First up, The River of Adventure by Enid Blyton. It's my book 18 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge and my book 6 for the My Kind of Mystery challenge being hosted by Riedel Fascination.
Philip, Dinah, Jack and Lucy are recovering at home from the flu. They've been very ill and are just about better so the doctor recommends they be taken somewhere warm for two weeks to convalesce. Their mother is now married to their policemen friend, Bill, and he has a casual mission in Syria to see to. He has to look for and keep an eye on a certain suspected criminal and takes the whole family along, not just for a holiday, but also as a cover. They cruise down a river in a launch piloted by a native Syrian, eventually finding their man on a film set. The next day, the children's parents are kidnapped by persons unknown and it's up to the children and the boat's pilot to rescue them.
This is the eighth and final book in Enid Blyton's 'Adventure' series. Of all her many series I think this was probably my favourite as a child. I liked the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and the 'R' mysteries but somehow the Adventure series seemed to have more meat on their bones than her other books. The River of Adventure is one I'd not read before (even though I own all of them). Over the last few years I've been rereading a few just to see how they read as an adult, some fifty years after I first read them. Previous books have not seemed all that dated, but this one, written in 1955, did seem a bit old-fashioned. Attitudes toward the native Syrian population were very 1950s, unsurprisingly so of course, but give her her due Enid Blyton was clearly trying to make her young readers think about British attitudes to foreigners and whether we were always fair or perhaps a bit too arrogant. There's a lot of adventure and exciting stuff going on which would please young readers - getting lost in the dark, the journey down river to look for their parents, and then some great 'lost underground' action. Blyton really did do that kind of thing very well indeed. It was a hugely enjoyable, quick read, but not my favourite of the series as an adult... that's The Sea of Adventure, set off the coast of Scotland with beautiful descriptions of the islands. As a child I was very smitten with The Castle of Adventure and The Valley of Adventure but really they're all good, nostalgic, fun reads.
Lastly, Demon in the House by Angela Thirkell. This is my book 19 for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.
The 'demon' in this book is 12 year old, Tony Morland, fourth and youngest son of Laura Morland who we first met in the first of Angela Thirkell's Barchester books, High Rising. It was quite clear from High Rising that Tony is a bit of a handful. Talkative, opinionated, a bit full of himself and really rather annoying to be honest. A Demon in the House is really a series of episodes of his exploits over various school holidays when he's at home. Often his friend 'Donk' who never speaks - mainly because I suspect Tony rarely draws breath long enough to give him a chance to - is staying and is a partner in crime to all kinds of shenanigans. We hear what happens when Tony pesters for a bike and gets a hired one. We hear about his rowing exploits, what happens when they go to see a friend's new baby, a picnic at a beauty spot, his day in bed after a twisted ankle accident which was entirely his own fault. Christmas shopping features and Tony's machinations to find the money to buy his presents. The book ends with Tony moving to a different part of his school where he will again be junior and Laura worrying about how he'll get on, whereas everyone who knows Tony realises that it's the masters and other boys who need to be worrying.
When I first started this I wondered if I would make it to the end as Tony really is quite an annoying boy. A bit 'too' full of himself really, 'delusions of grandeur' is the phrase that springs to mind. Very soon though I found myself tolerating that quite easily as I enjoyed reading the effect he had on other people and how they reacted. His mother's a worrier and worries constantly about him, the household cook adores him, the vicar's daughters likewise. Others, not so much. I loved how Dr. Ford's main conversation with Tony was, 'Shut up!' I almost cheered every time he said it. To be honest, if Tony reminded me of anyone it was Just William. He's not 'quite' that bad but the difference is negligible...
Tony Morland is almost *too* annoying, but I think it helps a lot that the book is beautifully written with enormous charm and humour. It's very 1930s but even though it's well before my time I still found that it made me feel very nostalgic. The Christmas shopping trip to Woolworths especially had that effect as I did that myself in the 1960s when Woolies was still the main shopping store in most towns in England. Certainly it was in Penzance anyway. There's a different world being described here. Life was much slower, manners were very important, pleasures were of your own making not provided by the TV or games consuls. The welfare state did not exist of course so no NHS or benefits. Laura Morland writes what the cook calls 'they rubbishy novels' in order to keep Tony at a private school and give him a better start in life. This is middle-class England in the 1930s but genteel hardship is not at all unknown. Reality is never far from the surface... even Tony knows that Hitler is a potential problem, for instance, when he asks cook what she makes of him.
A super book which I did not expect to like as much as I did. I know I paid over £10 for this on Amazon Marketplace several years ago and blanched a bit at the price. Now I don't mind at all as I absolutely loved it to bits. I have the next Barchester book, Wild Strawberries, on my pile to read for June.