Urmston Bookshop -Dream Come True

urmston bookshop

 

Urmston Bookshop is a lovely independent bookshop situated in a suburb of Manchester. The shop sells books, gifts, cards, toys and has a small café in the back of the shop. It has been at the heart of the community for six years and is well-loved by the locals.

Six years ago Peter and Frances Hopkins started the bookshop from absolutely nothing. working with publishers, authors and schools they brought the local community onside to turn the bookshop into something special.

The shop is a previous winner of Northern Rail’s Hidden Gem award and has seen the likes of Joanna Trollope, Stuart Maconie, Jack Straw, Jessie Burton, Sharon Bolton, astronaut, Chris Hadfield, amongst many others, pass through its doors.

Shop-View-From-Cafe2

Today, a lifelong dream comes true. I have always wanted to have my own bookshop and after the past few months of planning, work behind the scenes and so so much help from Peter and Frances. Urmston Bookshop comes into my hands. I am so excited at my new adventure and look forward to continuing what Peter and Frances have done so well.

If any of you ever find yourselves in Manchester, I would hope that you would call in to see us, say hello, have a coffee and have a browse. We would be delighted to see you.

We are on Twitter: @UrmstonBookShop

Facebook page:  Urmston Book

Website:  http://www.urmston-bookshop.co.uk/

 

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Valentina by S.E.Lynes *BlogTour*

valentina

 

Valentina

by S. E. Lynes

 

When  Glasgow journalist  Shona McGilvery moves with her partner  Mikey  and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.

But with Mikey working offshore, the  frightening  isolation of the Aberdeenshire  countryside begins to drive her insane…

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina. 

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she?

As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears…

A hauntingly intelligent, addictive psychological thriller from debut author S. E. Lynes. 

 

Shona and Mikey, a young loving couple, have moved to Aberdeen with their daughter Isla, to start a new life. Mikey has just got a job working offshore on the oil rigs, and they have moved into a beautiful, but isolated, cottage.

When Mikey starts his job on the rigs, Shona finds life difficult. The lack of friends and family, the solitude, leaves her feeling lonely and vulnerable.

Enter Valentina: independent, strong-willed and mysterious.

Shona meets Valentina whilst dropping Isla off at nursery and the two become firm friends. From the prologue we know that something bad is going to happen, so it is not giving anything away to say there is something unnerving about Valentina. It is not too difficult to see where the story is going and yet it still feels incredibly tense.

There are not many characters in the book, infact only three main ones. Shona, Mikey and Valentina.  Shona I really liked, she loves her family and wants nothing more than the three of them to live happily together. She starts off as quite a strong lady, but circumstances lead her to become vulnerable and needy.

Mikey is an enigma. He appears to be the loving husband, but you always feel there is something more to him.

I really didn’t like Valentina from the start, controlling and bossy, she ingratiates herself into Shona’s life and because of Shona’s loneliness it is difficult for her to see what is real and what is a lie.

There is a great sense of place with the granite city of Aberdeen juxtaposed with the isolation of the cottage situated in the surrounding countryside, leaving you with an ominous atmosphere.

I really enjoyed this debut novel. It is a tense psychological thriller, dealing with trust: what it takes for you to start disbelieving everything your life is based on and loneliness: how easily can the strongest person be manipulated when lonely.

Even though it is quite easy to see the direction the story is going, it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book at all. The author handles the characters really well and you find yourself holding your breath for their reactions.

An unbelievably assured debut with an excellent ending. highly recommended.

If you want to follow the blog tour, the dates and blogs are below.

 

Valentina by S. E. Lynes – Blog Tour (1)

 

Many thanks to Blackbird Digital Books for sending me a copy in return for an honest review.

Valentina is published on 1st July 2016, if you would like to purchase a copy click here

 

 

 

 

Guest Post – Bev Spicer, author of The Bev and Carol Series

Today I am delighted to be joined on the blog by Bev Spicer. Bev has written three fun  books about her and her friend, Carol, and their youthful adventures.

 

bev spicer 1                    bev spicer 2                    bev spicer 3

 

First of all, I’d like to thank Sandra for inviting me to write a post for her Guest Blog. Very kind.

I thought I’d say something about a trip I made in an orange camper van (called Vanness) when I was young and carefree (there were no student loans to pay back in the seventies). So, here goes…

Whenever I think about my two years in Greece, living and working on the island of Crete, the memories come flooding back. Good ones for the most part.  

Today, I’m starting at the end of my adventure in the land of deliciously oily moussaka and exquisitely ambiguous head movements (a Greek nod usually signifies ‘you must be joking!’).

