Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Tea by the Nursery Fire – Noel Streatfeild #20booksofsummer

Book 12

Non-Fiction 3*s
Non-Fiction
3*s

Having read practically every children’s novel written by Noel Streatfeild as a child I then had mixed emotions last year on reading the original adult novel The Whicharts which was later reworked for children as Ballet Shoes. This year I decided to try another book by this author, a biography of a nanny in Victorian Britain which was the last book the author wrote in 1976 at the age of 80. When reading the below review, this should be borne in mind as if I can write anything comprehensible at that age, I’ll be exceptionally proud of myself.

Tea by the Nursery Fire purports to tell the tale of the nanny who started work at Longton Place as a nanny to the children, Noel’s father and his siblings in the 1890s, although of course this was not long before Noel herself was born. Despite this unnerving discrepancies and having devoured the author’s autobiographical trilogy which began with The Vicarage Family, I was fully aware that the setting should have been that of a clergyman and Longton Place was not, the first two thirds of the book was an interesting view of life as a servant at a time when it was still possible to become a family retainer.

The last third was quite an abrupt end to Emily’s story with whole decades passing by in a flash as the first family of children grew up and produced offspring to care for on high days and holidays only.

The tale itself walked a line between the hard life of a girl of twelve, sent away to become a servant to make room for the ever growing brood of children her parents produced, and the enjoyment a servant could gain from taking a post that allowed her to use the skills of mothering she had learnt at her mother’s knee.

I have to confess the writing was fairly consistently clumsy and depended greatly on this reader’s nostalgia for her children’s books, partly because it isn’t clear whether this book was aimed at those child readers themselves, or those of us who are slightly older although I’m glad to say it steers well clear of being patronising.

As a snapshot of social history, it works well enough but the tone being told through family stories passed down when Emily was in old age, lacks any real insight into the subject herself which is a great shame as the story without it feels as though it has been painted with very light brush-strokes.

Not my favourite of Noel Streatfeild’s books by a long way but not a bad little book for some insight into the tales those who worked across the turn of the century told to those they loved.

First Published UK: 1976
Publisher: Virago
No of Pages 224
Genre: Non-Fiction (Social History)
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Friday Finds (September 13)

Friday FindsFRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).

So, come on — share with us your FRIDAY FINDS!

The first book on my list is Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise which was recommended by Amazon and was an instant must have.  Some of you may have read my Monday Musings where I talk about my love of social history, this fits right in with that.  It is due to be published in paperback (for some reason although I love my kindle I prefer my non-fiction books to be ‘real books’)

Inconvenient People

My next Friday Find is appealing for the title Don’t Cry Over Killed Milk by Stephen Kaminski. I read an interview and review on Kate Eileen Shannon’s Blog http://kateeileenshannon.com/2013/09/10/dont-cry-over-killed-milk-a-damon-lassard-dabbling-detective-mystery/ and added it to my TBR. As it is currently under £2 on Amazon I think this may be a purchase very soon.

Don't Cry Over Killed Milk

Having just finished one excellent psychological thriller (Until You’re Mine) another one has caught my eye
Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

Some friendships fizzle out. Rachel and Clara promised theirs would last for ever. They met when Rachel was the new girl in class and Clara was the friend everyone wanted. Instantly, they fell under one another’s spell and nothing would be the same again. Now in their late twenties Rachel has the TV career, the flat and the boyfriend, while Clara’s life is spiralling further out of control. Yet despite everything, they remain inextricably bound. Then Clara vanishes. Is it abduction, suicide or something else altogether?
Amazon

Precious Thing
Review from http://ireadnovels.wordpress.com

I came across my last book for this week’s Friday Finds on Goodreads – I have never read any Beryl Bainbridge so I will start with her first novel Harriet Says…

Pretty, malevolent Harriet finally arrives – and over the course of the long holidays draws her friend into a scheme to beguile then humiliate the Tsar, with disastrous, shocking consequences. A gripping portrayal of adolescent transgression, Beryl Bainbridge’s classic first novel remains as subversive today as when it was written.

Harriet Said

Posted in Books I have read

Caitlin Davies, Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster – what a family of writers!

This morning I reviewed Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies; I was especially pleased to be chosen to read a copy in return for an honest review as in my opinion she is an excellent writer and daughter of two authors who I hold in high esteem.

Margaret Forster wrote what is probably my favourite book of all time – ‘Shadow Baby’ which shares the theme of abandoned children with ‘Family Likeness’

Shadow BabyShadow Baby by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books of all times and one of the few that I re-read for sheer pleasure from time to time

The story is about two girls adopted 100 years apart, the reasons why they were adopted and how they and their mothers reacted to adoption.

During the book we get to know the girls and their mothers through their own narratives. This is an emotional story and I often think of the real Evie’s that lived in the shadows because of the time and circumstance of their birth. I recommend reading Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir which includes the Margret Forster’s family history, including that of her Grandmother who wouldn’t speak of her early life at all. I am sure this wonderful book is the author’s way of revealing some of what may have led to those secrets.

