20 Books of Summer 2023

I did fairly well with my 20 Books of Summer this year. I managed to read and review 29 books but I read a few more than that. I say fairly well because only 12 of those books were on my original list which turned out to be a work of fiction in itself. I was distracted by books that my brother gave me to read and books which were sent to me – and books that had been requested from the library, as well as the books that shouted at me while I was in the library picking those books up!

One thing that I am happy about is that I managed to read six non-fiction books, apart from that I read more historical fiction than I usually do I think. I got into a comfortable rut. The books that I read are:

The Small Army by Michael Marshall

Elizabeth I and her world by Susan Watkins

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively

Dimsie Among the Prefects by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

A Year Unfolding by Angela Harding

Hannah Hauxwell by H Hauxwell and Barry Cockcroft

The Princess of the Chalet School by E.M. Brent-Dyer

October, October by Katya Balen

Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford

Jeeves, Joy in the Morning by P.G Wodehouse

In Pursuit of Clarinda by Mabel Esther Allan

One Year’s Time by Angela Milne

The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

Miss Boston, Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik

The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter

The Return of the Railway Children by Lou Kuenzler

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

The Thistle and the Rose by Jean Plaidy

Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease

Eva Trout by Elizabeth Bowen

A Use of Riches by J.I.M. Stewart

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Family Money by Nina Bawden

The Witch’s Brat by Rosemary Sutcliff

Friend and Foe by Shirley McKay

In Place of Fear by Catriona McPherson

The Feud in the Fifth Remove by E.M. Brent-Dyer

Rival Queens by Kate Williams

Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry



The books that I haven’t managed to review yet are:

Sing Me Who You Are by Elizabeth Berridge

Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle

Thank you Cathy @ 746 Books for hosting 20 Books of Summer again.

745 books


The Small Army by Michael Marshall – 20 Books of Summer 2023

The Small Army by Michael  Marshall was published in 1957 and it’s the true account of the evacuation of children from Guernsey in the Channel Islands during World War 2. Guernsey is just twenty miles from France and the Germans invaded early in the war.

The war-time home of the author’s Guernsey school Elizabeth College was at Whitehall House in Derbyshire. The boys had to get permission from their headmaster to visit the nearest town which was four miles away, and they had to walk. They made their own entertainment which mainly consisted of training to fight when they were older, intending to get back to Guernsey and fight the Germans and free the island. One of the boys was keen on science and he was able to make weapons, I don’t know how he managed to get a hold of the chemicals he needed, but he must have done so as there were plenty of explosions which the local farmers put up with. It was known locally that there were gangs of boys playing war games, but in such a rural area it was ignored for a long time.

By the end of the war some of the boys were as old as 17 and 18 and when they were able to get back to Guernsey their plans of hunting down collaborators more or less evaporated and they set about gathering as much of the weapons and ammunition which the Germans had left behind. The island was rammed full of stuff and the older boys set up a company to sell the equipment to companies who had arrived from the British mainland to buy up as much as they could. Nobody in authority stopped them from doing so! The boys made a lot of money with no questions asked about their right to ownership of the abandoned equipment including searchlights, compression pumps, radio sets, optical instruments, tool chests, field telephone sets and miles of cable. It was a very lucrative business operated by the two eldest boys who were by then young men.

The book has photographs of the rocket projector that they built as well as the lists of the members of the organisations, suitably decorated in a schoolboyish manner.

This was an interesting and at times amusing read about schoolboys who wanted to take on the German invaders on their own home ground instead of being sent to the relative safety of the British mainland. They certainly had that “we’ll fight them on the beaches”  mentality.

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2023

I picked this book up from a library which I shouldn’t even have been mooching around, but I couldn’t help myself. I can’t pass an open library. Obviously it didn’t appear in my original list of  20 Books of Summer.

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively is a short story collection which was published in 2021, the stories date from the 1970s to 2019. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I do really like Penelope Lively’s writing, and although I have a lot of Lively’s books (some unread as yet)  I didn’t have this one at home. As you would expect though in a collection some stories work better than others,  or just appeal more.

