Stories for Winter and nights by the fire – British Library Women Writers

Stories for Winter and nights by the fire is a recent publication from British Library from their British Library Women Writers series. I must say that I’m not a huge fan of short stories as I prefer to get stuck into  a decent sized novel, but I really enjoyed this compilation, I don’t think there was a duffer in it – for me anyway. A few of the writers were completely new to me.

But some of the writers I regard as old friends, such as Elizabeth Bowen. Her story Ann Lee’s is about two women friends who visit a hat shop where one of them had bought a hat before. There’s too much to choose from and the time passes quickly with no hat decisions made, then a large man enters the shop and he’s obviously not welcomed by Ann Lee. This one had quite an abrupt ending which left me wondering – with a bit of a shiver – what happened in that shop after the women left? I wanted more really, and that’s my problem with short stories.

The other writers are: Edith Wharton, Mary Angela Dickens, Elizabeth Banks, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bibesco, Violet M. MacDonald, Kate Roberts, Shirley Jackson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Berridge, Frances Bellerby, Elizabeth Taylor and Angela Carter.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book for review by British Library.

 

 

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.

Murder in a Heatwave – short stories

Murder in a Heatwave is a compilation of ten vintage crime short stories. I was attracted by the bookcover which was on display in a charity shop, so art deco.

The authors are: Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carter Dickson, Baroness Orczy, Michael Innes, Julian Symons, Ethel Lina White, Margery Allingham and surprisngly Ian Rankin.

I had read all of the authors before, except Baroness Orczy and although I’m not a huge fan of short stories I enjoyed most of them. I wasn’t massively taken with the Rex Stout story which is I think the longest, and I have  a bit of a Conan Doyle phobia. I enjoyed The Mystery of the Russian Prince by Baroness Orczy, and I’ll definitely give one of her books a go.  A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin features the Edinburgh Festival and Rebus, it seems strange that he should count as classic crime, but that probably says more about me than anything else.

I think that the back cover is more art deco than the front.

After reading these stories all set in summer heat I’ll soon be going on to my Christmas/Winter themed books that I’ve been hoarding throughout the year. Fingers crossed they get me into the festive mood!

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively – 20 Books of Summer 2023

I picked this book up from a library which I shouldn’t even have been mooching around, but I couldn’t help myself. I can’t pass an open library. Obviously it didn’t appear in my original list of  20 Books of Summer.

Metamorphosis by Penelope Lively is a short story collection which was published in 2021, the stories date from the 1970s to 2019. I have to say that I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I do really like Penelope Lively’s writing, and although I have a lot of Lively’s books (some unread as yet)  I didn’t have this one at home. As you would expect though in a collection some stories work better than others,  or just appeal more.

For me it seemed like she saved the best one until last. Songs of Praise is about a memorial service for an artist who also happened to be a wife and mother of three adult children. With the children all giving their own thoughts on their mother and mentally reviewing their past, then the husband following them with his thoughts  and in a sort of novelist’s take on a split screen on TV we get a totally different slant on the life led by the whole family as his thoughts take an alternative turn from what he is actually saying.

However I enjoyed all of the stories although a few of them left me slightly bemused as for me the endings were a bit abrupt which left me wondering why. Maybe I missed something!

There’s an interesting introduction by the author, and the description on the fly cover says:

In intimate tales of growing up and growing old, chance encounters and life-long relationships, Lively explores with keen insight the ways that individuals can become entangled in history, and how small acts ripple through the generations.

 

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers contains three short stories, apparently the last three cases of Lord Peter Wimsey. This book was first published in 1972, but two of the stories had previously been published in 1939. This book has an introduction by Janet Hitchman.

Striding Folly wasn’t terribly entertaining, for me anyway. Two neighbours Mr Creech and Mr Mellilow  play chess a couple of times every week, but it seems that everything is going to change as the valley they live in has been sold to an Electrical Company – by Mr Creech. Mellilow had moved to the area because it seemed so unchanged, he thought that nothing would ever spoil the solitude. There’s a murder which is when Lord Peter appears, towards the end of the story. It was okay-ish.

The Haunted  Policeman begins with the birth of Lord Peter and Harriet’s son Bredon in a hospital. On the way back home after the birth Lord Peter falls in with a policeman who is new to the beat so Lord P is a stranger to him and he’s supicious of him, until he explains he has just become a father. The policeman is a worried man though, he had thought he had seen a murder victim earlier in the night – through a letter box –  but the house seems to have disappeared. Of course Lord Peter can help.

Talboys was written in 1942 but hadn’t been published before. Bredon is now a young lad and is more than a bit of a handful. Lord Peter is an indulgent father  but believes in corporal punishment. Miss Quirk is a guest in the house, she’s keen on child psychology and  speaks her mind. This is quite an amusing read and I enjoyed being in the Vane-Wimsey household.

Wave Me Goodbye – edited by Anne Boston

Wave Me Goodbye is a collection of stories of the Second World War edited by Anne Boston. There are twenty-eight short stories in the book, obviously some better than others but it is a very enjoyable read if like me you enjoy contemporary wartime fiction.

