Reading and Dancing

This past weekend I went away for a few days folk dancing at Halsway Manor.   I recently treated myself to a copy of the first Abbey School book by Elsie J Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club and although I have only read a couple of books in the series before but I knew the girls were very keen on folk dancing so it seemed the perfect choice to take away with me.

The house is absolutely beautiful. I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the library and it did not disappoint.

In fact, it was even better than I had hoped as I found half a shelf of Abbey School books in there which made me very happy indeed.

The weekend was very full but I still found plenty of time for reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had the most wonderful windowsill in my bedroom.

It was perfect for sitting and reading and I could have quite happily spent the whole weekend there!

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The Joys of Spring

Spring is springing!

We have had a glorious few days of the most beautiful sunshine and it has been marvellous. Things always look so much better when the sun shines.

For me, one of the best things is being able to read outside again. There is nothing quite like it and it makes me so happy that I’ve been able to do so this week.

I had to wrap up warm and my fingers went numb but it was still wonderful.

Of course, as I write this there is an absolute deluge of hail outside and I am curled up by the fire. That is lovely too!

In Defence of Escapism

We all have bad days. Yesterday was quite stressful for me and when I got home all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the fire with my book and a cup of tea. Yes I had a list of chores which needed doing but they would still need doing another day!

This is why I like to have escapist books. People so often scoff at happy books as being ‘just’ escapism but sometimes that’s what I need. If I’ve had a hard day I don’t want to make myself feel worse by reading about someone else being miserable. Books are my happy place after all.

In this instance I was reading Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which I picked up on my trip to Foyles. It’s a book I had heard of but never really knew anything about – when I found it though I could tell it was perfect for me. I’m halfway through now and I definitely made the right choice!

Just a couple of hours reading settled me back down. Books are the best medicine.

Book Review – Jane Austen at Home

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!

Publisher’s Blurb

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.

Book Details

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

ISBN: 9781473632202

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

RRP: £9.99

Being a Janeite

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.

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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.

Book Review – The Skylarks’ War

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.

Publisher’s Blurb

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.

Book Details

The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay

ISBN: 9781509894963

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

RRP: £6.99

Re-reading my Childhood

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.

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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.

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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.

A Reading Revelation

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.

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