It is not my Grief

On Wednesday night I composed an email to my friend in Canada updating her with my Easter news and asking about her holiday in Florida.  I sent it and thought nothing of it when an hour later I had a response, till I read the response.  Her dear son Fergus had lost his battle to cancer gone aged only 36 leaving his two-year old daughter, his wife and his heartbroken family.

But it is not my grief it is their’s.  Yet I feel as if I want to punch something hard.  I want to kick out and I want to scream.  I love spring time.   Yet the last few days full of sun and blue skies just seem wrong.  How can new life begin when one that offered so much has been taken away?  I am sitting here in St Boswells and out there in Canada,  Fergus little Fergus ,who I babysat for when he was the same age that my son is now,  is lying in a coffin as his family and many friends visit and prepare for his funeral on Monday.

The Blairs have always played a huge part in my life.  From an early age I knew about Stella and Ron and their boys Cameron and Graham who lived in Toronto Canada and always sent such glamorous presents through the post.  They were later joined by Fraser and Fergus and after a few visits to Scotland we made the journey to Toronto to see them.  In truth I didn’t want to go.   At the time all I wanted to do was visit the USA and Canada seemed boring in comparison.  I didn’t particularly like the USA it proved a huge disappointment to me but I fell in love with Canada and the Blair family home.

So much so that I spent two summers out there staying with them and if I hadn’t fallen in love with my husband there is a strong possibility I would have gone and lived there.  Those summers brought me into the heart of another family and I loved and cherished them all as they were so different from us from a family of girls to a family of boys.   It was so big and punchier but I loved it.  And there the life long friendship with Stella began which has never left me.  At first we kept in touch with letters and phone calls and holidays over there with Andy my husband.  Now email allows us to keep in more regular contact though physically its been a few years since I saw Stella and many years since I saw the rest of the family.

I have known of Fergus’s illness since August last year a comment from one of the boys making me realise all was not well.  And then Stella told me the news.   It was the illness we all dread Cancer and the outlook wasn’t good.  But Fergus just as he had when he was a boy was fighting hard and was as positive as he could be .  He had a lot to fight for his beloved daughter and wife, a family and his teaching career which had made such a difference to the lives he touched.  He talked of coming to Scotland with his wee family and seeing the Scottish islands.

And as time went on the news got better his scans showed improvement but Cancer is a cruel evil disease and it creeps up when you are not expecting it to devastate and destroy.  Their grief is not my grief their grief is so much more than mine and much deeper and profound and I want to reach out and help but I know I can’t.   Nothing can.  Life will never be the same again.

Nothing makes sense other than we have one life and we don’t know any of us how long that will be.  Fergus packed plenty into his and made a difference and in that there is a lesson for us all.

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Books 17-20 February Reads 2015

Book 17 In the Light of What we Know – Zia Haider Rahman

This started well and looked as if it was going to be an amazing read.  Zafar arrives at his friends house after disappearing for a few years in 2008.  He’s been in Afghanistan.  His friend is a banker in London.  2008 is the year of the crash.  Thought it would be a topial book of our time mixing politics and the economy and world events.  

It did start like that and I was expecting a really fascinating contemporarry fiction book but…….its 554 pages long and it just went on too long with for me  with the story increasingly repetitive.  And the author is a mathematician and there is lots of maths theory through the book which I am sure if you are clever enough to understand it would be fascinating but for someone who struggled to get their o’grade maths it was beyond me as was the book really.  Promised so much and started so well but then did not deliver.  I did finish it but only as I felt obliged just in case it improved but it didn’t.

Book 18 Stonemouth By Iain Banks

I had downloaded this book early doors in 2014 but hadn’t quite got round to reading it.  Know that its been turned into a TV drama which is out shortly.  Also knew that if I watched it on TV highly unlikley to read the book.  So read it feel awful as Iain Banks is a legend but I really didn’t enjoy it.  I did read to the end to find if he got his girl in the end.  I could apprecaite the writing was superb and he captured a small Scottish coastal town to a tee and I could picture it but it just didn’t do it for me.  Sorry Banks fans not for me.

