Keeping Track

Back in January I wrote about trying to read my way through my unread shelves. Every so often I try to make a bit of an effort to do that but it is never long before I can no longer resist the urge to get something new. Sometimes I’m just not in the right mood for something on the shelf!

This time I was determined things would be different – hence my drawing of all the unread books I owned at the beginning of the year. I had a hundred and every month I get to colour in any books I read in a new colour. You can probably see that I started off very enthusiastically but things have trailed off a bit!

Nevertheless, the drawing does help. The idea of going a whole month without colouring in a book is terrible and as for ending up with more books than I had before – that would be a disaster! If I only colour in one book a month that would at least be something. Of those original one hundred books I have now read thirty three so I am in high hopes that I might have read half of them by the end of the year.

Besides having the drawing to colour in, I am also keeping a tally of the total number of unread books I own – so every month I subtract those I’ve read and add on those I have acquired. This is currently giving me a less pleasing figure (84) but at least it is still fewer than in January! Keeping this account is definitely making me better at not buying books I am not going to read straight away – very nearly every book I have acquired this year has been read within a couple of weeks which is a definite improvement for me.

I now have two main problems. The first is that I have read through most of the easy reads on my shelf and am left with the ones I am not so enthusiastic about. Some of them I have my eye on to just admit I’m not going to read them and get rid of them. Others I still want to read – just not right now! If you can see any you think I should pick up straight away, do tell me! The other problem is very minor. I need to find the rest of my coloured pencils. I know they are around somewhere but if I don’t find them one month’s books will have to be coloured white and, well, that just isn’t going to work!

Book Reveiw – The Appeal

Last week I received a reading copy of The Appeal by Janice Hallett and I knew I had to read it immediately. I adore The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L Sayers and this sounded like it had a similar premise. In fact, it goes much further and is a collection of a whole range of documents about this particular case.

Publisher’s Blurb

Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death.

Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered.

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

I could not put this book down. As each of the documents were fairly short it was very easy to keep reading ‘just one more’ and before I knew it a whole hour had gone (I was very nearly late for my virtual orchestra rehearsal). All the time I wasn’t reading it I was puzzling over the snippets of information I had gleaned, trying to work out what had happened and then who had made it happen.

The plot had many twists and turns I wasn’t expecting – although I worked out some answers I didn’t get them all and there were several moments that took me by surprise. I’ve read a lot of crime recently but this is the first one in a while which has really got my brain working to try to solve the problem rather than just enjoying the story and character development.

It was a great book and one I have recommended many times in just a few days. I know I will be reading it again – I wanted to restart it as soon as I finished just to see if I could pick up on the clues I missed the first time round! Thank you so much to Viper Books for sending the review copy.

Book Details

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Publisher: Viper Books

ISBN: 9781788165303

RRP: £8.99

Audiobook Month

Apparently June is National Audiobook Month and I couldn’t let it pass without saying something about it. It is no secret how much I love audiobooks – I’ve been listening to them since I was tiny and I doubt I’ll ever stop.

For the past couple of months Daisy Dalrymple and Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher have been my almost constant companions. I have been listening to their stories in the car, in the stables and in the studio painting. I had read a few of them before but mostly later books in the series and not in any kind of order. Now I am working my way through from the beginning and – as well as enjoying the cosy crime – I am loving seeing their characters and relationship develop. So much so, that when I have to wait a few days for the next book to become available from the library I feel utterly bereft.

I have had a few issues with listening rather than reading. Accents haven’t always come off and some words have been given very strange pronunciations. My favourite moment was when the name of a town near where I grew up was completely mangled. None of that matters though and I am still lost in Daisy’s world and when I can’t listen I spend a lot of time wishing I could.

Audiobooks have always been a big part of my life and I look forward to much listening in the future.

Literary Loveliness

I have been having another wonderfully literary week. First up, on Saturday I got to attend the LM Montgomery Institute’s round table discussion on Rilla of Ingleside at 100. I have always loved the sound of the Institute’s conferences but as they are in Canada it has been impractical for me to get there. Since the pandemic forced them to hold the event online this year I finally got to attend and I am so glad I did.

