Unexpected Adventures with a Book

This week was supposed to see my very first visit to the London Book Fair. I was incredibly excited and so, although it was absolutely the correct decision, I was very disappointed when it was cancelled. I decided that I would use the free time for my own literary adventures instead.

I started off with a visit to Westward Ho! – named after Charles Kingsley’s novel but also known for its connection to Kipling. I read Stalky & Co – which was based on his time at the United Services College near Westward Ho! – a couple of years ago and I loved it. The first stanza of If is set into the seafront and I had a lovely time walking along reading it.

It was a very blustery day and the wind was icy cold but that just made it more exciting. Plus, it meant we were thoroughly justified in warming up in the cafe!

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I also went to visit Malmsmead and the church of St Mary the Virgin at Oare – both places featured in Lorna Doone. The church is particularly significant as it is where Lorna and John Ridd were married – the shot is said to have been fired through the window on my right.

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The mist had really come down over Exmoor which gave gave a perfect eerie feeling to the day. However, for me no literary pilgrimage to the moor is complete without a picnic so – despite the non-existent view – we parked up and settled down for several hours of reading and eating. Inside the car of course – it was still far too windy and cold (not to mention the rain) to eat outside! It was a perfect afternoon.

Reading Pretty Books

Like many of you I love to have beautiful books.  Given a choice between two editions of the same book, I will always choose the one I think prettiest (unless it is ridiculously expensive!).

This can cause me a dilemma though.  Sometimes one of my very favourite books will be reissued with a stunningly beautiful cover and I have to decide whether I can justify purchasing another copy of the same book.

In some cases it is easy – I bought all of the hardcover reissues of the original Swallows and Amazons covers to replace my battered paperbacks which were just not so pretty.  When my sister found a box of vintage Famous Five books – mostly with dustjackets – going for a song at our village fête I didn’t hesitate to get rid of those paperbacks either.  Although, I did keep my 3-in-1 copy of the first three books because it brought back such wonderful memories.

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Sometimes it is harder though.  There are some beautiful editions of Anne of Green Gables available now and I would so love to have them on my shelf.  My copy is not all that pretty but I am quite attached to it and it is stuffed full of pressed flowers and other memorabilia so I am loathe to part with it.

I know many people have multiple copies of the same book and that would solve a lot of problems but also create a whole new one – where would I keep them all?  I barely have room for the books I have now so having many different editions of a book is a slippery slope I have so far avoided.  It can be hard to resist though!

Re-reading Old Friends

I recently watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for the first time since seeing it (twice) in the cinema. I adored it when I first saw it and was very pleased to find that I still loved it just as much.

So much so that I immediately fetched the book off the shelf to read that again too. I haven’t read it for several years, beyond a quick flick through to remind me of the main points before I first saw the film.

As I expected, I still loved the book too. It is such a comfort read for me and it was wonderfully cosy to come back to it. I had forgotten though just how many changes the film had made – I knew there were quite a few differences but it was only reading the book properly which reminded me just how many. Some of them made practical sense but there were some things which I just couldn’t understand.

However, it is interesting to find that I do love both the book and the film, despite those differences. I think the film keeps the same spirit as the book and of course the main plot is more or less the same. They are both beautiful stories and I cannot help loving them. I need more like them please!

Book Review – Break the Fall

When Hachette Children’s Books sent me a review copy of Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli (several months ago) I had never heard of it.  I knew immediately that I wanted to read it though.  A young adult book about gymnastics?  Yes please!

So much so that I abandoned all my reading plans for that evening and started it straight away.  I love watching gymnastics and have always wished that I was flexible enough to actually do it.  This was my chance to pretend to be a part of that world

Publisher’s Blurb

The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory.  Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back.  Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck.

But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable.  No one knows what, or who to believe and Audrey’s teammates go into meltdown.

As the Olympic torch closes in, Audrey has no idea who to trust, let alone what life holds after her final dismount.  The only thing she can do is hope that in the end, belief in herself and what’s left of her team, will be enough for gold.

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I was immediately sucked in to the tension of competition and after that I just didn’t want to stop reading.  I stayed up way past my bedtime because I really wantd to know what happened to these girls.

