Elizabeth Cadell – available again

I don’t know, you wait ages for a reprint of a favourite author & then three come along at once! After posting about Ursula Bloom on Thursday, I was pleased to hear from a friend in the D E Stevenson Yahoo group about the reprints of Elizabeth Cadell’s books. Her grandchildren have started Friendly Air Publishing, & will be releasing Cadell’s novels as eBooks. The first three are The Corner Shop, The Fledgling & The Cuckoo in Spring. I can’t really say that Cadell is a favourite author as I haven’t read any of her books but the reviews I’ve read around the blogs – such as the review here of The Corner Shop –  make me think that I will enjoy her books.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the eBook reprints of D E Stevenson but Endeavour Press have started to release some of her books with hopefully more to come. Stevenson fans have much to enjoy with paperback reprints already from Persephone, Sourcebooks & Greyladies.
Endeavour Press are also reprinting Marjorie Bowen. Does anyone else remember her? I have vivid memories of reading her biography of Mary, Queen of Scots over & over again but she also wrote historical fiction & ghost stories. Endeavour have also published an eBook of Angela Thirkell’s historical novel, Trooper to the Southern Cross, not one of her Barsetshire novels but the story of a journey to Australia on a troop ship.

More in the nature of forthcoming excitement, I’m very much looking forward to Scott’s new venture in the world of middlebrow publishing. Scott blogs at Furrowed Middlebrow & he recently announced that he’s about to begin his own imprint to resurrect some of his own favourite authors. There may be some clues in his own Possibly Persephone list here but several of these are back in print already. I would love Winifred Peck to be on Scott’s list. I loved House-Bound (Persephone) & have enjoyed Scott’s reviews of several of her other titles.

Jean Erskine’s Secret – D E Stevenson

Jean Erskine’s Secret is one of the manuscripts by D E Stevenson that was literally “found in the attic” a few years ago & published by Greyladies. I’ve read & enjoyed The Fair Miss Fortune & Emily Dennistoun but Jean Erskine’s Secret is the earliest of the manuscripts to be written. It’s thought to have been written in about 1917 & is set in the Scottish village of Crale in the years just before & during WWI.

Jean Erskine is a daughter of the manse. Her father is advised to move from his city parish to the country &, soon after their arrival, Jean meets Diana McDonald. Diana is living at Crale Castle with her uncle Ian & cousin Elsa. Her parents aren’t mentioned (Diana had previously lived with an aunt in Kensington) & Jean senses a mystery. However, the girls soon become great friends. Elsa is not a sympathetic person. She’s engaged to a young man, Ray Morley Brown, who Jean knew as a child. Elsa is sarcastic, petty & generally unpleasant, spending as much time as she can in Edinburgh with Ray & her other friends & looking down upon country society. Her father sees none of this & assumes that his daughter & niece are good friends. Jean also meets Fanshaw Locke, who lives nearby & works in Edinburgh. Romantic complications develop as Jean is attracted to Fan but believes that he’s in love with Diana.

The real subject of the book though is the friendship between Jean & Diana. The book is in the form of a story that Jean is writing about Diana, to explain the secret in Diana’s life. I won’t go into that part of the plot to avoid spoilers but the friendship between the two girls is touching & very believable. Both of them had been lonely & their friendship fills a gap in their lives that helps to make up for the disappointments & mysteries they have to overcome. Because so much of the plot is about secrets, I won’t say any more about the plot.

There are many things to enjoy in this book although I do wonder whether D E Stevenson would have wanted it to be published. It’s a very early work & there are plot holes & frankly unbelievably melodramatic incidents, particularly towards the end, that I felt were just ridiculous. One twist of the plot near the end reminded me more of Mary Shelley or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than the comfortably domestic fiction I associate with D E Stevenson. To me, this book shows all the signs of being a way for the author to try out different styles of writing & I do wonder what she might have toned down or changed if she’d ever revised the manuscript for publication. There are changes of personality in some of the characters that are inconsistent. For example, after being pretty despicable all through the book, Elsa suddenly has a complete change of personality when war breaks out & goes out to France as a (completely unqualified) nurse. There are too many coincidences involving friends and relations of Jean being involved with Diana & the Macdonalds to be altogether credible or necessary.

One of the aspects of Stevenson’s writing that I do love is her sense of place, particularly in her Scottish novels. Even in this early work, this is evident & I especially love she writes about weather. Here, Jean & Ian are walking through a rainy Edinburgh,

Edinburgh was a black dripping place today; the castle towered up threateningly, clearly seen against the light patches of grey sky in its jagged ebony outlines. Arthur’s Seat was swathed in a wet and smoky mist; here and there it was rolled back by a puff of chill wind, one caught a glimpse of black shoulder or jutting crag only half real in the gathering gloom. The trees in the gardens were sodden, the gardens themselves deserted and sloppy, the houses all dripping wet and as black as if the rain had been ink. Every street was a running river of muddy water, across which here and there a light twinkled out, making long pale yellow reflections like pointing fingers in the quickly falling gloom. On every face was written a patient yet sullen acceptance of the comfortless conditions, as their owners ploughed through the muddy water on their several businesses.

