1. First and foremost: An all-male cast of characters. This is also why I’m not too keen on westerns and war movies: Not enough women in them. Might it be something to do with having three sisters and no brothers; and going to an all-girls school from age six to seventeen? I definitely prefer the company of women.
But I did read and enjoy Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling so maybe schoolboys aren’t quite ‘men’ and so don’t repel in the same way.
2. A shopaholic protagonist. (You know what series I’m talking about.)
3. Minute descriptions of any kind of child abuse.
4. Details about genocide, and graphically violent scenes especially that of torture, unless they are in murder mysteries.
5. Cats who solve mysteries. (You know the series I mean.)
6. Books about a school for wizards, unless it’s A Wizard of Earthsea. (Actually, I had to read all seven Harry Potter books for my job, and I’m still bitter about those hours I’ll never get back.)
7. Verbosity. (I prefer abridged Charles Dickens.)
8. Preachy religious content.
9. Latin American magic realism.
10. Every interesting or likeable character being killed off. (You know what series I’m referring to.)
I’ve taken quite a break from the Top Ten Tuesday meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, but I’m back this week with books I found hard to stop reading, although none were short enough to read in one sitting. I’m listing books I read in 2016/17. Also, no re-reads.
The Imperial Radch Trilogy (all three books) by Ann Leckie
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
I Do Not Come to You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
We’re supposed to pick our own topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), and so I’m going to list four books that made a deep impression on me as a child/teenager and, as a result, I still own.
The Candlemas Mystery by Ruth M. Arthur
My sister Beatrice got me this book when I was maybe nine. It has all the elements I enjoyed at that age and into my teens – mystery, suspense and adventure, with a dash of mild romance.
The protagonist is Harriet who’s about fifteen and at boarding school. She’s granted an unexpected holiday (exploding boilers) and, as her own family are in Hong Kong, goes to Dorset with Nancy Mariner, the prefect in charge of her dorm. But after a couple of days home, Nancy is taken ill and Harriet is left to amuse herself. Luckily, exploring the windswept Dorset village and its surrounding beaches and cliffs keeps her well occupied. In the lonely caves by the seashore, she finds the memorial stone of Ambrose Briddle, a boy who drowned a long time ago, ‘after Candlemas’. Was it an accident or was he murdered because he saw something he wasn’t meant to?
In the meantime, Harriet discovers another boy, this time alive and hiding out in the caves. Birney is sixteen and has run away from an approved school. Harriet decides to help him, buying him food and other necessities, and visiting him in the cave where he’s hiding.
The other friend Harriet makes while at the village is the grandmother of the Mariner’s daily. Harriet visits Gramma’s cottage for regular chats with the old woman and is told that Ambrose Briddle was deliberately drowned because he witnessed the Candlemas rites of the local witch coven. Gramma knows this because her own grandmother was one of the witches at the time although she had nothing to do with the drowning and left the coven soon after.
This is a very short book, just a hundred and twenty pages, and although not a lot happens, the pace is brisk, the action described from Harriet’s point of view. As she is a practical and observant person who is not given to flights of fancy or extreme navel gazing, the scenes don’t ever drag or get mired in too-detailed descriptions or interior monologue.
As an impatient teen reader I’m sure I appreciated this.
This book may also have been the book that introduced me to Margery Gill although my edition (above) does not feature her art on its cover, only inside. Gill’s work adorns the cover of the edition on the right, which also has, in my opinion, a much better title: After Candlemas.
The Gardens of Dorr by Paul Biegle
We didn’t have a proper bookstore in the small town I lived in from the age of eleven to seventeen. Instead we had stores that sold text books and stationery, with perhaps a shelf or two of story books. One of these stores was the Student Service Centre, which is where I found my copy of this book by the Dutch author Paul Biegel, translated by Gillian Hume and illustrated by Eva-Johanna Rubin.
It’s been at least thirty years since I read this book and I admit that I don’t feel particularly inclined to re-read it because although I found it fascinating as a teenager, I was also disturbed and depressed by the story. It is actually a multi-layered tale about love and loss, and in the centre of it is a witch whose happiness rests on the unhappiness of others. Am I mis-remembering? Actually, I feel I should re-read the book soon because I feel I didn’t truly understand it when I first acquired the book. All I was aware of at that point (I must have been about thirteen) was that it was strange. There is a Princess (Nevermine) and a gardener’s apprentice (Evermine) who fall in love and whose love incurs the wrath and jealousy of the witch. She turns Evermine into a flower which dies each autumn, leaving a seed that Nevermine must plant each spring. The curse can only be broken if the seed is planted in the legendary city of Dorr and so, the Princess goes in search of it, not realising that it is a dead place, cursed by the same witch who stole Evermine’s life.
If I remember correctly, on Nevermine’s journey to Dorr, she encounters others whose life has been ruined in some way by the witch. The illustrations are bizarre and sometimes rather grotesque. This one [right] of the man covered in butterflies still unsettles me.
Tales from End Cottage by Eileen Bell
My aunt and godmother bought me this book (it was one of several in a Puffin box-set) when I was about five, maybe younger. It is about Mrs Apple and her quiet life in a cottage which she shares with her two cats (George Fat and Shoosh) and two pekes (Tooty and Black Dog).
Not a lot happens – dogs visit; a fox’s attempts to get at the chickens are thwarted by the vigilant and brave pekes; the cats help round up the pullets to be sent off by bus to their new home; the animals enjoy the inexplicable magic Midsummer night and Christmas. These short, charming tales are charmingly illustrated by the author herself and I wonder if she based the animals on ones whom she knew personally as they are all so real, with expressions and behaviour that any pet owner will recognise immediately.
Mrs Apple under the damson tree with her pets.
The animals welcome Christmas.
The Glassblower’s Children by Maria Gripe
This was in the same parcel, from my sister Beatrice, as The Candlemas Mystery. A rather unusual children’s book, it is by Maria Gripe, a well-known Swedish author, and illustrated by her husband Harald Gripe. (The English translation is by Sheila La Farge.)
The art is as dark as the story, about a glassblower and his wife, whose two children are taken by a fine Lord and Lady who have everything they wish for except their own offspring.
For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) we’re supposed to list ‘Ten Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I’ve Read In The Past Year Or So’. Instead, I’m listing my favourite white women authors. I have read and loved at least three books by each of the authors on this list, and I’m restricting myself to the twentieth century; and also authors of books for adult readers, although Tove Jansson is better known as the author of the Moomin series. I have also included one non-fiction author: Elizabeth David, who wrote about food.
Why white women? Because there was a time when they were practically the only authors I read. How small my world was then, and yet not. Anyway, I still love them all.
P.S. I think most of these authors are underrated; and some may even be forgotten by most.
Elizabeth Jane Howard
by Pamela Chandler, modern bromide print from original negative, 1961