The world this year

Girl Online,
by Zoe Sugg

Artful appetites

Good non-fiction reads

Eat and get slim

Reading to the end

Huff-Post recommends

Barn Owl,
by Jim Crumley

Savage Breast,
by Elizabeth McKenzie

REVIEW: Christmas in the Koran, editor Ibn Warraq

Was Mona Lisa Chinese?

Cat’s festive scoop

This digital jungle

Global book awards

We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas

Death of PD James

Right Royal Christmas

Who’s grabbing the Web?

Wonder Woman rivals

Dylan Thomas

Some good reads

The world in 2050

by Brad Watson

Why bow wow?

Invention of clumsiness

by Dickson Telfer

Row over watermelon

How To Be British, by Prince Charles

Wasting time on the Internet

A bankrupt Arab Spring

When The Night Comes, by Favel Parrett

Byron in Venice

Native history and slavery

Steinbeck find

People v Nature

EXTRACT: Disappear, by Petra Soukupova

101 two-letter words

The great Israeli novel

REVIEW: Farzana, The Woman Who Saved An Empire, by Julia Keay

Edinburgh, by Alexander McCall Smith

Books that aren’t

Pleasing paperbacks

Malala’s memoirs

Publishing’s new world

REVIEW: The Book Of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

Stupid Press surveys

REVIEW: Miss Carter’s War, by Sheila Hancock

EXTRACT: This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

REVIEW: Sometimes A Bag Is Just A Bag, by Shoshana Olidort

Rotten century so far

Self-fly aircraft

Death Railway novel wins 2014 Man Booker Prize

REVIEW: The Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Shirley Temple, the girl who fought the Depression

Nobel Prize winner

The office novel

The Sunrise,
by Victoria Hislop

REVIEW: The Crimson Thread Of Abandon: Stories, by Madeline Barbush

Creative writing courses condemned

The Establishment - and how they get away with it, by Owen Jones

The vanishing hyphen

REVIEW: How To End Armed Conflicts,
by Jonathan Powell

Alternative media

Short fiction by Geoff Wyss

Comedy debut

Saving oldest bookstore

Karl Miller

The Romanov tsars

REVIEW: Japan - A short cultural history, by Sir George Bailey Sansom

Infamous murder

US National longlist

A ghoulish Boswell

Fingerprint words

Wilbur Smith

If pageviews were dollars

Wanderlust mum

The president’s lover

Double acts

Booker shortlist

Adulthood is dead

Night of the White Buffalo by Margaret Coel

Diana Gabaldon

Love or hate eReaders

The Barter
by Siobhan Adcock

Between Gods
by Alison Pick

French romance

Adam Phillips

China’s Muslim princess

A floating bicycle

A Perfect Life,
by Danielle Steele

Twitter trolls slain

The Betrayers.
by David Bezmozgis

I Can’t Begin To Tell You,
by Elizabeth Buchan

ESSAY:The Rich Man In His Castle, by Sean Byrne

Mum inspired to write

Escape by time travel

Help solve the crime

All the world’s not a stage

Topless Jihadists,
by Jeffrey Taylor

Women back polygamy

Threat to purchased ebooks

Historical thrillers

The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters

Putin and The Brothers Karamazov

The Pillar, by Donal Fallon

The joy of walking

Seaside is a tonic

REVIEW: The Hundred Year House,
by Rebecca Makkai

Novel via Twitter

Shadow of Franco

Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, by Mandy Aftel

Roald Dahl: Symphony

Selfies a curse

NATO unprepared

Why read reviews?

The Woman in the Picture,
by Katharine McMahon

The Newton Papers,
by Sarah Dry

The sun never rises

Close Call,
by Stella Rimington

REVIEW: House of the Sleeping Beauties,
by Yasunari Kawabata

Scottish authors:
Yes and No

The Shining River,
 by Kevin Stevens

Passion for horror

by Margaret Atwood

Caitlin Moran

Chick lit fun

Britain’s breakup

Benefit in being wrong

REVIEW: All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

Rediscovered genius

Crime in translation

A Dog’s Life,
by Michael Holroyd

Babel of 6000 tongues

REVIEW: Ring, by Koji Suzuki

The power of two

Independence: An Argument for Home Rule, by Alasdair Gray
My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing, by Gordon Brown

Top prize to ‘sickening read’

Aussie prize to English writer

Remember Judy Blume?