For me it seemed like she saved the best one until last. Songs of Praise is about a memorial service for an artist who also happened to be a wife and mother of three adult children. With the children all giving their own thoughts on their mother and mentally reviewing their past, then the husband following them with his thoughts  and in a sort of novelist’s take on a split screen on TV we get a totally different slant on the life led by the whole family as his thoughts take an alternative turn from what he is actually saying.

However I enjoyed all of the stories although a few of them left me slightly bemused as for me the endings were a bit abrupt which left me wondering why. Maybe I missed something!

There’s an interesting introduction by the author, and the description on the fly cover says:

In intimate tales of growing up and growing old, chance encounters and life-long relationships, Lively explores with keen insight the ways that individuals can become entangled in history, and how small acts ripple through the generations.


Bridal Path by Nigel Tranter – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Bridal Path by Nigel Tranter was first published in 1952 but my copy is a 1996 reprint. The cover illustration is from a painting by the Scottish artist Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell called The Dunara Castle at Iona. Nigel Tranter wrote a huge amount of historical fiction, but this one was a contemporary novel, and it was such a good laugh, just what I needed.

It’s set in the 1940s, on a remote Hebridean island called Eorsa.  Ewan MacEwan had been a prisoner of war, which was bad enough but now he is a widower and is having a tough time looking after his young son and daughter and running his farm too. Kirsty and Ewanie are more than a handful for him and if they’re not getting lost among a whole load of sheep they’re falling into the sheep dip. According to his uncle it’s time he looked for a new wife, but there has been so much inter-marriage on the small island that there’s nobody left that Ewan isn’t already related to, and he draws the line at marrying a cousin. So it is decided that he will go to the mainland to look for a wife. All the men are giving him advice on what to look for in a wife, all things that might help in the running of a farm such as having strong legs, a deep chest (?) not from the terrible island of Erinsmore, not a Campbell and not a Catholic!

Ewan has been given directions to an inn at Oban on the mainland and has been asked to deliver a salmon to the woman there, this sets off a police chase as they’re sure he’s a poacher from Glasgow and Ewan ends up running all over the hills ranging for miles and miles. He finds shelter in various remote cottages and meets up with some women such as he has never met before. As you can imagine with women living in remote locations some of them are determined to make the most of this manna from heaven in the shape of a man (with money) looking for a wife. Ewan is fairly terrified at times!

There’s such a lot of humour in this book, it was quite a tonic really. There’s a lot of dialogue in a Highland dialect which is really just with the English words being said in a different order and I think it’s easy to get used to the rythym of it.

Dimsie Among the Prefects by Dorita Fairlie Bruce – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Dimsie Among the Prefects by the Scottish author Dorita Fairlie Bruce is the fourth book in her Dimsie series and it was published in 1924.

It begins with Hilary Garth in disgrace,  something she’s not a stranger to, in fact her grandparents are at their wits’ end with her and they’ve decided that it’s time to give up on her being educated at home by a governess, she needs the more strict regime of a boarding school. Part of the problem is that Hilary’s parents had died in India when she was very young and her grandparents had always spoiled and indulged her for that reason. Their own daughter Rosamund isn’t best pleased however as Hilary will be at the same school she is, and she’s not keen to have her out of control niece at what she regards as her school.

Hilary is of course thrilled to be going to school and she seems to spend all her time thinking up ways of causing mayhem, ‘inventing’ adventures. She quickly becomes the dominant character in her dorm as the other girls are so easily led.

Dimsie can see some parallels with her own behaviour as a junior, but she’s a prefect now and thinks that she will be able to deal with Hilary and sort her out. At the same time Dimsie is having to help Rosamund with her problems within the school, but it’s an oversight by the local council which leads to the most serious incident, as you would expect, all’s well that ends well.

I was very lucky to be sent lovely old copies of most of this series by a very kind lady in London who was looking for a good home for her Dimsie books. Thanks again, Clodagh.


