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.

Book Review – The Skylarks’ War

My colleague has been raving about Hilary McKay’s new book The Skylarks’ War for months now so when Macmillan Children’s Books sent me a review copy I was rather excited. Not least because I loved reading her Casson Family series as a child.

Publisher’s Blurb

Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.

When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?

I have to admit that when people repeatedly tell me how much I will love something I do start to be a little prejudiced against it. However, I really wanted to like this book so I tried to have an open mind.

It was definitely worth it – the book is beautifully written and I was completely absorbed in the plot. I stayed up far too late reading it! Although this is classed as a children’s book there there are some nuances which feel very adult and grown ups will certainly enjoy it just as much as the children.

Did I love it as much as I was promised? As I was reading it I didn’t think so but now I’ve finished and have had time to absorb it I’m not so sure. I was definitely very moved by it and I found it to be thought provoking. Either way, I didn’t want to stop reading and it has certainly stuck with me. I will definitely be recommending it to many people.

Book Details

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

ISBN: 9781509894963

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

RRP: £6.99

Bookish Restorative

I have had a few days off this week and decided to make the most of them to rest and recuperate from the busyness of the past couple of months.

My ideal was to just sit and read all day long but that isn’t actually entirely practical – if nothing else, I have ponies who need looking after and a dog who needs walking. It’s tricky to ride and read at the same time but it is entirely possible to read whilst dog walking. As long as you wear enough layers of course!

However, I did manage to do a great deal of sitting by the fire with a book. The cat kept me company and I had a marvellous time lost in imaginary worlds.

I have been reading – and very much enjoying – the second volume of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters but for pure escapism and relaxation I picked up a couple of magical children’s books. These were Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic and Cerrie Burnell’s The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth – both of which were excellent.

It has been a wonderful couple of days.

Re-reading my Childhood

I have been a member of the Jane Austen Society for several years now and for some time I have been toying with the idea of joining another literary society. I was think of something along the lines of the societies for Anthony Trollope, Dorothy L Sayers or Margery Allingham.

In the event – and almost on the spur of the moment – I went for something less literary. The Friends of the Chalet School is something I have known about for a while but have never joined before now.

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My first newsletter arrived this week and I am so looking forward to reading it. I have to admit though that part of the draw for me was their lending library of Chalet School books.

I only recently discovered that almost all of the paperback editions were heavily cut or altered – which means that although I have read a good many of the books I have almost certainly never read a complete one. Therefore, I will obviously have to go back and re-read the whole series from the beginning.

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It is a prospect which fills me with great joy. I have already sourced a 1955 edition of the first book which I hope is complete. I have found a couple of differences within the first few pages so things are looking promising.

However, finding the whole series could (would) be a difficult and expensive project – hence my interest in the library! I am very much looking forward to all of the reading though.

A Reading Revelation

Over the past few years my family has got into the habit of sitting down after dinner to watch an episode (or two) of something.  Most recently we have been working our way through Star Trek and Bewitched – depending on our mood.  It is a great way to wind down at the end of the day but it has seriously curtailed my reading time.

However, over Christmas we watched very little of anything.  The joy of sitting down in front of a fire to read by the light of the Christmas tree is incredible.  I have always said how much I enjoy that but somehow it’s not always continued once the twelve days are up.

For some reason though, this year is different.  We just sit down to read our books because that’s what we’d rather be doing.  Not always, of course, but a large percentage of the time.  It is wonderful and it makes me so happy – definitely the best way to spend a long winter evening.

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Book Review – The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting is a book I’ve been thinking about reading for a while – mainly because I’d heard it is similar in feel to All the Light we Cannot See which I loved.

I was therefore extremely pleased that my book club chose to discuss it at our meeting last night – I could add it to my teetering TBR pile without feeling at all guilty!

Publisher’s Blurb

Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.

But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.
Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.

I put off reading it until the last minute – as I’ve mentioned before, I like to read cosy wintry favourites over Christmas – mainly children’s books.

I loved this book – and for once so did most of the book club. I thought it was beautifully written and the author’s love of wood and well crafted objects really showed through – his descriptions were wonderful.

Besides that, the mystery element was intriguing and kept me guessing. I found myself riding my pony and occupying my mind with setting out the facts I knew and trying to fill in the gaps. This is a book which will stay with me for a long time and I will definitely be reading the next one.

Book Details

The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

ISBN: 9780857056061

Publisher: Maclehose Press

RRP: £8.99

A Year of Reading

2018 was a mixed reading year for me. I had weeks when I was trying to read at every possible moment. It was like being a child again, sneaking in a few pages when I should really be doing something else. Then I had a month or two when I struggled to read anything at all. Nevertheless, I find that I have managed to read 91 books this year which is pretty good going I think. Especially when one considers the length of some of them – War and Peace is a pretty weighty tome!

I have kept a reading record for the past several years – just a list of books and the months in which I read them. I used to record start and end dates for each book but I couldn’t really keep up with that! Not that I’m completely sold on this layout – I record a book in the month I start it but if I am reading it for a while the following month looks very short of reading!

To finish up my year I have once again been reading my favourite wintry children’s books. Plus the odd new ones – I loved Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories and also Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford (that one obviously not a children’s book!). It is my favourite way to spend the winter evenings.

A very Happy New Year to you.

Christmas Reading

For me, reading at Christmas is all about comfort. Most years I read Little Women and quite often something like Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday as well. Last year I exclusively read all of my favourite wintry childhood books throughout December – things like The Box of Delights and The Rat-a-Tat Mystery. It was wonderful.

Part of every Christmas is reading Lucy and Tom’s Christmas. I love Shirley Hughes’ illustrations and I always look forward to this one. This year, I treated myself to her new Christmas book – Snow in the Garden – and I am very much looking forward to reading it!

I started my Christmas reading a little late this year but my first book was brand new (to me). I found this on the book stall in our local market and I couldn’t resist it!

Christmas Book Club

My book club doesn’t have a proper meeting in December as the book shop is just too busy to cope. Instead, we had a trip to the pub for a bookish chat.

It was lovely to spend an evening with a group of book lovers without having the pressure of focusing on one book in particular. We did nominally have a book to read but only two people had actually done so – it was much more of a social evening than a proper book club meeting.

We had a great time talking about our books of the year, our all time favourite books and the books on our Christmas lists. We had a brief excursion into politics but in the main we kept strictly to books and it was wonderful. I would highly recommend it!