EXTRACT: The Shining River, by Kevin Stevens

The sense of self

Pioneering females

Dark Ages return

Famous rejections

The Top Ten

REVIEW: 50 Ways The World Could End

Restaurants through history

Shakespeare’s inspiration

by Hillary Clinton

Dundee longlist

Pulitzer spat

Prize thriller

ISIS rebels explained

Necklace killed queen

Dirty flirty King Bertie

Bloody Scotland for real

Tales of the Ghost Sword by Hideyuki Kikuchi

The ideal school texts?

Baileys fiction winner

Short story by
Alexander McCall Smith

A Silver Dish
by Saul Bellow

A real Downton Abbey

Victorious Scum’
by Robert Graves

Be a rainbow in
somebody’s cloud

Black Mischief feud

Best-read cities

Pun champions

Selfish, Whining Monkeys by Rod Liddle

Rock War,
by Robert Muchamore

Red wine jogger

Democracy doomed?

Sport cures racism

Power of a touch

Glossy mags decline

MEMOIR: Is the Vicar In, Pet? by Barbara Fox

Mice despise women

Harlequin’s Millions, by Bohumil Hrabal

Why we adore animals

Philosophy of walking

The Vodka Wars

Maigret returns

REVIEW: Writing God’s Obituary, by Anthony Pinn

The ideal mother myth

REVIEW: The Walk Home, by Rachel Seiffert

The end of humanity

REVIEW: The Stories, by Jane Gardam

REVIEW: Birth of modern Britain, by Christopher Bray

Comics and cuties

Literary revenge

Publishers debate future

Farcical censors

Humanity novels

SHORT STORY by Anneliese Mackintosh

Sharia Law begins

Ogre of history

Bad grammar award

Shakespeare And the Countess
by Chris Laoutaris

John Updike

Charlie Chaplin’s Last Dance by Fabio Stassi

He slapped Tojo

Hitler and art

The new war literature

John Banville

Chop Chop
by Simon Wroe

Hebridean odyssey

Baileys shortlist

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Award to EL Doctorow

Shakespearean weirdo

Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead

Self-publish monthly prize

Global money mess

Allah, Liberty and Love

REVIEW: Hollywood
helps war effort

Cakebaking queen

Most likely alien life

The Four Streets
by Nadine Dorries

The Queen’s toys

Floating bookshop

Clouds Above The Hill
by Shiba Ryotaro

Preserving the world

Not So Wicked
by Joanna Trollope

Origins of the selfie

REVIEW: Vanishing by Gerard Woodward

 A Life In Letters,
by Sophie Ratcliffe

SHORT STORY: A Dish Best Served Cold,
by Jill Dawson

REVIEW: Shovel Ready,
a thriller by Adam Sternbergh

REVIEW: Tick-Tock We’re 30, by Milan Vohra

Age 10 And Divorced

A Lovely Way To Burn
by Louise Welsh

Revolution of ideas

Lovely letters

Ngozi Adichie

The Wedding Industry

The beast named Man

All The Rage
by AL Kernnedy

Unread books

Timely Crimean novel

The Ruined Map
by Kobo Abe

Jane Austen and others by Alexander McCall Smith

Evolution and politics

Agony Aunt tells all

Okey Ndibe

SHORT STORY: The Last Night of Summer

Mum-porn book sells 100 million copies

The Tell-tale Heart
by Jill Dawson

Censoring Queen Victoria by Yvonne M. Ward

Social-Media wasteland

Hard-boiled France

Helen Walsh

Books, dogs and gumption

Ukraine: What next?

Joanne Harris

The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen

Fatwa targets Mars

Belinda’s Inheritance
by Valerie Mendes

Daily Rituals
by Mason Currey

Tintin politics

EXTRACT: Angels, by Marian Keyes

Trial by Twitter

Alone on Sochi ice

Andrew’s Brain
by EL Doctorow

The Sixth Extinction
by Elizabeth Kolbert

Vikings used SMS

Top sellers 2013

An Ark before Noah

Valentine’s Day recipes for romance

Laptops oust books

The Visionist
by Rachel Urquhart

Philip Pullman

Whisky for breakfast

Amazon slows in UK

Everyone’s a critic

Rereading Saul Bellow

Searching for Dad

Just a Girl Standing

Orkney celebrates books

Hotel of dreams

Locked room murders

Where Memories Go,
by Sally Magnusson

In the Wolf’s Mouth
by Adam Foulds



A feast of reading with Cathy Macleod every weekend

OOPS!  Berber twist pile. Normal price 4.99. Our price 9.99.

Did Jesus exist?
CHRISTMAS, when the world celebrates the Nativity, was a good time to suggest we’ve all been taken for a ride – that is, if you want your controversial book to get noticed. A religious studies professor who claims there was no Jesus repeated his conclusions last week. And re-ignited the longstanding controversy that has involved biblical scholars for generations.

