Have to start by saying the biggest thank you to Random House UK / Transworld Publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity I was very grateful for to read an advance review copy of this absolute treasure of a book.
I have loved Sarah Turner’s writing as The Unmumsy Mum in her books and blogs for years, her ever-brilliant stories always shared with the right balance of humour, honesty and tenderness, and I couldn’t have been more excited about the idea of her first novel, which – despite the high expectations! – met them and more.
Following 31-year-old Beth as she finds herself thrown into the role of guardian of her teenage niece and toddler nephew in the wake of a family tragedy; it is a beautiful and sensitive exploration of the family relationships and friendships that provide a much-needed lift and pull through both the journey of grief and the challenges of everyday life.
There are so many wonderful characters in these pages, and all are drawn with understanding and relatability – from 3-year-old Ted (so often both the light relief and, even simultaneously, an inspiration to the others) to elderly neighbour Albert (whose fresh perspective, wonderful book club choices and text messages that made me laugh out loud brought so much to the story).
This book has everything I love in an involving and memorable story – it is full of such perfectly-drawn moments (a pre-school nativity play, a hospital waiting room, a bonfire-lit garden, all brought to startlingly-recognisable life so expertly); deals with some difficult topics addressed with the right mix of depth and lighter touches; and does justice to all of its characters and storylines, not just those of Beth herself.
Stepping Up is poignant, funny and ultimately so uplifting, and I truly loved it and cannot recommend this wonderfully-written debut novel highly enough. 💚
This year has been quite a bitty one for me reading-wise so far – not necessarily in a bad way, there’s been lots going on to keep me busy and lots of stopping and starting with books that I’ve eventually got to the end of and enjoyed as much as if I’d raced through them. But this summer with some time off and some wonderful weather I’ve finally enjoyed a few books both powered through and taken at a slow steady pace. As the holidays draw to a close, thought I would round up the books I’ve read in these lovely summery months.
📖 Meet You By Hachiko ~ Loren Greene 📖
This was the first book I read when the nights turned lighter, longer and got so very much warmer for us here than we’re used to. Sitting out late on the longest night of the year, as the sun set, I finished this enjoyable young adult book about a teenage friendship and the journey it leads its characters on. This was the first book I have downloaded and read after stumbling across Voracious Readers Only, so a huge thank you to @voraciousreadersonly and Loren Greene for a complimentary copy of the book in return for an honest review.
Dotting between the narratives of Grace – a quiet senior high schooler in Newfoundland, Canada, longing to be able to stretch her wings and explore her passions more; and Kana – at the same stage in Japanese schooling, living and studying in Tokyo and struggling under the pressure of exam deadlines and academic future; it tells the story of how the girls’ shared love for Japanese fashion draws them together across the continents and sets them on a path together.
This book had a lovely feel to it – never having been to either Canada or Japan it was an interesting insight into the cultures in both countries that I thoroughly enjoyed – especially the elements around Christmas and New Year which I always love in any book and which were fascinating in their contrasts. One of the things that was really remarkable about this book though was that even though these cultures were so different to my own and to each other there was something very recognisable in the angst of the relationships, studying and coming of age of the characters regardless of location, as the author tapped beautifully into the universal experience of teenage life.
I really enjoyed this book, it was light and entertaining and for all the characters’ flawed navigating of these tricky years I found myself rooting for them so much as they found their way amidst the pressures around them. A nostalgic and engaging read about the universal struggles of coming of age with lovely insights into life in both Newfoundland and Tokyo.
📖 The Village Green Bookshop ~ Rachael Lucas 📖
I bought this book as a summer read before a couple of weekends off – started it on one and finished it a couple of weeks later on another – enjoying the lovely leisurely holiday feeling and becoming lost in the beautiful fictional Cotswolds village of Little Maudsley. ❤️ – And there couldn’t have been a more perfect backdrop to draw such a lovely warming story to a close than when I stepped outside in our own little village to the most beautiful sunset to read the last pages.
