Four contrasting books by Terry Tyler, Jan Ruth, N A Granger and Steve Bridger

Round and Round by Terry Tyler

     Rosie's Book Review team 1Round

Have you ever wondered what might have happened if you had done things differently, taken that job abroad, studied harder or married your first love?  Well in Terry Tyler’s new novella, “Round and Round,” heroine Sophie does just that.  As she approaches her dreaded 40th birthday she looks back sixteen years and wonders whether she made the right choices.

I warmed to Sophie very quickly.  She is trying to make the best of her life but indecision in the past and the loss of her greatly loved Aunt Flick cause her to question her way of life.  Looking back to 1998 when she had lost weight and made advances in her career, it seemed as though she would have a golden future but there were four men in her life and she couldn’t choose between them.

But this is not a lightweight romance.  The story is set in the modern world, with concerns about career, home and family.  Sophie’s mother Alana is an embittered, abandoned woman who wants her daughter to settle down with a reliable man.  In contrast Flick is a woman of the 1960s who talks about karma and auras.  She takes Sophie to the Angel tree, a special place where all cares disappear and life seems clearer.

The four suitors; cheerful, affectionate Chris, handsome, artistic Seb, carefree Kieran and Neil, the friend who shares her interest in the theatre, are believable, well-drawn characters who gradually change over time as their lives progress.  Sophie is not naturally promiscuous, she is aware that each of them offer her the possibility of a happy, fulfilling future and she doesn’t want to hurt any of them; or herself.

What makes this book different is the way in which alternative life paths are shown.  It raises the question, are we entirely responsible for the way our life turns out?  And if things go wrong can we do something about it?  Of course a little bit of magic or help from a guardian angel is always useful.

Wild Water by Jan Ruth

Wild EBOOK

Writing contemporary family drama is probably the most difficult genre in which to achieve success, so it was a pleasure to find myself instantly immersed in the ever increasing disasters of Jack, the unlikely hero of “Wild Water.”  Successful estate agents from the wealthiest part of Cheshire don’t come to mind as empathetic characters, but Jack works hard, cares about his family and has sufficient stress to justify his intermittent smoking habit. His faithless wife Patsy, however, is difficult to like.  Her parental skills leave much to be desired and she always seems to be in search of better things.

And then the reader meets Anna, a quiet, artistic lady from Jack’s past who is trying to survive in an old, crumbling house in North Wales, by taking in guests.  Like Jack, she has a teenage son, but her life is also complicated.  She is warm, likeable and calm, in total contrast to workaholic, impulsive Jack. Their lives are entwined by Jack’s large complex family and ever more momentous events.

It is the strong characterisation which make “Wild Water” such an enjoyable read.  Jack’s children, his mother Isabel and especially his brother Danny are all given clearly identifiable personalities and the possibility of new stories to follow. Some of their names, such as Chelsey, are stereotypical and the break-up of a family is almost normal these days but the twists and turns of the plot combined with the emotional response this invoked kept me turning the pages avidly.

Combining the beautiful description of the Welsh countryside with a roller-coaster storyline makes “Wild Water,” an ideal holiday read and I can’t wait to read the follow up, “Dark Water.”

Death in a Red Canvas Chair by N A Granger

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The eye catching title page of this murder mystery exactly reflects the prologue where the victim is deposited in full sight of a group of mother’s watching their sons’ soccer match, but the scene has been set specifically for Rhe Brewster, our heroine and narrator.  Rhe is a part-time emergency nurse, wife and mother whose stubborn, determined character make her an ideal investigator with a penchant for putting herself in danger, which adds to the drama.

Gradually, Rhe’s life growing up in the small Maine coastal town help her to unravel both the reason for the victim’s death and a conspiracy involving many significant people in the community.  The back story of communication problems within her marriage and valued relationships with others ensure that the reader will want to return to Rhe’s life in future mysteries.

Characterisation is well developed, especially in the case of Sam, the police chief and some, apparently minor characters, tease the reader.  Are they only a small part of the plot or will they prove to be part of the major criminal activity?

