2021 ~ My Year in Books

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

September – December Reading Diary 📚❤️

I’ve not kept up too much with reading on here recently but have still been keeping a record as this year I’ve been absolutely loving being part of the bookstagram community on Instagram and having somewhere to easily share all my reads and share and swap book recommendations. I’m on http://www.Instagram.com/a_coffee_anda_book if anyone also happens to be on there and I do a wee review or at least a wee note of everything I read on there, but for now thought I’d do the quickest of round ups of the last few months’ books, as I’ve really found my way back to loving reading in this second part of the year.

💛🍂📚September Reading 📚🍂💛 Such a wonderful reading month, all books I really enjoyed and two shooting in to the top 5 of the year so far quite easily ❤️ L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blythes are Quoted”, the long-awaited final chapter of Anne & Gilbert Blythe’s story, was a book I’ve looked forward to reading for years, and it didn’t let me down, sweeping me up in the family and community once again just as I hoped ❤️. And “Stepping Up” by Sarah Turner (aka @theunmumsymum, whose parenting books and blogs I have always loved) was one I was already counting down to reading come publication in March 2022 when I was absolutely delighted to be accepted to read an advance review copy through NetGalley. I wasted no time in getting started and just couldn’t put it down, I simply loved this so deeply warm, moving and funny novel so much. ❤️ “Ponies in the Valley” by Diana Pullein-Thompson too was an adventure- and compassion-filled pony book I thoroughly enjoyed, and Fergie and Sandy’s series one I’ll definitely look to read more in very soon; and Shirley Barrett’s “Rush Oh!”, an atmospheric telling of one summer’s whaling on the coast of Australia with some engaging characters and beautiful descriptions of the dramatic seascape. These books were all very different from one another, though both “The Blythes” and “Rush Oh!” were set in the same time period, with the First World War looming; and some common themes – loss, coming of age and the binding of family ties – came up in most or all. It was a cosy month’s reading, one I really enjoyed, and got my autumn off to a lovely start. 🍁📚

📚🍁 October reads 🍁📚 Really enjoyed reading in October as I always do when the nights draw in and there’s longer darker evenings… 🥰 Actually read a lot more than a three-book stack seems because I was part-way through three others I’d been enjoying a lot of the month too that all tipped into November. But really enjoyed the books I finished this month – first “The Man Who Died Twice” which I’d been counting down to release day for, a wonderful return to the mystery-filled Coopers Chase retirement village; followed by “Haven’t They Grown”, an absolutely gripping thriller that has me wanting to read a lot more from Sophie Hannah; and lastly Stephanie Land’s moving memoir “Maid” which I also so enjoyed. Definitely a great month for books, would recommend all! (All reviewed in earlier posts). Photo star Teddy-cat Theo who enjoyed both his first Black Cat Day and Halloween this month and very much enjoyed the season 🤩🎃🐈‍⬛

📚🌟November wrap-up 🌟📚 Read six books last month which is a bit skewed by having finished off Tom Cox’s beautiful nature ramble “Ring the Hill”, Emma Barnett‘s ground-breaking “Period” and Cressida Ellen Schofield’s festive and horsey family drama “Mistletoe and Whine” in the first week of the new month after beginning them all towards the end of October.

These were all new to me, which I only realised this month was a continuing trend, and when I looked back saw I hadn’t re-read a single book since July, very unusual for me as I usually can’t resist the old favourites over and over..

However, I more than made up for it in the rest of the month with three re-reads, my beloved “Three Things About Elsie” by Joanna Cannon, Nicholas Evans’s atmospheric and moving “The Horse Whisperer” which I hadn’t read in decades, and, my last book of the month, the one and only “Pride and Prejudice”. ❤️

It was a mixed month of books, with some fascinating non-fiction and thought-provoking learning in “Period”, the prose I just love to sink into in “Ring the Hill”, a first splash of Christmas in “Mistletoe and Whine”, such emotion and a strong challenge and message in “Three Things About Elsie”, the sprawling ranch saga of “The Horse Whisperer” and the drawing in of the truly classic “Pride and Prejudice.”

📚🎄 December reads 🎄📚 I read 7 books in December which is a lot for me, but in there were four much shorter books than normal and three were children’s which kept my month’s reading light and cosy. There were also four purely Christmas books, as well as touches of Christmas in Anne’s little world, and it was a wonderful month of reading just what took my fancy in this beautifully festive time of the year.

I started with Adam Kay’s “‘Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas”, having enjoyed “This is Going to Hurt” last year – moving and funny, I really enjoyed it, all the more for reading on my first Christmas working in a care home with all its ups and downs. Then it was to Avonlea, my very favourite of places to disappear, to my beloved Anne. ❤️ I always enjoy re reading “Anne of Green Gables” so very much and did this time more than ever. Enjoyed a wee pony book in Susannah Leigh’s “Dream Pony”, one from my childhood, and then on to a wonderfully infused-with-Christmas-cheer novel “The Christmas Invitation” by Trisha Ashley. As Christmas arrived I was re-reading another favourite and a tradition for this time especially, “A Christmas Carol”, which again I loved as much as ever ❤️❤️, and then I had an extra dose of the season in Matt Haig’s “A Boy Called Christmas”, a children’s adventure full of magic and hope. My last is not quite finished yet but as the year draws to a close I’m reading “Mad About The Boy”, Helen Fielding’s return to Bridget Jones’ world in later life – the first two books are two of my favourites I love to return to but although I read this when it came out I haven’t revisited it since – so far have lots of thoughts on how it’s aged!! But am enjoying being back with such a familiar and loved narrator.

