Recent Book Purchases

More Old Books

These are some of the books that I’ve bought over the last few weeks. The Naomi Mitchison and Mary Stewart books will obviously be featuring in my Read Scotland 2016 Challenge. The others are all authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past.

1. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
2. Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden
3. The Land the Ravens Found by Naomi Mitchison
4. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
6. An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

At the moment I’m in a hotel room in Ypres (Wipers) – a place I never thought we would get around to visiting, but here we are. Strangely we’re in a lovely hotel with a beautiful view of bomb craters that have become a small lake. At the moment I’m about 30 yards from where the Germans used flame-throwers for the very first time, a sobering thought.

We’ve already visited the Menin Gate and witnessed The Last Post ceremony which takes place at 8 pm every night. It was very well attended.

Photos will be forthcoming at a later date.

The Classics Club Spin – Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

I’ve had Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov sitting on a shelf for over 20 years (maybe even 30) and when I bought it I hadn’t even heard of the book before. I freely admit I was drawn to the book by its binding, so I was pleased to read fairly recently that Oblomov is a book that is well thought of by others, so I was quite chuffed when I got it in this spin.

Lovely Book Cover

I can’t say I absolutely adored it but I did really like the book.

Oblomov is a likeable character, in fact there isn’t a bad boen in his body. As a young man who got a position in a government office when he left his home in the country he had the usual ambitions of hoping that it would lead to better things, but he quickly became disillusioned by the work and more or less took to his bed. He has classic signs of depression and even after he inherits the family country estate he just can’t get up the energy required to sort out the problems of running it. He has great intentions of building roads and bridges there, repairing houses and building a school for his peasants’ children. He lies in bed day dreaming of everything he will do there, but when it comes to it he can’t get up the energy required to get up and get dressed.

When Oblomov falls in love with a beautiful young girl he can hardly believe that she is interested in him, she rouses him out of his langour, he must get out and about to meet her. Despite being besotted by her Oblomov worries that he isn’t cut out for marriage, passion means expending energy and he has his doubts that he can manage much of that.

Oblomov is a kind and easy-going soul and he puts up with people that others wouldn’t give the time of day. This leads to him being targetted by a ghastly sponger who goes to Oblomov’s apartment to eat his food and drink his wine, even ‘borrowing’ his clothes and money, neither of which are ever seen again of course. Money from his estate is sent to Oblomov but he is so feckless that it disappears in no time, either given away or pilfered by servants.

His kind nature ends up in him being abused financially which leads to him having to move to a poor area of the city where he becomes the lodger of relatives of the sponger and they set about bleeding him dry of money.

Meanwhile Sophie has come to realise that Oblomov is never going to shake himself out of his torpor for long enough to be a decent husband and part of Oblomov is relieved as he prefers to spend his time just sleeping and eating anyway. His landlady is a wonderful cook and as we all know – the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so he had been getting very attached to her.

Things take a turn for the worse when his landlady’s brother blackmails Oblomov, saying he has damaged his sister’s reputation and this ends up with the brother and the sponger being in control of Oblomov’s estate.

The cavalry rides in in the shape of Oblomov’s German childhood friend who realises what has been going on and sorts the whole mess out.

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita cover

The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden was first published in 1963 and I have to admit that although I really enjoyed this book it does seem very dated now. In fact I suspect that the book seems quite unbelievable to younger readers.

The story begins with two children who have made their way to Italy on their own. Their parents are newly divorced and the father who is a Queen’s Messenger – some sort of diplomat I think – has got custody of the three children who are aged between almost 12 and 16. The 16 year old girl is off on holiday in France when her younger siblings decide to track their mother down to take her back to the family home and their father, they just can’t accept that she won’t be living with them any more.

The mother (Fanny) was quite an ordinary woman, not the sort to wear make-up, perfume or fancy clothes and she was seen by her so-called friends in the village as rather drab and uninteresting. When some film-makers appear in the village to make a film it’s Fanny that the director is drawn to and given that Fanny’s children are away at boarding school and her husband is often away from home for work purposes, it’s inevitable that she’s very flattered by his attention, which of course leads to the divorce and the children’s attempts to get her back.

