The Three Graces by Jane Wallman-Girdlestone

I’ve read a couple of novels this year that deal with mental illness – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, which I found a bit confusing and disjointed and The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. My reaction to both books was that they are bleak and depressing, showing the breakdown of a personality and I struggled to read them. (See my thoughts on Doris Lessing’s book in this post.)

So, I was a bit hesitant about reading The Three Graces when I realised that it was a novel dealing with the subject of schizophrenia. I needn’t have been concerned as it is by no means a depressing novel. This is Jane Wallman-Girdlestone’s description of her book (taken from her website):

… Grace Hunter, the newly appointed Team Rector for the town, turns out to be nothing like people expect.  Nobody suspects that she has a guilty secret.  No one guesses that the local funeral director is the answer to the Rector’s prayers.  No one in their right mind would have thought that workaholic Grace was tormented by imaginary friends who dominated everything she did. 

My view:

Grace Hunter is trying to adjust to her new appointment as Team Rector, but her confusion grows as she begins to have hallucinations. It’s a remarkable book because although told in the third person at times I wasn’t sure that the people she sees were just in Grace’s head. I think it’s a very clever portrayal as the reader sees things through Grace’s eyes and mind whilst she is carrying on with everyday living and her job as Rector. Grace’s behaviour becomes reckless, at times divorced from reality. It clearly demonstrates how difficult/impossible it is for her to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

The Three Graces follows Grace’s life and to a lesser extent that of her family – husband Tom, Josh and Ros her step-children and her father-in-law, Charlie. They are all having to adjust to Tom and Grace’s marriage and the move to St Anthony’s, their third in five years. And they’re all feeling very unsettled. The dominant character in the novel is Grace; it all revolves around her and as her confusion grows it affects them all. It is an engrossing book, the writing is clear and concise, and the characters are clearly defined. It’s a well-structured novel, the tension and emotional atmosphere gradually rising and Grace’s feelings of despair and confusion and are all very evident. The book is certainly an enlightening read for me.

About the author (From Amazon):

Jane Wallman-Girdlestone was born and grew up in Tooting, South London. She began writing about her life experiences at eight. Jane taught briefly before working in theatre as a writer and director. She later worked as a Vicar and chaplain for some years before lecturing in Theology and Spirituality. Jane works with people who are on retreat offering creative and spiritual mentoring and as a counsellor.

Jane lives in the Highlands of Scotland in the UK, where she writes and paints. She is married and has three Newfoundland dogs and a cat.

The Three Graces is the second book in the Brayston series. Sausages and Trash is the first and the third, with the working title Sleight of Hand, will be published on Kindle in December. This will feature some of the characters from the first two books and I’ll be looking out for it.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, e-books, Fiction, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , | 3 Comments

It’s Time for R.I.P. IX

Can you believe it? September 1st is right around the corner. And it is time to begin the 9th R.I. P. challenge hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings. It runs from 1 September right through to 31 October and involves reading from the following categories:

Dark Fantasy.

Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.

And you can start today!!!

I’m going to participate in just one:


Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

Here are some of the books I’m thinking of reading. I’m sure I have more that fit into the categories, both on the bookshelves and on my Kindle, but these came to mind first:

  • The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
  • A Song of Stone by Iain Banks
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
  • Cauldstane by Linda Gillard
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Brimstone Wedding by Barbara Vine
  • Testament of a Witch by Douglas Watt

Thank you so much to Carl for doing this, once more. I won’t be starting today as I’m still reading a few books and one in particular - The Goldfinch – is too long!!! But I’ll get going very soon.

Posted in Books, RIP Challenge | 9 Comments

Scottish Scenes from Our Holiday

Whilst we were on holiday this summer in and around Glencoe we visited Castle Stalker again. We first saw it nearly two years ago at the end of an afternoon as the light was fading. So this time we went in the morning and looked at it from both sides. We were staying at Kentallen near Glencoe – Castle Stalker is on the same road, the A828 between Kentallen and Oban and there is a view point behind the View Cafe. Just a short distance along the road there is another viewpoint via an old lane. This takes you down to the shore of Loch Linnhe:

Castle Stalker 1and here it is in close-up:

Castle Stalker 2When I say we ‘visited’ Castle Stalker it’s not strictly accurate as although it is open to visitors that’s only for five days a year  - and not during the time we were there.