In December I also followed a tag on Instagram #literarychristmas hosted by some lovely bloggers which saw me dip in and out of some very well-loved worlds:

Weeks 1 and 4 were east for me as I was already reading “Anne of Green Gables” as the month began, and was able to enjoy the beautiful “puffed-sleeves” Christmas it contains, and I always read “A Christmas Carol”, ticking my Victorian Christmas box. But although I didn’t read in full anything from the Prairie or New England it gave me the perfect chance to look up some favourite extracts and enjoy Laura and Mary’s mittens-and-candy-cane Christmas morning and the March ladies’ memorable generosity. ❤️

On the note of Anne, do have to share as well one of my most special Christmas presents that I think will lead to me reading even more frequently than normal! – this beautiful framed print which contains the whole novel. It’s not even found its place on the wall yet but already I’m loving pausing by it for a wee chapter as I pass by and am absolutely delighted to have such a beloved book hanging at home. ❤️

In these last few days I’ve loved having more time for reading and enjoying taking life at a slow pace. Looking forward to looking back on the year’s reading and will write another wee post when I do. For now, enjoying the peace and the slow days ❤️ Hope you are all managing to do a little of the same however the season is panning out, and enjoying the last of the year. Xx

Book Review: Stepping Up ~ Sarah Turner

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. 💚

Hope you are all having a lovely week. X

Summer Reading ❤️

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.

Books on a theme… 🐾 🐈

It’s 4 days and counting until our new feline members of the family come to join us, and thought I would write a wee summary of some of my reading in the last couple of months that’s been very inspired by them while we’ve waited! When we first started looking for a cat to join our home I jumped straight back in to some of my old favourite Tom Cox books, and then enjoyed it so much that I also added a few extra memoirs on a similar theme over the next few weeks, so just a wee round-up of them all.

📖 Under the Paw; Talk to the Tail; The Good, the Bad and the Furry and Close Encounters of the Furred Kind ~ Tom Cox 📖

I have read and enjoyed Tom Cox’s writing for years on his blog and in his books on nature, as well as – in these 4 books in particular – on life with his cats, and I love his depictions of a life touched by (or dominated by!) pets, one I’ve always known myself and could relate to so much.

This time around I read these all out of order – originally re-reading the final book, one of my favourites, but then enjoying it so much I found myself picking up my paperback copies of the first and third before finally downloading on my Kindle app Talk to the Tail, the second instalment and only one I’d never read.

These books are dotted with humour and are smartly written and entertaining but are also full of compassion for the animals who share Tom’s home and bring to life their characters so vibrantly. When these stories were first unravelling in real time, I loved the gentle tales of The Bear’s ageing in his quiet dignity, the evolution of Shipley & Ralph from boisterous kittens to elderly gentlemen, and I waited with baited breath as Roscoe recovered valiantly and with her usual business-like efficiency from an accident against all the odds.

Reading these again now, I remembered how much I loved Tom Cox’s witty writing style, and most of all the warmth and colour with which he draws his little companions. Immersing myself in these characters too gave me so much scope for planning, learning and looking forward to our own cats joining us. These books have comedy, heart and some simply unforgettable little characters. 🖤

📖 Casper the Commuting Cat ~ Susan Finden 📖

A few days later and feeling the void after loving my streak of 4, this lovely little book – the story of the life of a characterful little cat who took to riding the bus around Plymouth, tenderly recounted by his owner Sue; was my first book browsed and chosen from the library in six months. It also marked our first trip back to this one of our local libraries in over a year – one we used to visit every week for Bookbug sessions with a group of other parents and children and enjoy such a lovely social side to library life. Some of the smaller libraries near us had remained shut all the way through since the very first lockdown, and it was wonderful to return there for their reopening last week at long last, see the lovely staff again and browse the shelves. I had both my daughters with me – my oldest suddenly remembering the weekly visits that are so far in her past now, and my youngest taking it all in for the first time – and it was so lovely to catch up with the staff, and to each choose a book to carry back home together.

I really enjoyed reading this story not only about Casper, a very quirky cat, but about Sue herself, her gentle devotion to all the animals in her care, and the huge impact pets can have on a life throughout all its ups and downs.

Read here and there over a few days – with coffees, in the garden, and sometimes with our lovely neighbour cat visiting to join me – this was a touching story; and it was all the lovelier in its marking of our return once more as a family to a place we’ve loved so much and so look forward to frequenting again.

