Falkland Palace Garden, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Although we’re members of the Scottish National Trust we haven’t been able to visit any of their properties this year as they’ve obviously all been closed due to Covid. Some of the bigger castles have opened up again, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, but last week we decided as it was a beautiful day we’d visit nearby Falkland Palace, just to walk in the garden, the palace wasn’t open. You can just walk in and there’s a box for donations.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace was the hunting lodge of the Stuart kings and queens. Built in the 16th century by King James IV and his son James V and modelled in the French style it was also a favourite with Mary, Queen of Scots as it reminded her of the French chateaux of her childhood.

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Much of the palace is a romantic ruin, but in the 19th century the third Marquess of Bute had it partly rebuilt.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

We quite often just go for a wander around the gardens, there’s a pleasant orchard, although a lot of the trees have been fairly recently planted. In normal times you can have a nice wee sit down on a bench and admire the views, but I believe they’ve been removed due to Covid 19.

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took while we wandered around.

Falkland Palace Gardens , Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Steps, Fife, Scotland

The gate below is obviously modern, it leads through to the orchard some of which you can just see in the background. The apple crop was not nearly as good as usual due to the weather.

Falkland Palace Gate, Fife, Scotland

Although Falkland has always been popular with tourists it has become even more so in recent years as the village and palace have been used as a location for Outlander. Click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

 The Turning Tidecover

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson was published in 2019, I’m glad that I’ve caught up with this series which should be read in the correct order if possible. Dandy’s family has just expanded by two as her daughter-in-law has given birth to twins.

The setting is the summer of 1936 and on the east coast of Scotland Dandy is feeling no need to shed her cardigan as there’s a keen wind, as usual! Dandy and Alec have been asked to investigate goings on at the Cramond Ferry. It doesn’t sound like their sort of thing and initially they decline to take the case on, then refuse the second plea, when the third request came along things at Cramond had deteriorated and they decided to take the case on. Apparently the ferrywoman’s behaviour was now so strange that she was refusing to ferry anyone out to the small tidal island in the middle of the Firth of Forth. There has been a tragic accident, the body of a young man has been fished out of the river and Dandy realises that she knows his family. When Dandy and Alec arrive at Cramond island the ferrywoman who goes by the name of Vesper Kemp is raving, filthy and is naked from the waist up. Alec doesn’t know where to look! Vesper claims she murdered the young man.

Various Cramond residents including the local minister don’t believe that Vesper is guilty, surely it was just an accident, but there’s no doubting that there are strange things going on in the small community. Dandy and Alec are the ones to get to the bottom of it all, assisted by Grant, Dandy’s maid who now sees herself as a key component of any investigation.

This was a good read and for me the fact that I know the settings of Cramond and Edinburgh so well added to the enjoyment. You can see images of Cramond here. However the tidal island off Cramond whih is featured in this book sounds much bigger than the actual island.

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson – Readers Imbibing Peril XV

A Step So Grave

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson was first published in 2018 and it’s the 13th book in her Dandy Gilvers series.

It’s 1935 and Dandy is crossing from the beautiful Scottish Highland village of Plockton to Applecross Bay, Wester Ross, in a small boat. She had expected it to be a smooth jaunt but the sea loch was choppy, it’s not something she’s keen to repeat any time soon. Dandy’s accompanied by her husband Hugh and her two sons, Donald and Teddy. They’re on their way to meet Donald’s future mother-in-law Lavinia, Viscountess Ross, she’s about to celebrate her 50th birthday. Dandy hasn’t met Donald’s fiancee Mallory, but she’s not at all keen on her, mainly because at the age of 30 Mallory is seven years older than Donald. Surely Mallory should have been married already at her age, maybe there’s something wrong with her?

It isn’t long before Lavinia’s body is found in the garden, but she’s surrounded by a fall of snow and there are no footprints at all in the area. How did the murderer manage that? Who would want to kill Lavinia and why? Then there’s another murder.

This was a good read, and it made a nice change to have the action going on in the Scottish Highlands instead of the Edinburgh area or Fife. There’s a wee glossary at the beginning as there are quite a few Gaelic words used, the tale features folklore but McPherson says in her ‘Facts and Fictions’ at the back of the book that most of the folklore is made up by her. Applecross is of course a real place and the manse which appears in the book is apparently available for holiday lets. I imagine that the owners were very happy to have the publicity as it sounds like a beautiful place for a holiday – and it’s fairly unlikely that you’ll be murdered there!

If you want to read this book you might be interested in what the scenery looks like. You can see images of Plockton here. Applecross images are here.

I read this one for Readers Imbibing Peril.

readers imbibing peril

Bookshelf Travelling – September the 12th

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again, taken over from Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. How quickly it comes around!

Books Again

The bookcase this week is situated in our guest bedroom, there are three bookcases in there so if you’re ever visiting you’ll have plenty to choose from.

The shelf in the photo begins with a few Helen Dunmore books. I really like her writing, it’s such a shame that she is no longer with us.

