Springtime Reading

We have been having some simply glorious weather for the past few days. We have had some cold days too of course – it is only April after all – but definitely a good proportion of the time has been sunny.

Days like this make me want to escape outside as much as possible and whilst I was at Halsway Manor last week I took full advantage of the free time on offer to explore the grounds and neighbouring countryside. I found the loveliest disused tennis court complete with the most amazing view and a tumbledown pavillion. There was even a beautiful set of steps just right for sitting and reading.

I also went some way up the hill beind the house. My seat of choice up there was a tree in the hedgeline. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of wanting to climb trees! I didn’t manage to get a picture of myself up the tree but I can show you the view which was magnificent.

It was the most wonderful place to while away a few hours.

Reading and Dancing

This past weekend I went away for a few days folk dancing at Halsway Manor.   I recently treated myself to a copy of the first Abbey School book by Elsie J Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club and although I have only read a couple of books in the series before but I knew the girls were very keen on folk dancing so it seemed the perfect choice to take away with me.

The house is absolutely beautiful. I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the library and it did not disappoint.

In fact, it was even better than I had hoped as I found half a shelf of Abbey School books in there which made me very happy indeed.

The weekend was very full but I still found plenty of time for reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had the most wonderful windowsill in my bedroom.

It was perfect for sitting and reading and I could have quite happily spent the whole weekend there!

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The Joys of Spring

Spring is springing!

We have had a glorious few days of the most beautiful sunshine and it has been marvellous. Things always look so much better when the sun shines.

For me, one of the best things is being able to read outside again. There is nothing quite like it and it makes me so happy that I’ve been able to do so this week.

I had to wrap up warm and my fingers went numb but it was still wonderful.

Of course, as I write this there is an absolute deluge of hail outside and I am curled up by the fire. That is lovely too!

Book Review – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a book I have vaguely known about for some time but I don’t think I really knew any more than the title. The title is obviously great which is presumably the main reason I remembered it!

I certainly had no real idea of the plot until I was exploring Foyles and found it sitting on the shelf looking at me. How could I possibly resist it?

Publisher’s Blurb

Meet Flavia: Mystery Solver. Master Poisoner. 11 Years Old.

England 1950. At Buckshaw, the crumbling country seat of the de Luce family, very-nearly-eleven-year-old Flavia is plotting revenge on her older sisters.

Then a dead bird is left on the doorstep, which has an extraordinary effect on Flavia’s eccentric father, and a body is found in the garden. As the police descend on Buckshaw, Flavia decides to do some investigating of her own.

I am a huge fan of cosy crime books so I was fairly sure I was going to enjoy this one. It felt more intellectual than I was expecting – not that it was difficult to read but it definitely kept me thinking. I thought of it as more akin to Dorothy L Sayers than Agatha Christie.

I found the main character delightful and the book was excellently written. I found myself thinking about it a lot when I wasn’t able to read and that is always a sign of a gripping book. I just wanted to keep reading! I did spot the murderer fairly early on but as I had no idea why or how they had done it I don’t really count that as solving the crime. It wouldn’t stand up in court!

I loved this book and will definitely be seeking out the next book in the series. It is so wonderful to find a new series to obsess over!

Book Details

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

ISBN: 9781409106876

Publisher: Orion

RRP: £9.99

In Defence of Escapism

We all have bad days. Yesterday was quite stressful for me and when I got home all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the fire with my book and a cup of tea. Yes I had a list of chores which needed doing but they would still need doing another day!

This is why I like to have escapist books. People so often scoff at happy books as being ‘just’ escapism but sometimes that’s what I need. If I’ve had a hard day I don’t want to make myself feel worse by reading about someone else being miserable. Books are my happy place after all.

In this instance I was reading Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which I picked up on my trip to Foyles. It’s a book I had heard of but never really knew anything about – when I found it though I could tell it was perfect for me. I’m halfway through now and I definitely made the right choice!

Just a couple of hours reading settled me back down. Books are the best medicine.

Book Review – Old Baggage

I always used to be scared of joining a book club because I would have to read books I didn’t like.  At the same time, I really really wanted to join a book club!  As it turned out, the book club is wonderful and I love the discussions we have.  Whilst there have been a few books I really did not enjoy I have liked most of them and in fact the ones which have stayed with me the most have often been the ones I have not been keen on reading.

Old Baggage was our latest read and while I wasn’t especially drawn to it I didn’t have any strong disinclination to read it either.  My colleague loved it so I was quite intrigued by it and I definitely liked the cover!

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Publisher’s Blurb

Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present.  During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant.  Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.

Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.

I found this to be a much gentler book than I expected – I think I thought suffragettes meant lots of very militant action!  I did at first think I was not going to like Mattie at all but by the end I was very firmly on her side, despite her faults.  I thought the book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The only problem I had was with the very last chapter – It felt disconnected from the rest and seemed almost to have been tacked on in order to link Old Baggage to the author’s previous book, Crooked Heart.  I will have to read it to see how they actually connect – the extract at the end of my copy is intriguing and I will certainly be reading more from this author.

