The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden – 20 Books of Summer

The Runaway Summer by Nina Bawden was first published in 1969 and it’s one of my 20 Books of Summer. The book is/was aimed at older children.

Mary’s parents are getting divorced and during the school holidays she has been sent to live with her Aunt Alice and grandfather who live on the coast, while everything is sorted out. Mary is premanently angry about the whole situation, she has no friends in the area and she knows that she’s behaving very badly towards Aunt Alice and Grandfather, but annoyingly they are very understanding, which only makes Mary feel worse!

In a fit of rage Mary runs out of the house and heads for the sea front where she gets into more trouble as she’s so angry she decides to steal some sweets, but her shoplifting has been seen by young twin sisters who have run away from their older brother Simon. He’s the eldest of a large chaotic family and their father is a policeman!

On one of her trips to the beach Mary watches a small boat coming towards it, when it reaches the shingle two dark men jump out and help a young boy out too. It all seems strange, none of them are dressed for a trip in a boat and they have suitcases, when they get on the beach the boatman sails off again. The young boy has a damaged arm and as the men make their way along the beach, he’s left behind and Mary can see that he’s crying.

But in no time the men are picked up by the police, and Mary decides that she must help the young boy and hide him from the authorities, but she’ll need help from Simon.

As you would expect fromm Nina Bawden this is a really well-written book, but I found myself checking the details about when it was first published and I must say that I find it fairly depressing that she was writing about illegal immigrants in small boats – and it’s still a huge problem and very much in the news 55 years later.

It turns out that Krishna had been flying from Kenya to London to stay with his uncle, but there was a deadline to do it legally and due to plane delays he had missed it, and so began all his troubles.

My  20 Books of Summer list is here. This is the sixth book that I’ve read on the list.




Green Willow’s Secret by Eileen Dunlop

Green Willow’s Secret by the Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was published in 1993. This book is meant for YA readers but is enjoyable to people of all ages I’m sure.

Kit had lived in Edinburgh with her parents and older sister, but a family tragedy has led to the father travelling to Australia and Kit and her mother moving to Maddimoss, a rural area. Kit isn’t settling in well and when her teacher tells the class about a Japanese exhibition she has been to the other pupils tell her that there’s a Japanese garden where Kit lives. Kit knows nothing about it but later when she gets home she does some exploring and discovers the remains of a very neglected but wonderful Japanese garden.

There’s a photograph of the garden in the house they are living in, as it was in its heyday, and there are people in the photo, including a Japanese man in traditional dress, but strangely he appears and disappears in the photo. There’s something slightly spooky about the garden. When Kit meets Daniel who is also not a local they decide to work on the garden together.

There’s a lot more to this book, but I don’t want to say much more other than that I enjoyed it. As it happens there is a Japanese Garden at Cowden, not that far from where we live and a hop and a skip from where Eileen Dunlop lived in the wee town of Dollar. I’m sure that is where she got the idea from because the garden at Cowden fell into neglect and was vandalised in the 1960s. As in the book the original Japanese gardener is buried in the local churchyard. You can read the garden’s history and see more photos here. It has fairly recently been brought back to perfection and is open to the public, obviously it’s a business too nowadays so you have to pay an entrance fee. It’s quite a few years since we visited, (you can see my blogposts on our visits here) I seem to remember that there was a small play area for youngsters who may not be so enamoured of the beautiful surroundings.


Operation Sippacik by Rumer Godden

Operation Sippacik by Rumer Godden was published in 1969. The setting is Cyprus. Rumer Godden was on holiday there when she was told the story of a brave donkey and she decided to write it.

The men of the 27th Battery Royal Artillery were part of a United Nations force who were in Cyprus as part of a peace keeping force, trying to stop the Greek and Turkish Cypriots from killing each other.

Sippacik is a very small donkey which is owned by a small boy called Rifat, he had witnessed the donkey’s birth and had a strong bond with her, so when Rifat’s grandfather sold the donkey to the British Army Rifat was not happy, but money was scarce, particularly as Rifat’s father was not around to help on the family farm.  Rifat’s father has been a bit of a local hero, but he had been taken away by the Greek Cypriot police.

Rifat has been dodging school and when the soldiers realise that they can’t cope with the donkey’s awkward temperament it’s arranged for Rifat to live at the army camp and look after Sippacik. They get involved in a dangerous adventure.

