Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Books that made my year – 2018

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As another year comes to a close we look back on 2018 and the news might be full of bad news but in the world of books it has been another great year. Sales are continuing to grow in both physical hard copy but audio books are also booming. This really is great news and added to this more independent books shops have opened during the year with the trend set to continue. With the high street struggling like never before it is just heartening to see the growth of sales in books. Just a few years ago some were saying the days of the hard copy book were doomed.

2018 will be a year that I will remember for years to come. So many great books have been read some sadly I have not had time to read and will miss this end of year review. I look back with great memories to take away from this year whether it the honour of being asked blog about some of the books and authors for The 2018 Jewish Book Festival to being invited to assist with a very special book On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders a day surrounded by some of the bravest men and women. Real heroes. Also to be involved with The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize a book prize that is dedicated to books on natural history and the great outdoors. Then of course there was The Lost Words project I launched for Somerset Primary Schools in August which is still going to this very day. The generosity of many that made this a success. To those behind the scenes who helped and are still helping I could not have done this without you. To the many radio interviews not just in Somerset but across the UK and also in Europe. In the early part of the Summer I was invited to take a tour of The London Library which turned out to be an incredible experience a very special place that holds over one million books on over 17 miles of shelving. You walk in the footsteps of literary giants.

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So this brings me to my 15 books of 2018. The books that made my year. This was incredibly hard as so many could have made it in.

The choices are in no particular order so there is no number one book just the best of the year.

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Our House – Louise Candlish

(Simon & Schuster) 5th April 2018

Fi Lawson arrives home to find strangers moving into her house. The terror of knowing your life is about to be turned upside down and all the possessions of your life with Bram have gone and who are these people moving into the home they never had any intention of selling. Bram has made a dreadful mistake and there is a price to pay. Now there are score to settle. Both have secrets that they kept from each other.

Our House is a gripping domestic noir read that I recall racing through and kept up long into the night.

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All Among the Barley – Melissa Harrison

(Bloomsbury) – 23rd August 2018

With memories of The Great War still in the minds and memories of the community it casts a shadow across the fields as the autumn harvest approaches. It is 1933 the glamorous Constance arrives from London to write about the traditions of the Suffolk farming community. For Edie Mather adulthood is approaching and the arrival of Constance is seen by Edie to be everything she longs for. But there is something more to Constance than Edie thinks. This is a remarkable and powerful novel from the Costa Shortlisted author of Hawthorn Time.

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Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

(The Borough Press – 11th January 2018

With a Battenburg cover Three Things About Elsie is just a wonderful and delicious story. 84-Year-old Florence has had a fall and as she lies there waiting for help to come she wonders if some part of her past is come back. Florence lives in a flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly and she wonders if the new resident is who he claims to be as he died sixty years ago. It is a beautiful, charming and profound novel from the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep. Three Things About Elsie was longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

 

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Something of His Art – Horatio Clare

(Little Toller Books) – 11th October 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

The year is 1705 and the yet unknown Johann Sebastian Bach is earning a living as a teacher and organist sets off on more than a 250 mile walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit a composer. This was to be a pivotal time for the young J.S. Bach and this short book tells of his walk and Horatio Clare walks in his footsteps and re-traces that walk that was to change Bach’s life. Based on the BBC Radio 3 series of the same Horatio talks of the walk, the sights, and sounds and natural history that would have accompanied Bach on this epic adventure that would see him become the greatest composer.

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The Lost Letters of William Woolf – Helen Cullen

(Michael Joseph) – 12th July 2018

William Woolf works for the Dead Letters Depot in East London were he spends his days solving mysteries that include terrible hand writing, missing post codes, torn packages to name but a few. Then he discovers letters addressed to ‘My Great Love’ and suddenly life for William Woolf takes on a whole new perspective. These letters written by a woman to a man she has not met yet, and William now starts to think that he could be the man the letters are meant for. Now he must take on his biggest mystery to follow the clues in the letters and solve the biggest mystery of all. The human heart. This is a charming and romantic novel a wonderful debut. Shortlisted for the Newcomer of the Year – Irish Book Awards.

