📚 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

October Reading Diary 📚

October was a lovely, slow-paced and very autumnal reading month. I spent the first half lost once again in Anne & Gilbert Blythe’s little world, one of my favourite places to be ❤️ Both Anne’s House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside are cosy and comforting reads full of family, friendships and warmth, and I love to return to them over and over. Mindy Kaling’s six brand new essays Nothing Like I Imagined were completely different and had me laughing throughout, full of her usual intelligence and humour; and then my last book of the month, Where the Crawdads Sing, was a wonderful discovery, so very beautiful and captivating.

📖 Anne’s House of Dreams ~ L. M. Montgomery 📖 I spent the first couple of weeks of October with this book – the fifth in the Anne of Green Gables series – by my side, reading it slowly and loving every word. This is only the second time I’ve read it, having fallen properly in love with Anne in adulthood and read all the way through the series just once before. As I re-read this, I could remember so clearly the first time I’d come to each turn of it, and adored it this time just as much.

Anne’s House of Dreams, beginning with Anne & Gilbert’s wedding and chronicling the first few years of their married life together, settled in their little house at Four Winds Harbour, is just a simply beautiful story. Miss Cornelia, Captain Jim and Susan Baker are characters that glitter with all Montgomery’s trademark magic – and Christmases and stays spent back with the “Avonlea folks” throughout too add the doses of Marilla and Mrs Lynde that perfect it.

I found myself just completely lost in the crashing waves and steady lighthouse of the harbour and in all Anne and Gilbert’s journeying together through the ups and downs of life and their friendships with those around them as they begin the next stage of their life together. I can’t think of a better way to spend autumn evenings than back in the wonderful Anne’s world with these characters.

📖 Anne of Ingleside ~ L. M. Montgomery 📖 I had meant just to dip into the world of Four Winds for one little story – but when I came to the end of House of Dreams found I couldn’t tear myself away from it just yet, and I so loved just picking up the next book straight away and re-reading Anne of Ingleside. Finding Anne, Gilbert, their children and Susan settled into life in their new home, this is a truly lovely book about the ups and downs of family life. Reading this again now that I spend so much time watching our own girls grow and change, I smiled all the more at some of the dizzying highs and weeping lows of the Ingleside children’s lives, as well as loving Anne’s navigating of it all. All of the Anne books are just the cosiest and loveliest of books to me and I really enjoyed carrying this with me and reading it whenever I could. ❤️🍁

📖 Nothing Like I Imagined (Except for Sometimes) ~ Mindy Kaling 📖 This was a surprise read for me this month and one I so loved! I discovered just as they came out that Mindy Kaling had written this collection of six essays, all short Kindle books, for Amazon Original Stories, which were free to download with Prime so a much-appreciated gift! I absolutely love her writing both on TV shows and in previous books and as soon as I heard about these I downloaded them right away, and ended up reading them very quickly. Mindy covers everything from motherhood to the fast-paced working world of script-writing to ponderings of faith and does so with all her usual warmth, humour, honesty and poignancy – as ever making reading seem like laughing with a friend over the ins and outs of life in the warmest of ways.

📖 Where the Crawdads Sing ~ Delia Owens 📖 I found this an absolutely beautiful book, and was completely swept up in the descriptions of the North Carolina marshlands, and lost entirely in Kya’s little world. I loved this book – Kya herself is a wonderful protagonist; and this book has everything I love – such a beautiful setting – the wildness of the marsh painted so beautifully; a story of anchoring friendships and learning and growing together (Tate, Jumpin’ and Mabel wonderful characters too); and a pacy and satisfying murder mystery weaving through it.

My friend had recommended this and leant it to me and I loved chatting about it with her – and my mum and my sister are reading it now too as we plan to make it the first of a little lockdown virtual book club keeping us going through winter, which I really look forward to – Yet another book that in this strange year of distance has pulled me closer to both family and friends. I finished this on the morning of Halloween and it felt so much like the perfect October read, and really was – with a lot of the action taking place between October 28th-30th exactly while I read. This is a lovely, cosy and captivating book, and I know that Kya and her marshlands will stay with me for a long time to come. ❤️

All of these were such perfect Octobery reads and made me think of a quote of Anne’s in Anne’s House of Dreams – “our library may not be very extensive but every book in it is a friend” – these books are all definite friends, old and new, and I enjoyed them all.

