I always used to be scared of joining a book club because I would have to read books I didn’t like. At the same time, I really really wanted to join a book club! As it turned out, the book club is wonderful and I love the discussions we have. Whilst there have been a few books I really did not enjoy I have liked most of them and in fact the ones which have stayed with me the most have often been the ones I have not been keen on reading.
Old Baggage was our latest read and while I wasn’t especially drawn to it I didn’t have any strong disinclination to read it either. My colleague loved it so I was quite intrigued by it and I definitely liked the cover!
Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.
Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.
I found this to be a much gentler book than I expected – I think I thought suffragettes meant lots of very militant action! I did at first think I was not going to like Mattie at all but by the end I was very firmly on her side, despite her faults. I thought the book was beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The only problem I had was with the very last chapter – It felt disconnected from the rest and seemed almost to have been tacked on in order to link Old Baggage to the author’s previous book, Crooked Heart. I will have to read it to see how they actually connect – the extract at the end of my copy is intriguing and I will certainly be reading more from this author.
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans
Publisher: Black Swan
Last year I went to see Lucy Worsley’s talk about her book Jane Austen at Home. Obviously I am a Jane Austen fan but I also love watching Lucy’s television programmes so I was very much looking forward to it.
I wasn’t disappointed either – Lucy gave a fantastic talk and if you ever get a chance to see her I would thoroughly recommend going. Of course, I had to buy the book and get it signed!
On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.
This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.
It took me a while to get around to reading it but it was always hovering at the back of my mind and when I booked to go to the Jane Austen Society study day I knew it would be the perfect companion for me. I was so excited to finally be reading it.
I sometimes struggle to get into non-fiction but I was immediately gripped by this one and I resented having to put it down to do something else. It was just as well as I had a four hour train journey so I needed something that kept me wanting to read!
This was a really interesting way to look at the life of Jane Austen and I did learn some things I hadn’t previously known. I loved Lucy Worsley’s style of writing and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
For the past few days I have been suffering with a shocking cold which always makes me feel miserable. At times like this I just want easy, comfort reading. Quite often that means children’s books and this time it is pony books I have been craving.
Anyone who follows my pony adventures will know that I am a huge fan of pony books anyway but over the past two days I have read three pony books and don’t look like stopping anytime soon.
Firstly, I have been catching up with Olivia Tuffin’s A Pony Called Secret series. I adored the first book but it has taken me ages to get round to reading the others. I am almost up to date with them now and am enjoying them as much as ever. This is definitely one of my favourite modern series.
Sadly most of the more vintage pony authors I enjoy have gone out of print and often they are very expensive second hand. However, I came across three at our local market just before Christmas and I couldn’t resist them. I am very grateful for that weakness now! I had only read one Joanna Cannan book before and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed her writing – I will definitely have to seek out more of her books in the future.
From past experience, my pony book obsession will last a few days – or possibly weeks – and I will then feel a desperate need to read something much more meaty. However, while it lasts I am revelling in it!
The day after my Jane Austen Society annual study day last week I was due to meet a friend for brunch. Naturally that meant I had to stay in town which I was more than happy to do! I was very impressed to find that my hotel had Foyles marked as a place of interest on its map.
I had never been to Foyles before so I had planned to visit on the Saturday evening and it was definitely worth the trip – I spent well over two hours browsing the shelves and had to exercise great restraint not to come away with half the books. I especially loved the children’s classics section which had six whole shelves of Enid Blyton and even some books from the Girls Gone By Press. Foyles is much bigger than any bookshop near me and it was wonderful to be able to properly browse and find new (to me) titles. In the end, however, I managed to restrict myself to just two books and a tote bag.
I was meeting my friend at King’s Cross so the next day I wandered through Bloomsbury, picking out as many literary sights as I could. I made a slight detour to find Mecklenburg Square and the house where Dorothy L Sayers once lived. Harriet Vane is mentioned as living in the square too so it was doubly interesting to me.
I had toyed with the idea of having my picture taken with the trolley at Platform 9 3/4 but having seen the length of the queue I decided I could manage without!
After brunch I visited the Charles Dickens museum which I loved – my favourite room was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Dickens’ study.
I was very impressed with the setup of the house – they used the house next door for things like the gift shop and had a door knocked through so that the house itself was more or less as it had been in Dickens’ time. I thought it was an excellent use of the space!
All in all, it was quite a literary pilgrimage of a weekend and I had the most wonderful time. I must do things like this more often!
Last Saturday was the Jane Austen Society’s annual study day and for the first time I made the trip up to London to attend. I was very excited about going but more than a little nervous about being on time – my train was due to arrive 40 minutes before the first lecture started and as trains were delayed by the weather that weekend I was convinced I would be late. However, my journey ran perfectly and I arrived at Senate House with time to spare.
The talks were all based on the theme of reading but took us in a wide variety of directions and I found them fascinating. I was greatly interested in the Reading with Austen project and I would highly recommend having a look at their website. They are trying to locate all the books which were in the Godmersham Park library when Austen was there and the virtual bookshelves are wonderful.
I also particularly enjoyed the talk on 19th century illustrations in Jane Austen. I found it fascinating that the illustrations focused so much on typically feminine objects like dresses and bonnets and pictured very few books. The speaker suggested this gave the impression that the books were very frivolous and I think this is an idea which continues today. Certainly I have heard people writing off Jane Austen as ‘just’ a romantic novelist when in reality she is so much more. On the other hand, some illustrations made the books look like highly sensational novels – I found them rather amusing!
