Date With Betrayal by Julia Chapman – an exciting day of danger in a village with humour and twists!

Date With Betrayal by Julia Chapman

What happens when a community acts together? In this instalment of the Dales Detective Series lots of activity, some humour and a terrific amount of excitement. This book is actually the seventh in the series, but I can confirm that it works as an exciting standalone novel which is how I read it. In fact, having started it, I found it nearly impossible to put down even though it was my first visit to Bruncliffe and my introduction to Delilah, Samson and the rest of the memorable inhabitants. There is gentle humour, some touching moments and some twists and turns which are well handled by this experienced and talented author. The style is friendly, with descriptions as necessary and never laboured, with enough to go on even for someone completely new to this series. The characters are well drawn and realistic, reacting as genuine people. The countryside setting, with errant sheep, challenging walks and narrow roads, is so well described that it becomes almost visible. There are some wonderful set pieces as the most unlikely characters discover new sides to their characters when the pressure is on. Altogether this is a really enjoyable book, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The book opens with a kidnap. The woman is not named, but it soon becomes obvious that it is a local who has a shrewd idea of what is happening, even if the revelation was not what she expected. Samson is a private detective, a local but who has spent time away after leaving the area in dubious circumstances. His business partner Delilah seemed to be on the edge of becoming another sort of partner, when she begins to act strangely. She has been told that Samson is in imminent danger of being killed as a result of his past work, and she is challenged by the thought that she has no time to waste in working out how to protect him. Realising that she cannot hope to do everything herself, she has to secretly enlist the help of the community. That is not straightforward, as the manner of Samson’s departure from the area left several people with severe doubts about him. Also what Deliah is asking is actually quite risky, with forces outside the village that very few have experience of in terms of actual danger. Deliah has to come up with a fail safe series of schemes that will protect the man she is falling in love with, in the knowledge that even if many people cooperate she will still have to trust in luck. Everything must also be achieved without Samson discovering that anyone locally knows that his life is in extreme danger. 

This is a fast moving book with plenty to enjoy in terms of characters, setting and plot. As from what I can see the entire series so far has taken place over only a few months, so it is perfectly possible to pick up what is going on without needing to have read all the previous novels. Delilah and Samson are brilliant characters, this is an exciting and enthralling book, and I recommend it as a great contemporary mystery novel in an English village setting.  

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Chorlton Bookshop Manchester -Small but perfectly formed and accessible

All part of the Tardis effect!

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Chorlton Bookshop

I am always on the lookout for bookshops – especially independent ones- that are accessible for my trusty powerchair Morgan. So I was delighted to discover Chorlton bookshop in a lovely highstreet just outside central Manchester. On their website   they call the shop “small, but perfectly formed” and it certainly is in every way. It has books around the walls, as well as quite a complex construction in the middle which offers discounted books among other goodies. A quick inspection of the website shows how they also sell book related items, cards and even high quality toys. I was also pleased to see an emphasis on local books, guides, history and novels. It was a treat to visit this lovely local shop with its no fuss access and tremendous range of books.

