Time and Place in …. Andalucia #Books #Spain #Seville #Cordoba #Granada

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In April 2010 I went with a friend for a short break to Seville, fly out Monday come back Friday – perfect. I’d always wanted to see the Alhambra in Granada and Sheila had always wanted to go to Seville. So this trip was intended to combine both. The universe however had other plans and our brief 4 night stay was extended to 12 courtesy of a certain Icelandic volcano. The day it decided to erupt, we were innocently strolling through the Alhambra followed by a late lunch in Granada with an interesting American couple we met on the coach from Seville (that’s a whole other story!).

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We got back to the hotel, tired, but elated, to find several missed calls from our frantic husbands. When we caught up the conversation went along the lines —

V – Where have you been?                          Me – ‘We’ve been in Granada and …

V – Have you not seen the news?              Me – No we’re on holiday and …

V – Well, you’re not coming home!          Me – Stop messing about ( or words to that effect!)

Anyway the upshot was, we were indeed ‘not going home’ as our Friday flight was cancelled due to the volcanic ash cloud. The earliest possible option would have been the following Monday and (assuming it would fly) was now full. The unspoken words here, were, full of people who watched the news and acted quickly. So at the very least we would be stranded in Seville for an extra week. Oh joy!

We were luckier than most people in our position, Sheila was retired and I worked from home with my husband, so assuming things were sorted air wise in the not too distant future it wasn’t a major problem. Once we’d got the husbands checking updates and sorting our flights home (when they became available) we got on with enjoying our unplanned stay.

Our hotel, a quaint, quirky converted 15th century convent at the heart of the old town came up trumps and sorted us out with accommodation for the extra stay. What I haven’t mentioned is that our extended stay coincided with the event we had wanted to see, but couldn’t have afforded – the Spring Feria. All the hotels fill up, and prices hike up accordingly, but our hotel only increased our price to a still reasonable rate per night (and we were assuming at this stage that somewhere along the line  we would be recompensed).

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So there we were, in Seville for the Feria and beyond happy. The atmosphere really was one of carnival, with the costumes, the caballeros and casetas. Our lovely reception staff at the hotel even gave us an invite to get us into one of the private casetas so we could see what it was like from the inside ( we might just have mentioned to them once or twice how delighted we were to be there during Feria!).  We made the most of our stay by getting to  grips with the bus and took ourselves off to Cordoba. The train might have been a quicker option, but a quick visit to Santa Justa Station (which was snowed under with stranded visitors trying to get to anywhere to continue their journeys) was not our idea of fun. Plus, buses are far more enjoyable, you get to see the little villages along the way and enjoy the scenery.

The rest of time, we spent in Seville ambling around the tiny twisting narrow streets of the Juderia, peeking into courtyards, stopping off for cafes con leche (and the odd jug of Sangria) and generally taking in the atmosphere. We did all the typical touristy things and just totally fell in love with the place. One of my happiest memories is sitting at dusk in the Plaza del Triunfo listening to a flameno guitarist, it really was my idea of heaven.

Wonderful I hear you say, but why is she telling me this? Well, it began my ongoing love affair with Spain and all things Spanish, including books set in Spain. I have been back numerous times since, to various parts of the country, including walking the Camino Ingles to Santiago de Compostela in 2012. However Seville will always hold a special place in my heart. When I win the lottery (note to self – best start doing the lottery) I already have my heart set on an apartment in the Plaza de Santa Cruz.

I wanted  my husband to love it just as much as I did and so I took him in 2012 for our 25th wedding anniversary. We visited Mijas, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and ended our stay in Granada. Sadly he had an attack of gout and was confined to our hotel room so he has still not seen the Alhambra or anything else of Granada. This seemed the perfect excuse to repeat the trip for our 30th wedding anniversary and consequently we’re heading off again next week. Our wedding anniversary isn’t actually until June, but my father died on our first wedding anniversary so we’ve never really celebrated it. To head off in March marks the event without any attached sadness. (though best hope he doesn’t file for divorce before June).

Andalucia March 2012 (52)

So from my personal collection here are the books I’ve either read or anticipate reading that have an Andalucian setting. I’ve restricted it to fiction to exclude the plethora of travel memoirs and also my growing collection of  fictionalized royal histories. If you have any you can recommend please don’t hesitate to comment. Books set in other Spanish regions may well follow at a later date.

CORDOBA

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Checkmate by Mark Dewar

10th century Spain – Cordoba, the capital of Moorish Spain is at the centre of a power struggle in the medieval world.

With its diverse population of Muslims, Christians and Jews, political and religious rivalries are never far from the surface in the city.

After a tense chess match between high ranking officials, one of the players, Aiden – a Christian professor of mathematics at the university – is found murdered.

With the threat of an international war at stake if the crime isn’t solved, the Caliph’s Jewish Vizier, Hasdai ben Shaprut, finds himself in a race against time to catch the killer. Each of the chess players comes under scrutiny and it isn’t long before another murder is committed.

As the plot thickens will the answer slip through Hasdai’s fingers? Or will he manage to Checkmate the killer?