As always, she writes about the countryside beautifully,

The day fixed by Diana for her return was one of those rare days in winter when the whole world is like an old-fashioned Christmas card. Hoar frost outlined every branch of every tree and gleamed like powdered silver over the crackling ground. A pale pink mist shrouded the valley and softened the hard glare of the sun on the white-coated land.

All in all, I’m pleased to have had a chance to read this early work of one of my favourite authors &  bringing more Stevenson novels back into print has to be a good thing.

Greyladies is also starting a new venture, a magazine, The Scribbler, that will be published three times a year. My copy of the first edition arrived on Tuesday & I couldn’t wait to sit down with a cup of tea & read it from cover to cover. It’s subtitled A Retrospective Literary Review & the first edition has articles on the Desert Island Discs episode from 1976 featuring Noel Streatfeild (you can listen to it here, or wherever you find your podcasts), reviews of novels set in girl’s schools that concentrate more on the teachers than the pupils; the book that changed editor Shirley Neilson’s life (it was called Shirley, Young Bookseller by Valerie Baxter!), an author spotlight on Lorna Hill, a literary trail of the Scottish Borders & a short story by D E Stevenson.

Anglophilebooks.comCopies of Jean Erskine’s Secret & many other books by D E Stevenson are available in the US from Anglophile Books.

Top 10 Books of 2014

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s to another year full of health, happiness & lots of reading time.

This time last year, I was looking at this pile of books on my desk & vowing to read at least some of them in 2014. Well, I read five of them – that’s it, only five. So, the other day, I had a clearing of the decks & shelved what was left (there were another two piles of books behind these that I was going to read “next” but of course, I didn’t). I also shelved the pile of books & magazines sitting on the table beside my reading chair. This year I’m going to have only the books & magazines I’m currently reading on that table. It was a wonderful feeling to see my desk almost clear, apart from library books. It also gave me time to listen to two episodes of In Our Time (on Tennyson’s In Memoriam & the Restoration of Charles II) with Melvyn & guests as it took me ages to rejig the overflowing tbr shelves to fit them in to their appropriate places. See this post here if you’d like to see how I organise the tbr shelves).

Looking at that post of reading resolutions from last year I did manage to read more from the tbr shelves, including those middlebrow authors I love. I read fewer books though than I have for years – only 95 & only 3 rereads. I think I’ve been rereading less because I still feel I need to post regularly & I don’t usually review a book if I’ve already written about it. I bought 181 books last year (another useful, or scary, aspect of Library Thing is that I can see when I added books) & I’ve read 42 of them. This sounds quite good until I confess that some of the books I bought were duplicate copies of books I already own (for the justification for that little habit, read this post). I also added 56 books to my Kindle, quite a few of them were free downloads & that doesn’t include the books I bought from elsewhere such as Delphi Classics.

So, finally, here it is, my Top 10 list for 2014. It wasn’t difficult to come up with the list, I knew as soon as I read most of these books that they would be on my Top 10 for the year. The books are in no particular order & the links are to my reviews.

The Far Country – Nevil Shute. As Thomas from My Porch says, Shute is D E Stevenson for boys. I loved this story of a refugee doctor who emigrates to Australia after WWII & the new life he makes for himself here.

Kirkham’s Find – Mary Gaunt. A book I’d had on the tbr shelves since 1988. Another Australian story about an independent woman overcoming the disapproval of her family to make a life for herself.

The Prime Minister & The Duke’s Children – Anthony Trollope. I’m going to cheat with two of my choices because I read pairs of books that go together. I finally got around to reading the last two Palliser novels this year as I watched the wonderful BBC TV series. You can’t beat Trollope for an absorbing story & I loved reading about the lives of Plantagenet Palliser, Glencora & Phineas Finn, their families & friends.

Campaigning for the Vote : Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary & Kate Parry Frye : the Long Life of an Edwardian Actress and Suffragette – Elizabeth Crawford. My other cheat involves the two books I read about Kate Parry Frye. I think Kate was the person I enjoyed meeting the most this year through her diary & through the excellent biography by Elizabeth Crawford. I was so moved by Kate’s long life, the challenges she overcame & her courage in her later years, caring for her husband, John.

The English Air – D E Stevenson. I read 9 books by DES this year, spurred on by discovering Open Library & by the reprints of her work that seem to be coming thick & fast. The English Air was reprinted by Greyladies a couple of months ago. This was my favourite, set during WWII it’s the story of a young German who visits English relatives in the years leading up to the war & experiences a new way of life that changes all his ideas.