506 Wilbraham Road
Manchester M21 9AW


Monday to Saturday, 9:30 – 5:30
0161 881 6374

The Flames by Sophie Haydock – an intense novel of four women and an artist

The Flames by Sophie Haydock

Four women, four flames, four muses to a talented and unpredictable artist. In this intense and brilliant novel by Sophie Haydock the author shows the women as far more than models or even inspiration. The portraits of  Adele, Gertrude, Valley and Edith are vivid and sometimes tragic stories which give an idea of how they were affected by this wildly unprincipled man, and how they tried to retain their own lives. Framed by the story of one woman who feels all the guilt of decades, this book gives a multi-layered portrait of life in and near Vienna in the very early twentieth century, a city of wealth and culture, alongside another life of absolute poverty and struggle. The artist, Egon Schiele, is a man of compulsion and obsession, with undoubted radical talent but also a need to shock and overturn assumptions. In this book we see him from the female gaze, the women who observed him as he drew, painted and to an extent used them. The descriptions of the artistic lifestyle adopted by many of the characters are never brutal or gratuitously sexual, but the portraits and pictures left behind are revealing on so many levels. The writing is honest, picturesque in its detail, disturbing in its implications. There is a great depth of research behind this memorable book, but it is never allowed to interfere with the narrative drive, which slides between times and overlaps in its search for the truth which it presents so well. This is a book of enormous style and credibility, which reflects the women’s urge to be known, to be recognised as more than just a silent model. I was fascinated by this book, and so pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it. 

The Prologue of this book is set in May 1968, when a young woman on a bicycle collides with a fragile seeming elderly lady. Expecting the worst, Eva tries to help the older woman, but as soon as she recovers speech she berates her. As the ambulance pulls away bearing its reluctant patient, Eva is left to wonder at the older woman’s determination and identity, something that she cannot ignore. Thus begins a journey through time to recall how Adele was a young woman of a wealthy family at the turn of the twentieth century. She lives a life full of activities and social encounters, but strangely free of emotion. When she spies a young man moving into the house opposite, she becomes obsessed with the comings and goings, the suggestion of a bohemian lifestyle with few rules, where young women come and go freely, even if with the suggestion of deep feelings. As she discovers more about Schiele, she is determined to get close to him, but discovers that she can be mistaken. Gertrude’s story is of a younger sister fixated on her brother, Egon. They share dreams, the urge to leave their home where their father rules with an unpredictable scheme of misdemeanours and punishments. Egon is the central being of her life, compulsively drawing, dreaming of an idyllic future. When events overtake the pair it soon becomes obvious to Gertrude that she is no longer the sole focus of her brother’s affection, and she takes action to thwart his independence. As they grow up and become independent, she must decide on her own fate. Vally is a muse, a model, and so much more. Although recommended by Schiele’s mentor, Gustave Klimt, he must discover her true worth. She comes from a very different background than the young artist, and continues to have family responsibilities. Although she stands by him when he proves more outrageous than previously, they have a difficult relationship that neither truly understands, and is fated from the beginning. The final woman of the four, Edith, was usually depicted by Schiele as clothed in stark difference from many of his depictions of women, and it seems she had a very different relationship with him from the other women; a relationship where they were on a different footing completely.

This is a book set in a turbulent time in Europe in so many ways – unrest leading to War, financial upset and a dangerous illness spreading among the people of Vienna as elsewhere. Adele, Gertrude, Vally and Edith would have been remarkable women at any time in some respects, but their contact with Schiele at this time was bound to have lasting effects. I found this book truly fascinating in so many respects, and I recommend it to all those interested in the strength and nature of women at this time and in this place, four flames in an artistic world that they left their mark upon in memorable ways.   

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn- Yinka must find a suitable man in this funny contemporary novel of life and love in London

Yinka, Where is Your Huzband? by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn

Yinka is a young woman who seems quite content with life. A good job at an investment bank, a nice flat in London, friends and family. Unfortunately, in this funny and frank book, Yinka tells her story of how all the females around her are literally praying for her to find a man “before it’s too late”.  This novel brings to vivid life a woman in the heart of a Nigerian community in contemporary London, with the older women being influential “aunties” and a myriad of younger women as friends and cousins. Not that the female led community is necessarily understanding to Yinka; her Oxford degree and career seems little compensation to her mother for the lack of a “Huzband” and children. This book is written in a lively and vivid style, with plenty of revelations and twists. Yinka’s narrative voice is honest and reveals her thoughts and reactions brilliantly. The setting of London, its houses and churches, charities and other venues, is so well realised that this novel really came to life and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable book. 