Book 19 Ice Twins by SK Tremayne

Saw this twice in book reviews in two papers.  I am a book addict and though I know I need to stop buying and read what I have  before buying new books I can’t help myself and book reviews are a key place for me to get ideas for new books to buy.   When I saw this one and  read it was set in the Hebrides I knew despite it just being out I was going to buy it as they say it had my name on it.

It’s a disturbing book in many ways due to the nature of the topic which is about twins one of which has died and the impact that this has on the remaining twin and the parents.  They move to a remote island off Skye to take stock and re build their lives.  But the living twin claims to be her dead sister and acts like her dead sister and even the dog reacts to her in the way he used to with the other twin.  And you know from the start that one of the parents has a guilty secret and in some way is implicit in the dead childs accident but you don’t know which one or why.  And as the book goes on their lives unravel as the santity of their living child unravels too.

This was one of these books that I read very quickly desite wanting to take it slowly especially just to enjoy the setting of Skye but I had to know which twin was alive and who was hiding a secret….well worth a read.

Book 20 Second Life by SJ Watson

Before I go to sleep was a page turner from memory I lost a day to reading it at the start of 2013.  Days lots like these are perfect days for me.   I was delighted to find that the author was coming to my local book bookshop Mainstreet Trading.  I booked by return email and then realised it was parents night at the high school!  So regretfully ordered a signed copy instead.  Although I would have loved to meet the author who I still think of as female though I do know and have known for some time that he is male.  When I picked up my signed copy the next day I was just excited that I had a copy of what Ros the book shop owner had told me was another page turner.

I did question if it could be as much a page turner as his first book and at first was doubtful as though enjoyable from the start I didn’t see how it was going to get me turning these pages fast.  But boy it did and by the end I sat and read to the end determined that no matter what I was finishing the book that night.

It’s about a women whose estranged sister is murdered in Paris and the sister is compelled to find her killer partly due to the love she had for her sister but partly as she had brought up the sister’s child and wouldn’t let her sister re gain custody of the boy.  Like “The Girl on the Train” I did guess the identity of the killer fairly early on but did not guess the why which totally had my jaw dropping.  And a few red herring characters also helped confuse me.

Another page turner which I really enjoyed though like his first book read far too fast.

We are almost In March and so far 2015 is proving to be another great reading year.  In other respects 2015 has been a challenge and when the going gets tough you need a de stresser and for me its been reading.  Hoping for a change in fortunes in March but the good reading can continue…

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February Books 13-16 of 2015

So far February has been a bookie month. Having been very restrained in my book buying in December and January I have been the opposite in February. I always find the period round Christmas fairly safe as so many book are published in hardback. But this starts to change as the Christmas buying frenzy finishes. The month started with me by some miracle especially if you know me having money left at the end of the month just enough for a paperback so I bought it. The next day I arrived at the hairdressers book less how I manage to do this quite so often I don’t know but if I go straight from the office it seems to happen so a book I had had my eye on was purchased. This started the pattern for the month. Found myself at Ocean Point terminal after a meeting congratulated myself on my restraint avoiding all clothes shops and the many sales. Then saw Waterstones had a peep in and before I knew it was at the counter with two books for the price of one offer! Son had book vouchers for Christmas so very soon after this we were in our local bookshop and yes came out with not just books for him. I have also added considerably to my wish list over the month as I read book reviews I add to the list. Then today saw a review for a thriller set in the Hebrides I did add to my wish list but couldn’t resist and ordered it from the bookshop. So the bad news is that I have yet a new book pile plus an ever growing wish list and not enough time to read. My ideal job would be as a reader if there is such a thing. The good news is that I have greatly enjoyed my reading choices and as I can’t possibly read them all this month March is set to be good too. But I must try and catch up before new purchases.

