What Was I Reading in January 2022?

Anticipating the seasonal heat I had collected a stockpile of books to read. Books were from my local library, gifts, or already on my bookshelves. There were some books leftover from Christmas, an appealing mid-grade childrens’ book and some folktales Also, two books featuring cats. I also find that covers do influence which books I choose to read, well if publishers spend time and money selecting the right cover, it seems I am not alone in this.

I wouldn’t take a book to the beach, all that sand!

The Secret Book, and Scone Society by Ellery Adams.

From New York Times bestselling author Ellery Adams comes the first in an intriguing new series set within a quirky small-town club where the key to happiness, friendship—or solving a murder—can all be found within the pages of the right book . . .
Miracle Springs, North Carolina, is a place of healing. Strangers flock here hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone from the Gingerbread House bakery, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burden.
When a visiting businessman reaches out to Nora for guidance, she knows exactly which novels will help. But before he can keep their appointment at Miracle Books, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to gain trust and earn redemption by helping others. To join the society, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place. Determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cramped and cozy bookstore to share stories and trade support. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

The cover appealed to me.

My Review.

This book is the first in the series and goes a long way to explain, how and why the book club was formed. As a spa resort, Miracle Springs certainly doesn’t need bad publicity and an unexplained death is certainly that. There is a deal going on, but is it all that it seems?  Nora and the club rise to the challenge of finding out who killed the businessman who asked her for book recommendations. Sharing their secrets bonds the female friendships which are such a part of this book. A potential love interest added to the appeal and of course the book suggestions. It’s a series I will continue to read.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (著 )Philip Gabriel  (Translator)

It’s not the journey that counts, but who’s at your side.

Nana is on a road trip, but he is not sure where he is going. All that matters is that he can sit beside his beloved owner Satoru in the front seat of his silver van. Satoru is keen to visit three old friends from his youth, though Nana doesn’t know why and Satoru won’t say.

Set against the backdrop of Japan’s changing seasons and narrated with a rare gentleness and humour, Nana’s story explores the wonder and thrill of life’s unexpected detours. It is about the value of friendship and solitude, and knowing when to give and when to take. TRAVELLING CAT has already demonstrated its power to move thousands of readers with a message of kindness and truth. It shows, above all, how acts of love, both great and small, can transform our lives.

A surprise success.

My Review.

This is such a lovely book, sure to appeal to any cat lover. The relationship between Nana the cat and Satoru is heart-warming and real. We know there is a mystery, and may even come to solve it before Nana, but the book still packs an emotional punch. I cried from sadness and joy. Highly recommended.

Lily’s Little Flower Shop by Lisa Darcy

When Lily misses out on a well-deserved promotion the day her boyfriend is offered a job overseas, she faces a choice: should she embrace an ex-pat life, or follow her childhood dream and become a florist?

Deciding to follow her heart, she moves to the coast and decides to start again. But fitting into the tight-knit community proves harder than she expected.

As she navigates new friendships, financial worries, and the pull of returning to her city life, she learns how flowers can bring the happiness she’s been looking for.

And when romance appears on the horizon, Lily realizes she can’t commit until she reconciles her mistakes.

Can she overcome her past and learn the true meaning of love? 

My Review.

Easy reading and fun. I was particularly amused and enraged by her dense boyfriend, Ben. He is convinced her life should revolve around him. Lily begins to question her choices. Does ‘ having it all,’ mean working all hours, and living a life you have come to hate? Lily’s hours are more taxing in the flower shop, but her sense of self-worth increases, although her income doesn’t. Will she have to give up her dream?

The Secrets of Sunshine by Phaedra Patrick.

In the heart warming new novel from the author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper , a chance encounter will lead a single father on an unexpected journey that might just help him find a second chance at love.

Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He works on the famous “love lock” bridge where lovers go to fasten padlocks, covering the bridge with their love stories. But to Mitchell, it’s an act of vandalism, and he enjoys his job of cutting off those padlocks. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his grumpy veneer, Mitchell still grieves the loss of her mother.

Everything changes one fateful day when, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year—and the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers that new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

A suitably sunshiny cover.

My Review.

I found this quirky book difficult to categorise, as it’s part romance, part mystery. Unusual characters, and a storyline that meanders along. I found it quite readable.

The Christmas Tea Shop by Darcie Boleyn.

Fran Gandolfini can’t help taking in strays; with four dogs, five cats and two bearded dragons, she refuses to give up on a creature in need. The only thing Fran has given up on, in fact, is her love life.

