Review 1811: The Blue Sapphire

Julia Harburn is sitting on a bench in Kensington Gardens waiting for her fiancé when a young man sits down beside her and tells her he is on a business trip from South Africa and doesn’t know anyone in London. He is perfectly polite and friendly, but when the fiancé, Morland Beverley, arrives, Julia can tell Morland isn’t pleased.

Julia is taken aback, then, when she comes home one day to find the man, Stephen Brett, having tea with her stepmother. But this isn’t a tale of a stalker—it’s the story of how Julia finds herself.

Julia was close to her mother, who died when she was younger. She has never felt that her father paid attention to her. In fact, he’s always been quiet and depressed. Since he remarried, she has felt in the way, and her stepmother encourages her to move out and find a job. Julia finally finds a room with an eccentric but friendly landlady, who gets her a job in a hat shop. Morland isn’t very happy with her decision, but he has been delaying their wedding until he gets a partnership in his father’s firm, and anyway he is in Scotland golfing.

Julia’s parents are away in Greece when she gets a letter from Scotland from an uncle she didn’t know she had—her father’s brother. He says he is ill and wants to see her, so she goes, even though Morland is very much against her doing so. Thus begins an even greater adventure for her.

This novel is just what you expect from D. E. Stevenson: a heroine who didn’t know she had it in her, some light romance, some self-discovery, and some entertaining characters. Even though I could foresee the result of the romantic angle from the first pages, it didn’t make reading any less enjoyable.

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

Five Windows

Winter and Rough Weather

Vittoria Cottage

Review 1803: Five Windows

In Five Windows, D. E. Stevenson uses the metaphor of windows to reflect her main character’s growth, or change in mental outlook.

David Kirke (his last name again misspelled on the back cover of my Furrowed Middlebrow edition) begins his story as a young boy during World War II, the son of a rector of a small Scottish village. He comes from a happy home and loves rambling the countryside with his friend Malcolm, a shepherd, or Freda, a girl from a nearby farm.

David grows up a bit naïve, even after he goes to live with his uncle Matt in Edinburgh so that he can attend a better school. His eyes are opened to a less salubrious life when he moves to a London boarding house while he works as a clerk in a law office. That’s when he begins to learn that people aren’t always trustworthy or likable.

Five Windows follows David from childhood until just before he is married. It is pleasant, light reading about a likeable hero.

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

Winter and Rough Weather

Vittoria Cottage

The Baker’s Daughter

Review 1790: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment

I accidentally read Mrs. Tim Gets a Job first, but when I discovered it was third in a series, I decided to read the rest in order. Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is the first.

Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim—I didn’t discover her first name until I read this book) leads an active and happy life where her husband’s Scottish regiment is based in Southern England. However, her life is upended when her husband is temporarily transferred to Westburgh, Scotland. She must find a house, move, and then try to create a new social life. She feels especially close to her neighbor, Mrs. Loudon.

It isn’t long, though, before her husband gets his majority, which means they must move right back to where the regiment is stationed. Tim is sent back almost immediately, while Mrs. Tim prepares for the move. Before she leaves, though, she is invited to see the real Scotland by staying with Mrs. Loudon farther north.

At first, with its diary entry format, this novel was so full of little everyday events that, even though amusing, it began to seem too like the Provincial woman series. However, it eventually develops more of a plot, in particular, Hester’s attempts to help Mrs. Loudon, whose son Guthrie has fallen for an unsuitable young lady.

Although written in 1940, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment is set earlier. The exact year isn’t stated, but the soldiers all have relatively recent memories of World War I. This is a charming novel, although it does have some snobbery toward some wealthy acquaintances. However, Hester is a lively, likable heroine.

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle Married

Review 1721: Winter and Rough Weather

According to the Foreword of Winter and Rough Weather, it is related to two other books by D. E. Stevenson, Vittoria Cottage and Music in the Hills. It has been a long time since I read Vittoria Cottage, and none of the characters in Winter and Rough Weather rang a bell. I finally had to look up my old review to find the link between the two is James, who is a minor character in this novel.

