20 Books of Summer

I’m going to be joining in with 20 Books of Summer again which is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. In the past I’ve been quite successful with this one and usually complete the list, for me it’s a good way of concentrating on books that I actually own over June, July and August.

More Books

1. Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley
2. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
3. Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith
4. Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay
5. Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes
6. Are They the Same at Home? by Beverley Nichols
7. The Tontine Bell by Elisabeth Kyle
8. The Market Square by Miss Read
9. Revenge by Eric Brown
10. The Monarch of the Glen by Compton Mackenzie
11. Sheiks and Adders by Michael Innes
12. End of Term by Antonia Forest
13. Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley
14. Scarweather by Anthony Rolls
15. The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797
16. Gemma Alone by Noel Streatfeild
17. Visitors From England by Elisabeth Kyle
18. The Unjust Skies by R.F. Delderfield
19. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
20. Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

Are you going to be joining in with 20 Books of Summer this year?

Christian Aid Book Sale haul

Last week the St Andrew’s and St George’s Church in Edinburgh held their Christian Aid book sale, it had been cancelled for the last few years due to the Covid pandemic, so we were quite keen to get there, something different to do for a change. Saturday was actually sunny and quite warm – for Edinburgh – and the sale was very busy, they have a lot of tables full of books outside the church, it felt quite safe but we still wore face masks. Inside the church was even busier, that’s where they have the more unusual or rare books, so they tend to be more expensive. Outside it was £3 for hardbacks and £1 or £2 for paperbacks. This was the 50th anniversary of their first book sale there, I spoke to the woman who was the convenor and had been at the first sale which had been teeny wee!

Booksale Books

Anyway, my haul was:

1. The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797.
2. The Unjust Skies by R.F. Delderfield
3. The Small Army by Michael Marshall
4. Visitors from England by Elisabeth Kyle
5. Spiderweb by Penelope Lively
6. An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown
7. Life and Work of the People of England (The Eighteenth Century) I bought it because of the cover!
8. Scottish Painting 1837 to the present
9. To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett

Jack bought one book by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. That’s about the normal book buying ratio for us.

I forgot to put An Orkney Tapestry in the photo since I’m reading it at the moment and it wasn’t in the pile.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain cover

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart won the 2020 Booker Prize and at the time I seem to remember that there were a lot of people who were very surprised, complaining that it was difficult to read the Scots/Glaswegian dialect, but really there’s very little in it.

The setting is Glasgow where Agnes Bain has walked out on her husband and taken her three children with her. She goes off with a taxi driver called Hugh Bain, he’s more exciting than her husband it would seem, but neither of them have planned things, and Hugh has walked out on his wife and four chidren. With nowhere to live they end up moving in with Agnes’s parents. Life isn’t at all as Agnes had imagined it to be and she has developed a serious alcohol problem.

Unsurprisingly Hugh has turned out to be a terrible philandering husband. When Agnes has a melt down they have to move out of her parent’s home and Hugh rents a flat in a remote pit village, but of course the pit is closed, everybody is unemployed, it’s a desert with windows, and Agnes’s drink problem gets worse and worse. As you would expect the home life of the children is a disaster, but the two older ones leave home and Shuggie is the one who is left behind to deal with Agnes who as soon as she gets her benefit money spends it all on booze and fags.

This book is very autobiographical and is a grim read at times, especially when you remember that in reality there are so many children having to cope with addicted parents, it’s heart-breaking. However, Douglas Stuart has managed to triumph over his dreadful childhood and has become a successful fashion designer and of course author.

You can read Jack’s far more detailed review here.

The School That Escaped the Nazis by Deborah Cadbury

The School That Escaped the Nazis

The School That Escaped the Nazis by Deborah Cadbury wasn’t quite what I expected it to be from the title, as although it is about a school which was moved from Germany in 1933 to England by a very far-seeing and dynamic woman called Anna Essinger (Tante Anna) there’s also an awful lot of quite harrowing history from the early 1930s in Germany. Anna’s school in Germany had been a liberal one and as she herself was Jewish she saw the dangers for her pupils as the Nazis took power, and she began to get as many children over to Britain as she could, it wasn’t easy. The school which she set up in Kent was in dilapidated buildings and by the time she had got it into shape the war had begun and the buildings were requisitioned by the government for the army so she had to start all over again in a different location.

She did manage to save a lot of children over the years, but there were so many that couldn’t be saved, and the story of the school is interspersed with what was going on in Germany over this time and what was happening to the families of some of the children. Just when I thought I knew all of the ghastly things that the Nazis got up to I discovered that I didn’t.

With what’s going on in Ukraine now, I found it quite depressing, although it’s a well written book . However, it is important that the story has been told – ‘lest we forget.’

