Friday, January 31, 2020

"NEW" AUTHORS: wartime settings (part 1 of 2)

I'm finally getting round to writing a bit about the 100+ new authors added to my main list last October. Better late than never…

Perhaps my favorite books to unearth in my research are those with World War II settings, and in this post and the next I'll mention 18 authors added to my list who wrote at least one war-related novel.

Were all of my discoveries of the quality of HAZEL PYNEGAR, I would surely pack it all in and start reading medieval poetry or ancient philosophy. And she sounded so enticing too. A 1940 article said that Pynegar, "apart from her work as an actress and running her own repertory company, has travelled the world, hiked through China' and Siberia, and is considered a novelist of great promise." This was presumably based on the reception of her first and only solo novel, Stationary Journey (1940), about a group of characters trying to escape from a Chinese village as Japanese invaders approach. That one could be simply brilliant for all I know, but Pynegar then collaborated with screenwriter and novelist Noel Langley on three humorous novels (to use the term loosely). There's a Horse in My Tree (1948) is described as a "comic novel set on the coast of Cornwall," while Cuckoo in the Dell (1951) is set in the days of William the Conqueror and deals with the the disillusionment of an idealistic Norman knight at the hands of a group of Saxon women.

The Observer reviewer didn't think much of it either

But naturally, the title that caught my eye was Somebody's Rocking My Dreamboat (1949), about a group of women and children being evacuated from England on a tramp steamer at the height of the war. Could anything have been more carefully calibrated to excite me? So of course, I worked hard to get hold of a copy, and for what? Now, disappointments go hand-in-hand with the kind of literary excavations I do, but this one was absolutely dire (and I'm happy to report that my Fairy Godmother also sampled it—her copy had a dustjacket, of which she sent the above scan—and her assessment was the same). It's a distasteful mish-mash of postwar cynicism and adolescent humour, and the authors seem to have absolutely loathed all the characters (as did I). It also seemed to me a distinctly masculine novel, so one gets the feeling Langley may have had more impact that Pynegar did, or else Pynegar herself was someone I wouldn't want to have known. Ugh. Awful.

But fortunately, I have better luck much of the time. For example, I have hopes for DOROTHY M. LARGE, who wrote several novels focused on Anglo-Irish life in the country. The last of these, The Quiet Place (1941), is set in an Irish boarding house among English folk fleeing German bombs. 

That one is in my hot little hands now, and I was surprised to see that my copy arrived with dustjacket as well. Stay tuned on this one.

Phyllis Livingstone (aka Naomi Ludolf)

And although I can't really claim to have discovered her (Neglected Books wrote about her here), PHYLLIS LIVINGSTONE could pay off as well. The alluring title is In Our Metropolis (1940), set at least in part in London during the Phony War and humorously following the ups and downs of young married life. But I did discover in my research for her list entry that Livingstone had also published an earlier novel, Loose Covers (1931), under the pseudonym Naomi Ludolf, which was also the name she used as a stage actress. Livingstone's early life was, we discovered, a bit complex: she appears to have been born to an unmarried mother, who then married another man when she was 4, leaving Phyllis to be raised at least in part by her grandparents. It's always tantalizing to find little tidbits like that about an author, but it's almost impossible to fill in any more details short of a relative turning up.

A quite different tidbit turned up about our next author, L[ILIAN]. F[AITH]. LOVEDAY PRIOR (sometimes just credited as Loveday Prior). On the invaluable 1939 England & Wales Register, searchable on Ancestry, we see Prior working as an assistant mistress of Latin and French at Raven's Croft in Sussex, the same school at which mystery author Edith C. Rivett (better known as ECR Lorac, some of whose books have been reprinted by the British Library recently) was a visiting art teacher, having (presumably) been evacuated from London. A small world. Loveday Prior published five novels, of which two, The Valley of Exile (1939) and its sequel These Times of Travail, deal with the rise of fascism in the South Tyrol region of Austria.

Along similar thematic lines, AVERIL MACKENZIE-GRIEVE's second novel, A Gibbet for Myself (1941), is set in Italy just before the rise of Mussolini. Her first, Sacrifice to Mars (1940), was described in advertising as a "novel of Nazi Germany from the inside!" Mackenzie-Grieve was also a historian, biographer, and travel writer whose non-fiction included The Last Years of the English Slave Trade: Liverpool, 1750-1807 (1941) and The Great Accomplishment (1953), a collection of short biographies of prominent women.

