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Wish You Were Here by Nicola Monaghan (Verve, £9.99)

Nicola Monaghan is Nottingham-based and someone I know but do not be put off by any potential bias I may have, she stands very tall without my recommendation. Her debut novel The Killing Jar won the Betty Task award and is an amazing and disturbing read. She has since published novels, novellas, short stories and screen plays. Wish You Were Here is her second in the Dr Love Mystery Series. The first being the well-received Dead Flowers published in 2019.

Wish You Were Here is a crime mystery set in Nottingham, with a strong female lead, Dr Sian Love, a DNA expert, and ex-copper. The story centres on a child who went missing over fifteen years ago and a young woman who thinks she may be the adult girl. The plot adeptly takes you through a labyrinth of clues filled with contemporary and local references, and the interweave of factual and fictional, adds authenticity, pulling you into the centre of the story. Dr Love has complexity and intelligence and as she develops, the mystery unravels. This is a multi-layered story including celebrity scandals, a German Shepherd dog called Elvis*, undercover policing, the hippie and rave scene, Nottingham, London and Bexhill on Sea, with some class politics thrown in. There is tension and shock, and you will be pleased to hear that I swore loudly, on at least a couple of occasions. This is the second book in a series and the story, and characters easily stand alone. I am not a great reader of mysteries /crime fiction, yet this book reminded me why I used to pick up the odd Ruth Rendall. The story is fully engaging and has a pace and tension which is escapism at its best. The end leaves you with both resolution and curiosity for more.

Which takes me to the Nottingham link. My only criticism of this book is the proposition that Dr Love could go undercover in Nottingham when we all know that we all know each other. Someone would definitely have come up her and said ‘ay up, what are you doing here?’ When Nicola Monaghan was writing this book, she was living down the road from me which is why Dr Sian Love gets the same bus into town as I do. The first novel in this series was based in the Loggerheads, a pub that used to stand off Cliff Road in the centre of town. Wish You Were Here references Broadway, The Old Angel, The Sumac centre amongst many other familiarities, all of which add to an additional level of pleasure for Nottingham readers and are well enough described to become real for those from out of town. Just as Nottingham and the Peacock pub hosted Resnick on our TV screens in the 1990’s, I have hope for Dr Sian Love be visioned off the page. If you are Nottingham-based – it is time you got to know this excellent local writer and if you are out of town and like a good mystery with a great female lead, then this also for you.

Cathy Symes

*A silent tribute to Nicola’s own dog called Elvis

Wish You Were Here is available instore and here:


150 Bookstores You Need To Visit Before You Die, by Elizabeth Stamp (Lannoo, £30)

I can’t be the only bookseller with a shelf of books on bookshops… children’s (The Missing Bookshop); memoir (David Elliot’s A Trade of Charms); Shaun Bythell; Death of a Bookseller. I could go on.
But maybe it’s time to take that world tour. Some of the bookshops are predictable: Shakespeare & Co., City Lights, Daunt’s Marylebone Street but most I’ve never heard of. If the other shop staff don’t mind, I’m nipping out to Cheche Books in Nairobi on my next day off. It’s a small, beautiful Pan-African feminist place. If the rota offers me a weekend, I’m off to the Yanjiyou Capsule Bookstore in China. It has twenty capsule sleeping spaces as well as a huge sunken reading room with a glass wall looking out to woods. I’ll skip the Tengda Zhongshuge place though, as its confusing decor looks like it was designed by someone who wants to distract the reader. If it’s a long weekend I’ll revisit the American Colony Hotel bookshop in East Jerusalem for the best selection of books on the Israel/Palestine conflict, and you can get an inexpensive coffee in the Hotel, watching those who come with a security detail…
Lots of the shops are in beautiful old buildings, lots are designed by architects and some are both, such as Van Der Velde in De Broeren, 500 years old yet contemporary and enormous. I could go on.
Great pics. Text a little cloying at times. Cover utilitarian and a bit annoying… the Enjoy! bit.
Available here:
Ross Bradshaw

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin, £8.99)

