The Setons

by O. Douglas 1917

The Setons depicts ordinary Scottish country life in the early 20th century, as young Elizabeth Seton uses her strength of character to keep the household together following her mother’s death.

Published in 1917, The Setons offers a convincing glimpse into the lives of an ordinary Scottish family, whose members share a passion for books and reading. Through her story, O. Douglas is keen to express the values of a society now long departed, recounting simple scenes and events which carry their own unique, heartfelt and pleasant qualities.

Although lacking in adventure, this book offers an illuminating look at how community and family life stood at the heart of traditional Scotland. The conclusion, at the very beginning of World War I, foreshadows the modern world; men in the locality are at first excited to be leaving their quiet and secluded Scottish homeland, but this exuberance is replaced by sorrow as news of death after death reaches home.


 

I thoroughly enjoyed this comfort read! It’s been a while since I picked up an O. Douglas read. She never disappoints. Elizabeth has taken on the running of the manse household after her mother died. That includes raising her younger brother and doing all the church functions expected from a pastor’s wife. She’s wonderful with her brother, Buff, and his two friends, playing raucous games and reading to them. And is equally comfortable visiting sick and old parishioners or collecting for missions. I loved her sweet, fun, playful, grateful demeanor immensely! She has two older brothers who have already left home. This book is set in Glasgow, a wonderful city!

One of the characters, Old Mrs. Thomson was talking about a wee holiday her and her husband took to the Kyles Hydro. It was a real place! I found pictures from it from before the outbreak of the war!

If you want to see more pictures of the inside of the hotel click HERE.

I loved what Mrs. Thomson said about her visit when her friend Mrs. Hendry said she had niver been to a hydro in her life and it must be a grand rest… “That’s so,” Mrs. Thomson admitted. “It give you a kind of rested feeling to see white paint everywhere and know that it’s no business of yours if it gets marked, and to sit and look at a fine fire blazing itself away without thinkin’ you should be getting on a shovel of dross; and it’s a real holiday feeling to put on your rings and your afternoon dress for breakfast.”

Mr. Seton is such a dear, I’d love to have him for a pastor! A family friend came to visit, a young man, Arthur, and he said to Elizabeth that he though what a tremendous thing for people to have a padre like her father, his very face is an inspiration. His eyes made him think of a character in The Pilgrim’s Progress who had a ‘wonderful innocent smile’. and Elizabeth said of her father.. “I know. Isn’t it wonderful, after sixty odd years in this world? There is something so oddly joyous about him. And it isn’t that sort of provoking fixed brightness that some Christian people have – people who have read Robert Louis and don’t mean to falter in their task of happiness. When you ask them how they are, they say ‘Splendid’; and when you remark, conversationally, that the weather is ghastly beyond words, they pretend to find pleasure in it, until, like Pet Marjorie, you feel your biers rise at them. Father knows just how bad the world is, the cruelty, the toil, the treason; he knows how bitter sorrow is, and what it means to lay hopes in the grave, but he looks beyond and sees something so ineffably lovely – he can go on with his day’s work joyfully.” and Arthur remarked the other world seems extradorinarily real to him and Elizabeth replied, “Heaven is much the realest place there is to Father. I do believe that when he is toiling away in the Gorbals he never sees the squalor for thinking of the streets of gold. The nicest thing about my father is that he is full of contradictions. So gentle and with such an uncompromising creed! The Way is the Way to Father, narrow and hard and comfortless. And he is so good, so purely good, and yet never righteous over much. There is a sort of ingrained humility and lovableness in him that attracts the sinners as well as the saints….” Such a dear man and he loves to get lost in books! My kind of guy!

