9

Rural Memoirs

I am happiest when exploring, and I have always been enraptured by the countryside, no matter which region I am visiting. In my reading life, I am drawn to rural memoirs, and have made my way through quite a few of them in the past. However, a lot of these are recent publications, or volumes which my library has on its nature shelves. I wanted to try and marry my love of forgotten books, with the rather niche genre of rural memoirs. After stumbling across a wonderful shelf on Goodreads, I have created a list of ten lesser known books which I very much want to get to, and soon.

1. Speak to the Earth: Pages from a Farmwife’s Journal by Rachel Peden (1974)

‘A farmwife for 45 years, Rachel Peden believed that the family farm’s best crop is a “harvest of the spirit.” In Speak to the Earth, she looks at life — domestic and wild, human and critter — through the eyes of someone who witnesses nine seasons of the year rather than the typical four. Peden views the farm as “a place of opportunity simultaneous with obligation, an immaculate fitting-together of plant and animal life.” Each year yields an abundance of small, priceless observations, and through her writings, Peden encourages readers to appreciate both the simple pleasures in life as well as the more profound qualities embodied in family and neighbors, mallards and ladybugs, possums and pigs, and the irresistible characteristics of old houses, local history, and changing times.’

2. When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journey of Staying Put by Vivian Swift (2008)

‘Following a lifetime of trekking across the globe, Vivian Swift, a freelance designer who racked up 23 temporary addresses in 20 years, finally dropped her well-worn futon mattress and rucksack in a small town on the edge of the Long Island Sound. She spent the next decade quietly taking stock of her life, her immediate surroundings, and, finally, what it means to call a place a home.

The result is When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Filled with watercolors of beautiful local landscapes, seasonal activities, and small, overlooked pleasures of easy living, each chapter chronicles the perks of remaining at home, including recipes, hobbies, and prized possessions of the small town lifestyle. At once gorgeously rendered and wholly original, this delightful and masterfully observed year of staying put conjures everything from youthful yearnings and romantic travels to lumpy, homemade sweaters and the gradations of March mud.’

3. The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet (1961)

‘This is a biography and astonishing adventure story of a woman who, left a widow in 1927, packed her five children onto a 25-foot boat and cruised the coastal waters of British Columbia, summer after summer.Muriel Wylie Blanchet acted single-handedly as skipper, navigator, engineer and, of course, mum, as she saw her crew through encounters with tides, fog, storms, rapids, cougars and bears. She sharpened in her children a special interest in Haida culture and in nature itself. In this book, she left us with a sensitive and compelling account of their journeys.’

4. The Happy Season by Mireille Burnand Cooper (1952)

‘From Kirkus Reviews: “A childhood summer in Sepey, Switzerland, has a mild, gentle recall of sunny time and comfortable family life. Papa, an artist, and Mama, the six sons and the two girls, make their return to the house that is the center of a three family reunion and this is the blissfully remembered record of the small incidents that loomed large in young Mireille’s life as she and her twin, Rita, struggled for recognition in the face of competition from Franz, Marcel, Rene, Tony and the boy twins, David and Daniel. There were relatives and visitors, godparents, games, the rats’ room (and polecats), storms and bathing parties, local celebrations and Sunday customs; there were expeditions to a neighboring castle, to a nearby farm and in the adult world, a bit of romance, a glimpse of death, and the comforting security of a safe home life. Relaxed and relaxing, this is pastel tinted nostalgia.”‘

5. The Shape of a Year by Jean Hersey (1967)

‘Month by month chronicle of a woman’s life in Connecticut. Nature observations.

The shape of a year is written for those who enjoy gardening. You are allowed to glimpse daily moments in Jean Hersey’s life. Recipes are given. Grape juice is made, forsythias are forced and patchwork pillows are sewn. How to make maple peppermint tea, what to do with boiled day lilies and how you should winterize your perennials is included in this personal cycle of life.’

6. A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor (1993)

‘The sparkling memoir of an idyllic, bohemian childhood in an enchanted Tuscan castle between the wars.

