I know what you’re thinking … where have i been? Well, that’s another story (hint: Canary Islands), but I’m back with a bundle full of reviews to write. First up – A House Called Askival by Merryn Glover. It’s published by a small Scottish press, so you may not have heard of it, but it is well worth searching for it. Continue reading
I am so excited to be taking part in a cyber treasure hunt for the release of Jane Alexander‘s The Last Treasure Hunt. The book is a fun take on modern media, and who doesn’t love a treasure hunt? And I’ll be reviewing it later this week.
To unmask the man with glasses
She throws herself from up high
Roaring currents would have killed her
Had he been willing to let her die.
So, here’s how it works:
- Each clue refers to a landmark or iconic location in a film. The landmark/location is the answer – when you figure it out, make a note of it!
- (If you need a hand, check out the #treasurehunt hashtag on Twitter or Instagram for a hint to the landmark’s location…)
- Clues will be revealed by some fantastic book bloggers from March 26th until April 21st. Keep checking back on Jane Alexander’s dedicated treasure hunt page or on the #treasurehunt hashtag for links and new clues.
- When all the clues are revealed, the first letter of every answer will make an anagram. Solve the anagram and you have your final answer!
- Email this answer and all the landmarks you figured out to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 30th to be entered into the prize draw. Two entrants will win a signed copy of The Last Treasure Hunt – and if you’ve guessed the most landmarks and locations, you’ll win a goodie bag and something special from Jane personally! On top of that you’ll get bragging rights on Twitter and we’ll publicly dub you queen/king sleuth.
- Good luck!
I received a signed copy of Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy from Willoughby Book Club‘s wonderful book subscription service. As with many of the books I get from them, I had never heard of Meeting the English but it was another example of the types of books I want to be reading to expand my knowledge of contemporary British fiction now that I’m living in these fair Isles. It was nominated for the Costa First Novel Award, an award that truly identifies books I love. Continue reading
One of the huge benefits of moving to Scotland is that I’ve become more familiar with Scottish literature in general and writers like Lisa O’Donnell in particular. She was at the Edinburgh Book Festival my first year here and The Death of Bees was getting huge buzz (yeah, I know what i did there), but for some reason, it has taken me until now to read it. And it was brilliant. Continue reading
I read The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal as part of the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge put on by Roof Beam Reader. I first came across this book in 2013 at the Edinburgh Book Festival. As a new resident of Edinburgh I was immediately drawn to it since it is set in Edinburgh. Also, Erdal’s other book, Ghosting, has been on my radar for years.
I love reading books sets in places I know, and with that in mind I’m glad that I waited to read The Missing Shade of Blue. It is definitely a very Edinburgh book and gives a good feel of the city. Now that I know the city better I was able to picture exactly where the characters lived and conducted their lives.
The story is told by Eddie, a French translator who has come to Edinburgh to work on a book of David Hume‘s essays. He is quickly befriended by Harry Sanderson, a philosopher at the university, and becomes embroiled in the life of Sanderson and his wife. To large extent the novel is really about Sanderson and the scandal that envelopes his life.
As a lover of literature, I was keenly aware of the role that novels played in The Missing Shade of Blue. Eddie grew up in a bookshop in Paris and sees the world through the frame of books. He and Sanderson often refer to how life is sometime similar (or utterly dissimilar) to a novel.
Who would like this book? Erdal is a fine writer and I thoroughly enjoyed The Missing Shade of Blue. Language and words play a key role in the novel, as you would imagine when the main characters are a translator and a philosopher. Erdal does a commendable job at bringing Scottish life, fly fishing and Edinburgh to life. So far one of the aspects I’ve overlooked is fly fishing. The only other book I’ve read where this sport takes a starring role is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (don’t bother with the film, the books is so much better). Erdal’s book is not as humorous as Torday’s but brought the sport to life much more for me.
