After spending much of March reading more than ever, April was a much more conservative month for books – normal life having been eclipsed by the arrival of our new little daughter at the beginning of the month (and down-time as a result in short supply!), but I really enjoyed the books I did read this month.
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
A beautiful re-read of a classic I hadn’t read since childhood, I really loved rediscovering The Secret Garden this month. I read parts of it sometimes when I could from a cloth-bound Puffin-in-bloom copy I had acquired a few years ago, just for the sheer beauty of it; but mostly from the e-book, swiping one-handed either at my phone or my Kindle in the wee small hours on night feeds and watches with the littlest one. It was perfect both as a magical story to keep me awake and also lent itself beautifully to some whispered sections read aloud as little eyes slowly closed, something I know I’ll always remember when I look back on the same chapters again in the future.
I had forgotten so much of The Secret Garden and loved discovering as though for the first time its charm and humour, and getting to know first Mary, then Martha and Dickon, then Colin, each of them full of spark, character and determination. The descriptions of the garden, the ever-present robin and the moor are poetic and beautiful, and the tangled story unraveling throughout of resilience and perseverance – and the burning quest simply to live – is captivating and warming. Really loved the chance to become lost in this mesmerising and all-encompassing world, to settle to the Yorkshire dialect, the grey of the moors and the colours bursting in the garden – a wonderful and inspiring classic. ❤️
Bloody Scotland – published by Historic Environment Scotland
Bloody Scotland, born out of the annual Scottish crime fiction festival, brings together twelve of Scotland’s most prominent crime fiction authors in an anthology of stories all focused on different well-known places in Scotland – from an utterly rural historic site in Orkney, through castles and ruins around the country to the busy tourist throng of modern-day Edinburgh Castle. There were some stories in this collection I definitely liked more than others but there’s something very special overall about reading places so well-known. My very own Forth Bridge, having provided the towering backdrop to my home for all of my life, was drawn so impressively in Doug Johnstone’s Painting the Forth Bridge, and Val McDermid’s Ancient and Modern, set on the North West Coast – in the old stomping ground of our childhood family holidays – so effortlessly captivated all those rugged landscapes, passing places and winding roads I remember so well. I could just read Val McDermid’s writing all day and enjoyed her story as much as I expected. Chris Brookmyre’s trademark style and humour did not disappoint either in The Last Siege of Bothwell Castle, and Stuart MacBride and Sara Sheridan were both new to me but I really enjoyed the stories set in Kinnaird Head Lighthouse and Kinneil House respectively.
I’ve been lucky enough to attend the Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling in the past, and to hear Val McDermid, Ian Rankin, Quentin Jardine and others come together to celebrate and reflect on the inimitable genre of tartan noir and the unique crime writing scene in our country.
This anthology provides a welcome glimpse into the writers’ styles and their interpretations of many aspects of Scotland; and I really enjoyed sinking into the familiarity of the settings and the thrill, build-up and resolution to each of these dark and thrilling tales.
Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton
Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love was the book chosen for this month in our little book club – which I’m very glad to still have going on at the moment in an online capacity – and I have now read this and enjoyed an afternoon’s WhatsApp chat on it from all our homes in place of our usual gathering in the library.
I didn’t know of Dolly beforehand so came to her completely new in this book, but found myself warming quickly to her engaging, open and confidential tone. The cultural references throughout her teenage days, brought to life with a vibrant humour, took me back completely as we are exactly the same age and the world of MSN messenger, the music of the early noughties and the growing role of technology as our studies played out were such familiar landmarks of adolescence – and so very nostalgic to look back on. Dolly’s school days of course at a private all-girls’ school in England and her uni party scene in London as she moved on were more than a little different from mine – but despite her experiences sometimes being a world away from my own, there is a heart running through her telling that’s universal; and the all-in banding together with flatmates to weather the early twenties was something I related to so much.
Dolly’s story was full of ups and downs and searching, recalling some very out-of-control years in particular battling the pressures of life, a borderline reliance on drink and drugs, the pain of loss and the usual dogged attempts to figure out the transition into adulthood in a way that was strikingly real. Ultimately, though, this book was full of love, and I particularly loved its unreserved championing of friendships, and of their enduring value in a world sometimes focused on romantic relationships. I found this memoir easy to read, engaging and uplifting and was glad to have come across it.
Hope you are all having a good week x