When Kinta Beevor was five, her father, the painter Aubrey Waterfield, bought the sixteenth-century Fortezza della Brunella in the Tuscan village of Aulla. There her parents were part of a vibrant artistic community that included Aldous Huxley, Bernard Berenson, and D. H. Lawrence. Meanwhile, Kinta and her brother explored the glorious countryside, participated in the region’s many seasonal rites and rituals, and came to know and love the charming, resilient Italian people. With the coming of World War II the family had to leave Aulla; years later, though, Kinta would return to witness the courage and skill of the Tuscan people as they rebuilt their lives. Lyrical and witty, A Tuscan Childhood is alive with the timeless splendour of Italy.’

7. Long Ago When I Was Young by E. Nesbit (1966)

‘An autobiographical account by the author of “The Railway Children” and other children’s books, in which she describes a childhood spent sometimes within the security of her family and sometimes apart from them in schools she detested.’

8. On Island Time by Hilary Stewart (1998)

‘This book is for anyone who dreams of living on an island. Writer and artist Hilary Stewart recounts the tale of buying property on Quadra Island, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, and her determined search for the ideal house design. Through drawings and anecdotes, she shares her delight in discovering the small wonders of the natural world while exploring the nearby beaches, forests, and lakes, gathering seaweeds, mushrooms, plants and berries. Hilary Stewart also offers glimpses of some of the people and events that make up island life: learning local ways and history, attending Native peoples’ ceremonies, observing the water dowser, helping to discover unknown petroglyphs, circumnavigating Quadra Island on a boat, canoeing quiet lakes, coping with wild winter storms, taking part in the annual eagle count – and drumming up the full moon around a fire near the beach.’

9. A Croft in the Hills by Katharine Stewart (1996)

A Croft in the Hills captures life on a Scottish hill croft 50 years ago. A couple and their young daughter, fresh from life in the town, struggle to get the work done and make ends meet in an environment that is, at times, hard and unforgiving.’

10. The Outermost House by Henry Beston (1928)

‘A chronicle of a solitary year spent on a Cape Cod beach, The Outermost House has long been recognized as a classic of American nature writing. Henry Beston had originally planned to spend just two weeks in a seaside cottage, but was so possessed by the mysterious beauty of his surroundings that he found he “could not go.”

Instead, he sat down to try and capture in words the wonders of the magical landscape he found himself in thrall to: the migrations of seabirds, the rhythms of the tide, the windblown dunes, and the scatter of stars in the changing sky. Beston argued that, “The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.” Seventy-five years after they were first published, Beston’s words are more true than ever.’

Are you a fan of the rural memoir? Have you read any of these books?

5

‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’

Even if you’ve only been around here for a few months, I’m sure you will be aware that I am a huge fan of the humble book list. I scour them relatively regularly, although this is by no means a good idea, as I end up adding lots of titles which I’ll probably never get to onto my already very long to-read list.

Regardless, Goodreads is one of the resources which I use when seeking these lists out. A list entitled ‘Best Children’s Books Most People Have Never Heard Of’ piqued my interest. I was a huge reader as a child, going to my local library every single Saturday morning to switch over the big stack of books which I had borrowed the week before. I still enjoy reading the odd children’s book now, as an adult.

Although this book list is, of course, highly subjective, and even a little suspicious – I would think that most readers have heard of Pippi Longstocking and the Moomins – I have chosen ten books which really take my fancy, and which I never got to as a child. If you wish to peruse the whole list, you can find it here.

1. The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright

‘Meet the Melendys! The four Melendy children live with their father and Cuffy, their beloved housekeeper, in a worn but comfortable brownstone in New York City. There’s thirteen-year-old Mona, who has decided to become an actress; twelve-year-old mischievous Rush; ten-and-a-half-year-old Randy, who loves to dance and paint; and thoughtful Oliver, who is just six. Tired of wasting Saturdays doing nothing but wishing for larger allowances, the four Melendys jump at Randy’s idea to start the Independent Saturday Afternoon Adventure Club (I.S.A.A.C.). If they pool their resources and take turns spending the whole amount, they can each have at least one memorable Saturday afternoon of their own. Before long, I.S.A.A.C. is in operation and every Saturday is definitely one to remember.

