Book 61 – Cold Winter in Bordeaux Alan Massie

This is the third of the Alan Massie detective books sets in occupied France during World War Two.  I have read them all buying them each year at the Borders Book Festival.  I was really looking forward to this one and saved it until I got back from my holiday.  As I knew I would be I struggled when I got home with the return to routines and reality after probably the best family holiday we have ever had on Harris.

Now I know immersing yourself in World War Two is not for everyone.  But I do love a well written historical novel and I knew Alan Massie would deliver.  In addition I have waited some time to find out what happens to Inspector Lannes and his family.


In this book Inspector Lannes is trying to solve a murder of a woman found dead and naked in her bedroom.  Seems a simple pre war murder at first and then he discovers there is more to it than he first thought and that the  resistance is also involved which means that the German Occupiers also want to know what is happening.

The plot on this book was not the key reason why I enjoyed this book.  For me it was the way that Alan Massie in fiction form brought France in World War Two to life.  You see life in occupied France from all angles and points of view.   From those who collaborated  with the Germans.  To those who were part of De Gaulle’s resistance.  To those who were part of the communist resistance.  And for those who like Lannes wanted to survive with his family and make it through.   Who in 1943 are starting to believe that maybe just maybe France will get through this without being permanently  part of Nazi Germany.  And the French are just beginning to realise that something is awful is happening to the Jewish community.

I have enjoyed all of these books so far as they have taken me through from 1940 France to 1943.  I look forward to the next one which takes us to the end of the war and the consequences for everyone collaborators, resistance fighters and ordinary families who dared to hope that one day France would be free again.  Let’s hope its out to buy as a treat at the 2015 Borders Book Festival.


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Book 60 – The Silver Blade with Ruth Drane

I have read to my daughter since she was a baby.  She is now 13 and although she probably beats me in her reading prowess.  We do still enjoy reading together though we don’t seem to have as much time as we did when we were in the bed time routine of her early childhood.  We promised ourselves that over the holidays we were going to read together the prequel to The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner reviewed here  The prequel is set like the first during the French Revolution and is called the Silver Blade.

We started the book on Harris but finished it with speed this week on a few sunny nights in the garden both gripped by the storyline that we  needed to know what happened to the two hero’s Yann and Sido. I love history and have loved historical fiction since I was my daughter’s age.  If it’s done right it brings a period of history alive for you which is what this book and the Red Necklace does.  It brings the horror of the French Revolution to life.  Although a young adult book Sally Gardener tells the story of the guillotine and the awful and needless loss of life in detail.  At the start of this book Yann is in France and is the Silver Blade saving people from the guillotine and taking them to the coast and a boat to take them safely to England.  When he frees people he leaves a Silver Blade hanging behind and he has become a legend.  Sido meanwhile is in London with her aunt and uncle and struggling with her aunt’s hostility to her love for Yann who she thinks is an inferior class to her.  Thus bringing the issues of that age and the French Revolution to life.  In addition there is a parallel story which is more fantasy.  The sinister Count Kalliovski who died in the last book is now  ghost or is he?  He lives in a palace in the catacombs decorated by the bones of his victims.  He is after revenge.  This factual and fantasy approach actually works well and for me I began to wonder if the writer was actually describing purgatory.  Without giving any more away this is another great book by Sally Gardner.

I am hoping that I will read more to my daughter but if this is indeed the last book we share together it is a worthy book to finish with.  We have been from baby books, to Julia Donaldson, to the hideous fairy books.  To Enid Blyton.  To CS Lewis. To Harry Potter.  The wonderful Annabel Claridge who is now a friend and her Bo Books and many more beside it’s been a part of my reading life I have treasured.  As I have seen my daughter see the magic of books and re discovered some old favourites myself and read some new classics on the way.  Reading to your child is not a chore it’s an investment in their future but it also creates a memory bank that I will value for ever.

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Book 59 – The Critic Peter May

Couldn’t resist and bought the second of the Enzo Books set in France in this Peter May series. Well I needed a book for the last day and ferry trip and one that could make me forget the pain of leaving the Hebrides.

This book was set in South West France. Another unsolved murder of an American wine critic. Though before long there are more murders can Enzo solve the crime before someone else ends up in a wine vault?

Glad to see all the main characters were back and Enzo is a character you love but despise often too. I’m learning that he’s not always a good judge of character. And if you go with his first views of people you are lead down the wrong route.

I loved Peter May’ s Lewis books in fact helped sell The Black House at Tarbert Visitor Information Centre yesterday. These are for me not quite as good but that’s to do with the setting more than anything. I love the Hebrides. But I also love Peter May’ s writing and as soon as I’m paid will be buying the third in the series.

