My Lockdown Books: Sixty Nine

You might think I’ve chosen another book by Elinor Brent-Dyer to include in this lockdown selection but I haven’t – although I understand why you might be fooled into thinking otherwise. I love Visitors for the Chalet School by Helen McClelland, the original (I think) fill-in to the series. It’s a great addition but it’s a good book in its own right too.

When I read Elinor Brent-Dyer’s books I don’t really feel a sense of period but Visitors makes me aware that I’m reading about a bygone age. This is a good thing!  For me, the historical detail adds so much to the book. It also gives a wonderful outsider’s view of the Chalet School and contextualises it well. And it gives more description of Tirol, a place I love regardless of the Chalet School.

And I remember Helen fondly too.  She took the trouble to keep in touch with a young teenage Chalet School enthusiast in the north east of Scotland and found me an Australian pen-pal, with whom I kept in touch for years.  In turn she put me in touch with a friend of hers and that was the beginning of my Chalet School networking.  Hello Michelle and Rosemary if you’re reading this!

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Eight

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return for another unladylike murder mystery in Mistletoe and Murder.  The school friends are spending Christmas in Cambridge with Daisy’s brother and great-aunt. Before they’ve even settled in they are faced with puzzling and unsettling events. And when a fatal accident occurs in Maudlin College the girls suspect that it might have been planned. Determined to prove that it was, in fact, murder, the girls reluctantly accept the help of fellow Cambridge visitors, George and Alexander. Nancy Drew meets the Chalet School in this clever crime novel set in the 1930s. Robin Stevens’ period detail, strong characters and meticulous plotting come together in a satisfying story.

This was the first Murder Most Unladylike Mystery I read and I was immediately entranced.  I think that came partly from the fact that I had also recently discovered Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels.  Although this is set in Cambridge rather than Oxford and is for younger readers than Sayers’ output, it has the same college atmosphere as Gaudy Night.  I’m not trying to suggest that Robin Stevens and Dorothy L Sayers are comparable writers.  That would be ridiculous.  Their books are not trying to do the same things at all and they come from different eras.  But the settings are similar and both writers make me feel I’m in the same other time.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Seven

I reviewed all three books in Teresa Flavin’s trilogy, mostly because I loved them and thought that they were well written but partly because I had met, and got to know, Teresa.  We knew people in common and I worked with her a number of times.  She’s an artist as well as a writer and art is significant in these books.  So here you are, three reviews for the price of one as brought to readers of The Scotsman.

Another writer creating her own world is Teresa Flavin in The Blackhope Enigma. Blaise and Sunni have long been fascinated by a painting hanging in a local tourist attraction. Somehow the teenagers find themselves drawn into the painting where they discover a magical layered world. Never knowing whom or what they can trust, the friends set out on a quest to return home alive. This is Teresa Flavin’s (and Templar’s) first novel and it is sure to appeal to the X-box generation with its fast-paced plot, constantly twisting and turning, and its strong well-drawn characters.

The Crimson Shard is Teresa Flavin’s sequel to The Blackhope Enigma and continues the story of Sunni and Blaise. A seemingly casual visit to a London museum leads the friends back into the eighteenth century where life is expendable. As they strive to stay a few steps ahead of their would-be captors, they must also attempt to travel forward in time and home. Teresa Flavin is an accomplished writer using an unusual background against which to develop her characters and unfold an intelligent captivating story.

The Shadow Lantern brings to a satisfying conclusion Teresa Flavin’s art world fantasy trilogy. Once again Sunni and Blaise return to Blackhope Tower where their involvement with Fausto Corvo began. On entering the magician’s painted world they discover that, whilst much has changed, their enemy and his is still in pursuit. Teresa Flavin continues to display dexterity of mind and a lightness of touch as she resolves the many layers and facets of this unusual and engrossing trilogy.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Six

In The Glass Swallow Julia Golding revisits the world she created in Dragonfly. This is more of a companion piece than a sequel, however, and tells the story of Rain. She designs the stained glass made by her father’s workshop but the law is clear: girls may not be part of the glassmakers’ guild. To keep her secret she is sent to the nearby country of Magharna, arriving as that society’s structure begins to crumble. She is rescued – twice – by the untouchable Peri, with whom it will ultimately fall to her to rescue Magharna. Julia Golding’s novel is engaging and thought-provoking, telling the story of believable and engrossing characters. A novel to be eagerly read by those who love fantasy and one that will persuade others to give the genre a try.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Five

Juliet in Publishing by Elizabeth Churchill is a book I’ve added to my collection as an adult and it’s one of my favourite career novels.  I don’t have anything else by Elizabeth Churchill and I don’t know if she wrote more.

As we meet her, Juliet has just arrived in England from Australia and is on the train up to London from Southampton.  Serendipitously, she finds a job as secretary at the Iliad Press, a small but well-known publishing house.  Along with Juliet, the reader is plied with information about the book trade as Juliet moves from post to post.  If the book is to be believed, publishing was at a turning point (Juliet was published in 1956) and the Iliad Press, a small family concern is contrasted with the modern, much more commercial Symmons and Symmons.

Naturally, openings for women were few and far between and were mostly secretarial.  I’m just of a generation that didn’t expect to find discrimination at work although, of course, it was still there but Juliet, who’d have been ages with my mother, lived and moved and had her being in an altogether different world where successful businesswomen were still regarded with suspicion.

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Four

By rights Mimi by John Newman should be a dismal read, recounting as it does the days after the death of Mimi’s mother. Her family is not coping well and Mimi, the youngest, is struggling to make sense of life as she experiences it. However, this is not a maudlin book; it is poignant and funny and real. John Newman handles his subject with insight and sensitivity and manages to keep the resolution realistic as well as positive. Full of a mixture of emotions, the story avoids sentimentality without ever minimising the sense of loss felt by Mimi’s family.

I read this book when it was first published and reviewed it The Scotsman.  The book really captured my heart and I’ve been recommending it to children ever since.  I commend it now to you!

My Lockdown Books: Sixty Three

Philip Reeve was another author I discovered in the course of my duties as a Carnegie Medal judge.  Predator’s Gold was longlisted in one of my years and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I read all the others in the set.  So, years later, I was delighted to read Fever Crumb.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve recounts the much earlier history of the world of the Mortal Engines quartet but it doesn’t depend on having read those books. Fever has been brought up by the Guild of Engineers, men who believe in reason not emotion. At the age of fourteen, however, she is sent to work outside the Guild’s precincts and gradually everything she has been taught about the world and herself begins to unravel. Who is she really? And what has she to fear from Charley? This tightly-plotted, fast-paced adventure has all the answers.