First things first a huge happy new year all! Hope you are all having a peaceful start to 2022 and here’s to it being one of health, togetherness and better days for us all. ❤️
📚🌟2021 ~ Year in Books 🌟📚
Have really enjoyed having a look back at my reading diary in the last couple of days and remembering everything I’ve read this year.
I read 50 books in total, and there were lots of favourite genres and authors in there. I read seven pony (or horse) books, which I just love so much – everything from the classic Jill books to some of my favourites of the nineties to “The Horse Whisperer”; – plus nine books focused on other animals (my run of seven cat books when we were getting ready to welcome our own cats, the beautiful memoir The Penguin Lessons and the grown-up return to Animal Ark that was my first book of the year ❤️). I’ve read seven of the classics I love to get so absorbed in – Jane Austen and LM Montgomery cropping up two or three times each; five mysteries; and five Christmassy books at the end of the year.
Quite a lot were new to me this year – 36 of the 50.. quite good going as I just love a re-read! I still unashamedly love children’s books, and read eight children’s books in the year, an escape I always enjoy. There was a bit of a mix of fiction and non- with 14 non-fiction books: mostly memoirs, a wonderful Sarah Ockwell-Smith parenting book and Jane Badger’s study of Ruby Ferguson’s pony books that had me savouring some in-depth analysis of Jill. ❤️ Tom Cox was my most-read author this year by a long way, between reading his four “cat books” in the early summer, the short story collection “Help The Witch” in the autumn and most recently “Ring the Hill.”
📚 Favourite New Reads 2021 📚
My top 5 books new to me this year (just in order read):
📘 The Beekeeper of Aleppo ~ Christy Lefteri. Although much of this year I have stuck to only the lightest and happiest of books and have actively avoided more upsetting topics; one of the hardest hitting books I’ve read was undoubtedly one of my favourites this year. Moving, so very important and unforgettable, this much-needed spotlight on life as a refugee is utterly brilliant and so eloquently portrayed. 💙 📕 The Thursday Murder Club ~ Richard Osman. I was late to the party with these books but read the first in March and the second as soon as it came out in the autumn, and know I’ll be pre-ordering every instalment now! I couldn’t love Coopers Chase retirement village and its team of mystery solvers any more. As full of characters as intrigue, this is just a proper cosy mystery with a lovable cast and I loved it and its sequel! ❤️ 📔 The Blythes are Quoted ~ L.M. Montgomery. I had waited so long to track down a copy of this and close the final chapter of Anne’s story (written in the last months of LM Montgomery’s life but only published in 2009), and when I did I was not disappointed in this poignant, moving and beautifully tied-up last instalment of the Blythes’ tale – and their enduring legacy. 💖 📗 Stepping Up ~ Sarah Turner. I was absolutely delighted to have the chance to read this wonderful debut novel this year ahead of its publication in March 2022. I had loved Sarah Turner’s writing for years as the Unmumsy Mum and was so looking forward to this book, and I loved it even more than I hoped. There is so much heart in this special story about loss, love, family ties and “Stepping Up”, and I couldn’t recommend it more. 💚 📙 Ring the Hill ~ Tom Cox. I have always enjoyed Tom Cox’s writing so much – dotted with poetry, humour and incredible landscapes – and this lovely book full of rugged hills, adventures and homes, sweeping countryside and animal companions was just a joy to read. 🧡
Huge recommendations for all of these! 📚
📚 Favourite Re-Reads 2021 📚
(This was supposed to be a Top 5 too, but it’s impossible to choose between books I love this much, so 7 there are! 😂)
These are all books I’ve loved before, most of them read several times, but that I loved reading again this year.. the Jane Austens I never tire of, my beloved Anne, a reconnect this year with Sara Crewe who I hadn’t revisited since childhood, a festive return to Scrooge’s London, my very favourite of Tom Cox’s touching and so relatable portraits of a life with pets, and my third read of Three Things About Elsie which burst into my favourite books in 2018 and continues to be one I just savour every word of. ❤️
📘 A Little Princess ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 📙 Close Encounters of the Furred Kind ~ Tom Cox 📗 Persuasion ~ Jane Austen 📒 Three Things About Elsie ~ Joanna Cannon 📕 Pride and Prejudice ~ Jane Austen 📗 Anne of Green Gables ~ LM Montgomery 📔 A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens
“Every book in [our library] is a friend” – Anne Blythe, Anne’s House of Dreams
Lots of love for these old-friend books. ❤️📚❤️
Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, and wishing you all the best possible start to this new year. Xxx
Have to start by saying the biggest thank you to Random House UK / Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity I was very grateful for to read an advance review copy of this absolute treasure of a book.
I have loved Sarah Turner’s writing as The Unmumsy Mum in her books and blogs for years, her ever-brilliant stories always shared with the right balance of humour, honesty and tenderness, and I couldn’t have been more excited about the idea of her first novel, which – despite the high expectations! – met them and more.
Following 31-year-old Beth as she finds herself thrown into the role of guardian of her teenage niece and toddler nephew in the wake of a family tragedy; it is a beautiful and sensitive exploration of the family relationships and friendships that provide a much-needed lift and pull through both the journey of grief and the challenges of everyday life.
