Six in Six – 2020 edition – My Choices

six

For the first time I’m participating in Six in Six which is hosted by Jo at The Book Jotter. The idea is that you choose six books that you’ve read in the last six months, from six different categories, click the links if you want to read my thoughts on the books.

Six books by Scottish authors:

1. Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton
2. The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
3. A Rope in Case by Lilian Beckwith
4. Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson
5. My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan
6. The Double Image by Helen MacInnes

Six historical fiction books:

1. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
2. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
3. Joseph Knight by James Robertson
4. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
5. Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
6. Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

Six books in translation:

1. East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen
2. The Little Town Where Time Stood Still by Bohumil Hrabal
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhael Bulgakov
4. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
5. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz
6. Snow by Orhan Pamuk (still to be reviewed)


Six children’s books:

1. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
2. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
3. Eight Cousins by L.M. Montgomery
3. The Mousewife by Rumer Godden
4. Peter Duck by Arthur Ransome
5. From the Mixed- Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
6. The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting


Six vintage crime books:

1. The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth
2. Hide My Eyes by Margery Allingham
3. The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham
4. The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs
5. Blood on the Mink by Robert Silverberg
6. Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth

Six by new to me authors:

1. Young Bess by Margaret Irwin
2. The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson
3. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
4. The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr
5. Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson
6. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz

I’ve really enjoyed compiling this post and I’ve also learned a lot from it. I hadn’t realised that so far this year I’ve not read much in the way of vintage crime when compared with past years, and my reading of classics has just about fallen off a cliff this year – so far. I’m putting that down to the appearance of Coronavirus/Covid 19 in the world as I’ve been concentrating on reading lighter fiction, especially at the beginning.

Thanks for organising this Jo.

Armchair Travelling – Lindisfarne / Holy Island, near Berwick on Tweed

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island

We had wanted to visit Lindisfarne/Holy Island near Berwick-upon-Tweed for decades and often drove past it on our many journeys up and down the UK – but the tide never seemed to be right for us and we feared getting stranded on the island. But last year we planned it all out, looking up the tides so that we would have plenty of time to investigate the place. We parked the car, along with many others, it was a really bright and hot day and walked around the small village, it must be strange to live there I think. We walked along the road heading for Lindisfarne Castle which is very historic and ancient, dating from at least 1550 but in the Edwardian era it got a make-over by the famous architect/designer Sir Edwin Lutyens so it’s now a mish-mash of ancient and not so ancient. In 1901 the castle was bought by Edward Hudson who was a publishing magnate and owned the magazine Country Life. I believe it had a reputation in those days as a party destination for the very well-heeled. Now it is owned by the National Trust

Lindisfarne Castle, Holy Island, National Trust

In the photo above you can see people walking along the road towards the castle. This is still a place of pilgrimage for some Christians, and they tend to walk barefoot over the sand/mud across to the island to emulate the pilgrims of previous centuries.

This is the modern entrance to the castle.

Lindisfarne Castle, National Trust

For some reason there is a model ship hanging from the ceiling in one of the rooms, it makes a change from Airfix aeroplanes I suppose! It’s a lovely model anyway.

Lindisfarne Castle, (ship)

Every castle needs a kitchen, I’d quite happily settle down in this one, although I imagine the cooking range would be a bit of a nightmare to control.

Castle Fireplace, Lindisfarne, Holy Island

Speaking of settling, what do you think of this settle by the range? Just add a few cushions and I think it would be a lovely cosy place to sit and pass the time knitting, the very high back would certainly keep any draughts at bay.

Lindisfarne Castle Settle, Holy Island, National Trust

This dresser completes the kitchen. There’s plenty of storage space I suppose for dishes, pans and utensils in the end cupboards.

Lindisfarne Castle cupboard, Holy Island, National Trust

It all looks very peaceful now but you can read more about the violent history of the castle here. Viking raids and all.

Beamish Folk Museum, County Durham, N.E. England

We visited the Beamish Folk Museum in County Durham – north east England in June last year and I could have sworn that I had done several blogposts about it soon after the visit, but it seems that I didn’t get around to it. Either that or the computer has somehow deleted all evidence of them. It could just be that as I have a habit of writing blogposts in my head while I’m doing mundane things around the house and garden in the daytime – I never did get around to actually writing any. It’s a mystery, anyway, if you remember Beamish blogposts and I’m being repetitive – sorry! I did do one, though!