Written more than half a century ago, The Saturdays unfolds with all the ripe details of a specific place and period but remains, just the same, a winning, timeless tale. The Saturdays is the first installment of Enright’s Melendy Quartet, an engaging and warm series about the close-knit Melendy family and their surprising adventures.’

2. The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

‘When Jerry, Jimmy and Cathy discover a tunnel that leads to a castle, they pretend that it is enchanted. But when they discover a Sleeping Princess at the centre of a maze, astonishing things begin to happen. Amongst a horde of jewels they discover a ring that grants wishes. But wishes granted are not always wishes wanted, so the children find themselves grappling with invisibility, dinosaurs, a ghost and the fearsome Ugli-Wuglies before it is all resolved.’

3. Linnets and Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

‘The four Linnet children: Nan, Robert, Timothy and Betsy are sent to live with their strict grandmother while their father travels to Egypt. Locked away in separate rooms as punishment by their ruthless grandmother, the Linnets feel at once that their new life is unbearable—and decide to make their escape—out of the house, out of the garden and into the village. Commandeering a pony and trap, the children and their dog are led away as the pony makes his way nonchalantly home. The pony’s destination happens to be a house that belongs to their gruff but loveable uncle Ambrose. The kindly uncle Ambrose agrees to take them under his wing, he educates them and encourages them to explore Dartmoor, letting the children have free rein in his sprawling manor house and surrounding countryside.

Befriending the collection of house guests, including an owl, a giant cat, and a gardener, Ezra, who converses with bees, and getting to know the miscellaneous inhabitants of the village, the four siblings discover a life in which magic and reality are curiously intermingled and evil and tragedy lurk never far away. Then stumble upon the eccentric Lady Alicia Valerian, who seems to have lost her family. And then the real fun begins! The Linnets start their search for the missing Valerians. But the village is under a spell of the witch Emma Cobley. Can the children lift the spell and restore happiness to the villagers? Or will they be thwarted by evil Emma Cobley and her magic cat?

This charming story beautifully depicts early twentieth century English country life while conjuring an air of magical adventure. It is full of vivid characters, battles between good and evil and wonderful spell-binding moments.’

4. The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

‘Robin was always wandering off (her mother’s words) to get away from the confusion she felt inside her. It was not until Robin’s father found a permanent job at the McCurdy ranch, after three years as a migrant worker, that Robin had a place to wander to. As time went by the Velvet Room became more and more of a haven for her — a place to read and dream, a place to bury one’s fears and doubts, a place to count on. The Velvet Room, first published in 1965, was a Junior Library Guild selection, and part of Scholastic Books’ Arrow Book Club.’

5. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf

‘Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909  — the first woman to be so honored — Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940) was a gifted storyteller whose writings were often tinged with the supernatural and rooted in the sagas and legends of her homeland.
She secured her reputation as a children’s-book author with  The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, long considered a masterpiece of children’s literature.

Written at the request of Swedish school authorities and first published in 1906, it is the enchanting and remarkably original tale of Nils Holgersson, a mischievous boy of 14 who is changed by an elf into a tiny being able to understand the speech of birds and animals. Brilliantly weaving fact and fiction into a breathtaking and beautiful fable, the story recounts Nils’s adventures as he is transported over the countryside on the back of a goose. From this vantage point, Nils witnesses a host of events that provide young readers with an abundance of information about nature, geography, folklore, animal life, and more.’

6. The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy

‘Life on the Hungarian plains is changing quickly for Jancsi and his cousin Kate. Father has given Jancsi permission to be in charge of his own herd, and Kate has begun to think about going to dances. Jancsi hardly even recognizes Kate when she appears at Peter and Mari’s wedding wearing nearly as many petticoats as the older girls wear. And Jancsi himself, astride his prized horse, doesn’t seem to Kate to be quite so boyish anymore. Then, when Hungary must send troops to fight in the Great War and Jancsi’s father is called to battle, the two cousins must grow up all the sooner in order to take care of the farm and all the relatives, Russian soldiers, and German war orphans who take refuge there.’

7. A Candle in Her Room by Ruth M. Arthur

‘“I suppose if we had not come to live in Pembrokeshire, Judith, Briony, and I, this story would never have been written, for in another set of circumstances our lives might have run very differently. There would have been no Dido.”

So begins A Candle in Her Room, the story of three generations of haunted people, and of the doll Dido, whose compelling smile and enticing hint of evil changed even the lives of those who were repelled by her. The book begins at about the turn of the century and comes almost up to the present. In it some people mature, grow old, and some die; others are born and begin to live their lives in the shadow of those who have gone before. And through it all the events of the outside world and the strange hidden fascination of Dido impinge almost equally on plans and dreams and personalities. This is a book about many things—evil, the dimensions of reality, the flow of generations and most of all the power of love.’

8. The Tale of Tsar Saltan by Alexander Pushkin

‘Betrayed by her sisters, a tsarina and her infant son are marooned on a barren island until a magical swan helps them regain their rightful heritage.’

9. White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt

‘When the first flakes fell from the grey sky, the postman and the farmer and the policeman and his wife scurried about doing all the practical things grownups do when a snowstorm comes. But the children laughed and danced, and caught the lacy snowflakes on their tongues. All the wonder and delight a child feels in a snowfall is caught in the pages of this book — the frost ferns on the window sill, the snow man in the yard and the mystery and magic of a new white world. Roger Duvoisin’s pictures in soft blue half-tones with briliant splashes of yellow and red emphasize the gaiety and humor as well as the poetic quality of the text.’

10. The Plant Sitter by Gene Zion

‘Everyone has heard of baby sitters, and some people have had jobs as dog sitters. Even flagpole sitters are more usual than the type of sitter Tommy became – a plant sitter!

When his family decided not to go away for the summer, young Tommy got a job. He collected all the neighbors’ plants, promising to care for them throughout the summer. Soon Tommy’s house was unrecognizable. Watching television was like watching an outdoor movie deep in the jungle, and taking a bath was like swimming in a small lake in the middle of a forest. Tommy’s parents were not particularly enthusiastic about their son’s career, but the plants flourished.

One night Tommy had a dream that the plants had grown too big to fit in the house. The next day some research at the library revealed his worries. When the neighbors returned they were delighted to see their healthy plants. And Tommy was delighted when his father suggested a vacation for the plant sitter and his family.

Margaret Bloy Graham has painted a garland of gay and verdant pictures for this utterly enchanting story.’

Have you read any of these books? Do any on this list appeal to you? What is your favourite children’s book?

0

The Book Trail: From ‘The Lark’ to ‘Reuben Sachs’

I am using E. Nesbit’s quite charming novel, The Lark, which I recently reviewed on the blog, as my starting point for this edition of The Book Trail.  As ever, I am using the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool to generate this list.  Do let me know which of these books you have read, and if you are interested in reading any of them!

 

1. The Lark by E. Nesbit (1922) 9781911579458
‘It’s 1919 and Jane and her cousin Lucilla leave school to find that their guardian has gambled away their money, leaving them with only a small cottage in the English countryside. In an attempt to earn their living, the orphaned cousins embark on a series of misadventures – cutting flowers from their front garden and selling them to passers-by, inviting paying guests who disappear without paying – all the while endeavouring to stave off the attentions of male admirers, in a bid to secure their independence.’

 

17769932. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (1947)
‘It’s a summer’s day in 1946. The English village of Wealding is no longer troubled by distant sirens, yet the rustling coils of barbed wire are a reminder that something, some quality of life, has evaporated. Together again after years of separation, Laura and Stephen Marshall and their daughter Victoria are forced to manage without “those anonymous caps and aprons who lived out of sight and pulled the strings.” Their rambling garden refuses to be tamed, the house seems perceptibly to crumble. But alone on a hillside, as evening falls, Laura comes to see what it would have meant if the war had been lost, and looks to the future with a new hope and optimism. First published in 1947, this subtle, finely wrought novel presents a memorable portrait of the aftermath of war, its effect upon a marriage, and the gradual but significant change in the nature of English middle-class life.’

 

3. Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim (1907) 1140708
‘This enchanting novel tells the story of the love affair between Rose-Marie Schmidt and Roger Anstruther. A determined young woman of twenty-five, Rose-Marie is considered a spinster by the inhabitants of the small German town of Jena where she lives with her father, the Professor. To their homes comes Roger, an impoverished but well-born young Englishman who wishes to learn German: Rose-Marie and Roger fall in love. But the course of true love never did run smooth: distance, temperament and fortune divide them. We watch the ebb and flow of love between two very different people and see the witty and wonderful Rose-Marie get exactly what she wants.’

 

71337934. Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge (1935)
Even though she is a renowned painter Lady Kilmichael is diffident and sad. her remote, brilliant husband has no time for her and she feels she only exasperates her delightful, headstrong daughter. So, telling no one where she is going. she embarks on a painting trip to the Dalmatian coast of Yugoslavia – in the Thirties a remote and exotic place. There she takes under her wing Nicholas, a bitterly unhappy young man, forbidden by his family to pursue the painting he loves and which Grace recognises as being of rare quality. Their adventures and searching discussions lead to something much deeper than simple friendship…  This beautiful novel, gloriously evoking the countryside and people of Illyria, has been a favourite since its publication in 1935, both as a sensitive travel book and as [an] unusual and touching love story.’

 

5. Miss Mole by E.H. Young (1930) 1983763
‘When Miss Mole returns to Radstowe, she wins the affection of Ethel and of her nervous sister Ruth and transforms the life of the vicarage. This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930.’

 

29218749._sx318_6. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple (1932)
‘Persephone Books’ bestselling author Dorothy Whipple’s third novel (1932) was the choice of the Book Society in the summer of that year. Hugh Walpole wrote: ‘To put it plainly, in Dorothy Whipple’s picture of a quite ordinary family before and after the war there is some of the best creation of living men and women that we have had for a number of years in the English novel. She is a novelist of true importance.”

 

7. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915) 933516
‘Set in Iowa in 1900 and in 1913, this dramatic and deeply moral novel uses complex but subtle use of flashback to describe a girl named Ruth Holland, bored with her life at home, falling in love with a married man and running off with him; when she comes back more than a decade later we are shown how her actions have affected those around her. Ruth had taken another woman’s husband and as such ‘Freeport’ society thinks she is ‘a human being who selfishly – basely – took her own happiness, leaving misery for others. She outraged society as completely as a woman could outrage it… One who defies it – deceives it – must be shut out from it.’  But, like Emma Bovary, Edna Pontellier in ‘The Awakening’ and Nora in ‘A Doll’s House’ Ruth has ‘a diffused longing for an enlarged experience… Her energies having been shut off from the way they had wanted to go, she was all the more zestful for new things from life…’ It is these that are explored in Fidelity.’

 

27022868. Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy (1888)
‘Oscar Wilde wrote of this novel, “Its directness, its uncompromising truths, its depth of feeling, and above all, its absence of any single superfluous word, make Reuben Sachs, in some sort, a classic.” Reuben Sachs, the story of an extended Anglo-Jewish family in London, focuses on the relationship between two cousins, Reuben Sachs and Judith Quixano, and the tensions between their Jewish identities and English society. The novel’s complex and sometimes satirical portrait of Anglo-Jewish life, which was in part a reaction to George Eliot’s romanticized view of Victorian Jews in Daniel Deronda, caused controversy on its first publication.’

4

‘The Lark’ by E. Nesbit ****

I have read, and very much enjoyed, many of E. Nesbit’s books for children over the years, but was somehow unaware that she had also published eleven books with an adult audience in mind.  It was with delight, then, that I picked up a copy of The Lark in the library, and read it outside on a gloriously sunny day – the perfect setting, I feel, for such a novel.  The novel was first published in 1922, and has been recently reissued by both Penguin and the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press.

