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

📖 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

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

📚 2020 ~ A Year In Books 📚

2020 has been a year like no other and through its ups and downs I have really enjoyed some anchoring and calming reading. With 55 books in total, I have read more this year than I ever have before (except maybe in the childhood years when I was flying through Famous Fives and Jill’s Gymkhanas!) – amazing what a few months of lockdown can do! I have done a fair bit of re-reading (one of my very favourite comforts) with 17 books either read for the hundredth time – proper old friends like Bridget Jones or Anne Shirley – or revisited for the first time since a distant memory, like The Secret Garden and Little Women, both of which I rediscovered this year. There have however been 38 books new to me, and among them some new absolute favourites.

I’ve read nine book club books, finding myself so very grateful for our book club finding a way to continue despite the library’s closure for most of the year. We covered such a variety of books I would never otherwise have come across, from Dolly Alderton’s memoir Everything I Know About Love to John Lanchester’s chilling dystopian novel The Wall. As well as opening me up to new types of books, it’s led to so many new favourites too. We discovered together a shared love for Sophie Anderson’s magical stories; Old Baggage had me fall completely in love with the formidable Mattie Simpkin (I now have two more Lissa Evans books now bought and waiting to read with a birthday voucher earlier in the year); and Eleanor Oliphant is a character I took so much to my heart and just rooted for so desperately all the way.

I’ve read nine crime or mystery books, Val McDermid’s Insidious Intent probably top of that list, my first Tony Hill & Carol Jordan, and more reading from her to come early in 2021 as I have a short story collection already started and a retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey I’m very keen to get into on the shelf.

Twelve of the books I’ve read have been typically children’s books, so often I find the most captivating of all – some old favourites including four of my beloved pony books (that actually seems low looking back on it for such a favourite escape, I’m sure will manage more in 2021!!!); but some new to me – like Sophie Anderson’s lovely The Girl Who Speaks Bear, which is set to be followed by her new book The Castle of Tangled Magic, which arrived with me at Christmas and is high on the list for the new year! I always seem to love children’s books so much and am often reminded of a quote I read by Philip Pullman:

““There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”

There have been seven parenting books, from Sarah Ockwell-Smith and Dr Laura Markham’s handbooks to Giovanna Fletcher, Izzy Judd, Sarah Turner and Mindy Kaling’s reflective musings on their lives with their children; and eleven memoirs or biographies – Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm and Michelle Obama’s Becoming my favourites among some amazing stories; with some old-friend books of that genre returned to too, The Unumumsy Mum Diary and Tom Cox’s The Good the Bad and the Furry (my very first book of the year). And I’ve ended the year with a run of five Christmassy novels, which has been the most warming way to draw 2020 to a close.

My top five books of the year new to me have been Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage, following Mattie, a former Suffragette, adapting to older age and life after the cause; Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading, revisiting the magic of discovering books; Louisa May Alcott’s Good Wives, taking Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy into the next chapters of their lives; Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, an incredible story of resilience and strength of character; and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing, a truly lovely novel set in the North Carolina marshlands following a young girl Kya as she grows up amongst the birds and nature.

My most-read era has definitely been the Victorian, finding myself lost in Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes and A Christmas Carol all set within fifty years of each other around the end of the nineteenth century. Some had been long-standing favourites but I was so swept up in the ones new to me and found them so absolutely captivating and transporting that I really want to explore more in 2021, starting with Wuthering Heights on my list after making Jane Eyre my first Bronte, and A Little Princess too after loving rediscovering The Secret Garden so much.

My most-read author has been my very favourite, L.M. Montgomery, and I hope to read more from her in the new year too, returning to the Emily books which I’ve only read the first of a few years back; re-reading Rilla of Ingleside which I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and following that with The Blythes are Quoted, the final Anne book, only released in its complete form in 2009 and the only one I’ve never read.

I have had a wonderful time reading this year, and have been transported to so many different times and places in spite of spending much of the year in our own little home. Some have made me laugh, cry, feel such comfort or such inspiration – and some of the best all of those! So many of the books I’ve read too have been leant, gifted, recommended or passed on between the family and friends I’ve missed so much this year and have been a connection between us I’ve been so grateful for. I am so glad to have discovered so many wonderful books, and to have had so much fun journaling them too, and am forward to many more in 2021. A very happy new year to you all! 📖📚📚📖

December reading diary 📚

December ended up a busy month in general and so a quieter reading one than I expected, which, with lockdown fully back on now, it was lovely just to embrace while we could. I did manage to do some reading though, with our book club book, John Lanchester’s The Wall, in the first few days of the month; a couple of lovely Christmas books, Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery and the one and only A Christmas Carol read slowly over the lead-up to Christmas, and finishing in the last few days of the year reading Laura Markham’s Calm Parents, Happy Kids which I’d been reading for a few weeks.