As a British reader I had trouble with some of the vocabulary.  I had to look up Mirandized (read your rights) and had no idea what a “red slicker” was but generally Ms Granger has a fluent, clear style of writing which advances the storyline while enabling us to understand Rhe’s feelings.  Some of the quotes she makes from literature and songs are unfortunately misquotes which are difficult to ignore, but Rhe’s original comments such as her, “peculiar sense of ownership of this crime,” enhance the narrative.

The balance of problem solving, “edge of seat” events and a heroine who is likeable and real, make this an enjoyable read and I shall certainly look forward to her next venture into the precarious world of crime.

One Degree North by Steve Bridger

North

Advertised as an action thriller, One Degree North lives up to its promise. Set on the island of Singapore in 1965 during Confrontation with Indonesia, it describes intrigue, explosions and fatal skirmishes involving Malay, Chinese, British and American nationals who are criminals, pirates, Secret Service and military men and women.

I have to confess personal interest in the location and timing of the book, since I arrived in Singapore as a teenager with my family in 1966 just as Confrontation was coming to an end. As Steve Bridger explains, General Sukarno, President of Indonesia, wanted to annexe the northern territories of the island of Borneo from Malaysia. Part of his campaign was to make attacks on the Malay peninsula and Singapore from bases in the many smaller islands just south of Singapore.

And yet Singapore was a thriving city, a mixture of Eastern and Western influences, where British Forces families relaxed happily by the pools or wandered about town, their children went to see the Rolling Stones in concert and visiting sailors enjoyed stimulating evenings in the bars and brothels of Bugis street.

Steve manages to convey the contrast between the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of pleasure and the undercurrent of secrets, collusion and terror. His characters are vibrant, lively and bold. A team of disparate fighters are established with the promise that they will return in a follow up. I recommend that you get to know them as I can see a film in the making.

An Independent Woman by Frances Evesham

IndependentFrom the first few lines of, “An Independent Woman,” I knew that I would enjoy this book. The scene of a poor area of London is set, the clothing is of the Victorian era and Philomena, the heroine has our sympathy as she is already threatened by an evil foe.

The fast moving plot involves Philomena’s need to escape. Disguising herself and taking only a tiny portrait of an unknown woman, she boards one of the open-topped railway carriages bound for a new life in Bristol. But there is a dramatic change of circumstances when the train crashes in the Berkshire countryside. Philomena finds herself in the upstairs, downstairs world of Lord Thatcham, tempted by the hint of passion but convinced that she must escape once again.

The tortured soul of Hugh, Lord Thatcham is complex yet believable. His feelings of guilt and duty are at odds with his need for love and his interest in, “modern,” technology. Philomena also has a dark secret which she believes denies her any chance of happiness. Yet they share a common enemy who could unite them or dash their hopes for ever.

This beautifully written story contains all the ingredients for a successful historical romance, including separation and misunderstanding. The minor characters are warm or evil and the historical details accurate and particularly interesting. A thoroughly good read.

Rosie's Book Review team 1

A Single Step by Georgia Rose

Single Step

“A Single Step” begins with the ideal setting for a romance.  Emma Grayson is starting a new life at Melton Manor, a large well organised estate, where she will manage the stables and groom the family horses.  She soon meets the large friendly estate staff and despite her reticence to become involved she makes several friends.  The only drawback is Trent, the stern Estate Manager, who appears, to the independent Emma, to be controlling and overbearing.

We gradually learn about Emma’s tragic past and why she is reluctant to become involved in a relationship even with the charming and helpful Carlton.  She proves herself to be competent and enjoys her life with the horses and the two young children who come to ride.

It is pleasing to see the way in which Em’s prickly exterior is broken down and passion begins to emerge as she is enticed into love in spite of her attempts to sublimate her feelings.  But there is evidence that Melton Manor is not paradise after all.  Trent and his employer Lord Cavendish disappear for several days at a time, often travelling in a military style helicopter.  Emma is involved in an accident caused by a mysterious stranger.  She begins to fear for her life and future happiness.

After the first few pages, which brim with self-conscious prose, the book springs to life in the dialogue between Emma and Lord Cavendish.  Their characters are quickly established and this made me want to read on. The story is filled with detail, especially about how to look after horses which for me was not especially interesting but the well-crafted plot, strong characterisation and thrilling denouement made this book an excellent read.