 

devils-chain

The Devil’s Chain by Mark Dewar

961 AD, Cordoba, Al Andalus. A body is found.

A university professor has met with a terrifying, painful and violent end. It is the duty of General Ghalib and Brigadier Zaffar to investigate.

With the passing of the old caliph, abd al-Rahman and the organisation of the inauguration ceremonies of his son and successor, Hakam II, the two soldiers have more pressing things to do than investigate the seemingly open-and-shut case of a dead professor.

But what at first appears to be a routine enquiry quickly reveals itself to be something much more complex and sinister…. The professor had in fact been poisoned, but by who and for what purpose? What had he been working on and why had he been borrowing so much money?

Hasdai ben Shaprut, the old caliph’s vizier, and a Jew, knows that his position with Hakam is a delicate one and when the new caliph rejects his carefully written sermon in preference for his own, Hasdai’s fears for his safety, the security of the caliphate, and, most importantly his dear friends are confirmed.

As they get closer to discovering the truth behind the professor’s last days, Hasdai, Ghalib and Zaffar find themselves becoming entrenched in a dark and dangerous world of treachery and the occult.

Who is trying to destabalise the caliphate, and why? With a capricious and cruel new ruler, how will they be able to maintain order, whilst preserving their lives and liberties and those of their loved ones?

GRANADA

Alhambra

Blood WeddingBlood Wedding by P J Brooke

Sub-inspector Max Romero is asked to help investigate the death of Leila, a beautiful Muslim postgraduate student, researching the impacts of the Spanish Civil War on Max’s home village in the Sierra Nevada. The prime suspect, Hassan, has links to a supposed terrorist group but the police’s insensitive handling of the case leads to his tragic suicide. As a result, Max gets co-opted into the anti-terrorist operation based in Granada, which is destined to go terribly wrong.

Meanwhile, Max’s fascinating family, headed by his charismatic grandmother Paula, loom large in the gathering events, while shadows from the Spanish Civil War crowd in to influence the present.

The story moves from the ancient cobbled streets of Granada to the sultry mountains of the Sierra Nevada. Over it all hovers the mesmerising but tragic beauty of the city of Granada.

Darker NightA Darker Night by P J Brooke

The historic city of Granada is vibrant with the spectacle of its Easter processions; its bars and streets brimming with life. But high in the adjacent Alhambra hills, gypsy guitarist Paco is found dead in a Sacromonte cave.

Sub-Inspector Max Romero is brought in to investigate Paco’s death. An initially straightforward inquiry, it soon shades into something more sinister when Max reveals a link with a major property speculation in the beautiful Sacromonte valley below the Alhambra Palace; one that involves laundered drug money, city corruption and Opus Dei.

As Max sinks ever deeper into a political quagmire, he clashes with old foe Inspector Ernesto Navarro. He discovers that, even in vibrant Granada, amid its beauty and drama, the dead can reach out to the living.

Hand of FatimaThe Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones

Snared between two cultures and two loves, one man is forced to choose…

1564, the Kingdom of Granada. After years of Christian oppression, the Moors take arms and daub the white houses of Sierra Nevada with the blood of their victims.

Amidst the conflict is young Hernando, the son of an Arab woman and the Christian priest who raped her. He is despised and regularly beaten by his own step-father for his ‘tainted’ heritage.
Fuelled with the love of the beautiful Fatima, Hernando hatches a plan to unite the two warring faiths – and the two halves of his identity…

ReturnThe Return by Victoria Hislop

Beneath the majestic towers of the Alhambra, Granada’s cobbled streets resonate with music and secrets. Sonia Cameron knows nothing of the city’s shocking past; she is here to dance. But in a quiet café, a chance conversation and an intriguing collection of old photographs draw her into the extraordinary tale of Spain’s devastating civil war.

Seventy years earlier, the café is home to the close-knit Ramírez family. In 1936, an army coup led by Franco shatters the country’s fragile peace, and in the heart of Granada the family witnesses the worst atrocities of conflict. Divided by politics and tragedy, everyone must take a side, fighting a personal battle as Spain rips itself apart.

Flamenco BabyFlamenco Baby by Cherry Radford

Jeremy and Yolande enjoy life in London’s artsy Islington. He’s a novelist; she’s in a flute trio. They love the dance theatre, Spanish films and arm-in-arm walks along the canal. But both are searching for a dark and sensitive Mr Right – and at thirty eight, Yolande is running out of time.

When Jeremy offers a ‘consolation prize’ after another failed romance, she asks for his baby. But he can’t face fatherhood, and gives her flamenco instead – tickets for the London festival, followed by classes in Spain.

An entranced Yolande returns from Granada having started a cosy relationship with guitarist Javi, and Jeremy falls for Fernando – an enigmatic dancer with whom Yolande has had a hidden brief liaison. So begins a whirl of secrecy, love and jealousy that has them all wondering if there’s more than one way to have a happy-ever-after…

Atticus Craftsman

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez

Atticus Craftsman never travels without a supply of Earl Grey and a favourite book. So when he is sent to shut down a failing literary magazine in Madrid, he packs both. A short Spanish jaunt later, he’ll be back in Kent, cup of tea and smoked-salmon sandwich in hand.

