August Book Reading and to Kill a Mocking Bird Sequel Saddens Me

August reading slowed down from July now that we were back home and all into our school and work routines. Though that said I did manage a nine book month. So the list of books for August:
1. Exile – Denise Mina

2. Forgive – Jenni Dauchess

3. Prayer for the Dead – James Oswald

4. A Summerstroke Affair – Caroline Kington

5. Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

6. Island Fling – Maris McEwan

7. The Machair Crow – Joycee Brown

8. Heartland – John McKay

9. The Frozen Lake – Elizabeth Edmondson

In volume it was a good month perhaps reflecting the slightly warmer weather but in quality it was a lean month. Missing the Hebrides books six to eight are set there and although they did a job in imagining myself back in the Islands none of the books really stood out.  My favourite books would be Forgive which was a simple story but compellingly told and The Frozen Lake which is set in the Lake District just after the First World War a part of the world I love and I enjoyed the story which had a few twists through out.

The greatest disappointment was reading “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee. “To Kill A Mocking Bird” is not only my favourite book from childhood it is a book that I learnt many important life lessons from and the message that you have to see things from other people’s perspective not just your own is one I try to do. When I heard the book was being published I was so excited and did pre order it. But I waited a few weeks before reading it. The first part of the book was passable if you had read To Killl A Mocking Bird taking as it did you back to some well loved characters though there are some shocks there too. It then rapidly went down hill for me. My  well loved book made you know we are all created equally.  This  book is interesting as it reminds you of the deep racial history of the Deep South of America and from a historical view point is accurate  but the fact that it came from my favourite character of my favourite book upset me greatly. I was between a rock and a hard place I had to read this book and now that I have I wish I hadn’t though I know I was never going to be able to resist the temptation. My advice if you have read To Kill A Mocking Bird and loved it don’t read this hold on to the strong themes of this beloved first book. Sometimes it’s wrong to go back and I’m not convinced having read it that Harper Lee ever wanted it  to be published. It reads to me as an author’s notes building her characters. A huge disappointment and sadly for now has tarnished what for me was my favourite ever book.

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July’s Bumper Reading Month

I read 21 books in July a crazy number practically one for each day of the month. In an ideal world this is how I would spend my life reading lots of books and pottering around in the Hebrides. In July in the Hebrides it doesn’t really get dark so I’m often up early reading.  So here is the July list:

1. 5 Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

2. Lewis Man by Peter May

3. Chess men by Peter May

4. Women and Children First by Gill Paul

5. I can’t begin to tell you by Elizabeth Buchan

6. David’s Sister by Moira Forsyth

7. The Last of the Line by John Mackay

8. Roof Toppers by Katherine Rindell

9. Freeing Grace by Charity Norman

10. Holy Island by LJ Ross

11.The Hill of the Red Fox by Alan Campbell

12. The Way Back Home by Freya North

13. The photographers wife by Nick Alexander

14. Mr Mac and me by Esther Freud

15. Daughters of the Wind by Jo Blunt

16. The people in between by Gregory Lamb

17. The secret Daughter by Kelly Rimmer

18. The Other Child by Lucy Atkins

19. The New Woman by Charity Norman

20. In the Shadow of the Hill by Helen Forbes

21. The readers of broken wheel recommend by Katanna Bivald
In the whole a very good reading and varied list that took me from reading about the Hebrides to the Second World War and to Cyprus whilst also focusing on books about being a parent.  My favourites were the two young adult books that I read which were 5 Children on the Western Front and Roof Toppers. The former took me back to books I loved in my childhood such as E Nisbet and CS Lewis and the latter just loved the imagination of it adventure on the roof tops of Paris. I also loved I can’t begin to tell you by Elizabeth Buchan which was recommended to me. It’s set in Sweden in the Second World War and the resistance of one woman that changed her settled family life and proved that love in its purest form is stronger than evil. Freeing Grace by Charity Norman was also a favourite about a woman’s desire to have a family and when she can’t tries to adopt but finds that equally challenging. The characters in this book just are so real and each with their vulnerabilities end up by the end of the book feeling like old friends. Equally compelling in the same way was The Secret Daughter which is the opposite to the previous book about a daughter who finds on the day she tells her parents that she and her husband are expecting their first child that she’s adopted. What follows is one of the most beautiful books of the power of motherhood. Finally I had to have a crime book or two in my holiday list and I loved Holy Island by LJ Ross. Who would have thought so much murder and evil on Holy Island too. An exciting new author.