Hope you are all well – been so long since I’ve posted, don’t quite know how, life has just rushed on! But will write more soon. Have a good week! X

September Reading Diary 📚🍁☕️❤️

Autumn is upon us once more and that definitely calls for lots of cosy evenings and cosy books – I’ve really enjoyed reading this month, starting with three mysteries in a row all read so quickly at the beginning of the month and then slowing down with two longer books covering the passing of time.

📖 Insidious Intent ~ Val McDermid 📖 As September began and I started looking forward as much as ever to the autumn and winter months of cosy evenings reading, I found myself wanting to sink into a dark and unwinding crime story – and who better to turn to but Val McDermid. I had loved watching her talking as much as ever in the Edinburgh Book Festival online and so pulled Insidious Intent from the bookshelf that I had picked up a couple of years ago but never got to reading. This was my first Carol Jordan and Tony Hill book, and both characters intrigued me. This book was so compelling, I read it more quickly than I’ve read anything for a long time, always wanting just one more chapter and one more and loving the pacy chase of the hunt as Carol, Paula, Tony and the team closed in. This book definitely had me remembering why I love crime fiction so much, and was a perfect first read of autumn.

📖 Three Things About Elsie ~ Joanna Cannon 📖 When our book club chose Three Things About Elsie for our August book, to chat about (still online) at the beginning of September, I was so looking forward to discussing it as it’s one of my very favourite books, but at first decided not to re-read as I’d read it just a couple of years ago and I felt like I still remembered it all so well. When I picked it up on the day though I was just completely drawn back in and ended up reading it all again, loving it as much as ever. Joanna Cannon’s writing is so perceptive and so very relatable. Florence is a character it’s impossible not to fall in love with, so many others so wonderful too, and the lives and stories at Cherry Tree completely absorbing. This is just such a special book, with such important things to say about how we view older people in society, and full of so much warmth, intrigue and hope.

📖 The Sign of Four ~ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 📖 After Insidious Intent and Three Things About Elsie I loved returning to a very favourite detective in Sherlock Holmes. I had never read The Sign of Four before and loved sinking back into Holmes and Watson’s world and especially meeting and getting to know Mary Morstan in this book for the very first time.

📖 The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies’ Book Club ~ Sophie Green 📖 I so enjoyed reading this lovely book at a slow and easy pace over a couple of weeks – mostly in evenings with a sleeping baby curled up on me or short bursts in the mornings with a toddler sneaked in to bed too! This was one of the books I had picked up on my first trip back to the library, and was a warm and comforting read. Set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s/early 80s, and painted with a sweeping sense of place and atmosphere; it tells the story of a growing friendship between several women coming together to form a book club. The descriptions of the relentless rain of the wet season, the horses out on the hills and the weathering of so many storms to get to each other, all made this a perfect autumn/winter read and a perfect lockdown one too. I really loved the engaging characters, the flashes of other books throughout in the ladies’ book club choices and the strength of the women’s enduring friendships through the years. ❤️

📖 Philomena (previously The Lost Child of Philomena Lee) ~ Martin Sixsmith 📖 In the last few days I’ve been completely gripped by the incredible and heart-wrenching story of Philomena Lee and of her son, born to her in a mother-and-baby home for unmarried mothers in 1952 and taken away after three years of life in the Catholic convent under the care of the nuns and his mother. Anthony Lee would go on to be adopted by an American family and become Michael Hess, and most of this book, despite the new film tie-in title focusing on Philomena, is devoted to the story of Michael’s life.

