Book Reviews

Review: Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson

My Interest

I’m still going on with some seasonal reading. This one, with “Spring” in the title fit the bill nicely. Add to it that it is yet another Dean Street Press/Furrowed Middle Brow, title and you have my interested zeroed in.

The Story

Frances Field has led a life almost unimaginable today. Raised in the home of her aunt and uncle in London, she was taught exclusively at home by a governess and had almost no contact with anyone outside her household. She became the household drudge cum servant–not much of a life. Now in her mid-20s, Frances has never “lived.” When the family doctor mentions a holiday and the Blitz sends her aunt and uncle scurrying to the relative safety the country home of other relatives, Frances remembering a lovely picture, decides to visit Cairn in Scotland for a holiday. This is where an blurb writer would insert, “the rest, as they say, is history….”

For in Cairn an Army regiment has just arrived for training. The quiet hotel where Frances is staying is invaded by a group of Army wives who prefer to follow their husbands around the country rather than sit home waiting for the posting to be over. Among these are the wife of an officer and her brother who serves in the same regiment. Another wife, besotted with her husband and desiring to have him all to herself for once takes a house lacking in what those in the UK today call “mod cons” (a phrase not used in the US)—including a bathroom. Nonetheless, she is thrilled with the place which Frances has found for her.

Frances begins to live, to decide things for herself, to come into her own at last.

My Thoughts

This may be my very favorite Dean Street Press/Furrowed Middle Brow book! I adored this story. Frances’ life takes turns unimaginable the year before the War and all are for the good. There is nothing saccharine or precious here, just believable everyday life. That is what makes these books such a joy to read. I would love to learn there is a sequel, but I doubt there is.

My Verdict

4.0

Spring Magic by D.E. Stevenson

Book Reviews

Review: A Winter Away by Elizabeth Fair

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My Interest

By now you probably don’t want to hear the phrases “Dean Street Press” or :Furrowed Middlebrow” again, but I must use them! These books are soothing, calm, and nice. Nothing really bad happens. In fact, nothing much really happens–they are stories of very normal, everyday life. I love that. In addition, the title suggested it would be perfect for seasonal reading.

The Story

“Oh I don’t believe in fiddle-faddilling.”

“If he’d been brought up by mad Methodists like my grandfather you’d expect him to gad about, instead of settling down in a library.”

“Relatives were necessary, without them he wouldn’t be head of a family, but they were better kept at a distance.”

“I used to believe in rescuing people … but I’ve come to the conclusions it’s generally a mistake. Too often one only unsettles them; and they suffer.”

The once fine manor house, Glaine, is now a bit run down as are many such in post WWII Britain. “Old M,” the untitled Lord of the Manor, is in need of secretary. His staff is down to Hat and Mrs. Hat–“foreigners”! The last secretary didn’t make the cut.

Meanwhile the residents of Combe Cottage on his estate have unexpectedly provided a solution.  Young Maud has come to stay with her (parents’ age) Cousin Alice and her cousin’s “companion,” Miss Conway, aka “Con.” Maud is escaping her step-mother and trying country life. Now it’s discovered that she fits the bill for Old M’s new secretary perfectly. She’s also just the thing to catch the eye of his nephew, Charles, and son, Oliver!

Not far away is a young woman known as “Ensie” who is martyr to her widowed father’s beck-and-call, and who makes a home for him in “Pixie Cottage.” Her father being a clergyman, she is just the thing to catch the eye of young curate, Don.

But why is Old M so cheap? Why is he so grumbly about his relatives? What’s in store for the former nursery wing at Glaine? Maud is privy to much of Old M’s business, but does she read him right?

My Thoughts

This was a wonderful book into which to escape! The troubles include how to have something but eggs for once and how to escape Cousin Alice’s “companion” who is terribly jealous of the young, vibrant Maud.

Today we might want to read more into Cousin Alice and Con’s relationship–it would certainly explain her jealousy, wouldn’t it? But don’t jump to conclusions. Nice women rarely lived alone even in the 1950s–especially in small towns anywhere in the world. And there’s a tiny secret in the story relating to Con. Plus, why not think the best of two people who call the same dog by two totally different names!

Once again, Dean Street’s Furrowed Middlebrow has republished a delightful little book.

My Verdict

3.5 Stars

Fair, Elizabeth - author photo from Bramton Wick

Author Elizabeth Fair

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You can read all about author Elizabeth Fair’s books HERE.

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Discovered in 2021

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I’m sure by now even its fans are tired of me going on and on about how great Dean Street Press’ Furrowed Middlebrow series is, but honestly? It’s that good. That is where I discovered the following authors: (And, no they do not pay me anything!)

