The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith #TuesdayBookBlog #Humour

Peppermint tea

 

It is summer in Scotland Street (as it always is) and for the habitués of Edinburgh’s favourite street some extraordinary adventures lie in waiting.

For the impossibly vain Bruce Anderson – he of the clove-scented hair gel – it may finally be time to settle down, and surely it can only be a question of picking the lucky winner from the hordes of his admirers. The Duke of Johannesburg is keen to take his flight of fancy, a microlite seaplane, from the drawing board to the skies. Big Lou is delighted to discover that her young foster son has a surprising gift for dance but she is faced with big decisions to make on his and her futures. And with Irene now away to pursue her research in Aberdeen, her husband, Stuart, and infinitely long-suffering son, Bertie, are free to play. Stuart rekindles an old friendship over peppermint tea whilst Bertie and his friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson get more they bargained for from their trip to the circus. And that’s just the beginning . . .

Reading this book was a welcome return to the characters of Scotland Street, Edinburgh.  All ages and all sorts of characters are represented. Problems are solved and worries assuaged, usually by the kindness of others.  Like the other books in the series, there are interesting philosophical discussions and relationships develop.

My favourite characters are 7 year Bertie Pollock, his simple friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson and their helpful adult comrade Angus Lordie with his cheerful dog Cyril.  The book is sprinkled with humour, be it the vanity of handsome Estate Agent, Bruce, making a fool of himself when he tries to show off his knowledge (or lack of it) about whisky to the owner of a distillery; or an account of the Scotch Pie company once called Pies for Protestants, then Inclusive Pies and now with the surge of nationalism, named Pure Dead Brilliant Scotch Pies (Nae Messing).

By the conclusion of the novel young Pat has found a new, rather young, boyfriend, Bertie’s father has found romance and Matthew has found a way to cheer his lonely wife who struggles with triplets Rognvald, Fergus and Tobermory.  For a feel good, thought provoking read you cannot beat the wit of Alexander McCall Smith.

Beyond the Yew Tree by Rachel Walkley #NewRelease #RBRT

The Truth Lies Forgotten

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Whispers in the courtroom.

Only one juror hears them.

Can Laura unravel the truth by the end of the trial?

In an old courtroom, a hissing voice distracts reluctant juror, Laura, and at night recurring nightmares transport her to a Victorian gaol and the company of a wretched woman. Although burdened by her own secret guilt, and struggling to form meaningful relationships, Laura isn’t one to give up easily when faced with an extraordinary situation.

The child-like whispers lead Laura to an old prison graveyard, where she teams up with enthusiastic museum curator, Sean. He believes a missing manuscript is the key to understanding her haunting dreams. But nobody knows if it actually exists.

Laura is confronted with the fate of two people – the man in the dock accused of defrauding a charity for the blind, and the restless spirit of a woman hanged over a century ago for murder. If Sean is the companion she needs in her life, will he believe her when she realises that the two mysteries are converging around a long-forgotten child who only Laura can hear?

My Review

Laura is a sensible, well organised young woman. Setting out for her first day of jury service she is well prepared with a flask full of coffee.

“Laura preferred a predictable, uneventful day to exciting unplanned crises or emotional meltdowns. No surprises, no sudden happenings.”

So, she hopes for structured, uncomplicated days at the law court next to Lincoln castle.  But listening to the barristers, she is aware of a hissing noise, of soft whispers disturbing her concentration. And then when she returns to her empty home at night, her sleep is disturbed by distressing dreams of a woman imprisoned in a Victorian gaol.  It can’t be the fraud case which is causing her dreams, but strolling through the castle she spots the gravestones of those who had been executed for murder. Needing answers, Laura seeks the help of the museum curator, Sean.

Laura is also distressed by the long absence of her lover, Marco, who has been visiting his family in Italy for some time while maintaining very little communication with her.  Determined to seek out the source of her nightmares and come to a fair judgement on the court case, Laura’s calm demeanour conceals deep guilt about an event in her past.

Having endured jury service personally, I found Laura’s experience locked in a room with 11 disparate people very familiar.  Keeping alert during a complex case can be difficult and barristers are often very persuasive.  Luckily Laura’s intelligence and financial background help her detect weaknesses in the evidence, but does she have the confidence to speak up?

