Monday, 30 December 2019

Jinty's Farm

My latest People's Friend serial, Jinty's Farm, is set on – surprise! – a farm. The first instalment is in the bumper issue dated 21 December.

The setting for my last serial, A Time to Reap, was also a farm, although the scenarios are quite different.

Whereas A Time to Reap was historical (1963 – yes, a story taking place before 1970 is now deemed 'historical') and the farm was part of a large estate in the Scottish Highlands, 'Jinty's' is a small farm in Fife which, in 2019, the Watson family have run for a hundred years.

All farms have to diversify in some way these days and so Isla and Kerry, wives of the Watson brothers, have begun an artisan gin company in the old byre; Jinty's Gin (named after the brothers' granny) is flavoured with local rosehips and rowan berries. I did have fun researching how to make it!

Then there's Isla and Bill's elder daughter Rosalyn and her boyfriend problems; an entry in the farm diary from the WW2 years which has a link to the present day; and Isla, the main character, who's run ragged between managing the house and the family and school farm visits and the gin company and the holiday cottages and her part-time teaching job ...

I was brought up on a farm but that doesn't mean I know anything much about farming as I blogged here when A Time to Reap came out. However, as I can't seem to stop writing about it, it would seem you can take the girl out of the farm but not the farm out of the girl.

A large glass of Jinty's Gin (or your chosen tipple) to all my readers. Cheers!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Seven in November

I read seven books in November.

I love reading (and using ... ) cookery/baking books; don't usually mention them here – making an exception because this lovely book (bought with the last of a birthday book token) has 100 recipes that the Australian-born author and blogger has written and road-tested, inspired by food references in her favourite books. They all sound delicious and very doable, not in the least gimmicky. If you are looking for a Christmas present for a book-loving cook look no further.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood
I liked this first novel a lot – it’s ‘uplit’, the same category as, eg, Needlemouse and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (also first novels as it happens; look forward to all their second ones). Susan is in her mid forties, a workaholic living on her own with no outside interests (apart from seeing a friend-with-benefits once a week) and a toxic relationship with her brother. She has a complete lack of self-awareness which is funny and sad at the same time. An unplanned pregnancy and the revealing of family secrets after the death of her mother turn her carefully managed life upside down.

One Winter Morning by Isabelle Broom
I’m a bit puzzled by how this book is presented, in its title, wintry cover and promotion banner beginning ‘Warm your heart this Christmas … ’ None of these, to my mind, give a true indication of what the book is like.
The incident that happened ‘one winter morning’ in England was offstage and a year before the story begins. It was the catalyst for Evangeline (‘Genie’) going to New Zealand where most of the book is set. Genie is there during the month of December, one of the hottest times of the year on the other side of the world, and Christmas barely gets a mention.
I wasn’t keen on Genie (perhaps it was the way she came over in the first person, present tense voice). Her little sister Tui was delightfully drawn though and there was a great sense of place – I enjoyed, vicariously, revisiting Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand.

Bright Lights and Lies by Gill-Marie Stewart
When I was a child and got new books only at birthdays and Christmases and from additions to the folding bookcase that was the school library (we weren’t anywhere near a public library), I read them immediately.
Nowadays I’m spoilt for choice – I can buy books for myself in print or digital from bricks-and-mortar and online bookshops, or I can borrow from Edinburgh’s Central Library, fifteen minutes’ walk away. I can acquire them from second-hand or charity bookshops or buy and get them signed at events; even get out-of-copyright titles free from Project Gutenberg.
So there is always a tottering to-be-read pile; I wouldn’t go back to my previous state but I know I’ll never recapture the total joy I used to feel at embarking on a book I’d never read before.
Bright Lights and Lies was bought at a book launch four years ago and only now fished out of the pile. And well worth the wait it was too – a YA set mostly in Glasgow, a sweet romance between Finn and George (Georgina) with some very gritty subjects along the way, such as drug addiction and police corruption.

Lily’s Just Fine by Gill-Marie Stewart
And having enjoyed that Gill-Marie Stewart it was great to be able to whiz over to the TBR pile for the first in her new series Galloway Girls. That one was bought at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference a mere four months ago. Again, a sweet romance plus difficult subjects for the protagonists to tackle, set in beautiful Galloway in south-west Scotland. Lily is a terrific character because she’s so well rounded; she just walks off the page, as do all the other teenagers and adults.

