An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott 20 Books of Summer

An Old-Fashioned Girl cover

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott was first published in 1870, but six chapters had been published in a magazine the previous year.

It’s the story of Polly who is the teenage daughter of a rural church minister and his wise and sensible wife, money in that family isn’t plentiful, so when Polly travels to Boston to visit her friend Fanny she finds herself in a situation she hasn’t been in before. Fanny’s family is a wealthy one, living in a grand house with servants. Material things are obviously very important to them, but when compared with Polly’s family and upbringing Polly can see that the money and easy life hasn’t made Fanny’s family happy. In particular Fanny’s mother is immature and lacking in any common-sense, her children are argumentative and spoiled spendthrifts. Fanny’s father sees Polly’s kindness and warmth as being a good influence on his family, but really he’s just a provider of money as far as they’re concerned. Fanny’s mother reminded me in some ways of Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, she shrieks and takes to her bed when she gets bad news and evidently only married her husband for his money.

This book covers several years, taking Polly and Fanny into their early 20s. Polly is determined to be independent, she’s working as a music teacher to help her brother get through college financially. Teaching small children turns out to be much more difficult than she thought it would be. There’s romance of course and it’s quite obvious how things will end up for Polly. She’s determined to marry someone that she loves rather than ‘an establishment’. I thought of Lizzie Bennet and Pemberley!

This was an enjoyable read, I know that if I had read this book when I was a youngster I would really have identified with Polly, and not being a wild consumerist or interested in designer labels, make-up and nail bars I still do identify with her really. I found this book to be a bit too preachy and just a wee bit too sentimental, but that was the fashion of the time. I don’t think there’s a sequel to it, which is a shame, I would have liked to read more about Polly as she aged.

Thanks for sending me this one Jennifer.

I read this one for 20 Books of Summer.

Two Joans at the Abbey by E.J. Oxenham

 Two Joans at the Abbey cover

I bought Two Joans at the Abbey by E.J. Oxenham a while ago under the impression that it was a boarding school setting, I enjoy those quaint 1920s- 50s books written by authors such as Angela Brazil and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer. Anyway it turned out that it wasn’t. I was of course attracted to the name Joan! It was first published in 1945.

In no time flat my head was fair jangling with the use of so many names of characters with names beginning with ‘J’. I cannot imagine why the author thought this was a good idea. Joan and Janice were great friends when they were at school, now they have children of their own and they have each given their daughter the name of their best friend. So we have one child Joan who is variously called Joan, Joan-Two, Littlejan then there are Jansy, Jandy Mac, Jen, there’s a John, Jack and even the baby is called Jimmy. Thankfully the cat is called Mrs Black!

Janice and her daughter Joan (or was it the other way about?) are visiting Joan elder and oh well – you know what I mean – at the old abbey where they live. But very quickly Janice gets a telegram telling her that Aunt Mary is seriously ill, so she has to go to visit her in Scotland, leaving Joan-Two behind. The young girls become great friends but are somewhat ‘cheesed off’ that when their mothers were their age they had been able to uncover lost bits of the abbey, there’s nothing left for them to discover it seems.

Of course they do stumble across a ‘new’ old building, but in doing so put themselves in great danger. I ended up liking this quaint adventure story with all its old-fashioned charm, although the author rambles like crazy here, there and everywhere.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by e.l. konigsburg

 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler cover

This book was first published in 1967 and it won the Newbery Medal. I was lucky enough to be given it by Jennifer and until I received I hadn’t even heard of the book but it was just perfect reading for these strange and unsettling times.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg begins in a suburn of New York City where Claudia, the eldest of four children is thoroughly fed up with things as they are. She has three younger brothers who never have to do any chores around their home, not that all her work is appreciated, in fact they try to make her life even more difficult.

Claudia decides that the time has come for her to run away, the only problem is that she has very little money, she can’t save her pocket money as she must have her hot fudge sundae treat every week. Her plan will only work if she can persuade her brother Jamie to go with her as he is a tightwad and consequently has quite a stash of money saved.

She doesn’t want to stay away from home too long, just long enough to make her parents worry and pay her more attention in the future. She’s not keen on roughing it so plans to stay somewhere where they can be fairly comfortable and she chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Claudia and Jamie manage to dodge the museum guards for days and they are able to wander around the museum and sleep in a 16th century four poster bed. Claudia has it all worked out, they bathe in a fountain and manage to eke out their money and even wash their clothes at a launderette. Then Claudia becomes obsessed by a new exhibit of a statue of an angel – is it by Michelangelo or not?

This is a lovely book and I so empathised with Claudia’s situation at home, a common one for girls of my and Claudia’s age back in 1967. Although this is a lovely light read it also shows how the siblings become aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and they learned to appreciate each other more.

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols

The Tree That Sat Down cover

The Tree That Sat Down by Beverley Nichols was first published in 1945 and it’s the first of his books for children that I’ve read. Having said that – there are parts of this book that are probably aimed more at any adults who might read it.