It was such an interesting discussion. It took me a while to get round to reading Rilla because I was a bit scared it would be too distressing but it turned out to be a beautiful book and quickly became one of my favourites in the series. It was wonderful to hear such an academic conversation about it.

Then on Monday night I went to the Sevenoaks Bookshop’s online event with A J Pearce, talking about her new book Yours Cheerfully. I rhapsodised about that one a couple of weeks ago so I won’t do so again now other than to say I loved the book and was very excited to get to go to this event.

It was a great evening – A J Pearce seemed lovely and the conversation was fascinating. I was especially pleased to hear that more books will hopefully be in the pipeline. I can’t wait!

Finding Inspiration

I love to paint but I have realised that I need to find inspiration in the world around me in order to keep myself in a creative frame of mind. Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia has a great quote about that feeling – how if you want to feel the motivation, ‘… you must feed it. Feed it everything. Books, television, movies, paintings, stage plays, real-life experience.’

I can definitely relate to that – I tend to work obsessively on something for a couple of weeks and then want to move on to something else. It is a very irritating trait and of course if I need to keep at something then I will but the joy has often gone out of it for me. In order to recapture it I need to watch videos and read around the subject.

Keeping my enthusiasm for painting isn’t that difficult but I still find it a useful technique. I often watch studio tours as I am nosy and I love seeing other people’s work spaces. Books though are obviously a big help for me. Not so much the how to books but ones where I can see other artists’ processes. Again – I am nosy and love to see inside sketchbooks. I recently read Chris Riddell’s Travels With My Sketchbook which I loved – that left me extra keen to draw for weeks!

Books like Eliza and Her Monsters are a great help too. Just reading about other people drawing and writing makes me remember why I love it and has me itching to pick up a pencil. The fact that it shows I am not alone when I face a creative block is no bad thing either.

Comforting Cosy Crime

Lately I have been reading a lot of cosy crime books. It has always been a favourite genre of mine but for the past week or so it’s been almost the only thing I want to read. The trouble is that – although I am always happy to re-read favourite books – at the moment I am very much feeling a need for new stories. I really want to experience the suspense which is never quite the same when you already know whodunnit!

I have therefore scoured my bookshelves for any unread cosy crime languishing in a corner (there was not a lot), borrowed another from my sister and, as I just had a week off work, I treated myself to a few holiday reads. The second book in the Kate Shackleton series by Frances Brody (A Medal for Murder) was excellent and of course I thoroughly enjoyed The China Governess by Margery Allingham. I am getting alarmingly close to the end of that series though. I also read the first book in the Miss Seeton series by Heron Carvic – Picture Miss Seeton. At first I was very unsure about this one but I actually really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more.

Much of my time last week though was taken up with the Sophie Sayers series by Debbie Young – two novels and three novellas. I first discovered these books when Debbie spoke on a crime panel at the Crediton Book Festival last year – she spoke so well that I immediately had to buy the first book. I have been steadily working my way through them and am now almost up to date – I am very impatient to get my hands on the new book!

Right now I am in the middle of A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey. Again, it was pretty inevitable that I would enjoy this one. This is the last one I own that is unread though – a trip to the library is becoming very necessary. Any recommendations are welcome!

Book Festivals at Home

Once again, the Hay Festival is having to be held online this year. I am very much enjoying the flood of literary conversation – my favourite event so far has to be Graham Norton’s book club with Richard Osman and Marian Keyes.

Obviously, we would rather be there in person as however good the talks are it is not the same watching them on a screen at home. In a way though I am grateful. Although I have been to several book festivals I have never yet made it to Hay in person. Even if I did I would almost certainly not manage to get to as many talks as I see at home. I am so enjoying them and am very grateful that I happened – completely accidentally – to book a week’s holiday from work this week.

It has definitely also helped that that weather this week has been so fantastic. I have been able to spend a decent amout of time reading outside – just as if I were at the festival. I have perhaps spent more time out there than I should but I don’t regret it at all.