Just as we got into Beamish we could see a big crowd of people, some dressed in period clothing and it transpired that we were lucky enough to be there at the start of a procession which was making its way to a new 1950s part of the folk museum which was just being opened for the first time. The north-east of England was a coalmining area, so the old miners’ banners were being given an airing, something which doesn’t happen often nowadays I suppose as there are no miners left to march with them. The banners themselves are works of art.

Miners' Banner, Beamish

Every coalmine had its own band. Given the state that their lungs must have been in it’s amazing that they had the puff for the brass and silver bands. Fife was a coalmining county and some of the bands are still going, years after the last mine has been closed down permanently. I must say that the ones I’ve heard have been very melodic.

Procession, Beamish

For some reason a flotilla of old-fashioned prams – or perambulators if you want to be fancy were taking part in the parade. I love these Silver Cross type enamelled prams, it was the type I was wheeled about in as a youngster, not that I remember it. In those days kids travelled in real style. They must have been much comfier and cosier than modern day buggies.

old prams, Beamish Folk Museum

After that we took a trip on a tram, a couple of different steam trains and an ancient bus.

Trams, old bus, Beamish Folk Museum

Trams, Beamish Folk Museum

We certainly got our money’s worth on that day out!

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada – 20 Books of Summer

Wolf Among Wolves cover

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada was first published in German in 1937. I didn’t like this one as much as other readers seemed to have. It might just have been the wrong book at the wrong time, but I felt it didn’t need to be so long (793 pages).

The book begins in Berlin in 1923 where the German economy is in freefall with inflation getting crazier every day, the German Mark is falling daily against the American Dollar, people in the city are starving as their wages are worth nothing by the time they get paid, and one dollar is worth millions of marks.

Wolfgang Pagel, a young ex-soldier who had been at the front is the spoiled son of a famous but now deceased artist. He’s estranged from his wealthy mother and is now living in a poor part of Berlin with Petra, his girlfriend. Wolf is a compulsive gambler and every night he goes to an illegal casino which is set up in someone’s front room in the more salubrious west of the city. Wolf is happy if he wins enough money to buy some food the next day and can pay the rent, sadly he often doesn’t have the money and then he has to pawn Petra’s clothes and she has to stay in bed. Of course he thinks he has a system and will win a fortune the next evening. A series of unfortunate incidents lead to Petra being jailed on what should have been their wedding day, but Wolf is so wrapped up in himself that he doesn’t get around to even visiting her never mind getting her out.

Bizzarely Wolf leaves the city and gets work on a farm, despite having no farming experience he’s working as a sort of manager in charge of the farm workers and foresters, but he really enjoys the hard work. It isn’t long before he realises that the peasants aren’t the honest toilers that he thought they were and are no better than the city dwellers had been. The owner of the farm is a power freak and miser who spends his time trying to ruin his son-in-law whom he has as a tenant on the farm. There are various relationships going on, none of them happy.

Then due to the political and economic situation some in the army organise a putsch which is a shambles and some on the farm are involved in it. This book does have a happy ending of sorts but I thought that Wolf’s character made a very unlikely about turn as soon as he got into the country, and I kept wondering what was happening to Petra throughout most of the book, and for me she was the most interesting character.

The publisher thought that this book might get them into trouble with the Nazis, but it didn’t. Fallada chose to stay in Germany during the Nazi era, that’s something which others who had left Germany, such as Thomas Mann disliked him for. But in 1935 Fallada had been imprisoned by the Gestapo and described as an ‘undesirable author’ – not for long though as they couldn’t find any anti-Nazi material in his home. I’m amazed they didn’t plant stuff! Apparently Goebbels was breathing down Fallada’s neck trying to get him to write an anti-semitic tract, that couldn’t have been comfortable.

This is the third book that I’ve read by Fallada, I much preferred his Alone in Berlin to this one, despite it having a depressing ending.