When showing Arthur around Glasgow, a city and people Elizabeth dearly loves, she compares Edinburgh and Glasgow… “Edinburgh is rows and rows of smug, well built houses, each with a front garden, each with a front gate, and each front gate remains shut against the casual caller until you have rung a bell and the occupants have had time to make up their minds about you from behind the window curtains – when some mechanism in the vestibule is set in motion, the gate opens and you walk in. That almost seems to me the most typical thing about Edinburgh. Glasgow doesn’t keep visitors at the gate. Glasgow is on the doorstep to welcome them in. It is just itself – cheerful, hard-working, shrewd, kindly, a place that has no call to be bonny; it gets through it’s days work. They are ‘weel pleased’ and the more complacency the more ‘weel pleased’ we are.”

Will a romance bloom between Arthur and Elizabeth? I’m not saying! But the last section of the book is sad. WWI begins and all the devastation it brings with it. But these are strong, resilient people who love God and have a strong shepherd to lead them. They will survive. It’s a lovely treasure of a book. You can get a free digital copy at Project Gutenburg!

Have you read any O. Douglas? Her books are a real treasure to me.

O Caledonia

by Elspeth Barker – 1991

At the bottom of a great stone staircase, dressed in her mother’s black lace evening dress, twisted in murderous death, lies Janet. So end the sixteen years of Janet’s short life.

A life spent in a droughty Scottish Castle, where roses will not grow, and a jackdaw decides to live in the doll’s house.

A life peopled by prettier, smoother-haired siblings, a many with a face like the North Sea and the peculiar, whisky-swigging Cousin Lila

A life where Janet is perpetually misunderstood – and must turn from people, to animals, to books, to her own wild and wonderful imagination.


The ‘praises’ for this book and Maggie O’Farrell’s introduction really had me excited about this book! And Ms. Barker’s way with words is nice…

‘Winter descended on the glen; in mid-October came the first thin fall of snow, gone an hour later in the wet wind. the deer ventured down from the hills at dusk, tawny owls shrieked as they hunted through the darkness and shooting stars fled across the night sky. Leafless, the beeches and ashes shivered; the grass was parched with cold; pine and monkey-puzzle stood black and dominant. Only the red earth of the hill tracks retained its color; the puddles looked like pools of blood.

Of all the seasons this was the one Janet loved most.’

But the story was so mean! I just couldn’t like it. At all. Poor Janet. Maybe I missed something vital, but I found no satisfaction in this reading of any kind. Have any of you read it? Can you shine some light on what I missed?

On to something I’m sure I’ll like, a Janet McNeill book, The Maiden Dinosaur.

Coffin Road by Peter May

iuA man stands bewildered on a deserted beach on the Hebridean Isle of Harris. He cannot remember who he is. The only clue to his identity is a folded map of a path named the Coffin Road. He does not know where this search will take him.

A detective from Lewis sits aboard a boat, filled with doubt. DS George Gunn knows that a bludgeoned corpse has been discovered on a remote rock twenty miles offshore. He does not know if he has what it takes to uncover how and why.

A teenage girl lies in her Edinburgh bedroom, desperate to discover the truth about her scientist father’s suicide. Two years on, Karen Fleming still cannot accept that he would willfully abandon her. She doesn’t yet know his secret.

Coffin Road follows three perilous journeys towards one shocking truth – and the realization that ignorance can kill us.

Another great book by Peter May. Great tension, atmosphere and character. Except for the teenage girl. It was a little unbelievable for me and the relationship didn’t come across as that close somehow to me either. But, the book is still an excellent read. Hard to put down. I’m curious if you’ve read it what you thought of the teenager part, don’t want to give away anything here for those of you who haven’t read it.

The whole mystery is wrapped up in bees and what’s killing them. Lots of interesting stuff in this one, folks! Although this is a stand-alone book DS Gunn from the Lewis Trilogy is the main law enforcement character in this one. Fin and Marsaili are mentioned once too. It was nice revisiting the characters. A nice touch!

