‘Bohemian Lives: Three Extraordinary Women’ by Amy Licence ****

Amy Licence describes herself as an ‘historian of women’s lives’, and has written about individuals from a wide span of periods, from the late fifteenth to the early nineteenth century. The Three Extraordinary Women at the heart of Licence’s 2017 biography, Bohemian Lives, are Ida Nettleship, Sophie Brzeska, and Fernande Olivier. This book marks her second foray into the early twentieth century, and follows a title which I have been coveting since its 2015 publication – Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

I am always keen to read about women, particularly those who subverted convention, as each of the subjects here did to some degree. I am fascinated by the period in which these women lived and loved, a world of drastic change where, as Licence writes, ‘individual rights and personal freedoms were being redefined, where women like them were seeking new ways of arranging their private and professional lives, questioning the traditional roles of dependence and maternity.’ Interestingly, the women whom Licence has chosen to focus on all moved in similar circles, and called Paris their home during the same period, but there is no evidence that they ever met one another.

In Bohemian Lives, Licence has set out to follow ‘the achievements and sacrifices of the three women and how their lives overlapped and contrasted, in education, childbirth, illness, marriage – and psychological disintegration.’ Each of the women acted as a great influence upon their artist partners and so, says Licence, ‘challenged the accepted model of male-female relations of the time.’

At the outset, Licence sets out what she believes Bohemianism consisted of; it was, she writes, ‘a philosophy of opposition’, and its ‘essential component was its cultural “otherness”‘. Each of the three women profiled in Bohemian Lives ‘chose some aspects of bohemian living but not others. In rejecting traditional marriage, they suffered jealousy and censure, in rejecting material wealth they struggled to keep themselves fed and clothed. They were by no means the only notable bohemians of their era; they belonged to a whole legion of women pursuing art and love on a mixed journey of dazzling highs and crippling lows.’

Ida Nettleship is an individual whom I have long wanted to learn more about; she married licentious artist Augustus John, who is said to have fathered up to 100 children (!). In marrying John, and bearing five children in just six years, Ida gave up her own promising artistic career. She also became part of a menage á trois, when John insisted on moving his mistress into the family home. Ida sadly died following childbirth in 1907, when she was just thirty years old. Unlike the other women here, Ida’s childhood was a relatively prosperous one; she was brought up in London, into a learned family, and her parents encouraged her ambition to become an artist.

Fernande Olivier was the first love of Pablo Picasso. Born illegitimately as Amélie Lang, she was unwanted by her mother, and went to live with her aunt and uncle. After they attempted to arrange an unwanted marriage for her, Amélie ran away, and attached herself to a violent man, marrying when she was just nineteen. After escaping his clutches, she changed her name to Fernande Olivier to hide from him, and began to move in the artistic circles of Paris. Her relationship with Picasso, which began in 1904, lasted for seven years, and was categorised as highly tempestuous. She sat as a model for him on several occasions.

Sophie Brzeska, born in the Polish city of Krakow, was a writer who lived with the French artist Henri Gaudier, who was known as Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. The pair met in Paris, where Sophie, the only daughter in a family of boys which had fallen on hard times, moved to work as a governess. Sadly, Henri was killed in the trenches during the First World War, at the age of just twenty-three. Sophie, almost twenty years his senior, began a ‘slow descent into mental instability’ after his death, and remained in an asylum until her death in 1925.

Bohemian Lives is undoubtedly fascinating, and it has given me a relatively good understanding of three women whom I knew comparatively little about beforehand. I did, however, have a few niggles with the book, particularly the way in which Licence relies so heavily upon conjecture. This is particularly true with regard to Sophie’s life, of which very little fact has been recorded. The first chapter, which focuses upon Sophie as a young girl, is composed of anecdotes which she told to others, and a narrative which she fashioned herself. When Sophie moves to the United States to work as governess to a family, Licence makes a lot of guesses as to which family she might have worked for, but has no concrete evidence. In this manner, Sophie’s biography sadly feels a little vague, and I do not feel as though I knew much more about her when I had finished reading. It must be tricky to craft a biography around an individual whose life was largely obscured, and who left few facts behind them, but I have seen it done a little more successfully in other work.

There is also perhaps a little too much emphasis upon the situations in which the three women could have met one another. I did not feel that this was quite necessary. I do feel as though more attention to the chronological timeline would have made a more successful, and easier to follow, narrative; as it is, each chapter largely follows one different woman, and we therefore jump around a little in time.

There is a great attention to detail in Licence’s work, and I admire the way in which she has focused on little-known women, who have fallen to the wayside of history. Bohemian Lives has been meticulously researched, and there is an excellent attention to detail where the facts exist. Licence excels at setting the scene, and I am looking forward to picking up some of her other books in the near future. I just hope that there is a little less guessing involved in the lives of her subjects.


Three Historical Fiction Picks

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres to read, but I have discovered that I don’t often get around to reviewing books which fall into this category. Here, I have brought together three mini reviews of novels which I have read and very much enjoyed, and which I would urge those who like to read historical fiction to pick up. They provide wonderful escapism, which I have found very comforting during these couple of strange years.

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

I have had a galley copy of Caroline Lea’s debut novel, The Glass Woman, on my Kindle for quite some time, but for some reason did not get around to reading it very quickly. Set in Iceland during the 1680s, the novel follows a young married woman, Rósa, and her husband, Jón. Rósa has moved far from her home to an isolated croft, where she is left alone much of the day, and is urged not to speak to the locals. Lea captures her loneliness with care and understanding, and uses the third person perspective to examine her protagonist. One of the real strengths of the novel is the unsettling feel which it has; this builds as the story progresses. The reader is aware that something is not quite right, and that something sinister might be lurking in the croft’s attic space, which Rósa is banned from exploring.

Wonderfully descriptive, The Glass Woman captures space and place very well. She writes about the unforgiving landscape in which Rósa finds herself, and the sadness which she feels at being pulled away from her sick mother. A few other reviews which I have read have commented that The Glass Woman is not particularly well situated, and that its action could quite easily be moved to another location – and even perhaps another time period entirely. I do not agree. Lea mentions specific Icelandic sagas throughout, and also sprinkles a few Icelandic words throughout the narrative, which contribute to embedding the story in one place and time. I feel that this has been rather well done, personally.

Jón’s first person perspective is introduced quite far into the novel, something which I was not expecting to happen. Whilst, as other reviewers have noted, I can see why Lea chose to do this, I would have preferred the novel to use the third person narrative voice throughout. Regardless, my interest in the story did not wane, and I was pulled into Rósa’s world; Lea describes this as ‘a blizzard-blurred huddle of white drifts and blank hillocks, made of nothing more than ice and air. Everything has reduced to an arm’s length away, as if life beyond the croft no longer exists.’ Some of the tropes used within The Glass Woman are arguably a little obvious, but overall, it is a very effective novel, which has been well plotted, and moves along nicely.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

I have heard so much buzz around Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones. It is set largely during the Second World War, and encompasses one family who are fractured by the Holocaust. The novel opens in 1939, in Poland, where several generations of the Kurc family are trying their hardest to continue with their normal lives. However, like so many millions of Jews all across Europe, they are forced to try and survive in a terrifying new world, in which they are marginalised and persecuted.

Hunter’s novel is sweeping; it moves across five continents, and spans a period of eight years. The novel is based upon true events; the author’s own family, she discovered in her teenage years, were Holocaust survivors. Whilst some names have been changed here, a lot of the details echo reality, and the novel is the result of incredibly extensive research. The author is clearly attuned to the world of which she writes, and the numerous events which affect every single family member. Her characters become almost helpless, as they begin to lose control over every aspect of their lives.

From the outset, I very much admired Hunter’s approach, wherein she follows different members of the family as they move away from their home. A lot of what they have to face – the sacrifices which they are forced to make, and the acts of bravery which they choose to – is difficult to read, but it is obviously also incredibly important to remember. Hunter has interspersed her family’s story with brief factual details explaining the political situation at each particular point in history. The present tense which she uses throughout infuses We Were the Lucky Ones with a real sense of urgency, and the different threads of story have been wonderfully tied together.

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

Sarah Jio is an author whom I have become really interested in reading of late. Every single one of her works of historical fiction appealed to me, and I ended up selecting The Last Camellia to begin with merely because my local library had a copy which I was able to reserve. I also love stories about botanists during the wars – rather niche, I know.

I very much enjoy novels with dual timelines, something which The Last Camellia uses to its advantage. Jio has crafted a clever familial saga which stretches across two timelines – the 1940s and the 2000s. The 1940s story, in which a young woman named Flora Lewis travels from New York to a small English village to take over as the nanny for the Livingston family – under false pretences – was my favourite, as I felt that the historical context had been really well thought out. There is also the trope of a mildly unsettling housekeeper, who is somehow still working at the house in 2000. In this more modern timeline, we meet Addison, whose husband’s family has just purchased the manor. She works as a landscaper, and this ties in nicely with the mystery of the rarest camellia in England, the Middlebury Pink, one of which is thought to be still living somewhere around the grounds of Livingston Manor.

I loved the element of mystery which has been woven in here, and it certainly kept me guessing throughout. The different threads of story were well handled, and whilst I felt that some of the denouements were a little far-fetched, I still very much enjoyed this absorbing reading experience, and the transporting stories within it. Jio’s prose is really quite nice; it did not make me swoon at all, as some historical fiction does, but it is undoubtedly vivid. I reserved another of Jio’s books from my local library before I had even finished The Last Camellia, and am hoping that she could fast become a new go-to historical fiction author for me.


‘Missionaries’ by Paul Klay **

Paul Klay has followed on from the success of his short story collection, Redeployment – the recipient of the National Book Award for Fiction, and lauded by none other than Barack Obama – with a debut novel entitled Missionaries. Klay himself is a veteran of the US Marine Corps, and served in Iraq.

Missionaries is a work which encompasses relatively modern-day history, moving from the mid-1980s to almost the present day, with much of the action set in the mid-2010s. The conflicts which it covers relatively briefly include the highly contested wars between America and Iraq, and America and Afghanistan respectively, and the consequences left in their wake. The action then moves to Colombia, where violence perpetuated by narcos and guerrillas is rife, affecting the lives of so many citizens. In Colombia, ‘the US has partnered with the local government to stamp out a vicious civil war and keep the predatory narco gangs at bay.’

The novel takes four protagonists as its focus – a US Special Forces medic named Mason; foreign correspondent Lisette; Colombian coca farmer Abel; and Juan Pablo. Each chapter focuses on a different individual.

At the novel’s beginning, we are introduced to Abel, in a chapter which quickly spans his entire childhood. He has grown up in the shadow of conflict, between guerrillas and paracos. When he is just eight, his father tells him: ‘”When men with guns ask for something, there are no favors. You only obey.”‘ Abel reflects: ‘To talk about this part of my life is to talk about another person, like a person in a story, a boy with a father and mother and three sisters; one pretty, one smart, and one mean… Most people think that a person is whatever you see before you, walking around in bone and meat and blood, but that is an idiocy. Bone and meat and blood just exists, but to exist is not to live, and bone and meat and blood alone is not a person.’

We meet Lisette in 2015. She is living in Kabul, one of just a handful of special correspondents still remaining in Afghanistan’s capital city. She comments: ‘When I first came here, I was full of rage at the indifference most people back home showed to the death of Afghans. All these human beings, suffering, dying, and fighting… These days the thought will sometimes run through my head as I lie in bed, trying to sleep: I am broken, I am broken, and I do not know how I will ever fix this whole I’ve carved into my soul.’

The first section of Missionaries follows Abel and Lisette, and the second Mason and Juan Pablo. We meander in and out of their stories, each of which is suffused with a great deal of violence. The violent scenes and occurrences kept wrenching me out of the story, and quickly become so commonplace in the narrative that they lost the majority of their power. Klay’s prose is to the point, largely quite matter-of-fact, and his stories move along at a steady pace. There is an urgency to the novel, but more in terms of the violence which is perpetuated throughout.

Klay undertook six years of research before embarking on Missionaries, which he carried out in both the United States and Colombia. The ultimate aim of the novel is to examine ‘the globalization of violence through the interlocking stories of four characters and the conflicts that define their lives.’ He does set the scenery well, and understands what it is like to live in a culture of fear, as all of his characters do. Missionaries is undoubtedly intelligent in what it divulges, and Klay’s research is far-reaching. Whilst the author offers a lot of topics of interest, however, I felt as though these were never quite collated.