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The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood – John Lewis-Stempel

(Doubleday) – 8th March 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

For four years John Lewis-Stempel managed a mixed woodland of three and a half acres that is Cockshutt Wood and raised cows and pigs that had free reign through these woods. This is John’s month by month account of his last year managing the wood. Through the lives of the trees and the birds and animals that made this wood their home a sanctuary for the wildlife and also for the author. You are there through the changing seasons through to the final days of John’s management of the woods that became his spiritual home. This is a man in tune with the natural world and one of the country’s finest natural history writers. Longlisted for the Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

(Simon & Schuster) 11th January 2018

A scandal that will rock Westminster. This is a high profile marriage and James has been accused of a shocking crime and his wife Sophie believes in him and will protect the family. Kate on the other hand is the Barrister who believes he is guilty and will make sure he pays for the crimes he has committed.

This is an explosive thriller that will keep the reader on the edge of their chair until the very end. Superbly written with great characters. A story of marriage and power and who has it and how they use it. Totally absorbing and gripping.

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The Last Wilderness – Neil Ansell

(Tinder Press) – 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Nature and solitude. Neil Ansell has spent the best part of his life walking the remote parts of Britain but here in The Last Wilderness he takes on the part of Scottish Highlands but doing so as he talks of his hearing loss and hoe this affects his love of the great outdoors and the birds he loved to hear that have now become silent. To be in the wilderness is to be at one with nature. It is indeed a love letter to both the wilderness and to the Highlands of Scotland. The wonderful rich writing of Neill Ansell almost makes you believe you are there walking in his footsteps. A treasure of a book. Shortlisted for The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018.

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I Love You Too Much – Alicia Drake

(Picador) – 8th February 2018

A novel based in Paris and centred around Paul a quiet and lonely boy who is unloved. He spends his time watching those in his family and his rather glamourous mother Séverine and her musician boyfriend Gabriel. For a boy who closely observes his family and their daily lives, you just know one day he will see something he is not supposed to see.

Paul seeks the friendship of the not so quiet Scarlett and the patisseries of this part of Paris. Paul is crying out to be loved but what if love does not come his way. What then? This is a book I totally loved and still do to this day. So deserving to be read by a wider audience. It is deft and intelligent and so beautifully told. One book I would I would recommend.

 

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Erebus: A story of a Ship – Michael Palin

(Hutchinson Books) – 20th September 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

Michael Palin tells the story of the ill-fated journey of HMS Erebus and its crew that set sail for the arctic in search of the North West Passage. In 1845 it disappeared with HMS Terror along with their crews. What really happened? A story of the ship and its crew as Palin recounts the adventure and ultimately the biggest naval disaster. Together with photographs this makes for a remarkable read for anyone who has an interest in the sea or adventures.

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Dark Pines – Will Dean

(Point Blank) – 14th June 2018

An impressive debut by Will Dean. Dark Pines is dark, chilling and atmospheric. Set in an isolated Swedish town. An unsolved murder from two decades ago a deaf reporter trying to find a story that could make her career. Now Tuva needs to find the killer before she becomes the killers next target. But there are secrets in the pine woods were Tuva must venture. If she solves the crime she could find a way out of the small of Gavrik and finally make a name for herself. Dark Pines is the thriller that really beats all thrillers in 2018 and is the first in a series with Red Snow about to be released in January 2019. If I had to choose my book of the year Dark Pines would be that book. If you have not read Dark Pines and thrillers are your genre, then read it now!

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Owl Sense – Dr Miriam Darlington

(Guardian Faber Publishing) 8th February 2018

(Non-fiction choice)

I have been fascinated by Owls all my life and have been lucky to have travelled and seen many species of Owl in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean and I loved Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington she takes walks with her son seeking species of UK Owls. Then she travels into Europe from France to Spain, Serbia and Finland and close to the arctic lands of snow and ice. But this book not only is a story of a quest for Owls but her son Benji becomes very ill and then suddenly it is also a quest for a cure. Owl Sense brings to life the mysterious lives of Owls and what we are so fascinated with these mysterious birds.