📖 A Street Cat Named Bob and The World According to Bob ~ James Bowen 📖

In the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed these two touching and honest stories by James Bowen about life with his cat Bob, – who came to him originally when he was living in sheltered accommodation in London, busking on the streets to get by and taking his first tentative steps in his recovery from a drug addiction. They are not only a fitting tribute to a cat who had a character more than worthy of the books and films he’s inspired, but also an enlightening and important insight into some of the issues around homelessness in our society today. James Bowen writes in a straight-forward way about the realities of the challenges he faced when he was living and working on the streets, and in particular – especially in The World According to Bob – gives an interesting insight into the work of the Big Issue and the world of its sellers. The transformative nature of James and Bob’s relationship is very notable – as their bond deepens and they share more of their lives together the impact of it on James’ perception of himself is evident, and his books are a moving testament to what animals can do for humans.

I have always loved animal stories – I love my pony books so much even now, I’ve always loved an animal book back to childhood and now – in fact I’m just embarking on an old favourite in a new format in the classic All Creatures Great And Small, after loving James Herriot stories so much growing up. I read all of these focused entirely on cats particularly because it was a really enjoyable way to learn all I could from the ups and downs of the stories – the vet trips, the escapes, the adventures, the settling in and the older age – before our cats arrive. But what these books reminded me of most of all was something much wider than that – the truly wonderful impact our animals have on the lives of their humans, no matter where they are in life.

From Tom Cox writing, relocating, weathering relationship break ups and discovering the nature around him; to Sue Finden working long hours in care and pouring all her spare time with her husband into rescuing cat after cat; to James Bowen working his way out of a living situation and addiction that had ensnared him for so long and finding his feet again; these people’s lives were all very different but all enriched so much in exactly the same way by the loyal companions who came into them.

I’ve been so lucky in my own life to have had so many animals do the same for me, and am looking forward to adding to their number; and I really enjoyed these wide-ranging books with a theme in common, and reminding myself once again just what a blessing pets really are.

Hope you all have a lovely weekend. X

📖 The Miniaturist ~ Jessie Burton 📖

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

A Bookish Sunday

A bookish Sunday… such a lovely morning having coffee and a long-overdue catch-up with lovely friends at the Book Nook in Stirling. It was lovely to be back in a town I lived and worked in for so long and love so much and was such a wonderful discovery – the most beautiful second hand and new books for every age and the cosiest atmosphere. We brought home a new book everyone in the family, and I settled with mine on a quiet Sunday afternoon, a second hand but beautiful copy of Tarka the Otter – which I’m sure I’ve never read before – in the lovely Puffin Modern Classics series that I had so many books in growing up, and still have most of on my shelf… 💚 Happy Sunday all x

March & April Reading Diary

📖 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

The Beekeeper of Aleppo ~ Christy Lefteri

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.

January Reading Round-Up on a Snowy Sunday

2021 got off to a slow start for us all, the usual emerging from the cosy bubble of the Christmas period into a flurry of new year activity and starts never quite happening for all of us here, as lockdown began with the turning of the year and has continued since. We’re slowly edging now towards lighter nights and (hopefully) better days with some light at the end of the tunnel in all ways. But, for January at least, I sought out a few cosy reads and settled as much as possible to the extending of the lull.

Starting the year slowly, keeping the decorations up to the very last and finding myself hanging on to a bit of Christmas as long as I could, I enjoyed a major dose of nostalgia in a new book with Christmas at Mistletoe Cottage (enjoying writing some reviews on Instagram just now so will put some links in when not writing full reviews here!) returning to Animal Ark, the scene of many a childhood favourite story, in this new book series about Mandy Hope in adulthood, a really lovely read; before getting lost in Tom Michell’s lovely memoir of his time with his very characterful penguin companion Juan Salvador in The Penguin Lessons.

Over a few weeks I also read the short stories in Val McDermid’s collection Christmas is Murder, enjoying her masterful storytelling in so many different dark and unravelling tales; and got swept up in Cressida Ellen Schofield’s Incapability Brown, billed as a “pony book for adults”, a mix of a book with splashes of drama, unfolding relationships and, the parts I enjoyed most, often reading in the stable or while watching my boy graze, riding adventures. The horsey parts made me feel very nostalgic for my own riding days and because of that I really couldn’t believe it when my own came around again later the same month, my own boy, previously retired, improving in health and managing a couple of little ambles again, making my riding dreams come true. ❤️

And, lastly, I really enjoyed reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, which I’ve just finally got round to posting a review on this morning, an action-packed and captivating journey and a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while and am so glad I have. For all I was looking for light and relaxing reads and all of these fitted the bill, it was the first month in a long time I didn’t find myself returning to any re-reads, the five books all new to me, and I really enjoyed my reading start to the year.

We are still in a snowy world here at the moment, and it’s now back to re-reading for me on an easy start to wintry Sunday morning. I’m lost in heroines classic and modern classic just now in Northanger Abbey which I’m loving, not having read in years, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, much more frequently read but a true friend of a book. ❤️ Hope you are all well, staying warm and safe and having a lovely weekend. X