Aye, tis once again Robbie Burns night. Last year to celebrate I did a brief round up of the Scottish literature I had read since moving to Edinburgh. This year I’ll continue the tradition in grand style because I have actually read – and enjoyed – a fair bit of Scottish literature in the past year.
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole. Ok, I’ve let a few great books like this one slip in because they are set in Scotland, though not necessarily by a Scot. Brockmole wrote this book while visiting Scotland from her native America. And besides, there is nothing more Scottish than the Isle of Skye.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan. Fagan’s use of language in this novel is exquisite. She fills the dialogues with a beautiful mixture of Scots and English that highlights the (many) differences in the two languages. I cannae recommend this book highly enough.
Closed Doors by Lisa O’Donnell. Like The Panopticon, O’Donnell gives us a slice of Scottish life that you will not find in the books of Alexander McCall Smith. Set on a small island off the coast of Scotland, O’Donnell looks at small town life and family through the lens of a young boy. This book might not be as well known as her The Death of Bees, which i still haven’t read, but it does showcase he writing abilities.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. Again another book written by an American, but a more Scottish subject you’d be hard pressed to find. Horan recounts the life of that venerable man of letters, Robert Louis Stevenson. Although he traveled the world quite extensively his language and sensibilities remain thoroughly Scottish throughout his life.
The Missing Shade of Blue by Jennie Erdal. I read this book quite recently and have not yet had time to post a review. It is about a French translator who has come to Edinburgh to work on a translation of David Hume, one of Scotland’s famous philosophers.
Have you read any Scottish literature lately? What are your favorites?
Under the Wide and Starry Sky is the latest novel brought to us by Nancy Horan of Loving Frank fame. As with Loving Frank (about Frank Lloyd Wright), Horan has chosen another real-life topic to explore in her latest novel. This time it is the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, or I suppose more properly the life of his wife Fanny.
There was so much I learned in this novel about Robert Louis Stevenson. As a new immigrant to Edinburgh, I knew that he grew up here and was sickly as a child. Beyond that, aside from his major works, I knew nothing about him. He truly had an astonishing life in which battles with illness played an important role. With Fanny, he moved all over the planet seeking health – France, Switzerland, upstate New York, California, Australia and finally Samoa. I know! Samoa? And remember this was all at the end of the 19th century when travel was not as easy as it is now.
In spite of all this travel and action, I did not terribly enjoy Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The writing was superb. That is one thing we can say about Nancy Horan. But for me the main thing that separated this book from Loving Frank was the topic and the time period. Whereas I was really interested in learning more about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the turn of the century time period, I have never had an interest in RLS. I know that should have been a tip off that perhaps the book wasn’t for me, but as I say Horan is an astounding writer. And I am trying to learn more about Scottish culture and history.
Who would like this book? Really, this book is more about Fanny than Robert Louis Stevenson. As such it follows in a long line of books recounting the life of a steadfast wife supporting her artistic husband, specifically, The Paris Wife and Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I like both of those books more than this one simply because of the characters portrayed and the time period. If you are interested in RLS, Scottish literature or the time period, then Under the Wide and Starry Sky is a great book for you. It is full of great writing, fantastic tales and adventuresome journeys.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Send me a link to your review and I will include it here.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan seems to be one of the books people in the know are raving about. And it must be noted that they have been raving about it since 2012 when she was named one of the Waterstones Eleven. It deserves this attention and so much more. Fagan is truly one of the best young writers of our time.
The Panopticon recounts the story of Anais Kendricks, a teen who has spent her life thoroughly embroiled in the Scottish child welfare system. She is on her last chance after numerous run ins with the police, the last of which has left an officer in a coma. Drugs, thieving, violence they are all part of her repertoire, just as neglect and abuse are part of her past.