As Yinka realises that in order to quieten her mother and some aunties and stop them praying over her very publicly, she must find a man and quickly. As a christian that may well be through the lively churches that they attend, as they provide suitable men. The trouble is that Yinka feels that she had a great relationship with the perfect man, but his ambition took him to America. Her job is suddenly less secure, and despite her masterplan she is beginning to wonder if she will ever be good enough to find love. Her friends are not all as helpful as they may be, full of their own lives. Only Nana, to whom she is very close to, urges her to stay true to herself and not change to suit a perception of someone she is not, just to get a man. As one of her friends plans a wedding there is even more pressure on her to find a suitable date, especially as her ex-boyfriend seems to be back on the scene. Should she attend her mother’s church and meet the man who has been lined up for her, or sign up for on-line dating? Her sister is expecting a baby and seems to be succeeding in her mother’s eyes – how will that affect her relationship? Should she go ahead with changing her appearance in a dramatic and expensive way to fit in with expectations? Why do her attempts to be attractive, organised and successful seem to be ill fated?

This is a terrific read of a relatable woman who is struggling to get by in the face of family and community pressures. I greatly enjoyed “meeting” Yinka and her amazing family and friends, empathising with her struggles to be what her mother and others want, while trying to work out how she wants to live. The panics about her appearance are new to me in some of the details, but kept my interest throughout. The characters in this novel are brilliantly created and sustained; my favourite is Nana, closely followed by Blessing who has managed to maintain her identity in the face of so much mayhem. The public prayer sessions are very funny, without undermining the basis of faith which underlines the book in a genuine way. I really enjoyed reading this book in every aspect, and would thoroughly recommend it.  

Murder on Oxford Lane by Tony Bassett – an intriguing and complex mystery novel

Murder on Oxford Lane by Tony Bassett

This is an all encompassing sort of contemporary mystery set in an English village in the Midlands. Not that its scenic beauty is anything compared with the dubious goings on that result from the apparent disappearance of Harry Bowers on a short journey to choir practice.  A married property developer with an interesting background, Harry’s sudden dropping out of life seems largely unremarked for some time, but it soon becomes a priority for experienced DCI Gavin Roscoe as he uses all sorts of contacts to discover the truth. His new Detective Sergeant Sunita Roy is keen to help and indeed establish new leads, but she has a problem with an ex boyfriend who will not be told that she is no longer interested in him. As clues, leads and ideas come together, this carefully written book becomes a skilfully plotted, layered mystery with some well established characters. As detailed character descriptions combine with settings established with great care, this is an impressive first book in what promises to be an exciting series of hard to put down books. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this impressive novel of murder and mystery. 

The book opens with Harry returning to his very comfortable and desirable home contemplating the fact that his wife was having an illicit relationship. He is even aware of who the man is – a fellow choir member. While he anticipates the possibility of some unpleasantness at the choir rehearsal later that evening, he does not foresee the violence that will occur. Meanwhile Sunita is getting ready to face her first day working for Gavin Roscoe, against a background of family upset and an enjoyable holiday. As soon as a report comes in of the missing Harry, she spots that his wife has not reported his disappearance for at least a week. A burnt out garage adds to her feeling that this is not going to be a straightforward case. Meanwhile Gavin is coming under pressure to find out what has happened to Harry from above, as it appears there are some powerful interested parties. As she begins to immerse herself in a crime that will require all her concentration, Sunita receives an unwanted visit from Arun “A face she’d hope to never see again”. She hopes to leave him in no doubt that his messages and visits were definitely unwanted, but the truth seems hard for him to comprehend. As the mystery of Harry’s disappearance deepens, a bizarre discovery in a nearby marina intensifies the search for the truth, but it appears that it will be difficult to discover in a small community becoming increasingly uneasy. 

