The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

 The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle cover

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi was published in 1990 and has won several children’s book awards. You really have to suspend your disbelief while reading this book in order to enjoy it as the whole thing is most unlikely, but that didn’t stop it from being an enjoyable read.

It’s 1832 and thirteen year old Charlotte Doyle is in a crowded dock in Liverpool where she is to board a ship bound for America. Her father had arranged for her to be in the company of two families who would also be passengers and would look after her, but when Charlotte boards the Seahawk she discovers that those families have changed their plans, and she is alone on the ship, apart from a crew of mainly ragged ruffians.

Captain Jaggery is a cruel master and it isn’t long before Charlotte witnesses his harsh command. The only person that Charlotte befriends is the ship’s cook, but he is the target of Jaggery’s cruelty, with disastrous consequences.

Charlotte ends up becoming a member of the crew, casting off her dainty frocks in favour of the more practical clothing of a sailor boy and in no time she’s crawling up the masts to the crow’s nest as if she has been born to do it – you see what I mean about having to suspend your disbelief!

Things go from bad to worse when Charlotte is accused of murder – but all’s well that ends well. I can imagine this one being very popular with young girls hankering after adventure – vicariously.

Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge

 Henrietta's House cover

Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge is another reprint from Girls Gone By Publishers. I enjoyed this one more than her book Smoky-House which I read fairly recently. The book was originally published in 1942 and it’s a sort of fantasy. At the beginning of the book the ten year old Henrietta is excitedly waiting at a railway station for the arrival of a train carrying her adopted brother Hugh Anthony. He’s a bit of a handful, older than Henrietta and has been sent to boarding school in an attempt to make him more civilised. The setting is Torminster, a cathedral city which was apparently based on Wells.

Most of the tale takes place over one afternoon. It’s Hugh Anthony’s birthday and he’s having a birthday picnic with some relatives and adult friends. The setting is the forest and the various guests are making their way there in separate vehicles, mainly horse drawn carriages – a victoria, a landau, a governess cart and one car which has shocked the country folk and would terrify the horses. They split up and everyone gets lost on the way to the forest, some even ending up underground. During the journeys the characters of them all are improved as they realise what the important things in life really are. This book was just a bit too churchy for my liking, I suspect that that will be the same with all Goudge’s books, but it definitely has its charming moments.

For me this one was very much of its time with heavy emphasis on the food being prepared for the picnic. Well if food is strictly rationed as it was in the UK during World War 2 and right into the 1950s, people fantasised about what they couldn’t have, and feasts featured heavily in books of that era, especially children’s books such as C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

The Runaways by Victor Canning

The Runaways by Victor Canning was first published in 1972 and it’s the first part of his Smiler trilogy. It was made into a film for US television in 1975. The book is about 15 year old Samuel Miles, his mother is dead and his father is away at sea most of the time, so his older sister and her husband look after Samuel while his father is absent. ‘Smiler’ as he is known is a bit of a handful for his sister, but there’s no malice in him.

However, he ends up being wrongly convicted of stealing an old lady’s handbag and is sent to a borstal for young offenders, he manages to escape only to be recaptured by the police on a stormy night. On the way back to the borstal he takes a chance to escape again and manages to fend for himself in the barn of a house which has nobody living in it.

Smiler isn’t the only one being hunted down. A cheetah has escaped from the famous Longleat Wildlife Park. It was the storm that gave Yarra the opportunity to escape when a tree was blown over. She heads for Salisbury Plain, much of which is used by the army for training. Unknown to the two escapees they take cover in the same barn, with Smiler being in the loft and so begins a wonderful relationship between the two.

This was a great read, aimed at older children or Young Adults as they say today in publishing. It’s very well written with some really likeable characters and I’m very much looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

I was sent a digital copy of this book by Farrago Books via Netgalley. Thank you.

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

The Victorian Chaise-Longue cover

Party Shoes by Noel Streatfeild was first published in 1946. The setting is wartime England, beginning at the end of 1944. Selina is living with her aunt and uncle who have six children of their own. The Andrews family have taken her in as her parents are prisoners of war in Japan.

When a parcel arrives from America for Selina it turns out to be a beautiful long cream organdie dress with a blue sash and satin shoes. It’s totally impractical for use in a small English village. Selina just has nowhere to wear it to, and she fears that she’ll have grown out of it before she gets the chance to wear it.

