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.

Goodreads 2020 Challenge – and this and that

During this very strange and unsettling year I managed to read 116 books. The most that I’ve read since signing up for the Goodreads Challenge was 133 which I read in 2016 and again in 2018. I can’t say that I’ve had any problems with reading during the pandemic, but I have very much missed mooching around in second-hand bookshops. That’s probably my favourite pastime, that and mooching around in antique/junk/reclamation/rake around shops and markets.

It’s just not the same looking at books online, there’s no chance of stumbling across a book that you didn’t even realise you were looking for or even existed. In normal times towards the back end of a year I would tell Jack to put any books I had bought away and wrap them up for Christmas for me. It’s a failsafe way of getting something you really want and I always forget what they are anyway, so they’re always a nice surprise. I often find that real surprises aren’t so nice!

You can see my 2020 Goodreads books here. It was a fairly good reading year. I think my favourite was Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, but that might just be because I was just so glad to get my hands on it after such a long wait, it definitely didn’t disappoint though.

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories is edited by Martin Edwards and is a British Library Crime Classic.

This compilation of eleven Christmas/winter themed vintage crime short stories is as you would expect a bit of a mixed bunch, but that means that there will surely be something to suit everyone. Each short story is preceded by a short biography of the author, which I found interesting.

For me it was the story from which the title of the book came which was most successful. The Christmas Card Crime was written by Donald Stuart. Some of the stories are sooo short, and I can’t help thinking that the author used up a good idea which could have been worked up into something a lot longer and for me more inetresting. I suppose that just means that I’m not a big fan of short stories, well not very short ones anyway.

The other authors featuring in this anthology are:

Baroness Orczy
Selwyn Jepson
Ronald Knox
Carter Dickson
Francis Durbridge
Cyril Hare
E.C.R. Lorac
John Bude
John Bingham
Julian Symons

The book cover is taken from a vintage travel poster.

Mont-Revard poster

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – 28th December

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness, then I took over for a while, but this will be my last such post as I’ve just about run out of bookshelves that I think people might be interested in seeing. This has been an enjoyable meme though and I’ve loved seeing books from other people’s collections.

Books

On the left hand side there are a couple of books by the World War 1 VAD nurse Vera Brittain – Account Rendered and Testament of Experience, I gave Testament of Youth to my history teacher daughter-in-law. They’re interesting books, but Vera Brittain was a bit of a dichotomy as she was all for women’s rights, as long as the women weren’t her own servants – according to her daughter Shirley Williams.

I love Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel writing, he began his adventures as an 18 year old, I believe after he was expelled from school. Those adventures and his knowledge of Greek were of great help during World War 2 when he joined the army and went undercover to what was then German occupied Greece. Not that he was very low profile as he ended up taking a German general prisoner!

The Little Prince by Antoine Saint Exupery is a lovely wee book. It’s beautifully illustrated by the author too.

The French dictionary is from my school days but it still comes in handy sometimes. At school I ‘did’ French, German and Latin and much more recently I’ve been trying to learn Dutch, but I don’t think I could ever get to grips well with any language unless I lived in the country for a while, well that’s my excuse anyway! Are you bookshelf travelling this week?

Staircase Wit

Rington’s Through The Years – a jigsaw puzzle

I was very lucky this Christmas in that I received a new jigsaw puzzle from a friend from the north-east of England where the company Rington’s is something of an institution, they market tea, coffee, biscuits, delicious teacakes and all sorts of tea/coffee related goods. The puzzle design consists of a collage of their wares over the many years they’ve been selling them, including commemorative caddies and teapots. Lots of them feature royalty so the Queen is here from 1953 youngster to just about the present day I think.

Rington's Jigsaw  puzzle

This is a difficult puzzle! I was so bored during our very quiet no guests Christmas Day that I was glad to break open the seal and begin it, there was absolutely nothing worth watching on TV on the many channels that we have, mind you we don’t have Netflix, that might have helped but I don’t really want it – I think. Progress so far has been fairly slow but it’s not driving me around the bend – yet.