Invisible – Christine Poulson. I haven’t read many mysteries or thrillers this year at all but I did love this one. The story of a man who has secrets in his past & the woman who loves him & is drawn into danger when he disappears. I read the last half in one sitting, I just couldn’t put it down.

One of Ours – Willa Cather. Another author I read when I was young is Willa Cather. I rediscovered her this year & look forward to reading more of her books & the Selected Letters in 2015. I loved the story of Claude Wheeler, his life on the family farm in Nebraska & his search for something to give his life meaning. The Great War gives him his opportunity to make a difference.

Four Sisters – Helen Rappaport. I couldn’t have a Top 10 list without a couple of history books. The story of the daughters of the last Tsar was beautifully told by Helen Rappaport with such sensitivity. I especially enjoyed reading about the Grand Duchesses work as nurses in the Great War & the discovery of previously unknown letters from Anastasia to a friend when the family were in exile. A tragic story well told.

A Lifelong Passion – ed Andrei Maylunas & Sergei Mironenko. Leading on from Four Sisters, this is the story of the last Romanovs told through their letters, diaries & memoirs. Fascinating to read the story in their own words & to read the many familiar extracts & quotes in context.

Moby-Dick or, the Whale – Herman Melville. My last book of the year was one of the best. I listened to it on audio & the wonderful performance by William Hootkins made this one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

There it is, my Top 10. I’m looking forward to reading other lists from my favourite bloggers or just leave a list in the Comments.

Books & Cats miscellany – Part 2

Part 2 of the miscellany has to begin with the latest photos of Phoebe, taken last weekend as she lolled on the back steps, one of her favourite spots on warm days. She moves from step to step as the shade moves & then, eventually gives up altogether & comes inside if I’m home & the air conditioner is on.

I’ve been reading short stories, including these two collections released as ebooks. Trisha Ashley’s Footsteps in the Snow and other teatime treats is a collection of 11 stories previously published in magazines as well as the opening chapters of Trisha’s new book, Creature Comforts, which will be published next year. These are lovely, romantic stories, just long enough to read in a coffee break or at teatime as the subtitle says. Most of the stories are set around Christmas so they’re seasonally appropriate too, even if my Christmas isn’t going to involve snow, frost & open fires.

Martin Edwards was the winner of the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham short story competition, sponsored by the Margery Allingham Society. His winning story, Acknowledgments, has been published by Bloomsbury in this ebook which also contains two more stories by Edwards & an appreciation of Margery Allingham as a short story writer. Martin Edwards is an expert on the Golden Age of detective fiction so it’s appropriate that he was the winner of the competition with a wicked story about an author of travel guides thanking his friends & family for their help with his career. As the narrator thanks his second wife, his agent & his publicist for their help with By-Ways Around Britain, the tone moves from comic self-satisfaction to something much darker.

Martin Edwards also announced some exciting news on his blog last week. He’s been appointed as the Series Consultant for the British Library Crime Classics series I’ve been enjoying so much this year. The series has been incredibly successful & there are more treats in store next year, including two anthologies of short stories compiled by Martin. All the details are here.

I was very pleased to discover that The English Air by D E Stevenson has been reprinted by Greyladies. If this book & the other DES titles available from Greyladies sell well, hopefully other reprints will follow.

Anglophilebooks.comIt’s also available in the US from Anglophile Books as are lots of books by Georgette Heyer.

Finally, for Georgette Heyer fans, Vulpes Libris featured posts on Heyer’s novels all last week. Here’s the link. With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo coming up next year, I feel that I should definitely read An Infamous Army, even if I read nothing else about Waterloo. Or, I may listen to it. I see that Audible has the audio book read by Clare Higgins.

I can’t finish this post without a couple more photos of togetherness. On Monday night, I was watching the news on TV & Phoebe was asleep on my lap. Lucky was not impressed & sat on the arm of the chair looking plaintively at me for the whole half hour.

A couple of hours later, all change. Next time I sat down, Lucky was right there. She wasn’t going to be usurped again. So, Phoebe sat on the arm of the chair staring alternately at Lucky & me. Every so often she would put her paw on my arm & made me feel as guilty as possible that there wasn’t room for her on my lap as well.
Sorry about the terrible angles of these photos. I used the iPad & I could not work out how to fix the angle on the second photo. Actually I’m amazed I managed to get the girls in the frame at all when I was holding the iPad out to my right & hoping for the best!