There are so many wonderful characters in these pages, and all are drawn with understanding and relatability – from 3-year-old Ted (so often both the light relief and, even simultaneously, an inspiration to the others) to elderly neighbour Albert (whose fresh perspective, wonderful book club choices and text messages that made me laugh out loud brought so much to the story).
This book has everything I love in an involving and memorable story – it is full of such perfectly-drawn moments (a pre-school nativity play, a hospital waiting room, a bonfire-lit garden, all brought to startlingly-recognisable life so expertly); deals with some difficult topics addressed with the right mix of depth and lighter touches; and does justice to all of its characters and storylines, not just those of Beth herself.
Stepping Up is poignant, funny and ultimately so uplifting, and I truly loved it and cannot recommend this wonderfully-written debut novel highly enough. 💚
This year has been quite a bitty one for me reading-wise so far – not necessarily in a bad way, there’s been lots going on to keep me busy and lots of stopping and starting with books that I’ve eventually got to the end of and enjoyed as much as if I’d raced through them. But this summer with some time off and some wonderful weather I’ve finally enjoyed a few books both powered through and taken at a slow steady pace. As the holidays draw to a close, thought I would round up the books I’ve read in these lovely summery months.
📖 Meet You By Hachiko ~ Loren Greene 📖
This was the first book I read when the nights turned lighter, longer and got so very much warmer for us here than we’re used to. Sitting out late on the longest night of the year, as the sun set, I finished this enjoyable young adult book about a teenage friendship and the journey it leads its characters on. This was the first book I have downloaded and read after stumbling across Voracious Readers Only, so a huge thank you to @voraciousreadersonly and Loren Greene for a complimentary copy of the book in return for an honest review.
Dotting between the narratives of Grace – a quiet senior high schooler in Newfoundland, Canada, longing to be able to stretch her wings and explore her passions more; and Kana – at the same stage in Japanese schooling, living and studying in Tokyo and struggling under the pressure of exam deadlines and academic future; it tells the story of how the girls’ shared love for Japanese fashion draws them together across the continents and sets them on a path together.
This book had a lovely feel to it – never having been to either Canada or Japan it was an interesting insight into the cultures in both countries that I thoroughly enjoyed – especially the elements around Christmas and New Year which I always love in any book and which were fascinating in their contrasts. One of the things that was really remarkable about this book though was that even though these cultures were so different to my own and to each other there was something very recognisable in the angst of the relationships, studying and coming of age of the characters regardless of location, as the author tapped beautifully into the universal experience of teenage life.
I really enjoyed this book, it was light and entertaining and for all the characters’ flawed navigating of these tricky years I found myself rooting for them so much as they found their way amidst the pressures around them. A nostalgic and engaging read about the universal struggles of coming of age with lovely insights into life in both Newfoundland and Tokyo.
📖 The Village Green Bookshop ~ Rachael Lucas 📖
I bought this book as a summer read before a couple of weekends off – started it on one and finished it a couple of weeks later on another – enjoying the lovely leisurely holiday feeling and becoming lost in the beautiful fictional Cotswolds village of Little Maudsley. ❤️ – And there couldn’t have been a more perfect backdrop to draw such a lovely warming story to a close than when I stepped outside in our own little village to the most beautiful sunset to read the last pages.
More and more these days I’m drawn to books that are cosy and uplifting, loving the gentle security of a book without too much darkness or focus on difficult topics, and this was just such a simply lovely book. Following Hannah, a stay-at-home mum to teenage Ben, as she takes on a small village book shop and finds how much she enjoys finding her feet in a whole new world just for her, it is a gently-paced feel-good story – and a very romantic one too, as former footballer Jake Lovatt, the village’s celebrity resident, finds his own place among the thatched cottages, book clubs and floral-lined streets, drawing closer to both Hannah and Ben.
The descriptions of the village and the larger towns around were absolutely beautiful too – it took me right back to a holiday in that very area almost a decade ago and made me really want to revisit all the prettiness of the Cotswold villages. This turned out to be the second book set in the same world, The Telephone Box Library being the first, and I’d really like to read that now and more by Rachael Lucas too as I really enjoyed her writing both in its descriptions of the beautiful places around and its journeying of the engaging characters through this lovely story. 💜
📖 A Little Princess ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 📖
Just over a year ago I re-read The Secret Garden for the first time since childhood, in doing so re-discovering all its old magic ❤️ – and I had wanted to come back to A Little Princess ever since, which I had only a hazy memory of. Picking up the same copy as I read back then, I have so enjoyed journeying back into the world of the remarkable Sara Crewe, finding her adjusting to her new life at a boarding school in London after her years of comfortable family living in India.
I don’t remember ever fully realising just how much there was for me to love in Sara when I read this as a child. Not being at all swept up in dresses and Princess-like things, I think I may not have found Sara very relatable back then; but if so I really couldn’t have been more wrong. From her passionate assertion that “stories are for everyone”, her confession – despite her usually cheerful disposition – that “never did she find anything so difficult as to keep her temper when suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book – those who are fond of books know the irritation”; to her befriending of Melchisidec the rat (“he is just like a person”) and her declaring on rescuing the monkey from the cold, kissing him happily “Oh I do love little animal things!” Sara Crewe was a girl after my own heart, then and now.
As her story unfolds, her capacity to transform her world simply with her imagination is both inspiring and heart-rending, re-writing sad situations into fairy tales for herself – and so often too for those close to her – Lottie, Becky, Ermengarde – desperate to lift their spirits.