9781911579458In 1919, nineteen-year-old cousins Jane Quested and Lucinda Craye leave their boarding school, only to find that their guardian has gambled away all of their money.  He leaves them with only a ‘small cottage in the English countryside’, and quickly flees, checking in on them only very occasionally.  One the pair realise that their fortune has been squandered, and all they have is the aforesaid small cottage in Kent, and £500 to live on, Jane declares: ‘Everything that’s happening to us – yes, everything – is to be regarded as a lark.  See?  This is my last word.  This. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Lark.’

The girls, both orphaned, hope to secure their independence, and in doing so, ’embark on a series of misadventures’.  They begin a flower-selling enterprise, and soon realise that they will have to relocate to larger premises in order to meet the demand of working men for their posies.  A plot ensues which is filled with more money-making schemes, misunderstandings, two very plucky heroines, and so much heart.

One gets a feel for the protagonists, and their differences, immediately.  Jane is by far the more outgoing cousin, who spouts annoying and endearing comments to her cousin throughout.  At the outset, she says to Lucinda: ‘But we shall never do anything if we think of ourselves as two genteel spinsters who have seen better days.  We must think of ourselves as adventurers with the whole world before us.  Frightfully interesting.’  Lucinda is more quiet and cautious; she is the serious and pragmatic one of the pair, whilst Jane is comically headstrong, and unrelentingly in charge.

Nesbit’s customary lighthearted amusement peppers the book, and proved such an enjoyable element.  She lends a commentary to proceedings, filled with asides and gentle satire.  She writes, for instance, ‘John Rochester was young and, I am sorry to say, handsome.  Sorry, because handsome men are, as a rule, so very stupid and so very vain.’  Rochester soon proves to be the sole exception to this rule, and becomes involved in the lives of the cousins.  Jane tells Lucinda, who appears quite taken to him, that they will take none of his nonsense, however: ‘We’ve got our livings to make, and we don’t want young men hanging round, paying attentions and addresses and sighing and dying and upsetting everything.  If he likes to be a good chum I don’t mind, but the minute I see any signs of philandering, the least flicker of a sheep’s eye, we’ll drop Mr Rochester, if you don’t mind.’

Nesbit’s descriptions are exquisite, something which strikes me in her work for children too.  She has such a glorious way with words, and is able to quickly build vivid pictures of characters and surroundings.  Of Rochester’s first glimpse of the cousins, for instance, she writes: ‘He saw a glade, ringed round with rhododendrons and azaleas, their big heads of bloom glistering in the wan light cast from the Japanese lanterns that hung like golden incandescent fruit from the branches of the fir-trees.  In the middle of the glade a ring of fairy lights shining like giant glow-worms were set out upon the turf.’

Nesbit conjures up such a sense of nostalgia in the imagery which she creates: ‘It was a very nice dinner – the cold lamb from yesterday, and what was left of the gooseberry-pie, and lettuces and radishes, and what sounds so nice when you call it (fair white bread).  The sun shone, the green leaves flickered and shivered in the soft airs of May.  The peonies shone like crimson cannon-balls, and the flags stood up like spears; the birds sang, and three very contented people ate and talked and laughed together.’

There are a lot of recognisable elements of the children’s adventure story within The Lark, and this, I think, made it all the more enjoyable.  The story takes twists and turns, some of which tend to be a little melodramatic, but due to Nesbit’s plotting and prose style, this approach works very well.  The novel can become a little farcical at times, but this further ensured that there were a lot of surprises in the plot.  The whole plays out rather well, and I very much enjoyed its blithesome tone.

The Lark is very of its time, but it still feels modern and relevant in many respects.  It is a novel which would sit perfectly upon the Persephone and Virago lists; it has a similar charm to works by Dorothy Whipple and Marghanita Laski, to name but two authors.  It is a real treat to read, and I hope that this review will encourage others to pick it up.