Moving from the city to Penhallow Sands to work in the Tea Shop, Ethan Clarke hopes Moving from the city to Penhallow Sands to work in the Tea Shop, Ethan Clarke hopes he’s made the right choice for his daughter, Tilly.

Ethan’s past means he struggles to trust people. Just as Fran starts to change that, a life-changing secret that she’s keeping for a friend causes a rift between them. Fran can’t tell Ethan the truth, but she hates lying to him more. It’ll take a Christmas miracle to set things right…

A festive romance set in Cornwall and perfect for fans of Holly Martin and Phillipa Ashley.

An appealing cover.

My Review.

Leftover from my Christmas reading, but I read it anyway. For me it didn’t feel right, some of the characters were creating their problems. Also, in my opinion, the emotional insights went on for far too long. Fran is an appealing character, but I kept thinking an honest conversation could have solved this. I know others have enjoyed this book and I wanted to too, but it didn’t work for me.

The Wattle Island Book Club by  Sandie Docker

Is it ever too late to rewrite your own story?

COURAGE

In 1950, teenager Anne flees Wattle Island for the big city, where she learns that establishing the life she’s always dreamed of isn’t as easy as she thought. When a secret she’s been keeping is discovered, she has no choice but to retreat home and live a quiet life. But when tragedy strikes, establishing the Wattle Island book club is the only thing that offers her solace.

PASSION
In 2018, spirited librarian Grace has been writing bucket lists since she was a child, and is ticking off as many challenges as she can now that life has handed her a hefty dose of perspective. Heading to Wattle Island on one of her adventures, she is determined to uncover a long-held mystery surrounding the town’s historic book club, unlocking a buried truth that has been trapped between the dusty pages of secrecy for years.

HOPE
All too aware of how fragile life is, Anne and Grace must come together to help the residents of Wattle Island find the bravery to move beyond the trauma that tore the book club apart. Budding relationships offer new hope, along with a library project for the town’s future – but it will take more than a few lively literary debates to break the silence and heal the past.

Welcome to the Wattle Island Book Club, where some chapters may end, but others are just beginning… 

What a great cover!

My Review.

Of course, I was interested in a book about book clubs, having coordinated one for eleven years. Additionally, having Grace work as a librarian added to the appeal. Dual timeline stories can sometimes be uneven, luckily, I found both timelines held my interest. I had a sense of the ending and think it was probably the right choice. Recommended.

The Royal Governess by Wendy Holden.

Sunday Times bestselling author Wendy Holden brings to life the unknown childhood years of one of the world’s most iconic figures, Queen Elizabeth II, and reveals the little-known governess who made Britain’s queen into the monarch we know today.

In 1933, twenty-two-year-old Marion Crawford accepts the role of a lifetime, tutoring their Royal Highnesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Her one stipulation to their parents the Duke and Duchess of York is that she brings some doses of normalcy into the sheltered and privileged lives of the two young princesses.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Balmoral, Marion defies oppressive court protocol to take the girls on tube trains, swimming at public baths, and on joyful Christmas shopping trips at Woolworth’s. From her ringside seat at the heart of the British monarchy she witnesses the upheaval of the Abdication and the glamour and drama of the 1937 Coronation.

During the war, as Hitler’s Heinkels fly over Windsor, she shelters her charges in the castle dungeons (not far from where the Crown Jewels are hidden in a biscuit tin). Afterwards, she is there when Elizabeth first sets eyes on Philip. But being beloved governess and confidante to the Windsor family has come at a cost. She puts her private life on hold until released from royal service following Princess Elizabeth’s marriage in 1947.

In a majestic story of love, sacrifice, and allegiance, bestselling novelist Holden shines a captivating light into the years before Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, as immortalized on the popular television series The Crown. 

My Review.

Almost a fly on the wall account of the early years of the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret’s upbringing and schooling. Fascinating to read about some of the archaic rules and regulations. For example, the staff could not walk down the centre of a carpet, that was reserved for royalty. Marion Crawford ‘Crawfie’ had some success with introducing aspects of ordinary life into their gilded world. Some opinions, such as the portrayal of the Duchess of Windsor are bound to be controversial. Sad that after such devoted service Crawfie was relegated to a person non grata.

My Kind of Happy by Cathy Bramley

The new feel-good, funny story from Sunday Times bestseller Cathy Bramley about one woman’s search for happiness…

‘I think flowers are sunshine for the soul.’

