May and endless days of Summer readingĀ 

I love the month of May. Unless we are unlucky it’s the first month you get properly into the garden and sunnier days. It’s when I know that I should be doing gardening but if it’s hot there is nothing I like better than sitting in a chair out in the sun reading. It sustains me, memories of May days, over the long winter nights. We were lucky this May it was a beautiful warm May. So I had a few days and nights in the garden reading. My garden is looking wilder than it should but I did create a great reading list.

May Reading

1. A Country Road, a tree by Jo Baker 3/5

2. Shtum by Jem Lester5/5

3. The Beekeepers Daughter by Santa Montiefore 3/5

4. The Good People by Hannah Kent 5/5

5. Miss you by Kate Eberlen 4/5

6. Days without end by Sebastian Barry 3/5

7. The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena 3/5

8. Solitaire by Jane Thynne 4/5

9. The Heart stopped by Julie Myerson 3/5

May and June are months that I commuted myself to reading each of the short listed Sir Walter Scott prize books. My scoring is in this blog here  So I won’t mention here.  Suffice to say that I loved the Good People by Hannah Kent. It’s currently in hard back but should be coming out in paper back very soon and I highly commend it to you. It looks a boring topic which is why I was so surprised that I loved it. A huge compliment to Hannah’s writing and the world she draws you into. Other highlights were Shtum  which like A boy made of Blocks is also about a boy with Aspergers. It also was a beautiful story though if I had to choose A boy made of Blocks was just that little bit special as it taught me like to kill a mocking bird that just because you don’t do something, feel something doesn’t mean it’s wrong for others to feel that way.  To understand you have to understand where the other person is coming from. I also loved Miss You an all out romantic story in the style of David Nicholl’s One Day but I think I preferred it. I could relate to the characters more. Finally a real treat was to read the next in the series of the Clara Vine books by Jane Thynne. I have read each one of these books which started in 1930’s Berlin. We are now in 1940 and Germany is at war and it is a fascinating insight fictionally into the top Nazis and their families.

So for the challenge. Well I read a book by an award winning author. Sebastian Barry’s Days Without  End won the Sir Walter Scott prize. I also read  a fair few books by female authors so a tick there too. Now off to the garden to……yes read. Think it might be my very own secret garden by the end of the summer if we get good weather. Nobody will be able to see in and I can just sit there and read and read.

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2017 Sir Walter Scott Short List

When the 2017 Sir Walter Scott list was announced in the spring I noted that I already had read one of the books and had just bought another on the list. This made me decide to read all seven as the reviews were very favourable for this years short list. The Sir Walter Scott prize is for historical fiction and is announced each year at the Borders Book Festival. Previous winners being Hilary Mantel and Sebastian Barry who is also on this years list.

I love historical fiction. It combines my history degree with my love of literature. That said I tend to stick to historical fiction novels that relate to the history that I studied and am interested in which in the main is early 20th Century Europe and Russia. So the list although containing three books in this period would also take me out of my comfort zone. Always a good thing when you set yourself a challenge.

So taking the list from the top. Sebastian Barry’s Days without End has been highly favourably reviewed. We saw him when the book was first published at Mainstreet Trading our local bookshop. And he was superb one of the most entertaining authors I’ve seen and his reading of his novel by far the best I’ve ever heard. I had been so looking forward to this book that I stalled reading it one of my peculiar habits that I have of keeping things for best. The list gave me the excuse to read. But I really struggled with it. It was undoubtedly very well written and researched. And I do think it was me. I did American History as part of my degree and it struggled to ignite my imagination and I’m still struggling. Much to my surprise and Ros and Vivian at Mainstreet Trading who both loved the book. My only excuse is I was spoiled by Sebastian Barry reading it and if I could have listened to it as an audible book my thoughts on the book may have been quite different.

“A Country Road, a Tree” by Jo Baker was my type of historical genre set in the Second World War. But I found it lacking some of the turn page elements of previous books and I have read plenty on wartime France. It wasn’t till the end that I realised the book was based on the Irish author Samuel Beckett. And it struck me that the book had read as a biography not a fiction novel as it was indeed based on the life of a famous author.

“Mothering Sunday” by Graham Swift I would not have read as it was essentially a short story and I struggle with short stories. The historical setting was good just after the First World War. It was the length of the book that would usually have put me off reading it. It took me some time to get into the book but actually by the end I have to admit I enjoyed it. And didn’t see some of the elements of the story coming.