This book was probably aimed at ten year olds, it’s entertaining and educational. I bought it just because it was written by Rumer Godden. She seems to have been inspired to write wherever she went on holiday, or moved to. In her old age she moved to Scotland to live to be close to her daughter, and I was impressed by the way that she obviously threw herself into the culture of Scotland and even managed to write in dialect in her book for children The Dragon of Og.

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange

Our Castle by the Sea by Lucy Strange was published in 2019. The setting is the south-east coast of England during World War 2.

On the first day of the war Magda came home from school with a split lip and a swollen eye. She had been in a fight and her younger sister Petra is shocked. The girls live with their parents right on the coast as their father is a lighthouse keeper, but their mother originally came from Germany and some people aren’t happy about that. They live in a cottage adjoining the lighthouse.

Of course the lighthouse lamps are no longer in use, but the glass still has to be polished up, just in case an important convoy has to be guided briefly.  The foghorn is the only way of alerting shipping to the coast now.

They all love living there, it’s ideal as there’s plenty to sketch, even their mother sketches, and that’s what causes a problem. She’s regarded as being an ‘enemy alian’ and under suspicion of being a spy and as Churchill had said “collar the lot” including people who had come to Britain to escape the Nazis. she is taken away, they’re all devastated.  She is accused of sending information to Germany, but the real enemy is much closer to the authorities than they would expect.

I really enjoyed this one which is I suppose aimed at older children (YA) but like all good writing it’s entertaining no matter what age the reader is. The story includes local legends such as standing stones, generational family strife, unresolved problems from the earlier Great War and the blot of home grown Fascism in Britain.

I bought my copy of this book from the internet, something I don’t do all that often, and I was chuffed when I realised that my copy of the book had been signed by the author.


A Flute in Mayferry Street by Eileen Dunlop

A Flute in Mayferry Street by Scottish author Eileen Dunlop was first published in 1976.

Marion and Colin Ramsay live with their mother in a Georgian house in Edinburgh’s New Town, their father is dead and life is difficult, there’s never enough money.  The house they live in has been in the Ramsay family for generations and their mother doesn’t really know too much about the history of the house. Everything in the house had belonged originally to the previous Ramsays.  Marion has left school, she had an accident and damaged her spine and is now paralysed. The doctors had been hopeful that given time her damaged nerves would mend, but it has been a few years now and she’s giving up hope and is sinking into a depression.  She has also become scared of being in the house on her own as she keeps hearing someone playing what sounds like a flute – in the empty house. She won’t go out in her wheelchair and her only friends are the lodgers, a young couple whose rent helps with the family budget.

The housework is proving to be never ending for Mrs Ramsay and she asks Colin to dust and sort through the books in the bookcase, it’s full of things that have just been stuck on the shelves too, and shouldn’t be there. Marion helps too and that’s when she finds an intersting letter dated 1914.  This leads to a bit of a treasure hunt although they don’t know what they’re looking for.  Marion is interested in life again.

The blurb on the back says:

A Flute in Mayferry Street has all the ingredients of a classic ghost story, mixed with the harsh realities of a life set apart, and its implications for those around. An inspiring tale of the magic of dreams and the power of the supernatural.

I really enjoyed it.


Natasha’s Will by Joan Lingard

Natasha’s Will by Joan Lingard was first published in 2020. It was a Federation of Children’s Book Groups’ Pick of the Year. I must admit that I’ve never heard of that group. It’s a very quick read at just 166 pages.

This is a dual time and place setting. It begins in contemporary Scotland where Natasha has just recently died. She had been over 90 and had been cared for in her own home by family friends of generations’ standing.  Natasha had started life in St Petersburg where she had a very privileged life – until the revolution in 1917. After a lot of difficulty danger and disasters Natasha and her mother had managed to make their way out of Russia and eventually ended up in Scotland, along with Eugenie, a friend who marries a Scot.

Years later it’s Eugenie’s family that look after Natasha in her own home until she dies. Natasha had always said that she was going to leave the family her house, but her will can’t be found anywhere, and it’s thought that she didn’t actually get around to writing it. It’s a disaster for the family, especially when Natasha’s official next of kin turns up to claim his inheritance. This was a good read with plenty of tension although I was pretty sure  that everything would turn out right in the end.

