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.

The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster – 20 Books of Summer

 Death in Bordeaux cover

The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster was first published in 1925. It’s the first book in a Jacobite trilogy, the others being The Gleam in the North and The Dark Mile. Broster was an English woman who was inspired to write this trilogy after a five week long visit to friends in Scotland, she says that she consulted 80 reference books before embarking on writing the series. I can believe it. I’ll definitely be reading the other two. Broster served as a Red Cross nurse in a Franco-American hospital during World War 1.

The setting is 1745, the book begins just before the Jacobite rebellion. Ewen Cameron is a young Highland chieftain who has spent years in France as a boy being educated and avoiding the English as his father had been a Jacobite supporter. There’s a large Scottish community and that’s where he met Alison Grant whom he’s now engaged to.

With the arrival of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the gathering of the clans at Glenfinnan Alison is obviously worried about the outcome, but with Lochiel supporting the Prince despite the fact that he hasn’t brought the promised French help with him, Clan Cameron led by Ewen will be in the thick of any battles.

Ewen’s foster-father Angus has the ‘second sight’ although he’s blind and he warns Ewen that a heron plays some sort of part in his future, but he can’t say whether it is for good or bad.

Captain Keith Windham of the Royal Scots is one of the many British Army soldiers inhabiting the Highlands at the time. He’s a career soldier and isn’t happy about this posting, he wants to be in Antwerp instead of in the old and wet Highlands which as far as he is concerned is infested with wild rebels. His meeting with Ewen is a surprise to him as what looks like a wild man to him turns out to be an educated and honourable gentleman. Captain Windham has always been a bit of a loner, having decided that that was the best way of advancing his career but he finds that he is drawn to Ewen and throughout their subsequent meetings they avoid the chance to do each other damage as they should given that they are on opposite sides.

This is a great read and the writing gives a really authentic feel of the Scottish Highlands and also the Edinburgh of the time. I haven’t read the Diana Gabaldon books, I’ve been warned that they’re probably too racy for my liking, but I have watched Outlander – I just roll my eyes at the many sex scenes, but I suspect that she read this book before setting out on her long series of books set around the same time – on and off. There are a lot of similarities between the characters, and even the shocking possibility of a clan chief (gentleman) being whipped appears in this book, but obviously back in 1925 there could only be some hints about male sexuality.

I’m always interested in who a book is dedicated to, this one is dedicated to Violet Jacob, in homage. She was a Scottish writer who had a very grand upbringing as her father owned the House of Dun which you can see here if you’re interested. I’m presuming that it was at this house with Violet Jacob that Broster stayed for five weeks and was inspired by the surroundings to write these books.

This is the fifth book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s time for some more Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

Crime Bookshelves

The first shelf is in a small bookcase which is situated at the top of the stairs, it’s a tight space and I was really happy when we managed to get a wee bookcase to fit in. This shelf is where most of my British Library Crime Classic books reside. I’ve discovered quite a few authors that I hadn’t experienced before through these books and I tend to read them as soon as I get them so these books have all been read. I like this series, they feature covers appropriate to the time they were originally published, often from British Rail posters advertising holiday destinations in the UK. I love those posters too and have quite a few wee repro ones framed and hanging on the staircase walls.

Vintage Crime Bookshelves

More vintage crime, I rarely come across any original Penguin crime paperbacks, but when I do manage to find them I almost always read them straight away, so these ones have all been read too. The books by Jean Potts and Holly Roth were bought when I hadn’t even heard of those authors but I really enjoyed the books. If you are a fan of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances then you will almost certainly like her crime/mystery books. They feature the same witty dialogue that make her historical books such fun.

