I read the first book in this series, Murder Most Unladylike before its release in 2014 and reviewed it here. I was very enthusiastic about Daisy Wells, Hazel Wong and their Detective Agency at Deepdean School and wasn’t alone in my appreciation. The book was such a success that four more have followed already, plus two Mini Mysteries. The series is published by Puffin, so the stories are intended for young readers but they can be enjoyed by people of any age, especially if they happen to be aficionados of school stories. I’ve at last partly caught up with the series, having just read the second book, Arsenic for Tea and the fourth, Jolly Foul Play.
the books )


Chris in Command, Irene Mossop (1930)
Hazel, Head Girl, Nancy Breary (1952)
Margery Merton’s Girlhood, Alice Corkran (1888)
The Exciting Journey, Norman Dale (1947)
Boys of the Valley School, R A H Goodyear (1925)

I’ve read several old children’s books this month, so here’s a little chat about them.

When I read Lois in Charge followed by Chris in Command and Hazel, Head Girl, I was going to say, ‘What a bossy lot!’ It turned out though that Hazel wasn’t bossy at all: in fact, not bossy enough. I must here fess up and say that I don’t much care for Nancy Breary, or find her books hilariously funny. She’s one of several authors about whom I disagree with Sims & Clare, much as I admire their book, kept permanently by my desk. In Hazel, Head Girl, Breary makes use of the well worn plotline of two schools merging, with resultant feuds and jealousies. Mill House and Dewpoint combine to form Hessington. The girls are determined to hate each other and stick to the habits (and uniform) of their old schools. Hazel, from Dewpoint, has been appointed head girl before term starts. Some people think this is because she’s a heroine. (She took over the controls of a plane after the pilot had a heart attack and landed it safely!) Unfortunately for her, Vice Captain Lydia (from Mill House), is determined to oust her and become head girl herself. Hazel doesn’t take a firm enough line over this rebellion and nasty Lydia nearly gets her way. The juniors are fiercely partisan and a bunch of silly little idiots. As so often in school stories, the girls seem to run everything, with teachers and lessons completely ignored. Hazel bravely struggles on, trying to persuade the girls to give their loyalty to their new school and become Hessington girls.
the rest )
I commented this morning on Furrowed Middlebrow’s blog about how much I like Winifred Darch’s books, which Scott has been reading. So here, for no reason at all except that I like the covers, are some pics.


more )
chimneysweepersus
US cover, which I prefer

‘Too short! Too short!’ is my usual wail on finishing the latest Flavia de Luce novel and knowing that a whole year must pass before the next one. No pressure on Alan Bradley, then; but he never lets us or Flavia down. How I dote on the brilliant, twelve-year-old chemist with her morbid fascination for poisons and murder. How I love Buckshaw, her decaying home; her sad, mourning father; sisters Daffy and Feely, each brilliant in her own way yet unkind to their little sister; faithful, damaged Dogger, the factotum who is so much more than he seems.

We left Flavia at the end of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches knowing more about the strange disappearance of her mother and about to be packed off (banished, as she sees it), to her mother’s old school in Canada. She doesn’t leave empty handed, for Aunt Felicity has given her a gift likely to be useful to a girl detective:
The crucifix itself was altogether quite remarkable, modeled (sic, this is the US edition), Aunt Felicity told me, on the idea of the Trinity, three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And so it also contained, besides the pencil, a small but powerful magnifying glass that swung out from inside the cross, and a surprisingly complete set of lock picks. “For quiet Sundays,” she had said,

No sooner has a homesick Flavia arrived than a strange girl enters her room by accident, hides up the chimney when the headmistress turns up outside the door, then falls down it again, dislodging with her a charred corpse. Flavia’s reaction is typical:
I have seen numerous dead bodies in my lifetime, each more interesting than the last, and each more instructive. This one, if I was counting correctly, was number seven.
The question is: whose body? Was it murder and, if so, who is the murderer? Is it true that three girls have ‘disappeared’ from the school and were they murdered? Trust Flavia to find out, but a lot must happen first. Keen eyed readers will have noticed an extra dimension to this novel: not just a murder mystery but a school story, which will please lovers of the genre. Not even Hogwarts, though, is stranger than Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Trust no one’, Flavia is told by the headmistress. Which of the girls should she be friendly with? Which might be ‘one of us’? (That is, in on the secret which Aunt Felicity has revealed but which I won’t.) As for the staff!

