Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1939)

Norman Huntley and his friend Henry have been making up stories since they were young and they have pretended to know people who don’t even exist. But when they invent an eighty-three-year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves, they are more than surprised to see their new fictional friend standing beside them one day. Miss Hargreaves is exactly as he had imagined her – she is an eccentric and extraordinary old woman who makes Norman’s life difficult. Furthermore, she brings chaos into his sleepy Buckinghamshire town. As Norman tries to tell his friends and family about Miss Hargreaves’s arrival, he encounters difficulties, since the young man doesn’t even know where the curious old lady came from. Ever since Miss Hargreaves entered Norman’s peaceful life, everything has been tumultuous and weird, and the young man must now decide if he wants the old woman to be part of his life any longer or if he wants his once-ordinary life back. But how does one get rid of such an incredible person when one does not know where she came from in the first place?

Miss Hargreaves is a hilarious book about an unusual friendship; it’s a wonderful story about creativity, the power of imagination and the its consequences. I have wanted to read this book since I discovered it last year and I am happy that I finally had the chance to do so because it was exactly as I had imagined it. I liked this unusual story and I liked Norman because he is a creative young man who, on the spur of a moment, likes to invent people or events that have never taken place. For him, it’s entertaining and amusing to make up these stories and he is very good at it and very convincing. But when Norman and his friend Henry invent Miss Hargreaves, their troubles begin. Although it was only meant as a silly joke, the young men are shocked to learn that their creation has somehow come alive. And since the old lady makes Norman’s life very complicated, he thinks about putting her off. Still, he isn’t quite sure if he really wants to get rid of her for good. On the one hand, he likes this eccentric and impossible old lady, but on the other hand, Miss Hargreaves drives Norman mad, with her oddities and strange behaviour. That’s why I really sympathized with him; I felt his frustration toward Miss Hargreaves, but I also understood why he was proud of his creation.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading about Norman and his unusual friend and I found their adventures very entertaining and funny. I liked all the characters in this book and I loved the dated language. If you like to read books set in the past and if you like imaginative tales, Miss Hargreaves will be the perfect novel for you!

Note: This review has been written for Nymeth’s 1930s Mini-Challenge.

Andreea

A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz

Six-year-old Joe is a curious little boy who asks many questions and who has a vivid imagination. Joe is living with his mother in 1950s East End London, where he is always surrounded by hard-working people. From his neighbour Mr. Kandinsky and the wrestler Shmule to the shop owner Mrs. Abramowitz, little Joe is accompanied by people who are very fond of him and who take good care of him.

As all of Joe’s acquaintances seem to need a little bit of luck in their lives, Joe brings home a unicorn (which is actually a goat) since he hopes that his ‘unicorn’ will fulfil his friends some wishes. Mr. Kandinsky needs a steam press for his shop and Shmule needs to buy a ring for his beloved Sonia. Joe and his mother also have a wish – to join Joe’s father in Africa. Will Joe’s ‘unicorn’ really be able to fulfil all these wishes?

A Kid for Two Farthings is a lovely book full of wonderful people who work very hard and who have humble wishes. Although they are very busy, Joe’s neighbours still make time for little Joe because the boy doesn’t really have anyone to talk to, since his father is away and his mother is working. Joe really likes to be surrounded by his neighbours, because he can ask them many questions and thus, he gets the attention he needs. In return, Joe wants to do everything in order to see his friends happy. That’s why he brings home a ‘unicorn’ – the little boy hopes that his new ‘pet’ will grant all of their wishes.

I really liked this touching book and I liked reading about little Joe. The little boy is very curious and has a great imagination. He believes in the magic of his ‘unicorn’ and he wants to help his friends and see them happy. Joe is very playful and inventive; he always wants to know everything and that’s why I liked him so much. I also liked the other characters, as they are all very friendly, humble and warm, despite the fact that their lives are hard. Mr. Kandinsky is a very great person and he is like a grandfather to Joe. When the little boy brings home his ‘unicorn’, Mr. Kandinsky doesn’t tell Joe the truth, because he sees how happy Joe is. Therefore, he lets Joe believe that his goat is a unicorn, which can grant wishes and make people happy. Mr. Kandinsky encourages Joe’s imagination and creativity and that’s why I liked him so much!

Overall, I must say that A Kid for Two Farthings was a great book, which I enjoyed very much. It’s a quick read and I recommend this adorable little book to everyone who likes to read books set in the past and to everyone who likes to read a heart-warming and hopeful story.

