blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Five Things – Beth Merwood*

For nine-year-old Wendy, the summer of 1969 will never be forgotten.
Local kids have always told stories about the eerie wood on the outskirts of the village, and Wendy knows for sure that some of them are true. Now the school holidays have started and she’s going to the wood again with Anna and Sam, but they soon become convinced that someone is trying to frighten them off.
When a terrible event rocks the coastal community, the young friends can’t help thinking there must be a connection between the incident, the tales they’ve heard, and the strange
happenings they’ve begun to witness. As glimpses of a darker world threaten their carefree existence, they feel compelled to search out the underlying truth.

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Beth Merwood is from the south of England. The Five Things is her debut novel.

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My thoughts: this is a sweet and sad story about childhood and the death of a young boy. Wendy narrates the events of the summer of 1974, when her friend’s younger brother went missing. It shatters a lot of the innocence of simple summer pleasures and forces the children to grow up quickly – darkness forcing its way into their lives.

As she grows up, what happened to Tommy stays with her, as do The Five Things – the key points she and her friends felt were not fully investigated and could explain what led to Tommy’s death. Their beliefs may ultimately be wrong, but they attempt to find answers anyway.

A bittersweet tale of childhood’s end, when summer becomes darker and the real world intrudes.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Phosphate Rocks – Fiona Erskine*

During the demolition of a factory, a shocking discovery is made: a mummified corpse encased in a carapace of hardened dust – phosphate rock – surrounded by ten objects that provide tantalising clues as to its identity…

A professional engineer with forty years of international manufacturing experience, Fiona Erskine’s first graduate job was in the factory described in Phosphate Rocks. Born in Edinburgh, Fiona grew up riding motorbikes and jumping into cold water. After studying chemical engineering at university, she learned to weld, cast and machine with apprentices in Paisley. As a professional engineer she has worked and travelled internationally and is now based in the North East of England. Her first novel, The Chemical Detective, which was shortlisted for the Specsavers Debut Crime Novel Award 2020, was followed by The Chemical Reaction.

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My thoughts: this was really interesting in several different ways. As well as solving the death and putting a name to the body found beneath the old chemical factory, each object becomes the story of the men and women who worked there, of the chemicals they processed and the machines they used. It was utterly fascinating and so well written that even the science bits were absorbing (I’m not always very good with chemistry).

Inspired by the factory the author started her career in, and the real working men and women of Leith, this is an ode to a different time and the people who lived in it. Bits are very sad and shocking, but I found it utterly engaging and wanted to hear more stories of the various characters who could be found inside the factory gates.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Serpent King – Tim Hodkinson*

The fight for vengeance has no victors…
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The great warrior, Einar Unnsson, wants revenge. His mother’s assassin has stolen her severed head and Einar is hungry for his blood. Only one thing holds him back. He is a newly sworn in Wolf Coat, and must accompany them on their latest quest.
The Wolf Coats are a band of fearsome bloodthirsty warriors, who roam the seas, killing any enemies who get in their way. Now they’re determined to destroy their biggest enemy, King Eirik, as he attempts to take the throne of Norway.
Yet, for Einar, the urge to return to Iceland is growing every day. Only there, in his homeland, can he avenge his mother and salve his grief. But what Einar doesn’t know is that this is where an old enemy lurks, and his thirst for vengeance equals Einar’s…
Read Tim Hodkinson’s newest epic Viking adventure.

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Tim Hodkinson was born in 1971 in Northern Ireland. He studied Medieval English and Old Norse
Literature at University with a subsidiary in Medieval European History. He has been writing all his
life and has a strong interest in the historical, the mystical and the mysterious. After spending several happy years living in New Hampshire, USA, he has now returned to life in Northern Ireland with his wife Trudy and three lovely daughters in a village called Moira.
Tim is currently working on a series of viking novels for Ares Fiction, an imprint of Head of Zeus.

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My thoughts: I always forget how complicated Middle Ages politics was. The Wolf Coats fight for one king, but would happily swap to another ruler, should their original king do something that negatively effects them. Or interferes with their own plans. In this Einar almost falls out with his fellows when his need for revenge doesn’t match up with the rest of the plans. Luckily they find a way round this and move ahead to unseat Einar’s ghastly father and rescue one of their own from an unwanted marriage too.