Raphael Lataster lectures in Religious Studies at Sydney University and his book is There Was No Jesus, There Is No God. It is one of many featuring the linchpin of Christianity. Previous works by numerous other writers have presented other theories about Jesus Christ, but largely accepted that there was such a person. He is described variously as a sage, descendant of Aliens, anti-Roman revolutionary, philosopher, deluded martyr and so on. They’re all interesting up to a point, mainly because Christianity – from the time of the Roman Empire -- has shaped the planet we know.

The first book like this I ever read was during my Sunday School days (yes, long long ago). It was by Albert Schweitzer: The Quest For The Historical Jesus. But if this topic interests you the most compelling series I’ve come across is by the recently late Laurence Gardner. His special research was into the bloodline of Jesus, naming present day descendants, and claiming Jesus survived the Crucifixion and died years later in Syria.

For readers who like non-fiction mysteries there’s an endless array of books about The Good Book, and getting to grips with Jesus Historical and Jesus Mythical is compelling stuff.

Endangered religions
HATRED and spirituality seem to share a permanent plague in the Middle East. After thousands of years, the violence and slaughter is fierce as ever. Author Gerard Russell takes a look at religions that have simply disappeared, victim to this turmoil. His book is titled Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East. His scholarly attempt to record these esoteric beliefs is fascinating history.

Happy Reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 December 2014.

PM sets creative ideal
WHAT is it about the literati? Always bitching about something, someone, anything. And worse even than Opposition policrats and ’ticians. The latest rift is over the Australian prime minister’s taste in books, because he overruled the judges for the $80,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

Instead of giving it all to Steven Carroll’s sensitive historical fiction, The World Of Other People, he awarded half to Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road To The Deep North. Both novels are about World War 2. For reasons best known to themselves, the dissenting judges and others have accused Abbott of making the event a ‘sham’. They can’t accept that the Prime Minister has the right to name his own award winners. The judging panel, however, is only there to recommend, not determine.

At least Abbott can’t be accused of political bias. Richard Flanagan is a rampant leftie. It’s good to see the surfing, cycling prime minister of Australia separates politics and art. And he is the author of four books himself. The London-born migrant’s best known work is Battlelines, published 2009, “a frank analysis of the way forward for the Australian Liberal Party’. His love of books is revealed in this work, too. He advises young people to read the classics, Shakespeare and the Bible, because “literature is a light for the soul”. It’s a nice thought, and I reckon it applies to all books, whatever takes your fancy.

Merry Christmas and happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 19 December 2014.

Some recent reads
Murder at Honeychurch Hall *****
by Hannah
Lively characters, delicious dialogue:
This introduced me to Hannah Dennison and, because it is first in a promised series, I’ll be looking out for more. The mystery is well thought and the characters well drawn, but the strongest appeal to me was the dialogue. I was not surprised to learn that the author has left her native Devon to do Hollywood movie scripts. One could take this book almost as is and present it to the actors, so powerful, perky and informative is the spoken interplay.
Of the characters, the best loved by me were the heroine’s feisty aged mum, who writes steamy romance novels, and Harry aged 7. A Biggles fanatic, this kid is heir to the Honeychurch estate (after his obnoxious dad) and has a tendency to blurt family secrets and an occasional clue (or red herring?).

Company of Spears ****
by Allan Mallinson
The fortunes of peace:
There is less military action than usual, but lots of social interplay and scheming when Hervey hunts a wealthy widow he hardly knows -- to be his bride. The fortunes of peace are no less thrilling than those encountered in warfare, and the final third reverts to what we expect from this author – intelligent officering in Britain’s first conflict with the Zulu Nation in South Africa.

by Ann Granger
A double delight:
Two separate murder mysteries, unfolding in turn, chapter by chapter, gave me double delight. The parallel narratives are well presented in a way that maintained my interest in both of them. The Victorian murder and subsequent court trial keeps pace with a modern mystery in the same old mansion. The links over 100 years are convincing, the characters fascinating.

Wycliffe and the cycle of death **
by W.J. Burley
An illogical solution:
A prolific and feted author penned this disappointing mystery. An editor should have spotted the flaws before publication. While the narrative flows competently the solution is illogical. There is also a fatal flaw in the plot development. Without giving away details, I’ll just say that a leading character is motivated by knowledge this same character could not possibly know! Apart from this, I was irritated by the author editorialising facts the characters themselves could have imparted without intrusion.

