Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Nine in April

 I read nine books in April.


The Long, Long Afternoon by Inge Vesper

Read on Kindle. If ‘debut novel’ implies that the author is a beginner and will do better … well, that’s hard to believe. This will be a very hard act to follow. The Long Long Afternoon encompasses racism, domestic abuse, (what we now call) PTSD, sexism and other issues but these are in the very fabric of this gripping mystery; they are not added for the sake of it.

Inge Vesper conjures up the stifling Californian heat and the stifling lives of 1950s’ housewives through terrific characters and a structure that works brilliantly.

The story is told through three characters: Joyce, the missing woman; Detective Mike Blanke; and Ruby, the hired ‘Negro help’ who knows these women’s secrets.

I’d love another book featuring this detective. It would be great if Ruby were there too but on the other hand I hope she’s got out of her current life and into the better one she so deserves.


This Time Next Year by Sophie Cousens

Read on Kindle. ‘2021’s most heart-warming love story.’ – for me, it didn’t live up to that hype. My heart was not warmed.

The heroine with a knack for choosing the wrong man? The hero with commitment problems? An unusual way in which they originally meet? The wacky best friend? The mother (mothers in this case) and friends with ‘issues’? The funny set pieces? The ‘sliding doors’ aspect?

Yes, it ticked all these romcom boxes but it read as if the boxes came first and the characters second.

My opinion … 5000 reviewers giving it 5* think otherwise.


I Thought You Said This Would Work by Ann Garvin

Read on Kindle. Samantha and Holly and Katie were best friends when they were at university. Twentyish years on Samantha and Holly don’t speak but they are still both close to Katie whose cancer has reappeared after a remission.

Circumstances then dictate that Wisconsin-based Sam and Holly have a mad car journey to reclaim Katie’s diabetic Pyrenees mountain dog from her ex-husband many hundreds of miles away in Utah, coming together for the sake of their beloved friend.

Funny, poignant, definitely heart-warming, and an American road trip – what’s not to like?


Death in the Lake by Jo Allen

Read on Kindle. The fifth outing for DCI Jude Satterthwaite and his colleague and lover Ashleigh O’Halloran. More murder and mayhem in the beautiful Lake District (the contrast works so well). Look forward to number six.

When a young woman, Summer Raine, is found drowned, apparently accidentally, after an afternoon spent drinking on a boat on Ullswater, DCI Jude Satterthwaite is deeply concerned — more so when his boss refuses to let him investigate the matter any further to avoid compromising a fraud case.


Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

I think her early ones are still her best – but this is a page-turning and enjoyable read.

Meet Jessie, Cara and Nell. Married to brothers Johnny, Ed and Liam Casey. Three very different women tied to three very different men. Every family occasion is a party - until the day the secrets spill out.



Shared Histories: Transatlantic Letters Between Virginia Dickinson Reynolds and her Daughter, Virginia Potter 1929-1966  Edited by Angela Potter

What it says on the tin … this is a collection of (some of) the letters exchanged by mother in America and daughter in England, focusing on the Second World War years.  

Virginia Jnr elected to stay in Britain during that time when she could have returned to the safety of the States, and although she was in the upper echelons of society she mucked in and did her bit in digging for victory, keeping hens and so on.

Virginia Snr (a near relative of poet Emily Dickinson) mostly griped – she was prejudiced against almost everybody to an unpleasant degree. But it was interesting and extraordinary to hear about her wealthy and generous Canadian brother-in-law, Huntly Redpath Drummond, donating thousands to the British war effort including paying £10,000 for a Spitfire named after Virginia Jnr’s little daughter, Jennifer.


The Ex Girlfriend by Nicola Moriarty

The gripping and twisty psychological thriller.’ Georgia thinks she’s found ‘the one’ when she meets Luke; he says his ex can’t accept their break up.

An enjoyable example of ‘Aussie noir’.


The First Lie by A J Park

Pity the poor blurb writer … this is ‘The most gripping psychological thriller you’ll read all year’ – until the next ‘most gripping’ I suppose. It certainly kept me turning the pages even if the original action – the first lie – did take a bit of swallowing.