This is the sort of mystery to become really involved in, carefully setting up lots of potential clues and leads. As the detectives move alongside, picking up on the hints of what may be really going on, there is a good sense of pacing underlying the narrative. I found this an enthralling story with elements of a thriller as well as what becomes a deep mystery. I really enjoyed the characterisation, especially Gavin and Sunita, the latter having a fine instinct for following her instincts and coping with all sorts of challenges. I recommend this book for fans of contemporary mystery books who perhaps do not enjoy extreme violence, but appreciate a novel which offers a layered and sophisticated mystery.      

Source by Rosemary Johnston – a saga of place, memories and words

Source – A Saga by Rosemary Johnston

Occasionally I am offered a book to review by an author, and this one is a little gem. It is a short book, but the language is so poetic and well used that it conveys so much. Set in a tiny Irish coastal community, it is a contemporary story of clearing a house and farm that is undramatic, but in its gentle storytelling it manages to reveal so much. Kate is a woman who has achieved a great deal in her life since she has left her mother’s house, but is still brought up short by the small memories that one or two books represent. So many items that her mother owned have no effect, but some glimpses of her childhood return in disturbing ways. Her teenage daughter, Lavinia, is unimpressed by this run down house so far from where she knows, without wi-fi and apparently so much more. 

This is a gentle story that seems to effortlessly convey so much of a place, a time, relationships in a small space. The setting of a community dominated by its coastal setting and a church which holds many memories, is beautifully established. It deals in elegant  prose with tragedy and insecurity, with long held expectations and emotions that can never be cancelled out once awoken. Life in small objects, words of prose and specific origins awakens so much for Kate and eventually others that this is a deceptively powerful little book that I was so pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review. 

It is following her mother’s funeral that Kate feels obliged to go and clear the house. She knows that she ought to sell it – it would need renovation but equally she knows that it is more likely to be demolished in favour of a new build, with a small garden that would be out of keeping with the wild setting. It is damp, with old and tired fixtures and fittings which Lavinia is distinctly unimpressed by – even Kate tells her “It’ll do you good to experience a bit of hardship”. Elsewhere Kate refers to her daughter as “pampered” , as she contrasts her own sparse upbringing with Lavania’s comfortable life. It soon emerges when they come across two books that Granny didn’t read, while Kate’s father was keen on words. He is represented by a book of poetry which Kate had discovered and delighted in, as well as a dictionary. It emerges that Kate is also fascinated by words, by their origins in historic terms, and their power in her life. She teaches English as a second language, so has a great appreciation of the power of language. It also seems that while her mother wanted only her family and fire at home, not going off for adventure and to see the world. Thus it seems there was a basic split between Kate’s parents, one wanting novelty, another firmly anchored to the land. There is at least one other person with secrets, and Kate recalls the pain of others.

Altogether this is a powerful and beautifully written story of memories, words and life. I recommend it as a lovely read from the pen of a very talented writer. 

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – the Bearded Badger Bookshop in Belper is no more!

The 1924 Building, Campbell Street , Belper DE56 1AP
The Wool Shop of dreams?

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Bearded Badger Bookshop, Belper, Derbyshire

My latest Bookshop visit was to a shop that closed the following day – I didn’t cause it, but I am a bit sad that it took me until the penultimate day to find it. In my defence I was a bit diverted by positive LFT tests and life in general. Although the bookshop may have gone, Paul the owner assures me there will be pop up and other ventures to look forward to in the future. Also, as he is I am hopeful that he will continue to publish books, such as one I picked up while I was there “Step Forward, Harry Salt” by Ross Lowe, which I am greatly looking forward to reading soon. (More details and available on the website)

So why feature a bookshop that is no longer operating? Well, as you can see it was in a little shopping arcade in Belper, Derbyshire (The 1924 Building), which features an very friendly hairdresser (S24) and a wool/ craft shop (MaD Handmade Designs –www.MadHM.UK ) among other units which are still operating – all small businesses which deserve support.

