American imports, Children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Cherry Ames – Boarding School Nurse

Back in the Girls Own niche this week, with one of my purchases from Book Conference and my first foray into the Cherry Ames series.

In case you didn’t guess from the title, Cherry is a nurse and each book in the series sees her taking on a different type of nursing job. The jacket of this one says it’s book six in the series, but it’s clear from reading it that it’s actually book 17, although the author situation is complicated (two different authors, across three periods and 25 years) so maybe we’ll let it off. I picked this up from the bargain box because I like boarding school books and I thought it might be a good way in to Cherry Ames, considering I never got into Sue Barton – who was her British nursing novel equivalent.

So our plot here is that Cherry has taken on a job as the resident nurse at a girls boarding school in Illinois. On her way to the school, she meets one of the other pupils, a new scholarship girl called Lisette who has a book she doesn’t want anyone to see the title of and a strange obsession with flowers and the school’s garden. Soon Cherry is trying to keep peace among the girls and ends up investigating a mystery with the strangely aloof Lisette. I don’t think any of you are going to read this, and the good reads summary gives it away any way so: Lisette is actually the headteacher’s niece, the school is in the former family mansion and Lisette has a diary written by their common relative which suggests that there is a valuable secret hidden somewhere in the school. The secret turns out to be the formula for a perfume, which Cherry, her new beau the local doctor and Lisette try to make to try and save the school which is struggling financially.

That’s a lot of bonkers isn’t it? And that’s before you mix in all the nursing that Cherry does, which includes but is not limited to: a broken arm, a preemie birth, a car crash and a student who makes herself ill to get out of doing exams. All in under 200 pages. It’s fast paced and kinda hilarious – it’s like Nancy Drew crossed with a nursing manual. And as a connoisseur of school stories, I can confirm that Cherry would not have lasted long at the Chalet School because she’s far too close to the students and not maintaining A Proper Distance! I had a hoot reading it, and it was worth every penny I paid for it. Which wasn’t many, because: bargain box, but you know what I mean.

If you want to try out any Cherry Ames, you’ll need to find a specialist book seller or try Abebooks.

Happy reading!

Children's books, Series I love

Series I Love: Sadlers Wells

I am off to book conference this weekend, so in honour of all the fun I’ll be having, this week’s series I love post is a Girls Own one.

Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series follows a series of young women as they embark upon careers in dancing. The first book, A Dream of Sadlers Wells was first published in 1950 and follows newly orphaned Veronica Weston as she tries to carry on learning ballet despite having moved to live with her cousins in Northumberland. The second book follows Veronica as she embarks upon her training at Sadlers Wells ballet school (now the Royal Ballet) and the other books in the series all follow girls who have a link to Veronica somehow.

Despire being clumsy and coordinated, I loved ballet books when I was a child and moved on to Sadlers wells after I had started on the Drina series – as both had reissues at about the right time for me. But the Sadlers Wells ones were harder to find – and didn’t go the whole way to the end of the series, so some of the later ones I’ve only read in the last five or so years. And the end of the series isn’t a good as the start, but the first half dozen or so are just great. Because they focus on different people you also get glimpses of your old favourites as you carry on. In fact a bit like romance series, some of them set up the next heroine in the previous book!

And where Drina is a city girl through and through, nervously learning to love the Chiltern when she’s sent to school there for a term, she is worried about getting injured and ruining her dance career (and she does indeed twist her ankle at one point) the women of the Wells books embrace the outdoors. Veronica, Caroline, Jane and Mariella romp around the countryside on their ponies, swim in lakes and clamber around the hills. They made me want to visit Northumberland – although not learn to ride a horse.

It’s only thinking about it as an adult that I realise that, like many Girls Own books of the era, they’re subtly quite subversive in their way. In the first two books, Veronica refuses to give up her ambitions of a dancing career in the face of various trials and tribulations – but also in the face of a potential love interest. Sebastian is a musical prodigy and in one quite awful speech when he’s trying to persuade Veronica not to go to London, he says that women don’t have to have careers and could (and maybe should) leave it to the men. But Veronica carries on – and gets the success and the love too. In the later books you can see her and Sebastian, married but she’s still dancing. And if they don’t do a very good of listening to their daughter Vicki, they don’t really do a worse job than any of the other parents in the book! But the message is there – girls don’t have to just grow up and get married, they can do things and have a career too.

Happy weekend everyone.

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Strangers in Fleet Street

This week’s BotW returns to my old stomping ground of Girl’s Own fiction.  However it is slightly out of my usual wheel house in that it’s not a school story, but a career book. Compared to my reading of school stories, I haven’t read many career books, but one of my favourite books that my mum passed on from her childhood was Shirley Flight, Air Hostess so a book in a series called Sally Baxter, Girl Reporter definitely appealed to me.  I found it in the Oxfam Bookshop in York (on the same trip that I picked up two Oxenhams and Dorita Fairlie Bruce) and I bought it, because after all, I am a journalist after spending my childhood pretending to be one, so what could be more perfect?!But this is definitely a recommendation for people who are afficiados of the genre – because it has some… let’s call them issues.

Hardback copy of Strangers in Fleet Street

So, Strangers in Fleet Street is apparently the 15th book in the Sally Baxter series and it sees Sally, who is a teenager working as a reporter at a national newspaper, taking charge of a group of foreign readers of the Evening Cry (her paper) who won a competition to spend two weeks in London.  She’s their guide – but she’s also hoping to get some stories from their visit.  Sally soon makes friends with most of the visitors but a series of disappearances – of money, of earrings and of a person – lead to suspicion being thrown on her little group and Sally is determined to unmask the real culprit – not just for the scoop but to save her new friend’s reputations.

This ticked pretty much all of my boxes – it’s got a mystery and a bit of adventure.  It has a fun cast of characters and it has a lead character who is doing an interesting job, in a male-dominated profession.  OK Sally may be on human interest duty in this book, but she’s definitely doing the job and she’s not the only one – there’s a more senior woman reporter too.  Looking at the information about the other titles in the series that I found here, it seems that Sally seems to get a lot of the softer stories – as opposed to crime, trials or politics, but then court rooms and council meetings are hard to make sound exciting – but a lot of it involves globe-trotting.  Even without that list, Sally mentions trips to Hong Kong and North Africa – so it does sound like an exciting and appealing life, which has got to be one of the major aims of a career novel.  My quibbles with it are all around some of the rather old-fashioned (putting it nicely) attitudes.  Sally herself is very fair but the way the young North African boy is portrayed is definitely very stereotypical and of its time.  And the resolution to the mystery involved another trope that I’m not very keen on, but I can’t say more than that because it’s a huge spoiler.  So lets say that I won’t be lending this to my 10-year-old niece.  But if you are a fan of Girl’s Own fiction and know where its weaknesses and blind spots are, this is a very enjoyable way to spend a few hours.  And I’ve already been on the second hand book sites looking for more in the series.

As I mentioned, my book came from a charity bookshop, the secondhand dealers have lots of copies of various books in this series (please don’t beat me to them) but unless this is your secret niche book love, it’s probably not going to be one for you- and if it is, you already know how to source this sort of thing, so no links this week!

Happy Reading!