Andreea

Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson

On the surface, Edith and Bruce Ottley seem like the perfect Edwardian couple – respectable, presentable and well mannered. However, in reality, Edith begins to feel a little bored with her marriage since Bruce is a man with many eccentricities and absurdities. Edith’s husband seems to complain about everything and everyone and he thinks too well of himself. Luckily, Edith’s friend Hyacinth Verney is there to bring a little excitement into Edith’s dull life. Hyacinth is a beautiful and glamorous young woman whom everyone adores and admires. She appears to have the perfect life, except that the young woman is madly in love with someone who doesn’t show any interest in her. Hyacinth cannot really understand why the man of her dreams doesn’t seem to admire her like everyone else, thus she tries to do everything in order to win his attention. After many misunderstandings, heartaches and jealousies, Hyacinth and her beloved are finally united.

Love’s Shadow is a classic comedy of manners and it deals with the affairs of the heart and their consequences. Ada Leverson masterfully explores the different facets of love – the love between friends, unrequited love and being in love. Furthermore, her novel draws a lucid portrait of married life, while revealing all its oddities, enigmas and obscurities.

Love’s Shadow is packed with charm, wit, hilarious dialogue, eccentric characters and superb writing. Since the novel is set in the past and in England, it was the perfect book for me. I just loved everything about this book and I had to laugh many times while reading it. There are just so many witty remarks and funny characters in Ada Leverson’s novel that you can’t help but adore it! I liked all the characters except for Bruce Ottley since he is such a peculiar and unlikeable man! (However, I think that it was the author’s purpose to portray him that way). Bruce is so obnoxious and so full of himself – he never seems content and he always finds fault with everything and everyone. I can fully understand why Edith is bored with him, since Bruce is so annoying with his attitude and outrageous behaviour. He thinks of himself as a ‘man of the world’ when in reality, he is lazy, odd and ignorant. Furthermore, he treats his wife as if she were an object and a servant. Bruce thinks that Edith is not clever, but the truth is that she is more intelligent than he could ever be. However, Edith has to keep things to herself, because wives at that time couldn’t take the liberty of opposing their husbands. But she still gets her own way quite often, because she is clever enough to let Bruce believe that he’s in charge, when in reality, Edith has the upper hand when it comes to their marriage.

Love’s Shadow was a pure delight and an enjoyable read and I recommend it to everyone out there who likes to read books set in the past and to everyone who likes to read about gender roles.

Andreea

The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson

The Carne sisters, Deirdre, Katrine and Sheil have been making up stories since they were children. Now a journalist, Deirdre and her sisters still can’t resist making up these stories, including their talking nursery doll Ironface and their imagined friendship with real Judge Toddington, whom the sisters affectionately call Toddy. The Carne sisters live in a bohemian house with their mother, who likes to join her daughters in their creative game and together, they often tell stories of people whom they never met, pretending to know them intimately. But when Deirdre meets Toddy’s real wife one day, the Carne sisters are confronted with reality. Will this event now put an end to their childhood fantasies for ever?

The Brontes Went to Woolworths was such a delightful book and I am so glad that I read it. I must admit that I had some difficulties when I first started reading it. I don’t know what it was, but I found it hard to read on at first. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t really know what was real and what was not as I first began reading this book, but once I read a few pages, it got better and I could really enjoy this wonderful book. While reading The Brontes Went to Woolworths, I had to laugh many times, because the Carne sisters and their made-up stories were so hilarious! The characters in this book are all witty, charming and funny and you can’t help but adore them. At times, I wished I could accompany the sisters on their journeys and adventures and while I read this book, I thought about how wonderful it must be to have sisters. I only have a brother, so I don’t really know how it is to have sisters, but sometimes, I wish I had sisters, because I imagine that it must be great, especially having sisters while growing up. Sisters can share intimate details with each other, they can talk about their feelings, emotions and other personal things, because they go through the same changes and make similar experiences while growing up. And that’s why I really loved this book so much! I liked how Rachel Ferguson depicted the Carne sisters and I loved the fact that they have such a special relationship. They care deeply for one another, protect and help each other whenever there is a problem; there’s just such a deep affection between the sisters and they have such a strong bond, which I really admire.

However, the Carne sisters are not the only likeable characters. The book is full of intelligent, amusing and engaging characters. Toddy, his wife Lady Mildred and Deirdre’s mother are just a few of them and you will long to find out more about them with every page you read. While reading The Brontes Went to Woolworths, you will find yourself transported to a London full of creative people who are smart, eccentric and hilarious and you will want to read on forever as you will delight in exploring a different time and place.

Although this book is very amusing, it is sad at the same time, at least that’s what I found. As the story evolves, you will ask yourself why these girls feel the need to make up stories and pretend to know people they have actually never met. Furthermore, you will learn how imagination can help people cope with various things and how it can make such a difference in somebody’s life.

