"Her name will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour." So wrote the famous diarist and biographer  James Boswell of his compatriot Flora MacDonald, the never to be forgotten heroine of Scotland for her single handed role in the perilous escape of  Bonnie Prince Charlie from the clutches of the rampaging English. 

What a woman - born 1722 in the Scottish Hebrides, her life is well documented. Her passion for a Scotland free from the iron grip of the English led her into many adventures and many troubles - not just risking her life to save the Prince, but also spending time locked up in the Tower of London on a charge of treason. In the 1770s she lived for a time in North Carolina with her husband and children, only to be caught up in the War of Independence, and then surviving a raid by pirates on the return journey to Scotland. By any account she was an extraordinary woman, and her legendary place in Scottish history is well deserved. And hardly surprising either that there is a mystique and aura about her, that continually fuels the fires of independence, resilience and fierceness so part of the the Scottish identity. 

In this novel, the Australian author has taken the bones of Flora's life and created a rollicking good read that will appeal to a wide variety of readers, and not just those of Scottish descent or  can lay claim to being descended from a MacDonald of the island of South Uist of the Outer Hebrides. She will be forever known as the saviour of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, aka the Young Pretender,  and this is the central narrative of the story. Plus what would a good historical novel be without a bit of romance and bodice ripping in the Scottish highlands surrounded by heather and blustery winds? The background to all this however is just as important to the story. The author has thoroughly researched the history of the time - King George II, his son the Duke of Cumberland whose army famously defeated Charlie at Culloden in 1846 and later known as the Butcher Cumberland for his murderous treatment of the Scottish after this uprising, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson, the American War of Independence - all in very rich and exciting detail. 

Comparisons of the author's style of writing have been made with Phillippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl) and Alison Weir who both write historical novels from the view point of key characters. As a result, fact is used as the starter for the story, but is not necessarily 100% factual in its content. The key word here, emblazoned on the front cover of such books is 'a novel'. A great starting point for further research and reading. For me, the key point of such historical novels, is that we learn so much about stuff - these books are page turners, they draw us in, real people and real events become vivid in our imaginations, such writers make history come alive.  How clever is that! And more importantly, provide background to the nature of the world we live in now. For example, why did thousands leave Scotland from the mid-18th century onwards for the greener pastures of unknown lands in America, Canada, and New Zealand? Aside from the weather...

This is a terrific story, well told, great characters both good and bad, and in the light of the referendum that took place last year for Scottish independence very timely. The relationship between the two nations may be cordial now, but it has not always been so, in fact many times over the centuries completely the opposite. Such a story makes me very proud of my Scottish heritage, and has sparked a wish to go to the Hebrides. My only criticism? Some pictures of Flora and Charlie would not have gone amiss, and a couple of maps would also have helped greatly in conjuring up images of the intrepid journey Flora and her prince made. 

THE LIST OF MY DESIRES by Gregoire Delacourt

Such a divine book, with its simple enticing cover - buttons: who would have thought. With the added bonus of large font, sizeable line spacing, just 200 pages of heart rending, poignant, beautiful story telling. 

Jocelyne 47, married to Jocelyn for 20-something years, two grown up children, owns and runs a haberdashery store in a town in France, considers herself very ordinary, ordinary husband, ordinary marriage, ordinary life. Sometimes she thinks, dreams about what could be or could have been, how things could be different, but of course there will never be a chance really to make big changes in her life. And so she just keeps on reflecting and wondering what if. Until one day, she wins the 18 million in the EuroLotteries. Then everything changes. For good and for bad. Can and will Jocelyne realise her dreams, and change her life, or will she lose the courage to do so?

Aside from this being such a great fable of modern living, the first person voice of Jocelyne is written by a man. He captures the essence of an ordinary woman, in her ordinary life extraordinarily well. I loved the woman I was reading about, and it raises so many questions as to what one would do if so much money was won. Loved it. 


What a cover - you just want to open it and follow the just marrieds into their new lives. And those three little dolls following on behind! You won't get that on a Kindle. Anyway there is a lot of hoopla surrounding this novel, book one of the Neapolitan novels, and hoopla also around the very mysterious and reclusive author.

It's a marvellous story - two small girls who meet and become best friends in a poor rundown neighbourhood in Naples in the 1950s. Book one focuses on the ten years from roughly six years of age to sixteen years. Life is tough for these families, eking out existences as shoemakers, carpenters, porters, bakers, shop owners. Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo are the stars of the story, both intelligent and clever girls, Lila being particularly gifted. There is a lot to navigate in their small communities - desire for an education beyond primary school, other children, rivalries, family problems, young love. All the usual stuff children and  young people have to deal with, but in this case set against the hard life of the poor streets of post war Naples. Not easy.

It is a good story, and I am looking forward to reading book two, but I did not find it an easy book to read. It took considerably longer than I would have thought to finish it, and it is a bit of slow burner with the second half considerably more riveting than the first. I wasn't expecting it to be chick lit, but I did think it would be easier to read than I found it. Still, roll on book two! Now that the girls are sixteen what does life have laid out for them?