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.

Christmas reads

Throughout the year I’ve been collecting Christmas and winter themed books, with a view to reading them throughout December, in an attempt to get myself into a festive mood. Last year was fairly dismal, my own fault as I didn’t even bother to put up a tree.

Christmas/Winter Themed  Books

1. A Christmas Card by Paul Theroux

2. The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

3. Christmas Term at Vernley by Margaret Biggs

4. Murder in the Falling Snow – classic crime short stories (D. Sayers, G. Mitchell, R.A.Freeman, J. Symons, G.K. Chesterton. A.C Doyle, E. Wallace and others.)

5. A Country Christmas by Miss Read

6. Excitement at the Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent Dyer

Probable re-reads are:

7. Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell

8. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Stories for Winter and nights by the fire, for review. It’s a new one from the British Library Women Writers series.

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.

Books from Orkney – Birsay Books

When we went on holiday to the Orkney Islands last month I didn’t really expect to find any books to buy there, but Jack did some research and discovered Birsay Books, on the part of the mainland called Birsay as you would expect. It was surprisingly good, for me anyway. If you’re looking for modernish books you wouldn’t be so impressed.

Books Bought at Birsay Books, Orkney

I bought:

Castaway Camp by M.E. Atkinson (I haven’t read anything by this author but somebody recommended her)

Tropical Issue by Dorothy Dunnett (a mystery)

A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep by Rumer Godden (her autobiography)

The Glad Eye by Ranger Gull (I bought this one for the cover, isn’t it great?!)

Swing, Brother, Swing by Ngaio Marsh (I’ve already read and reviewed this one)

Winter at Thrush Green by Miss Read (this one I got at a charity shop in Kirkwall)

A Certain Smile by Francois Sagan (it’s possible that I read this one back in the 1970s)

The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff ( this contains three of her books but I only had one of them)

Not a bad haul I think. Have you read any of them?

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.

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.

New to me books

Books Febrauary 2019

Nine more books entered my house the other day. I say that as if they did it of their own volition, bursting in the front door like gatecrashers, but I must admit that it’s entirely my fault that my TBR piles continue to multiply. A visit to Edinburgh’s Stockbridge area usually leads to me buying more books although my pre-Christmas visit was disappointing, if I’m remembering correctly. I made up for that this time.

Anyway I bought:

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom (1973)
Send a Fax to the Kasbah by Dorothy Dunnett (1991)
Dolly Dialogues by Anthony Hope (1896)
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull (1938)
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian (1970)
Secret Water by Arthur Ransome (!939)
The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read (1987)
Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (1984)
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon (2011)

2019 February Books

It’s quite a mixture. I had thought that Dorothy Dunnett had only written historical fiction but Send a Fax to the Kasbah was contemporary in its day. The blurb on this book says: This highly pertinent look at the world of big business in the last decade of the twentieth century presents Dorothy Dunnett at the very top of her form. Mind you, as it was first published in 1991 and uses the word ‘fax’ in the title it will probably seem quite historical now.

To me Anthony Hope was the author of The Prisoner of Zenda and I had never heard of Dolly Dialogues but it seems that it’s an amusing read – so I could use it to count towards the humorous classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge. I bought this one for £2 but people are asking silly prices for it on the internet.

I always buy British Library Crime Classics when I see them in secondhand bookshops, sometimes the cover is the most impressive thing about the books. So far the mysteries have only been about 50% good and I’m left thinking that there must be better crime classics which are more deserving of being reprinted. I think that Excellent Intentions will be a good one though.

Master and Commander is the first in a series of books by Patrick O’Brian. I believe they feature the ship HMS Surprise, that’s mainly why I want to read the series as one of my ancestors was transported to Australia for sedition (it was a fit up!), and I just recently discovered that he was transported there on The Surprise.

The Sleeping Army is aimed at older children but it is described by Jacqueline Wilson as ‘a wildly original, rollicking twist on Norse mythology.’

The Miss Read books are for when the news is driving me crazy and I can’t settle to read anything that might not be a nice gentle read. The blurb says: ‘She conjures up scenes of thatch, hollyhocks and lovable eccentricities which the world recognises as the epitome of Englishness.’

Have you read any of these ones?

Christmas with Miss Read

I’ve only read a few books by Miss Read although I’ve been familiar with the books for donkey’s years. In the past I had to censor books from the library for my mother-in-law and her mother as they were very genteel ladies and easily shocked, but I knew I was on safe ground with Miss Read books and I could safely give them to my m-i-l, who had led such a sheltered life that she was over 60 before she realised what the ‘eff’ word actually meant!

Anyway, I decided to read this omnibus of Christmas and winter season books and short stories to try to get me in the mood for the festive season. They’re all from her Fairacre series and mainly revolve around the village school and although I always thought of these books as being twee in the extreme, the storylines often deal with quite serious subjects, such as disturbed children from dysfunctional backgrounds. In fact they are good depictions of the life of a teacher, as of course teaching is just one part of the job, they end up being unpaid social workers and nurses too. The novels and stories span the years from 1949 – 1979.

In a way these stories did help me to get in the mood for Christmas, which is just as well as it’s very soon now. They are well written and observed from Dora Saint’s (Miss Read) own experiences as a teacher, but I think they’re seen as being quite lightweight when they aren’t really. It’s what I call (I just typed that and realised that it makes me sound exactly like Miranda Harts’s mum! ho hum) – it’s what I call Waltons Syndrome, as The Waltons was a by-word for schmaltz and sentimentality when in actual fact if you ever watched it you’ll realise that it was far more realistic than that. The family members were often at daggers drawn and even Grandma and Grandpa were more often than not at war with each other and wouldn’t even be on speaking terms.

I read this as part of Judith@ Reader in the Wilderness Christmas Open House If you click the link you’ll see some more Christmas book post links.