PS I just noticed that this is my 900th post, not that I’m counting. Almost five years of blogging & 900 posts – I feel exhausted. I think I need to sit down with a cup of tea & a book or maybe listen to a podcast or watch another episode of An Age of Kings

Books & roses

First, the roses. These are the first roses of the summer, picked on Sunday morning. The pink ones are Eglantine & the red, The Squire. My roses are looking beautiful this year, covered in buds so I’m hoping to be able to pick lots of them for the house & to take to work so I have something lovely to look at & to smell when it all gets too much. Of course, ten minutes after I put the flowers on the kitchen bench, Lucky was nibbling away at them. Why does she do this? I often wake up to find that she’s very delicately flipped a rose out of the vase or jug & has nibbled all around the edges.

The books are a few new books & preorders I wanted to mention. I thought of Monica Baldwin the other day when a friend said that she once lent a copy of The Letters of Rachel Henning & it was never returned. This reminded me that I once lent a copy of Monica Baldwin’s memoir, I Leap Over The Wall, & never saw it again. So, I was pleased to discover that it’s being reprinted in January. I’m not sure I like the cover though… Anyway, Monica was the daughter of Stanley Baldwin, & entered a convent when she was 21 in 1914. Twenty-eight years later, she leaves, & this is the story of her life in the convent & what she experiences when she leaves.

Charlotte Riddell is an author I’ve read about rather than read. I’ve been reading her Weird Stories this week, reprinted by Victorian Secrets, & another of her novels, A Struggle for Fame, is being reprinted this month by Tramp Press, a new Irish publisher. This is the first in their Recovered Voices series & I can’t wait to read it.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir is one of my favourite movies – I watched it again last weekend – & Vintage have reprinted the novel by R A Dick as part of their Movie Classics series which also includes Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington & Show Boat by Edna Ferber.

Persephone in the UK & Sourcebooks in the US have both been reprinting D E Stevenson in recent years. It’s a shame that they began by reprinting the same titles (the Miss Buncle series) but Sourcebooks have kept their reprint list going with The Four Graces, The Young Clementina &, in January, The Listening Valley. I listened to this on audio a couple of years ago but will probably need a copy for rereading in the future. I also feel compelled to buy copies of authors like Stevenson & Angela Thirkell when they’re reprinted in case they go out of print again, which they probably will.

The British Library Crime Classics series has been very successful in alerting fans of Christie, Sayers & Allingham to other Golden Age mystery writers we’d never heard of. It doesn’t hurt that the covers are just gorgeous, often based on railway posters of the period. Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon (brother of Eleanor) (great review by Desperate Reader here) & A Scream in Soho by John G Brandon have just been published & The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude & Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston will be published in January. I enjoyed The Santa Klaus Murder & Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay & I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.

I’ve also preordered Mark Bostridge’s new book, Vera Brittain and the First World War : the story of Testament of Youth. Published to coincide with the new film, I’m hoping it’s not just a rehash of his 1995 biography of Vera. I know I’ll feel compelled to see this new movie version of Testament of Youth but I don’t imagine it will be as affecting as the TV series with Cheryl Campbell.

You can watch the trailer here but it looks too pretty, too clean. I feel a reread of the book & rewatch of the series coming on.

Finally, two books by favourite authors on favourite subjects published next year. The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards published in May & The Lives of Richard III by Chris Skidmore published in August. A history of mystery fiction by one of my favourite contemporary crime writers (who has written Introductions for many of the British Library series) is unmissable & a new biography of Richard III incorporating all the new information since the discovery of his remains in Leicester is a very exciting prospect. I really enjoyed Skidmore’s book on Bosworth so I’m looking forward to this one. Two books that will definitely not find their way to the ever-increasing tbr shelves. I will read them as soon as they hit the doormat. Absolutely, I promise.

Shoulder the Sky – D E Stevenson

The alternate title of this book is Winter and Rough Weather, & I think that describes it even better than Shoulder the Sky, which is a quote from a poem by A E Housman,

The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail,
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.

Shoulder the Sky is the third book in the Dering trilogy. I’ve read Vittoria Cottage, the first in the trilogy but not the next book, Music in the Hills. I’m a little hampered by what’s available at Open Library & they have lots of incomplete series. However, I’ve noticed that with D E Stevenson’s novels, it doesn’t matter as she manages to put you in the picture, & as I had very little doubt that James & Rhoda would marry, I was unsurprised to find them returning from their honeymoon at the beginning of this book.

James has left the Army & decided to become a farmer, thanks to his uncle & aunt, Jock & Mamie Johnstone, who have made him their heir. Rhoda had a harder time deciding on marriage as she had the beginnings of a successful career as an artist in London & didn’t see how she could combine marriage & her work. However, she has put aside her doubts & the young couple have moved to Boscath farm in Drumburly near the Scottish Borders. They have changed the family name to Dering Johnstone, in recognition of their new position & arrive in late autumn to set about putting their new home in order.

