About Katrina

I live on the east coast of Scotland, not from choice. After 30 years here it still doesn't feel like home. Hence the name of my blog. West is still best as far as I am concerned. I'm married with two grown up 'boys'. I'm interested in books, films, art, crafts, cooking, politics, museums and travelling around Britain.

20 Books of Summer

I’m going to be joining in with 20 Books of Summer again which is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. In the past I’ve been quite successful with this one and usually complete the list, for me it’s a good way of concentrating on books that I actually own over June, July and August.

More Books

1. Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley
2. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
3. Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith
4. Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay
5. Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes
6. Are They the Same at Home? by Beverley Nichols
7. The Tontine Bell by Elisabeth Kyle
8. The Market Square by Miss Read
9. Revenge by Eric Brown
10. The Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie
11. Sheiks and Adders by Michael Innes
12. End of Term by Antonia Forest
13. Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley
14. Scarweather by Anthony Rolls
15. The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797
16. Gemma Alone by Noel Streatfeild
17. Visitors From England by Elisabeth Kyle
18. The Unjust Skies by R.F. Delderfield
19. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
20. Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Are you going to be joining in with 20 Books of Summer this year?

The Lion of Justice by Jean Plaidy

 The Lion of Justice cover

The Lion of Justice by Jean Plaidy is the second book in the author’s Norman Trilogy, but I haven’t read the first one, I don’t think that was a problem though. It was first published in 1975. She wrote under several pseudonyms including Victoria Holt.

I must admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one when I began to read it as the writing style seemed quite chunky when compared with more modern writers of historical fiction. There’s a lot of very obvious info-dumping, however I got used to the style and ended up enjoying it although I would only give it three stars.

Scottish princesses Edith and her sister Mary have been placed in a nunnery after the death of their mother Queen of Scotland. The nunnery is run by their aunt Christina who is determined that they will take the veil. The girls aren’t enamoured with that idea though and hope that they will be able to get married in the future, this incenses Aunt Christina the mother superior and she becomes more and more violent, especially towards Edith. So when some men from the royal court visit them they see their chance to escape. Edith hangs on for a son of the Conqueror. Henry is the youngest of that dead king’s sons, and is third in line to the throne. As you can imagine Edith is quite happy to change her name to Matilda as Henry asks her to. She’s of Saxon blood and the Norman Henry’s idea is that if he does become king marrying a Saxon will make him popular with the common people. But Henry is a philanderer and already has multiple illegitimate children, that’s all such a heart-ache for the young Matilda over the years.

Henry spends a lot of time in Normandy and when he’s not there he’s often in Wales with Nesta, his favourite other woman of long standing. Actually that part reminded me so much of another heir to the throne!

Anyway, I don’t think I will rush to read the other books in this trilogy but it was fairly entertaining.

Christian Aid Book Sale haul

Last week the St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh held their Christian Aid book sale, it had been cancelled for the last few years due to the Covid pandemic, so we were quite keen to get there, something different to do for a change. Saturday was actually sunny and quite warm – for Edinburgh – and the sale was very busy, they have a lot of tables full of books outside the church, it felt quite safe but we still wore face masks. Inside the church was even busier, that’s where they have the more unusual or rare books, so they tend to be more expensive. Outside it was £3 for hardbacks and £1 or £2 for paperbacks. This was the 50th anniversary of their first book sale there, I spoke to the woman who was the convenor and had been at the first sale which had been teeny wee!

Booksale Books

Anyway, my haul was:

1. The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797.
2. The Unjust Skies by R.F. Delderfield
3. The Small Army by Michael Marshall
4. Visitors from England by Elisabeth Kyle
5. Spiderweb by Penelope Lively
6. An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown
7. Life and Work of the People of England (The Eighteenth Century) I bought it because of the cover!
8. Scottish Painting 1837 to the present
9. To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett

Jack bought one book by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. That’s about the normal book buying ratio for us.

I forgot to put An Orkney Tapestry in the photo since I’m reading it at the moment and it wasn’t in the pile.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain cover

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize and at the time I seem to remember that there were a lot of people who were very surprised, complaining that it was difficult to read the Scots/Glaswegian dialect, but really there’s very little in it.