I found this totally unputdownable and was completely captivated by such a remarkable story, following the twists and turns of Michael’s successful career reaching the heights of the White House alongside the ever-present pull back to his roots. I did come across some writing by people close to the story on finishing the book that was very critical of Martin Sixsmith’s reimagining of events, so I think this definitely has to be viewed as fictionalised retelling rather than non-fiction, but I found it both a totally compelling portrayal of a struggle for identity and a snapshot of life in America too during the decades covered, with all the social and political shifts taking place over the years.

I had been leant this book by my nana and discovered once again, as I have so many times throughout this year, in these times when restrictions find us further from each other than we’d like to be, the lovely closer sense of togetherness reading and sharing books can bring.

This has been a great reading month and I’ve really enjoyed the beginnings of the darker months with lots on the to-read list as they continue to settle in. X

August Reading Diary… and a couple of virtual book festival jaunts!

My August reading diary is definitely a map of all the directions my heart has been tugged and pulled in this month – a mix of pony books while I’ve been pouring my evenings into looking after my own star pony; The Unmumsy Mum Diary for a bit of hand-holding company in the midst of the pride and heartache of my two wee ones growing up; and Jane Eyre joining the list of classics I’ve discovered are my 2020 go-to reads, somehow the most absorbing to get lost in when a proper escape is needed from what is still a very strange year.

The Swallow Tale by K.M.Peyton & A Pony To School by Diana Pullein-Thomson

The first book I read this month was K.M. Peyton’s The Swallow Tale, one that’s been on my shelf since childhood but not one of my very favourites that I’ve read over til I know it well, so quite fresh to me as I read it for the first time in so long. As with any pony story I found plenty to get lost in in Rowan’s falling in love with the wild and captivating Swallow. I followed it not too long after with a Diana Pullein-Thomson book, A Pony to School, one I hadn’t read before but had picked up a few years ago in my old favourite second-hand bookshop when they had (to my joy!) literally a bucket of old pony books. Both of these were very old-school classics and reminded me of the way I used to read when I was young, tearing through so many different books indiscriminately- just as long as they had horses in them – and learning lots of different ways of viewing and handling a life with horses as a result. Those among them back in the day whose values most closely mirrored mine – Ruby Ferguson’s Jill, and Elizabeth Lindsay’s Mory, Josh and Cara – are those that have stayed on my bookshelf and been re-read over and over, seeing my Charmer’s own character and story mirrored so perfectly in Black Boy’s and Midnight Dancer’s; – but it was actually really fun to go back and read completely different perspectives. Even if I could never take quite the same approach to horses as the Hawes of High Hawes did in Swallow (though much more as Babar and her “shabby” pony Black Diamond did, my stand-out characters of this book!) or use the old-school methods of Christina and Augusta in handling Clown and conquering his rearing habit in A Pony To School; there’s a common ground in the world of horses no matter the differences and as I worried and fretted over my own boy, I loved being lost in some proper classic pony stories – a genre I unashamedly love!

The Unmumsy Mum Diary by Sarah Turner

I’ve followed Sarah Turner, aka The Unmumsy Mum, on her blog and social media for a long time, and have read all of her books in the past. This month I found myself re-reading her second – and my favourite – The Unmumsy Mum Diary. Documenting life with her two sons at the time, Henry and Jude, during a year that saw Henry begin school and Jude navigate toddlerhood; I really enjoyed this book. I’ve always appreciated Sarah’s honesty about parenthood, but I think what shines through despite the telling of all the bad with the good is her huge and unwavering love for her children, and that mix of joy and sorrow I’ve come to learn comes along with watching every stage of their growing up going by so fast. This month as my biggest baby took off to playgroup to start making her own experiences for the very first time away from us, and my littlest too strained and stretched and wrangled her way to new stages in record time, desperate to sit up and join in with everything her sister can do; I was so aware of how quickly time goes by and how much I want to make the most of every single moment, and it made me feel comforted and uplifted to read all the emotions I could feel written down in someone else’s diary, and have some company in all the ups and downs of a busy and transforming month for the little ones.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I’ve been meaning to read Jane Eyre for so long and finally got to it this month. It’s always been a favourite of my sister’s (which usually means I’ll definitely love it!) but I’d given it a couple of abandoned attempts years ago back at uni – where I studied English literature and we covered Wide Sargasso Sea so touched on it but never actually studied Jane Eyre itself – and I had never got back to it. Picking it up now, I found it so easy to read and so compelling. I started reading on the night of the most incredible thunderstorm we’ve had here in years, the perfect set-up for discovering the shadowy Thornfield Hall with all its mysteries; and I found myself completely swept up in Jane’s story from start to finish, simply loving her strength, resilience, intelligence and passion in every situation she found herself in. This is such a wonderful book, with such a wonderful heroine at its centre – so ahead of its time in so many ways, romantic, gothic and completely captivating; and I’m so glad to have read it at long last!