I'm not sure if Prior or Mackenzie-Grieve will prove to be my sort of authors, but one more I have high hopes for is E. M. (EDITH MARJORIE) WARD. She wrote around a dozen novels and was known for her Lake District settings. 

The Guardian's snippet about an earlier
Ward novel

Of those novels, Forest Silver (1941), Isle of Saints (1943), and Voices in the Wind (1944), at least, are set in wartime, and the first is now in my hands, so I'll soon know if she lives up to her potential. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to definitely trace her in records so far. It's possible that she's the Edith Marjorie Ward 1898-1968, daughter of John and Beatrix Ward, but there's no definite confirmation so far.

I'm not sure I'll be rushing to read the books of D. (DOROTHY) GAINSBOROUGH WARING any time soon, but some of her books do fit the theme of this post. She published ten novels, at least some of them thrillers and most featuring Irish characters or themes. Several also presented the approach of war or the war itself, but perhaps rather problematically. According to ODNB, she was a member of the British Fascists for several years, and her early novels "made clear her continued admiration for Hitler." She had earlier been a controversial figure in Northern Ireland too, where she and her father were strong Unionists. In later years, however, she became a regular on the Northern Ireland Home Service's radio quiz Up Against It.

At the other end of the political spectrum is IRIS MORLEY, a journalist, historian, and author of seven novels, some historical in subject. Morley married Communist journalist Alaric Jacob and her books have distinct Marxist leanings. Nothing but Propaganda (1946) was a partially autobiographical novel about a young woman who lives in the U.S. for a time, marries unhappily, divorces, then marries, ahem, a Communist journalist. The story ends in England during World War II. 

The Guardian on Not Without Fantasy

Morley spent some of the war as a correspondent in Moscow, as did her second husband, journalist and novelist Alaric Jacob, out of which experience grew Not Without Fantasy (1947), a satirical tale of journalists in wartime Moscow. According to newspaper accounts of her death, Morley was terminally ill with cancer but was not told of the severity of her condition. She fell ill during a vacation in Cornwall, intended to restore her strength, and died a few days later.

But finally, to end on a more intriguing note, ELIZABETH WHITEHEAD, not yet definitely identified, apparently wrote only a single children's adventure title, Adventurous Exile (1946), about a party of English schoolgirls and teachers trapped in France during World War II. But it does sound like fun!

Next time, nine more "new" authors and more wartime stories.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The show must go on: BARBARA WILLARD, Echo Answers (1952)

Having read Barbara Willard's very fun Snail books, which I mentioned briefly in my Furrowed Middlebrow Dozen post at the New Year, I became curious about her novels for adults. She wrote more than a dozen adult novels from the 1930s to 1950s, before turning her attention for most of the rest of her career to children's books, in which realm she became by far best known for her historical Mantlemass series (1970-1992), which follows one family through more than two centuries of English history.

Willard's adult novels seem to gravitate toward the theatre world, which is not surprising since, according to her Wikipedia page, she was "the daughter of the Shakespearean actor Edmund Willard and the great-niece of Victorian era actor Edward Smith Willard." I wouldn't know either of those actors if they stood up in my soup, but suffice it to say Willard's knowledge of actors and the theatre comes through in Echo Answers and adds an extra interest to its story.

We meet Sarah Philmore, a young woman whose lover was lost in the war, at the wedding of another ex-flame to another woman. She is, clearly, unlucky in love. At the wedding, she runs into an old friend, a war widow herself, and spontaneously agrees to fill in for her for six months as secretary to Arnold Chater, a bestselling novelist quickly moving past his prime. As part of her role, she moves in with Chater and his family—kind, unflappable Elsa, his wife; Elsa's mother, Dame Lucia Peverell, a famous retired actress; son Barney, who has written a play with all the artistic integrity Arnold himself sold out long ago; and daughter Rosalind, who has decided to be an actress as much to gain Lucia's love as out of any calling.

