Reviews, Scottish Reads

The Quaker

The Quaker is watching you…

It is 1969 and Glasgow has been brought to its knees by a serial killer spreading fear throughout the city. The Quaker has taken three women from the same nightclub and brutally murdered them in the backstreets.

A detective with everything to prove.
Now, six months later, the police are left chasing a ghost, with no new leads and no hope of catching their prey. They call in DI McCormack, a talented young detective from the Highlands. But his arrival is met with anger from a group of officers on the brink of despair.

A killer who hunts in the shadows.
Soon another woman is found murdered in a run-down tenement flat. And McCormack follows a trail of secrets that will change the city – and his life – forever…

As most of you know, I like to read Scottish fiction. However, I very rarely read Scottish crime fiction (or I think that I rarely read it). This seems so silly because Scottish crime is basically a genre of its own! So in addition to reading more Scottish fiction, I’ve started being more open to reading crime fiction.

While I don’t read a lot of crime fiction, I do enjoy the occasional true crime podcast. This book was inspired by a true crime case that I was familiar with- Bible John.

I enjoyed McCormack and the way that he didn’t try to get the department to like him. They were there to do the job and he wasn’t looking for friends. However, I did enjoy the moments of friendship that did pop up as they were so unexpected.

Due to the time period where this novel took place, there were quite a few times where I felt uncomfortable with the way that the police handled things. I assume that was realistic but base most of my knowledge of vintage police procedures on episodes of The Bill and the epilogue series of Prime Suspect. The way that the police treated suspects was horrible and definitely not ok, this made me feel very uneasy but may have been historically accurate.

The plot had two interweaving storylines; the murder and a heist. As a general rule, I hate heist novels but there are exceptions to the rules. This book was one of those exceptions.

The Murder storyline was just so compelling and I was hooked and just so keen to find out who was responsible for these horrific crimes. When the novel branched away from the crime that influenced the story, my interest continued to grow as I was so intrigued. The heist was an enjoyable story too. The actual heist was relatively short but the fall out from it continued throughout. It was enjoyable trying to work out how the two plots would merge. This just kept me guessing!

I was wondering how close to real life this book would be. In real life, we still don’t know who was responsible for the hideous crimes. I genuinely expected this to end without finding out who the murderer was. I was so happy to get the reveal. While there were some hints along the way, I did not see twists coming!

I really did enjoy this book and I do plan to read the sequel as I’m excited to see what happens next for McCormack. I lived in the East End of Glasgow for a long time and enjoyed recognising a lot of the areas.

Reviews, Scottish Reads

The Black Dog

Declan dreams of becoming a writer. It’s a dream that helps him escape the realities of his life – going through the motions at college and stacking supermarket shelves part-time, whilst fighting a battle with the ever-darkening thoughts in his head.

He has his pet Labrador for companionship and his best friend-turned-mentor, a pseudo-intellectual who works as a greenskeeper at the local municipal golf course, both of which help keep the worst of his anxieties at bay. But following a drunken row with local gangsters, Declan’s worries threaten to spiral out of control.

James Cavani – Declan’s idol and his hometown’s claim to fame – is a renowned writer, director and actor. But despite his success, his past hasn’t relinquished its hold of him, and through his younger sister’s battle with drug addiction, he finds himself returning to a world he thought he had escaped.

At face value, their lives couldn’t be more different, but perhaps fate has a way of bringing kindred spirits together – and perhaps each holds the other’s redemption in their hands
.

I’m a huge fan of Kevin Bridges’ comedy, which tends to feature comedic tales. Based on his stand up, I viewed him as a gifted storyteller. So I was beyond excited to read his first work of fiction and I was not disappointed!

The characters in this book were excellent.
Declan was just a wee lamb! Trying to hold it all together but struggling with anxiety and doubt. I loved his character growth. His mum and sister were amazing too. Doof Doof was the friend that everybody needs! He was just such an amazing character and supportive friend. I know he was more of a side character but he was my favourite character and I want only amazing things for him.

