On The Shelf – Discovering New Authors – Part Two

Victoria, here, continuing the Gentle Reads section of our book recommendations.  Angela Thirkell is a delight. But then, you already knew I thought so, didn’t you? As a card-carrying member of The Angela Thirkell Society, I really love her books. The Barsetshire novels are wonderful — witty and liberally dosed with snippets of biting social satire – please try them! But she also wrote some other works — one I particularly enjoyed was A Tribute to Harriette — The Surprising Career of Harriette Wilson published in 1936 in England as The Fortunes of Harriette. This, perhaps not totally gentle and thus ineligible for this particular blog, is the story of the famous Regency Courtesan. But back to Thirkell’s Barsetshire novels, here’s the blurb for Wild Strawberries taken from the Thirkell Society website, where you can also find synopsis of all the books in the series: “Action in Thirkells third Barsetshire novel centers around the extended family of the Leslies of Rushwater House. Lady Emily reigns behind a self-generated thicket of confusion and turmoil. There is no event so settled that Lady Emily cannot throw it into chaos at the last moment. Mr. Leslie has been known to take off on a cruise to the “Northern capitals of Europe” when it all becomes too much for him. Their daughter Agnes, a matriarch-in-waiting, has already produced three children despite a husband who seems to be perennially abroad on some unspecified activity. The French tenants and Mr. Holt, the consummate social leech, are skillfully and humorously dealt with as is the household struggle for control between Housekeeper and Nannie. Even the small children, James, Emmy, and Clarissa are fully defined and serve to reveal the character of the adults as they interact with them. As usual we have the ” young man with crush on older woman”, one match completed, and others set up for the future.”

I will add three more of my old faves for this gentle blog: Mazo de la Roche, Rosamund Pilcher, and Mary Stewart. I won’t write here — but soon — about Georgette Heyer. I could add lots more — both my mother and my grandmother had excellent noses for historical fiction: think Victoria Holt aka Jean Plaidy and several other pen names, whose real name was Eleanor Hibbert; Frances Parkinson Keyes; Kathleen Winsor; Catherine Cookson, Frank Yerby and many more. You can google these names for lists of their novels and more details.

Mazo de la Roche (1879-1961), born in Canada, wrote a continuing family saga about the Whiteoak family at Jalna, an estate in Ontario, through many generations. Jalna, her third novel, published in 1927, brought her fame, best-sellerdom, and fortune. The last of the series, Centenary at Jalna, came out in 1958. A film was made of Jalna in 1935 and the CBC presented a series on the books, sometimes known as the Whiteoak Chronicles, in 1958. Sadly, these books have not been reissued since the 1970’s and are now long overdue for a revival.

Mazo de la Roche

The fictional Whiteoaks family originated in England, made a fortune in India, and came to Canada to establish the North American version of a country estate. The series was not written in chronological order, but can be read that way for ease of keeping the various branches of the Whiteoaks from tangling. My grandmother treasured these books and they were among my earliest grown-up reads, carefully and secretly eased from her bookshelves and spirited away to be read outside of the view of any adult. Not that the writing was particularly shocking, but some of the themes — affairs, homosexuality, incest, e.g. — were not for childish eyes (at least back then!).
Rosamund Pilcher’s most famous book is probably The Shell Seekers published in 1988. Born in 1924 in Cornwall, she had written many romances as Jane Fraser for Millls and Boon. She served in the British navy in WWII before marrying and turning to fiction. Many of her stories have been made into films and tv series, bringing enojyment to viewers all over the world; according to various websites, she is particularly popular in Germany. The Shell Seekers was a worldwide bestseller, the reminiscences of Penelope Keeling, daughter of a famous artist. In the movie version (1989), she was played by Angela Lansbury and in the tv version (2006) by Vanessa Redgrave. That should give you some idea of the quality of the story and the character. I think I will go to the library next week and take it out again. Definitely worth a re-reading.
Everything you want to know about Mary Stewart and her wonderful novels can be found here. She has written many, including the Merlin books, a wonderful re-telling of the King Arthur saga in five volumes. She is also well known for her romantic suspense novels, some once known as neo-gothic or woman-in-jeopardy. Lots of suspense and a happy ending, the perfect gentle result even if the action can be bone-chilling from time to time. Born in 1916, Mary Stewart was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2009 from her alma mater Durham University, where she also taught before her marriage to Sir Frederick Stewart in 1945. Perhaps the most gentle of her books is Rose Cottage, 1997. But I think my favorite, aside from the Merlin books, is Touch Not the Cat, from 1976. Here’s the marketing blurb: “Bryony Ashley knows that her family’s grand estate is both hell and paradise — once elegant and beautiful, yet mired in debt and shrouded in shadow. Devastated by her father’s sudden strange death abroad, she is nonetheless relieved to learn the responsibility of running Ashley Court has fallen to a cousin. Still, her father’s final, dire warning about a terrible family curse haunts her days and her dreams.”
Part Three Coming Soon!

1 thought on “On The Shelf – Discovering New Authors – Part Two”

  1. I haven't read Touch Not the Cat in AGES! I need to find my copy and spend an afternoon with it. And The Shell Seekers is another of my favorites. I need a long vacation to gather all of your suggested books and have a reading orgy. A girl can dream, can't she?

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