Christmas Puzzling

I have said before that this time between Christmas and Epiphany is one of my favourites in the whole year. Any stress of getting ready for Christmas should be over and the time is more or less your own to spend as you like. Of course, I do have to go to work so most of the days are spoken for but the evenings are so precious. Much of my time is spent curled up with a book by the tree – Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday is my current choice. An old favourite which gets re-read every Christmas.

This year I have the added pastime of a jigsaw puzzle. I never had much patience for these when I was little – books were far more exciting – but I did enjoy finishing off the puzzle my sister had at her wedding a few years ago and this year I couldn’t resist these bookish puns.

I’m only spending half an hour or so at a time on it but I am very much enjoying it and it turns out that when it comes to books I have quite a talent for remembering where they fit. How surprising!

Christmas Preparations

Christmas is a time when I love to read. Obviously I love to read at all times but there is something extra special about curling up with a book by the fire and the Christmas tree. Every time December comes around I look forward to that cosy feeling.

However, what I fail to remember is that I don’t normally manage to find that feeling until Christmas is actually here. Specifically, when we hand out the books for Jólabókaflóðið on Christmas Eve. There is just too much going on before then to relax properly. There are presents to buy or make, cards to write and wrapping to be done. This year, even when I sit down for my break at work it has been hard to just read – I’ve had the added pressure of my stationery shop to contend with and lunch breaks are excellent for admin.

We are nearly there now though. The cards have all been sent, the presents are assembled if not wrapped and I am ready to sit down on Friday evening and just read. I can’t wait!

Reading by Candlelight

Some of – if not the – first signs of Christmas in our house are the welcome lights which go up at the beginning of December. We have three sets, one of which always sits in my window. They are so welcoming when we get home after a long day.

Since they went up this year I have got into the habit of lighting an actual candle at bedtime and reading purely by candlelight – which is something I always used to do anyway but which I had stopped doing when I was ill once and never started again. I had forgotten just how lovely it is.

For me, it is a much calmer and more peaceful way to end the day than having my bedside lamp on. I have been feeling far more relaxed since I started having the candles and I shall be sorry to see the welcome lights go after Christmas. I am determined to remember this feeling and get back into the habit of lighting candles. It is so worth it!

Comfort Watching

I am very sad that the book festival is over but I am definitely appreciating the shorter working days and even some time off. I feel as if I could sleep all day! The festival was wonderful, although interestingly my two main highlights were more related to watching stories on screen than reading them myself. The first of these was getting to meet Hayley Mills – she gave a great talk and I was completely starstruck.

Second was meeting Andrew Davies. He was such a nice man and he too gave a fascinating talk. We had a lovely chat afterwards and he even signed my copy of The Making of Pride and Prejudice – which has been very well read!

Period dramas have really been helping me through the past few weeks. I have been exhausted when I get home and have just been collapsing on the sofa and watching an hour or so of something. It started with the Andrew Davies adaptation of Sense and Sensibility which I don’t think I have seen since it first came out. I loved it even more on a second viewing and it is definitely one I will be keeping for the future. Since then I have watched the Kate Beckinsale Emma – which I love for having Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – and two different versions of Persuasion. The Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds one is still easily my favourite.

Then I moved on to Mansfield Park and watched the version with Billie Piper. Again, I only saw this when it was first shown and I remember enjoying it. This time, I was constantly saying, ‘Fanny wouldn’t do that… That’s not right… Where are they going now?’ It seemed to have taken the characters, changed them a bit and thrown them into a similar – but not quite the same – story. After that I had to watch the 1983 adaptation with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell which was much more recognisable as the story from the book and is the version I will watch again. I have still not seen the 1999 version – I feel as if I should but it has always sounded as if I wouldn’t like it much!

Now I am running out of dramas. I have Wives and Daughters to start soon – I loved the book but have never watched it before. After that I don’t know where I will go next. Maybe a rewatch of Anne of Green Gables or North and South but I’m open to suggestions. I do have Vanity Fair lined up but I need to read the book first – I’m planning to start it in the next few days and am very much looking forward to it.

Indecisive Reading

It turns out that, although the autumn has made me crave some more serious reading, I am not able to read just the weightier books. Over the past few days I have been reading A Gossip’s Story by Jane West and at the same time listening to Rebecca. Neither of them are particularly difficult reading but when I finished Rebecca I had to immediately start something much lighter – the latest in the Needlecraft Mystery series by Monica Ferris was exactly the palette cleanser I needed.