I hadn’t read the previous books in the series and I think this works well as a standalone – there’s enough back story given for you to understand what the Wolf Coats are doing and why. The terrible murder of Einar’s mother fuels him and his sworn brothers want to help him, and cause a little mayhem too.

The author has a degree in Norse history and understands the difference between going viking and being a Viking. I think that might be something useful for fans of this strand of historical fiction to learn! He also knows and weaves into the plot, the geography and various kingdoms of Northern Europe, giving a real sense of time and place to the story, which can be missing sometimes. An enjoyable and interesting read all round.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Scandalous Alchemy – Katy Moran*

Fontainebleau in 1825 is a glittering international court, rich with intrigue, passion and simmering violence. Lieutenant Colonel Kit Helford must navigate these treacherous waters to deliver the beautiful, self-destructive Princess Royal to her prospective husband. Kit’s childhood friend, Clemency Arwenack, is tasked with safeguarding her royal mistress’s reputation as the princess awaits a marriage she is dreading.

But both have secrets they will hide at all costs. Kit is on the run – from a man shot and left for dead back in London and a lifetime of scandal that includes a liaison with the princess herself. He will do anything to salvage his family’s reputation. Clemency, meanwhile, conducts a perilous trade in lies and blackmail as she seeks to destroy the princess, not protect her. With the princess’s life under threat, Kit and Clemency are pitted against each other, even as a dangerous attraction grows between them. The past hunts them both, remorselessly, relentlessly, and neither can escape it for long.

KATY MORAN is the author of Wicked by Design and False Lights, published by Head of Zeus. False Lights was originally published under the pseudonym KJ Whittaker.

Katy has taught creative writing in schools, at the Arvon Foundation, and for the charity Waterloo Uncovered, an archaeology project with a support program for veterans which aims to understand war and its impact on people. She visited the battlefield of Waterloo at their invitation, which led to her exploration of combat stress in False Lights. Katy’s research melds the testimony of present-day soldiers with the records of their historical counter-parts, to examine common ground and shared experiences across the centuries.

She is co-project manager for Waterloo Uncovered’s forthcoming educational project looking at the lives of camp followers, women who accompanied soldiers to the Peninsular War and the Battle of Waterloo. The project offers a rare insight into the lives of military spouses in a conflict on the cusp of modern history, seeking to broaden our understanding of history by removing the filter of prejudice.

Katy lives with her husband and three children in a ramshackle Georgian house in the Welsh borders. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association. Website Twitter

My thoughts: this was a gorgeous book and the story inside was a treat too. I love when writers clearly do their research and bring the past to life, drawing you into the world of dazzling wealth and intrigue in this case. The French Court is not a safe place to be, everyone is ambitious and scheming. You have to rely on your wits and be very careful who you trust, especially if you have secrets you need to keep. Kit and Clemency must do their jobs and keep themselves from being found out at all costs, which sets up a complex and clever plot.

I liked these characters, they were struggling against, at times, great odds, fighting to stay one step ahead of their enemies and survive the extravagant but deadly world around them. A highly enjoyable read.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Thistle Cottage – Kerry Barrett*

The truth can be dangerous in the wrong hands…

1661, North Berwick
One stormy night, healer Honor Seton and her daughter Alice are summoned to save the town lord’s wife – but they’re too late. A vengeful crusade against the Seton women leads to whispers of witchcraft all over town. Honor hopes her connections can protect them from unproven rumours and dangerous accusations – but is the truth finally catching up with them?

Present day, North Berwick
After an explosive scandal lands her husband in prison, Tess Blyth flees Edinburgh to start afresh in Thistle Cottage. As she hides from the media’s unforgiving glare, Tess is intrigued by the shadowy stories of witchcraft surrounding the women who lived in the cottage centuries ago. But she quickly discovers modern-day witch hunts can be just as vicious: someone in town knows her secret – and they won’t let Tess forget it…

My thoughts: Drawing on historical records of witch hunts in Scotland during the 1600s, moving between the former and current residents of a small cottage, and exploring the idea of the modern witch hunt as well as the historical ones, this is a clever and compelling story.

In the 1660s Honor and Alice live quiet lives, offering tinctures and basic medical aid to their neighbours, supported by the financial decisions Honor’s late husband made and the land he purchased. They don’t cause trouble but it comes anyway, in the form of a hothead laird, whose wife Honor cannot save from a fever.

