Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Shelves of Scottish Books

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again which is hosted by Judith at Reading in the Wilderness. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Again I’m travelling along some shelves of my books by Scottish authors.

Dorothy Dunnett‘s Spring of the Ram is the second book in her Niccolo series and I should be reading that one soonish although it doesn’t appear in my 20 Books of Summer list – silly me. Dunnett’s books are dense and maybe not the best for bedtime reading, for one thing they are quite hefty, they’re definitely not for bath time reading, that’s just something that I can never do anyway. Just think – if Archimedes hadn’t been having a nice thoughtful laze in his bath and had been reading instead then he would never have had his EUREKA moment.

I’m always in a bit of a quandary as to where I should shelve books, would Michael Innes be happier living among a shelf full of crime fiction, or is he more comfortable with fellow Scots? Anyway, it’s quite a while since I read any of his books and although I enjoy his writing I prefer the books that he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart which usually feature life in an Oxford college and were obviously inspired by his life as a lecturer. I decided to put his Gollancz books here and his paperback crime Penguins are together with the rest of the green Penguins.

I have quite a few books by Compton Mackenzie who was actually English but at some point he did some research into his family tree and discovering that he had Scots blood in his background he seized on that with relish and became more Scots than the actual Scots, buying an island, wearing a kilt and immersing himself in the culture as much as he could. I particularly love his wartime books set on fictional islands which had been transformed from their usual quiet abodes to places that were heaving with soldiers, sailors and airmen – much to the delight of the local female population. Keep the Home Guard Turning is hilarious, very much in the style of Dad’s Army, but years before that long running TV series was thought of.

Are you a fan of any of the authors on these shelves?

Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

 Niccolo Rising cover

Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett is the first in a series and was first published in 1986. I really loved her Lymond series and was a bit loath to begin this new series as I didn’t think this one could match up to it, but I really enjoyed Niccolo Rising. As with the Lymond books it seemed to be non-stop action. The setting is Bruges in 1460 where Claes is an apprentice dyer who is always getting into scrapes, he’s a bit of a town fool but is very popular, especially with the young ladies.

But Claes is hiding his talents, it turns out that he has a great head for business, is able to decipher secret codes, gets on the right side of the Vatican – all of which ends up being very lucrative for his employer – the widow. But he has also made enemies as you would expect and there are attempts on his life.

Towards the end of the book his name lengthens to the original Nicholas to the disgust of some who wish to keep him in his place, and even some of his friends have doubts about his motives for some of his actions.

As you would expect from the author this is beautifully written although as ever you really have to concentrate on every word, but there’s quite a lot of humour and I was glad that I know Bruges, which can’t have changed much since the 15th century so I could picture it all.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

In common with most book lovers I have stacks of unread books awaiting my attention. Judith at Reader in the Wilderness has decided to start her Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times MEME – talk about three of the books in your TBR stacks. For me anyway this might be a way of reacquainting myself with books that I was keen to buy at the time, but for some reason have languished in the piles. I’ve been having trouble concentrating on reading, in common with loads of readers so I might find something to pique my interest here.

Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett – I started collecting this series while I was reading the author’s Lymond series which was a few years ago. I think it’s the thickness of the book that has put me off beginning it, but having finished reading The Mirror and the Light at over 800 pages, this book now seems quite slim.

Niccolo

Flowers on the Grass by Monica Dickens. I have no idea how long I’ve had this one which according to the blurb is: perhaps the gayest and most entertaining novel yet written by an author whose work has always been unfailingly entertaining. The setting ranges from a country cottage to a holiday camp in Northern England, a Bayswater hotel to a modern ‘do-as-you-like’ school, and has a fascinating gallery of characters – apparently. I’m now wondering why I haven’t thought of reading it before now.

Dickens

Over the Mountains by Pamela Frankau has a World War 2 setting. It’s May 1940 and the British armies are retreating from Dunkirk. Reading the blurb I’ve just realised that this one is the last book of a trilogy, but I think it can be read as a stand alone book, and it seems like it might be right up my street.

