Continuing on with a monthly round-up of the books I’m reading as the year rolls on, just a few thoughts on the varied but lovely stack that’s kept me going in February.. ❤️
Jill Has Two Ponies by Ruby Ferguson
This month found me with my very own childhood dream-pony on my mind a lot as I prepared to take him up to the vets’ for his dental operation – and sometimes when worries about him are preying on my mind, there is nothing else for it than pulling from the shelf one of the very same comforting, sustaining and uplifting pony books I’ve been reading for decades. When I dust off a Midnight Dancer, or a Jill book or a Sandy Lane Stables, I could be ten years old again and dreaming of one day having a pony all of my very own – and when I’m lost in the well-thumbed pages of one sat on a feed bin in the barn with my arm slung around my boy’s neck, hand absent-mindedly buried in his fluffy coat, I could just as soon be 14 and calming our nerves before taking a 4-year-old Charmer off to our first show, than 32 and preparing my old man for a daunting stay at the vets. Set in the 1950s and full of old-fashioned charm, the Jill books are, and forever will be to me, truly classics of the pony-book genre. Jill’s spark, her drive and her endlessly charming narration set Ruby Ferguson’s books apart and make each and every adventure irresistible. This book, the third in the series, continues to build on the story of Jill’s first pony Black Boy while introducing her second, Rapide, and all the ups and downs of their tumultuous start together. Steeped in the unforgettable enchantment of Jill’s world, one I quite unashamedly dip back into whenever it’s most required; this is among my old favourites, and I really enjoyed reading it again this month in a steadying few moments both in quiet evenings at home and companionable stable mornings with my boy.
Mindfulness for Mums by Izzy Judd
This is a refreshing, soothing and uplifting read and a perfect bedside table or coffee-table book that I’ve enjoyed dipping in and out of over the last few weeks. In part a handbook on classic mindfulness techniques angled towards those juggling busy family lives, and in part a reminder to observe and to learn from the unique and fresh perspective on life children themselves bring and to live in the moment together as a family; this is a lovely book – full of little gems I know I will remember, and I found myself noting ideas down to come back to throughout. I’ve enjoyed reading it in the stiller moments there have been this month, especially on our family weekend away in the middle of February, and it’s one I will keep to hand on the home run of pregnancy and as labour and newborn days approach. 💛
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
The first of Joanna Cannon’s books I came across was her second novel Three Things About Elsie, a book that immediately became one of my favourites ever, has stayed with me ever since and has meant a great deal to me – inspiring in part in fact my whole career change a couple of years back into care. A few months ago I also read her memoir Breaking and Mending, documenting her time as a junior doctor, and I came to the end of it with the same swell of tears at such a moving story and wave of admiration at such a wonderfully-written book. Having come at her books in an unusual order then, I had had my mum’s leant and highly-recommended copy of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep on my shelf and on my to-read list for months, and this month finally righted that long-held wrong and at last read her celebrated debut novel.
Joanna Cannon’s writing is so incredibly perceptive that after the first chapter I found myself just wondering how anyone could possibly write so captivatingly, evoke such a sense of place, and inhabit characters so completely. When we are first introduced to Grace and Tilly, two ten year old girls and – initially at least – the characters the story revolves around, I could feel every inch of their existence, so richly brought to life in the slapping of sandals on cobbles in the summer holiday haze, the swell of the heat and the drive to belong, the importance of friendship and the tug of war between childhood and adolescence.
As the novel unfolds, the whole “Avenue” is brought to life in all its shadowy truth. At times so dark my breath caught in my chest and I had to speed through, at others so funny I laughed out loud, and throughout, unwaveringly, told with a clear, slowly-unveiling truth, this a beautiful novel about human nature, the aspects of our lives we share within a community and those we keep more guarded. Sparks of faith, friendship and families set the street alight in a story that spans just one summer and yet also somehow decades of lives all threaded together.
Dealing with life’s big questions as sometimes only the perspective of a child can, this is a novel that through describing in such beautiful detail the “mundane” details of suburban life, manages to explore human nature in all its depths and uncover truths universal.
The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri
I had looked forward to reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep so long and built it up so much that I never imagined another book would come along immediately after it that would rival it for my favourite of the month, but The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri did just that, and I fell absolutely in love with it from the word go.
It arrived to me as part of the last instalment in a year-long very special gift I had received at the end of 2018, a wonderful and unique online book club – called Reading in Heels when I first began and rebranded to Reposed more recently – where each month brought with it a delivery wrapped up in tissue paper of a new book along with several other little beautiful bits and pieces – make up, chocolate, teabags, bookmarks, etc. I found myself home alone last week for a couple of nights with just my little daughter for company, and when she was tucked up in bed on Thursday evening I finally opened my last box in the series (which had arrived at Christmas but I’d set aside for a time I could really enjoy it) and enjoyed unwrapping the lovely things inside. I hadn’t been sure what I would read next and I very rarely just start reading right away, but that evening I opened just the first page of The Namesake to get a feel for what it was about and found myself utterly gripped.
Opening in 1968 with Ashima in exactly the same position as I find myself just now, awaiting the arrival of her child, I was drawn to her instantly and then so pulled in by Lahiri’s wonderful insight and descriptions, finding myself 100% in the Cambridge apartment where the first chapter opens, watching the world outside through Ashima’s own lens, as she adjusts as best she can to life in the US with her husband, a world away from her childhood in Calcutta. This is another book in which the true magic is very much in the incredible skill of transporting the reader so completely into a sense of place and into so wholly inhabiting a character; rather than in a racing plot or twists and turns. It is so beautifully and captivatingly written, and as the novel leapt on throughout the family’s lifetime, I was as gripped by Ashima’s son Gogol’s life in the 1990s as Ashima and Ashoke’s in the 1970s – the subtle changes between their experiences striking and memorable.
We come to know the inner workings of both Ashima and Gogol so well through their narratives – even as Gogol’s develop and change over time as he grows up and shifts in perspective. One of the things I found most wonderful about this novel was that while it was set in America in its entirety, with no time spent in India at all, so much of the Bengali life and traditions are illuminated purely through Ashima’s observations of how American life varies; and through how very much her upbringing and the values she has taken from it define her as a person and her entire outlook on life. Gogol’s own journey through his adolescence and early adulthood is a very moving one, and again so simply and yet so meaningfully told.
This is a very special novel, a beautiful exploration of cultural identity and family life with characters not to be soon forgotten; one I really loved and am very glad to have come across.
Wishing you all a lovely week. ❤️📖