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Penguin, £8.99) was Five Leaves’ best selling fiction novel last year. Have you read it?
I was mixed about it. If I were to say that one of the main characters in the book was a fig tree that might put you off. It would have put me off, but I went with the flow.
The fig tree in question lived in Cyprus, originally, but was transplanted to a north London suburb by Kostas, a Greek in exile from home.
There he had a youthful relationship with Defne, a Turkish woman, both crossing the boundaries of their ethnic groups, secretly meeting in a tavern run by another couple, who had their own secret. They were gay men. The fig tree was a feature of the taverna, and it had its own views and internal life and its own perspective on the relationship between trees and humans.
Of course it all goes wrong. The conflict between the Greek and Turkish community ends the relationship. And the gay men are… well, spoiler alert, what so often happens in fiction?
Years on, Kosta returns to Cyprus for a conference – trees are, not surprisingly, his special acadamic interest. There he meets Defne again, working to find the graves of the disappeared in the conflict. There is more in their past that they need to revisit than he knew.
This is starting to read like a blurb, but it would be too easy to give more spoilers.
Island of Missing Trees is written as popular fiction, and is in serious need of an editor to get rid of some of the cliched writing. But Shafak tells a good story, and the fate of other characters drew me back to look up the half forgotten but vicious conflict that has kept the island divided.
A companion book if you want to read further is Nicosia Beyond Borders: voices from a divided city (Saqi, £12.99), with pieces by writers on both sides of the last city in Europe that remains divided.

Ross Bradshaw

Queer Print in Europe, edited by Glyn Davis and Laura Guy (Bloomsbury Visual Arts, £24.99)

That the publisher of this book is Bloomsbury Visual Arts tells us something of what we might expect – lots of magazine covers, page illustrations and a design-led publication. Overall a rather attractive, large format paperback.
The title indicates the scope of the book and is particularly valuable because of the coverage of countries we might not think of when we talk of LGBT+publications, Poland and Slovakia for example. The book does not attempt to cover everything and everywhere, comprising essays on publishing in particular countries, or strands of publishing within particular countries. Thus, for the UK, there is a long interview with Gail Lewis about material written by Black lesbians, a chapter on relevant reading for Trans lesbians in the 1970s, but no mention of Gay Times or the Pink Paper which were market leaders in lesbian and gay (well, mostly gay) magazine publishing in their day. Nor is there mention of GMP, perhaps the best selling gay press ever stocked by radical bookshops in this country.
But that’s fine, the book does not pretend to cover what it does not.
Most of the coverage is of small circulation magazines, some beautifully designed, like the Slovak Aspekt of the mid-90s, whereas Lesbians Come Together from 1972 looks mimeographed, a print technology some of those who used it might prefer to forget.
Several of the magazines came out of discontent with the feminist movement or feminist magazines – such as Histoires d’Elles which had one woman write in “I just want to bring up one topic: why such silence on homosexuality… Every month I hope to read about women whose joys and sorrows in life somewhat resemble my own, but nothing- complete silence.” Others developed out of the political left, or, similarly, out of discontent at being ignored by the left.
The content of the magazines described was as varied as the print technology. Academic articles here, contact lists there and, in the case of La Pluma in post-Franco Spain a call for autonomy for homosexuals, but also “collaboration with other groups of socially marginalised people” and opposition to capitalism and the “commercial ghetto”. On the other hand Revolt Press in Sweden published Tom of Finland male erotica and fifteen niche interest magazines, some of which would not have appeared on the shelves of any bookseller reading this, for good reason.
And bookshops generally? Sadly missing, save for one chapter. There are traces, such as News from Nowhere publishing, in 1980, Divided Sisterhood, a rebuttal to Janice Raymond’s The Transexual Empire. And an editor of the Dutch Mietje describes taking his journal to the communist bookshop in Amsterdam and being turned away by the owner, himself gay, because “… we don’t sell journals that discuss ‘bedroom’ issues, only political issues.”
But the last chapter, for those interested in radical bookselling history, is worth waiting for, a twenty page interview with Sigrid Nielson, Bob Orr and James Ley on Revisiting Lavender Menace. Lavender Menace – has there ever been a better bookshop name? – was the lesbian and gay bookshop in Edinburgh. The shop started off as a bookstall within the Gay Centre but got chucked out for being political. One of the criticisms was because the stall sold the card “The birth of a man who thinks he’s God isn’t such a rare event”,  a quote from Benefits by Zoë Fairbairns (slightly misquoted in the book under review). I can claim a footnote in bookselling history here, being responsible for publishing the card at Mushroom Bookshop! But it was for the best as Lavender Menace opened in Forth Street, then a low rent area, making it the second radical bookshop in the street as the anti-nuclear Smiling Sun also lived there. And then later there was West & Wilde in Dundas Street.
The interview moves from the early days of the bookstall – Open Gaze to give its name – through to the afterlife of Lavender Menace in Ley’s play Love Song to Lavender Menace, in archiving LGBT life in Scotland, and the current iteration of pop-up stalls run by Sigrid and Bob, both now in their seventies.
Queer Print in Europe will interest anyone passionate about radical print history, but the excellent final chapter is catnip for those interested in radical bookshop history.
Ross Bradshaw