From Castle Stalker we drove on to Oban, which as it was the holiday season was packed. But we walked up the hillside above Oban to McCaig’s Tower overlooking the town and it was much quieter there. It’s not actually a tower but a Roman style Colosseum built over a five year period from 1895 until his death in 1902 by John Stuart McCaig. It was unfinished at the time of his death. He intended it to have a roof and a central tower.

McCaig's Tower from below P1000051

Inside the tower is a garden with spectacular views over the town, the harbour and out to  the islands of KerreraLismore and Mull.

McCaig's Tower P1000034


Oban from McCaig's Tower P1000042

I have more photos to show another day of Glen Etive, a beautiful glen in the Central Highlands.

 Saturday Snapshot is a weekly event hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads.

Posted in Loch Linnhe, Oban, Saturday Snapshot, Scotland, Weekly Events | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Put On By Cunning by Ruth Rendell

book cover of </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning </p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Put On By Cunning, aka in America as Death Notes is another book off my to-be-read shelves, an enjoyable read. It was first published in 1981.

The epigraph indicates just what is to follow:

So shall you hear …
Of deaths put on by cunning and forc’d cause;
Fall’n on th’inventors’ heads – all this can I
Truly deliver.


It is a tale of great complexity, a tale of murder and conspiracy to murder. A wealthy old man, Sir Manuel Camargue, one of greatest flautists of his time is found dead. Ankle deap in snow he had lost his footing in the dark and slipped into an icy lake and became trapped. His heiress, his daughter Natalie, had only recently been reunited with him after an absence of nineteen years. Although it seems a straight forward death, Camargue’s much younger fiancée, puts doubts in Chief Inspector Wexford’s mind when she tells him that Camargue had said that the woman who presented herself as Natalie was an imposter.

As is Wexford’s way he becomes obsessed with finding the truth and wonders if Camargue’s death was actually murder, despite the Chief Constable’s insistence that he forgets about it as the evidence all points to his death being an accident. Indeed, the verdict of the inquest is ‘Misadventure’. Wexford, however, is persistent in his doubts and convinced Natalie is an imposter, he is determined to investigate, which leads him to both California and France.

There is much I enjoyed in this, the eleventh Wexford book. It begins well, Ruth Rendell sets an excellent scene, and I could easily visualise the locations and characters, with beautiful descriptive passages. Inevitably, as both Wexford and Inspector Burden, begin to unravel the mystery more and more characters are implicated, until it really does seem a complex case becoming even more complicated, with too many coincidences and characters.

I thought that Wexford was keeping far too much to himself – leaving both Burden and me too much in the dark. The ending came as somewhat of an anti-climax as Wexford explained what had really happened and revealed all the false leads. Still, it kept me guessing to the end and I wondered (as I often do) just what clues I had missed along the way.

And now I’m wondering if I could attempt a ‘Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine Reading Challenge’, along the lines of the ‘Agatha  Christie Reading Challenge’, ie to read all her books. I’ve read several already.

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Library Loot

I’ve picked up several books from the library recently (both from the mobile library van and from my local branch library) and here is a selection that I’m looking forward to reading.