Flavia has some special treatment, in the form of extra chemistry lessons in the middle of the night, using the latest and most expensive equipment. She also has a surprising amount of time to herself, allowing her to go snooping about in her shameless way. Her mother’s photograph hangs in the hall of fame; is Flavia heading the same way or is she failing in her mission? It’s impossible for her to know what the mission is and even at the end of the story it’s not completely clear. Good! That means another book. I loved every page of As Chimney Sweepers and look forward to more Flavia. The book will be published in January in the USA but UK readers have to wait until next April. I feel very lucky to have been able to read the book pre-publication, thanks to Random House and NetGalley.

chimneysweepersuk
UK edition
murderunladylike

I loved this book from the start; in fact even before the start. As soon as I saw that the cast of characters included some second formers known as The Three Marys*, I knew the book would be the right stuff. It’s subtitled ‘Being an account of The Case of the Murder of Miss Bell, an investigation by the Wells and Wong Detective Society.’ Daisy Wells, daughter of a lord, is beautiful, good at games, popular. She’s also very clever, a fact she even more cleverly manages to conceal. Hazel Wong has been sent to the school from Hong Kong by her rich, anglophile businessman father; unlike Daisy she is on the plump side and not pretty. She is also a clever girl, which is how she spots Daisy’s deceptions and they become best friends. She also knows that far from being the perfect English rose, Daisy is completely ruthless and reckless.

The story is set in Deepdean school in 1934. One day Hazel goes to the gym and to her horror, finds the body of Miss Bell lying there. By the time she’s fetched Daisy and a prefect, the corpse has disappeared and no one in the school refers to Miss Bell again, except to say that she has ‘resigned’. Hazel, Secretary of the Society, writes, ‘This is the first murder that the Wells & Wong Detective Society has ever investigated, so it is a good thing Daisy bought me a new casebook. The last one was finished after we solved The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie.’ Like most amateur sleuths (or where would the stories be?) our heroines foolishly decide to investigate the murder themselves without involving the police. Hazel is terrified that the murderer may have seen her in the gym but Daisy brushes such concerns aside. The girls follow many hopeful looking red herrings until there is another murder, the hint of an older mystery and even Daisy realises that they are in danger themselves. The ending is satisfyingly surprising, as you’d expect from a writer who admires Agatha Christie.

The only fault I could find is that at one point a pupil addresses a member of staff as ‘Miss’. Even today, no gel in such a school would do that, as the author should know, having been educated at Cheltenham. Apart from that, I can hardly praise the book enough. If you like mysteries, if you like school stories, if you like a laugh, this book is for you. And here’s hope for all budding writers. The author says at the end of the book, ‘I began to write this book in 2011, for NaNoWriMo. Most of the first draft happened in the break room of the Oxford branch of Blackwell’s Bookstore’. Well done Robin. Now give us some more Wells and Wong, please?

*The Four Marys was a long-running schoolgirl strip in Bunty comic.

fourmarys

I read this courtesy of NetGalley.
afterbombing

This is an adult novel set in a girls’ school, a genre I like. The narrative is divided between 1942, when the bombing of the title takes place, and 1963, the year of President Kennedy’s assassination. Goldwyn’s is a prestigious girls’ school in Exeter, headed during the war years by the redoubtable Miss Cunningham-Smith. The school is targeted during the Baedeker raid on Exeter and the boarding house destroyed. The girls have to be accommodated and four of them are sent to a hostel which is part of the nearby university. Here we meet Robert Gunner, mathematics lecturer, unable to fight because of a crippled leg and whose war work consists of looking after his students and fire watching. He is glad to take ‘the children’, until he realises they are teenage girls. Four girls in an all-male environment? Hormones rage, with long-term consequences.