 Mistress Masham’s Repose by T H White

Ten-year-old orphan Maria is the owner of a vast palace, most of which is uninhabitable, and acres of unkempt grounds. She has two horrible guardians who, if only they can find the paperwork, plan to grab the property for themselves.

Within the grounds there is an island, the wonderfully named Mistress Masham’s Repose, where Maria finds a community of Lilliputians, the tiny people (and their animals) whom Gulliver encountered on his famous travels. When their presence becomes known to the greedy guardians they – and Maria – are in grave danger.

Magical and delightful. I have an ex-library copy, scruffy with no jacket, a 1963 reprint. The illustration here is from a newer edition. (NB I chose this cover because I thought it was the sweetest of various options but other, cheaper editions are available.)







Monday, 19 April 2021

The Saturday Scribblers


In 2005 I did two things that changed my life. I started going to a drop-in creative writing class run by Edinburgh Council and I joined Edinburgh Writers’ Club. As well as meeting lots of lovely people I discovered a whole new world of writing prompts and exercises.

Although I’ve subsequently (and with no little thanks to both these organsiations) had a novel, four magazine serials, and around seventy short stories published, I still go to both the class and EWC and it’s still a thrill to get a great writing prompt to respond to.

So when it came to writing a fifth People’s Friend serial I decided to move from my previous locations in rural Scotland* and set it in a writing group in a fictional town in the north of England (in my mind, it’s near Alnwick).

In my writing class there can be up to eighteen people and more than that at an EWC meeting but of course I couldn’t have that many in a story.

So it was fun to think of a reason why the class would be small (it’s migrated to Jess’s house when funding is withdrawn from it being held in a library) and to dream up the attendees, Tina, Madeleine, Clarissa and Neil, and decide on their varying reasons for joining, and of course their lives when they’re not being ‘Saturday Scribblers’.

I’ve found in real life that everyone responds differently to a writing prompt and personalities emerge so that turned out to be a good way for the characters (or some of them anyway … ) to find out more about each other.

I was delighted with the illustration (see above) for the first instalment (in issue dated 17 April) and (I have a subscription so get an early copy) here’s a sneak preview of the second.


* my first four serials are now available on Kindle; the first three are in a ‘boxset’ Kindle edition and in large-print library editions:


The Family at Farrshore

The Ferryboat

A Time to Reap

Jinty's Farm






Saturday, 10 April 2021

The Castilians

I am very pleased to be featuring fellow Edinburgh Writers’ Club member V E H Masters (Vicki) on my blog today to ask her questions about her debut novel The Castilians* which was recently placed second in the Scottish Association of Writers’ self-published book competition.

*only 99p on Kindle until 16 April; also available in paperback


The blurb:


Scotland 1546 … and a preacher is burned at the stake. In revenge a group of lairds infiltrate St Andrews Castle and murder the instigator, Cardinal Beaton.


Local lad Will is among them, fighting for the Protestant cause. His traitorous activities place his family in grave danger, forcing his sister Bethia into an unwelcome alliance.


As the long siege unravels, Bethia and Will struggle over where their loyalties lie and the choices they each must make — whether to save their family, or stay true to their beliefs and follow their hearts.


This debut novel closely follows true events of the siege of St Andrews Castle and its dramatic re-taking




KB Welcome, Vicki, and congratulations on your success in the SAW competition. Did you decide at the outset to go down the self-publishing route?


VM Thanks Kate, I was very chuffed.

I know a few people who have self-published successfully so I shamelessly picked their brains. I also had a few ideas about how to promote my novel and, even if I’d been successful in finding an agent and then a publisher, I didn’t really want to give up the rights to my book. So I decided from the outset to go the indie route, and I’ve found learning how to market more enjoyable than I expected



KB Most people probably think of St Andrews in connection with its university or its golf course without knowing of its place in Scottish history – but even from a quick visit you can see the remnants of buildings that were there in the time you were writing about, six hundred years ago.

Apart from the Castle (looked after by Historic Environments Scotland) which landmarks would you encourage visitors to see (albeit virtually at the moment)?