Hannah The Complete Story by Hannah Hauxwell and Barry Cockcroft – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Hannah Hauxwell  was a bit of an unexpected celebrity in 1973 when her lifestyle was filmed by the BBC’s Yorkshire television. I think it was part of a series called A Hard Life about  people who weren’t living a sort of ‘normal’ life. This book tells how it all came about.  To begin with Hannah was only 46 but she seemed much older as her life was like something from another century. She was the last person standing in a family which had lived in the Baldersdale area of County Durham for several generations. Nothing had changed in all that time, apart from Hannah being left to do all the farm work on her own. There was no running water in the farmhouse and no electricity. There was a small stream about forty yards from the house and often the ice had to be broken on it with a pick axe. There was no road to the farm and Hannah was so desperately poor that she couldn’t even afford the luxury of a dog for company as she could hardly afford to feed herself. She was dressed in rags. Baldersdale is in north east England, County Durham and it was settled by Vikings which is how the area got its name, Balder was Odin’s son in Norse myths.

Despite all that she radiated contentment, she wouldn’t contemplate leaving her harsh life. Hannah understood what was important in her life and it was the land, her ‘beasts’ which were mainly cows, and her love of music and books. Although she was shy she was very talkative whenever she did get into company, making up for all that time when she had nobody to speak to. Her cheerful and stoical personality shone out on TV apparently – and the viewers adored her.

This was a good read, I had heard of Hannah before reading the book, but I hadn’t realised that her farm was near where we have been visiting friends in the north of England. I didn’t see the TV documentaries, I don’t think I would have been that interested in watching them when I was 13 or 14, after all she wasn’t T.Rex or Bowie, but I did see her being interviewed on Wogan, she seems to have taken the country by storm, and her personality captivated viewers all over the world, and they sent her gifts and cards which filled up her home. Life was a bit more comfortable with the money that she got for making the documentary. At least she wasn’t in danger of starving to death! She was even invited to royal garden parties and was voted Woman of the Year.

Hannah reminisces about all the neighbours who used to live in the dale, back in the days when it was quite well populated. It was a hand to mouth existence for most of them, but if anybody had a bit of spare food they shared it around with the neighbours. The narrative switches to Barry Cockroft from time to time as he explains the background of how he came to make the documentaries and people’s reactions to Hannah.

She eventually realised that  she couldn’t continue that way of life forever.  She couldn’t stand another freezing cold winter and she did sell her farm and moved to a cottage in a nearby village. This is an entertaining and informative read, full of  social history, there are a lot of photos of the neighbours over the years, and it’s funny in parts. Hannah was a character.

Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford was first published in 1950.

Harry Forsythe and Paddy Regan had been in the army together in WW2 and they have been having a bit of a hard time settling into civilian life at the end of it all, they decided to set up a detective agency. They were just beginning to think that it was a mistake as they had no clients at all, when one turned up in the shape of Angela Dove, a young woman who was worried about her brother Robert. He had gone to France and Angela hadn’t been able to contact him at all. She’s worried as their step-father is a wealthy businessman, and she suspects that someone might have kidnapped Robert.

Harry gets the job of going to Paris to try to track Robert down, but his subsequent phone call to Paddy ends abruptly and Paddy fears the worst.  Of course Paddy has to follow his partner to Paris to see what has happened.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but it features Scotland Yard and a chase to Zurich. I really enjoyed this thriller, I think it’s the first book that I’ve read by Douglas Rutherford whose bio on the back of this Penguin crime reads like one of those spoof bios you sometimes see. He was a Counter-Intelligence Officer in WW2 and that background in espionage and international crime obviously gave him the ideas for his writing career.

I must say though that whenever I read about a private detective and a young female client I inevitably think of Bogart and Bacall, but this book doesn’t seem to have been made into a film.

October, October by Katya Balen – 20 Books of Summer 2023

October, October by Katya Balen was published in 2020 and it won the Carnegie Medal  in 2022.

