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!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Girls of Dancy Dene

This week’s BotW is easily one of the most banana-pants books I have recently read.  And I’ve read some strange stuff* in the not-too-distant past.  I picked up The Girls of Dancy Dene from the local crazy vintage emporium for the princely sum of £1.50 (it also had a sticker for £5 on it, so I suspect it may have been tough to shift) in the hopes that it would be a proto-Girl’s Own story.  And it sort of is.  Except crazier and with more religion. My copy was given as a reward (not a prize) by the Primitive Methodist Sunday School in 1912, but I suspect it may have been written a couple of years before that, although that’s only guesswork because there’s no copyright date in the book.

Copy of The Girls of Dancy Dene

It tells the story of two sisters, who are already orphans and at the start of the book have just lost the grandfather.  Dora and Luce are 15 and 12 and are their grandfather’s heirs, but they’re not to be told this yet.  Their aunt tells them that they’re being sent to Switzerland to learn a profession because they’ll have to work for a living when they’re older.  This goes down like a lead ballon but soon the girls are on their way to the Alps.  But on the train through France they’re involved in a train crash which leaves Dora with a broken leg which may or may not leave her lame and sees her laid up (on a stretcher for some time) while her sister goes off to school.  And this is all in the first third of the book.  It goes on to feature a fake mountain accident, a pet marmoset, a horse in a kitchen and running through the house after a (pet) parrot attack and a cart tour through Devon.

An illustration from the book

It’s utterly utterly nuts, and I laughed so hard reading it.  It’s also got a strong strain of moralising – lots of stuff about beauty coming from your character not from your looks, the importance of girls doing what they are told by men and accepting their fate to help men do better and “Blessed be the Drudges” – which is a lot less fun.  There are also plot holes galore, timeline issues – and an “old” maiden auntie who isn’t even 30 yet!

The colour frontispiece from the book

It’s not actually a book that I would recommend to anyone but the hardcore reader of early 20th century books for girls – but I had so much fun with it that I did a live read of it on a Facebook group dedicated to Girl’s Own fiction over the Easter weekend.  They were all as bowled over by it as I was.  I also doubt that you’ll be able to find a copy of this – Amazon don’t have any secondhand copies – but I suppose I might be willing to part with mine if someone made me an offer.  The author, MB Manwell, has written other stories and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of them because this was so utterly nuts I’d like to see what else they came up with!

Happy Reading!

*Including what turned out to be a stepdad and stepdaughter romance that I picked up (for free) on Kindle thinking it was a single dad romance.  That’ll teach me not to read the descriptions properly.

Authors I love, children's books, cozy crime, crime, Fantasy, romance

My Big Obsessions of 2016: Revisited

It’s that time of the year when I look back at what I read the previous year and look at whether my habits have changed at all.  And as previously mentioned, this post is slightly later than it should have been because we’re already into 2018.  Sorry about that.

I think this year I’ve grown more slightly more consistent – if I was writing an obsessions post this year from scratch, several of last year’s obsessions would still be on it.  One of those would definitely be Fahrenheit Press. I had their subscription again this year and it’s given me another swath of great books to read.  My Dad is currently working his way through the Christy Kennedy series (and thinks they should be made into a TV series) and I can’t wait to see what they dish up this year.  I do hope the subscription is going again this year…

Another of my 2016 obsessions which has endured is Girls Own fiction. I’ve widened the pool of authors that I read again this year – adding some more classic authors like Elsie J Oxenham to my reading and to my little collection upstairs and some more obscure ones too.  Some were good, some were… not, but I had a wonderful time reading them.

My pace of working through The Chronicles of St Mary’s series has slowed somewhat this year – not because I’ve gone off them, but because I’m catching up to the end of the series – and as we all know I’m a terrible binge reader with no will control who would one click through to the next book without thinking and I’m meant to be regulating my book purchases. I’ve read a lot of the short stories and extras this year but no more of the actual novels.  Writing this has reminded me that I’ve got one waiting to be read on the kindle so you may well see that popping up on a Week in Books post soon!

Well this is one obsession that has well and truly endured this year – I’ve read another eleven of Sarah Morgan’s books this year – ranging from her new releases, through recent series and right back as far as some of her medical romances.  And she’s been the gateway into me reading a lot more contemporary romances this year than I would have expected.  Of that, more in my 2017 obsessions post – which will be coming soon.