Book 13 Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
This is the hairdressing purchase that in all honesty I had had an eye on since the start of the year. It is arguably one of the most unique books I have ever read. The main narrator is an old lady with dementia and you see life through her eyes which gives a insight into how terrible this disease is. Her daughter also is a key player and although she is not the narrator and the old lady can’t understand why her daughter is so frustrated with her. You as the reader can see why. All this would be an interesting book anyway but it is actually about two missing people cases. One in the older lady’s mind set in the present and the other her sister 70 years ago.
This is an innovative and novel book which I loved which gave me an insight into a disease that is all too common whilst also having you turn the pages to find out what had happened to Elizabeth and the sister. Highly recommended.

Book 14 How to Break a Dragon’s Heart by Cressida Cowell
A book that I have been reading for some months to my son part of a series of books. I must admit I had started to feel that the formula of these books was quite formulaic and they were not my preferred read. But my son loves them so we started this one and surprisingly I really enjoyed this one where Hiccup and Fishlegs seem to be totally out of their depth. And Alvin the terrible’s mother makes a frightening appearance. Some laugh out loud moments and I did cheer for the heroes as you do at the end.

Book 15 Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This is the most rated book that I have seen of the year so far. After a radio book review I decided that I needed to know if the hype was justified. My verdict is that it wasn’t. Not that this isn’t a good read it is but just not quite as good as the critics made it out to be and if I compare it to Elizabeth is missing its not in the same league. I also realised who the killer was well before the end of the book so although I wanted to know that I was right the fact that I was disappointed me. There were also parts of the books and characters I could not quite see acting the way the author has them act particularly wife number two and by the end could not believe anyone would act the way she did.

That said it is a good read I am sure we have all sat on a train and wondered about the lives of the people whose houses and flats we pass by. It was also a scary look at an alcoholic . You started the book feeling her wish for a glass of wine on the train home on a Friday was perfectly justifiable and then quite quickly dreaded her next drink. The writer describes the first drink each day creating a desirable picture that the reader wants one too and then you see what happens after the third and fourth.

It is worth reading but for me like Gone Girl which I also found over hyped not quite the masterpiece that the marketing folks are communicating.

Book 16 Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
Love his books and had been waiting for this one to come out in paperback. It did not fail to disappoint in many ways this is a simple story that shouldn’t be as magical a read as it is. Which shows the quality of Toibin’s writing and the strength of the characters in the book. It is essentially about the grief of a women in rural Southern Ireland just before the troubles whose husband dies leaving her to bring up her 4 children on her own. It is about the intensity of her grief inter mingled with her mothering instinct that she needs to go on with a family on both sides who support and also annoy her. It was quite simply a joy to read and I loved it.

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January Book Review Part Two Books 7-12

7. Monsieur Linn and His Child Phillipe Claudel
In life it’s the very unexpected acts of kindness that really touch you, warm your heart and make you smile. Book number seven and eight reflect this. These books were given to me by a Twitter friend in St Boswells who on Christmas Eve popped three of her favourite books through my door with a lovely note.
This is the first one I read. It’s a Quercus book translated from French and like book eight fairly short. But so beautifully written and a poignant story about an old man who is a refugee who comes with the only member of his family who is still alive his baby grandchild. She is the centre of his life and all that he has left of his family and old life. He struggles with his new life then makes a friend but he’s moved from his initial hostel to an old folks home. Can he find his friend? And how will his grandchild survive in a old folks home?
A book that makes you think how you would feel in the same situation and realise how fortunate you are to have certainty in your life of where you live, who you love and who you are.

8. The Library Of Unrequited Love Sophie Divry
Also translated from French to English this is a hilarious book and really made me laugh from start to finish. It’s a short, funny and observant about how a frustrated librarian sees life. She vents her views on a poor member of the public who is locked in the library overnight.
Many of her vents I agreed with, many I had sympathy with and her love for the elusive Marcus made me smile though in a sad way.

I loved both of these books maybe as they were a kind gift and also I probably wouldn’t have bought or read them otherwise but I am glad I did. They made perfect January night time bed reading with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle.