Given all of this, one might be lead to believe that The Panopticon is a desperate and depressing novel, but it’s not. That’s the thing about Fagan’s writing and storytelling. Her characters are still very human; they can love and make mistakes just like the rest of us. When I fist heard of The Panopticon I thought it sounded interesting, but to dark and gritty for me. There are disturbing aspects of the novel, but overall it was not a depressing read, it was just very real. I can say that i truly loved it and will be waiting for whatever Fagan does next.
Who would like this book? I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes great debut fiction. The Panopticon has an edge to it that one often finds in books by young, hot writers. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson is similarly edgy. As a writer, I would group Fagan together with the likes of Lisa O’Donnell (Closed Doors) and Jenn Ashworth (The Friday Gospels). All three present an unflinching look at life in the UK.
Letters From Skye is one of those novels that shocked me beyond belief. I thought the cover looked boring. It is an epistolary novel, which I often find to be gimmicky. And it is a love story, nay I say romance? All these things together for me do not add up to a promising book. The reason I picked it up was because it is set in Scotland and the period was somewhat interesting to me – the two world wars.
But I can honestly say that once I started reading it I found it difficult to put down. The novel starts as a correspondence between a poet living on the Isle of Skye, off the coast of Scotland and a brash young American fan. By the second or third letter between them I was hooked. In spite of the distance between them, they seemed to connect in a surprising way. I was cheering them on and wanted them to meet, to fall in love, to take things to the next level.
The other thread of the novel involves letters between the Skye poetess’s daughter and her best friend turned fiance during the second world war. In these letters Margaret seeks to learn more about her mother’s life before she was born. Of course, there is a secret there that is revealed not too long after her mother goes missing.
A novel such as this – letters between lovers – could easily slip into the sentimental.That is where Jessica Brockmole‘s great strength lays; she manages to communicate passion, love and longing through well developed characters rather than falling into the predictable tropes of romance. The reason I wanted to keep reading the novel was not because of the romance, but because the characters were so engaging. In addition to (forbidden) love, they had struggles of their own and fears to overcome.
Who would like this book? If you are travelling to Scotland, I highly recommend this book. It gives the contrasting flavors of rural island life as well as the comparatively cosmopolitan life of Edinburgh. Not to be out done, Glasgow also makes a brief appearance. This is also a great novel for those who enjoy the epistolary form. The blogosphere has recently been abuzz over Frances and Bernard, another novel of letters, but I feel that of the two Letters From Skye was more readable.
I’ve been wanting to read The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell since it came out over a year ago. I’m still on the waiting list at the library! So when I saw that her latest, Closed Doors, was available through NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read and review it.
Closed Doors is set on a small island off the west coast of Scotland. Told from the point of view of an eleven year old boy, it recounts his perceptions of what is going on behind the closed doors in his own house and throughout the small community in which he lives. Initially, one is lead to believe that the secret behind the closed doors of the narrator’s own house is spousal abuse and in spite of the mother’s hospital stay, this is not the case. Something far more sinister is afoot, and it effects the whole island community.
I was truly impressed by O’Donnell’s writing and storytelling abilities. Her subtle use of Scottish dialect immediately established a sense of place without falling into impenetrable slang. Her pacing was impeccable, unraveling the story bit by bit. I read the novel quickly and never wanted to put it down.
I am not overly fond of stories told from the point of view of children. That is the one thing that I didn’t really like about the novel. It is merely a stylistic choice O’Donnell made that I do not necessarily agree with. I would have been happier if the naive observations of a child had been broken up with commentary from one or more of the other characters. By way of contrast, in Golden Boy (review) Tarttelin employs a child as one of several narrators. This makes the child’s observations more profound by contrasting them with others, rather than tiresome and twee.
Who would like this book? Regardless of whether or not you like Scottish literature, I highly recommend this novel. The small town setting is somewhat universal (unless you are from a big city). One of the most important facets of the novel is concern about what others will think. In a small town everyone seems to know everyone else’s business and moreover, has an opinion on it. This certainly comes through in O’Donnell’s story.