VM Growing up in St Andrews was like living in the middle of a history lesson. Probably my favourite is St Rule’s and you get a fabulous view from the top. When I came to write The Castilians I realised how much the towers and spires of St Andrews were also about creating distinctive landmarks from the sea. For pilgrims coming there at the height of the pilgrimage era from the 13th to the 15th centuries their first sight of the town must have been something – like arriving in a second Jerusalem.



Margaret Skea, winner of the Beryl Bainbridge Award, has said of the book: ‘A clever blend of fact and fiction, with engaging characters, gripping tension and drama galore, and a dash of romance. For lovers of Scotland and Scottish history this is a great read.’


KB With which I can only agree … by coincidence I’ve read a couple of other novels recently which mix fact and fiction and I think yours is done the most successfully.

To be fair to the other two, perhaps it helps that you have written about a period of Scottish history that hasn’t often been fictionalised and as less is known about it there’s more space for a novelist’s imagination.

Certainly I finished The Castilians feeling that I’d read a really gripping story and also seamlessly learned some history along the way.


Did you have a lot of research that, for the sake of the story, you had to leave out?


VM Lots and lots and lots of research and most of it was, indeed, left out. I was convinced an academic from the university was going to pick the novel up in the local bookshop up and go through it with a red pen, so I was very anxious to be historically accurate. It boosted my confidence no end when Dr Bess Rhodes, an expert on the period, agreed to be part of my online launch.


KB And thinking of a different kind of research – I don’t want to give a spoiler but there is a very hairy scene at the end of the book, involving one of the characters whose only escape route involves a steep cliff and a churning sea below … how did you manage to conjure that up?


VM There was a point when I realised I needed to go St Andrews at low tide and study the cliff, and the access to the castle by sea. The uncovered rocks were slippery with seaweed and I ended up crawling over them determined to reach the seaward side – most undignified, but no doubt entertaining to those on the nearby beach. The castle is very dramatic to look up at from the rocks below, on its seaward side. It was all worth it, as I was then able to describe accurately what it was like to clamber off the rocks, although I still had to do some imagining because both the cliffs and the coastline will have changed over the past five centuries.



KB I was thinking that it was an interesting decision on your part to set a historical novel in the present tense – until I remembered that Hilary Mantel’s trilogy is done that way. It does give immediacy to events of so long ago. Was that something you always planned to do or did it evolve that way? And were there any difficulties in sustaining it?


VM Early drafts skipped back and forward, and sometimes half way through a chapter. In the end I liked the immediacy of the present tense and stuck with it. It does feel as though the action is happening now when write, rather than in the distant past.


KB If there were to be a film of The Castilians who would you like to see cast as Bethia? And as John Knox?


VM Peter Mullen would make a great John Knox (although he’d need to do an East Coast accent). Bethia would have to be an unknown actor  — it could be a great part for someone!


KB It certainly would. What are you writing now? Are we going to hear more about the Seton family?


VM I’ve just finished the first draft of the sequel, which will be out later this year if all goes to plan. I’m also planning on working in parallel on a WW2 novel I have half finished – I’ll soon find out if I’m being over-ambitious!


KB That sounds terrific – look forward to both of those. Thank you for answering my questions, Vicki, and all the very best with your writing.



VEH Masters was born and brought up on a farm a few miles outside St Andrews. The first time she ever visited St Andrews Castle was aged twelve, when her history teacher took the class on a school trip. She was fascinated when they crept down the siege tunnel and peered into the bottle dungeon, where Cardinal Beaton's body was said to have been kept pickled in salt for the fourteen months of the siege. When she heard the group had called themselves The Castilians, she thought, even then, what a perfect title for a book. 

Keep up with her on Facebook





Saturday, 3 April 2021

Seven in March

 I read seven books in March.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

That’s Mary*, the middle sister from Pride and Prejudice. This is an extremely enjoyable read – a standalone but of course all the better if you’ve read P&P / seen the film(s).

The first quarter of the book is the timeframe of P&P, seen from Mary’s point of view. Thereafter <spoiler alert> with her four sisters married and her father deceased, she and her mother live with the Bingleys where Mary is tormented by the ghastly Caroline.