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4

Flash Reviews (2nd April 2014)

‘Four Children and It’ by Jacqueline Wilson (Puffin)

Four Children and It by Jacqueline Wilson *****
I believe that there are two settings in which to best enjoy children’s literature.  The first is whilst basking in the sunshine on a beautifully warm day, with a long cool drink to hand, and the second is whilst curled up in front of a roaring fire in the company of a cup of tea and a purring feline.  I plumped for the latter, and began this on rather a chilly February evening.

Wilson has based her tale upon E. Nesbit’s classic (and rather beautiful) Five Children and It, which was first published in 1902.  Rather than retell the tale, Wilson’s book is a continuation of sorts, which even features Nesbit’s original child characters.  I was interested to see how it would compare to the original.

Four Children and It tells the story of brother and sister Robbie and Rosalind, their stepsister Samantha, who is known by all as Smash, and their baby sister Maudie.  Rosalind is our narrator, and she reminded me so much of myself; she took more books on holiday than clothes, and longed for uninterrupted stretches of reading, for example.  She is just the kind of Wilson heroine whom I adored as a child.  Wilson weaves such a lovely idea into the novel, where the Psammead from the original book is found by the children in a sandpit on a day trip to a local forest, and subsequently grants their wishes.

Four Children and It is just the most darling book, filled with delights, which is sure to charm everyone – young or old – who loved Nesbit’s original.  It is both marvellous and inventive, and I enjoyed it as much in adulthood as I would have done as a child.  I am sure that Nesbit herself would be flattered by, and would also very much enjoy, Wilson’s continuation of her rather lovely book.

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‘The Three Sisters’ by May Sinclair (Virago)

Three Sisters by May Sinclair ***
I very much enjoyed the first Sinclair book which I read – The Life and Death of Harriett Frean – and was pleased to see several of the author’s other titles upon the Virago list.  I selected this at random on my Kindle whilst on a trip to Portsmouth, and found it rather enjoyable.

Sinclair has based this story – that of the three Cartaret sisters who live with their cold and rather tyrannical father within a lonely rectory – upon the lives of the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.  The Cartaret sisters’ father is the vicar of a parish, and he entirely disapproves of his daughters’ ‘godlessness’.  The sisters, Mary, Gwendolen and Alice, are varied in their characters and temperaments.  Alice is a rather ill and frail young woman, Gwendolen is reliable and is depended upon by almost everyone throughout, and Mary is really mysterious; we do not learn much about her until close to the end of the book.  The plot revolves almost entirely upon the relationships which the girls have with one another, and with others from the small village in which they live.

Throughout, Sinclair writes so eloquently.  The accents of the locals did seem a little overdone at times, but that is my only real criticism of her otherwise flawless writing.  The language which Sinclair uses is just as effective at charming the modern reader as I presume it ever was.  Despite the way in which I very much enjoyed most of the novel, I have only given it a three star rating due to the plot becoming rather unnecessarily silly towards the end, and its unsatisfactory ending.

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‘The Little Company’ by Eleanor Dark (Virago)

The Little Company by Eleanor Dark **
I hoped that this novel would be great company on rather a long trip to Liverpool back in February.  It was the only book which I packed in my satchel, and having never read any of Dark’s work before, I suppose I took a little bit of a gamble in not taking a back-up novel of sorts.  If I am honest, I found The Little Company rather dull.  Dark’s writing is not at all bad – in fact, some of her descriptions were quite dazzling – but the entire thing just felt a little lacklustre and inconsistent.  Some parts of the novel – mainly the characters – were quite underdeveloped, and others – the political situation during the Second World War, in which this novel is set, for example – were overdone to the point of becoming repetitive.  There were no characters whom I felt able to empathise with, and I was really quite disappointed on the whole.  I doubt I will read another Dark novel again based upon my indifference for The Little Company, and so I have crossed off the other one of her books which appears on the VMC list (Lantana Lane).

