Post After Post-Mortem by E.C.R. Lorac – 20 Books of Summer

Post After Post-Mortem by E.C.R. Lorac is subtitled An Oxfordshire Mystery. It was first published in 1936 but this edition was published by British Library in 2022. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

Mrs Surray and her professor husband have lived in their home for 25 years and she particularly loves the place and its garden. Their five adult children are all arriving for the weekend to celebrate their mother’s birthday, they’re a talented bunch, all successful writers of some sort, they’re all academically high-fliers and writers of various sorts. It should be a perfect weekend of celebration, but shockingly one of the ‘children’  doesn’t survive the night.

It looks like an open and shut case and at the inquest the coroner is happy to come to the obvious conclusion, however, with hindsight the evidence doesn’t really add up, and so begins a search for clues, with CID Robert Macdonald given the job of investigating.

I enjoyed this one – up to a point. I really didn’t like any of the members of the Surray family, they were all too up themselves/self regarding for my liking, Macdonald the detective was the only really likeable character, but the mystery itself was decent.

Sing Me Who You Are by Elizabeth Berridge

Sing Me Who You Are by Elizabeth Berridge was first published in 1967 but it has just been reprinted in the British Library Women Writers series. I was sent a copy of the book for review by British Library, for which many thanks.

Harriet has given up her job as a librarian and is moving to a big green bus which has been left to her in her aunt’s will.  The bus is situated in a field which had belonged to her aunt, and now belongs to her cousin Magda.  That might be a problem in the future but  Harriet is just happy to be free of work, although she might have retired too early. An alternative lifestyle is beckoning, she’s converting the bus into living accomodation, sectioning bits off and installing a stove, hooking up water pipes and insulating the bus, getting it ready for winter. For company she has her two Siamese cats.

Cousin Magda is one of those very managing sort of women and she has inherited Uplands, a large house, hundreds of acres of farmland. She’s married to Gregg who had been in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and he’s still very much haunted by his experiences. Gregg is delighted to have Harriet staying so close by, they’ve always had a close relationship, possibly Harriet can help him – or make matters worse between him and Magda.

I enjoyed this one which was written at a time of change. Harriet is a bit of an incipient hippy to begin with, and Magda is the opposite, only interested in money and always being dissatisfied with all that she already has. WW2 was still very much in some people’s minds and environmental issues were beginning to come to the fore – for some.

 

 

One Year’s Time by Angela Milne – 20 Books of Summer 2023

One Year’s Time by Angela Milne was first published in 1942, but it has just been reprinted by British Library. I must say that as soon as I started to read this book I turned back to the publishing details to check them out as I could hardly believe what I was reading. The setting is the late 1930s and it begins in London.

Liza had been at a New Year’s party the previous evening and had met Walter there for the first time. She is just about to start painting the floor in her living room when the telephone rings. It’s Walter, he has looked her number up in the phone book and he would like to come round to her place. Liza is keen for him to visit her. To be fair so would I be, anything to postpone having to paint a floor would be a welcome.  But by page 7 they’re in bed!

Liza is a secretary, in a very staid company, and Walter is training to be a barrister, something he’d like to avoid. Very quickly Liza is besotted with him and she’s suppressing all her own wishes, matching her actions to what he wants in life because she’s afraid that she’ll lose him if he realises what she really wants. She knows that he has had lots of affairs in the past, sometimes with married women. Clinging to him would put him right off her.

When Walter announces that he wants to go away to the country and write a book Liza gives up her job to be with him. She pretends she’s his wife and keeps house for him and they strike up a friendship with Kate and Maurice, a married  couple who live nearby. Of course Walter doesn’t even try to write a book, he’s just lazing and reading. It’s an idyllic time for Liza anyway,  despite the fact that she realises that she’s more or less walking on eggshells. She really has to be true to herself if she’s going to find happiness, but spinsterhood is beckoning to her and she’d rather avoid that.

Kate has guessed that they aren’t married, but Liza doesn’t see Kate as being a danger. Walter has given up calling Liza darling and has moved on to calling her ‘ducky’. For me this is a dead giveaway, I’m never keen on people calling their other half ‘darling’ instead of using their name, it smacks of being afraid of calling them by the wrong name, but ducky is definitely a demotion!

This all makes it sound quite grim, but it isn’t. There’s quite a lot of humour in it. Angela Milne was A.A. Milne’s niece and she wrote for Punch.

From a social history point of view this book was a real eye-opener for me as we’ve always been told that the introduction of the Pill in the late 1960s had led to the permissive society, but it seems that there was always a lot more ‘illicit’ sex going on than I would have thought, we can’t blame wartime because the war hadn’t quite started yet.