Falcons of Ice and Fire ****
by Karen Maitland
Three voices enchant:
The unusual locations of Portugal and Iceland in 1564 appealed, and I was entranced by the gruesome Inquisition practices. This is superb historical fiction. There’s also lots of folklore and falconry expertise. The plot is a pageturner with good narrative rhythm divided faultlessly between three different voices. Essentially, however, this is a quest story and the final third is more fantasy than history.

False Impressions **
by Jeffery Archer
Brilliant dwindles to unacceptable:
A brilliant beginning deteriorates as this promising plot unfolds. Towards the end I resented this author expecting readers to accept the impossible in a final confrontation between heroine and assassin. (Copy editors where were you!).
Earlier there are some good passages, the best being the heroine enduring the 9/11 Twin Towers atrocity, described in convincing nail-biting narrative. After this, the action becomes repetitive and unlikely. At least one loose end stays unexplained (again irksome).


Political adventure tops world poll

READERS voted a dashing hero their alltime fiction favourite last week, topping Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Peter Pan, Gruffalo and many others. Francis Crawford Lymond is the protagonist in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, set in 16th century Scotland.

He is an outlaw, nobleman, poet and soldier in The Game of Kings, a worldwide bestseller. Francis battles to prove his innocence and restore his honour with the help of an array of wonderful characters – some real, some invented. The result is a saga of treason, political intrigue and romance, brilliantly researched and written with this author’s unique flair.

The poll, which attracted voters from all parts of the globe, was part of Book Week Scotland (November 24-30) run by the Scottish Book Trust. Readers were asked to choose the best character ever in a book by a Scottish author. There are so many literary contenders they form an ocean of talent, and the response by readers showed a healthy awareness of this.

Popular scribblers such as Ann Morven (whodunits), Carol Ann Duffy (romance), Muriel Spark (humanity) and Val McDermid (crime) fell behind as counting proceeded. Masters of the pen also overtaken included Alexander McCall Smith (humour), John Ivor (adventure), Ian Rankin (crime), Rabbie Burns (poetry) and Robert Louis Stevenson (thrillers).

Selections varied widely, from Dennis The Menace to Jekyll And Hyde, Doctor Finlay to Oor Wullie, Irvine Welsh to John Buchan, to Sir Walter Scott. Every one of them is a favourite and all have an army of supporters. Was this competition really logical? No! It wasn’t meant to be, either, it was a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.

When the survey began, Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust explained: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.”  Picking a character was a new task. Last year in a similar event, readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.

There was no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like to hear, because a good character and a great story last forever. Two personal favourites I have mentioned before happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George MacDonald Fraser. In reporting the winner, The Scottish Book Trust also listed the Top Ten.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 December 2014.

Hate it or love it? Market faces a real Poirot puzzle
SALES of a new book will decide the future of Hercule Poirot, that much is obvious. Not so clear is speed and volume of the publisher’s cash return, because readers are divided on the book’s merits. Since the September launch of
The Monogram Murders a flow of ‘hate-it’ one-star reviews has left the bean counters with a mighty puzzle. These days, sadly, a fast buck tops quality in the book world.

The United States and Britain are the major markets for novels in the English language, and Amazon the biggest online retailer. The Amazon reviews by readers who bought this resurrection of the great detective have been mixed.

Author Sophie Hannah has excelled in reviving an Agatha Christie favourite, yet one-star ‘hate-it’ reviews so far exceed the five-star ‘love-it’ in America (out of 265 reviews: 24% hates against 21% loves).). In Britain, where cozy murder mysteries are most popular, the Amazon reviews show 27% loves to 20% hates (out of 167 reviews).

On other Amazon sites, the sales are too low to indicate any particular trend. To me the figures shown above reaffirm that Americans prefer their crime-fiction hardboiled in the style of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, but the large number of disapproving Brits is surprising. It could even indicate a change in national reading tastes since Agatha Christie popularised the brain-teaser genre.

Sophie Hannah’s rebirth of the great detective is baffling and brilliant. Her Poirot is exactly Poirot, convincing in every way, arrogant as ever, perceptive as only he can be. She has also nutted out a classic murder mystery worthy of Agatha. Its untangling is clever and devious.

‘Why didn’t I spot that?’ I asked every time Poirot pointed out a clue that had been available to the reader.

In addition to this, Hannah has invented a narrator who is both perfect for the job and peculiar enough to appeal as himself. The perfect Catchpool is a blend of Chief Inspector Japp and Captain Hastings – providing police info and serving as a foil to Poirot’s insight. The peculiar Catchpool is a homicide detective who funks murder scenes. Show him a dead body and he scoots for the door, even forgetting to arrange the Morgue pick-up. His talent is creating crosswords and recording Poirot antics in a pleasant manner, like this:

“Do you see the trees, Catchpool?”
I told him that I did, wondering if he had me down as a colossal idiot. How could I fail to see trees that were directly outside the window?

