So, Where Were We?

Great Britain, Skye, Portree
Great Britain, Skye, Portree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry to have been away so long. It’s a month since my last post and it’s been a busy time. However, I’m determined to get back in my blogging stride once more.

I thought that I’d combine the usual themes of the first two Tuesdays in the month, namely – a roundup of island life and a bit of rant and a rave.

The biggest news is that last month our daughter, her husband, their daughter and the cat relocated to the island and are living with us until they get a place of their own here. We’ve all settled into a routine and are managing to live comfortably together. It’s such a wonderful blessing to have at least some of our family so close.

London Olympics 2012
London Olympics 2012 (Photo credit: Andrea Vascellari)

School stopped for the summer holidays at the end of June and the last couple of weeks of term at our primary school were incredibly busy. We had the closing ceremony for our very own Olympics, we had the final mile of our marathon in a month for children, parents and teachers, and we had our Olympics musical and our annual prize-giving. Pupils, parents and staff were certainly giving it their all right up until the last day. I love my teaching job but oh I do love the holidays as well!

English: Castle of Edinburgh
English: Castle of Edinburgh (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there was no immediate rest. On the day school stopped me and the husband packed up and drove the three hundred miles to Edinburgh for a week of socialising and shopping.

My city break got off to a fab start on the Saturday morning. I went to a talk at Edinburgh Central Library by author, Sara Sheridan. I’ve reviewed some of Sara’s books here on the blog – two of her historical ones – ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ and her latest novel, ‘Brighton Belle’ – her first venture in crime writing. Sara is an author that I greatly admire and I was delighted that her talk coincided with my visit to the capital. I was also delighted that Sara invited me to meet her for a coffee before her talk. She’s a lovely lady and her talk on her writing career and on her plans for an eleven book series for Mirabelle Bevan aka Brighton Belle was fascinating and informative.

The week continued with an extended family gathering of my husband’s clan – a rare occurrence where almost everyone was in the same place at the same time and a great chance for a catch up. We continued to be sociable for the rest of the week and had several lunches and dinners with various old friends. I also spent some time at the big, city shops.

This was my first retail therapy session in nine months – so I made the most of it. One of my purchases was a brand new crash helmet. It’s a flip-up, white number and will serve me well on my up and coming ‘granny rides pillion’ escapades – of which more later.

Prometheus Trailer2 - Pilot Seated
Prometheus Trailer2 – Pilot Seated (Photo credit: Filmstalker)

We also made it to the cinema. We saw Prometheus – the Alien prequel – jaw-dropping special effects made up for a slight lack of characterisation and a thin plot. And we were tickled pink to see the opening scenes that were shot on Skye. Our island was even mentioned in the story – apparently Skye was visited by an alien race 35000 years ago and this is evidenced by cave paintings on the island. What a hoot!

It was a good week in most respects and definitely deserving of a rave review – but I’m afraid there’s a bit of a rant too. Edinburgh is my home town. It holds a special place in my heart. I love it. But – oh dear – it’s in a very bad way. The city centre has been completely wrecked by a botched and ridiculous attempt to install a tram system. The project is years behind the original timetable and millions of pounds over budget. The route has been drastically reduced from that which was first intended and will be of little practical use if and when it ever gets up and running. Edinburgh already has an excellent bus service – one of the best in the UK – so there’s really no need for trams. The heart has been ripped out of what was a most beautiful city. Roads are closed and traffic endlessly diverted, businesses are ruined as customers and clients can’t get access, tourists are baffled and locals bewildered. Crossing the city is like being in a circle of hell. I was left feeling very sad by Edinburgh’s plight.

English: The Cuillin Hills from the Ord to Tok...
English: The Cuillin Hills from the Ord to Tokavaig road In fine weather, some of the best views on the whole of Skye of the Cuillin can be seen around here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was very glad to get back to our stunningly beautiful island. Unlike the rest of the UK, the Hebridean islands have had only a couple of days rain in almost eleven weeks. Locals and tourists are enjoying a very pleasant summer. The hedgerows are brimming with tall, ox-eye daisies and purple flowering clover. Sheep are being gathered in to be shorn. Porpoises, dolphins and whales have all been spotted in inshore waters. The tourist season is in full swing – there are cruise ship passengers, bikers, campers, caravanners, climbers, cyclists, B&B guests, self-caterers and walkers – the island attracts all sorts. It’s great to see it showing itself off to best advantage – with no mist and rain. And as I write this at ten o’clock in the evening it’s still light outside – marvellous.