The setting is Glasgow where Agnes Bain has walked out on her husband and taken her three children with her. She goes off with a taxi driver called Hugh Bain, he’s more exciting than her husband it would seem, but neither of them have planned things, and Hugh has walked out on his wife and four chidren. With nowhere to live they end up moving in with Agnes’s parents. Life isn’t at all as Agnes had imagined it to be and she has developed a serious alcohol problem.

Unsurprisingly Hugh has turned out to be a terrible philandering husband. When Agnes has a melt down they have to move out of her parent’s home and Hugh rents a flat in a remote pit village, but of course the pit is closed, everybody is unemployed, it’s a desert with windows, and Agnes’s drink problem gets worse and worse. As you would expect the home life of the children is a disaster, but the two older ones leave home and Shuggie is the one who is left behind to deal with Agnes who as soon as she gets her benefit money spends it all on booze and fags.

This book is very autobiographical and is a grim read at times, especially when you remember that in reality there are so many children having to cope with addicted parents, it’s heart-breaking. However, Douglas Stuart has managed to triumph over his dreadful childhood and has become a successful fashion designer and of course author.

You can read Jack’s far more detailed review here.

Aberlemno Pictish Stones, Angus, Scotland

When we were up in Aberdeenshire a few weeks ago we took the time to visit some of the standing stones in the area. Actually we drove into rural Angus from Aberdeenshire. The information board below is in Aberlemno. There is one large stone in the churchyard and some others on the edge of a nearby road.

Info Board Churchyard Cross

Aberlemno, Board Pictish stones

As you can see one side of the stone is Christian. The stones date from around the 800s AD,

Churchyard Cross, Aberlemno, Aberdeenshire, Pictish cross

but the other side of it has been carved with men and horses, more usual Pictish symbols.

Aberlemno Churchyard Cross

The stone below is the back of the one underneath it, the Roadside Cross.

Aberlemno Stone  reverse, Aberdeenshire, Pictish stone, standing stone

Aberlemno Stone, standing stone, Pictish, Aberdeenshire

Aberlemno Stones, The Roadside Cross Information Board

There is a very faint design on the stone below but it has not fared so well as the others. I find it amazing that the rough weather of the north-east of Scotland hasn’t eroded them all completely though. Many of the headstones in the churchyard that are just a few hundred years old aren’t in the best of condition.

Aberlemno Stone, Pictish, standing stone, Aberdeenshire

Aberlemno Stone , the Crescent Stone, standing stone, Aberdeenshire

Aberlemno Stone , standing stone, Pictish, Aberdeenshire

Information Board, the Serpent Stone, Aberlemno

The School That Escaped the Nazis by Deborah Cadbury

The School That Escaped the Nazis

The School That Escaped the Nazis by Deborah Cadbury wasn’t quite what I expected it to be from the title, as although it is about a school which was moved from Germany in 1933 to England by a very far-seeing and dynamic woman called Anna Essinger (Tante Anna) there’s also an awful lot of quite harrowing history from the early 1930s in Germany. Anna’s school in Germany had been a liberal one and as she herself was Jewish she saw the dangers for her pupils as the Nazis took power, and she began to get as many children over to Britain as she could, it wasn’t easy. The school which she set up in Kent was in dilapidated buildings and by the time she had got it into shape the war had begun and the buildings were requisitioned by the government for the army so she had to start all over again in a different location.

She did manage to save a lot of children over the years, but there were so many that couldn’t be saved, and the story of the school is interspersed with what was going on in Germany over this time and what was happening to the families of some of the children. Just when I thought I knew all of the ghastly things that the Nazis got up to I discovered that I didn’t.

With what’s going on in Ukraine now, I found it quite depressing, although it’s a well written book . However, it is important that the story has been told – ‘lest we forget.’

I had thought that the book might have been more like the wonderful BBC programme The Windermere Children which is the true story of young Jewish refugees who had been liberated from concentration camps and flown to a very different kind of camp in the Lake District of northern England. If you haven’t seen it it’s well worth watching if you can.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me a digital copy for review.