Flowers have always made Fearne smile. She treasures the memories of her beloved grandmother’s floristry and helping her to arrange beautiful blooms that brought such joy to their recipients.

But ever since a family tragedy a year ago, Fearne has been searching for her own contentment. When a chance discovery inspires her to start a happiness list, it seems that Fearne might just have found her answer…

Sometimes the scariest path can be the most rewarding. So is Fearne ready to take the risk and step into the unknown? And what kind of happiness might she find if she does? 

Captures the tone of the book, perfectly.

My Review.

Easy to read and entertaining, it feeds into our fantasies of chucking it all in and starting again.  Flowers are so beautiful, no one considers the hard work that goes into making a floral bouquet, the early mornings and perishable stock.

The book is set in Barnaby and characters and places from Cathy’s previous books appear. I recognised some from The Lemon Tree Café. I also picked up a hint about a story I haven’t read yet. Fearne’s road to a happy ever after had a few bumps along the way. The name Fearne simply didn’t gel with me.

You’re Doing It Wrong. A History of Bad and Bonkers Advice to Women by Kaz Cooke.

You’re Doing it Wrong is an outrageous tour through the centuries of bonkers and bad advice handed down and foisted upon women, told as only Kaz Cooke can – with humour and rage, intelligence and wit.

Come with Kaz on a laugh-out-loud frolic through centuries of terrible advice, from 14th-century clergy to the Kardashians (wear a dress made of arsenic, do some day-drinking, have sex with a billionaire biker, worry about your vagina wrinkles). It’s also a roar against injustice, a rallying cry for sisterhood and a way to free ourselves from ludicrous expectations and imposed perfectionism.
Kaz’s own 30-year history of interest and experience in advice – from her newspaper etiquette column to best-selling books, including Up the Duff and the Girl Stuff series – and years of archives and research have culminated in a full-colour, exuberant shout of a book with hundreds of wacky and sobering historical photos of objects and instructions.

You’re Doing It Wrong examines what we’re told to do (change shape, shoosh, do all the housework), and what we’re not supposed to do (frown, have pockets, lead a country). It covers sex & romance, paid work, fashion & beauty, health advice, housework, and a motherlode of mad parenting instructions – from witchcraft to beauty pageants, with a side of aviatrixes. Put the kettle on and settle in. 

My Review.

If ever you were accused of being paranoid over some ‘mansplaining,’ a comment, or a dismissal, here is the book to reinforce the belief that society has been doing a number on us for centuries. It made me furious, it made me sad to realise how many of these beliefs still influence how we behave.

The Secret of Platform Thirteen by Eva Ibbotson.

A forgotten door on an abandoned railway platform is the entrance to a magical kingdom–an island where humans live happily with feys, mermaids, ogres, and other wonderful creatures. Carefully hidden from the world, the Island is only accessible when the door opens for nine days every nine years. A lot can go wrong in nine days. When the beastly Mrs Trottle kidnaps the prince of the Island, it’s up to a strange band of rescuers to save him. But can an ogre, a hag, a wizard, and a fey really troop around London unnoticed?

 

Looks exciting!

My Review.

I dipped into the library’s children’s section for this book. I’d heard about it by chance, and it predates Harry Potter by three years. I was intrigued to see the similarities and differences. Platform13 is at Kings Cross station and opens once for a few days every nine years. As everyone probably knows Platform 9. 3/4 is at Paddington station. In my opinion, this book is geared to a younger audience than the first Harry Potter book. As an older reader, I was fairly sure of the plot development but can see that it would appeal to its intended audience.

Nordic Tales: folktales for Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark.

 By Ulla Thynell ( Illustrator) Peter Christen Asbjorbsen , Parker Hoysted Fillmore,  Jon Arnason.

Nordic Tales is a collection of 16 traditional tales from the enchanting world of Nordic folklore.

Translated and transcribed by folklorists in the 19th century, these stories are at once magical, hilarious, cozy, and chilling.

Welcome to a world of mystical adventure
—where trolls haunt the snowy forests, terrifying monsters roam the open sea, a young woman journeys to the end of the world, and a boy proves he knows no fear.

• Offers a fascinating view into Nordic culture
• The tales come alive alongside bold, contemporary art
• Part of the popular Tales series, featuring Tales of Japan, Celtic Tales, Tales of India, and Tales of East Africa

Nordic Tales will enthral fans of fairy tales and captivate those interested in the rich history of Nordic culture.