August would normally be a big book month for me, as it would tend to find me taking at least one venture over to the Edinburgh Book Festival, to sit with a coffee under twinkling lights in the beautiful garden in Charlotte Square, listen to talk after talk in the Spiegel Tent and file into the auditorium for a ticketed event or two. This year, of course, this was not to be! But I was really pleased to find that they put on such a wonderful online programme, streaming live and many events available on YouTube afterwards – so in spite of staying home, I’ve spent a couple of evenings this month enjoying some talks from favourite writers.

Book festival previous years and this year from home 🏡

I will listen to more I am sure as there have been so many interesting authors involved, but so far I have enjoyed Ian Rankin, who I always to love to hear, talking about his next Rebus book A Song for the Dark Times (definitely going on the to-read list!); Val McDermid and Jo Sharp discussing their collaborative collection of essays Imagine A Country, contributed to by some of Scotland’s most prominent voices; and Bernardine Everisto talking to Nicola Sturgeon about Girl, Woman, Other, which I enjoyed reading so much earlier in the summer. I always think it’s such a privilege to hear writers speak about their work and it was wonderful to be able to listen to some amazing people I admire so much talking so passionately about books and the world we’re living in today, all from the comfort of home!

Have really enjoyed reading this month and as we move into September, my very favourite season upon us of autumn leaves and cosy nights in, I’m so looking forward to my next reads. Have a lovely week all. Xx

The Little Ones’ Books ~ Pt 2 ❤️

I’ve been meaning for a while to write about some more of the favourite books of the young team here in our little house! I have always had such a love for children’s books, some of the favourites from my childhood treasured and re-read over and over; and I’ve loved getting to know some beautiful books for very young children ever since my oldest daughter arrived. I did write one post away back at World Book Day a couple of years ago that I had always meant to be the start of many but never quite got round to it. Now, though, I’m so enjoying writing about all my own reading on here that thought it would be a lovely time to start writing about our very favourites just a few at a time.

Last time had a look at Carson Ellis’s Home, Julia Donaldson’s The Highway Rat, Jonathan Emmet’s Mole series and Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s classic Peepo!

They are all still very well-loved additions to our bookshelf. Our Julia Donaldson collection has grown and definitely now have more of hers to cover! The Mole books and Home still make for lovely quiet reading and Peepo! especially has been a frequently-selected bedtime story for the last couple of years here and is one of the many our biggest girl loves to recite from heart after so many readings. It’s become even more special to us too since our littlest daughter arrived – we love the sister squabbling for the baby on her knee, all the chaos around the littlest member of the Peepo family, and most of all that he finds so much love and security in it despite its noise and bluster. ❤️

Old Bear books, by Jane Hissey

Starting with an absolute favourite of mine, and a collection so well-loved by us all, Jane Hissey’s Old Bear books are so very special thanks to the perfectly drawn characters, the warming stories and the detailed and simply beautiful illustrations. Although like so many others we’ve got really into, these are favourites from my own childhood (my copy of Old Bear dated to me at Christmas when I was one, and a story I’ve never forgotten), it is actually some of the more recently written books that are the best loved here. The All-Together Painting, published in 2013, is a really lovely one, and the newest addition to our bookshelf is the most recent, Happy Birthday, Old Bear, a beautiful 30th anniversary special, with all the old favourites and a new character, Elsie the little grey elephant, too – who has become as much of a hit as Old Bear, Little Bear, Bramwell Brown and all the rest.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

This is a simple and lovely bedtime story that I never get tired of and that both girls love. Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare’s lovely exchanges as they move gradually closer to bedtime are just perfect, and it’s a beautiful little book.

