feather_ghyll: Photograph of L M Montgomery at the seaside (L M Montgomery)
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Last week, I went away for a few days and these are some of the books that I read then:

The School on the Moor: Angela Brazil

Thirteen-year old Brenda Gorgon’s life is transformed one day by the discovery that she and her brother are to be sent to boarding schools, because the aunt and uncle who have brought them up are moving to Argentina. She also accidentally overhears that her widowed father is going to return from India and remarry in a few months, but has decided not to tell his children about their future stepmother yet (I always feel this is a terrible decision in children’s literature). So, as Brenda tries to settle down at her new school, I was primed to wonder if any single woman she met (mistresses etc) would be the stepmother she was dreading – Brazil isn’t the type of writer to produce nasty stepmothers.

Rosevean is strikingly poor at welcoming new girls. Granted, Brenda has arrived in the middle of the term, but the first person charged with looking after her does the bare minimum and people keep expecting her to know things she couldn’t possibly. She is a Remarkable New Girl to whom things keep happening, but as she keeps breaking school rules (especially breaking bounds) despite being essentially honourable, that’s no surprise.

The story is rather episodic with the middles putting on impromptu plays in one chapter, going on nature rambles and picnics that get a little hairier than intended in others. It’s a very ‘oh Angela!’ tale, with much made of the fact that it’s a Cornish moor and that the school is near the coast – piskies and smugglers are often on Brenda’s mind.

Reread: A Countess Below Stairs: Eva Ibbotson

(I think I will reread all my Ibbotsons as a project.)

This is a romance, a fairy tale without fairies, in which people get their just desserts. Although the central couple are lovely, it is very much about everyone at Mersham and the neighbourhood and Anna’s extended Russian family. Most of the latter have no idea that Anna, an impoverished countess who immigated to London in 1919, has got a job...as a housemaid. A lot of staff have been engaged to bring Mersham up to scratch because its owner has just got engaged. Now, everyone knows Anna is a lady, but she has a willingness to serve that even the butler, the excellent Proom, and housekeeper Mrs Bassenthwaite can’t deny.

In contrast, Muriel Hardwicke, the fiancée is an eugenicsist, and her arrival makes several people uncomfortable. Meanwhile Rupert keeps coming across Anna who is like no other housemaid ever, so very different, and yet who has found her way into the lives of family, friends and staff.

Two passages made me tear up, one involving music and the other, poor, mistreated Win – I think I’m becoming more vulnerable to Ibbotson emotionally over the years.

Penelope’s Prefects: Judith Carr

This is a silly book. It’s not meant to be taken too seriously, of course, but it isn’t ‘hilarious’ a word that is used quite a lot.

The Middles of St Claire’s have been a slack, mischievous lot, but they’re horrified when they’re informed that the school’s new head girl has appointed Myra Lang to be their prefect. The elder girl is known to be clever, but forgetful about practicalities. Lively Penelope, the monitoress of Middle A decides it’s up to her to reform her peers. So she appoints her three chums as her prefects. Neither the nepotism or reforming zeal goes down spectacularly well, especially because Penelope’s methods are self-sabotaging and it takes her a while to realise she also needs to look to her own appearance and work ethic. It’s scrape after scrape – the idea of a younger girl trying to fill in for an elder never gets developed enough, as the writer is too busy trying to make it fun for her readers.

I hate to say it, but there’s too much sarcasm, with the back and forth descending into patter. It’s all a bit relentless.
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October 2017


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