Book 23 – Before We Met

I didn’t start reading last week till Thursday.  I am rarely without a book.  But last week was the first week of the Easter Holidays.   I was juggling running mum’s taxi.   Taking my son to badminton, golf, table tennis, judo and tennis.  Alongside working and finishing up for the holidays.  I have learnt you can’t do it all and some things have to give.  Last week it was any reading time and the house!  The fact that you could stir the house I just try to live with.  Not being immersed in a book?  I have decided it’s not good for me.  I did try to start two book but didn’t get past the first few pages on either.  My mind was too full of all the things I needed to do.

I decided to take a different tack and put away both books and take out my Kindle instead.  One as with a trip back on the bus from Edinburgh on Thursday am and hopefully out and about on our week off its easier to take around.  I also find that at the start of a holiday I need a different kind of book.  Something light, fast paced that I can lose myself in quickly without having to think too much.  I had one such book on my kindle – Before We Met.

Before We Met was recommended to me as a novel in the genre of Before I go to Sleep which I loved.  It is.  Yes you can sense it coming But.  Before I go to Sleep held me the whole novel right to the end.  Although Before We Met had me wanting to find out the truth.   I had worked out the ending by the middle of the book.  So the sense of suspense was lost on me.  I also struggled with the main character’s sense of judgement.  Without giving too much away it is about a newly married woman who goes to meet her husband from his New York Flight and he doesn’t appear.  She the discovers her marriage and her husband is not what she thought.

The plus points for me was that it was well written and the descriptions of Heathrow on a Friday night made you feel you were actually there.  It was just what the doctor ordered.   A  book I could read without thinking too much and relax into the holiday week .  It just was not as strong a thriller as I was hoping for. Never the less it was a very readable book.   Though I felt it all got very  inevitable and I would have missed out the last chapter of the book as it did nothing.  I enjoyed it.  I just didn’t think Wow that’s really original writing.

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Book 22 – The Next Time You See Me

Picked this up from the bookshop yet again from the table by the café.  Back of the book sold it to me about life in a small community.  A 13-year-old girl who finds a body and a teacher searching for her sister and discovering her life was not what it seemed.

I thought as I live in a small community I might relate to it.  Sadly though as this is set in the USA I really couldn’t relate to  the community at all.   I was very thankful that I didn’t live there as it seemed like the most small-minded snobbish divided place.

That said the book did make me think about the cruelty of children to each other.  There is a truly horrific food fight when one class picks on just one girl and you just say a big thank you that it has never happened to you.  Or more importantly to any of your children.  The result for the girl who gets bullied is so sad and reminds you for kids that bully it may be one kid they pick on just for a while and then they move on with their lives.  For the kid they bully  they leave a lasting legacy.

The book is a thriller and in this its very good.  You don’t actually know if Ronnie the sister is alive till the end of the book.   The body that is found at the beginning well it stays in the woods throughout the whole book till you can almost smell the stench yourself.

Did I enjoy this book?  Well in a strange way I did in that it captured my imagination.  It was well written with fully rounded characters.  The issue I had was that I disliked the community intensely  and found little to like about any of the characters.  So a mixed review overall and not sure I would pass it on to others.  On the plus side I am very pleased to live in my small community.

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Book 20 and Book 21 Truths about Relationships

Book 20 and Book 21 were books for book club.  Didn’t actually make the meeting due to #scotlandhour which takes place on Twitter last Wednesday of the month.  I am one of the #scotlandhour team but was also guest hosting in my remit as project manager of Scotland’s Pubs and Bars – a story to tell.  Telling the stories of over 120 pubs from Shetland to Dumfries. Given it’s all about telling stories too it was a good excuse. You can learn more on Scotland’s Pubs and Bars Facebook or their Twitter account

Book 20 I had read well in advance of book club before I took the decision that given I had  Edinburgh pm meeting, book club, #scotlandhour plus my usual daily activities of walking the dog, acting as UN home negotiator, making tea and so forth I needed to drop something and it was sadly going to be book club.

Book 20 of the year was “A Greyhound of a girl” by Roddy Doyle what they call in the bookie world a young adult book. I really loved this short book.  It’s about a great  grandmother who died when her daughter was three.  She first appears to her great grand-daughter who starts to realise she’s not just an old woman and tells her mother about her.  When her mother meets her she quickly realises they are related.  Why has the great-grandmother come back?  Well that’s the reason that the book touched me.  Her daughter was now 80 and dying.  She had needed her mum all her life and her mum had been helpless as a ghost between earth and the afterlife to help her.  But now she could help her and that is what the story is.  But it’s so much more it’s about the power of women and their relationships especially families and how the links can be so strong from one generation to another to the next.  It struck a nerve with me.  I have been thinking about death a lot recently.  And my grandmother died when I was two.  I would love to have a memory of her but I don’t.  She seems real to me as I have seen her photo so many times and my mum and my aunt have talked about her so much that I feel I know her.  But the truth is I don’t really know her but I would really have loved too.  I don’t usually like ghost stories my imagination just doesn’t work with ghosts  but this book made it plausible, real in fact you wanted it to happen to you.