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The Lingering – SJI Holliday

(Orenda Books) – 15th November 2018

This dark and creepy ghost story is best read during the dark hours as it really sets the tone. Though you might not want to switch the light off after.

Jack and Ali move have moved into a self-sufficient commune set in Rosalind House, the local village it is said is were witches roamed and the home itself has a dark and sinister past. But it is not long after they arrive that things start to happen. Now the residents and locals are nervous, something or someone is seeking retribution. But why? Terrifying and unnerving. The Lingering really had me spooked. Superbly written and a storyline that holds until the very end.

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Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale

(Tinder Press) – 21st August 2018

Set in the 1970’s West-Super-Mare and only son Eustace has been signed up for Cello lessons by his mother. Music is an escape for Eustace and his lessons from his teacher he cannot get enough of. But it is his mother that is not sure of the glamorous teacher. Soon though it is lessons in life and love that take on whole new meanings for Eustace. This is beautifully told story of coming of age and finding out who you really are told with real compassion. A truly wonderful read.

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The Lost Words – Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Morris

(Hamish Hamilton) – 5th October 2017

(Non-fiction choice)

After everything this year, I could not leave The Lost Words out of my selection for the year. It has been the bedrock of my year.

Imagine a world where children no longer talk of Heron’s, Otters, Bluebells, Acorns, Conkers, Dandelion, Bramble to name but a few. Well there are around 50 words that The Oxford Dictionary for Children removed. What they did not reckon on was Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane. Here is the most beautiful book imaginable. In words spoken as Spell-Poems and paintings by the amazing Jackie Morris they both bring these words back to life.

Many people across the country have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds to bring this book in into Schools, care homes and hospitals. Even today many more are planned to launch. A truly remarkable book that has a life all of its own. And this story for Somerset has only just begun.

And so there we have it. As the old year ends and a new one is about to begin and so it starts all over again. It has been a pleasure and an honour to work with such incredible writers and publishers and I thank them all for their incredible work.

In 2019 I have some great plans ahead I am honoured to have been asked to be an official blogger for The Jewish Book Festival in early March. I will be podcasting through the year and hope to take the podcast on the road to talk to writers and may be a few publishers. I will be doing my usual book giveaways when time permits and also there will be The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize.

Have a happy and peaceful 2019 and remember “We read to know that we are not alone”. Books take us to places and to escape all the bad news of the day.

John

The Last Word Book Review

 

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Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

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Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

 

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I love the sea and stories of the ships that have explored the seas. Michael Palin is well known for his travelling and writing but when I heard that he had released a book on the ill-fated Arctic exploration to find the North West Passage and the famous ship HMS Erebus I was incredibly excited as I have followed this story for many years. Erebus: A Story of a Ship is the story of HMS Erebus from its launch in 1826 as a warship to its disappearance in 1845.

The last resting place of HMS Erebus was finally discovered in 2014 and the photographs of Erebus on the Arctic seabed are just incredible. The freezing waters and lack of Oxygen have preserved the ship so well. This is where Palin starts and then winds the clock back as he tells of the birth of HMS Erebus as a ‘Bomb Ship’. She was small in size (104ft) compared to other warships of the time. After two years’ service it was converted as an exploration ship.

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HMS Erebus and Terror trapped in the ice.

On the ill-fated expatiation Erebus was accompanied by HMS Terror and the two ships under the Captaincy of Sir John Franklin set off on the disastrous expedition and were last seen in Baffin Bay in August 1845. This is really where the story really begins as the crews of both ships knew they were trapped in the ice and the only hope of survival was to abandon Erebus and Terror. The stories of the fate of the men of both ships and how they tried to survive the Arctic conditions as the dragged lifeboats packed with supplies over the ice.

What followed was dramatic search effort to find the crew and ships and Palin writes with incredible detail after so much research. The characters of the crews not to mention Sir John Franklin himself. Anyone who has read any of Michael Palin’s previous books will already know of his writing style which make this book such an incredible read and for me I have learnt so much of both the ships and crew. Contained within the book are colour and black and white photographs which are incredible all by themselves and just add to the detail. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

352 Pages.

@HutchinsonBooks  #Erebus 

Erebus: The Story of a Ship by Michael Palin was published by Hutchinson Books and was published on 20th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

The Christmas Chronicles – Nigel Slater

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The Christmas Chronicles – Nigel Slater

I never have had the opportunity to review a book by a food writer. Today is a real first as I am a huge fan of Nigel Slater’s writing from his monthly columns in the Observer to some of the previous books. The Christmas Chronicles (Fourth Estate) was released in October 2017 and I never had the chance to review until this year. So to coincide with the launch of The Christmas Chronicles: A Podcast. I thought I would read along with the podcasts.

