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.

Lockdown Take Two

As we head into a second lockdown I find that I am more anxious than I was last time. Primarily I think that is down to the combination of the waiting and the uncertainty. Last time lockdown just started – although we knew something would happen – whereas now we have had a few days warning. As I have spent those constantly speculating about how it will affect me personally (I know it doesn’t help but I can’t stop!) I have been very on edge all week.

So much so that my reading – especially in my breaks at work – has suffered. I just can’t concentrate on my book when I’m in the staff room! I am doing much better at home – but there I am sticking to cosy, comforting reads. That definitely seems to be the way forward for me.

Therefore, my plan over lockdown is just to read whatever I feel like at the time. If a book isn’t working I’ll put it down and try something else. Children’s books or cosy crime are probably going to be the best – I am seeing a lot of Betsy-Tacy, LM Montgomery and Margery Allingham in my future. Of course, my cat will also be there to keep me company!

On a side note, when I couldn’t read this week the thing that worked best for me was decorating envelopes for my penpals. It is something I always enjoy doing but I have never been quite so obsessed as I have been this week!

Halloween Reading

As it is Halloween this week my online book club has been reading Dracula.  This was my first time reading it and, as I scare pretty easily when reading or watching anything remotely frightening, I was expecting to be terrified.

There were definitely some very atmospheric and spooky parts – the early chapters in Dracula’s castle were especially good. I was not, however, at all afraid. Normally a scary book will make me reluctant to take the dog out at night so this was unexpected.

Some of that was because of the book itself. It does have some issues but mainly I was frustrated by how oblivious all the men in the book are – they don’t even notice when someone has been bitten by the vampire. The only character with real intelligence is a woman – who doesn’t get the credit she deserves.

Partly though, I was affected by the fact that I was listening to the audiobook whilst doing other things like driving or laundry. I don’t think you get the full effect of the atmosphere when you are at a roundabout! I also didn’t like the particular version I had – it was read by two American actors putting on English accents. The accents weren’t perfect but I could have lived with that. What I did struggle with was the fact that every so often they would completely mispronnounce a word and I would find it so distracting that I would miss the next couple of sentences. I think if the whole thing had been read in an American accent it would have been fine – it was the sudden lapses I found jarring.

As ever, my book club discussion was excellent. I love hearing everyone’s reactions to the book and it is so good to have found kindred spirits with whom I can vent over plot frustrations. I am so looking forward to the next one!

Pony Story Time

As with many small girls, I was completely pony mad. In fact, I never grew out of that pony phase. As a child, I was desperate for a pony of my own – I was one of those annoying children who frequently presented my parents with detailed charts showing all the things I could give up to fund said pony.

In lieu of the pony, I read every single pony book I could get my hands on. I read the ones from the library many times and I was constantly searching for new titles. There is something about the pony book which shows every pony mad girl to herself – I particularly identified with red-headed Jinny and for years my dream horse was a beautiful chestnut mare just like Shantih.

Although I now have my own pony (who, incidentally, I got largely because of my time volunteering at the Moorland Mousie Trust and one of the most exciting things I got to do there was helping with the publishing of a new edition of Moorland Mousie – if you like Black Beauty you should definitely read it!) this is another thing I haven’t grown out of and there are so many pony books out there that I can still find brand new (to me) titles to enjoy.

My favourites are mainly those set in Britain in the forties and fifties (although I do love others – I’ve already mentioned Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series) – Ruby Ferguson, the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Gillian Baxter are some of my favourites. As most of my childhood reading of them was from the library I am still trying to fill the many, many gaps.

Unfortunately, most of these books are out of print and many of them are rare (or at least very expensive) even second hand. I have a suspicion that this is partly because they are children’s books which tend to get more damaged than books for adults. I also know from experience that some second hand book dealers can dismiss children’s books as not worth selling which is terrribly sad.

My current obsession is the Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm series by Monica Edwards. I read a couple of them as a teenager but couldn’t get hold of any more. I recently discovered that Girls Gone By Publishers have been reprinting them and I have slowly been building up my collection. I have been having a wonderful time reading them and the ponies seem to enjoy it too – Galahad wasn’t too sure at first but Cookster was very enthusiastic!