Even the ‘baddies’ felt realistic. I’ve read so many books that feature Scottish gang culture and they’ve all handled the topic so well. It would have been so easy to make them caricature gangsters. While these gangsters had some moments of hilarity, it didn’t detract from the very realistic threat of danger. There was a point where I was just chuckling away and then remembered that it probably wasn’t going to end well because ‘baddies’ were likely to do bad things. They did but it did include quite a few laughs.

I’ve never enjoyed a scene involving a running race quite as much as in this book! I genuinely cried with laughter.

I found this book to be heartwarming and hopeful while covering some quite tough topics such as; gang culture, violence depression, and fear. There were enough moments of laughter to lift me out of the sadness, this is something I very much enjoy in a book that covers gritty topics.

The only negative I have from this book was that I’d have loved chapters instead of parts. This is purely due to my inability to put a book down mid-chapter. This resulted in a couple of later nights for me as I needed to finish the part. This is definitely a ‘me problem’ and not an actual issue with the book but I know a lot of others feel the same about chapters. So be prepared and don’t start reading just before bedtime unless you’re happy to pause midway through a part. I do feel that the decision to use parts instead of chapters made sense as the parts each covered a very distinct part of the story.

This was such an enjoyable book. Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Reviews, Scottish Reads

Happiness is Wasted on Me

Cumbernauld was built to be the town of the future…that is, if the future looked like a really rubbish episode of Doctor Who. It’s also home to Walter Wedgeworth, a child stuck in a uniquely dysfunctional family controlled by the tyrannical Fishtank, whose CB Radio aerial is a metal middle finger to all the neighbours on Craigieburn Road. When 11-year-old Walter discovers the corpse of a baby inside a cardboard box, he resolves to ignore it, pretend it didn’t happen. But the child’s fate haunts Walter, bringing him into conflict with the world around him. Walter’s journey will lead him from childhood to adulthood; school, college, bereavement, Britpop, his first job, Blackpool, the Spice Girls, feuds with his neighbour, and finally…face-to-face with a child killer. Taking place in the 90s, Happiness Is Wasted On Me is a genre-blending tale that spans a decade in the life of Walter. It’s a coming of age tale, a family drama, a mystery, and a biting dark comedy. Ultimately, it’s the story of how even the strangest people can find their way in the world.

This was my bookclub book for May/June for the Scottish Bookclub. I don’t know if I would have picked it up otherwise, and I’m so glad that I did! I really enjoyed this book and ended up giving it 4 stars.

Looking at the blurb, I was worried that this book was going to be a very depressing read. I was concerned that it was going to go down the route of ‘depressing tale of a Scottish childhood’, which one of my least favourite types of Scottish fiction. This wasn’t the case. The book did cover some extremely difficult topics including: infant death, physical and mental abuse, poverty. In spite of this, the book included so many moments of dark humour which provided a comedic lift out of the sadness. I cried with laughter with the granny on the stairs!

The characters were so realistic. I felt for Walter, he was such a tormented wee soul! I found myself finding some relatability in him, especially with his school pals. His love of his local library brought back warm memories of many a day of my own spent in Peebles library. I do feel like the climax of this book was very much in alignment with one of the Nancy Drew novels that he enjoyed so much.

Fishtank was an absolute tyrant, I hated him so much. He was so much more than a cartoon villain, he really did feel like he could have been real. He probably was but I’m lucky enough not to have come across anyone like him.

My favourite character was Donnie! This was Walter’s older sister who was his closest family member. She was just so exciting as a character and had led a thrilling life. I have heard that she may have been moulded around the author’s own sister (who sadly passed away) and I think that she was given the best story arc which is a lovely memorial.

This book was set over a ten year period over the 1990s and early 00s, I absolutely love reading books set during this time period! I found this book to be jam packed full of nostalgia and it gave me the warm and fuzzies.

This was such an enjoyable book that was filled with moments of heartbreak and sadness but peppered with moments of sheer hilarity.