Jock and Mamie Johnstone are preparing for the arrival of their nephew, James Dering Johnstone, and his bride Rhoda. James and Rhoda will be occupying Boscath, the farm adjoining the Johnstone’s Mureth, except separated by a river that can at times be raging.

Rhoda has abandoned a promising career as an artist to marry James and at first finds herself unhappy in their remote farm that doesn’t have a telephone and can be cut off by weather. After a while, though, she makes friends in the area and begins painting again and teaching a promising youngster named Duggie, who is the son of Lizzie, the Mureth cook.

This novel has a firm sense of place in the border country of southern Scotland and has a host of mostly likable characters. It is about everyday post-war life there, although it has a few subplots—Adam and Nan Forrester, the village doctor and his sister, both have unhappy love affairs. The neighboring farm to Mureth, Tassieknowe, has been bought by a rich man whom everyone dislikes and who is running his farm poorly.

I enjoyed this novel and mean to look for the other one, Music in the Hills, which I believe comes before this one.

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

Vittoria Cottage

The Baker’s Daughter

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

Review 1702: The Two Mrs. Abbotts

The Two Mrs. Abbotts is the third Miss Buncle book. Barbara Buncle is, of course, one of the Mrs. Abbotts, and the other one is Jerry, the wife of Barbara’s husband’s nephew. It is 1942, and Sam, Jerry’s husband, is serving in Egypt. Jerry has allowed an army unit bivouacked on her property to use her kitchen.

The novel begins with a pleasant coincidence, for the dreaded Red Cross lecturer that Barbara is supposed to host turns out to be Sarah, an old friend. Sarah accompanies Barbara to a charity bazaar where the famous author Janetta Walters is appearing. Barbara’s husband is Walters’ publisher, but he doesn’t much like her books.

This novel has a rather meandering plot that checks in with old friends and introduces new ones. There are some funny scenes with Barbara’s children, Simon and Fay, and the novel spends some time with Markie, Jerry’s old governess turned housekeeper. However, much of the novel deals with what happens after a young man pressed into attending tea with Janetta Walters tells her he doesn’t like her books, but he’s sure she could write good ones.

The Buncle books are good fun, with appealing characters, humor, and a lot of fluff.

Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle Married

Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

Review 1631: Mrs. Tim Gets a Job

It turns out that Mrs. Tim Gets a Job is part of a series. Unfortunately, because I’d rather read series books in order, I never find this out until I mark that I’m reading it in Goodreads. Luckily, the novel seems to stand perfectly well on its own.

The Second World War is over, but Mrs. Tim’s husband is still stationed in Cairo and won’t be getting home anytime soon. Mrs. Tim’s two children are off at school, and she finds herself at loose ends. So, without really consulting her, a friend arranges a job for her at a hotel in Scotland. At first, Mrs. Tim is inclined to turn down the job, but then she gets a letter from her landlord giving her notice to move out.

With trepidation, she sets out to work for Miss Clutterbuck, who she understands is a difficult person. Miss Clutterbuck has been forced to open her family home to the public, and she has a rude manner. Mrs. Tim finds that part of her duties is to talk to the guests, because Miss Clutterbuck can’t bear them.

This novel is written in a light style as a diary, reminding me very much of the Provincial Lady series except gentler and with less overt humor. We follow Mrs. Tim’s progress as she grows to appreciate Miss Clutterbuck, learns how to deal with a housemaid who hates her, and straightens out a guest’s love life. I enjoyed this book very much.

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Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle Married

Diary of a Provincial Lady

Review 1623: Miss Buncle Married

How delighted I was to find out there are actually three Miss Buncle books, since I so enjoyed the first one. This second book continues in the first one’s gently comic, frothy tradition.

Barbara Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her husband Arthur discover that neither of them has been enjoying their active social life. There seems to be no way to get out of it, however, because they’re such a popular couple. So, they decide to move.

It takes Barbara quite a long time to find a house she likes. When she visits a solicitor’s office in Wandlebury to view a house, Mr. Tupper, mistaking her for another client, has her read a will in which Lady Chevis Cobbe leaves her estate to her niece, Jeronina Cobbe, on the condition that she isn’t married before Lady Chevis Cobbe’s death. When Mr. Tupper discovers his mistake, he is horrified and asks Barbara to tell no one.

