A book not just for Hallowe’en

Luckenbooth, by Jenni Fagan

Fabulous, but not for the faint hearted. This novel is dark, disturbing and deliciously gory.

It dips in and out of the cursed lives of those that live in 10 Luckenbooth Close, moving forward in time as the building steadily decays. It is a story haunted by what happened to Jessie in that house, and it feels like a legend that has been told before, a story that we should all know the ending of.

The residents of 10 Luckenbooth Close are those on the edges of society, under the radar, by choice or by fate. Their stories are fascinating.

It is so Edinburgh, and it is really, really good.

Whilst Walking

I went for a long distance walk in September, across moorland and along coastal cliffs. It was truly lovely, and something that I needed to do for my soul. It does, however, play havoc with my reading schedule because traditional books are just not practical to carry in a rucksack. Too heavy and too inclined to be wrecked.

I use an ereader occasionally, but I’m not keen on it for anything where I might need to check back to see what someone did in chapter 3, or whether I’ve missed a vital plot point. Sometimes, however, it is the only way forward.

Furthermore, by the time I’ve walked all day, sorted out sleeping arrangements and dinner, washed socks, and made sure I know my route for the following day, I have little time or concentration left for reading, so I need light and easy reads, with the ability to pick up where I fell asleep the day before…

My ereader does not make a comfy pillow.

Excuses over, I really only read four books in the second half of September, if you don’t count maps and guidebooks, which I quite firmly do.

Bombshell, by Sarah MacLean – I am one of the people who desperately wanted to know what happened to Sesily, and I am so glad that her story is as strong and unconventional as she is herself. I am really looking forward to the other character’s stories. I can read Sarah MacLean books all day, and sometimes I do! I finished this in a café where I had spent far too long waiting for the rain to go over whilst eking out a pot of tea to infinity.

Stranger at the Grove, by Mary Kingswood – I have a strong suspicion that I missed a chunk of this (see above comment about falling asleep). I didn’t read back, but I quite enjoyed it nonetheless. Mostly harmless, not the first in the series, which may have been the problem.

The Scoundrel’s Daughter, by Anne Gracie – This one is the first in a new series; it’s always good when you have something to look forward to when you’ve finished a book! A tale of blackmail and matchmaking with two love stories. This was sweet with a nicely rounded-up happy ending, and sometimes that’s all I need in a book.

Portrait of a Scotsman, by Evie Dunmore – I love this series so much that I pre-ordered this just after I finished the last one. Hattie’s story was just perfect for evenings spent curled up in corners of cosy pubs. I finished it on the bus on the way home.

Pay attention…

You are the Beloved Child of the House. Be comforted.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke

I’m really not quite sure what I just read, but I could not put it down. A genre-defying, psychological, strange and clever novel, with so many twists in the tale.

Pay attention and watch out for the literary references (I thought they were fun as well as a big clue) and don’t try too hard to work out where it’s going. It’s all a bit of a roller coaster.

I really enjoyed this, but I am quite fond of weird books!

Sometimes it rains

…the earth cannot hold so much water in one day.

Summerwater, by Sarah Moss

You should read this in one sitting, on a day when the rain is lashing down outside so hard that it bounces, with the windows open.

Atmospheric and moody, and absolutely on the button about the typical Scottish summer holiday, with an occasional guilty ‘should I really be laughing at this?’ moment.

It encapsulates all the best bits about people-watching, as you feel the tension building to the final shocking resolution.

Loved it.

Journeying

To the Island of Tides, by Alistair Moffat

I bought this book on a visit to a bookshop, where I also bought tickets to hear the author talk about his latest book, which is not this one. I chose instead his book about St Cuthbert and Lindisfarne because I too have walked from Melrose and crossed the causeway to the island, following the footsteps of St Cuthbert, although having read it, I realise that the St Cuthbert’s Way has little relation to the Saint’s actual route!

I’m a big fan of maps of all kinds, from Ordnance Survey to historical (the National Library of Scotland has an amazing collection) and I loved being able to follow the journey step by step, including the places where Alistair Moffat found himself slightly off track. I could really visualise the route, both in St Cuthbert’s time and now, with an occasional foray into different periods.

I learnt things I did not know including why Trimontium was called Trimontium. I can’t believe I hadn’t worked it out, it’s so obvious. There are three Eildon hills above Melrose; of course they would have been a major landmark, you can see them for miles around. All I know is that when I walked to Lindisfarne it felt as though I could not leave them behind!

To the Island of Tides is a book of two halves, and of two journeys, one step-by-step pragmatic movement, the other arrival and spiritual acceptance. Both made for a thoughtful and rather beautiful read. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and, unusually for me I will probably read it again. If there is time. After all, life is short.

When I crossed the causeway to Lindisfarne ten years ago, I walked over the pilgrim’s sands in bare feet. The sand of course is not the same that the monks walked on, but there is some sense of continuity there, and Lindisfarne is indeed a magical place.

