My Year in Books 2020

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This year has been such a mixed bag of reading. I’ve enjoyed straying a little from my usual go-to books, mostly for research reasons, but found a couple of gems. So here they are.

Fallow by Daniel Shand I really enjoyed this book and would also recommend his other novel, Crocodile.

The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick It took me ages to read this book and throughout I wasn’t really sure if I liked it, but i think I was comparing it to Helen’s first novel, The Comet Seekers, which is an outstanding piece of work, and this book was a completely different genre, Overall though, it was worth a read, she’s an excellent writer.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher A strange wee book, beautifully written in parts, but not riveting. Worth a read.

Before You Say I DO by Clare Lydon This is a lesbian romance novel and was an okay read but predictable. I would try her other books but wouldn’t put them at the top of my list.

No Strings Attached by Harper Bliss Another Lesbian Romance but I quite liked this one. I‘ve heard of Harper Bliss and I would read more of her books but again, not in a hurry. Nicely written though.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng This was my book of the year. Beautifully written, brilliant twist and plot, fantastic characters and it made me cry. What else can you ask for. Read this book if you can, it is incredble.

Not My Type by Michele L. Rivera This was the last of the lesbian romances and I cringed all the way through it. Maybe I’m getting old, but this wasn’t for me.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls I stepped out of my comfort zone with this book and I’m glad I did. This was nice read and was wrapped up nicely. I would recommend.

Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvey This is an important novel that everyone should be aware off. Heart breaking and honest. Memoir.

Marram by Leonie Charlton This is another book I really wanted to enjoy but found slow and dull. There are parts that are beautiful but also parts that seem repetitive. I enjoyed the back story. Memoir.

Little Fires Everywhere By Celeste Ng Another beauty. I can’t wait for more books by this author. Very well written, exciting, fast paced and tragic. I watched the T.V series afterwards, the book is better.

The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis Another beautifully written book with plenty of tension and a lovely plot. Loved the characters, the setting was also well written, a bit disappointed with the end.

Boy Parts by Eliza Clark This is a book that’ll make you gasp. I loved it. It is risky, honest, funny and just brilliant. The characters will blow you away. Second best book of the year.

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney I am pretty sure I enjoyed this book but I don’t remember much about it.

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn Informative. Non-fiction.

A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel I have been wanting to read a book by Hilary Mantel for the longest time, but I think I chose the wrong one. The movement of time wasn’t easy to keep up with and at times, the book was slow. I almost gave up on it, but persisted. The first page is brilliant.

Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story by Rachel Clarke I loved this. I’ve never read a book with so much death in it, but written so honestly and beautifully. I definitely have a different perspective now. I cried a lot. Highly recommended. Memoir.

Jonathan Pie: Off The Record by Jonathan Pie I do like Jonathan Pie, although I don’t always agree with his point of view. And just like the man says himself, you don’t have to agree, but it’s good to see different perspectives. Recommend. Non-fiction. I listened to the audio book version.

Love In Lockdown by Chloe James I bought this book purely for research purposes as I am writing a lock down novel myself. Cheesy, heterosexual, young love. It was okay, mostly annoying, but fit the purpose of what I imagine will be a new pandemic genre, I just feel the author could have blended some of the pandemic tropes into the story, as opposed to listing them. It is unrealistic in many ways, but the characters are nice.

Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie It’s about time I read something from this author seeing as she was my dissertation mentor- twice. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Kathleen once told me that she isn’t a nature writer, she is simply a writer, I kept that in mind when I read this book and I now understand what she meant. Kathleen is an observer, a thinker, someone who stands still long enough to experience the world. She has a good mind and a viewpoint unlike most. I highly recommend. Essays.

I would love to here what your favourite books have been in 2020, and I love a recommendation, but for now, I would like to wish everyone a happy Hogmanay and warm wishes for the new year.

Book Review – Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma by Kerry Hudson

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‘Graffiti and scorch marks, echoes of small fires, decorated doorsteps. Golden Special Brew cans and crushed vodka bottles, bright as diamonds, collected in gutters. Front gardens were filled with mouldy paddling pools and, occasionally, a rust burnished shell of a car. I had never seen anything so beautiful, so many colours, before in grey Aberdeen.’


Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma

 