The threads of guilt and justice entwine between the present day and the past and as the trial comes to an end, Laura must also decide the path her life should take. A very rewarding read.

Beyond the Yew Tree is a #NewRelease on Amazon UK

The Story of Peter Pan for Little People retold by Daniel O’Connor illustrated by Alice B Woodward #Bookstotreasure

A small book given in 1926 to “Dear Wee Jimmie” (my Father) from his cousin Margaret.

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Alice Bolingbroke Woodward, the amazing illustrator of this book, was born in Chelsea in 1862. Her father Henry Woodward, a scientist, was the Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum.  Alice was educated at home by governesses, with her four sisters and two brothers.  The children were encouraged to draw and all of the sisters became artists, while their brothers became scientists. In her teens, Alice illustrated her father’s lectures. She studied at South Kensington School of Art, the Westminster School of Art and the Académie Julian in Paris.

After completing The Story of Peter Pan for Little People Alice illustrated the stories of two Gilbert and Sullivan operas and more children’s books including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Anna Sewell’s  Black Beauty. Her paintings were exhibited at the 91 Art Club, a Chelsea club for women artists.  During World War One  she was tutor to the artist Cicely Mary Barker, famous for her Flower Fairy books. Alice’s work appeared in over 80 publications including dinosaur reconstructions for the Illustrated London News and her scientific illustrations continued throughout her life.

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The Book Of Souls (Inspector Mclean #2) by James Oswald #BookReview

The Book of Souls

Every year for ten years, a young woman’s body was found in Edinburgh at Christmas time: naked, throat slit, body washed clean. The final victim, Kirsty Summers, was Detective Constable Tony McLean’s fiancée. But the Christmas Killer made a mistake. In a cellar under a shop, McLean found a torture chamber and put an end to the brutal killing spree.

Twelve years later, and a fellow prisoner has just murdered the incarcerated Christmas Killer. But with the arrival of the festive season comes a body. A young woman: naked, washed, her throat cut.

Is this a copycat killer? Was the wrong man behind bars all this time? Or is there a more sinister, frightening explanation?

McLean must revisit the most disturbing case of his life and discover what he missed before the killer strikes again . . .

In this second book of the series we learn all the details of Tony McLean’s backstory.  Now we understand why he lives for his work and hasn’t had a relationship for 10 years.  Maybe now Anderson, the man who murdered his fiancé, has died, Tony can begin to live again.  Should he rekindle the spark he felt for forensic scientist, Emma? But happiness is not for him, the murders of young women have started again, and this time they follow each other in rapid succession. Had they jailed the wrong man or did the book about Anderson provoke a copy-cat?

Tony is determined to put work first, but when his home burns down he feels like giving up. Spunky Emma is no doormat, but she gives Tony a chance and despite the efforts of bullying DCI Duguid, McLean investigates every possibility, trying to prevent the death of any more young women. The story comes to a terrifying final chapter. Some of the plot was predictable but there is also mystery and intrigue. Another compelling read.

The Book of Souls on Amazon UK

James Oswald

James Oswald is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Inspector McLean series of detective mysteries. The first two of these, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls were both short-listed for the prestigious CWA Debut Dagger Award. Set in an Edinburgh not so different to the one we all know, Detective Inspector Tony McLean is the unlucky policeman who can see beneath the surface of ordinary criminal life to the dark, menacing evil that lurks beneath.

He has also introduced the world to Detective Constable Constance ‘Con’ Fairchild, whose first outing was in the acclaimed No Time To Cry.

As J D Oswald, James has also written a classic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro. Inspired by the language and folklore of Wales, it follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men.

Natural Causes by James Oswald #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Natural Causes

A devastating serial killer. A chilling cold case. Only DI Tony McLean realises the connection . . .

I chose the first book in this series about DI Tony McLean after reading Rosie Amber’s review of the 10th book about this reliable, maverick policeman.  Set in Edinburgh we view the underbelly of the city as well as the rich and powerful. From the beginning we are faced with the first of a number of gruesome murders where the victims are elderly men of substance. The investigation is “lead” by the ill-tempered DCI Duguid but the Chief Superintendent wants Tony to be an important part of the team. However, he is soon diverted by the discovery of the body of a young girl, concealed behind the wall of an old house, currently being converted. The ritual killing has taken place many years earlier, but McLean is determined to solve her murder.