 

On the day in question, I was in the shower, greatly relieved to have finished another punishing session of high impact aerobics to the accompaniment of the appropriately named, ‘Can You Feel it?’ at Physique, the gym I’d opened in a back street of Rethymnon with my friend Suzannah.  I taught the dancey stuff with lots of ad-libbing, and had quickly become a woman defined by the size of her thigh muscles and her exuberant personality. 

 

The night before, I had told Suzannah that I wanted to leave our island paradise as soon as possible.  She wasn’t happy, but my mind was made up.  I would lose my stake in the business, but I would regain my freedom!

 

So, I was in the shower at the gym – naked, obviously – when Mimi, a forty-something American woman, pulled the curtain to one side and asked me whether I would be interested in buying a VW camper van.  Even though it was a situation I had never found myself in before, I was determined not to be bashful. It crossed my mind that perhaps such intimacy was perfectly normal across the Atlantic. So I pressed my flannel to my beating heart and said that maybe I just might be interested in buying a VW camper van – it would depend largely on the price.  She eyed my nipples and said that she wanted £2,000 but was prepared to ‘dicker’. 

vw pic

Back at our picturesque semi-underground house, my husband (now ex+-husband) was as keen as I was to grab this new and unexpected opportunity to escape in a style not previously imagined.

 

Mimi was married to Eric (a devilishly good-looking man in his early thirties) and it was soon arranged for us to view the vehicle they had bought in London outside Australia House and which had toured them most efficiently around Europe for the past twelve months.  It was orange with a green tartan interior and an elevating roof.  It had heating, a cooker, a sink and a fridge.  It came with a top-of-the-range chemical toilet, hardly used.

 

Take it for a drive, they said.  Keep it for a couple of days.  See how you feel

 

I’ll admit that the first thought that crossed my mind involved taking the keys and never bringing them back.  Of course, it was just a thought.  Driving inland from Rethymnon, taking mountain roads and random turns, we were immediately smitten.  Never mind the cute put put put of the lawn-mower-sized engine or the shiny plastic steering wheel that was big enough to turn a mill.  We were up high, tootling delightfully, and listening to New Order on the fully-working cassette player, wondering how on earth we could afford £2,000.

 

The financial arrangements were indeed complex and required a great deal of trust on the American side, but there is no time to go into detail.  Suffice it to say, we bought the van and set sail for the mainland, after overcoming a series of hilarious bureaucratic obstacles invented by the island’s Greek customs house (a uniformed officer composed a two-page hand-written essay in Greek in the back of my passport, detailing a most unusual vehicular transaction between foreigners – this was passed around the border control in Athens to hoots of jovial derision from the much more sophisticated customs police, who seemed to adore the curious idiosyncrasies of their Cretan counterparts).

 

The seas had been kind to us and we arrived at the port mid-afternoon on a glorious summer’s day in August.    Driving in Athens was no different to driving in any other city, that is to say, hair-raising.  I already coveted my VW and didn’t want to dent it.  Mimi and Eric had made it a condition of the sale that I ‘drive real careful’. 

 

We were in Athens.  We had to make a stop.

crete                                       Rethymnon: home for two years.

The hotel was third-rate.  Our enormous room looked as though someone had just slept in it and barely bothered to smooth the covers on the rickety bed.  The linen was sticky with heat (I hoped), and, worst of all, when I lay down and looked up, there were several strategically placed super-sized mosquitoes.  Poised.  Bugger, I thought, noticing simultaneously that the ceiling was out of reach, and that it would be too hot to sleep with the windows closed.

Mosquito Isolated on White

                        Glad this is not to scale!!

 

Doused in repellent, I sweated my way through the night and woke early to the sound of traffic outside our window.  Kali flippin’ mera!  

Let’s eat, I thought.    The hotel was central.  Finding food wouldn’t be a problem.  Spanakopita for breakfast, and a fat, syrupy slice of baklava, served with thick Greek coffee and the odd chauvinist comment.  Excellent.  In those days, I was often referred to as koukla, or koukla mou (doll/my doll). Mimi always told me I shouldn’t worry – it was a compliment.  In fact I should be grateful – it was better than being constantly mistaken for Eric’s mother.  

 

Anyway, inappropriate forms of address aside, Mick and I were free and at the very beginning of our fabulous tour.   Despite the collapsed drachma, we had saved enough to worry that we might be robbed.  My cunning plan to stick a wad of cash inside the heating vent of the camper van was largely unnecessary, but reassuring at the time, except when I imagined it might catch fire.