My reviews are linked at the end of the post.

My lazy attention span and my need for light entertainment to take my mind off unemployment led me to some fun new women’s fiction writers

And, a few others cropped up this year as well.

My Reviews

Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

Miss Plum and Miss Penny  by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer

Flora’s Traveling Christmas Shop by Rebecca Raisin

The Cornish Midwife by Jo Bartlett

We’ll Have a Wonderful Cornish Christmas by C.P. Ward

A Mackenzie Yuletide by Jennifer Ashley

The Mitford Vanishing by Jessica Fellowes

The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

Book Reviews

Review: Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith

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My Interest

What could be nice when needing an audio then to find a Dean Street Press’s Furrowed Middlebrow series title available at my library? Nothing, that’s what! I’ve loved each book in this series that I’ve read. This one, if I remember correctly, is the first I’ve found on audio–the rest I’ve bought for Kindle.

The Story

Alison Penny awakes on her 40th birthday not realizing how much her life is about to be disturbed. She has a faithful servant–Ada, a nice, cozy home, a nice, cozy routine of Church, the Women’s Institute, bridge and what-not and the attention of two potential suitors. Stanley, a rather fussy retired bank manager, and Hubert, the local vicar who is a widower with a son, Ronny, who is generally off at his public [private boarding] school. But, what Alison likes best on her birthday is the annual letter from her first love, George.

Soon though, all of this coziness is shattered when Alison “rescues” [stops] a young woman from drowning herself in the local duck pond. Feeling obligated after getting involved, Alison brings the young woman home to recuperate. Little does she realize that this will upset the balance of her life as well as turn the heads of her suitors.

But wait! There’s more! Low and behold she has another visitor (no spoilers). Life then goes into a sort of social hyperventilation aided by the skating pond being frozen solid and an ice skating frenzy seizing the village! What will Miss Penny do? And, what about Miss Plum–the young woman who now seems to never plan to leave? But, oh, dear, Thursday is the WI. (You’ll need to read the book to understand this line). A glass of port, please.

My Thoughts

Aside from gagging at the thought of canned fruit swimming in Carnation evaporated milk (yuck!), I loved this story. Stanley and Hubert, Ronnie’s wonderful take on things, Ada’s forthright opinions (and the picture she painted of a certain corset–no spoilers), Alison wondering why she stepped out of her niche–it was simply wonderful.

Like Miss Penny, I do wonder why it is the Miss Plums of the world–the vapid, helpless little creatures (or the total #itch-women) who get the men following them like they were the Pied Piper. What’s the attraction? Why is a woman who can take care of herself so unattractive to men? Why are such women always called “threatening.” Why do men feel such women do not “need” them? Age old dilemma.

We reach an age–don’t we? An age at which dating is absurd. Except relationships are essential. Life is routine and routine is comforting–until it is stifling. We need the Miss Plums to happen, we need the Ronnies around for the holiday. We need our trees shaken for our own good. This book does that beautifully.

My Verdict

4 stars

Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith is $2.99 for Kindle

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Winter 2022 To-read List

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So much is up in the air for me about 2022, that I’m not sure I can even do this post. I could have a job again, or maybe not. I may have to move–or not. Who knows? Here are ten books coming out in 2022 that interest me–how’s that?

Others

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I love Persephone Books of Bath (Formerly London). The reprint books of great merit that have fallen out of print. One of their newest reprints is The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor. I hope to get it soon.

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I have also been LOVING the books I’ve read from Dean Street Press’ collection of Classic Women’s Fiction. I KNOW I will be reading more of their books in 2022.  A Winter Away is not their newest release, but it is a likely one for me. I’m considering continuing to read seasonally–at lease some titles, so it fits in well, plus I like the sound of it. And, it’s only $2.99 for Kindle.

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

 

Book Reviews

Review: A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell

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My Interest

I had intended this memoir as my nonfiction work for Novellas in November, as well as for Nonfiction November. But, life got in the way and I missed the deadline. At 254 pages it was just a touch too long for #NovNov, but it still read like a Novella so that’s that. Plus, first hand account of the Blitz are always fascinating and this one was well worth the extra pages.

The Story

The Blitz was providing something besides bombs. It was making people talk to one another.” (p. 102)

Olivia Faviell Lucas, the real name of author Francis Faviell, traveled the world between the wars. At the time of this memoir, she was about to be married to Richard Parker, a Civil Servant. She lived in Chelsea right by the Royal Hospital, with her little dachshund, Vicki, and earned her living as a painter having trained at the Slade School. The story begin as the war is starting. Frances is a volunteer in the first aid and fire services. Her work takes her into the inferno of dropping incendiaries and other types of bombs in the beginning of the war and the time now known as the Blitz.