Book 21 I hadn’t finished by book club.  It was called “Wonder” by RJ Palacio.  I must admit I struggled with the first few chapters of this book again a young adult book.  In fact I nearly gave up on it.  But just as I thought it wasn’t for me the book took off and then I couldn’t put it down.  It’s about a boy with a very bad facial disfigurement.  He’s called August and has always been home schooled and then his parents decide to send him to school.  The book starts seeing things from August’s perspective and you assume that is what the book is about.  But then it changes and you find out how life is for his sister, for her ex friend, from the perspective of August’s friends and that was the appeal for me seeing things from all these different views.  I loved it.  It showed the best about growing up and also the worst.  Ideal for anyone struggling at school or going up to high school.

A Greyhound of a Girl and Wonder would appeal to teenagers and is in the young adult section of bookshops but in my opinion has much to teach us all.



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Perfect – Rachel Joyce -Book 19

I had been looking forward to this book coming out in paperback since I read Rachel’s first book “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”.  I was also delighted to find out that the paper back release coincided with Rachel Joyce’s author visit to Mainstreet Trading in St Boswells.

Now I know you are probably fed up with me waxing lyrical about my local bookshop so I thought I would explain a couple of reasons why I love my local bookshop.  The first is that when I first moved to St Boswells and the Scottish Borders nearly 14 years ago you were hard pressed to find any shop that sold books other than the national chains.  As an avid reader I had to wait till a rare visit to Edinburgh or spend money with a well know on line shop.  The second reason is that I live in a relatively small village where with a small selection of shops all fantastic but food orientated.  The thought that a bookshop would come to a nearby town did not occur to me never mind that it would actually open up in St Boswells.  Even when the rumours started circulating I didn’t believe it until in true doubting Thomas style  I saw the evidence for myself.  The third reason and perhaps the most important is that Mainstreet Trading is a really great bookshop.  It sells books that you don’t see in every national chain in the country so my reading has expanded and been challenged.  The staff are always on hand to advise especially if you are looking for new ideas for children.  Mainstreet Trading have two book clubs a day time one and the evening one which I attend which again has taken my reading out of it’s comfort style.  Finally Mainstreet Trading have a great programme of author events and since it opened my husband and I have attended about 95% of them Rachel Joyce being the latest.

I would have read “Perfect” anyway as I really enjoyed her first book.  Often I read a book in advance of an author coming but on this occasion I ran out of time and I am glad I did.  As Rachel was such an engaging speaker and really brought her book alive and made you want to go home and read it straight away without actually giving too much away.  The book is two stories.  One set in 1972 and the other in the present day.  You spend much of the book wondering when and if the two stories will collide.  As with her first book Rachel Joyce has a gift at bringing characters alive and characters that have flaws and hang ups but ones that before you know it you care about and want it all to work out for them though you know like life this isn’t going to happen.  The first story is seen through the eyes of a 11 year old boy and with a 10 year old and a 13 year old in the house that for me was fascinating in itself.  The fact that I was a child of the 1970′s also made me think back to my own childhood.

All in all “Perfect”  did not disappoint which second novels can.  It was very different from her first book but just as compelling the only similarity being her ability to write compelling characters and tell a great yarn.  Highly recommended.

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Book Eighteen – Kirsty Wark’s First Novel

Book 18 – The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle – Kirsty Wark

I have been eagerly awaiting this book since I first read that Kirsty Wark was publishing her first novel.  I am a great admirer of Kirsty Wark from newsnight and more recently seeing her in person interviewing authors in her role as Patron of the Borders Book Festival.  I have a life time admiration for anyone who can put a politician in their place and also in a past life would have loved to have done her job.  I recently have discovered the Danish political TV series Borgen which I have become rather addicted to and although I still can see why people feel compelled to be politicians I no longer feel that I personally want to be part of it.  Although Borgen is drama and fictional I have a feeling that much of it is true.  And I am no Machiavelli.

So my first reason I was eagerly awaiting the book was my admiration for Kirsty Wark but the most compelling reason was that the book was set on Arran.  If you read this blog on a regular basis you will know that I have a love affair for Islands and in particular Scottish Islands.

And my love affair with Islands started when my parents took me on holiday to Arran.  Even right now if I need to relax I visualise myself sailing on a Cal Mac ferry approaching Brodick.  Although we have rather neglected Arran in recent years exploring new islands.  We will return and I regularly return to my memory bank of Arran holidays as it has been so significant in my life.

