A Country Christmas by Miss Read

A Country Christmas by Miss Read is a compilation of short stories which have been published previously. The White Robin is the longest at around 140 pages , I suppose it would be called a novella.  It’s about the excitement in the village of Fairacre when an albino robin is sighted and makes its home close to the school playground. The children feed ‘Snowboy’  and look forward to the remote possibility of more albino robins next Spring.

Most of the stories are set in the village of Fairacre although there’s also an excerpt from one of the Caxley books.

The original publication dates range from 1951 to 1992, and those featuring the village school seem even older than the 1950s although I imagine that they are quite true to how things were in a rural school, probably more old-fashioned than a city school.  This is what makes the stories charming though, and the children’s behaviour and chat, and the teacher’s comments to them seem authentic, they’re certainly entertaining.

As ever there’s love, laughter, gossip and tragedy, but most of the stories have a Christmas or winter setting which I appreciated, despite our weather being freezing at the moment.

On a different subject, I was listening to BBC Radio 2 this morning, to a piece which is available to listen to in the BBC Sounds Archives. It dated from the 1950s and the interviewer was asking children what they wanted for Christmas. They hoped to get things like a sewing set, a doll and one wee lad wanted a pencil sharpener!!  How different from nowadays when kids expect to have things costing hundreds of pounds for Christmas!

BBC Archives  from 1966 can be seen below, children were asked to imagine life in the year 2000, but there are all sorts of things  available, although they might be blocked for people outside the UK.

Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read

Over the year I collected a few winter/Christmas themed books to read in December, in an effort to make me feel a bit more festive. Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read is the first one that I read. It was first published in 1961.

The book actually begins in Autumn, it’s an early Autumn in Thrush Green but the local weather sages are predicting a hard winter ahead. Mainly though the villagers are interested in an empty house which has been up for sale for a while, when a SOLD sign appears on it there’s a lot of speculation as to who their new neighbour will be.

It turns out that their new neighbour Harold Shoosmith ends up throwing himself into the community. He had lived most of his life in a part of Africa which had had a Victorian missionary who had been born in Thrush Green. Harold had always intended to retire to his hero’s birthplace, with a view to putting up a memorial to him.

This was as you would expect from Miss Read – a gentle but entertaining tale, but if you have ever lived in a smallish community I’m sure you’ll recognise some of the chracters and situations, I found that quite amusing. I recognised quite a few of the locals here and there’s been a fairly recent rash of ‘blue plaques’ to people who nobody knew a thing about and wouldn’t even have been famous in their heyday!

The book is illustrated by J.S. Goodall.

The Market Square by Miss Read – 20 Books of Summer 2022

The Market Square by Miss Read (Dora Saint) was first published in 1966, I’ve read a few books by the author in the past and enjoyed them, but no matter who had written this book I think I would have bought it, just for the charming cover. It’s the first in a two book series called The Caxley Chronicles.

This one is a lovely old-fashioned nostalgic read which revolves around the Market Square of the town of Caxley and two families who live there, the Howards and the Norths. They both have their businesses and homes on the Market Square and are friends, with Mr Howard helping Mr North financially to begin with, and everything is hunky dory. But there are ups and downs for them all over the years. However, as their children grow up and romance seems to be in the air Mr Howard is less than happy about it, unlike the Norths.

The story begins with the inhabitants of Caxley thrilled to be organising the celebrations for the Coronation of King Edward the Seventh and continues on to the First World War and then on into the 1930s.

The book’s endpapers are lovely too.

The Market Square Endpapers

I’ll have to resort to the internet to get the next Caxley book as I’m not hopeful of finding it in a second-hand bookshop, as I did this one.

This was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell

Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1939 and it’s the eighth book in her Barsetshire series.

Mr Middleton is slightly annoyed because Mrs Stoner who is his brother’s widow is going to be spending the summer months in the White House which has been lying empty, the garden adjoins his own and it seems a bit close for comfort to him. It’s really Mrs Stoner’s adult step-children that he’s not too keen on, particularly the boy Denis who always seems to be ill.