In spite of the war, hers is a nice life lived in pleasant surroundings–a home that we would today say was “curated,” that is filled with treasures from her travels including the green glass cat on the cover of the book. His story is told in the beginning of the book. We meet her friends, neighbors, housekeeper, and other residents of her lovely Chelsea neighborhood.

Her work with the wounded and the dead is often very grisly. It is the sort of things we often say “I couldn’t do that” because war has never forced us to try. Due to her language ability, she is called upon to help with a nearby community of Belgian refugees.

The war comes home to Frances while she is expecting her first child–she briefly loses her nerve, then steels herself and gets on with helping the wounded. Like the Queen Mother famously said after Buckingham Palace was bombed, she could look the East end “in the face” so too can Frances look that way at her Belgian refugees.

My Thoughts

“The Blitz was doing something else–it was cotninuing the slow difficult process already begun before the war of breaking down class barriers.” (p. 102)

Being political, my first thought was just WHO was the friend that The Rt Hon Leslie Hore Belisha always going to visit in Chelsea–enabling Frances to have a chat with her friend, a volunteer, who was his driver? lol.

More to the point, I wondered how people kept going. Today would we (Americans) ever agree to rationing? To everyone obeying a neighbor appointed as an air raid or fire warden? Please–we can’t even agree on getting a shot today. We’d fight over it till the end. And, people just kept going. Yes, some had what were then called “nervous breakdowns,” and smoking and drinking were rife, but people kept going. Send our children away? I cannot imagine doing that. I just cannot. Euthanize our pets (as many had to do)? Brutal–yet so many at that time did so for the good of all.

There are so many brave moments in this story it is hard to single out even one. The Belgian woman who is castigated for never going to visit her newborn baby is among the most vivid aside from some of the violence from the bombs (too horrific to discuss). Unmarried, not sure she’ll ever see the father again, in a strange country, very, very ill and yet she is harassed by neighbors and do-gooders to get out of her sickbed and go to the countryside to see her evacuated newborn who wouldn’t know her from Adam. That was truly harsh. So too was the clean, tidy, clergyman who told a woman who’d just lost her husband in violent circumstances to accept it as God’s will and move on. He wasn’t really wrong–she would have to accept it and move on at some point, but his timing was callus even for a world war. And, I was with Frances checking out those manicured hands that had never even dug to plant a vegetable, let alone dug up a human or their remains. Judgy? Yep–war is hell.

I’m off my reviewing game, so I’m not really making this sound anywhere near as interesting and as readable as it was. But it’s another of the rare books to which I’ve given a 4.5 rating. Several this year which is unusual. Read it. You won’t be sorry. Like everything coming from Dean Street Press, it is worth it.

My Verdict

4.5

Apparently this memoir is mentioned in this documentary.

Book Reviews

Review: Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering

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How glorious the autumn colours are, though the ground is sodden. The woods, the dying bracken and withered heather on the hillside, all seem deepend and enriched by the rain, and now that the sunlight is falling on them they are glowing with russet reds and  browns turning to deep purple in the shadow. (p. 159)

My Interest

I have fallen in love with Dean Street Press! Their books are so gentle and good–the perfect antidote for today’s world. Dear Hugo is one step better–it is an epistolary novel, a story told in letters. I am a big fan of such books told in the form of letters, diaries, emails or whatever. “Epistles”–like those in the Bible, or “serials” are stories told in “episodes” or small chunks. I like that.

The Story

It sounded affected to say that I had nothing to wish for, thought it was true enough. For I have what I need, and I am content, and I did not thick that to wish for a slightly larger oven or a new vaccum-cleaner was the right kind of which, somehow. (p. 44)

Scotland in post-war was a refuge for Sara Monteith. One of many women denied the dignity of widowhood by the cruelty of war, Sara, whose fiance, Ivo, was killed before they could marry, has moved to a cottage in the place where he grew up. Written between June 1951 and just after the Coronation in June 1953, her letters are addressed to his brother Hugo, who is out in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Along the way she acquires guardianship of sorts over her cousin’s son, known as “Atty” when he is home from his pubic school (boarding school or prep school to Americans). Sara’s letters show her healing from her loss, her involvement in her local community and the cast of characters who live there. And, a little later in the story, the wonderful Pam appears. Pam (male) is a standard poodle.