So she moves on to Pemberley but here she feels like a gooseberry in the midst of the Darcys’ domestic bliss – so much so that she gets herself invited to stay in her old home, Longbourn, where the Collins now reign. Unexpectedly, she finds more in common now with the much-maligned Mr C than she does with her friend Charlotte, née Lucas.

It was lovely to catch up with these old acquaintances before we made some new ones.

Mary then goes to London, to the welcoming home of her mother’s brother and sister-in-law, the Gardiners.

And there I will leave you, gentle reader, to find out for yourself what happened next. (I succumbed to a supermarket paperback but it is currently 99p on Kindle.)


*I too was inspired to write about Mary Bennet, in a modern-day story called The Real Thing; it was long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award a few years ago. You can read it in my collection Another World.



The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

Read on Kindle. Still on a JA jag here.

The blurb said it was a fictionalised account of a group of people who saved the Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire to be a museum to her, and bought back various Austen artefacts that had been sold abroad. I did get absorbed in their various stories (especially Dr Benjamin’s) while at the same time thinking that in places the dialogue was a bit clunky.

Then I got to the end where a note says that all the characters are entirely fictitious and not based on anyone who was involved in that (real) exercise. Not sure what to make of that.


The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

A Christmas present. I knew a little about the long siege of Leningrad (now called Saint Petersburg), which began in September 1941, and I knew a little about the Hermitage Museum there because they lent objects for a National Museums Scotland exhibition some years ago.

But I didn’t know that Hermitage Museum staff and some of their families spent that dreadful time actually in the museum, cataloguing and wrapping the precious paintings and objects for safekeeping.

In this novel, partly set in present-day America, former guide Marina, now slipping into dementia, can still walk through the Hermitage in her mind and recall especially the paintings of the Madonna. It’s a time of her life that her children and grandchildren don’t know about – and one that I was very interested to read about.


Lucy Crocker 2.0 by Caroline Preston

I’d finished The Madonnas one evening and thought I’d go for a reread rather than embarking on a new book (anyone else do that?).

This is a quirky novel, set (indeterminately) around the early 1990s, about Boston-based Lucy who is artistic, slightly hippyish, upset at how much time her 13-year-old twin boys spend on their computer – but who nevertheless has made up a multi-million-selling video game called Maiden Quest.

For various reasons, she rebels against what her life has become and nostalgically recalls her father’s cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin, still in the family but unvisited for fifteen years. She enrols her urban and very unsporty lads in a canoe summer camp she’d loved when she was a girl and, without leaving a note for her husband, sets off to relive her youth.

I love this book! (I bought my ex-library copy some years ago for 80p).



 Jackie by Josie by Caroline Preston

So having happily reacquainted myself with Lucy I reread this equally enjoyable novel by the same author.

Josie has been asked to do some research (ie look for scandal) at the Kennedy Library for someone who is writing a biography of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. She’s going to be well paid so she temporarily moves back with her small son to her mother’s large, ramshackle house while her husband takes up a teaching post in California.

It’s difficult having that (pre-mobile) distance between them; her mother’s asked a convicted arsonist to move in; and her own dissertation on an obscure woman poet has ground to a halt.

Warm and funny.



A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

Read for book group … the ‘long petal’ being Chile. The book begins in Spain during the bloody civil war; when dictator Franco wins, the losing side disperse in various directions. Victor, Roser and baby Marcel are picked by poet and activist Pablo Neruda to embark on his rescue ship, the Winnipeg, to begin a new life in Chile. Years later, they find their lives turned upside down by another dictator, General Pinochet.

This is a fictionalised version of historic events. I learned a lot that was interesting and it was page-turning but the novel part of it was rather unsatisfactory; it seemed to play second-fiddle and the tone made me feel as if I was being hastily told a story rather than been given the chance to get involved with the characters.



The Castilians by V E H Masters

By coincidence, another novelised version of historic events, this time of the siege of St Andrews Castle (1546/47). Here, the characters spring to life and carry the story of this little-known or long-forgotten extremely dramatic part of Scotland’s history.

