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.