Of course, for me this book was all about the gymnastics and I lived every moment of the competiions and training.  However, I did also like the way the accusation of the unthinkable was handled.  I am always wary of too much teenage angst in books (just because as an adult it can infuriate me) but that wasn’t an issue for me here.  I thought the girls handled the situation very well, whilst still being believable teenagers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It made me think of a more modern, more adult Noel Streatfeild book – a book about a specific interest but with a great plot as well.  Streatfeild always makes me want to rush out and conquer whichever sport or interest I happen to be reading about and this gave me that same feeling.  I will certainly be trying Iacopelli’s previous books about tennis.

Thank you very much to Hachette for the review copy.

Book Details

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Published 20th February 2020 by Hachette Children’s Group

ISBN: 9781444953244

RRP: £7.99

Tiny Bookshopping

I have posted before about my love of tiny bookshops and I have a new one to share today!

Last week I went to visit my Uncle and found this lovely little book shed outside a church.  It was dark and we were too incompetent to be able to turn the light on but this is exactly why we have torches on our phones!

I spent a very happy time rummaging through the boxes and shelves – which were beautifully organised and far more user friendly than many I have seen.  Of course, I couldn’t leave without actually buying a book so I bought three (because why not?) and marched happily along the road clutching them to me.

As I said, it was dark!

I was very pleased with my selection too – Mother Goose illustrated by Arthur Rackam, a copy of Dorothy L Sayers’ Unnatural Death to replace my falling apart copy and a signed(!) copy of Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson.  I just read my first Atkinson – Transcription – and I loved it so I am very excited to have another to read!

Book Review – Eliza and Her Monsters

Last year I went through a spate of reading books about people who love books, or fandom in general.  In trying to find more to feed my obsession I came across Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia and immediately ordered a copy.  Of course, by the time it arrived I had moved on to other books and so it has sat on my shelf for several months waiting for its moment.

This week the time came.  I wanted something to read at bedtime, my book club book was not enthralling me and I was only one chapter into The Three Musketeers so that hadn’t gripped me yet either.  Eliza was calling to me from the shelf so I snatched her up and settled down.

Publisher’s Blurb

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless.  Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of a popular webcomic called Monstrous Sea.  With millions of followers and fans throughout the world, Eliza’s persona is popular.  Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community.

Then Wallace Warland transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.  But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity — begins to fall apart.

I immediately loved this book.  It is wonderful to have a character with whom you can identify and Eliza was that for me.  I too felt like an outsider at school, although not to the same extent – and my escape was into books not creating a famous webcomic.

Wallace too was a wonderfully drawn character and I found myself rooting for them both – I really cared how their story turned out.  The downside of that was that I stayed awake far too late reading it.  However, I had a day off on Monday and I allowed myself the luxury of spending the morning curled up in a blanket with the book.  It was glorious.

This was a warm hug of a book about finding something you love and doing it – something we should all remember.  I made a note of several quotes but I particularly loved this one

If you want the motivation back, you must feed it.  Feed it everything.  Books, television, movies, paintings, stage plays, real-life experience.  Sometimes feeding simply means working, working through nonmotivation, working even when you hate it.

We create art for many reasons – wealth, fame, love, admiration – but I find the one thing that produces the best results is desire.  When you want the thing you’re creating, the beauty of it will shine through, even if the details aren’t all in order.  Desire is the fuel of creators, and when we have that, motivation will come in its wake.

I was quite bereft when I finished this book – I so badly wanted to spend more time with Eliza and Wallace.  Please – recommend more books like this!

Book Details

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Publisher: Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780062290144

RRP: £7.99

Back to School

On Saturday I went to a meeting of my local branch of the Jane Austen Society. I miss a lot of these meetings because I often tend to be working when they happen so I am always extra happy when I can get to one. It is lovely to have a room full of so many Jane Austen enthusiasts and of course the talks are excellent.

I was especially impressed with the talks this month. In the afternoon we heard from architectural historian Amy Frost about the locations used in adaptations of Jane Austen’s work. It is surprising how many of them are just wrong when you actually look at them. I was particularly amused by the locations chosen for Sense and Sensibility – Norland has grown enormously with each new adaptation, while Barton Cottage has shrunk right down. I loved the cottages used in the more recent adaptations but they certainly bear no resemblance to Austen’s description!