Thank you to British Library who sent me a copy of the book for review. I really enjoyed it and it’s just a shame that the author never wrote any more books. There could have been a sequel about Walter dodging the war in some way and marrying someone who definitely didn’t race him into bed within 24 hours of meeting him.

As ever with this series there are interesting snippets of information about the decade it was first published and a thoughtful and informative Afterword by Simon Thomas.

The Home by Penelope Mortimer

The Home by Penelope Mortimer was first published in 1971 and it has just been reprinted by British Library in their Women Writers series. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy by them, for review.

The book begins with Eleanor vacating the family home with her teenage son Philip. Her husband Graham, a successful psychiatrist had left the family home and had moved in with his girlfriend Nell, (yes she has the same name as his wife – handy) she’s the latest in a long line of his infidelities. Graham is incensed when he realises that his wife has taken absolutely everything from their home and it’s now all in the house that she has chosen and he had had to pay for. She claims she needs a home for the children but of their five children only Philip is still at home and he’s at his boarding school most of the time. Of course Eleanor is emotionally fragile, and it seems that the men who had been interested in her have now transferred their allegiances to her adult daughter. As soon as she is available the men melt away. Eleanor finds herself lonely and unwanted, not only by her husband, but by her children too.

This makes it all sound rather grim but there’s also some humour there too. Graham is a rather pathetic soul, an embarrassment to his children, and not that he realises it, but his new young squeeze isn’t that enamoured of him, but he has celebrity patients and that impresses her.

Penelope Mortimer, who was married to the author John Mortimer, was in the middle of their divorce as she wrote this one. It’s such a tale of its times, when divorce became a bit easier although it still took five years if one of those involved didn’t wish to be divorced. The free availabilty of the contraceptive pill even to unmarried women at this time was a game-changer. The times they were a-changing!

I really enjoyed this book and I was amused to read in it that a female barrister called Georgina looked like Portia when she was in court. If you watched Rumpole of the Bailey or read the books you might remember that Rumpole always called the character Phyllida Erskine-Brown QC – Portia. It was obviously a Mortimer family thing.

Thank you to British Library for sending me a copy of the book for review. It has just been published. There’s an Afterword written by Simon Thomas. I love all the extra information on the times that are included although this era is well remembered by me as we got married in 1976 – but missed out the divorce bit! (Jack says – so far!)

Elizabeth and Mary edited by Susan Doran

Elizabeth and Mary – Royal Cousins, Rival Queens – which is edited by Susan Doran is a lovely book and I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of it by British Library for review. Among many things the book contains contributions in the shape of essays by 14 academics, mainly historians, as you would expect.

This is a really sumptuous book with beautiful photographs of historic portraits, jewels and religious works, maps and drawings of castles, but by far most of the photographs are of letters sent by and to Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots to each other and to many of the prominent people of the times.
It’s not all letters though, there are also poems and speeches written by Elizabeth and Mary and even John Knox makes an appearance.

My only gripe is that most of the documents are not big enough to be able to read, but as many are in French or Latin possibly it was thought that readers wouldn’t want to read them for themselves. I must admit that it’s quite some time since I was sent this one for review, but it isn’t really the sort of book that you sit down and read quickly from cover to cover, it’s the sort that you dip in and out of and savour over quite some time.

This book was produced by British Library to accompany an Elizabeth and Mary exhibition, which I so wish I had been able to go to, but this book is the next best thing I suppose.

Thank you to British Library for sending me a copy of the book.

Stories for Christmas and the festive season – British Library Women Writers

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy for review of Stories for Christmas and the festive season which has been published by British Library. It was just what I needed to get me into the festive mood I thought. This anthology consists of seventeen short stories all by female authors, some by well-known authors but also by new to me writers. Some of the stories have been gathered from Christmas editions of women’s magazines of the past, and they’re set out in chronological order with the first one being set in the early part of preparations for Christmas and the second last one The Pantomime by Stella Margetson being set around New Year, that was one of my favourites. The very last story isn’t even a page and a half long.

The first is called The Turkey Season by Alice Munro. The setting is what would nowadays be called a turkey processing plant and I must admit that although this is a well written story it was a distinctly grim read with more than graphic descriptions of turkey gutting, not really what I was expecting, however looking past that it features good characters, particularly the women.

As ever with short story anthologies this book was a bit ‘curate’s eggish’ (good in parts) but on balance there were far more that I enjoyed than stories that for me just didn’t hit the spot.