Tragic events take place which I’d be spoiling the story by revealing but for one of the girls, Alma, the losses are more than any teenager should have to face. Move forward to 1963. Miss Cunningham-Smith has died unexpectedly, to be replaced by new broom Miss Yates, intent on making her mark on the place. Her diktats reminded me of some I met in my own teaching days, whether it’s telling the staff how to dress: ‘I mean, Miss Braithwaite, that I do not consider it appropriate for you to be out in public without stockings. Our days of hardship and deprivation ended with the fifties, as I’m sure you know. We are entering a period of prosperity. Bare legs indicate poverty and loose living.’ or asserting her superiority to her staff: ‘Miss Yates is wearing a mortar-board and black gown over her clothes. She’s clearly making a point, since most of the staff have teaching diplomas rather than degrees.’

Miss Yates has an enemy, Alma, who has returned to her old school as head of music and still lives in her old home. Fiercely loyal to the memory of Miss Cunningham-Smith and opposed to any changes Miss Yates wishes to make, she is set on a collision course which ends in a hysterical scene. It’s clear that Alma has been severely damaged by the events of the war and that Miss Yates (who has secrets of her own) is right when she says, ‘I don’t know why you stay here, clinging to the past. Why don’t you move, go somewhere new, find a place where you’re not weighed down by it?’ Robert Gunner reappears, still lecturing and with a daughter at the school. He gives the same advice, ‘You must move on from the past. The war destroyed so much for all of us, but there’s nothing you can do about it except move on and find other ways to enjoy yourself. Remember how you used to love dancing?’ Will Alma change? The ending is rather inconclusive.

I did enjoy reading this book, which is a good reminder that only twenty years separated terrible events of the war from the early 1960s. Most people wanted to look to the future; it’s Alma who’s out of step with the times. I did feel that the two halves of the book (the narrative alternates between periods), didn’t hang together as well as they should. I was unconvinced by the passion for the Lindy Hop which takes over the girls and students, and by Miss Yates’ almost obsessive admiration for President Kennedy. I found Robert’s passion for lighthouses interesting but irrelevant. There are also a couple of glaring historical errors; I just can’t help noticing these when I’m reading. For instance:
‘Keep calm and carry on,’ says a solemn voice. (during the bombing), ‘Oh, shut up, Stephanie,’ says another. ‘That’s what it says on the posters,’ says Stephanie. ‘Are you suggesting Mr Churchill doesn’t know what he’s talking about?’
As any fule kno, that poster was not actually used during the war. Facts like these are easily checked. A good book which needed better editing. I liked all the detail about the school.

I read this courtesy of NetGalley. It will be published by Hodder on 27th March.
girlnovellogo

Along with my Persephone books haul at the boot sale on Sunday, I bought Wendy and Jinx and the Missing Detective by Valerie Hastings (1957). Wendy and Jinx featured for years in a strip in Girl comic; perpetual fourth formers at Manor School, always spending more time solving mysteries than doing lessons. I used to love them when I was about nine; I think it was the uniforms :-) This book is one of several Girl Novels published by the Hulton Press. The other Girl characters who made it between hard covers were Belle of the Ballet and Susan of St. Bride’s.*