Selina and her cousins decide to organise a pageant where they can all do a ‘turn’ and Selina can wear her dress while doing the prologue and epilogue. It was supposed to be a very short pageant just featuring the children but the whole thing snowballs with the arrival of Squadron Leader Philip Day who has arrived to stay with family, he’s recuperating with a damaged arm. Before the war Philip had produced stage-plays and is well known in theatrical circles. In no time just about everyone in the village and some nearby villages is involved with the production which has singing and dancing and all sorts going on, including the ballet dancers from a well known school of dancing.

At times the children resent how their idea has been hi-jacked by adults and I must say I quite agreed with them. One slight drawback about Streatfeild being able to write such believable child characters is that inevitably I’ll be really annoyed by one like Phoebe who seemed always to be on the verge of tears if not actually crying, but this was an entertaining read. I enjoyed the way the wartime problems featured in the story with clothes being a particular headache for the women who after five years of clothing coupons and rationing were having a hard time clothing their children, never mind making outfits for a pageant.

The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon

The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon was first published in 2011 by Faber and Faber. The setting is London’s British Museum to begin with, but it isn’t in a Britain as we know it because Christianity has never taken over from the Norse religion, Thor, Woden et al are still worshiped. It’s a Wodenist culture.

Freya is a twelve year old girl whose parents have split up and have joint custody of her, she’s having a tough time coping with living in two different locations – and with her father’s work patterns. He has a new job as a guard at the British Museum and Freya is having to stay at the museum during his shift. While wandering about on her own she’s drawn to the display of the Lewis Chessmen, most of which were taken to London despite being discovered on the Isle of Lewis. The room houses treasures from a Viking silver hoard, and when Freya fiddles with one of the exhibits she’s catapulted into an adventure which features the Norse gods and the chess pieces which have come to life.

Oh, Mum, if you could see me now, thought Freya, as she stepped off the trembling rainbow into the realm of the Gods.

This was an enjoyable adventure, written by the author of the very popular Horrid Henry series (which I’ve never read). The book has some lovely illustrations by Adam Stower, some of which you can see here.

You can see images of the Lewis Chessmen here.

I love the Berserker, he’s the one chewing on his shield, he just makes me laugh!

berserker

An Edinburgh Reel by Iona McGregor

 An Edinburgh Reel cover

An Edinburgh Reel by Iona McGregor was first published in 1968. I’ve been reading a fair few books set in historic Edinburgh recently and this is another one. The setting is mainly around the Royal Mile, six years after the battle of Culloden, so 1752.

Christine has left her family home of Strathdallin in the Highlands to go and meet her father in Edinburgh, it’s her first visit to the capital and she’s not impressed as the place stinks. So although her family home at Strathdallin had been trashed by the Redcoats after the battle and there are only a few rooms left standing and the roof is leaking, she’s still homesick for the place. Living in a couple of freezing rooms at the top of a tenement building doesn’t suit her at all, despite having friendly but much better off relatives living in the same building.

John Murray, her father has spent most of the past six years in France after he managed to escape from a prison hulk after his capture, he knows that he had been betrayed by another Scotsman after Culloden but doesn’t know his name. He’s still a loyal Jacobite and is determined to get back at whoever betrayed him.

When Christime first sees her father she’s shocked that the he doesn’t look at all like the handsome tall man that she remembers. She must only have been nine years old in 1745 and she has grown while her father seems so old and shrunken, he has permanent health problems because of his treatment by the English and his estate has been seized by the government, so they are penniless.

Christine is worried for her father as he’s in danger of getting dragged into another Jacobite plot and ending his days kicking on the end of a rope.

This was a great read, very atmospheric with a wee bit of a romance too. I’m sure that Iona McGregor got it exactly right when she has the wealthy Edinburgh inhabitants getting all teary eyed and sentimental over the songs sung about ‘The Chevalier’ – despite the fact that most of them hadn’t been supporters of the Jacobites during the Rising.

This book was apparently aimed at children aged 11 and over, but like all well written books it’s appreciated by people of all ages.

Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag volume 6 by Louisa May Alcott

I recently finished reading Aunt Jo’s Scrapbag volume 6 by Louisa May Alcott. It’s a collection of short stories so it’s obviously a mixed bunch of tales and as always with these things some are better than others, but they were all worth reading. I read it on my Kindle and downloaded it, free from Project Gutenberg here.

L.M. Alcott was a woman ahead of her time. From her writing in these short stories she was obviously anti-slavery but also anti-caged birds and anti-whaling. While reading The Whale’s Story I experienced one of those strange moments when I saw that the tale was being told by a Right whale (deceased) from Greenland. Just a couple of hours earlier I had been reading an article about how a very rare Right whale had been spotted very far from where it should have been. Until then I had never even heard of Right whales!

You can read a wee bit about Alcott’s life here.