At the moment – when not being distracted by my gorgeous wee granddaughter – I’m catching up with all the aspects of my non-school life, including both writing and non-writing projects. The husband and I hope to do a couple of motorcycling trips – including a jaunt to the Western Isles. We also have a few local walking trips in mind.

Rainbow Cave arch in the Galilee, Israel.
Rainbow Cave arch in the Galilee, Israel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

And in ten days time I’m off to Israel for a week. This will be my third trip to the country. I’m going to visit an old school friend who is an Israeli. We’ve kept in touch and see each other about once a decade. It’s my turn to go there. It’s an amazing, beguiling, complex and at times baffling and infuriating place – and is well worth a visit. My friend lives in Haifa on the Mediterranean coast so it will be hot. But we plan to escape to the relative coolness of the Galilee for a couple of days. I can’t wait to see her and to catch up properly – face-to-face.

So watch this space at the end of the month for a report on my trip.

In the mean time there will be a book review post on the late Tom Lubbock’s incredible book ‘Until Further Notice I am Alive’ and a guest post by Karen Cole on ghost-writing.

And I reckon that’s enough to be going on with.

So, for now, tioraidh!

A Brace of Braw Books

It’s the third Tuesday of the month so it’s book review time. This month I have two books from the same publisher – more in a minute.

Before the book crits however, I thought now might be a good time to state exactly what the Write Enough book review policy is.

Mostly I review books that I’ve bought because I wanted to read them for pleasure, enlightenment, or entertainment. But I also review books that I’ve been specifically asked to review by the author or publisher.

I’m keen to review other ‘indie’ authors (like myself) as well as traditionally published ones. I have eclectic tastes – ranging across the genres and including non-fiction, but literary fiction does tend to get my pretentiousness radar going into overdrive. Whatever the category, I always aim to be honest, constructive and never nasty. I will say if I disliked a book, but always with the proviso that in the end reviews come down to personal taste.

Sometimes I will also submit a review to Words with Jam, the bi-monthly writers’ magazine that I contribute to.

And so to this month’s brace of books. Both sent to me by the publishers – Polygon. The first one is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan – a writer I’ve reviewed here before. And the second is Time & Tide by Shirley McKay.

Brighton Belle

By Sara Sheridan

I have previously reviewed ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ by bestselling author, Sara Sheridan. I very much enjoyed both novels so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Sheridan’s latest. ‘Brighton Belle’ is designated as The First Mirabelle Bevan Mystery and is published this month by Polygon in hardback and e-book. It will be available in paperback in July.

There’s always a slight worry when coming to read the latest book by an author you love. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? There was no need to worry in this case. ‘Brighton Belle’ is another very engaging read from this talented author.

Sara Sheridan can be relied on to be original in character, setting and plot. Her books push at the genre boundaries. ‘Brighton Belle’ is part (recent) historical, part crime and part thriller. I was hooked from the start.

Set in post-war Brighton, the story’s heroine, Mirabelle Bevan, works as a secretary in a debt collection agency. She wants a quiet life after her role in the Secret Service during the war and following the death of her lover. However, she’s soon overtaken by scary and mysterious events. She and her sidekick, the marvellous Vesta, have to turn detective to solve various possibly linked crimes of fraud, murder and kidnap. They are involved in an illegal exhumation, breaking and entering, and helping a killer flee the country – all in ultimately good cause. There’s darkness, suspense and surprises throughout. It’s gripping.

I love the originality – Mirabelle, a 1950s independent white woman and Vesta, a 1950s independent black woman – ‘doing it for themselves’ long before it was fashionable – and feminism wasn’t even a gleam in her mother’s eye.  The descriptions of Brighton and of the post-war era are charming and hugely atmospheric and the pace is brisk.

And, at the end, the scene is well and truly set for further adventures for Mirabelle and Vesta.  I also hope there’s more to come of DS MacGregor. There was a definite frisson between him and Mirabelle. I can’t wait for this trios next outing.