But the five ladies who run the magazine have other ideas. They’ll do anything to keep the jobs they love – even if it involves hoodwinking Atticus with flashing eyes, the ghosts of literature past and a winding journey into the heart of Andalucía.

With not the most efficient of detectives in pursuit, it’s only a matter of time before Atticus Craftsman either falls in love, disappears completely or – worst of all – runs out of Earl Grey.

Under the Spanish StarsUnder the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair

When her beloved grandmother falls ill, Charlotte Kavanagh will do whatever she asks of her—even if it means traveling to a country that broke her abuela’s heart. Can an unsigned painting of a flamenco dancer unlock the secrets of her grandmother’s youth in Spain? To find the answers she needs, Charlotte must convince the charismatic and gifted musician, Mateo Vives to introduce her to a secluded gypsy clan.  
 
The enigmatic Mateo speaks the true language of flamenco, a culture Charlotte must learn to appreciate if she wants to understand her grandmother’s past—and the flamenco legend that has moved souls to beauty, and bodies to the heights of passion. As Mateo leads her into the captivating world of the music and the dance, Charlotte embraces her own long-denied creative gift and the possibility of a future rich with joy…

Poet's WifeThe Poet’s Wife by Rebecca Stonehill

Granada, 1920. Free-spirited Luisa and young poet Eduardo fall in love, cementing a bond that can never be broken.

Behind the jasmine filled courtyard, perched amongst houses like clouds on a hilltop, stands a beautiful villa; Carmen de las Estrellas. Beneath its walls live Eduardo and Luisa with their thriving family, but war is looming, casting its shadow over the household.

When Civil War finally breaks out, Luisa and Eduardo must fiercely protect those dear to them. Yet these are turbulent times, and as each of their children begin to make their way in the world, the solace of home cannot shield them from the horrors of war.

MOJACAR

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Then. Now. Always by Isabelle Broom. (Not published until April but I jumped at a review copy)

Hannah can’t believe it when she’s offered a trip to sunny Spain with her best friend and dreamy boss . . . what’s the catch?

Twenty-eight year old Hannah is ready for an adventure. She and her colleagues are in Spain for a month to film a documentary, and it’s a dream come true. Not least because Hannah will get to spend long summer days with Theo, her boss (and crush). If only Tom (Hannah’s best friend and cameramen) and Claudette (the presenter) would stop getting in the way…

Then things become even more complicated when Nancy, Hannah’s half-sister arrives. What on earth is she doing here?

For once in her life, can’t Hannah just have one perfect summer, free of any drama?

 

SEVILLE

Barefoot QueenThe Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones – one of my favourite Spanish authors . See my review here

1748, Seville: Caridad, a recently freed Cuban slave, wanders the streets of the city. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When she meets Milagro Carmona – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon bring them love and change their life forever.

From the tumultuous bustle of 18th-century Seville to the theatres of Madrid, THE BAREFOOT QUEEN takes us into the murky world of tobacco smuggling and ther persecution of the gypsies.

Showing us the birth of Flamenco, it is a historical fresco filled with characters that live, love, fight and suffer for what they believe.

Death in SevilleDeath in Seville by David Hewson

It is Holy Week in Seville and the heat is rising. A murderer is on the loose and visiting academic Maria Gutierrez can see something in his ways that the police are missing. But her insight does nothing to help her popularity in the force – and draws her to the attention of the killer.

The Angel Brothers, two controversial modern artists, are found dead in a killing that emulates a famous painting, and an old lady remembers the atrocities of the Civil War. Maria was supposed to be an observer to the police investigation. But her own past in the city soon puts her one step ahead of the cops … and in the killer’s sights.

First published as Semana Santa in 1996 by HarperCollins.

Seville Communion

The Seville Communion by Aruto Perez-Reverte

A diabolically good hacker puts a message on the pope s computer, pleading for him to save a seventeenth-century Spanish church a church that is killing to defend itself.Although Our Lady of the Tears is but a crumbling baroque building in the heart of Seville, it is also the center of a multilayered mystery one that will force ecclesiastical sleuth Father Lorenzo Quart to question his loyalty, his vow of chastity, and his faith itself.

Waiting for Columbus

Waiting for Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

He appears out of the sea, washed up naked, in the treacherous Straits of Gibraltar. Seemingly delirious, and claiming to be Christopher Columbus, he is taken to an insane asylum in Seville, where astonishingly he starts to reveal the true story of how he set sail on behalf of the Spanish queen five hundred years ago.

Consuela, a nurse at the Institute, is charged with helping him back to reality. She listens to his fantastic tales in the hope of discovering the truth. But as his story unfolds, she finds herself falling for her patient – no longer able to tell where truth ends and fantasy begins.

Meanwhile, across the continent, Emile Germain is involved in a different search. He’s an Interpol officer on the hunt for a missing person, presumed dangerous. He’s a determined man, and when his investigation leads to Spain these two stories collide.

Spanish LoverA Spanish Lover by Joanna Trollope

Lizzie and Frances are twins, together forming part of a unit.At least that’s the way Lizzie sees things. Lizzie is the twin who has everything, husband, children, a flourishing career and a beautiful house and worries about Frances who seems to lead a solitary life in London ricocheting from one disastrous man to the next. Lizzie just wants Frances to share in her own complete and satisfying life.