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‘Unsaid Things: Our Story’ by McFly

Unsaid Things: Our Story by McFly ****
There was a time when I could say that I had been to every single one of British band McFly’s tours, and saw one of their very first live concerts, when they supported Busted back in 2003.  Lately, I have missed many of their shows – for a number of reasons, including lack of someone to take with me, my dislike of their latest album (one which the band themselves are also not overly fond of), and the fact that the last time I went to see them, the place was almost entirely filled with pre-pubescent girls, who squealed horrendously throughout.  I do still have a definite softspot for them (much to the amusement of my sister), and was so pleased when I received their autobiography for Christmas.

I thought that this would be a great book to start our first readathon with, and I did manage to read it very quickly indeed.  I can categorically say that in no way was I expecting it to begin in the way it did, with the description of rather raunchy massages whilst the band were on tour in Indonesia.  Throughout, the boys are very honest indeed; it is as though they really want their fans to know all about them without holding anything back, and I really do respect this.  It is, unsurprisingly, very sad in places; I had not quite realised the extent of Tom and Dougie’s problems before beginning the book, for example.  I found it so interesting to see which of their personal experiences influenced their songs, and I loved the use of their joint perspectives throughout.  Unsaid Things: Our Story is sure to make a wonderful gift for any McFly fan, even for those who profess that they are now ‘too old’ or ‘too cool’ to listen to them.

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Flash Reviews (17th January 2014)

The Magic City – Edith Nesbit ***
I have come to realise that there is nothing nicer in reading than to supplement the more serious works with children’s stories.  The Magic City was not a book which I read when I was younger, but I was most looking forward to it.  The novel tells of a young boy named Philip Haldane, who has been raised by his sister Helen, twenty years his senior.  She was, says Nesbit, ‘all the mother he had ever known’.  When Helen gets married to an old schoolfriend who is widowed with one daughter, Philip moves with her to a large country house, where he is desperately unhappy.  To fill his days, in which only the servants of the house are with him, he collects objects from the many rooms he is able to enter, and builds a city from them in one of the rooms.  He goes downstairs to view his city by moonlight, and finds that he is able to enter it.  From hereon in, adventure ensues.  It is beautifully written, and the images are vivid.  I did not love the novel, and there were several places in which my attention slipped a little due to repetition or drawn out scenes, but it was amusing and interesting on the whole, and I would heartily recommend it to any child (or adult, for that matter!).

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‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories’ by Mollie Panter-Downes

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories – Mollie Panter-Downes ****
Mollie Panter-Downes is one of the Persephone authors whom I have been most looking forward to reading.  The short stories in this volume have been collected chronologically, as they first appeared when they were published in The New Yorker.  There are twenty one tales in all. I loved the wit and irony which were at play throughout.  Panter-Downes crafts characters so deftly.  Just one or two sentences detailing someone’s personality or appearance, and they seem to spring to life before your very eyes.  Each story also holds a remarkable amount of detail.  None of the tales here are related, but there is a marvellous sense of flow to the volume.  Panter-Downes touches on a whole wealth of different characters and situations within the framework of World War Two, and lots of viewpoints have been considered.  Good Evening, Mrs Craven is a book which I would heartily recommend.

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The Ante-Room – Kate O’Brien ***
I really want to like Kate O’Brien’s writing, particularly after being as disappointed as I was with The Last of Summer when I read it last year.  The novel started off marvellously, but the plot was soon too drawn out, and the characters were shadowed within it.  The Ante-Room begins on ‘the eve of All Saints, 1880, and Teresa Mulqueen is dying’.  Teresa is the mother of eight children, and has been fighting ‘a losing battle with life’ for two and a half years prior to the novel’s beginning.   Her family gather around her, all dealing with the grief they feel in their own ways.  The novel has been split into three separate parts: ‘The Eve of All Saints’, ‘The Feast of All Saints’ and ‘The Feast of All Souls’.

O’Brien’s descriptions work well, particularly those which deal with the bleaker aspects of life and the surroundings.  She builds up scenes deftly and these, for me, were the definite strength of the novel.  From a social perspective it is interesting, and the relationships between the siblings and their mother have been well drawn.  As I did not very much enjoy it, however, I have decided not to read any more of Kate O’Brien’s books, and have removed them from the VMC list which I am working through.

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