In the 2020s Tess and Jem have moved to the same small cottage to escape from press attention over Tess’ ex-husband’s terrible crimes. But someone knows who they are and is harassing them with disturbing graffiti and weird threats left outside their door.

Both plotlines are interesting and thought provoking, there’s a project in Scotland seeking official exonorations for the women and men accused and killed for being witches, and it’s simple, ordinary people like Honor and Alice who suffered but in their case there’s hope for redemption.

Similarly Tess and Jem are targeted for something they didn’t do, something they’ve moved away from their home and friends to try to avoid the limelight. Neither of them is guilty of the crimes they’re accused of but someone wants them to pay a price.

I thought this was really well written and drew parallels in a smart and precise way, it left me with plenty to chew over when it was finished as well as being enjoyable and satisfying a read.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Castle Shade – Laurie R. King*

A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat–all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.

The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter of Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania’s young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country’s long-lost provinces, singlehandedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.

The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thank-you from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.

The threat is . . . well, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may be only accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.

When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won’t take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi?

Or, as they are known in the West . . . vampires.

Laurie R King giveaway! There’s a great giveaway on the Allison & Busby website at the moment, it’s open to everyone and closes on June 30th. (Please let me win it!!)  

Order a copy of this book for £15, get a signed bookplate. Use code share15 and get free P&P too!

Listen to the author reading from Castle Shade on YouTube.

My thoughts: this was a really enjoyable edition to the Russell and Holmes series – one I’ve dipped in an out of but haven’t quite managed to read all of them yet. Mind you it took me a while to read all of the original Sherlock Holmes stories too.

An older Holmes and his spirited young wife and partner Mary Russell, head off to Romania at the request of its Queen Marie – granddaughter of Queen Victoria and one of the real figures in this series.

She is worried about a threat against her youngest daughter’s life and their happiness in Castle Bran (which may have inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is damaged by her fears. Holmes and Russell investigate the spate of strange incidents that have occurred during the queen’s visits.

There’s lots of adventure and derring do in the nighttime countryside as the pair attempt to keep watch over the village and identify the culprit – then things escalate.

A really fun, slightly silly romp through 1920s history – royalty, the looming threat of the Bolsheviks in Russia (Queen Marie was Nicholas II’s cousin), hysteria, folklore and bitterness. Mary Russell is a tremendous character, a perfect modern female foil to Holmes’ slightly old fashioned ways and a lot quicker on the ball than dear Dr Watson back at home in London.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Love and Miss Harris – Peter Maughan*

Titus Llewellyn-Gwlynne, actor/manager of the Red Lion Theatre, has lost a backer who was going to fund a theatrical tour – when unexpected salvation appears. Their home theatre in the East End of London having been bombed during the war, The Red Lion Touring Company embarks on a tour of Britain to take a play written by their new benefactress into the provinces.

This charming series transports the reader to a lost post-war world of touring rep theatre and once-grand people who have fallen on harder times, smoggy streets, and shared bonhomie over a steaming kettle. The mood is whimsical, wistful, nostalgic, yet with danger and farce along the way.

Peter Maughan’s early career covered many trades, working on building sites, in wholesale markets, on fairground rides and in a circus. He studied at the Actor’s Workshop in London, and worked as an actor in the UK and Ireland, subsequently founding a fringe theatre in Barnes, London. He is married and lives currently in Wales.

My thoughts: this was a lot of fun, with the rag tag cast of the new play, Love and Miss Harris, hitting the road for a tour of the home counties and the seaside. Unknown to them a murderous gangster is in hot pursuit, trailing them through numerous small towns and B and Bs.

Titus thinks he’s living in a Shakespearean epic, Dolly’s reliving the glory days of the music hall, Jack’s getting all the girls and they’re accompanied by the play’s writer and her outsize hound.

Funny, charming and highly enjoyable, I’m glad there’s at least one more book about the Red Lion troupe to come.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

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Book Release Blitz: She’s the One Who Gets in Fights – S.R. Cronin

She'stheone

Happy publication day to S.R. Cronin! Check out this brand new Historical Fantasy, She’s the One Who Gets in Fights and enter for a chance to win a $30 Amazon gift card!

