My Lockdown Books: Sixty Seven

I reviewed all three books in Teresa Flavin’s trilogy, mostly because I loved them and thought that they were well written but partly because I had met, and got to know, Teresa.  We knew people in common and I worked with her a number of times.  She’s an artist as well as a writer and art is significant in these books.  So here you are, three reviews for the price of one as brought to readers of The Scotsman.

Another writer creating her own world is Teresa Flavin in The Blackhope Enigma. Blaise and Sunni have long been fascinated by a painting hanging in a local tourist attraction. Somehow the teenagers find themselves drawn into the painting where they discover a magical layered world. Never knowing whom or what they can trust, the friends set out on a quest to return home alive. This is Teresa Flavin’s (and Templar’s) first novel and it is sure to appeal to the X-box generation with its fast-paced plot, constantly twisting and turning, and its strong well-drawn characters.

The Crimson Shard is Teresa Flavin’s sequel to The Blackhope Enigma and continues the story of Sunni and Blaise. A seemingly casual visit to a London museum leads the friends back into the eighteenth century where life is expendable. As they strive to stay a few steps ahead of their would-be captors, they must also attempt to travel forward in time and home. Teresa Flavin is an accomplished writer using an unusual background against which to develop her characters and unfold an intelligent captivating story.

The Shadow Lantern brings to a satisfying conclusion Teresa Flavin’s art world fantasy trilogy. Once again Sunni and Blaise return to Blackhope Tower where their involvement with Fausto Corvo began. On entering the magician’s painted world they discover that, whilst much has changed, their enemy and his is still in pursuit. Teresa Flavin continues to display dexterity of mind and a lightness of touch as she resolves the many layers and facets of this unusual and engrossing trilogy.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty One

I know I’m not alone in having had horrible experiences of being compelled to read books in primary school that I hated.  But, hopefully, I’m also not alone in having discovered some great ones.  For me The Hill of the Red Fox by Allan Campbell McLean stands out.  We read it, I think, in Primary 6 and it stays with me yet.  Which is a good thing.  On one memorable occasion one of our authors failed to turn up at the Spirit of Moray Book Festival.  The audience, however, didn’t!  It fell to me to entertain them and I did that by using an excerpt from this book.

It all starts when Alasdair is on the train from Glasgow to Mallaig en route for Skye, the birthplace of the father he scarcely remembers. On board he encounters two men, each chilling in his own way, who leave the train in dramatic fashion and leave Alasdair with a crumpled note saying ‘Hunt at the Hill of the Red Fox MI5’. Allan Campbell McLean’s classic thriller is as exciting today as it was fifty years ago. The Hill of the Red Fox is published by Kelpies Classics.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Eight

Who to trust. What to believe. How to survive. These are the questions battering Jack Shian as he continues his quest to find his father. The Shian world is riven by treachery and betrayal and plunged into chaos. Will Jack rise to the challenges or succumb to his fears? The second part of the Shian Quest Trilogy, Jack Shian and the Mapa Mundi, is a twisting, turning, turbulent adventure. Andrew Symon’s fantasy world is complete and convincing, his characters believable and the plot compelling. I read the book in great chunks, unwilling to leave the action suspended without resolution, and am eagerly awaiting the trilogy’s conclusion.

I’m always happy to support small, particularly Scottish, publishers.  So I was delighted to be asked to champion this trilogy from Black and White.  I read the first volume as a favour to Paul, who then worked in marketing and publicity, but I continued with the series as a favour to myself.  Fantasy really isn’t for me but I genuinely enjoyed these and was very happy to draw them to te attention of others through The Scotsman.

My Lockdown Books: Fifty Two

I met Mollie Hunter a couple of times: once at a book festival I organised to mark the Carnegie Medal, held at the original Carnegie Library in Dunfermline.  Mollie was one of three Scots to win the Medal (for The Stronghold) and she was our guest of honour at an Orcadian ceilidh.  The first time I met her, though, was in Edinburgh at the launch of a book called Reading Round Edinburgh.  Mollie used the city as a setting for many of her books and some of them are mentioned in the volume edited by Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.  However, my favourite of her books is not mentioned, although it is entirely set in the city.