Here’s a nice article about this book in The Scotsman if your interested! Counts towards Read Scotland 2017 on Goodreads

A Tale of Two Murders by Elizabeth Ferrars

A witty man, quietly charming, could be good company: that was Stephen Gazeley.

and yet… And yet…

His sister Hilda, housekeeping for him since the  tragic death of his wife, had to admit that people did turn against him. Even his own wife in the year before she died. Daughter Katherine’s fiancé and his parents. His oldest friend. Even the gardener…

But it was only after the first murder that Hilda began to see things as they were, rather than as she wished they could be.

And found the process very, very uncomfortable…

Another solid page turner by Elizabeth Ferrars. I haven’t read one yet that I didn’t enjoy!

Peggy Ann

Last and First

The last book I read in 2016 was Murder for Christmas

A CLASSIC MYSTERY FOR THE FESTIVE SEASON: MULLED WINE, MINCE PIES… AND MURDER

Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels, has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame.

Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds that the revelries are in full flow – but so too are tensions amongst the assortment of guests.

Midnight strikes and the party-goers discover that it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A dead body that bears a striking resemblance to Father Christmas.

With the snow falling and the suspicions flying, it’s up to Mordecai to sniff out the culprit – and prevent someone else from getting murder for Christmas.

This book was first published in 1949. Frances Duncan was the author of over twenty crime novels published between 1937 and 1959. Every year I say I’m going to read a Christmas mystery for Christmas and never get around to it. Finally I did! I picked this book up in Scotland last August.

It is a good solid mystery. I didn’t figure it out thats for sure! I didn’t warm up to any of the characters so it’s a good thing the plot was good. I liked Denys and her boyfriend Roger, but they didn’t really have a big enough play in the telling of the story to get to spend enough time with them. I’d like to come across more by this author. Have you read any of his books?

The first book of this year is Bodies in a Bookshop by R.T. Campbell

Botanist Max Boyle visits “a curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road” in London and is delighted with the bibliophile treasures he finds. He also stumbles across something less pleasant: in a back room, an unlit gas ring emits its noxious fumes and two corpses lie sprawled on the floor.

Boyles calls in ‘the Bishop’ – Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard – who in turn coaxes professor John Stubbs, a rotund old Scottish botanist and amateur criminologist, to lend his assistance. The salty old professor, quaffing pint after pint of good British beer, his pipe emitting clouds of foul smoke: the protesting Boyle, who would rather be basking in the sun on the Scilly Islands: and the polite, skeptical, world-weary Bishop soon delve beneath the tip of a sinister iceberg to discover skulduggery and dark deeds. Fueled as much by friction among themselves as by enthusiasm, the little crime-solving club threads a maze through London’s book and print emporia, grappling with a puzzle that is likely to baffle even the most astute armchair detective.

Bodies in a Bookshop is filled with amusing sallies of wit, quaint and pungent observations, droll characters and rambles among many a volume of forgotten lore. Crisp dialogue keeps the plot moving at top speed. After forty years, Bodies in a Bookshop is as exuberantly readable as ever, a welcome and refreshing relief from so many of today’s flat and colorless mystery puzzles.

This is my second book by R.T. Campbell (you can read my review of Unholy Dying here), and a gift from Joan @ Planet Joan! She’s such a thoughtful person. After she read it she thought of me and mailed it right off. Thank you, Joan!

Once again the wonderful John Stubbs with all his eccentricities. The story is told by Max and he is very drool and serious compared to Stubbs flamboyant personality. As in the first book Stubbs car, a Bentley, is almost a character and his driving is outrageous. There is always little comments by Max when they jump in and take off to search out a clue…

  “I’ll drive ye down.” he announced, “that’ll blow the depression out o’ yer head.”
  The Bishop shuddered, but apparently felt that he had nothing to live for anyhow and climbed in the Bentley. the journey passed without incident. We managed to negotiate Hyde Park Corner and finally found ourselves in the King’s Road.

