Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

unnamed

  • Title: Blueberries for Sal
  • Author and Illustrator: Robert McCloskey
  • Published: 1948
  • Main Characters: Sal (a very young child), her Mother, a mother Bear and her child Little Bear…

Short Synopsis of the Story: It is late summer and on Blueberry Hill the blueberry bushes are ripe for picking. Sal a young child and her mother laden with metal pails head over to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries to can and preserve for the long winter ahead. Sal’s mother picks blueberries industriously but most of Sal’s blueberries make it into her mouth!

On the other side of Blueberry Hill a Mother Bear and her small cub are similarly employed in gathering blueberries. The Mother Bear wants to eat as many blueberries as she can before she and her cub hibernate for the long winter.

As luck would have it, Sal and her mother and the Mother Bear and her bear cub find themselves separated in their blueberry picking endeavours. Sal comes face to face with the Mother Bear who being very shy moves away from Sal. Similarly Sal’s Mother is caught unawares and finds herself face to face with the Little Bear.

Sal’s mother alarmedly rushes to search for Sal.

She hasn’t looked very far when she hears the familiar sound of blueberries plopping into an empty pail.

Little Bear’s mother has not searched very far before she hears a familiar hustling, munching and swallowing sound.

Little Bear and his mother and Little Sal and her mother are reunited and laden or filled with a great many blueberries they make their way home down opposite sides of Blueberry Hill.

Notes:  The favorite part of the story for me were the lovely line drawings of Robert McCloskey. The beautiful endpapers depicting a cozy kitchen scene where Sal and her Mother are busy canning blueberries are particularly charming. The story conveys the message that the animal instinct of storing food in scarcity is preserved across different species. The blubbery picking scenes are reminiscent of Maine where it seems McCloskey stayed. This is a gem of a book.

Particularly endearing are the descriptions of Sal plopping blueberries into her pail with a ‘kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk ‘ sound.

FullSizeRender

Inspector French’s Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts

1924-Club

This review is for The 1924 Book Club. To discover more about this effort and to read additional reviews of books published in 1924 do visit Simon from Stuck in a Book’s hub post or Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling’s hub page.

The first time I came across a reference to Freeman Wills Croft’s writing was when I was reading James Hilton’s classic story ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’. I am always pleased to find bookish references within books and I read that Mr. Chips’s bottom bookshelf  was said to comprise of cheap editions of detective novels. His reading habits were thus described:

Sometimes he took down Vergil or Xenophon and read for a few moments, but he was soon back again with Doctor Thorndyke or Inspector French.

I had noted down Inspector French’s name for my ‘to be read’ list and thought no more of him until I was searching for a suitable book to review for The 1924 Book Club. ‘Inspector French’s Greatest Case’ was published in that year and to my delight I discovered this was the first entrée into the mystery series. Moreover, the book was available at my local library.

While I was researching alternative mystery story writers from this period I was surprised to find that the only writers of my acquaintance who were writing at that time were Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Agatha Christie published ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’ in the same year along with ‘Poirot Investigates’. Dorothy L. Sayers had published the first in her Lord Peter Wimsey crime series ‘Whose Body’ in 1923, after which there was a three year hiatus before ‘Clouds of Witness’ was published in 1926. In 1924 neither Margery Allingham (Crime at Black Dudley, 1929), Ngaio Marsh (A Man Lay Dead, 1934), Josephine Tey (The Man in the Queue, 1929)  or Edmund Crispin (Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944) had started publishing their work.

As a result of this discovery I went into reading this novel with the pre-conceived notion that the writing might be somewhat archaic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Freeman Wills Croft’s  writing is surprisingly modern, his language easy to read and his flow of thought fluent and comprehensible.

In ‘Inspector French’s Greatest Case‘ we are introduced to a case of murder that occurs at the offices of Duke and Peabody, a diamond merchant located at Hatton Garden in London. On a cold night in the middle of November, the body of an employee, by the name of Mr. Charles Gething is discovered prostrate on the floor in the inner office of Mr. Duke. Mr. Duke’s large Milner safe has been ransacked with the loss of thirty-three thousand pounds worth of diamonds and a thousand pounds in bank notes. Mr. Gething has undoubtedly been murdered as evidenced from the ugly wound made to the back of the skull by a blunt instrument.

The theft of the diamonds and money previously secured in the safe are the motive behind the murder. To investigate the case, Inspector French of the Criminal Investigation Department of New Scotland Yard is called in.

