Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart

 Rose Cottage cover

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart was first published in 1997.

The setting is Argyll in Scotland and Sunderland, County Durham in the north-east of England. Kate Herrick is a young widow, having lost her husband who had been in the RAF during World War 2 – one of ‘the few’. Unexpectedly she has been left fairly well-off by him, but she’s working in a plant nursery in County Durham, just for something to do really, but she loves the work.

However Kate’s Granny has moved north to Scotland and has decided to stay there for good, she has asked Kate to clear up Rose Cottage which is the house that Granny had lived in. The house is on the Brandon estate where Granny had been a cook for years, and as Kate had lost both her parents as a child she had lived there with her Granny. Kate has instructions as to which furniture and household goods should be packed for Scotland, but she doesn’t expect it will take her long.

Kate’s a wee bit worried about going back to what had been her childhood home as not everyone had been friendly as she was growing up there, since her mother had been unmarried and her father a mystery. Kate had had to put up with some nastiness from strait-laced people, but she’s surprised by how welcome she has been made to feel on her return – time has changed things it seems.

This is an entertaining light read, not in the same league as the author’s earlier books but still with an element of romance, mystery and suspense in it, which she was so well known for. It was the last book that Mary Stewart had published and she was over 80 by then, she was 98 when she died.

I found it to be a bit of a strange experience reading this one as there were so many elements in it which echoed the experiences of a friend of mine from Sunderland who splits her time between Sunderland and Scotland – and she even has a pet tortoise just as one of the characters in the book has!

Although Mary Stewart is generally seen as being a Scottish author, she was actually born in the north-east of England, but moved to Scotland when she married a Scottish soldier and settled down in Edinburgh with him. I imagine she enjoyed her imaginary jaunt back in time to her roots geographical via writing this book.

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

 Rubbernecker cover

I would probably never have picked up this book if it hadn’t been that favourite book bloggers enjoyed it so much. Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer was first published in 2013.

Patrick has Asperger’s Syndrome and he only got into university because they have a quota to fill, they need a percentage of ‘disabled’ students and he fits the bill. Patrick isn’t interested in becoming a doctor, he just wants to do anatomy. He had witnessed a bad car crash earlier and is somewhat obsessed with death. His father had died when Patrick was a youngster and no doubt that experience has affected him. His mother is completely stressed out by him.

Patrick stands out as being very different from the other students, he takes everything literally and really just doesn’t understand how people communicate and interact with each other. As part of their studies students are put into groups and given a cadaver to study, stripping it back bit by bit, looking for whatever had caused their death. In time they develop a relationship with the body which for them is anonymous, but they all give their cadavers a name.

Patrick is obsessed with bagging up and labelling everything during the course, and this leads to him having suspicions about the death – things just don’t add up as far as he is concerned.

This was a great read so I’ll definitely be reading more by the author. It has suspense, some humour, horror and quirky characters.

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

The Feast cover

The Reverend Bott of Cornwall is having a tough time writing a funeral sermon, so he’s unable to entertain his friend who is visiting for his annual holiday. It’s an unusual situation as it’s a multiple funeral for people who had been in a nearby hotel when the cliffs above it had collapsed on the building. With tons of stone obliterating the hotel there was no way anyone could have survived, or been extricated for a normal burial. Then the tale slips back to the run up to the disaster, featuring a large cast of characters in the shape of the hotel guests, including children.

The hotel had been the Siddal family home but with Mr Siddal’s career as a barrister having come to a halt for some reason, they just can’t afford to live in the house, so Mrs Siddon decides to turn it into an hotel. Her rather feckless husband and adult children help to run the place, along with a few locals, particularly the much put upon Nancibel (she hates her name). Mrs Siddal is a strange mother – favouring her son Duff over everyone else, seemingly because he is handsome. She has nothing but disdain for her son Gerry who is a doctor and is actually supporting his younger brothers via education fees.

This is a great read with characters that you love to hate, including Hebe, a truly ghastly child, but it did take me a while to get really into it. Given that the reader knows what happens within the first few pages I inevitably spent my time hoping that the horrible people would get their comeuppance and the ‘good guys’ would survive. It was a very satisfying read considering that I hadn’t been all that happy knowing about the fate of the hotel so early on in the book, it turned out to be a good strategy by the author, it added a lot of suspense – for me anyway.

Thank you to Faber and Faber who sent me a digital copy of The Feast via NetGalley.

