Vanity Fair

Whilst I was away I was ploughing my way through Vanity Fair. This is a book which has sat on my TBR for years and which has always intimidated me so I hadn’t picked it up to read before. The size of it wasn’t an issue but I think I was worried that I wouldn’t like any of the characters and so wouldn’t enjoy the book. That would more than likely make me struggle to read it.

However, I was determined to give it a go and being away at a book festival seemed like the perfect time to do so. I started it on the train to Cheltenham and really I didn’t want to put it down again! Every spare moment I had I was reading it and I had such a good time doing so. It is much easier reading than I had anticipated and also funny which was unexpected.

It was true that I did not especially like many of the characters – although my liking for them was constantly changing – but for once that didn’t matter so much and I was just caught up in the story. In fact, it was poor Amelia – a character who is very good and dutiful – who at times irritated me far more than manipulative Becky Sharp.

Hopefully I will learn a lesson from this and not put off reading a book for quite so long again.

Powering Through

This week I have a great feeling of accomplishment because I finally finished a book I started in (I think) November.

I first picked up The House of the Seven Gables because L M Montgomery raved about it in her journal and I thought that if she liked it I probably would too. I read George Eliot’s Romola for the same reason and that turned out very well so I had high hopes. The book is a bit slow to get started but I was enjoying it and I was definitely invested in the characters.

Then I got to chapter seventeen and it suddenly became very rambling and had a completely different feel to it. I found myself reading sentences several times and still not really taking them in. I kept going but found that the next chapter was even stranger. I finished chapter eighteen one evening, put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for months.

I was so close to the end though that I didn’t want to give up so I did eventually make myself read on. In the very next chapter the narrative reasserted itself and I raced through the rest of the book. I even enjoyed it. It was a very odd experience because apart from those two chapters I thought it was a great book. They were enough though to put me off trying another Nathaniel Hawthorne any time soon!

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

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

The Woman in White

Many years ago I listened to the audiobook of The Woman in White. I knew it was abridged but hadn’t realised how much until I listened to the full version last month. I think my abridged copy was only two or three hours long – the whole book is more than twenty hours. That really hit home when I was about half an hour in and I hadn’t yet recognised a word.

It also explained why I had thought that the only other two Wilkie Collins books I’ve read – No Name and The Moonstone – were so much better than The Woman in White, which is probably his most famous work. It turns out that when you miss out most of the words you lose a lot! No Name is probably still my favourite but I was totally gripped by this one – even though I knew more or less what was going to happen – and I resented having to stop listening.

This time I listened to the version read by Gabriel Woolf. I thought he was an excellent reader but the book badly needed better editing. There were a lot of extraneous noises like throat clearing and many instances of the reader making a mistake and then correcting himself. I still very much enjoyed it but it was distracting and if you’re thinking of listening it is probably worth looking for a different reading.

The Barsetshire Chronicles

For the past several years – with many gaps in between – I have been slowly reading through The Barsetshire Chronicles. I had never really thought much about reading them until I saw the BBC adaptation of Doctor Thorne in 2016 and absolutely loved it. Naturaly that made me want to read the books. I looked up Anthony Trollope and found a quote from – as I thought – Dickens describing him as too sentimental (or possibly romantic). That I thought sounded wonderful and I embarked straight away on The Warden. Now I come to look for that quote again I cannot find it – if you know it please do let me know! All I can find are references to Trollope’s own satirising of Dickens as ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’.

I fell in love with Trollope soon after beginning The Warden. I found his writing style delightful and I was completely hooked by the story line. Perhaps even more importantly – for me anyway – I really cared about the characters and what happened to them. Of course I had to read more and so Barchester Towers was obtained. In fact, my puchasing habits became fairly predictable – usually within a few chapters of starting one of the books I knew I had to keep reading and I would buy the next book so that it was ready for me as soon as I needed it. That wasn’t normally as soon as I thought – by the end of the book I wanted something else to read – but I always came back to it eventually.

This afternoon I finished The Last Chronicle of Barset. During the course of reading it I have both laughed and cried and there was something very sad about the last lines promising that this was indeed the last book. Tollope’s authorial voice in the books has been one of my favourite parts and, although I am glad to have all the loose ends tied up, I am sorry not to have the next book ready to go.

Of course, Anthony Trollope wrote many, many other books which I am sure I will enjoy just as much as I did these. Which should I read next?

Scribbles in the Margins

Last week’s post about inscriptions in books reminded me that several years ago I bought Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books by Daniel Gray. It is one of those books which sounds utterly delightful but for some reason has languished unread on the shelf. Yesterday I finally picked it up and I can now confirm that it is wonderful.

This is only a small book, with 50 short essays on different bookish joys. The chapter headings alone give an idea of the gems inside – things like ‘Impromptu Bookmarks’, ‘Choosing and Anticipating Holiday Reading’ and ‘Feeling Bereft Having Finished a Book’. Every chapter resonated with me and I found that my pencil was much needed for a lot of underlining.

There are far too many good quotes to share them all but here are a few which made me feel seen.

Arrival in a house or flat kindles a desire to secure time alone with the bookshelves. The offer of a drink, preferably a slightly complicated one, is accepted, a distraction for your ferreting.

Bookmarks are the second socks of literature, frequently and inexplicably going missing in action.

What horror, incidentally, on those occasions when a fanned-flick forwards shows that what you thought were leafs of storyline are blanks or adverts for other titles.

I have many more I could share but, really, you should read the book. It is a bibliophile’s dream.

Incidentally, there is a chapter on author dedications. I knew from the moment I saw the dedication in this book that I would love it – ‘To the girl who won’t sleep until she’s had a story.’ I imagine this is referring to the author’s daughter but it feels like it was written for me.

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

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.