I am very much enjoying A Gossip’s Story – which I have been wanting to read for years because of the idea that it may have helped inspire Sense and Sensibility. However, as with many eighteenth century novels, it is interspersed with long (33 pages) sections of poetry which do not advance the plot and do not always hold my interest. I appreciated the fact that the author said it was easy to see where the narrative resumed so I could skip the poem but I am definitely a completionist and I couldn’t bear to do that. Therefore, on my day off – when I really needed to be sucked into a story – I picked up another cosy crime book – this one the next (for me) in V M Burns’ Mystery Bookshop series.

This series is a lot of fun and – although I find some aspects of the sections which are from a 1938 cosy crime book set in England a little grating – I keep being brought back for more. I only have one more book to go before I catch up with the author now!

All of which goes to show that it is very important – at least for me – to have a variety of books on the go. I am such a mood reader that I never know what I will want from one day to the next!

Balm for the Soul

The past few weeks have been pretty stressful for me. Work has been very chaotic and busy and my days off have been packed full too. It is lovely to be selling books and stationery at village fêtes or taking my dog to an agility competition but hardly restful. I am definitely someone who needs time to myself to recharge.

My reading wasn’t helping either – in my breaks at work I was reading Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan for my book club and I was struggling somewhat with the content. It is certainly not a book which is designed to cheer me up!

However, on Saturday I had a free day with nothing to do but ride my pony and watch the cross country from Bicton Horse Trials. I had practically a whole day in which I could do nothing and I made the best use of it.

The day started off perfectly as my Mum made me a wonderful tray of breakfast so I could just sit and eat and read at my leisure. A murder mystery might seem an odd choice of comfort reading but it really does work – and having something that gripping was exactly what I needed. Besides, I love the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series!

After the horsey part of my day was done, I took my book and hammock outside and spent a very happy few hours curled up just reading. Even the dog thought it looked like fun.

It was wonderful and exactly what I needed.

Making Reading Lists

The mornings and evenings have now got an unmistakable feeling of autumn about them. In fact, I found it quite alarming how late the sun rose this morning. We are still having some gorgeous weather but there is no question that autumn is fast approaching.

This time of year always makes me hanker after learning again – last year I spent several weeks studying Latin and even did some calculus. My post it notes are still stuck up in the bathroom but I can’t honestly say that I have done any work with them for quite some time. Life gets in the way!

This year I need to resist that urge. I have far too much work to do on my stationery to have any time to spare pretending to be a student again. However, I will try to use that feeling in my reading. I own so many classic books that have been languishing on my shelves for years and now may be the time to get through at least a few of them. A Gossip’s Story is right at the top of my list and maybe I’ll finally, finally get around to Rebecca. I have just finished listening to The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I bought about fifteen years ago. It was very good to cross that one off the list.

The most recent book I have started though is not strictly speaking a classic – although it was published in 1912. A Fourth Form Friendship is the first Angela Brazil I have read – surprising given my love of school stories. I can tell it won’t be my last though!

Pony Reading

Unsurprisingly, I am still obsessed with the Olympics and am very much enjoying watching everything I can. However, as predicted I have picked up the next book in Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh series. I actually skipped a book as I read The Black Hunting Whip not all that long ago and so I went straight on to Cargo of Horses.

This was in fact the first Monica Edwards book I ever read – a customer ordered a different book in the series into the shop and Cargo of Horses arrived by mistake. Naturally, I snapped it up – I am always looking for new pony books! As is perhaps obvious I loved it and have been looking for other books in the series ever since. They are not easy to find, vintage copies can be incredibly expensive and some of the old paperbacks were slightly abridged. I was very annoyed when I found that out.

This all makes me very grateful that Girls Gone By Publishing have been reprinting the books – and even if they are out of print again second hand copies are often available. My collection isn’t yet complete but it is getting there and I am very much looking forward to the day when I have every book!

Olympic Reading

This has been a slow reading week for me. I have some excellent books on the go (I am very much enjoying Amari and the Night Brothers) but the Olympics have started and as usual I am absolutely hooked. Of course, many of the events are happening in the middle of the night for me when I would not normally be reading – not that it stops me getting up to watch!

However, much of my reading time is taken up with the Olympics now. I watch sport whilst I eat my breakfast and even manage to do so in my breaks at work. I do still have a book with me but honestly it’s hard to focus on reading when we are fighting for a medal! In fact, my reading right now mainly consists of the schedule of events.

However, I am itching to read more and in fact the amount of dressage I have been watching has made me very keen to pick up the next book in the Romney Marsh/Punchbowl series by Monica Edwards. I love these books and am so much looking forward to being immersed in that world again. First though, there are medals up for grabs in the middle of the night and I need to get some sleep before then!

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.