D.E. Stevenson was an incredibly successful wartime author whose books are now quite difficult to find. She wrote very well, with pleasing characters and touching stories, but I believe her best is Miss Buncle's Book, a novel that I have and will read again and again to make me smile.
The story itself is a charming one: Miss Barbara Buncle, a quiet, middle-aged spinster, has diminishing dividends. She decides to write 'Chronicles of an English Village' under an assumed name, John Smith, in order to improve her situation. She's never written before, and she hasn't any imagination, so she simply writes a novel about the village she lives in, and the people in it. Her intentions are entirely innocent, since she is a rather naive and incredibly gentle woman, but the book that she ends up writing is softly ironic, and frankly accurate in its descriptions. The man who publishes it, Mr Abbot (whom she chose simply because he was first alphabetically), thinks it's a masterpiece in satire, and loves its truthful and believable characterisation. He changes its name to 'Disturber of the peace', and Miss Buncle imagines that no harm can be done, since the novel uses fake names and places.
However, she has no idea what a stir it will cause. From every corner of the village there is surprise and in some cases outrage at this "John Smith's" effrontery! Yet no-one thinks for a minute that it could be quiet Miss Buncle who has painted their pictures so perfectly. The excitement that ensues is captivating, and the beauty of the story is that all of the characters Miss Buncle has unwittingly assassinated in her book may come to see the error of their ways as a result! But will Miss Buncle escape from the quiet village's brand new crusade?
The story is lovely, and very sympathetically told. It couldn't be a simpler yet more touching idea, and it will therefore keep you glued to its pages throughout, without being thrilling. The writing isn't challenging, but it's not boring either, and therefore it strikes exactly the right tone, and is the kind of novel it won't take you long to read. Therefore it can be read as a bedtime book, since it's completely inoffensive and gentle. It will make you laugh, and it will keep you cheerful, so it couldn't be better from this point of view.
The only weakness I would note is the occasionally patronising way in which Miss Buncle is painted. She is meant to be a simple lady, of course, but Mr Abbot's affection for her is perhaps a little sexist, according to today's standards. Nevertheless, we find the characters beautifully painted, and we sympathise with each of them to the very end.
D.E. Stevenson writes wonderfully harmless novels with gentle stories and funny characters. Miss Buncle's Book is largely considered her best work, and it is certainly one of my favourite books of all time. Simple, yet amusing and touching, you can't go wrong! I would recommend it to anyone who needs cheering up, and also to young readers, since it's simple enough to read very easily, and a good length.
On Amazon.co.uk, this book is quite expensive even in paperback, so you might want to try hunting it down in a second-hand bookshop, but it is worth the money anyway - a classic that will stay on your shelf and be passed on to your children!