. 

It may be surprising to the readers of the book, but if anything, I have toned things down for the book. Sometimes reality simply isn’t believable. 

The hardest character to write was without a doubt Christina. I believe that it’s always tricky for a man to write a female character, but even more so if you need a manipulative Femme Fatale who won’t hesitate to use any means available to get what she wants. As a man writing such a character, you’re walking a fine line and you take the risk of the reader mistaking your male characters’ misogyny for your own.  

Were there any aspects of writing your novel that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected (considering you have written 3 non fiction books) ? 

Writing a work of fiction was orders of magnitude harder than writing finance books. At the same time, it was also far more fun.

What truly surprised me though was the publishing process. My first three books, all non-fiction, have hit all the top of the best-seller lists, achieved sales ranks in the top one percent globally and got translated into eight languages. Non-fiction publishers from all over the world have called me to ask if I’m writing another and if they can have it. 

In the fiction space, nobody cares. Publishers don’t take calls from authors and after fifty requests, only twenty agents got back to me with a copy/pasted ‘no thanks’. The rest didn’t bother replying to emails or returning phone calls. A large number of literary agents, quite oddly, state on their websites that they don’t deal with people of my race or background. I found the process rather absurd, but thanks to my previous work and contacts I found a way of getting the book out there and making it a success anyhow. 

Hypothetically speaking, if “ A Most Private Bank” was made into a film, who would you love to see portraying the characters, especially Jim Dixon and Christina Rosenbaum? 

I thought Matthew McConaughey would make a good Jim! A cynical fallen hedge fund manager, hiding out in Europe and playing the big fish in a small pond. The amoral leading man, concealing his true feelings and motives from the readers and playing the game on his terms.

Do you think we could get away with Keira Knightley for Christina? I know, she’s a few years older than my character but I think she’d pull it off! Would you mind giving her a call for me, Linda?

Have you always wanted to have a career in the financial field or writing or did you have other aspirations? 

My first week at the University of Gothenburg I found myself sitting on a couch with a beer, a guy from the computer club and a girl from the trading club. They were both trying to recruit me as a new member. I’d like to say that I turned the trading club down, but the truth is that I applied to both and got rejected from that one. That’s probably why I started my first IT company, back in the mid 90s, before I started my first finance company.

I always enjoyed the intersection of finance and computers, which is why quant finance appealed to me. But if you’re asking about earlier days, I have a dirty confession. In my teens, I was a… politician. Don’t tell anyone.

 Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

Absolutely! I carry my Kindle everywhere. When I was younger, I read only non-fiction. That flipped upside down some 15-20 years ago and now I devour fiction. In particular, I love the classic hard boiled masters, and I hope that shines through in my own work. Hammett and Chandler are of course at the top of my list.

I made the mistake of reading the brilliant World War Z by Max Brooks during the first wave of the pandemic. It’s such an amazing book, written with such realism, that I started to blur the real pandemic outside the door with the zombie pandemic that he crafted! 

Another author which gives me somewhat mixed feelings is Brett Easton Ellis, and in particular Less Than Zero. It’s the kind of book which makes me both impressed and depressed. The latter, because of the fact that he produced such a masterpiece at the age of 21 and that there is no way that I could ever learn to be that good if I had a hundred years.

 Is A Most Private Bank  available to purchase worldwide?

If you find a country where they don’t sell it, let me know!

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I like to dress well, but prefer to mix styles for a bit of personal touch. At the moment, I’m wearing a grey pinstripe Ermenegildo Zegna jacket with a crimson pocket square, matching the short sleeve Boggi Milano polo of the same shade of crimson which I have on under it. 

At the risk of becoming a brand spokesperson, my blue jeans are also from Boggi Milano, secured by a brown spotted ostrich belt. The shoes are black On sneakers, the up and coming Swiss brand of comfortable sports footwear. A discrete steel Rolex Submariner on a black-and-silver NATO strap rounds off the picture.

For leaving the office, I have a black Hugo Boss overcoat, a grey cashmere baseball cap, naturally without any text or logo, and gold plated square aviators from Randolph Engineering.

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Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

In terms of fashion, I very much prefer the old brick and mortar experience. Perhaps that is at least in part due to not fitting the regular molds, and the difficulties of finding anything that fits off-the-rack. I have the nation’s most prolific shopping street right outside the office, but quite honestly I would rather take the car for an hour to the many excellent brand outlets in Switzerland and Germany. High fashion designer quality at half the price, what’s not to like!