This is a novel with nothing held back. While the title is light hearted and the cover art bright and cheerful, both are deceiving. The cover shows a silhouette of a young girl holding a giant red balloon against the backdrop of a Scottish suburban town. It is important to address the significance of this image. Readers may recall a similar painting by Banksy, named Girl With Balloon which was originally painted on a wall in London. Beside the painting was engraved “There Is Always Hope”. While Banksy’s painting shows the girl releasing the balloon, possibly representing lost hope or lost innocence,  Hudson’s cover shows the girl being lifted by the balloon.  Considering this when addressing the text, it is clear that Hudson wished to demonstrate that one can only hold on to hope by not letting go. Critics have described this book as containing bittersweet humour and Hudson cleverly intrudes in the second chapter by saying that this is in fact a ‘humorous cautionary tale’.   As soon as you begin reading, expect to get dirt under your nails. The author launches right into the location of the novel using regional Scottish dialect and local Aberdonian vernacular.  The story begins with the birth of out protagonist, Janie Ryan. Born to Iris (formally Irene), a single, homeless mother who comes from a line of women described as ‘fishwives to the marrow’, Iris has recently returned from London after trying to change her destiny (not wanting to become her mother). After falling pregnant to a rich and married American man, the relationship breaks down. Iris is forced to return to poverty in the back streets of Aberdeen but is keen to ensure that things have changed,’ I didnae go all the way to fuckin’ London to come back an’ be the same old Irene!’ Unfortunately, Iris falls back into her old ways and for Janie; this has a direct effect on her life. The reader follows the protagonist from her first home to temporary care and then to a string of homes over the UK in some of its poorest areas. Janie watches, as her mother gets involved in some abusive relationships, including one with alcohol, and watches helplessly as her mother loses hope.  Towards the latter end of the novel, it is clear that Janie is falling into the same habits as her mother, however, a string of unfortunate event forces her to reassess her life. The end of the novel, like the cover art, is left to the reader’s interpretation. Can Janie break the cycle and make changes to her life, or is she destined to become her mother? This is not only a well-written novel but also a powerful commentary on life within the poverty trap.

Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, 2012 published by Vintage Books

©Eilidh G Clark

 

Book Review – A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan

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‘…there’s no other way to give you the truth except to hide it in a story and let you find your own way inside.’

Kirsty Logan’s first collection of short stories, Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, The:, published by Salt in 2014, won the Polari First Book Prize in 2015.A Portable Shelter is her second collection. Set in a small cottage in the rural north coast of Scotland, Ruth and Liska are expecting their first child. The couple believe that their unborn baby will have a better chance of survival away from the harshness of suburban life. They make a pact with one another, that they will only ever tell their child the truth. Yet while Liska is asleep or Ruth is at work, each whispers secret stories to their unborn child. Delving into fantastical tales about people from their past and re-telling stories that span from generation to generation, the couple unfold the horrors of the real world. Whilst these tales, laced in myth and legend, and fattened with the magic of the imagination, demonstrate the art of oral storytelling, Logan reaches further to show the reader why storytelling is important.

While this book is primarily a collection of short stories, its novel like structure frames each story with a preceding monologue from either Ruth or Liska. The monologues offer delightful morsels of description that bring the harshness of Mother Nature into the safety of the couple’s bedroom, “right now our home is speaking to you. The walls creak their approval in the wind. The rain applauds on the roof. The lighthouse beam swoops, swoops, swoops. The tide breathes loud and slow like a giant. If you listen carefully, perhaps you can even hear the moon hum.”  The pace of these sentences, combined with the delicacy of language demonstrates Logan’s skill at describing the sublime spirit of the natural world, which brings the narrative to life.

Most impressive though, is Logan’s poetic language and carefully crafted sentences which create the most beautiful imagery. In ‘Flinch,’ for example – James is a fisherman struggling with his identity, yet his affiliation with the land is locked into his first-person point of view where the reader gets to closely experience what he sees, “The sky is pinkish-grey like the insides of shells. Speckled bonxies wheel overhead. Seals loll on the rocks, fat as kings. The rising mist is cool and milky.” Any of these lines could easily be arranged into a poem and with sentences that are squeezed tight; they create a wonderful poetic rhythm. Logan uses this technique throughout her novel, demonstrating the precision and craft in her work. There are definite similarities in her writing style to fellow Scottish novelist and poet Jenni Fagan. Both authors use rich language, which is well crafted and smattered with vernacular. Furthermore, combining this with the reoccurring theme of identity, the oral storytelling tradition, landscape, folklore, and myth, it is clear to see why these authors contribute to the growing canon in Scottish literature.  

This is a book that I will read over and over again because I know that in each  reading, I will find something new. A Portable Shelter, I feel, deserves a place on my ‘keep’ book shelf.

A Portable Shelter, Kirsty Logan, London: Vintage, 2015

©Eilidh G Clark

 

   

Miss Brown – Class of 2011

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“Books open, pens on paper.”

Her voice is fanciful –

Worldly words of wisdom.

Whimsical.

Take a breath Miss Brown.

Over your shoulder, birds trilling

in your ear. Knowledge?

“You understand, You hear?”

“Wings have spanned, grown and flew”.

Miss Brown is telling you.

Over your shoulder in her parchment suit.

Scattered somehow, this puzzle

this test, this class.

Yet sewn together so neatly, so tight,

so fast, that brains leak words inspired.

Alert, not tired Miss Brown.

Spoken proper. Knitted

like a scarf, like the missing words

from a mother passed.

Thank you Miss Brown, Thanks for that.

“That’s all for today.”

An end in sight. Taught by one with

gust and might,

taught by Miss Brown in her parchment suit.

©Eilidh G Clark

This poem is dedicated to one of the most amazing and inspirational people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Madeleine Brown, Stevenson College Edinburgh. Access to Humanities course – English Literature and Communications 2011.