I do not feel as if the resolutions offered were highly satisfying; neither were the ways in which the individual stories come together. There seems to be a lack of overall cohesion, and the novel reads more like a collection of loosely connected stories about four characters from different walks of life. The novel’s structure is often rather too slack.

I did not find Lisette’s narrative voice at all convincing. As the only female protagonist, I imagined that her point of view would be written rather differently to the three male perspectives; however, this was not the case. I do not feel as though there was enough distinction between the different characters, and the initial interest which I held for each of them waned quite quickly. Each of the narrative voices also held a curious detachment, as though Klay did not want his readers to become overly absorbed in any of the individual stories.

The novel is advertised as a great choice for fans of Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, which I very much enjoyed, and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which I very much did not. I was keen to see whether Missionaries would appeal to me as a reader, but it sadly did not capture my attention at all. I was never absorbed in the story, and largely felt quite indifferent to it, which is obviously not the author’s intention. Whilst I am sure that Missionaries will find a large audience who admire it, it did not work for me on several levels as a reader.


Merry Christmas!

Today, we would like to take the opportunity to wish all of our lovely readers a wonderful Christmas season. After what has been a difficult couple of years for all of us, we hope that this time affords you the ability to do what you love, and to be with those whom you treasure.

May your festive season be merry and bright, and filled with beautiful books.

Kirsty and Akylina x


Update: Authors I Would Like To Read This Year – The Bad

During 2021, I decided not to set myself any specific reading challenges, preferring instead to pick up books on a whim. Regardless, I did make a tentative list of authors whose work I had not read before, but wanted to try. You can see the full list here. Of course, I haven’t met all of the challenges; I became a little sceptical as to whether I really wanted to read the only Vikram Seth available to me in my local library, A Suitable Boy, which comes in at well over one thousand pages, and I went off reading Naipaul entirely after reading a slew of sexist comments which he had made over the years.

As you can see, I got off to rather an inauspicious start. The books below – all of which I awarded just two stars to, and could not wait to finish – were the first three which I began with. I must admit that I didn’t actually get much further than this with my challenge. The moral of the story is that I just don’t do that well with structured yearly reads; I am far better with making a weekly TBR to stick to. This is a practice I began during March, and which I have enjoyed putting together every single week. I will be continuing with this, and this alone, during 2022; at least it’s something I have proven I can stick to!

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke **

Attica Locke was the first of these which I picked up, beginning with Bluebird, Bluebird, the first book in her ‘Highway 59’ series. On the face of it, her books really intrigue me; she writes thrillers based in Texas which, alongside quite gruesome murders or crimes, deal with wider issues within the community – inequality, poverty, racism, and injustice. I have heard a great deal about her books – the majority of it incredibly positive – and fancied sinking my teeth into a thriller set somewhere rather different to the UK- and US-based thrillers which I generally gravitate toward.

Whilst I cannot fault the pace or plotting of Bluebird, Bluebird, there was not a great deal about it which personally appealed to me. The prose style is very matter-of-fact, with relatively few descriptions; things within the novel are told, not shown. It was rather too hardboiled in style for my taste. Whilst one does get a good feel for the landscape, the characters are focused upon far more. Sadly, these characters – whom I felt were introduced in far too quick a succession – feel two-dimensional. They are not quite realistic, and have not been fleshed out enough to be believable. In consequence, some of their motives seemed strange and unlikely.

There are rather a few tropes within the novel which I was expecting, and parts of it felt rather predictable. I am pleased that I started my project with such a lauded novel, but I can safely say that I will not be continuing with this series – even the cliffhanger ending did not encourage me to read further – and probably will not pick up anything by Locke again, either.

The Gathering by Anne Enright **

I read Enright’s short story collection, Yesterday’s Weather, at the end of 2020, and must admit that I found it rather underwhelming. I wondered if her style would suit the longer form better, and decided to download the audiobook of The Gathering from my library’s app. I love listening to books with Irish narrators, and whilst the delivery of this one was undoubtedly good – at first, at least – I had a few issues with the text itself.

The story within this novel is a bleak one, but I loved the central idea of the ‘gathering’ of the title, when a family of siblings meet one another en masse, after their brother drowns in the sea off the coast of Brighton. Unfortunately, this gathering took up barely any space in the novel, and seemed rather shoehorned in toward the end. The rest of the book goes off on random tangents about the characters’ difficulties, much of which is centered around abuse. Everything, for this narrator, harks back to sex, and I did not feel that this obsession actually added a great deal to the whole.