I went through a W. Somerset Maugham phase when I was in my late teens and the two red volumes contain nine of his novels. Liza of Lambeth, Cakes and Ale, Theatre, The Moon and Sixpence and The Narrow Corner are in volume one. I have no recollection of Theatre or The Narrow Corner and I suspect I haven’t read those ones. Have you read them by any chance?

A.A. Milne is of course best known for Winnie the Pooh but he also wrote for adults – not that adults can’t enjoy Winnie the Pooh. His book Two People is a searingly perceptive account of a marriage between two people who come to realise they have little common ground. You can read my thoughts on it here.

Then there are a few books by various Mitfords. There’s something annoyingly fascinating about those sisters. I think that the youngest Deborah was the best of them all – but I would say that wouldn’t I – being the youngest myself.

Are you bookshelf travelling this week? Other travellers are:
A Son of the Rock

Bitter Tea and Mystery

Staircase Wit

Readers Imbibing Peril XV

RIP

This year I’ve decided to join in with Readers Imbibing Peril XV, for the first time ever. I don’t know why I haven’t got around to it before – but such is life – I am not a great joiner. I still haven’t signed up with Twitter or Instagram.

Anyway over September and October I’m aiming to read at least ten books that feature:

Mystery
Suspense
Thriller
Dark Fantasy
Gothic
Horror
Supernatural

I’ve already started with A Better Man by Louise Penny, here’s my list.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes

I’m hoping to manage more than this lot but, we’ll see.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

A Better Man by Louise Penny was published in 2019 and it’s a continuation of her Chief Inspector Gamache series, number fifteen.

As expected this was a really good read, a lot of the enjoyment is just being back in Three Pines, that off the map Quebecois village that so many of us want to live in – despite its crime rate! The odd local murder now and again would be worthwhile putting up with if you could have your coffee and pastries at Gabri and Olivier’s bistro, sitting by the fire.

It’s a time of change at the Surete de Quebec, Armande Gamache has been demoted and Jean Guy will soon be moving on with his family to a new job in Paris, meanwhile there’s still work to be done. Vivienne Godin is a 25 year old local woman and her father is worried as she’s missing. To make matters worse she’s also pregnant. Her drunken and abusive husband is under suspicion.

At the same time the police are having to deal with the fast melting snow and ice which is threatening to flood the whole area. The Riviere Bella Bella is in danger of breaking its banks, and the dams are about to burst. If that happens the flooding will stretch into Vermont. All the villagers can do is fill sandbags and watch the river rise.

As ever there’s a lot of angst as Armande has more than his fair share of enemies among politicians in power, but there’s also an awful lot of love around, not only between Armande and his wife Reine-Marie but also among the other villagers and their various animals – not forgetting Ruth the ancient poet (how old is she?) and her beloved companion the duck Rosa. I think they’re both mellowing with age.

If you do read Louise Penny’s books you should make sure that you read her Acknowledgements at the back of the book. They’re always very personal and moving. I think she should copy Elizabeth von Arnim and write a book called All the Dogs of My Life. Mind you given the shortish age span of most dogs it would be a tear-jerker.

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay

 Dangerous Ages  cover

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay was first published in 1921 but I read a British Library Women Writers reprint. It’s quite different from the other two books I’ve read by the author – The Towers of Trebizond and The World My Wilderness. I really enjoyed this one too, but it couldn’t be called a comfort read.

The story features four generations of women within one family and it begins with Neville’s 43rd birthday. Neville is actually a woman which is slightly confusing to begin with, her son is called Kay which is of course normally a girls name – apart from in Scandinavia. Birthdays can be depressing and Neville looks back on her life. Now that her son and daughter are grown up she is regretting that she had given up her medical studies to get married. Maybe if she resumes her studies after 20 odd years she would would regain the confidence that she had had back then. Neville is worried that she’s beginning to turn into her mother (Mrs Hilary).

‘I don’t like being merely a married woman. Rodney isn’t merely a married man, after all … But anyhow, I’ll find something to amuse my old age, even if I can’t work. I’ll play patience or croquet or piano or all three, and I’ll go to theatres and picture shows and concerts and meetings in the Albert Hall. Mother doesn’t do any of those things. And she is so unhappy so often’

Mrs Hilary who is 63 years old has always been consumed with self-pity, but since her husband’s death she has got worse. Her family is well used to her self-centred moods and silliness, especially her own mother who is 83 and obviously knows her best and has put up with her for so long. She had tried to interest her daughter in parish works, art or handiworks to no avail, with the result that when her children became adults she had nothing to fall back on. She doesn’t even like her children to communicate with each other or with their grandmother without her being there. As Freud and psychology in general has become fashionable Mrs Hilary decides that she might feel better if she sees one. It’s exactly what she wants, someone who will sit and listen to all her moaning.

‘Grandmamma’ is the happiest member of the family, she has attained contentment as many do when they have reached a great age and outlived so many acquaintances. Hearing a distant Salvation Army band playing a jolly tune in the distance is enough to make her happy – just don’t think of the rather violent words that go with the tune.

