20 Books of Summer 2021

I did manage to complete the 20 books in my 20 Books of Summer list but haven’t managed to review them all, I had a big backlog to get through at one point as the weather was so wet during parts of July that almost all I was doing was reading! I also read several more books that weren’t on the list. August has been a great month weather-wise with parts of Scotland being the hottest places in the UK, very unusual, but very welcome, we can’t complain much about this summer – for once.

Looking back at my list, it seems like far more than two or three months since I read some of them. The book that I liked least was definitely Julia by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, it didn’t put me off the name Julia though!

There were several books that I really loved, it turned out to be a good list. It has been all very bookish on Pining recently though and as we haven’t been going out and about much at all but we visited Edzell Castle a couple of days ago so I’ll be blogging about that soon.

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 Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 The Spring of the Ram cover

The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett was first published in 1987 and it’s the second book in her Niccolo series. The setting is Europe and the Levant in 1461. Honestly I had my doubts that this series would come up to the high standards of her Lymond Chronicles but I was completely wrong about that.

Helped by financial support from Cosimmo Medici Nicholas/Niccolo has kitted out a ship and is preparing to sail from Florence to Trebizond.

Unknown to Niccolo his very spoiled 12 year old step-daughter Catherine has run off with Pagano Doria, his business rival. Doria has promised to buy her a dog and earrings, whereas Niccolo and her mother had refused to allow her to have a dog! Her mother doesn’t even know that she’s missing as she’s thought to be staying with friends. It isn’t enough for Doria to have Catherine and ruin her, he’s also determined to ruin Niccolo.

It’s all part of a family feud with Lymond despising Niccolo, his own son, and doing his best to obliterate him.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Goodnight Mister Tom cover

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian was first published in 1980 and a new 40th anniversary edition has been published. I hadn’t read it before although I had seen the film. It’s a great read.

Willie Beech is a 9 year old who has been evacuated from Deptford in London to the rural community of Little Weirwold. He has been allocated to Tom Oakley, an elderly widower who has been a bit of a recluse since the death of his wife and child 40 years previously. It doesn’t take Tom long realise that Willie has suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his mother. All his life Willie has been told that he is wicked and has never heard a kind word from his mother. Tom Oakley copes with the bed-wetting and tends to the multiple bruises and scabs on Tom’s emaciated body.

Slowly Will or William as he is called now gains confidence and even learns to read and write helped by Tom. But it isn’t only Will who blossoms, Tom becomes more involved with the other villagers who are surprised at the change in him. He had cut himself off from people after the death of his young wife and was a bit of a curmudgeon until he had another human being to nurture and protect.

Of course Will’s mother writes to say he must go back home to London as she needs him. Tom and Will are both devastated, but after horror comes happiness, all’s well that ends well! I was sent a digital copy of this book by Penguin/Puffin via NetGalley. My thanks to both.

This is a great read. This 40th anniversary edition also contains the short story which the author wrote which inspired her to write the book. I also enjoyed the 1998 film which featured John Thaw as Mr Tom, it looks like you can watch the whole film on YouTube.

Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Appleby's Answer cover

Appleby’s Answer by the Scottish author Michael Innes was published by Gollancz in 1973 so I suppose that means it’s vintage crime now although that seems a bit strange to me, however in some ways the book seems even older than that. It begins with Miss Pringle sharing a railway compartment with a strange man. Miss Pringle is a crime writer with a penchant for ecclesiastical settings and she’s travelling to London to attend a dinner with a group of fellow crime writers.

Captain Bulkington is the other traveller and strangely he’s reading a copy of one of her books, when he recognises her from the photo on the dust jacket the two get into conversation. Bulkington has a private school, a crammer which coaches young men to pass the entrance exam for top drawer universities. It’s a business that he has taken up since retiring from the army, but he has a proposition for Miss Pringle. He wants to collaborate with her in writing a book and invites her to stay at his establishment, but Miss Pringle has her suspicions about him and just agrees to correspond with him instead.

However she decides to travel to Bulkington’s village to do a bit of detective work and discovers that there are only two students enrolled in the crammer, and neither of them seem to be university material. It seems that Bulkington has some sort of hold over them.

Appleby and his wife have travelled to the same Wiltshire village to visit friends and so become embroiled in the affair.

This isn’t a murder mystery but is an entertaining read with quite a lot of humour thrown in. My copy of the book is an old Gollancz one and I couldn’t help thinking of Diana Athill who would have been working as an editor there when this one was published, I don’t think she mentions Michael Innes in any of her books though. This was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Cross Gaits cover

Cross Gaits by Isabel Cameron was first published in 1945. The setting is Scotland and in the beginning it’s 1904 and Margory Mackay is preparing to marry Hugh Mcgregor a church minister, but there’s turmoil within their branch of Christianity with a split likely among congregations and the so-called church leaders, the usual ‘Free Church of Scotland’ thing. They decide to go ahead with the wedding anyway.

This book isn’t as interesting or amusing as the previous book that I’ve read by this author – The Fascinating Hat. I can vouch for the authenticity of the background of the tale though as it was a hard life being a minister’s wife back in those days, unless you were lucky enough to have money of your own, or the husband had. Those huge manses that they were given as part of the very small stipend were impossible to heat and life was a struggle, especially for the wives. I had that first hand from Jack’s granny who became a rector’s wife during World War 1.

