Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard

Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard is the second in her Kevin and Sadie series, it was first published in 1972.

Although Kevin and Sadie lived just a short distance from each other, they both come from different worlds and so hadn’t seen each other for years when they bumped into each other in Belfast town. In the previous book The Twelfth Day of July they had obviously quite fancied each other, but with Sadie being a Protestant and Kevin a Roman Catholic they couldn’t even be friends.

Now they’ve both left school and are working, so when they realise that they’re still keen on each other they decide to keep their relationship a secret, easier said than done. Kevin ends up getting badly beaten up by his one time best friends, and he loses his job.

Both families are adamant that they’ll have to give each other up and it looks like the end of the road for the couple, but when one of Sadie’s old teachers realises what has been going on he allows them to meet up at his house. He lives in a different part of Belfast, a quiet middle class area, it seems like a safe place to be, but – not for long.

This is a great read, I couldn’t help thinking that at the time it was written it was quite a brave thing to write about.  Things were going from bad to worse in Belfast and Northern Ireland in general, and the violence was moving on to England and even in Scotland it was quite common for the department store that you were shopping in to be evacuated because of a bomb threat. I’m looking forward to reading the next one in this series. Into Exile.

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan

Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan was published in 1993.

The story begins in 1929 when cousins Matty and Daisy attend a wedding. They’ve been brought up together since Matty’s parents died. Daisy’s family is upper class but has fallen on hard times, like many, but Matty inherited a lot of money from her parents which has been quite handy for Daisy’s mother as Matty contributed to the family coffers, but Matty was never given any love or even appreciation.

Both cousins have fallen for the brother of the bride, but it’s the vibrant and vivacious Daisy that Kit is in love with. Kit is the only son, his father Sir Rupert is suffering from his experiences in World War 1 and the estate has fallen into disrepair and needs a large injection of money. When Kit is suffering from a hangover and in despair at his situation he makes a decision which pleases his father but makes everyone else unhappy. It transpires that Sir Robert and his family have experienced a lot of trauma over the years.

This was a really good read, it’s 469 pages long but it didn’t seem like that, I suppose because I was engrossed in it. There’s also quite a lot about the planning and planting of a garden in the book, and horticulture in general, but it’s done in a subtle way I think and won’t be intrusive to people who aren’t so interested in plants.

Elizabeth Buchan is married to the grandson of the author John Buchan. The only other book that I’ve read by her is Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman which I believe was dramatised for TV, but looking back at my review of it it seems that I wasn’t as impressed with that one.

In Pursuit of Clarinda by Mabel Esther Allan – 20 Books of Summer 2023

In Pursuit of Clarinda by Mabel Esther Allan was first published in 1966 but it was reprinted by Greyladies in 2018, This one is aimed at young adults or teenagers.

Lucy lives in London in a flat close to Hyde Park with her parents, but as they are on holiday she has been left on her own, and all of her friends are away on holiday too. She’s feeling quite lonely so decides to take a book to the park. While there she gets into conversation with a young girl who is lame. Clarinda turns out to be 20 years old although she doesn’t look it, she’s already engaged, but her fiance is touring in Scotland and can’t be contacted easily.  Clarinda is an orphan and she’s having to live with an uncle who has been made her guardian until she turns 21. He’s refusing to allow the young couple to marry and Clarinda is sure that her aunts and uncles are on a mission to murder her and claim the large amount of money she has been left by her father.

Obviously Lucy feels that she has to help but the aunts and uncles always seem to be one jump ahead. When Clarinda disappears unexpectedly with her aunt and uncle Clarinda feels she has to confide in her next door neighbour William and his sister Della ends up joining them in a bid to track down Clarinda. The quest takes them through Yorkshire and into rural Wales.

I enjoyed this one which I think you could classify as a thriller with a dash of romance. It has an interesting and entertaining introduction by Scott Thompson of Furrowed Middlebrow fame.


The Wartime Bookshop by Lesley Eames

I was sent a digital copy of The Wartime Bookshop by Lesley Eames for review – by Netgalley. The book isn’t really my usual fare but the wartime aspect of it attracted me and I did enjoy it. It’s very early on in WW2.

Alice Lovell has moved to the small village of Churchwood with her father who has just retired as a doctor. The village seems to be run by Naomi Harrington, a lady of a certain age who has set herself up as the most inmportant inhabitant – in her mind anyway. Sadly as she has money a lot of the villagers are happy to take their cue from her, as they are afraid of upsetting her.

Alice has had an accident which means that she doesn’t have much use of one of her hands, she’s very self-conscious about it and dreads people looking at it. The only bright spot in her life is Daniel who had been a neighbour before her father had decided to move to the village. She’s in love with him but won’t really even admit the fact to herself, since her recent accident she doesn’t want him to feel he has to marry her.

In an effort to settle into the village she decides to volunteer at the hospital which is beginning to fill up with injured servicemen. Stuck in bed and not even allowed to go to the loo the men are bored stiff. Alice decides to read to them and almost all of them look forward to her and her reading sessions, but there’s a paucity of reading material. Will Mrs Harrington help or hinder?