But it’s Gerda who at 20 is the youngest woman in the family who is going to cause grief within the wider family as Gerda has been spoiled and it looks to me like she’s the one who will turn into a self-pitying updated version of her granny Mrs Hilary.

This makes it all sound rather grim and as I said earlier it isn’t a comfort read, there’s a lot of angst, but such is life. This book was written just after the First World War which was a time when women of all ages and classes had been ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort, whether it was knitting balaclavas or making munitions. At the end of the war when the surviving men returned, going back to the way things had been pre-war must have been a difficult transition for all concerned, historically the suicide rates for women were very high, gas ovens were such handy things and many stuck their heads in them, right up into the 1950s. Being able to work outside the home went a long way to improving their mental health and I suppose anti-depressants helped too!

Anyway, this is a really good read. My thanks to the British Library who kindly sent me a copy of this book to review. I was really pleased to see that the Afterword is by Simon of Stuck in a Book.

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse was first published in Dutch in the Netherlands in 1949 but wasn’t published in English until 1989. It was one of my 20 Books of Summer and although I finished it in August I didn’t manage to review it then. The setting is 15th century France during the Hundred Years War. The French King Charles VI is not a well man, described as being mad but he has periods of lucidity over many years. His wife Queen Isabeau is in charge of things for most of the time and she manages to keep her husband isolated, even from his brother Louis d’Orleans. Isabeau hates Louis wife Valentin and after Valentin gives birth to a son Isabeau turns everyone against her, accusing Valentin of being a witch and causing the king’s illness. For her own safety Valentin has to leave the court. Louis isn’t really interested in power but given that he’s the king’s brother he can’t help being involved in the power struggle between the dukes of Burgundy, Berry and Bourbon.

Again and again Louis d’Orleans’ actions show that he isn’t cut out for leadership anyway, poetry is his favourite pastime and he has plenty of time to compile it when he is taken for ransom by the English after the Battle of Agincourt and spends 25 years as a prisoner in England.

This book is 574 pages long and is a great read. Over decades the book was translated by Edith Kaplan, Kalman Kaplan and Anita Miller. The writing is really descriptive, such as the scene before the Battle of Agincourt:

The moon hid behind clouds; a fine, even cold rain fell. There was no wind, but the raw damp of the long night seemed far less bearable than a dry cold. On the muddy plain the French army stood with its vast camp of tents: hundreds of bonfires smouldered in the dank mist. Torches flashed like comets through the darkness. Flags and banners hung limply; from the pointed tops of the tents water trickled down the gold and silver escutcheons.

If you want to read a much more detailed review of this book have a look at Helen at She Reads Novels thoughts here.

Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs

 Corpses in Enderby  cover

Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs was first published in 1954 and I read it on my Kindle, the first time I had used my Kindle for ages because I much prefer actual books, for one thing you can flick through them easily to remind yourself of details, and put bits of paper in the pages. I did use the notes bit on my Kindle but now can’t get into them! Modern life – huh.

Anyway Corpses in Enderby if I’m recalling correctly more or less begins in a pub in a small English town where there’s a bit of a ‘stooshie’ because a local businessman Ned Bunn has refused to help one of his neighbours who has a dying wife and needs some money. Ned Bunn is obviously not a good guy and the neighbour swears he’ll kill him. When Bunn leaves the pub to walk across the road to his ironmonger’s shop and home he’s furious to discover his daughter and shop assistant having a bit of a canoodle. The widowed Ned Bunn is determined to keep his daughter a spinster so that she can look after him, he has seen off her previous boyfriends. As he throws the poor man out into the street there’s a huge bang and Ned Bunn is dead, but who did it?

The local police waste no time in calling in Scotland Yard in the shape of Inspector Littlejohn and his assistant Cromwell. It turns out that the Bunn family is a big one and they’re all obsessed with money and Ned Bunn had been the top of the pile. In fact there is more than a baker’s dozen of Bunns and also an awful lot of other characters with names beginning with ‘B’, it’s a bit bizarre!

I enjoyed this one, there’s more murder, quite a lot of snarky humour and some entertaining female characters. I really like Inspector Littlejohn and his side-kick Cromwell so I’ll look out for more of these books. I got this ebook free from the George Bellairs Estate. Thank-you.

The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates

The Berry Scene cover

The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates is a collection of short stories involving Berry Pleydell, his wife and cousin Daphne, the narrator is Daphne’s brother ‘Boy’. Dornford Yates was a local magistrate and his experiences in court obviously inspired him to write some hilarious court situations. The dates vary between 1914 and post World War 2 and the locations begin in England and move to France, just as Yates himself did.

A couple of the stories are about the Pleydells having good luck at auction houses, due to Daphne’s eagle eyes and also feature them getting one over a rival bidder which ends in grief for the other bidder, but relations are always smoothed over in a later story so there’s no residual nastiness.

If you like P.G. Wodehouse you’ll probably enjoy the Yates books that involve Berry, they’re similar although not quite as snooty and upper class. There are a few of his books available free from Project Gutenberg here.