Time & Tide

by

Shirley McKay

                       

As I don’t read much historical fiction, this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen for myself. But the nice people at Polygon sent me an unsolicited copy so the choice was made for me. I hadn’t heard of Shirley Mackay, the book’s author, before – but I saw from the book’s cover that ‘Time & Tide’ is – the third Hew Cullan mystery – so she’s obviously an established author. And speaking of the cover – it’s a Bruegelesque beauty. I judged by the cover and decided to give the tale a go.

As it turned out, the cover sets up the novel perfectly in its time and place.

It’s set in sixteenth century St Andrews. This further endeared it to me – as I got my MA at the university there – and I still love the place thirty-five years later –returning to visit whenever I can. So I was well set up for this ‘Morse of the sixteenth century’ crime-solving story

The hero is Hew Cullan, a lawyer, in the town who, somewhat reluctantly, teaches at the university. Following a shipwreck, the town’s bakers and millers are keen to get their hands on the windmill that was lashed to the deck of the stricken ship and survived the boat’s demise. The sole human survivor from the wreck dies before he can confirm who owns this technological innovation.

All sorts of intrigue, trickery and, even, murder ensue as vested interests seek to establish their right to the windmill. Hew is dispatched to Ghent, the survivors home town to try to sort out matters once and for all. This sort of mission is much more appealing to him than the life of an academic.

The resolution of the mystery is certainly surprising and that, along with the hint of a love interest for Hew at the close, all made for a thoroughly satisfying read.

Mackay’s period detail and her descriptions of the town of St Andrews are spot on. The plot is clever and the writing sharp. But it’s the characters that really stand out. All are vivid and credible. And for me it was the female characters that made the most impression. Hew’s sister, Meg, a healer, psychologist and therapist, despite not being eligible to study at her brother’s  college due to being female, is a wonderful creation. She causes her brother to wonder at ‘the secret art of women’ on more than one occasion with what she knows or works out. As well as Meg, Maude the landlady of the inn, Beatrix the widow of the shipwrecked sailor and the nuns at the closed community of women in Ghent are all impressive and rounded characters.

So if you like a historical novel, a crime thriller and a mystery and you’re looking for something original and rather different within those genres then I can highly recommend ‘Time & Tide’.

The book is available in paperback and e-book format.

 

Rants, Raves, Reads and Writers

“Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, a touch that never hurts.” Charles Dickens

I like the above quote and although I’m nowhere near saintly enough to stick to it, it’s worth aspiring to. And I do try to remember that everyone faces a bit of a struggle –  to a greater or lesser extent  – and nobody has a perfect life, no matter what kind of face they present to the world. So I try to not to waste energy feeling resentment, envy, disappointment or annoyance with my fellow travellers through daily life.

But it’s the faceless ones – commercial organisations and bureaucracies – that I find it very hard not to get worked up about and, when faced with inefficiency and indifference on their part, I’m afraid the ranting red mist descends.

Yes there’s a rant coming on. Normally Rant & Rave Tuesday is the second Tuesday of the month but I’m afraid I didn’t post last week as I was busy being a domestic goddess and taking up curtains and hanging pictures.

So this week’s blog is a combination of R&R and my normal third Tuesday content of book review and blog of the month.

The Rant – We moved house recently so we’ve been buying bits and bobs for the new place.

First problem was companies who can’t/ won’t deliver to the Scottish islands. One UK company told me that they don’t do international deliveries! That rendered me speechless – especially as our island is joined to the mainland by a toll free road bridge.

Then, two furniture items in succession arrived without the correct components for assembly. One – a home cinema system arrived with no screws. Neither manufacturer nor supplier was willing to send the missing items. My husband had to trawl the internet and managed to source a set of the necessary fixings from the USA. The other item – a stand for the TV – came with bolts that were too short to attach the TV to the stand. Again it was down to us as the customers to sort this out and find the right bolts from elsewhere.

Next – was the saga of trying to get our electricity supplier to set me up to pay online – what a palaver – days of emailing Gary in customer in customer services. He feels like one of the family now and I’m sure the poor guy has developed a twitch and the need for tranquilising medication.

It’s a sair fecht at times.

