I read six books in July.
From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides by Margaret Fay Shaw
Margaret Fay Shaw was an American-born musicologist, photographer and writer. She and her husband John Lorne Campbell were fascinated by the folklore, culture and language of the Scottish islands, especially South Uist, and set out to record it as much as possible. In 1938 the couple bought the island of Canna where they lived until they died – MFS in 2004 aged 101. What a wonderful woman.
TheSecret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown
‘April Wilson is wondering what to do next – her life has been turned upside down after the loss of her husband so she’s hoping to piece herself together again with a visit to her elderly great aunt, Edith. Arriving in the rural idyll of Tindledale, she’s dismayed to find Edith’s cottage and the orchards surrounding it in a sorry state of disrepair. Edith seems to have lost interest completely, instead she’s become desperate to find out what happened to her sister, Winnie, who disappeared during WWII.’
I heard this author speak at the recent Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference. Her first (unpublished) book was set in a bank because she worked in one – but now her books are set in picturesque English villages as you can tell from the cover.
Read on Kindle. ‘The first in a series of anthologies of crime stories written by attendees of Crime & Publishment, a yearly crime-writing workshops based in Gretna Green, Scotland, the home of British marriages.’ (All proceeds to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.) My favourite (and I’m not just saying it because I know her) is by my fellow Edinburgh Writers’ Club member Gillean Arjat; her story It is the cause is set at the time of the Scottish referendum in 2014.
Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg
Christian Aid Book Sale Purchase 2016. ‘Life is the strangest thing. One minute, Mrs Elner Shimfissle is up a tree, picking figs to make jam, and the next thing she knows, she is off on a strange adventure, running into people she never expected to see again … ’
I have enjoyed other books by Fanny Flagg (such as Finding the Rainbow, Welcome to the World Baby Girl, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, which was made into a film). I wasn’t so keen on this one which hopped into everyone’s head, even that of the most minor characters, and where the whole premise was too sugary even for my sweet tooth.
After You by Jojo Moyes
I read and cried over (as did millions of others) Me Before You and enjoyed the recent film too. Even my husband (‘I’m only going because your mother wants to see it.’) had to be passed a tissue. So naturally I was keen to find out what Lou did next. Perhaps inevitably I was a leeetle bit disappointed. Nothing could have the emotional impact of Me Before You of course– what happened in that book should/could only happen to a person once in their lifetime. And I didn’t take to Lily, the damaged teenager who seemed to be straight from central casting. But it was good to meet lovely Lou again and her family – and to know that there will be a third book about them.
The Fire Maker by Peter May
Peter May wrote five police procedurals set in Beijing in the 1990s which I believe were published before he became so well known (with his Lewis trilogy, and Enzo Macleod books among others) and are now being reissued. The Fire Maker is the first. I was intrigued to read it, as a Peter May fan and because I have been to Beijing (as I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen; I did a post on my visit to China here).
I think, if I may say so, that Peter May’s writing is much better now, but The Fire Maker is, er, a cracking good read with very evocative descriptions of the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the Chinese capital, and a fast-moving plot. My only complaint is that we are told rather too often that Margaret Campbell, the visiting American forensic pathologist, isn’t wearing a bra. Perhaps in the second book, due out next month, she'll have remembered to put one on.