“The Vanishing Futurist” by Charlotte Hobson would be a book I would read normally. It is set in pre revolutionary and post revolutionary Russia. I enjoyed it from the start. This too read as a biography in some respects but I could forgive it as it was a compelling story of a English governess who stayed in Russia post the revolution becoming part of a communist commune there. I hadn’t realised that many British would have been there at this period and either unable to get home or didn’t want too. This intrigued me throughout this book which I greatly enjoyed,

“The Good People” by Hannah Kent would be a book I would usuually give a wide berth too. It’s set in 18th Cntury rural Ireland and is a story of three women. My initial reaction would be this is not for me and potentially life is too short to read books like this. But I truly loved this book from page one. Essentially it’s about a widow whose daughter has also died and left her with her disabled son. She employs a servant to help on the small holding she has and this girl loves her son in the way she is unable to as the widow believes that her true grandson has been stolen by the fairies. A new catholic priest has arrived in the village and is scornful of old traditions including the belief in fairies and home made cures such as those given by the final women in the tale who lives in a hut and has nursed and doctored the village with natural cures. The three women’s fates and that of the boy come intertwined and what follows is a truly fascinating story that had me gripped.

“Golden Hill” by Francis Spufford is not again my favourite historical fiction setting, as it’s set again in America this time when New York was in its infancy with only 7,000 residents. Again I had heard great things about this book from others who said it wouldn’t be a natural choice for them either but they had loved it. I am afraid I didn’t. I found it really hard to get into and it was a book I felt that life is too short how quickly can I get through this book to get on to one I want to read. If I hadn’t been doinng this challenge I would have given up.

“The Gustav Sonata” by Rose Tremain was the book that I had already read on the list set before the Second World War and up to almost the present day in Switzerland. Of the friendship of two boys one of them Jewish and their life long friendship which is set against a memorable time in history. The brilliance of this book is the two boys and their characters both good and bad and that of those around them especially their families. I really enjoyed this book.

The challenge has taught me three things:

1. Not to read a book by its cover. You should give it a go.

2. Reviews are the thoughts of one person and what I like you may not and vice versa and at the end of the day that’s why there are so many writers and books as we are all different.

3. It’s good to challenge yourself. Its easy as readers to just keep reading what you like but it’s when you are challenged you realise that there are sometimes treats of a read out there that you will never find if you just keep reading the same genre.

My list in priority for this years 2017 Sir Walter Scott prize is as follows:

Winner “The Good People” by Hannah Kent. I simply loved this book thought it was brilliant on so many levels and after reading it the other books in the short list never came close. After that it was:

2. The Vanishing Futurist by Charlotte Hobson.

3. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Treamain

4. Days without end by Sebastian Barry

5. A Country road, a tree by Jo Baker

6. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

7. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

I am quite sure that the good  judges may think differently and I await this years result with great interest. But thank the judges for this years short list which I think by far is the best one that they have ever had and hope this blog might encourage you to read one or two on the list.

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April reading crime and romance

April was a busy reading month due to the Easter holidays allowing me lots of reading time. As Andy was decorating, one kid was never in and the other was studying. I should really have been spring cleaning that was the plan but instead I did lots of reading. Taking me to 37 books read for the year significantly under the 45 I had read by this time last year but the year is still young.

The April list:

1. Rather be the Devil- Ian Rankin 4/5

2. The Fire Child – SK Tremayne 3/5

3. Black Water – Louise Doughty 3/5

4. None but the dead – Lin Anderson 3/5

5. Daughters in law- Joanna Trollope 4/5

6.  Daughters of Castle Devrill- Santa Montefiore 4/5

7. The missing wife – Sheila Flanagan 3/5

8. Songs of love and war- Santa Montifore 3/5

9. Larchfield – Polly Clark 4/5

10. Before the Fall-  Noah Hawley 4/5

11. Ardish was home – Angus MacDonald 2/5

12. Everyone brave is forgiven- Chris Cleave 3/5

13. Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton 4/5
It was a month of crime starting with an old favourite John Rebus. An addiction of mine the Rebus books. I loved all the earlier books and indeed read one while in labour with my daughter aptly called Let it Bleed. Some of the later books I have been less impressed with but still can’t resist reading this grumpy ex police mans next story. This one though was really good. Back on form to some of the earlier novels. I also enjoyed the thriller set in the states by Noah Hawley Before the Fall about a plane crash where only two survive including a small boy.  Many suspects for the crash till you finally find out why the plane crashed. And my final crime favourite was Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton. I hadn’t read her books before but would again. This one was set on the Falkland Islands giving me my island fix but in  a part of the world I know little about so fascinated by the setting and it was also a really good thriller.