Tony is a likeable character with a backstory.  Concerned about his grandmother who is lying unconscious in hospital, he has little time for a private life and his determined approach to solving cases rarely includes modern methods.  His good relationship with people like Grumpy Bob, his detective sergeant and Angus, the pathologist help him to discover fresh evidence and Tony also begins to attract the attention of two young women.

There is another dimension to this story in the sense of diabolic evil which MacLean feels lies behind the murders yet there are also burglaries to be solved, unconnected to the more serious crimes.  Many of the threads come together in parallel to developments in Tony’s personal life.  I have already started to read book 2!

Natural Causes on Amazon UK

J Oswald

Different Class by Joanne Harris #BookReview #PsychologicalThriller

Different Class

I chose this book because I had enjoyed Gentlemen and Players many years ago and this sequel takes place a year later in the same location, St Oswald’s Grammar School. Roy Straitley, an old-fashioned Latin Master is teaching his 35th year at the school and he has no desire for any other life.  Nicknamed Quaz (Quasimodo) because of his resemblance to a gargoyle based in a classroom in the bell tower, his intellectual, laissez-faire approach and loyalty to a group of boys he calls his “Brodie  Boys,” has caused boys and staff to be divided between those who detest him and those who have genuine respect and affection for him.

Although current events take place in 2005, alternate chapters take us back to 1981 when a group of 3 boys who join Straitley’s class, fail to fit in.  Of the three, it is Johnny Harrington whom he most disliked. It is therefor a shock that the new Super Head brought in to sort out the school is the same Harrington.  Reading a secret diary written by one of the boys in 1981 we gradually discover horrific events which took place.

Despite the serious nature of the plot there is also delightful humour.  Having taught in a school from the 1980s till this century I empathise with Straitley’s resistance to the new ways of emails and “health and safety”.  He defines his teaching style as “benevolent neglect” and on the whole his pupils respond by acting responsibly.  However the past catches up in appalling consequences and only wit and comradeship can avoid disaster for the school, its staff and its pupils.

Different Class on Amazon UK

 

The Moth Catcher (Vera Stanhope 7) by Ann Cleeves #BookReview

As though to a flame, they were drawn to their deaths

Moth

This case was different from anything Vera had ever worked before. Two bodies, connected but not lying together. And nothing made her feel as alive as murder.

Life seems perfect in Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. Then a shocking discovery shatters the silence. The owners of a big country house have employed a house-sitter, a young ecologist named Patrick, to look after the place while they’re away. But Patrick is found dead by the side of the lane into the valley – a beautiful, lonely place to die.

DI Vera Stanhope arrives on the scene, with her detectives Holly and Joe. When they look round the attic of the big house – where Patrick has a flat – she finds the body of a second man. All the two victims have in common is a fascination with moths – catching these beautiful, rare creatures.

The three couples who live in the Valley Farm development have secrets too: Annie and Sam’s daughter is due to be released from prison any day; Nigel watches, silently, every day, from his window. As Vera is drawn into the claustrophobic world of this increasingly strange community, she realizes that there may be deadly secrets trapped here.

This is the second book about Vera Stanhope I have read and luckily, I don’t remember viewing the story on TV.  The contrast between the beauty of this idyllic Northumbrian valley and the idle lives of the “retired hedonists club” who live in the impressive newly built houses is not lost on Vera.  How could such boring individuals have any connection to the murders which have occurred at Valley Farm? And can there be a connection to Lizzie, a troubled young woman who is about to be released from prison?

As I would expect from a book by Ann Cleeves, this novel studies the human psyche.  Vera’s reliable deputy, Joe is surprised when she selects newcomer Holly to take an active part in the investigation.   The two women have nothing in common, but Vera is trying to give Holly the chance to prove herself.  Like her boss, Holly lives alone but her accommodation is pristine and orderly and she lacks Vera’s ability to coax people into revealing information.  Meanwhile Annie and Sam wait fearfully for the release of their daughter, Lizzie, from prison, anxious that their neighbours might be disturbed by the news.

The connection between the victims seems impossible to fathom but gradually clues are revealed and finally Vera and Holly identify the murderer when it is almost too late.  A very satisfying conclusion.

My review of Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves