A blogging acquaintance has been reading a lot of books by Miss Read lately and when I saw A Country Christmas in a charity shop I was inspired by her to grab it for my own! I read a few of her early books many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed them, and the first thing I realised when I read the first story, entitled Village Christmas, was that I'd read it before. Funny how these things stick in your mind even after what is easily thirty years. The Fairacre Ghost was a good ghost story, creepy and tragic, and I also really enjoyed the saga of The White Robin, a story about an albino robin that arrives in the village of Fairacre and the reactions of the school children and villagers. This was quite a long story which I'm fairly sure must come from a separate book. Anyway, this was a delightful read. I was going to say 'nostalgic' and it is in a way. But then I realised that, but for a bit of technology, villages and schools such Miss Read's still exist, unchanged, all over the country. Attitudes are a little different maybe but, by and large, these books are not as backward looking as they might at first seem. I now have Miss Read's biography of her early years, A Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered from the library. I've just started it and already I'm finding it completely charming.
Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, is a kind of a sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs which I blogged about a few weeks ago. That one dealt with the education of Judy Abbot and was written in letter form. This book is also epistolary but this time deals with Judy's school friend Sallie McBride. Judy and her new husband have given Sallie the job of 'making over' the orphanage where Judy was brought up. It's old fashioned and bleak and there is a lot of work to do. At first Sallie hates the job but gradually we see, through her letters to Judy, that she is coming to love the children and enjoy her task. Her relationship with the Scottish doctor in charge of the orphanage is another matter though; he's dour in nature, never smiles or jokes, and Sallie has her work cut out in becoming his friend. Another delightful read... apart from some rather odd scientific ideas about inherited characteristics they had back then. I didn't think this was quite as charming as Daddy-Long-Legs but I enjoyed it nevertheless.
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, is book two in Alexander McCall Smith's 'Isabel Dalhousie' series of books. When I first started book one I wasn't at all sure I would take to Isabel. She's a touch superior and a philosopher to boot, which means she thinks things to death:
'The problem with being me, thought Isabel, as she walked along George IV bridge, is that I keep thinking about the problem of being me. Her thoughts went off in all sorts of directions, exploring, probing, even fantasising. She suspected that most other people did not think like this at all.'
It was when I realised that, actually, I do think a bit like that and probably so do many others, that I liked her a lot more. This particular story involves Isabel involving herself in the plight of a man she meets in her niece's deli. He's had a heart transplant and is suffering what is known as cellular memory, where the recipient of the organ finds him or herself with memories or personality traits pertaining to the donor. This man feels that a face he keeps seeing is threatening to the point where he might die if he doesn't find out the cause of the hallucinations. I found this part of the story fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed the mystery element and the further insights into Isabel's life and times. A delightful series which I will definitely continue with. Alexander McCall Smith is rapidly becoming my favourite comfort read author, and maybe already is.