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Spring is approaching rapidly and a new pair of Bally loafers would be nice.

Boots or Shoes?

Unless I’m hiking the Alps, I’d go for shoes, either comfortable sneakers or oxfords. 

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc


My novel, A Most Private Bank is available here: https://smarturl.it/amostprivatebank And of course, you can read more about the book, and get in contact with me through my author website, https://www.clenow.com/.

All photographs are by Linda Hobden (apart from the author pic, published with kind permission of Andreas F Clenow).

My thanks to Andreas and to Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity for the copy of ”A Most Private Bank” for review purposes.

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Review: Aura Print

Love is in the air… it’s fast approaching that romantic date of the year, 14th February – St Valentine’s Day … when committed couples think about tying the knot and announcing their love to the world. If you are engaged and looking at getting married, then my review this week with print specialists Aura Print might just inspire you when it comes to all aspects of wedding stationery from Save The Date cards to guest place cards.
DISCLOSURE: I was gifted the Aura Print Sample Pack in exchange for an honest review; all opinions expressed are entirely my own.

SO WHO ARE AURA PRINT?

Based in Yorkshire, Aura Print started life in 2007 with Liam Smith as a one man operation. In 2022, the company has grown, and Liam is now accompanied by a dedicated team of nearly 20 experienced print professionals, all with their own specialities such as foil printing, precision cutting etc. From providing the printing needs for companies in Huddersfield and other areas in Yorkshire; Aura Print prints for a range of customers across the globe from USA to Europe. Aura Print’s main goal is to provide a high quality print, that doesn’t break the bank with expert service thrown in.

THE WEBSITE

https://aura-print.com/uk/

I found the website easy to navigate, with an amazing choice of printing services offered not just limited to wedding stationery – including flyers, business cards, menus, vouchers, playing cards. When it comes to wedding themes though, couples are certainly spoilt for choice – every theme is covered such as winter weddings, elegant, modern, geometric, rustic, vintage, summer … and you can even request your own bespoke design. The ordering process is simple: choose a design; select paper type and thickness; order online ; approve your digital print …. then wait for your order to be delivered. The ”magic” time is 3pm – that is the daily cut off point for despatching items; and turnaround time starts from that time too.

THE PRODUCTS

SAVE THE DATE CARD

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”Rock Rose” – square 148 x 148 mm – Scarlet Colour Core 800gsm

A beautiful design – I love the bold colours and roses are my favourite flowers so that is probably why the design captures my attention. The card is beautifully thick – unlikely to get damaged in the post. The autumnal colours are just perfect for those Autumn weddings … and Autumn happens to be my favourite time of the year too! Sending a “Save The Date” card is a relatively new tradition in the UK but is quickly trending and is a lovely way of letting people know of your future intentions.

INVITATIONS

“Prism” – Conqueror Contour Diamond White 300gsm – A5 148 x 210mm

Posh paper this and another pretty design! This design features a beautiful faux gold geometric border and a watercolour style print.

RSVP CARD

”Secret Garden” – Recycled Uncoated 350gsm A6 – 105 x148mm

A pretty simple, elegant design ideal for the modern couple. This particular card is made from uncoated recycled card. I used proper ink to write on this card and the paper is such good quality it didn’t smudge.

THANK YOU CARD


Hitched” – Kraft 259gsm – A6 105 x 148 mm

A novel way to say ” thank you” to your guests and to share one of your favourite photos of the day. “Hitched” is a delightful design with a natural feel, great if you are planning an outdoor or woodland themed wedding.

PLACE CARD

Summer Mint – Uncoated 350gsm – 100x 80mm

A basic design in a gorgeous mint green colour that epitomises elegance and is ideal for that Spring or Summer wedding. I love the handwritten style text print too.

BELLY BAND / STICKER

Ferragni – Belly Band – to fit A5 – Pearlescent 290gsm ; Sticker – Round 50mm – Paper Sticker High Tack

Ferragni is a pretty floral design that would suit a variety of wedding themes from elegant to vintage. I love the pearlescent finish card of the belly band sample and the sticker idea is pretty novel too.

TAG WITH STRING

Snow Meadow – 50 x 90 mm – Pearlescent 290gsm & silver string.

For that winter wedding , Snow Meadow design doesn’t disappoint. I love the versatility of these tags too – as Save The Dates, invites, wedding favours, table decorations ….