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She’s the One Who Gets in Fights (The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters Books)

Publication Date: May 14th, 2021 🎉

Genre: Historical Fantasy

It’s the 1200’s, and the small realm of Ilari has had peace and prosperity for generations. That doesn’t mean every citizen is happy, however.
Sulphur, the third of seven sisters, is glad the older two have been slow to wed. It’s given her the freedom to train as a fighter, in hopes of fulfilling her lifelong dream of joining Ilari’s army. Then, within a matter of days, both sisters announce plans and now Sulphur is expected to find a man to marry.
Is it Sulphur’s good fortune her homeland is gripped by fear of a pending Mongol invasion? And the army is going door to door encouraging recruits? Sulphur thinks it is. But once she’s forced to kill in a small skirmish, she’s ready to rethink her career decision.
Too bad it’s too late. The invasion is coming, and Ilari needs every good soldier it has.
Once Sulphur learns Ilari’s army has made the strategic decision to not defend certain parts of the realm, including the one where her family lives, she has to re-evaluate her loyalty. Is it with the military she’s always admired? Or is it with her sisters, who are hatching a plan to defend their homeland with magic?
Everywhere she turns, someone is counting on her to fight for what’s right. But what is?

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Excerpt

In early spring, after the last of the snow melted and the mud dried, I told my parents I wished to visit friends I’d made while studying. Then I rode to Pilk to learn more about joining the Svadlu. I knew they had a booth at the largest market there, often staffed by Svadlu officers who’d answer questions. I had a lot of them.

They accepted women, but what were the standards? Were they the same as for the men? Being a Svadlu provided status and a fair amount of pay, so they never wanted for recruits. How many people who tried to join were accepted?

The next day I found the booth. Officers wore cloaks of saffron yellow, but this man boasted a scarlet cape covered in regalia, identifying him as a Mozdol. My nervousness surprised me as I approached him.

“Hello, lass,” he greeted me with warmth. “Let me guess. You’ve got a younger brother who wants to join us but he’s too nervous to come talk to me himself. Am I right?” He seemed pleased. With what? That he induced nervousness in potential recruits?

“Uh, no. Sir. I was hoping to get some information on me joining.”

“You?”

He looked at me more closely. Of course I wore a dress, not my fighting clothes, so I didn’t much look the part, but he squinted at me anyway.

“You’re tall. Well-muscled for a woman and you look to be in good shape. Have you ever held a sword?”

“I’ve been sparring since I was a child.”

That impressed him.

“And I’ll do whatever you need to me to. Answer questions about weapons, engage in fights, perform tests of strength, whatever you need.” I spoke too fast in my eagerness.

“Slow down,” he chuckled. “All that’s good, but actually, none of it matters compared to what I’m going to tell you next.”

He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure how to explain this vital fact to someone as ignorant as me.

“You’re a farmgirl, right?” He looked at my clothes again.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, the Svadlu are more of a city operation. We do things differently than on the farm.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean being a member of the Svadlu is a pretty good deal. Lots of young people want in.”

“I know. That’s why I’ve worked so hard.”

“And that’s good, but most successful recruits get in because they have a sponsor. You know, someone already in the Svadlu who vouches for them. Um, especially if you’re, well, you know, a woman. Then it helps a great deal if one of us says you’re up to it.”

“But I can prove I’m up to it!”

“I suspect you can.” The look he gave me held respect, but he stayed firm. “A sponsor makes the difference. Why don’t you ask around? Surely your family knows someone who can help you.”

He looked up. Several people stood behind me now, all hoping to talk to him. “If you’ll excuse me …”

I rode back to Vinx dejected. I already knew my family had no contacts in the Svadlu and I had no idea of who I could turn to find some. Why did I have to know someone in order to get in? What stupid kind of way was that to run an army?

Available on Amazon

Will be available through Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Nobel later this month!

About the Author

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Sherrie Cronin is the author of a collection of six speculative fiction novels known as 46. Ascending and is now in the process of publishing a historical fantasy series called The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters. A quick look at the synopses of her books makes it obvious she is fascinated by people achieving the astonishing by developing abilities they barely knew they had.

She’s made a lot of stops along the way to writing these novels.  She’s lived in seven cities, visited forty-six countries, and worked as a waitress, technical writer, and geophysicist. Now she answers a hot-line. Along the way, she’s lost several cats but acquired a husband who still loves her and three kids who’ve grown up just fine, both despite how eccentric she is.

