Review 2098: Yoked with a Lamb

After reading several Clavering books, I’ve decided that one of her strengths is in depicting a warm family and village life. It comes slowly in Yoked with a Lamb.

The village of Haystown in Southern Scotland is shocked and excited to learn that the Lockharts are returning to the area—all of them, including Andrew, who ran off with another woman several years ago. Andrew and Lucy are trying again and moving back to his beloved home. Lucy Lockhart has asked Andrew’s cousin, Kate Heron, to oversee preparations to open the house.

Although Lucy and the children are supposed to arrive there before Andrew, one day he stops by on his way north. Kate spends some time with him and his good friend Robin Anstruther. She begins to be attracted to Robin when she learns that he also was madly in love with the woman Andrew ran off with.

Kate thinks Andrew has treated Lucy abominably, but as the family gathers, she sees that Lucy constantly finds fault with him and throws his past in his face. She also tends to boss her children around and deprive them of small pleasures for no apparent reason. As Andrew and Lucy try to work out their problems, Kate tries to deal with her feelings for Robin.

I am enjoying the Furrowed Middlebrow reprints of Molly Clavering’s work very much. She was a neighbor and friend of the better-known D. E. Stevenson, but I have found Clavering’s books slightly more substantial.

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Review 2084: Babbacombe’s

I asked Dean Street Press to rush me some books so that I could participate in Dean Street Press in December, and they have responded beautifully. Here’s a review of a book I received on Tuesday.

Beth Carson is a little disappointed after leaving school with high honors to take the job her father has arranged at Babbacombe’s, the large department store where he’s been employed for 30 years, instead of going to secretarial school. However, money has always been tight in the Carson household, and she is eager to help contribute.

Despite things being tight, the family is reluctant to take on a paying guest—George’s orphaned niece, Dulcie. But George feels guilty about neglecting her even though he didn’t like her father. When Beth goes to the railway station to collect her, she meets a nice young man after she is tripped up by his dog.

Dulcie turns out to be an unpleasant surprise for the family, but Beth finds herself enjoying her job in the dress department, even though it is at first exhausting. Then one day she is stuck in the elevator with the man from the railway station and finds out he is David Babbcombe, the boss’s son. When Beth learns he doesn’t work but collects an allowance from his father, she says she’d be ashamed to take money she didn’t earn.

Smarting from this, David, who threw away an opportunity at Babbacombe’s once already, goes to his father’s office and asks for a position. His delighted father starts him at the bottom this time instead of the top—in the meat department. He also has a secret from his father, he has submitted plans for a plane he designed to the government.

As David pursues Beth, her scruples interfere. Her father believes people should stay in their places, and she is sure Mr. Babbacombe wouldn’t approve of David dating one of his shop girls. Also not helping is Dulcie, who has decided she wants to marry David.

I’m having an inconsistent reaction to Scarlett’s work, probably because I don’t read too many straight romances. Although I liked another of her Cinderella stories, Clothes-Pegs, I often find the devices meant to keep the couple apart until the end are a little clumsy. In this case, Beth is almost stupidly obsessed by what their fathers will think, and Mr. Babbacombe’s confusion of the two girls doesn’t seem like him at all. Also, it seems to be a trope with Scarlett’s plots to involve a jealous, mischief-making other woman, which is a 50’s cliché. Still, this is pleasant light reading.

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

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Review 2082: Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer

Liz of Adventures in Reading announced Dean Street Press in December long after I read this book, and the press is trying to get some new books to me in time, but since this one came up in my regular review schedule, I’ll take credit for it!

Because she has been trying to talk her husband Jack into buying it, Mrs. Lorimer is disappointed to learn that a nearby home, Harperslea, has been sold. Now that all their children except Guy are married, and some of them have children, their home, Woodside, is not big enough when they all come to visit, which they are doing this summer. With all the income from her writing, they can afford to move, but Jack refuses to consider it. So, her good friend Gray Douglas, also a writer, will help her out by putting some of the guests up.

Mrs. Lorimer, who tends to be a worrier, is also worried about her son Guy. He has been mentioning a girl quite often in his letters, but Mrs. Lorimer is worried that she won’t be good enough for Guy.

At any rate, when the family shows up, Phillie seems to be the one with the problem. She begins behaving temperamentally, being rude to her husband, dashing off to Harperslea because she’s seen Miss Smellie, one of the new occupants, playing tennis and she wants a game. Then bringing Miss Smellie home to dinner and just abandoning her to her mother and Guy.

Miss Smellie is young and not very prepossessing, and they find out she hates her name, which is Nesta Rowena. So, the family dubs her Rona.

These and other family concerns enliven this charming novel. The novel cover claims the book is autobiographical, and it certainly has some likable and entertaining characters. So far, I have very much enjoyed the novels I’ve read by Clavering.