wendyjinxfrontis

Jinx is captain of the form and a natural leader. Wendy is planning a career on the stage. They are best friends but get on well with nearly everyone at school, although there’s rivalry between houses. There are two threads to this novel. One concerns the fourth’s horror when they find that their house mistress Miss Brumble is writing what they consider a truly awful play about fairies, which they are expected to act in. Naturally, being wholesome, sensible girls, they do everything they can to sabotage this ill-conceived project. The second and main plot involves a new girl, Maxine, who is rather mysterious and obviously hiding a great secret. Our heroines have the secret out of her in no time. She and her mother have escaped to Paris (from behind the iron curtain) but don’t know where Maxine’s father is. Oddly, the new science master at the school, Mr Flint (Flint by name and by nature) knows Maxine but cruelly flings her away when she tries to question him about her father. Then he buys a ramshackle cottage in the woods near the school (inexplicably, the girls seem allowed to roam at will), but claims he lives some distance away. There’s a connection between Flint, Maxine’s father and an American art dealer (would you believe a Ruritanian-style inheritance?) which Wendy and Jinx ferret out. How could they not, when Miss Brumble and Mr Flint have identical briefcases?

This is really a school story only in name, although something is thrown in about dorms, tennis matches, and even teachers, to make a setting. Silly as it is, I really enjoyed it and will look out for the other novel about the girls, Wendy and Jinx and the Dutch Stamp Mystery. Valerie Hastings wrote two other school stories: Jill at Hazlemere and Jill Investigates. They were published by The Children’s Press, so they’re quite easy to find. Here’s how the Manor School girls appeared in colour in a Girl annual.

wendyjinxstrip

*Edit: I've just seen there was a Claudia of the Circus book. I don't remember her.
wethreeschool

We Three at School, Kathlyn Rhodes
Elinor M Brent-Dyer
The Maids of La Rochelle
Janie of La Rochelle
The Chalet School in Exile

We Three at School
The three of the title are sisters Cherry, Rosemary and Miranda Lucas, daughters of a famous novelist and his rather fragile wife. They’ve been well educated, but at home, until their forceful aunt insists that they go to school, to have the corners knocked off them and learn to be like other girls. Out of school ‘adventures’ (near drownings, kidnapping, broken legs in the snow) take up as much of the book as lessons and games do. Much of the plot is taken up by our heroines being persecuted by some spiteful, jealous girls (accusations of theft and cheating, what else?) apart from which the Lucas sisters have a jolly good time at school. The illustrations by E E Brier are very charming and the book is well written.
EBD, very long )


Summer Term Blackie 1951, illustrated by W Spence
We’re in the Sixth! Children’s Press 1960
St. Kelvern’s Launches Out Children’s Press 1962

According to The Encyclopaedia of Girls’ School Stories, little is known about Carol Ann Pearce, author of the three St. Kelvern’s stories. Since her death in 2006, her son and daughter-in-law have set up a website here. This gives information about the published works, but no personal biography.

I’d read the Children’s Press books years ago and found them entertaining. Then I discovered that there was another book, the first in the series. Unfortunately, Summer Term is very hard to find. At last a copy came up on abe (‘abe has found the book you want’ and for once they really had) and I was able to read it, after a twenty year search. As you can see from the scan, it’s a very nice copy, much better than I expected from the seller’s unhelpful description. By the way, this was not one of my bargain wonders; I paid real money for it.

The three books follow the school careers of four friends from their fifth year at St. Kelvern’s Bury School to the time when they are planning their futures. Elizabeth is efficient, reliable, good at art and acting. Netta, impulsive and noisy, excels at games. Kate is very musical. Dreamy Len (Helen) wants to write but doesn’t take enough interest in anything else. I love descriptions of cosy studies at a boarding school and as the four girls share a study throughout the series, there’s plenty to please me. After reading Summer Term for the first time I re-read the other two. I was surprised to find that I much preferred the first one. I think this has little to do with the author’s talent and everything to do with changes in publishing at the time. From the 1950s far fewer school stories were published. For example, OUP had published many school stories before the war, including the Dimsie series, but in the fifties they rejected them completely. When you think that their 1950s list included the now classic titles The Eagle of the Ninth, A Swarm in May and Tom’s Midnight Garden, it’s perhaps not surprising. My point is that Blackie gave Carol Pearce more scope to write something good than The Children’s Press did.
the series )


Most people will have heard of Jean Webster’s most famous book, Daddy-Long-Legs even if they haven’t read it. Some will even know the sequel, Dear Enemy. I know I have copies of both and have wasted time in a fruitless search for them. They must still be in a box! The Patty books are much less well known and I’d never read them, so when I found they were available as free downloads for the Kindle I snapped them up.