This was on of my 20 Books of Summer.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again, it comes around so quickly. This meme is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

Folio Society Books

Jack took this photo and as this shelf is home to a lot of my books too I thought I would just use it this week. The shelves contain mainly Folio books, yonks ago we were in the Folio Book Club, the books are so beautifully produced – a real pleasure to handle. I’m just going to mention a few of them. Quite a lot of these books have been bought secondhand over the years though – such as the two by Dorothy L. Sayers – Murder Must Advertise and Have His Carcase. I see from the price pencilled inside that they cost me all of £3 each – bargain!

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books that I have collected a few copies of. This Folio edition is illustrated by Dodie Masterman, there aren’t a lot of drawings and they’re not coloured but I really like them. I’m presuming that she also designed the cover.

The Secret Garden cover
Murder Must Advertise cover

Have his Carcase cover

The collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield is illustrated by Susan Wilson but I can’t find any images of her work on the internet. The design of the book cover is very jazzy I think.

Lastly Perrault’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Edmund Dulac is a beauty inside and outside, you can see some of the illustrations here.

Short Stories cover
Perrault's Fairy Tales cover

Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz – 20 Books of Summer

I’m doing really well with my 20 Books of Summer list, I think I’m just about half-way through it.

 Autumn Quail cover

Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz is a really quick read at just 167 pages. Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988. Autumn Quail was written in 1962, but the book is set in 1952 when there was a revolution with Nasser overthrowing the Egyptian king.

Until then Isa a-Dabbagh had been a very successful civil servant, having been promoted very quickly and further than ever expected, particularly for someone who often floundered at work – I’m sure we all know the sort! It’s his politics that have led to this situation, he backed the right side, but of course – come the revolution his situation changed completely and he ends up being pensioned off with two years salary. But it wasn’t his salary that accounted for his gorgeous house and lifestyle, it was the many bribes that he had accepted over the years and he knows that he can expect no favours from the new regime. Isa quickly goes from being the arrogant official who is followed by an entourage of sycophants to a nobody – in no time flat. His fiancee isn’t interested in marrying him under the new circumstances.

Isa doesn’t take well to that and refuses to take a salaried job that his cousin offers him. He moves away from family and friends, from Cairo to Alexandria where he lives a lonely life until he takes up with a young woman, but ultimately Isa abandons her.

This novella has a very abrupt ending, intentionally obviously as Isa can’t make up his mind as to what he should do in the future. Should he look ahead into the new Egypt or just wallow in self-pity?

I liked this book, enjoyed the writing and felt that I learned quite a lot so I’ll definitely read more by this author in the future. Mahfouz spoke up for Salman Rushdie when a Fatwa was taken out against him. This culminated in Mahfouz being attacked, a man stabbed him in the neck and the injury more or less stopped his writing career as he couldn’t write for more than a few minutes a day.

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland – part 2

Here we are back at Branklyn Garden in Perth again, it was the first day of its opening again after the Covid-19 lockdown was being slowly eased in Scotland. We were all glad to see some different scenery I’m sure.

pathway , Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

There were quite a lot of people there but it was still fairly easy to lose yourself among the plants and take photos without other people being in the background.

Pathway, Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

Sadly I couldn’t see any fish in the pond, I suspect that if they put any in there they would be fodder for some kind of birds, possibly a heron. This garden is a short distance from the River Tay, where there are plenty of seabirds around.

Branklyn pond, Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

I wish I could remember the name of the red flowered climber below, I have a feeling that it’s an annual but I can’t find any images of one like it. That’s one grouse I have about Branklyn, the plants aren’t always labelled. Probably they were all well labelled originally but the plants have engulfed them as they grew.

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

You can just get a glimpse of the house that the original owners of the garden lived in in the photo below. This is now a Scottish National Trust property but the house is used as a holiday rental so you can’t look around it.

Rhoddie , acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland

There are some cracking acers/Japanese Maples in this garden. So many people love them but aren’t able to grow them although they’re not that pernickety really, having said that some of mine got damaged by an air frost in May, just as the new growth was looking so good.

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland, acer

It was a sunny day and the sun shining through the top of the acer below was quite something, but the photo doesn’t really capture the moment.

acer, Japanese Maple, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson

Merlin Dreams cover

I had completely forgotten about Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson until I came across it while Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times, so I decided to make it my next read – before I forgot about it again! The book is illustrated by Alan Lee, I really like his work, you can see some of it here.