Set in London during the 1930s, The Brontes Went to Woolworths captures a time that is long forgotten and an atmosphere full of charm and warmth. The reason why I love to read books that are written in the past is because they portray a different time, where people behaved in another way and where people had a different view on life.

I loved everything about this wonderful book –its eccentric and clever characters, the dated language, the setting and especially all those funny made-up stories! I highly recommend this book to everyone out there who is interested in Interwar Literature and to everyone who likes to read books set in the past.

‘The Brontes Went to Woolworths is part of THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP, a new library of books from the early twentieth century chosen by readers for readers.’ For more information, please visit Bloomsbury Publishing

Other reviews:

Things Mean A Lot

Serendipity

Note: This review has been written for Nymeth’s 1930s Mini-Challenge.

Andreea

High Rising by Angela Thirkell

High Rising is the first book in the Barsetshire series and it centers on Laura Morland, a widowed author who writes “good bad books” in order to support her family. After her husband’s death, the mother of four boys decided to become a very successful author of second-rate books and in the course of time, she has managed to attract a large reading public with her entertaining books about the fashion industry in 1930s England. Thus, she leads a happy life with her youngest son and her hilarious housekeeper Stoker in High Rising where she often visits her quirky friends and neighbors. But her friends and neighbours are not the only ones who are comical. Laura’s eight-year-old son Tony has a passion for trains and his love for trains often results in endless discourses about his objects of desire. Tony’s speeches are often very exhausting and Laura is glad to meet with her friends in order to relax and talk about other matters. With her neighbor and friend George Knox, she can discuss her books since George is a fellow writer (although a very eccentric one). Nonetheless, Laura really enjoys his company and she also enjoys being surrounded by her other friends, including her secretary Anne Todd and her publisher Adrian Coates. Overall, Laura is really content with her life in High Rising and she loves its close-knit community, but everything changes when her friend George hires a new secretary. Miss Grey, or the “Incubus”, is a very devoted secretary, but something just seems odd about her. When High Rising’s residents begin to suspect that Miss Grey secretly intends to marry George, Laura tries to prevent this unthinkable thing from happening. Aided by her friends, Laura is eager to reveal Miss Grey’s real intentions and to restore happiness in High Rising. But the “Incubus” doesn’t seem to be Laura’s only problem. She needs to take care of other things as well, including an anonymous letter, a drunken proposal and her attempt at matchmaking!

Set in pre-war Britain, High Rising gives the reader a glimpse into the entertaining world of English country society. Angela Thirkell manages to depict village life in such a witty and original way, making the reader smile and long for more. Her amusing characters will draw you in and you will begin to care deeply about each of them, as they are alluring with their little intrigues and problems. My favorite character was Laura’s curious son Tony, since I found him hilarious with his obsession for trains and with his annoying questions. I also found his poems very entertaining and I had to smile whenever I read passages about Tony.

What I really like about High Rising is the fact that it concentrates more on dialogue and characterization, thus the plot takes a back seat. The book is full of wit and charm and I really enjoyed reading about these little funny stories concerning High Rising’s residents. Angela Thirkell’s novel captures a way of life that no longer exists and the reader will delight in exploring this ingenious world of rural England with its lovely and memorable characters.

I look forward to reading more novels by this great author and I recommend this book to everyone who wants to read a funny book with a feel-good vibe!

Note: I would like to thank Erin C. Smith from Beaufort Books for giving me the opportunity to read and review such a great novel!

Other reviews:

Booklust

Miss Buncle’s Book

Miss Buncle's Book by D. E. Stevenson

When Vivienne at Serendipity mentioned Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson, I just knew that I had to read it! She always finds such interesting books and I just have to add them to my reading list. I am so glad that I discovered Miss Buncle’s Book because I loved it!

Miss Buncle’s Book has a simple story line, yet it’s just brilliant and engaging: Barbara Buncle is unmarried, in her late 30s and lives in a small village called Silverstream. Since she has to face financial struggles, she needs to think of a way to supplement her small income. She even thinks about raising hens, but she doesn’t “care for hens much” and she doesn’t “like touching them”, since “they are such fluttery things”. Therefore, she decides to write a book about Silverstream and its inhabitants.

In her novel, Barbara Buncle describes everything that happens in her little town and depicts the residents exactly as they are. She only changes the name of the village and the names of the inhabitants. Her book is simple, yet funny and well – written, hence it is immediately accepted by Mr. Abbott from Abbott & Spicer Publishers. Mr. Abbott is fascinated by Miss Buncle’s book and hopes that it will be successful. He is also intrigued by Miss Buncle, since she is different from any other woman he has ever met.