Look out for my interview with the author coming soon.





Thursday, 4 March 2021

Ten in February (2)

 I read ten books in February. Five of them are here, five in the previous post.



Life and Death in the Woods by Cecilia Peartree

A proposal to build a museum of trees on the outskirts of a town in central Scotland brings together a disparate assortment of people – and a dead body. Max, curator of a small university museum, gets involved against his better judgment. Janice, the owner of a local sandwich shop, finds herself becoming an eco-warrior, against her better judgment. A good cosy crime with some light-hearted fun-poking at academic institutions and the machinations of local government.


Dead Stock by Rachel Ward

I much enjoyed the first outing for amateur sleuths Ant and Bea, The Cost of Living. Twenty-one-year-old Bea is on the checkout of a supermarket and Ant, with whom she was at school, does shelf-stacking, floor-wiping and other odd jobs. I love that the titles of the books reflect their environment so aptly.

Here, cats are going missing and a body is found on the bypass. Ant and Bea investigate but juggling that, work, and their difficult home lives takes its toll. The dialogue between them, and the other characters, crackles with life.


Expiry Date by Rachel Ward

Bea is worried for the safety of one of her regular customers and the discovery of a body on a building site causes an upheaval in her own family. Meanwhile, Ant finds himself homeless. Another corker; more please.


House of the Glimmering Light by Jane Shaw

First published in 1943 and reissued by Girls Gone By Publishers. Jane Shaw, best known to girls’ story aficionados for her Susan series, has two engaging heroines here, Angela and Noel. They meet when they are both staying in the House of the Glimmering Light built on a rocky promontory in the wilds of Argyllshire.

Yes, of course the plot, of two young teenagers outwitting a dastardly enemy in their midst to save Great Britain from devastation, is to be taken with a cellar-full of salt but it is gripping and told with the author’s good sense of humour and great sense of place – plus the fact that it was actually written when the outcome of the war was unknown gives it an urgency.


Motherwell, A Girlhood by Deborah Orr

Read on Kindle for book group. DO was brought up in Motherwell in the west of Scotland in the 60s/70s, a turbulent time of industrial unrest for that area where most of the men, including her father, were employed at the steelworks, Ravenscraig, later closed by the Thatcher government.

A clever and artistic child, Deborah was encouraged at school by her parents – but only up to a point. What they really wanted for her was to stay virgo intacta until a suitable husband presented himself, then she should live round the corner and give them grandchildren.

There’s a pun in the name of the book and the name of the town – because since she grew up and defied them by moving away (becoming a respected journalist in London and marrying and divorcing Will Self) she has pondered at length on the personalities of her parents, particularly her mother, and come to less-than-flattering conclusions about them. That they were controlling of her and had baggage of their own is undeniable but she appears to blame them totally for subsequent toxic relationships she had.

I thought her writing was terrific and the snapshot of 1970s industrial Scotland she shows the reader is an important one, rarely seen. I was totally on her side for more than half the book but then I began to think of it as a misery memoir which isn’t really my cup of tea.










Ten in February (1)

 I read ten books in February. Five of them are here, five in the next post.


A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson

It’s seven years since ML’s last book was published, a very long but worthwhile wait and its timing turned out to be perfect for me. I picked my copy up click and collect from The Edinburgh Bookshop in the afternoon and had my first vaccine a few hours later. I didn’t feel fluey the next day but just a bit ‘wabbit’ as we say in Scotland, the perfect excuse to put my feet up with coffee and toast and marmalade to hand – and a new book to read.

ML lives in Kingston on Thames now but grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada; all her books are set there (with a foray to London in one of them, of which more later) and the landscape is as much a character as the people.

A Town Called Solace, set in 1972, is told from three perspectives. Precocious Clara, aged seven, has taken up vigil by the window in case she misses the return of her adored older sister Rose who has run away. Liam moves into the house next door (unaware that he is being observed by Clara); he has mysteriously been left it in the will of a woman he barely remembers from his childhood. The third perspective is that of Elizabeth, Liam’s benefactor, as she lies dying.