This isn’t really a book for children, or if it is then they are older children. It’s 167 pages long and was published in 1988.

If you know the Arthurian legends you’ll remember that Merlin was tricked by the young woman he was besotted with and the upshot was that he is entombed beneath rocks, unable to get out and there he dreams – medieval Celtic fantasies.

As you would expect the stories feature dragons, swords, unicorns, mermaids. knights – the usual Arthurian fare – entertaining reads and good for bedtime, no matter what your age, and there’s some poetry thrown in too.

Apparently the illustrator Alan Lee is well known for illustrating Tolkien books and the author Peter Dickinson is well known for his crime fiction as well as books for children.

Branklyn Garden, Perth, Scotland – part 1

acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

acer, Branklyn Garden, Perth

acer, Japanese Maple, Branklyn Garden, Perth

From Saturday we in Scotland were allowed to travel further than five miles (unless for food shopping) for the first time since the lockdown began in early March. So we took the opportunity to visit Branklyn Garden in Perth, on the way to visiting family thirty miles away from us. As you can see from the three photos above Branklyn has some lovely acers/Japanese maples.

This type of cherry tree bark just keeps getting better every year.

Cherry/Prunus Bark, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Below is a photo of delphiniums (I think) and an unusual Rhododendron with the new growth being coloured a sort of pale orange.
delphiniums, rhododendron, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Brown-Leaved Rhoddie, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Quite a few other people had had the same idea and I was surprised to see that the cafe was open, (but only for sitting outdoors.) Things felt almost normal – almost but not quite. There were masks and hand sanitiser at the entrance, but we had brought our own.

The garden is set in about two acres and dates from 1922 when this hillside orchard plot was bought by a couple who wanted to build an Arts and Crafts house there surrounded by a garden which has lots of winding paths around gorgeous planting.

Nowadays Branklyn Garden is owned by the Scottish National Trust. Sadly it was opened up just too late for us to admire the great banks of Himalayan Meconopsis, there were just a few stray petals left on them, not worth photographing. I was pleased to capture this fleeting butterfly though, I think it’s a tortoiseshell although I have no idea what the shrub is called.

Butterfly, Branklyn Garden, Perth

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness. I must say that I’m really enjoying this meme, getting a keek at other readers’ bookshelves and at the same time it’s pushing me to read books that I had forgotten I had, mind you the lack of visits to libraries during this Covid lockdown is helping too. Last week I read Merlin Dreams which featured in my ‘Insane’ post.

Songs with Music from a Child's Garden of Verses cover
The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories cover

So this week I’m sticking to the same bookshelf – Songs with Music from a Child’s Garden of Verses by R.L. Stevenson is illustrated by Margaret W. Tarrant. It’s an old book dating from either 1918 or the 1930s depending on who you believe. I think I bought my copy at a specialist book fair, possibly the Christian Aid one in Edinburgh which of course didn’t take place this year. Anyway the illustrations are charming and you can see some of them here.

The Barefoot Book of Ballet Stories by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple is illustrated by Rebecca Guay and is obviously aimed at older children – girls I suppose. It features Coppelia, Swan Lake, Cinderella, The Nutcracker, Shim Chung: The Blind Man’s Daughter, The Sleeping Beauty and Daphnis and Chloe. You can see some of the illustrations here.

Mother Goose cover

I love Michael Foreman’s illustrations and his Mother Goose book has a foreword by Iona Opie, the collector of children’s rhymes and folklore. Opie says: ‘The nursery rhyme repertoire stays remarkably constant. What need for new nursery rhymes when there are always new children?’ But this book contains quite a lot of rhymes that I had never heard of. This is quite a thick book with 152 pages jam packed with rhymes and hundreds of illustrations and it even has an index of first lines. You can see some of Foreman’s illustrations here.

Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen Cover

Lastly, Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen is a classic illustrated edition and the illustrations are by multiple artists, including Mabel Lucie Attwell, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Arthur Rackham, W. Heath Robinson and many more. The back cover features the image below.

Attwell