Book Purchases from Edinburgh

Books Again

A recent trip to Edinburgh led to my TBR list expanding by twelve books – in no time – many of them could be described as being for young people or YA as they tend to be categorised nowadays, some of them I had never even heard of but I reasoned that if a book is a Newbery Medal winner it should be a good read – for all ages.

The Giant Baby by Allan Ahlberg
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
The Kirk of the Corrie by Isabel Cameron
White Bell Heather by Isabel Cameron
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
The Dividing Sea by Ruth Elwin Harris
The Eleventh Orphan by Joan Lingard
Cuckoo in the Nest by Michelle Magorian
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Mail Royal by Nigel Tranter
Horned Helmet by Henry Treece
Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece

Have you read any of these ones?

bag and baggage by Judy Allen – 20 Books of Summer

 The First Sister cover

bag and baggage by Judy Allen was first published in 1988, by The Women’s Press. It’s not a book that I bought, it was sent to me by mistake when I ordered another book from a bookseller – and they didn’t want me to send this one back. That was quite a few years ago now, and that’s why I added it to my 20 Books of Summer list.

Hilda is a pensioner who lives in a ground floor council flat. May, another pensioner lives opposite her, in a flat which is a mirror image of Hilda’s, but May’s flat is spotlessly clean, she’s completely obsessed with housework, whereas Hilda has just about given up. Whenever she tries to clean anything she just ends up making it even worse. Her flat is in a horrible state,she just can’t cope with it all. The kitchen is full of half used tins of cat food – I could almost smell it.

It’s not just her hygiene standards that have fallen though, Hilda has accumulated a pile of official looking brown envelopes, many of which she hasn’t even bothered to open. Her neighbour May does try to help Hilda but she just ends up becoming another problem as far as Hilda is concerned. She takes to staying in the park all day, then when her flat is stripped and padlocked by bailiffs the park becomes her home. She’s sleeping there with bags full of things that May had managed to rescue from her old flat, before the bailiffs struck. So, Hilda has become a bag lady, not that she recognises that fact. At times Hilda lives in a universe of her own making, where she is famous and being interviewed on TV, but in reality she’s taken to a geriatric ward which she seems quite happy about.

This is a well written book, but it’s not exactly an uplifting read, I’m sure it isn’t meant to be and I suppose the subject is an important one, people can suffer from mental illness for no particular reason, it isn’t always caused by a big trauma, and it can often lead to homelessness. There is some humour.

Judy Allen is better known as a children’s author, this is her second novel and her first December Flower was dramatised by Granada TV.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 White Boots  cover

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1951. The Johnson family live in London, Harriet has been ill, her brothers think she looks like a big daddy-long-legs as she’s all hair and eyes and although she isn’t so ill now she still isn’t well enough to go to school, her legs feel like cotton wool. Her father George Johnson has a shop which is stocked by the produce that his elder brother sends to him for sale. George’s brother inherited the family estate, but he keeps all the best produce for himself, and sends George vegetables that are really poor quality and nobody wants to buy, and animals that have been shot or trapped and are long past being used for food. They’re really poverty stricken and can’t afford the good food that Harriet needs to get her strength back.

The doctor thinks that maybe taking up ice-skating will help to strengthen Harriet’s legs and at the ice rink she comes into contact with Lalla who also doesn’t go to school. She is taught at home by Miss Goldthorpe, a successful teacher who wants a change from teaching in schools, but most of Lalla’s time is spent at the ice rink. Her parents are dead and she’s being brought up by an aunt who is obsessed with turning Lalla into a champion ice skater – just like her father was. Lalla’s famous father died when she was a baby.

Harriet and Lalla strike up a friendship but it’s in jeapordy when Lalla’s tendency to be a ‘proper little madam’ almost ruins things.

This was a good read, with lots of common-sense and morality in the storyline. Lalla, having been brought up by her ambitious, snooty and self-important aunt needs some lessons in real life, which her old nanny does her best to instil in her.

The Johnson family, including Harriet’s three brothers and her mother also add a lot to the story. I wish I had read these books first when I was a youngster myself.

The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 The Fascinating Hat cover

The Fascinating Hat by the Scottish author Isabel Cameron was first published in 1941. The book begins with Jinty Campbell trimming a hat that she’s going to wear in a dramatic entertainment in the village hall the following week. She’s interrupted by the local minister who has a habit of just walking into people’s houses unannounced. With him is his nephew who is a doctor, he has come to stand in for the local doctor who is going on holiday. There’s quite a lot of snappy banter as the two young people seem to hit it off quickly, having a similar sense of humour.