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell

 The Thistle and the Grail cover

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1939 and this was a re-read for me which is something that I don’t do all that often, well I have so many unread books to get to, but as I read this Barsetshire series out of order originally I’ve always intended to re-read them all again in the correct order. I must say that it was a real treat to be back in Barsetshire, absolute comfort reading which was just what I needed.

The Brandon family consists of Mrs Lavinia Brandon, her daughter Delia and son Francis. Mrs Brandon was widowed early on in her marriage and she seems to have found her situation to be a comfortable one, she has a lovely home and no money worries, she writes popular books. Her long dead husband is used to express what she claims would be his disapproval now and again. She’s regarded as a bit of a silly fool and admits to that but in reality she’s often surprisingly astute.

Mrs Brandon’s very elderly and wealthy Aunt Sissie has been on her last legs for years but now she’s bedridden and is concerned with her will. She’s threatening to leave everything to Francis, but another relative has appeared on the scene. Cousin Hilary Grant is unknown to the Brandons but when they all meet they get on well and as neither Francis or Hilary wish to inherit ‘Nightmare Abbey’ Aunt Sissie’s will holds not a lot of interest for them. They all feel sorry for Miss Morris though, she has had the job of looking after Aunt Sissie and it obviously isn’t an easy task.

As you would expect from a Thirkell book there’s a lot of silly chat and snobbery and I find that amusing but not everybody appreciates that sort of thing. The editor and author Diana Athill seems to have really despised Thirkell’s books – and the sort of women who read them, but maybe she just didn’t have much of a sense of humour!

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece

 Horned Helmet cover

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece was first published in 1963.

This is the story of Beorn (Bjorn) a young Icelandic boy who has had a rough time as his mother has been kidnapped by Viking raiders and enslaved, and then his father jumped into the sea rather than face a fight with Glam whose barn he had burned down. The upshot of his suicide is that Beorn now belongs to Glam, but Beorn decides he would rather do anything than be Glam’s slave. He manages to escape and is taken on board a Jomsviking ship when he befriends Starkad. The Jomsvikings are a notorious band of mercenaries and at times Beorn regrets getting on board, the ship isn’t in the best of condition and it looks like they’ll all drown.

This one is written in the style of a Viking saga, so it seems a bit stilted to modern ears, or eyes at times, but I enjoyed the adventure anyway.

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire – the walled garden

As you can see from the photo below box topiary is quite a feature of the walled garden at Castle Fraser, they don’t seem to have a problem with box blight – fingers crossed for them!

Castle Fraser, walled Garden, Aberdeenshire    3

Aberdeenshire is quite far north so it takes the plants a bit longer to get going in the spring.

Castle Fraser Garden, Aberdeenshire

I absolutely love walled gardens though and I still miss the high wall that we had in our old garden.

Castle Fraser, walled Garden 4

Click on the photos to enlarge them if you want to see them in more detail.

Castle Fraser, walled Garden

There’s an unusual old sundial in the garden.

Castle Fraser, walled Garden, sundial
Despite Castle Fraser being fairly far north they are still able to grow fruit, thanks to the walls, and the apple blossom was just beginning to flower when we were there a few weeks ago, it’ll be looking great now I imagine.

espalier, fruit trees, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

A few weeks ago we went up to Aberdeenshire, for one night only, it was mainly so that Jack could go to a football match, but as you can see we managed to visit Castle Fraser too, which is good as I’m really not much interested in football. The earliest part of the castle dates from 1575, you can read about it here.

Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

It was a grey morning and really quite freezing and slightly misty for mid April.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

The castle is in the Scots baronial style which is more akin to the pepperpot towers so beloved of medieval European castles than anything that you would find elsewhere in the UK.
Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire, Scots baronial

The photo below is of the Great Hall.
Great Hall, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

Below is the library, a room I could have spent a long time in, apart from the books it was the warmest!
library , Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

The doorways are very ornate.
ornate door , Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

We of course slogged up to the top of the tower to get a good view of the surrounding area.

courtyard from tower, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire

In the distance we could see the walled garden, so we made our way carefully back down the long spiral staircase so we could go and get a closer look at it. I’ll leave the photos of the garden for another blogpost. Castle Fraser is definitely worth seeing
walled garden from tower, Castle Fraser, Aberdeenshire