This took me to book 73 of the year as we entered August sadly home from the Hebrides but rested and raring just about to take up routines again.

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Well it’s now Book 84

I was reminded by a friend last night that I haven’t updated this blog for months. Excuses I have many and perhaps the greatest is that I have been reading books 48-84. It’s been a summer readathon. I pointed out to my friend it was going to be almost impossible to write up so many books reviews. So taking up the idea she gave me I am listing the books I’ve read with the intention of hopefully continuing book reviews in the future once I’ve caught up with my June to August lists. Rather than have a huge list I will do it by month. So listed below are my June books:

1. The Harry Qubert Affair by Joel Dicker

2. Keep your friends close by Paula Daly

3. The year I met you by Cecilia Ahern

4. The Treacle Well by Moira Forsyth

5. The Women who stole my life by Marian Keyes.
This was not a great month’s reading in quantity or quality. I opted for easy reads in the run up to holidays and also we were so busy in June.  I sadly hated book two and found it very far fetched having loved her first book. The other three were good easy reads. However easily the best book of the month and a contender for my top ten was book number one “The Harry Qubert Affair”.

Not many books read in June and only one favourite but July is a bumper month with 21 books and some key recommendations. To follow watch this space.

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Books 40 – 47 of 2015 otherwise known as May Reading

Enjoyed my May reading there seemed to be a plethora of paperbacks out this month which was great.  Always get so fed up in the Autumn as you see great books but they are all in hard back so good to see them now coming out in paper back.

1. The 7 Sisters by Lucinda Riley

This is one of my favourite authors and therefore one of the books I have been waiting to come out in paper back form.  The book is the first in a series of a group of sister who are all adopted by an eccentric millionaire from different parts of the world.  In this first book he has just died and in his will encourages each of the girls to find out who they really are and where they really are from.

This book follows the oldest sister who still lives at home yet has a past that still hurts her.  The book takes us to Brazil where she quickly discovers who her family were a prominent Rio coffee family now fallen on hard times but they don’t want to know her or admit she is part of the family.

I enjoyed this book Lucinda Riley is a great writer.  I have never been to Brazil but as a result of reading this book I would love to go.  Part of the story is also set in Paris a city I would love to return to.  There were parts of the story particularly at the end for me didn’t entirely stack up but that said I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the next in the series.

2. The Book of You – Claire Kendal

This was a find at Barter books the second hand book shop in Alwnick.  It was on my to read list so I was delighted to find it.  But it was a disappointment.  It was well written and the premise great of a women being stalked was compelling.   You can imagine how frightening that is and this book certainly  conveyed this.  Yet I found none of the characters like able nor could I believe that she finally decided to report him at the end of the book.  So it was interesting to a point but also spent a lot of the time disliking the characters and questioning why things happened in the sequence that they did.

3. I let you Go – Claire Macintosh

This was also on my to do list but this book was the opposite to the above.   It did not disappoint and  I know will be in my recommendations for books of the year for 2015.

I had been going to keep this read to my holiday but couldn’t resist when I saw the paperback version.  The cover states its about a women whose son is killed by a hit and run and in her grief escapes to a cottage on the Welsh coastline.

This book has more twists in it than I can remember it was enthralling from page one to the end  read it, read it. read it.  I am not saying any more as you need to read with an open mind and no spoilers but read it.  It’s fantastic.

4. What Ends – Andrew Ladd

A book set on a Scottish Island is usually something I am highly likely to buy and read as soon as I can.  As I am a girl who dreams of living on one and holidays there as often as I can.

This book is set on a fictional Scottish island though the author at the end says its based on Canna.  It is about de-population of an island and how this impacts on the families left till more and more people leave with only one family remaining.  This family is the focus of the book.  I liked this book it wasn’t ground breaking it was simply what it said on the cover a book about one family and three siblings and how they coped or didn’t cope living on a remote Scottish island.