MY VERDICT

I was very impressed by the designs, quality of print and paper, as well as the variety of stationery on offer. The website was extremely easy to navigate (very important) and the instructions on how to order easy to understand. The FAQ section covered every scenario imaginable – very useful when you have a nervous couple trying to organise their wedding! Having my own daughter getting married in January 2023 and my son the following year, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Aura Print. 8/10

My thanks goes to Liam of Aura Print for sending me the sample pack for this review. All photographs are copyright © LindaHobden

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An Interview With Jessica Bell

My guest this week is the multi-talented Jessica Bell : she is author of the fantastic dystopian novel “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness”; a poet with 3 poetry collections under her belt; a writing/publishing coach; graphic designer; voice over actor; daughter of iconic Australian indie rock legends; singer-songwriter; and singer with the ambient electronica band ”Keep Shelly” (where she is known as the ballsy alter -ego Bruno). Phew! How does she do it all?! First, let me tell you about her book, ”How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” …..

MY BOOK REVIEW

I was sent a copy of the “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” book by Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for reviewing and are my views are entirely my own. “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” is written by Jessica Bell.

Let me admit from the start – I’m a thriller fan that also likes to read the odd historical novel, travelogue and classic literature. So, when Ben approached me with this book, a dystopian genre offering, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I’m glad I welcomed the book with open arms though, as the story kept me riveted from the very beginning to the very last word. The story is set in a near -future world that is ruled by happiness and the pursuit of happiness is everybody’s goal in life – without happiness you are doomed to die young; with happiness you are granted immortality. But finding real happiness isn’t easy especially when time is running out. Selma Beyett runs the new local bakery, and her husband, Jerome, must die in six months unless he finds perpetual happiness. He has a loving family, a job he adores … so why can’t he find happiness. Icasia, a misfit and ”tatter” doomed to die young for the crime of her child’s unhappiness. Icasia gets food for herself and her son by bartering, and when she walks into Selma’s bakery to barter new customers for food, Selma and Icasia strike up on an unexpected friendship. In a desperate effort to save Jerome from death, the two ladies go on a profound search for happiness and what they discover leads to some questions about what we take for granted and what happiness really is. Very thought provoking, highly entertaining and a great read. Loved it. 9/10

THE INTERVIEW

I’m so pleased to be able to welcome Jessica onto the blog! Hi Jessica!

Hello 😊I am Jessica Bell and I’m an author, designer, singer/songwriter and publisher and I work from a little corner in my loungeroom. I’m also a mother of a two-year-old boy named Madoc Maximus, whose first spoken phrase was ‘half a moon,’ and who once claimed the renovation banging next door, was ‘the heartbeat of building’.

“How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” is set in a near-future society ruled by happiness. Where did you draw the inspiration to write this futuristic novel? 

I was watching The Giver. And I wondered what would happen in these kinds of stories if the characters didn’t fight against these totalitarian societies, but instead learned to live happily within them, and of course, whether that would make an interesting story. Would these dystopias potentially become utopias, or a mix of the two? And how/why?

I loved the variety of characters – Who were the hardest characters to portray? Who were the easiest?

I love getting inside the heads of my characters, so I wouldn’t say any were particularly hard or easy. I did very much enjoy writing Jerome’s character, though, I think because I love the challenge of writing a person who is totally different from myself. I think I most enjoyed the very first time he attended DeathCare Therapy. I also loved writing the secondary character of Phyvwonoh, the therapist that behaves a little like AI … but perhaps isn’t!

I loved the main character Icasia Bloom –  and I did have a soft spot for Selma’s husband, Jerome, too. Do you have favourite characters?

Jerome is a clear favourite. But since the antagonist of this story is actually the Globe and not one particular person, I pretty much fell in love with all them for one reason or another.

You have, so far, written, a memoir, 5 novels, 3 poetry collections and a “Writing In A Nutshell” series and a variety of publications. Were there any aspects of writing “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected? 

This is the first book that has ever started with a clear outline and chapter summaries. I usually write by the seat of my pants, but this book needed clear organization. When reading the final product, the world doesn’t actually seem very complicated, but in order for everything to make sense, and slot together, a lot of backstory needed to be written that actually didn’t need to end up in the book. It was very hard for me to cut it all out! I’m going to provide access to all that backstory to subscribers of my newsletter soon.

 If “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Icasia Bloom, Selma Beyett, Jerome and Leila?