Beverley Nichols describes it as ‘a fairy story and it’s a real old fashioned one, full of magic spells, wizards and transformation scenes. Maybe some of the characters have a modern touch … the witch for instance keeps a vacuum cleaner to assist her with her spells, but otherwise it joins all those other magic tales which begin once upon a time.’

The setting is a woodland where Judy and her granny have opened a shop to cater for the needs of the woodland animals – yes, it’s all very anthropomorphic. But then Sam and Old Sam open another shop nearby, with the intention of fleecing all the animals, conning them out of their money, and at the same time ruining Judy’s shop.

I enjoyed this book which is on one level a children’s fantasy tale and on another is a vehicle for the author to get some things off his chest, such as his feelings about how animals are treated by some humans, the over-commercialisation of society and mad consumerism – and his attitude to war.

Did you ever hear of such impertinence? It is an insult to the noble and peaceful family of Sheep. It is the Humans who go about in herds and don’t think for themselves! Look at the way they make War! Sheep would never be so foolish, nor would any other animal. Did you ever hear of a herd of sheep or any other animal leaving their homes and their pastures, and going off to fight say, a herd of zebras whom they’d never even met, just because some silly sheep had told them that the silly zebras wore striped coats, and that anybody who wore striped coats must be their enemy? That is exactly what Humans are doing all the time. Look at their dreadful way of waging war in the air. If I have a fight in the air it is because I am attacked. I fight for my life. But what would you think of me if I were to take a rock and fly off with it to a farmyard and just drop it into a basket of eggs.That is what Humans call “bombing”. They all do it, and they think it is wonderful, and they give medals to the Humans who break the most eggs. To me, it is all sheer folly and wickedness. I have very little hope for the Human race … very little. It will take them at least a million years to reach the level of animals … and long before then, I am afraid they will all have killed each other off.’

It’s fair to say that the previous six years of war seems to have left the author exasperated and a bit depressed I think. This is the first book in a trilogy, the other two are The Stream That Stood Still and The Mountain of Magic. I intend to get around to reading those ones – sometime.

Six in Six 2019 edition

six

I’m a bit late with this but I’ve decided to join in with Jo at The Book Jotters Six in Six, you can read about it here.

You look over the first six months of the year and choose six books in six different categories. So here goes!

Six Historical Fiction books

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Dunstan by Conn Iggulden
The Steps to the Empty Throne by Nigel Tranter
Stormbird by Conn Iggulden
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

Six books for children (of all ages)

Mary Poppins Comes Back by P.L. Travers
The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden
Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson
Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery


Six non-fiction books

The Love-charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
To the River by Olivia Laing
Jane Austen’s England by Maggie Lane
Independence by Alasdair Gray
Off in a Boat by Neil Gunn
A Capital View by Alyssa Popiel

Six books by Scottish authors

The Chronicles of Carlingford by Mrs Oliphant
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Homespun by Annie S. Swan
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan
A Time of Love and Tartan by Alexander McCall Smith

Six crime fiction books

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Murder with Malice by Nicholas Blake
Naming the Bones by Louise Welsh
Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor
The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons


Six classics

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
Riceyman Steps by Arnold Bennett
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Transformation by Mary Shelley
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This has been a good exercise for me. I knew that I had been reading more historical fiction than usual over the last six months, but hadn’t really thought that my crime fiction reading had tailed off quite so much. I intend to put that right over what is left of 2019.

Are any of these books favourites of yours?

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild

Curtain Up cover

Curtain Up by Noel Streatfeild was first published way back in 1944. The island of Guernsey had been home for the three Forbes children Sorrel, Mark and Holly. Their father had retired from the Navy when their mother had died, but when war was declared their father had immediately re-joined the Navy and the children moved into their eccentric grandfather’s home. He is a clergyman who is far more interested in writing a book about the animals that appear in the bible than he is about the existence of his grandchildren.

When a telegram arrives saying that their father was ‘missing’ they live in hope that he has been taken prisoner and hasn’t drowned. But then grandfather dies and the children are sent to live in London with their mother’s family who are strangers to them. They’re devastated to be leaving their schools, the one stable thing in their lives.

Things get even worse when they discover that their mother had been part of a large family of well-known actors and actresses, and it’s assumed that the children will go to an acting/dancing school. The children had no idea that their mother had been from an entertainments background and they’re not exactly thrilled by the idea.

This was quite an entertaining read which follows the main rule of children’s books – get rid of those annoying parents as quickly as possible. I can imagine that many of the original 1944 child readers would have been enthralled by the storyline which has the children eventually auditioning for BBC radio.

As you would expect – all’s well that ends well.

The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

The Exploits of Moominpappa cover

The Exploits of Moominpappa (described by himself) by Tove Jansson was first published in 1952, but I don’t recall ever reading any of the Moomin books as a child, or even to my own boys when they were wee. I thought I should have a look and see what they are about as I know the books are very popular, so when I saw this Puffin paperback in a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh – I bought it.