Sarah becomes enmeshed with the family's problems, and when her friend returns sooner than expected to take back her job, she is at a loss. She begins an affair with Barney, whose play, about a girl he loved who died, is about to be produced. She is attracted to him largely because he reminds her of her lover lost in the war, but this "echo" is in turn overshadowed by Barney's own, when his play's lead is perfectly cast with a young actress who reminds him vividly of the past. Rather interestingly, this also casts a shadow back over Sarah's earlier love affair, as she wonders if that lover, too, would have become similarly distracted with time.

It's a very pleasant and enjoyable little melodrama with bits of humor scattered throughout and with interesting, life-like characters and enough literary and theatrical glamour to keep things moving along nicely. It lacks the cheerful joie-de-vivre of the Snail books, and there's a bit too much emotional navel-gazing here and there for my taste, but what makes up for this are some very striking passages that show Williard to be a sophisticated observer of human nature. For instance, I'll always remember this observation when the circumstance arises:

She ran up the steps and stood shaking herself just inside the door, while an elderly woman crossing the hall paused to watch her with disapproval and just that shade of contempt the dry have for the wet.

I had never thought of it before, but isn't this precisely how dry people do look at wet people?

There are also enough poignant references to the war years to validate this novel's inclusion on my WWII list in the Postwar section. Here is Sarah recalling her wartime love, and the unique pain that must have been experienced by many women with no socially or legally "legitimate" standing with a man:

No one had known that she and Tim were lovers and she had heard of his death at second-hand. She had gone home for a twenty-four-hour leave and been told by a friend met outside the station of the latest loss in the neighbourhood. He was mourned by his family and there was no suggestion of any other claim. Well, there was nothing very distinctive about that; unofficial widowhood could hardly have been more common. But of all the wretchedness of bereavement there was probably none more poignant, more difficult of acceptance, than this secret grief that could never be displayed…

And here is Willard somewhat evoking Barbara Noble's The House Opposite in her description of the undramatic reaction to bombs:

She looked round the little theatre and remembered the ambitious, not quite intelligible poetic drama she had seen here with Tim during one of his leaves. In the middle of the performance there had been an air raid; no one had taken any notice. It all seemed a very long time ago, but the subject of Barney's play linked the two periods with a firm insistence that was almost frightening. How did we manage, she wondered for the hundredth time; how did we manage to live at all with the bombs falling and that incessant threat  hanging over us, the perpetual uncertainty whether we would see the morning? She smiled to herself. That undramatic acceptance of drama seemed almost melodramatic now.

But one of my favorite passages here has nothing to do with the war, but rather with the theatre, and demonstrates Willard's personal knowledge of theatrical life. Julie, Barney's leading lady, has retreated to her home following a conflict and is threatening not to appear on opening night. Dame Lucia takes matters into her own hands to save Barney's production and the talking-to she gives Julie is a classic of "show must go on" philosophy:

"I don't know what Barney's done to you," she said, "and frankly I don't care. But if he had spat in your face and insulted you at the moment you were making your entrance, if he had broken your heart and laughed at doing it, you should still be able to go on to the stage and play your scene, and play it with all the power and the feeling in you, right to the end, to the last word, to the final gesture, tears or laughter, death or life, as it was written."

Julie swung on her heel with a sharp, shrill laugh.

"It sounds very impressive."

"It is very impressive," Lucia said.

Echo Answers is not an absolute favorite for me, but it's intriguing and entertaining enough that I'll be on the lookout for more of Willard's adult novels. One of her earliest novels, Joy Befall Thee (1934), is about three generations of theatre costume designers, which could be an ideal use for her theatrical knowledge, and The Dogs Do Bark (1948), set at a seaside resort, seems to have potential as a postwar novel. And although I don't generally read historical fiction, perhaps I should have a gander at the Mantlemass series?

Friday, January 17, 2020

The young girl and the snow: EMMA SMITH, No Way of Telling (1972)

Anyone who has read this blog for very long at all will know that my TBR list is very long and I'm about as methodical in approaching it as a fruitfly. So, to have come across a fellow blogger writing about a new-to-me book in early November, and to have actually read said book over our Christmas break only a few weeks later, is astonishing timing indeed. Ordinarily, I would be saying here that so-and-so mentioned this book back in 2012 and I've just now got round to it. But this time, I can say that Kirsty at the Literary Sisters wrote about this book here on November 7th—practically yesterday in blogger time—and here I am already seconding her enthusiastic recommendation.