The break times were an excellent chance to chat with other Janeites and I was in my element with so many other like minded people. It might have been my first study day but it’s certainly won’t be my last.
My colleague has been raving about Hilary McKay’s new book The Skylarks’ War for months now so when Macmillan Children’s Books sent me a review copy I was rather excited. Not least because I loved reading her Casson Family series as a child.
Clarry and her older brother Peter live for their summers in Cornwall, staying with their grandparents and running free with their charismatic cousin, Rupert. But normal life resumes each September – boarding school for Peter and Rupert, and a boring life for Clarry at home with her absent father, as the shadow of a terrible war looms ever closer.
When Rupert goes off to fight at the front, Clarry feels their skylark summers are finally slipping away from them. Can their family survive this fearful war?
I have to admit that when people repeatedly tell me how much I will love something I do start to be a little prejudiced against it. However, I really wanted to like this book so I tried to have an open mind.
It was definitely worth it – the book is beautifully written and I was completely absorbed in the plot. I stayed up far too late reading it! Although this is classed as a children’s book there there are some nuances which feel very adult and grown ups will certainly enjoy it just as much as the children.
Did I love it as much as I was promised? As I was reading it I didn’t think so but now I’ve finished and have had time to absorb it I’m not so sure. I was definitely very moved by it and I found it to be thought provoking. Either way, I didn’t want to stop reading and it has certainly stuck with me. I will definitely be recommending it to many people.
The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
I have had a few days off this week and decided to make the most of them to rest and recuperate from the busyness of the past couple of months.
My ideal was to just sit and read all day long but that isn’t actually entirely practical – if nothing else, I have ponies who need looking after and a dog who needs walking. It’s tricky to ride and read at the same time but it is entirely possible to read whilst dog walking. As long as you wear enough layers of course!
However, I did manage to do a great deal of sitting by the fire with a book. The cat kept me company and I had a marvellous time lost in imaginary worlds.
I have been reading – and very much enjoying – the second volume of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters but for pure escapism and relaxation I picked up a couple of magical children’s books. These were Michelle Harrison’s A Pinch of Magic and Cerrie Burnell’s The Girl with the Shark’s Teeth – both of which were excellent.
It has been a wonderful couple of days.
I have been a member of the Jane Austen Society for several years now and for some time I have been toying with the idea of joining another literary society. I was think of something along the lines of the societies for Anthony Trollope, Dorothy L Sayers or Margery Allingham.
In the event – and almost on the spur of the moment – I went for something less literary. The Friends of the Chalet School is something I have known about for a while but have never joined before now.
My first newsletter arrived this week and I am so looking forward to reading it. I have to admit though that part of the draw for me was their lending library of Chalet School books.
I only recently discovered that almost all of the paperback editions were heavily cut or altered – which means that although I have read a good many of the books I have almost certainly never read a complete one. Therefore, I will obviously have to go back and re-read the whole series from the beginning.
It is a prospect which fills me with great joy. I have already sourced a 1955 edition of the first book which I hope is complete. I have found a couple of differences within the first few pages so things are looking promising.
However, finding the whole series could (would) be a difficult and expensive project – hence my interest in the library! I am very much looking forward to all of the reading though.
Over the past few years my family has got into the habit of sitting down after dinner to watch an episode (or two) of something. Most recently we have been working our way through Star Trek and Bewitched – depending on our mood. It is a great way to wind down at the end of the day but it has seriously curtailed my reading time.
However, over Christmas we watched very little of anything. The joy of sitting down in front of a fire to read by the light of the Christmas tree is incredible. I have always said how much I enjoy that but somehow it’s not always continued once the twelve days are up.
For some reason though, this year is different. We just sit down to read our books because that’s what we’d rather be doing. Not always, of course, but a large percentage of the time. It is wonderful and it makes me so happy – definitely the best way to spend a long winter evening.
The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting is a book I’ve been thinking about reading for a while – mainly because I’d heard it is similar in feel to All the Light we Cannot See which I loved.
I was therefore extremely pleased that my book club chose to discuss it at our meeting last night – I could add it to my teetering TBR pile without feeling at all guilty!
Edvard grows up on a remote mountain farmstead in Norway with his taciturn grandfather, Sverre. The death of his parents, when he was three years old, has always been shrouded in mystery – he has never been told how or where it took place and has only a distant memory of his mother.
But he knows that the fate of his grandfather’s brother, Einar, is somehow bound up with this mystery. One day a coffin is delivered for his grandfather long before his death – a meticulous, beautiful piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps Einar is not dead after all.
Edvard’s desperate quest to unlock the family’s tragic secrets takes him on a long journey – from Norway to the Shetlands, and to the battlefields of France – to the discovery of a very unusual inheritance. The Sixteen Trees of the Somme is about the love of wood and finding your own self, a beautifully intricate and moving tale that spans an entire century.
I put off reading it until the last minute – as I’ve mentioned before, I like to read cosy wintry favourites over Christmas – mainly children’s books.
I loved this book – and for once so did most of the book club. I thought it was beautifully written and the author’s love of wood and well crafted objects really showed through – his descriptions were wonderful.
Besides that, the mystery element was intriguing and kept me guessing. I found myself riding my pony and occupying my mind with setting out the facts I knew and trying to fill in the gaps. This is a book which will stay with me for a long time and I will definitely be reading the next one.
The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting
Publisher: Maclehose Press