I always like a bit of romance on a holiday and found this with Santa Montifore’s novels set in Ireland. So good for escapism. I’ve preordered the final one in the trilogy. Also really enjoyed Joanne Trollopes novel daughters in law. I was less keen on her latest novel but this one was really good and very relatable too. She knows all about family politics.

The stand out book of the month was Polly Clark’s Larchfied. I read about this book in a book review and noted it as a future purchase. I then heard Janice Forsyth interview the author and it moved up from a note to buy to an actual purchase. It’s set in Helensburgh in the past when Auden the poet was a teacher at a school there. And in the present with a young mother. It’s compelling as it’s so clever and at the end you realise it was obvious all along what was going on but she writes so cleverly it only dawns on you at the end of the book. Well that’s how it was for me anyway. I love this book and I’m delighted to have tickets to the Borders Book Festival to meet her in person.

So Larchfield covers a book with one word in the title. And Ian Rankin covers somewhere I will be visiting this year as it’s of course set in Edinburgh. Enjoying this challenge but realise I’m ticking off the easy challenges first so the challenge will be when the list gets a lot smaller. 

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Creme de la creme of a March reading month

January and February were slow reading months and I was way behind the number of books that I had read over those two months in 2016.

March though took off. I find if I read less it’s a sign that I’m stressed with another sign being that I had also not kept up with my diary. So I was determined to get my mojo back as both things are key to my mental health. Alongside regular walks and good food. 

So over the course of March I read ten books though it wasn’t just the volume of books that I read but the quality of the books that made March a stand out month. At least two would be 2017 picks of the year. So my list of March books with scores on the doors:

1. The Muse by  Jessie Burton 5/5

2. Perfect Remains by Helen Fields 4/5

3. The Girl Before by Jo Delaney 3/5

4. City of Friends by Joanna Trollope 3/5

5. A boy made of blocks by Keith Stuart 5/5

6. The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain 4/5

7. The Widow by Fiona Burton 3/5

8. Well of Winds by Denzil Meyrick 4/5

9. I found you by Lisa Jewell 3/5

10. The other Mrs Walker 4/5
I don’t often give books full marks but then again I don’t often enjoy books as much as I enjoyed the Muse and a Boy made of Blocks. I had read Jessie Burton’s book the Minaturist after attending an author talk at Mainstreet Trading and really enjoyed it and with the hype over the first book she herself admitted she wasn’t sure how to compete with her first book. She needn’t have worried her first book was very good but her second even better. Set in Spain just as the civil war began and London in the 1960’s. I loved it. Though if I had to choose I loved a Boy Made of Blocks more it simply blew me away. It was one of those books that made you laugh and cry and think. It was so good I even used it as a main piece of a presentation that I gave at a conference and will use the analargy again. It’s about a boy who is autistic but it’s not really about him. It’s about his Dad and his dads perceived failure that he cant communicate with his son. It’s about how his son’s interest in the game mindcraft that allows Father and son to learn about each other but more than that heal. It’s a beautiful book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 

The other books to mention are the ones for my reading challenge a book by a male author Denzil Meyrick and a book by a female author Mary Paulson Ellis. I love Denzil’s crime books set in Campbeltown have read them all and also have my Dad hooked too. This one was also set in the neighbouring island of Gigha which I’ve visited during a holiday in Campbeltown so could imagine the setting perfectly. And with a focus on Nazism it was a win win for me. Only draw back was I read it in one greedy gulp. The other Mrs Walker is a hyped book currently and for me deserves the hype. It’s set in Edinburgh and London and  is a crime novel but not a crime novel. It’s more of a missing persons story and a family saga. It’s very good. A less enjoyable read was The Girl Before also a hyped up book which for me didn’t deserve the hype. But that’s only my opinion and generally seeems to be enjoyed but wasn’t really for me and I guessed the ending far in advance of the end. So was a great disappointment. But often hyped up books are.
March for me so far was the creme de la creme of a reading month. I got my reading mojo back read two outstanding books definatley candidates for books of the year and felt a lot more like me by the end of the month. Setting me up nicely for April and Easter holidays. 

