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My Lockdown Books: Twenty One

I was an unofficial champion for this series right from the beginning as a friend of mine was then working for Nosy Crow, the hugely successful independent children’s publishing house.  I reviewed many of them because I genuinely enjoyed them myself as well as thinking that children would!

I’ve chosen Olivia’s Enchanted Summer, the fourth in the series because it’s set in Edinburgh where I had the very great pleasure of meeting Lyn Gardner.  I had a press ticket to her event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  That was quite strange.  I’m more used to being on the stage in conversation with authors and I don’t very often have time to sit in the audience.  Here’s what I said about the book in The Scotsman the previous autumn.

Edinburgh is the star of Olivia’s Enchanted Summer by Lyn Gardner. Set during the Festival, it vividly conveys the vitality and diversity of that season of the city’s life. The Swan Circus, featuring Olivia and her Dad Jack, is performing on the Fringe but there is more drama outside the Big Top than their audiences could ever guess at. Why are Olivia’s Dad and Grandmother arguing? Who does a young street magician remind Olivia of? And what is the mystery surrounding Evie and Tati? As Olivia’s summer unfolds it feels anything but enchanted. Lyn Gardner goes from strength to strength in this series full of complex and developing characters and believable but exciting storylines.

My Lockdown Books: Twenty

When I was seventeen I went on a memorable family holiday.  It turned out to be the last family holiday we had while my sister and I were still living at home.  But that’s not why it was memorable.  We went to York, a city the four of us liked for different reasons, and we enjoyed discovering at and the surrounding countryside.  But that’s not what makes it memorable either.

During that fortnight we visited many bookshops and by the end of the holiday I was the proud owner of three new (to me) hardback Lorna Hill titles, all from the Wells series.  Without fully understanding my good fortune, I acquired Vicki in Venice, The Secret and Jane Leaves the Wells.

I’ve chosen the latter as my selection today because (i) the heroine is my namesake, (ii) it’s partly set in Scotland and (iii) it’s significantly different to the other books in the series.  Jane does make good and becomes a ballerina (naturally!) but she walks away from it all, realising that she doesn’t have the elusive star quality of the really great dancers – and also that there are other things in her life that are more important.

That got me wondering if there are any other fictional characters of this period (mid twentieth century) who turn their backs on what they have always wanted to achieve because they discover something more important to them.  Any suggestions?

My Lockdown Books: Sixteen

Three Girls and a Car was one of Mum’s Sunday School prizes (for perfect attendance) and I first read it when I was about ten.  Not long before, we had been on holiday to the Black Isle where much of Margaret Middleton’s book is set and I was very excited to find Avoch in a book. (I suspect Mum may have planned the timing so that I got the book then.)  I also felt very superior as I knew how to pronounce the town’s name!

I know Margaret Middleton wrote other books but this is the only one I’ve read.  As a child I read it often and even now I go back to it.  I love the innocence of it; also the unlikely plot which is so much fun!

I don’t know when it was published but Mum was awarded it in 1950 so I’m assuming that I read it about thirty years after its publication.  Although I knew it was a bit dated, I didn’t feel that it was from another world.  I wonder how books from the 1980s appear to today’s ten year-olds…

My Lockdown Books: Twelve

The time has come, as you surely knew it would, for me to share this one from my collection.  There’s nothing random about Nancy Calls the Tune by Dorita Fairlie Bruce.  It’s one of my all-time favourite books.  In fact, it’s possibly the one I’d choose if I could only rescue one of my collection of old children’s books.  The other contender is Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery.

Although written in very different times and places, they have some similarities.  And it’s what they have in common that makes me love Nancy Calls the Tune so much.  I’ve written about this before so I’ll cut to the chase: it’s the description of a small community.  Easterbraes (possibly Blairgowrie in real life) is a small Scottish town that we move to with Nancy Caird early in the Second World War.

Nancy moves to Easterbraes to take up the position of organist at the South Kirk, having met the minister, Angus Macrae, at the home of mutual friends along with his friend Nick Vossaryck.  Already there is her friend Desda, known to us from earlier books in the series.  These four form one level of community, their group being added to by Desda’s sister Rosalind as the story moves on.  The other community prominent in the novel is the congregation – anyone who’s anyone in the town seems to belong to it!