And this final obsession is the one that hasn’t really endured.  I don’t think I’ve read a single Book with Brontes in it this year, unless we count Trisha Ashley’s The Little Tea Shop of Lost and Found which is set in Bronte country.  Publishing goes in phases and fads and clearly one of last year’s phases which hit my reading pile was the Brontes. As I’m not a particular fan of the Bronte’s I haven’t been looking out of anything else about them this year, and so I’m not surprised that it’s died off somewhat as an obsession.

So there you had it: Verity is still reading lots of crime and noir, Sarah Morgan and has a lingering fondness for time travelling historians.  Tune in to my next post to find out what I was obsessed with in 2017!

 

children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Sinclair Mysteries

For #Recommendsday this week I wanted to talk about the Sinclair Mysteries – as the final book in the series is out tomorrow (October 5).  Regular readers will be well aware of my love of detective fiction and middle grade novels and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries are a great meeting of the two.

In the first book in the series, we meet Sophie and Lily – newly employed to work in Sinclair’s department store which is the biggest thing to happen in Edwardian London since, well, a long time.  Sophie’s father has recently died and she’s having to find her own way in the world.  Lily works in the shop by day and is trying to break through onto the stage at night.  Over the course of the books they gather a gang together and solve crimes, with department store owner Mr Sinclair (think Mr Selfridge) always hovering somewhere in the background.  Starting with the theft of the titular Clockwork Sparrow and moving on to things more dastardly and complicatated.  There is a big bad here, although I can’t say too much about that without giving far to much away.  Suffice it to say that although you can read this on their own, they work best as a series, building to a wonderful climax that pulls all the threads from the previous books together and ties them into a nice neat bow.

If you grew up on a diet of Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew, then these books may well be for you.  Or for your children if you have them.  I’ve lent (given?) my copy of the first one to Eldest Niece who has been tearing her way through the Famous Five and Secret Seven.  I came to these after reading the first Wells and Wong book – and needing more middle grade mystery in my life and they filled that gap admirably.  I’m sad that the series over – but really looking forward to seeing whatever Katherine Woodfine does next.

You should be able to find these in any bookstore that has a good children’s department, as well as in supermarkets – I got my copy of the first book from Tesco (although I got books 2 and 4 from NetGalley) and I can’t remember where I bought book three.  Anyway, read them in order wherever you buy them from.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, detective

Book of the Week: The London Eye Mystery

This week’s BotW is Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery, which I devoured* last week.  This has been on my radar for a while – I read A Monster Calls (Dowd’s concept but written by Patrick Ness) last year before the movie came out and thought I’d like to read more of Dowd’s work and then one of my favourite middle-grade authors Robin Stevens (you’ve all seen how much I’ve written about Wells and Wong before) was announced as writing a sequel to The London Eye Mystery.  That came out last month, so of course I needed to read the first one before reading the second one.  You know me: read series in order, glom on stuff you like, read everything authors you like have ever written.

A copy of The London Eye Mystery
I love the cover of this – and The Guggenheim Mystery has a great one too

Anyway, to the plot: Ted and his big sister Kat take their cousin Salim to the London Eye when he comes to visit them.  They watch him get into the pod and then they watch the pod go around and wait for him to get off.  But he doesn’t get off when they expect him to.  Or from the next pod.  Or the next one.  He’s vanished.  But how does someone vanish from a closed pod on a giant rotating wheel?  The police start looking, but so do Ted and Kat, and it’s not long before they’re following a trail of clues across London to try and work out what happened to Salim.

This is a clever, well-written locked room mystery: all the clues are there for the reader to be able to work out what happened to Salim, if only they can spot them.  But spotting them is not as easy as you think because Ted’s his brain works differently.  Ted says he has a “syndrome” and although it’s never said what it is, it’s clearly a disorder on the autism spectrum, possibly Asperger’s.  Ted has developed his own operating system – with tips and tricks to navigate the difficulties his syndrome causes him.  And he is very adept at dealing with the challenges of social interactions and situations.  But this does still mean that the reader isn’t always getting the whole picture.  Ted notices somethings that other people don’t – but he also doesn’t see somethings that other people would and this adds to the experience for the reader.

I pretty much figured things out at the same time as Ted did – which is great as I read a lot of mysteries and this is a middle-grade mystery and I’m definitely not a middle grader.  In fact I’m old enough to have my own middle grader and not have been a teen mum.  So depressing.  Anyway, I digress.  I loved the London Eye Mystery, will probably be lending this to my niece-in-law and will definitely be bumping the sort-of-sequel The Guggenheim Mystery to the top of my to-buy list.  Although I might wait for the paperback.