Jock & Mamie have put the farm house in order, even employing a cook, Miss Flockhart, known as Flockie. She is one of Stevenson’s loyal retainers, a treasure in every way. She meets her new employers in an unusual way when they arrive in the middle of the night without a key & James climbs through her bedroom window to get in. Rhoda finds the isolation of Boscath & her lack of occupation a problem at first, especially as James spends his days out on the hills learning about his livestock & employees. However, after avoiding the studio fitted out for her for some time, the day comes when Rhoda’s inspiration returns & she takes up the brushes again. Her growing love for the area & her new neighbours helps as well as the discovery of a new pupil, Duggie, the son of Mamie’s cook, Lizzie, who was evacuated to Murath from Glasgow during the war & never left. Duggie has real talent & his lessons with Rhoda give him a purpose that had been lacking in his life until that point.

James & Rhoda soon get to know some of the neighbours, including Dr Adam Forrester & his sister, Nan. Adam has taken up a post as assistant to elderly Dr Black. He was recommended by one of the surgeons at his London hospital, a local man, Henry Ogylvie Smith. Nan had fallen in love with Henry & thought he loved her in return but his manner towards her changed abruptly & she thought she had imagined his love & felt foolish. Henry has a secret that prevents him proposing to Nan & they are both disconcerted when they meet again in Drumburly.

Not all the neighbours are pleasant. The Heddles are incomers who have bought Tassieknowe, an old house whose owner has recently died, & transformed it into a monstrosity. Fitted carpets, turquoise paint on the walls, ultra modern furniture, everything that the old families of the district despise. Miss Heddle is an odd woman, prone to hearing noises & believing that the previous owner, old Mr Brown, is still flitting around the house, even though he’s dead. Her brother, Nestor, is selfish & arrogant. They have no idea how to farm the land, dismiss the shepherd who could tell them how to look after their stock properly & refuse to sell to Jock Johnstone who would look after the property in the right way.

As the first winter of James & Rhoda’s marriage passes, they suffer with their neighbours from the isolation & extremes of bad weather. They also become part of the community & grow to love their new life. This is such a lovely story. I love books set in Scotland & winter stories most of all so I was predisposed to enjoy this one. The portrait of James & Rhoda’s marriage is very tenderly presented & I loved the fact that Rhoda got back to work rather than just dwindling into a wife. Jock & Mamie are real characters & the Forresters are a very sympathetic pair. There was one coincidence that I could see coming & just thought was a little too convenient but, apart from that, Shoulder the Sky is a delightful book that is full of Stevenson’s love of Scotland. Adam expresses this love of home very aptly as he sits on a hillside with James.

Sometimes when I was in London, surrounded by piles of bricks and mortar, I used to feel quite sick with longing to see a hill … a nice bald-faced, lowland hill with sheep upon it. I’d think of little bits of country that I knew: of a grey road zig-zagging up the side of a brae or a burn running in links through a green moss with wild flowers growing beside it. I’d see a huddle of hills with a gap between them and, through the gap, another hill, far off and blue with distance. I’d smell the sharp tang of bog-myrtle or a whiff of peat smoke … and all this in a London street!’ He smiled apologetically and added, ‘I’d rather be a pauper here than a Dives in any other place.’

Anglophilebooks.comAt the time of writing, there’s a copy of Shoulder the Sky available at Anglophile Books.

Crooked Adam – D E Stevenson

Adam Southey is a schoolmaster at Rockingham School in England. It’s 1942, the middle of WWII, but Adam isn’t in the Army or Navy because he’s lame. His disability means he can’t join up & so, he finds himself teaching French & German to schoolboys who will, all too soon, be off to fight. Adam’s old Headmaster, Dr Cooke, had offered him the job, & although he was glad to accept the position, he is resentful of the inactive role he’s forced to play. The holidays have just begun & Adam is planning to spend six weeks in Wales. However, that’s all about to change.

One night, Adam sees Dr Cooke making his way to the Science block, as he does every night to work on his experiments. A shadowy figure is following Cooke & Adam decides to investigate. The intruder is frightened off & Dr Cooke takes Adam into his confidence about his secret work. He has developed a laser ray that can hit aircraft at a great height & set them on fire. The military applications are obvious & the military chiefs are eager to see a full-scale working model. The ray is in the final testing stages & Dr Cooke is about to take the equipment & the plans to Scotland where a colleague, Mr Brownlee, will produce the full-size model at his engineering works. Adam agrees to go along but it’s not long before he realises that there are other people interested in the ray & they will stop at nothing to get hold of the plans.

Adam & Dr Cooke arrive at Mr Brownlee’s works but there are suspicions that some of the workmen have been bribed for information. They decide to take the full-scale model to Brownlee’s country estate, Lurg, as soon as it’s ready. The demonstration for the military chiefs will take place there. The journey to Lurg is eventful, as Adam & Ford, the overseer, become increasingly suspicious of the other two men, the driver Berwick & Dow, another workman. However, even kidnapping, a bump on the head & a tree across the road can’t stop Adam & Ford for long & they arrive safely at Lurg.