It’s only a few months since I read L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl for the first time, and I could see such similarities between Sara and the Story Girl (herself another Sara) in the transforming nature of their sparks of creativity on their own lives and those of their peers.
Sara Crewe is a wonderful heroine, her story a moving and powerful one; and I’m so glad I’ve revisited this. I loved being lost in the corridors of the old school building with all its atmosphere, and flying through the pages desperate for an upturn in Sara’s luck. ❤️
📖Ruby Ferguson & the Jill Books ~ Jane Badger 📖
I stumbled across @janebadger.books a few years ago when tracking down some old pony books, a site I was very glad to see dedicated to bringing some old classics, so many of which I’d loved, back into print. This however is one of Jane’s own books, on the subject of Ruby Ferguson, who wrote the “Jill books”, some of my very very favourites. ❤️
I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating and in-depth exploration of this classic series, definitely a must-read for any fan of them! It was wonderful to have a chance to relive so much of the inimitable Jill Crewe, her two ponies Black Boy and Rapide and her friends, family and neighbours in the little village of Chatton. ❤️
The publishing history in particular was so interesting – shedding light on so many things I’ve wondered over the years like the quirk of Jill’s first pony, Black Boy, being depicted in some editions as black and some piebald – and discussing the artwork and printing changes in editions through the years. Several covers were included in the book, letting me find out more about the 1970s Knight series that most of my books are from, picked up from a second hand book shop – though I do have one in the older 1960s Armada – but best of all following a link from the eBook to a more detailed article on the website I was also able to find for the first time since childhood the cover of the 1990s edition of Jill’s Gymkhana – not a classic but my first introduction to these incredible books, and just took me right back to a pony-loving birthday morning unwrapping it. ❤️
Full of affection for a wonderful character and wonderful series, this is just a lovely read for any fan of Jill.
📖 Persuasion ~ Jane Austen 📖
At the beginning of August I spent a lovely week slowly enjoying a relaxed re-read of what I’m almost 100% sure is my very favourite Jane Austen novel (though might have to read Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice again just to be sure!!). I could never tire of reading any of these novels, and of the trademark moving, enrapturing writing I love so much, but there’s always been something I’ve loved most of all about Anne Elliot. ❤️
She is older than some if not all of Austen’s other heroines as the novel opens, having had eight years go by since she first came of age and had her engagement with Captain Wentworth, now long since in the past. I love that Anne knows herself well, and the steadiness and confidence that brings with it despite the constraints of the time on a woman in her situation. As the story unfolds it’s so clear what an anchor in her family and circle she is – most especially with Mary, who I also love for being the most wonderful outlet for Austen’s humour, Mary’s letters and monologues making me laugh so much. Anne is impossible not to root for, and Captain Wentworth too, as he comes back into Anne’s life after a period of separation, though less known, is a wonderful character. I just really love this romantic, sweeping story and I’m so glad to have re-read it for the first time in a few years now and loved it just as much. I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read and might but also read for the most truly wonderful letter ever written. ❤️
I think I last read this when I was at uni studying these novels and loving every minute – I’m now looking forward to getting to do just a little of that again as have just had the loveliest birthday present of being able to join the Jane Austen society so looking forward to lots of reading and learning this year! I loved being lost in Anne’s circle and following this beautiful story unfolding again.
📖 The Authenticity Project ~ Clare Pooley 📖
This uplifting novel follows six main characters – local cafe owner Monica, elderly former artist Julian, recovering addict Hazard, struggling new mother Alice, easy-going traveler Riley and retired volunteer Lizzie – as they intertwine with each other and come to influence each other’s lives as they do.
Julian’s attempt to break out of the loneliness and invisibility he feels in his older age by leaving a notebook in Monica’s cafe, writing some of his own hidden truths within it and encouraging others to do the same, provides the catalyst for this story unfolding – taking some sometimes quite unexpected turns as it does.
Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project is written with compassion and great insight (she is also the author of The Sober Diaries, a memoir of her own struggle with addiction and many of the issues the intricately drawn characters encounter). I bought this book, billed on its 2020 release as the heart-warming read we all need right now, during our final stint of lockdown life earlier this year. Warm and engaging from the off, it cheered me up back then just to have it on the to-read pile and to have flipped through the first few pages, but it was just the last couple of weeks that I came to settle down to read it properly and I enjoyed it just as much as a gently thought-provoking but hope-filled summer read as I would have as a much-needed lockdown escape.
And last but absolutely not least couldn’t finish a round up of summer reading without a mention of my two little mini readers who have been the main activity of my summer! Reading with my littlest, loving lift-the-flap books and short books with good rhythm (Peepo, Feminist Baby, Oh Dear! and Dear Zoo taking the top spots ❤️), and my slightly bigger little, enjoying longer books now. Last year we read The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson together, such an utterly perfect book and one I remember discovering myself and loved discovering again with my daughter; – and this summer we have been loving another of her books, The Cat Who Wanted To Go Home. I love taking it chapter by chapter and enjoying the story unfolding together, it’s wonderful seeing the magic of stories capturing the next generation. ❤️
Hope you are all well and all enjoying August rumbling towards September. Have a lovely week.