My review of the second book in the Grayson trilogy Before the Dawn

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Dark Water by Jan Ruth

Dark EBOOK copy

Dark Water is the sequel to Jan Ruth’s roller-coaster family drama, Wild Water. Once again Jack, 40 something estate agent, with 4 children and his expensive ex-wife, Patsy, to support, is juggling work, family life and miles of driving. He should, however, be much happier now that he is together with his first love, Anna, spending weekends at her farmhouse in north Wales.

But the title of the book begins to be fulfilled when Simon Banks, oddball father of Patsy’s first child comes back into their lives. As Anna’s beloved dog, Benson becomes weaker and more sickly, Simon’s unhealthy obsessions and threatening behaviour begin to impinge on all their lives.

As in the best of dramas, Jack is the cause of his own undoing. Both he and Anna make mistakes and when life should be improving with the recognition of Anna’s artistic talent in a new gallery, disaster strikes.

This compelling action packed story is difficult to put down. Jack’s character is less empathetic but understandable. Seeing the action through the eyes of Jack, Anna and even Simon gives the reader a more complete picture of their motivation and also a suggestion of impending doom.

The conclusion to this dark but exciting novel is both satisfying and thrilling and it could so easily be transferred to the screen.

You can read my review of Jan Ruth’s “Silent Water” here

An author I can depend on; Alexander McCall Smith

Scotland

Recently I began adding book reviews to my history site, Lost in the Past , but I have decided to move my reviews to their own blog here, which begins with a review of the most recent addition to one of my favourite series of books.

I was never caught up in the adventures of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, perhaps because the setting is unknown to me but as soon as I had read a few pages of the first of Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street stories I was captivated.

The tales of the residents of 44 Scotland Street, a fictional Georgian apartment block in a respectable part of Edinburgh, were first written as a daily column in the Scotsman and this style of short chapters concentrating on one character at a time is still adhered to in the ninth book of the series, Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers.  McCall Smith’s wit and observation of the anxieties and foibles of middle class Edinburgh residents of the 21st century, echo characters throughout Britain who are striving for success and happiness in so many foolish ways.  There is the pushy, assertive mother Irene, her long suffering civil servant husband Stuart, Bruce, the vain, empty headed estate agent, Domenica, an intellectual lady of taste but little tolerance and who could forget Cyril, the dog with a gold tooth belonging to empathetic artist Angus Lordie.  Nearby is Big Lou’s café where some of the residents meet for coffee with insipid Art shop owner Matthew who always makes a loss even with the assistance of Pat, an earnest Art history student.

Bertie

But the real star is Bertie, who in the latest book, finally reaches the grand age of 7.  Bertie is a genius in spite of the yoga classes, saxophone and Italian lessons and regular visits to a psychotherapist lessons arranged by his mother.  He longs to be 18 when he can leave home to live in Glasgow and do what he wants when he wants.  He is sensitive, honest and kind and speaks with the bluntness of an innocent child.

I always wonder whether Pat’s father Dr Macgregor is actually Alexander McCall Smith’s alter ego for he is usually an observer of the lives of the others but in Bertie’s Guide to Life and Mothers he reveals an unexpected aspect of his private life and at last there is a chance that his daughter Pat will find happiness.

The humour is often to be found in the most annoying characters, such as Domenica’s erstwhile neighbour Antonia who turns up to stay uninvited bringing with her an Italian nun, Sister Maria Fiore dei Fiore di Montagna.  The Sister is apt to speak in aphorisms such as, “The important thing about opera is that it is sung,” which is so unexpected that it makes her the centre of polite Edinburgh society.  Matthew’s bête noir is his Danish au pair, Birgitte, who throws away his jar of marmite, his Patum Peperium and half a haggis, on the basis that they are inedible.

Much of the conversation is philosophical, among a group of people who seem to have so much more time than the rest of us.  We quickly come to know and understand the characters through hearing what they believe about life the universe and everything.

There is a feeling of ends being tied and characters blossoming in this book and I feel that Bertie will soon be too old to speak pure, unadulterated truth but hopefully I am wrong and there will be more to read about this colourful disparate group of individuals.

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