Dimsie Goes to School by Dorita Fairlie Bruce

Dimsie Goes to School cover

Dimsie Goes to School by the Scottish author Dorita Fairlie Bruce was first published in 1920 with the story taking place in 1919. It was originally titled The Senior Prefect. My copy was published in 1932.

It begins with the ten year old Daphne Isabel Maitland better known as Dimsie travelling by train from her west of Scotland home to her new boarding school at Westover, a coastal town in the south of England. She’s accompanied by her older cousin Daphne who is a prefect at the school.

There’s a bit of a mystery as to what has happened to Dimsie’s mother as she has disappeared and only communicates with her soldier husband through solicitors, but Dimsie is unaware of this. There’s a new headmistress at the school and many of the girls are upset by the change, especially when she cuts their hockey practice time by half, reasoning that they don’t do at all well in their exams. However she starts lessons in domestic science which hadn’t been taught there before. This is a good idea given that it’s just after World War 1 when the lack of servants became such a problem for middle-class households.

Although the war has ended it’s still very much part of the book as air-raids and coastal trenches are mentioned as well as shell-shock, and Dimsie’s father is a colonel in the army.

There’s talk of spies, counterfeit money, a strike and even a problem with burglars in the neighbourhood and rumours fly around, aided and abetted by Nita, a nasty piece of work who takes aim at Daphne with a view to getting her sacked as a prefect. The characters of the two Maitland girls shine through it all though with Dimsie in particular becoming popular with just about everyone, the addition of some well written Scots dialect was enjoyed by me anyway.

I found it interesting that it was written in 1919 and that first marking of armistice day is described as ‘the rejoicings’. That struck me as being really strange as today more than one hundred years later it’s always a very sober affair. I think a lot of people in 1919 who had lost family members in the war would not have felt much like celebrating and in a girls’ school there would have been girls who had lost fathers and brothers in the war.

Whatever, this was a really entertaining read and I think it was better than any by Angela Brazil that I’ve read and she was the most popular writer of school stories, but maybe that was just because she wrote so many of them.

HITTY Her first hundred years by Rachel Field

 HITTY Her first hundred years cover

I was very surprised to receive a copy of HITTY Her first hundred years by Rachel Field as an unexpected gift from Wilhelmina an online friend from the D.E. Stevenson website. I must admit I had never even heard of the book but it was a very enjoyable comfort read, perfect for these pandemic times. The book was first published in 1929, is illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop and it won the John Newbery Medal.

Hitty is a wee wooden doll with peg joints, made out of a piece of mountain ash – or rowan as we call it in Scotland – a kind of wood which is magical as it keeps witches away, so she feels special, she’s only six and a half inches tall. It begins with Hitty sitting in an antique shop with a cat for company and she goes through her past life recounting the many adventures that she’s had along the way, and there are many. It seems that some of her little owners weren’t all that careful with her. She begins her family life with the Prebles of Maine where she’s given to seven year old Phoebe, it’s a very happy home but the sea-faring father needs a cook before he can take his ship to sea again and his wife has to step up and do the job, which means that the children go to sea too, including Hitty.

She’s shipwrecked, abducted by crows, stuffed down the back of a sofa, falls out of a car – you name it and it happened to Hitty – or just about. Almost every adventure ends up in a change of family for her where she experiences spoiled wealthy children and poor families, she goes up and down in society and also goes in and out of fashion. This is an entertaining memoir which also follows the changes in society over 100 years.

Having been ‘born’ in 1829 Hitty’s 200th anniversary is coming up fairly soon, I’m wondering if anyone is going to take up the baton and write about the years from 1930 to 2030. I do hope so!

Thanks for sending me this one Wilhelmina.

The School on the Moor by Angela Brazil

 The School on the Moor cover

The School on the Moor by Angela Brazil was first published in 1939. Brenda is 13 and she and her brother Denis are living with their Aunt Madge and Uncle Harry while their father is working in India, their mother is already dead. When Uncle Harry gets a job in Argentina the children have to be sent to boarding schools as Aunt Madge will be going with him, it’s not something that they’re looking forward to, they’d rather stay with Grannie but that won’t be possible. So Brenda is sent to a school in Cornwall while Denis is sent to Portsmouth.

I can’t say that I found this book that entertaining, maybe the prospect of war was weighing on the author’s mind at the time. The schoolgirls seemed to spend a lot of time getting up entertainments for people and each other, and none of them was particularly enthralling, I found the whole thing to be very predictable. Thankfully it’s a very quick read.

Oh well, there have to be some duds in life so that we can appreciate the stars!