When Patty Went to College (Patty & Priscilla in Britain) was published in 1903 and Just Patty in 1911. This is the wrong reading order as Just Patty is set at a school, St Ursula’s and When Patty went to College er, at college as you’d expect. Webster used her own experiences at The Lady Jane Grey School and at Vassar for background and colour. Patty Wyatt is a very different character from either Jerusha Abbott, the rescued orphan or Sally McBride, the social reformer. She whirls through life, always surrounded by friends, looked to as a leader and not appearing to take anything seriously.

Just Patty is definitely a school story, but very different from any English one you’re likely to have read. (For comparison, Angela Brazil’s first book, A Terrible Tomboy was published in 1904.) The American girls seem to spend a lot more time organizing social events then their English counterparts; they have lessons in ‘manners’; they have far more freedom to go out of bounds and to receive correspondence from whom they please. There’s no plodding arrival at school and then working her way up for Patty. She’s there fully formed, as it were and already an established school character when the book starts. You’d be looking a long time for any idea of schoolgirl honour or earnestness about work or games (although the girls seem to take basketball seriously).

Patty has a great way of turning the tables on the teachers. Miss Lord, the Latin teacher, is keen on sociology: Miss Lord was the one who struck the modern note at St. Ursula's. She believed in militant suffragism and unions and boycotts and strikes; and she labored hard to bring her little charges to her own advanced position. When Patty finds another girl in tears over learning eighty lines of Virgil, she tells the girls to strike for sixty lines on the grounds that Miss Lord should see the sense of it because ‘we’re just like the laundry girls’. "You, Miss Lord, will appreciate the fairness of our demands better than any of the other teachers, because you believe in unions.” Poor Miss Lord, hoist with her own petard. A compromise is reached but there’s no doubt that Patty is the victor. She has a wonderful knack of being popular with the girls and amusing the staff so that they tolerate her many breaches of the rules. Patty thinks trivial rules are just made to be broken, but she does nothing underhand or dishonourable. She has a lot in common with Rose Red of What Katy Did at School but is nicer, kinder and less irritating.
When Patty Went to College )


Since Tom’s Midnight Garden thrilled me as a child, I’ve rather enjoyed time slip stories, although I don’t like fantasy. In Beswitched, a modern 21st century schoolgirl finds herself taking the place of another Flora, in a 1930s boarding school. I’m sure at this very moment there are people cursing clever Kate Saunders and wondering why this brilliant idea didn't occur to them. I loved it!
spoilers )


Just a heads up that dovegreyreader writes today about the Chalet School and Malory Towers, quoting Adèle Geras. Although I have all the Chalet School books, I remain a Malory Towers girl at heart. For my favourite school, see poll.

[Poll #1523677]


It’s fun opening up the boxes and being reunited with my books, although I despair rather at finding I still have too many for the space available. For some reason it’s the children’s books which I want to read again. After finishing my Courtney-fest with The Farm on the Downs and Elizabeth of the Garret Theatre I turned to Lorna at Wynyards by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. The copy shown here is the GGBP reprint.

EBD, as we affectionately call her, is of course best known for her long series of Chalet School books. The first was published in 1925, the last in 1970 and they are still sought after and read today. She wrote another series, known as the La Rochelle books, plus a number of standalones and historical stories. There are however many connections between the books. Like anyone in love, EBD liked to drop the loved one’s name wherever possible; her favourite Joey features in the Lorna books as the famous author Josephine Bettany. Lorna at Wynyards )

Play Up!

