Entertaining encounters of a Yorkshire school inspector

The other side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn

The other side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn
5 Stars

New on the job, Gervase several times has to ask for directions as he searches for the little primary school he is supposed to inspect in the tiny village with the delightfully tongue-twisting name. His frustration is compensated by the stupendous scenery as he winds his way through the narrow serpentine roads of the Yorkshire Dales. But he arrives too late. All the children have long since gone home. He’ll have to come back another time – at the very end of the book.

Over the next months, many another establishment waits for him to visit, staffed by colourful headteachers such as the lovely Miss Christine Bentley of Winnery Nook Nursery and Infant School. Too bad that his encounter with her rugby referee father proved less than warm.

International intrigues at the highest levels

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

International intrigues at the highest levels
Four stars

Edge of Eternity – the final book of Follett’s perspective-shattering Century Trilogy – traces the vibrant lives of the offspring of the British, Russian, German and American families that we got to know in Fall of Giants and Winter of the World. Relationships come and go and fates fluctuate, revealing international intrigues at the highest levels. A salutary feature of the narrative is how most world leaders are revealed as dishonest, weak and morally corrupt puppets of various political and economic factions.

Thanks to Covid-19…

  • Companies have discovered that working from home and video conferencing are viable business options, saving time and expense.
  • School kids have lost the fear of speaking in front of a video camera and have learned to make sensible use of computers. They’ve also come to appreciate school!
  • We are enjoying beautiful walks on our doorsteps and discovering great places to take a holiday in our own countries.
  • Neighbours are noticing each other more, sharing things and offering each other practical help.
  • We’ve survived quite well without exotic South American fruit and all those cheap Asian gadgets and clothes.
  • Reading has proved to be a lot of fun – even to the grandchildren via Zoom.
  • Cycling has often turned out to be a more efficient way to get from A to B – as well as being good for our health.
  • The air has got a lot cleaner and there have been far fewer road accidents.
  • We’ve managed to catch up on some of the things we’d wanted to do but never found time for.

I’m sure you can come up with some more side benefits of this crisis. Leave a comment below.

Mysterious coincidences and a surprising ending

Daisy’s Vintage Cornish Camper Van by Ali McNamara 

Having previously owned a similar vintage VW camper to Daisy-Rose, I was intrigued by this book from the outset. It starts on a rather sombre tone – the early death of a dear friend – but I was soon drawn in to share Ana’s mixed emotions and her encounters with a variety of unusual characters in a far corner of Cornwall.

Two people whose lives have been shattered by devastating experiences set out to trace the mysterious previous owner of an ancient, decrepit camper van. Curious assistants and enigmatic signs help them in their quest, which culminates with a couple of surprises. In the process they experience emotional healing and the chance of a new start in life.

Well developed characters and an entertaining storyline keep one in suspense to the end, but the uncanny denouement will not satisfy all readers.

Delightfully ‘old-fashioned’ tales

The Little Village School series by Gervase Phinn

Book 1: The Little Village School

5 Stars

A new head teacher, Elisabeth Devine, turns the village on its head – in the nicest possible way. Wayward kids are tamed and emotionally wounded kids find healing through her loving care. Even the most die-hard traditionalists – with the exception of Miss Sowerbutts – warm to her rather quickly.

What will happen when the local doctor, Michael Stirling, finds a sprig of mistletoe on her desk after the school Nativity play?

Book 2: Trouble at the Little Village School

Elisabeth Devine is confronted with plans to merge her school with its arch rival, Urebank School.

Book 3: The School Inspector Calls! 

Elisabeth Devine faces tensions as she meets with the teachers from Urebank School to discuss the merger. A disruptive new pupil and some romance add to the colourful atmosphere in Barton-in-the-Dale.

Book 4: A Lesson in Love

Elisabeth marries the originally hostile Doctor Stirling and finds she is a mother of two additional boys on top of her own severely autistic son John. The beautiful young Curate, Ashley Underwood, falls in love with Limebeck House’s Estate Manager, the restless Irish single father Emmet O’Malley. But she doesn’t get on with the narrow-minded new Vicar. He, however, seems to be about the only person who can befriend the angry new boy, Robin, who is yearning for love.

Book 5: Secrets at the Little Village School

Long-hidden secrets are bubbling to the surface in several of the main characters lives. Ashley Underwood, finally to be married Emmet O’Malley, is surprisingly reconciled with her estranged parents.

Many people keep popping up throughout the series. Mrs Sloughthwaite, the gossipy village shopkeeper has constant arguments with her two regular customers, sour Mrs Pockock and optimistic Irish Mrs O’Conner. The school secretary and caretaker are always at odds with each other and often with the precocious young Oscar. Major Neville-Gravitas clashes with tight-fisted Fred Massey, who struggles to accept that his nephew Clarence, his wife Bianca and their noisy baby Brandon have taken up residence in his home. And the teachers and several schoolchildren keep us entertained with their quirky behaviour.

Although each book is entertaining and introduces new challenges and moral aspects, the repetitive situations and turns of phrase become somewhat tedious at times.

All Things New by Pete Hughes

Joining God’s Story of Re-Creation

Pete Hughes stands back from both traditional historical accounts and selective Bible passages to concentrate on the story God has been unfolding over the centuries.

Chapters such as ‘Creation and the Image-Bearers of God’, ‘From Slavery to the Promised Land’, ‘Jesus, the Gospel and the Kingdom of God’ and ‘The Resurrection and the Birth of the New Humanity’ trace the biblical story in a refreshingly contemporary manner. Interwoven with these theological considerations, we witness some very personal experiences – highs and lows – as the the young Anglican Vicar follows God’s leading to plant and nurture what is now known as KXC.

Sixty years later…

For some months I have acted as a senior classroom assistant – one morning per week – in the fourth class (mainly 10-year olds) of the little village school where I live. What a shock for an old man like me!

The printed T-shirts and hotpants, alternating with fashionable tops and ripped jeans were no surprise. But what had happened to the uniform? Even the teacher was casually dressed.

The Peregrine’s Odyssey by Michael Kleinfall

During the first 20 years of the second century AD, Gaius Segusiavus Peregrinus is torque-bearer of the Gallic clan based near Lugdunum (Lyons). As master of the family’s cereal and luxury goods shipping enterprise, he constantly roams Mare Nostrum, visiting the trading posts in Ostia (Rome), Carthago, Alexandria, Antiochia and Ephesos. His faithful wife Fionna delights him whenever he is back at the Villa of the Three Crows, but his sons and nephew disappoint him. Will anyone prove worthy of inheriting the family torque when he dies?

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