Then one day Frances announces she isn’t coming to Lizzie’s for Christmas, she’s going to Spain instead. And, equally unexpectedly, Lizzie’s world begins to tilt, Frances’s Christmas defection seems overwhelmingly threatening to their unity.

As Frances’s future begins to change into something exciting and Lizzie’s deteriorates as financial pressures eat into her ideal lifestyle, could it be that Frances is the twin with everything?.

Blind Man of Seville

The Blind Man of Seville by Robert Wilson

The man is bound, gagged and dead in front of his television.The terrible self-inflicted wounds tell of his violent struggle to avoid some unseen horror. On the screen? In his head? What could make a man do that to himself?

It’s Easter week in Seville, a time of passion and processions. But detective Javier Falcón is not celebrating. Appalled by the victim’s staring eyes he is inexorably drawn into this disturbing, mystifying case. And when the investigation into the dead man’s life sends Javier trawling though his own past and into the shocking journals of his late father, a famous artist, his unreliable memory begins to churn. Then there are more killings and Falcón finds himself pushed to the edge of a terrifying truth…

Silent and the Damned

The Silent and the Damned by Robert Wilson

Mario Vega is seven years old and his life is about to change forever. Across the street in an exclusive suburb of Seville his father lies dead on the kitchen floor and his mother has been suffocated under her own pillow. It appears to be a suicide pact, but Inspector Jefe Javier Falcón has his doubts when he finds an enigmatic note crushed in the dead man’s hand.

In the brutal summer heat Falcón starts to dismantle the obscure life of Rafael Vega only to receive threats from the Russian mafia who have begun operating in the city. His investigation into Vega’s neighbours uncovers a creative American couple with a destructive past and the misery of a famous actor whose only son is in prison for an appalling crime.

Within days two further suicides follow – one of them a senior policeman – and a forest fire rages through the hills above Seville obliterating all in its path. Falcón must now sweat out the truth, which will reveal that everything is connected and there is one more secret in the black heart of Vega’s life.

Hidden AssassinsThe Hidden Assassins by Robert Wilson

As Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon investigates a faceless corpse unearthed on a municipal dump, Seville is rocked by a massive explosion. An apartment block is destroyed, and when it’s discovered that its basement housed a mosque everybody’s terrorist fears are confirmed.

Panic sweeps the city, more bodies are dragged from rubble, the climate of fear infects everyone and terror invades the domestic life of flamboyant judge Calderon and the troubled mind of Consuelo, Falcon’s one-time lover.

With the media and political pressure intensifying, Falcon realizes all is not as it appears. But as he comes close to cracking a conspiracy, he discovers an even more terrifying plot – and the race is on to prevent a catastrophe far beyond Spain’s borders.

Ignorance of BloodThe Ignorance of Blood by Robert Wilson

A sweltering Seville is recovering from the shock of a terrorist attack and Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon is struggling to fulfil his promise to its citizens: that he would find the real perpetrators of the outrage. The death of a gangster in a spectacular car crash offers vital evidence implicating the Russian mafia in his investigation…but pitches Falcon into the heart of a turf war over prostitution and drugs.

Now the target of vicious hoods, Falcon finds those closest to him are also coming under intolerable pressure: his best friend, who’s spying for the Spanish government, reveals that he is being blackmailed by Islamist extremists, and Falcon’s own lover suffers a mother’s worst nightmare.
In the face of such fanaticism and brutality, their options seem limited and Falcon realizes that only the most ruthless retaliation will work.

But there is a terrible price to pay…

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So if you’re still here, thanks for staying with me so long. I hope you’ll be tempted to visit Andalucia, if not for real, then by dipping in to some of the selected reading. So all it remains for me to say is –  adios y hasta luego!

The Barefoot Queen by Ildefenso Falcones – 4*s #bookreview – originally read and reviewed Oct 2015 via Goodreads

Barefoot Queen

1748, Seville: Caridad, a recently freed Cuban slave, wanders the streets of the city. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When she meets Milagro Carmona – a young, rebellious gypsy – the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon bring them love and change their life forever.

From the tumultuous bustle of 18th-century Seville to the theatres of Madrid, THE BAREFOOT QUEEN takes us into the murky world of tobacco smuggling and ther persecution of the gypsies.

Showing us the birth of Flamenco, it is a historical fresco filled with characters that live, love, fight and suffer for what they believe.

My Review

Another epic read from Ildefonso Falcones. Set in his native Spain.

It is hard to review such an epic story without detailing the plot and that is not something I want to do, as the joy/despair engendered in following the story lies in not knowing what happens. But basically it is the story of Caridad and Milagros who become friends in Seville in 1748. Caridad is a former Cuban slave who find herself alone and penniless in Seville after her Master died aboard ship when they were en route from Cuba. Milagros is a young gypsy girl, living in the Triana district of the city. When they meet, thanks to Milagros’s grandfather Melchor taking pity on Caridad, they recognise in each other kindred spirits and become firm friends. This changes dramatically following the murder of Milagros’s father and both leave Seville for Madrid (unbeknown to each other) for a life far removed than that they had imagined. The desire to see whether Milagros and Caridad resolve their differences and regain their friendship for me became secondary to the blossoming relationship between Melchor (Milagros’ grandfather) and Caridad and as to whether that is resolved you really need to read the book.