Did it help the pain? No not quite. Tears flowed as MV Hebrides left Tarbert. But they were happy tears for a wonderful holiday. Will be back in 49 weeks. And once out on the Minch. Peter May and Enzo pulled me in as the best books always do.

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Book 57 and 58 The Vacationers and Shop Aholic’ s Sister

The Vacationers is top of the New York Times list. It’s about a family and friends who go on holiday to Mallorca. Outwardly for appearances it’s a happy family group. But in the villa things quickly unwrap  living in such close proximity to one another reveals everyone’s secrets.

I really enjoyed it. Characters were well written and developed. It was very funny in parts. It was very realistic. It didn’t try to give everyone happy endings and it didn’t tie up all the ends so left you making your mind up about what happened to each of the characters. I have holidayed in Mallorca so recognised many of the beaches and locations which I always enjoy. But best of all it was so hot in Harris when I read it I thought for one fleeting minute that I was in Spain as well.

The Shop Aholic’ s sister was a book in the holiday cottage. I’ve read some of them before as I was given one in a secret Santa present one Christmas!! The giver was giving me a hint about my clothes addiction. They are funny reads and I can see bits of myself so it’s a salient lesson for me. This one was very funny. The long lost sister she discovers is the complete reverse of herself and she doesn’t like shopping. Can they learn from one another?

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Book 56 – The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

This book broke my kindle rule only broken for my favourite writers of not buying a kindle book over  £5. I’ve also kept it for the last week of the holiday. I loved the Cormoron Strike first crime novel and was looking forward to the second.

It did not disappoint. It was just as well written as the first. This time I didn’t guess who had done it in fact my jaw dropped in the final pages.

Cormoran detective agency is now on the map. Though this seems to involve lots of suspicious partners having their respective other halfs being followed. When in walks Lenora a badly dressed under heel women who asks him to find her author husband as she and her daughter need him. Cormoran knows she can’t afford him but there is something about her that makes him take the case.

This opens up the book world which JK Rowling writes about with surely known knowledge. She obviously enjoyed making up names for children’s books and creates hideous characters. In a dog eat dog world.

Corcoran finds the author but he’s very dead in a macabre replica of his last book. So he and Robin his wonderful assistant have to find the killer as the Met yet again have got it wrong.

What can I say I loved this book. It’s true there is not a book that JK Rowling has written that I haven’t loved. This is no exception roll on the third.

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Book 55- Meeting the English Kate Clanchy

This has been the best book of the holidays so far. It was a clever, observant, intelligent beautifully written read.

I assumed from the title and from my memory of why I bought the book. That it was about someone who comes to the UK and is obsessed by being English then finds us totally eccentric. It’s not though there is perhaps a novel in its own right there.

It’s about a 18 year old boy who lives with his Grannie in a small mining village in central Scotland who answers an advert to look after a London man who has suffered a stroke.

He arrives to find himself in a parallel universe. The stroke victim who he quickly bonds with and is the only one to realise that despite the stroke there is still a human being inside and seeks ways to communicate with him. The huge challenge is dealing with the dysfunctional family.

There is Laura Ashley obsessed wife number one. Who seizes the chance to try and get back her former home and as much of her ex husband’s fortune as possible. There is her daughter with a weight problem and low self esteem who wants a boyfriend. Her friend who is anorexic and in love with the brother of the family. The wayward brother expelled from Oxford who causes chaos. And the second Iranian born wife who uses her ensuite bathroom to paint in and is well able to match wife number one. It’s about the 1980’s. Pot Noodles. 501’s jeans.

It’s about the wisdom of an 18 year old boy who sorts them all out. It’s insightful. It’s funny. I loved it.

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Book 54 – Fly Away Home Jennifer Weiner

This was a book in the cottage we are staying in which I picked up as my beach read. I don’t like reading my kindle at the beach. One I can’t see very well and two I’m scared I will get it covered in sand.

So in between books on the hottest day yet. I took this book to the beach expecting it would take me to the end of the holiday to read. I came back from the beach hours later and couldn’t put it down. So finished it on the deck here. Book done in a day.

On the cover its about a Senator who had an affair and the impact this has on his family. But why I liked it is the senator is really immaterial to the book. It’s about a woman in her 50’s who suddenly realises her life has been about her husband. And she has put his concerns before everything. Her own career prospects. Her family. Her. All so he can the best but he’s let her down.

It’s about how she escapes to discover what she wants out of life and who she wants to be. And it’s about the lives of her daughter’s which for different reasons are also at a crossroads. She invites them up to her retreat. It’s a turning point for all of them. As they all find there is more to life than careers, politics and riches. You need to grasp it when you find it.

It was a great book for a sunny day but it was also a good book to just make you think if you’ve got your own priorities right.

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