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February 2017 Books and finally I read Wuthering Heights

February was a slow book month in terms of quantity but very good in terms of quality.  Five books:
1. High Force by LJ Ross 4/5

2. Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay4/5

3. Private investigations by Quentin Jardine 4/5

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 5/5

5. The Stranger in my home by Adele Parks 4/5
Two ticks on my 26 book challenge for 2017. Wuthering Heights was written over 100 years ago and High Force, Private Investigations and The Stranger in my home were published in the last year. So 3 challenges completed.  But the huge goal of this month was finally reading Wuthering Heights. It was a book I felt I should have read at school and didn’t. A classic that had passed me by. But I was put off as I had it down as a love story between Cathy and this handsome and deep character called Heathcliff as that is how it is portrayed. One of the classsic love stories. So I started it last year as part of my 2016 challenge but gave up as a love story the first part wasn’t riveting me and life seemed too short to read a book written so long ago. But then three things happened. One I visited the Bronte home in December during a break and was totally fascinated by the bleakness of their lives and what they achieved in their very short lives. More than many who live much longer. The BBC then playd a role by showing a drama of the Bronte sisters over Christmas. I was pulled in further to this fascinating family. And finally a fellow reader friend challenged me with the treat of a dinner if I managed the challenge. So I started again and again I found the first part hard going. But helped with the background now behind the book and then I became totally hooked. But this is not a love story this is one of the bleakest stories I have read about child cruelty and how what happens to you in childhood impacts later life and then further generations. Heathcliffe yes handsome but one of the blackest characters but was he at fault or was his upbringing? Wuthering Heights was not what I thought and I am glad to admit that it was so much more and so much blacker. It shocked me reading it in the 21st century. So how much more shocking must have been when it was written and then the fact it was written  by a woman.  Very much in my case don’t judge a book by its cover or how it’s described. Find out yourself. 

Other books well two were two favourites crime genre authors.  It was good to see that LJ Ross was back to form as I found her previous book not as good as before. Quentin Jardine well that’s one of my guilty reads you know exactly what you are going to get but oh how I love his books. Bone by Bone was a disturbing read of school bullying which as a parent could totally relate too, with a twist that actually fits in well with my points on Wuthering Heights. Finally Stranger in my Home one of the best from Adele Parks an easy read though I am glad that both my children are definatley ours too many similarities in looks and personality not that either of them would admit that.

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Another Year of Endless Books

Another year dawns and with it great uncertainties in the political and economic world both at home and abroad most notably in the USA where the Simpsons cartoon is now happening for real. It is frightening in so many ways and as a historian in a past life the parallels with the 1930’s are stark. For now I feel helpless but also acutely aware that those that are disturbed should not sit back if we can make a difference in this world of hatred and intolerance.

The 1st January also dawned with me catching norovirus which wasn’t the best start to the year but did allow me to watch the marvellous Crown on Netflix as I felt sorry for myself on the sofa. But reading over Christmas and New Year was curtailed and as I was feeling sorry for myself the first few books of the year were easy but good reads especially the Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley. The stand out book of the month was Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things. Those that know me know I love to Kill a Mocking Bird and I think this book is a modern equivalent and given the current times very thought provoking. She came to our village hall in November and was one of the most intelligent writers I have ever seen and very challenging. My only criticism of a book that held me spell bound was that the ending was too tidy and wrapped up for a book that truly shocked me. Other good books were Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas and Lie with Me by Sabrine Durrant the former had a brilliant ending the latter poor in comparison with the rest of the book.

And my reading challenge? Well I’ve decided not to take this in order but mix and match I’m too good at just doing things in order so time for a mix up. So as a 99% fiction reader is going to start the challenge with a non fiction book that I asked for Christmas. “Love of Country” by Madeline Bunting it’s a Radio 4 book. But that’s not the reason I wanted to read it. It’s about the Hebrides part travel book, part history and part political for the here and now and I loved it. Read it a week and savoured each and every chapter. And I will read it again. Learnt lots about islands I thought I knew relatively well as well as food for thought re politics in the U.K. 

 So the January reading list with scores on the doors.

