Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean – 20 Books of Summer

Peter Pan in Scarlet cover

Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean is the official sequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan which was commissioned by Great Ormond Street Hospital. Barrie gave all the royalties for Peter Pan to the famous children’s hospital. There was a competition to see who would get the contract to write the sequel and McCaughrean won it, I feel that this might have something to do with the several one star so-called reviews of the book on Goodreads have possibly been posted by some who had hoped to win the chance to write the sequel. I cannot think of any other reason for them, and the posts just show up the reviewers as being ignorant. I doubt if they have ever read the actual original Peter Pan book and possibly have been no closer to it than the Disney animation and so have no notion of how well McCaughrean captured Barrie’s writing style.

As a bit of a J.M.Barrie fan I feel sure that he would have been absolutely thrilled with this sequel, the author has a fabulous imagination so it’s a very witty and entertaining read and beautifully written. The detractors obviously have no idea of the history behind Peter Pan, how Barrie based the Darling children on the Llewelyn Davies boys that he had befriended along with their parents. Michael was killed in the First World War and so he is missing from the cast in this book, and even that was well dealt with, but that horrified the one star ‘reviewers’.

All over parts of London ‘old boys’ who had been in Neverland are having vivid dreams about the place. They are adults now and have responsible careers and frequent a London club, one is even a judge. But Neverland is calling them and Mrs Wendy encourages them, so the old boys agree that on Saturday, 5th of June they’ll go to Neverland, it’s pencilled into their diaries, they just have to find some fairy dust so they can fly again. The Old Boys set off for Kensington Gardens with butterfly nets, intent on catching some fairies.

Of course they do get back to Neverland and Peter Pan, and so begins an adventure to rival Barrie’s. I don’t want to say too much about the story but it involves pirates, a strange ravelling wool man, thousands of fairies who have taken sides in a pointless war – are you red or are you blue?

This book is smart and witty and it was lovely to re-visit Neverland again and the old characters.

I hate to think that it might be dodged by future readers because of some ignorant reviews online. One reviewer was so incensed because of the way the First Nation people are referred to in the book. Such words as papoose, squaw and Red-Indian are used in this book. SO WHAT! When I read that nonsense I was fizzing mad. If people are so upset by the use of words that have now been deemed to be outdated then I would be more impressed if they actually did something to help the plight of the First Nation people who are in dire straits today, and in need of being treated like human beings instead of people being ‘upset’ by the use of anachronistic words in 2020 when a book is set in the 1920s-30s. Of course the use of the words is totally in keeping with the times that this book was set in. There are so many people trawling the net looking for reasons to pull someone apart and just showing themselves up as idiots.

I was lucky enough to be able to buy a signed edition of Peter Pan in Scarlet. This was the third book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

One by one, the individual flecks of colour separated and floated down, like rose petals at the end of summer. They brushed the upturned faces; settled on their shoulders. More and more fell: a light snow of flaking colour. Like snow it mesmerized them – a dizzying downward whirl of prettiness. Instead of spray from the waterfall they could feel only the soft touch of a thousand thousand fragments of loveliness. It piled up in their hair; it filled their ears and pockets; it tugged on their clothing. Tugged?

‘Fairies!’ cried Tootles delightedly. ‘Thousands of fairies!’

Sorry this was a bit of a rant. But….

This was book 3 from my 20 Books of Summer list

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s that time again – Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times – how quickly it comes around! It’s a meme hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

This week Jack and I are sharing shelves as some of the books are mine and I haven’t got around to taking photos of shelves this week, do not ask me what I have been doing as I can’t tell you, so much time at home and I’m not doing much except reading.

I’m the Gore Vidal fan. I went through a phase of reading everything of his that I could get a hold of some ten or fifteen years ago. I love his American historical novels, they may not be so well-beloved in the US, his view of the history won’t match up with many peoples’ thoughts – but I suspect that he knew what he was writing about. His Burr is a favourite of mine and I really should re-read it some time.

Translated Fiction Bookshelves 1

Another American writer I binge read I think in the early 1980s was John Updike, particularly his Rabbit books. I seem to remember that Judith mentioned a while back in a blogpost that she really couldn’t stand his books, I think because she lived through those times and attitudes, but it was all new to me.