 

But we weren’t flash.  We were in our twenties and shabby-spontaneous.  We wore tee shirts and baggy trousers or shorts coupled with a beaming grin.  We dyed our hair blond and avoided brushing.  No one would ever suspect us of having stashed cash in any kind of vent.

 

Athens was noisy, dirty and thrilling.  And hot.  We wouldn’t be there long. After breakfast, we decided to make the most of our brief stay and visit the Acropolis It was walkable and would be a fab way to build up an appetite for lunch.  There was no need for a map, as it was in plain view most of the time – a medium-sized rocky outcrop with a pile of ruins on top.  Off we set.

 

Climbing in the midday sun was not a good idea.  No one else was doing it, in fact.  But the steps took the gradient out of the climb.  Up and up we went.  It would be worth it, we told ourselves.  The ancient stones would impart the buzz of history, and we would float away, transfixed by the beauty of the statuary and the richness of the friezes.  

I wished we had brought water.  

 

Breathing heavily, we eventually came to the entrance, the Propylaea, with its ancient columns and impressive steps.  Mouth-watering.  What a start to our adventure!  I dug into my bag for my camera.  But, wait a minute, what was this?  A chain, supported by two posts dangled a sign which read:  Closed for essential repairs Sadness and woe.

 

And, why, oh, why had they put the sign at the top and not at the bottom?  Panagia! 

 

We grumbled our way back to the hotel.  But soon saw the funny side.  We had been bitten to pieces in our hotel room and didn’t relish the thought of another night in sweaty sheets, feeling like bait.  Not to mention the carbon monoxide poisoning drifting up from the street.


Let’s get in the van and drive,” I suggested.  So that’s just what we did – heading straight for Yugoslavia.  After all, we were young, and didn’t appreciate the dangers of imminent civil war.

************************

 

 

I’m very tempted to write a book about the journey from Rethymnon to Glossop.  It would be fun. It’s been fun just remembering the start of it for this blog post.    I might have to replace my ex-husband, though.  Perhaps I could just pretend I was travelling with Sting?  I’m sure neither of them would mind.  After all, it’s only a bit of fun, isn’t it?

 

In the meantime, I cordially invite you to have a look at my Bev and Carol series, which begins with ‘One Summer in France’.  It’s a humorous memoir about my university days.  Best days of my life?  You bet!

 

 To purchase the first in the Bev and Carol series click here

 

Chains Of Sand

chains of sand

 

Chains Of Sand

by Jemma Wayne

 

He has always been good at tracking down things that are hidden, like cockroaches in his mother’s kitchen cupboard, or tunnels in Gaza. At 26, Udi is a veteran of the Israeli army and has killed five men. He wants a new life in a new place. He has a cousin in England. Daniel is 29, a Londoner, an investment banker and a Jew. He wants for nothing, yet he too is unable to escape an intangible yearning for something more. And for less. He looks to Israel for the answer. But as the war with Hamas breaks out, Daniel cannot know that the star-crossed love of a Jewish girl and an Arabic man in Jerusalem a decade earlier, will soon complicate all that he thinks has become clear.

 

Chains Of sand is an emotive book, dealing as it does with the Israel / Palestine conflict. This is Israel’s story and the very human cost of living in a war zone with constant fear. I thought the title of the book and the cover were absolutely perfect.

Udi is a 26yr old, and deeply dissatisfied with his life in Israel. On the one hand he serves his country, fighting for Israel against Hamas in Gaza. But on the other hand he is frequently humiliated by being refused entry to bars and cafes because of his darker skin colour. Udi feels something of an outsider in his own country and has decided he is going to move to London.

Daniel is 29 years old and a Jewish investment banker living in London.He feel the pull of the homeland of Israel strongly, feeling an outsider in London and despite his family and friends fears for him moving to a war zone he is determined to move to Israel, join the army and make a new life for himself in the country where he feels he belongs.

A decade earlier, Dara, a young Jewish girl and Kaseem, a muslim Arab, are living in Jerusalem in a forbidden relationship that looks to have no future.

Three stories are interlinked and I could see quite early on how that was going to happen, but it is no less a book for that. In fact that probably makes the book all the more poignant.

This is a beautifully written book, a searing account of love, loss, identity and belonging. The characters were so well-developed and I took them to my heart even when I disagreed with their choices. Following Udi’s story made me feel that Daniel was at times a little self-indulgent, but the issues dealt with are complex and really give pause for thought.

Whilst this book is the story of what it is to be Jewish and Israeli, it is far from a glorified account. The author does not flinch away from the dark side of Israel and the chapter when a female character on a bus refuses to move for a male is sickening.