BACK TO THE BOOK REVIEW: There is a long denouement that, frankly, I would not wish to attempt in digital format. Sometimes the printed paper pages of a book are easier to absorb than onscreen reasoning. In an era of short perception fed by television and the Internet, perhaps this lengthy resolution is a reason for so many ‘hates’ of a prime whodunit. The complex solution is worth the mental plod because this triple murder is a mystery ranking with Fiction’s most famous. I just loved the book and I’m hungry for more!).

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 28 November 2014

Horror with a political aim
IT is a gruesome subject and studying it, I reckon, is an unsuitable job for a woman. And not too cheery for a tough guy, either! All the same, anthropologist Frances Larson has a timely book that explains the peculiar horror of severed heads. Familiar in news bulletins these days, this the most despicable of murders has always been with us.

Her book is called Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. My verdict? The scholarly work is both fascinating and nightmarish. Frances says that decapitation is ‘the ultimate tyranny’. It is a trophy that appeals to psychopaths – and occasionally to politicians or other people with a political aim. The author is a research fellow at Durham University in England and her work explores the political and cultural essence of beheadings.
Lost masterpiece or discarded drivel?
THE great authors are always with us and, from time to time, a previously unknown work pops from an attic or a dusty old diary. The latest is a satire by Robert Louis Stevenson, renowned author of adventure and thrillers. His novel,
The Hair Trunk, is now published. But is it any good? Stevenson himself abandoned it after 30,000 words. Modern readers might like it. Read an extract first.
Best books of 2014
NEARING year’s end we get a spate of Book of the Year opinions. The retail chain Waterstones comes early, doubtless hoping to sell a few of its nominations in the lead-up to Christmas. They announce a
shortlist of eight. Not every reader will agree, but when was there ever total agreement about the best books? Different offerings appeal to different people, and that’s why the book trade thrives whether the pleasure comes in print, digital or audio.
What now for .book?
AMAZON beat fellow giants such as Google and Bowker to win the right to use the domain extension .book. Having thus shown itself, once again, ahead of everyone else in the book trade the big question is how will Amazon use this unique asset?
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 November 2014.

Women lead mystery award
DO women write better crime fiction than men? It’s a much debated subject. Personally I tend to favour the superior cunning of the physically smaller (yet more compact) female brain, but then I’m biased. Nevertheless, the public at large agree with me if we accept the result of the reader-voted longlist for the 2014 Dagger In The Library award.

Run by the Crime Writers Association in Britain, its guide for judgment is an author’s entire work. Following the voted longlist, professional judges have now selected the five finalists, four of these being women. See what I mean?

The winner will be announced early December, but if you’re not already familiar with the Final Five you can investigate their creations online. (One of the blessings of www). Here they are, anyway:

Sharon Bolton has been dubbed by The Times as ‘the High Priestess of English Rural Gothic’. Bolton has written eight crime novels and is the author of the Lacey Flint series.

Elly Griffiths’ novels feature protagonist Ruth Galloway, the Head of Forensic Archaeology at the University of North Norfolk. Her inspiration for the series came when her husband gave up his city job to become an archaeologist.

Mari Hannah has published four books to date and is the author of the DCI Kate Daniels series. A former Probation Officer, Mari lives in Northumberland where her novels are set.

James Oswald has written four books in the Inspector McLean series and first found success as a self-publishing phenomenon. Set in Edinburgh, his crime novels contain supernatural elements.

Mel Sherratt is the author of what she calls ‘grit-lit’ – crime, psychological thrillers and suspense. She has achieved huge success by self-publishing her five books.

Add the following to view the longlist: MC Beaton (Constable & Robinson), Tony Black (Black and White Publishing), Phil Rickman (Corvus), Leigh Russell (No Exit Press), Neil White (Sphere).

Some of the above are new to me and I’ll be taking a look at their work. Meanwhile my longstanding favourites remain Caroline Graham, Ann Morven, PD James and (recently discovered) Hannah Dennison. All women! Some of the blokes rate highly too, however. I recommend Stuart MacBride (gritty Aberdeen), Peter May (closeknit Hebrides) and Philip Kerr (nasty Nazis). Hey, those male authors are all Scottish. Guess I’m biased again.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 14 November 2014.

Military shambles led to victory
THE glories and the disasters of warfare have inspired many books as the world commemorates the 100th anniversary of World ANZAC FURYWar 1. In Australia the emphasis is on Gallipoli, a horrendous military defeat when Churchill sent an Allied force to invade Turkey. Not so well known is a second Anzac shambles during World War 2, also inspired by Churchill.