📖 The Wall ~ John Lanchester 📖 Really enjoyed reading and having our monthly book club virtual catch-up on John Lanchester’s dystopian portrayal of the UK after an event referred to only as The Change. A short and fast-paced but thought-provoking and certainly topical book, I found the unsettling world of the Wall and Kavanagh’s story within it hauntingly relevant and so gripping. Really enjoyed reading this and discussing it too, lovely to have a chance to gather even from afar and talk books.

📖 A Christmas Carol ~ Charles Dickens 📖 Every year as Christmas creeps closer I look forward to re-reading A Christmas Carol, and it’s part of my little tradition to read it from my old uni Longman Anthology of British Literature too, on the tall thin pages I first discovered it on, tucked between other works of its era but so very special. I always wait to read it when it won’t be rushed and it really feels like Christmas when I do finally pull it from the shelf and begin again. This year as always I loved returning to the grey streets of Victorian London, and to the warmth, spirit and challenge to us all of this inimitable, wonderful story ❤️❤️

📖 The Christmas Mystery ~ Jostein Gaarder 📖 This is a book I have had on my shelf since childhood and had read before but could barely remember it until I picked it up again this year to read in daily instalments in December.

Divided into 24 chapters, one for each day of advent, it tells the story of Joachim, a small boy in Norway in 1992, who is given a handmade advent calendar with a small folded excerpt from a story tucked behind each door, this going on to form the second strand of the novel.

In the calendar’s tale, a young girl called Elisabet is shopping in a department store in 1948 when she runs after a toy lamb come to life, following him on what turns out to be a pilgrimage through time and place back to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’s birth. They are accompanied every day by a growing number of angels, shepherds, sheep, kings and other players in the Christmas story. The travellers cover many countries and many eras as they journey on and the complexity of the historical and geographical changes are meticulously detailed as they do so. Joachim’s family follow along with the story in atlases and books and a reader easily could too.

I enjoyed the two stories being revealed chapter by chapter and having a different twist on the Christmas story to dip into every day – the biblical characters brought to life with vibrancy and splashes of humour – but this was an unusual story in many ways and did make me feel uncomfortable at times.

Without giving away any spoilers, there was an unexpectedly dark twist for a children’s book towards the end and an accompanying shift of focus away from the twin themes of the nativity story and Joachim’s family’s warming preparations for their own Christmas which had been so central throughout, the pivot adding a more modern, political and unsettling dimension and holding this back slightly from being the cosy Christmas story it might otherwise have been. I did really so enjoy though having a few moments every day leading up to Christmas with an advent calendar of my own in book form.

📖 Calm Parents, Happy Kids ~ Dr Laura Markham 📖 I came to the end of Calm Parents, Happy Kids (originally Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids in the US) on the second-last morning of the year on a slow start to the day, after having read it over the past few weeks on my Kindle or phone in little chapters here and there – and overall I really enjoyed it. I’ve been following parenting blogs and reading books centred around gentle parenting more and more over the past few years and had heard this book crop up a few times – most recently in a conversation on Giovanna Fletcher’s Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast – so had been keen to read it for a while.

I wouldn’t say I’d be convinced on absolutely everything in here, and I felt more than some other books of its type the tone could be a bit uncompromising in some respects (I can see from a wee browse of Goodreads I’m in the majority in finding reading it sometimes came with a side of guilt at any times the parenting ideal has been fallen short of!), but what I found so very valuable about it was the focus on connection between parent and child and the many ideas for how best to foster that in the various stages of childhood from babyhood right through towards the end of primary school, with lots of practical tips. The book is broken down into three parts: regulating ourselves as parents, connecting with our children and coaching rather than controlling them at each stage. It was really interesting to have this all laid out from a clinical psychologist’s perspective but in a way that was still very accessible, and there was lots I know I’ll remember and continue to try to put into use as our girls grow.

This will definitely join my very well-read Sarah Ockwell-Smith books, Izzy Judd’s lovely Mindfulness for Mums and SJ Strum’s catalogue of videos, as inspiring and valuable learning I will keep close and dip back into on and off as we navigate the twists and turns of the rollercoaster that is parenting!

Overall I really enjoyed some cosy December reading and have already settled into a January of life at home that will see more of the same. Hope you are all having a good week. X

November Reading 📚

Good morning all and a very happy Little Christmas Eve / Christmas Eve Eve… ❤️🎄 we are just about ready for Christmas to arrive here and settling down for a few weeks of quieter life again here as lockdown begins again on Boxing Day. Been without a phone I could WordPress on the last few weeks so have missed a wee browse and scribble here but newly back up and running now so been enjoying catching up on reading some lovely posts this morning, and thought would catch up (very late!) on November reads.