Set in 17th century Amsterdam and infused with a haunting sense of place, Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, following eighteen-year-old newlywed Nella Brandt as she arrives at her new husband’s home for the first time, is a captivating story teased out little by little and characterised by a band of truly strong women – and a couple of wonderful male characters too.
The chilling strand of mystery unfolding throughout is so compelling in itself, but for me comes second to the relationships within the Brandt household – and also to the meticulously painted backdrop all of the action takes place to; the canals, buildings and streets of Amsterdam amidst the changing of the seasons, and most of all the house itself – once so unknown to Nella, gothic and unsettling, but as she settles in so pivotal to so much of the story.
I really enjoyed this book, found myself totally hooked and racing ahead to find out what happened next, feeling its sadnesses and injustices keenly and being so drawn to Nella, Marin and Cornelia in particular and the strengthening of their interwoven relationships.
This was a book club pick, and we enjoyed our virtual chat on it at the beginning of the month – finding lots to talk about in the themes of the book, the ways the author had shone a light so eloquently and at times painfully on the attitudes of society, the complexities of the individual characters and the imagery of the city.
I also learned in our conversation that there is a BBC adaptation of this and really want to watch it, this is definitely a story that would lend itself to being watched.
Let me know if you’ve read it or seen it and what you thought! Hope you are all having a lovely week. X
📖 The Thursday Murder Club ~ Richard Osman 📖 Catching up on some reads from earlier in the year, having fallen by the wayside with both reading and book blogging for a bit! Back in February / March I’d got completely stuck with reading with lots else going on and the only book I finished in a couple of months was this, Richard Osman’s warm, funny, poignant and gripping Thursday Murder Club. This is simply a brilliant book, with characters so engaging that I was just sooo pleased to hear the sequel is due out this September, and am looking forward to returning to the world of Cooper’s Chase retirement village already. A compelling mystery written with touches of humour and understanding, some fast-paced twists and turns and throughout a much-needed light shone on the complexities of ageing; I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This was a book club read for us, our last of the full lockdown ones we chose ourselves while the library was completely shut, and I juggled our distanced catch-up on it with a farrier appointment for the fluffy boy who is so often my reading companion. ❤️ I’ve gifted, leant and recommended this already which definitely speaks for itself, and am looking forward to the next instalment very much.
📖 The Librarian ~ Salley Vickers 📖 Set in the 1950s in small-town England, this was a gently-paced and nostalgic novel with a steadying sense of place and lots of quiet charm. Following Sylvia, a young librarian, relocating to take her first major job in charge of the local children’s library, it has lots of lovely references to books throughout – particularly children’s books – which made for wonderful reading. As Sylvia settled to her new role and all that providing books for the children of the town brought with it, I really enjoyed some of the stories unfolding for both the librarian and the children. There were romances woven throughout too which I felt less invested in but I really enjoyed this as a story about stories and their undeniable impact.. it has left me with Tom’s Midnight Garden at the very top of my re-read list! This was our book group book for April’s meeting and I’d been so off reading I would never have finished this if it hadn’t been that – the first chosen by our own librarian again with the smallest of first connections with our library opened back up post-lockdown which I was so grateful for… and pressing on with this book about the power of books got me back out of my reading rut and enjoying at my usual pace again since. 💚
📖 Never Greener ~ Ruth Jones 📖 I had wanted to read this since it came out and had been planning to buy it new whenever I could justify it when I stumbled across this copy a while back in a charity shop on a lovely day out with a friend. I am a huge fan of Gavin and Stacey and have marvelled over and over at the writing of it and in particular just the perfect way relationships, homes, interactions, places are all drawn with such a relatable realism that can be painful or hilarious but that always rings so true. Having loved Ruth Jones’ writing in a different context, I was so keen to read her first novel; and I could definitely see in this book as expected more of that same ability to just capture people as they are in such a skilled way. The characters in this book are all flawed and complicated: The story of an affair and its impact on the lives around it, it’s not normally the kind of book I would jump to read, but there was something just so compulsively readable about it. In some ways it wasn’t exactly what I expected, and at times it was a struggle to find the characters likeable, but the story was so engaging and I found myself racing through it. I read that this was actually written as a screenplay decades before and eventually re-worked into a novel, and that Ruth Jones herself considers her second novel, Us Three, to be her first, being the first she’d actually written fully in that format, so I think I’d be really intrigued to get hold of that and read it too.
📖 The Day I Fell Into A Fairytale ~ Ben Miller 📖 This was a lovely Christmas present I got this year, and until I was given it I had no idea Ben Miller had written any novels. In fact he’s written three so far, one for each of his three children with the main characters named after them. After reading The Librarian, which was such a celebration of children’s books, I was in the mood for one for my next read (or even more in the mood than usual as they are so often my very favourites..) so I pulled this from the shelf. I really enjoyed this re-telling of well-known fairytales, and touching story of sibling relationships too. One of the things I love most about reading such a “young” book these days is being able to share it with the little ones – pages read aloud to a sleepless toddler, chatting about the illustrations (beautifully done by Daniela Jaglenka) with a curious pre-schooler – it’s such a lovely way to share reading. I really enjoyed this classically fantastical and heart-warming story.