Of course, Barbara discovers the perfect house in Wandlebury, and after extensive renovations, it makes a comfortable home. Shortly after moving there, Barbara meets Jeronina Cobbe, who goes by Jerry. She is an industrious young woman who has been running her own stables to keep afloat financially and is worried about her brother Archie. Archie has been living beyond his means because he thinks he is Lady Chevis Cobbe’s heir.

Barbara and Arthur have been enjoying their new home immensely when Barbara discovers that Arthur’s nephew Sam has fallen in love with Jerry. So, without telling anyone about the will, Barbara feels she must keep the two apart until ailing Lady Chevis Cobbe dies, so as not to deprive Jerry of her inheritance.

If anything, I enjoyed this novel more than I did Miss Buncle’s Book. It’s a lot of fun.

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Day 1285: Miss Buncle’s Book

Cover for Miss Buncle's BookMiss Buncle’s investments have not been providing her an income, so she realizes she must do something. She decides to write a book. She submits it to a publisher, Mr. Abbott, who can’t decide whether it is a sly satire or a story written by a rather simple person. Nevertheless, he likes it and decides to publish it. In particular, he is impressed by the lifelike characters.

Miss Buncle always says she has no imagination and has simply described the people she knows. When the book comes out, all of her neighbors begin to recognize themselves, and many of them are not pleased. But no one knows who the author, John Smith, is. Some of the less likable people in the village decide to find out. The topper is that Miss Buncle has imagined futures for some of her characters, and they start to behave as she predicted.

This is a delightful novel, a fun, light read. It’s the perfect thing to go with a cup of tea on a rainy afternoon. I can see why so many people have loved it. I read it for my Classics Club list.

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Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle

Day 1061: The Baker’s Daughter

Cover for The Baker's DaughterIn the Scottish town of Beilford, the Bullochs are worried about their granddaughter, Sue Pringle. Since her father remarried, Sue has led a tough life with her stepmother. Had she known her grandfather planned to offer her a job in his store, she would not have taken a job as cook for the Darnays to get away from home.

The first morning at work, Sue finds that Mrs. Darnay and her maid have left the house, leaving her alone with Mr. Darnay, an artist. Although for propriety’s sake she should leave him to find an older housekeeper, Sue decides to stay.

Darnay is so wrapped up in his painting that the practicalities of the situation don’t occur to him. He has previously been well paid for his paintings, but since changing his style, he is not making any money. He has a shock when he realizes he owes money in the village and hasn’t paid Sue. To make things worse, his wife has sued for divorce, naming Sue as corespondent, even though she herself created the situation that makes her husband and Sue look bad.

Sue is in love with Darnay but views him as unattainable and above her in class. Once he sends himself off in disgrace, she returns to work for her grandfather. But will she see him again?

It’s interesting to me that the class angle is still such a strong one in 1938, when this novel was written. Stevenson works around it, but this plot point seems even more important than the divorce. In any case, this is a slight but entertaining novel with likable characters.

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Day 1024: Vittoria Cottage

vittoria-cottageVittoria Cottage is a gentle post-war romance with likable characters. Caroline Dering is a widow with three children. She was married at a very young age to a selfish, complaining man many years her senior, and the marriage was not a happy one. Now she is alone with her two teenage daughters, her son James being away in Malaysia.

Caroline meets Mr. Shepperton, a stranger to the village who doesn’t say much about himself. Caroline gets along with him very well, and he begins making himself at home with her family. Everyone likes him but her older daughter, Leda.

Leda, unfortunately, takes after her father. She soon announces her engagement to her childhood friend, Derek. Caroline and Derek’s father both have reservations because of the young people’s ages, but frankly Caroline does not believe they will be happy. Still, she and the admiral agree that the young couple can become engaged, as long as they don’t marry until Derek gets his degree.

But the central romance in the story is between Caroline and Robert Shepperton. Caroline falls in love with him and thinks he is in love with her. But then her sister Harriet arrives for a visit, and Caroline comes to believe he prefers Harriet.

It isn’t often that I develop an affection for a character within a few pages of meeting her, but that was how I felt about Caroline. The other characters are mostly engaging. This is a pleasant and touching little novel about post-war village life.

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