It’s a piece of social history now as the mother almost always gets custody of the children in divorce cases but back in the 1960s a woman who chose to leave her husband for her lover was deemed to be an unfit person to bring up children – how times have changed!

Quite a few women around the internet seem to be quite angry about this book probably because they just can’t get their heads around the fact that the mother doesn’t get custody, but she did abandon them and her unobjectionable husband for a bloke she hardly knew.

This is a good read but not my favourite by Rumer Godden.

Almost There

Well, we’re at the ferry port now and will be sailing tomorrow for the Netherlands. The trip down was horrendous with hail, sleet and snow hitting us in the Borders and the north and midlands of England.

That coupled with a ghastly traffic snarl up in the Midlands, when we ended up being sandwiched in between two articulated lorries! No fun when your wheels are spinning on icy slush!

We’ve enjoyed our English road trip though, visiting Boston, King’s Lynn, Thetford, Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, although we just drove through that one. All places we hadn’t been to before. I hope to be blogging about them in the future.

Fair Helen by Andrew Greig

 Fair Helen cover

Fair Helen by Andrew Greig was published in 2013 and the setting is the Scottish Borders. Elizabeth the First of England is coming to the end of her life and James VI of Scotland is waiting impatiently to inherit the English crown.

The story is written around the Border Ballad Fair Helen of Kirkconnel Lea which is a Scottish version of Romeo and Juliet and the tale is told by Harry Langton who is Helen’s cousin and a friend of Adam, the young man Helen is in love with. But it’s a time of political turmoil, with Border reiving (raiding) still common practice amongst the families living on each side of the Border. They are all controlled by a ‘heidsman’ really just a gang leader.

Helen’s parents intend to marry her off to Robert Bell, he’s ambitious and very violent, and Harry Langton has to act as a look-out when Adam and Helen have their secret meetings. Harry isn’t exactly a hardman though and he ends up getting duffed up by Bell’s minions, but we know that he has survived to old age as he is narrating the story as an old man. Although not a natural fighter he is taught to fight and does take part in a hot-trod which is what they called legitimate hot pursuit, but of course each family regarded every raid as being legitimate. It was a means of surviving in a harsh environment.

This book reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of King’s although that one is set earlier in Henry VIII time. Greig’s language is earthier but I’m sure that it is more authentic. There is a lot of dialogue in Scots dialect but there is a glossary at the back of the book for those who don’t know the Scots words, it wasn’t a problem for me of course. I read Fair Helen as part of the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Jack recommended that I read this book, he rates Andrew Greig’s writing very highly, I think I’ve read three or four of his books now and they have all been very different but his writing is very good, very Scottish and very literary but not in a dry way. Harry Langton is a devotee of Michel de Montaigne and other philosophers, so I was really pleased that I had recently read a book about Montaigne. You can read Jack’s much more thorough review here.

Around Fife, Scotland

We’re getting ready to go off on holiday for a few weeks, visiting family in the Netherlands and also spending some time in Ypres, Belgium. The scenery is going to be very flat in the Netherlands anyway, we’ve not been to Belgium before.

I’m scheduling some posts and I hope to be able to get online and do some blogging too, but if there are any comments it might take me a bit longer than usual to reply.

Last week we went on a walk in a new direction, around some farmland. There’s a crop coing up in that field despite the fact that massive boulders have just been left strewn around, seems strange to me that they don’t clear them away.

pine trees

It’s just as well we have plenty of conifers around as the deciduous trees haven’t even got a hint of green about them.

pines  trees

It has been such a late spring this year and we’ve had sleet and snow showers over the last couple of days and biting Arctic winds. It’s as if the Snow Queen doesn’t want to give in to spring.


The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

 The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet cover

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers was published in 2015. Becky Chambers is an American author who has also lived in Scotland and Iceland but is now back living in the US. I’m not counting her as a Scottish author for the reading challenge though.

I first read of this book after Stefanie @ So Many Books wrote about it, you can read what she thought here. I read SF from time to time so I thought I would give this one a ago.

Anyway, there are quite a lot of different types of SF and I would say this book comes under the category of space opera, not a type I’ve ever read before but it was a good read despite being what I think of as a really old fashioned form of SF such as Star Trek or Blake’s Seven.

