Review 1690: Tension

When Sir Julian, who is on the board of the local commercial and technical college, mentions the name of the new Lady Superintendent to his wife, she recognizes it. She believes Miss Marchrose is the young woman who jilted her cousin.

Lady Rossiter’s belief in her own kindness conceals her meddlesome and ill-natured personality even from herself. She dislikes Miss Marchrose on sight. When she sees a friendship growing between Miss Marchrose and Mark Easter, the popular Superintendent, she makes it her business to spread insinuations about Miss Marchrose’s character.

Sir Julian likes Miss Marchrose and disapproves of his wife’s interference in the running of the college. I kept waiting for him to step in and stop her.

This novel, while it sparkles with wit and contains several comic characters, is about the serious subject of the damage of loose talk and gossip. Don’t look for a silly romantic novel here. I was rapt by this novel, as I found Miss Marchrose gallant and detested Lady Rossiter’s hypocrisy and self-deception.

That being said, the novel contains some very funny characters, for example, silly Iris Easter, the author of a novel entitled Why Ben! A Story of the Sexes, and her pseudo-Scottish lover, Douglas Garrett, or Mark Easter’s horrendously behaved children, Ruthie and Ambrose, alias Peekaboo. This is another excellent book from the British Library Women Writers series.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1681: Mamma

Diana Tutton only wrote three books. All of them feature dysfunctional families, although Guard Your Daughters is a quirky but relatively traditional romantic novel. Mamma is more unusual.

Joanna has been a widow for 20 years, because her husband died unexpectedly in the early days of their marriage. Although only 41, she has a 20-year-old daughter, Libby, with whom she has a close and loving relationship.

Joanna has just moved when Libby comes for a visit and informs her that she is getting married—to an Army major named Steven. The marriage is to be soon, because Steven expects to be deployed overseas within a few months.

At first, Joanna is not sure what attracted Libby to Steven. She finds him unattractive, and at 36, he is closer to her age than Libby’s. However, circumstances throw them together to live with her, and she begins to understand that she and Steven have more in common than Steven and Libby. With her feelings for Steven growing, Joanna must figure out how to navigate this emotional situation.

Tutton depicts these relationships skillfully, in a way that makes you feel only sympathy for the characters. It is an empathetic and emotionally astute portrayal.

I received a copy of this novel from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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My latest haul from British Library

I’ve been doing my best to get on the list for review copies for several of my favorite reprint presses. One is the British Library, and last week I just received two each of the latest books from British Library Crime Classics and British Library Women Writers. I am so excited!

My review copies from British Library!

The books from the Crime Classics series are two by women, one by an author I haven’t read before, Marie Belloc Lowndes, and one by E. C. R. Lorac, who is becoming one of my favorites.

The books from the Women Writers series are by two old favorites, Diana Tutton and E. M. Delafield.

Thank you, British Library!

Review 1613: O, The Brave Music

Seven-year-old Ruan Ashley leads a bleak existence. Her unhappy mother seems to care little for her, preferring her sister Sylvia. Her father is a dour nonconformist minister. They have little money and live in a poor area of a Yorkshire factory town. Ruan is misunderstood, a dreamer who loves reading, especially poetry, and thirsts for beauty.

Things look up when Rosie, the daughter of a wealthy factory owner, comes to visit with David, a boy Rosie’s father has adopted. They take her for a visit to their home up in the moors, where she and David run wild. Family illness calls for her to remain there for the summer.

Ruan’s life becomes one of loss, but it is also mixed with some times of great contentment. Daring it all, she remains herself, a person who refuses to conform to expectation.

This novel is touching as well as lyrical. It is a true ode to life, written in 1940 and looking back 40 years.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1608: Tea Is So Intoxicating

Tea Is So Intoxicating is a froth of a novel with silly characters but comments to make about marriage, snobbery, and class. No one here is very likable, but quite a bit is funny.

Retired Commander David Tompkins has purchased a picturesque but inconvenient thatched cottage and decides to run a tea shop from it. His wife Germayne thinks it’s a terrible idea, but nothing can dissuade him. He thinks he is a wonderful cook and has visions of a first-class tea shop; however, his pilot meal, meant to induce an investment from his friend George, is a disaster. In fact, David can’t cook, but he is convinced that he can produce his estimated 240 delicious teas a day.

There is some hope for the cooking, because a friend at his previous job sends along Mimi, a Viennese cake baker. Mimi does know how to bake a delicious cake, but she is the type of woman whom all men want to protect and all woman distrust on sight, apparently with cause.

Mrs. Arbroath used to run the village in 1910 and thinks it is still 1910, not 1950. She is determined to keep the tea shop from opening, claiming it will attract lots of riffraff. In addition, the owner of the local pub, who has opened a small tea garden (also opposed by Mrs. Arbroath), thinks they’ll be too much competition so has barred the Tompkins from his pub.

As all this becomes (I can’t help it) a tempest in a teapot, Charmayne begins to wonder if she shouldn’t have stayed with her first husband, Nigel.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1601: Chatterton Square

Two very different families live across the road from each other on Chatterton Square. Mr. Blackett is self-satisfied and judgmental. He thinks Mrs. Fraser across the way is no better than she should be and is trying to attract him. He doesn’t understand that Rosamund Fraser is teasing him because of his conceit.