But that’s the least of his worries as there’s a rumour that a local plot of land called Pooker’s Piece is going to be built on. It’s owned by a man who is a ‘Loyd George Lord’ which means that he bought his title from that Prime Minister and is no gentleman. Everyone in the neighbourhood is up in arms about it and Mr Middleton along with Lord Bond set up a meeting, which is a great way of meeting up with people elsewhere in the county.

There’s romance of course but not quite as expected, and as ever there are bits and pieces in the book which are very reminiscent of classics. Thirkell admitted doing that, maybe we could call it her homage to them.

Anyway, there’s a lot of fun in this one with the servants more or less ruling the roost and generally being more snooty than ‘their betters’ as often happened, but the butler meets his match!

The next book in the series is Cheerfulness Breaks In and that one is on my 20 Books of Summer list so I’ll be reading it soonish.

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell

The Brandons by Angela Thirkell was first published in 1939 and this was a re-read for me which is something that I don’t do all that often, well I have so many unread books to get to, but as I read this Barsetshire series out of order originally I’ve always intended to re-read them all again in the correct order. I must say that it was a real treat to be back in Barsetshire, absolute comfort reading which was just what I needed.

The Brandon family consists of Mrs Lavinia Brandon, her daughter Delia and son Francis. Mrs Brandon was widowed early on in her marriage and she seems to have found her situation to be a comfortable one, she has a lovely home and no money worries, she writes popular books. Her long dead husband is used to express what she claims would be his disapproval now and again. She’s regarded as a bit of a silly fool and admits to that but in reality she’s often surprisingly astute.

Mrs Brandon’s very elderly and wealthy Aunt Sissie has been on her last legs for years but now she’s bedridden and is concerned with her will. She’s threatening to leave everything to Francis, but another relative has appeared on the scene. Cousin Hilary Grant is unknown to the Brandons but when they all meet they get on well and as neither Francis or Hilary wish to inherit ‘Nightmare Abbey’ Aunt Sissie’s will holds not a lot of interest for them. They all feel sorry for Miss Morris though, she has had the job of looking after Aunt Sissie and it obviously isn’t an easy task.

As you would expect from a Thirkell book there’s a lot of silly chat and snobbery and I find that amusing but not everybody appreciates that sort of thing. The editor and author Diana Athill seems to have really despised Thirkell’s books – and the sort of women who read them, but maybe she just didn’t have much of a sense of humour!

Emily Davis by ‘Miss Read’

Emily Davis cover

Emily Davis by ‘Miss Read’ was first published in 1971 and it’s the last in the Fairacre series by the author. There are eight novels in the series.

Dolly Clare and Emily Davis have been life-long friends since early school-days and after World War 1 when they both found themselves bereft of their fiances their friendship became even stronger. They had both become primary school teachers and had taught in and around the village of Caxley. On retirement Emily had moved into Dolly’s little thatched cottage, and there they had lived very happily for over twenty years until the very peaceful death of Emily.

The news of her death travelled fast, even to far-flung places and it’s evident that many of Emily’s ex-pupils had held her close in their memories. She had helped so many of them over the years and each chapter is the story of how Emily had influenced their futures and had even managed to browbeat a bullying father/husband.

This was a charming comfort read with a lot of rural social history thrown in.

Classics Club Spin #23 – the result

The spin number was chosen today and its number 6 which means that I will read Angela Thirkell’s Summer Half and blog about it by the 1st of June.

Summer Half is a re-read for me, but I’ve been reading Angela Thirkell’s books in order again as the first time I read them it was just in a random order as and when I could get copies of the books.

Strictly speaking I don’t really think of her books as ‘classics’ although as they are still in print decades after they were first written I suppose it’s fair enough to categorise them as classics. I know it will be a light and amusing read which will be perfect for these Covid-19 times that we’re having to endure, and no doubt we’ll still be in a similar situation by the 1st of June.

I did want to get number 3 which is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, maybe I’ll just read that one soon anyway. Are you up for that too tracybham?

Still Glides the Stream by D.E. Stevenson

Still Glides the Stream by the Scottish author D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1959 but my paperback copy is a 1973 reprint.

To begin with the setting is the Scottish Borders where Will Hastie has returned to his childhood home after being away for twelve years. His return is tinged by sadness as Rae his childhood best friend was killed in World War 2 and everywhere Will goes brings back memories for him and makes Rae’s absence all the more sharp.