I read The Dragonfly Years as a teenager not long after it was published.  I hadn’t read the book to which it is a sequel (A Sound of Chariots) but that mattered not a whit.  I was completely entranced.  It’s set in the 1930s against a backdrop of rising fascism at home and abroad.  Bridie, the heroine, lives with her strict (perhaps narrow) Brethren grandparents and works in the family florist business.  It’s the story of her growing desire to write, to experience more of life, to become her own person – if she can only discover who that is.  And it’s the story of her meeting with Peter McKinley and their developing relationship.

I often reread The Dragonfly Years and every time I do I’m gripped again.  It stays in my head and when I walk round Edinburgh I subconsciously note places mentioned in the book.  I have to let you into a secret.  I still haven’t read A Sound of Chariots.  For me, Bridie will always belong in The Dragonfly Years.

My Lockdown Books: Forty Nine

My sister wanted me to write about an Alexander McCall Smith book so here you are: School Ship Tobermory.  It’s the first in a series about (you guessed it) a school on board a sailing ship.  However, if I had to categorise them, I’d say they were as much adventure/mysteries as school stories although they don’t really fit neatly into any genre.  And that’s a good thing as I think they’ll appeal to all sorts of readers.

The book was published by Edinburgh based Birlinn who played a big part in launching Alexander McCall Smith’s fiction writing career.  I was very happy to review it in The Scotsman in 2015.

Ben and Fee are looking forward to starting at a new school, a very different kind of school, on a sailing ship. They quickly make friends but soon they are drawn into rivalries, mysteries and danger. School Ship Tobermory: a school story set at sea. That’s two of my favourite things in one book. Added to that it’s written by Alexander McCall Smith with all that means in terms of style and humour, and illustrated by the brilliant Iain McIntosh. What joy!


My Lockdown Books: Forty Seven

My childhood was filled with books published by Pickering & Inglis, purveyors of Christian literature.  As a daughter of the manse the basic premise of these books (to introduce and encourage a life of faith) felt perfectly normal to me and as a Christian adult that hasn’t changed.  But I recognised at an early age that some of the output was truly dreadful in terms of storytelling and that hasn’t changed either.

However some of the books do stand up to scrutiny and I have kept a few, including the Trudy series by Mary Alice Faid.  The first book, Trudy Takes Charge, about which I have written elsewhere, was published in 1949.  It’s important to remember that, and to accept that the series was written for middle class girls.  By the time I read them in the late seventies and early eighties the world was a different place but, used as I was to books from different eras, middle class 1950s Scotland was fairly easy to accept.

Trudy On Her Own is the sixth book of ten and sees the heroine move back to Martonbury, the town where she trained, to teach English at a private girls’ school.  She is on her own in the sense that she rents a room in a refurbished castle where she hopes she will have time and space to write.  Naturally the demands of life encroach and, having an over-developed sense of responsibility, Trudy finds herself pulled in all directions.

As a footnote, I’m interested in the locations in the book.  The series is clearly set in Scotland and I have puzzled over whether or not the places mentioned are based on real towns.  If anyone has thoughts on this I’d be glad to hear them.  Could Martonbury be Glasgow?  And what about Drumleigh, Trudy’s home town?  I wondered off and on if it might be Dumfries…

My Lockdown Books: Thirty Six

Seriously Sassy is the first in a trilogy by Maggi Gibson.  The books are bouncy and fun but touch on some serious issues.  They’re also set in Scotland – points for anyone who can work out where Maggi had in mind as she wrote – which is nice.  They’re not rampantly Scottish but there are little clues which give the setting away.  As a Scot, I like that.  It’s not that I dislike books that are set elsewhere; on the contrary, I like reading about other places.  But some times familiarity is comforting.

Sassy is a thirteen-year-old eco-warrior and singer-songwriter. Never one for keeping her beliefs and opinions to herself, she feels under huge pressure when her Dad announces that he is standing for parliament. He promises her the chance to make a demo disc in a recording studio if she manages to keep away from controversy until after the election. Supported by her friends, Cordelia and Taslima, Sassy struggles to be true to herself, support her Dad and figure out how she feels about Magnus and Twig…