Men of Bannockburn, Dunfermline and Tall Tales – exhibitions

I had just finished one of those FutureLearn online courses when I noticed that there was an exhibition of art called Men of Bannockburn on at the library/museum in Dunfermline. The art consists of life size illustrations of some of the main knights involved in the battle. The works are by the artist Marco Trecalli who as well as being an artist is also an expert on 13th and 14th century military equipment and uniforms.

Men of Bannockburn

Click on the photos if you want to read the details, that should enlarge them for you.

Men of Bannockburn

Men of Bannockburn , Dunfermline. Marco Trecalli

In another room there was an exhibition called Tall Tales, aimed at encouraging children to read. There were quite a few kids in there so I couldn’t take photos of any of the exhibits, but I liked the bookish sentiments on the walls. I doubt if any were read by kids though, mainly because they were at adult height! But they were too busy playing in the Beanstalk house made of books anyway.

Tall Tales, Dunfermline, Fife

Books quote, Tall Tales, Dunfermline

book house

I’m so late getting around to writing this post that I suspect both exhibitions are finished now, but they’ll probably move on elsewhere eventually.

The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth

The crimson in the purple cover

The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth was first published in 1957 and it’s the third book that I’ve read by the author, I really like her writing. She also wrote under the names K.G. Ballard and P.J. Merrill.

Bill Farland is working as a private investigator until his career as a playwright takes off, so when the youngest member of an American acting dynasty comes to him for help he’s very happy to take on the job, not just because he’s desperate for money, he hopes that it’ll be a chance for him to push forward his new play. It looks like someone has been trying to poison Catherine Hadden who seems to be being treated as a dogsbody by the rest of her illustrious family of actors and set designers. Catherine is their housekeeper in the large Victorian pile that Dominic the head of the dynasty refuses to sell. Strangely Catherine has been told that there’s no money for her to go to college.

Bill Farland is invited to a dinner party at the Hadden family home as a friend of Catherine’s and to begin with he’s rather star-struck but in no time he’s gone right off Terratta Hadden whom he had idolised previously as in real life she’s a bitch. In fact the Haddens are a fairly ghastly bunch who behave badly even in front of guests. Things quickly go from bad to worse, but I don’t want to say any more about that.

For me this was a tense psychological thriller and I didn’t guess the ending which is always a big plus. The book would have made a really good film I think but maybe it was thought that the private detective scenario had been used enough in films by the late 1950s.

The 1930 Club

club

I’m taking part in The 1930 Club which is hosted by Simon of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and so I’m reading Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestley which is 613 pages long so I doubt if I’ll be reading any others. I’ve been busy with visitors until now so I’ll be glad to immerse myself in reading this week.

As it happens I’ve read a lot of books that were published in 1930 in the past and the links will take you to the ones I’ve previously blogged about.

Alice and Thomas and Jane by Enid Bagnold

Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

The Weatherhouse by Nan Shepherd

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys

Miss Mole by E.H. Young

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop by Gladys Mitchell

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Morning Tide by Neil M. Gunn

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield

The School on the Loch by Angela Brazil

The School on the Loch cover

The School on the Loch by Angela Brazil was published in 1946 and it is the last book that she wrote.

The tale begins in Kenya where young sisters Ailsa and Jessie Lindsay live on their parents’ coffee farm. It’s Ailsa’s birthday and she has just been sent a book by her Uncle Tom in Scotland. The book Bonnie Scotland makes the girls wish they could go there, especially as their father has always been rather homesick for Scotland. He dreams of owning a farm back in his homeland which he was forced to leave as a youngster.

A plague of locusts devastates the coffee crop and very much changes the fortunes of the family so when a Scottish relative offers to take the girls ‘back home’ and educate them the girls are thrilled.

As you can imagine the Scottish weather is a wee bit of a shock for the girls but it isn’t long before they’re settled into life in Scotland and their new school and there’s the usual school situations involving teachers and girls.

Evidently Angela Brazil did do some local research as they visit Loch Lomond and she mentions getting the train to Dumbarton, which is of course where I grew up. I always get a bit of a thrill when it gets a mention in a book.

Angela Brazil must have been getting on when she wrote this one, it’s not her best but as ever I did learn something. I had never heard of the word prog so when I came across it in this book I looked it up in my trusty but falling apart over forty year old dictionary by my side and discovered that amongst many things it means – provisions, especially for a journey. In the book the prog was ready for their trip to Loch Lomond, another place that Angela Brazil must have visited.

Holiday book purchases

Autumn Books

I managed to add eight more books to the many waiting in my TBR queue while we were away in Wales and East Sussex a few weeks ago. I bought All the Books of my Life by Sheila Kaye-Smith in a secondhand bookshop in Rye which is owned by a lovely Irish woman – who of course had no problem understanding our accent. I dread to think what trouble she must have had over the forty years or so that she has lived in Rye. I must admit that I had never heard of Sheila Kaye-Smith but she seems to have been local to East Sussex and ‘world famous’ in her neighbourhood.

I already have a few Monica Dickens books to read, I read some in the 1970s but none since then. The Room Upstairs seems to be quite different though – with the setting being America. I’m not going to pass up on a chance to buy a Heyer or even a Persephone which Doreen by Barbara Noble is, and I recall the Raffles series when it was on TV back in the year dot so I thought I’d give The Amateur Cracksman a go. The other three that I bought are Penguin Crimes which seem to be getting more and more thin on the ground.

All the Books of My Life by Sheila Kaye-Smith
The Room Upstairs by Monica Dickens
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Doreen by Barbara Noble
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung

and three Penguin Crime books
Poison in Jest by John Dickson Carr
Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford
The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth

Have you read any of these ones?

Bookworm A Memoir of CHILDHOOD READING by Lucy Mangan

 Bookworm cover

Bookworm A Memoir of CHILDHOOD READING by Lucy Mangan seemed to be being read by so many of the blogs that I visit last year, but it has taken me a while to get around to it. I really like Lucy Mangan in the articles she writes for the Guardian and I knew that she had a huge collection of books, even the actual books she had as a child. I’m envious of that as my mother gave all of mine away – to a younger child who didn’t even read! – it still enrages me. When I started to read Susan Hill’s Howards End is on the Landing this book is what I hoped and expected it to be but I was sorely disappointed with that one. I suspect that Lucy Mangan was too and decided to do a better job of writing about her childhood books – and she certainly did. I loved it.

Lucy was incredibly lucky to have been brought up in a family where books were loved and to have a father who supplied her with books that he thought she would love. Her mother did worry that Lucy never seemed to play outside, she was stuck on the sofa reading as often as she could and hated having to go to childhood parties. Socialising was not her thing, she preferred the lives inside the books she was reading and she devoured them. Her reading experiences don’t quite match mine though as she ranges from The Very Hungry Caterpillar – a book that I read to my own children but didn’t know as a child – and almost ends with her experiences of Sweet Valley High, definitely after my time.

But in between Lucy talks enthusiastically of her love of so many different books and her love of her local library, she bonded with her father through books and at the time was totally unaware that her sister was busy bonding with their father through visits to all sorts of places that Lucy hadn’t been to – as she was too busy living inside books. What a great father he was/is.

Illustrated books, Ladybirds, Puffins, boarding school books, pony books, Alice, Blyton, Narnia, Nesbit, Streatfeild, Tom Sawyer, Holiday House, Anne of Green Gables, Dahl, Winnie the Pooh, the Brontes …. just about every children’s book you could think of gets a mention – except Peter Pan which seems bizarre to me as I love that one.

On reaching ‘double figures’ Lucy noticed that things had changed in the playground. There was no more playing with the boys. ‘The girls had hived themselves off and stopped running around and getting sweaty. They played with each other’s hair and compared frilly ankle socks and fancy pencil cases instead. If a boy spoke to you now, you had to giggle instead of answer. The boys were baffled. I was baffled. I tried giggling once, but it was not to be.’ Lucy wasn’t a twirly girl.

How well I remember those days and honestly I was glad when I left school that I didn’t have to be in the same room as those inane gigglers and constant hair flickers. I never did grow into make-up, hair flicking and nail varnish.

In passing Lucy mentions that boarding schools lost popularity when free secondary education came in after World War 2. I’d hate anyone to think that that was the same for the whole of the UK as education had been free in Scotland long long before then. The state of English education was quite shocking.

Reading this book is like having a chat with Lucy, especially if you read her Guardian articles and know about her family already. I borrowed this one from the library but I think it’s a book that I would enjoy dipping into every now and then so I’ll probably buy a copy of it.

As I moved onto books for adults far too early I’ve been busy catching up with children’s books I missed out on as a youngster but I’ve had to take notes of so many more that I hadn’t even heard of and were/are adored by Lucy Mangan.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Maurice cover

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson was translated from the Icelandic by Quentin Bates and published in the UK in 2015, it’s the first in a series.

Ari Thor is one of those people who quickly loses interest in things and rarely finishes anything. After giving up on studying theology in Reykjavik he switched to training to be a policeman. When a job comes up in Siglufjordur – a very remote fishing village in the north of Iceland Ari Thor applies for it. He hasn’t even talked it over with his partner Kristin who is a doctor in a Reykjavik hospital, they had been talking about marriage so his departure for the far frozen north is a shock to her.

As you would expect of such a remote area the townspeople are insular, it’s the sort of place where you’re always going to be thought of as an outsider and although Ari Thor’s boss seems to be friendly enough he isn’t happy when his new ‘boy’ proves to have a mind of his own and puts forward theories of his own. When the local celebrity who wrote a best selling novel decades ago is found dead at the bottom of stairs it’s assumed that it was an accident, but Ari Thor isn’t so sure.