📖 Why Not Me? ~ Mindy Kaling 📖 Another one I’d been looking forward to reading for a long time, after loving Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? a few years ago as well as the essays from Nothing Like I Imagined when they were published last year. Despite the wait, this second book definitely didn’t disappoint – so very relatable even in the midst of all the Hollywood stories and so funny I lost count of the amount of times I laughed out loud. I’ve always liked Mindy’s writing and admired her so much and I loved giggling my way through this uplifting book.
📖 The Summer Riders ~ Patricia Leitch 📖 Had a lovely venture back into my much-loved world of pony books a couple of weeks ago, to the fictional Finmory in the Scottish Highlands with Jinny and her Arab mare Shantih. I was always aware of the Shantih books growing up but I think I’ve only read an extract from one once before when I was younger, and had totally forgotten that they were set in Scotland; so just picking this up – a double-book volume I’d found along with a bundle of Jill books in a second-hand shop a long time back and never read – I really enjoyed discovering Jinny’s world for pretty much the first time. A flawed and relatable heroine with a fiery and challenging but rewarding equine counterpart, I liked Jinny for her determination, her dedication to Shantih and her desire to grow and change in her relationships; and I really enjoyed this story about friendships, family life and riding adventures in the summer heat of this beautiful stretch of Scotland’s coast. I just love reading pony books of a sunny day, at the farm or in the garden, and I read this through the beginnings of some properly warm weather here – and look forward to a summer of more!
📖 Northanger Abbey ~ Jane Austen 📖 I started re-reading Northanger Abbey earlier in the year, but had ended up pausing it for a bit and got back to it just this week, picking up where I left off, and absolutely loving it as it picked up pace. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility over and over again and love Jane Austen’s writing so much, but this is one of the novels I remembered less well, only having read it once in my uni days – where one wonderful semester an Austen module came up and I got to read these warm, smart and romantic novels for the whole term. I loved the humour in this book – despite rooting for Catherine Morland all the way, and enjoying the enthusiasm with which she met every twist and turn of her unfolding time in Bath and at the Abbey, I couldn’t help but smile along at Austen’s affectionate laughter at her expense throughout the story as well as her intelligent satire of the gothic genre in the mysterious halls of Northanger Abbey. The coming of age tale of this imaginative and endearing heroine, set to the backdrop of places that captured my imagination as much as Catherine’s, made Northanger Abbey just such an enjoyable book.
After a couple of months of not reading much at all, except the wonderful Thursday Murder Club, I really enjoyed reading such a variety in April, children’s and adults’, fiction and non, old and new; and am so glad to be back in a rhythm and already so enjoying my first couple of May books. Hope you are all having a really lovely weekend. xx
Most of my reading in 2021 so far has been cosy and comforting – I’ve been heading off to the farm with pony books tucked in my jacket, slowly re-reading Jane Austen, breathing in the streets of Bath, finding my way through the week with Bridget Jones by my side for a bit of camaraderie and generally using reading as a lovely and reassuring escape from the world around us. This book was so, so not that (a book club pick I nearly didn’t join in with due to the reading mood I was in) and yet was one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time.
This is the desperately sad and yet somehow – unbelievably – hope-glittered story of Nuri and Afra’s journey from their beloved Aleppo to the UK, seeking refuge from the war that had engulfed them. Beautifully compassionate and so painfully and perfectly written, this book is so important and so well done, shining an unflinching and much-needed light on the plight of the many refugees being forced to make such a dangerous and difficult journey. The beautiful descriptions of Nuri and Afra’s life in Aleppo, he a beekeeper and she a painter, their home life with their little boy Sami and their wider family, the peace and stability of their little world; are one of the things that make this book so wonderfully powerful, illuminating with painful truth how normal life was for these families before their world was turned upside down.
I read that Christy Lefteri wrote this after working with refugees herself, seeking to raise awareness and understanding of the crisis and the people trapped within it, and I think she achieves this beautifully with this book. Nuri and Afra are wonderfully engaging characters and their story together as the book unfolds is a deeply moving one. This is simply a very important book – wonderfully written, heart-breaking, challenging and ultimately uplifting against the odds.
October was a lovely, slow-paced and very autumnal reading month. I spent the first half lost once again in Anne & Gilbert Blythe’s little world, one of my favourite places to be ❤️ Both Anne’s House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside are cosy and comforting reads full of family, friendships and warmth, and I love to return to them over and over. Mindy Kaling’s six brand new essays Nothing Like I Imagined were completely different and had me laughing throughout, full of her usual intelligence and humour; and then my last book of the month, Where the Crawdads Sing, was a wonderful discovery, so very beautiful and captivating.
📖 Anne’s House of Dreams ~ L. M. Montgomery 📖 I spent the first couple of weeks of October with this book – the fifth in the Anne of Green Gables series – by my side, reading it slowly and loving every word. This is only the second time I’ve read it, having fallen properly in love with Anne in adulthood and read all the way through the series just once before. As I re-read this, I could remember so clearly the first time I’d come to each turn of it, and adored it this time just as much.
Anne’s House of Dreams, beginning with Anne & Gilbert’s wedding and chronicling the first few years of their married life together, settled in their little house at Four Winds Harbour, is just a simply beautiful story. Miss Cornelia, Captain Jim and Susan Baker are characters that glitter with all Montgomery’s trademark magic – and Christmases and stays spent back with the “Avonlea folks” throughout too add the doses of Marilla and Mrs Lynde that perfect it.