Ulla Thynell’s glowing contemporary illustrations accompany each tale, conjuring dragons, princesses, and the northern lights.


• A visually gorgeous book that will be at home on the shelf or on the coffee table
• A perfect gift for fairy tale and folklore lovers, fans of Nordic culture, people of Nordic ancestry, collectors of illustrated classics, and bibliophiles looking for a comforting wintertime read
• Add it to the collection of books like D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, and Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton.

People who love Greek mythology, roman mythology, Chinese mythology, Celtic mythology, and folklore and cultural studies from around the globe will love Nordic Tales. 

Beautifully Illustrated.

My Review.

Enhanced by the beautiful illustrations, some tales have a familiarity about them, while others are completely new. I read them one at a time and then paused before reading the next one. In my opinion, these aren’t tales for children, as they have a harshness about them. I found the last tale completely baffling.

Happy Hour by Jacquie Byron.

Elizabeth Strout meets Marian Keyes in this wonderful, joyful, funny debut novel from Australian author Jacquie Byron.

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing wiser.

Gin in one hand, paintbrush in the other, Franny Calderwood has turned her back on the world, or at least the world she used to love. Having lost her husband, Frank, in tragic circumstances three years earlier, 65-year-old Franny copes the only way she knows how: by removing herself completely from the life she had before. Franny lives a life of decadent seclusion, with only her two dogs, Whisky and Soda, a stuffed cat, cocktails and the memory of Frank for company.

Then the Salernos move in next door. The troubled but charming trio – beleaguered mother Sallyanne, angry teenager Dee and eccentric eight-year-old Josh – cannot help but pull Franny into the drama of their lives. But despite her fixation with independence, Franny’s wisecracks and culinary experiments hide considerable trauma and pain, and when her eccentric behaviour has life-threatening consequences she faces a reckoning of sorts. Yes, Frank is dead, but did the woman he loved have to perish with him?

A story about one woman, two dogs and the family next door, Happy Hour is a hilarious and uplifting insight into grief, loss, true love and friendship.

My Review

 I was gifted this book by someone I don’t know well and while I appreciated the gesture, I was dubious about the book. She’d asked the book shop to recommend something, and this was their suggestion. I don’t know what she told them, or if she told them anything. I thought I ought to read it and I did. It’s a book that deals with coping with grief, and for me, still grieving, it was the wrong book at the wrong time,

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett.

Polly Perks joins the Discworld army to find her brother Paul. “Ozzer” cuts off her blonde braids, dons male garb, belches, scratches, and masters macho habits – aided by well-placed pair of socks. The legendary and seemingly ageless Sergeant Jackrum accepts her plus a vampire, troll, zombie, religious fanatic, and two close “friends”. The best man for the job may be a woman. 

My Review. Philosophy mixed with slapstick, all in Terry Pratchett’s inimitable style. Politics, religion, patriotism, gender roles are some of the topics explored. I read it as standalone. although it is number thirty-one in the Discworld series. I have enough familiarity with the world to get a  sense of it.

The Sugarhouse Blues by Mariah Stewart.

Allie, Des, and Cara, each having her own reasons for wanting a share of their father’s estate, meet in the grand Victorian home in which he grew up, only to be greeted by another secret he purposely hid from them: his sister Bonnie. The women reluctantly band together to take on Fritz’s challenge, working with a local contractor to begin the renovations financed by an account Fritz had set up for the task. While the restoration appears to go smoothly at first, it soon becomes apparent that the work will be more extensive than originally thought, and Des, elected to handle the money, needs to find ways to stretch out the remaining savings while searching for new sources of funding.

As strangers linked only by their DNA try to become a family, the Hudson sisters also try to come to terms with the father they only thought they knew. In the process, each woman discovers her own capacity for understanding, forgiveness, love, and the true meaning of family.

My Review.

I picked this up at the library, not realising it was the second in a series. So initially I was a bit lost, but I was soon drawn into the sisters’ world. The experience would have been better if I had read book one. The sisters are different enough to each other and have distinct personalities. Their mission is bound to keep them busy through several books.    

The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai, (Translator)

Grandpa used to say it all the time: books have tremendous power. But what is that power really?

Natsuki Books was a tiny second-hand bookshop on the edge of town. Inside, towering shelves reached the ceiling, every one crammed full of wonderful books. Rintaro Natsuki loved this space that his grandfather had created. He spent many happy hours there, reading whatever he liked. It was the perfect refuge for a boy who tended to be something of a recluse.