Baby, I Love You – illustrated by Helen Stephens

We have two copies of this very special book and I’m actually going to keep them both so both girls have one – this is a UNICEF books created and published to support babies and new parents in those blurry early days and is just so beautifully done – the illustrations are perfect. I love that there’s mess, there’s imperfections, but there’s so much love in every drawing. These are gifted here as part of babies’ first Bookbug bags, and I loved receiving them both times, a really lovely, calming and reassuring gift for all the family to mark such a big moment.

Alfie: The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook by Shirley Hughes

This is one that arrived with us in lockdown – our biggest girl got a wonderful birthday present from her grandparents of the chance to choose a book a month through the year. We have had a great time doing it (mostly having them delivered as it’s turned out instead of bookshop browsing as planned!) and it’s been so nice that it can grow with her and be the perfect book for now. All our outdoor play in lockdown – gardens and tents and exploring the world on our doorstep – lent itself perfectly to being completely swept up in Alfie’s adventures, and all his games with his little sister Annie-Rose were wonderful too as we adapted to sibling relationships here. Shirley Hughes’ drawings bring nature to life in such a beautiful way, and this is a lovely collection.

There are so many books we’ve come across and loved, will definitely write with some more soon!

Hope you are all having a good weekend. X

July Reading Diary

I’ve so enjoyed reading in July, and, as usual, read quite a variety! I started off with Dorothy Koomson’s The Chocolate Run, picking it up when looking for a light holiday read while we we had a couple of weeks off and were enjoying a nice slow pace of life at the start of the month. It’s years since I read a Dorothy Koomson book but I remember really liking her writing and enjoying both light, warming books like Marshmallows for Breakfast and the more pacy and thriller-like The Woman He Loved Before which really drew me in. Unfortunately I really wasn’t keen on The Chocolate Run, one of her earlier books, published back in 2004 – although it did totally tick the box for an easy read to pick up anytime, and with the added bonus of having to be read with a wee taste of chocolate too! I just couldn’t get on board with Greg as the romantic interest and really didn’t like some of the ways Amber was treated by him and how accepted it seemed to be.

That’s the second romance novel I’ve read this year that I’ve felt exactly the same way about (One Day in December the first) and I was disappointedly thinking maybe I really couldn’t get on board with that type of genre anymore, once a well-loved escape. But then I turned to my old friend, the very best, Bridget!

Re-reading Bridget Jones’ Diary, as it always does, reminded me what I love so very very much about a good romantic comedy. I love everything about it – Bridget’s determination and spirit, all the ups and downs of the story, the camaraderie and tight bonds of that wonderful “urban Singleton family”, the painfully relatable and disarmingly funny take on family relationships and work struggles, and of course, a truly lovely male lead in Mark Darcy. I’ve re-read both of the first Bridget Jones novels so many times over the years and I was pleased to see once again that my love for them is undiminished by time. ❤️ In an introduction to a newer edition of the first novel than my battered and so very well-loved copy, Caitlin Moran writes:

Apart from having the self-control to keep the re-reading to every five years or so (I usually find my way back to either one or both of them during the days between Christmas and New Year each year!) I couldn’t agree more, Bridget Jones is undoubtedly just as much of a friend to me now as always.

My next book was another new one to me but one that’s made it into my favourites straight away – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I have been meaning to read this for so long and don’t know how it slipped down the pile but it was our book club book for July and I’m so pleased that gave me the shove I needed. I found it a thought-provoking, sad but life-affirming book. I adored Eleanor and her way of viewing the world, and was rooting for her so whole-heartedly from the off. The other characters she encountered, Raymond and Mrs Gibbons, Sammy and Laura, were wonderful too, and I got completely lost in Eleanor’s journey and in this little story about loneliness, bravery, and the indescribable difference friendship can make to a life.