Oh gosh, I never do this. I always create a unique picture in my head. Okay, after a bit of Googling, I’d say the following:

Icasia: Claire Foy

Selma: Nicole Kidman

Jerome: Matthew McConaughey or Colin Farrell

Leila: Sophia Lillis

Music also plays a big part of your life – being the daughter of iconic Australian indie rock legends as well as being a singer/songwriter and singer in the ambient electronica band “Keep Shelly”. Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or in music or did you actually have other career aspirations?

I wanted to become a dancer as a pre-tween. I would make up my own choreography in my bedroom to artists like Madonna, Prince, MC Hammer and Technotronic! As a teen, I wanted to become a rock star. That dream has never left me. I still want to become a rock star! But I guess I’m getting on a bit now, so I’ve accepted my fate. As a young adult I aspired to become an archaeologist, so I started out at university studying archaeology. But I was terrible at maths and continued to fail the research methods modules, and therefore quit. I then asked myself, what do I already know how to do? (I was a lazy young adult!) and decided that I already knew how to speak English, so signed up for a Bachelor of Arts, with a major in English. Ha!

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?

The last two years since having my son have been difficult to find time to read, but before that, oh yes. I devoured around one book a week. I’m open to any genre if the writing hooks me. I do especially love speculative fiction, especially Margaret Atwood’s. Also a big fan of Marilynne Robinson, Rebecca Miller, Roz Morris, Jeanette Winterson, and Magdalena Ball.

 Is “How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness”  availableto purchase worldwide?

Yes!

If you could travel to any place on Earth to get inspiration for your next novel, where would you go and why?

I will most likely be diving into the sequel to my memoir ‘GO: A Memoir About Binge-drinking, Self-hatred, and Finding Happiness’. The sequel is tentatively entitled, ‘STAY: A Memoir about Self-love, Changing Your Life, and Living Your Dream’. So, the place I would ‘travel’ to again, is the STAGE. I’ve really missed performing live since the pandemic.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Pre-mother/pandemic days:

Outfit one: ripped black faded jeans, a band t-shirt and a black pair of laced ankle boots from Camper (flat no heels).

Outfit two: Bright coloured leggings, and a body-fitted casual black mini dress, and black converse sneakers.

Post-mother/pandemic days: Barefoot, viscose lounge wear from Oysho!

For Pinning Later

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Love Oysho for me, and Mori Baby for my son.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

To be honest, to fit back into my performance outfits! I haven’t been able to get back to my skinny self since having a baby. My favourite is a pair of black sequined fitted pants and an apricot-coloured semi-see-through tank. Yes, I wear a lot of black.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots! More rock ‘n’ roll.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

Best I just share my portfolio site iamjessicabell.com where you can access all the different facets of me and all my socials. 😊

Fabulous chatting to you Jessica! I love your style of writing and you’ve probably converted me to including some dystopian genre books to my reading list! Thanks also to Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for sending me a copy of ”How Icasia Bloom Touched Happiness” to review.

Linda x

All photographs have been published with the kind permission of Jessica Bell.

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American Goddess

Over the last couple of months I have read some really great books, as you may have already gathered over the last few book posts and “American Goddess” is no exception. I was sent a copy of the “American Goddess” book by Ben Cameron of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for reviewing and are my views are entirely my own. “American Goddess” is written by L M Affrossman, an author who is also known for work in drama and journalism.

MY MINI REVIEW OF AMERICAN GODDESS

There is a secret, a dangerous secret, known as The Woman’s Secret. And it is in Edinburgh that Peter and Ellisha Kelso meet Dr B McBride. Dr McBride knows about The Woman’s Secret. Once Peter and Ellisha discover The Woman’s Secret, they decide to use what they know to heal the planet and produce a kinder, gentler world …. and it isn’t too long before the idea becomes viral and Ellisha becomes the new face of hope for despairing people everywhere. BUT…. oh yes, there is a BUT…. there is still heartache and despair….

I found the storytelling riveting…. a simple plausible idea, an idea that goes viral and spins out of control. A delicious mixture of ancient thoughts, religious fervour and modern day drama. Believable and likeable characters, a storyline that isn’t far fetched but is “different” and a great book to lose yourself in for a few hours. I loved it. 9/10

THE INTERVIEW

After reading the “American Goddess”, I was buzzing with questions and I was fortunate that author, L M Affrossman agreed to satisfy my curiosity to chat all things “American Goddess”, books and her dream wardrobe! Welcome Lesley! 😊

Hi, I’m Lesley. I live in Scotland where I spend my days writing and being harassed by local wildlife, who see no reason to hunt when they can knock on my back door and demand breakfast.