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close the shop. Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone…

The Cat Who Saved Books is a heart-warming story about finding courage, caring for others – and the tremendous power of books. Sosuke Natsukawa’s international best seller, translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, is a story for those for whom books are so much more than words on paper. 

I loved this cover and the earnest cat.

My Review.

I was fortunate enough to be gifted this book by a fellow book lover and cat lover. I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous cover and delightful cat. At one level it is a simple story, but simplicity doesn’t mean valueless. It would be a splendid present for anyone who cares about books. What makes books special? Why do we read? What separates readers from those who don’t read?

The King’s Witch By Tracy Borman.

In March of 1603, as she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth of England, Frances Gorges dreams of her parents’ country estate, where she has learned to use flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer. She is happy to stay at home when King James of Scotland succeeds to the throne. His court may be shockingly decadent, but his intolerant Puritanism sees witchcraft in many of the old customs—punishable by death.

But when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to the royal palace, she is a ready target for the twisted scheming of the Privy Seal, Lord Cecil. As a dark campaign to destroy both King and Parliament gathers pace, culminating in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, Frances is surrounded by danger, finding happiness only with the King’s precocious young daughter, and with Tom Wintour, the one courtier she feels she can trust. But is he all that he seems?

My Review.

The title intrigued me, so I decided to read this book. It is well written, and the story moved along at a steady pace, but I had forgotten how much I already knew of this era. These were difficult times, and reading about them also proved difficult for me emotionally. Events move with an inevitability and the conclusion was foregone. Frances is an appealing character, but for me, at this stressful time, I will not continue with the trilogy.

A Year At The Star and Sixpence by Holly Hepburn

The perfect escapist read, for all fans of Cathy Bramley and Jenny Colgan. A Year at the Star and Sixpence is Holly Hepburn’s four Star and Sixpence novellas collected together as a novel for the first time. 
When sisters Nessie and Sam inherit a little pub in a beautiful country village they jump at the chance to escape their messy lives and start afresh. But when they arrive at the Star and Sixpence, it’s not quite what they imagined – it’s pretty much derelict, ruined by debts, and it’s going to be a huge job to get it up and running again. But they are determined to make the best of this new life and they set about making the pub the heart of the village once again. Their first year at the Star and Sixpence won’t be easy, though nothing worth doing ever is.
But when the sisters’ past comes back to haunt them, they start to think that the fresh start they needed is very far away indeed…
Curl up with A Year at the Star and Sixpence – the perfect novel to welcome Spring.
‘A fresh new voice, brings wit and warmth to this charming tale of two sisters’ Rowan Coleman
‘You’ll fall in love with this fantastic new series from a new star of women’s fiction, Holly Hepburn. Filled to the brim with captivating characters and fantastic storylines in a gorgeous setting. Simply wonderful. I want to read more!’ Miranda Dickinson
‘Warm, witty and laced with intriguing secrets! I want to pull up a bar stool, order a large G&T and soak up all the gossip at the Star and Sixpence!’ Cathy Bramley

++ A Year at the Star and Sixpence is the collected Star and Sixpence novellas. If you have already enjoyed the novellas, then you have already enjoyed A Year at the Star and Sixpence. For new novellas from Holly, check out her Picture House by the Sea series and her Castle Court series.

My Review.

After the last book I read left me feeling rather depressed I wanted to read something upbeat and lively. From the gorgeous cover to the blurb, this book seemed like the perfect answer and for the most part, it was. I think it suffered from having the four novellas combined, as information we already knew from one section was repeated in another. Setting that aside, it delivered good seasonal stories and if characters sometimes got in their own way, well the course of true love never did run smooth.

Well, both the weather and the holidays made sure I was indoors, busy reading. I didn’t realise I had read quite so many books and can’t imagine that I will read so many next month.




Author: soniabellhouse

Sonia Bellhouse loves writing and reading stories with a ‘happily ever after ’ending. She believes we all need love in our lives. Sonia writes Regency and Viking steamy romances. Her book Fire & Ice is a contemporary and Viking romance, with plans to reissue. She’s a member of Romance Writers of Australia. An ex-pat Brit, Sonia happily calls Australia home. She will always ignore the ironing in favour of playing with her cats. You can find her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/soniabellhouse.author/ Or her Chatting with Authors page https://www.facebook.com/groups/1031642857187598

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