Some of you already know Emma Smith as the author of The Far Cry (1949), a novel reprinted by Persephone, and of Maidens' Trip (1948), about her WWII adventures on canal boats, as well as several other memoirs and works of fiction. I've read none of these, so I can't make comparisons, but I'm certainly going to rectify that soon.

No Way of Telling, which was a runner-up for the 1973 Carnegie Medal, is a wonderful winter story, which may have been part of the appeal for me, since despite a bit of a cold spell in San Francisco (i.e. lows in the mid-40s, highs in the high 50s, hardly cold at all by the standards of anyone who didn't grow up in Dubai), it never really feels wintry or, therefore, Christmas-y to me here. Winter books are a reasonably good substitute, and don't require any shoveling.

Although the book was marketed by the publisher as a children's book, it's really very much a novel for any age that happens to be about a young girl's harrowing adventures during a terrible blizzard in a remote part of Wales. It could almost be called an Old Man and the Sea from a young girl's perspective—a Young Girl and the Snow, as it were, with the sharks transposed into shady characters darkening the otherwise cozily snowbound setting.

Emma Smith in 2013

Young Amy lives with her grandmother, Mrs Bowen, in a fairly remote part of Wales. As the novel begins, Amy has been sent home from school early due to the approaching storm. Smith does a wonderful job of setting the scene as Amy makes her way through the snow—you can sense the isolation:

There was nothing to see; nothing but a white swarming nothingness. The hill that rose up in front of her was invisible and the snow itself had altered. The flakes were smaller now and driving harder. She was uncertain of how far she had come, uncertain of exactly where she was; and as she realized this she felt a curious movement inside her, the sudden squeeze of sudden fright. It was not that she was afraid of losing herself, for the track was clear enough yet and she had only to keep on walking ahead until she reached a path turning off that would lead her down to the stream and across it on a narrow wooden bridge and up the further side to the Gwyntfa, the cottage where she lived with her grandmother, Mrs Bowen. If instead she had had to follow the track, an old drovers' road, on up the valley, up and up and still on for miles over a waste of grass and fern and boggy patches and outcroppings of rock where curlews nested in the spring, that would have been another matter. Anyone might get lost up there.

But Amy's fear was not of losing her way home. What frightened her was being unable to tell where she was on a path she knew so well. An entire hill had disappeared, and the familiar track was not familiar any more, and the snow was increasing, and there was nobody with her. Then she noticed close by her feet a large squarish boulder, its shape already altered by the snow blown against it but still recognizable as a rock on which she often paused when she was coming from school and the weather was sunny and she was not in any hurry. Her panic evaporated. After all everything was where it had always been—not gone, only concealed. She shifted the milk-can to her other hand; the weight of it dangling from its wire handle had numbed her fingers. Head bowed, glove to cheek, once again she set off.

We also get lovely details of the household and their daily lives, including the supplies Mrs Bowen has on hand, which will have to see the two through the storm, as they'll be completely cut off. One of the things that makes this, for me, such a lovely book, is that Smith allows it to start at a leisurely pace, taking time to bring the setting—the house itself and the surrounding hills and cliffs and paths—vividly to life. While impatient readers might wish things would pick up, it's this preliminary detail that pays off so richly as the pace quickens to a near-thriller, the landscape comes into dramatic play, and the reader is right there with Amy, able to picture every move, every hill, and every precipice.

For it's not long until Amy and Mrs Bowen, sitting at night by the fireside, are disturbed by an enormous, burly, dangerous-looking man who speaks no English and has a terrible wound on his arm. This stranger bursts into the isolated home, grabbing blankets and supplies, including a raw leg of lamb a neighbor has just given them. He disappears back into the night, leaving them shaken and not knowing what to expect next. But he's soon followed by two more men, who claim to be police seeking a murderer, but who somehow make both Amy and her grandmother uneasy. They have "no way of telling" what the truth of the situation is, and likewise, even when they begin to figure it out and realize they are in danger, they have "no way of telling" their neighbors or friends because of the blizzard.

This is a book that offers vivid setting and situations, beautiful writing, two rich main characters with a completely believable and compelling relationship, and an increasingly tense, page-turning plot. It was a delicious surprise for my holiday reading, and I'm thankful to Kirsty for having unearthed it and written about it.

