What’s So Special About Scottish Islands?

I’ve done it again – picked up a novel because it was set on a Scottish island. Not that I was disappointed. Keep the Midnight Out is a solid mystery novel featuring Alex Gray’s regular investigator, DI Lorimer. I enjoyed it so much I plan to read the rest of the series, even if I do have to cross the water to the mainland.

And while I do have ancestral connections to the Isle of Skye, I know I’m not the only one to really enjoy these Scottish island settings – the remoter the better. Once you’re on an island, cut off from super-fast broadband and other tricks of modernity, well, anything can happen and so often does. Continue reading “What’s So Special About Scottish Islands?”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Hollow by Agatha Christie

the hollowWhenever I am stuck for something to read, or need a cosy novel to cheer me up, I tend to dip into my extensive Agatha Christie collection. I know I’ve read them before numerous times, and can probably remember ‘whodunit’, but the good ones offer more than just the mystery of the crime. One of my favourites is The Hollow, a classic country house murder mystery, where the reader can depend the murderer is one of the guests invited for the weekend. Of course, it’s never one of the servants, so no one ever bothers to investigate them!

What I like about it:

  • Lucy Ankatell is one of Christie’s more amusing hostesses – she is a terrible snob but gives out enough self-deprecating humour for this to be forgivable.
  • There is a good reason for almost everyone to have killed the victim, so because they’re all friends and family, the suspects muddy the waters of Poirot’s investigation.

Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Hollow by Agatha Christie”

Heartbreaking Silliness (Part One)

One of my favourite authors, Anne Tyler, once wrote a recommendation for another of my favourite authors, Barbara Pym:

She is the rarest of treasures; she reminds us of the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life.

Pym has been compared to Jane Austen possibly because of her sharp eye for the ways and manners of her contemporaries – particularly the groups of women that are found in country parishes, helping the vicar, or some dry academic at Oxford; among the office staff at a charity or small-time academic publisher. Her stories are full of missed opportunities and regret, the secretive competitiveness among women vying for recognition and even affection from the important men they orbit, yet are full of  understanding, wit and humour. I love them.

Here are my top three:

Excellent Women – A post-war London housing problem (all those returned servicemen now have families and want homes) sees Mildred Lathbury having to share a bathroom with a glamorous couple – anthropologist Helena Napier and her dashing husband Rocky. Continue reading “Heartbreaking Silliness (Part One)”

Series Settings that Hit the Spot – part 1

When reading it is wonderful to be lured into a novel by a charming location – quaint English villages, coastal towns, places that don’t even appear on the map but keep drawing you back when you find them. Imagining a quirky setting and the people who live there must be fun to write too and once you’ve created it, how hard it would be to leave, never to return. No wonder so many book series centre around a place. Here’s a few series that have wonderful settings I happily return to again and again. Continue reading “Series Settings that Hit the Spot – part 1”

Chick Noir – Is it just a fad?

 

First there was Gone Girl, then there was Girl on a Train. Suddenly everyone was wanting more edgy thrillers about women in danger and the publishers cottoned on and there were more and more of these chick noir novels appearing, often with the world ‘girl’ in the title.

While I believe this genre has been around in many forms since the beginning of storytelling – (from those Old Testament heroines like Yael and Deborah through to ‘the girl’ in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, just for starters), this new breed of heroine is often an unreliable narrator – drinks too much, has memory lapses, tells lies or is blinded by emotion – which makes things interesting. Continue reading “Chick Noir – Is it just a fad?”

The Mockingbird Effect

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the world’s best loved books, with its powerful themes, evocative setting and memorable characters, to say nothing of the writing. But one of the things about it that I love best is the voice of young Scout the narrator. Currently reading When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (why had I forgotten to read this gem before?), which is also written from the point of view of a child, I got to thinking about other books with child narrators. It seems very powerful to me to write about issues that plague us as adults from the point of view of childhood innocence. Here are some of my favourite novels with a child narrator: Continue reading “The Mockingbird Effect”

Reading Australia

For a while there, I mostly avoided Australian fiction, fearing the characters would sound as if they’d stepped out of Kath and Kim. I was foolish, I know – I’d read some Tim Winton and Peter Cleary with enjoyment, so can only assume I’d had a bad experience  once somewhere along the line.

But lately, I find myself constantly returning to and even looking forward to new fiction releases from our neighbours across the ditch. Here’s a round-up of some of the Australian novels I would particularly recommend. Continue reading “Reading Australia”

Up Lit – Is it Anything New?

Up Lit could be the latest literary genre. The term was coined in a recent Guardian article in response to the success of novels such as Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. (Incidentally, these two books made my top ten reads for 2017.) You might say this is a genre with empathy at its core, a welcome break from the psychological thrillers that have been claiming top spots on the best-seller lists – books like Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) and Girl on a Train (Paula Hawkins). Continue reading “Up Lit – Is it Anything New?”