There are many different angles that the author comes from, delving deep into the Jewish psyche where nothing is black and white. This is not an easy book to read but it is so worthwhile and deserves to be widely read, especially by people whose knowledge of Israel come directly from the propaganda spouted by the western media.

Many thanks to publishers Legend Press for sending me a copy as part of the Legend 100 club.

 

 

 

Sunset City

sunset city

Sunset City

by Melissa Ginsburg

 

Twenty-two-year-old Charlotte Ford reconnects with Danielle, her best friend from high school, a few days before Danielle is found bludgeoned to death in a motel room. In the wake of the murder, Charlotte’s life unravels and she descends into the city’s underbelly, where she meets the strippers, pornographers and drug dealers who surrounded Danielle in the years they were estranged.

Ginsburg’s Houston is part of a lesser known south, where the urban and rural collide gracelessly. In this shadowy world, culpability and sympathy blur in a debut novel which thrillingly brings its three female protagonists to the fore. Scary, funny and almost unbearably sad, Sunset City is written with rare grace and empathy holding you transfixed, praying for some kind of escape for Charlotte.

 

Charlotte Ford is greeted on the landing of her building by a detective. He is there to tell her that her best friend Danielle has been murdered. Danielle and Charlotte were the closest of friends in high school, but drifted apart when Danielle got involved in hard drugs and was sent to prison for four years. The girls had recently been back in touch when Danielle’s estranged mother paid Charlotte for her daughter’s phone number. Charlotte was hoping they would be able to restart their friendship.

At the funeral Charlotte meets up with Danielle’s friends and colleagues, all of them involved in the seedy business of drugs and porn. Lost and alone in the world, Charlotte, wanting to know how such a thing could have happened to her glamorous friend, allows herself to descend into a chaotic lifestyle.

Charlotte is a brilliant three dimensional character. Grief-stricken and bewildered, she flounders around in a world she really doesn’t understand. Trusting people more broken than her to lead her. With no-one and nothing to anchor her, she tries to numb her grief through drugs, hard liquor and sex.

This is a fine example of noir fiction. With the backdrop of Houston and its dark underbelly and the people who lives like ghosts in that, and other, large impersonal cities: unseeable.

“Loud and ugly, the place banged on my eyes.”

I loved the spare writing style of this book, reminding me somewhat of Raymond Carver. It sweeps over you from the first page, turning a devastating experience into poetical melancholy.

“A big truck charged past and blew a cloud of dirt and exhaust into the car. Exhaust, my fellow inhabitant. We lived together in Peter’s car.”

If you like dark, noir fiction this book is highly recommended; gutsy and raw. I suspect this author will go on to great things, I am looking forward to her next novel already.

Many thanks to Kate McQuaid at Faber & Faber for sending me a copy.

 

 

 

 

Here Be Dragons

here be dragons

 

Here Be Dragons (A short story)

by Sharon Bolton

Mark Joesbury, of Scotland Yard’s Covert Operations Unit, is undercover. Embroiled in a terrorist gang’s plans for a deadly attack at the heart of the capital, he’s risking everything to stop them. But as they prepare to target London’s most iconic landmarks, it’s no longer just countless strangers he’s fighting to save. Because they’ve also got the woman he loves, DC Lacey Flint…

This may only be a short story, but all stories involving Lacey Flint and Mark Joesbury are gratefully received. I have to thank Cleo over at cleopatralovebooks.wordpress.com for pointing me in the direction of this book as I had no idea it had been published.

This is Mark’s story of an operation he had to undertake in  A Dark And Twisted Tide. The operation goes wrong and an officer is shot. Mark is a wanted man, a suspected murderer.

Full length books or short stories, Sharon Bolton is a totally accomplished storyteller. The pace of the book is unrelenting and the atmosphere of London town and the Thames is palpable.

She ratchets up the tension page by page, until you can barely breath and you can see no way out for anyone. But when the denouement comes, you always feel that she holds the control stick, never getting carried away with fanciful endings that can often ruin good stories. I have never been disappointed by an ending in a Sharon Bolton book.

Flint and Joesbury are two of my favourite characters and if you have never read any of their books you are really missing out. Start at Now You See Me, the first in the series, a book that changed crime fiction for me. You will not be able to stop until you have read them all.

I hope we see a new full-length Flint and Joesbury book out soon, but until then Daisy In Chains is awaiting, tantilisingly, on my tbr pile. I cannot wait for my next fix of Sharon Bolton.

You can buy Here Be Dragons for £1.99 here

Now You See Me is available for the absolute bargain price of £1.99 here