BookSpace: One Shot; Death at the Plague Museum; The Chronology of Water; The Speculative Book

Ben Wray

Chiara Bullen’s March edition of BookSpace reviews some of the latest Scottish literary productions

One Shot, by Tanya Landman

Young Adult | Barrington Stoke | £7.99 | Buy here

After the death of her beloved father, Maggie and her family are thrown into a life of destitution. With little income and no way to live off their poor land, Maggie tries to provide for her family the way her father always had – with his hunting rifle and whatever animals the forest would provide. But when her mother is confronted with her “unladylike” behaviour, Maggie is thrown into a life of unthinkable cruelty and abuse. 

A coming-of-age drama inspired by the life of Annie Oakley, this hard-hitting tale doesn’t shy away from tough issues. Following protagonist Maggie’s early journey through life, Landman demonstrates the abuse and oppression women and girls faced during this turbulent time in the USA. With feminist undertones (including a poignant moment that touches on the significance of clear, communicated consent in relationships) and Maggie’s determination to have a better life, this makes for inspirational reading for youngsters aged thirteen and over who are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. Teaching essential lessons about justice and the importance of being yourself, what readers learn in these pages will stick with them forever. 


Death at the Plague Museum, by Lesley Kelly

Crime | Sandstone Press | £7.99 | Buy here

Three senior civil servants are dead or missing. As their brief is management of the deadly Virus, Bernard, Mona and the rest of the hard-pressed Health Enforcement Team are fighting not just a pandemic, but government secrets.

The latest instalment in the Health of Strangers series sees the return of the Health Enforcement Team dealing with their toughest case yet. In a post-viral Scotland where the country has lost 100,000 citizens to the Virus, Mona and the team find themselves in the midst of murders and disappearances — as well as a multitude of personal problems. With dark wit and deadly charm, Kelly’s skill at combining a fast-paced narrative with a tantalisingly intriguing mystery will make it difficult to stop reading. A crime story with a difference, Kelly’s depiction of this Edinburgh hellscape is as intricate and interesting as the characters and their journeys. As a first-time reader of the series, it took a couple of chapters to feel familiar with the characters and world but otherwise this didn’t affect my understanding of the plot and characters.


The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch 

Memoir | Canongate | £14.99 | Buy Here

From the debris of her troubled early life, Lidia Yuknavitch weaves an astonishing tale of survival. A kind of memoir that is also a paean to the pursuit of beauty, self-expression, desire – for men and women – and the exhilaration of swimming, The Chronology of Water lays a life bare. It is a life that navigates, and transcends, abuse, addiction, self-destruction and the crushing loss of a stillborn child. It is the life of a misfit, one that forges a fierce and untrodden path to creativity and comes together in the shape of love.

This memoir is both stunning and devastating, carrying messages of strength, resilience, love and kindness. Yuknavitch doesn’t hold back when writing about pain, grief and abuse but does so almost poetically — there’s a beautiful, raw honesty in her words that’s refreshing to see. The book will resonate with anyone who’s experienced hardships and trauma, and Yuknavitch’s account of how these aspects of her life impacted her and how she coped makes for moving, hopeful reading. It’s crucial that this book gets into as many hands as possible — it would make for a more understanding, empathetic world. 


The Speculative Book, edited by Chris McQueer and Sam Small

Anthology | Speculative Books | £7.99 | Buy here (from April 1)

The latest collection of poetry and short stories from Speculative Books.

Quirky and gritty, this anthology from innovative publisher Speculative Books is a spectacular showcase of what Scotland’s literary scene has to offer. A pleasant mix of punchy poetry and stories, this bite-sized book is perfect for dipping in and out of. It starts with an on-brand, bizarre story from Chris McQueer followed by a poignant poem from Sam Small — this combination of humour and bittersweet sadness runs throughout the collection, meaning you’re never quite sure what to feel after spending some time with these works. Highlights include the wonderfully weird short stories from Christopher Macarthur-Boyd and Stuart Kenny, and memorable poetry from Colin Bramwell and Fionnuala Boyle.

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