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Review 2064: Clothes-Pegs

After reading Susan Scarlett’s Summer Pudding, I wasn’t sure she was my jam. However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Clothes-Pegs, a Cinderella story.

Annabel Brown is an unassuming young woman whose only ambition is to do well at her job as a seamstress before marrying some young man whom she loves. She has no idea that she is beautiful.

Her employer, Tania Petoff, has noticed her, though. Tania runs an exclusive dress shop, designing and making her own creations in the shop. When one of her models quits without notice, she decides to give Annabel a try.

At first, Annabel feels totally out of place in her promotion. Of the three other models, Bernadette, Freda, and Elizabeth, only Bernadette is nice, and she helps Annabel out with suggestions.

When Annabel sees Octavia Glaye at a fitting, she thinks she’s the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. But Octavia is jealous of how much attention her friend, Lord David de Bett, pays to Annabel. Annabel soon notices David, though, and falls in love with him on sight. She doesn’t have any illusions of a future with him. She is content to love him.

For his part, David is struck by Annabel’s naturalness and innocence but thinks he’ll probably marry Octavia. Octavia is ready to try to make Annabel regret any attention David pays her.

The Cinderella story was fun, but I especially enjoyed the parts about Annabel’s engaging middleclass family. Annabel is a nice, occasionally foolish but usually practical heroine who only gets into situations because of her lack of experience and the venom of others.

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

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Review 2050: Summer Pudding

After Janet Brain’s employer’s office is bombed in the Blitz, she travels to the village of Worsingford where her mother and sister Sheila have made their new home. She has never been there before, but she makes a new friend on the train, Barbara Haines. Barbara’s reactions to some things she says should tell Janet that something is going on, but she doesn’t notice.

Janet arranged for her mother to move out of London into the country because her doctor urged her to make her mother get some rest without telling her she has a bad heart. Sheila was supposed to be doing the housework. But when she arrives at the cottage, she finds her mother more worn than ever and Sheila, beautiful and spoiled, doing absolutely nothing. Janet had planned to join the WAAFs but realizes she can’t leave her mother with Sheila.

Janet learns that Sheila agreed to teach Iris, the daughter of their neighbor and landlord, Donald Sheldon, months ago but has not kept her promise. So Janet goes over to Sheldon’s to offer her services. She is attracted to Donald, a widower, but finds him acting oddly when she tries to bargain for her pay. Donald also has a housekeeper, Gladys, who is jealous of him.

As Janet gets to know Donald, he alternates between seeming to care for her and seeming to disapprove of her even though she can’t figure out what she’s done. She doesn’t realize that Sheila has been telling lies.

Although the Furrowed Middlebrow books often involve some light, understated romance, they usually have other things going on as well. This is the first book I’ve read under this imprint that is a standard romance, with most of the action devoted to keeping the couple apart until the end. How good a romance is depends on how well you do this, and in this case, I think Scarlett (a pen name for Noel Streatfeild) doesn’t always handle it well. Characters over-react to other characters’ comments, for example. The situation isn’t too badly handled, though, and the book makes nice light reading. Straight romance novels are not usually my genre, though.

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

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Review 1889: Apricot Sky

Mrs. MacAlvey is looking forward to a happy summer in her home in the Scottish Highlands. Her three grandchildren who live there are home from school. Her daughter Raine is getting married to Ian Garvine, the younger brother of the local laird, and her daughter Cleo is returning from eight years in the United States. Mrs. MacAlvey also expects guests, and she loves entertaining.

Primrose, one of the grandchildren, thinks Scotland is heaven. She is ready to run wild with her brothers all summer.

Cleo seems to have left home because she was hopelessly in love with Larrich, Neil Garvine, and at first sight of him she realizes she’s not over it. However, she was too homesick to remain in the States. Neil seems more interested, though, in Inga, a young widow whom everyone but Cleo seems to love.

I really loved this novel, and its descriptions made me want to visit the Highlands even more than I already did. It’s about an eventful summer in the life of an attractive, easy-going family in 1948. The characters are likable, it is funny and has a romance, and it’s a lot of fun.

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Review 1868: The Swiss Summer

When Lucy Cottrell’s friend takes her to visit an elderly friend, Lady Dagleish, she has no idea how her immediate plans will be affected. Lady Dagleish is sending her companion, Freda Blandish, to spend the summer at her chalet in Switzerland to inventory its contents, and Lady Dagleish tells Lucy she must go along and spend the summer in the chalet, inviting any friends she wishes.

All during her marriage, Lucy has fallen in with her husband’s ideas for a holiday, he preferring to stay in England or Scotland and near convivial friends. But Lucy has yearned for the alpine meadows of her honeymoon, for quiet and beautiful scenery, so she is surprised but delighted by Lady Dagleish’s invitation.

