A Little Country Girl, Susan Coolidge
Great Expectations , Charles Dickens
Twelve Days of Christmas, Trisha Ashley
Just Henry, Michelle Magorian
Five Farthings , Monica Redlich
Our Lady of Pain, M C Beaton
China Court , Rumer Godden
Sowing Seeds, Trisha Ashley
All Shall be Well, Deborah Crombie
Belinda Goes to Bath, M C Beaton
Midnight in Austenland, Shannon Hale
Lady Audley’s Secret , Mary Elizabeth Braddon.
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam, M C Beaton
A Little Country Girl by Susan Coolidge (free for the Kindle) is similar to my favourite book by Louisa May Alcott, An Old-Fashioned Girl. A quietly brought up girl goes to stay with much richer relations. Her aunt is kindly and good, the cousins less so. They are ashamed to be seen with such a dowdy creature as Candace and have some friends who are rich but not real ladies, which leads to trouble. Candace is gauche and at first has trouble with table manners, meeting strangers and so on. In spite of this, her naturally ladylike instincts are a good influence on her cousins and at the end of the book she joins the family as a sister. It’s not a patch on An Old-Fashioned Girl but I did enjoy it, mainly for the descriptions of the scenery and social life in a summer season in nineteenth century Newport. US readers, we in the UK will never understand why you neglect Susan Coolidge when What Katy Did and its sequels are such perennial favourites here.
I have a troubled relationship with Michelle Magorian. Her books Back Home and A Little Love Song are cracking YA reads but for me commit the great sin of projecting modern ideas onto the past. Just Henry was first published in 2008 and was one of the Kindle Christmas special offers. It’s set in the immediate post-war years of bombed-out Britain. Henry lives with his mother, stepfather, stepsister and paternal grandmother. He's a complete pain to begin with and at first I thought him much younger than his fourteen years. He reveres the memory of his dead father, a supposed war hero, dislikes his stepfather and pretends not to be the clever lad he really is. This is entirely down to his grandmother, a poisonous woman who upsets the whole household.
Henry’s passion is going to the pictures and here I again found that projection (sorry!) of modern ideas. Would a fourteen year old really have been bowled over by The Third Man and other great films of the period? He certainly knows a lot about film and it’s through a school project (more modern nonsense) which he is forced to share with two boys he dislikes that Henry luckily starts to change. Just when you think the book is over, it turns rather ridiculously melodramatic but all ends well. I just couldn’t believe in the teacher, Mr Finch or in middle class, wealthy Mrs Beaumont, who solves all problems; they were just too modern in their ideas. You could learn quite a lot about cinema history from this book.
I just managed to squeeze Trisha Ashley’s Twelve Days of Christmas into Christmas reading. I’d previously enjoyed A Winter’s Tale and I liked this book, too. The heroine, Holly, is a young widow who works as a chef in summer and a house sitter in winter. As her husband died at Christmas time, she’s given up celebrating it so she welcomes an assignment to look after a large, remote country house. Things don’t go quite to plan. Gran, who brought her up, has recently died, leaving diaries about her wartime nursing experiences which Holly is keen to read. Arriving at the house she soon finds that various family members are disappointed not to be spending Christmas there as usual. Then, reading the journals, she starts to wonder if she can be related to the family. Holly ends up catering for a large house party, just what she wanted to avoid. Don’t read this if you’re dieting, because there are descriptions of her marvellous meals on almost every page. All is further complicated by the arrival of the Byronic owner of the house, Jude. It’s obvious from their initial antipathy where things are going. I didn’t like Sowing Seeds quite so much, apart from all the gardening. Both books were 99p Christmas deals and good value. As I’ve said before, if you like Katie Fforde you’ll like Trisha Ashley, too.
More Kindle deals on two books by M C Beaton. Our Lady of Pain is part of the Edwardian series starring amateur detectives Captain Harry Cathcart and Lady Rose. Quite entertaining but if you want ludicrous historical detective stories, Simon Brett’s books about Blotto and Twinks are funnier and better. Miss Pym was quite new to me; she’s the heroine of yet another series, in which she rescues assorted travelling young ladies from the pickles they get themselves into. Hannah Pym is quite interesting; she’s a former housekeeper, now a woman of independent means, who spends her time and money seeing as much of the country as she can. Nevertheless I was disappointed by Belinda Goes to Bath, which was far too sub-Heyer for me. I still think that M C Beaton’s best creation is Agatha Raisin. When I read The Agatha Raisin Companion I found I’d missed several of the books in the middle of the series. Luckily I found Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam at the library (they usually chuck all the early books in a series) and was able to fill a gap.
My man at the market supplied All Shall be Well by Deborah Crombie. This is the second book in the Kincaid and Gemma series so I’m progressing towards the first. It was rather good.
My NetGalley read was Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale. Perhaps I’d have got on better with this if I’d read the author’s earlier Austenland. Charlotte has been deserted by her husband and is very bitter about it. She soothes herself by reading Jane Austen and then, having plenty of money, books herself an Austen-themed holiday in England. The children are left with their father. This holiday is not a tour of Austen sites and a few lectures but total immersion in the Austen world. Guests dress appropriately, try to speak Austen-ese and are wooed by handsome young actors. After a while the line between acting and being become blurred and a game of Murder turns into the real thing. Charlotte goes first for the wrong man, nearly gets herself murdered, then falls into the arms of the right man only to realise that her children are more important to her and that she must leave Austenland and go home. Decisions, decisions …
The book will be published by Bloomsbury on 6th February.