You think it; I’ll say it by Curtis Sittenfield
Short stories. I loved CS’s first four novels especially The American Wife and Sisterland; I was disappointed however in her fifth, Eligible, a bleak modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. So I was interested to read this, her first short story collection. In several of the stories she references and skewers current American politics, one of her favourite themes as evidenced in The American Wife (an imagined life of Laura Bush – yes, really, and far funnier than you’d expect).
She’s good too on the perennial theme of meeting your high school nemesis; that’s in A Regular Couple. The secret game (that gives the book its title) played by Julie and Graham, married to other people and who meet through their children, is embarrassingly misconstrued by Julie; in Plausible Deniability it’s Libby who thinks her relationship with her brother-in-law is other than it is.
‘You won’t want these stories to end,’ said Reese Witherspoon no less.

Girl, Balancing by Helen Dunmore
Read for book group, these are short stories which were published after the writer’s untimely death in 2017. The subjects and themes are wide-ranging and include: a teenager, abandoned by her parents, gives the book its title; a young man caught in a storm while on a boat to Sweden meets a mysterious girl; the last days of John Keats; two women from very different backgrounds have an unusual night out; a young mother is left with her unpleasant mother-in-law while her husband goes exploring; and much more. She's such a wonderful writer.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Wish upon a star

Six days before Christmas a family crisis brings Stella back from London to the Scottish Borders – and to Ross, the man she left fifteen months earlier.

This time three years ago I was on tour with Stella’s Christmas Wish – well, virtually on tour, doing the rounds with some lovely book bloggers. Here’s what some of them had to say:

I fell in love with the characters and actually wished they were real … I loved reading about them and the way their lives intertwined … I really, really, want there to be a sequel …

Later on as we discover the truth I thought the reasons for Maddie's absence were heartfelt and brought a lovely tone and atmosphere to the story.

Stella quickly became a very sympathetic character for me.

The beauty of Scotland comes alive in this story, and the characters are so engaging and really make you care about them.

 ... I enjoyed reading this book and if you are looking for a Christmas read I recommend this one.
Portobello Book Blog
a delightful, warm-hearted Christmas read which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Stella's Christmas Wish is published as an e-book by Black&White and is available from Amazon for a mere 99p, less than the cost of a chocolate snowman. It's also available in large-print in libraries.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Eight in October

I read eight books in October.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Lucy Barton’s estrangement from her family and her dysfunctional relationship with her mother was the subject of My Name is Lucy Barton. In this follow-up Lucy, an acclaimed writer living in New York, goes back for a brief visit to where she was brought up in small-town Illinois. But, as this is an Elizabeth Strout novel, Lucy herself hardly comes on stage. Instead, we see her in passing from the viewpoints of her siblings, her niece and her former friends and neighbours and in doing so we piece her history – and theirs – together. Loved it. Loved it.

Read on Kindle. The paths of event planner Jane and archaeologist Theo cross when she organises a conference in his university building. Both have got ‘baggage’ – Jane from her time as a young woman with a predatory employer and Theo with an abusive ex-girlfriend. It’s pretty much dislike at first sight for both of them but soon they find themselves trying to uncover an archaeological mystery – partly inspired by the author’s family connection with the famous Mildenhall Treasure. Recommended.

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
‘Rose Janko has been missing for seven years. Her family has made no attempt to find her.’ Until now. Well, if that’s not an intriguing premise I don’t know what is. What adds so much to this brilliant story is that Rose is from a gypsy family as is Ray Lovell, the private investigator hired by Rose’s father. I’d love to see him get another outing.
Stef Penny’s first novel was the Costa-winning The Tenderness of Wolves. At a writing event I was at in the summer, the first sentence of that book was deemed by the panel of publishers and agents to be one of the very best they’d ever read. The bad news, it transpires, is that publishers and agents, when reading manuscripts, sometimes barely read any further than that first sentence.

Christmas at Miss Moonshine's Emporium by Helena Fairfax, Mary Jayne Baker et al
Read on Kindle. Miss M got her first outing in Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings, a collection of stories by nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, all set in the town of Haven Bridge and involving the ageless and magically empowered emporium owner. This new collection of contemporary and historical stories is even better I think.

The Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman
A few weeks ago I was in the Peak District of Derbyshire and came across a shop selling new books at low prices – publishers’ overstocks/remainders. What a treasure trove. I picked up this YA book because I liked the title. It’s a sweet romance between a newly motherless American girl, Sass, coming to live with her uncle in Cornwall, and a local boy … The identity of that ‘local boy’ was  a surprise and took the story in a different direction. Can’t make up my mind if I liked that aspect of it or not. If you want to know what I’m blathering on about see the footnote*. Or if you’d rather read the book and find out for yourself then don’t.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) needs no accolades from me to enhance her popularity but here are some anyway: Lethal White is brilliant – the best in the Cormoran Strike series so far! I didn’t speak to anyone at the weekend because I was so engrossed in it! Thank you very much! Now, please get on and write the next one.

The Christmas Holiday by Sophie Claire
Read on Kindle. Partly set in the cosy village of Willowbrook, this is the story of Evie and Jake. Evie has family difficulties and a controlling ex-boyfriend and Jake is still very much in love with his late wife. When circumstances dictate that they spend Christmas together in sunny Provence, the understanding is that no strings are attached … but with a woman gathering more confidence in herself and a man with the ice in his heart beginning to thaw, well, that wasn’t going to last, was it?

A Modern Family by Helga Flatland
Read for book group, on Kindle. The first English translation of a book by ‘Norway’s Anne Tyler’. I would not agree with that description for various reasons. Anne T is terrific, for example, on sense of place. There’s little of that here, despite the fact that family homes and summer cabins are important to the characters; plus it would have been interesting to have more of a sense of their wider surroundings. But I did enjoy this story of grown-up sibling relationships and rivalries, told in turn from the sisters’ and brother’s viewpoints, following the shock announcement that their 70-something parents are getting divorced.

*In an alternative version of the British Royal Family Sass’s boyfriend is Alex who is third in line to the throne, after his grandmother and his father. Cue the paparazzi, intrusive journalists etc.

Thursday, 17 October 2019


 It’s a wee while since I was a teenager … but I plumbed the depths of my memory to write Back to the Sixties, a short story which is published in The People’s Friend this week (issue dated 19 October).
They have given it a lovely illustration complete with LPs and a portable record player, a Jackie annual and of course some pin-ups. (The story is set in the 1990s and the character is looking back to being fourteen.)

What sparked the story was meeting up with old schoolfriends (well, not old old obviously … ) and reminiscing about the discussions in the girls’ cloakrooms on Friday mornings after an episode of Top of the Pops the previous evening, and on Monday mornings after the new Top 20 was announced on Sunday. Goodness, teenagers nowadays don’t know what they’re missing … these things were crucially important.

Some of my classmates were fanatical about particular stars and regarded them as their own property – no one else was allowed to even like them.

No internet to trawl back then – information on our heroes (and the glossy pix to pin up on our walls) came from magazines such as Jackie and Fab 208. I remember one girl in tears when she found out that Glen Campbell was married – he was supposed to wait for her; and another loudly jubilant when Dean Ford and Marmalade got to number one with Obladi Oblada. Andy Fairweather Low from Amen Corner and Steve Ellis from Love Affair were other jealously guarded favourites.

And yes, as in my story, there was one brave lass who held out for Andy Stewart …

My own pop pin-up was Peter Noone from Herman’s Hermits (There’s a Kind of Hush, Something is Happening, My Sentimental Friend – I remember most of the words; do join in) and many years later did actually see him in concert in Edinburgh when he was on a Solid Silver golden oldies tour. He hadn’t changed that much: Peter Pan rather than Peter Noone, a fact commented on with envy by a couple of his fellow performers.

I’d changed of course – and thank goodness, because who would like to stay fourteen for ever? Apart from pimples and general awkwardness, there was the way you were treated by adults – you were old enough to be sensible apparently but far too young to do anything you really wanted to do.

There were non-pop pin ups too – James Drury who played the lead in The Virginian (the American western TV series; my sister and I preferred his sidekick Trampas after whom we named a collie); William Shatner from Star Trek; and footballers George Best and ‘Scotland’s George Best’ Peter Marinello. Weirdly (I think now) we were all interested in football and I recorded the Saturday results in my diary. A story subject for another time perhaps.

Who was your pin-up? (You are not allowed to have Peter Noone, remember … )

Monday, 30 September 2019

Seven in September

I read seven books this month. Some memoir, some crime, some Anne Tyler …

Drawn from Memory by Ernest H. Shepard
Delightfully written, and of course delightfully illustrated, by the artist best known for his Winnie-the-Pooh drawings. This is an account of his childhood (b. 1879) in St John’s Wood, London – happy, albeit blighted by his mother’s untimely death and the family’s financial precariousness. His talent for art was encouraged from an early age and he had a large quantity of splendid Victorian aunts.

