Christmas Crime

Now that December is well and truly upon us I am beginning to want to read all the Christmas books. However, although I am listening to A Holiday by Gaslight – which is utterly charming – my main reading has actually been very much focused on cosy crime. Apparently that is what I want from Christmas right now!

I have just finished Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair. I have been slowly working my way through her books as until a year or so ago all I had read was Daughter of Time. I loved that book so much but for some reason had never moved on to any other, maybe because I was worried that it was the Richard III theme which appealed and not the writing itself. It turns out that – unsurprisingly – Josephine Tey is a great writer and I very much enjoy her books.

The Franchise Affair is possibly my favourite so far – except for Daughter of Time of course. I was hooked very early on and all my spare thoughts were occupied by it. Inspector Grant actually featured very little but I loved Robert Blair and was completely invested in his story. Plus that of the Sharpes of course.

In short, I loved this book and I am very much looking forward to the next.

Advent Reading

This week my main bookish delight has actually been a cookbook – which is unusual for me. I love to bake but rarely make the time for it – there are so many other things going on!

This particular book though is Advent by Anja Dunk and is a collection of ‘festive German bakes to celebrate the coming of Christmas’. I love the Advent season, as things slowly get more Christmassy and we spend more evenings curled up by the fire with books and delicious things to eat. Reading this book has definitely brought me that cosy, hygge feeling – the author has included lots of personal anecdotes as well as recipes – and I have been loving it.

I have only baked one thing so far – the Dattel-Walnussmakronen – but they were the most delicious thing. So light and airy, but still rich and chewy. They are incredibly moreish and I will be indulging in some this evening when I start my card writing. More recipes will definitely be tried soon!

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