In our first introduction to Inspector French he is described as follows:

…The third was a stout man in tweeds, rather under middle height, with a clean shaven, good-humoured face and dark blue eyes, which, though keen, twinkled as if at some perennially fresh private joke. His air was easy-going and leisurely, and he looked the type of man who could enjoy a good dinner and a good smoke room story to follow.

Inspector French investigates the circumstantial evidence in a  methodical and systematic way. A paper trail led by the stolen bank notes leads him on a wild-goose chase across the beautiful Swiss Alps and later on to Barcelona and Amsterdam. There are a number of false clues and likely suspects. Inspector French leaves no stone unturned in his effort to grasp at the truth. He works tirelessly. We find that he becomes depressed when he has no immediate line of investigation to pursue.

It was only when he did not see his way clear that he became depressed and then he grew surly as a bear with a sore head, and his subordinates kept at as great a distance from him as their several activities would permit

Freeman Wills Crofts, the author of the novel worked as a railway engineer before turning to writing detective fiction. This background information surfaces in the plot line. There are many descriptions of train travel in the book. These train journeys and the places Inspector French passes on his travels through Europe are described in great detail and add an extra layer of appeal to the story. We travel with him to Interlaken, along the shores of the Lake of Thun, along the narrow gauge line that passes into the hearts of the giants of the Bernese Oberland; past the towering peaks of the Matterhorn, Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau. The scenery unfolds in our imagination as we follow Wills Croft’s travelogue. Later we scramble across Channel crossing ferries at a moment’s notice along with French and travel the breath and depth of the continent to Havre, to Bordeaux by the Paris-Orleans line, then on the Midi to the Spanish frontier at Irun, and then via Medina and Salamanca to Oporto. Freeman Wills Croft’s fascination for train timetables is evident in the construction of the plot.

Wills Crofts builds up the story layer after layer in intricate detail. Multiple times the trail runs cold and much to French’s chagrin there is no immediate course of action . More than halfway into the story French observes:

It was a confoundedly exasperating case- just bristling with promising clues which one after another petered out as he came to follow them up

What do we learn about the personal nature of Inspector French? Has he the calculative obsessive temperament of a Poirot-like detective or does he share the amazing deductive powers of a genius like Sherlock Holmes? The answer is neither. Freeman Wills Croft’s detective Inspector French is the most ordinary of detectives, a hard-working humane person shunning cruel subversive techniques of interrogation in favour of a caring, kindly approach.

…He was not only a man of natural kindliness of heart, but he had the gift of imagination. He saw himself in the girl’s place; and was glad he had not added to her trouble.

Inspector French’s Greatest Case is not devoid of humour and charming domestic detail. Freeman Wills Croft describes an aspect of French’s home life that made me smile. Whenever Inspector French is perplexed with his case he returns home to his wife and describes in great detail aspects of the case that are troubling him. The poor lady, prevented from tacking the household chore she was engaged in is forced to take up her sewing and sit on the large Chesterfield armchair while French recounts the evidence.

Sometimes she interjected a remark, sometimes she didn’t; usually she warned him to be careful not to knock over the small table beside the piano, and invariably she wished he would walk on the less worn parts of the carpet

Usually Mrs. French ‘took a notion’ or asked unusual questions that shed light on the case in a different way.

We do not get to know very much more about Inspector French’s personal life in this book. We do learn that he has lost a son in the Great War but he appears to be intensely private about this tragedy.

Inspector French’s Greatest Case is a fantastic first novel in a series. I am curious to learn more about Inspector French, his dogged determination and his persistence.

Freeman Wills Crofts  has provided us with a refreshing ‘new detective’ (at least new to me). He delivers a carefully grafted, meticulously detailed plot. At every stage of the investigation we are privy to French’s thoughts and ideas so we do not feel cheated or left out. In the finale we are treated to a delightful twist in the plot which is done quite masterfully.

A big thank you to Simon for encouraging me to read a wonderful book from 1924.

The Priory by Dorothy Whipple

img_2027-2

Title: The Priory

Author: Dorothy Whipple

Published: 1939

Republished by Persephone Books

Setting: Rural Midlands in the Interwar Years

Main Characters: Major Marwood, Anthea Marwood (his second wife), Christine Marwood (elder daughter of Major Marwood), Penelope Marwood (younger daughter of Major Marwood), Nurse Pye, Aunt Victoria (spinster sister of Major Marwood), Mr. James Ashwell (wealthy former mill owner), Nicholas Ashwell (son of James Ashwell).

She saw for the first time that the history of Saunby was a sad one. It had been diverted from its purpose; it had been narrowed from a great purpose to a little one. It had been built for the service of God and the people; all people, but especially the poor.

‘And now it serves only us,’ she thought.