Rosamund Fraser is separated from her husband and supporting a household that contains her three sons and two daughters as well as Miss Spanner, a single friend and boarder. She runs her household loosely, and their warm home contrasts starkly with the Blacketts’, where Mr. Blackett is always picking on someone, particularly his daughter, Rhoda.

This novel is about more than two families or even about the three statuses available to women at the time. For, it is set shortly before World War II, when the British government was for appeasement. Mr. Blackett, who somehow managed to avoid serving in the First World War, is all for appeasement. Across the road, Rosamund Fraser believes appeasement is shameful, that you don’t make deals with criminals. Despite her fears for her sons, she feels war is the only honorable way forward.

There is finally the state of Rosamund’s marriage as well as Bertha Blackett’s. Rosamund, having been deserted by Fergus and assented to divorce, feels free to fall in love again, with Piers Lindsay, Bertha Blackett’s cousin. But having asked for a divorce, Fergus fall silent. Bertha has for years been hiding her contempt for her husband by pretending complete subservience to him. But eventually her true self must emerge.

This is an absorbing and ultimately touching novel about a particular time and place. The characters are believable and the women and most of the children sympathetic.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1589: My Husband Simon

According to Simon Thomas’s Afterword for My Husband Simon, the publicity for it posed the heroine’s dilemma as wife vs. mistress. And that’s just typical, isn’t it? When the real choice was marriage vs. not just a writing career but the ability to be a good writer.

Simon’s Afterword discusses the class element of the novel, which comes out in nuances an American reader wouldn’t necessarily pick up on, at least not all of them. (For example, I didn’t get the distinction between Pardon? and Why? until I read the Afterword, although I understood there was something wrong with Pardon?)

Nevertheless, it’s clear from the beginning that Nevis Falconer, a young writer with one very good book out, and the man she chooses to marry, Simon Quinn, are singularly poorly suited. Nevis enjoys sophisticated, witty people who know about books and culture. Simon is actually proud of his ignorance and prefers the country and physical activity. The attraction is physical, and the two consummate it almost the day they meet. Then they immediately get married.

Four years later, there’s trouble in paradise. The couple alternates arguments with love making for a highly volatile relationship. But the worst thing is, Nevis hasn’t written anything good the whole time. And Simon and his family make insulting remarks about her career. He speaks of her doing nothing all day and is continually on at her about the state of the house.

This novel, published in 1931, takes a very serious look at the dilemma of working women of the time, especially those in the arts, a dilemma that still exists in many ways. Although I couldn’t really understand Nevis’s attraction to Simon—to me, he belittled her too much—the ways of sexual attraction are enigmatic.

Panter-Downes is a lovely writer, and I enjoyed this novel very much.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1564: Dangerous Ages

Thanks to Simon Thomas’s posts (Stuck in a Book) on the new British Library Women Writers series, I was able to request some review copies. I received Dangerous Ages, which, according to the novel, are all of them. This novel examines the lives of women in the early 1920’s.

Neville is 43, a woman who gave up her medical studies as a young woman to marry and raise a family. That job done, she finds herself feeling adrift, with no purpose, and views her mother, Mrs. Hilary, as an object lesson. She must find work and decides to return to studying medicine.

Mrs. Hilary is a silly woman who always pretends she has read important books and is knowledgeable on all subjects. At 63, she has nothing to do, because she defines herself as a wife and mother. Now she is a widow whose children are grown. She is jealous of anyone being intimate with Neville if her son Jim isn’t around and is jealous of Neville’s intimacy with Jim. She thinks psychoanalysis, which is being talked about, is horrid until she realizes it means someone will listen to her stories.

Nan, Neville’s younger sister, has been courted by Barry for ages. She finally decides she loves him, but instead of telling him so, she goes off to Cornwall to finish writing her latest book, never thinking that Barry might give up on her.

Gerda, Neville’s daughter, is ardently engaged in left-wing activities. The question is, when she falls in love with a man of a different background, whether she will compromise her principles, which reject all the values of her parents’ generation.

Macaulay’s novel is rooted in the early 1920’s, as characters examine hot topics of the time. I had to laugh at the scenes where Mrs. Hilary’s psychoanalysts inundate her with Freudian jargon that she has very little understanding of. That most of these women are frustrated in their aims should not be surprising, for this is a satirical look at the position of women in society. Only Neville’s sister Pamela, who refuses to be bothered, and Neville’s grandmother, who says she is past all that, seem happy.

Simon Thomas’s Afterword provides some insight into views of psychoanalysis in the early 1920’s, which is interesting.

I enjoyed this novel very much. It feels like light, lively reading while dealing with experiences that are universal, no matter the generation.

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My Latest Haul

Last month I was busy writing to publishers to request review copies of their newest books. Just this week, I reaped the rewards of a few emails with shipments from some of my favorite British publishers! I can’t wait to dip into these. In fact, I already have, reading Dangerous Ages right away.

The books I received are as follows:

From the new British Library Women Writers series, I received My Husband Simon by Molly Panter-Downes and Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay.

The Furroughed Middlebrow series of Dean Street Press sent me Somewhere in England by Carola Oman and Beneath the Village Moon by Romilly Cavan.

From Persephone Press, I received One Woman’s Year by Stella Martin Currey.