Reviews in brief

Valkyrie by Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir (Bloomsbury)
The women of the Viking world held powerful positions in real life as well as in Viking myth, not least Valkyries who could choose who lived and who died. The author is a medievalist who has read all the Icelandic sagas so that you don’t have to. Our own idea of the Viking world is brought closer to how it really was, but despite the power of some women, for many it was, well, not so great.
The Wife of Bath by Marion Turner (Princeton)
While all that was going on in Iceland, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales we have the bawdy figure of Alison, “the wife of Bath” who survived domestic abuse to be an iconic figure in literature. Turner also describes the real lives of other less fictional medieval women but also discusses the way Alison has appeared in literature this century, a constant point of reference.
Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler (Guardian/Faber)
If you like to get muddy, or if you just happen to have a coffee table handy, this is a lovely book. Tyler collects old names for parts of the countryside, words that have been half-forgotten or which only exist now as place names. He gives examples of them, combining the text with wonderful pictures. It’s a bit Robert Macfarlaneish but prettier.
Black and Blue: one woman’s story of policing and prejudice by Pam Sandhu (Atlantic)
Sandhu worked her way up the ranks from constable to chief superintendent in the Met – London’s police force, the only woman of colour to do so. If you have read the papers over the last few years you will not be surprised to know her career was not an easy choice, as an Asian woman.
We’ve Got This: essays by disabled parents edited by Eliza Hull ((Scribe)
Nobody said parenting is easy either, but it’s not made easier if you have a disability. I’m biased about this book as I know one of the contributors. Five Leaves has published some of her work, as a poet, so I immediately turned to page 102 to see what Joanne Limburg had to say about being an autistic parent. The book has thirty contributions by parents who have visible and invisible disabilities as well as those who are chronically ill. Recommended as a book that would make for interesting discussion in any kind of parents’ circle.
The Story of Art without Men by Katy Hessel (Hutchinson)
Where to start on this one? Hessel immediately asks the reader how many women artists they know, and proceeds to tell us about some we might know and many we don’t know, ranging over centuries and over the world. The illustrations are superb. Given this is the Notts/Derby edition, Laura Knight is mentioned (though none of her paintings are included) but many of my favourites from elsewhere are – the surrealist women; Gluck; Charlotte Salomon; Barbara Hepworth; Kathe Kollwitz… but so many that are new to me. It’s £30 but if you have the remotest interest in art you will feel it is money well spent.
Unofficial Britain: journeys through unexpected places by Gareth Rees (Elliot & Thompson)
This is the oldest book mentioned here, first published in 2020, but every time we slip a copy onto our new table at the bookshop it sells. It’s full of urban legends, motorway service stations, industrial estates, fringe areas, car parks, places “where the border between the past and the present is unusually fluid”. The sort of places that tourist guides don’t even know exist, and why should they? Full of stories about places you wouldn’t want to be seen dead in, other than some burial places are included too.
Xanthe & the Ruby Crown by Jasbinder Bilan (Chicken House)
I’ll finish with the last book I read, a book for, what?, twelve year olds. Bilan was brought up in Nottingham and returns to her childhood roots with this timeslip story set partly here – at Wollaton Hall – and partly in Uganda, the former home of Xanthe’s Asian grandmother who is starting to suffer from dementia. Xanthe wants to make her grandmother happy again and she explores her family history to reveal long buried secrets. Literally buried secrets, in the tower block her gran lives in. 
Ross Bradshaw