Lib bks Aug 14 From top to bottom they are:

  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. I’ve had this book on my wishlist since I read about it on Barbara’s blog, Views from the Countryside, so I was really pleased to see this on the library shelves. It’s a novel about Robert Louis Stevenson (who liked to be called Louis) and his American wife Fanny. Barbara thought it was wonderful and recommended it highly.
  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson. I chose this book because I think I’ve seen it mentioned on a few book blogs – and it has the same title as the Edgar Allen Poe story. It’s a novel about a heart transplant and I thought it would be interesting to compare it to Hazel McHaffie’s book, Over My Dead Body, also a novel about organ transplants, which I read last October.
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (a new-to-me author) – this book and the one below are both on the Longlist for the Man Booker Prize this year. Rosemary had a sister and a brother, but now she’s an only child. They’ve vanished from her life and she doesn’t know why.
  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt – when I saw this was on the Longlist I immediately wanted to read it because I’ve read other books by her and loved them. This one is about an artist whose work had been ignored and is described as an ‘intricately conceived diabolical puzzle’.
  • Entry Island by Peter May. I’ve borrowed this book because I loved May’s Lewis Trilogy and I want to try some of his other books. This is a standalone crime novel about the murder of a wealthy man on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent from Montreal to investigate the murder but what had initially seemed an open-and-shut case takes on a disturbing dimension when he meets the prime suspect, the victim’s wife, and is convinced that he knows her – even though they have never met.
Posted in Books, Fiction, Library Loot | 6 Comments

The Reluctant Detective by Martha Ockley

17742272I had little idea what to expect from Martha Ockley’s first Faith Morgan mysteryThe Reluctant Detective as I hadn’t come across the author before and all I had to go on was the description on LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers page last month:

‘Former cop Faith Morgan may have quit the world of crime, but crime has not let her go. Now a priest in the Church of England, she is assigned to the improbably named village of Little Worthy, and within an hour of her arrival she witnesses the sudden, shocking death of a fellow priest. To her distress, the detective assigned to the case is Ben, her former partner and former boyfriend.

As she meets her parishioners she learns some surprising details about her apparently well-loved predecessor, and starts to suspect a motive for his death. The cop may have donned a clerical collar, but the questions keep coming. How will she reconcile her present calling with her past instincts? Is she in danger herself? What should she do about Ben?’

I thought a detective who  was a priest and who used to be a policewoman sounded interesting. So, I am very pleased that The Reluctant Detective turned out to be a good read. Faith Morgan is a well-rounded character; she’s very likeable, observant, compassionate and the sort of person that people feel comfortable talking to – a bit like a young Miss Marple. Indeed, the book has an Agatha Christie feel to it – set in an apparently idyllic country village, with interesting and somewhat quirky characters and although there is one rather gruesome death, it’s not a gory thriller. In short it’s the type of murder mystery that I like, with plenty of complications that kept me guessing about the identity of the murderer for most of the book.

The church and village location are convincing. The parish church of St John is an old building dating from Saxon times, with a tower and church bells, set in the English countryside:

Faith avoided the main approach and followed a gravel path around the back of the church. A creamy cloud of ivory clematis cascaded over a grey stone wall. Beyond a solitary pony raised its chestnut head to gaze mournfully at her from a field of weeds. Some way off squatted a group of ramshackle farm buildings. (page 9)

Faith’s ex – Detective Inspector Ben Shorter, reluctantly allows Faith to contribute to the search for the murderer and the chemistry between the two of them is clearly evident even though he can’t understand why she left the police force for the church. Indeed, Faith herself wonders if she has done the right thing, cutting herself off from her old life and her old self as she realises that she likes investigating, and analyzing people, their expressions and body language and working out what makes them tick. But these are assets for a priest as well as for a police officer. And as for death:

It struck Faith how death is always startling, facing us with the greatest mystery: how the particular and the individual can vanish from this world so completely in a moment. (page 17)

The back cover reveals that Martha Ockley lives in the North East of England and has close links with the church, having grown up as the daughter of a minister. She is a full-time writer of both fiction and non-fiction. I was curious about Martha Ockley and wondered why she had given ‘special thanks to Rebecca Jenkins’ on the title page, so I searched online and discovered that ‘Martha Ockley’ is actually a pseudonym of Rebecca Jenkins, the daughter of the Rev David Jenkins, formerly the Bishop of Durham.