The screeching of tyres in the street and a crash alert them to a taxi which has ended up on its side while swerving to avoid a child on the road. The young passenger has been knocked out, tended by Jinty who had been a VAD, and the new young doctor. But their patient has lost his memory and has no idea who he is.

Jinty is an apprentice at a firm of architects, planning to become an architect herself eventually. As far as she’s concerned it’s about time that houses were designed by women for women as men have no idea of how to design homes with women in mind, making a lot of unnecessary work for them. Cupboards too high up, the sink in a corner facing a wall, sometimes no sink at all, the dishes to be washed in a basin on the kitchen table, no cupboards for storage and unneccesary steps. Secretly her bosses have to admit that she has a point.

The architects had got a commission to build a wonderful large house locally, with no expense spared. Their client was abroad and wanted to come home apparently. As you can imagine Jinty is in her element.

This was an enjoyable read and I imagine that in 1941 it must have been very unusual to have a young woman with the ambition of becoming an architect, so that was quite a surprise to me. However the storyline took a weird turn when the patient’s memory was restored by an operation. I found the thought of that quite shuddersome as so many people in reality were damaged forever when doctor’s performed brain operations when probably what they needed was a good psychologist – or even a nice wee rest!

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 The Grove of Eagles cover

The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham was first published in 1963 and the setting is mainly Cornwall although at times the action moves to Spain and London.

The story is told by Maugan Killigrew who has grown up at Arwenack House in Cornwall. Maugan is his father’s eldest son but he is a base son – illegitimate – but as his mother is dead he has been brought up in his father’s household. It’s a busy one as his gentle step-mother seems to be forever pregnant. Maugan’s father is a philanderer and up to his ears in debt despite having an important situation as commander of a castle at the mouth of the River Fal.

Maugan’s ambition is to go to sea and make something of himself, as it’s the 1590s and Sir Walter Raleigh visits his father from time to time Maugan hopes that Raleigh will take him on in some capacity and he can make his fortune at sea. With the second Spanish Armada attacking the Cornish coast in 1597 things don’t quite go to plan for Maugan.

This was a good read, marred only slightly for me by what seemed like quite long sections of sea battles. As ever I’m more interested in the domestic side of history, and of course there’s a romance involved.

Some of the characters were based on actual people who lived in Cornwall at that time, and as you would expect from Winston Graham it’s all very authentic and atmospheric. It’s a fairly long read at 576 pages.

This book was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1946. The setting is wartime England, beginning at the end of 1944. Selina is living with her aunt and uncle who have six children of their own. The Andrews family have taken her in as her parents are prisoners of war in Japan.

When a parcel arrives from America for Selina it turns out to be a beautiful long cream organdie dress with a blue sash and satin shoes. It’s totally impractical for use in a small English village. Selina just has nowhere to wear it to, and she fears that she’ll have grown out of it before she gets the chance to wear it.

Selina and her cousins decide to organise a pageant where they can all do a ‘turn’ and Selina can wear her dress while doing the prologue and epilogue. It was supposed to be a very short pageant just featuring the children but the whole thing snowballs with the arrival of Squadron Leader Philip Day who has arrived to stay with family, he’s recuperating with a damaged arm. Before the war Philip had produced stage-plays and is well known in theatrical circles. In no time just about everyone in the village and some nearby villages is involved with the production which has singing and dancing and all sorts going on, including the ballet dancers from a well known school of dancing.

At times the children resent how their idea has been hi-jacked by adults and I must say I quite agreed with them. One slight drawback about Streatfeild being able to write such believable child characters is that inevitably I’ll be really annoyed by one like Phoebe who seemed always to be on the verge of tears if not actually crying, but this was an entertaining read. I enjoyed the way the wartime problems featured in the story with clothes being a particular headache for the women who after five years of clothing coupons and rationing were having a hard time clothing their children, never mind making outfits for a pageant.

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple – Classics Club list

 High Wages cover

I’ve had High Wages by Dorothy Whipple on my Classics Club second list for ages, despite the fact that I know so many people have loved it. The thickness of my edition was putting me off I think, unusually for me it’s a first edition which I just about fell over in an antiques shop which only had a couple of books in it, it cost me all of £2, I felt so lucky as I had been meaning to get the book for ages and just hadn’t got around to ordering it.

Anyway, I loved this one which begins with Jane Carter visiting the small town of Tidsley on her half-day off. She works in a draper’s shop in a nearby town but she’s drawn to a notice which has just been put in the window of another draper’s shop. They’re looking for a new assistant and Jane plucks up the courage to go in and enquire about the job. She’s successful, and so begins her new life. There’s no doubting that Jane is ambitious and has a good business mind, and she improves the business for the owner Mr Chadwick, but he is not at all grateful and exploits her financially. That just encourages Jane to long even more to have a shop of her own.