I can’t help hoping that even when book festivals are back in person there will still be an option to watch them online. It would open the talks up to a much larger group of people – last year the Cheltenham Festival had small in person audiences whilst still streaming online and that seemed to work very well. During this past year I have watched talks held all over the country and even in the US – talks I would certainly not have been able to attend in person. Having said that, I am so looking forward to being able to attend an actual book festival again.

In the meantime, I have plenty of talks lined up over the next few days. It is going to be great!

Book Review – Yours Cheerfully

One of the best days during lockdown was the one where I received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which contained a proof copy of Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce. I was ridiculously excited – I adored Dear Mrs Bird and just the fact that a sequel was coming was enough to make me happy, let alone having the book in my hands!

Publisher’s Blurb

London, September, 1941.

Following the departure of the formidable Editor, Henrietta Bird, from Woman’s Friend magazine, things are looking up for Emmeline Lake as she takes on the challenge of becoming a young wartime advice columnist. Her relationship with boyfriend Charles is blossoming, while Emmy’s best friend Bunty, is still reeling from the very worst of the Blitz, but bravely looking to the future. Together, the friends are determined to Make a Go of It.

When the Ministry of Information calls on Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit desperately needed female workers to the war effort, Emmy is thrilled to be asked to step up and help. But when she and Bunty meet a young woman who shows them the very real challenges that women war workers face, Emmy must tackle a life-changing dilemma between doing her duty, and standing by her friends.

I loved it every bit as much as Dear Mrs Bird. I was immediately drawn back into Emmy’s world and I cared so much about what happened to her and her friends. I also still very much enjoyed the use of capital letters to emphasise Important Points. It is just the way words sound in my head!

The publicity for this book says that it is just the tonic we’ve all been waiting for and it really is. It is just as heartwarming and uplifting as Dear Mrs Bird and I did not want to stop reading when I got to the end. So much so that all I wanted to read for several days afterwards were books set during the war. I finished it in floods of tears – but only the best and happiest kind.

Yours Cheerfully is published on the 24th of June and I would highly recommend ordering yourself a copy. If you haven’t yet read Dear Mrs Bird – do so!

Book Details

Yours Cheerfully by A J Pearce

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 9781509853946

RRP: £14.99

Reading for a Rainy Afternoon

Yesterday being my day off, I took my pony out for a ride. It was a nice morning and, although I looked at the gathering clouds and could see rain was coming, I didn’t take a coat. That was a mistake.

The heavens opened and we got absolutely soaked. We had hail too and even some thunder just for good measure. We were passing under some trees at the time so that was somewhat unnerving! Before long I was freezing and feeling rather like Jane Bennet on her way to Netherfield.

When we finally got home I had to get completely changed and a thick cardigan and hot cup of tea were absolute essentials. All I wanted to do was curl up with a blanket and my book but instead I had to rush to my (zoom) orchestra rehearsal.

It was actually a very busy day for me – among other things I also had a zoom ballet class and plenty of work to do for my stationery shop. I did however make sure that I took some time during the (still very rainy) afternoon to sit down with my book and the best hot chocolate in the world.

I’m reading One Pair of Hands by Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles) and absolutely loving it. Tired of the life of a débutante, Monica decided to take a post as a cook-general. She was not really qualified for it but that just makes this account of that time all the more amusing.

I am devouring this book and it was the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon – it didn’t ask too much of me and is highly entertaining. What could be better?

An Evening of Bookish Delights

I had the best bookish evening last night. It started with me rushing home to be back in time for the Pan Macmillan virtual roadshow for booksellers. This took us through a lot of their big titles coming out over the next few months and it was so interesting to hear the authors themselves talking about their books. My reading list just got a whole lot longer! We even got to draw with Rob Biddulph which was a lot of fun – and I was pretty pleased with the result!

Obviously the books were the main part of the evening but almost as important were the snacks that Pan Macmillan very kindly sent out to all attendees. I ate far too much!

That was followed immediately by my virtual book club meeting. It was lovely to see everyone again and to have a proper conversation about the books we’ve been reading. We always end up discussing far more books than just the one we read for the meeting and I love that.

All in all in was a lovely way to spend the evening and I am very much looking forward to the next time. I’m also now getting excited about the Hay Festival which will be held online in a couple of weeks. It is going to be great!