And it’s definitely been the month for getting to long-awaited books as I have also just finished reading Michelle Obama – Becoming, which I’d started away back last year and for one reason or another only got a little way into. Coming to it now, I have so thoroughly enjoyed it. Writing with dignity and poignant reflection on everything from her kindergarten days to navigating parenting in the White House, the former First Lady draws such an vivd picture of her incredible story. This was a wonderful book to read, uplifting and inspring, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It’s been a good month’s reading – it’s never a bad one when it involves my beloved Bridget, I enjoyed racing through a holiday read, fell in love completely with Eleanor Oliphant and have really enjoyed spending the last couple of weeks sitting evening after evening with Michelle Obama’s strong and inspiring voice for company.

Looking forward to mapping out what to read next – heading into my 33rd book of the year having coincidentally just turned 33 this week – my birthday bringing with it (as well as lots of truly lovely family time ❤️) many more books to add to the to-be-read stack! I’m so enjoying all the books I’ve been reading this year and journaling on them all too!

Hope you are all having a lovely weekend. X

Half Year Book Round-Up

As I come to the half-way point in the year, I’ve so enjoyed so many of the books I’ve read in 2020, and keeping tabs on them here in this blog too; so thought I would take the chance to reflect on everything so far.

It has been an eclectic mix, with 28 books read in total in the last six months – 20 new reads and 8 re-reads, a pretty good ratio for me as I love nothing more than returning to an old favourite book, but have sometimes found myself doing nothing but that, never getting stuck into trying anything new.

There have been 9 children’s books in the list, from my classic battered pony-book comfort reads (Ruby Ferguson’s inimitable Jill ❤️) to the beautiful and captivating The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson.

I’ve also read several memoirs, stepping into the worlds of Tom Cox and Giovanna Fletcher among others, enjoying the humour and warmth of their story-telling and a window into their worlds – Judith Kerr’s Out of the Hitler Time not quite fitting into the memoir category but very almost, recalling her childhood and adolescence in the war years; and Last Christmas, with its collection of essays on Christmas from so many inspiring perspectives, full of memories too.

I’ve read 4 parenting books, learning and growing guided by the gentle and inspiring voices of Sarah Ockwell Smith, Izzy Judd – and Giovanna Fletcher too, whose lovely Letters on Motherhood definitely spanned both genres.

I returned to some absolute classics of childhood literature in Anne of Avonlea, The Secret Garden and Little Women, and read beyond where I had before in the Marches’ world in Good Wives, watching Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy find their feet in an adult world, still holding on to the grounding of their childhood.

My favourite new books I’ve read this year so far have been Lucy Mangan’s childhood reading memoir Bookworm; Jhumpa Lahiri’s beautiful novel about culture and belonging The Namesake; Sophie Anderson’s Slavic folklore-inspired The Girl Who Speaks Bear; The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, Joanna Cannon’s debut novel of faith, community and second chances; Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott, new to me and as warming a volume as Little Women; Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage, bringing to life vibrant characters of the Suffragette movement some years on; and Bernardine Everisto’s Girl, Woman, Other, a wonderful commentary on race, gender and the experiences of a diverse and engaging range of strong female leads.

Our book club, adapting to the new times with reads being chosen between us all and discussed remotely, has also covered a very diverse range. Three of my favourite books I’ve come across this year have come from those picks, and in fact both last month’s book, The Girl Who Speaks Bear, and this month’s, Girl, Woman, Other, have won the Indie Book Awards announced last week.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to experience so many viewpoints and places even in this very strange year where we haven’t been able to physically travel anywhere. I’ve caught a glimpse of both Norway and Italy’s beauty in A Modern Family; the Nigerian cityscape in My Sister, The Serial Killer; Jack Reacher’s America by greyhound bus and diner stop-offs; Anne Shirley’s Prince Edward Island under the white blossom trees; the rugged, sparsely house-dotted hills of Massachusetts in Little Women; the hospital corridors with Adam Kay; the Guernsey streets in Paper Aeroplanes; the roses curling to life in The Secret Garden with Mary and Dickon; Christmases in more times and places than I could describe in Last Christmas; the twisting passing-place lined Highland roads and lonely castle ruins in Bloody Scotland; and the view from curled on a sofa devouring book after book with Lucy Mangan in Bookworm – that one at least not far from the truth!