This book is light entertainment, sometimes just what you need, although it has its fraught moments as you would expect.

I was glad to be sent a copy of this book by the publisher Transworld via NetGalley.
I was however perplexed by a couple of things. For some weird reason every time there was a double ‘f’ in the middle of a word they were missing and sometimes it was the ffs and an l which were missing. So the word different comes out as dierent, and it’s amazing how many words that a’ects!

Also in my usual nit-picking way I noticed that nurses mentioned how thankful they were that they now had antibiotics to use on their patients. However they weren’t available that early on in the war, pre Dunkirk. 1941 is the important date and even then they were not widely available.

The Tontine Belle by Elisabeth Kyle

The Tontine Bell by the Scottish author Elisabeth Kyle was first published in 1951.

Jinny Errclestoun has been brought up in England in rather poverty stricken circumstances, but she has always been told of her family’s glory days in 18th century Glasgow when the tobacco business had made some families fabulously wealthy – including the Errclestouns. The American War had changed their circumstances completely though as The Tontine Belle had been fired on by rebels in Baltimore and had sunk. That led to the ruin of the Errclestouns.

When Jinny’s father dies she travels to Glasgow to see the only asset left to her, a damp ruin of a house which had been very grand in the 18th century but was now being used as bedsits for people who couldn’t afford somwhere decent to live. Jinny ends up living there herself with the one other thing that had been left to her by her father, a wooden model of The Tontine Belle.

There’s a bit of a mystery in this tale, but it didn’t go at all the way that I expected it to. However given what went on in Glasgow development-wise in the 1950s and 60s the plot is very much of its time and I enjoyed the way the character of Jinny developed. I’ve only read a few previous books by Elisabeth Kyle, but they had Edinburgh as their setting so it was enjoyable to be in the Glasgow of the 1950s.

A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde

A Wedding in the Country is the first book that I’ve read by the very popular author Katie Fforde and I must say that it was the perfect antidote to the stress of books which I’ve recently read which feature the pandemic or terrorism in their plots.

The setting is London, 1963 and Elizabeth (Lizzie to her friends) has just enrolled in a cookery/domestic godess course, but she’s feeling rather down because most of the other students are aristocratic females who don’t really take much notice of the classes – or her. They’re being groomed to look after their future wealthy husband’s home – whoever he may be. But Lizzie has left her comfortable suburban home to get away from her parents who have her future all mapped out for her. Her mother has been planning her wedding since she gave birth to Elizabeth.

Luckily not all of the debutante types are snooty and Lizzie finds two good friends in the shape of Alexandra who invites Lizzie to stay in a large once very grand but now rather ramshackle house which she has the use of – and Meg who intends to have a career in catering. The other house-mate is David who is an older gay friend, an antique dealer who is of course completely in the closet as homosexuality is still illegal in 1963. There’s a romance which doesn’t run smooth but works out well in the end, as you would expect from the title of the book!

This book is such a great look back at a time when young women and men were just beginning to think about being able to have a life of their own instead of toeing the line and obeying their parents who already had everything planned out for their futures. I well remember when mothers of daughters just wanted to get them safely married off as fast as possible for fear that they would end up pregnant without benefit of a marriage certificate. How times have changed!

Apart from the social history aspect of the book I really enjoyed the houses, gardens, fashion, food (can you remember jap cakes?) flowers, the linen cupboard full of fabric as well as the trunk and the bags full of vintage clothes that the talented Lizzie could get her hands on. There are characters to despise and some to love. It was a real comfort read, which I was in need of.

Thanks to NetGalley for sending me a digital copy of the book for review.

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson – The Classics Club

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson was first published in 1888 and it’s one of the books on my Classics Club list. It’s set during the Wars of the Roses in the time of King Henry VI and as you would expect it’s a combination of adventure and romance. Sadly it didn’t come up to the standards of Treasure Island, Kidnapped or even its sequel Catriona.

Dick Shelton’s father was murdered when Dick was younger and now that he is grown up Dick wants to get justice for his father. Unfortunately Dick’s guardian is Sir Daniel, he’s a rogue although supposedly a gentleman. Sir Daniel buys up guardianships so that he can plunder their money before they reach maturity. He has kidnapped Joanna Sedley from her legal guardian, intending to marry her off to Dick.

Meanwhile Dick is beginning to think that Sir Daniel and his cronies are actually responsible for his father’s death and Joanna is sure of it, she persuades Dick to team up with The Black Arrow outlaws against Sir Daniel.

I really disliked the style of writing that Stevenson employed in this book, a sort of archaic English which Stevenson himself called ‘tushery’. I suppose that he thought it would help with the historical atmosphere, but it really doesn’t.

There is quite a lot of fighting and killing, as you would expect in a book which features battles and spies and a 15th century setting. I read this one for The Classics Club and I downloaded it from Project Gutenberg as my copy of the book dates from 1908 and has teeny weeny print.

