Cozy Auld Reekie

Summer is all about fun reads. I have a stack to read when it is too hot to do much else, have travel (planes, trains or automobiles) or just want to relax. Cozy mysteries often fit the bill as they have an uncomplicated mystery, a little romance and are generally fast reads (short or simple). This was a delightful read, taking place in my favourite August place (think Edinburgh Festival)!
Title: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Marty Wingate

Publisher: Random House/Alibi. 276 pp

Genre: cozy, mystery, english mystery, British mystery, Scotland. 3.5 stars


Marty Wingate is the author of The Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden Plot, The Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new mystery series, Birds of a Feather: The Rhyme of the Magpie was published June 2015.  Marty writes about gardening in the PNW and travel (she also gives European garden tours). She can be heard on A Dry Rain (, a free podcast available on iTunes. Wingate is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, as well as the Royal Horticultural Society and the Garden Writers Association. Her enthusiasm for flowers and gardening has created a lovely, entertaining series. Be careful downloading titles, as there are a dozen books with this title; kindle price is quite reasonable.

Story line: The Potting Shed Mysteries take place in Britain (England and now Scotland), where master gardener Pru Parke has transplanted herself. In the first book, Pru (short for Prunella) of course finds a body in her odd job but is introduced to DCI Christopher Pearse. There is a developing romantic relationship throughout the three books with both characters in their 50s. In the second book on Primrose house, they have a long distance relationship as she has found her dream job at an 18th century Manor house in Sussex. In this delightful installment Between a Rock and a Hard Place, once again the couple part, but this time to be married in three months, just after she finishes her next job. Pru is off to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to determine if a newly discovered document is indeed a lost journal of an 18th century plant collector (Archibald Menzies). There are of course bodies, politics, sinister characters but hysterical wedding plans. And memorable secondary characters (especially Tamsin Duncan, Mrs Murchie, and Murdo) which make for a charming read. Pru is an interesting protagonist, becoming more confident and at home in her newly adopted country. These books are the definition of cosy: fast easy reads, delightful secondary characters, solvable mystery and fun. There is a nice blend of history, gardening and romance. I was glad it wasn’t a long wait until the third book. If you haven’t read them, read in order as one summer beach read.  

Of course I must leave you with a few details on Archibald Menzies (please remember there are few if any “z” sounds in scottish and this surname sounds more like “Ming ess” (Which also explains why many tourists can’t find the stationers shop when the locals, plus accent, direct them.)) Menzies is often overlooked as a plant collector as there have been so many other great scottish botanists (especially David Douglas, further reading). Menzies (from Perthshire) trained as a surgeon at the University of Edinburgh, but was descended from a long line of botanists and gardeners (all four brothers, father, grandfather). He was also an explorer, part of many ship expeditions (China, Hawaii, PNW, West Indies) as surgeon, naturalist and or botanist. His later voyage with Cpt Vancouver on the HMS Discovery are recorded in fantastic, detailed journals documenting an explorers life. These are held by the British Museum. (Some interesting excerpts online). He introduced to Europe a real dinosaur tree: the monkey puzzle tree (Auracaria sp). To say nothing of rhododendrons. RBGE has fantastic collections of these plants. I visit annually.

Read on:

If you like Rosemary and Thyme, Murder She Wrote or Agatha Christie 

Wingate is recommended for readers of Laura Childs, Ellery Adams, Laura McKinlay or Mary Daheim.

For historical plant collectors:

Carolyn Fry The Plant Hunters (2013)

Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, Will Musgrave The Plant Hunters (1998)

Tyler Whittle The Plant Hunters (1997)

Read as an ARC from Netgalley. Thank you!

Book of the Moment by Helen McIver

dinae fash
June 2013
The Bookmore Cottage

Dear Gentle Reader,
Summer is almost upon us and I am not sure what happened to spring. I somehow didn’t have enough time to read with all the gardening, travelling and packing, to say nothing of shoveling unexpected May snow. But planes are perfect places to read, so I have always loved summer travel. Cars invite audiobooks across miles. And of course, the chaise lounge on the back deck can take you so many places. Last week I ended up in Scotland, alternating between present day, WWI and WWII.

Letters from Skye is the charming debut novel by Jessica Brockmole. Dear Reader, you will love this beautiful portrayal of old fashioned love in the time of war, the nuances of letter writing, the captivating period detail, and the two cultures (American and Scottish) which will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Through these letters, I met a new friend that I think you will also adore, the lovely Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn from the island of Skye. Her letters sparkle with her love of countryside, youth, family, her fears and dreams and her compass. I felt the same sea breezes, gazed at the stormy seas, despaired for days and years, questioned my own journey and just so enjoyed her erudite company. The letters of her daughter Margarite, her American friend and lover David Graham, along with various family memebers reveal secrets, friendships, bravery and trials, but as with the very nature of letters leave some experiences to the reader’s imagination. There was a satisfying resolution which celebrated joy, something worth remembering in turbulent times. “I have never stopped loving you.”