I’m so enjoying reading this year and at the half-way point really enjoyed reflecting and very much looking forward to another six months and many more books.

My books of 2020 so far..

Book reviews / reading round-ups:

January https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/02/15/january-reading-❤%EF%B8%8F/

February

https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/03/04/february-reads-📖❤%EF%B8%8F/

March https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/04/01/march-books-❤%EF%B8%8F/

April https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/05/13/april-books/

May https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/06/02/may-books/

June https://amischiefmanaged.wordpress.com/2020/07/01/june-reading-💛📚/

Hope you are all having a good week. X

June Reading 💛📚

My reading in June has been up and down but has ended on a definite high and I’ve read some books I have really enjoyed in the last few weeks.

I started at the same keen pace I’ve been reading the last few months with Dawn O’Porter’s Paper Aeroplanes, an easy-to-read and absorbing young adult novel about the struggles of adolescence and the joys of friendship. Set on Guernsey in the 1990s, it is inspired by the author’s own childhood there, and is a very honest portrayal of the universal ups and downs of teenage years that will resonate with so many – daring to cover many topics that are often more likely to be glossed over but that ring painfully true, and doing so with a comforting warmth. I really enjoyed the story and the characters’ vulnerability as they wrestled with friendships, family relationships and all that growing up entails in such a disarmingly relatable way.

My next read saw me returning to Judith Kerr’s semi-autobiographical trilogy Out of the Hitler Time for the final instalment, A Small Person Far Away, having read the first two last month. Set some eleven years after the end of the war, and finding Anna visiting Berlin for the first time since fleeing it as a child – with a huge weight of family illness and strain on her shoulders as she did so, her mother’s ailing health bringing her there – this was a less uplifting close to the story than might be expected, but a moving and thought-provoking one, and I felt for Anna in these new unknown years just as in all the others she had weathered.

The Second Baby Book is not one I read in its entirety this month but have been on and off over the last few months. I always enjoy Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s insight into parenting and family life and this book in particular’s unique focus sets it apart. So many books talk of every aspect of how to prepare for a new baby but so few cover the shift in dynamic of a second or more for the new arrival, their siblings and the whole family; and this book has been so very helpful as we’ve moved into life as a family of four. The description of “beautiful chaos” is one I particularly loved:

Read in snatched moments between the busyness and craziness here, as we’ve adapted to our own beautiful chaos, I really enjoyed the comfort and reassurance of this book discussing such a universal experience and I would definitely recommend it to anyone expanding their family and settling to what may be different to the first time around but ultimately feels absolutely right for everyone in the new little unit.

My reading had hit a bit of a rut this month – after the first two books I’d read quickly very early in the month, I had couple of weeks just dabbling in re-reading chapters, picking up novels and not getting into them and never finding the time to read.. But then along came Bernardine Everisto’s Girl, Woman, Other, our book club pick for this month and a truly wonderful book – incredibly written and genuinely unputdownable. I’ve devoured this in the last couple of days, falling asleep with my Kindle in my hand desperate to read just a little more and snatching another chapter on my phone throughout the day whenever I could. Told from 12 different perspectives, the interweaving stories in this book are so important – raising issues of race, gender and prejudice in all its forms eloquently and thought-provokingly. I am so looking forward to our book club discussions on it, as this book was eye-opening, enlightening and compelling, one I know I will remember for a long time to come.

Going into July, and into our two-week summer holiday (of course not away anywhere but determined to fill it with all the usual holiday-ish things all the same, reading included!) I feel right back into the swing of reading and so looking forward to choosing my next book.

Hope you are all well. Would love to hear any thoughts on any of these and chat about them if anyone’s read too! Have a good week. X