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.
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?
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.
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!).
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.
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!
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.
I have been looking forward to Hollowpox– the third book in Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series – for two years. I remember reading Wundersmith at Cheltenham Literary Festival (where I got to meet Jessica Townsend!) and absolutely loving it. I have been impatiently waiting for Hollowpox ever since.
Morrigan Crow is determined, daring and ready for a new challenge: to step into her destiny as a Wundersmith, master the mysterious Wretched Arts, and control the power that threatens to consume her. She and her friends are proud to be in their second year of attendance at the magical Wundrous Society, and together they can face anything.
But a strange illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning its peaceable Wunimals into mindless, vicious unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realises it is up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her – and the rest of Nevermoor – in more danger than ever before …
I knew I was going to enjoy this book long before I read it. The world of Nevermoor is brilliantly drawn and I love the characters. The excitement and adventure is gripping and I raced through the pages. I also really want to stay at the Hotel Deucalion drinking hot chocolate – it sounds so wonderful and cosy!
What I wasn’t expecting was just how much the story of the hollowpox spreading through Nevermoor would reflect the situation in which we have found ourselves this year. Jessica Townsend had mostly finished writing this book before Covid-19 had really taken hold but some of the scenes in the book felt eerily familiar.
Hollowpox is every bit as good as I hoped and is the perfect cosy read for these autumn evenings. Now I’ll just have to resign myself to waiting for book four!
In the early days of lockdown, my Mum and I found our own way of coping – every weekday we sat down together to watch Richard Osman’s House of Games. It was a small bit of routine which really helped – and, crucially, it made us laugh.
I have been a fan of Richard Osman for quite some time, so when I heard that he had written a crime novel I knew that I had to read it. I was therefore incredibly excited to find that I had been sent a reading copy by Penguin Books.
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders.
But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case.
Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
I loved this book. It is a great cosy crime novel (and we all know how much I enjoy those!) and the characters really lived for me. It is just as funny and clever as you might expect – the plot takes some brilliant twists and turns.
Very excitingly for me, Richard Osman had an event at the Appledore Book Festival last week. For obvious reasons all of the authors signed their books before the events and couldn’t meet the audience members. One of the perks of working there though was that I could meet him from a safe distance and get my copy personally signed. He was just as nice as he seems on television and I am now eagerly awaiting book two.
Several months ago I watched a Booktube video which recommended Maureen Johnson’s Truly Deviousas a boarding school story crossed with Agatha Christie. Naturally, that very much appealed to me but although I made a note of the title I didn’t actually get around to finding a copy. Now of course, I am in the middle of a huge cosy crime phase and am desperate to find new authors to read. Added to that, the onset of autumn always gives me back to school fever and makes me very keen to study so this was the perfect read for me right now.
Ellingham Academy is a famous private school in Vermont for the brightest thinkers, inventors, and artists. It was founded by Albert Ellingham, an early twentieth century tycoon, who wanted to make a wonderful place full of riddles, twisting pathways, and gardens. “A place,” he said, “where learning is a game.”
Shortly after the school opened, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. The only real clue was a mocking riddle listing methods of murder, signed with the frightening pseudonym “Truly, Devious.” It became one of the great unsolved crimes of American history.
True-crime aficionado Stevie Bell is set to begin her first year at Ellingham Academy, and she has an ambitious plan: She will solve this cold case. That is, she will solve the case when she gets a grip on her demanding new school life and her housemates: the inventor, the novelist, the actor, the artist, and the jokester.
But something strange is happening. Truly Devious makes a surprise return, and death revisits Ellingham Academy . The past has crawled out of its grave. Someone has gotten away with murder.
I loved this book. It gave me just the right amount of school content and I could really picture myself there. It sounded like a great school too – lots and lots of time for reading!
The mystery was gripping and I didn’t want to stop reading. So much so that I had to get hold of the second book straight away – you don’t see the whole mystery solved in the first book and I for one very much want to figure out exactly what happened. It is now sitting on my desk waiting patiently for me to finish writing this so I can read it instead.
It is wonderful to have found a new series about which I can get excited. There is nothing quite like waiting impatiently for the next book to be published and I just know that by the time book four is published next year I will be more than ready for it.
My online book club’s choice for August was Frederica by Georgette Heyer. I practically lived on Heyer when I was a teenager and this is one (of many) which I read over and over again. It has been several years though since I read one of her Regency novels (although I have read some of her detective stories more recently) so I was very excited to pick one back up.
It was wonderful to be back in Heyer’s world. I had forgotten just how much I loved reading these books and I was immediately drawn back to a very comforting place with characters I really cared about. Heyer’s books are just lovely stories and are above all funny – Frederica has what must be the best non-proposal scene in literature.
Many of the readers in our group had issues with the amount of Regency slang used in the book but I have to confess that I didn’t even notice most of it. I still haven’t quite worked out whether that is a cultural thing (only a handful of us are from the UK – do we still use any of these words?) or whether I have just read too many of the books, although I suspect it is the latter!
I would have said that Georgette Heyer was the perfect read for anyone who loves Jane Austen but there were a few in the group who found it too slow for them and couldn’t finish it. Frederica is not perhaps the fasted paced of her novels and if you want a bit more action it might be worth starting with something like The Reluctant Widow or The Unknown Ajax which, incidentally, has the funniest final scene – it belongs on the stage in a farce.
The romance aspect does always tend to be a slow burner. Heyer is credited with creating the whole Regency romance genre (Barbara Cartland is known to have copied her) but really her books are so much more than ‘just’ romances. They are comedies of manners and are all about the relationships between many different characters. Heyer is all too often written off as only a writer of romances for women. Of course, there is nothing wrong with romances but giving books that label does tend to limit their readership.
Georgette Heyer deserves to be much more widely recognised, if only for the incredible amount of research she put into her books. A great deal of what I know about Regency England was gleaned from the pages of her books and I firmly believe that there is so much variety in her books that there is at least one of them for everyone. That goes for men too – I once got my Dad to read The Unknown Ajax and he enjoyed it very much. It is all about finding the right book for you.