I have always been a letter writer, an anomaly/anachronism more so with the passing to the electronic age. The graceful correspondence makes for easy reading and is punctuated with lovely humour, wit and passion. I loved the development of the realistic characters (I have a number of Scottish friends I recognised instantly) over the years but also through the eyes of other family members. I enjoyed being reminded of my Grandmother’s time, and also reminding me of how grateful I am to live in this time. And of course, I want to go back home to Scotland now.

Most Sincerely,

A British Bluestocking

PS Be sure to Read on to:
Yes it has been compared with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows), but it reminds me more of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs, Julia Stuart’s The Tower, The Zoo, The Tortoise, or her Pigeon Pie Mystery and Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simon (see previous reviews!).

“Like any whose blood runs tartan, I adore W.S…. his poetry really does a fine job of capturing Scotland in all of her changeable moods.”

“ All a person really needs to get them through the vagaries of life are the Bible and W.S. (both of them).”Read as an ARC
4 stars for a delightful summer read
Published July 9th 2013

Scottish Authors – Saltire Awards

*Ali Smith Free Love
*William McIlvanney The Kiln
Kate Clanchy Slattern
Bernard MacLaverty Grace Notes
Robin Robertson A Painted Field
Alan Warner The Sopranos
Christopher Wallace The Pied Piper’s Poison
Dennis O’Donnell Two Clocks Ticking
George Bruce Pursuits
*Michael Faber Rain Must Fall
Ronald Frame The Lantern Bearers
Douglas Galbraith The Rising Sun
Hamish Henderson Collected Poems & Songs
*Liz Lochhead Medea
Meaghan Delahunt In the Blue House
Janice Galloway Clara
*Liam McIlvanney Burns the Radical
*Louise Welsh The Cutting Room
James Robertson Joseph Knight
Martainn Mac an t-Saoir Ath – Aithne
*Andrew Greig In Another Light
*Peter Hill Stargazing
*Kate Atkinson Case Histories
John Aberdein Amande’s Bed

*denotes books and authors that I particularly enjoy.

Tartan Day in America

Tartan Day

Tartan Day celebrates the existing and historical links between Scotland and Scottish descendants overseas. In the United States there are over 11 million people who claim Scots descent, and most take pride in the transatlantic connection. In North America, Tartan Day is held on April 6, the anniversary of the date on which the Declaration of Arbroath was created in 1320, whereas in Australia and New Zealand, it is held on July 1, the anniversary of the repeal of the Act of Proscription in 1782.

Tartan Day was first proposed by Jean Watson, who petitioned throughout Canada for its recognition. Nova Scotia was the first to celebrate in 1987, with gradually all provinces recognising the day/event. In 1998, the US Senate officially recognised the date of 6 April as a celebration for the contribution made by generations of Scots-Americansto the foundation and prosperity of modern America.

The date is significant as it commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320, the first known formal Declaration of independence. Not only was the United States Declaration of Independence modelled on that document, but almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent and the Governors in 9 of the original 13 States were of Scottish ancestry.

Tartan Day is now firmly part of the North American calendar. Supporters of the event call it a signal of the strengthening Scots-Canadian/American relationship in the 21st century. The Tunes of Glory Parade in 2002 saw 10,000 pipers and drummers march through the streets of New York. Each year, pipers prepare for this event! They are the centrepiece of the event where thousands of Americans celebrate their links to Scotland. One of Scotland’s national treasures, William Wallace’s sword, left Scotland for the first time in 700 years and was flown to New York for the Tartan Week celebrations of 2005. Equally large events are held in Washington DC and other places in the US and Canada.

Henry James: A life in Letters Philip Horne (ed)

We were reading Henry James in our Literature into Film bookclub at the Library, and as complimentary reading I got this out of the library. What a delightful find, especially with footnotes! I liked the fact that this is a ‘real and best biography’. I hunted for the people he corresponded with that I knew and liked (RLStevenson, Edith Wharton, HGWells) before heading to read about people he knew and discussed (e.g. Hopper). Horne is also a wonderful biographer of James, and has a series of books on him.
This was also ‘appropriate’ reading selection because Henry James was of scottish and irish ancestry, and last week was the Burns Supper all around the world, in recognition of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. So I was of course reading Burn’s poetry, reciting some as well. Haggis was even made for the occasion.