While the women in the book are in many ways strong in that they survive their misfortunes and strive to carry on, they are also subservient and it is that subservience that causes many of their problems. Though it is easy to be critical from a 21st century viewpoint. Life for women of their class in this period was a hard, with men mostly seeing them as sexual objects with little worth,and throughout, Caridad in particular, is sadly used and abused. For Milagros, not only was she a woman, but also a gypsy, and the novel is set against the background of the start of the state persecution of the gypsies. Her parents are imprisoned, which is instrumental in dictating the way her life path changes.

What I love about Falcones’ book is the way he is able to mix history, geography and social comment into his novels. By the end you realise you’ve not only had a great read, but also a fascinating history lesson. The Barefoot Queen is a story of slavery and the Tobacco trade, the role of the Church in Society, what life was like on the margins of society and the persecution of the Gypsies. It is ironic that when we think of the cultural heritage of Spain, the costumes, the music and Flamenco  – these are all part of the gypsy heritage that for over 300 years the state tried to destroy and that the Barefoot Queen helps to celebrate.

Let the Dead Speak by Jane Casey – 4.5*s #bookreview @JaneCaseyAuthor

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A murder without a body
Eighteen-year-old Chloe Emery returns to her West London home one day to find the house covered in blood and Kate, her mother, gone. There may not be a body, but everything else points to murder.

A girl too scared to talk
Maeve Kerrigan is young, ambitious and determined to prove she’s up to her new role as detective sergeant. She suspects Chloe is holding something back, but best friend Bethany Norris won’t let Maeve get close. What exactly is Bethany protecting Chloe from?

A detective with everything to prove
As the team dig deeper into the residents of Valerian Road, no one is above suspicion. All Maeve needs is one person to talk, but that’s not going to happen. Because even in a case of murder, some secrets are too terrible to share…

I love a good police procedural and this series is one of the best. Consequently I was delighted when I discovered that detective Maeve Kerrigan was back, and back with a vengeance. In Let the Dead Speak, Maeve is now a Detective Sergeant, but thankfully still part of the Major Investigation Team. I say thankfully, as connoisseurs of this series will appreciate, that means she’s still working with DI Josh Derwent. Derwent is a potent blend of handsome machismo with latent sympathetic tendencies which has you loving him one minute and happily wanting to throttle him the next.

Maeve is still settling into her new role when a major murder case breaks. Chloe Emery arrives home to carnage and her mother Kate is missing. When the police arrive at the scene all the evidence (for that read copious amounts of blood and alarming blood spatter patterns) suggests there ought to be a body, but where is it, and more importantly who is responsible.

Chloe, may, or may not be, as intellectually challenged as everyone claims but she certainly appears to have a secret, but does it relate to the case in hand? The problem for the team, is that once investigations get under way, most of the people who Kate and Chloe came into contact with also appear to have secrets. So the race is on to find the body and uncover the truth.

I was gripped with this story line from the beginning page when the slightly creepy neighbour picked up Chloe and gave her a lift home from something she was clearly escaping from. From the outset, there was an underlying sense of unease which set the tone for what was to follow. Once the murder is discovered the pace picks up and doesn’t drop until the very end. As the team worked through the secrets and lies I was no wiser as to what the outcome would be and I’d be surprised if anyone else reading would piece it together either.

Other than the clever plot lines, the star of this series has always been Maeve and her relationships with her team. As ever, her relationship with Josh is ambiguous and I still sense an underlying sexual tension especially from Josh. Am I reading too much into the fact that with his new-found relationship, he talks more lovingly about his partner’s son than his partner, thereby leaving the door open for Maeve? Whatever the truth, it’s a relationship that is realistic, believable and intriguing. Maeve however has new team member that she is less ambivalent about, namely her new DC Georgia Shaw. Onto a loser from the start due to being a fast track candidate, Maeve observes she’s also young, pretty, ambitious, articulate, confident and damningly not interested in hard work. I have to say I’m with Maeve on this one, DS Shaw will need to up her game if she’s staying around. On the plus side PC Pettifer only made a few appearances, but we definitely need more of this sensible but wry observances.

So in short, this offers  everything I want in a police procedural, a taut and clever plotline, multiple suspects, brilliant (if not always likeable) characters, realistic working relationships, some humour to balance the darkness and most importantly a satisfactory outcome. Highly recommended.

I received an ARC via NetGalley to enable this review.

Added week ending 11 March 2017

Review Copies

Silent KookaburraThe Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat – kindly supplied by the author

All eleven-year-old Tanya Randall wants is a happy family. But Mum does nothing besides housework, Dad’s always down the pub and Nanna Purvis moans at everyone except her dog. Then Shelley arrives –– the miracle baby who fuses the Randall family in love for their little gumnut blossom.

Tanya’s life gets even better when she meets an uncle she didn’t know she had. He tells her she’s beautiful and could be a model. Her family refuses to talk about him. But that’s okay, it’s their little secret.