I read this book as a result fairly quickly though this was also as I wanted to know what happened next.  As well as delighting in spending the week that I read it not in the Scottish Borders  where I actually was but on Arran.  The book is set in the past and in the present which many books seem to be these days with one chapter set in the past and one in the present.  I sometimes find this frustrating as I get caught up with one story and then have to change again to the other’s.  This was the case on a few occasions here as I totally engaged with the life of Elizabeth Pringle.  But that said the dementia story that ran through the life of the character in the present kept interest in this story too.  Especially as I had just seen another Patron of the Borders Book Festival Sally Magnusson speaking about her book on looking after her mother with dementia at an event at Mainstreet Trading.  I was very moved with the love compassion and raw honesty that Sally Magnusson showed that night.  This novel shows a similar relationship between a mother with dementia and her daughter which as a result of hearing Sally Magnusson had great resonance.

I really enjoyed the Legacy of Kirsty Wark and will be passing the book on to my mum and friends which for me is the greatest compliment I can give any book.  If I want to share it then it’s a great book.

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Book 17 of 2014 -One by One in the Darkness

Book 17 Deirdre Madden – One by One in the Darkness

Have had a spurt of reading over the last week or so and now have a few book reviews to write-up.  Book Seventeen was bought on the back of reading an extract at my creative writing course.  The writing style appealed to me and although we only read a small extract in the class and then discussed the writing style I wanted to read more so I found a second-hand version.

It’s set in Northern Ireland post troubles about a family with three sisters.  The family has been badly affected by the troubles and you see it through each of the sister’s perspectives.  The older one has become a lawyer fighting for justice in what even now seems an unjust world.  The middle sister has escaped to London and has a glamorous job in a magazine.  And the youngest who longs to escape is trapped by the fact that she is needed by her mother a bird who would like to flee the nest but can’t as she binds everything together.  The story starts when Cate the middle sister comes home with a secret that she has to share.

I studied the troubles when I studied politics at Edinburgh University.   More than that it was an important part of growing up in the UK in the 1970′s to 1990′s.  But living in Scotland as much as it scared me and I remember each of the major bombings as if they were yesterday.  I wasn’t personally affected.  Which I guess luckily most of us are not.  We see war and tragedy on the TV and Radio, we hear of it through others.  We see the wars, the awful loss of life, the hatred it builds on both sides. We know people who have cruel long term illnesses.   But until you actually live it you don’t actually know how it feels.

At a recent book club meeting we were talking about to “Kill a Mocking Bird” which vies with Dr Zhivago as my favourite book of all time.  And the key phrase that “to know how someone feels you have to walk in their shoes.”  I have tried since reading to Kill a Mocking Bird to live by that and sometimes I succeed and often I don’t.  But recently I have felt that unless you have actually gone through a situation do you actually really know how that feels?  As hard as you try to?

This book brought that home to me.  You see the effect the troubles has had on one normal family in Northern Ireland.  What happened to them will affect them for the rest of their lives.  Tt’s how they learn to live with it.  You learn about the wonder of family ties and ultimately the power that we have to love one another.

It’s not a long book only 181 pages but it’s a very powerful book and makes you realise that at the centre of every news item we see there is a family who are living and breathing what we are watching as news.

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Orkney by Amy Sackville Book 16 of 2014

I was drawn to this book as it’s set on an Island and I am drawn to Island’s and especially Scottish Island’s.  The story is about a couple on honeymoon in a cottage by the beach on an Island.  My husband and I spent our honeymoon in a small cottage by the beach on Tiree.  So when I saw it yet again on the table by the café in Mainstreet Trading it was again a more expensive coffee than I had bargained for.

I really enjoyed this book firstly because it was set on an Island as I say and I could picture it clearly in my mind.  I also found it uncomfortable reading which made me ponder.  The gap between the couple was 40 years.  The husband being 60 and the wife just 21 after a whirlwind romance.  I thought I had nothing against age gaps but this didn’t seem right and when I thought about it is the age gap of my husband and my niece.  It just felt very wrong to me or am I wrong in that as the relationship between the two was strong and they obviously did have a deep connection?

The book is beautifully written taken from the view point of the husband which always make his wife a slightly mysterious figure as you are seeing her as he sees her.  You see things about her that he doesn’t seem to see and you also through well written prose can see that the Islanders like me didn’t approve of the relationship between an older man and a young woman.  Having visited many Scottish islands and been in situations when you walk into somewhere and immediately you are viewed with suspicion as an outsider I had a clear picture in my mind of what this would have been like.

Finally though the reason I loved this book was the ending.  You know from the start it’s going to happen but you don’t really get told why and is she still alive?  Which leaves you free to think about this yourself?  I came up with at least three or four ideas of what might have happened and what happened next.

I have spent the last ten days with a throat infection which has given me sleepless nights.  I love my sleep and struggle when I can’t get sleep as I need at least eight hours to keep firing on all cylinders.  There is nothing worse lying and trying to sleep exhausted but you can’t as every time you swallow the lump in your throat hurts.  I finished Orkney half way through this time.  While I was reading it when I couldn’t sleep I thought of the beach and sea that the wife was fascinated with and took myself there.  After finishing when I couldn’t sleep I spent the time speculating what the ending meant.  For me reading takes me to another place, other people and if its good it makes me ponder and think.  Orkney did all this and more.


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