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The Book Trail: From Stewart to Smith

I am beginning this instalment of The Book Trail with a Mary Stewart novel, which I very much enjoyed reading during January.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ tool on Goodreads to collate this list, and have copied over the blurb for each title.

1. Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart 11031430
When Vanessa March arrived in Vienna she knew all about the white Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School. But she never expected to get involved with them or, indeed, with suspected murder.

 

2. While Still We Live by Helen MacInnes
It began very innocently. A holiday visit to Poland. But before enojoying the sights and sounds of this fascinating new place, happiness took a violent turn and became a nightmare of terror…when suddenly you’re mistaken for a Nazi spy, and to save your life, you have to prove you are innocent.

 

3. Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D.E. Stevenson 6620855
Vivacious, young Hester Christie tries to run her home like clockwork, as would befit the wife of British Army officer, Tim Christie. However hard Mrs Tim strives for seamless living amidst the other army wives, she is always moving flat-out to remember groceries, rule lively children, side-step village gossip and placate her husband with bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade. Left alone for months at a time whilst her husband is with his regiment, Mrs Tim resolves to keep a diary of events large and small in her family life. Once pen is set to paper no affairs of the head or heart are overlooked.When a move to a new regiment in Scotland uproots the Christie family, Mrs Tim is hurled into a whole new drama of dilemmas; from settling in with a new set whilst her husband is away, to disentangling a dear friend from an unsuitable match. Against the wild landscape of surging rivers, sheer rocks and rolling mists, who should stride into Mrs Tim’s life one day but the dashing Major Morley, hellbent on pursuit of our charming heroine. And Hester will soon find that life holds unexpected crossroads…

 

4. Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
Middle-aged Catherine Middleton, married to an obtuse but endearing older man, is the still center of a swirl of two generations of gentry on the brink of WW II. The activities of youngsters and contemporaries go on around her and it is only gradually that one sees how, without conscious manipulation, nothing happens without her. The characters are subtly and humorously drawn–keep an eye on the hypochondriac and self-absorbed Miss Starter who displays a shrewd gift for defining the essentials and deflating the fatuous. At the end, youngsters and oldsters are properly sorted out and paired off, mostly as expected, after several false starts. Alistair, the older man who sets off after the ‘ing nue’ is nudged back into place with Catherine’s sister-in-law (his contemporary). She, in turn, sees ‘her young man’ off to seek his dream, leaving her bereft of the companions of her mind and heart — duty and honor intact, with the notion of ‘self-fulfillment at all costs’ decades away.

 

2137755. Fireflies by Shiva Naipaul
Fireflies tells the story of Trinidad’s most venerated Hindu family, the Khojas. Rigidly orthodox, presiding over acres of ill-kept sugarcane and hoards of jewellery enthusiastically guarded by old Mrs. Khoja, they seem to have triumphed more by default than by anything else. Only ‘Baby’ Khoja, who is parcelled off into an arranged marriage with a bus driver, proves an exception to this rule. She is the heroine, and her story the single gleaming thread in Shiva Naipaul’s ferociously comic and profoundly sad first novel.

 

6. The Polyglots by William Gerhardie
The Polyglots is the story of an eccentric Belgian family living in the Far East in the uncertain years after World War I and the Russian Revolution. The tale is recounted by their dryly conceited young English relative, Captain Georges Hamlet Alexander Diabologh, who comes to stay with them during a military mission. Teeming with bizarre characters—depressives, obsessives, paranoiacs, hypochondriacs, and sex maniacs—Gerhardie paints a brilliantly absurd world where the comic and the tragic are profoundly and irrevocably entwined.

 

7. Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell 80989
Beneath the unassuming surface of a progressive women’s college lurks a world of intellectual pride and pomposity awaiting devastation by the pens of two brilliant and appalling wits. Randall Jarrell’s classic novel was originally published to overwhelming critical acclaim in 1954, forging a new standard for campus satire—and instantly yielding comparisons to Dorothy Parker’s razor-sharp barbs. Like his fictional nemesis, Jarrell cuts through the earnest conversations at Benton College—mischievously, but with mischief nowhere more wicked than when crusading against the vitriolic heroine herself.

 

8. Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith
Cosmo Topper, the mild-mannered bank manager who was persuaded to take a walk on the wild side by the ghosts of George and Marion Kerby in Topper, finds himself reunited with his dyspeptic wife for an extended vacation on the Riviera. But he doesn’t have long to enjoy the peace and quiet before the irrepressible Kerbys materialize once again and start causing fracases, confusing the citizenry, alarming the gendarmes, getting naked, and turning every occasion into revelry or melee. Soon Marion decides that Topper as a ghost would be even more laughs than Topper in the flesh. And all she needs to arrange is one simple little murder.

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  Which have piqued your interest?

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One From the Archive: ‘The Two Mrs Abbotts’ by D.E. Stevenson ****

D.E. Stevenson’s The Two Mrs Abbotts was first published in 1943, and has recently been reissued by Persephone Books.  Stevenson was an incredibly prolific author, and had over forty novels published during her writing career.  The Two Mrs Abbotts is the third instalment in the books which feature Miss Buncle, both of which have also been published by Persephone.  There has been no introduction included here; instead, readers are ‘referred’ to the first two volumes.

The Two Mrs Abbotts opens in Archway House in the village of Wandlebury in an unnamed county, where nursery nurse Dorcas – lovingly called ‘Dorkie’ by her young charges – is looking after Mrs Barbara Abbott’s children, Simon and Fay: ‘She was thinking how odd it was that children grew up so quickly and grown-up people remained much the same’.  The Abbotts’ home has been partially turned into a school for wartime children, or ‘Vack-wees’, as Fay rather adorably calls them.  Throughout, both children have been written about in such a way that their characters are built up in a believable manner.  Simon, for example, professes that he is ‘Four years older than the war…  I can even remember bananas – and cream’.  Later on, he is found ‘hopping and skipping and talking hard as he always did except when he felt unwell’.

One of the first events in the book is the arrival of Sarah Walker, a lecturer travelling around the country on behalf of the Red Cross.  Sarah is an old friend of Barbara’s, and they have not seen one another since the latter left the village under a cloud of sorts: ‘She had vanished in the night…  She had been obliged to go, of course, because she had written two very amusing books all about her neighbours and their little peculiarities, and her neighbours had not appreciated their portraits – quite the reverse’.  With these foundations, Barbara has gone on to marry her publisher, Arthur Abbott.

The family in their entirety is trying to cope as best they can in wartime.  Arthur’s nephew is away fighting, and his house has been taken over by a whole battalion of soldiers ‘like a crop of dragon’s teeth’.  His young wife Jerry – the other Mrs Abbott of the book’s title – has been left behind and tries to keep herself as busy as she possibly can, spending much of her time visiting Barbara and the children, and finding tenants for the small cottage which sits beside her house.  The lives of all are filled with daily duties, such as hosting tea parties for acquaintances in the village, having evacuee families to stay, and finding innovative ways of making recipes, due to the majority of the correct ingredients having been made unobtainable due to Second World War rationing.

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930s (from destevenson.org)

Stevenson’s writing is rather amusing throughout.  A young man from the village who has joined the RAF and is currently at home on sick leave, is said to have ‘cultivated a small moustache which reminded one just a little of Hitler’.  His lady friend Pearl Besserton, a woman whom nobody really likes, ‘looked as if she had stepped straight off the stage of a third-rate music hall without having taken the trouble to remove the greasepaint’.  The novel is also, as one would expect, so very British.  There is a chapter where Barbara goes to the village’s annual bazaar, to which she ‘had set out with the benevolent intention of buying something at every stall’.  She then feels obliged to purchase a very ugly pair of vases which have been saved for her by a woman who is running one of the stalls, and muses over what she can possibly do with them.  Many of the scenes which Stevenson has woven in are almost farcical, and there is one faux pas after another at many points in the novel.

The characters which Stevenson has created are all interesting and unpredictable, and there is not a dull person amongst them.  Everyone is likeable, or at least admirable, in their different actions and mannerisms.  It is rather refreshing to read a novel which veers off in unexpected directions as The Two Mrs Abbotts does, and the twists within its plot work marvellously.  The arc of events throughout is well paced, as is the introduction of characters.  Stevenson writes about social aspects rather wonderfully, from the importance of and reliance which one can have upon the wider community, to the problems which evacuees encounter when living away from home.

It is not necessary to have read the first two books which focus upon Barbara’s life, and no information which is important to the story within The Two Mrs Abbotts has been omitted.  The entirety of the book is quaint, amusing and rather lovely.  It is a light, easy read which is certain to appeal to anyone who enjoys fiction written or set within the first half of the twentieth century, and is certainly a great addition to the Persephone list.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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‘The Two Mrs Abbotts’ by D.E. Stevenson ****

61J35mwxhhL._SL500_SL160_

The Persephone endpapers of ‘The Two Mrs Abbotts’

I decided to re-read this for mine and Yamini’s wonderful project.

D.E. Stevenson’s The Two Mrs Abbotts was first published in 1943, and has recently been reissued by Persephone Books.  Stevenson was an incredibly prolific author, and had over forty novels published during her writing career.  The Two Mrs Abbotts is the third instalment in the books which feature Miss Buncle, both of which have also been published by Persephone.  There has been no introduction included here; instead, readers are ‘referred’ to the first two volumes.

The Two Mrs Abbotts opens in Archway House in the village of Wandlebury in an unnamed county, where nursery nurse Dorcas – lovingly called ‘Dorkie’ by her young charges – is looking after Mrs Barbara Abbott’s children, Simon and Fay: ‘She was thinking how odd it was that children grew up so quickly and grown-up people remained much the same’.  The Abbotts’ home has been partially turned into a school for wartime children, or ‘Vack-wees’, as Fay rather adorably calls them.  Throughout, both children have been written about in such a way that their characters are built up in a believable manner.  Simon, for example, professes that he is ‘Four years older than the war…  I can even remember bananas – and cream’.  Later on, he is found ‘hopping and skipping and talking hard as he always did except when he felt unwell’.

One of the first events in the book is the arrival of Sarah Walker, a lecturer travelling around the country on behalf of the Red Cross.  Sarah is an old friend of Barbara’s, and they have not seen one another since the latter left the village under a cloud of sorts: ‘She had vanished in the night…  She had been obliged to go, of course, because she had written two very amusing books all about her neighbours and their little peculiarities, and her neighbours had not appreciated their portraits – quite the reverse’.  With these foundations, Barbara has gone on to marry her publisher, Arthur Abbott.

The family in their entirety is trying to cope as best they can in wartime.  Arthur’s nephew is away fighting, and his house has been taken over by a whole battalion of soldiers ‘like a crop of dragon’s teeth’.  His young wife Jerry – the other Mrs Abbott of the book’s title – has been left behind and tries to keep herself as busy as she possibly can, spending much of her time visiting Barbara and the children, and finding tenants for the small cottage which sits beside her house.  The lives of all are filled with daily duties, such as hosting tea parties for acquaintances in the village, having evacuee families to stay, and finding innovative ways of making recipes, due to the majority of the correct ingredients having been made unobtainable due to Second World War rationing.

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930s (from destevenson.org)

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930s
(from destevenson.org)

Stevenson’s writing is rather amusing throughout.  A young man from the village who has joined the RAF and is currently at home on sick leave, is said to have ‘cultivated a small moustache which reminded one just a little of Hitler’.  His lady friend Pearl Besserton, a woman whom nobody really likes, ‘looked as if she had stepped straight off the stage of a third-rate music hall without having taken the trouble to remove the greasepaint’.  The novel is also, as one would expect, so very British.  There is a chapter where Barbara goes to the village’s annual bazaar, to which she ‘had set out with the benevolent intention of buying something at every stall’.  She then feels obliged to purchase a very ugly pair of vases which have been saved for her by a woman who is running one of the stalls, and muses over what she can possibly do with them.  Many of the scenes which Stevenson has woven in are almost farcical, and there is one faux pas after another at many points in the novel.

The characters which Stevenson has created are all interesting and unpredictable, and there is not a dull person amongst them.  Everyone is likeable, or at least admirable, in their different actions and mannerisms.  It is rather refreshing to read a novel which veers off in unexpected directions as The Two Mrs Abbotts does, and the twists within its plot work marvellously.  The arc of events throughout is well paced, as is the introduction of characters.  Stevenson writes about social aspects rather wonderfully, from the importance of and reliance which one can have upon the wider community, to the problems which evacuees encounter when living away from home.

It is not necessary to have read the first two books which focus upon Barbara’s life, and no information which is important to the story within The Two Mrs Abbotts has been omitted.  The entirety of the book is quaint, amusing and rather lovely.  It is a light, easy read which is certain to appeal to anyone who enjoys fiction written or set within the first half of the twentieth century, and is certainly a great addition to the Persephone list.

Purchase from The Book Depository

0

‘The Two Mrs Abbotts’ by D.E. Stevenson ****

61J35mwxhhL._SL500_SL160_

The Persephone endpapers of ‘The Two Mrs Abbotts’

D.E. Stevenson’s The Two Mrs Abbotts was first published in 1943, and has recently been reissued by Persephone Books.  Stevenson was an incredibly prolific author, and had over forty novels published during her writing career.  The Two Mrs Abbotts is the third instalment in the books which feature Miss Buncle, both of which have also been published by Persephone.  There has been no introduction included here; instead, readers are ‘referred’ to the first two volumes.

The Two Mrs Abbotts opens in Archway House in the village of Wandlebury in an unnamed county, where nursery nurse Dorcas – lovingly called ‘Dorkie’ by her young charges – is looking after Mrs Barbara Abbott’s children, Simon and Fay: ‘She was thinking how odd it was that children grew up so quickly and grown-up people remained much the same’.  The Abbotts’ home has been partially turned into a school for wartime children, or ‘Vack-wees’, as Fay rather adorably calls them.  Throughout, both children have been written about in such a way that their characters are built up in a believable manner.  Simon, for example, professes that he is ‘Four years older than the war…  I can even remember bananas – and cream’.  Later on, he is found ‘hopping and skipping and talking hard as he always did except when he felt unwell’.

One of the first events in the book is the arrival of Sarah Walker, a lecturer travelling around the country on behalf of the Red Cross.  Sarah is an old friend of Barbara’s, and they have not seen one another since the latter left the village under a cloud of sorts: ‘She had vanished in the night…  She had been obliged to go, of course, because she had written two very amusing books all about her neighbours and their little peculiarities, and her neighbours had not appreciated their portraits – quite the reverse’.  With these foundations, Barbara has gone on to marry her publisher, Arthur Abbott.

The family in their entirety is trying to cope as best they can in wartime.  Arthur’s nephew is away fighting, and his house has been taken over by a whole battalion of soldiers ‘like a crop of dragon’s teeth’.  His young wife Jerry – the other Mrs Abbott of the book’s title – has been left behind and tries to keep herself as busy as she possibly can, spending much of her time visiting Barbara and the children, and finding tenants for the small cottage which sits beside her house.  The lives of all are filled with daily duties, such as hosting tea parties for acquaintances in the village, having evacuee families to stay, and finding innovative ways of making recipes, due to the majority of the correct ingredients having been made unobtainable due to Second World War rationing.

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930s (from destevenson.org)

D.E. Stevenson in the 1930s
(from destevenson.org)

Stevenson’s writing is rather amusing throughout.  A young man from the village who has joined the RAF and is currently at home on sick leave, is said to have ‘cultivated a small moustache which reminded one just a little of Hitler’.  His lady friend Pearl Besserton, a woman whom nobody really likes, ‘looked as if she had stepped straight off the stage of a third-rate music hall without having taken the trouble to remove the greasepaint’.  The novel is also, as one would expect, so very British.  There is a chapter where Barbara goes to the village’s annual bazaar, to which she ‘had set out with the benevolent intention of buying something at every stall’.  She then feels obliged to purchase a very ugly pair of vases which have been saved for her by a woman who is running one of the stalls, and muses over what she can possibly do with them.  Many of the scenes which Stevenson has woven in are almost farcical, and there is one faux pas after another at many points in the novel.

The characters which Stevenson has created are all interesting and unpredictable, and there is not a dull person amongst them.  Everyone is likeable, or at least admirable, in their different actions and mannerisms.  It is rather refreshing to read a novel which veers off in unexpected directions as The Two Mrs Abbotts does, and the twists within its plot work marvellously.  The arc of events throughout is well paced, as is the introduction of characters.  Stevenson writes about social aspects rather wonderfully, from the importance of and reliance which one can have upon the wider community, to the problems which evacuees encounter when living away from home.

It is not necessary to have read the first two books which focus upon Barbara’s life, and no information which is important to the story within The Two Mrs Abbotts has been omitted.  The entirety of the book is quaint, amusing and rather lovely.  It is a light, easy read which is certain to appeal to anyone who enjoys fiction written or set within the first half of the twentieth century, and is certainly a great addition to the Persephone list.