I really enjoyed this one which has a good mixture of crime and personal life. Ari Thor finds it difficult to settle down in Siglufjordur where the winter is much colder than in Reykjavik and the snow triggers feelings of claustrophobia in Ari Thor – even before the avalanches cut the small village off from the rest of Iceland.

Snowblind reminded me very much of the Icelandic TV series Trapped, but that was written by Baltasar Kormakur – but I suppose anywhere in an Icelandic winter is going to have the same sort of atmosphere. I enjoyed Snowblind enough to make me want to continue with the rest of the books in this Dark Iceland series.

I read this one for 2019 European Reading Challenge which is hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

 An Infamous Army cover

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1937, but mine is a modern paperback with an introduction by Rosemary Sutcliff and also an author’s note at the beginning in which Heyer says that she had always wanted to write a book about the Battle of Waterloo but the spectre of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair had loomed over her. Thankfully she got over her reticence. Before beginning to read An Infamous Army I had a squint at the back pages to see if there was a bibliography – and indeed there is. Heyer had done her homework, and it shows. I have to say that Highland brigades feature a lot, which I don’t remember from when I ‘did’ the battle at school, but I have no doubt that she was right and the Scottish regiments were thrown in there first. There’s a lot of battle and a fair amount of gore, but before we get there we meet Lady Barbara Childe.

Lady Barbara is a young widow who had married a man much older than herself, for money no doubt. But now she’s footloose and fancy free and spends her time breaking young men’s hearts, even to the stage of one of them destroying himself. So when Charles Audley becomes smitten by her all of his friends and family warn him against Babs. Of course Charles thinks he can tame her, and for a while he almost does before everything falls apart and he apparently becomes yet another of Lady Barbara’s victims. We all know what’s going to happen, after all, it is a Regency romance.

But An Infamous Army is so much more than that – as you would expect from Heyer. Fashion features for the men as much as for the women but it isn’t all fol-de-rols as there’s a lot about the horror of war and the futility. Wellington is appalled at the loss of so many of his friends and generals at Waterloo at a time when the leaders didn’t sit safely in castles miles behind the front as they did in subsequent wars.

I have read Vanity Fair and was quite surprised that so many people went to the battle as tourists, with wives and would be wives following the army and the whole lead up to the battle being more like a grand holiday which ended with a big bang. I suspect that Heyer might have got closer to the atmosphere of the many pre-battle balls than Thackeray did.

This is a great read.

The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple

The North Wind Blows cover

The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple was published in 1941 but my edition dates from 1956 and it’s the first book by Anne Hepple that I’ve read. I’ll definitely look out for more of her books as I enjoyed this one despite it being fairly predictable romance wise.

Hetha and her mother have escaped from Austria where the Gestapo had shot Hetha’s Austrian step-father. In the mad scramble to get away Hetha’s identity papers have been left behind and her mother had stupidly written her daughter’s name down as Hetha Fischer – the step-father’s surname instead of Montrose as it should have been. On Paper Hetha is an ‘alien’ and she lives in fear of being deported or imprisoned. In an attempt to dodge the authorities she takes herself off to work as a dogsbody on a remote Scottish farm, she loves farm work and ideally would have wanted to join the Land Army, if she had had her own papers.

The farm she works on is owned by Drem but although he owns the land his step-mother has the money and owns all the stock and is furious that her own son didn’t inherit the farmland. The atmosphere on the farm is awful and Hetha is treated like a Cinderella, not that she minds as she enjoys the work and is just glad to be out of the clutches of the Gestapo and also the British police. The locals aren’t exactly friendly to Hetha and things get worse over time as rumours that she is a spy circulate the neighbourhood.

I think the storyline is very authentic as people in Britain did get a bit over-excited about any strangers in their midst, and let’s face it – there are always miserable people who choose to think the worst of anyone, especially if they’ve got a hint of anything different about them.

I’ve always preferred people who are different as they’re more interesting – to me anyway. What about you?

The footsteps at the lock by Ronald Knox

The footsteps at the lock cover

The footsteps at the lock by Ronald Knox was first published in 1928, but it’s available on Project Gutenberg Canada as an ebook for free here. My copy is a Penguin Crime paperback from 1964.

This book features two young cousins Derek and Nigel who have a bit of a family resemblance which confuses some people when they are both at Oxford, but they have very different personalities. Derek is the eldest and will inherit £50,000 when he’s 25, but he has a dangerous lifestyle of alcohol and drug use which makes it quite likely that he won’t make it to 25. The money will go to Nigel if Derek dies before his 25th birthday, that’s quite a motive for murder and when Derek disappears Nigel is obviously under suspicion.

I think that Ronald Knox writes along the same lines as Freeman Wills Crofts, heavy on detail and timing, a very male style of crime writing which I don’t always have patience with. I’ll give this one three stars on Goodreads.