No less a person than Anne Tyler says of Mary Lawson: ‘Each of her novels is just a marvel.’ I can only agree so I had to have a reread then of two of her previous ones.


Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

When I read this, her first novel, almost twenty years ago, I knew that it was a keeper, a book to literally hug to myself. 

It is about so much more but primarily it’s a story about siblings, particularly the relationship between Kate and Matt. In the rural farming community of Crow Lake the Morrison children – Luke and Matt in their teens, Kate aged seven and toddler Bo – are orphaned. Offers of help from far-off relatives would mean splitting the family up; clever Luke and Matt sacrifice their ambitions to keep the family together. The story is narrated by Kate, twenty years on, a zoologist, now living in Toronto and feeling emotionally distant from the family who once were her whole world.

I loved the book so much I didn’t dare to read it again in case it wasn’t as good as I remembered – but having dared I found that it had only improved over time.


Road Ends by Mary Lawson

This is her third book. I will reread her second, The Other Side of the Bridge, soon but I skipped to this one because fleetingly we meet Luke and Bo again from Crow Lake.

This is mostly Megan’s story though. Her mother keeps having baby boys (six when the story opens); she loves babies but loses interest in them when the next one comes along. Megan, the only girl and an incredibly practical one, keeps the household clean and fed but she has told her mother that when the latest baby is on his feet she will be leaving.

She ends up in London (in the 1960s, a planet away from small town Ontario) where her practical skills are put to use running a hotel. But back home things are disintegrating – and there’s yet another baby boy.


Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford

First published in 1933 and reissued. Told through illustrated letters, it's a delight with all the period detail. Hilary, from Edinburgh, finds work in London in the book department of (a thinly disguised) Selfridges. She writes home to her parents and doctor fiancé. 

I took against said fiancé because a) he was called Basil, a name that should be reserved for TV foxes, and b) he wasn’t at all supportive of her wanting to work for a year before their wedding; plus he refers to twenty-seven-year-old Hilary as ‘my dear child’. So I was glad that <spoiler alert> there was someone nicer waiting in the wings.

What I mainly liked though was hearing about the work of the book department, not just selling books from the shelves but sending out books on subscription – recording readers’ likes and dislikes on a complicated card index system.


Slow Horses by Mike Herron

Described as ‘the best thriller of the last decade’ by The Times. The ‘slow horses’ are a crew of men and women who, for various reasons (alcoholism, fouling up a mission etc) have been banished from actively working in the Intelligence Service to pen push in Slough House in a seedy part of London. But none of them joined the service to pen push and when the opportunity comes to be ‘spooks’ again they take it.

Terrific; really great characters and great writing. This is the first in a series and I’d love to read the others.







Thursday, 4 February 2021

Nine in January


I read nine books in January.


Snow and the Works on the Northern Line by Ruth Thomas

It’s been too long since Ruth Thomas’ last book, The Home Corner (2013) so I was delighted to see she had a new one out (and also that it was serialised on Radio 4).

She has such a sly wit; you are always on the edge of snorting with laughter. Here she pokes gentle fun at archaeologists, academia, museums and museum shops, and poetry classes. All of which ticked boxes for me.

Her Things to Make and Mend and short stories are also highly recommended.


The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Read on Kindle. Like approximately 62,999,999 other people worldwide I watched Bridgerton and loved it. Will get round to reading the novels from which the series is made but in the meantime The Duchess Deal was touted as ‘for fans of Bridgerton’.

Here, the hero looking for a duchess to give him an heir wasn’t  a flawlessly good-looking young man – he’d been shockingly scarred on one side at the Battle of Waterloo and his former fiancée had run away screaming; understandably all that has made him reclusive and angry.

Emma is a struggling dressmaker who arrives at his house with the aforementioned fianceé’s wedding dress for which she has not been paid and finds herself proposed to.

There are scenes later on, when the couple find themselves adrift in the back streets of London, which are reminiscent of Georgette Heyer – always a good thing.


10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak

Read on Kindle for book group. Short-listed for the Booker Prize in 2019.