At Lurg, Adam meets Mr Brownlee’s daughter, Evelyn, & he’s dazzled by her beauty & her friendly charm. He soon becomes a useful addition to the staff working on the ray, even though he can only do unskilled work. Adam also meets one of the neighbours, Mr Taylor, an Englishman who lives in a castle on the Tinal River. Mr Taylor is hospitable & invites Adam to dinner, where he meets Mr Taylor’s niece, Brenda, a quiet girl who, according to her uncle, is mentally fragile & had to leave London because she was afraid of the bombing. However, there’s more to Mr Taylor than Adam realises &, as he gets to know Brenda, he discovers that his new friend may have more sinister motives for his actions.

This is where the espionage thread becomes crucial to the plot so I can’t really say much more. Adam & Brenda fall in love & they are both in danger as they try to foil the enemy’s plans to steal the blueprints of the ray. Adam ends up living in a cave on the moors, assisted by Mr Ford’s brother, Ebby. Adam’s disability is no barrier as he leads two villains on a chase over the moors & captures one of them. He scales the cliffs outside Tinal Castle &, although the effort exhausts him, he succeeds. I couldn’t help feeling that D E Stevenson had needed Adam to be disabled as a reason why he wasn’t in the Forces but then, forgot about it when she needed him to be an action hero! Not that it matters as the story is exciting & full of real tension as the moment approaches when the enemy will try to steal the ray & Adam has to stop them.

As always in D E Stevenson’s novels, the scenery is beautifully described. Scotland plays a central role, as it so often does. I loved the descriptions of the moors & the details of the walks Adam takes & his fishing & the domestic arrangements of his cave. If there could be such a thing as a domestic spy story, then I can’t think of a better author than D E Stevenson to write it. The minor characters are also wonderful, from the Ford brothers to Dick Brownlee, Mr Brownlee’s nephew, a crack pilot, who works for his uncle as a test pilot for his inventions. Adam himself is a very appealing character. More thoughtful than the usual action hero, he’s rather like John Buchan’s Richard Hannay but without the stiff upper lip & with a very real vulnerability. Crooked Adam is an involving novel that isn’t as far removed from D E Stevenson’s usual subject matter as you might suppose. There’s even a little home renovation as Adam & Ebby make the cave habitable & cook some delicious meals. I enjoyed it very much.

Fletchers End – D E Stevenson

Fletchers End (cover picture from here) is the kind of book that I put down after reading with a very satisfied sigh. I’m continuing my exploration of Open Library’s holdings of Stevenson novels &, again, this is destined to be a favourite.

Bel Lamington is engaged to Ellis Brownlee, her boss at the firm where he’s a partner. Their romance is told in the novel, Bel Lamington, which I haven’t read. I seem to be making a habit of reading Stevenson’s books out of order. It doesn’t seem to matter though, as she’s very good at filling in the back story. Bel & Ellis are looking for a house in the country to live in once they’re married. Ellis’s work will keep him in London but neither want to live there. They find Fletchers End, a beautiful but neglected house near the village of Archersfield. Bel sees it first, with her friend, Louise Armstrong, & immediately falls in love with it.

The house had belonged to a Miss Lestrange, a difficult, spiky woman who enjoyed playing her relations off against one another. She left the house to her nephew, Roy, a naval officer, who had neglected the house & let it fall into a state of disrepair. The housekeeper, Mrs Warmer, lovingly cares for the house & dreads the day when someone buys it & she has to leave. So far, no one has been brave enough to take it on, with the window frames rotting & the unkempt garden. But Bel can see past the superficial problems & is in tune with the heart of the house. She loves the feel of the rooms & is enchanted by a definite though mysterious scent of violets in the drawing room. Ellis & his architect friend, Reggie Stephenson, look the place over with a more practical eye but Ellis knows that he will buy the house if Bel wants it & they soon arrive at a price with the absent owner through his lawyer, Mr Tennant.

While work proceeds on the house, Bel & Ellis are married from Louise’s home which she shares with her father, the local doctor. They decide to spend the winter in Bel’s tiny London flat as Ellis’s business is demanding & he needs to be on hand. One of the partners is ill & the junior partner, James Copping, is inexperienced & floundering more than a little. Bel agrees to go back to work as James’s secretary & she enjoys mentoring the young man & feeling that she’s earning her own money & helping Ellis at the same time. They enjoy their winter in London but by spring, the house is ready & waiting for them to really begin their married life.