To make matters worse Rae’s mother is suffering from some form of dementia and she keeps expecting Rae to turn up at any time, she’s constantly talking about him. Rae’s father is a retired colonel and his family home is entailed so he’s obviously worrying about what will happen to his wife and Patty his daughter when he dies as the house and land will then be owned by a cousin.

Like many elderly parents the colonel is keen to see Patty settled so that he doesn’t have to worry about her being left on her own and homeless when he dies, but his anxiety might be leading him and Patty in an unwise direction.

Will begins to feel left out of things and decides to take a walking holiday in France, in the area where Rae had been killed, hoping to track down the farmer that Rae had been billeted with and possibly get some information from him. Rae’s last letter had been rather cryptic.

This was a really enjoyable read and I particularly liked the settings of rural Scotland and the more exotic ambience of the south of France. D.E. Stevenson often gets in a wee nod to her more famous relative Robert Louis Stevenson and she has Will saying that he isn’t travelling with a donkey.

On the back The Bookman says: “Hypnotically readable.”
and from Books and Bookmen Skillfully blends love of people and love of the countryside.”

What do you think of the 1973 cover of this book? I think it’s ghastly, that era must have been a particularly low point for book covers I think.

Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton

I decided to read Agatha Raisin and the Dead Ringer by M.C. Beaton as a bit of a tribute because the author died on the 30th of December, coincidentally the same date my mother died, but 20 years later. Yes that did make our Millenium celebrations a bit of a damp squib.

Anyway – the book. This one was published in 2018 and it’s the second last book in the Agatha Raisin series which I must admit I had given up on as they had become too samey for me, I hadn’t read any since 2013. They are definitely light and frothy reads, very much tongue in cheek I would say.

In this one the Cotswold village of Thirk Magna is about to be visited by the very handsome local bishop and the bell-ringers are planning a special welcoming peal of bells in his honour. The bell-ringers are a mixed bunch of people including a couple of eccentric twin sisters, a lawyer, a vicar’s wife and a teacher, but Agatha is interested in the place because a local heiress had disappeared some years ago and she thinks she can solve the mystery which had baffled the police. It isn’t long though before the bodies begin to pile up and Agatha herself is targeted.

Entertainment Weekly
says: ‘Agatha is like Miss Marple with a drink problem, a pack-a-day habit and major man lust.’

And The Telegraph said: It’s said of Agatha Christie that she’s given more pleasure in bed than any other woman, but M.C. Beaton is matching her as a prolific purveyor of cosy whodunits perfect for pre-lights-out reading.

But there are more serious aspects in these books with a vicar’s wife who is stuck in an abusive marriage and of course having no way out apart from making herself homeless.

I suspect that as the Agatha Raisin books are so popular Little,Brown will continue with them being written by someone else in M.C. Beaton’s style.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

Penguin, 2011, 671p.

A Civil Contract cover

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1961 and it’s quite different from her other books as there’s really not much in the way of humour in it, no witty repartee between couples. There’s a lot of history in it, but it’s never dry. Apparently Georgette Heyer hated this book and she had a very tough time writing it. The problem was that her mother was seriously ill and in fact dying while she was writing it, so it would have been strange if she had been able to write in her normal fashion. I’d like to be able to tell her how much I enjoyed it though, in fact I think it’s my favourite so far, despite the fact that I so enjoy her more usual witty dialogue.

A Civil Contract features Adam, Lord Lynton, a young man who has only just come into his title after the death of his father. His father had been a spendthrift, womaniser and a gambler and has left nothing but debts. The only way out of the mess his father has left him with is to sell the family estate. Adam’s mother is dead against that and he isn’t keen on it himself.

Adam’s lawyer knows a way out of the problem – he suggests to Adam that he can arrange a marriage between him and the daughter of a very wealthy businessman whose ambition is for his only child to marry into the aristocracy.

So – very different from Heyer’s more usual romantic relationships and the upshot is a more realistic progress of the development of a marriage.

Sometimes music accompanies me in my mind as I read a book and with this one it was Mama Cass’s It’s Getting Better. Completely inappropriate for a Gerorgian setting I know but the sentiment is the same. It occurs to me that you have to be of a certain age to remember Mama Cass though!