Friday, January 10, 2020

A postwar ménage: MARGERY SHARP, The Foolish Gentlewoman (1948)

At, fifty-five Isabel Bracken was still a nice-looking woman. She dated, of course, all her female friends said so—poor Isabel certainly dated; she was rather plump, and wore her faded hair in a kind of neat bird's-nest, but her complexion was pretty and the blue of her eyes scarcely faded at all. The most striking thing about her was her expression, for she nearly always looked pleased; and though this, in 1946, was really but a final proof of her thorough foolishness, some people found her appearance refreshing.

World War II has ended and widowed Isabel Brocken, kind-hearted and generous if (according to her brother-in-law) not the sharpest tool in the shed, is back in her old family home on the outskirts of London after her self-imposed evacuation to Bath. Keeping her company are her nephew Humphrey Garrett from New Zealand, just demobilized from the military, and Jacqueline Brown, just out of the ATS herself, whom Isabel met when she gave her a lift from Bath and promptly invited to live with her ('"One of these days you'll pick up a thug," prophesied Mr. Brocken.") Humphrey and Jacky are well started on a pleasant romance when Simon Brocken himself is added to the mix, finding it convenient to stay with Isabel while his own house is under repair from bomb damage, despite his decidely mixed feelings about her. Also in the house are the Pooles, mother and daughter, selected by Simon to serve as live-in caretakers during the years when the house was vacant—standoffish but living in perfect if unconventional contentment, though it emerges that they are haunted by a dark past.

Most readers will find it difficult not to like Isabel, despite her apparent foolishness. I love Sharp's description of the plentiful pleasures Isabel encountered in day-to-day life:

Sentimental, affectionate, uncritical, Mrs. Bracken so easily attached herself to persons, places, and even objects that after no more than two days in an hotel she had a favourite waiter, a favourite ornament, a favourite view. She had adored her husband, and was very fond of her French pepper-mill. An old watering-can was dear to her because she remembered seeing the gardener use it on her mother's rose-beds, and a new alarm-clock, because it was so nice and bright. She had thus many small sources of pleasure, inoperative perhaps on deeper intellects, which, added together, made a sort of comfortable woolly garment for her mind.

But it's possible that some of those readers will also be given pause when her plans for the future of the house and her own financial resources are revealed. She has, it turns out, made a rare venture to church and heard an inspiring sermon about the need for making amends for one's wrongs. This has led her to recall her treatment of Tilly Cuff, a poor relation ("some sort of second cousin") who had lived with Isabel's family and been treated kindly in a careless sort of way. Since then, Tilly has led a rather sad existence as a lady's companion.

But, Isabel confesses to Simon, Tilly's life might have taken a very different path. Back in 1912, at the end of a visit from a young soldier friend of the Brockens, Isabel had, early one morning, come upon a shy note from the soldier to Tilly, declaring his love. In a moment of weakness, Isabel, in part out of jealousy, destroyed the letter and never mentioned it to Tilly. Now, following the sermon, she is convinced that her act ruined Tilly's one chance at happiness, and she determines, against all of Simon's arguments, to invite Tilly to stay, confess her crime, and make amends by signing over nearly all her money to her.

Where Sharp takes her story from there is a delight, particularly when Tilly arrives and proves to be challenging (to put it nicely) and at times even "malevolent". She puts a damper on Humphrey and Jacky's romance, offers Jacky uncomfortable advice about her position, and threatens to wreak havoc on the Pooles' contentment. She is petty and manipulative, and yet Sharp also shows us to some extent how she has become this way. In fact, it's striking that all of the characters in The Foolish Gentlewoman are imperfect (but likable anyway, most of them).

It's also striking that Sharp cleverly subverts our usual "cozy" expectations of a simple happy ending with everyone living unrealistically ever after. Here, although life certainly shifts for most or all of the characters, ultimately most of them will continue much as they did before, just as so often happens in real life. And one may have to do some pleasant soul-searching to determine whether one agrees with Mr Brocken's assessment of Isabel as foolish and "idiotic". She might (or might not) turn out to be the wisest of all the characters—Sharp leaves it up to us to determine how we think her future will unfold.

It's a terrifically entertaining novel, and a lovely slice of immediate postwar life. I enjoyed this uniquely postwar dialogue between young Greta Poole and Simon:

''I suppose you don't want any bits of bomb?" enquired Greta politely.

"No, thank you," said Mr. Bracken.