Frankau

I’m going to read one of these books soon – if I can concentrate on one, I might have to dip into all three before I find one I can concentrate on!

New to me books

Books Febrauary 2019

Nine more books entered my house the other day. I say that as if they did it of their own volition, bursting in the front door like gatecrashers, but I must admit that it’s entirely my fault that my TBR piles continue to multiply. A visit to Edinburgh’s Stockbridge area usually leads to me buying more books although my pre-Christmas visit was disappointing, if I’m remembering correctly. I made up for that this time.

Anyway I bought:

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom (1973)
Send a Fax to the Kasbah by Dorothy Dunnett (1991)
Dolly Dialogues by Anthony Hope (1896)
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull (1938)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1970)
Secret Water by Arthur Ransome (!939)
The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read (1987)
Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (1984)
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon (2011)

2019 February Books

It’s quite a mixture. I had thought that Dorothy Dunnett had only written historical fiction but Send a Fax to the Kasbah was contemporary in its day. The blurb on this book says: This highly pertinent look at the world of big business in the last decade of the twentieth century presents Dorothy Dunnett at the very top of her form. Mind you, as it was first published in 1991 and uses the word ‘fax’ in the title it will probably seem quite historical now.

To me Anthony Hope was the author of The Prisoner of Zenda and I had never heard of Dolly Dialogues but it seems that it’s an amusing read – so I could use it to count towards the humorous classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge. I bought this one for £2 but people are asking silly prices for it on the internet.

I always buy British Library Crime Classics when I see them in secondhand bookshops, sometimes the cover is the most impressive thing about the books. So far the mysteries have only been about 50% good and I’m left thinking that there must be better crime classics which are more deserving of being reprinted. I think that Excellent Intentions will be a good one though.

Master and Commander is the first in a series of books by Patrick O’Brian. I believe they feature the ship HMS Surprise, that’s mainly why I want to read the series as one of my ancestors was transported to Australia for sedition (it was a fit up!), and I just recently discovered that he was transported there on The Surprise.

The Sleeping Army is aimed at older children but it is described by Jacqueline Wilson as ‘a wildly original, rollicking twist on Norse mythology.’

The Miss Read books are for when the news is driving me crazy and I can’t settle to read anything that might not be a nice gentle read. The blurb says: ‘She conjures up scenes of thatch, hollyhocks and lovable eccentricities which the world recognises as the epitome of Englishness.’

Have you read any of these ones?

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

King Hereafter cover

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1982 and as is usual with Dunnett’s books it’s a weighty tome with 721 pages. I loved this one, it’s one of those books that I just didn’t want to end and I felt quite bereft when it did – and of course it’s a stand alone book so I won’t be able to meet up with any of the characters in the future. I’m so glad that we travelled to Orkney last year because I had been to all of the locations mentioned there and everywhere else in Scotland, even the small historic town nearest to where I live got a mention.

In this book the author has decided that the Viking Thorfinn Sigurdsson and Macbeth are one and the same person, with Thorfinn taking the name Macbeth when he was baptised a Christian.

Times were very violent in 11th century Scotland and leaders/kings often didn’t last all that long back then with Viking raiders and more local rivals vying to be top dog. So as with Dorothy Dunnett’s other books – it’s all go – never a dull moment.

I found this one to be a lot more straightforward than some of her others. The endpapers feature a detailed family tree of the Kings of Scotland (Alba) and the Earls of Northumbria (England), but I didn’t need to refer to them. I can imagine that I’ll re-read this one though as I’m sure I’ll get even more enjoyment out of it the next time around.

As it happens I was walking in Birnam Wood a couple of days ago, but I did a post about it way back in 2010 (where does the time go?!) so if you want to have a look at some of the ancient trees have a look here. The photos don’t give an impression of how big they are.

Recent Book Purchases

Books Again

I mentioned earlier that I only bought two books in Wigtown (Scotland’s book town – allegedly). I managed to get a lovely hardback copy of Dorothy Dunnett’s Scales of Gold, it’s one of her House of Niccolo books. I also bought a Virago, The Flint Anchor by Sylvia Townsend Warner in a shop called Byre Books which is hidden away behind some houses on the main street.

