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Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

I’ll start off, up front, by saying The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein is a great book. But who would expect less from the author of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.

Fifteen year old Lady Julia Lindsay MacKenzie Wallace Beaufort-Stuart has returned home for summer break to help her mother and grandmother pack up their household. Her grandfather’s recent death and the realization that they had lost their fortune forced them to sell their centuries old castle, Strathfearn, near Perth, Scotland to a school and construction was under way to convert the house and property to its new use. On her first day home, lying on Drookit Stane, a standing stone in the River Fearn, she is hit over the head and is unconscious for several days. Euen McEwen, a Traveller, a nomadic Scottish group, found her and brought her to the hospital.

Simultaneously, Professor Hugh Housman who was cataloging the antiquities of the household, mysteriously disappears. Julia remembers seeing him in the river, naked, prior to being clonked on the head and many feared that he had drowned, either on purpose (since his advances were recently rebuffed by Solange, Julia’s governess) or by accident.

The Pearl Thief is an amazing story combining Scottish folklore with a coming of age story with a little history with a small mystery. It takes place during the summer of 1938. The Travelers or Tinkers as they’re called (since many sell tin and other metals), are similar to gypsies and have that same derogatory connotation. They are not well regarded by the Scots yet have a long history in the land. The McEwens, especially, were friends with the Stuarts and Julia’s and Euen’s mothers played together as young children.

Wein contrasts the ‘haves’ of Julia’s upper crust gentry status with the ‘have nots’ the McEwens who live from day to day, traveling to where there is work, typically farming. Yet it is the Travelers whose philosophy it is that it is better to give than to receive.

Part of the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Wein is her descriptions–of the land, the history, the mythology. Her story traps you and her language reels you in. I can’t give this book and Wein’s other young adult books, enough accolades.

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DCI Karen Pirie is still suffering from the recent lost of her policeman husband, Phil. She’s taken to late night long walks in the hopes that they would tire her out enough to enable her to fall asleep. It is on one of these walks that she meets of group of Syrian refugees warming their hands over a barrel with fire.

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When Ross Garvie overturns his stolen Range Rover, killing his three mates and putting himself in a coma, his DNA comes up with a ‘familial match’ to the 20 year old unsolved brutal rape and murder of Tina McDonald. Unfortunately, there are hindrances to DCI Pirie pursuing the owner of the original DNA, one of which being Ross’ comatose condition.

Gabriel Abbott, a man who has ‘issues’ is found dead on a park bench, a bullet in his head and the murder weapon in his hand. While the angle he would have had to use in order to kill himself is awkward, after some investigation the death is ruled a suicide. Although, not her case, Pirie can’t get the idea out of her head that Gabriel’s death is somehow related to the death of his mother, over 20 years earlier, when the small plane she was flying in blew up, disintegrating it and the three other passengers.

Out of Bounds, this third Karen Pirie outing (I didn’t know there were two others) is an arresting read (pun intended). Pirie and her one assistant, Jason “the Mint” Murray, tackle complex issues regarding dissemination of DNA information, try to accumulate more than circumstantial evidence in their investigations, and go against their fellow police officers and her superior officer in order to get at the truth. The ensemble cast of characters, although typical (the rogue Pirie, the inept Noble, the antagonistic Chief Superintendent Lees (aka the Macaroon) and the faithful sidekick “the Mint”) keep the story moving forward nicely.

All in all, Out of Bounds is a good read and, while I may not go back and read the first two books in the series, I will continue reading the series as more books are published.

P.S. This book stands nicely on its own.

 

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EndOfThePointSusan mentioned that she likes reading the inscriptions at the beginning of books and that made me take particular note of the inscription in Elizabeth Graver’s latest novel, The End of the Point. “When I began to tell you children about the different ways in which plants sent their young out into the world, I had no idea that I should take so much time and cover so many pages with the subject.” This is a quote from Mrs. William Starr Dana, author of the children’s book Plants and Their Children (more about this book later), and purportedly the great grandmother in Graver’s story. The quote, however, summarizes, in part, what Ms. Graver’s book is all about…sending our children out into the world.

It is also about ‘home’. The End of the Point is the secondBigHouse family saga set in Cape Cod that I’ve read recently, the first being The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, the former being fiction and the latter non-fiction.

The End of the Point describes the Porter clan who summer in Ashaunt, MA, near Buzzards Bay. It is in four parts, each narrated by a different person:  1942 narrated by Bea, the Scottish nanny to the Porter’s youngest daughter, Janie; 1947-1961 narrated by Helen, Janie’s older sister; 1970 narrated by Charlie, Helen’s son, named after her brother who died during WW II and 1999, told in the third person. Bea describes how the second World War intruded on the serene life of Cape Cod and her life in particular…the opportunities taken and possibly the regrets for those not taken. Helen, always the strong willed daughter recounts her life, her struggles to achieve in a man’s world and how her treatment of Charlie may have been part of his struggle to find himself, although the 1970s were certainly an era in which many college students were ‘lost’. In the last segment, Helen, Janie and their other sister, Dossy, are in their later years, one suffering from cancer, one from mental instability.

In all of their worlds of turmoil, though, the one place that seemed to bring peace and calmness is Ashaunt, the Big House (funny, in both books, the main house was called the Big House). Even amidst the hubbub of growing and extended families, Ashaunt was the refuge from troubles, its natural beauty (even in the face of land sales and new home construction) and sense of home easing the mind.

Graver has provided stories of some very strong women: Bea, in her quiet way, has her strong sense of duty to the Porter children, at times to the detriment of her own life; Helen, the wild child has the drive to succeed in academia’s male world; Gaga (Helen’s mother) runs her family while her husband is wheelchair bound for most of his later life and Janie, seemingly the sanest of all Porter girls makes a strong life for herself, her husband and six children. Even Charlie, a lost boy since his early teens, ‘finds himself’ in the end. Each character could very well be the focus of a novel, each has a story to tell, especially Bea and Helen.

I know the strong feeling of wanting to provide a ‘home’ for our children, a place that they can seek refuge and comfort, regroup and go back out into the world rejuvenated. The Big House(s) described in these books and the families that occupied those houses gave their children their sense of well-being and being home. I’m suggesting you read both books, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by George Howe Colt.

Now I said I’d mention Plants and Their Children by Mrs. William Starr Dana (aka Frances Theodora Parsons).Plants and their Children

Frances Theodora Parsons was an American botanist and author active in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was an active supporter of the Republican Party as well as the Progressive Party. She was also an advocate of women’s suffrage. Frances started taking walks in the countryside after the death of her first husband (William Starr Dana). These strolls inspired her most important and popular book, How to Know the Wildflowers (1893), the first field guide to North American wildflowers. It was something of a sensation, the first printing selling out in five days. The work went through several editions in Parsons’s lifetime and has remained in print into the 21st century. Plants and Their Children, written in 1896 was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time and was suggested for reading to young children in the classroom. The inscription at the opening of The End of the Point (I only gave you a snippet of it) interested me so I did a little (very little) research and after reading that Plants and Their Children was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time, I was compelled to buy it. I’ll let you know how it is.

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