                                                                           – Christine Marwood.

In Dorothy Whipple’s novel, ‘The Priory’ , Saunby Priory is a large landed estate associated with the ruins of a medieval Priory. In olden times, pilgrims had sought rest here, on their way to Canterbury from the North. Kindly monks had allayed their hunger and tiredness with bread, beer and a place to sleep at night. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the Reformation the Priory passed on to the Perwyns and thereafter to the Marwood family in 1793.

The story commences a few years prior to the onset of the Second World War. The state of affairs of Major Marwood’s country estate, Saunby Priory, lies as dilapidated as the ancient ruins that lie on the western edge of the manor house. The Major is a widower, his two young daughters, Penelope and Christine, aged 19 and 20, run wild all day on his estate, his elderly sister Victoria is unable to guide his household affairs and he lies on the verge of financial ruin. Every year to save himself and Saunby he sells a small parcel of property associated with his estate. Then, at the august age of fifty, he meets Anthea Sumpton and recognizes in her a woman who to his mind has the ideal characteristics of a second wife, i.e. she is sensible, devoted and no longer young. Importantly, she will in all probability not want to start a family. He marries her so that someone at last will take his household to hand and manage his life: his servants, his children and his annual fortnight of summer cricket.

Anthea Marwood feels that she is an unwanted intruder in the Marwood household.

The occupants of Saunby looked at her when she came into a room as people in a railway carriage look at a traveller who gets in later on the journey. The Marwoods, she was beginning to find out, were the sort of people who like a carriage to themselves

Despite the initial setback Anthea faces, she quite slowly but steadily starts to carve a niche for herself in the household.

Quite early on in the marriage, Major Marwood realizes with dismay that his marriage of convenience is turning out to be very inconvenient for him. Anthea, contrary to plans is expecting a child, an added expense in his mountain of debts. Anthea, focuses all her attention in gathering provisions for her child and securing his/hers future.

In the meantime, in a whirlwind romance, Christine Marwood falls in love with Nicholas Ashwell, son of a wealthy former mill-owner when he visits Saunby during the cricketing fortnight. Their infatuation results in a marriage proposal that Christine accepts. Christine on the eve of her marriage is faced with the unwelcome prospect of leaving Saunby, a place that has been her sanctuary for the entirety of her life.

‘I don’t want to go’ thought Christine…

‘I want to stay here, as I am.’

Nicholas was a stranger. A few months ago she had never heard of him and now she was going away with him, throwing in her lot with his. What was love that it made you think you could live with a stranger? You ought to find out first, you ought to be sure.”

As Christine embarks on a new, unfamiliar life in the coastal seaside town of Mansbridge, she finds herself missing Saunby more and more. She realizes that married life with Nicholas is not enough to fill the gap left in her heart by her absence from Saunby. Her married life is far from idyllic- Nicholas’s idle lifestyle, gaming, drinking and frittering his life away makes her long for her former home more and more.

Whilst visiting Saunby during her sister Penelope’s wedding she is reluctant to go home to Mansbridge and her husband.

There were some black and yellow striped caterpillars that covered the tansy plants at Saunby…If you moved them to another plant they either died or made their way back to the tansy. Christine, noticing them again now, wondered if she was going to be like that about Saunby; unable to live anywhere else.

However, life decides to take a sharp turn for the worse for Christine and she finds herself separated from her husband, each of them fighting their own separate battles under heart wrenching circumstances. Can Saunby save their future, their feeling of self-worth and purpose in life?

It is difficult to summarize the scope of a large 500 page novel like ‘The Priory’ within the space of a few paragraphs. The book is so much more than the collective story of personal incidents, trials and tribulations of a household. Whilst reading the story it is hard to gauge the actual focus of the story. Is ‘The Priory’ the story of Anthea Marwood’s gradual adjustment to her new household, her determination to secure a stable future for her children, the story of Christine Marwood’s move to the Ashwell family at Mansbridge and her yearning for Saunby or is it the story of Nicholas Ashwell’s frustration in life for being nothing more than a rich man’s son incapable of finding his own way in life? ‘The Priory’ is the summation of all these stories and more. It deals us a sharp lesson in the fragility of good fortune in life.

At the heart of the story is the medieval Priory and the attached house at Saunby. Serving the purpose of just a roof over the heads of a single household it is a drain of individual resources and is too large and unruly to manage by a single person. Essentially, ‘The Priory’ is the story of how the future of Saunby Priory might be diverted to recover the livelihoods, dignity and self-worth of a large community of people, united in their purpose. It is a beautiful novel, worthy of the highest praise and Whipple is an author, whose writing I look forward to reading more of, in the near future.