Postscript: the things I looked up and some things that I did.

1. What the flour mill at Etal was called

2. Annas in the River Tweed

3. Lots of map overlays in the NLS and OS mapping online

4. St Cuthbert’s timeline, I got a bit confused with the numbers!

5. I visited Old Melrose – I’ve been past so many times

6. Alistair Moffat’s talk was my first event in two years, it was in St Boswell Village Hall, and it was brilliant.

A pair of devils

Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas & The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan

It’s raining here, so I’ve spent a couple of days curled up in an untidy heap on my settee listening to the rain and reading happily. Every so often my husband brings me tea. These books are both partway through their respective series (is there a plural for series? serieses?), and one of them I have waited for for so long that I missed when it was actually published.

I knew more or less what I was getting with both books, and I do love a bit of historical romance with nice dresses and a predictable happy ending. It was a lovely wee bit of indulgence, and just to make it perfect, this afternoon I got cake too. Quite clearly keepers, just because of the whole series thing, but possibly also because of the happiness. I’ve never quite worked out how you permanently delete an ebook anyway.

Another book about mermaids

Feathertide by Beth Cartwright

I’ve been in an odd sort of mood this week, perhaps a little bit distracted. There are things going on in the real-life part of my family that require me to concentrate and be a proper matriarchal grown up. This book has joined my library at exactly the right time to allow some switching off from the outside world (when I can).

Feathertide is a dreamy sort of book. It siren-sings to you and leads you down passageways and canals into an almost-but-not-quite Venice called The City of Murmurs, full of characters with stories to tell, and secrets to hide. Maréa is born with the feathers of a bird and grows up being hidden away. She has to come to terms with both who she is and what her place in the world will be and she will work out both of these things in the City.

This is not an angsty or hopeless book; Maréa is well-loved by many people and loves back. It’s really rather gorgeous, and I needed it just now. I will probably keep it, I will definitely lend it.

Rogues and kings

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Today’s life lesson is that just because I don’t know about something, doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is as ignorant as I am. Specifically here I am talking about my Mum, who knows all about Till Eulenspiegel apparently. I had never heard of him.

Till Eulenspiegel is a folk story from Middle Ages Germany. Here the story is relocated to the Thirty Years War, which I had to look up because although I had heard of it, I didn’t actually know what it was. Always willing to learn. Tyll is a joker and a trickster, not unlike Puck I suppose, in the way that he is mischievous and unpredictable, but in this story Tyll is given a backstory rooted in war and religious fervour, whilst keeping that fey feeling that he is not quite a real human.

I did really enjoy this. It was not what I expected, I thought it would be more myth and less history, but the story was firmly enmeshed in a period of history that I knew very little about, and I do love to have an excuse to read up about history.

Postscript: The things I had to look up:

  1. The Thirty Years War
  2. The Winter Queen, aka Elizabeth of Bohemia aka Elizabeth Stuart
  3. Till Eulenspiegel – the folk story
  4. Rupert of the Rhine

A locked room mystery with cursed violins

The Strings of Murder, by Oscar de Muriel

This was so nearly my second ‘did not finish‘ of the year, but I persevered, and it got slightly better. It was recommended to me, so obviously other people (including the recommender) enjoyed it, in fact, there’s a whole series. I will selflessly leave them on the bookshop shelves for others…

There are three main reasons why it wasn’t really my thing, and all of them are potentially a bit picky, because the actual story was fine. Firstly, over-explaining: the author had obviously done quite a lot of research, and he felt that the reader needed to know about all the things he had researched. Too much detail that didn’t move the plot on.

Secondly one of the main characters spoke in a broad Scots dialect, which I do not think was particularly of the Victorian period, and which sounded more like Glasgow than Edinburgh to me (I live in the West of Scotland). It broke the story up, and actually annoyed me.

But the third thing was by far the worst. The villain of the piece was a new character almost at the end of the book. This is just so annoying! It means you can’t possibly work it out, and the perpetrator has no history in the narrative. Grrrrr.

Not a keeper, I left it in the Youth Hostel we were staying in and then went for a long walk to calm down.

Not even slightly HP

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

I have been saving this for a day when I had the time to read it all at once. I haven’t done much else today, but it’s been lovely and sunny, so I curled up on a blanket in the shade of the trees and enjoyed myself.

I really enjoy the way Naomi Novik’s mind works, and despite this being set in a school for young magicians, it has far more in common with The Hunger Games than Harry Potter. I thought it was inventive, as well as thoroughly entertaining. I enjoyed the descriptions of the monsters, and the difference between good and bad magic, and El’s somewhat sardonic voice made me giggle. I loved the whole school reforming itself every year, and the slightly clunky machinery-in-the-walls required to do so.

A good way to spend a day, and I’ll look forward to the next book. Now, having lazed around all morning, I’d better go and do something useful!