I found myself just completely lost in the crashing waves and steady lighthouse of the harbour and in all Anne and Gilbert’s journeying together through the ups and downs of life and their friendships with those around them as they begin the next stage of their life together. I can’t think of a better way to spend autumn evenings than back in the wonderful Anne’s world with these characters.
📖 Anne of Ingleside ~ L. M. Montgomery 📖 I had meant just to dip into the world of Four Winds for one little story – but when I came to the end of House of Dreams found I couldn’t tear myself away from it just yet, and I so loved just picking up the next book straight away and re-reading Anne of Ingleside. Finding Anne, Gilbert, their children and Susan settled into life in their new home, this is a truly lovely book about the ups and downs of family life. Reading this again now that I spend so much time watching our own girls grow and change, I smiled all the more at some of the dizzying highs and weeping lows of the Ingleside children’s lives, as well as loving Anne’s navigating of it all. All of the Anne books are just the cosiest and loveliest of books to me and I really enjoyed carrying this with me and reading it whenever I could. ❤️🍁
📖 Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) ~ Mindy Kaling 📖 This was a surprise read for me this month and one I so loved! I discovered just as they came out that Mindy Kaling had written this collection of six essays, all short Kindle books, for Amazon Original Stories, which were free to download with Prime so a much-appreciated gift! I absolutely love her writing both on TV shows and in previous books and as soon as I heard about these I downloaded them right away, and ended up reading them very quickly. Mindy covers everything from motherhood to the fast-paced working world of script-writing to ponderings of faith and does so with all her usual warmth, humour, honesty and poignancy – as ever making reading seem like laughing with a friend over the ins and outs of life in the warmest of ways.
📖 Where the Crawdads Sing ~ Delia Owens 📖 I found this an absolutely beautiful book, and was completely swept up in the descriptions of the North Carolina marshlands, and lost entirely in Kya’s little world. I loved this book – Kya herself is a wonderful protagonist; and this book has everything I love – such a beautiful setting – the wildness of the marsh painted so beautifully; a story of anchoring friendships and learning and growing together (Tate, Jumpin’ and Mabel wonderful characters too); and a pacy and satisfying murder mystery weaving through it.
My friend had recommended this and leant it to me and I loved chatting about it with her – and my mum and my sister are reading it now too as we plan to make it the first of a little lockdown virtual book club keeping us going through winter, which I really look forward to – Yet another book that in this strange year of distance has pulled me closer to both family and friends. I finished this on the morning of Halloween and it felt so much like the perfect October read, and really was – with a lot of the action taking place between October 28th-30th exactly while I read. This is a lovely, cosy and captivating book, and I know that Kya and her marshlands will stay with me for a long time to come. ❤️
All of these were such perfect Octobery reads and made me think of a quote of Anne’s in Anne’s House of Dreams – “our library may not be very extensive but every book in it is a friend” – these books are all definite friends, old and new, and I enjoyed them all.
Hope you are all well – been so long since I’ve posted, don’t quite know how, life has just rushed on! But will write more soon. Have a good week! X
Autumn is upon us once more and that definitely calls for lots of cosy evenings and cosy books – I’ve really enjoyed reading this month, starting with three mysteries in a row all read so quickly at the beginning of the month and then slowing down with two longer books covering the passing of time.
📖 Insidious Intent ~ Val McDermid 📖 As September began and I started looking forward as much as ever to the autumn and winter months of cosy evenings reading, I found myself wanting to sink into a dark and unwinding crime story – and who better to turn to but Val McDermid. I had loved watching her talking as much as ever in the Edinburgh Book Festival online and so pulled Insidious Intent from the bookshelf that I had picked up a couple of years ago but never got to reading. This was my first Carol Jordan and Tony Hill book, and both characters intrigued me. This book was so compelling, I read it more quickly than I’ve read anything for a long time, always wanting just one more chapter and one more and loving the pacy chase of the hunt as Carol, Paula, Tony and the team closed in. This book definitely had me remembering why I love crime fiction so much, and was a perfect first read of autumn.
📖 Three Things About Elsie ~ Joanna Cannon 📖 When our book club chose Three Things About Elsie for our August book, to chat about (still online) at the beginning of September, I was so looking forward to discussing it as it’s one of my very favourite books, but at first decided not to re-read as I’d read it just a couple of years ago and I felt like I still remembered it all so well. When I picked it up on the day though I was just completely drawn back in and ended up reading it all again, loving it as much as ever. Joanna Cannon’s writing is so perceptive and so very relatable. Florence is a character it’s impossible not to fall in love with, so many others so wonderful too, and the lives and stories at Cherry Tree completely absorbing. This is just such a special book, with such important things to say about how we view older people in society, and full of so much warmth, intrigue and hope.
📖 The Sign of Four ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 📖 After Insidious Intent and Three Things About Elsie I loved returning to a very favourite detective in Sherlock Holmes. I had never read The Sign of Four before and loved sinking back into Holmes and Watson’s world and especially meeting and getting to know Mary Morstan in this book for the very first time.