All her life she has wanted to either tell these kinds of stories or be Chief Science Officer on the Starship Enterprise. She now lives and writes in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she admits to occasionally checking her phone for a message from Captain Picard, just in case.

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Blog Tour: The Heretic’s Mark – S.W. Perry*

Read my reviews of The Serpent’s Mark and The Saracen’s Mark

The Elizabethan world is in flux. Radical new ideas are challenging the old. But the quest for knowledge can lead down dangerous paths…

London, 1594. The Queen’s physician has been executed for treason, and conspiracy theories flood the streets. When Nicholas Shelby, unorthodox physician and unwilling associate of spymaster Robert Cecil, is accused of being part of the plot, he and his new wife Bianca must flee for their lives.
With agents of the Crown on their tail, they make for Padua, following the ancient pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena. But the pursuing English aren’t the only threat Nicholas and Bianca face. Hella, a strange and fervently religious young woman, has joined them on their journey. When the trio finally reach relative safety, they become embroiled in a radical and dangerous scheme to shatter the old world’s limits of knowledge. But Hella’s dire predictions of an impending apocalypse, and the brutal murder of a friend of Bianca’s forces them to wonder: who is this troublingly pious woman? And what does she want?

My thoughts:

I think this might be my favourite in this series so far. Forced to hide out on the continent, Nicholas and Bianca head for Padua, and Bianca’s cheerful cousin Bruno.

They’re joined by a woman who claims to see Judgement Day and who becomes a wee bit too obsessed with Nicholas to be completely healthy.

He sees agents of doom everywhere and even Bianca is under a cloud.

Meanwhile back in Southwark Ned is getting into trouble and the delightful Rose is trying to get him out of it.

I loved having more Rose and Ned in the book, it was great them having their own storyline independent of the misadventures of everyone’s favourite Elizabethan doctor.

I also really liked seeing Nicholas out of his element, forced to learn Italian, having to rely on Bianca a bit more. I loved cousin Bruno, he’s just like a sort of puppy. And the inclusion of Galileo Galili as a drunken University professor, yelling at his students and planning to annoy the Florentines was an excellent touch.

All of the historical details, and the famous names and places add to the sense of time and place, grounding it in the Enlightenment’s early years – Galileo isn’t yet a heretic, Shakespeare’s still a jobbing playwright, the Earth is the centre of the universe.

These are such fun books and the conspiracy this time is not remotely what you expect – doom monger Hella isn’t an agent of one of England’s enemies, she’s a prophet of the apocalypse – or is she?

The curious state of Christianity in the 16th Century, with its mystics and pilgrims, hundreds of saints and apostates is given centre stage and it really is a strange place. I didn’t really think of the Netherlands as a hot bed of this sort of thing, but with a certain Heironymous of Bosch painting his nightmares, there’s a bit of an atmosphere.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders – David Stafford*

Read my review of Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons

November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?

My thoughts:

I love these books, they are smart, intelligent reads and this one might be even better than the first.

There’s more delightful letters from Skelton’s eccentric cousins, John and Norah, who I adored in the first book, there’s more Mina, Skelton’s excellent wife and lots more Edgar, his brilliant clerk. His team are a bit odd but they always solve the case, and Rose, who has now joined Duncan’s solicitors firm, is a fabulous detective, and is about to fall in love.

Skelton criss crosses the country representing the innocent and the not-so, while also attempting to unravel the truth about the body in the suitcase, if it is Mrs Aziz, who killed her? And if it isn’t, who is it?

There are funny bits and serious bits, some very modern concerns about prejudice, showing things like racism have always been with us, and Skelton knows it could cause Dr Aziz, a man he is sure is innocent, to lose his life anyway if put in front of a jury. How sad that a book set in 1929 shows such relevance to 2021.

But Skelton, ably assisted by his crack team of oddballs, will prevail, and help his dad find a retirement activity or two to fill his time, cheer Mina on with her new hobby, support Edgar through his own turmoil, solve a series of thefts and be back in time for the dinner Mrs Bartram has put on.

Simply put, I thought this was another marvellous adventure for Skelton and Co and cannot wait for the next one.


*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.