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Nigel Slater favourite season is Winter and here in The Christmas Chronicles Nigel takes us on a winter journey from 1st November through to 2nd February (Candlemas Day) It is a glorious winter fest that covers Bonfire Night to the build up to Christmas and beyond. But this is just much more than talking about food. Here in Nigel’s words and sumptuous photographs are personal memories of Christmas times of years gone by and the aroma of Christmas trees and fireside stories. If like me, you love Christmas and the childhood memories of watching your mum bake and cook in preparation for the big day then this is the perfect book for you.

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Written in a diary format Nigel takes you day by day as Christmas approaches with wonderful winter food ideas and some ideas for drink. A rich book of 455 pages packed full of 100 recipes. The start just gets the reader in the mood for midwinter. There is talk of advent calendars and mistletoe. This is a book to come home from a winter walk light the fire and the candles and pour yourself a long drink and curl up and read. I just really enjoy Nigel Slater’s writing style. He comes across as if he is talking to just you in a quiet and someone who just loves not just cooking but his garden and winter walks and crackling open fires. Nigel also talks about going to Norway and selecting the Christmas Tree for Trafalgar Square

The Christmas Chronicles is just a beautifully produced hardback book that would make a perfect gift for anyone who loves the winter months and reading about good food. I found that I could not leave this book and so it travelled with me on my journey’s. Don’t forget to download the podcasts that accompany the book. Highly recommended.

 464 Pages

#TheChristmasChronicles  @NigelSlater  @4thEstateBooks 

The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater was published by Fourth Estate and was published on 19th October 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

 

Good Samaritans – Will Carver

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Good Samaritans – Will Carver

Well now here is a new literary name for me and Will Carver’s latest novel Good Samaritans really has left its mark in more ways than I can express here.

Meet Seth Beauman, he really has trouble sleeping and he spends his long sleepless nights randomly calling strangers, for what purpose you might ask. Without trying to give and real spoilers away Will Carver has created a small cast in this dark and sexy novel that will keep you up in the night.

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First up we meet Hadley Serf a woman who is deeply troubled and very suicidal. Feeling like the walls around her are closing in and totally un-noticed in life. She is desperate. She decides the only way is the Samaritans and ends up in speaking with Seth who actually is not a Samaritan and their telephone conversations take place after Seth’s wife (Maeve) goes to bed. Soon both Seth and Hadley start to meet face to face.

Meave is all too aware of what her husband is up to late at night and actually gets something from this. There is in this story an actual Samaritan and this is Ant and he is still trying to recover from the loss of his best friend who was killed while touring Australia.

In the story we also meet Detective Sergeant Pace who has the grizzly task of trying to find a serial killer of young women. But this killer has a gruesome trademark. Once he kills the women he then bleaches them to leave no trace and buries them knowing one day very soon some poor unsuspecting sole will find the body. For DS Pace he too has a past and what does Meave find so fascinating about him? What is their relationship?

This is a really compelling and gripping read that gets your attention in many ways from the relationships between the characters and then the murders to bottles of bleach. There is also sex thrown in and I don’t just mean a little hanky panky here, I am talking hot and steamy and at times rampant. This is a thriller that is somewhat comical but will also get your pulse racing. The book seems to gather pace as go get further into the storyline. Will Carver you have written one hell of a thriller with more twists and turns than you can keep up with. *BRILLIANT*

 318 Pages.

Thank you to Karen Sullivan for the review copy of Good Samaritans by Will Carver

Good Samaritans by Will Carver was published by Orenda Books and was published on 15th November 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

A Small Dark Quiet – Miranda Gold

 

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A Small Dark Quiet – Miranda Gold

With just a matter of weeks before London is thronged with crowds as the war is finally at an end and Germany has been defeated. It is March 1945. But the price of victory will always come at a cost as people not just in London but all over Europe will begin the long and painful journey of rebuilding their shattered lives.