The authors include:

Rosamond Lehman
Jan Struther
Rosamond Oppersdorff
Kay Boyle
Mollie Panter-Downes
Molly Lefebure
Rose Macaulay
Anna Kavan
Olivia Manning
Barbara Pym
Jean Rhyss
Edna Ferber
Dorothy Parker
Elizabeth Bowen
Margery Sharp
Pat Frank
Diana Gardner
Sylvia Townsend Warner
Ann Chadwick
Stevie Smith
Doris Lessing
A.L. Barker
Malachi Whitaker
Inez Holden
Beryl Bainbridge
Jean Stafford
Elizabeth Taylor

There are just a few authors that I had never heard of before, but quite a lot by favourite writers. There were just a couple that didn’t enthrall me.

I’m glad to say that I was able to borrow this book from my local library.

There are No Ghosts in the Soviet Union by Reginald Hill

There are no ghosts in the soviet union by Reginald Hill is a compilation of short stories, the first of which is the title story and could be described as being a novella. The collection features various different styles, the title story being set in the Soviet Union was one of my favourites and surprisingly I really enjoyed Hill’s continuation of Jane Austen’s Emma, Poor Emma. I’m usually not at all keen on Austen ‘rip offs’ but this one was entertaining and surprising. Reginald Hill’s tale takes us to 20 years or so after the marriage of Emma to her Mr Knightley, the marriage has not fared well as over the years Knightly has turned into a ghastly man, but Emma has learned a lot over the years and is driven to actions which would have shocked her younger self, and so survives in that very male dominated society.

I’m way behind with my book review writing, but Jack decided to read this book too. If you’re interested you can read Jack’s far more detailed thoughts on this short story collection here.

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories is edited by Martin Edwards and is a British Library Crime Classic.

This compilation of eleven Christmas/winter themed vintage crime short stories is as you would expect a bit of a mixed bunch, but that means that there will surely be something to suit everyone. Each short story is preceded by a short biography of the author, which I found interesting.

For me it was the story from which the title of the book came which was most successful. The Christmas Card Crime was written by Donald Stuart. Some of the stories are sooo short, and I can’t help thinking that the author used up a good idea which could have been worked up into something a lot longer and for me more inetresting. I suppose that just means that I’m not a big fan of short stories, well not very short ones anyway.

The other authors featuring in this anthology are:

Baroness Orczy
Selwyn Jepson
Ronald Knox
Carter Dickson
Francis Durbridge
Cyril Hare
E.C.R. Lorac
John Bude
John Bingham
Julian Symons

The book cover is taken from a vintage travel poster.

Mont-Revard poster

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

 SILENT NIGHTS   cover

I’ve been away for four days, travelling around in the north-east of England and seeing the sights, before we need a passport to visit England, but I didn’t see as many sights as I would have liked to – so I’ll be back to see the Roman sites next time. I didn’t get an awful lot of reading done while I was down there but I did finish …

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards was published in 2015 and it’s a compilation of fifteen short stories which all have a Christmas theme. There’s a short biography of each of the writers before their contribution to the book begins, they were interesting and informative. I had no idea that Marjorie Bowen also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch and Robert Paye. She has two stories in this collection.

I found Cambric Tea that she wrote as Marjorie Bowen to be quite chilling. A wealthy man believes that he is being poisoned by his much younger wife, but all is not as it seems.

She wrote The Chinese Apple under the name of Joseph Shearing. A successful woman has to travel to London from her home in Italy after her sister dies leaving a young daughter who may need some attention from her reluctant aunt. Returning to the family home is an ordeal for the aunt who had been living in Florence. London is dingy and dirty and the house holds bad memories for her, things go from bad to worse as she realises that there has been a murder in the house across the road.

I had already read The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers so didn’t bother re-reading it as I remember that I wasn’t too impressed by it, which is strange as I’m really quite a Sayers fan. I think in general though this is a really good collection. I don’t think much of the cover design though, which is surprisingly dull in my opinion, maybe there is a shortage of Christmas linked vintage designs. This cover was designed by Chris Andrews and isn’t one of his best book covers.

The Blue Carbunkle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
The Absconding Treasurer by J.Jefferson Farjeon
The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Case is Altered by Margery Allingham
Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce

Christmas Reads

To try to get me into the Christmas mood I’ll be reading some Christmas related books, sadly so far the only one that I have in the house unread is Silent Nights Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards and it’s a British Library Crime Classic. This is one that I didn’t get around to reading last year, but I’m half-way through it now and finding it to be a good read.

Silent Nights

This collection of short stories features the writers below, some of whom I’ve never even heard of before.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Ralph Plummer
Raymund Allen
G.K. Chesterton
Edgar Wallace
H.C. Bailey
J.Jefferson Farjeon
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ethel Lina White
Marjorie Bowen
Joseph Shearing
Nicholas Blake
Edmund Crispin
Leo Bruce