5. All the light that we cannot see – Anthony Doer

My historical book of the month and like many of the historical fiction that I read about the second world war.  A book looking at the lives of a French blind girl and a orphaned German boy and how the war impacted on their lives.  It was very well written and I enjoyed it.

6. A song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

This was not an easy book to read as its about the death of a child.  Interspersed with this is the story of how religion can impact on your lives and how belief can be shaken to the core with the death of one of your children.  This book was not easy to read yet it was done in a very readable way and demonstrated grief in all its forms.  The ending was left open to your imagination and I have found myself going over that over and over again.

7. When we’re friends by Tina Seskis

Ex university friends meet each summer for a picnic an obligatory reunion that all bar the organiser  holds no appeal as they have fallen out over the years and bar this reunion most of them are living separate lives.  In this explosive reunion one of them is dead by the end of the night.  Why?  Is she killed?  Is it suicide?  And are they all to blame falling the fall outs over the course of the night or are any of them blameless?

This was a page turner and I read it very quickly over the course of a weekend.  But that said I didn’t really warm to any of the characters and felt that the premise was wrong.  If you no longer have anything in common and the reunions are painful its simple don’t go.

8. So Safe House by Lenwood Barclay

This was a book I wouldn’t normally buy but it came as part of an offer.  Set in the USA about a girl who lies to her parents telling them she is at the cinema when she’s really with a boy borrowing a porsche from a family away on holiday…….but someone else is in the house and then there is a shot…….

Parts of the story did not ring true to me but it was a book you kept going with as there were twists and turns through out and it kept you turning the pages.  But the ending was questionable as if the author had to end it positively but you felt really after all that?

May has been a great month of reading the books I questioned are as important as the books that I loved.  Part of the great reading tapestry of life.  But go buy and read “I let you Go”.  Did you gather it was my favourite?

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Ten April Reads



April started as a slow reading month and then I had a week’s holiday and before I knew it had read a total of ten books taking me to 39 books for the year so far.

1. Academy Street – Mary Costello

This book caught my attention as it had won quite a few awards and I read some great reviews.  For me it was undeserving.  Yes the writing was good but I found it the most depressing book I have read all year.  The main character in the book is so repressed and unable to share her feelings that she never really lives.  From the start to the finish I got so frustrated with her inability not just to show her emotions but also to stand up for herself.  A lesson certainly not to live life like this but not a book I enjoyed and in fact it probably accounted for my slow start to the month as I didn’t rush to read this one.

2. Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Didn’t really have much luck with reading at the start of this month as this book was in a similar vein.  It’s about a family from Hungary who live on top of one another in a small flat in London.   The two main characters being a mother and her teenage daughter.  The husband and father whose relatives they live with left shortly after his daughter is born.  It’s really a story about the relationships between the mother and daughter and growing up as a teenager.  But again I found that I wanted to kick both main characters and tell them to get a grip on life and not be walked over like they were.  So didn’t like this book either.

3. The Twilight Time by Karen Campbell

I have read her newer books so thought I would read her crime novels and this is the first one.  I didn’t enjoy this as much as the two books I have read previously but that said it was a good crime novel and the setting around the Charing Cross area of Glasgow is one that is well known to me so I could picture it all clearly.  Clever plot too which I didn’t see the ending for but yet again I hated the main character in this book too.

4. Return to 4 Winds by Elizabeth Gifford

Loved her previous book which was set on Harris so was keen to read another in a different location to see if it was the location I was biased to or I did indeed  like her writing.  This was a clever book which on paper looked as if it was about a family similar to the Harriet Evans book that I read in March.  But it was so much more flitting between the past and the present and I really enjoyed it and for the first time this month quite liked the characters in this book too and didn’t want to give them a kick up the backside and tell them to get on with things.  And it was a very clever ending.

5. Son-in-law by Charity Norman

I loved her book “After the Fall” which was set in New Zealand and leaves you reeling  and wondering how you would cope in the circumstance.  This book is set in York and again is about families and how nothing is always as straight forward as what people first believe.  The son-in-law in question is about to come out of prison for killing his wife the mother of three children who now live with her parents.  Seems simple enough he’s the baddie but is he?  Found myself in a rollercoaster with this family seeing things from all points of view and realising that it is just not as simple as you first think.  My favourite book of the month.

6. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This was my book club book didn’t actually make it to book club but the adage I’d bought it so I will read it rang true.  As a non-fiction book knew if I didn’t read it straight away it wouldn’t get read.  I have heard mixed reviews for this book some seem to love it some to hate it.  Personally I was indifferent.  Read the book fairly quickly.  Helen Macdonald writes about the grief of losing her father and how that prompted her to buy a Gos Hawk and train it which then send her on an adventure.  For me it was ok wouldn’t rave about it but not huge things to criticise either.  I simply didn’t love it or loath it instead was fairly in different.

7. Set me Free by Daniela Sacerdotsi

Read a few of her books which are set in a Brigadoon type of Glen but in the current century.  It  sounds so wonderful you want to live there yourself.  It’s chick lit no doubt about it but I have enjoyed all of her books.  At the time of reading this book had the need to take myself out of my current world and this fitted the picture and gave me what I wanted an escape from day to day thoughts.

8. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

This has just come out as a film and I wanted to read the actual book first before watching the film.  Written by Irene Nemirovsky during the early part of the 2WW in France where she lived in the German occupation.  She wrote it on a series of notebooks which were found by her daughter.  Sadly she was sent to Auschwitz and died there as she had a loose Jewish connection.  (just wrote that and yet again reflecting how mad that actual sentence is why should that matter?).  As a history addict in a past life I found the book fascinating as it was an actual written account of someone who was there.  She also creates very funny characters and obviously understands humans our strengths and our weaknesses.  I think the book would have benefited from editing and it’s really two different books in one but that was not to be as the author was gassed for the crazy fact she was Jewish.  I will now watch the film but glad that I have read the book first.

9.    Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPatlin

I have a bad habit when I have a hair appointment of going into WH Smith and getting sucked into one of their buy one book get another half price and if it’s a Richard and Judy list (yes corny I know but most of their books are really good) I tend to fall for that too.  This book was on my wish list so I bought it and read it in 24 hours.

It’s about a women who is facing death after fighting terminal cancer who wants to live particularly for the sake of her teenage daughter.  She’s not on her own as surrounding her is her larger than life mother, her father, sister and brother and other family members including of course the daughter.  It’s not an easy read and when I was reading it I had just lost a family member to cancer and was watching a similar family go through the utter desperate grief that this family did.  That said I admire the author for tackling it with the mixture of empathy, compassion and humour that she does.  For me who sometimes needs to let go of my emotions more this helped me cry some much needed emotions out whilst also realising that the fears that the dying women had I have too.  Not the easiest of reads but a book that I think I needed to read at a time I needed to read it.

10. One Small Act of Kindness by Lucy Dillon

Again this would be in the much maligned but let’s be honest what is wrong with it chick lit category?  And I loved it.  It’s about a couple who move to a rural town to take over the family business after the death of the man’s father.  They have a vision of turning the hotel into a boutique hotel transforming it from the dowdy place it is.  The widow fights back and then added to the mix is a women who is knocked down outside the hotel and loses her memory.

The author captures many issues facing us today including death, illness, debt and other  challenges.  It was an enjoyable read which made me chuckle on more than one occasion and also gave me food for thought that in life giving is better than receiving and learning from mistakes makes you the better person.

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March Books 20 -29

I have struggled this year with both blogging and writing.  Symptomatic of the fact perhaps that I have found this year to be a bit like trying to navigate a swimming pool filled with glue and I am still trying to get from the shallow end to the middle but keep getting drawn back.  Reading though has been my daily stress buster so I might not have been the world’s best blogger in 2015 but my record in book reading is greater than this time in 2014.

So a brief review of books that I read in March.

1. A War of Flowers by Jane Thynne

This book was lent to me by a friend from my Scottish Tourist Board days and is the third in the series.  It is about Clara a British/German (part Jewish) actress who is living in Berlin in the 1930’s.  As an actress and with a British father who is a Nazi sympathiser she is able to meet the elite of Nazi society and does so while being a spy for Britain.  Each book has been a great insight into the world of Nazi elite wives and this one shows life as seen through Hitler’s Girl friend Eva Braun.  Like the others I found it a fascinating fictional (but I suspect fairly accurate) look at life for them whilst also getting across how brutal life was for ordinary Germans at the time.