Millions of lives have been lost and children without parents and children whose parents have been killed by the Nazi’s in Concentration Camps. In London. A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold follows Sylvie as she fights her battle, she has given birth to twins but one of the twins is stillborn. Sylvie and her husband Gerald are distraught at their loss.

Two years later as they rebuild they have adopted a boy who was born into the horrors of the Concentration Camps. They have given him a new name of Arthur after the child they lost. For Arthur all his past seems to now have been lost and this in the years to come will be struggle as Arthur attempts to discover his Jewish history and all that that entails. He is trapped in a life and scared to seek his own past for what this will bring.

There is rage from Gerald who has been fighting his own battle since the end of the war and seems to take it out on Arthur and this will have a deep and last effect on the boy. What we also witness is the gradual collapse of Sylvie as the weight of grief is all consuming. Arthur’s shadow is his ghost of his past that is reluctant to leave it is later in life when he finally breaks the shackles of the torment by Gerald and seeks his way in life. Nothing is going well for him though and even in a relationship with Lydia that goes wrong after he is used by her. At times this is a dark novel to read with disturbing and fractured lives broken by war and torment.

Miranda has written a very powerful novel that explores many themes including replacing one son with another and attempting to hide the pain and suffering of death but over time creates more personal devastation on a boy who has witness’s horror on scale unimaginable. With a painful ending to the story it is still one book I would recommend.

336 Pages.

Thank you to Unbound for the review copy of A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold

A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold was published by Unbound and was published on 4th December 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 – Lia Leendertz

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The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 – Lia Leendertz

Do you like me follow the path of the seasons through each month of the year? I have been since my youth as the seasons turn from Winter to Spring and then the long days of Summer. I could not resist buying a copy of The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by the award winning writer Lia Leendertz (Mitchell Beazley).

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This just has to be one of the most beautiful books of 2018. Each month is guides to nature, when to look out for the first of our birds that brighten our summers. But also if like me you are a keen gardener then this gem of a book will be perfect for you. Many are now enjoying growing their own vegetables and Lia’s handy sized book will be a handy book.

Through each month are recipes to try out and stories and folklore. There is even a cheese of the month which will appeal to all cheese aficionados like me. But overall it is the beautiful presentation and the cover and illustrations by Celia Hart that give The Almanac its real warmth.

Harking back to days gone by I found The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 just turned the clock back to seasonal almanacs I read as a boy.

It read like a scenic journey through the year.  This would make the ideal gift for Christmas and I have already bought a number of copies for friends. Highly recommended.

272 Pages.

The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz was published by Mitchell Beazley and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

Roar by Cecelia Ahern

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Roar by Cecelia Ahern

From the best-selling author Cecelia Ahern is collection of 30 short stories about women for women. Each of the stories are just imaginative and based around challenges that women will face. Thirty stories from thirty different women.

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From the best-selling author Cecelia Ahern is collection of 30 short stories about women for women. Each of the stories are just imaginative and based around challenges that women will face. Thirty stories from thirty different women.

There are so many stories that cover every angle of what a woman faces on a daily basis. Have you ever been scared of your boss or petrified at the thought of standing in front of people and giving a speech with your nerves hanging by a thread and suffering from wind? Here they are the stories about women and women should read.

Some of the stories may seem a little over the top and a bit fanciful I think most women will really get behind the messages here and find themselves laughing along with some of the more amusing stories. The real beauty here is the pure honest in which Cecelia Ahern writes. Now with sales over 25 million and in over 40 countries. So if you have been in a position and have wanted to Roar here is a collection of stories and voices that you could not forget and only Cecelia Ahern could have written a collection with such honesty.

#Roar    #HearUsRoar   @Cecelia_Ahern

352 Pages.

Thank you to Liz Dawson for the review copy of Roar by Cecelia Ahern

Roar by Cecelia Ahern was published by Harper Collins and was published on 1st November 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.

 

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