20 Books of Summer 2022- the wrap up


I completed my 20 Books of Summer list just a few days ago and managed to get them all reviewed. This summer project is hosted by Cathy at 746 Books. I ended up having to substitute just a few from my original list for various reasons.

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. Dark Quartet by Lynne Reid Banks
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. A Certain Smile by Francoise Sagan
19. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
20. Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell

I read quite a lot more books than those ones over the summer as some came in from the library and NetGalley. It’s hard to say which is my favourite from these ones, it’s quite a mixed bag. Daughter of Earth was a surprising read, especially as it was so autobiographical, what an amazing woman the author was.

Three Twins at the Crater School was definitely different, a girls boarding school book which was written by a male fan of the Chalet School books, and has a science fiction setting on Mars – but it worked.

I think the one that I liked least was The Shuttle.

As ever this was a great way of getting me to concentrate on books that I’ve had on my own shelves, waiting for their moment in the sun!

Thanks Cathy for organising it all.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett 20 Books of Summer 2022

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett was first published in 1907. Sir Nigel Anstruthers has travelled to New York from his impoverished estate in England, in the hope that he can bag a young and rich American wife, and he succeeds. Despite being arrogant and charmless, he manages to get Rosalie Vanderpoel to marry him, her father is a multi millionaire, but Rosalie is a quiet, meek young woman, the pretty one of the family, but she doesn’t have much in the way of brains, unlike her much younger sister Bettina. She can see right through Nigel and dislikes him intensely.

Roalie is whisked over to England by Nigel and she’s shocked at the poverty of Nigel’s estate, the place is falling apart. Nigel had expected to have control of Rosalie’s money when he married her, so he’s deeply disappointed when he realises that he doesn’t. Soon he’s abusing her and manipulating her and he even intercepts letters from her family in America, she’s completely isolated from them, they think that she has forgotten about them – and vice versa. Apparently this was something that the author had experienced herself in her second marriage.

This book is also about the differences between American and English society with the Americans tending to be held up as wonderfully ambitious go-getters, and the English mainly being so depressed that they can’t do anything for themselves. Time and time again the reader is hit over the head with the differences between the societies, it all got very wearing for me.

This book really should have been edited down, I found it quite tedious a lot of the time and I did think that it must have originally been published weekly in a magazine with the author being paid by the word, as Dickens was, but it seems that it wasn’t.

Apart from that I just couldn’t believe that very wealthy American parents would just wave goodbye to their beloved eldest daughter and not do anything about the lack of letters from her, for years and years. Thankfully Bettina rides to the rescue.

Are They the Same at Home by Beverley Nichols – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Are They the Same at Home cover

Are They the Same at Home by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1927 but my copy dates from 1933. It’s a collection of short articles most of which were published in The Sketch, and they’re all about people who were well-known back in the day. I suppose nowadays they would be classed as celebrities. However, a fair few of them are certainly unknown to me, mainly actors or musicians whose star didn’t burn as long as some people’s have.

It seems that most of his subjects were people he knew socially, but sometimes he was sent to interview someone he hadn’t met before. I had expected these wee sketches to be quite snarky as Nichols was fairly well known for being quite acerbic – not to say downright snobby, but he could be very witty with it. There’s not an awful lot in the way of wit in this book, but I was interested to read his thoughts on quite a lot of the people, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Margaret Kennedy, Arnold Bennett, E.F. Benson, Anthony Hope, Rose Macaulay, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Somerset Maugham and a very young Noel Coward. Yes, they’re almost all writers, but people like Diaghileff, Gerald du Maurier, Duff Cooper, Dame Nellie Melba, Suzanne Lenglen (tennis player according to Jack!) also appear in this collection. In all there are 61 articles from The Sketch. I can’t say I found it riveting reading, some I just skimmed over as I had never heard of them and they didn’t seem that interesting, I think you would have to have been there in 1927 to appreciate those ones.

I’ve really enjoyed quite a lot of books by Beverley Nichols, especially the ones he wrote about his various houses and gardens over the years.

This book was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2022. I’m glad I got around to reading it at last as it has been languishing on a shelf for a few years now.

Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Daughter of Earth by Agnes Smedley was first published in the U.S.A. in 1929, but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1984. It’s very autobiographical, which is heartbreaking really.

The main character is Marie Rogers (Agnes Smedley) and her family is mired in desperate poverty in rural Missouri where her father has been working at various jobs, but as he goes home via the bars he’s just a hindrance to his poor wife who struggles to feed and clothe the family and is undernourished herself. Marie is determined not to end up like her mother, with a feckless husband and multiple children. The choices for females seem to be marriage or prostitution, but Agnes wants an education. She manages to get to college for a time and in the future she gets some work teaching and in journalism.