Secondly, although it was a tiny bookshop Paul was able to offer access for Morgan, my trusty powerchair, offered advice and ordering, as well as Independently Published and local books. It was obviously a friendly place which people enjoyed visiting and all of these attributes make for a good shop. So, please, if you achieve the dream of setting up a bookshop, please think about access as well as all the multitudes of other things. As I said in my recent talk celebrating accessible bookshops – the best ones are at the heart of the community because they welcome everyone!

So good luck Paul – it was lovely meeting you! 

Two Scoops, too Much by Terri Boas – a lively book of contemporary relationships and life

Two Scoops, Too Much by Terri Boas

Friendship under difficult circumstances is a great subject for a novel, and this sequel to Two Scoops, not Three certainly examines the friendship between three young women from every perspective. Two of the three women involved, Briony and Lauren, after enjoying a warm friendship in the previous book, have decided to take things further and have a deep, physical relationship. The third woman, Natalie, is rethinking everything after a messy affair with Jason, her spin instructor. As the women negotiate everything including their work, marriage and future, extreme events overtake them. With humorous dialogue, passionate moments and musical references, this is an entertaining book in a very contemporary style. The characters have depth and the settings are well described. Ranging from an office kitchen, through to a much loved local pub, a luxury hotel and homes, this is a book which covers a great deal of ground in many ways. It deals with highs and lows and the excitement of new love, as well as deep confusion as a relationship hits trouble. The three women are well developed characters who react to things in interesting ways; the author has really thought through how people react in different circumstances. I found this an interesting book that I was keen to read and review.

The novel begins at the exact point that the previous one ended, with Briony and Lauren declaring their feelings for each other in their local pub. Amid much alcohol no one is left in any doubt as to the strength of their feelings, and everyone seems happy for them, especially the landlady Flo and Natalie. Not that they find it easy to find time to spend exclusively with each other. Lauren has been singing on cruise ships and is between engagements, but Briony’s work situation is far more unstable. After a torrid relationship with her American boss’ son Mani, at the end of which he made an inappropriate suggestion to both of them, they both view him with suspicion. Briony is unsure how this leaves her in the office, and the two women decide to set up an elaborate but fitting revenge. Meanwhile the after effects of Natalie’s affair is to make her husband Martin eager to reawaken their relationship, with mixed results. He has always been generous in terms of expensive cars and ensuring that she has never had to earn money since their two young children were born. Natalie is now convinced that she now wants more, not necessarily in terms of passion, but her own job, even career. She is keen on staying involved in the fitness industry, but is aware that that is where temptation lies for her, even though she knows that seeing Jason once more may well cause problems. A brief stay at a luxury hotel for all three women allows all sorts of emotions to emerge, and nothing seems to go to plan. When an event rocks the lives of all three women, it seems plain that plans are never easy to stick to in their lives. 

This is a very contemporary book which reflects relationships and encounters of various kinds, which the author spends time describing. While on one level it is an entertainment, it also makes some very strong points about serious topics, such as women in the workplace and relationship breakdown. A colourful book in many ways, there is a lot going on in this novel which may challenge expectations. 

Faceless by Vanda Symon – a clever thriller with a real feeling for character and the build up of suspense

Faceless by Vanda Symon

A thriller told from up to four points of view, this is an intense and powerful story of determination in the face of impossible odds. Featuring homeless characters in a city in New Zealand, it is written with a sparse prose that does not waste time on descriptions, feelings and emotions which will emerge from the characters’ actions and reactions. This is a book which shows how desperate people can react when circumstances demand – and a little of how past hurts can power the present. Each switch of character is clear, though they pick up the story at slightly different times, as the desperation rises for more than one person. It is a mystery that works out brilliantly as various people know only a little of what is going on – and only the author and reader can put it together as time carries on and tension rises. In a way it is a masterclass in contemporary writing, a well balanced story of crime and investigation starting from very different places than normal. I found it an enthralling novel, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it. 