Drawn from Life by Ernest H. Shepard
The young artist is now grown up and has fallen in love with a fellow art student but he has not yet made a name for himself. Wish there had been a third volume. I learned though on the Internet that he lived to be ninety-seven and that he eventually came to resent ‘that silly old bear’, feeling it overshadowed his other work.

These are books we’ve had in the house for years. They were bought in a second-hand bookshop, a present to Mr B in the early days of our acquaintance (I know – how nice of me!); although they are such lovely old editions it’s a shame I spoilt them with an inscription and an affectionate message …
Both titles have been recently been made available again by the wonderful Slightly Foxed .

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie
As youngsters, my sister and I read and reread our ‘Agathas’. We had every single title and when the parental home was downsized we divided the collection between us – we tossed a coin and the ‘winner’ got the first/third/fifth etc book on the long shelf.  We’re not inclined to fall out so I wasn't mad – honestly – when our mutual favourite, a one-off called The Man in the Brown Suit, fell to her.

When I was staying with her this month I picked up The Postern of Fate to read one evening. It’s a Tommy and Tuppence story (the last one, after The Secret Adversary, N or M, By the Pricking of my Thumbs and Partners in Crime, all reread fairly recently, all enjoyable). I must have read Postern of Fate before but this time round I could hardly bear to finish it. The plot (insofar as it is understandable) and its rather feeble resolution are only part of the problem. It’s the exposition in the interminable conversations – T and T have been married for many years so why do they need to tell each other things they know already? eg ‘Betty, our adopted daughter, went to Africa,’ said Tommy. ‘Remember when we had our own business, the detective agency,’ said Tuppence.’
To be fair, the Queen of Crime was eighty-three when she wrote it but I think her publishers could have done her a favour and kept it in the bottom drawer.

The Midnight Line by Lee Child
Charity shop buy. Spotting a ring in a junk shop window sends Jack Reacher off on a chase to find the owner – because he know it’s a ring hard won, awarded from the same military academy that he went to himself. It’s small so he surmises it belonged to a woman who must be in dire straits to need to sell it. And indeed when he finds her in the wilds of Wyoming she is in need of all kinds of help. His best, in my opinion.

Past Tense by Lee Child
Charity shop buy. The latest one, great title. Our hero helps a young Canadian couple who have got themselves into a life-threatening pickle. Oh, and he has a delve into his father’s history.

As always, after reading a Jack Reacher, I wonder if it is possible to live the itinerant life he does but not look (and smell) like you do. His only luggage is his toothbrush (no mention of toothpaste). Every so often he buys a new shirt and jeans, discarding the old ones, but there is no mention of, ahem, unmentionables. When he has a shower he uses a ‘whole bar of soap’, but that’s the other thing – he always has enough money for a meal, to pay for a motel room, ‘quarters’ to make phone calls, but we never hear of him going to a bank or an ATM. Can you even have a bank account without a permanent address? Can you pay for motel rooms in cash these days?

I don’t want such details to hold up the action but, you know, I worry about these things.

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves
The latest Vera – one of my favourite fictional detectives. (Since you ask, my number one favourite is Inspector Wexford in the Ruth Rendell novels.) As in other titles in the series, there is a crime which has its roots in the past, back to Vera’s father’s shady world of birds’-egg-collecting and raptor-stealing.

A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler
Charity shop buy. One of her earliest titles, published in 1969, and one I’ve never read before. 

Evie Decker is a rather lumpy schoolgirl who has a crush on Bertram 'Drumstrings' Casey, a local musician, so much so that she etches his name on her forehead with a nail scissors (please don’t try this at home). This has the unexpected effect of raising his profile and popularity for a while and a relationship between the two of them ensues. 

I thought Drum’s song-writing technique was pretty neat (as they say in the US) – among the lyrics are short, random phrases/sentences that he’s overheard; these he speaks rather than sings. Unfortunately for him, the punters at the Unicorn get fed up with his original style. His star falls and Evie, who’s had to do some fast growing up, moves on.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Eight in August

I read eight books in August.