9 and 10. Awful Aunty and Billionaire Boy David Walliams
I haven’t listened to an audio book since I was young and my dad went through a phase of listening to them in the car which is why I can claim to have read Victor Hugo’s “A Tale of Two Cities”. My son though loves them and goes to sleep most nights listening to one.
I have read all of the David Walliams books to him to date bar Billionaire Boy and was looking forward to reading Awful Aunty with him too. But there comes a stage when a child is ready to enjoy that moment by himself and a parent has to step back and let them. So I was intending to read Awful Aunty myself. But then the audio book was bought and I thought I would borrow it and read it that way.
Well it was a revelation. Journey to work was too short I wanted to stay in the car yes even on the way back. David Walliam reads his own books which I think is special as he reads them as he wants them to be read. I love all of his books to date Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny are my favourites but Awful Aunty may be up there too. I think David Walliam is deservedly one of the current best authors. You live his books. You laugh but cry also and it makes you think about how you treat people and your own values. Awful Aunty well she’s worse than a tyrant and I’m glad she wasn’t softened from start to finish. Another superb book as was Billionaire Boy which went to prove that money doesn’t buy you happiness however much we all think it might especially when you are broke and fed up in January.

11. The Invention of Wings Sue Monk Kidd
Read her previous book the life of bees and watched the film. This is about a slave girl and her young mistress who doesn’t want to own her but comes from a Southern family immersed with superiority and a house of slaves.
I loved this book seeing the perspectives of the slave girl and her owner both who fought their circumstances in the way they thought right though not always to the others agreement. This book takes you through both their lives and this period of American history. It’s a story of strong women, of a fight against wrong. That women are not beneath men and neither is another colour or religion.
I assumed this book was fiction and it wasn’t to the end that I realised it was based on a true story. I salute these brave women and the author for telling the story.

12. Entry Island Peter May
I read this on my Kindle when it was first released in December 2013 and I loved it as I do all Peter May novels. But although I read a lot on my Kindle for me it’s not the same as reading a book and I wanted to read it again in paperback form.
I was lucky to be chosen as one of 100 Peter May super fans so was able to chose a book to give away to five friends. I chose this one as I knew that it was just out in paperback and I hadn’t yet given it as a present as I had with the Lewis Trilogy. One of the books was for my husband who refuses to read books on a Kindle or in hardback but is also a fan. But knowing I would read it before he’d picked it up I decided to treat myself.
Some books are better second time round and for me Peter Mays books always are. Why? Because they hook you so much first time round that you start to really appreciate the quality of the writing and characters and settings more on second reading.
This book is a crime book about a murder on an isolated island in Quebec Canada but it also takes you back to Harris and the clearances. Although I did know the ending it didn’t stop me from turning the pages and I had a few early nights and long baths so I could read. By chance my dad was reading the book too on his holiday and on arrival home phoned me to say it was Peter Mays best book yet. I smiled and agreed and thought but just you wait till you read his latest book “Runaway.”

January is at an end which for me is a relief. That said its a great month for reading and for choosing bed in preference to the TV. A good start to the 2015 reading year lets see how February is…….

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January Book Review Part One 1-6.

January has seen one of the best reading months for awhile with a grand total of 12 books read or listened to as two were audio books.
1. The Italian Girl by Lucinda Riley
A light hearted start to the year. But it did make me ask the question can you love someone too much and put them before everyone including your child? And what kind of man is it that lets you do this in fact expects it? Not her best book but wiled away a day or two over festive break.

2.Coming Home for Christmas by Patricia Scanlan
My mum bought this book to cheer herself up during a stay in a miserable hotel and handed it to me. As she said it’s not the greatest book you will ever read but it’s enjoyable none the less. I couldn’t sleep night before normal routine started post holiday and read it in one go then slept all night mulling it over in my dreams. So appreciate it just for that.