Everyone who has read this book knows that there are issues to be taken with it but I’m happy to look past those and just enjoy the warmth of the friendships and sense of the community pulling together – not always harmoniously – to promote strength and security.

My Lockdown Books: Seven

The first books I seriously set about collecting were the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer.  I acquired the first one (actually the seventeenth in a series of fifty eight) when I was eight.  It took me until I was twenty five to complete my collection.  In the early days, Mum found many of them for me and they became birthday and Christmas presents.  Although they hadn’t reached the ridiculous heights of their value in my early collecting days, they were still expensive enough for a family on a limited budget.

My best Chalet School collecting story comes from when I was around ten.  We were driving back to Lossiemouth, having (I think) visited my grandparents in Musselburgh.  We stopped en route in St Andrews and came across a secondhand bookshop near the golf course.  Naturally we went in and I discovered two Chalet books I didn’t have: Althea Joins the Chalet School and Prefects of the Chalet School, the final two in the series.  I still had holiday money left, just enough to cover the cost of both of them.  I swithered and swithered, doubtless driving everyone concerned crazy, and eventually decided to buy both.  I’m very glad I did as, only a few years later, I saw these books on sale at £350 each.  I had paid a total of 70p!

I have chosen Jo Returns to the Chalet School as today’s book.  It’s one of the early titles and is set in inter-war Austria in the fictionalised (and renamed) Pertisau-am-Achensee.  The first fourteen titles, set primarily in Pertisau, are my favourites, partly because of their setting and partly because I think they’re better books than most of the later ones.  I often cite Jo Returns as one of my favourite books in the series but sometimes I think it’s because of the wonderful dustwrapper and plates by the artist Nina K Brisley.

My Lockdown Books: Five

I read the Katy books by Susan Coolidge when I was a child.  I have a vague idea that I also saw a BBC adaptation of What Katy Did, the first in the series, but I’m not absolutely sure about that at this distance!  I certainly didn’t know then that there were more than three books in the sequence.  So I was very excited to discover Clover when staying with a friend who owned it.  For years, I read it every time I visited until, eventually, I found copy for myself!

Clover is the fourth of five books and is about Katy’s next-in-age sister.  There are many things that appeal to me.  It catches the reader up on Katy’s life (it opens with her marriage) and goes on to introduce us to her siblings as young adults.  It has a description of a long train journey (could this be where my fascination comes from?) made in a private carriage.  But the bulk of the book describes Clover and the youngest Carr, Phil, creating a life for themselves in Colorado.

I find it a comforting read even if it’s not particularly realistic.  Everyone is warm and friendly and welcoming to the young Carrs and, by and large, their way is made very easy.  But I enjoy reading about the development of a community as well as the creating of a home.  In times of stress, when I need security, it’s a book I return to.

My Lockdown Books: Four

As a teenager I collected Bodley Head career novels.  I had loads; they were easy to find.  And then, in one of our moves, I got rid of them.  Naturally, later in life, I regretted throwing them out and started to collect them again.  Now they are much harder to find and MUCH more expensive.  Still I have persevered and branched out into books from other publishers.

Air Hostess Ann by Pamela Hawken was one of the first titles I ever read.  Like many (perhaps most) of the books it was published in the 1950s and in some ways it’s hilarious seen from the perspective of the twenty-first century.  But the story here stands up.  That’s not an inevitability.  Many of these titles have very little plot and were written almost as information books.

I was reminded of this one recently as flew across the world, home from New Zealand.  It took me just over thirty six hours, owing to the travel disruption and an eight hour transit time in Dubai.  The eponymous heroine of today’s book would never have imagined that such a speedy journey could ever be possible.  Her first flight from London to Bermuda (with a stop in the Azores for refuelling) took twenty two hours.

In many ways these books are about a different world, a world where flying was not commonplace, where the idea of a middle-class girl having a career was still unusual.  They are, in fact, wonderful pieces of social history.  But the  best of them are also great stories.