Then one blistering summer day tragedy strikes, and the surrounding mystery and suspicion tear apart this fragile family web.

Kindle Purchases

 

To Rome with LoveTo Rome with Love by T A Williams – 99p

A summer of second chances…

Just a week before her big day, Sarah returns home to find a note from her husband-to-be – the wedding’s off! So when her boss decides to send her on an epic cycling trip, from Venice to Rome, it seems like the perfect distraction…

Although she never expected the distraction to come in the form of her oh-so-handsome, but slightly serious, cycling companion, Miles. And with still 600 miles of beautiful scenery, mouthwatering food and delicious wine yet to cover, anything could happen!

My Grape Escape

 

My Grape Escape by Laura Bradbury – Free

A twenty-six year old newlywed on the path to a prestigious legal career in London buys a decrepit, revolutionary-era ruin in the tiny Burgundian village of Magny-les-Villers. Was that split-second, life-altering decision profoundly wise or utterly insane? Find out in My Grape Escape – a story for anyone who’s imagined taking a U-Turn in life to seize their joy.

summer-in-tintagel

Summer in Tintagel by Amanda James – 99p

We all have secrets……

Ambitious journalist Rosa Fernley has been asked to fulfil her grandmother Jocelyn’s dying wish. Jocelyn has also passed on a secret – in the summer of 1968, fleeing from the terror of a bullying husband, she visited the mysterious Tintagel Castle. Jocelyn wasn’t seeking love, but she found it on the rugged clifftops in the shape of Jory, a local man as enigmatic and alluring as the region itself. But she was already married, and knew her husband would never let her find happiness and peace in Jory’s arms.

Now as her days are nearing their end, she begs Rosa to go back to Tintagel, but is unwilling, or unable, to tell her why. Rosa is reluctant – she has a job in London, a deadline that won’t wait and flights of fancy are just not in her nature. Nevertheless, she realises it might be the last thing she will do for her beloved grandmother and agrees to go.

Once in Tintagel, Rosa is challenged to confront secrets of her own, as shocking events threaten to change everything she has ever believed about herself and her family. She also meets a guide to the castle, Talan, a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jory.

Will the past remain cloaked in tragedy, sadness and the pain of unrequited love? Or can Rosa find the courage and strength to embrace the secrets of the past, and give hope to the future?

huntingfield-paintress

The Huntingfield Paintress by Pamela Holmes – 99p

Plucky and headstrong Mildred Holland revelled in the eight years she and her husband, the vicar William Holland, spent travelling 1840s Europe, finding inspiration in recording beautiful artistic treasures and collecting exotic artifacts. But William’s new posting in a tiny Suffolk village is a world apart and Mildred finds a life of tea and sympathy dull and stifling in comparison.

When a longed-for baby does not arrive, she sinks into despondency and despair. What options exist for a clever, creative woman in such a cossetted environment?

A sudden chance encounter fires Mildred’s creative imagination and she embarks on a herculean task that demands courage and passion. Defying her loving but exasperated husband, and mistrustful locals who suspect her of supernatural powers, Mildred rediscovers her passion and lives again through her dreams of beauty.

Inspired by the true story of the real Mildred Holland and the parish church of Huntingfield in Suffolk, the novel is unique, emotive and beautifully crafted, just like the history that inspired it.

 

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan

Virginia Woolf in Manhattan by Maggie Gee – 99p

Bestselling author Angela Lamb is going through a mid-life crisis. She dumps her irrepressible daughter Gerda at boarding school and flies to New York to pursue her passion for Woolf, whose manuscripts are held in a private collection. When a bedraggled Virginia Woolf herself materialises among the bookshelves and is promptly evicted, Angela, stunned, rushes after her on to the streets of Manhattan. Soon Angela is chaperoning her troublesome heroine as the latter tries to understand the internet and scams bookshops with ‘rare signed editions’. Then Virginia insists on flying with Angela to Istanbul, finds a Turkish admirer and steals the show at an International Conference on – Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf in Manhattan is a witty and profound novel about the miraculous possibilities of a second chance at life.

This week I also took delivery of the following books as part of my Urbane Book Club membership. Fuller details already published here.

 

One Little Mistake by Emma Curtis – 4*s #bookreview @emmacurtisbooks

one-little-mistake

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YOU TRUSTED YOUR BEST FRIEND . . . YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE.

Vicky Seagrave is blessed: three beautiful children, a successful, doting husband, great friends and a job she loves. She should be perfectly happy.

When she makes a split-second decision that risks everything she holds dear, there’s only person she trusts enough to turn to.

But Vicky is about to learn that one mistake is all it takes; that if you’re careless with those you love, you don’t deserve to keep them . . .

My Review

This is a great debut novel and really had me hooked from the start. It has a basic premise of a mistake made and only one other person knowing the truth. Vicky having made a disastrous decision chooses to confide in someone close.

Vicky on the face of it, has it all, happy marriage, lovely kids and great friends, particularly Amber. Despite that she still seems to “lack” something in her life, and desires to improve her surroundings, if not her life. Vicky is not one for standing still, and aspires to better things. However that results in her making a decision that sparks a chain of events which spirals totally out of control and will alter everything. I feel I should say at this point, she makes several mistakes and on my scale none of them I’d rate as particularly ‘little’. But perhaps the biggest “little” mistake is choosing to confide in the LAST person she should be sharing confidences with. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all be wise after the event.