This was just too ‘churchy’ to be a comfy read for me. I’ve bought a few more of Isabel Cameron’s books, just because of the Scottish setting, I feel that they’re a glimpse into the social history of the times, so I hope those ones are more enjoyable than this one.

I read this one for 20 Books of Summer 2021. My copy didn’t have the dust cover.

Thursbitch by Alan Garner – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Thursbitch cover

Thursbitch by Alan Garner was first published in 2003, I just noticed after I had bought it that my book is a signed copy. I’ve read quite a few of Alan Garner’s books over the years, they’re always a bit strange and this one is stranger than usual. To begin with it was just too weird for my taste but I did end up liking it, and it’s a difficult one to describe.

The setting is 18th century northern England – and contemporary. John Turner is a packman, carrying goods all over the country, anything that needs to be taken elsewhere, and sometimes he’s away from his home in very rural Cheshire for quite a long time with his horses and cart. It’s a time when most people hardly strayed from the neighbourhood that they were born in, so John/Jack is quite cosmopolitan compared with the locals.

I was more interested in the 21st century relationship between Ian and Sal though as they traversed the same hills that Jack had travelled through, albeit 200 years or so later.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Julia by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles – 20 Books of Summer 2021

 Julia cover

I read Julia by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles for 20 Books of Summer 2021. It’s a book I’ve had for years and just never got around to reading it. I hadn’t ever read anything else by the author and I’m sorry to have to say that I won’t be reading any more as I really did not enjoy it. I hate slating a book and rarely do it, especially if the author is still alive.

At the beginning Julia is a 15 year old schoolgirl, a bit of an odd bod with no friends – not that she actually wanted any – seemingly even disliked by her very strict parents and not particularly close to her sister. When she takes on a job as a baby-sitter to a local family it’s just for the money, but soon she’s a part of the family, counts Joyce the mother as a friend and is adored by the two young boys. But from the very beginning she is interested in Peter, the husband and father. Peter is a violinist with an orchestra and a serial adulterer, so it isn’t long before he’s grooming Julia to be his next squeeze. She is besotted with him.

So begins a 20 odd year long on off relationship which does involves divorce then Julia and Peter getting married, losing a child, Peter resuming his usual bad behaviour in the worst way, more divorce, another marriage for Julia, the crazy and highly unlikely death of that husband who was a high ranking army officer, which was also totally unlikely as NCOs never get promoted to colonel, they only get as far as major according to an army friend of mine. Than Julia is supposed to be short of money – the author obviously didn’t know how much Julia would have got as the widow of a colonel!

For me the whole tale was just full of holes, badly written and included far too much sex – keep it off the pages please – I’m sure that others must like that though. The ending was so unlikely, I suspect that the author was going for an unusual and shocking twist, but it just wasn’t feasible if you read the book carefully as I did, while rolling my eyes. The author had Julia behaving in a way that I just couldn’t imagine any human being behaving, given the circumstances. It’s always difficult for me when there are no likeable characters in a book and in this one there were just a couple of very minor characters whose company I could have enjoyed.

I believe that lots of people are really keen on this author, particularly a long series that she wrote but I was so disappointed with this one and annoyed with myself for ploughing my way through it in the hope that it would improve – it didn’t – it got worse.

Perhaps it was my fault for buying a book solely because of the title, it hasn’t put me off the name Julia though. I had a sneeky peek on Goodreads and nobody has written a review of this book but lots of people have rated it with just one 5 star rating I think, but mainly threes or less. I will give it two, and that’s me being generous.

The Feast by Margaret Kennedy

The Feast cover

The Reverend Bott of Cornwall is having a tough time writing a funeral sermon, so he’s unable to entertain his friend who is visiting for his annual holiday. It’s an unusual situation as it’s a multiple funeral for people who had been in a nearby hotel when the cliffs above it had collapsed on the building. With tons of stone obliterating the hotel there was no way anyone could have survived, or been extricated for a normal burial. Then the tale slips back to the run up to the disaster, featuring a large cast of characters in the shape of the hotel guests, including children.

The hotel had been the Siddal family home but with Mr Siddal’s career as a barrister having come to a halt for some reason, they just can’t afford to live in the house, so Mrs Siddon decides to turn it into an hotel. Her rather feckless husband and adult children help to run the place, along with a few locals, particularly the much put upon Nancibel (she hates her name). Mrs Siddal is a strange mother – favouring her son Duff over everyone else, seemingly because he is handsome. She has nothing but disdain for her son Gerry who is a doctor and is actually supporting his younger brothers via education fees.

This is a great read with characters that you love to hate, including Hebe, a truly ghastly child, but it did take me a while to get really into it. Given that the reader knows what happens within the first few pages I inevitably spent my time hoping that the horrible people would get their comeuppance and the ‘good guys’ would survive. It was a very satisfying read considering that I hadn’t been all that happy knowing about the fate of the hotel so early on in the book, it turned out to be a good strategy by the author, it added a lot of suspense – for me anyway.

Thank you to Faber and Faber who sent me a digital copy of The Feast via NetGalley.

This was my fourth 20 Books of Summer read.

bag and baggage by Judy Allen – 20 Books of Summer

 bag and baggage 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.