More and more these days I’m drawn to books that are cosy and uplifting, loving the gentle security of a book without too much darkness or focus on difficult topics, and this was just such a simply lovely book. Following Hannah, a stay-at-home mum to teenage Ben, as she takes on a small village book shop and finds how much she enjoys finding her feet in a whole new world just for her, it is a gently-paced feel-good story – and a very romantic one too, as former footballer Jake Lovatt, the village’s celebrity resident, finds his own place among the thatched cottages, book clubs and floral-lined streets, drawing closer to both Hannah and Ben.
The descriptions of the village and the larger towns around were absolutely beautiful too – it took me right back to a holiday in that very area almost a decade ago and made me really want to revisit all the prettiness of the Cotswold villages. This turned out to be the second book set in the same world, The Telephone Box Library being the first, and I’d really like to read that now and more by Rachael Lucas too as I really enjoyed her writing both in its descriptions of the beautiful places around and its journeying of the engaging characters through this lovely story. 💜
📖 A Little Princess ~ Frances Hodgson Burnett 📖
Just over a year ago I re-read The Secret Garden for the first time since childhood, in doing so re-discovering all its old magic ❤️ – and I had wanted to come back to A Little Princess ever since, which I had only a hazy memory of. Picking up the same copy as I read back then, I have so enjoyed journeying back into the world of the remarkable Sara Crewe, finding her adjusting to her new life at a boarding school in London after her years of comfortable family living in India.
I don’t remember ever fully realising just how much there was for me to love in Sara when I read this as a child. Not being at all swept up in dresses and Princess-like things, I think I may not have found Sara very relatable back then; but if so I really couldn’t have been more wrong. From her passionate assertion that “stories are for everyone”, her confession – despite her usually cheerful disposition – that “never did she find anything so difficult as to keep her temper when suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book – those who are fond of books know the irritation”; to her befriending of Melchisidec the rat (“he is just like a person”) and her declaring on rescuing the monkey from the cold, kissing him happily “Oh I do love little animal things!” Sara Crewe was a girl after my own heart, then and now.
As her story unfolds, her capacity to transform her world simply with her imagination is both inspiring and heart-rending, re-writing sad situations into fairy tales for herself – and so often too for those close to her – Lottie, Becky, Ermengarde – desperate to lift their spirits.
It’s only a few months since I read L.M. Montgomery’s The Story Girl for the first time, and I could see such similarities between Sara and the Story Girl (herself another Sara) in the transforming nature of their sparks of creativity on their own lives and those of their peers.
Sara Crewe is a wonderful heroine, her story a moving and powerful one; and I’m so glad I’ve revisited this. I loved being lost in the corridors of the old school building with all its atmosphere, and flying through the pages desperate for an upturn in Sara’s luck. ❤️
📖Ruby Ferguson & the Jill Books ~ Jane Badger 📖
I stumbled across @janebadger.books a few years ago when tracking down some old pony books, a site I was very glad to see dedicated to bringing some old classics, so many of which I’d loved, back into print. This however is one of Jane’s own books, on the subject of Ruby Ferguson, who wrote the “Jill books”, some of my very very favourites. ❤️
I thoroughly enjoyed this fascinating and in-depth exploration of this classic series, definitely a must-read for any fan of them! It was wonderful to have a chance to relive so much of the inimitable Jill Crewe, her two ponies Black Boy and Rapide and her friends, family and neighbours in the little village of Chatton. ❤️
The publishing history in particular was so interesting – shedding light on so many things I’ve wondered over the years like the quirk of Jill’s first pony, Black Boy, being depicted in some editions as black and some piebald – and discussing the artwork and printing changes in editions through the years. Several covers were included in the book, letting me find out more about the 1970s Knight series that most of my books are from, picked up from a second hand book shop – though I do have one in the older 1960s Armada – but best of all following a link from the eBook to a more detailed article on the website I was also able to find for the first time since childhood the cover of the 1990s edition of Jill’s Gymkhana – not a classic but my first introduction to these incredible books, and just took me right back to a pony-loving birthday morning unwrapping it. ❤️
Full of affection for a wonderful character and wonderful series, this is just a lovely read for any fan of Jill.