Strangely for a woman who says she’ll never get married as she wants to keep her independence, she ends up getting married TWICE, each time on the spur of the moment, the first time within twenty minutes of being propsed to! The second time within a week or so. Disasters of course.

Marie got a job working for the birth control activist Margaret Sanger who valued her work and hoped she would stay on, but Marie was attracted to the Indians who were in America and trying to gain independence from Britain. She worked for them during World War 1 and it seems that they were being bank-rolled by the Kaiser who was insanely jealous of the British Empire. But the Americans put Marie in jail for two years for her efforts. After that she took up a Chinese cause and became a war correspondent.

I can’t help thinking that it’s a shame that she felt the need to travel far afield with her talents rarther than staying at home and helping with the feminist and birth control movements. It seems like someone like her is needed nowadays in the US!

This was a fascinating but grim read. This was one of my 20 Books of Summer 2022.

Three Twins at the Crater School by Chaz Brenchley – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Three Twins at tha Crater School by Chaz Brenchley is a strange combination of a girls’ boarding school book, science fiction and steam punk, but it all added up to an entertaining read for me. I have to say that the science fiction aspects are slight because although the setting is Mars, there’s absolutely no problem about actually living there, no mention of how they were able to breathe or anything like that. Although there’s no date mentioned, there are plenty of references to the Tsar and the Queen Empress and it’s the age of aetherships and steam. The Crater School is on the edge of a crater, there’s a lake nearby which is home to some dangerous Martian wildlife.

There has been a war between Britain and Russia, and Russia came off worst. Mars is a British colony, the furthest outpost of the Empire, much to the chagrin of the Russians. They would like it for themselves. Some of the Crater School girls are in part Russian, but they certainly aren’t on the side of the Tsar.

But at its heart this book is a faithful homage to the Chalet School books, with twins, visits to the san, threats of being sent to the headmistress, a goddess of a head girl, out of control middle school girls and brave girls willing to take on any danger. As a child the author had had to read not only his own choice of books, but those of his sister and brother too. As his sister was a fan of the Chalet School series he developed an appreciation of them too. The books are really all about friendship and decency.

Jack was sent a copy of this book to review, and you can read his much more detailed thoughts on it here.

Visitors from England by Elisabeth Kyle – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Visitors From England by the Scottish author Elisabeth Kyle was published in 1941, but my copy is a 1962 reprint.

Peter and his sister Margot are having to spend their holidays in Scotland, with complete strangers. Their mother is seriously ill and is in a nursing home back in England and their father is already dead. They’re not looking forward to being away from home, but Mrs MacDonald who they’ll be staying with has a son around the same age as Peter. Alec isn’t looking forward to spending his holidays with the visitors, he suspects that they’ll ruin his holidays and that they’ll not want to do the sort of things that he enjoys doing. Basically he thinks they’ll be southern softies!

Peter isn’t any better as he tells his sister that as Alec is a Scot he’s bound to be tough. Their assumptions are quickly ‘scotched’ though as the brother and sister are more than willing to follow Alec down a cliff and on to the beach. In the distance they see old Morag. Years ago she had survived a shipwreck, The Silver Horn had been her father’s ship and Morag was the only survivor, ever since she has been talking about the treasure that’s in her father’s old cabin, and hoping that she’ll be able to retrieve it somehow.

This one’s an entertaining tale of friendship with a bit of an adventure thrown in, and some interesting characters who span the class divides.

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1941, and it has quite a different feel from the previous Barchester books. It’s the second year of the war so the town of Northbridge has changed a lot, with an influx of evacuees and soldiers, but most of the story revolves around the rector’s wife, Mrs Villars. Her husband had been a headmaster prior to becoming a rector/minister/vicar. With her previous role as headmaster’s wife Mrs Villars is well used to dealing with young people and their parents. She’s very good at holding her tongue, but Mrs Spender, the wife of a major who has been transferred to the area is a nightmare of a woman with no manners or tact, and she never listens to anyone else. She embarrasses her poor husband constantly, but apparently he adores her!

This is a lovely read which mirrors what must have been going on in all of the towns and villages of Britain, such as groups of people getting together to have a rota to parachute spot from the top of the church tower. The building of a bomb shelter with a scrap metal dump right next to it, with all the junk that the binmen refused to take away at last finding a home. (As it happens all the scrap metal that people gathered for the war effort was completely useless and all ended up in scrap yards eventually.)