You should be able to get hold of the London Eye Mystery from all good bookshops.  My favourite is The Big Green Bookshop who will order it for you and post it out to you because they’re nice like that.  Or you could get it on Kindle or Kobo.  And I’m sure this won’t be the last time that I mention the Guggenheim Mystery here…

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

*I started it the week before, but only really got a good run at it at the weekend and basically read it in one big gulp.

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl

Chaos continues. I mean honestly. I have words for my own incompetence in setting my Week in Books as ready to publish without adding my Sunday reading. I’m surprised I’m allowed out alone. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed your Bank Holiday Monday if you had one. Anyway, on to another (quite brief) BotW.

The digital cover of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl 1
The world needs more Squirrel power…

Doreen Green is off to college. Her first task is to keep her secret identity as Squirrel Girl under wraps.  But that’s easier said than done when you have a tail, your squirrel sidekick has followed you to campus and the world is under threat from all manner of bad guys.

I loved Doreen. She’s feisty, smart and a little bit nutty and she’s going to save the world. I don’t read a lot of super hero comics, but I picked this up as my Super Hero Comic with a Female Lead for the Read Harder Challenge.  I’d heard a lot about it and it totally lived up to the hype. Doreen is the hero (or heroine) we need: she’s Unbeatable because she’s got a solution to everything and it’s often not to beat her enemy to a bloody pulp, but something smart and clever.  Considering that I’d had a stressful week, this really hit the spot for me.

I love stories with strong, smart women at their centre and this ticks all those boxes. My only problem with this – as it is with all graphic novels – is that I read them too fast, and they’re expensive.  But they’re also art, and labour intensive and so I give them a bit of a pass, especially as I really enjoy going into my local comic book store. I think I’ll be passing my copy on to my older niece (she’s 9) because I think she’d love this too.

You can get Unbeatable Squirrel Girl from all the usual places that sell comics, and at time of writing, the Kindle version for a very bargainous £3. I’m not a reader of comics on tablet, but Volume 2 was also super competitively priced, so I’ve got bought it and I’m going to give it a go. I’ll keep you posted. But visit a comic book store.

Happy Reading!

Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Dimsie, Head Girl

For this week’s BotW, we’re back in the world of the boarding school books that I love so much, after I happened upon this on the collectible shelf of the charity shop last week for the bargain price of £2.  My love of the Chalet School, Drina books and boarding school and ballet books in general is well known, but I’d never had a chance to read any of the Dimsie series – which was out of print by the time I was old enough to read them.  This is the sixth book in the series, and so probably not the best place to start, but I’m not one to let a trifle like that stop me!

Colour illustration from the front of Dimsie, Head Girl
Who hasn’t felt a bit confused when reading a Girl’s Own book? The illustration is lovely though.

Dimsie is a prefect at Jane Willard Foundation, and the start of this book sees the prefects shaken by the unexpected departure of the head girl Erica and her replacement with the dreamy second prefect Jean.  The title gives it away that Jean’s reign may not be a long one, but it’s a lot of fun watching how it all unfolds.  Dimsie is a butter-inner, slightly lacking in tact, but utterly devoted to her school.  When she sees that Jean isn’t pulling her weight in the way that she should be, she tries to set the Head girl on the right track.  When one of the new prefects proves to be too officious and inflexible in her dealings with the younger girls, it’s Dimsie who tries to sort the situation out.  To be honest, I’m surprised she wasn’t Erica’s replacement in the first place – except for the fact of course that that if she had, the author wouldn’t have had a book!

It wouldn’t be a boarding school book without the Middles causing trouble – here it takes the form of insubordination to the prefects, illegal pet keeping and midnight feasts.  What more could you want?  And yes, this is a slightly higher level of spoilers than I usually give out – but to be honest, I can’t  imagine that many of you are going to be able to lay your hands on a copy of this!  Which is a shame really, because it’s not half bad – some of it is funny in a way the author didn’t intend but that’s one of the joys of reading a book written for children in the 1920s now!  It does have some of the usual problems of outdated language and a very homogeneous cast, but that’s sadly to be expected in a children’s book of this era and it’s by no means as bad as some.

My copy of Dimsie, Head Girl
Im inclined to think that this was a proper bargain for £2.

This was my Dorita Fairlie Bruce book, and I suspect it won’t be my last – I’ve already been playing on the used book websites to see if I can find more.  Because of course what I need at the moment is more books.  Of course it is.  The big worry is if it sends me off down another rabbit hole of classic school story authors that I haven’t read.

Happy reading!