📖The Sealwoman’s Gift ~ Sally Magnusson 📖 My first read of November was Sally Magnusson’s historical novel, set during the pirate raids on the coast of Iceland in 1627 and following the story of the family of Olafur Egilsson, a real-life pastor abducted with 40 others from a small island on the South coast. Choosing to focus on the untold story of Olafur’s wife Asta, this book imagines what this historical event must have been like not for the men whose experiences tend to be more well-documented but for the women whose stories are much less known.

Asta’s narrative is a raw and honest one and this is a heart-breaking and thought-provoking book about survival and holding on to a sense of self through great hardships. Icelandic folklore, the stories of many generations and the memories of a home far away weave through this compelling story, and as Asta forms relationships in the new world she finds herself in, similarities and differences between the cultures, religions and histories play out poignantly.

My mum had bought me this book a couple of years ago and I’d been really looking forward to getting it to the top of the to-read pile, but it was chosen as our book club book for this month and so I enjoyed reading it along with the others and having our usual virtual chat all about it last week, where it had been so well received by us all.

I especially enjoyed reading it at this time of year, as the twice I’ve been to Iceland, a place I love so much – on our honeymoon initially and again a couple of years later – were both in early November; – so in this at-home year it was so lovely to journey to a favourite place at a favourite time of year in Sally Magnusson’s beautiful descriptions of the sweeping Icelandic coastline and the unraveling tales of the Icelanders’ sagas.

📖 Christmas at Liberty’s ~ Fiona Ford 📖 I crossed over into the Christmas reads earlier than usual this year and am sure I will have more of them than normal too – I just absolutely and unashamedly love a cosy, comforting Christmas story so much; – and really enjoyed this first book in Fiona Ford’s Liberty Girls series, set in London in 1941, warmly telling the story of Mary and her friends and colleagues in the Liberty’s department store as they navigate the joys, heartache and everything in between of careers, relationships and the ever-progressing war, pulling together throughout no matter what they face. ❤️🎄

📖 Midnight Dancer – Running Free ~ Elizabeth Lindsay 📖 I never like to let too much time go by without returning to my beloved pony books, and this is one of my favourite books in my very favourite childhood series. I loved spending my evenings for a few days back in the wonderful world of Black Rock and Llangaby Farm more than ever – Mory, Josh, Cara and Lionel adventuring out on the hills with their ponies. What I love most about these books is Mory’s relationship with Dancer and how they grow together throughout, it’s always reminded me so much of mine with my own Charmer.

I picked this up again a couple of months ago and put it back down, with Charmer newly retired and my mind full of worries of how badly he was coping with his arthritis at the time and how uncertain his future seemed to be even just enjoying life in the field. Now, a couple of months on and my old man much more stable and thoroughly enjoying his life of leisure, it was so lovely to read it again, reminisce about all our yesterdays weaving between trees and flying over fallen logs, and appreciate so much how very lucky we are to still have each other and be enjoying this new stage too.

For anyone who loves pony books, I would so recommend Elizabeth Lindsay’s Midnight Dancer stories. Just six short books, they are just full of the warmth of family relationships, the rugged beauty of the sweeping Welsh countryside and the hard work and great rewards of life on a farm, with plenty of jumping or gymkhana practice and a good dash of adventure thrown in – just the perfect horsey escape!

📖 The Story Girl ~ L.M. Montgomery 📖 I love the Anne of Green Gables books so much and could read L.M. Montgomery’s beautiful writing all day so have been meaning to get more into some of her other works. The Story Girl was a lovely enveloping story full of the magic of childhood woven together with folklore. I had read that this was Montgomery’s own favourite of her novels and that strong autobiographical elements were tied in to some of the characters as well as many stories handed down from her Scottish and Canadian heritage, so I was all the more interested to read this – and I really enjoyed it and found it, as ever, a captivating and lovely read.

📖 One More for Christmas ~ Sarah Morgan 📖 As we move ever closer to Christmas I am looking forward to it so very much and loving reading some cosy festive books. This one was new for this year and I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read any Sarah Morgan before but I really liked all the characters in this book that was part romance (of course!) and also a very readable and complicated family story working itself out, and to the backdrop of the snowy Highlands. I just love warming uplifting Christmas books at this time of year and really liked this one. 🎄

November was a lovely reading month for me, more than ever just reading exactly what I fancied – an old favourite pacy pony book, two warming Christmas novels, a new branch of LM Montgomery’s incredible work in The Story Girl and Sally Magnusson’s compelling Icelandic historical novel The Sealwoman’s Gift. Both The Story Girl and The Sealwoman’s Gift were celebrations of stories themselves and beautiful examples of just how important they are; and I enjoyed all these stories very much in a wrapped-up November.

Hope you’re all now having a wrapped-up December and wishing you all a really lovely Christmas. X