Orkney Book Purchases

For some reason I never gave any thought to the book buying possibilities in Orkney, but as we were driving around Kirkwall looking for a place to park I spotted a sign saying those wonderful words – Secondhand Books. Luckily after visiting the town centre, Saint Magnus Cathedral and two Historic Scotland properties we were able to walk back to the car and find the bookshop not too far away. So my haul was.

Latest Book Haul

1. The Tall Stranger by D.E. Stevenson
2. Evensong by Beverley Nichols
3. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie
4. Rogues and Vagabonds by Compton Mackenzie
5. Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes
6. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
7. Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp
8. Off In a Boat (A Hebridean Voyage) by Neil M. Gunn

Six of them are by Scottish authors so they’ll come in handy for the Reading Scotland 2017 Challenge.

Have you read any of these?

Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott

Beneath the Abbey Wall by A.D. Scott is the third in this murder mystery series which is set in Inverness in the 1950s.

Again we’re back at the offices of a local newspaper – The Highland Gazette. Mrs Smart is a mainstay of the organisation and when she is found dead – murdered – the whole place is thrown into confusion. Mrs Smart more or less ran the place, without them really realising it.

Joanne Ross, one of the reporters, is now separated from her abusive husband, it’s a big step for a mother to have thrown her husband out, in a community where women are supposed just to put up with things.

The police are pretty useless and it’s left up to the newspaper staff to investigate Mrs Smart’s murder. During their probing all sorts of secrets come out, in fact nothing is as it seems, not even Joanne who seems so strong and sensible, it now looks like she is going to make the same mistake she did before. There’s no doubt that her brains turn to mush at the sight of a handsome man, no matter how he behaves towards her.

I enjoyed this mystery and the setting. There are quite a few likeable characters, I had an idea who the culprit was but these books are about more than the crime. They’re about how women were viewed in 1950s Scotland and how attitudes began to change, slowly. I’m looking forward to the next book and finding out what happens with McAllister and Joanne.

Although A.D. Scott doesn’t live in Scotland now she is very definitely a Scot and I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Read Scotland 2014

It’s time for a Read Scotland 2014 update, in fact it’s way past time as I’ve just realised that I’ve read 15 Scottish books this year, so I’ve gone beyond Ben Nevis as I knew I would. I don’t know what the next level could be called – do you?

I haven’t been very good at linking to the challenge so here’s what I’ve read so far.

1. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
3. Rockets Galore by Compton Mackenzie
4. A Double Death on the Black Isle by A.D. Scott
5. The Comforters by Muriel Spark
6. Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
7. The Cabinetmaker by Alan Jones
8. The Daffodil Affair by Michael Innes
9. The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson
10. The First Book of the McFlannels by Helen W. Pryde
11. The McFlannels See It Through by Helen W. Pryde
12. Sleeping Tiger by Rosamund Pilcher
13. The Clydesiders by Margaret Thomson Davis
14. The Kellys of Kelvingrove by Margaret Thomson Davis
15. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – which I have yet to blog about but I really enjoyed it.

A few of these authors have been new to me and of those I think Compton Mackenzie has been the most surprising and entertaining, followed closely by Helen W. Pryde, I must get around to tracking down the rest in her series.

The most disappointing has been Secrets of the Sea House which was just not my cup of tea and was full of cultural mistakes, it isn’t authentically Scottish at all.

I haven’t read any Scottish non-fiction at all but I intend to remedy that soon, so stand by (Lorraine in particular) for a non fiction blogpost – when I’ve rounded up the ones I hope to read this year – which is almost half-way through already. How did that happen?!

A Double Death on the Black Isle by A.D. Scott

First I want to say a big thank you to Peggy for sending me this book. I’d send her a Hielan’ coo if I could!

This is the second book by A.D. Scott which I’ve read, the first one in this series is called A Small Death in the Great Glen, which I enjoyed but I think I liked this one even more.

Set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1950s, the main character is Joanne Ross, a typist at the Highland Gazette. She’s now a single mother as she has left her abusive husband and she’s being given more work on the newspaper, learning to become a reporter.

The Highland Gazette has just been given a makeover and the first edition has been well received, now the editor is worried about finding enough news to keep the standard up and interest more readers. But it turns out that there’s plenty going on in the Highlands, I don’t think it’s actually mentioned in the book but the Gazette is obviously based in Inverness and most of the action goes on on the Black Isle where there are two deaths on the same estate, on the same day.

As ever I don’t want to say too much about the storyline but I did enjoy it and the way that Joanne’s character and personality are developing. She’s up against the small minds of a rural community, where women who wear trousers are thought of as scandalous and leaving a husband is just unheard of – but she’s winning the battle. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series. I read this one for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge. A.D. Scott is actually a Scot although she doesn’t live there at the moment but I think her nationality comes across clearly, she couldn’t be mistaken for someone who has just chosen to set a novel in Scotland.