Back in the early 1970s the Russian author and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn was in the news a lot. He had been in prison and was eventually exiled within the Soviet Union. A KGB attempt on his life failed so eventually they allowed him to move to the west – if any country was willing to have him. The USA stepped forward. However he wasn’t there long when he began to complain about life in the west. He was looking for perfection I suppose! I wanted to know what his writing was like so I read Cancer Ward which was about his experiences of having cancer and his treatment in Tashkent in the 1950s, my copy was published in 1975 and I read it that year. Looking back it seems like a strange choice of book for a 15 or 16 year old to read, but I read it and was impressed. My gran had recently died of cancer so that might have been my reason for reading it. I was just amazed that he had survived. So I went on to read The Gulag Archipelago about his experiences in Soviet labour camps. That book seems to have gone missing, maybe it’s in the garage.

Large Books Shelf

I’ve read all of the Irene Nemirovsky books, and others from the library, she was a talented Jewish writer who didn’t manage to escape from the Nazis and died in a camp, despite the fact that her own mother was partying in Paris with the high status Nazis there. She didn’t lift a finger to help her daughter.

I’m really enjoying this meme Judith.

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer

The House in Norham Gardens cover

This is my second book from my 20 Books of Summer list.

The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively was first published in 1974. The setting is Oxford, a large rambling house at number 40 Norham Gardens, where 14 year old Clare Mayfield lives with her two elderly aunts. The 19 rooms in the house are stuffed with artefacts, nothing has ever been thrown away and the attic even has trunks full of her great grandparents’ clothes. Clare’s parents are dead and she has more or less become the carer for her aunts who are becoming quite frail. In the past the aunts had taken a lead in Oxford academic society and they have high hopes for Clare’s future which seem well-founded as Clare is a good scholar. However when Clare finds a strangely painted tribal shield in the attic it somehow preys on her mind. It must have belonged to her great-grandfather who had been a famous anthropologist. A combination of the shield and the money worries of running the household on a shoestring culminate in her schoolwork going to pot.

The aunts had previously agreed to having a lodger to help pay the bills and Maureen adds quite a bit of humour to the book. But more money is required and a young student of anthropology from Uganda moves in to the house too. John Sempebwa becomes a good friend as Clare shows him around Oxford and they visit museums, one of which exhibits tribal art.

This is a really good read and considering it was written 46 years ago it was way ahead of the times as it deals with British colonialism and the plundering of often sacred objects from other countries and cultures, something that academics are now arguing about and often unwilling to give up.

This book is set in winter and if I had realised that I would probably have saved it to read in winter, near Christmas maybe. It seems that Oxford suffers freezing cold and snowy winters. Poor Clare was often battling against snow and ice while on her bike. It helped cool me down during our recent mini heatwave.

North from Rome by Helen MacInnes – 20 Books of Summer

North From Rome cover

North from Rome by the Scottish author Helen MacInnes is the first book that I’ve read from my 20 Books of Summer list. It was first published in 1958.

Bill Lammiter is a young and successful American playwright who has recently been dumped by his fiancee. She works at the American embassy in Rome and Bill is feeling bruised as Eleanor has quickly replaced him with an Italian man with a title. The story begins with Bill looking out from his balcony, admiring Rome in the dark and imagining the Roman soldiers who must have walked there in the past. His attention is taken by a young woman’s scream, she is being manhandled and is almost abducted and bundled into a car. When the man realises he has been spotted the woman manages to get away and so begins Bill’s unwanted adventure.

He had been hoping to be able to speak to Eleanor outside the embassy at some point, but when he does see her she is sitting at a table near his in a restaurant, alongside her Italian prince and his mother, then Rosana, the young woman that Bill had been able to help the previous evening joins them.

It’s all very strange, and becomes stranger. It seems that Eleanor’s new man is not what he appears to be. This is a really enjoyable thriller and I especially liked the Italian settings as the action moved from Rome to Perugia, MacInnes paints the landscape and gives a real flavour of Italy, no actual travelling required.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

Shelves of Scottish Books

It’s Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times again which is hosted by Judith at Reading in the Wilderness. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Again I’m travelling along some shelves of my books by Scottish authors.

Dorothy Dunnett‘s Spring of the Ram is the second book in her Niccolo series and I should be reading that one soonish although it doesn’t appear in my 20 Books of Summer list – silly me. Dunnett’s books are dense and maybe not the best for bedtime reading, for one thing they are quite hefty, they’re definitely not for bath time reading, that’s just something that I can never do anyway. Just think – if Archimedes hadn’t been having a nice thoughtful laze in his bath and had been reading instead then he would never have had his EUREKA moment.