October is 11 years old and she’s named after the month she was born in as after trying out many names October was the only one which didn’t bounce off the walls and hit the floor with a thud – according to her father.  October and her father live in a wood, it’s an alternative way of life with no frills, but as October has only known that life she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything. They do a big shop in a nearby town once a year for the things that they aren’t able to grow themselves. The woman who is my mother, as October refers to her mother decided that she couldn’t live that sort of life any more and went to live a ‘normal’ life in London, leaving October with her father.  October refuses to have anything to do with her.

Although October doesn’t go to school and has no friends except her father she is being educated by her dad, she even helps him with the solar panels that provide their electricity and of course she knows a lot about the wildlife in the woodand, they’re living a wild life themselves. After a storm October finds a dead owl and when they find a tiny baby owl alive on the ground her father tells her to leave it alone to let its mother pick it up, but the next day it’s still there and October decides to rescue it, her dad isn’t happy about it but sets about getting food for the baby owl.

When October’s father has an accident it leads to October having to communicate with her despised mother and what seemed like a disaster eventually has a silver lining.

This is a lovely read which is illustrated by the artist Angela Harding, the illustrations are all small and they’re all of Stig the owl, but she also designed the book cover, I really like her style.


In Pursuit of Clarinda by Mabel Esther Allan – 20 Books of Summer 2023

In Pursuit of Clarinda by Mabel Esther Allan was first published in 1966 but it was reprinted by Greyladies in 2018, This one is aimed at young adults or teenagers.

Lucy lives in London in a flat close to Hyde Park with her parents, but as they are on holiday she has been left on her own, and all of her friends are away on holiday too. She’s feeling quite lonely so decides to take a book to the park. While there she gets into conversation with a young girl who is lame. Clarinda turns out to be 20 years old although she doesn’t look it, she’s already engaged, but her fiance is touring in Scotland and can’t be contacted easily.  Clarinda is an orphan and she’s having to live with an uncle who has been made her guardian until she turns 21. He’s refusing to allow the young couple to marry and Clarinda is sure that her aunts and uncles are on a mission to murder her and claim the large amount of money she has been left by her father.

Obviously Lucy feels that she has to help but the aunts and uncles always seem to be one jump ahead. When Clarinda disappears unexpectedly with her aunt and uncle Clarinda feels she has to confide in her next door neighbour William and his sister Della ends up joining them in a bid to track down Clarinda. The quest takes them through Yorkshire and into rural Wales.

I enjoyed this one which I think you could classify as a thriller with a dash of romance. It has an interesting and entertaining introduction by Scott Thompson of Furrowed Middlebrow fame.


Jeeves JOY IN THE MORNING by P.G. Wodehouse – 20 Books of Summer 2023

I must admit that my 20 Books of Summer list has turned out to be something of a work of fiction. Jeeves  Joy in the Morning certainly didn’t appear on it, but I thought it might distract me from all of the rain we’ve been having in this so called summer. It sort of did.

The setting is Steeple Bumpleigh where Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha lives with her second husband Lord Worplesdon and his daughter Florence and schoolboy son Edwin who is described as a pestilential stripling and a Boy Scout.  It’s really Florence that worries Bertie most though as he had been engaged to her previously and he doesn’t want her to think he’s interested in her again. She is in fact now engaged to ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright and he’s sure that Bertie is after her again.

It’s another romance which is in trouble though. Bertie’s friend Zenobia (Nobby) is engaged to another of his friends Boko, an aspiring artist. Boko is about to go to Hollywood where a glittering career seems likely, but Nobby’s guardian is Lord Worplesdon and he’s refusing to give her permission to marry Boko. Of course Jeeves sorts everything out. This book is seen as one of his best but for me it didn’t quite hit the spot, I suspect that had more to do with my mood at the time of reading it than anything else.

This is the book that Wodehouse was working on when the Germans walked across his lawn in the south of France where he had refused to leave for the safety of England, he believed that the Germans wouldn’t invade France it seems! It ended up with him being interned and his reputation in tatters as he was seen to have been working for the Germans via radio programmes. I think he was sort of conned into doing it, but you can imagine that he was probably terrified so would have agreed to anything.

If you’re interested in Wodehouse you should try to see Wodehouse in Exile. I enjoyed it anyway.