📖 The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies’ Book Club ~ Sophie Green 📖 I so enjoyed reading this lovely book at a slow and easy pace over a couple of weeks – mostly in evenings with a sleeping baby curled up on me or short bursts in the mornings with a toddler sneaked in to bed too! This was one of the books I had picked up on my first trip back to the library, and was a warm and comforting read. Set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s/early 80s, and painted with a sweeping sense of place and atmosphere; it tells the story of a growing friendship between several women coming together to form a book club. The descriptions of the relentless rain of the wet season, the horses out on the hills and the weathering of so many storms to get to each other, all made this a perfect autumn/winter read and a perfect lockdown one too. I really loved the engaging characters, the flashes of other books throughout in the ladies’ book club choices and the strength of the women’s enduring friendships through the years. ❤️
📖 Philomena (previously The Lost Child of Philomena Lee) ~ Martin Sixsmith 📖 In the last few days I’ve been completely gripped by the incredible and heart-wrenching story of Philomena Lee and of her son, born to her in a mother-and-baby home for unmarried mothers in 1952 and taken away after three years of life in the Catholic convent under the care of the nuns and his mother. Anthony Lee would go on to be adopted by an American family and become Michael Hess, and most of this book, despite the new film tie-in title focusing on Philomena, is devoted to the story of Michael’s life.
I found this totally unputdownable and was completely captivated by such a remarkable story, following the twists and turns of Michael’s successful career reaching the heights of the White House alongside the ever-present pull back to his roots. I did come across some writing by people close to the story on finishing the book that was very critical of Martin Sixsmith’s reimagining of events, so I think this definitely has to be viewed as fictionalised retelling rather than non-fiction, but I found it both a totally compelling portrayal of a struggle for identity and a snapshot of life in America too during the decades covered, with all the social and political shifts taking place over the years.
I had been leant this book by my nana and discovered once again, as I have so many times throughout this year, in these times when restrictions find us further from each other than we’d like to be, the lovely closer sense of togetherness reading and sharing books can bring.
This has been a great reading month and I’ve really enjoyed the beginnings of the darker months with lots on the to-read list as they continue to settle in. X
My August reading diary is definitely a map of all the directions my heart has been tugged and pulled in this month – a mix of pony books while I’ve been pouring my evenings into looking after my own star pony; The Unmumsy Mum Diary for a bit of hand-holding company in the midst of the pride and heartache of my two wee ones growing up; and Jane Eyre joining the list of classics I’ve discovered are my 2020 go-to reads, somehow the most absorbing to get lost in when a proper escape is needed from what is still a very strange year.
The Swallow Tale by K.M.Peyton & A Pony To School by Diana Pullein-Thomson
The first book I read this month was K.M. Peyton’s The Swallow Tale, one that’s been on my shelf since childhood but not one of my very favourites that I’ve read over til I know it well, so quite fresh to me as I read it for the first time in so long. As with any pony story I found plenty to get lost in in Rowan’s falling in love with the wild and captivating Swallow. I followed it not too long after with a Diana Pullein-Thomson book, A Pony to School, one I hadn’t read before but had picked up a few years ago in my old favourite second-hand bookshop when they had (to my joy!) literally a bucket of old pony books. Both of these were very old-school classics and reminded me of the way I used to read when I was young, tearing through so many different books indiscriminately- just as long as they had horses in them – and learning lots of different ways of viewing and handling a life with horses as a result. Those among them back in the day whose values most closely mirrored mine – Ruby Ferguson’s Jill, and Elizabeth Lindsay’s Mory, Josh and Cara – are those that have stayed on my bookshelf and been re-read over and over, seeing my Charmer’s own character and story mirrored so perfectly in Black Boy’s and Midnight Dancer’s; – but it was actually really fun to go back and read completely different perspectives. Even if I could never take quite the same approach to horses as the Hawes of High Hawes did in Swallow (though much more as Babar and her “shabby” pony Black Diamond did, my stand-out characters of this book!) or use the old-school methods of Christina and Augusta in handling Clown and conquering his rearing habit in A Pony To School; there’s a common ground in the world of horses no matter the differences and as I worried and fretted over my own boy, I loved being lost in some proper classic pony stories – a genre I unashamedly love!
The Unmumsy Mum Diary by Sarah Turner
I’ve followed Sarah Turner, aka The Unmumsy Mum, on her blog and social media for a long time, and have read all of her books in the past. This month I found myself re-reading her second – and my favourite – The Unmumsy Mum Diary. Documenting life with her two sons at the time, Henry and Jude, during a year that saw Henry begin school and Jude navigate toddlerhood; I really enjoyed this book. I’ve always appreciated Sarah’s honesty about parenthood, but I think what shines through despite the telling of all the bad with the good is her huge and unwavering love for her children, and that mix of joy and sorrow I’ve come to learn comes along with watching every stage of their growing up going by so fast. This month as my biggest baby took off to playgroup to start making her own experiences for the very first time away from us, and my littlest too strained and stretched and wrangled her way to new stages in record time, desperate to sit up and join in with everything her sister can do; I was so aware of how quickly time goes by and how much I want to make the most of every single moment, and it made me feel comforted and uplifted to read all the emotions I could feel written down in someone else’s diary, and have some company in all the ups and downs of a busy and transforming month for the little ones.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
I’ve been meaning to read Jane Eyre for so long and finally got to it this month. It’s always been a favourite of my sister’s (which usually means I’ll definitely love it!) but I’d given it a couple of abandoned attempts years ago back at uni – where I studied English literature and we covered Wide Sargasso Sea so touched on it but never actually studied Jane Eyre itself – and I had never got back to it. Picking it up now, I found it so easy to read and so compelling. I started reading on the night of the most incredible thunderstorm we’ve had here in years, the perfect set-up for discovering the shadowy Thornfield Hall with all its mysteries; and I found myself completely swept up in Jane’s story from start to finish, simply loving her strength, resilience, intelligence and passion in every situation she found herself in. This is such a wonderful book, with such a wonderful heroine at its centre – so ahead of its time in so many ways, romantic, gothic and completely captivating; and I’m so glad to have read it at long last!
