Mary, my mother-in-law, bought the (so far) six books that make up the series; she kept books 1, 2 and 3 and sent me # 4, 5 and 6 with the intention of swapping them round once we've read our half.
I finished # 4, "Village Teacher", last night. Good job one can enjoy it without having read the first three! And enjoy it I did:
Not only because I know many of the places mentioned in the book (Ripon, Harrogate, York, Leeds and some more), but I also remember that time from my own childhood and early teenage years quite well. Of course, some things were a bit different in Germany, but we, too, had the first Sony walkmans; computers and electronic typewriters were making their way into most offices; people were watching "Dallas" on TV, and many here were avidly following the newspaper stories about Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and were part of the 700 million viewers watching the live broadcast of their wedding on the 29th of July in 1981.
Jack Sheffield's writing style is simple enough to befit the kind, simple rhythm of village life (which is, by no means, always kind and simple, but can turn rather complex!); it makes for pleasant and relaxing reading but is not without a bit of drama and suspense.
In this story, village schools are undergoing evaluation, and some will be closed. Right until the end of the book, the reader does not know whether Jack's school is facing closure or not. His professional future being uncertain reflects on his private life as well; while at the start of the book, Jack is very much in love with his fiancée and very certain about their future together, things start to change in the course of the year, and more than once I expected the next chapter to bring about a serious conversation between the couple. But the book ends without Jack's dilemma being solved, making one eager to read the next instalment.
There were only one or two bits that weren't quite right, but they didn't take away from the overall pleasant reading experience. One example is this:
I looked up and there on the first floor, leaning over a wrought-iron Juliet balcony, was an aristocratic lady with grey hair tied in a neat bun, a warm cardigan covering a smart cream blouse, a calf-length tweed skirt, thick stockings and smart leather brogue shoes. The string of pearls around her neck sparkled in the bright sunshine.Well, call me picky if you like, but pearls never sparkle - diamonds do, yes, but pearls shimmer, or maybe they gleam or glow; anyway, they do definitely not sparkle. As I said, though, such minor stuff does not occur often enough in the book to diminuish the pleasure of reading along as the village and its school go through their year, with Christmas, Easter, a pancake race and many other events that make up village life on top of the daily goings-on.
The author clearly knows what he is writing about: he used to work as head teacher of village schools himself, and the books are based on his own experiences, although set in a fictious village and with fictious characters. You can find out more on his website.
I am definitely going to read books # 5 and 6 next - I want to know what happens to Jack and Beth, and to the school!