Scottish Reads, Vlogs

Reading Scottish June Wrap Up

I know I’m a little bit earlier than usual but here is my Reading Scottish wrap up for June. I read the, what is now, standard 4 books by Scottish authors. I had a pretty wide variety of genres this month; contemporary, post apocalyptic/dystopian, and fantasy. I really enjoyed having this variety as these books really showcased how Scottish fiction is so much more than just a few genres. Even my two contemporary reads were so different-both regarding content and structure. Also, these were all debut adult fiction , this was not planned but does make me very happy to have a secret theme. Secret even to me!

I read the following books:

📚 Happiness is Wasted on Me by Kirkland Ciccone

🐉 The Flames of Albiyon by Jean Menzies

💊 The Pharmacist by Rachelle Atalla

🐕‍🦺 The Black Dog by Kevin Bridges*

*gifted

Wrap up vlog where I give reviews

If you’ve read any Scottish fiction recently, I’d love to hear all about it!

Reviews, Scottish Reads

Single Taken Cursed

Heard enough happily ever afters? In Single Taken Cursed, Scottish comedy writer Nicki reveals some of her worst dating exploits. From a guy impersonating Zac Efron to another pretending to be a farm animal, you’ll discover the bizarre and exhausting side of single life.

As told in stories like “The MLM tool” and ‘No Dealer’ this account of contemporary dating is evidence that it could indeed always be worse.

I did not plan to read this book in one sitting. I’d planned to just dip in and read one or two of the stories…cut to a couple of hours later and I’d finished the book and had cried off my eye cream (I was reading in bed with all my lotions on, it was Friday night and I was feeling wild!). This was absolutely hilarious and I have to give this 5 shiny stars.

Like Nikki, I have had many a disastrous date en route to finding my lobster. I love funny reading stories about the dating game as it reminds me so much of conversations with my friends when we were single and looking for love. This book was written is such a friendly way that it felt like chatting with a pal, or reading an agony aunt page in Bliss magazine. It was such a joy to read.

I laughed so hard during this book! I am about the same age as the author so I loved the references to Bebo, MSN messenger, blue hair mascara, the gorgeousness of Nick Carter (who has aged like a fine wine!). The nostalgia made me so happy! It’s so fun for me to read something set in the 00s/2010s that I get to relate to. There were also references to empties and Pizza Hut dates but I wasn’t cool so didn’t get invited to empties nor did I have a Pizza Hut date until I was in my mid 20s, so it was nice to read about what I had missed out on.

This book is set in Scotland and took place in familiar locations to me which is something I always enjoy in a book! I started my dating life after moving to uni in Glasgow round about the same time as some of these stories so it felt pretty relatable. I did have the fear that one of these stories may have been about an ex of mine and may have gotten hiccups for laughing so much at the prospect! After finishing the story I am now certain that it wasn’t but it was that sort of book where there was something just so relatable about it.

This gave me so many laughs but also some moments of boking! I gagged at the bathmat story but hey, he was still a gentleman. The spot story genuinely made me gag! I was not sad about my lack of teenage dating during that tale.

This was such a fun and entertaining book about the dating perils of millennials over the years. It was light and enjoyable to read. I finished it during one evening because I didn’t realise how long I’d been reading until I was at the end.

I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I absolutely loved it! At the end of the book it says that the author plans to release four more books in 2022, I plan to read those books.

Vlogs

A Week of Reading

Don’t be deceived, Aberdeen is rarely this bright

Im trying something different today and made an actual vlog. This gives the illusion that a. I go outside a lot and b. That Aberdeen is sunny and bright. Don’t be fooled, it was just that one weekend and now Aberdeen is back to being grey and drizzly.

I don’t mean to boast but I really did have a productive Bank Holiday weekend last weekend. So many lovely nature walks and so many amazing books!

I decided to treat myself to 4 days of reading. What a treat!

I read, and finished, Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, Other Peoples’ Clothes by Calla Henkel, and A Silent Voice Speaks by Trishna Singh. I also started Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie.

Plus steam cleaning my entire house because I have a new cleaner, I didn’t vlog that though.