📖 Persuasion ~ Jane Austen 📖
At the beginning of August I spent a lovely week slowly enjoying a relaxed re-read of what I’m almost 100% sure is my very favourite Jane Austen novel (though might have to read Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice again just to be sure!!). I could never tire of reading any of these novels, and of the trademark moving, enrapturing writing I love so much, but there’s always been something I’ve loved most of all about Anne Elliot. ❤️
She is older than some if not all of Austen’s other heroines as the novel opens, having had eight years go by since she first came of age and had her engagement with Captain Wentworth, now long since in the past. I love that Anne knows herself well, and the steadiness and confidence that brings with it despite the constraints of the time on a woman in her situation. As the story unfolds it’s so clear what an anchor in her family and circle she is – most especially with Mary, who I also love for being the most wonderful outlet for Austen’s humour, Mary’s letters and monologues making me laugh so much. Anne is impossible not to root for, and Captain Wentworth too, as he comes back into Anne’s life after a period of separation, though less known, is a wonderful character. I just really love this romantic, sweeping story and I’m so glad to have re-read it for the first time in a few years now and loved it just as much. I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t read and might but also read for the most truly wonderful letter ever written. ❤️
I think I last read this when I was at uni studying these novels and loving every minute – I’m now looking forward to getting to do just a little of that again as have just had the loveliest birthday present of being able to join the Jane Austen society so looking forward to lots of reading and learning this year! I loved being lost in Anne’s circle and following this beautiful story unfolding again.
📖 The Authenticity Project ~ Clare Pooley 📖
This uplifting novel follows six main characters – local cafe owner Monica, elderly former artist Julian, recovering addict Hazard, struggling new mother Alice, easy-going traveler Riley and retired volunteer Lizzie – as they intertwine with each other and come to influence each other’s lives as they do.
Julian’s attempt to break out of the loneliness and invisibility he feels in his older age by leaving a notebook in Monica’s cafe, writing some of his own hidden truths within it and encouraging others to do the same, provides the catalyst for this story unfolding – taking some sometimes quite unexpected turns as it does.
Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project is written with compassion and great insight (she is also the author of The Sober Diaries, a memoir of her own struggle with addiction and many of the issues the intricately drawn characters encounter). I bought this book, billed on its 2020 release as the heart-warming read we all need right now, during our final stint of lockdown life earlier this year. Warm and engaging from the off, it cheered me up back then just to have it on the to-read pile and to have flipped through the first few pages, but it was just the last couple of weeks that I came to settle down to read it properly and I enjoyed it just as much as a gently thought-provoking but hope-filled summer read as I would have as a much-needed lockdown escape.
And last but absolutely not least couldn’t finish a round up of summer reading without a mention of my two little mini readers who have been the main activity of my summer! Reading with my littlest, loving lift-the-flap books and short books with good rhythm (Peepo, Feminist Baby, Oh Dear! and Dear Zoo taking the top spots ❤️), and my slightly bigger little, enjoying longer books now. Last year we read The Owl Who Was Afraid of The Dark by Jill Tomlinson together, such an utterly perfect book and one I remember discovering myself and loved discovering again with my daughter; – and this summer we have been loving another of her books, The Cat Who Wanted To Go Home. I love taking it chapter by chapter and enjoying the story unfolding together, it’s wonderful seeing the magic of stories capturing the next generation. ❤️
Hope you are all well and all enjoying August rumbling towards September. Have a lovely week.
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.