Book Trough

The last shelf isn’t a shelf at all, it’s a book trough, although at the last antiques fair I went to (remember those heady days when we had the luxury of doing things like that and we took it all completely for granted?!) anyway, I bought another book trough but was amused to see that the label on it described it as being a book troff. The one below is on the floor in the hall at the moment as I have nowhere else to put it. There’s some more vintage crime in it, it’s a mixture of books that are waiting to be read and some I have read already. The big thick book is called The Herries Chronicle and it’s by Hugh Walpole. I think this trilogy was wildly popular when they were first published in the 1930s but I’ve never known anyone who has read them. The books are set in the Lake District, which seems like a plus to me. This volume contains four books – Rogue Herries, Judith Paris, The Fortress and Vanessa. Have any of you read any of Walpole’s books?

Cockle Button, Cockle Ben by Richard Phibbs

 Cockle Button, Cockle Ben cover

Cockle Button, Cockle Ben by Richard Phibbs was first published in 1940 and it’s one of the books that I bought at a great secondhand bookshop in Aberdeen. Actually I bought a pile of books there and for that reason I swithered over adding this one to the pile, but the great cover art persuaded me, it’s so of its time and somehow cheery looking.

It’s a collection of six short stories for children and while flicking through the book the words ‘air raid’ jumped out at me from a page. This seemed like a very strange thing to be featured in a children’s book, I was intrigued. It was the third story called Mary Luz and Mary Sol which contained an air raid, but it turned out that it must have been a Spanish civil war air raid. The editor must have thought that as the story was being published in wartime Britain it would be a good one for youngsters who would be experiencing bombs being dropped in their neighbourhood, it still seems a bit strange to me though.

The first story – Cockle Button, Cockle Ben is about two Plymouth Rock chickens, Cockle Button isn’t a good layer but the farmer’s wife wants to show them at the May Fair, however they think that the differences in their routine must mean they are being readied for the chop and make an escape bid. Parts of this story reminded me of the film Chicken Run.

The second story – Kitty Alone features cats, and the fourth one – Jacka’nory is a tale about a feckless man. The fifth The Mist-Woman of the Mountain is about a young boy who takes his mother’s beloved clock to be mended, with disastrous results and the sixth story – The Roll of Red Flannel is about a toyshop owner whose business is failing until he has an idea which transforms his fortunes.

This collection of children’s tales is very different from books for children that are being published nowadays and in truth for me it was the art work which I appreciated most, it’s very much of its time, the illustrator was Gladys M. Rees, whom I had never heard of before. You can see some of her work here.

This is what the endpapers looked like.

Book Endpapers

The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart – 20 Books of Summer

 The Runaway cover

The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart was first published in 1872 and then again in 1936 but my copy is a Persephone which was published in 2002.

Clarice is a 15 year old girl who is living with her father in quite a grand country house, but her mother is dead. She has a governess but lacks a friend of her own age. She’s a bit of a romantic, wishing she could have lived in the more exciting times of the past, in the times of the Charlses maybe.

Almost as soon as she says it a girl pops out of the hedge in front of her. Olga has run away from her school where she was badly treated according to her. There’s no doubt about it – Olga is a handful and I suspect her schoolteachers sighed with relief when she left it.

Clarice is enthralled by her new friend who is half Danish and half Scottish with a father in a Highland regiment (all very apt for Victorian times) and Clarice agrees to hide her in the house and feed her. Unfortunately Olga just can’t stop being naughty though and appears as a ghost in front of the governess and maid and Clarice realises that Olga is too much for her to cope with, she’ll have to track down Olga’s granny somehow as her parents are abroad – with the regiment.

I can see why this was chosen by Persephone, as it features a very unusual portrayal of a Victorian teenage girl, but I must admit that if this one had been the first Persephone book that I had read I would have thought more than twice about buying another one. It was mildly entertaining but wasn’t great. However the book is beautifully illustrated with lots of wood block prints by Gwen Raverat nee Darwin who was Charles Darwin’s granddaughter. You can see some of her work here.

I particularly liked the image below, but it’s nothing to do with this book.