Thanks to LibraryThing and Lion Fiction/Kregel Publications for providing a copy for review. Based on my reading of The Reluctant Detective I shall certainly seek out more books by Martha Ockley/Rebecca Jenkins. There are two more Faith Morgan books:

  • The Advent of Murder
  • A Saintly Killing (to be published in October 2014)

And writing as Rebecca Jenkins:

The R F Jarrett books (the Regency Detective)

  • The Duke’s Agent (1997)
  • Death of a Radical (2010)

also Non Fiction:

  • Free to Believe (David Jenkins and Rebecca Jenkins (1991)
  • Fanny Kemble: a reluctant celebrity (2005)
  • The First London Olympics 1908 (2008)
Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Cosy Mysteries, Crime Fiction, Early Reviewer, Fiction, LibraryThing, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Review Copy | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard

All Change

I finished reading All Change, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s fifth book in her Cazalet Chronicles last night. I’d read the first four books years ago and loved them, so I was keen to read this last one. And it is the final volume of the Chronicles as Elizabeth Jane Howard died in January this year following the publication of All Change.

I’m not going to write very much about it because I read it straight through without marking any passages, or making any notes. I read for the pure pleasure of reading it, just as I had read the first four books, losing myself in the story of the Cazalet family. And it is a very large family by the time of this novel – 1956 – 1958. Some of the family are a bit blurry – the small children are a bit indistinguishable from each other, apart from Georgie, who loves animals and Laura who’s old before her time, both idiosyncratic little characters, and I did keep forgetting which children belonged to which parent and had to keep checking the family tree at the beginning of the book. But that is just a minor point.

It’s a lovely warm, old fashioned family saga, with both happy and sad events as the Cazalets move forward, and not successfully for all of them, in post-war England. It was a great treat! It’s made me want to re-read the early books and to read Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s memoir.

I agree with Hilary Mantel’s quotation on the back cover:

Elizabeth Jane Howard is one of those novelists who shows, through her work, what the novel is for . . . She helps us to do the necessary thing – open our eyes and our hearts

The Cazalet Chronicles

1. The Light Years (1988)
2. Marking Time (1991)
3. Confusion (1993)
4. Casting Off (1995)
5. All Change (2013)

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Fiction | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Streets is Susan Hill’s fifth Simon Serrailler crime novel. I’ve read the earlier books which I enjoyed, although I found the fourth book, The Vows of Silence rather a gloomy book not just because of the murders but also because of the unhappy state of Simon and his family. So, I decided to wait a while before moving on to the fifth book. And I am now way behind in reading the series, which will reach book 8 in October!

Susan Hill’s Serrailler novels, whilst being crime fiction, concern moral and social issues. They also follow the lives of the Serrailler family, the main characters being Simon and his sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, which is why I think it’s best to read them in order. I noticed that in this book there are references to events and characters in the earlier books and I had to look back to refresh my memory. Without knowing what happened before those incidents would not have made much sense. The books are character-driven, concentrating on the people involved in the crime rather than the police investigations, although that of course is also part of the story.

There are two major themes in this book. One concerns the murders of local prostitutes, found strangled and Susan Hill draws a sympathetic, but never a condescending or judgemental view of these women’s lives, resulting in a moving storyline of a young woman, Abi who is a single mother. Alongside this is the problem of mental illness, with Ruth Webber, who suffers from manic depression. She is the wife of the new Dean of the Cathedral and arrives full of plans to change things, which causes problems. When she too goes missing there are fears she may become one of the murder victims.

I think of these novels more as psychological studies than crime fiction – the characters and their lives predominate, whilst the police make slow progress in finding the murderer (much like real life, maybe). Anyway it’s the characters and their problems that interested me more in this book than the police procedures.

The Shadows in the Street is a complex book, but it is immensely readable and once the mystery really got under way it’s tense and full of suspense. I really enjoyed it.

Posted in Book Notes, Books, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr

Dark Matter by Philip Kerr is a book from my to-be-read piles. I bought it at a library sale a couple of years ago now, attracted by the title. I soon realised that it is not about Newton, the mathematician and physicist because the sub-title is : The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton. It is actually historical crime fiction, set in 1696 when Newton was the Warden of the Royal Mint at the Tower of London.