Tuesday by David Wiesner

Title: Tuesday

Author and Illustrator: David Wiesner

Published: 1991

Main Characters: Some frogs on their airborne lilypads, sleepy inhabitants of a town, some pigs…

Short Synopsis of the Story: ‘Tuesday’ is the tale of a series of animal invasions that strike at a particular time and place, namely Tuesday evening at around eight o’clock in a small suburb. Frogs invade the skies in hundreds of thousands, flying along on lilypad aircraft. They invade backyards or dark sitting rooms where people are dozing off in front of the television. Neither the press nor the police know what to make of it the morning after, when the town is strewn with abandoned lilypads. It is a great inexplicable mystery.

All is well until next Tuesday at the same time… a shadow of a flying pig is seen eerily set against a barn door…

Conclusion:  This is a book that both children and adults can enjoy. The pictures tell the story of their own accord. There is little need for words to accompany the excellent pictures. ‘Tuesday’ has a mysterious, eery air to it. It will make you use your imagination and lends new meaning to the idiom- ‘pigs might fly’.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

IMG_1993-2

Title: 84 Charing Cross Road

Author: Helene Hanff

Published: 1970

Location of the Story: New York and London from the period 1949-1969

Main Characters: Helene Hanff (freelance writer in New York), Frank Doel (bookseller in London)

The Story: This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful relationships.

The correspondence starts in October of 1949 when Helene Hanff responding to an advertisement in the Saturday Review of Literature, writes to ‘Marks and Co.’, located at 84 Charing Cross Road for certain antiquarian books. These are books that are unavailable to her in New York at suitable prices that are affordable to ‘a poor writer with antiquarian taste in books.’

An employee named ‘FPD’ responds to the request and supplies Miss Hanff with several of the requested books. Over the next few months we see a further exchange of letters. We witness Hanff’s friendly, sarcastic and witty personality emerge in her letters. Her letters are liberally scattered with profanities, underlined phrases and expressions written in capitalized letters for emphasis. As ebullient as Hanff is in her writing, ‘FPD’ retains a very impersonal, professional yet helpful air in accordance with his professional requirements at ‘Marks and Co’.

This impersonal attitude is broken, however, in the face of Hanff’s extreme generosity. Hanff is appalled to discover the strict rationing imposed on the British public after the war (2 ounces of meat per family per week and one egg per person per month!). In sympathy she sends a hamper full of food as a Christmas present to the employees at Marks and Co.

The employees at Marks and Co. are overwhelmed by the generosity of Hanff’s gift and ‘FPD’ for the first time thanks Hanff in a letter signed ‘Frank P. Doel’. The letters continue. Hampers and food parcels are sent from Hanff to mark Easter, Christmas and other celebrations  despite her modest income and circumstances. In further correspondence little tidbits of information about Hanff and Doel’s respective lives are shared. We learn that Doel is happily married to Nora and that they have three daughters. We read about the purchase of Doel’s first family car, their brief summer holidays, how the children grow up and find employment. We also learn of the highs and lows of Hanff’s writing career. How much she would love to visit London and meet the employees of Marks and Co. in person and visit the literary landmarks of London.

What are the chances of two unrelated people, located 3500 miles apart forging such a strong connection through a series of letters particularly in the pre-internet age? Hanff and Doel demonstrate it can be done and that people can care about one another in a world riddled with hostility and hatred. Particularly in respect to the bloody, gruesome war that took place a few years before this correspondence started, the letters are particularly heartening and renew one’s confidence in the humanity prevalent in mankind.

 Note: Some of the above links are Amazon Affiliate links, which at no extra cost to you, will earn me a small commission and reduce the costs of running this site. Please know that every product is genuinely recommended. Thank you for your support.

The Eye of Love by Margery Sharp

IMG_1980

Title: The Eye of Love

Author: Margery Sharp

Published: 1957

Location of the Story: London, England during the 1930’s Depression.

Main Characters: Harry Gibson (Dolores’s King Hal), Dolores Diver (King Hal’s ‘Spanish Rose’), Martha (Dolores’s orphaned neice), Mr. Joyce, Miranda Joyce (Harry’s betrothed), Mrs. Gibson (Harry’s widowed mother), Mr Phillips (lodger)

The Story: An unlikely hero (tall, middle-aged Henry Gibson) and an unlikely heroine (angular, past her prime Dolores Diver) meet at a Chelsea Arts Ball dress ball dressed as a brown-paper parcel and a Spanish dancer respectively and instantly fall in love with one another. Between them grows a fairytale romance dominated by the passion of ‘King Hal’ (as Dolores lovingly calls him) and the exotic beauty of his ‘Spanish Rose’.