August would normally be a big book month for me, as it would tend to find me taking at least one venture over to the Edinburgh Book Festival, to sit with a coffee under twinkling lights in the beautiful garden in Charlotte Square, listen to talk after talk in the Spiegel Tent and file into the auditorium for a ticketed event or two. This year, of course, this was not to be! But I was really pleased to find that they put on such a wonderful online programme, streaming live and many events available on YouTube afterwards – so in spite of staying home, I’ve spent a couple of evenings this month enjoying some talks from favourite writers.
I will listen to more I am sure as there have been so many interesting authors involved, but so far I have enjoyed Ian Rankin, who I always to love to hear, talking about his next Rebus book A Song for the Dark Times (definitely going on the to-read list!); Val McDermid and Jo Sharp discussing their collaborative collection of essays Imagine A Country, contributed to by some of Scotland’s most prominent voices; and Bernardine Everisto talking to Nicola Sturgeon about Girl, Woman, Other, which I enjoyed reading so much earlier in the summer. I always think it’s such a privilege to hear writers speak about their work and it was wonderful to be able to listen to some amazing people I admire so much talking so passionately about books and the world we’re living in today, all from the comfort of home!
Have really enjoyed reading this month and as we move into September, my very favourite season upon us of autumn leaves and cosy nights in, I’m so looking forward to my next reads. Have a lovely week all. Xx
I’ve so enjoyed reading in July, and, as usual, read quite a variety! I started off with Dorothy Koomson’s The Chocolate Run, picking it up when looking for a light holiday read while we we had a couple of weeks off and were enjoying a nice slow pace of life at the start of the month. It’s years since I read a Dorothy Koomson book but I remember really liking her writing and enjoying both light, warming books like Marshmallows for Breakfast and the more pacy and thriller-like The Woman He Loved Before which really drew me in. Unfortunately I really wasn’t keen on The Chocolate Run, one of her earlier books, published back in 2004 – although it did totally tick the box for an easy read to pick up anytime, and with the added bonus of having to be read with a wee taste of chocolate too! I just couldn’t get on board with Greg as the romantic interest and really didn’t like some of the ways Amber was treated by him and how accepted it seemed to be.
That’s the second romance novel I’ve read this year that I’ve felt exactly the same way about (One Day in December the first) and I was disappointedly thinking maybe I really couldn’t get on board with that type of genre anymore, once a well-loved escape. But then I turned to my old friend, the very best, Bridget!
Re-reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, as it always does, reminded me what I love so very very much about a good romantic comedy. I love everything about it – Bridget’s determination and spirit, all the ups and downs of the story, the camaraderie and tight bonds of that wonderful “urban Singleton family”, the painfully relatable and disarmingly funny take on family relationships and work struggles, and of course, a truly lovely male lead in Mark Darcy. I’ve re-read both of the first Bridget Jones novels so many times over the years and I was pleased to see once again that my love for them is undiminished by time. ❤️ In an introduction to a newer edition of the first novel than my battered and so very well-loved copy, Caitlin Moran writes:
Apart from having the self-control to keep the re-reading to every five years or so (I usually find my way back to either one or both of them during the days between Christmas and New Year each year!) I couldn’t agree more, Bridget Jones is undoubtedly just as much of a friend to me now as always.
My next book was another new one to me but one that’s made it into my favourites straight away – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
I have been meaning to read this for so long and don’t know how it slipped down the pile but it was our book club book for July and I’m so pleased that gave me the shove I needed. I found it a thought-provoking, sad but life-affirming book. I adored Eleanor and her way of viewing the world, and was rooting for her so whole-heartedly from the off. The other characters she encountered, Raymond and Mrs Gibbons, Sammy and Laura, were wonderful too, and I got completely lost in Eleanor’s journey and in this little story about loneliness, bravery, and the indescribable difference friendship can make to a life.
And it’s definitely been the month for getting to long-awaited books as I have also just finished reading Michelle Obama – Becoming, which I’d started away back last year and for one reason or another only got a little way into. Coming to it now, I have so thoroughly enjoyed it. Writing with dignity and poignant reflection on everything from her kindergarten days to navigating parenting in the White House, the former First Lady draws such an vivd picture of her incredible story. This was a wonderful book to read, uplifting and inspring, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It’s been a good month’s reading – it’s never a bad one when it involves my beloved Bridget, I enjoyed racing through a holiday read, fell in love completely with Eleanor Oliphant and have really enjoyed spending the last couple of weeks sitting evening after evening with Michelle Obama’s strong and inspiring voice for company.
Looking forward to mapping out what to read next – heading into my 33rd book of the year having coincidentally just turned 33 this week – my birthday bringing with it (as well as lots of truly lovely family time ❤️) many more books to add to the to-be-read stack! I’m so enjoying all the books I’ve been reading this year and journaling on them all too!