Lucy is thrilled to arrive at a beautiful, large chalet high up in the mountains. Although she was not impressed by Mrs. Blandish when she met her, Lucy herself is an amenable person, and at first things go well. Then Mrs. Blandish’s teenage daughter Astra arrives and makes it clear that Lady Dagleish doesn’t like her and wouldn’t want her there. Mrs. Blandish asks Lucy not to tell her, and Lucy reluctantly agrees.

Lucy finds she likes Astra but is dismayed to learn that Mrs. Blandish expects more guests—paying guests—her friend Mrs. Price-Wharton and her family, and she expects Lucy to keep quiet about it. Utta, the Swiss housekeeper, is certain these people should not be there, but she doesn’t know what to do about it.

Finally, Lucy’s own guests arrive, her godson and a friend who are mountain-climbing in the area. The two young men begin to make friends with Astra and snobbish friend Kay Price-Wharton. Lucy does not quite have the quiet holiday she desired.

This novel has some likable characters and some not so likable. It is full of the beauties of Switzerland in the 50s, and like another novel, The Enchanted April, made me want to go to its setting immediately. I had to laugh at all the references to the characters’ healthy red (or tanned) faces, though. This novel is charming, with just a hint of the sardonic.

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Review 1854: The Weather at Tregulla

Una Beaumont (again, the publishers got the name wrong on the cover) is 19 and very much still a sulky teenager. She finds her home in a small Cornish village to be absolutely boring. Her father, Captain Beaumont, had promised her that she could live in London and study to be an actress. However, her mother has unexpectedly died and her money was entailed, so the Captain can no longer afford to send Una. Even her distraught father notices that she is more upset by this than by her mother’s death.

The weather in Tregulla is tumultuous, at least in regard to several love affairs. Una meets Terrence Willows, an artist leasing a cottage in the neighborhood, and his sister Emmeline. Terrence is a bit of a bounder, but Una immediately falls in love with him. Emmeline has the kind of looks admired by Una’s friend Barnabas, and she has in fact moved to the area in hopes of getting him to marry her, even though she hadn’t met him before. She is tired of the chaotic existence of her brother and his friends, but when she thinks of Barnabas, she always thinks of his parents’ estate first. Barnabas, although believing he is cautious, is smitten. Finally, his brother Hugo is in love with Una.

At first, I didn’t think I was going to like this novel as well as I did others by Gibbons. I didn’t like Una, and the novel has several more unlikable characters. However, Gibbons is a great storyteller and satirist, and her characters are believably written. Further, some of them improve, particularly Una.

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Review 1849: Much Dithering

Jocelyn Renshawe is a young widow who has always done what is expected of her, that expectation arising from two older ladies, Mrs. Pallfrey, her aunt, and the Honourable August Renshawe, her mother-in-law. She leads a quiet life, mostly doing good works. At the beginning of the novel, she is about to suffer a visit from her mother, Ermyntrude.

Ermyntrude is the most selfish being in this novel, which is full of them. She finds her daughter a bore, and her only reason for visiting her is because she is what Lambert calls a “baby-stealer” and what we would call a cougar. She is interested in cementing her affair with Adrian Murchison-Bellaby, whose parents have just taken a house near the village of Much Dithering, where Jocelyn lives. Ermyntrude wants to show Adrian’s parents how suitable she would be as a wife. However, when Adrian meets Jocelyn, Ermytrude is unable to see that he falls in love with her daughter.

In a thunderstorm on the way back from one of her good deeds, Jocelyn accepts a ride from a stranger who is having trouble finding Much Dithering. He is Gervase Blyth, who has unexplained business in the area.

Soon, Jocelyn unaccountably has three men in love with her. But the one she prefers is most likely to force her out of her protective shell.

It’s not very hard to guess the outcomes of this entertaining light novel, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to read. Its characters’ foibles are all too human, but still funny. This was a perfect light read for me from my Classics Club list.

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Review 1755: The Snow-Woman

For nearly half a century, Maude Barrington has been grieving for her three brothers who died in World War I. To the rest of the world she has been cold, letting friendships fall away, living with just her maid Millie, and having just a few neighbor acquaintances.

Then one day, an old frenemy, Lionel Crozier, invites himself to tea. Thinking of him as malicious, Maude doesn’t know what to expect but is not surprised when he arrives with a hugely pregnant young woman from a lower class named Teddie Parker. Soon, the girl begins to give birth on Maude’s couch.

Once Teddie has been dispatched to the hospital, Lionel tells Maude he wants her to come to France, where an old friend, Charles, a famous expert on modern art, is dying. Although Maude has done nothing for years, she agrees to go, and thus begins a kind of opening up, where she reconciles with old friends.

This experience continues when she arrives home and gets more involved, through Millie, with Teddie and her family. The result is the revelation of long-held secrets and a new life for Maude.

Although I wondered why Maude wasn’t curious about how Lionel knew Teddie or why he would have brought her to Maude’s house, and although I also wondered at some point where the novel was going, it turned out to be thoroughly satisfying and heart-warming. Another win for Gibbons.

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