I suspect that this one isn’t your usual Moomin book though, I have no idea what age the books were aimed at but this one seems more suited to adults really, certainly not very young children – not that there’s anything untoward in it. It reminded me of the craziness of Alice in Wonderland – Jansson obviously had a great imagination.

The Preface begins: I, Moominpappa am sitting tonight by my window looking out into my garden, where the fireflies embroider their mysterious signs on the velvet dark. Perishable flourishes of a short but happy life!

Moominpappa was abandoned as a youngster on the doorstep of an orphanage which was ruled over by a Hemulen – a very strict personage. Eventually, when he’s old enough he runs away and builds his own house, by a brook and soon he meets Hodgkins who has a houseboat called Oshun, Oxtra, it was supposed to be The Ocean Orchestra but the Muddler painted it and spelling isn’t his strong point and before long they sail off and meet up with various others on their adventure. It was a fun read, but I’m not sure that this one is a typical Moomin book. Have you read any of them?

Three Terms at Uplands by Angela Brazil

Three Terms at Uplands cover

Three Terms at Uplands by Angela Brazil was published in 1945 and it was her second last book before her death in 1947. I think her later books are slimmer than her earlier volumes.

Claire and Colin Johnstone’s parents have been killed in a car accident in Mexico where their father had been working as a mining engineer, so the children are sent back home to England to live with their grandparents. Their young Aunt Dorothy has sailed to Mexico to accompany them back and the children make friends with some of the people on board.

Back in England their aunt and grandparents cocoon them in love and the children eventually settle down to their new life, but times are hard as money is scarce and Aunt Dorothy who had been keen to study art in Cornwall with some talented artists ends up having to become an art teacher to help support the children.

Colin, being the boy is without question sent to the same private school that his father and grandfather had gone to. But when it comes to Claire she’s expected to make do with the local high school as there’s no money for her to go to a boarding school.

A stroke of luck leads to her getting a partial scholarship to Uplands which is apparently a very good boarding school, and so begins her journey from unsure new girl to a more confident personality who helps out with a younger girl.

This was a very quick read, entertaining and so true to life as I laughed (or should I say huffed) when Colin’s education was seen as being so much more important than Claire’s. The exact same thing happened to a schoolfriend of mine in the late 1960s – 70s. Mind you Morag did very well at the local high school along with the rest of us, whereas her brother ran away from his posh boarding school as soon as he turned 16 – and joined the Merchant Navy!

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden

The Peppermint Pig cover

The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden was first published in 1975 and it’s one of the Puffin books that I bought fairly recently. It won the Guardian Award for children’s fiction. This book isn’t for the faint hearted as at the very beginning there’s a description of how Granny Greengrass had her finger accidentally cut off by the butcher. Then it’s mentioned that puppies used to have their tails ‘docked’ by having them bitten off by the groom at the Manor House.

The father of the Greengrass family is got rid of very quickly as after an incident at his work he decides that he should travel to America where his brother lives, in the hope of forging a new life for his family – eventually. The children and their mother end up having to leave their home in London and travelling to rural Norfolk to live with aunts until the time comes for them to leave for America. Life there is very different from London, they end up having a pet piglet, the runt of a litter which was offered for sale to their mother for a shilling.

In no time the piglet is house-trained, he’s clever and naughty and great fun, the children love their peppermint pig which is apparently what the runt of a litter is called. The piglet grows quickly, as the children were so fond of it I really thought that this was going to have a happy ending – but I was wrong!

The blurb on the back says: A charming and perceptive story by the author of Carrie’s War.

I imagine that it probably turned a fair few children into vegetarians – for a while anyway!

Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

Bedknob and Broomstick cover

Until I picked this book up in an Aberdeenshire secondhand bookshop recently I had no idea that Bedknob and Broomstick had been written by Mary Norton (of The Borrowers fame). It was first published in 1945 and although I’ve only seen short excerpts of the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, I think it’s fair to say that it must be very loosely based on the book. It was obviously written in wartime although it doesn’t really come into the story, the three children Carey, Charles and Paul have been sent to live with an old aunt who lives in Bedfordshire. This must have been a normal experience for many children in those days as fathers were off in the services and their mothers were also doing war work. It fits the perfect children’s book scenario, get rid of those annoying parents.

The house is old and square with a large hall and the children are quite intimidated by it. They’re also rather shy of their aunt and the old housemaid, but the garden is wonderful and even has a river running through it. The children have a whale of a time, they’re well behaved and all their days are alike – until they meet Miss Price. She’s an elderly lady who gets about on her bicycle, she’s very ladylike and teaches piano for a living, but in her spare time she’s a bit of a white witch. She’s really just a beginner at it and when the children find her in pain lying on the ground in local woodland it transpires that she has sprained her ankle as she has fallen off her broomstick!

She obviously needs more practice. Miss Price needs the children to keep quiet about her witchcraft, the locals wouldn’t understand, so she puts a spell on Paul’s bedknob so that when he twists it the bed will wheech them all anywhere in the world – or even into the past.

This book is aimed at children over the age of eight – I think I fit that description!