Roy Lestrange turns up one day to see what has happened to his old house. He’s charming but irresponsible, dedicated to his career but with no real feeling for the house or his aunt. He’s the kind of man who takes what he wants & worries about payment much later. Louise seems to be quite smitten with him, which worries Bel, as she discovers on a visit to Oxford, just how selfish Roy is. Louise is a beautiful girl who has had many suitors, chief among them Alec Drummond, who they met on a visit to Scotland. Louise is fond of Alec but won’t marry him because she can’t respect him. He’s the heir to a respected firm selling whiskey & spirits but spends all his time fishing & hunting. Alec stays with Bel & Ellis one weekend & the true story emerges. The business is in dire straits & Alec has come to his senses & is determined to turn things around. Louise realises just how much she loves Alec but he won’t consider marrying her when he has so little to offer.

Meanwhile, Bel is delighting in Fletchers End & all it has to offer. She & Mrs Warmer share a love of the house & soon, plans are afoot to resurrect the garden. Since the renovations were done in the drawing room, the scent of violets has vanished but Bel soon forgets about this little oddity with so much else to think about. Bel buys a portrait of the original owner of the house, Mrs Violet Lestrange, & a bureau from Roy & is pleased to think that the benevolent old lady, wearing a posy of violets in the portrait, is home again. However, the discovery of a will written by Miss Lestrange, leaving the house to another member of the family, threatens to send all Bel & Ellis’s dreams crashing down.

I loved this book. I loved the descriptions of the house, the renovations, the revival of the garden, all of it. I enjoy books about old houses being rescued, especially when there’s a gentle hint of the supernatural (that scent of violets). There’s lots of description of the house & talk of the original owners, the fletchers who made arrows in the original dwellings, two houses that were combined long ago & now had only the two small staircases & the rather odd proportions to indicate that they had ever been separate dwellings.

As Bel went up to bed, she paused on the halfway landing and listened to the silence. She loved the silence of Fletchers End. Then, after a few moments, she heard the old house whispering to itself … a curious sighing sound, a gentle creak … all the little secret sounds that an old house makes at night! You could imagine that you heard the rustle of a silken gown – but you know it was really the soft night air in the leaves of the aspen tree outside the staircase window.

Bel is a lovely heroine. She’s almost incredulous at her good fortune but never forgets to be grateful. Her life before marrying Ellis had been lonely & financially precarious but she can’t quite realise that she has found safe harbour. Fletchers End is a comforting book that drew me in to an enchanted world of old houses, country life & romance.

Vittoria Cottage – D E Stevenson

Vittoria Cottage (cover picture from here) is the story of the Dering family, who live in the village of Ashbridge, just after WWII. Caroline is a widow in her late 30s or early 40s. She married young & her husband, Arnold, was much older &, by all accounts, a blight on humanity. Arnold was miserable, unhappy, never satisfied & crotchety. He stifled Caroline & wasn’t liked in the local community. Caroline’s children are James, serving with the Army in Malaya; Leda, pretty but difficult, dissatisfied with her lot like her father; & Bobbie, much more open & natural than her sister.

Caroline’s sister, actress Harriet Fane, makes regular visits & whisks Caroline off to London for a change occasionally.  Harriet is younger than Caroline, very sophisticated but has no illusions about the difficulties of her sister’s married life & is bluntly honest with her nieces, especially selfish Leda. As always in a Stevenson novel, there’s a loyal retainer. In this case, it’s Comfort Podbury, a still young woman who was jilted by her fiance when she grew enormously fat. Comfort is a member of a whole clan of Podburys who are evident in every part of village life.

Leda has become engaged to Derek Ware, a young man just as selfish as herself. Derek is supposed to be studying law but is restless after returning from his war service & is looking instead for a job with good pay & long holidays. Derek’s father, Sir Michael, is a lonely widower who doesn’t really approve of the engagement & wants his son to settle down to something. His daughter,
Rhoda, on the other hand, is studying at the School of Art in London &, in her father’s opinion, working much too hard.

Robert Shepperton arrives in Ashbridge looking for peace & rest after his experiences in the war. He returned home from abroad to find his house had been bombed & his wife killed. His son, Philip, has been evacuated to the US &, after a long illness, he needs to recuperate. Robert becomes friends with Caroline & her company begins the healing process. Caroline has been content with her quiet life, although she worries about James & isn’t convinced that Leda’s engagement will make her happy. I loved Caroline, she was such a warm, sympathetic character.

It was important to Caroline to do things right, to do whatever she did to the best of her ability. She saw beauty in ordinary little things and took pleasure in it (and this was just as well because she had had very little pleasure in her life). She took pleasure in a well-made cake, a smoothly ironed napkin, a pretty blouse, laundered and pressed; she liked to see the garden well-dug, the rich soil brown and gravid; she loved her flowers. When you are young you are too busy with yourself – so Caroline thought – you haven’t time for ordinary little things but, when you leave youth behind, your eyes open and you see magic and mystery all around you…

Caroline’s feelings for Robert soon deepen from friendship to love but she is uncertain about his feelings for her as she thinks he’s falling in love with Harriet. James returns from Malaya & changes the atmosphere of the cottage as he leaves his belongings all over the hall & begins thinking about his future which he hopes will include Rhoda Ware. Rhoda, however, is reluctant to give up her independence & her art which is so important to her.