As I began to listen to The Gathering, I found it quite engaging. However, after a few chapters had passed, the way in which Enright had crafted the novel began to frustrate me. She can certainly write, but this was rather too rambling for me. There are far too many characters to keep track of in a relatively short book, particularly at the outset. The listening experience quickly became rather chaotic, with rushed sentences, and nothing feeling quite clear enough. Had I not picked up her short stories beforehand, I would probably try and read something else of Enright’s in physical form. However, following The Gathering, I just do not feel that she is an author whose work I could wholeheartedly enjoy.

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch **

Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children really appealed to me, drawn as I am to books set within the landscape of Eastern Europe. The novel is shaped around a ‘heart-stopping image’ taken by a photographer, of a young girl running from the explosion which engulfs her home, and kills her family. This photograph has won prizes and a great deal of acclaim, and it soon becomes a ‘subject of obsession’ for the photographer’s best friend.

At first, I must admit that I was enjoying this book. The prose is beautifully rich in the first couple of chapters, and feels almost fairytale-like; it makes much use of colour and space, and focuses on both the known and the unknown. Yuknavitch has an interesting approach to writing, using lots of single, snappy sentences alongside very long and descriptive ones. She flits between perspectives and settings throughout, something which I usually enjoy in fiction. However, the fact that none of the characters whatsoever were named until very late on, and were described only by their professions – ‘The Poet, ‘The Playwright’ – did become a little confusing, as they were not explicitly different from one another on the whole. Sometimes it felt as though their professions were the only things which set them apart, but as these professions were almost entirely creative, I feel as though any distinction was lost.

There are some memorable scenes and images here, but overall, The Backs of Small Children has left me cold. I did like the strange, almost otherworldly feel of the book at first, but this felt almost overwhelming as it went on. The primal, animalistic edge, with its often unnecessary obsession with sex, suffused everything, and I regularly found the novel uncomfortable to read. It did not hold my interest all of the way through, either. Whilst the beginning of The Backs of Small Children felt promising, I found it too muddled a book to really enjoy. I am now conflicted as to whether I would read anything else by Yuknavitch; if it all follows a similar pattern to this novel, then I am happy to move on to other authors.

I am afraid that as I did not get much further than this with my challenge, there will be no further updates.


‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ (Part Two)

I had such a hard time narrowing down a Goodreads list entitled ‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ last week, that I thought I’d make another post. As in the first, I have chosen ten books from the list that I would really like to read – yes, even as an adult. You can find the full list here, should you want to peruse it yourself.

1. Allegra Maud Goldman by Edith Konecky

‘A special twenty-fifth anniversary edition relaunches this beloved classic coming-of-age nove, which was called “one of those rare delights…as wise as it is funny” (Alix Kates Shulman, Ms. magazine). This endearing novel chronicles the growth of the young Allegra in pre-World War II Brooklyn as she learns about sex, death, bigotry, family limitations, and what it means to be young and female and independent.’

2. Once on a Time by A.A. Milne

‘”This is an odd book” or so states the author in 1917 for his first introduction. A fairytale with seven league boots, a princess, an enchantment, and the Countess Belvane. As Milne wrote in a later introduction: “But, as you see, I am still finding it difficult to explain just what sort of book it is. Perhaps no explanation is necessary. Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of the two classes. Either you will enjoy it, or you won’t. It is that sort of book.”‘

3. The Wicked Enchantment by Margot Benary-Isbert

‘Life in the old cathedral town of Vogelsang had gone on peacefully for many years, and life for Anemone and her father had always been a happy one. But strange and disturbing things began to happen. One of the cathedral statues of a foolish virgin disappeared, and also the figure of the gargoyle that spouted above it. The mayor dismissed three of the town’s most respected councilors, blaming them for the disappearance. And Anemone and her dog, Winnie, ran away from home – driven to it by the mean housekeeper and her horrid son who had made life miserable for Anemone since Father befriended and took them in.

Even Aunt Gundula, a remarkable woman, who had been Anemone’s mother’s dearest friend and with whom Anemone took refuge, couldn’t, at first, understand why things in the town were in such upheaval. It was unheard of that the songbirds which had always been welcomed back by the townspeople each spring were now being caught in nets by the Mayor and his friends, and the Mayor had actually forbidden the sale of Easter eggs. This was more than Gundula, who each year painted the most beautiful eggs for Easter, could stand.’