I had thought that the book might have been more like the wonderful BBC programme The Windermere Children which is the true story of young Jewish refugees who had been liberated from concentration camps and flown to a very different kind of camp in the Lake District of northern England. If you haven’t seen it it’s well worth watching if you can.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me a digital copy for review.

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell

 The Thistle and the Grail cover

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1939 and this was a re-read for me which is something that I don’t do all that often, well I have so many unread books to get to, but as I read this Barsetshire series out of order originally I’ve always intended to re-read them all again in the correct order. I must say that it was a real treat to be back in Barsetshire, absolute comfort reading which was just what I needed.

The Brandon family consists of Mrs Lavinia Brandon, her daughter Delia and son Francis. Mrs Brandon was widowed early on in her marriage and she seems to have found her situation to be a comfortable one, she has a lovely home and no money worries, she writes popular books. Her long dead husband is used to express what she claims would be his disapproval now and again. She’s regarded as a bit of a silly fool and admits to that but in reality she’s often surprisingly astute.

Mrs Brandon’s very elderly and wealthy Aunt Sissie has been on her last legs for years but now she’s bedridden and is concerned with her will. She’s threatening to leave everything to Francis, but another relative has appeared on the scene. Cousin Hilary Grant is unknown to the Brandons but when they all meet they get on well and as neither Francis or Hilary wish to inherit ‘Nightmare Abbey’ Aunt Sissie’s will holds not a lot of interest for them. They all feel sorry for Miss Morris though, she has had the job of looking after Aunt Sissie and it obviously isn’t an easy task.

As you would expect from a Thirkell book there’s a lot of silly chat and snobbery and I find that amusing but not everybody appreciates that sort of thing. The editor and author Diana Athill seems to have really despised Thirkell’s books – and the sort of women who read them, but maybe she just didn’t have much of a sense of humour!

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece

 Horned Helmet cover

Horned Helmet by Henry Treece was first published in 1963.

This is the story of Beorn (Bjorn) a young Icelandic boy who has had a rough time as his mother has been kidnapped by Viking raiders and enslaved, and then his father jumped into the sea rather than face a fight with Glam whose barn he had burned down. The upshot of his suicide is that Beorn now belongs to Glam, but Beorn decides he would rather do anything than be Glam’s slave. He manages to escape and is taken on board a Jomsviking ship when he befriends Starkad. The Jomsvikings are a notorious band of mercenaries and at times Beorn regrets getting on board, the ship isn’t in the best of condition and it looks like they’ll all drown.

This one is written in the style of a Viking saga, so it seems a bit stilted to modern ears, or eyes at times, but I enjoyed the adventure anyway.

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

 Saplings cover

Saplings by Noel Streatfeild was first published by Collins in 1945 but it was republished by Persephone Books in 2002.

I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of Noel Streatfeild’s books for children (of all ages) but this one is aimed at adults, however, the children are to the fore. Streatfeild certainly had the knack of getting inside the skin of young people, and it’s really their experiences that feature most in the book. The Wiltshires are a well-off upper middle class family living in Regent’s Park, London and this book is about how World War 2 impacts on them all.

Lena and Alex are the parents of the four Wiltshire children and as the war progresses and bombs start to fall in London it’s decided that they should move the children to the countryside to live with their father’s parents. It’s explained almost from the beginning that Lena has always put her husband Alex first, she never wanted to be engulfed in motherhood I suppose, the children’s governess/nurse is amused by Lena’s obvious sexual needs. Alex is frankly getting worn out as the bombs fall.

“Lena liked her children prettily dressed, good-mannered and well tended, but when she was about she liked those who saw to these things to be as inconspicuous as possible.”

When disaster hits the family everything begins to fall apart, no doubt their experiences were echoed in some way throughout the country in many families.

I enjoyed this one but I found it to be quite a sad read, possibly what is going on in the world at the moment made it all the more so.

Kilvert’s Diary 1870-1879. Rev. Francis Kilvert

 A Summer of Drowning cover

I’ve been meaning to read Kilvert’s Diary by the Reverend Robert Francis Kilvert for years, so I put it on my Classics Club list to encourage me to get on with it. My copy of the book is a Penguin paperback from 1977, I hope I haven’t had it that long, but fear I might have!

The diary excerpts cover the years from 1870 to 1879, but sadly they’re just a small taster of what he wrote as his wife and later a niece destroyed a lot of his diaries.