He was looking at me with a puzzled expression on his face–one of those rather craggy faces, very brown, with his cheek bones and a big nose, that go so well with the glengarry bonnets worn by Highland regiments. (p. 35)

My Thoughts

The curlers, too, have been in their element, and tremendous day-long battles between rinks from all the villages round have been waged. The deep-toned ring of the stones over the ice could be heard long after the sun set like a huge orange balloon among smoky clouds, and the moons sailed up over the shoulder of hill …  (p. 77)

Typical of Dean Street Press books, Dear Hugo, moves at the pace of it’s own day, not of ours, but the end, again, had me not wanting to put it down–to see how it ended! And, again, I did not see the end coming (it is nothing horrible). This was a beautifully paced book, and Sara, is a much more generous soul than I can ever be! (No spoilers). Her simple contentment is an inspiration without ever being precious. I loved her and Atty and Pam and several others in the village of Ravenskirk.

“The average raincoat is a depressant in itself.” (p. 73)

My Verdict

4.0

The ending made me rate this even higher.

Dear Hugo by Molly Clavering is on sale for Kindle for only $2.99 and at 200 pages of actual story, I think it would work for Novellas in November just fine.

Book Reviews

Review: Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering

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My Interest

I learned of this book via The Chocolate Lady’s review The story sounded good and it was set in the summer–I’m doing some seasonal reading this year (as I’m sure you are tired of hearing).

The Story

“The two were friends and had been for many years before Miss Douglas, a little battered by war experiences, had settled down in Threipford, to Mrs. Lorimer’s quiet content. … Both wrote; each admired the other’s work. Lucy possessed what Gray knew she herself would never have, a quality which for want of a better name she called “saleability.” “(page 1)

Mrs. Lucy Lorimer is the mother of four grown children–all but one married with children. The unmarried son and a son-in-law are officers in the navy and the others are making their way in the civilian world. Her husband, Jack, “the Colonel,” is retired from the Army and is devoted to his Labrador. Lucy’s summer gets off to a  rocky start when Jack refuses to buy the bigger estate nearby that would perfectly house their growing extended family of children, in-laws, grandchildren and nannies. Then the “new people” arrive and have a dreadful name, but a lovely daughter just the right age for Lucy’s unmarried son. As the family’s summer house party goes on Lucy helps with her children’s ups and downs, while occasionally dealing with correspondence from her publisher.

“First and foremost, it was a home, a house where people lived happy, useful lives, where a certain standard of conduct and thought was obtained, where money was assessed at its proper value because it had been earned, but was never allowed to usurp too high a position. It was always a servant, a useful servant, never a master. Mrs. Lorimer set the standard by which the household at Woodside was ruled; her quiet personality irradiated its every activity.” (page 29)

The Lorimer’s have two servants–a cook and a young housemaid, and live a life few today can imagine, though Lucy acknowledges that life has become much easier with her earnings from her book sales added to the family coffers. So, in the midst of a summer of family dramas, the return of an old flame, and the county Show [fair] and all its demands, Mrs. Lorimer never has to speed home in her little car and whip up dinner for poor Jack and his dog, June. While the Colonel has taken to Hoovering to supplement his obsessional gardening and daily walks with the Lab, Lucy is able to attend to her writing and do mostly what she likes. Who wouldn’t want that “miserable” of a summer?

“The Colonel never failed to receive news of an impending dinner party with horrified loathing.” (page 106)

“His back was eloquent of dignified displeasure.” (page 159)

My Thoughts

“The ground, far and near, was covered by the glowing mantle of heather in full bloom, the air was sweet with its honey-scent and loud with the bees busy plundering its sweetness. Above arched the faint blue of the sky, and all over lay the lovely clear champagne-coloured light of afternoon.” (Page 127)

While this was a fun little book, I was disappointed that more wasn’t made of the war-time experiences. We hear that Mary was useless as a housekeeper because she’d ferried planes in the war, but that is about it. Nonetheless, there is enough subtle humor in the book, as well as vivid descriptions of scenery, to have kept my attention very well.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering

Book Reviews

Review: Winter and Rough Weather by D.E. Stevenson

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Thank you to Liz Dexter at Adventures in Reading... for her review that prompted me to buy this gem.

My Interest

“The hills were not really a very cheerful sight this morning for they were garlanded with scarves of trailing mist and it was raining gently and inexorably as if it never meant to stop.” (p. 26)

When I saw the review I was making my plans to read seasonally this year. A title like Winter and Rough Weather was perfect for that plan!

The Story

“It was as if some giant with a pukish sense of humor had taken his tablecloth and laid it lightly over the whole countryside…and what a gorgeous tablecloth it was! How it gleamed and glittered in the dazzling sunshine! Rhoda took her painting materials and went out to make a picture; it was too cold to sit for long of course by she could not resist the lure. She had intended her picture to be a study in Chinese white and sepia but she found that would not do; there were all the colors of the rainbow latent in the giant’s tablecloth….” (p.183).