When I went to the launch at Waterstones in Princes Street earlier in the year there was such a large crowd they ran out of copies. Before that, in March 2018, Catherine Simpson was a speaker and adjudicator at the Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference and when I heard her read from what was then an unpublished book I knew I wanted to read it. (And I was delighted when she placed my story third in the competition she was judging … ) Anyway, I finally got my hands on a copy and got it signed after her talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

It’s a rich, raw memoir of her family, generations of Lancashire farmers, and in particular her younger sister who took her own life aged forty-six. That situation is, of course, heartbreaking but this is not a depressing read (I don’t do misery memoirs); in fact it is laugh-out-loud in some places because Catherine Simpson is such a good writer, has an eye for the absurd and has a role call of relatives as fascinating as those in any novel. (One reviewer described her mother as ‘a northern matriarch who might have been created by Alan Bennett for a League of Gentlemen spin-off.’)

In her immediate and extended family, though, there was little communication beyond the day-to-day stuff, as indicated in the sub-title; maybe things might have turned out otherwise had that not been the case.

The latest Anne Tyler. Love her, loved this. There is no other writer who can make me feel so completely as if I’d crawled into someone else’s skin. Sixty-something Willa, sinking into retirement in a golf resort in Tucson, Arizona (she doesn’t play but Peter, her second husband, does), gets a phone call from a stranger. As a consequence, she finds herself flying to Baltimore to look after a child she has never met and living in a neighbourhood much more colourful than her own.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
Charity shop find. I read and enjoyed a previous book by this author, Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which has now been made into a film. This one (which will be an HBO TV series starring Julia Roberts apparently) is also about a dysfunctional family of parents and their only child. Animator Eleanor Flood’s plans for the day go awry in so many ways (a situation we can all sympathise with although personally, and thankfully, I haven’t had a day that went quite so pear-shaped). 

There are some funny set pieces including flashbacks to how she came to be estranged from her sister (I will be interested to know who plays her grotesque brother-in-law if we ever get to see the series here). Not the easiest book to get into but worth it in the end.

Katharine Fortitude by Margaret Skea
The story of Katharina von Bora’s marriage to Martin Luther (whose actions changed the course of Western history) – a period I was unfamiliar with (Germany, early 1600s). Margaret Skea puts flesh on the bones and makes the characters and the times come alive.

She has built up a picture of a very believable Katharina, from the little that is known about her. It is, however, on record that Frau Luther was outspoken (even, shock, horror, when she was the only woman in male company), something that was disapproved of by many – but not her husband. Their highly controversial marriage would appear to have been a very happy one.

PT is probably my favourite travel writer; I’ve read all his books about his epic train journeys. I didn’t know until I read this about his kayaking exploits – round his own part of the east coast of the United States and in the Pacific. Other chapters include: a visit to a bomb crater on Christmas Island, the making of the film of his novel Mosquito Coast, his professional relationships with other writers, and some book reviews.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes
Sorry to say goodbye to lovely Lou Clarke (Still Me follows Me Before You (or, as it’s known in our house, ‘the film that made your father cry’) and After You). As a consolation though this book has one of my favourite settings, New York, and a great cast of completely new characters.

Following on from her rather unhappy childhood in post-war Edinburgh when it was assumed that she join the family business, the Copper Kettle Café, Anne Pia has fought, and succeeded, not to conform; today she is a successful poet and academic writer. The happy legacy of the Italian side of her family is her love of good food and there are some mouth-watering descriptions, and pasta-cooking tips.

Uncle George and the Cacti and other stories by Gillean Somerville-Arjat
This is a veritable feast of short stories. Includes: a Moroccan woman, a recent emigrant to Spain, worries about what will become of her family; a woman of a certain age encounters a street poet in Lisbon; three mysteries/crimes set in Scotland; retellings of classical stories; a relationship goes very wrong between an aunt and her nephews; a young woman forced into prostitution in 19th-century Venice; and the title story, about a schoolgirl’s wonderful and elusive Uncle George and the presents he handed over … ‘as he descended from an overnight bus from London, bearing yet another bowl like a sacred offering.’

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Nine in July

I read nine books in July.

I read this round about the time it came out, in 2002, so when I realised that a sequel had been published a couple of years ago I had to reread this first. And I liked it just as much this time. Five American women, stationed with their husbands on an air base in Norfolk in the early 1950s, make friends with a local woman, Kath. Their friendships (and fall-outs) endure over the next forty years.