Reviews, Scottish Reads

Nothing Left Unsaid

GLASGOW, 2019. Sharon has rushed home at the news her mother has been admitted to hospital. It’s clear Senga’s life is coming to an end. As Sharon gathers family and friends together to say goodbye, Senga, as always, does things in her own mysterious way. She instructs Sharon to find the red diary she kept in the 1970s and to read it. There’s something Senga needs to talk about while she still has time. The journey into her mother’s past is both shocking and surprising, forcing Sharon to re-evaluate her own childhood, her marriage and what she wants her own future to hold.

GLASGOW, 1976. Life in the tenements of Shettleston is a daily struggle. You need your wits about you to survive, and your friends. Senga has both in spades: she is part of the Shettleston ‘menage’ alongside her friends Bunty, Sandra, Philomena and Isa, and whatever life hands to them – cheating husbands, poverty, illness, threats and abuse – they throw something back just as hard. These women are strong because they need to be. And they never, ever walk away in times of crisis – as Sharon is about to find out.

I don’t want to shock anyone but I preordered this book and read it during the month in which it was received. I’m feeling very proud right now. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and gave it a hearty 4 stars (4.5 on StoryGraph because I love a half star).

I am a huge fan of Janey Godley and I enjoy her comedy a great deal. She, to me, feels like a natural storyteller and this made me feel a little apprehensive about reading this book. I wasn’t sure if a skill for storytelling on social media would translate to fiction and I feel like it really did.

I can’t resist a dual narrative tale. It’s very much something that I really enjoy. This was sort of dual narrative as the chapters flipped between Sharon in the modern day and Senga’s diary entries from the 1970s. It’s so long since I’ve read a book that relied on diary entries and this brought me back to my youth when I enjoyed Adrian Mole. I didn’t expect to get the warm and fuzzy glow of nostalgia from this book but the diary format gave me just that.

This was a very quick read. It was written in a very conversational way which made it so easy to read 100 pages before realising that you’d just read 100 pages. While it’s not important for me to enjoy the characters in a story, I loved the characters in this book. I especially loved all of the women from the 1970s diary entries. While this book was filled with moments of laughter, it also had moments of sadness with the women experiencing great difficulties such as poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism etc. This book could so easily have been a very depressing read but it felt full of hope. Those women were just so strong and supportive of each other and this made my heart so happy.

I really enjoyed the way that the diary seemed to help Sharon deal with her marriage coming to an end. I would like to say that if you’re on a break and your husband is off getting romantic with a yoga teacher, that’s probably more of a break up than a break. It was basically like accidental therapy for Sharon.

I loved the element of mystery that arose from the diary entries. I did see the reveal coming but I didn’t mind that because I enjoyed the journey to the reveal. It wasn’t a huge spoiler (to me, from me).

I am very much a fan of having old lady characters in fiction. Perhaps because I never had grandparents, I just love a wee old lady character! This book was filled with them and this made me so happy.

I have never read any fiction by this author before as this was their first fiction book but it was a really enjoyable, at times, emotional read. I’d definitely read more from them. Also, the diary was written in a big red book…and the hardback, when removed from the jacket (I can’t read a hardback while in it’s jacket) was also red! Coincidence or design? I’m not sure but I loved that!

Reviews, Scottish Reads

The Sound at the End

On a near-abandoned research base in an Arctic ice field, a skeleton crew works to ensure the centre doesn’t collapse amid treacherous storms. Officially, Trieste Grayling arrives in order to explore and film a sunken shipwreck for a documentary film; privately, she’s working through a complicated grief. Trieste soon realises she’s not the only one who was attracted to this intense isolation in order to escape her ghosts.

Each of the crew members harbour dark secrets: Mal, the ever-competent medic conducting mysterious therapy sessions, Sweetie, the reclusive engineer with scarred hands, Thorsteinn, the aloof diver tender, Avelina, the temperamental base manager whose stories of home don’t quite add up, Grace, an underwater welder and recovering addict, and Judd, the erratic former member of a ‘90s boy band. As they begin to reach breaking point, each one’s hidden ghosts finally comes into the light.

This audiobook came to me with high recommendations from multiple friends. I was very excited to listen to this as I do enjoy a creepy read. I thoroughly enjoyed this and gave it 4 stars.