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… 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
📖 The Thursday Murder Club ~ Richard Osman 📖 Catching up on some reads from earlier in the year, having fallen by the wayside with both reading and book blogging for a bit! Back in February / March I’d got completely stuck with reading with lots else going on and the only book I finished in a couple of months was this, Richard Osman’s warm, funny, poignant and gripping Thursday Murder Club. This is simply a brilliant book, with characters so engaging that I was just sooo pleased to hear the sequel is due out this September, and am looking forward to returning to the world of Cooper’s Chase retirement village already. A compelling mystery written with touches of humour and understanding, some fast-paced twists and turns and throughout a much-needed light shone on the complexities of ageing; I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This was a book club read for us, our last of the full lockdown ones we chose ourselves while the library was completely shut, and I juggled our distanced catch-up on it with a farrier appointment for the fluffy boy who is so often my reading companion. ❤️ I’ve gifted, leant and recommended this already which definitely speaks for itself, and am looking forward to the next instalment very much.
📖 The Librarian ~ Salley Vickers 📖 Set in the 1950s in small-town England, this was a gently-paced and nostalgic novel with a steadying sense of place and lots of quiet charm. Following Sylvia, a young librarian, relocating to take her first major job in charge of the local children’s library, it has lots of lovely references to books throughout – particularly children’s books – which made for wonderful reading. As Sylvia settled to her new role and all that providing books for the children of the town brought with it, I really enjoyed some of the stories unfolding for both the librarian and the children. There were romances woven throughout too which I felt less invested in but I really enjoyed this as a story about stories and their undeniable impact.. it has left me with Tom’s Midnight Garden at the very top of my re-read list! This was our book group book for April’s meeting and I’d been so off reading I would never have finished this if it hadn’t been that – the first chosen by our own librarian again with the smallest of first connections with our library opened back up post-lockdown which I was so grateful for… and pressing on with this book about the power of books got me back out of my reading rut and enjoying at my usual pace again since. 💚
📖 Never Greener ~ Ruth Jones 📖 I had wanted to read this since it came out and had been planning to buy it new whenever I could justify it when I stumbled across this copy a while back in a charity shop on a lovely day out with a friend. I am a huge fan of Gavin and Stacey and have marvelled over and over at the writing of it and in particular just the perfect way relationships, homes, interactions, places are all drawn with such a relatable realism that can be painful or hilarious but that always rings so true. Having loved Ruth Jones’ writing in a different context, I was so keen to read her first novel; and I could definitely see in this book as expected more of that same ability to just capture people as they are in such a skilled way. The characters in this book are all flawed and complicated: The story of an affair and its impact on the lives around it, it’s not normally the kind of book I would jump to read, but there was something just so compulsively readable about it. In some ways it wasn’t exactly what I expected, and at times it was a struggle to find the characters likeable, but the story was so engaging and I found myself racing through it. I read that this was actually written as a screenplay decades before and eventually re-worked into a novel, and that Ruth Jones herself considers her second novel, Us Three, to be her first, being the first she’d actually written fully in that format, so I think I’d be really intrigued to get hold of that and read it too.
📖 The Day I Fell Into A Fairytale ~ Ben Miller 📖 This was a lovely Christmas present I got this year, and until I was given it I had no idea Ben Miller had written any novels. In fact he’s written three so far, one for each of his three children with the main characters named after them. After reading The Librarian, which was such a celebration of children’s books, I was in the mood for one for my next read (or even more in the mood than usual as they are so often my very favourites..) so I pulled this from the shelf. I really enjoyed this re-telling of well-known fairytales, and touching story of sibling relationships too. One of the things I love most about reading such a “young” book these days is being able to share it with the little ones – pages read aloud to a sleepless toddler, chatting about the illustrations (beautifully done by Daniela Jaglenka) with a curious pre-schooler – it’s such a lovely way to share reading. I really enjoyed this classically fantastical and heart-warming story.
📖 Why Not Me? ~ Mindy Kaling 📖 Another one I’d been looking forward to reading for a long time, after loving Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? a few years ago as well as the essays from Nothing Like I Imagined when they were published last year. Despite the wait, this second book definitely didn’t disappoint – so very relatable even in the midst of all the Hollywood stories and so funny I lost count of the amount of times I laughed out loud. I’ve always liked Mindy’s writing and admired her so much and I loved giggling my way through this uplifting book.
📖 The Summer Riders ~ Patricia Leitch 📖 Had a lovely venture back into my much-loved world of pony books a couple of weeks ago, to the fictional Finmory in the Scottish Highlands with Jinny and her Arab mare Shantih. I was always aware of the Shantih books growing up but I think I’ve only read an extract from one once before when I was younger, and had totally forgotten that they were set in Scotland; so just picking this up – a double-book volume I’d found along with a bundle of Jill books in a second-hand shop a long time back and never read – I really enjoyed discovering Jinny’s world for pretty much the first time. A flawed and relatable heroine with a fiery and challenging but rewarding equine counterpart, I liked Jinny for her determination, her dedication to Shantih and her desire to grow and change in her relationships; and I really enjoyed this story about friendships, family life and riding adventures in the summer heat of this beautiful stretch of Scotland’s coast. I just love reading pony books of a sunny day, at the farm or in the garden, and I read this through the beginnings of some properly warm weather here – and look forward to a summer of more!
📖 Northanger Abbey ~ Jane Austen 📖 I started re-reading Northanger Abbey earlier in the year, but had ended up pausing it for a bit and got back to it just this week, picking up where I left off, and absolutely loving it as it picked up pace. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility over and over again and love Jane Austen’s writing so much, but this is one of the novels I remembered less well, only having read it once in my uni days – where one wonderful semester an Austen module came up and I got to read these warm, smart and romantic novels for the whole term. I loved the humour in this book – despite rooting for Catherine Morland all the way, and enjoying the enthusiasm with which she met every twist and turn of her unfolding time in Bath and at the Abbey, I couldn’t help but smile along at Austen’s affectionate laughter at her expense throughout the story as well as her intelligent satire of the gothic genre in the mysterious halls of Northanger Abbey. The coming of age tale of this imaginative and endearing heroine, set to the backdrop of places that captured my imagination as much as Catherine’s, made Northanger Abbey just such an enjoyable book.
After a couple of months of not reading much at all, except the wonderful Thursday Murder Club, I really enjoyed reading such a variety in April, children’s and adults’, fiction and non, old and new; and am so glad to be back in a rhythm and already so enjoying my first couple of May books. Hope you are all having a really lovely weekend. xx
Most of my reading in 2021 so far has been cosy and comforting – I’ve been heading off to the farm with pony books tucked in my jacket, slowly re-reading Jane Austen, breathing in the streets of Bath, finding my way through the week with Bridget Jones by my side for a bit of camaraderie and generally using reading as a lovely and reassuring escape from the world around us. This book was so, so not that (a book club pick I nearly didn’t join in with due to the reading mood I was in) and yet was one of the most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time.
This is the desperately sad and yet somehow – unbelievably – hope-glittered story of Nuri and Afra’s journey from their beloved Aleppo to the UK, seeking refuge from the war that had engulfed them. Beautifully compassionate and so painfully and perfectly written, this book is so important and so well done, shining an unflinching and much-needed light on the plight of the many refugees being forced to make such a dangerous and difficult journey. The beautiful descriptions of Nuri and Afra’s life in Aleppo, he a beekeeper and she a painter, their home life with their little boy Sami and their wider family, the peace and stability of their little world; are one of the things that make this book so wonderfully powerful, illuminating with painful truth how normal life was for these families before their world was turned upside down.
I read that Christy Lefteri wrote this after working with refugees herself, seeking to raise awareness and understanding of the crisis and the people trapped within it, and I think she achieves this beautifully with this book. Nuri and Afra are wonderfully engaging characters and their story together as the book unfolds is a deeply moving one. This is simply a very important book – wonderfully written, heart-breaking, challenging and ultimately uplifting against the odds.
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 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 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