You can’t do better than this for a dual time tale with a hefty dollop of social history included.

View all my reviews

While Hunter Davies was our family companion with his Flossie Teacake adventures which kept us amused during long car journeys when my children were small. These books were entertaining enough for this weary parent to stomach many a repeat on the old tape cassette player and dear old Flossie is remembered fondly in our house more than 15 years on.

Earlier this year Margaret Forster published another fantastic book

The Unknown Bridesmaid

and I would also recommend

Isa and MayIsa and May by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off buying this as although [[ASIN:0140258361 Shadow Baby]] is my favourite book of all time, the last couple of Margaret Forster’s books didn’t hit the same mark as far as I’m concerned.

This book although really plays to the authors exceptional skill in writing about family relationships both those that work and those that don’t. The characters were all likeable, especially both Grandmother’s who though totally different had both contributed and been involved in Isamays life. I love the way the different relationships including the natural frustrations that occur in family life are described.

Isamays dissertation on other Grandmothers nicely interjects the main story and as it is a dissertation does so in a natural and readable way.

I will read this again I’m sure and have another excuse to remember my Grandmother who helped shape my life

View all my reviews

and the book that I believe lead to Shadow Baby which is a fascinating look at social history, particularly that of women

Hidden Lives: A Family MemoirHidden Lives: A Family Memoir by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This personal biography by Margaret Forster is a fascinating exploration of how lives of women have changed over a period of 100 plus years starting in the 1870’s.

Margaret Ann was the author’s grandmother, orphaned at the age of 2, her early life is a mystery. Margaret Ann simply doesn’t give any details away of her early life, all that her family knew was from 1893 onwards. Why was Margaret Ann so keen to conceal her early life? We also meet Lilian, Margaret’s mother a working class woman living in Carlisle, the author depicts a woman who yearns for the better things in life. There are moving scenes where the family try to locate a cafe on holiday which will meet Lilian’s expectations. The interaction of each of the characters is moving and honest. Lilian wonders at Margaret’s life as a wife and mother, the difference domestic appliances made to a housewife’s day etc.

This book clearly presents social history in an interesting and personal way but it also reminds us of the changes to woman’s role in society as a whole. It is a book that makes you think about women’s expectations, in many ways I found Lilian’s story the hardest to read as she clearly wanted more from her life was born just a little too early!

The research for this book clearly led into the novel Shadow Baby which is my favourite book of all time, I would recommend both these for anyone interested in the life of a working class woman.

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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

Historical Fiction 3*'s
Historical Fiction
3*’s

The Colour of Milk tells the story of Mary a girl that lives on a farm with her three older sisters in 1830. Written mainly in lower case and incorrectly punctuated to illustrate Mary’s lack of education it takes a while to get used to the writing. Split into five parts starting with spring 1830 following the seasons until spring 1831 the bewilderment of the farm girl being sent at just 15 to look after the vicar’s wife, who needed care due to ill health is readily apparant.

The book eloquently demonstrates the position in society of girls in the 1800’s; uneducated and at the mercy of the men in their lives. Mary sees things as they are, she is a plucky girl unafraid to speak her mind and manages to bring a fresh perspective to the vicarage.

The book is much smaller than a normal paperback and not very long at 172 pages but the story it tells, although far from uplifting was one that made me think.

I received this book in return for an honest review from Amazon Vine

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day – Deborah Cohen

History 5*'s
History
5*’s

I read this book against the backdrop of my adult daughter and her close friend trawling through Facebook to find out whether a rumour they’d heard about a school friend was true or not – it wasn’t, but it certainly leant weight to Deborah Cohen’s affirmation that there is a difference between privacy and secrecy. As an amateur genealogist I have delved into the papers of the late 19th century and wondered how some of those whose actions were written about continued to live in their tight-knit communities with little opportunity of escaping their past misdemeanours, but of course they just had to, particularly if they were poor.

The subjects of this book tend to be the middle-classes, those who had the money and the means to hide their secrets or at least have some measure of control over how much of their secrets were exposed. The book starts in the late 18th century detailing the ways that men who had relations with women in India integrated their sons and daughters into society. Deborah Cohen then moves through the decades detailing those secrets that were important to their times; divorce, mental disabilities, adoption and homosexuality alongside careful explanation of popular views of the times, laws and the importance to the family that these were either kept secret or not.

The last section deals with the views of RD Laing and how his views helped to change society’s view of the family to the re-drawing of boundaries about what today is viewed to be privacy and an individual’s right to keep secrets which is not the same as the requirement to keep the family secrets.

This is a fascinating and accessible way of presenting social history, well researched using some previously closed records it is well written has enlightened me about each of the areas covered.

After reading this book I looked at some of the divorce records for the early 1900’s which largely demonstrate Deborah Cohen’s theory that it wasn’t something either a man or woman would go through without real cause. Random records I looked at described an awful way of life for both sexes with divorce being the only way they could extract themselves from lifelong misery.