I’ve often written that I haven’t enjoyed a book just because there were no likeable characters in it, I prefer to spend my free time with people whose company I enjoy, and there were plenty of characters in this book to like. The Wayfarer is ‘peopled’ by various different sorts of aliens and the on board computer Lovey has developed into much more, she has a personality and in fact one of the crew members has fallen in love with her. As you would expect from different species being thrown together into close confinement there are tensions, especially as Corbin – a human – is of the grumpy male variety.

The Wayfarer is a patchwork spaceship that has been cobbled together from bits and pieces, no sleek streamlined vessel here. Rosemary Harper is the newest crew member, there’s a bit of a mystery about her, but as far as Ashby the easy going captain of the ship is concerned she is vital because she is a clerk and will put all of his files into good order. It’s important to his bosses that he pays more attention to such things.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship and they have got a contract to punch a hole in space to build a hyperspace tunnel in a distant planet, travelling through a dangerous area where wars have been going on. The contract is worth a huge amount of money and Ashby trusts that it must be safe enough as surely they wouldn’t be sent into danger.

This is a very moral tale, similar to The Wizard of Oz or Toy Story where various species learn to get along and respect each other and Ashby ends up wondering if it is morally acceptable for them to be taking on the type of work entailed in the contract. Think of all the people who put themselves in danger taking on contracts in the Middle East and elsewhere and it’s easy to see where Chambers got her idea.

There are big moral questions involved but this is done in a very light-hearted way. It’s an enjoyable read.

The blurb on the front says: A quietly profound, humane tour de force’ Guardian.

Foodie Friday – Bakewell Raspberry Meringue Pie

I had a packet of frozen shortcrust pastry that I bought around Christmas so I wanted to use it up. I decided to team it up with a packet of pre-rolled marzipan also unused since Christmas. I decided to make a combination of Bakewell tart and meringue pie.

Bakewell Raspberry Meringue Pie

I blind baked the pastry case as normal and when it was cool I spread home-made raspberry jam on it then moulded the marzipan into the pastry case. I also had frozen rasps in the freezer and after they had thawed I lined the marzipan with rasps. There was a lot of juice after the raspberries had thawed and I used it to make raspberry curd using the rasp juice instead of the classic lemon.

Bakewell Raspberry Meringue Pie

This was an experiment which was a success and I’ll definitely do it again. If you don’t have a meringue pie recipe you can follow this one here.

When will there be good news?

Now it’s Farewell Prince. We’re less than half-way through 2016 and it must be the worst year ever for losing iconic entertainers. I wish we could go back to the beginning of the year and start it all over again. I feel we must have done something wrong at New Year. I’m getting quite news phobic – are you?

Victoria Wood 1953-2016

We were driving along happily listening to the radio this afternoon, it was a beautiful day with a promise of summer around the corner and a day and evening out in Edinburgh on our immediate agenda – when the first thing on the radio news was the death of Victoria Wood. What a terrible year this is turning out to be with the loss of yet another ‘national treasure’.

I remember Victoria Wood as far back as watching her on that TV talent show that brought her to everyone’s attention, and I know I’ve blogged about her before. It was unusual for a woman to be doing stand-up comedy back then in the 1970s, she was a real trail-blazer I think but she was just hilarious. I never tire of hearing that comedy song The Ballad of Freda and Barry (Let’s Do It)

I suppose she knew how much she was loved in the UK, she got a couple of BAFTAs I’m sure – for dinnerladies, which is one of the few sit- coms that I have on DVD. It’s unusual in that the love interest becomes seriously ill so it was always tempered with a hint of sadness, but of course he got better, it’s a pity that Victoria couldn’t write a happy ending like that for her own serious illness, and so typical of her that she kept it quiet as she was a very private person, not at all like most entertainers. She was crippled with shyness in her earlier years and she apparently only really got over that when she was in her late 40s, like many of us – saying that somehow being shy didn’t seem appropriate for a person of her age.

I watched her playing the part of Nella Last in Housewife 49 and was gobsmacked that she turned out to be such a good serious actress. It’s such a shame that she didn’t get a chance to expand on that talent.

To see what Jack said about Victoria on his blog look here.