A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman

A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman is a delicious romantic romp set in contemporary Scotland and which tells the story of Lara McDonald who, after a relationship fails, returns to her home town of Fairview, near Glasgow. Broken-hearted, she takes a job with the catty Kitty Walker in her tea room called True Brew. Unhappy, but determined to heal, Lara befriends the local, elderly laird, Hugh Carmichael, sharing with him her hopes and dreams for a future she fears will never come to pass. When Hugh suddenly dies, Lara finds herself in a strange position: one of her dreams is about to come true, but as it unfolds, in ways she never could have imagined, she begins to wonder if the price is simply too high.

Filled with love lost and won, amazing recipes and descriptions of cakes, breads and slices which, I confess, had me rushing to the kitchen to bake (and eat) myself, the greatest threat this light, fun and always heart-rich tale poses is to your waist-line! The relationships Lara forges and those she resists are wonderful to behold, especially the one she has with her best friend, Morven and her prickly, militant mother. Slowly, as Lara begins to repair her heart, she finds it under threat again, only this time, she seems powerless to prevent herself repeating the same mistakes…

Told with pathos and humour, the story moves at a good pace and the characters crackle with vigour. The Scottish town of Fairview and the grand manor, Glenlovatt, and the food Lara and her friends make and consume also become characters and you’ll find it hard not to fall in love with them as well. As I was reading, it struck me that this would make a terrific Hallmark movie – which is interesting as one of Shackman’s roles (apart from author) is to write for greeting cards!

Recommended for lovers of romance, and those who want to escape into a good book, curling up by a winter fire or in some sand, beneath golden sun and heat, Shackman’s novel is a great companion.

Thank you very much to Allen and Unwin for sending me a copy. 🙂

 

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A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver

Having never watched an entire episode of the sublime-voiced Neil Oliver’s A History of Scotland (a situation I intend to remedy stat), I was really looking forward to reading his book about the same. Commencing his walk through time before the Big Bang (because, he explains, historians are often criticised for not going back far enough), Oliver takes the reader on a wild, breath-taking and heart-breaking ride through the mists and mountains of Scotland – the rugged Highlands, green-hilled lowlands and mirror-surfaced lochs; from the time of the earliest peoples to the Romans, Angles, Britons, Picts, Saxons, and all the others who laid claim to the magnificent and difficult land that came to be known as Scotland.

From the first King (Kenneth) to the trials and tribulations of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, the claims of the “Pretenders” to the throne, the ambivalent relationship with England, its people and its crown, the butchery, bravery and stupidity of Culloden, to the advent of slavery, growth of wealth (for a few), loss of language and identity, woes and hardship of famine, Clearances, British indifference and paternalism, unionism, and the blight and triumph of war and political machinations, the damage of Thatcherism, immigration and so much more. Oliver crams it all into these 367 pages.

Poetic, moving, exciting, heart-wrenching – much like the beautiful country and its amazing hardy people, this is a terrific book that reads more like a wonderful work of fiction half the time (or you wish it was), rather than the brutal, unapologetic reality it is. Never apologising, but always trying to contextualise and understand what made the Scots who they were and are today, the iconic people who played major roles in forming its social cultural and political landscape as well as the clans and workers who kept its heart beating, Oliver leaves no stone (including the rock/s upon which the country is built) unturned. Exposing the greed, enterprising spirit, creative and artistic endeavours, as well as boldness, foolishness and so much more of those hailing from all walks of life as well as every shore and island as well as city that forms Scotland, this is a marvellous introduction to the country and its rich and vibrant history and people – a people so many of us (including me) have descended from.

Having finished it, I can’t wait now to watch the series and enjoy this wild and haunting tale all over again, this time with magnificent scenery and imagery to support it.

Highly recommended for lovers of history, Scotland and cultural adventurers who enjoy an unforgettable read.

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