1. The Snow Rose by Lulu Taylor -3/5

2. The Gift by Louise Jensen – 3/5

3. The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley – 4/5

4. Small Great Things by Jodie Picoult – 5/5

5. Love of Country by Madeline Bunting – 4/5

6. Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas -4/5

7. Lie with me by Sabrine Durrant – 4/5

8. Gone Again by Doug Johnstone -3/5

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My Top Ten Books of 2016

In no particular order other than they roughly follow the timescale of when I read them my top ten books of 2016.

1. Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini

I read this book in January. It had been sat on my kindle for well over a year and I hadn’t read it. Not sure why not but I am so glad I finally read it. It’s about the war in Sarajevo and a story of a couple who meet there. This brought home to me just how horrific the War was and I felt ashamed I hadn’t really taken that on board before. I did then read quite a few books over the course of 2016 about the war but for me this first book was the best. And lesson to self to not ignore what’s going on on your doorstep.

2. The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin McNeil

This was my April book challenge which was a book recommended to me by my local bookshop. I loved this book it’s set on a Scottish island which for me was Lewis and Harris as the author is from Stornoway and it was too accurate not to be. It is about an annual story telling festival but slightly surreal as one of the main characters is an Alpaca. It is firstly very funny but then it gets quite dark and leaves you reeling at the cruelty of what we can do to others. It’s a very different book but one I really enjoyed.

3. Cry the Beloved Country Alan Paton

This was my May challenge to read a book I should have read in school. It was recommended to me by my husband and I actually read his original school book. Set in South Africa before the end of apartheid. It is a very realistic account of racism but also shows the power of love and indeed the power of love to overcome as well. I am not sure why I never read it at school but very glad I now have.

4. This must be the Place by Maggie Farrell

I am a huge Maggie Farrell fan and have been lucky to see her at our local bookshop several times. I started this book the afternoon before she spoke there early evening then finished it in the garden on a very rare occasion this summer that it was warm enough to sit out. Maggie Farrell is one of my favourite authors and this book does not disappoint. It’s another epic read and one that I would happily re read and I don’t say that about many books.

5. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Amy was one of the authors at the Borders Book Festival in June. Her book is autobiographical of her breakdown due to alcoholism and how this makes her return to Orkney where she was brought up. Here in graphic detail she puts herself back together. I loved her honesty and how she laid herself bare. I also enjoyed her descriptions of Orkney and I’m sure she’s encouraged people to visit the islands which I’d love to do though draw the line at swimming in the sea all year round as she does.

6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanahihara

I struggled with this book initially till I was told by a fellow reader that once you got through the first 100 pages you would be away and fully engaged in the story. She was right. This is one of the most difficult books I’ve read but also one of the most thought provoking. It’s about an abused boy and how this abuse affects his whole life yet how he is very much loved by his friends and his mentor. It’s a long read but one you are sad when it’s over and one that really makes you think.

7. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Just love this book. So clever giving you throughout the book different scenarios about a couple who meet at Uni. You try and guess which scenario you like the best but they are good and bad in each of them.  In reality a fairly basic story but the fact it takes you on these scenarios is so clever and it’s a belter of an ending too.

8. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

This was my September challenge to read a book I’d given up on before. I’m not sure why I gave up on this book as it was so good and the ending just blew me away. One of the best endings of a novel I’ve ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of a kind and this book is another must read. And if like me you start and give up keep going.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This was my October challenge to read a book that I owned and had never read. Set in post war Britain a tale of the friendship of two men one white and one originally from India who met during the war. Theirs is a lifetime  friendship and as they marry for both families too. It was very funny but also very accurate about this period of history.  And again made you think about your views and opinions.

10. The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

I have read a few of her books and she takes every day issues that face us all and creates stories out of them. This one is about a girl facing anorexia and the impact that has on her and her family and how this can tear a family apart and the effects it has on the whole family. In parts a very difficult read as it’s your worst nightmare to lose a child as they won’t eat but also a realistic look at the mental health issues facing so many young people today.
That’s my 2016 list. I’m delighted to say that four out of the ten were from my 2016 book challenge which I’ve now completed. It was at times challenging but it really gave my reading year a focus and made me think each month and research which book would be my challenge book of the month. After looking for some tim  I’ve found my 2017 challenge listed below. I’m looking forward to getting started.

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