There are so many great characters, I particularly enjoyed the fact that the two nieces of Mrs Turner are always referred to as Betty and ‘the other niece’. There’s are many mentions of ‘the other niece’ I just find it hilarious that an author should choose not to name a character properly.

The Mixo-Lydian refugees have arrived and are making themselves unpopular, bullying people into buying their poorly executed needlework, and generally looking down on the locals who are all participating in the war effort in some way.

The whole thing feels very true to the times, mind you, from the cover of my paperback copy of this book you could be forgiven for thinking that the setting is an Edwardian shooting weekend on someone’s estate. I suspect that the publishers – Carroll and Graf of New York – got a wee bit confused and thought it was akin to Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire, instead of a few generations later!

Sheiks and Adders by Michael Innes – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Sheiks and Adders cover

Sheiks and Adders by the Scottish author Michael Innes was first published in 1982, by Gollancz. Whenever I see those yellow Gollancz covers nowadays I’m just about grinding my teeth, since I read about how badly Victor Gollancz treated his editor Diana Athill, paying her paltry wages for years. Anyway, to the book.

Sir John Appleby has retired from Scotland Yard, and he’s very happy to be out of it, but when he visits a summer charity fete which happens to be a fancy dress do, he gets involved in a murder. Appleby is dressed as Robin Hood and he’s amused to bump into his replacement at Scotland Yard, as he’s also dressed as Robin Hood! It seems that the fete is being held in the grounds of a house which belongs to a businessman who has recently moved there, and Scotland Yard has had a tip-off that there’s going to be trouble.

A wealthy Arab sheik is going to be attending, is his life going to be in danger? To add to the difficulties lots of men have decided to dress up as Arabs, it’s impossible to figure out who is the real sheik. One thing that Appleby knows for sure – for some reason the owner of the house had forbidden his daughter’s boyfriend to come dressed as an Arab!

This was quite an amusing read. Michael Innes was also an academic and he liked to make sure that his readers knew that, so there are a lot of literary allusions as usual, I know that some people find that annoying, I just find it quite funny!

Revenge by Eric Brown – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Revenge by Eric Brown was published in 2007. It’s different from the author’s usual fare, in the past I’ve read some of his SF and crime fiction set in the 1950s. Revenge has a contemporary setting though.

Dan Radford is a famous professional footballer, earning tens of thousands a week, and has everything that goes with it, a large house, fast cars and no money problems. However, he has a drink problem and his beautiful girlfriend has had enough of it, she walks out on him.

He goes on a self-pitying bender which results in his life spiralling out of control as he gets involved in all sorts of crimes.

This was a good read, although it’s very short at just 115 pages of quite large print, so I read it in one go.

Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Strange Journey by Maud Cairnes was originally published in 1935 but it has just been reprinted by British Library. I really enjoyed it.

It begins with Polly Wilkinson leaning on her garden gate. When an unusually grand car goes down the road past her gate she’s impressed, it’s a Rolls Royce, not that she knows that at the time. There’s a woman inside it and Polly wonders what it would be like to be her. So begins a body swap comedy as soon Polly is experiencing dizziness which it turns out is the sign that she will soon be arriving in the body of Lady Elizabeth who happend to be the woman who was sitting in the Rolls Royce. Polly has never been in a grand house like Lady Elizabeth’s so she’s at a loss how to cope with it all, and Lady Elizabeth’s somewhat distant husband and the servants are surprised by Polly’s behaviour, as of course she doesn’t even know where her bedroom is!

At the same time Lady Elizabeth was whisked off to Polly’s home. Polly’s home life is very different, she’s middle-class with two small boys, a fairly close relationship with her husband. There are a couple of servants, but it’s all very different from what Lady Elizabeth is used to.

Both women make gaffes which perplex their nearest and dearest, but it’s Polly who has the toughest time of it as she has to cope with meeting people like Lord Pottlesham, a top government minister. Polly is the only person who is impressed by him!

Most of the humour in this book revolves around class and social situations, but they both learn from each other. At times I thought that there were things that Polly would definitely have known about, I find it hard to believe that she wouldn’t have known all about aristocratic titles and how they are used, such as the difference between Lady (first name) and Lady (husband’s surname) but that’s me being a bit of a nit-picker.

I was also amused that Polly’s husband was so impressed by how much she did as well as looking after the children, but she had a couple of servants. What would he have thought of the women nowadays who have kids, work outside the home – and still do the vast bulk of the housework and childcare!

As ever, I find all the extra bits of info in these British Library books interesting, particularly the Afterword by Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book.

I was lucky to be sent a copy of this book by British Library for review. Thank you, it’s a shame that Maud Cairnes only published one other novel.