Anzac Fury by Peter Thompson describes the brave yet futile landings in Greece, subsequent retreat and the infamous 1941 Battle of Crete. This Aussie historian has delved into the military muddles and terrible tactics to analyse the political and personal faults. Also the personality clashes. Churchill was obsessed with striking at Germany’s underbelly from the Mediterranean. The wartime politicians and generals strangely persevered despite repeated stuff-ups and full knowledge of the remote chance of success.

However, this particular boondoogle led to Hitler’s defeat. While victorious, Germany’s almighty parachute division was destroyed in the effort and never recovered.
Although outnumbered, outgunned and prey to German airpower, the tenacity of the Anzacs – who did most of the fighting and withdrew with heavy losses -- delayed the German invasion of Russia by a vital month. The Anzac threat forced Germany to split its all-conquering forces into two fronts. With resources thus weakened, Germany failed on the Russian front, North Africa, Italy and, in the end, succumbed to the advancing Allies in Europe.

For more Anzac histories see the wide selection at

The inspiring Irish
AUTHORS of Ireland stand out for their unique creations, whether humorous, tragic or sheer Celtic word magic. Readers will find some of the best in the shortlist for the
2014 Irish Book Awards.

Famous ghost stories
WITH Halloween just past, there was timely retelling of many a monster tale. An entertaining look into this genre is contained in a new book by Andrew McConnell Stott. This professor of English presents
The Poet And The Vampyre, subtitled The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature’s Greatest Monsters.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 Nov 2014.

Everlasting fiction
GREAT stories last forever, and that’s why themes and situations they contain will reappear wherever folk read fiction. One of my pet grouses is that the global publishers, who still largely control the book world, milk a brilliant book quick as they can and then discard it. Fast bucks, it seems, is paramount to them. Such behaviour doesn’t have to be. That’s one reason why Amazon has captured wide acclaim – the titles it offers are immortal. It means they are available anytime, anywhere and (Armageddon permitting) forever. And as the world’s biggest bookstore, holding the longest backlist, the fast bucks still flow to Amazon’s delight.

So just what are these everlasting elements that make immortal fiction? We find them most easily in Greek, Norse, Asian and Biblical myths. Also in fiction’s bestsellers. They are the situations and emotions personally familiar to the human race.

This week I came across two modern works that reflect this rather well.

The first cleverly picks up the story of Orpheus and his wife Eurydice. In this original tale from Ancient Greece, Orpheus wins back Eurydice from Death by enchanting the demons of Hades with his music. And then, calamity! The modern novel, A Song For Ella Grey, by David Almond, uses similar ingredients of Love, Life and Death. It’s a good read.

The other example is a straight rewrite of ancient oral tales, Mousedeer. A collection from Southeast Asia, each story holds a moral message. This is perfect for parents to read aloud to children aged, say, 4 to 8

Forthcoming goodies
HISTORICAL fiction remains ever popular. Check out these
great titles for November 2014. And here’s one by top military author Allan Mallinson, published a while ago and still selling well: Warrior deals with a niche topic – the early days of British settlement in Cape Colony and tricky dealings with King Shaka of the Zulus. Mallinson’s spare prose has a military bearing to match his plot. No other writer I can think of reports action and tactics with such directness and authority.
The Cape Colony of 1828 is a thrilling setting for Britain’s headaches on a troubled Empire border, aggravated by the tribal intrigues of Zulu nasties Shaka and Dingane.

And it kills
EVER FASTER! Is there no end to the craving by humans to speed? An interesting new article explores
this strange compulsion.

Nobel Prize? No thanks
THE Nobel Prize for Literature is greatly prized by authors, so how could this famous writer refuse it? For a reason he considered
well justified.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 October 2014.