Jack had looked up an online list of secondhand bookshops in the UK. There was a shop listed in Gatehouse of Fleet, a very small town with not a lot in it, but a very wee shop on the High Street has a mixture of art and old books for sale. I managed (just) to stop myself from buying any of the art but I couldn’t resist buying three books.

Beth Chatto’s Garden Notebook. I don’t have any of her books but I used to read her articles and when we lived in Essex for a couple of years we were close to her garden, but I used to always just catch a glimpse of it from the bus to Colchester. She died just last week but she was a good old age, over 90.

Peeps at Many Lands is a series of travel books and I bought the Corsica book which was published in 1909. It was written by Ernest Young and illustrated by E.A. Norbury. Published by Adam and Charles Black. It has some nice colour illustrations.

I think the man in the bookshop thought that I just bought books with pretty pictures because the other book I bought there is The Englishman’s Castle by John Gloag with charming illustrations of various sorts of grand homes by Marjory Whittington. This was was published in 1944 and has that Book Production War Economy Standard logo on it. I have quite a lot of books published in wartime and I must say that although the paper was supposedly not the best quality they’ve all fared well over the years, much better than modern paperbacks anyway. They seem to begin to deteriorate after just ten years or so.

Incredibly there’s another bookshop in Gatehouse of Fleet although it’s a bit more difficult to find as it’s housed in part of an old mill by the edge of the River Fleet. It’s a lot bigger and has mainly old books, I don’t think there is much at all in the way of modern-ish paperbacks which suits me fine. I bought a book by J.I.M. Stewart called The Man Who Won the Pools. Also The Garden of Ignorance by Mrs. Marion Cran which was published in 1917 I believe.

The last one I bought there is called Recording Scotland, published by Oliver and Boyd in 1952 and has loads of lovely illustrations of places in Scotland by famous artists. Somewhere I bought a copy of Penelope Lively’s A Stitch in Time, one of her books she wrote for children.

On the way back home we drove along the Ayrshire coast and into Lanarkshire with the intention of visiting Garrion Bridge, an antiques centre that we hadn’t been to for years. To be honest there’s very little there that could be described as an antique but we did find some books there. So I came away with a couple by D.E. Stevensons – Five Windows and Sarah’s Cottage and also a couple of old but pristine orange Penguin books by the Bradford author Oliver Onions,Widdershins and The Story of Ragged Robin, but those ones are gifts for a friend who collects that author. We were so chuffed to find those ones.

I think you’ll agree that that was quite a haul.

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett

Checkmate cover

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett is the sixth and last book in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles although in truth this series could just as easily have been named Philippa’s Chronicles. It was first published in 1975.

I loved this series and although I rarely re-read books as I have too many books that I want to read for the first time around, I can see that I might read this series again after a few years. Towards the end of this one I feared that it was going to be an unhappy ending to rival Thomas Hardy’s books, but – it wasn’t. It was however a great read.

Lymond had been determined to go back to Russia where he was almost certainly going to be executed by the Tsar, his friends are determined to stop him and with Philippa’s help he is taken to France. He’s not happy about it, but they are still waiting for their divorce and have to stay there until after the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the Dauphin. Strangely Lymond intends to re-marry as soon as he gets the divorce. Philippa is still being pursued by the ever constant Austin Grey. But Philippa is only interested in finding out the truth of Lymond’s parentage and destroying any evidence that might be harmful to him.

Lymond is leading the French army against England and Spain, but back in England Mary Tudor is in ill health and having trouble with her Spanish husband Philip. It’s a time of religious upheaval with the Protestant religion gaining converts, but they’re being persecuted for their beliefs.

These books are dense with detail and not easy reads but they’re well worth the concentration needed to get the most out of them.