I’m always in a bit of a quandary as to where I should shelve books, would Michael Innes be happier living among a shelf full of crime fiction, or is he more comfortable with fellow Scots? Anyway, it’s quite a while since I read any of his books and although I enjoy his writing I prefer the books that he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart which usually feature life in an Oxford college and were obviously inspired by his life as a lecturer. I decided to put his Gollancz books here and his paperback crime Penguins are together with the rest of the green Penguins.

I have quite a few books by Compton Mackenzie who was actually English but at some point he did some research into his family tree and discovering that he had Scots blood in his background he seized on that with relish and became more Scots than the actual Scots, buying an island, wearing a kilt and immersing himself in the culture as much as he could. I particularly love his wartime books set on fictional islands which had been transformed from their usual quiet abodes to places that were heaving with soldiers, sailors and airmen – much to the delight of the local female population. Keep the Home Guard Turning is hilarious, very much in the style of Dad’s Army, but years before that long running TV series was thought of.

Are you a fan of any of the authors on these shelves?

Painted Clay by Capel Boake

Painted Clay cover

Painted Clay by Capel Boake was first published in Australia in 1917 but my copy is the 1986 Virago reprint. The author’s real name was Doris Boake Kerr and she also wrote under the name Stephen Grey. She spent most of her life in Melbourne, Australia which is the setting of this book.

Helen Somerset is an isolated young woman, brought up in Packington a suburb of Melbourne, by a reclusive father who has home schooled her. Her father has told Helen that her mother is dead and he has nothing good to say about her. He thinks that Helen will turn out to be like her mother and he’s a cold and aloof father, it’s a miserable life for Helen. Eventually Helen strikes up a friendship with the young women who live next door, she could hear them through the wall, their music and laughter and she longed to be part of it.

When her father dies Helen is only 16 and is in a sticky situation as she has to get out of what had been her home. Luckily she is taken in by the mother next door and her daughters Bella and Irene encourage Helen to get a job in a shop selling china. The work is dire as are the wages but Helen is happy to be out in the world. Eventually she’s encouraged to take evening classes in shorthand and typing to enable her to get a better job in an office.

As Helen’s life opens out and she makes friends with people who lead a more Bohemian lifestyle, living among artists she falls for an older man which is not exactly surprising since she had lacked a real father figure, but the relationship goes further than would be expected for the times, not that Helen feels guilty about that, she can’t see anything wrong with it, although knows that society would feel differently.

This is a really good read which deals with the changing attitudes of society and the changing lives of women who are more able to lead an independent life, but the men in their lives aren’t always as adaptable to the changes. Towards the end of the book the First World War breaks out which is obviously going to advance the cause of women’s independence albeit at a horrendous cost.

Capel Boake wrote three more novels and some poetry, but I don’t think the others have been reprinted which is a shame as I’d definitely read them if they were.

The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr

The Glorious Thing cover

The Glorious Thing by Christine Orr was first published in 1919 but was re-published by Merchiston Publishing in 2013. I must admit that I had never even heard of Christine Orr until I visited the Writers Museum in Edinburgh earlier this year. The museum is mainly dedicated to R.L. Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott but there are some mentions of other Scottish authors such as Muriel Spark and Christine Orr, there is a small display case featuring some of her books. I’m quite ashamed that I had never heard of her, she apparently wrote 18 novels, was also a poet, theatre director, became head of the BBC’s Children’s Hour in 1936 and was instrumental in founding the Edinburgh Festival. Sadly it looks like this book is the only one which has been reprinted so I don’t think it will be very easy to collect the other 17 novels. Although The Glorious Thing is described as being a war novel, it’s really mainly from the Home Front within an Edinburgh family.

David Grant is back home in Castlerig not far from Edinburgh. He had spent two years in the trenches before he received a wound to his spine which led to a time in hospital that he found even more horrific than life in the trenches. But he isn’t happy, he feels weak, has trouble walking, his nerves are shattered and he feels depressed despite the fact that there’s a job waiting for him as a junior partner in his uncle’s law firm, and he has no money worries.

While visiting an art gallery with his sister Minnie, David’s attention is drawn to a young untidy woman, it’s her laugh that attracts him and later on he meets up with her and her large family of sisters. They are all living with their uncle as their parents are dead and I had to feel sorry for the man as the sisters are a fairly argumentative lot.

This is a very good read which focuses on the changing roles of women, politics, social history, atheism (very unusual for this time I think), religion and of course romance with quite a bit of humour too. There are some darling children – was there some sort of unwritten rule that Scottish female writers of the time had to conjure up cuties?