But on The Rave side – Plusnet – our broadband provider have proved efficient, communicative and reliable – and our satellite TV installer, Mario was also brilliant. And the local plumber also turned up trumps when our boiler sprung a leak. Hurrah for them.

And breathe…

Book Review – just a mini one this time – I’ve just finished ‘Sister’ by Rosamund Lupton (published by Piatkus and available on Amazon as paperback and ebook).

A friend lent it to me suspecting it was my sort of read. And she was right. This is a great suspenseful thriller. Beatrice goes in search of her missing sister. As she searches she finds out that there was a lot she didn’t know about her sister and Beatrice ends up in terrible danger. It’s scary, moving and will have you reading way past lights out time. My only reservation – not entirely satisfied by the ending – but I still felt it was worth it for the journey.

 

Next month I will review Sara Sheridan’s soon to be published new novel ‘Brighton Belle’ (to bepublished by Polygon in hardback in April and paperback in July) – sneak preview – it’s a good one.

Blog of the Month – Anne Mackle’s  ‘Is Anyone There?’ over at http://cassam-isanyonethere.blogspot.com I ‘met’ Anne on twitter (@cassam101). She’s a wife, mother, grandmother and Scot like me – yes we have a lot in common. I love her observations of life and her relaxed writing style. See her very moving post for Mothers’ Day – or go and read about her lottery win…

And finally – congratulations to another twitter writing buddy Mr Fletcher Moss (@FletcherMoss ). His children’s novel ‘Sleepwell and Fly’ (aka ‘The Poison Boys’) has just been announced as the winner of the 2012 Times/Chicken House Children’s Writing Competition. It will be published next year. He blogs beautifully at http://sleepwellandfly.blogspot.com  Nice one Mr M.

Tioraidh until next week.

 

Two-faced January

English: Bust of the god Janus, Vatican museum, .
Image via Wikipedia

As I said at the start of the year, my post on the last Tuesday of each month would be a look back at my month in terms of my reading, writing and other significant/trivial/funny/sad news. So let’s see…

At the beginning of the month, and indeed the year, I resolved to get on with my novel. It’s my second book and it’s two-thirds written. I planned my time and input, set my word count targets and was raring to go. Then as you’ll see below, to paraphrase John Lennon, while I was making my plans – life happened – and my newly gained momentum was stopped in its tracks. I did however manage to continue to take part in the ‘A River of Stones’ 2012 project and have posted a small piece of mindful and observational writing each day this month. All have been posted here on the blog. I also wrote my regular piece for the writers’ magazine ‘Words with Jam’.

My reading this month has included fiction and non-fiction. And, before I tell you about it, I want to share a cool quote from Annie Proulx with you that sums up how important I believe reading to be for all of us who call ourselves writers. ‘Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write. I read omnivorously – technical manuals, history, all sorts of things. it’s a relief to get away from your own stuff.’ I think that says it all.

I began with Sara Maitland‘s ‘Book of Silence‘. Maitland is a long time favourite fiction author of mine. But this was non-fiction – part account of her retreat into silence and part reflection on her own writing and creative processes. It was interesting and, in places, thought-provoking but it was a little slow and rather repetitive here and there. I guess a bit of a tighter edit would have resolved these problems in an otherwise fascinating book.

My fiction reading is a freebie – a pre-publication proof copy from the publisher of ‘Brighton Belle’ – the latest novel from Sara Sheridan. I’m almost finished it and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable crime thriller set in the 1950s. I’ll be doing a full review of it  soon.

And in other news – so, there was I, all organised – ready to go back to work after the festive break – writing plans in place for the evenings and weekends, house move imminent… Then wham! The house move went bosoms skyward, the car had a catastrophic breakdown, and my dear father-in-law passed away very suddenly. Yes, a bit of a stressful time – the muse fled.

However, things are resolved – the house move is back on track, the car is fixed – £700 later – all down to dirty fuel apparently. And although it was tough to say goodbye to ‘Grandpa’, his passing did bring the whole family together and gave us some unexpected time with our lovely, wee, seven-week old granddaughter. A true January scenario –  with our family looking to the past and to the future.

I hope that February will be a bit quieter – although there is the small matter of moving house mid-month – and that my muse will feel safe to come out of her cupboard…