Lymond has been suffering from migraines, almost certainly caused by stress. As a fellow sufferer I was glad to see how Dunnett described his illness. So many people claim to have a migraine when what they have is just a bad headache, nothing like a three day hell with constant vomiting at its height and often vision impairment followed by exhaustion. I feel sure that Dunnett must have suffered from migraines herself or lived with someone who did.

My Blog’s Name in TBR Books

I’ve never done this meme before but lots of the blogs that I enjoy frequenting have been doing it including Margaret at BooksPlease and I decided to join in. The idea is that you choose book titles from your TBR pile which begin with the letters of your blog name. So, here goes – sixteen of them. I intend to read them before the end of this year.

TBR Books

PPapa-la-bas by John Dickson Carr

IIf This Is a Man by Primo Levi

NNicolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett

IIf Not Now, When by Primo Levi

NNot So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith

GGuest in the House by Philip MacDonald

FFor the Sake of the School by Angela Brazil

OOld Hall-New Hall by Michael Innes

RReputation for a Song by Edward Grierson

TTroy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy

HHow Late It Was – How Late by James Kelman

EEdinburgh by Robert Louis Stevenson

WWinter by Len Deighton

EEverything You Need by A.L. Kennedy

SSpiderweb by Penelope Lively

TTrooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell

Have you read any of these books and if so where should I begin?

Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Last week I was at Dumbarton Castle which is an old friend to me as I used to play around it when I was a wee girl as I lived not far from the castle. It might be a disappointment to some people as it’s not much of a castle really, well not like Edinburgh or Stirling. But Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde, so it’s more of a fort and has been used as such since at least AD 450. Built on a volcanic plug, as is Edinburgh, it’s located at a strategic point where the River Leven meets the River Clyde.

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Over the centuries it has been well used and at one point a lot of French Napoleonic War prisoners were housed at the castle. Below is a photo of the prison but I believe that they were also living in a part of the castle which is now a ruin.

French Prison at Dumbarton Rock

You have to be fit to visit Dumbarton Castle as it has stairs all over the place. I used to think it was 365, they said there was one for every day of the year when I was a lass, but now they must have re-counted. I’m sure I saw a sign saying 555 stairs, all I know for sure is that my knees knew all about them the next day!

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France from here in 1435 when she went there to marry the Dauphin. But long before that it suffered attacks from the Vikings. It’s a very historic place.

I thought these photos might be of interest to people who have read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as the town is mentioned quite often in the books. Sadly the photos don’t do the distant mountains justice.

View from Dumbarton Rock

A few weeks ago there was a rumour going around the town that Prince Harry and wife would be given the title of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton. Wishful thinking I thought – so I was amazed to discover today that it is indeed true. I suspect that one day they will visit the town, the Georgian house (below) within castle is still used for special events, usually by the army. I just hope that nobody shows them the actual town!

Georgian House at Dumbarton Castle

There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.

View from Dumbarton Castle

Guns at Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Dumbarton Castle

The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett

The Ringed Castle cover

The Ringed Castle by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1971 and my copy seems to be a first edition. I love the dust jacket. It is of course the fifth book in the Lymond Chronicles.

Philippa has returned from Turkey. She has contracted a marriage of convenience with Lymond, the plan is they will have the marriage annulled within a few years, that should be easy as it hasn’t been consummated.

Meanwhile Lymond has travelled to Russia with his band of mercenaries and it isn’t long before he has gained yet another title – Voevoda Bolshoia, head of Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s army. Any position that brings you close to Ivan is a precarious one as his moods and rages are a danger to all around him.

But Ivan is keen to modernise his country and to bring wealth to it through trading. Reluctantly the Tsar parts with Lymond to allow him to sail to England with ships full of goods and Osep Nepeja who is to be the first Russian ambassador to England.

In England Mary Tudor is Queen and married to Philip of Spain. She is praying to have a child and is busy having thousands of Protestants burnt at the stake as offerings to her God, presumably hoping that she’ll be sent a child from God for doing her best to support Catholicism. Life in England is almost as dangerous as life in Russia.

I loved this one and went straight on to Checkmate, the last in the Lymond series.