In Love: a memoir of love and loss by Amy Bloom (Granta, £9.99)

Every day I pass adverts saying “I live with dementia” outside the Victoria Centre. These are from the Dementia Association and feature youngish or middle-aged people who live with dementia because a family member has dementia. The posters came to mind when I chanced upon this book in BUK, the new bookshop in Arnold.
It’s obvious what this memoir is about. The American writer Amy Bloom’s husband, Brian, develops Alzheimer’s and after his condition worsens, but while he is still capable of making a decision, he will go to Switzerland, to Dignitas, to end his life at a time of his own choosing. In America there are states where it is possible to take this action, but, generally, you have to be in the last six months of your life and a state resident. There are other rules, but there is no way he could predict how long he would live and for how long he could make a conscious decision. On his behalf Bloom tries to find alternatives, but they are either dangerous or unreliable or she is stymied in her search. Pharmacies, for example, would not honour the prescriptions she managed to obtain.
So Switzerland it would be… but that too is fraught. Dignitas’s rules are that you can go to them if you are in “unendurable and uncontrollable pain” or have a terminal illness – in their case there is no timescale for your demise to take into account – or very old age. And if you can get to Switzerland and pay $10,000 dollars. But you need medical reports, birth certificates, references, psychological reports, interviews. And if you are depressed you are ruled out, as being chronically depressed does not fit their criteria. Brian’s medical reports included that he had suffered from depression so he had to get new reports focussing on his dementia… but Dignitas was slow and the time when he was capable of making his own decision was running out.
As we wait for this to be resolved, Bloom goes back to the years of increasing concern that there might be a problem. By the way, sports fans, her husband had been an ace American football player – we now know this and other sports involving head injuries and “heading” increases the likelihood of dementia. We read about the early years of coping with the problem and the steady restrictions on Brian’s life as his memory failed. Forgetting where to turn, getting lost, drifting away from the world, having to leave his beloved book group, anxiety, tears. And more tears.
We learn about the man. His Catholic background (Bloom is Jewish); the buildings he designed; his Saturday mornings escorting women to Planned Parenthood in the face of “screaming protestors”. And we learn about the author. She is not always nice, she is often angry, is often stressed out – sometimes when Brian sails blythely on, unaware of the chaos he is creating. Sometimes we learn more about the author than we might want to. But at all times we know the title reflects their lives together – every day of their lives, as she wrote, as they pledged on their late marriage. They were together, what?, something like thirteen years.
And then we get to Zurich. The detail of what happens is there, at Dignitas, and it is all over in four pages. It feels sudden. Bloom flew back immediately, a friend having come out to help her get home. And we start to move forward, with a memorial meeting in the library across from her house.
Some people might find this a difficult book to read, for obvious reasons. And, yes, I did find something in my eye a couple of times.
If you are near Arnold why not pick In Love up from BUK, as I did, or you can find a copy at Five Leaves a day after this review appears.
Ross Bradshaw

French Braid by Anne Tyler (Chatto, £16.99) and Bourneville by Jonathan Coe (Viking, £20)