Christopher Ellis, the narrator of the book, is sent to the Tower to assist Newton to hunt down counterfeiters during the period of the Recoinage of the currency, when fake gold coins were being forged. This leads to the discovery in the Tower moat of the body of the former clerk of the Mint , followed by yet more murders. Newton at times seems remarkably like Sherlock Holmes in his powers of observation and deduction, as he and Ellis follow the trail of the murderers, involving tales of the missing treasure of the Knights Templars, (was the clue to its whereabouts in a book hidden in the Tower?), a difficult code to decipher, plots against Roman Catholics, astronomy and alchemy all thrown into the mix.

It’s very atmospheric, with shadowy London streets and back alleys; the Tower itself a centre of suspicion and intrigue. I liked the mix of fact and fiction. Titus Oates, Samuel Pepys and Daniel Defoe among others, make brief appearances, there’s the war with France and the mix of religion, science and politics that characterised the late 17th century. But I did find the characters, apart from Newton and Ellis confusing at times, having to backtrack a few times to sort them out. Newton himself is seen through Ellis’s eyes, a person who doesn’t like to speak  ‘anything that is extraneous to my business‘. But at times his sense of humour and wit, his dedication to his work, and his resolution of the science/faith conflict all come through.

I liked Dark Matter and reading it has certainly made me interested to know more about Newton, in particular about his religious beliefs. Although I’m happy to read this as fiction I wonder just how much is based on fact? In his Author’s Note, Philip Kerr explains that much is known about Newton’s work at the Royal Mint and that Christopher Ellis was in fact his assistant, following the mysterious disappearance of the previous clerk. As for his religious beliefs, Kerr writes:

Newton’s interest in alchemy, as well as his dissenting, not to say blasphemous, Arian view, which made him violently opposed to the ruling Trinitarian religious orthodoxy of the day, is also accurate. And anyone wishing to know more should read Richard Westfall’s magisterial biography of Newton, as I have done. But any mistakes in the novel are my own. (page 345)

And I also want to know did he really have a cat, and if so did he call it Melchior?

Although I didn’t read it just to fit in with several reading challenges I’ve joined, it is ideal for several and I’ve indicated those challenges in the Categories listed below this post.

Philip Kerr, is a Scot, born in Edinburgh. ‘He is the author of more than 20 books, including seven Bernie Gunther novels, several standalone thrillers, and six books in the young-adult series Children of the Lamp under the pen name of P.B. Kerr.

In 2009, he won the British Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Fiction Award and Spain’s RBA International Prize for Crime Writing for his Bernie Gunther series. A former advertising copywriter who released his first book in 1989 and in 1993 was named one of Granta magazine’s Best Young British Novelists, he now divides his time between London and Cornwall.’ (copied from his website)

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Historical Fiction Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, My Kind of Mystery Challenge, Read Scotland 2014 | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

The Classics Club Spin Result …

The Classics ClubYesterday the Classics Club announced the result of the latest spin – list 20 books from your Classics Club list and the number picked in the spin is the book you read by 6th October 2014.

The number that came out is Number 17 - which for me is Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: 

Gulliver P1000100

This is one of those books that I’ve known of since childhood and have known bits of the story, but have never read. I did see a TV cartoon version several years ago and I’ve been meaning to read it for years. It’s a book, which operates on several levels, as the Introduction in my copy (an Odhams Press Limited publication) indicates:

An embittered, middle-aged man sat down to write a book that would scourge the vices and follies of mankind. That book, with its sting mellowed during the passage of two hundred years, has become – of all things – a children’s classic. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ was the splenetic outburst of a passionate mind, whose genius gave immortality to so transient a thing as satire; but that immortality had a permanent basis – a child-like delight in marvels, a freshness of invention, a limpid style and a selective perception that created images of giants, dwarfs and fabled races with a vivid pulsating life of their own.

I’m looking forward to reading it at last.

Posted in Books, Classics, Fantasy, Fiction, Mount TBR Challenge 2014, The Classics Club | Tagged , | 5 Comments