Book Details

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

ISBN 9781784161217

Publisher: Black Swan

RRP: £8.99

Book Review – Jane Austen at Home

Last year I went to see Lucy Worsley’s talk about her book Jane Austen at Home. Obviously I am a Jane Austen fan but I also love watching Lucy’s television programmes so I was very much looking forward to it.

I wasn’t disappointed either – Lucy gave a fantastic talk and if you ever get a chance to see her I would thoroughly recommend going. Of course, I had to buy the book and get it signed!

Publisher’s Blurb

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

It took me a while to get around to reading it but it was always hovering at the back of my mind and when I booked to go to the Jane Austen Society study day I knew it would be the perfect companion for me. I was so excited to finally be reading it.

I sometimes struggle to get into non-fiction but I was immediately gripped by this one and I resented having to put it down to do something else. It was just as well as I had a four hour train journey so I needed something that kept me wanting to read!

This was a really interesting way to look at the life of Jane Austen and I did learn some things I hadn’t previously known. I loved Lucy Worsley’s style of writing and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

Book Details

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

ISBN: 9781473632202

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

RRP: £9.99

Medicinal Reading

For the past few days I have been suffering with a shocking cold which always makes me feel miserable.  At times like this I just want easy, comfort reading. Quite often that means children’s books and this time it is pony books I have been craving.

Anyone who follows my pony adventures will know that I am a huge fan of pony books anyway but over the past two days I have read three pony books and don’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Firstly, I have been catching up with Olivia Tuffin’s A Pony Called Secret series.  I adored the first book but it has taken me ages to get round to reading the others.  I am almost up to date with them now and am enjoying them as much as ever.  This is definitely one of my favourite modern series.

Sadly most of the more vintage pony authors I enjoy have gone out of print and often they are very expensive second hand.  However, I came across three at our local market just before Christmas and I couldn’t resist them.  I am very grateful for that weakness now!  I had only read one Joanna Cannan book before and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed her writing – I will definitely have to seek out more of her books in the future.

From past experience, my pony book obsession will last a few days – or possibly weeks – and I will then feel a desperate need to read something much more meaty.  However, while it lasts I am revelling in it!

Fangirling in Bloomsbury

The day after my Jane Austen Society annual study day last week I was due to meet a friend for brunch. Naturally that meant I had to stay in town which I was more than happy to do! I was very impressed to find that my hotel had Foyles marked as a place of interest on its map.

I had never been to Foyles before so I had planned to visit on the Saturday evening and it was definitely worth the trip – I spent well over two hours browsing the shelves and had to exercise great restraint not to come away with half the books. I especially loved the children’s classics section which had six whole shelves of Enid Blyton and even some books from the Girls Gone By Press. Foyles is much bigger than any bookshop near me and it was wonderful to be able to properly browse and find new (to me) titles. In the end, however, I managed to restrict myself to just two books and a tote bag.

I was meeting my friend at King’s Cross so the next day I wandered through Bloomsbury, picking out as many literary sights as I could. I made a slight detour to find Mecklenburg Square and the house where Dorothy L Sayers once lived. Harriet Vane is mentioned as living in the square too so it was doubly interesting to me.

I had toyed with the idea of having my picture taken with the trolley at Platform 9 3/4 but having seen the length of the queue I decided I could manage without!

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After brunch I visited the Charles Dickens museum which I loved – my favourite room was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Dickens’ study.

I was very impressed with the setup of the house – they used the house next door for things like the gift shop and had a door knocked through so that the house itself was more or less as it had been in Dickens’ time. I thought it was an excellent use of the space!

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All in all, it was quite a literary pilgrimage of a weekend and I had the most wonderful time. I must do things like this more often!

Being a Janeite

Last Saturday was the Jane Austen Society’s annual study day and for the first time I made the trip up to London to attend.  I was very excited about going but more than a little nervous about being on time – my train was due to arrive 40 minutes before the first lecture started and as trains were delayed by the weather that weekend I was convinced I would be late.  However, my journey ran perfectly and I arrived at Senate House with time to spare.

The talks were all based on the theme of reading but took us in a wide variety of directions and I found them fascinating.  I was greatly interested in the Reading with Austen project and I would highly recommend having a look at their website.  They are trying to locate all the books which were in the Godmersham Park library when Austen was there and the virtual bookshelves are wonderful.

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I also particularly enjoyed the talk on 19th century illustrations in Jane Austen.  I found it fascinating that the illustrations focused so much on typically feminine objects like dresses and bonnets and pictured very few books.  The speaker suggested this gave the impression that the books were very frivolous and I think this is an idea which continues today.  Certainly I have heard people writing off Jane Austen as ‘just’ a romantic novelist when in reality she is so much more.  On the other hand, some illustrations made the books look like highly sensational novels – I found them rather amusing!

The break times were an excellent chance to chat with other Janeites and I was in my element with so many other like minded people.  It might have been my first study day but it’s certainly won’t be my last.