Both of these books are intergenerational novels – family sagas if you like, by long-established writers, Tyler from America and Coe from the UK. Coe’s novels are often described as state of the nation novels, and he and we follow the lives of his chosen family down the generations, their lives punctuated by incidents in modern British history – VE Day in 1945, the Coronation of 1953, England’s 1966 World Cup win, Charles’ investiture, his wedding, the funeral of Diana and, finally the anniversary of VE Day, 75 years on.
Tyler starts in 1959 and American history is entirely absent. Her family is unaffected by, don’t talk about, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the war in Iraq… Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Bush one and Bush two, Clinton, Obama, Trump – who they? Mind you, they talk about next to nothing anyway when they meet up, save for whether the traffic on Baltimore’s Beltway is bad or really bad. Nor do they go out much or have a cultural life save for one son who teaches drama and acts. But he’s the outcast who never quite recovered from a childhood trauma when he thought his father did not love him, so he is allowed.
The one real life intrusion in Tyler’s book is Covid, where the – now retired – drama teacher takes in his grandson for a while, the child’s mother working flat out in the health service, and there are tender scenes as the child meets local children but keeps his distance, and is given the task of making masks to involve him in Covid protection. Coe’s book also ends with Covid and the book turns on this from an understated domestic history to a final section of absolute passion when the key character Mary Lamb’s experience of death during the Covid era mirrors that of Coe’s own mother. I shy away from reading Covid fiction, it’s still too raw, but these are the best sections of both books.
Unfortunately Jonathan Coe signals the changes in the state of our nation too well. Early on, in Bournville itself, people drive past a house with its curtains closed. The man who lives there had been caught cottaging, having sex with another man in a public toilet. You can guess that later this will be mirrored by a modern gay affair. This last is the only sex scene in Coe’s book, and it is well done. The family in question is all white… but you can feel the moment coming when one of the younger members of the family has a new girlfriend. People have not met her yet and he passes a photograph around. One person says she looks lovely and, really, you don’t have to wait until – was it Doris? – blurts out about her being Black, naturally in an uncomfortable way. Brexit is there of course… but the scene where a chocolate factory representative (Bournville, remember!) meets a smarmy Labour MP to talk about European trade issues to do with chocolate is overwritten.  I would not say that Labour is completely smarm-free, but this Labour MP… though Coe might have met him in real life. Must ask.
Domestically Anne Tyler’s family changes too. America in the 1950s gradually recedes; the family hardware store is taken over by a woman; the family becomes a little more diverse; the most boring character – an estate agent, naturally – goes to bore the socks off other realtors in their special place in hell; and along comes the gay man. He has kept his secret from the family, but when he is found out by accident he realises that the whole family knew anyway and were not bothered.
And Mercy Garrett, married to Robin, who we meet at the start of the book, gradually moves out. She takes up painting, rents a studio and ever-so-gradually-ever-so-slowly stops coming home. Again, everyone knows, but nobody really talks about it. Her hapless husband organises a fiftieth wedding anniversary party for the family. It’s grim, but not so grim as their other gatherings and Mercy and Robin spend the night together. It’s another tender moment, but in the morning she returns to the studio before breakfast.
Neither of these are the best of the author’s work. But I dug through my shelves to find Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, the only survivor of a period in the early 1980s, when I was regularly reading her work. It’s a family saga set in Baltimore and I remember nothing of it. And I’ll read that again shortly.
Ross Bradshaw
Both books are currently only in hardback, French Braid is published in paperback on 16 March while Bournville comes out in paper in September. Email us on

Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop, by Alba Donati, translated by Elena Pala (W & N, £14.99)

Alba Donati, a poet and a publishing professional opened a bookshop in Luignana, a village – not a town – of 180 people stuck up a hill in Tuscany. Yes, 180 people, but mail order exists as did the notion that people would travel to this unlikely bookshop in a rather beautiful area. This is no Shaun Bythell (Diary of a Bookseller) as Donati likes her customers, but the book is also about the village and her family, including her 101 year old mother.
The format is a diary, starting 20th January 2021 and ending 20th June 2021. A Covid period, which also means the diary is studded with, but not overwhelmed by, references to the various Italian lockdowns and what that means for a bookshop to which most customers have to travel. The village itself remains Covid-free, something Donati compares to the village also being free of fascist supporters during the Mussolini years. It was not, however, unaffected by the war – her mother’s first husband was reported missing, presumed dead, and in one moving section the author’s family is contacted by someone who had seen the missing soldier’s dog-tags on sale in a military memorabilia site.
Donati weaves her family, her neighbours and her own personal history cleverly into the bookshop story, with each diary entry finishing with a list of books sold that day, a mixture of books in English and Italian. On one occasion she lists her recommended LGBT+ books.
But why here? Why open a bookshop in the middle of nowhere? She answers: “The thing is, Lucignana doesn’t know it is in the middle of nowhere; as far as I’m concerned New York is in the middle of nowhere. This tiny village is to me the centre of the universe, because I see it through the eyes of a little girl who braved rickety stairs and freezing houses in freezing winters, a little girl who tried to fix broken things as best she could.” As she suggests, this is not a rich area – her own family house had an outside toilet until the 1990s.
Alba Donati is a feminist, selling mostly books by women to women, something she dwells on, but only in terms of displaying more of the books women read. But she will often wander away to discuss particular writers and their books, some familiar to the British reader, but many not.
The book is charming, well produced, but is completely without internal illustrations or photographs. I’d love to have seen some drawings of her bookshop and of Lucignana.
Copies of the book are available here:
Ross Bradshaw