Raverat

Balbirnie, Fife

In normal times (remember them?) we would have done quite a bit of travelling around by this time of the year, but we haven’t been further than seven miles from home for over three months now, and that trip was just to buy some tools so that Jack could do some emergency plumbing himself. He earned many Brownie points! Eventually. Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and walking locally so here we go on another local walk in rural Fife.

The photos were taken in late May when the bluebells were out, but they are really just a haze.

bluebells, Balbirnie, Fife

bluebells , Balbirnie, Fife

bluebells, Japanese maples

It’s quite well known for rhododendrons.

Balbirnie, Rhododendron

But the one below is a mystery to me, very pretty though.

Balbirnie shrub

Balbirnie,  trees

I love that the shattered tree below is determined to hang on to life years after most of it crashed to the ground in a storm.

Broken Tree, Balbirnie

This land which used to belong to the Balfour family, related to the Arthur Balfour who was a British Prime Minister in the early 1900s is now owned by the local council and this year instead of mowing all the grass they are just cutting paths through it. Obviously this is a cost cutting exercise but it’s also great for the wildlife and plants, and very scenic I think. Tomorrow Nicola Sturgeon will hold her usual 12.30 news Covid-19 update, maybe we’ll be allowed to travel more than five miles from home – you never know your luck!

Balbirnie  vista, Fife

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean – 20 Books of Summer

Peter Pan in Scarlet cover

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean is the official sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan which was commissioned by Great Ormond Street Hospital. Barrie gave all the royalties for Peter Pan to the famous children’s hospital. There was a competition to see who would get the contract to write the sequel and McCaughrean won it, I feel that this might have something to do with the several one star so-called reviews of the book on Goodreads have possibly been posted by some who had hoped to win the chance to write the sequel. I cannot think of any other reason for them, and the posts just show up the reviewers as being ignorant. I doubt if they have ever read the actual original Peter Pan book and possibly have been no closer to it than the Disney animation and so have no notion of how well McCaughrean captured Barrie’s writing style.

As a bit of a J.M.Barrie fan I feel sure that he would have been absolutely thrilled with this sequel, the author has a fabulous imagination so it’s a very witty and entertaining read and beautifully written. The detractors obviously have no idea of the history behind Peter Pan, how Barrie based the Darling children on the Llewelyn Davies boys that he had befriended along with their parents. Michael was killed in the First World War and so he is missing from the cast in this book, and even that was well dealt with, but that horrified the one star ‘reviewers’.

All over parts of London ‘old boys’ who had been in Neverland are having vivid dreams about the place. They are adults now and have responsible careers and frequent a London club, one is even a judge. But Neverland is calling them and Mrs Wendy encourages them, so the old boys agree that on Saturday, 5th of June they’ll go to Neverland, it’s pencilled into their diaries, they just have to find some fairy dust so they can fly again. The Old Boys set off for Kensington Gardens with butterfly nets, intent on catching some fairies.

Of course they do get back to Neverland and Peter Pan, and so begins an adventure to rival Barrie’s. I don’t want to say too much about the story but it involves pirates, a strange ravelling wool man, thousands of fairies who have taken sides in a pointless war – are you red or are you blue?

This book is smart and witty and it was lovely to re-visit Neverland again and the old characters.

I hate to think that it might be dodged by future readers because of some ignorant reviews online. One reviewer was so incensed because of the way the First Nation people are referred to in the book. Such words as papoose, squaw and Red-Indian are used in this book. SO WHAT! When I read that nonsense I was fizzing mad. If people are so upset by the use of words that have now been deemed to be outdated then I would be more impressed if they actually did something to help the plight of the First Nation people who are in dire straits today, and in need of being treated like human beings instead of people being ‘upset’ by the use of anachronistic words in 2020 when a book is set in the 1920s-30s. Of course the use of the words is totally in keeping with the times that this book was set in. There are so many people trawling the net looking for reasons to pull someone apart and just showing themselves up as idiots.