"I don't either. I used to collect them; it's funny," said Greta tolerantly, "what you'll do when you're a kid. Now I'm just going to chuck them away."

"Some of 'em had the dates on," remarked Greta, returning. "It was Mum's idea; we thought they'd make nice souvenirs, but they got too common."

I can only imagine how many people (me included, probably, however morbid it might be) would love to have such a Blitz souvenir today.

And there's this lovely snippet between Tilly and the Pooles, when she is just beginning to invade their lives by storming into the kitchen, all false cheerfulness, and offering Greta a gift of a pincushion (of all things):

"That's very kind, I'm sure," said Mrs. Poole.

The Pooles had excellent manners. Some one offered you a present; whether you wanted it or not, even before you had seen it, you said they were very kind. (Or some one saved your life in a blitz; the same phrase served.) But one wasn't over-enthusiastic, in either case; all codes of manners having their convention.

And finally, although Simon is hardly the hero of this novel—stodgy, particular, and more than a little curmudgeonly—I rather uneasily recognized myself in this description of him spotting an old acquaintance on the street:

Mr. Bracken did not dislike her; but he walked on. It was his habit to avoid people whenever possible, in case they became a nuisance. For Simon was profoundly convinced that all people became a nuisance sooner or later: logic, and arithmetic, informed him that the fewer people one became involved with, the less danger one ran of being annoyed. Carrying his inviolability like a cup of precious water, Mr. Brocken returned up the hill to Chipping Lodge.

Fortunately, unlike Simon, I have Andy to keep dragging me out of my shell when I start to get too hermetically sealed inside!

This is the second previously unread Margery Sharp novel I've checked off my TBR recently, after reviewing her debut, Rhododendron Pie, here. I'm very much enjoying getting reacquainted with Sharp, and indeed I have more of her books on their way to me. And I'm late to the party with this one—The Foolish Gentlewoman was also reviewed by Ali here, Barb at Leaves & Pages here, and by Liz here.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Furrowed Middlebrow Dozen 2019 (a day or two late)

(I just completely forgot to post this the last couple of days as intended. D'oh! I wish I could say it was because of wild and crazy New Year's celebrations, but it's more accurately just being distracted and absentminded. But better late than never!)

It was a slightly sporadic year for blogging on my part, a ghastly year for the state of the world, but (thankfully, as I try to avoid thinking too much about the apocalyptic and heartbreaking news from either side of the Atlantic) an excellent year of reading. As usual, I've done considerable agonizing to whittle my favorite reads down to a mere dozen, but I've done the heroic task. Though I will also, as usual, cheat a bit by mentioning a few other near-favorites for the year.

In the category of contemporary fiction, which you know I don't read all that often, I found one particular treasure, which I enthusiastically recommend to hearty readers with morbid senses of humor. During the dark, rainy winter months last January, I read MARGARET DRABBLE's brilliant and often funny novel about aging and death, The Dark Flood Rises (2018). I know, it doesn't sound so uplifting, but I found it amazingly life-affirming while also gloriously dark. It even evoked Samuel Beckett for me, and we catch some glimpses of characters from Drabble's earlier books as well. I'll also mention my vacation reading of Nobel Prize winner OLGA TOKARCZUK's Flights (2007) and the evocatively titled Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (2009), both of which I found completely addictive. It's enough to make me thing that I'm missing out not reading more current fiction, but on the other hand I also picked up at least five other recent, much-praised novels this year and didn't get past the first chapter of any of them, so… 

I had fun reading some lovely children's fiction this year, largely thanks to my Fairy Godmother's generosity. In addition to the title that made it to #7 below, I read several rare MABEL ESTHER ALLAN titles thanks to F.G., as well as more JANE SHAW, whose glittering, delightful Paris comedy-adventure, Anything Can Happen (1964), very nearly made the list (it's the invisible #13). I also had a marvelous time with BARBARA WILLARD's Snail and the Pennithornes (1957), which I never wrote about but which deals with the two Pennithorne children accompanying their mother's old friend Snail, a children's author herself, as she travels around England in her caravan. The two sequels, Snail and the Pennithornes Next Time (1958) and Snail and the Pennithornes and the Princess (1960), are pleasant but not nearly so good, but the first, as we share Snail's delight in exploring new places and making new friends, is a pleasure.

