Book Review – A Kind of Spark

As soon as I read the blurb for Elle McNicoll’s A Kind of Spark I knew that I had to read it. Any book about someone who is ‘different’ is bound to appeal to me but there was something about this one which made me drop everything and start reading it as soon as I was sent the reading copy (thank you Knights Of!).

Publisher’s Blurb

A Kind of Spark tells the story of 11-year old Addie as she campaigns for a memorial in memory of the witch trials that took place in her Scottish hometown. Addie knows there’s more to the story of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to hers. Can Addie challenge how the people in her town see her, and her autism, and make herself heard?

I was not prepared for just how invested I would be in Addie’s story and how emotional it made me. I was in tears by the end but they were all happy tears – this book is just beautiful. It is well written, with an engaging plot and characters I really cared about. The characters – the way they were portrayed and the understanding shown – were definitely what made this book for me.

Almost every page contained something that resonated with me. I am not autistic like Addie but I am very introverted and suffer from social anxiety – as I child I could barely speak to anyone. I am still waiting to grow out of it but I have got much better at hiding it.

There are very few neurodivergent characters in books – anyone who is a bit different is usually a foil to the main character and designed to make the star of the show look good. The best example of a heroine I can think of is Fanny Price. She has many of her own issues but the majority of readers dismiss her as dull – reinforcing the idea that it is bad to be different.

A Kind of Spark is exactly the book I needed as a child – it would have made me feel a little less alone. Everyone should read this book. Those who are neurodivergent will find comfort and those who are neurotypical might just understand their peers a little better.

Book Details

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Publisher: Knights Of

ISBN: 9781913311056

RRP: £6.99

Reading Resolutions

2020 was a funny reading year for me. I actually read more books than I have since I started recording my reading but partly that was because I had more time and partly because so much of that time was spent re-reading old favourites. I also got through a lot of audiobooks! The year started off very well with me reading through my unread shelves but that tailed off dramatically as we headed into lockdown and I needed comfort reading.

This year I intend to do better. I have given up setting myself specific goals as for me they always make reading feel too much like homework. Especially if I have a definitive list of titles to read – then I feel I can’t read anything else until I have got through the list but I’m never in the right mood for those books and I end up not reading at all.

However, it would be nice to get through some of my unread shelves so I have recreated them in my reading journal in the hope that being able to see my progress will motivate me to read more. There are 99 books there after all – surely I should always be in the right mood for one of them!

That number is considerably lower than it was last year as I have had quite a ruthless turnout. It is always hard getting rid of books but at the same time very freeing to no longer feel obliged to read something. The counting was problematic – I have a lot of books I bought to sell and there are many of those I would love to read but haven’t got around to yet. For simplicity though I chose not to count them and just stuck to my personal collection. There are bound to be some I missed but this is a start.

There are certainly enough to keep me going – not that I will put myself under a book buying ban. I will just try to only buy books I know I will read straight away. I will also be attempting the monthly challenges set by The Unread Shelf Project – hopefully those will ensure that I read at least one of my unread books a month!

My main aim for my reading this year though is just to enjoy it. To read whatever I want and not worry about the numbers or how literary it is. As Samuel Johnson said, ‘A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.’

Christmas Comforts

I love this time of year. These evenings spent by the fire reading or playing games in the glow of the Christmas tree are so precious to me and I resent anything that pulls me away from them. Of course, this year I’m getting to indulge myself fully!

We always keep as screen free as possible over Christmas Day itself and I’m trying to carry that on throughout much of the whole Twelve Days. Naturally there are times it is impossible to avoid the screens but mostly it has been very refreshing to not have my phone handy to be checked every few minutes.

For the past few evenings I have been reading Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L M Montgomery. It is full of copies of the pages in the scrapbooks and it is wonderful. I have been having such a great time reading old newspaper clippings and admiring small souvenirs. I have coveted this book from afar for a while now and I am so happy to finally get my hands on a copy. In these difficult times I am finding great comfort between its pages.

Jólabókaflóðið

The tree is up, I don’t have to work again until Saturday and I am ready to settle down with my tea and books. Unless I decide on hot chocolate instead.

I am going to make the most of these two days – reading, playing games and definitely relaxing. Christmas really is a wonderful time.

I never set solid TBRs but I know I will be finishing Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – other projects have got in the way of reading or I would have finished it much sooner! I am also looking forward to our new tradition from last year – we pinched the Icelandic idea of Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas book flood and so we will all be receiving new books on Christmas Eve. Tradition dictates that we should immediately sit down by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and read the books. I am not one to break with that tradition!

Christmas Bookshelf

Yesterday was very exciting for me as it saw our box of Christmas books brought down and unpacked. These are books I haven’t seen since January and are real Christmas stories – as in they are actually about Christmas rather than just books I happen to like reading at this time of year.

Most of them are old friends – books like Lucy and Tom’s Christmas which I have read again and again since I was very small. There is even a picture book which stars my childhood friends and myself. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t read these ones.

Others are more recent acquisitions. Books which I have read once or twice but loved enough to keep for more Christmases. I won’t manage to read all of them every year but I love to see them nonetheless. Each of them brings back fond memories and they make a wonderful display.