I was lucky enough to be able to buy a signed edition of Peter Pan in Scarlet. This was the third book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

One by one, the individual flecks of colour separated and floated down, like rose petals at the end of summer. They brushed the upturned faces; settled on their shoulders. More and more fell: a light snow of flaking colour. Like snow it mesmerized them – a dizzying downward whirl of prettiness. Instead of spray from the waterfall they could feel only the soft touch of a thousand thousand fragments of loveliness. It piled up in their hair; it filled their ears and pockets; it tugged on their clothing. Tugged?

‘Fairies!’ cried Tootles delightedly. ‘Thousands of fairies!’

Sorry this was a bit of a rant. But….

This was book 3 from my 20 Books of Summer list

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s that time again – Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – how quickly it comes around! It’s a meme hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

This week Jack and I are sharing shelves as some of the books are mine and I haven’t got around to taking photos of shelves this week, do not ask me what I have been doing as I can’t tell you, so much time at home and I’m not doing much except reading.

I’m the Gore Vidal fan. I went through a phase of reading everything of his that I could get a hold of some ten or fifteen years ago. I love his American historical novels, they may not be so well-beloved in the US, his view of the history won’t match up with many peoples’ thoughts – but I suspect that he knew what he was writing about. His Burr is a favourite of mine and I really should re-read it some time.

Translated Fiction Bookshelves 1

Another American writer I binge read I think in the early 1980s was John Updike, particularly his Rabbit books. I seem to remember that Judith mentioned a while back in a blogpost that she really couldn’t stand his books, I think because she lived through those times and attitudes, but it was all new to me.

Back in the early 1970s the Russian author and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn was in the news a lot. He had been in prison and was eventually exiled within the Soviet Union. A KGB attempt on his life failed so eventually they allowed him to move to the west – if any country was willing to have him. The USA stepped forward. However he wasn’t there long when he began to complain about life in the west. He was looking for perfection I suppose! I wanted to know what his writing was like so I read Cancer Ward which was about his experiences of having cancer and his treatment in Tashkent in the 1950s, my copy was published in 1975 and I read it that year. Looking back it seems like a strange choice of book for a 15 or 16 year old to read, but I read it and was impressed. My gran had recently died of cancer so that might have been my reason for reading it. I was just amazed that he had survived. So I went on to read The Gulag Archipelago about his experiences in Soviet labour camps. That book seems to have gone missing, maybe it’s in the garage.

Large Books Shelf

I’ve read all of the Irene Nemirovsky books, and others from the library, she was a talented Jewish writer who didn’t manage to escape from the Nazis and died in a camp, despite the fact that her own mother was partying in Paris with the high status Nazis there. She didn’t lift a finger to help her daughter.

I’m really enjoying this meme Judith.

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer

The House in Norham Gardens cover

This is my second book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively was first published in 1974. The setting is Oxford, a large rambling house at number 40 Norham Gardens, where 14 year old Clare Mayfield lives with her two elderly aunts. The 19 rooms in the house are stuffed with artefacts, nothing has ever been thrown away and the attic even has trunks full of her great grandparents’ clothes. Clare’s parents are dead and she has more or less become the carer for her aunts who are becoming quite frail. In the past the aunts had taken a lead in Oxford academic society and they have high hopes for Clare’s future which seem well-founded as Clare is a good scholar. However when Clare finds a strangely painted tribal shield in the attic it somehow preys on her mind. It must have belonged to her great-grandfather who had been a famous anthropologist. A combination of the shield and the money worries of running the household on a shoestring culminate in her schoolwork going to pot.

The aunts had previously agreed to having a lodger to help pay the bills and Maureen adds quite a bit of humour to the book. But more money is required and a young student of anthropology from Uganda moves in to the house too. John Sempebwa becomes a good friend as Clare shows him around Oxford and they visit museums, one of which exhibits tribal art.

This is a really good read and considering it was written 46 years ago it was way ahead of the times as it deals with British colonialism and the plundering of often sacred objects from other countries and cultures, something that academics are now arguing about and often unwilling to give up.