Loving and learning
AS we go through life we all learn a few things from the joys and snares of romance. Author Maya Rodale claims the painless way is to learn from fiction, and she lists 31 things to learn simply by reading romance novels. Whether or not you can find such enlightenment through reading, as she suggests, there’s delight to be found in her writing about it.
I came across her piece at Huffington Post and this put me in mind of a particular heroine who relies on book learning to the disadvantage of herself and everyone else. Her name is Maggie, created by John Ivor and ever enduring in his Swan River series. Originally aged 9 when sentenced to death in Scotland, this feisty lass survives a pedophile, pirates and slavery in her odyssey to womanhood in
Run Maggie Run, a novel that takes her to ‘the end of the world’ (Australia), reading for dear life.
She reappears in
No Kiss For A Killer (narrated by headstrong Jeremy), and returns to her own point of view in Eden’s Deadly Shore. Here Maggie reapplies her book learning to unwittingly bring disaster. Mind you, this is historical fiction, so readers (just like Maggie) actually do learn some grim truths about pioneering The Great Southland. Finally, in Amateur Rebel, Maggie continues her flawed progress and her prickly relationship with young Jeremy. Naturally, all ends well and peacefully. Romance? In books it never runs smoothly or there wouldn’t be a story!
Having read all these novels I can recommend them, and maybe readers will pick up from them some useful knowledge about romance. But to get the forementioned 31 lessons listed by Moya Rodale take a peek at her
Huffington Post article. I love it.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 October 2014.

Great Scot! Fiction idols contend
SCOTLAND is voting again. Hard on the heels of their vote not to leave the United Kingdom, the people are now contesting an even harder issue: who is Scotland’s greatest fictional character?
The nominations make a mountain to rival Ben Nevis and vary from crime to comics. And the debate is more steamy than a hot haggis. Consider some of the contenders created by Scots authors: Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Long John Silver, Peter Pan, Precious Ramotswe, Tam O’Shanter, The Gruffalo, Rebus, Jean Brodie.
From highland glen to city garret, the debate thrives noisily North of the Border. Their paper phantoms are on the march.
Wha’s like us? Gye few. (And they’re all alive forever!).
The nationwide poll is part of Book Week Scotland, November 24-30. This is sponsored by arts agency Creative Scotland, which initiated the Week two years ago. Although confined to Scottish authors, it is an open contest that pits comic identities like Dennis the Menace and Oor Wullie against literary favourites such as Jekyll and Hyde, Jean Brodie and Dr Finlay.
In varied manner each is a Scottish icon: sweeter than deep-fried Mars bar, intricate as woven tartan, rollicking as an eightsome reel, passionate as a pibroch. Get the idea? The Scots love their written creatures.
Contemporary writers JK Rowling, Alexander McCall Smith, Iain Banks, Dorothy Dunnett, Muriel Spark, Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, and others, find their genius compared to classic greats Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, AJ Cronin, JM Barrie, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Neil Munro, Kenneth Grahame and the like.
Is this competition logical? No! It’s not meant to be, either, it is a celebration of literary wealth aimed at stirring a love of reading.
Explained Philippa Cochrane of the Scottish Book Trust: “We decided to open it up to poetry, children’s literature, even Gaelic writing.” The topic is new also. Last year readers voted for a book title – the winner was Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
There is no time limit on when the characters were created. That’s what I like. A good story lasts forever.
My two personal favourites happen to be contemporary: Sheil B. Wright (mystery), the bumbling female sleuth invented by Ann Morven; and Flashman (historical fiction), an army cad immortalised by George Macdonald Fraser

Hey! You’re not allowed to read that book
JUST like readers, every country is different, a situation that leads to certain books being banned. I was reminded of this when Singapore deemed Archie comics to contain unacceptable content and had them downloadremoved from retail shelves. Ludicrous yes – to other people. But Singapore’s government, benign in many ways, strongly condemns same-sex marriage. When this behaviour occurred in Archie’s recent adventure, censors in the island republic were
quick to act.
Elsewhere in the world, local beliefs and policies have led to similar harsh reactions. Who would ban The Wizard of Oz? A United States library who considered it supported ‘negativism’. The Harry Potter books were banned in many church schools for “inappropriate magic and sorcery”. One of the silliest bans, however, was a version of Little Red Riding Hood. Not because of the wolf or Grandma’s traditional fate, but because her basket of goodies contained a bottle of wine.

Even more ridiculous is the banning of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The reason: Dressed as a boy, Viola falls in love with Duke Orsono. And a dictionary was banned in California for including sexual definitions. Little House on the Prairie was banned for racist attitude towards Redskins (oops, I mean Native Americans). And Tarzan for shacking up with Jane before marriage.

An article in The Christian Science Monitor drew my attention to these forbidden texts. Its magazine section named 30 of them, mostly in the United States, and it makes for an entertaining read. The Washington Post meanwhile listed ‘the 10 most challenged books ever’. The New Yorker magazine also published an essay on banned books.

Why all this coinciding interest in writings that failed to meet universal approval? It was Banned Books Week, an annual event by the American Library Association to highlight the dangers of censorship in a free world.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 10 October 2014.

Some recent reads:

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
by Mohsin Hamid
ODD title, oddly written addressed to ‘You’, but this novel is original and compelling. Highly recommended. Different in concept and entertaining in its vision of the human condition. It is told in a radically unusual voice. I have encountered this before in short stories but never previously for 228 pages of finely crafted narrative. It absorbed me intimately spellbound.