Read Scotland 2014

Have you signed up for Peggy Ann’s Read Scotland 2014 Challenge yet? If not then have a wee think about doing it as I’m sure you could read at least 3 or 4 books which would qualify for it without even realising. For instance did you realise that Ian Fleming would fall into the category of Scottish author, and almost all of the children’s classic authors were Scottish or of Scottish descent. Now that Jack has actually retired he is going to do this challenge, his first ever, he should have much more time for reading now, have a look at his post about it here. We will both be doing the Ben Nevis which is 13 books but we’ll end up doing far more than that I’m sure. In fact I think I might manage a purely mythical Jings, crivens and help ma boab category, and if you’ve ever read Oor Wullie you’ll know that those are all words which are used to mean flabbergasted, astonished, for goodness sake! Because I plan to read about 50 books for this challenge.

To begin with I’m reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe over the month of January, doing it in four chunks and writing about it each week. Join in with me if you think you’re hard enough! Judith are you still up for it?

At the same time I intend to read Lanark by Alasdair Grey as a respite from Ivanhoe. Lanark was voted the second best Scottish book recently, the first was Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting but I don’t fancy that one at all. Below is a list of some of the Scottish fiction authors that I’ll definitely be reading during 2014, I’ll be adding more though. Books with a Scottish setting are also eligible for the challenge. Have a look at the Scottish Books Trust for more inspiration.

Iain Banks
William Boyd
John Buchan
Andrew Crumey
Alasdair Grey
A.L. Kennedy
Dennis Mackail
Compton Mackenzie
Allan Massie
James Oswald
Rosamund Pilcher
James Runcie
A.D. Scott
Walter Scott
Mary Stewart
Jessica Stirling
Josephine Tey
Alison Thirkell
Angela Thirkell

If I read just one by all of these writers then I’ll have bagged Ben Nevis and then some, but I still have my non fiction books to look through and list, it looks like 2014 is going to be a very Scottish (parochial) year for me!

Oh and I’ll be writing about some of the many children’s classics which are suitable for this challenge. You’re never too old for a good children’s book. Remember that you don’t have to have a blog to take part in this challenge.

Thanks for setting this up Peggy Ann.

A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott

A Small Death in the Great Glen

First I have to say a big thank you to Peggy Ann for sending me three books by Scottish ex pat author A.D. Scott for my birthday which was a while back. I thoroughly enjoyed A Small Death in the Great Glen which is set in the Highlands of Scotland in the 1950s.

When the body of a young lad is found in a canal lock it’s thought that he has just stumbled into the canal and drowned, but on examination of the body it’s discovered that he has been ‘tampered’ with and as usually happens suspicion falls on the only stranger in the community, a Pole who had been a crew member on a Russian ship which had been docked in the harbour.

As usual I’m not going to say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling it for other readers, suffice to say that the author has drawn on Scots traditional tales, such as hoodie crows, just as that other writer of Scots descent Edgar Allen Poe did – well a raven anyway.

I suppose it could be said that this is a familiar tale but it’s also a very well written one with some great characters and A.D. Scott has captured the atmosphere of a small Scottish town of the 1950s with all its prejudices and social problems. In fact I found it all to be very similar to my experiences growing up in a West of Scotland small town in the 1970s, things certainly hadn’t moved on much in those 20 years. Like the fact that women who wore trousers were looked on askance, and in fact when I started work in a library in the 1970s the female staff members were not allowed to wear trousers, no matter how smart and expensive they might be.

Italians also feature, just as they did then in Scottish towns, there was always a fish and chip shop which was owned by Italians and the Italian cafes were wonderful exotic places with coffee in glass cups and saucers, ice drinks which now seem to be called ice cream floats and a great selection of continental chocolate. Sadly the second and third generation Italians didn’t want that way of life and Italian cafes are now a thing of the past.

This book brought it all back for me, scary local house and all. Does every neighbourhood have a house which terrifies the local children? One which you had to run past, ducking down while you ran so that your head couldn’t be seen above the hedge.

Anyway, I don’t normally read what other people think of books on Goodreads but I did with this one, just because Peggy Ann is the only person I ‘know’ who is a fan. I was annoyed to read one review which complained about the ‘slang’ which is used in the book. There is no slang but there is dialogue in various different Scots dialects, which is no mean feat actually, all of the words used are fairly easy to guess at from the context. A glossary would have been nice for people who might find the language confusing, but really we all manage to understand dialogue in American movies which can be quite challenging at times, some people seem to think that everyone should speak just as they do though – how boring would that be?!

On a totally personal note I was chuffed when the action moved briefly from the Highlands of Scotland to my beloved Glasgow. I was born there but we moved out of the city when I was 5, I was back there just about every week though, my mother was a keen shopper and city person, so I enjoyed the fictional trip to Glasgow and at one point as Duke Street was mentioned I was holding my breath thinking that the street which I was born in was going to get a mention, but it didn’t, well that would have been just too spooky I suppose.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book in this series – A Double Death on the Black Isle. I don’t think these books are easy to obtain in the UK as they have been published in the US. It’s about time someone published them over here.