The voice acting was amazing! As a Scottish person, I find it so exciting to hear familiar accents on audiobooks (as opposed to people putting on Scottish accents that are usually terrible!). I didn’t hear my own accent but that’s ok, I got the warm and fuzzies from having two familiar sounding voices. This was such a small thing but it increased my enjoyment a great deal.

This book was an excellent example of books that I enjoy in spite of hating most of the main characters. I couldn’t stand Trieste, she was the epitome of the annoying new colleague. After one week she’s insistent on finding everyone’s secrets and generally being super nosy. I chuckled when her colleagues were telling her to just go away and she said ‘I’ll come back later’, completely oblivious to her colleagues just wanting to be left alone. I couldn’t work with her. I hated Mal, the doctor. She was completely inappropriate and dangerous. They were the two worst characters. Everyone else was annoying but to a far lesser degree.

I think that this book was better because the characters were so awful! It worked. If they were nice and likeable, I’d have spent the book worrying about their fate instead of being keen to find out what happened next.

This was the perfect audiobook as it was a full cast production. There were also recordings and moments where the audio gave out or stuttered which helped to add to the disorientation.

I loved the setting of a remote research base in the arctic. Having the characters shut off from the rest of civilisation helped to make this quite the psychological thriller! And I was thrilled. The scenes with the dives gave me chills! In an environment where you can’t be sure of who to trust, going for a wee dive in the arctic didn’t seem like a smart move. The characters weren’t making clever decisions though and I enjoyed the slow falling apart.

I felt so full of doubt while reading this book, in a good way. I wasn’t sure if the characters were imagining things or if they were really happening. I think the setting of an isolated camp really enhanced this.

This book was so creepy and chilling and I was absolutely hooked! I highly recommend it! I love being able to pass the recommendation on.

Scottish Reads

Circus of Wonders

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

I intended to read this book way back in November. I even took a photo of it at the Christmas market in town, I was so certain that I’d read it before the end of the year. Spoiler: I did not read it before te end of 2021. I did read it this month though and what a treat it was! I gave this 4 stars and I continue to enjoy Elizabeth Macneal just as much as I did before.

This book was told from three different points of view: Nell, Jasper, and Toby. Nell’s father had sold her to the circus which was an utterly heartbreaking story. I really enjoyed her growth in confidence and she started to believe in a future for herself. I absolutely loved her friendship with the other women in the circus. Jasper was the circus master, he was self centred, egotistical, and had a cruel and violent streak. I absolutely hated him. I think I was supposed to hate him. The third narrative came from Toby who was Jasper’s brother who was somewhat of a gentle giant, he was very large but seemed to be mild mannered. Toby was the most layered of the characters as he seemed like a nice guy but was also a secret creeper. This isn’t a spoiler as the signs are there right from the start. I loved getting multiple points of view.

The subject of people being circus acts is horrific and dehumanising, this was never going to be a cheery book. It felt like the subject was handled with respect and compassion towards the real people who were affected by the egos of circus masters. This book did include references to real people who had worked as acts and this just made the book feel so real! Macneal is amazing at writing dark stories that would normally fill me with despair but she left me feeling hopeful.

This book was a very eye opening look into events that happened in the past. They were not glamourised and the book was quite sad. I really did enjoy this book and I’m so annoyed at myself for taking so long to read it!

Scottish Reads, Vlogs

Reading Scottish May Wrap Up

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of Scottish literature and have been making a conscious effort to read more of it. Every month I like to make a wrap up of my Scottish reads and this month is no different…apart from that I read a non-fiction which made me cry with laughter, so I’ve included that too!

This month, my Scottish reads were:

⛴ Conviction by Denise Mina

🎪 Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

🤿 The Sound at the End by Kirsty Logan

📕 Nothing Left Unsaid by Janey Godley

🏩 Single Taken Cursed by Nikki Bell*

Let’s ignore my hair in this video, it had a moment of madness

If you’ve read any enjoyable Scottish fiction (or non-fiction as it seems that I’m reading more of that these days), I’d love to hear about it!

*gifted