Barbara Buncle is an unlikely heroine: she is simple, unfashionable and is ignored by everyone in her village. She is an inconspicuous woman; therefore, she knows Silverstream’s deepest secrets since no one ever seems to notice her and since she is a very good observer. Barbara’s book contains events that have happened in her village and the novel is full of truthful depictions of Silverstream’s residents.

Thus, when the book becomes a best-seller, the residents are outraged because they realize that the book is about them. Since they are pictured with such clarity, the inhabitants feel certain that the author must also live in Silverstream and they are therefore determined to find the “evildoer” and punish him (they are sure that the author is male). The inhabitants arrange meetings in order to find out who wrote the incriminating book, but Barbara Buncle can rest assured, since no one would ever suspect her. Nonetheless, Miss Buncle cannot fully enjoy her success; she may have money now, but she cannot show it, otherwise people might find out about her little secret.

Will Barbara be able to keep her secret safe? And what will happen to her if people find out? Well, you’ll have to read this charming book if you want to know! I recommend this lovely novel to everyone out there, as this is an entertaining book that will make you laugh and forget about everything around you. Miss Buncle’s Book is absorbing and well – written; furthermore, it has a charming and pleasant main character and you will enjoy reading about Miss Buncle’s escapades in Silverstream.

The author draws a fascinating portrait of Silverstream and its residents, giving us a remarkable glimpse into a vanished and exciting world. Miss Buncle’s Book was published in 1934 and was very successful. Between 1923 and 1970, four million copies of D. E. Stevenson’s books were sold in Britain and three million in the States. Most of her books are now out of print, but “American websites eagerly circulate news of any new editions”. Readers seem to rediscover her books as they are attracted by Stevenson’s absorbing stories and I can fully understand why!

I would like to thank Lydia from Persephone Books for sending me a copy of this engaging book!

“Persephone Books reprints neglected classics by C20th (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of 83 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written, and most are ideal presents or a good choice for reading groups.”

For more information, please visit Persephone Books.

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte’s novel tells the story of penniless Lucy Snowe who leaves a sorrowful past behind and starts a new life at a boarding school in the fictional city of Villette. There, she finds work as a teacher; she soon becomes successful and is admired by her pupils and colleagues. Furthermore, she attracts the attention of M. Paul Emanuel, the hot tempered and autocratic schoolmaster. The two eventually fall in love, but other protagonists want to keep them apart and finally manage to do so by sending M. Paul away. Nevertheless, he declares his love for Lucy before his departure and arranges for her to live an independent life as the headmistress of her own school. After three years of waiting, the couple is to be reunited.

However, the ending of the novel is ambiguous, as Charlotte Bronte gives us two endings to choose from: We can see M. Paul and Lucy happily reunited or we can believe that M. Paul’s ship has been destroyed by a storm on his return to Villette and thus accept that he has drowned.

Many critics believe however, that the choice is in fact a delusion, since Lucy clearly states that those three years while she was waiting for her beloved and was leading an independent life at her own school were the happiest of her life. This statement suggests that M. Paul has died and that Lucy does not find romantic happiness like other Bronte heroines. However, what she does find is a fulfilled calling and independence. Lucy does not submit to a traditional female destiny (marriage and children), but has the opportunity to fulfil her own dream and thus finds happiness in her work. For that reason, Villette shocked many critics at the time it was published. Lucy is not like other Bronte or Austen heroines since she is neither rich nor beautiful and she does not marry her beloved; other characters in the novel see her as “inoffensive as a shadow” and pity her, but she is in fact a powerful character, a fighter and a rebel. Lucy may not be wealthy or beautiful, but she is clever and undergoes a major transformation; as the novel progresses, Lucy’s respect for herself grows and she manages to find the independence that allows her to be her true self. She also succeeds in winning M. Paul’s love with her intelligence and accomplishments and not with submissiveness or her looks. Throughout the novel, Lucy has to face many trials and has to struggle against the life she is expected to lead as a poor woman, but in the end, she finds autonomy and thus happiness. This is why the novel agitated so many readers and critics when it was published in 1853 and this also may be the reason why Virginia Woolf called Villette “Bronte’s finest novel”. Villette was seen as a scandalous novel in 1853, since it tells the story of a woman who loses love but finds independence.

Villette is Charlotte Bronte’s last novel and even though it may not be as popular as Jane Eyre, it is nevertheless regarded as her best work. The novel is not so much commemorated for its plot, but for Lucy’s character development and psychology. Charlotte Bronte is one of my favorite authors and Villette is a great novel! I recommend it to everyone who is interested in Victorian Literature and who likes to read about gender roles. However, you might find it difficult to read this book if you aren’t familiar with French, so make sure your edition has translations of the French phrases!

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