First up, The Hills is Lonely by Lilian Beckwith, which is my book thirteen for Peggy's Read Scotland 2014 challenge.
Lilian Beckwith, advised to take a rest somewhere quiet for the good of her health, advertises for suggestions as to where to go from the readers of a magazine. One of the replies was from a woman, Morag McDugan, who lives on the Isle of Skye. Lilian is captivated by the letter, which is rather naively written, and decides on the spot to go and stay with Morag. Her arrival is not auspicious as she arrives on a dark and stormy evening and wonders if she'll even survive being ferried across to the island, let alone anything else. 'Anything else' turns out to be having to climb a six-foot wall to get into Morag's house as the tide is in and her front gate is submerged! After that it's culture shock after culture shock as the English woman learns to live with the idiosyncracies of an island population who are insular in the extreme, about fifty years behind the times, and loathe the English with a vengeance.
This was a very gentle, amusing read... basically a 'fish-out-of-water' story in which the joke is how the English woman, used to late 1950s mod-cons, learns to live on an island which has no mod-cons at all. What I haven't been able to discern is whether this is fact or fiction. I was sure it was fact but I gather she didn't move to Skye alone, she went with her husband and the books are based on the characters she met and became involved with. Which makes them fiction... except that I'm still not sure. They're classed as 'non-fiction' and 'autobiographical' on Goodreads. Hmm. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed the beautiful descriptions of the island very much indeed. The author certainly knew how to convey the moods of the weather and its affects on the stunning scenery very well indeed. As a cultural thing it was fascinating to hear how basic life was on the island in the fifties, certainly as regards medicine and healthcare, but also food-wise (they lived very much on what the sea provided), transport, communications, and indoor plumbing (there was none). I was less enamoured of all the drinking and drunkeness but that's just me being a prude. Was the author mildly patronising about the locals? I'm not sure. I don't *think* so but others might. I enjoyed the book and it made me even more determined to visit the Isle Skye one day.
Next, Laurels are Poison by Gladys Mitchell. This is my book twenty two for Bev's 2014 Vintage Bingo Mystery challenge and covers the category, 'A book with a method of murder' in the title.
Deborah Cloud has a new job at the Carteret teachers' training college. She is to teach a bit but mainly she will be the new sub-warden of Athelstan House. She walks into a mystery. The warden, Miss Murchan, has gone missing and the principal of the college has called Mrs. Bradley in to take her place and try and find out where the missing Miss Murchan has gone. It's a can of worms. There's some kind of malicious prankster abroad. At first the pranks are relatively harmless, chamber pots going missing etc. Then clothes trunks are raided and people's clothes slashed, a girl's hair is cut off in the middle of the night, and things take on a far more sinister note when the house cook is found murdered. Mrs. Bradley, Deborah and three trainee teachers put their heads together to get to the bottom of this very complicted mystery.
I think this is my third 'Mrs. Bradley' mystery and possibly my favourite so far. I liked the college setting and peep into the 1930s style of training teachers. I believe Gladys Mitchell was herself a teacher so doubtless knew all about it. The three girls who help solve the mystery enliven the plot no end but I did have difficulty occasionally with the way one of them spoke... the 1930s modern slang and literary quotes. It was a good whodunnit in that I couldn't really work out who, why or how so I was kept guessing until the very end and then wondered why I'd been so thick. Happy to have a few more of these on my Nook to read when I don't want a book that's too deep. Good fun.
Lastly, Surgically Enhanced by Pam Ayres.
This is a book of essays mainly, interspersed with some of Pam's inimitable poetry which I'm a bit of a fan of, I have to say. I love seeing her reading her own work on TV as she has an amusing manner about her which is always hilarious - to me anyway. I'm sure there are plenty who think quite the opposite. The essays are basically all about her life. Her childhood in Stanford-in-the-vale in Berkshire, her marriage and children (rather oddly as a married woman she's 'Mrs. Russell', as am I of course), learning French, adopting a dog, canal holidays, packing to go on holiday, cruising, shopping on the internet, the perils of using a new hairdresser when you're away somewhere and much, much more. I enjoyed every single one, probably because I could identify very strongly with quite a lot of it. Wierdly, I preferred the essays to the poems and I think that may be because her poetry is best heard read out loud rather than read silently to one's self. They were not bad though and one struck a particular chord with me - There's Some Mistake about the sadness of aging and looking back at your life. She hit the nail right on the head with that one. All in all, an enjoyable random grab from the library and I really must get around to Pam Ayres' autobiography next year.