The morning talk was also brilliant. It was somewhat more intellectual than a lot of the talks we have – a fact which I very much appreciated. So much so that I was scribbling away throughout the talk and had to pull out my books when I got home to transfer the notes.

This was Anne Toper – Dialogue in Pride and Prejudice: Blunder and Innovation. She was (unsurprisingly!) talking about Austen’s use of dialogue – particularly how infrequently she uses words such as, ‘He said’ or, ‘She said.’ When she does use them it is deliberately for effect – for an example, read the first proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice (chapter 34) and compare the speech attributions with those used when Fanny and Edmund are talking about stars in chapter 11 of Mansfield Park. The intimacy between the characters is entirely different.

I thoroughly enjoyed both talks and loved the feeling that I was properly studying the texts. As ever, I came away completely enthused and thinking that I must make myself more opportunities for similar events.

On Reading Six of Crows

I am very late to the Six of Crows party.  I have heard people raving about the books for years but for some reason I never picked them up.

Then somebody shared a quote from Leigh Bardugo’s latest book which made me sit up and think, ‘Oh that’s clever!’  I was drawn to the books but thought that although the books set in the Grishaverse don’t exactly follow on from one another, it would be better to start at the beginning.  I realise now of course that actually the first book written was Shadow and Bone but Six of Crows was the one which drew me in.

I was very pleased to be given a copy for Christmas and couldn’t wait to get started.  It took me a little while to get into it – I don’t read a huge amount of fantasy so I’m not used to learning about a brand new world and its magic.  Pretty soon though I was hooked and I raced through it.

In fact, it was so gripping that I finished it one evening and went straight out in the morning to buy book two – Crooked Kingdom.  I just had to know what happened next and for those few hours in between I felt bereft.

The book has a great plot which is full of surprising twists and turns.  The thing I loved most about it though was the characters – how they interacted with each other and the way there was so much more to them than just the main plot.  They all had their own sub plots and motives, plus intriguing backstories which came out gradually through the books.

Obviously, I loved these books.  The only question is – do I go back and read the Grisha trilogy next or move on to King of Scars?

Listening and Learning

I mentioned in my last post that Five by Hallie Rubenhold was one of my favourite books from last year. It is essentially a biography of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and is very much a book about their lives and not their deaths – although those are covered too.

It is an utterly fascinating book and I was genuinely gripped by it. I wanted to know what happened to those women and how they ended up on the streets of Whitechapel.

Non-fiction can be a struggle for me. No matter how much I am interested in a subject and want to read the book, I do not tend to pick them up. Instead I go for stories. I can’t really explain it but I love to get lost in another world.

In the case of Five, it had been sitting on my shelf for months just waiting for me to pick it up. Every time I started a new book it was overlooked. Then I thought of audiobooks and borrowed a copy from the library.

It was a revelation. I was hooked and just couldn’t stop listening. Which was potentially awkward at times when I had forgotten my earphones – if someone had walked in on me and just heard snippets out of context it might have sounded odd!

Audiobooks are definitely a great tool and something I will remember the next time I want to read a non-fiction book but am putting off starting it. I should manage to learn much more this way!

A Year of Reading

I’m a little late with my round up of last year’s reading because I wanted to post about Christmas last week.  It is still nice to reflect on the year though so better late than never!

2019 was a good reading year for me.  I’m not overly driven by numbers – it is much more important for me to feel that I have been enjoying my reading.  There were a couple of times when I got bogged down in a book I didn’t much like and which really slowed down my reading but on the whole I can say that I read a lot of books I loved. Most of the time I just wanted to get back to my books.

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That being said, I do know that I read 128 books last year – of which 16 were re-reads – which was a big jump up on the 91 of the year before.  Of course, part of that is because I listened to 44 audio books – up from 14 in 2018.  That definitely helped!

I am not at all good at picking favourites – they change so much depending on my mood.  There are a few which stick in my mind though – I loved Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Waverley by Walter Scott.  Hallie Rubenhold’s Five was fascinating and I was completely hooked by it.

As for reading resolutions for the new year, I have stopped setting myself firm reading lists as for me they creates too much pressure and stop me enjoying the books so much.  The only resolution I really have is to read the books which bring me joy.  I so much loved reading my cosy books over Christmas that I want to carry on doing the same all year round and not pressure myself into reading books I think I ought to read.  That sounds like a pretty good year to me.