3. TheUndertaking Audrey Magee
My bookshop/club book for January along with a Meal in Winter. Both set in Nazi Germany. Both books look at the war through the eyes of Germans. I have never read any books from this perspective before so found it thought provoking. I understand from a historic point of view why the Nazis came to power but fail to see how the German nation didn’t see through The madness of national socialism. This book is about a soldier at the Russian front who marries a German back home to get leave home having only seen her photo. The couple meet only twice. Once during their honeymoon and at the end of the war. For a time they write to one another and then both of them face challenges of war that we can only read about but I suspect until you’ve lived it you don’t know how you would cope. This book holds no punches. You see antisemitism. You see the severity of food shortages even early in the war. You wonder how they can cope one at the Russian front the other in Berlin. This is not a book you will like but it does make you think and I appreciated that it could have ended well Holywood style but it didn’t as really how could it? And be true to that time in history?

4. Off Shore Ann Cleeves
I am not a short story reader I never have been and at this stage in my life suspect it won’t change. But I love Anne Cleeve’s Shetland books and I love islands especially the Hebrides and this book included both so I read them. A review I read said although enjoyable would have been better as novels rather than short stories. I have to say I agree but that in itself is a compliment as almost every story led me in wanting to know more about the story and its characters.

5. Daughter Of Catalonia Jane Mackenzie
Escapism to a degree set in the South of France in the 1950’s. About a English girl born to a Spanish father and an English mother in France. She can barely remember her father who died as part of the resistance after she and her mother and brother escaped to England. With her mother dead she now wants to know what happened to her father and who betrayed him so she returns to the small fishing village and learns the truth. Not the greatest historic novel and very wooly in parts and tried too hard to end it well but enjoyable.

6. A Hidden Affair Pamela Jenoff
I have read previous books by this author and handed them on to my dad. We both agreed they were good. I found this one in the book shelf bought a couple of years ago and never read. Set as a spy book in fairly recent times. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was shallow and read like a very third rate James Bond book. Such a disappointment after her very good novels set in the Second World War.

Books 7-12 of 2015 to follow in next blog article. Looking at my book review book the second half of January was the superior read as not a bad one among them.

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My Top Ten Books of 2014


In no particular order as they were all brilliant books my top ten books of 2014 with the reviews that I wrote for each of them taken from my 100 book reviews of 2014.  Happy New Year.

1. Annabel by Kathleen Winter

2. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

3. Maggie and Me by Damian Barr

4. Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

5. Greenfinch by Donna Tartt

6. Tully by Paullina Simons

7. We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Fowler

8. This is where I am by Karen Campbell

9. Wonder by R. J. Palacio

10. Runaway by Peter May














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Book 100 of 2014 (yeah I did it) – Peter May – Runaway.

As you have probably guessed I did read 100 books in 2014 and made my goal.  Actually I have read 101 finishing the final one of the year this morning.  When I set out in 2014 with this goal I really thought it would be easily achieved.   In fact if I am honest I expected to reach the goal in November at the latest.  I read over 90 books in 2013 and that was without thinking about it so 100 books didn’t seem like a challenge.  And for the first 7 months of the year it wasn’t especially after a mammoth reading session over three weeks in Harris.  But as anyone whose ever been overly confident knows life is not life if your challenge is easy.  So although I made my reading goal in August things started not going to plan in September picked up slightly in October with the October holiday and almost stalled to a halt in November.  December arrived I had 13 books to read and was way behind in book reviews and if I am honest felt like giving up it just didn’t seem achievable.  I had also discovered a new trilogy to read by Paula Simmons which I enjoyed immensely but they were  almost 900 pages each so progress to the goal was slow yet I didn’t want to cheat by reading shorter books.  Instead I started Dec and decided to catch up on reviews and see where Dec took me.  By the start of the holidays on the 19th I had 9 to go and knew that the goal was within reach if I did what I do best in Winter hibernated with some good books and then Runaway landed at my doorstep.