I read Vittoria Cottage thanks to Open Library & I read it as a PDF file in Bluefire Reader on my iPad instead of as an ePub file in the Overdrive app. What a difference! Reading the PDF file is just like reading the actual book as you can see. No scanning glitches & it’s a much better reading experience. Thanks to Bree at Another Look Book (do have a look at Bree’s blog, lots of great reviews of middlebrow novels) & the support people at Open Library for helping me sort it out.

I’d also like to recommend this website to any D E Stevenson fans, especially those of us who have just discovered her & are reading everything we can get our hands on. There’s a fantastic table listing all the series & the recurring characters. Although, I must say that I haven’t had any problem reading the books out of order. I read the Miss Buncle series out of order & I recently listened to Summerhills on audio but haven’t read Amberwell. Stevenson filled in the background of the characters so well that I never felt lost.

The English Air – D E Stevenson

Sophie Braithwaite & her daughter Wynne are preparing to welcome their cousin, Franz von Heiden, to Fernacres. Sophie’s cousin, Elsie, had married Otto von Heiden before the First World War & spent the rest of her life in Germany. Elsie was very unhappy & the marriage was not a success. Being an Englishwoman in Germany during the War was difficult & Otto wasn’t the kind of man to support his wife against the gossip & unkindness directed at her. Now, in 1938, Elsie’s son, Fritz, wants to visit.

Sophie is a kind, rather distracted woman, a widow with two children – Wynne & Roy, who is in the Navy. Her brother in law, Dane Worthington, also lives with the family. Dane seems to do very little to earn a living but he is actually involved in mysterious government work. Not quite spying but he seems to be used when delicate international negotiations are required. In that, although in no other way, he reminded me of Peter Wimsey. Dane even has a loyal manservant in the same efficient mould as Bunter. Wynne is a typical middle class young woman of her time. She’s left school & is involved with her local community but spends a lot of time with her friends, playing tennis.

Franz’s visit begins awkwardly as he adjusts to his English family & the English sense of humour. However, he’s soon being called Frank & finds himself learning a great deal about the English & their way of life that surprises him. Frank’s father is a committed Nazi & Frank has been brought up to believe in Hitler & his policies. Otto has sent his son to England ostensibly to improve his English but he’s really there to gauge the English attitude to Germany. Dane soon realises what Frank is doing but admires the young man’s serious attitude & is content to merely observe him. Frank realises that his English side, which he was always made to feel ashamed of, is more important to him than he imagined.

When Chamberlain returns from Germany declaring Peace In Our Time, Frank is relieved & delighted that his two countries have averted war. He is devastated when Hitler invades Czechoslovakia in 1939, in defiance of the Munich agreement. All his illusions about Hitler come crashing down with that one betrayal. He is even more upset because he has fallen in love with Wynne & realises that he cannot ask her to live in Germany & repeat the tragedy of his parents’ marriage. Frank & Roy are on a driving tour of Scotland when war is declared & he immediately leaves for Germany.

Frank (now Franz again) finds his Aunt Anna, his father’s sister who had looked after him as a child, ill & distressed, while his father is about to take up an important post in the Nazi Party. Franz decides to join a resistance group working to overthrow Hitler’s regime & he’s soon broadcasting to the allied countries, including England, where Dane hears him one evening. The Braithwaites have no idea where Franz is as he left without word. Wynne is in love with Franz even though they never discussed their feelings or their future. All she can do is wait for word, unaware that Franz is risking his life opposing the Nazis.

I loved The English Air (cover picture from here). Published in 1940, it gives a real sense of the atmosphere of the late 30s, the apprehension of another war & the relief that many people felt after Munich. Franz was such a sympathetic character & the story is almost entirely told through his experiences. It was interesting to see such an even handed presentation of a German character in a book written at such a fraught time. It’s lovely to see Stevenson showing us the English from an outsider’s perspective. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Stevenson novel without a trip to Scotland &, as always, her descriptions of place & nature are beautifully done. Wynne & her friends are fairly stock characters but Sophie was a delight & her relationship with Franz was delicately drawn. The scenes between Franz & his aunt were very poignant & the later scenes in Germany very tense. This is one of the best D E Stevensons I’ve read. It’s available to borrow as an ebook from Open Library & there are other recent reviews from The Captive Reader & Fleur In Her World (from whose blog I discovered Open Library).

Anglophilebooks.comEdited to add : The English Air has just been reprinted by Greyladies &

this edition is available for US readers from Anglophile Books.