2. A Place for Us by Harriet Evans

Read this book while I was at Stobo Castle for a indulgent overnight stay.  Wanted a light hearted read and this fitted the bill.  It’s not a taxing read its a used formula about the secrets, love and hate of family life but it fitted the bill of being easy to read and enjoyable.

3. The Spring of Kasper Meir by Ben Ferguson

This book is set in post 2WW Berlin which I haven’t read much of.  It is a very black book holding no punches at how life was for Berliners in the period where the Russians and the West were fighting over the city and there was no food to be found.  The main character is gay and has suffered for that over the Nazi era and war and although often unlikeable his love for his dying father and his increased care for a girl he encounters who blackmails him makes the book compelling and makes you want to read on.

4. The Child in Time by Ian McEwan

Found this book a difficult read though not as difficult as the book below.  About a couple who lose their daughter when the father takes her to the supermarket and at the till the girl suddenly disappears.  The grief and story is mainly taken from the Father’s point of view and the narrative is good.  But as a mother I found the story line hard to read and was not sure in the same circumstance if I would have coped with the grief in the same way and I found the ending too much like tying up lose ends when the ending is the same as the beginning a child has been lost.

5. The girl in the read coat by Kate Hamer

This book was being hailed as one of the books to read for 2015.  So I read it and have to say hated the book.  Again it is about a missing child.  This time we see the story from both the missing child’s point of view and the mother’s.  That in itself is painful but the book is also about how religion can be used for evil which I am no fool I know it is but that does not make it easy to read.  Again the ending was tying up lose ends but again given what had taken place it was impossible to think that there was a happy ending only a holding of your own children close and praying that this does not happen to you.

6. A perfect heritage by Penny Vincenzi

One of my guilty secrets is Penny I have read all of her books.  The last two I didn’t enjoy as much but the majority of them I have loved and happily this one was in this category.  About a failing cosmetics company managed by the female founder whose word is law and her children and staff suffer for this as does the company as what suited the company in post 2WW does not work now.  The company is bought over by financiers who bring in a female chief executive also used to getting her own way.  I enjoyed the conflict between the two women and the men who get in the way.  It was one of those books that I enjoyed from the first page to the last.

7. Rise by Karen Campbell

Karen came along to the book shop at Main Street St Boswells which gave me the perfect excuse to read her new novel.  I just loved her book “This is where I am.”  Rise is different in location set in rural Argyllshire but themes remain the same such as the sense of needing to belong, the human urge to run when we face challenges and the fact that although we do so we cannot run away from problems and our greatest issues until we meet them head on.  “This is where I am” still remains my favourite as it was one of the best books I have read giving me an insight into the world of the refugee and making me think.  But this is also a good read and by the end you are turning the pages to find out if the main character makes it to the end of the book.

8. The Ship Brides by Jojo Moyes

Love this author this is not my favourite of her book but I did enjoy it .  It is about Australian war brides and their journey over to the UK after the 2WW like all her books she has a way of getting beneath the skin of all of her characters so that even in the less likeable ones you get to see the core of why they are the way they are and compels you to read on.

9. Archie’s War by Margi McAllister

A book that my son picked for me to read him.  About a wee boy at the start of the 1WW who with his family work for a landed family very like Downtown Abbey.  The boy in particular has a close relationship to the youngest son of the landed family Ted and his dog Archie.  Sir Ted goes off to war and the story is about the outcome of this for the boy left behind.  I enjoyed this book it set the tone right for reading to an 11 year old in that it didn’t sugar coat the 1WW and showed how awful it was without spelling it out but by telling the story in words  suitable for a child of that age.  By telling the story through a boy of the same age it gave an insight into how life was at that time.  Though said son was not impressed by his Mum’s tears at the end of the book.  But we both learnt something of the 1WW and it gave us the opportunity to discuss it.  As a history graduate I know you only get history if it inspires your imagination and my dad did that for me as I was growing up and I hope by reading books like this to both my children I too can show them that history is not boring but a lesson for us all that we continually fail to learn.

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 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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