Whipple captures the small town atmosphere so well, with the gossip and snobbery, clandestine relationships and unrequited love. The characters are all so recognisable, and although Jane is a very likeable person, she’s not perfect – and she knows it.

The tale begins in 1913 so it isn’t long before WW1 changes things in the town although it doesn’t play a huge part in the book. I was amused to see quite a lot of mentions of aspidistra plants in this book, especially after reading George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying recently.

I’ve only read one other book by Dorothy Whipple – Someone at a Distance – which I did enjoy (twice inadvertently as I had forgotten I had read it some years before!!) I’m sure that High Wages will stay with me much longer. I read this one for the Classics Club. Sadly my 1930 copy of the book doesn’t have the dust cover.

20 Books of Summer 2021

It’s Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer time again. Last year I managed to finish all twenty on my list so I hope I’ll be able to do as well this year. Mind you last year due to the pandemic there was no distracting holiday time, we’ll be staying fairly local this year, but all going well we’ll be out and about more, visiting people and actually having friends around, I’ll just have to see how it goes reading time wise. These books have almost all been languishing on my shelves unread for a good wee while, but a few are quite new to me and a few were written with children in mind, a few are real chunksters. There are only a couple of crime/espionage books, this is because I read those ones almost as soon as they get into the house – I need to get more! Have you read any of these ones?

1. Mamma by Diana Tutton
2. The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett
3. The New House Captain by Dorita Fairlie Bruce
4. Julia by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
5. Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge
6. Tortoise by Candlelight by Nina Bawden
7. The Fascinating Hat by Isabel Cameron
8. The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer
9. Lightly Poached by Lillian Beckwith
10. Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes
11. The Feast by Margaret Kennedy
12. The Women of Troy by Pat Barker
13. Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
14. The Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff
15. White Boots by Noel Streatfeild
16. Neither Five Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
17. bag and baggage by Judy Allen
18. After a Dead Dog by Colin Murray
19. Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron
20. The Grove of Eagles by Winston Graham

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski was first published in 1953 but my copy is a Persephone which was published in 1999, it has a preface by P.D.James. It’s a bit of a creepy tale in parts but I enjoyed it.

Melanie is a a pampered young mother, adored by her husband Guy, she has led an easy life but she now has a health problem and fears that she might die. She has tuberculosis and her baby son is being kept away from her while she recovers, but Melanie can’t help fearing that she may not recover, but it’s 1950s London and her doctor expects her to make a full recovery.

Before she had her son she had been mooching around an antique shop looking for the perfect crib for her baby, but it was an old Victorian chaise-longue that called to her to buy it, despite it being rather large and ugly, she was drawn to the Berlin woolwork rose design upholstery although it is a bit stained.

When Melanie’s doctor allows her to leave her bedroom for a change of scene she moves to the drawing room, the chaise-longue is seen as the ideal place for her to rest, and so begins her nightmare. When she wakes up after having a nap Melanie thinks she may still be asleep. Her clothes are different and there’s a strange woman in the room, Adelaide is a cruel and nasty woman who calls her Milly. She’s still on the chaise-longue but it’s in a different room – a real Victorian room – and she still has tuberculosis, a death sentence in Victorian times, and Adelaide seems intent on hounding her to death.

This is a very quick read at just 99 pages, it’s not a comfortable read but it gives you plenty to think about. I have my suspicions about how that stain got there!

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston which has a foreword by Bernard Cornwell is a really good read if you’re interested in the history of Britain. About half of the book is about the run up to the Battle of Brunanburh which according to history was a horrendous 10th century battle which left thousands dead in a battle which lasted a very long time, possibly all day. Most well known battles were over and done with in a very short time. With an alliance of Irish, Scots and Vikings intent on fighting the English, and putting an end to English power, it’s easy to see what the outcome was as the English still hold that power. It was King Athelstan, King Alfred’s grandson who won the battle, but it was a close run thing.

Strangely the actual site of the battle had been lost and apparently there has been lots of speculation over the years, there’s been very little written about the battle, just some poems and accounts by unreliable sources written long after the battle took place. Michael Livingston’s research seems very reasonable to me and the upshot is that the most likely location of Brunanburh is the Wirral. If you drive on the motorway towards Birkenhead then look to your left between Exits Four and Three – that’s the lost battlefield of Brunanburh. However, the author has obviously incensed people who are equally sure that the battle was fought in several other locations.

This was a really good read, not at all dry as some history books can be, it was published by Osprey and I was sent a digital copy of the book via NetGalley. For some reason all of the numbers in the text only appeared as hieroglyphics, which is a bit of a drawback for a history book and I presume that this will eventually be rectified.