4. The Lady of the Linden Tree by Barbara Leonie Picard

‘This collection will be a delight to lovers of the fairy tale, and a boon to storytellers of all ages. Here, Ms. Picard spins twelve magic new stories set in various regions of the world—Europe, the Middle east, Asia. In them the reader will meet a Chinese boy who found an almond tree that blossomed in the winter, a princess who chased a golden ball through an enchanted wood for one hundred years, and a kindly fox who was able to transform a poor servant girl into a beautiful princess. To each of these stories, Ms. Picard brings a distinction of style that earned her wide recognition as one of the finest contemporary storytellers of folk tales, myths and legends.’

5. When Marnie was There by Joan G. Robinson

‘Anna lives with foster parents, a misfit with no friends, always on the outside of things. Then she is sent to Norfolk to stay with old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. There is a house, the Marsh House, which she feels she recognises – and she soon meets a strange little girl called Marnie, who becomes Anna’s first ever friend. Then one day, Marnie vanishes. A new family, the Lindsays, move into the Marsh House. Having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, Anna makes firm friends with the Lindsays – and learns some strange truths about Marnie, who was not all she seemed…’

6. The Invisible Island by Dean Marshall

‘When the Gutheries moved from a New York apartment to the country the three children found that they not only had a lovely brook that ran into a lake, but more exciting yet, they had a real island.

Right in the middle of the wooded acres surrounding their new home up in Connecticut! On one side was the pond, on another a wide brook, and running from that to the pond, another, narrower brook. So here the four young Guthries were, ‘cast away on a desert island’ which they promptly named Invisible.

Mother sent ‘rations’ from ‘the wreck’ which was the name they gave the house beyond the orchard; David discovered a cave; Winkie, who still believed in fairies, caught a glimpse of a dryad (with freckles); and a pleasant, shivery mystery hung over the island from the very beginning. Solved, it put the happiest possible ending to a story already bursting with all the things children love. Here are summertime and out of doors and make believe all woven into a story of exceptional beauty.’

7. The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

‘Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband. The house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson, where the Mouses make their home, is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy with her lot—and yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,” he advises her. “Why don’t you think about cheese?”

Then an odd and exotic new creature, a turtledove, is brought into the house, and the mousewife is fascinated. The mousewife makes friends with the strange dove, who is kept in a cage but who tells her about things no housemouse has ever imagined, blue skies, tumbling clouds, tall trees, and far horizons, the memory of which haunt the dove in his captivity. The dove’s tales fill the mousewife with wonder and drive her to take daring action.

Rumer Godden’s lovely fable about the unexpected ways in which dreams can come true is illustrated with beautiful pen-and-ink drawings by William Pène du Bois.’

8. The Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild

‘Subtitled A Story of England from Then to Now, this is a social history of England told through vividly imagined scenes set in several periods within a contemporary frame. The book follows six children from different backgrounds and different parts of England who are taken on a journey in which they experience the past and learn the history of their own families and the parts they played in shaping the nation.’

9. Summer at Buckhorn by Anna Rose Wright

‘Set in 1907, this autobiographical book tells the story of the five Rose children who set off alone for an eventful summer at Buckhorn, the old family estate in the South. On arriving they found that the surprise their aunt had promised them is a very disappointing bookworm of a boy, Edwin, whose parents have sent him there for his health. Aunt Wig promises the children the $200 for his board (which the children vow to donate to defray their mother’s medical expenses) if they will give Edwin a good time and teach him how to play. Their success is great and Edwin, re-christened Ted, becomes a good friend.’

10. The Country Child by Alison Uttley

The Country Child is a semi-autobiographical story about a girl growing up in the country. Alison Uttley has drawn on her own youth to produce memories so vivid and nostalgic that you can almost smell the honeysuckle and hear the owls calling at dusk.

She writes about the small intense joys and sorrows of life on a small farm: the fun of haymaking, the sadness of favourite animals being slaughtered, and the close sweetness of Christmas celebrations in the farmhouse kitchen.’

Have you read any of these books? Do you, too, enjoy reading children’s books as an adult?