I really hope that in the future some more of Christine Orr’s books will be published. This one was published by Edinburgh Napier University and the proceeds supported Poppyscotland and Scottish Veterans Residences.

The back blurb says: ‘This book is a revealing snapshot of ordinary Edinburgh lives during an extraordinary time.’

Largo’s Untold Stories by Leonard Low

Largo

Largo’s Untold Stories by Leonard Low is an interesting read. The author doesn’t stick rigidly to writing about the little coastal village of Largo in east Fife. I was very interested to read that there had been a big battle between the Romans and the Pictish tribes at the base of the Lomond Hills in Fife not far from where I live. If you live in the area or you intend to visit the ‘East Neuk’ it would be a good idea to read a book like this first.

Mind you given that some of the history features ‘witch’ burning and torturing I must admit that walking along Largo beach won’t ever be quite the same for me as it was the scene of some horrific acts carried out by jealous and crazed villagers.

He also writes about the real Robinson Crusoe (Alexander Selkirk) who came from Largo and about starvation and cannibalism on an expedition in search of the North West Passage which had links to the area.

Lots of stone cist burials have been found locally dating from the 420s AD and some earlier. The first one found was a woman who had been buried in a sitting position. Over the years jewellery has been found when major works have been taking place, such as the building of the railway line when two gold torques were discovered. The Pictish tribes buried their valuables before going to war.

Archaeologically, historically and geologically it’s a very interesting place.

If you are interested in seeing what the area looks like have a look at some images here.

20 Books of Summer

20 books of summer

I’ve decided to join in with 20 Books of Summer this time around. It’s hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. This should be very easy for me to complete as I’ll definitely be reading at least that many books between June the 1st and September the 1st.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Pile of Books

1. North from Rome by Helen MacInnes
2. The Road Home by Rose Tremain
3. My Friend Flora by Jane Duncan
4. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
5. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin
6. The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd
7. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
8. Madame Solario by Gladys Huntingdon
9. Autumn Quail by Naguib Mahfouz
10. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean
11. An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott
12. The Berry Scene by Dornford Yates
13. The Flight of the Heron by D.K. Broster
14. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
15. The Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S. Haasse
16. The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
17. Call for the Dead by John le Carre
18. A Murder of Quality by John le Carre
19. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
20. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

I think this is a fairly good mixture of espionage, historial fiction, children’s classics, Scottish authors, books in translation – and various others. Having this list should mean that I don’t have too hard a time deciding which book to read next, with just these 20 to choose from. I hope to dip into some non-fiction too but that will just depend on my mood at the time.

Have you read any of these ones?

Classics Club Spin # 23 – Summer Half by Angela Thirkell

Angela Thirkell omnibus

I feel it’s a bit of a cheat putting Angela Thirkell’s Summer Half on my Classics Club list as it doesn’t really fit in with my idea of a classic but I’m trying to work my way through the books I have in my house and I don’t have many classics unread. Having said that – this is a re-read for me as I read Thirkell’s books just as I managed to get a hold of them, and now I’ m reading them again, in the correct order. Summer Half was first published in 1937.

Colin Keith’s father expects him to continue with his law studies and go on to be a barrister, but Colin feels bad about living off his parents, he feels it’s time to earn some money so he applies for a teaching post at the prep school at Southbridge. He’s nervous about the boys though, would he be able to cope with them? When he’s successful he’s in two minds about it as he really does enjoy his law studies.

The other teachers are a friendly set though and Colin settles down. Philip Winter is another young teacher there and he has the misfortune to be engaged to Rose Birkett, the headmaster’s daughter. Rose is beautiful to look at but she’s an intensely annoying dimwit with a tiny vocabulary. Philip is her third or maybe fourth fiance- and she’s only 18. The older boys in the school are incensed at the way Rose treats Philip and young Tony Morland and Eric Swan particularly do their best to protect him from her constant flirting with any other handy males.

As the setting is mainly the school there’s a lot of fun with the boys, particularly Hacker who is their classics scholar and is a bit of a nerdy character. He has a pet chameleon and in Hacker’s attempts to look after his pet he inadvertently causes mayhem in the school, but such fun!

“Mr Carter pointed out that the classics appeared to be no preparation for life, in that they did not, so far as he could see, even train a boy to think.”

I had to laugh when I read the line above as it’s so true. You just have to think of Boris Johnson who allegedly reads ancient Greek, but can barely string a sentence together in English.

This one was perfect light reading for Covid-19 times.