In 1870 Kilvert was a young curate serving in a very rural community called Clyro which is in Wales close to Hay-on-Wye, so close to the English border, and his diary entries are full of the lives of his parishioners and what’s going on in the neighbourhood. He portrays them all so well, and with love, and they gave him back love in spadefuls. Most of the inhabitants are so poor and that’s something that Kilvert experiences as he travels around the parish visiting his parishioners, helping them out when he can, but not being taken in by the ones who roll around in bed and moan in agony but suddenly stop when he gives them some money!

There’s a lot of humour in his writing but also a lot of poetry in the shape of his beautiful descriptions of the surrounding countryside which he loved, and the rural traditions. It’s not all perfection though, I suppose human beings never change so there are multiple suicides, illegitimate children, murders, even child murder, fights between rival villages, ghastly relatives and broken hearts.

In fact Kilvert seems to have been very susceptible to a pretty face, especially if they were dark-haired. He writes about being in love with various women, but sadly his lack of money and prospects did not impress the father of Daisy who obviously was not at all willing for his daughter to be wife to an impecunious curate. Then suddenly it was Katherine that he was enamoured with! Poor Daisy. Very surprisingly he was completely honest about his attraction to pretty little girls, and even loved to see their little bottoms, but there’s no doubt that it was in all innocence, he longed to have a family of his own. He wasn’t bothered about bathing in the nude at the seaside, in fact he preferred that to getting manacled by his drawers as they got tangled around his ankles.

The local colour of the neighbourhood is interspersed with what was going in the world news-wise and there’s a lot about the medical problems that Kilvert is beset with, it was with real sadness that I discovered that he died at the age of 39, just one month after his marriage.

There’s an introduction by William Plomer and he does mention what happened to some of the people who appeared quite frequently in the text, which I appreciated. I really enjoyed this one on several levels, for the rural descriptions, history, social history, humour and the warm personality of Kilvert himself. I’m glad I got around to reading it at last.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – Classics Club spin

 Catch 22 cover

I must admit that I was a wee bit daunted when the Classics Club spin number meant I would be reading Catch 22 by Joseph Heller – well it’s so long, and I had been meaning to read it for absolutely yonks, since one of my sons read it at school and loved it. Surprisingly I really loved it too, but I can see that a lot of people wouldn’t get on with it, above all it’s really funny. Heller managed to out-Kafka Kafka. Catch 22 was first published in 1961.

The setting is Italy during World War 2 and at the beginning Captain John Yossarian is in hospital, supposedly with a liver problem which has the doctors baffled but really he’s just there trying to stay alive and dodge having to fly into enemy areas and engage with enemy planes. He’s really incensed that he is still having to go on flying missions, every time he gets close to his last mission according to the rules, his boss extends the mission limit. It was originally 25 but soon it might be 80 missions. He fears he’s not going to survive the war at this rate. He would be able to get home if he was insane, but the fact that he wants to survive is proof of sanity – that’s the catch.

All of the high ranking officers despise each other, there’s really an internal war going on between them which is far more important as far as they are concerned than the actual war. As ever though (or so it seems to me) the craziest one is the one to be promoted. He’s only interested in getting the men to march in their off-time. That won’t be at all appealing to the men who obviously spend their time in Rome when they can, enjoying the charms of the local women.

There’s so much in this book, but it’s a difficult one to write about. It’s anti-authority, religion,
bureaucracy and anti-war, and the main character Yossarian better known as Yo-Yo is so likeable, which always helps. In fact there’s even a cat in my extended family who has been named in honour of the character!

It seems that some people have a problem with this book, I didn’t have but I must say that the more you read, the better it gets.

Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece – the 1954 Club

 A Summer of Drowning cover

Legions of the Eagle by Henry Treece was aimed at young teenagers, but it can probably be enjoyed by people of all ages who have an interest in a Roman Britain setting. If you enjoy Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Roman books you’ll probably like this one too, I would say she’s the better writer though, and I’m not at all sure about all of the historical ‘facts’ although apparently an elephant was employed in the Roman invasion of Britain – which was news to me!

The book is written in three parts and the first part begins in AD 43 with Gwydion who is the thirteen year old son of Lord Caswallawn who rides at the right hand of King Caratacus, of the Belgae tribe. Gwydion’s best friend is Math who is a slave and is very much aware of his status in life although Gwydion doesn’t seem to understand how that makes Math feel at times. But it isn’t long before Gwydion is himself taken prisoner by the invading Romans and becomes a slave himself, sent to Rome to be the companion of a high ranking Roman’s son. Math managed to escape the Romans, so their situations are completely reversed.

The moral of the tale is I suppose that it doesn’t matter which tribe you belong to, what you look like or what your status is in life. The important things are family, loyalty and friendship.

I think this will be the last book that I read for the 1954 Club. It’s just typical that for almost the entire week I haven’t even been online as we were down in the north-east of England – visiting Roman camps!