Summer is a time to slow down, to enjoy simple pleasures, Rebecca Fletcher and I have put together a list of wonderfully languorous, sink into the summer sunshine reads.
A huge thank you to our perfect sponsors Fable England for sponsoring our July reads. This couldn’t have been a better partnership with our first book “Yours Cheerfully” by A J Pearce. This wonderful novel is set during the Second World War and The Fable adventure began at a vintage fair, where a delicate printed bee scarf dated from the 1940’s was discovered by their founder, crafted from off-cut fabric used for the RAF pilots in World War II. The beautiful bee print symbolised flight, determination and courage.
This sparked the idea of telling a tale through prints and delicate hand painted jewellery. Each represents positivity and inspires kindness to uplift the human spirit, bringing joy to all who possess the Fable charm. This couldn’t be a more apt pairing with “Yours Cheerfully”.
From the fabulous, heart happy “Yours Cheerfully” by The Sunday Times best selling author A J Pearce to the captivating “Letters Between Six Sisters”: documenting a magazillion letters between the extraordinary Mitford Sisters to Barbara Pym’s blissful “Excellent Women” we have all summer reading requirements covered. Rebecca Fletcher delves in and explains more:
It was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women that got me thinking about this month’s theme. It’s ticks all the dictionary definition boxes with its tale of Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth. That strong feeling of friendship, a group of women supporting each other, the relationship between sisters. Much like the March sisters, all the characters in this month’s selection for Are You Sitting Comfortably? are sisters doing it for themselves so join us as Rebecca and I curl up under a parasol with our reads on the theme of sisterhood. From women’s rights and wartime spirit to dealing with smug marrieds and striking it out as spinsters or the ups and downs of a gaggle of siblings, there’s poignancy, perhaps even a little mild peril in some cases but plenty of joy to be had from reading our bookish trio for July.
Enter the lovable Emmeline Lake in A J Pearce’s gorgeously uplifting novel, Yours Cheerfully. Technically this is a sequel but both Yours Cheerfully and A J’s first novel, Dear Mrs Bird, read beautifully as stand alone books. In fact, I would almost say that I enjoyed the return of Emmy Lake in Yours Cheerfully more. She really seems to have found her feet at last. You’re bound to fall in love with her just as much as I have.
‘As I began to collect the readers’ letters and carefully put them back in my file, I thought of all the women who had written in wanting to help the war effort. So many of them had been waiting months for an official reply or been told they were too old or too young or were simply worried about doing the right thing.
This was our chance to help them.
And it was time for me to step up.’
London, 1941. Things have moved on at Woman’s Friend magazine following the departure of Henrietta Bird, its formidable former editor and Emmeline Lake has taken on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Charles, Emmy’s boyfriend, has been stationed back in the UK and whilst best friend Bunty is still reeling from the tragedies of the Blitz, she and Emmy are looking to the future. So, when the Ministry of Information calls on women’s magazines to recruit much needed women workers for the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be able to help do her bit. Faced with the challenges of what it really means to be a woman at work in wartime, Emmy and Bunty find themselves with a huge dilemma. Can Emmy stand by her friends and do her duty all at the same time? A J Pearce’s Yours Cheerfully is a story that’s full of heart – a tale of courage, friendship and the power of raising one another up. I’d say if you’re looking for the perfect pick me up in bookish form, this will hit the spot very nicely.
From one group of marvellous women to another – Barbara Pym and her novel, Excellent Women. I’ll admit that I was late to the Barbara Pym party and I only wish I’d discovered her sooner. It appears I’m not the only one to have had the same thought. When a whole host of established writers and literary critics were asked by the Times Literary Supplement in 1977 who they would nominate as their most underrated novelist of the past century, Pym appeared on the list twice – nominated by Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil no less. Since then, her work has been revived and subsequently fallen out of favour many times but there’s something about her talent for writing wonderful characters and social comedy that, once enjoyed, is unforgettable.
“I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business, and if she is also a clergyman’s daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.”
Take Mildred, our protagonist in Excellent Women, for example. She’s one of the ‘excellent women’ often ignored or taken for granted. A clergyman’s daughter and spinster, in the eyes of her friends and neighbours Mildred is a ‘godsend’, one of life’s natural copers. A good job too as she finds herself taking far more of an active part in all the drama which unfolds when the dashing Rockingham Napier and his anthropologist wife Helena move into the flat below her, not to mention the new lodger who causes quite a stir at the vicarage. Excellent Women is a wonderful portrait of 1950s England, of ordinary people living ordinary lives but most of all, it’s a spotlight on plucky heroines who aren’t always keen to follow the path intended. If this is your first encounter with Pym, then expect lots of witty asides, plenty of tea drinking, perhaps a drop of two of medicinal brandy and a heaped teaspoon of English charm. Excellent Women is endearing and very funny.
Our third and final foray into sisterhood this month charts the stories of a rare breed of sisters indeed – The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley.
If it’s unconventional women you’re after, then you’ve come to the right place with our wildcard choice this month. The word ‘eccentric’ must have been invented for the Mitford sisters – I’m not even sure notorious would cover all their antics. Collated and edited by Diana Moseley’s daughter in law, Charlotte, this collection of unpublished letters not only charts a time of significant political and social upheaval but also the bond, quirks and rivalry rife between the sisters. In a correspondence spanning eight decades, the reader is invited into the worlds of six born storytellers. From the wit and word wizardry of novelist Nancy to Pamela and her love of country life; renowned beauty and fascist wife of Sir Oswald Moseley, Diana; Unity and her obsession with Hitler that led to personal tragedy; Jessica’s communism and break from her family to the US and lastly, Debo, socialite and debutante who became Duchess of Devonshire. Every time I dive back into this one, I feel I’m in the room with them all. Confidences, childhood nicknames and teases, gossip, envy – the sisters never fail to disappoint with their gift for storytelling and penchant for humour. They are every bit as wild and dynamic as you might imagine. An utterly unique read – this is the Mitfords in their own words.
‘Nancy to Diana
3 September 1966
I’m shaking all over with nerves from trying to ring up Debo. How can people telephone who haven’t got secretaries? It took 1 ½ hours partly because they pretend that wretched Basloe has got a W somewhere. How can it? Bwalsoe? Bawsloe? I give up. I’m crying….’
Join us on July 22nd for an Instagram Live with the incredible A J Pearce. The perfect way to kick off the summer holidays. Xxx