Brothel-worker Tequila Leila’s has 10 minutes and 38 seconds to live. As her life ebbs away she remembers her unhappy, abusive childhood but also delicious, sensuous things – smells and tastes of life in the Middle East. And she remembers her five good friends who are, although she doesn’t know it, trying to find her; we learn more about each of those friends in turn. Lyrically written.



The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Read on Kindle. I’ve never seen Midsomer Murders but I know it’s the fictional crime capital of England. I read somewhere about the original novels that sparked the series; the article said how well written they were and that they had more depth than in their TV life.

Here, an elderly spinster dies in her own home which hardly seems suspicious but her doughty friend, the wonderfully named Miss Lucy Bellringer, is sure she was murdered. She manages to convince Chief Inspector Barnaby and soon the seamy side of tranquil Badger’s Drift becomes the focus of his attention. Excellent and satisfying …


A Place of Safety by Caroline Graham

… so I bought another one. This has a do-gooding ex-vicar giving ‘a place of safety’ to young offenders, some of whom are more reformed/reformable than others.

Barnaby is a great creation. Unlike many fictional policemen, he has a happy home life (his only ‘problem’ is that his wife is a really terrible, salad-burning, cook) and his actor daughter and son-in-law add interest.


Apple Island Wife: Slow Living in Tasmania by Fiona Stocker

I have been to Tasmania so I was looking forward to being there again vicariously by reading this account of a young British couple settling in a rural five acres of it and aiming to be self-sufficient, after busy working lives in urban mainland Australia.

I guess I hoped it would have a flavour of The Egg and I, a famous, comical account of two townies trying to live the dream and/or that it would have gorgeous writing like Island Wife, an account of moving to a Hebridean island.

But, compared to these, the telling of what this couple did was banal. They almost could have been anywhere, with wallabies. Some amusing small events are spun out to a numbing degree. There’s no exploring of the island other than their own little corner of it.

‘Apple Island’ makes for a pretty title but the name has not been appropriate for many decades, not since Britain joined the EEC (as it was then), stopped importing apples from Tasmania, causing the collapse of the industry. 

Oh – hang on a minute, maybe…


The Last Piece by Imogen Clark

Read on Kindle. When mother and grandmother Cecily suddenly ups and offs to a Greek island on her own for a week her three daughters are aghast, especially uptight Felicity who relies on her for some childcare.

Their dad knows why she’s gone but he’s not telling. And I’m not going to tell you either because that would be a big spoiler. But I can say that we go with Cecily to Greece and for a bit of her history, and also follow the sisters, two of whom are having dramas of their own back home.


The Saturday Morning Park Run by Jules Wake

Read on Kindle. Accountant Claire is trying to make partner in a prestigious firm and works round the clock. She has a lovely one-night stand with Armani-suited Ash but then he goes quiet. Visiting the doctor for a cut on her hand that isn’t healing, she finds herself signed off for a month with stress

She plans a few weeks of pottering around the house she’s bought but barely spent time in – but life has other ideas, firstly in the formidable shape of Hilda, an elderly woman in search of a project and a friend, secondly with the daughters of Claire’s wayward sister, and thirdly with a much-changed Ash. Oh, and park running.

Loved the multi-generational aspect of this, a real feel-good read.


The Cost of Living by Rachel Ward

This (punny) title kept popping up, waving to get my attention. And I’m very glad it did. It’s a cosy crime (well, the crimes, attacks on women connected to the supermarket, are far from cosy but the gory bits are well off stage).

The amateur sleuth is a bright twenty-year-old supermarket checkout girl called Bea, and her sidekick is the newest member of staff, the gormless-seeming Ant, with whom Bea was at school.

Terrific, and there are two more in the series, also with punny titles, to look forward to.

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

My year in books (maybe ... )


In school I was 



People might be surprised by 



I will never be 



My life in (full) lockdown was



My fantasy job is



At the end of a long day I need 



I hate 



I wish I had



My family reunions are 



At a party you’d find me with



I’ve never been to 



A happy day includes



The motto I live by



On my bucket list is



In my next life I want to have 



I’ve pinched this idea from a post on Joanne Baird’s terrific blog

She, in turn, was inspired by 746 books


How has your book year been?