Are there any books you particularly love to read at Christmas?

Winter Holidays

Every December I read Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday. I love the Swallows and Amazons series and this one is so perfect for reading at Christmas. Even if all the food does make me hungry. Last year I thought I would read a different book in the series but when it came to it I had to choose Winter Holiday. I couldn’t resist!

Earlier this year I started reading the series again in order and got as far as book five (I skipped Winter Holiday though as I read it so much!) so when December arrived and I started yearning for my cosy reading I was determined to pick up where I left off with Pigeon Post.

I couldn’t do it. Apparently I need to read about the Fram, the igloo and all that snow. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it!

Winter Mood Reading

For the first time in weeks I have picked up a book which isn’t just cosy, familiar comfort reading. It did come from a familiar source though – L M Montgomery mentions The House of the Seven Gables several times in her journals and she seemed to enjoy it a lot so I have been meaning to read it for years.

For some reason, now seemed like the time. I have been immersing myself in her journals once more and they persuaded me to pick it up. I’m only about halfway through at the moment but I can definitely agree that it is a good book.

It’s funny though – it is both exactly what I need to read right now and also not at all what I want. It is a very gentle book which moves slowly with not a great deal of action (the first chapter is entirely given over to the backstory of the house and the family who lives there). So far anyway – for all I know it really picks up in the second half! That is certainly very soothing but it is also not gripping at all so I don’t find myself desperate to pick it up and I am more likely to get distracted by other things.

It is at times like this that I’m grateful I can read more than one book at once. When I have the focus for a slow story I have this one ready, when I need a bit more plot I can pick up something else. Choice is a wonderful thing!

Chronicles of Avonlea

I have written several times about L M Montgomery – it is no secret that she is one of my very favourite authors – and I have read her books many, many times.  So much so that some of them are literally falling apart.  However, I have only read one of her collections of short stories – The Doctor’s Sweetheart – although that one was borrowed from the library on multiple occasions.  Sadly they don’t have it any more so it has been several years since I read it.  I do remember loving it though.

I have never been much of a short story reader – I enjoy them but do prefer being completely absorbed in a full length novel – but I am determined to read everything L M Montgomery has written so this year had seen me embark on reading the stories.  I thought I might as well begin at the beginning so Chronicles of Avonlea made its way home with me.

This is such a lovely collection of stories and it was so good to find myself back in Anne’s world.  Of course, most of these stories were originally written well before Anne and so have only passing references to Avonlea or Anne – and those were worked in afterwards when L M Montgomery’s publishers (and readers!) were demanding more Anne content from her.  The additions don’t jar though and I have spent a cosy couple of evenings with the book.

I have recently watched the first two seasons of Road to Avonlea for the first time.  Although that is loosely based on the Story Girl books, it draws heavily on Chronicles for plot and it was fun to spot the chosen storylines as I read them.

I loved these stories (I knew I would!) and I will definitely be seeking out the next set soon.

Restorative Reading

This week I was planning to be on what has become our annual trip to Dartmouth. I always look forward to this week immensely – it is the most relaxing time, with plenty of stops in coffee shops and a lot of reading. It is so lovely to just be.

Sadly that isn’t possible this year – and we had realised quite some time before this lockdown was announced that we wouldn’t be going. Instead, we planned to have a lovely, relaxing week at home with no work done and only minimal cooking effort needed. Instead of coffee shops we might take a flask out onto the moor or somewhere equally remote.

Of course, even those trips out aren’t possible now but I am still managing to have such a great time. I am reading every moment that I can and I have even been making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room – it’s so much easier not to pick it up if it’s not within reach!

This was a great week to pick too – it has been a bit grey and drizzly outside which is perfect for lighting the fire and curling up with a book. Betsy Ray has been great company and I will miss her when I finish the series in the next few days. Then I’ll also have the difficult decision of what to read next – the brand new (to me) Chronicles of Avonlea or picking up my Anne re-read where I left off by choosing Anne’s House of Dreams instead. Alternatively, I did say I would read The Vicar of Wakefield next. There are too many choices!

Outside Inspiration

I mentioned last week that I saw a lot of Betsy-Tacy in my near future and I was completely right – I picked up Betsy in Spite of Herself on Monday and I have been galloping through the books.  They are wonderfully cosy and comforting and I don’t want to be reading anything else right now.  Except perhaps for L M Montgomery – she has a conflicting claim on me and I want to be reading both together!

For some reason, reading Betsy-Tacy always makes me want to take my books outside.  Probably mainly because of scenes like this one at the beginning of Betsy Was a Junior where Betsy is out on the lake with her journal.  It is just idyllic and I want to be a part of it.

Of course, I haven’t just been reading this week – now I am partially furloughed again I have been helping outside once more.  My hands are a mess of bramble scratches but the hedges are looking good!

The main plus side of doing the work though is that tidying up the hedges reveals the hidden perches in the trees.  Today I found this wonderful nook which cradles me perfectly and is surprisingly comfortable.  All I need is a cushion for my head and I could spend hours there.  Perhaps not quite that long just yet – it’s a bit chilly if you sit still for too long – but in the spring I will be all set with a perfect new reading spot.  I can’t wait.