Vicky’s unfolding drama is alternated with that of 10 year Katya in 1992. Katya has had an unhappy start in life and is currently being fostered. How her story fits into the unfolding 2010 plot line is unclear, but as time goes on gradual clues are revealed but it took me quite a while to start to see who Katya was/is. Once revealed her recent actions start to make sense (albeit in a twisted way). I have no intention of saying anything more on that plotline, you need to uncover that for yourself. I will say though that it had me completely altering my views on characters once all was revealed.  Initially I thought Vicky was naive at best and stupid at worst which meant I had little sympathy. However as the tension ratchets up and one character in particular starts to reveal their true nature I started to switch my allegiance and was definitely team Vicky.

The author presented a believable and thought-provoking scenario to kick off proceedings but that was only the start of the drama. The tension was lurking in the background from the beginning, across both of the time frames and resulted in shocking results that I certainly never anticipated. I’m not always comfortable with psychological thrillers but I’m happy to say this one had me totally gripped, albeit with a sense of mounting horror and several shout out “no! don’t do it” moments. This is a very accomplished debut and I’ll certainly be looking out for future books by this author.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to enable this honest.

February’s Urbane Book Club unwrapped (@urbanepub)

Oh I do love it when I see the postman walking up the path with a parcel as it heralds the arrival of books, when it’s a large parcel I know it’s from the Urbane Book Club. The accompanying letter from Matthew (the boss) introducing this month’s selection was headed  up Fabulous February and when you see the selection you’d have to say he wasn’t exaggerating.

 

gift-maker

The Gift Maker by Mark Mayes

Late one night, Thomas Ruder receives a strange package: a small blue box. Another such item is delivered to his friend Liselotte Hauptmann. These ‘gifts’ will change their lives forever. In the far-off border town of Grenze, a play is to be performed at the Sheol Theatre. Reynard the impresario expects a very special audience. Thomas and Liselotte, together with their friend Johann, are drawn into Reynard’s seductive web, as Daumen, the gift maker, must decide who his master really is.

 

all-the-places

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All the Places I’ve Ever Lived by David Gaffney

All the Places I’ve ever Lived is part ghost story, part murder ballad, part crime thriller and explores the themes of outsiders and difference, with a dark edge. People say it has a Twin Peaks feel.

It is set in West Cumbria, a semi-industrial, remote and unloved part of northern England on the edge of the Lake District and on the edge of just about everything else.  the town is mainly populated by irish immigrants coming over to work in the iron ore mines and later Sellafield.

The action begins in 1976, when fifteen-year-old Barry wakes up one day to find that his body is covered in strange, metallic lumps. Living next to a thermometer factory and nine miles from Sellafield nuclear plant could be an explanation for this, but, actually, something more uncanny is going on. The evening before, a girl from Barry’s school, Philomena May, was brutally attacked and left in a ditch to die. Philomena’s ghost visits Barry and uses the metallic lumps to guide them both into the future, where Barry and the ghost girl’s purpose is to prevent a multiple shooting.

The book flicks between 1976 and 2010, and explores the effect of horrendous crimes on small communities and the way the gradual accretion of small grudges can drive a person to mass murder. It’s a thrilling mash up of Edward Scissorhands, In Cold Blood, and Back To The Future.

 

Single Soldier

Due 30 March from Urbane or Amazon

The Single Soldier by George Costigan

It is said that home is where the heart is, but when war rips a young man from everything he knows and loves, will he be able to find his way back to everything that matters?

In war torn rural France, amongst the devastation, physical and emotional, of German occupation, a man decides to move his house, using only a cow and a cart, six kilometres to the other side of his village. Where he painstakingly begins to re-build his home. By hand. Why would anyone do such a thing? The war was being won but would he ever find peace?

 

 

Deadly Prospects

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Deadly Prospects from Clio Gray

1869, Sutherland, Scotland. For years the people of this remote area of the Highlands have lived a hard life. Now a local Gold Rush has attracted the Pan-European Mining Company to the area, and Solveig McCleery is determined to re-open the Brora mines and give the population the riches they deserve. But when work starts on re-opening the mines, the body of a prospector is discovered, and odd inscriptions found on stones near the corpse.

Before the meaning of these strange marks can be deciphered another body is discovered. Are these attacks connected to the re-opening of the mines? Will Solveig’s plan succeed in bringing peace and prosperity back to the area? Or has she put in motion something far more sinister?

Last but not least, this gem will actually arrive separately next week as it’s already reprinting!

marching-on-together

Marching on Together by P J Whiteley

It is August 2014. Six Leeds United supporters set off for a short break in Bruges. Two brothers Allan and Johnny Collins – the former a successful businessman, the latter just out of prison – are visiting great-grandad’s grave on the Western Front, at the time of the centenary of the start of the Great War. They’re joined by Johnny’s mates, Craig and Terry; the tomboy Petra; and the out-of-sorts Yvonne, who failed to persuade estranged husband Tony to accompany her. For all the political events, historic and current, that surround them, they find it difficult to avoid discussion of the wildly eccentric new owner of their beloved football club as it languishes in the second tier of English football. He has sold the best striker and banned the Number 17 shirt as being ‘unlucky’. Meanwhile other obsessions, secrets and ambitions lie within their hearts. Can Johnny find love again, or a job? Will Terry make it as a photographer? Is Allan’s business as successful as it appears to be? What is the family secret behind the antique silver locket that Yvonne keeps in her handbag? And can she finally accept the result of the 1975 European Cup Final, and begin to move on with her life?