Despite their differing social circumstances, which prevents them from marrying, they come to a happy unlawful arrangement by which Harry leases a house for Dolores in  5 Alcock Road, (a shady part of London) and visits her two days a week on the pretext of work. Though the arrangement sounds illicit, to King Hal and Dolores nothing can besmirch their beautiful romance.

Thus continues this state of affairs until Dolore’s estranged brother dies, leaving no-one to care for his orphaned daughter Martha. Martha arrives in her aunts household at the age of six, a strange unemotional child, with a large appetite and a penchant for drawing objects. Martha is aware of a relation of sorts between her Aunt and Mr. Gibson but as Mr. Gibson never presumes to encroach upon Martha’s personal space, all three of them get on very well together.

Harry and Dolores’s domestic bliss is shattered when Harry is forced to accept the hand in marriage of Miranda Joyce, whose father is an affluent businessman. He does this in order to save his failing business. With a heavy heart Harry and Dolores break off their liaison and try to resign themselves to the prospect of leading loveless lives, away from one another.

Harry tries to piece his business together during the daytime, surrounding himself with objects that remind him of Dolores and his heart sinks at the prospect of dining every night at the Joyce residence. His only ally is his future father-in-law , Mr. Joyce, with whom he develops a great camaraderie. He also promotes this friendship to minimize his personal time with Miranda Joyce, who annoys him tremendously and reminds him more and more of how much he adores his ‘Spanish Rose’.

Dolores on the other hand tries to pull together a source of income for herself and the child Martha now that she is no longer benefiting from the largesse of Harry Gibson. She is unsuccessful in every attempt of securing a job she embarks on. She realizes that after a decade of shutting herself up, with no-one but King Hal to grace her world, she is all of a sudden very alone, friendless and without the resources to fend for herself. There is the rent to pay, food to put on the table to meet the appetite of the ever-hungry Martha and other bills to pay. In the evening, she locks herself in her inner sanctum-sanctorum -the small sitting room filled with objects of art that Harry had bought her. The very place where she and Harry would spend their evenings together. She spends her time pining for Harry.

It is at last left to Martha, to find the perfect answer to all their economic problems- an unobtrusive lodger- Mr. Phillips. All is well until Mr. Phillips delves too much into Dolore’s past and tries to manoeveure her into a marriage of ‘convenience’.

Can circumstances bring King Hal and Dolores together again? The prospects look bleak until Miranda Joyce’s insatiable curiosity gets the better of her and she plans a reunion of the Spanish Rose and King Hal under the most uncomfortable of situations. Miranda Joyce in doing so underestimates the very great power of ‘the eye of love’.

Conclusion: ‘The Eye of Love’ is a terrific story that is easy to read, enjoyable and funnyMargery Sharp writes with great candour and has a flair for developing unusual, unorthodox characters and plots. The book is out of print at the moment. I do hope this book and more of Margery Sharp’s work will become available in future. It would be a shame to lose the writings of such a gifted story teller.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Title: Goodnight Moon

Author: Margaret Wise Brown

Illustrator: Clement Hurd

Published: 1947

Main Characters: a little bunny, an elderly lady bunny.

Short Synopsis of the Story: It is seven o’clock at night and a little bunny in striped blue pajamas is lying in bed in his green bedroom. There are many objects in the green room that are described in great detail- a telephone, a balloon, some kittens and a pair of mittens and also an elderly lady bunny sitting by the fire knitting, willing the little bunny to go to sleep. The large bedroom window is partially draped to reveal a midnight blue night sky with many stars. The bright lights in the green room gradually grow dim, casting light and shadow across the objects in the room, lulling the little bunny into sleep. As we say goodnight to each little object in the room, the bunny gets sleepier and sleepier, the rooms gets darker and darker, the stars get brighter in the night sky and the moon appears like a white lump of cheese. Soon the green room is completely dark except for the light shining in the red doll’s house and the red flames of the fire. The little bunny falls asleep.

Favorite Part of the Story:  This is the quintessential bedtime book. Visually it is a very appealing book. The details of the little objects in the room are captivating. The pairing of the beautiful images with the simple repetitive rhyme of the story lulls us into sleep. The transition of the lighted green room into the darkened green room, illuminated by the starry night sky outside and the doll’s house lights inside is perhaps the most memorable part of the story.

This is a nice book to introduce to children from a very early age as a daily bedtime ritual. It is understandable why this is a timeless classic for children.