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart was first published in 1997.

The setting is Argyll in Scotland and Sunderland, County Durham in the north-east of England. Kate Herrick is a young widow, having lost her husband who had been in the RAF during World War 2 – one of ‘the few’. Unexpectedly she has been left fairly well-off by him, but she’s working in a plant nursery in County Durham, just for something to do really, but she loves the work.

However Kate’s Granny has moved north to Scotland and has decided to stay there for good, she has asked Kate to clear up Rose Cottage which is the house that Granny had lived in. The house is on the Brandon estate where Granny had been a cook for years, and as Kate had lost both her parents as a child she had lived there with her Granny. Kate has instructions as to which furniture and household goods should be packed for Scotland, but she doesn’t expect it will take her long.

Kate’s a wee bit worried about going back to what had been her childhood home as not everyone had been friendly as she was growing up there, since her mother had been unmarried and her father a mystery. Kate had had to put up with some nastiness from strait-laced people, but she’s surprised by how welcome she has been made to feel on her return – time has changed things it seems.

This is an entertaining light read, not in the same league as the author’s earlier books but still with an element of romance, mystery and suspense in it, which she was so well known for. It was the last book that Mary Stewart had published and she was over 80 by then, she was 98 when she died.

I found it to be a bit of a strange experience reading this one as there were so many elements in it which echoed the experiences of a friend of mine from Sunderland who splits her time between Sunderland and Scotland – and she even has a pet tortoise just as one of the characters in the book has!

Although Mary Stewart is generally seen as being a Scottish author, she was actually born in the north-east of England, but moved to Scotland when she married a Scottish soldier and settled down in Edinburgh with him. I imagine she enjoyed her imaginary jaunt back in time to her roots geographical via writing this book.

The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

 The Light Over London cover

The Light Over London by Julia Kelly was first published in 2019. It’s a dual time novel with the setting being in WW2 London 1941 and 2017 Gloucestershire. This type of structure often works well but at times they can be annoying if you are enjoying the story and the timeline suddenly switches away from it. The author is American but is now living in London.

Cara has recently divorced and relocated to Gloucestershire where she has got a job with an antiques dealer who does house clearances. When she finds a wartime diary in an old tin while helping with valuations and house clearing she asks her boss Jock if she can keep the diary and he’s happy for her to do so. The diary has been written by a woman who had run away and joined the army to do her bit, rather than stay at home and marry the young man that her rather bullying mother had planned out for her future.

The diary comes to an abrupt end and Cara is keen to find out what happened. She’s helped in her task by Liam, her new and rather good-looking neighbour. So the book contains two romances and a bit of a mystery, unfortunately for me it just didn’t work, in fact there are so many anomalies in the writing that I took to keeping a note of them, this might seem like nit-picking but if you are setting a book in England and all the characters are English then it’s important not to import Americanisms into it as it jars so badly.

The most obvious one was the use several times of the word purse where it should have been handbag.

The word blond was used to describe a woman but the ‘e’ also appeared in the next sentence, otherwise it was without the ‘e’.

The word stand-down was used in relation to the end of the war.

Card shark is used a few times, it should of course be card sharp, I have no idea if card shark is American.

Ticket taker should be ticket collector.

Do you think Princess Elizabeth will serve? The phrase in the UK is/was join up.

Off ramp was used when it should have been slip road, and tea kettle was used instead of just kettle.

In other words the book is in need of being edited to weed out the incongruous Americanisms – as well as the cornier romance parts.

Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson

Spring Magic cover

Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson was first published in 1942 but I read a 1986 reprint which had to be hauled out of Fife Libraries’ reserve stock. I’m only thankful that they haven’t got rid of the books completely, as they have with so many other authors.

I’m not close to having read all of D.E. Stevenson’s books but so far Spring Magic is my favourite. The setting is mainly Scotland and during World War 2. I’m very partial to wartime books especially when they are contemporary.

Frances Field is living in London with her aunt and uncle, she has been with them for years as her parents died when she was quite young. Her aunt is a very silly selfish woman and she believes that Frances is there to pander to her every wish. The aunt is a hypochondriac and Frances had been very sorry for her, but when the doctor tells Frances that there’s nothing wrong with her aunt and urges Frances to get out and get a life for herself, she does just that, taking the aunt’s decision to decamp out of London to a supposedly safer location as her cue to have a holiday in Scotland and think about her future.

The island fishing village that Frances finds herself in is sleepy and friendly but it isn’t long before the whole area is inundated with a battalion of soldiers from the British army, changing everything, especially as some of the officers’ wives have arrived too. Frances has never really had any women friends her own age before and it opens up a whole new world for her.

Not everything is sweetness and light as Frances realises along with everyone else that one of the wives is in an abusive marriage, but nothing can be done about it. Aerial dogfights and air raids bring the war right to her door and there are misunderstandings but as you would expect – all’s well in the end.