Jun. 10th, 2009 07:41 pm


In Prunella Plays the Game by Irene Mossop (first published 1929), the game is cricket, hurrah! Although Prunella is the new girl and titular heroine, this book is really about her cousin Jacinth: plain, good humoured and underestimated. St Prisca’s is a boarding school for sixty or seventy girls, depending on which page you believe. The previous headmistress was rather lax and a group of girls, headed by another of Prunella’s cousins, the lovely Camellia (known as Queen) has had things all its own way. The in-crowd run everything to suit themselves and their friends regardless of talent. This has particularly affected Thyra, a brilliant but wayward girl who has never been allowed to shine and has turned to mischief instead. (It's rather cheek of girls called Thyra, Dione and Aveline to tease Prunella about her unusual name.)

The new head, Miss Kestrell (The Hawk, obviously) is determined to get the school to pull together and perceptively appoints Jacinth head of the Rubies, to the amusement of Queen and her set. How Jake builds up a successful cricket second XI, doggedly defending her own decisions and her friends, makes for a very entertaining story with believable characters. Even the baddies are not all bad and astonishingly the girls visit some ruins without getting trapped inside them and have a boating mishap with no one even near drowning. Read more... )





How Green are my Wellies?*, Anna Shepard
Lilies That Fester, Hazel Holt
Mary Todd’s Last Term, Frances Greenwood
Teatime for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith
The Murder on the Downs, Simon Brett
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
The Cipher Garden, Martin Edwards*
Silent in the Grave, Deanna Raybourn
Singled Out. How two million women survived without men after the first world war, Virginia Nicholson
Green Grass, Raffaella Barker
Nella Last’s Peace
Reviews )



Much glee in the media over Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s assertion that he and his wife (joint income well over £100,000) were feeling the pinch and had stopped shopping with Ocado. One reads all the time that it’s the middle classes and pensioners who are suffering most. While musing on this knotty problem my mind was searching for a quote from George Orwell to the effect that only those who ‘think they own their houses’ lie awake at night worrying while the prole (his term) sleeps peacefully. And so I read Coming Up For Air again.

Set in 1938, published in 1939, the novel is a first person narration by George Bowling. Fat, forty five, married with two children, he is trapped in the suburbs by his job and his family. Bowling grew up before the First World War in a quiet market town where it seemed as if life would go on in the same way for ever. He had a country boyhood of scrumping and fishing, went to the grammar school, was brighter than most but had to leave early when his father’s seed merchant’s business started to fail; the first sign of changing times. Then, like most young men of his age, it was off to the trenches until he was wounded and found himself in a ridiculous sinecure of a job guarding non-existent supplies. This meant he could spend a whole year reading, which accounts for him being more thoughtful than most men of his type.

After the war he lands a job in insurance and settles down to be ‘a £5 to £10 pound a week man’ with a car, school fees and a mortgage round his neck. Feeling that war is approaching he has a sudden urge to return to the scenes of his childhood and go fishing. Predictably, the world he knew has disappeared under houses and he doesn’t know a soul. So, having tried coming up for air he comes down again to the wife and kids and the sure knowledge that the world will soon be one of bombs, rubber truncheons, the spanner in the face, the slogans, the food queues.

It’s a strange book, more a vehicle for ideas than a novel and often repetitive and meandering. Yet I’ve read it several times and it’s my favourite of his novels. Perhaps it’s the unsentimental yet touching picture of pre-war English life, safe and secure, which is so attractive. This reminds one that Orwell was in many ways deeply conservative and old fashioned. Bowling is a bit of a cad yet rather likeable, if not quite convincing as a portrait of a lower middle class bloke who’s not very happy. Luckily for us, where England was concerned Orwell was wrong about everything except the food queues. On the whole I prefer his non fiction. Not Homage to Catalonia but The Road to Wigan Pier; the essays in Inside the Whale rather than Down and Out in Paris and London. I’m a great admirer and the best biography, IMO, is still Bernard Crick’s.

Orwell appears in one of the questions in this fun Back to School quiz from the Guardian. It’s all about school stories!

June Books

Jul. 2nd, 2006 11:47 am
A limited range of authors this month due to ongoing O Douglas and a big Angela Thirkell jag.
Read more... )

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