Rington's Jigsaw puzzle

The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman

 The Arms Maker of Berlin cover

The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman was published in 2009. It’s the first book that I’ve read by the author and I was encouraged to do so after reading TracyK’s review at Bitter Tea and Mystery.

The action in this book begins in the US where Professor Nat Turnbull lectures on World War 2 history, specialising in the German Resistance. His one time mentor Gordon Wolfe is arrested for possessing stolen files from WW 2 archives and this sets Nat off on a dangerous investigation which takes him to Germany.

The action slips between contemporary America and Germany and 1942 Germany where some of the Nazis are beginning to realise that things aren’t going their way. Some young students have set up a resistance group called the White Rose and they’re involved with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who is under surveillance by the Nazis. Kurt Bauer, the young son of an important industrialist becomes embroiled with the young activists, not for political reasons but because he’s in love with Liesl. His father has warned him to have nothing to do with Liesl as she’s trouble, she is not careful about what she says which is a dangerous thing when there are people queuing up to denounce friends and even family to the Nazis.

I enjoyed this although I did find it quite frustrating when the action changed from one time span to the other, always at a sort of cliffhanger when I just wanted to get on with that aspect of the tale.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to you from me and my Merrythought Lads! It’s not going to be the Christmas that any of us were expecting or planning for, but there’s no doubt that keeping everything quiet and socially distanced this year is the sensible way to go. Then with any luck we can look forward to a more normal celebration next year.

Merrythought Bears

Geoff Farley on the left was named Farley by his original owner. I wonder if he was called after Farley’s Rusks. When I acquired him I added Geoff in memory of a great gardener – Geoff Hamilton. There’s no doubt that he is stricken in years, as many of us feel after such a rough year of bad news in the UK with Brexit and Covid to contend with.

Armstrong McGregor on the right is dapper and young in comparison to his companion, but not very young, and he’s been named after two great-grandfathers. Jack had one whose first name was Armstrong, and I had one whose surname was McGregor. I like the combination.

Fingers crossed that we all feel a bit more like Armstrong McGregor looks this time next year! Come on, own up – does your home shelter a teddy bear or two?

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith

 The Peppermint Tea Chronicles cover

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith was published in 2019 and it’s the latest in the 44 Scotland Street series.

This was an enjoyable read, perfect really for bedtime reading as the chapters are very short so if you suddenly get tired it isn’t far to the end of the chapter.

At the end of the last book the ghastly Irene decided to do a PhD at Aberdeen University, leaving her husband Stuart to look after their son Bertie and Ulysses who isn’t Stuart’s son, although Irene doesn’t know that we all know that! Everyone is glad to see the back of her. It’s obvious to Stuart that Irene will be continuing her relationship with the fellow psychologist and father of Ulysses in Aberdeen, so he feels that it’s the end of the marriage, even although Irene seems to think that Stuart is still very much hers to use and abuse. Will he have the guts to break free completely?

Bertie’s life has become more varied as his mother isn’t there to plan out all of his waking hours with psychology appointments and things he doesn’t want to do.

Big Lou, owner of the coffee shop discovers that having a child in her life has very much complicated matters.

Elspeth’s life out in the sticks, with a beautiful house and no money worries looks idyllic, but she’s bored stiff. I would tell her that she should try looking after her triplets herself, but I doubt if that would appeal to her!

Anyway, these books are humorous but also feature small ethical dilemmas. Not all of the characters work well for me, but probably everyone has their own favourites and might be different from mine. For me as ever it was pleasant to be in Edinburgh and the surroundings again, at a time when I haven’t been allowed to travel the 30 miles into the city from my place.

Bookshelf Travelling – 20th December

It’s Bookshelf Travelling time again, a meme which was originally hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. I’ve been gathering the posts recently but I think it’s now time to hand it on to someone else, if anyone wants to continue with it.

More Books

The bookshelf above is in the sun room and it’s a mixture of old travel books, cookery books and gardening/nature books.