 Bradley is an ordinary man with family pressures and a job which demands more than he can possibly manage. A sudden impulse sends him into a nightmare that changes lives.  Not that it is solely his nightmare by any stretch of imagination – his descent is a painful revelation in every way. Billy is a young woman who is trying to surmount her situation with art, who descends into a danger that she could never have imagined. Her torment is messy and painful, and calls on all her inner resources. Her previous experience as a homeless woman has not always been pleasant, yet there was light and in Max a friend and companion who cared. Max has descended about as low as it is possible to go, barely surviving as a wreck of the man he once was, shocking in his physical state and attitude to himself. Only his friendship with Billy has kept him going, and when she suddenly disappears he cannot rest, cannot  cope without discovering what has happened to her. Even though it costs him everything, even when he realises it will be physically risky, he still makes every effort, uses every contact, however tenuous, to discover what has happened to her. He knows that he is stirring up memories and situations that he has made every effort to suppress, but he is desperate. 

With her usual flair for creating characters and situations that may slowly develop but twist and turn in their revelation, Symon has so much control of the plot that it truly absorbed me. She does not spend time setting the scene and explaining everything, but layers up the suspense brilliantly. There are some dark elements of this story, but they are well handled and necessary to the story. I was so impressed by the character of Max, for whom so much of this book is a revelation of how far he has descended, and the beginning of realising what he must do to change his life in every respect. This is an amazing story, and a well written thriller with real suspense.    

The Prize Racket by Isabel Rogers – an orchestra enters a television competition with very funny results.

The Prize Racket by Isabel Rogers

Occasionally I find a book a really delightful, funny and fascinating read, and this one is well into that category. It is the third in a series, yet I soon found the ongoing characters completely engaging and the main plot convincing. It features an amateur orchestra that meets one evening a week in a school hall, and though my experience of playing in an orchestra is limited to a school interest, yet I found even the technical details of playing the instruments was so well described that I was thoroughly hooked. It is amusing in the sense of well written dialogue, realistic characters and a plot that kept me reading into the small hours. The rehearsals are funny, the pub encounters afterwards are realistic to my similar choir experiences, and the whole idea of the competition is lovely in so many ways. In a way it calls for a television version as it pokes fun and more at entertainment competitions. So much is cleverly linked in with events in the book, and indeed the earlier books which makes me even keener to read them. This is a well constructed book that I really enjoyed, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The book opens during a normal rehearsal, with Eliot, the conductor calling for a break to enjoy Pearl’s remarkable refreshments. David has received an intriguing request, from a local poet who wants to arrange a “residency” with the orchestra to benefit his creativity. Unfortunately he turns out to be the most pretentious and intense man who adopts poses of intent listening and an impolite attitude to contributing in any way. Worse, he soon tries to monopolise a young woman in the orchestra, who is repelled by his advances. During his second visit he tries to approach Beatriz again, and is firmly dealt with by Ann, an older retired professional cello player. A minor event, which will have an effect later. An invitation to record a piece for a competition to be televised also arrives, and as orchestra members discuss these two incidents we discover much about them as personalities and a cohesive group. As they record their first piece and it is shown as one of the competitors in a heat, the homes of various orchestra members are shown where watch parties are happening, and the social links are shown in a really funny way. Furthermore Erin and Ann are summoned to the huge home of one of the orchestra’s former associates, a Mrs Ford-Hughes, who has decided to  enter the competition with a technically difficult vocal piece which requires a large number of cellists. It is a very funny episode with some characters introduced in previous books, in which the soloist’s voice is described as “her timbre transformed from a distant chainsaw into an angry mosquito that had got into your bedroom…A mosquito that had learned how to do vibrato.”

As the book proceeds other musicians are introduced. A group of small children who attempt co ordinated violin playing provide much entertainment, and there are some terrifying harp players. The competition is not exactly straightforward, and the whole experience proves a severe test of everyone’s musical abilities in some complex ways. I recommend this book for its entertainment value on so many levels which is bound to bring on some recognisable groans among musicians of many types in a very good way.