So as my daughter has just said Runaway isn’t actually the 100th book I read of the year it is in fact the 93rd but I am elevating it to 100th book as I said to her with artistic license.  Why?  Because Peter May is one of my favourite authors of the last couple of years.  His Lewis trilogy is probably the best Scottish books I have read and I return to them often and give them as presents.  In fact on Monday I got a text from my sister to say that she had started The Black House and it was very good.  Yesterday I got a text saying she was almost finished Lewis Man (my personal favourite) and about to start Chess Man another Peter May fan in the making.  Another friend who I gave Entry Island to lost a whole day over Christmas reading it and was delighted when Peter May responded to her positive comments on Facebook.  This is another reason I like Peter May he interacts with his fans on both Facebook and Twitter.  Which is why I found myself with a preview copy of his new book Runaway as I entered a competition on social media to become one of his super fans and was delighted to be selected as one of 100 Superfans.  The prize 5 Peter May books to give out of my choice to friends (Entry Island was my choice which as you can see above my friend has already read) plus a signed copy of Runaway and a copy of Hebrides.

As luck would have it I was just finishing a book when the parcel arrived ironically set in Lewis. (The Road Dance).  So on the 20th I started Runaway and early doors on the 21st I finished Runaway.  That is one issue I have with Peter May books they tend to runway with me. (sorry very bad joke).

I loved Runaway for a number of reasons.  One it was about a group of old men.  We can tend to think that old people don’t have a life and as bad haven’t lived a life  when in reality they have  much to teach us and that they make great friends especially when you are growing up.  As the grandson in the book discovers to my great joy.  Two part of it is set in Glasgow and sense of place is immediate.  Peter May is from Glasgow so I know that in this case he knows the city well but that said I also know he does lots of research for every book he writes so that he gets that sense of place right.  Runaway is set around a part of the city I know well as it is where my Papa lived so knew it well from my own childhood and it took me back.  It also features the Royal Victoria Infirmary infamous in our family.  My parents especially my mother viewed it with great respect as a Glasgow medical institution.  I on the other hand regard it as a place of death as the only person I know who survived a stay in there is my sister when she was pregnant with my niece.  Aunts and Uncles went in to that place we visited and they died.  Then it was the turn of my Grandfather’s.  First my Grandfather took a stroke and went in and my dislike of the Victoria turned to hatred with the appalling conditions the stroke victims had to be cared in.  He didn’t die there but was never the same again I realise not the fault of the hospital but for a 16-year-old girl the hospital was a place of despair.  Then my papa went in and if I am honest I can’t fault the hospital but he died and I was gutted and from then on I was petrified of any family members entering the place so it was a huge relief that said sister got out well and shortly gave birth to my beautiful niece.  Long point I know but the Victoria Infirmary is featured in the book and reading between the lines I felt that Peter May and I understood each other.  And I loved the great escape theme from the hospital.

After the great escape the book takes us through the Lakes to London as the three men and one reluctant grandson go back to the past and what happened that changed their lives in the sixties.  As ever Peter May creates vivid characters not all you would like to know on a personal basis but you will create firm pictures in your mind of what they look like and some you would love to have a coffee with and learn more.

The book is a crime book and for me a crime book works if I have to get to the end of it to find out if I am correct or as in this case to be clueless and have a need to know what actually happened.  Not going to spoil it for you just going to say that Runaway is published in January.  It is well worth a read would recommend that you set aside a holiday for it or diary in a weekend and snuggle up with the best thing on earth a good read.

I have reached my goal.  I am delighted with that I feel it is an achievement as I thought it was going to  be easy and it wasn’t.  I have read some great books over 2014 and hope to read more in 2015 though not setting a reading goal next year going to see where I get to.  A Happy New Year to you all in all the very best reading in 2015.

PS.  My husband finally realised this morning……………………………………….100 books means that I also bought in one form or another 100 books over the year!!! (still took him till the 31st Dec to do so).  Just as well a kind lady in the village popped three books for me through the door on Christmas Eve as not sure I will be allowed to buy any new books any time soon.


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