Now, on with the list:

I'm slowly but surely seeking out all the Elizabeth Coxhead books I can find. The Figure in the Mist is one of the best so far. It's a widening world story, it's a climbing story, it's a family story, and it's quite a lot more as well.

I just squeezed in my review of this one (and a couple of other books further down the list) in the past couple of weeks. Although not Godden's best work, Gypsy, Gypsy deserves better than the neglect it has fallen into. An engrossing, rather Gothic novel with a charming young heroine and her terrible aunt.

In my review of A Cat and a King, I noted that there was very little about it that we haven't seen before—young woman gets entangled with veteran stage actor and his family, flirts with heartbreak, and ends up older and wiser. But it was so difficult to put down and has stayed with me so much that I'm beginning to think there's more to it after all.

A charming and thought-provoking book that follows it's young Jewish heroine from boarding school to the vicissitudes of romance and the approach of World War II. Kamm—whose Peace, Perfect Peace (1947) was reprinted as a Furrowed Middlebrow title this year—has become a favorite author, and soon, thanks to Grant Hurlock, I'll be reading her hard-to-fine debut, All Quiet at Home (1936).

Not a lot of non-fiction appears on my lists, but I can't recommend this one enough for fans of literary history/biography like Thea Holme's The Carlyles at Home. Its intermingling of notable figures—the Carlyles, Robert Browning & Elizabeth Barrett, Dickens, Tom Thumb, Mary Russell Mitford, and others—brings the 1840s London literary scene vividly to life in ways that a mere bio of one of those people couldn't possibly.

7) MABEL ESTHER ALLAN, Romansgrove (1975)

Possibly my favorite Mabel Esther Allan title so far (though The Amber House, which I wrote about here, is not far behind). I didn't get round to reviewing Romansgrove, but it's one of the loveliest time slip tales I've read and also the most polished and elegant MEA I've found (elegant not being a word most fans would associate with her, whatever else they love about her work). Although it focuses on teenaged protagonists, it could readily be enjoyed by fans of adult fiction. The ending gave me chills. It will be a periodic re-read for years to come, and it's not even terribly hard to find!

More thanks are due to Grant for making it possible to read this long-coveted title from my Hopeless Wish List, which turned out to be a delightful village comedy. Lambert's style may be, as I noted, "a bit rough around the edges," but she also presents a delicious cast of characters and lots of amusing happenings, which more than make up for its shortcomings.

Okay, I might be cheating here since this wasn't the first time I read Verily Anderson's delightful World War II memoir. On the other hand, until this year it was solidly out of print, while now it's readily available in e-book and paperback as a (ahem) Furrowed Middlebrow title from Dean Street Press. Plus, it's wonderful, so I am without remorse for cheating.

Knowing me, you won't be surprised that my current Margery Sharp kick, inspired by the suggestions offered in response to my "possibly FM" post, began with the rarest of all Sharp titles, her cheerful, silly, giddy, lovely debut.

After we reprinted Oman's WWII novels, Nothing to Report and Somewhere in England, earlier this year, I was delighted to find three more of her novels with contemporary settings (rather than her usual historical subjects). And this one was my fave of the three. A sort of Scottish holiday story slash romantic comedy.

I had a lot of trouble deciding which of these last two books should top the list, and finally broke the tie by determining that this one might not ordinarily fit the parameters of this list. But it's so, so, so beautifully done, and includes chapters about Tindall's aunt, Monica Tindall, and her mother, Ursula Orange, both published by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press. Not to mention that Tindall, whose first novel appeared in 1959, is herself on my author list. The book is an elegant meditation on time, loss, and the odd vicissitudes that determine what survives. I also read Tindall's The House by the Thames this year and loved it, and The Tunnel Through Time is on my TBR shelf.

Since I first read Apricot Sky before I was blogging, I never got a chance to make it my favorite book of the year. But this year, finally, I re-read it, reviewed it, and loved it even more than before. I usually don't include re-reads on this list, but... A funny, rollicking, romantic comedy, family/holiday story, all rolled into one. The next best thing to a holiday in the Highlands. I seem to have a real weakness for holiday stories this year, and indeed for Scottish holiday stories. Perhaps an actual holiday in Scotland is called for?

And that's that for 2019. Now I have to ask, what were your favorite reads of the year?

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