The theme is familiar – from powerless poverty to fabulous wealth. The hero and heroine could be any of us hungry for a better life, just as the jacket blurb promises.

The book’s structure follows the suggestion of its title, with chapters divided into advice -- such as Move To The City, Get An Education, Don’t Fall In Love -- , and so on. Each relates an episode towards the ultimate goal and its pitfalls.

The Curious Incident at Claridges
by R.T. Raichev
Cozy country house mystery. The narrative is in the most entertaining Agatha Christie mood, and the plot worthy of her cleverest. Dialogue paints the characters and carries them along an intriguing murder trail.

It was pleasing to meet the middle-aged amateur sleuths – an army officer and his crime novelist wife. Their respective professions provide much of the light humour.

y Phiip Kerr
Couldn’t put it down, this is one of his best. This thriller, written 1996, takes readers to the Himalayan peaks. It is convincing, informative and exciting. There’s intelligent backing to the yeti hunt, treacherous icefields, scary cliffs and a murderous unknown spy. And let’s not forget Esau and his hairy tribe

Speculation on evolution and the origin of humans comes from the author’s hard research and a bibliography of scientific experts. A mix of nationalities in the expedition, and their conflicting personalities, add to the tension.

Flesh House
by Stuart MacBride
Entertaining horror mystery.
This is a gripping police procedural thriller. Also horror and whodunit. Meat eaters beware! Set in Aberdeen, Scotland, there’s a light touch to the narrative and cops who speak and behave like real people. Which means they’re not particularly nice and not as efficient as law-abiding citizens might wish, but they give the baddies hell.

A serial killer spreads nationwide panic when victims, or bits of them, appear chopped and packaged for sale on supermarket shelves. I liked the hero, a lowly detective sergeant who suffers strife from his superiors and his girlfriend and his scarred stomach stabbed 23 times in the line of duty.

This is a long read. Structure and pace hold nicely. Sometimes funny, sometimes gruesome, entertaining to the sizzling end.

The Blunders of Britain
IT was a close-run thing, as victorious Wellington said after the 1815 Battle of Waterloo. Another near disaster for Britain, Scotland’s 2014 Independence Vote, was an even narrower escape.

The definite No saw only four electorates out of 32 voting for separation from the United Kingdom. These were Dundee, Glasgow and the near-Glasgow regions of North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire. This sounds reassuring but in nearly every area the margin was close. I was delighted when my ancestral Isle of Lewis voted resoundingly No, but concerned that so many voters elsewhere backed the losing Yes camp.

Saving Britain from breakup, the two million No votes outvoiced 1.6 million Yes to avoid calamity – 3.6 million people deciding the fate of Britain’s 60 million! And now comes the aftermath.

Following this near dismemberment the United Kingdom faces years of internal politicking in a backlash from the people of Wales, Northern Ireland and England. These have greeted the new favours promised to Scotland with demands of their own.

Westminster’s blunder was neglecting to see the danger until almost too late. The UK parliament held all the logic for a No vote, yet failed to voice it strongly enough to be heard by jingoistic Yesers.

Nationalist Alex Salmond’s fantasy was itself a blunder because his illogical vision left Scotland still dependent on the British pound with no longer a say in its control; and still depending on British trade and the Union’s market of 60 million people (add Customs Duty) compared to Scotland’s domestic market of a mere five million.

He dreamed a cash-strapped European Union admitting yet another member to prop up (think France, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain); he imagined a Defence Force conjured from nothing; tax income to equal Scotland’s present share of massive UK earnings; a Health scheme without existing generous funding; Education ditto; Pensions too; and his naive belief was that the rest of Britain would write off Scotland’s share of UK National Debt.

In short, the Salmond cart was hitched before the horse. He promised to negotiate the above national needs with recalcitrant Westminster only after a Yes vote. The amazing thing is that so many Scots accepted his illogical and belligerent rant.

The whole concept of Scotland leaving the Union was a bad idea allowed to ferment, a blunder allowed to happen. Britain has experienced others, of course, perhaps smaller in scale. While browsing I stumbled upon a whole book of British blunders. They make an entertaining study by political engineers Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. The Blunders of our Governments is a razor-sharp diagnosis of flawed government. Its message holds true beyond Britain to democratic nations everywhere.

Fictional blunders make good reading too. I recommend Run Maggie Run by John Ivor. His Scots heroine endures a maelstrom of mistakes in her odyssey to womanhood.

Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 September 2014.


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