Elena Knows by Claudia Piñeiro, translated by Frances Riddle (Charco, £9.99)

Claudia Piñeiro is best known as a crime writer, and you can see that in this book as the main character – Elena – takes herself across Buenos Aires on a mission to help solve the mysterious death of her daughter, Rita, who hanged herself in the belfry of a church. This dramatic suicide act happened three times in the author’s home village, I believe. But it was raining and Rita had a phobia about going into the church in the rain. Elena knows she could not have committed suicide, but does she really know? Does she really know anything?

It’s a painful book to read as Elena has debilitating Parkinson’s, being active only in the times between taking her medicine and the book is structured in the times between her pills being taken. Even then, her head is bent down so she cannot see other than downwards – she sees a lot of shoes, but not faces.

Her daughter is her carer, who hates looking after her, who rages against what she has to do as her mother deteriorates. It’s a tough read, with but brief moments of tenderness when, finally, Elena is offered some help by the health service and when – it sounds absurd – she strokes a cat at the home of the woman she has been seeking. For, despite everything, Elena wants to live.

The three main characters in the book are women but this is not a book about women’s solidarity; all of them have been hurt by other women. And by institutions such as the church. The book also talks about things we would prefer to avoid – family carers having no choice but to care for a parent, women having anti-abortion views and some women who are mothers never bonding with their children.

The book is well written, translated sensitively and our bookshop book group found plenty to discuss in the text.

Ross Bradshaw

Why We Read: 70 writers on non-fiction, edited by Josephine Greywoode (Penguin, £8.99)

With seventy writers to chose from, mostly known figures from the intellectual world, there’s going to be some controversy in this book, though not as much as I expected. Many say similar things, but Steven Pinker and Richard J. Evans offer competing thoughts.
Piner, makes compelling points about literacy (which few would argue with) and ends “… educated people really are more enlightened. They are less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and authoritarian. They place a higher value on imagination, independence and free speech. They are more likely to vote, volunteer, express politcal view and belong to civic organisations… They are also likelier to trust their fellow citizens…”
Though not mentioned in Pinker’s article, he could be talking about Trump’s America. So – fellow educated people, fellow readers – we are just basically nice.
But are we? Richard J. Evans points out that “… the perpetrators of the mass murder of Europe’s Jews were in many cases highly educated. Indeed, the higher up you go in the hierarchy of the SS … the more likely you are to find men with advanced educational qualifications. …” In another book – though I do not have a reference to hand – I read about the legal, scientific and medical qualifications of the whole Nazi leadership. Pretty well educated, in short. Evans remarks “The ability to read in itself does not make you morally upright or responsible.” Just as I am typing these words it comes back to me that my source for the educational qualifications of the leading Nazis may have been an article about The Reader by Bernard Schlink. A great book and film, which, however, posits that the reason one particularly sadistic female war criminal acted that way was because she was illiterate.
As if to prove Evans’ point, Geoffrey Roberts, the author of Stalin’s Library wrote recently in the New Statesman that “the key to understanding both Stalin and his dictatorship is that he was an intellectual”.
Still, as one of the intellectuals least likely to find a home on the shelves at Five Leaves Bookshop closes his piece, “It would be a shame to lose reading”.
The collection, by the way, split equally between male and female writers, and is a lot broader than the discussion above.
Why We Read is available here:
Ross Bradshaw