This book is set in winter and if I had realised that I would probably have saved it to read in winter, near Christmas maybe. It seems that Oxford suffers freezing cold and snowy winters. Poor Clare was often battling against snow and ice while on her bike. It helped cool me down during our recent mini heatwave.

Aalborg, Denmark

I’ve been looking back at the photos of our Baltic cruise last year and I realised that I hadn’t blogged about our visit to Aalborg which is apparently Denmark’s fourth largest city. It didn’t feel like a city really but it did have plenty of people bustling around and has lots of shops. I liked the building below, so quaint despite being large.

Aalborg Building, Denmark

It’s very clean, I liked the restrained decoration of the building below, it’s a pity that part of it’s inhabited by those golden arches that seem to get everywhere.

Aalborg Building, Denmark

The building below reminds me of an old pipe organ at the top.

Aalborg Building, Denmark

And this one seems Germanic, but they share a border so that’s not surprising.
I love fountains so was happy to sit by this one for a while, and get a bit wet.
Aalborg Building, Denmark

while admiring the house below.
Aalborg Building, Denmark

The pansies looked good, but they always do.
Aalborg Planter, Denmark

Below is a small street which wasn’t far from the city centre but was so peaceful. I think this place would be nice to live in, close to a park and the town.

Courtyard, Aalborg buildings, Baltic cruise

The public loos in a wee park sported some grafitti, but also a thatched roof which helped with the quaintness.
Aalborg Thatched Building, Baltic cruise,

I think that Denmark is called the land of fairy tales, which probably prompted this park of ‘singing’ trees. It’s a good idea, each tree has been planted by a famous singer and generally they are thrilled to come along and plant ‘their’ tree, it’s all good publicity I suppose. There’s a wooden block in front of each tree and you press a button to hear the famous singer’s best hit. Unfortunately none of them worked! I think they were having trouble with the electrics. I believe that Cliff Richard was the first person to be honoured in this way but loads of famous people had followed him.

Singing Trees, Aalborg, Baltic cruise

Singing Trees, Aalborg, Baltic cruise

So that was Aalborg, a pleasant place to spend an afternoon and stretch your legs when you’ve been on a ship for days. According to the European Commission the inhabitants of this place are the most satisfied people in Europe with their city. I must admit that I would never go on another cruise, it was bad enough when all you had to worry about was norovirus from people who don’t wash and sanitise their hands as they should, it doesn’t bare thinking about with Covid-19 rampaging. Obviously not everyone feels that way though as I have friends who have bookedup for 2021, expecting that there will be a vaccine by then. Hmmm – I have my doubts.

North from Rome by Helen MacInnes – 20 Books of Summer

North From Rome cover

North from Rome by the Scottish author Helen MacInnes is the first book that I’ve read from my 20 Books of Summer list. It was first published in 1958.

Bill Lammiter is a young and successful American playwright who has recently been dumped by his fiancee. She works at the American embassy in Rome and Bill is feeling bruised as Eleanor has quickly replaced him with an Italian man with a title. The story begins with Bill looking out from his balcony, admiring Rome in the dark and imagining the Roman soldiers who must have walked there in the past. His attention is taken by a young woman’s scream, she is being manhandled and is almost abducted and bundled into a car. When the man realises he has been spotted the woman manages to get away and so begins Bill’s unwanted adventure.

He had been hoping to be able to speak to Eleanor outside the embassy at some point, but when he does see her she is sitting at a table near his in a restaurant, alongside her Italian prince and his mother, then Rosana, the young woman that Bill had been able to help the previous evening joins them.

It’s all very strange, and becomes stranger. It seems that Eleanor’s new man is not what he appears to be. This is a really enjoyable thriller and I especially liked the Italian settings as the action moved from Rome to Perugia, MacInnes paints the landscape and gives a real flavour of Italy, no actual travelling required.