There’s an interesting introduction by Simon Thomas. My thanks to British Library for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Contents Page, Stories for Christmas

War Among Ladies by Eleanor Scott

War Among Ladies by Eleanor Scott was first published in 1928 but it has just been reprinted by British Library. It’s a school story as experienced by teachers. It isn’t a comfortable read, whether you have just experienced schools as a pupil, or also as a teacher. It is very authentic though.

Besley High School is situated in an English Midland town called Stamborough. Although Miss Barr is the headmistress it’s the County Education Offices that hold the power in the shape of school inspectors. The school has been going downhill in recent years and there’s a real problem with behaviour and discipline which of course has an effect on exam results. If you fail one exam then you fail the whole year and this puts terrible pressure on everyone.

Miss Cullen is only four years off retirement, but she has lost control of her classes and can’t keep up with the new ways of doing things. All the other teachers dislike her. Miss Cullen had been at Oxford’s Sommerville College and in her younger days had been described as being brilliant, but now she has no friends and has had to live her whole life in shabby boarding houses, in common with the other teachers. Some of the others have not been to a teacher training college and so get less pay than Miss Cullen, but worse than that, they fear that the school will be closed down and they’ll all lose their jobs, including the money that they had had to pay into ‘The Fund’ which is what they call their pension, apparently nobody has ever got any money out of the fund though, even when they retire!

Viola Kennedy is one of three new young teachers at the beginning of the summer term. She’s really good at controlling the pupils and they enjoy her classes, but Viola is already finding teaching to be an exhausting job, there’s so much more than just teaching that must be done. But it’s the politics of the staff room and the nastiness of some of her colleagues that really get her down.

This is a great read although not exactly uplifting, in fact it’s a wee bit depressing. I’m not sure that anyone actually teaching nowadays would be all that keen to read about how things were almost 100 years ago because in reality nothing much has changed, regarding colleagues and politics.

The big differences are that in 1928 all female teachers were unmarried, if they wanted to get married they had to resign. They weren’t able to buy a home of their own unless they were lucky enough to be able to buy one outright, women couldn’t get mortgages. Actually even in the 1970s in the UK women couldn’t get a mortgage from a bank, unless they had a male guarantor. That happened to me and I was fizzing mad as I was the breadwinner at that time!

As ever this British Library edition has lots of interesting information on the times it was written, the author, and of course an Afterword by Simon Thomas.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the book for review by the publisher. Thank you, British Library.

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.

Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Keeping Up Appearances by Rose Macaulay was sent to me to review by British Library, it’s part of their British Library Women Writers series. I was really happy to receive it as I’ve enjoyed other books by the author. It was first published in 1928 and there’s an afterword by Simon Thomas.

This one is a really interesting and entertaining read although I must admit that it took me a wee while to realise what the author was doing.

Daphne and Daisy are half-sisters with five years in between their age, and they’re both attracted to the same man. At the beginning of the book they are living abroad with the Folyot family who are somewhat higher up on the social scale, but an incident leads to a return home to London where Daisy, who is far less socially poised than Daphne is, becomes embarrassed by her rather common mother. Daisy’s mother is so proud of her daughter, Daisy is a journalist but she is only given silly articles to write for the newspaper about what the ‘modern girl’ thinks about this and that. She also writes novels which are popular, but Daisy still isn’t impressed by herself.

It’s Daphne who easily fits in with other people, she’s popular mainly because she bends herself to agree with whomever is speaking to her. Things get completely out of hand for Daisy.

It’s difficult to review this one without giving too much away, but I will say that Macaulay’s father George Campbell Macaulay comes from a Scottish (Lewis) family – and Rose Macaulay must have been influenced by him quite a bit when she thought of writing this one!

Scarweather by Anthony Rolls – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Scarweather by Anthony Rolls (Colwyn Edward Vulliamy) was first published in 1934 but it has been reprinted by British Library. This is the book which I took with me on holiday to Orkney recently, not knowing anything about it so it felt a wee bit spooky when it turned out that archaeology and an ancient burial mound featured in the plot, as I was visiting neolithic burial sites in Orkney. It’s amazing how often I inadvertently take books with me on holiday that relate to my destination in some way.

Unusually the story takes place over 15 years or so, beginning just before the First World War. John Farringdale accompanied by his cousin Eric Foster goes to visit Tolgen Reisby, a famous archaeologist at his remote home Scarweather in the north of England. Reisby’s wife is years younger than him and they seem rather mismatched. Eric is obviously attracted to her, she’s described as having ‘a magnificent figure and stately carriage’ and that description is part of the problem for me with this book. I just didn’t enjoy the author’s writing style which seemed very stilted to me, perhaps it was supposed to be. I also found the whole thing to be very predictable. I don’t think I will bother reading any others by this author.

Luckily my holiday in Orkney was much mmore enjoyable!