As ever it’s a plus when you know the locations and I was happy to be able to recognise St Petersburg as well as Scotland. I didn’t know anything about this book when I saw it in a charity bookshop in Edinburgh, but I’ve started to collect Lingard’s books whenever I see them, which isn’t that often, even in her hometown of Edinburgh.


Robinsheugh by Eileen Dunlop

Robinsheugh by Eileen Dunlop was first published in 1975.  The setting is the Scottish Border Country, but it begins in London’s King’s Cross Station where Elizabeth has just boarded a train bound for Scotland. She’s not at all happy, her parents are going to America for months and Elizabeth had been desperate to go with them, but it couldn’t be afforded and Elizabeth is having to go to stay with her aunt, a historian who usually lives in Oxford but at the moment she’s doing research at Robinsheugh into the family that lived there during the 18th century.

When Elizabeth reaches her destination she’s absolutely miserable, it’s evident that her aunt has very little time for her and she’s more interested in the past. But when Elizabeth finds an old hand mirror which by coincidence has her own initials on it strange things begin to happen and she finds herself being drawn back into the past to become part of the 18th century family.

I liked this one although I was almost rolling my eyes at what at first seemed to be the usual cliche of the old mirror and a time slip, admittedly there is something strange about really old mirrors. It’s the thought of all the people who have looked at their reflection in the glass that you’ll never know, and what were they thinking, what did they look like?

Anyway, it turned out to be not such a cliche. Apparently this was the first book by Eileen Dunlop who was born in Alloa and was  a teacher at Dollar Academy.

October, October by Katya Balen – 20 Books of Summer 2023

October, October by Katya Balen was published in 2020 and it won the Carnegie Medal  in 2022.

October is 11 years old and she’s named after the month she was born in as after trying out many names October was the only one which didn’t bounce off the walls and hit the floor with a thud – according to her father.  October and her father live in a wood, it’s an alternative way of life with no frills, but as October has only known that life she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on anything. They do a big shop in a nearby town once a year for the things that they aren’t able to grow themselves. The woman who is my mother, as October refers to her mother decided that she couldn’t live that sort of life any more and went to live a ‘normal’ life in London, leaving October with her father.  October refuses to have anything to do with her.

Although October doesn’t go to school and has no friends except her father she is being educated by her dad, she even helps him with the solar panels that provide their electricity and of course she knows a lot about the wildlife in the woodand, they’re living a wild life themselves. After a storm October finds a dead owl and when they find a tiny baby owl alive on the ground her father tells her to leave it alone to let its mother pick it up, but the next day it’s still there and October decides to rescue it, her dad isn’t happy about it but sets about getting food for the baby owl.

When October’s father has an accident it leads to October having to communicate with her despised mother and what seemed like a disaster eventually has a silver lining.

This is a lovely read which is illustrated by the artist Angela Harding, the illustrations are all small and they’re all of Stig the owl, but she also designed the book cover, I really like her style.


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 Stronghold by Mollie Hunter – 20 Books of Summer 2023

The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1974 and it is a Carnegie Medal Winner.

The setting is the Orkneys at a time when the islands were often being raided by Romans (around the middle of the first century BC) who were searching for people they could drag off to enslave. This meant that the islands were being deprived of the strongest and fittest members of their society. Somthing had to be done. When Coll was a child he had witnessed a violent Roman raid which had culminated in his mother being dragged away and enslaved, Coll was thrown on the rocks by a Roman, breaking his hip badly, and now as an 18 year old cripple he’s left behind as a look-out while other males of his age are taking a more active role in the defence of their island.

Coll has spent a lot of time thinking about how things can be improved and eventually in desperation the leader agrees to allow Coll to organise and direct the building of a huge defensive structure, called a broch. It will be big enough to house the whole community and they can safely fight against the Roman Navy from the top of the tower.

In reality nobody knows how brochs came about, there are the remains of over 500 of them in the north of Scotland and the islands to the north of the mainland. It’s thought they originated on Orkney and they have all been built to the same design. They are drystone roundhouses with outer and inner walls with a stone staircase between the two walls.

Mollie Hunter took this information and developed a plausible and entertaining tale around it, featuring some great characters, both good and evil. The Stronghold won the Carnegie Medal in 1974.

You can read a bit more about brochs here.