 

MarchSo what to look forward to next month (reprints and publication dates permitting

Electric Souk

Buy from Urbane or Amazon

 

Imperfection

Buy from Urbane or Amazon

 

Knowing

Buy from Urbane or Amazon

Monster by Violet

Buy from Urbane or Amazon

 

URBANE BOOK CLUB – JOIN NOW!

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A full year of Urbane books – hot off the press!

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As an Urbane Book Club member you’ll receive a print and ebook edition of every new Urbane title published from the date you join for an entire year. Urbane currently publishes around 5 books a month

You’ll receive a 75% discount on any further purchases of Urbane titles through the Urbane website, including the entire backlist – all with free p&p in the UK

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ORDER NOW FOR YOUR FULL YEAR OF BOOKS AND SO MUCH MORE – BE A KEY PART OF URBANE’S FUTURE!

 

 

 

 

The Little Teashop of Lost and Found Trisha Ashley – 4.5*s #bookreview @trishaashley

Alice Rose is a foundling, discovered on the Yorkshire moors above Haworth as a baby. Adopted but then later rejected again by a horrid step-mother, Alice struggles to find a place where she belongs. Only baking – the scent of cinnamon and citrus and the feel of butter and flour between her fingers – brings a comforting sense of home.

So it seems natural that when she finally decides to return to Haworth, Alice turns to baking again, taking over a run-down little teashop and working to set up an afternoon tea emporium.

Luckily she soon makes friends – including a Grecian god-like neighbour – who help her both set up home and try to solve the mystery of who she is. There are one or two last twists in the dark fairytale of Alice’s life to come . . . but can she find her happily ever after?

My Review

After a particularly dark and disturbing thriller, this book was just what the doctor ordered, though don’t let the cover fool you – it’s not all froth and lightness, it does have its serious moments.

The story revolves around Alice, whose life story reads pretty much like the dark edged fairy stories she writes. Left for abandoned on the moors, but luckily found by a passing farmer, she was adopted into a home that gave her a loving father but a wicked step-mother. When her father dies, she finds herself cast out and travels down to Cornwall in search of work. What she finds (or more correctly,  who finds her) is a fairy godmother called Edie, who becomes a life long friend and confidant.

Her love life is equally as dramatic and forces her to re-think her life and future. What she’s always wanted is just to understand why she was abandoned. When a business opportunity  arises in Haworth, it seems that destiny has stepped in and Alice grabs it with both of hands. Luckily those hands are very capable as all was not as anticipated – but then there’d be no story if it was! Alice finds herself, not so much in Wonderland, as no man’s land. Her life is pretty much a jigsaw puzzle, with hopefully, all the pieces in the box, just no real clue of where all the pieces fit, but gradually the picture starts to come together

I settled into this book straight away and was happily transported to the Yorkshire village of Haworth and it’s environs. It’s inhabitants offered a varied mixture of pantomime villains, comic dames (not necessarily in drag) and of course a handsome prince. Providing some sanity  and balance in Alice’s life was her childhood friend Lola and the Giddings family who metaphorically ‘adopt’ Alice in much the same way  as they had officially adopted Nile (the aforementioned Prince) years earlier. The warmth and fun they bring to the proceedings is very real and I’d be quite happy to be ‘adopted’ by them myself, especially as there seems to be plentiful accommodation and a ready supply of Sunday lunches and Norwegian waffles.

I like the way the book was set out. Thank goodness for a straightforward basic linear timeline that meant I could just relax and move forward, not spend my time jumping back and forth via different time frames and back stories. That said each chapter is preceded by the ‘voice’ of what is assumed to be Alice’s real mother which gives a brief insight into her life, but again it is moving forward and is a clever way of filling in the missing pieces without complicating the main narrative. Another interesting inclusion in the main text are excerpts from the books that Alice is in the process of writing. Some readers will like this others might not, but as they are clearly highlighted by different font and italics, the can easily be bypassed if you just want to press on with real life. The excerpts are quite fun though, offering as they do a wry darker twist on traditional fairy tales set in a real life setting.

Of course what keeps you reading is not just the need to see whether Alice succeeds with the tea shop/emporium, but the will they/won’t they relationship between her and the handsome,  if somewhat bossy and organising Prince neighbour.  It’s not for me to disclose here, I just urge you to read for yourselves and I’m sure you’ll be at times dismayed but on balance far more enchanted by the characters that you meet. My only disappointment (apart from reaching the end) was to discover that my proof copy didn’t include the recipes. As a self-respecting Yorkshire lass, who loves her tea and cake I was looking forward to giving them a whirl, but then again,  maybe my own fairy godmother was saving me from myself!