This was my fourth 20 Books of Summer read.

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

The Gabriel Hounds cover

The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart was first published in 1967. The setting is the Middle East, High Lebanon and with that and just about everywhere else that is mentioned such as Syria now being completely unrecognisable having been bombed to hell and back – I found that aspect of the book really sad. Politicians – HUH!

Apart from that the book was just okay, I’ll give it a 3 on Goodreads I think, for me it dragged a fair amount although it did heat up quite a bit towards the end.

Christy Mansell is a young English woman from a wealthy family, she’s in Damascus and intends to visit her great-aunt who had settled nearby years ago, building a large palace for herself. Great-aunt Harriet is an eccentric who has modelled herself on a Victorian called Lady Hester. Before Christy can visit her aunt she bumps into her cousin Charles, he had been her hero in her younger days, he’s a few years older than Christy, they look very alike and their fathers are identical twins. There had been a sort of tongue in cheek expectation that they would get married (so far so shuddersome as far as I’m concerned!!)

When Christy reaches her great-aunt’s palace it’s evident that the place is falling apart and her aunt is on her last legs. She’s being attended by some suspect characters and Christy realises that her appearance there isn’t at all welcome. She’s determined to get to the bottom of it all.

As I said, it does get more interesting towards the end although for me it didn’t come close to her usual suspense and I found the romance side of it to be distinctly icky!

The Sacred Art of Stealing by Christopher Brookmyre

This is another book which I read during the Christmas holidays and I’ve been swithering about reviewing it ever since.

It’s definitely not one for the prudish as it is a wee bit over the top in a couple of places. Having said that, I did enjoy reading it. It starts off in Mexico but the action soon switches to the lovely city of Glasgow, which is always nice especially if you are homesick for the streets. I enjoyed being in Buchanan Street and Gordon Street and the Kelvingrove Gallery anyway.

Angelique de Xavia has grown up in Glasgow and gone to a Roman Catholic school where she had rather a hard time of it due to the fact that her skin colour didn’t fit in as her parents had been amongst the Ugandan Asians deported by Idi Amin in the 1970s. She becomes a Rangers supporter mainly because all of the hateful pupils are Celtic supporters but being a Rangers fan is the big secret in her life. The rivalry between the two teams is really well observed and funny.

When she joins the police she becomes an expert in judo and has a reputation for being a bit of a maverick so when there is a robbery at a bank and hostages are taken, Angelique abseils into the building. It’s a robbery with a difference and Angelique ends up finding one of the robbers more than a bit interesting, which is where it became a bit unlikely.

There are loads of twists and turns in the plot and I think that anyone who is into suspense/mystery novels would probably enjoy it. Even if they don’t have the added dimension of imagining themselves at the Mitchell Library or in Partick.

One thing did annoy me though and that was the spelling of Glesca Polis. Apparently Brookmyre was born in Glasgow, as I was, but I have never heard any Glaswegian pronounce Glasgow in that way. It is always Glesga. Only teuchters (highlanders) pronounce it with a ‘c’.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge.

The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010

This book was first published in 1965 and although I enjoyed it,
I don’t think it is anywhere near as good as du Maurier’s earlier work. At 272 pages, it is a very quick read. I must admit that I am not a fast reader as I take the view that as someone has gone to the bother of writing every word, it is only fair that I should read them all and not skim. It is well written and I found that it hadn’t really dated that much.

It is the story of a holiday courier called Armino Fabbio who conducts coach parties of tourists from Genoa to Rome. When a male tourist propositions the young and handsome Armino and slips a 10,000 lire note into his hand, Armino decides to get rid of the money by passing it on to an old lady who is slumped on the cathedral steps.

Unfortunately, she is murdered soon after and Armino decides that the safest thing for him is to get away from the area and he ends up back in the town where he had grown up, having left it as a young boy at the end of the war.

Since then his home town of Ruffano has enlarged due to the local university expanding, with as many as 5,000 students residing there or nearby.

Nobody recognizes the adult Armino and he takes a job in the university library, becoming involved with the students and staff and discovering that there is a disturbing rivalry between the Arts and Economics faculties, creating an atmosphere of menace.

He lives in fear of being traced to Ruffano by the police, especially when he discovers that the murder victim was his childhood nanny.

The book finishes with a spectacular festival which the students take part in and draws to what was for me an unexpected conclusion.

I don’t think I would read this one again though. It’s certainly not in the Rebecca league.