What makes the book so special is the very under-rated Graham’s drily humorous writing (someone described it as a cross between Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett, and her dialogue is brilliant), and the very individual voice of the narrator, Peggy. This is how it opens:
We were down at the commissary, just for something to do, me and Lois, pushing Sandie in her stroller. Breath puffing out like smoke every time we laughed and just hanging there in the air. The cold hadn’t killed the scent of the beet harvest, though. All my born days, I never knowed such a sickly smell.
‘I swear,’ she said, loud as you please, ‘this place is colder than a gravedigger’s ass.’ Lois always did have a mouth on her.

The Early Birds by Laurie Graham
The sequel. The friends are geographically apart, and distant in other ways too now, but there are still ties that bind. It was great to catch up with Peggy, and to find Lois as mouthy in old age as ever she was; sadly, some of them didn't make it to the end of the book. If I have a gripe it’s that I did learn rather more than I wanted to about 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Laurie Graham is English I believe but many of her characters are American. Gone with the Windsors is the story of the romance between Wallis Simpson and the Prince of Wales, told obliquely by a childhood friend of Wallis’; The Importance of Being Kennedy is about JFK’s family, seen from the viewpoint of their nanny. Both highly recommended.

The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves
Christian Aid book sale. This is the first ‘Vera’ book and excellent it is although the doughty detective doesn’t appear until more than halfway through. Ann Cleeves is so good on landscape as well as character – and plot of course, a triple whammy.

A Stolen Summer by Allegra Huston
Forty-something, unhappily married Eve falls for the twenty-seven-year-old son of an old friend. Ticked a couple of boxes for me – the New York setting and the lovely writing – but in the end I found Eve and her lover to be just too too precious.

Shadowman by Margaret Kirk
A fabulous police procedural set in and around Inverness. When I went up to the area after reading this I couldn’t resist going to have a gawp at the hotel where the murder was ‘committed’ and very lovely it looked in the July sunshine, unlike that dark night when …. Can’t wait to read the next one. 

The last week in July I was able to have a reading binge when I went to stay with my sister for a few days – which included the hottest day of the year (so far). So how better to spend it than on the hammock?

And the book on my Kindle is:

Needlemouse by Jane O’Connor
This was another recommendation by Joanne Baird on her Portobello Book Blog that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It’s told in diary form, by Sylvia Penton, aged 52, PA to ‘Prof’ in a university department and in love with/obsessed by him. Sylvia is no middle-aged Bridget Jones though – she has mean and judgemental thoughts, no friends, doesn’t like her teenage niece and has an odd relationship with her brother-in-law. The only person she really likes is her sister Millie, a lovely, larger-than-life character, who tries to include Sylvia in social occasions without much success. Sylvia’s idea of a good night in is rereading Prof’s published books and articles.

The only unselfish thing she does is to help elderly Jonas in his hedgehog sanctuary at weekends.

When a new PhD student attracts Prof’s attention, Sylvia’s mean thoughts translate into very mean actions with disastrous consequences.

By comparing Sylvia’s year with that of a hedgehog (hedgehog in Japanese translates as ‘needlemouse’) through Jonas’s writings on the little creatures, Jane O’Connor eventually shows us a much happier Sylvia under all her prickliness. Delightful.

Read on Kindle. Heard about this author on Anne Stormont’s Virtual Book Festival. After Andrea’s parents are killed in a road accident she begins to uncover the things they never told her – and much more. Love a family secrets story and this did not disappoint.

Murder Served Cold by Paula Williams
Read on Kindle. First in the Much Winchmoor mystery series, by an author whose magazine short stories, serials and articles I have enjoyed reading over the years. Oh no! – the first in another excellent cosy crime series. I will never live long enough to read them all.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman
Bought in charity shop. Lighthouses hold endless fascination even though these days the light is controlled remotely. The ‘Janus Rock’ with its lighthouse is fictional but based on a location a hundred miles off the coast of Western Australia, where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.

The book has been out for a while, not sure why I’ve only caught up with it. But better late than never and now I’ve got the film to track down. I see online that some of it was filmed in Port Chalmers/Dunedin which I visited last year so that’s even more reason to watch it.

It’s the story of WWI veteran turned lighthouse keeper Tom and his wife. Isabel keeps having miscarriages so when a small boat is washed up on the Rock with a dead man and a very new, living baby girl, it seems like a miracle. The remoteness of their situation means that the secret can be kept … but not forever. Read this in one big gollop.

And if you’re keen on lighthouses in fact not fiction do check this out.