I believe that The Glasgow Cookery book was used in the ‘Dough School’ which was the Domestic Science College in Glasgow. It was first published in 1962 and it’s a mixture of what must have seemed to be quite posh recipes at the time such as Salmi of Pheasant, and peasant fare such as Pease Pudding. It actually contains a recipe for Dressed Sheep’s Head. The recipe reads like something from a horror film!

The Companion Garden – How Nature can help your plants by Bob Flowerdew is a book about which plants should be grown together. The herb Hyssop apparently wards off cabbage white butterflies when grown near your vegetable plot. If you grow tomatoes beside your asparagus they will keep the asparagus beetle away. I’ve never had enough ground to grow asparagus so I’ve never tried that. In any case there’s practically no chance of being able to grow tomatoes outside a greenhouse in Scotland, but this is a nice wee book with lovely illustrations by Sally Maltby.

Ode to the Countryside is a book of poems to celebrate the British landscape. I must admit that I bought it for the illustrations by such artists as Frank Newbould and Walter E. Spreadberry. Unfortunately the illustrations aren’t signed and there’s no name check for the artists, but quite a lot of the images are like the 1930s travel poster art which is a style I really like.

There’s a Delia Smith cookery book there. I still use a lot of her recipes, you’re never in any danger of having a failure when you use them.

The travel books are about various areas of Scotland, pretty old but not really out of date because things don’t change that much in the more far-flung parts of Scotland.

So that’s that! I hope you enjoyed having a wee keek at many of my bookshelves over these pandemic months. As I write this blogpost the news is that we in the UK are going into another strict lockdown and Christmas as we knew it is cancelled. Worse than that though is the news that it looks as though mainland Europe has shut us off. I wonder how much food the supermarkets have in storage and how long it will take for it to be depleted as no deliveries will be coming from Europe? Just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the tunnel too.

Anyway – other Bookshelf Travellers this week are:

A Son of the Rock

Staircase Wit

The Case of William Smith by Patricia Wentworth

 The Case of William Smith cover

The Case of William Smith by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1950 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.

William Smith can’t remember anything that happened to him before 1942. His first memory is of being in a German hospital, and from there he was transferred to a concentration camp. The identity disc around his neck says William Smith. In the camp he strikes up a friendship with a Czech prisoner who teaches him how to carve small wooden toys and when William eventually gets back to London after the war his talent is spotted by Mr Tattlecombe, a toy shop owner who takes William on as an employee. Mr Tattlecombe’s son had been in the concentration camp with William but he had died there and to Mr Tattlecombe William had begun to take the place of his dead son.

When Mr Tattlecombe is involved in an accident William takes over the running of the business and takes on a female sales assistant. There’s a bit of a mystery as to why she wants the job at all, but William seems keen on her and when ‘accidents’ continue to occur it’s Miss Silver with her gentle cough who comes to the rescue.

I liked this one a lot, it has likeable main characters, twists and turns and Miss Silver sorts it all out as she knits two pale blue coattees for a baby and then begins on a cherry-red cardigan for the mother. She’s some woman!

Armchair Travelling around Scotland

I must admit that I’ve watched a lot more TV this year than usual due to the various lockdowns, and it has been a good way to see some lovely scenery and note down places to visit in the future when we’re eventually able to get out and about. Or even to re-visit favourite places that we haven’t been allowed to travel to.

I always enjoy Paul Murton’s Scottish tours, the episode below is from Grand Tours of Scottish Islands. I hope you can see it and it isn’t blocked where you are.

Or you might prefer Tales from the Coast with Robson Green in the Outer Hebrides.

Or what about the classic Weir’s Way with Tom in the Orkneys? These films are really old now but still entertaining.

Tom Weir in Edinburgh.

And Tom Weir again at Dumbarton Rock, which is where I used to play when I was wee. This is now quite a historic wee film as the town of Dumbarton has changed so much. The Ballantine’s distillery which can be sen steaming away in the background at times is now long gone. It was the largest brick built building in Europe at one time.

I hope that wherever you are you can see these You Tube films and find them interesting. There are loads of them on You Tube and it’s good to be able to do some research this way before setting out on your own journeys.