What was the inspiration behind “American Goddess”?

I suppose the core inspiration was the way in which, as humans, we construct reality through stories. And most significantly, what happens to a person once they buy into a particular mythology. It’s very hard to walk away from the stories that define us, even when we are faced with facts that contradict our world outlook.

I loved the variety of characters – Who were the hardest characters to portray? Who were the easiest?   

I think Ellisha was the hardest. She is in an unprecedented position, and it was hard to show her becoming more and more remote from the world, while keeping her real. There had to be something unearthly about her, while at the same time, she had to be a recognizable modern day woman with desires and fears and hopes and dreams. Her husband was also hard to write. He was such an arrogant fool at the start of the book, and it was hard to like him until later.

I loved Dr McBride –  for her eccentricity and I did have a soft spot for Peter, especially when he tried to regain his relationship with Ellisha. Do you have favourite characters? 

I have to confess Dr Babs McBride was my favourite. I thought of her as a sort of debauched Mary Beard, though much more wicked and calculating. Every woman knows there is a point where you become invisible. I wanted to show a woman in that position who still had bite.

Were there any aspects of writing “American Goddess” that surprised you, either by being harder or easier to write about than you expected? 

Everything about the book was hard. Essentially, I had to come up with a new mythology and show how it would get inside people’s heads. I wrote 21 versions of it before I was happy to show it to reviewers. I’m like that with everything. Never shop with me.

 If “American Goddess” was to become a TV film, who would you pick to represent the main characters eg Peter, Ellisha, Miriam, Perdita, Duncan, Dr McBride?

Funny you should ask that. Someone recently said to me that the book could be seen as an allegory for Meghan Markle. It wasn’t my intention, but if Meghan’s looking for some acting jobs the part of Ellisha is waiting… Peter would naturally have to be played by Richard Madden (Robb Stark of GoT) , a very versatile Scottish actor. I love Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve). She could be either Perdita or Dr McBride. She’d be brilliant at either of them.  Rory McCann has to be Duncan MacCaa … because who else could do it?  As to Mariam, I’m going to go a little bit out there and say I’d like to see Olivia Gillies, a young drama student I know, do the part. I think she’d bring such a fresh perspective to it

Have you always wanted to have a career in writing or did you actually have other career aspirations? 

I’ve had other careers but never other aspirations. Writing is what I live and breathe, though I take time off for chocolate.

Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book? 

I’m more of a book sand worm (lovers of Dune will get that one). I don’t have a favourite genre. I think you can write about anything if you do it well, and the most exciting ideas can be dull if handled badly. I’m reading a novel called, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan at the moment, which takes place in nineteenth century China and deals with the practice of foot binding. It’s dreadful and fascinating in equal measures. I’m definitely a Kindle fan. I didn’t think I would like it at first, but without it, I would have no room to move in my house. My partner is also thrilled as it means he doesn’t have to carry a small library of my books on his back when we are travelling.

 Is “American Goddess”  available to purchase worldwide?

Yes. The book is available in all the usual outlets.

If you could travel to any place on Earth to get inspiration for your next novel, where would you go and why? 

My next novel follows an individual’s past lives, and I would love to visit China or Egypt to do some research. I love to get a sense of cultures quite unlike my own. Though anywhere that challenges my perceptions would do.

Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

I really want to make it sound like I dress like Carrie from Sex and the City, but in truth as I spend most of my time squinting at a laptop, I like comfortable slouchy clothes so The White Stuff is a haunting ground for me. 

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?

Well, as I said, The White Stuff is a favourite. Their clothes are comfortable but still have that feminine floaty feel. When it comes to going out, I like Brora. I prefer timeless pieces that I can rewear. 

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Well, my middle son is graduating this month, and this naturally means that I need a new outfit. I’m probably off to Reiss for a coat and probably a blouse and maybe some trousers…

Boots or Shoes?

Boots. You can’t splash through puddles in shoes.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc

For Pinning Later © Linda Hobden

www.sparsilebooks.com

https://www.facebook.com/sparsilebooks

Twitter: @SparsileBooks

It was fabulous to chat to you Lesley and I look forward to reading your next book!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with the kind permission of L M Affrossman (apart from the Pinterest picture which was by Linda Hobden) . Thanks also to Ben Cameron (Cameron Publicity & Marketing) for the copy of “American Goddess”.

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