This mystery was extra special as it was set in a bookshop and a quite smart book theft ring was uncovered in the solving of the murders. Lots of talk about beautiful old copies of rare books…

I had never held a genuine Blake illuminated book in my hands before. It was certainly very beautiful. I could almost, for a moment, understand the temptation that would fall on a collector if the book was offered to him. It was such a beautiful piece of work that to have it in the house would be a continual pleasure.

A man after my own heart! Another grand romp and solid mystery.

This book counts for Read Scotland 2017 and Bev’s Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt 2017 – Gold era with a staircase on the cover and is the first book in my chain for Bev’s Follow the Clues Challenge

Peggy Ann

Open Wounds by Douglas Skelton

Davie McCall is tired. Tired of violence, tired of the Life. He’s always managed to stay detached from the brutal nature of his line of work, but recently he has caught himself enjoying it.

In the final installment in the Davie McCall series old friends clash and long buried secrets are unearthed as McCall investigates a brutal five-year-old crime.

Davie wants out, but the underbelly of Glasgow is all he has ever known. Will what he learns about his old ally Big Rab McClymont be enough to get him out of the Life? And could the mysterious woman who just moved in upstairs be just what he needs?

This is the final installment in the Davie McCall series and sadly I started with it. How did I miss the first three?! There was enough background woven into the story that it was a great read on its own, but I really want to go back and start at the beginning now! Great characters and storylines. I’m really interested to meet Davie in the beginning and follow his development and how he came to the place he finds himself in this story, wanting out of the Life.

The Life is the life of an enforcer for a big time gang boss in the underbelly of Glasgow, Scotland. Davie was born into the life, but lately he fears the dark is taking him over. He wants out before there is nothing worth redeeming left. Might not be as easy as he thinks though!

I was taken with the ability Douglas Skelton has to take a totally hard, violent man and humanize him to the point that you find yourself rooting for, even liking this man. He takes us on a ride through a rough and tumble, violent life style without excessive foul language or blood and guts, yet still absolutely conveying the depths of the Life. Our imaginations are free to fill in the blanks. A little more in my comfort zone!

Solid characters, some you like and some you hate!
Big Rab, Davie’s long time friend and boss. He always had limits, scruples of a sort. Has that changed?

Jimsie, the new young recruit. Eager to ‘do the job’ maybe a bit to eager. Can Davie rein him in and warn him about the darkness?

DI Knight, the crooked cop. Evil.

Jerry O’Neill, a family man who did time for a burglary and rape he says he didn’t commit. He wants revenge. What will it cost him?

Donna, the new neighbor upstairs. Davie runs to her rescue, but ‘she’s not what she seems’. Will Davie be pulled in?

Arrow, Davie’s faithful dog. I loved this character!

Sprinkled throughout are light little incidents that give the book some levity from the darkness of the tale. I got a chuckle out of small time crook and druggy Ricky Ramage…

 ‘The flat was a revelation. They both saw Ramage as an obnoxious wee scroat. McCall kept his place clean, but Ramage’s flat positively sparkled. The man himself paced around the room, the gravity-defying fag tucked in the corner of his mouth as he nervously moved things around. He plumped up a cushion on the incredibly comfortable looking settee; he shifted a tasteful little ornament on the mantelpiece; he straightened a magazine that somehow had the audacity to sit slightly askew on the glass-topped coffee table.
  ‘I wasnae expecting company, neither I was,’ he said as he flitted about.

and terrified of Davie McCall and what him paying a call might mean, this following a series of tough questions ..

 ‘Ramage paused then, one trembling hand rising to pluck the cigarette from his mouth. A tiny blizzard of silver ash flaked off and snowed on the carpet. He looked down at it mournfully and Donovan got the impression he was contemplating fetching the vacuum cleaner. ‘ 

I got a kick out of that exchange and it lightens the mood. Excellent book, read it! But start with the first one if you can!

Check out Douglas’ website

This book is only available on Kindle in the US right now but the paperback will be released in September. It has already been released in the UK.

Peggy Ann