Newlyweds James and Rhoda have taken a farm in the wilds of Scotland for their first marital home. They are somewhat well-heeled, if not in money at least in terms of background, education, and societal standing. (James mentions being in the first XI at Stowe). They have what would be called either a Maid of All Work or possibly a Cook-Housekeeper? I’m not sure. Rhoda is a talented painter, much in love with her husband, and happy to be out of London. Jim is learning farming, It is, post-war Britain, possibly January of 1947 from the weather. (The year the Royal Family went to South Africa during one of the worst winters in memory in the UK with fuel shortages everywhere). The local gentry has fallen on hard times and a nouveau riche person has gobbled up an estate nearby. Rhoda’s cook/housekeeper, “Flockie” has been let go from that estate that was “home” to her. The times are changing.

Lives, too are changing. Sir Andrew and Lady Shaw may not be able to host one hundred to dinner due to rationing and no servants to wait at table, but better times are ahead for several in the story. There are secrets to be discovered, a severe snowstorm to endure, and much more! And the secrets are so worthy of the story!

“Rhoda was getting to know this land and to make friends with it. In certain lights it was sad and lonely and cold but when the sun shone suddenly from behind a cloud the whole landscape smiled.” (p. 82)

My Thoughts

What a delight! Nothing icky, no bad language–how was this published? (Joke). I loved this book from start-to-finish. The tender way James and Rhoda were together, the nice way the boor was put in his place, and especially the way the secrets unfolded. This is a well-told story!

I did not realize until that this was not a sequel, but the last of a trilogy. No matter–it worked fine as a stand-alone. I also did not put together that this was the author of my beloved Mrs. Tim books. Duh! This publisher is bringing back older writers and keeping the Kindle price very reasonable, too. I will definitely be buying and reading more.

Winter and Rough Weather by D.E. Stevenson

Book Reviews

Review: A House in the Country by Ruth Adam

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My Interest

First of all, thank you to the bloggers who alerted me to this book:  Liz at Librofulltime and heavenali. I’d never have found this one without you!

Who hasn’t dreamed of a quiet life in the country with no too-close neighbors intruding? As my children have reached the age of house-hunting [we live in a very cheap rural area] they each have shown a preference for at least an acre of land to “protect” themselves from the neighbors. I heartily approve!

The Story

“Never fall in love with a house” (p. 1, Kindle edition).

This story sets itself up as a “cautionary tale.” Now, imagine yourself in Britain the very last days of the war and then the first days of the final peace–the one in Japan. You and your closest friends have endured it all in London and while huddling in the Anderson Shelter or the basement of the block of flats you’ve dreamed aloud of finding a nice home in the country with room for the baby to grow into boyhood running free along with the siblings that will surely follow him. And then, what if an ad in the paper announces your dream is suddenly within reach? You’d jump, of course! And, your dearest friends jump with you making it possible for everyone to afford the move.

Over the next 8 years the couple with the baby who are the primary tenants find out just why a manor house is built with the kitchens a mile from the dining room and the Lord of the Manor’s study in a separate wing from the day and night nursery: it was designed to be run and cared for by a troop of servants not represented at all in Parliament, let alone by a brand new socialist state dictating working hours and conditions! The plan for the manor takes a ding or two, but they keep, because a loyal retainer of the old school, more Conservative than the local Tory MP, helps them.

The Lady of Manor, our primary tenant, joyfully gave birth in the house,  pushed the baby outside in his pram for his afternoon nap in the fresh air, “bottled” fruit from the estate, found replacements for the early friends, set her child up with an outdoor summer school, invited tourists in, and lived as happily as one could in a home meant for an army of servants, but finally there came that day when she knew it was time to move and she did.

My Thoughts

As one who has twice thought she bought her “forever” home only to find out that wasn’t true, I enjoyed this story almost too much. One of those two houses was also a money pit, so the closing spoke right to my heart as I sat in my home of 13 years to which I have done nothing to personalize:

Never again will we fall in love with a house. From now on we mean to live in a series of  impersonal flats, each one exactly like a hundred others in the block” (p. 195 Kindle edition).

This story is timeless. If you enjoyed Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, or laughed as Archie weaved his way down the hall among Tupperware containers, mixing bowls, pots and pans catching the rainwater leaking in at Glenbogle in the opening of Monarch of the Glen each week, then this is a book you will love.

A House in the Country by Ruth Adams