Restorative Reading

This week I was planning to be on what has become our annual trip to Dartmouth. I always look forward to this week immensely – it is the most relaxing time, with plenty of stops in coffee shops and a lot of reading. It is so lovely to just be.

Sadly that isn’t possible this year – and we had realised quite some time before this lockdown was announced that we wouldn’t be going. Instead, we planned to have a lovely, relaxing week at home with no work done and only minimal cooking effort needed. Instead of coffee shops we might take a flask out onto the moor or somewhere equally remote.

Of course, even those trips out aren’t possible now but I am still managing to have such a great time. I am reading every moment that I can and I have even been making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room – it’s so much easier not to pick it up if it’s not within reach!

This was a great week to pick too – it has been a bit grey and drizzly outside which is perfect for lighting the fire and curling up with a book. Betsy Ray has been great company and I will miss her when I finish the series in the next few days. Then I’ll also have the difficult decision of what to read next – the brand new (to me) Chronicles of Avonlea or picking up my Anne re-read where I left off by choosing Anne’s House of Dreams instead. Alternatively, I did say I would read The Vicar of Wakefield next. There are too many choices!

Pony Story Time

As with many small girls, I was completely pony mad. In fact, I never grew out of that pony phase. As a child, I was desperate for a pony of my own – I was one of those annoying children who frequently presented my parents with detailed charts showing all the things I could give up to fund said pony.

In lieu of the pony, I read every single pony book I could get my hands on. I read the ones from the library many times and I was constantly searching for new titles. There is something about the pony book which shows every pony mad girl to herself – I particularly identified with red-headed Jinny and for years my dream horse was a beautiful chestnut mare just like Shantih.

Although I now have my own pony (who, incidentally, I got largely because of my time volunteering at the Moorland Mousie Trust and one of the most exciting things I got to do there was helping with the publishing of a new edition of Moorland Mousie – if you like Black Beauty you should definitely read it!) this is another thing I haven’t grown out of and there are so many pony books out there that I can still find brand new (to me) titles to enjoy.

My favourites are mainly those set in Britain in the forties and fifties (although I do love others – I’ve already mentioned Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series) – Ruby Ferguson, the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Gillian Baxter are some of my favourites. As most of my childhood reading of them was from the library I am still trying to fill the many, many gaps.

Unfortunately, most of these books are out of print and many of them are rare (or at least very expensive) even second hand. I have a suspicion that this is partly because they are children’s books which tend to get more damaged than books for adults. I also know from experience that some second hand book dealers can dismiss children’s books as not worth selling which is terrribly sad.

My current obsession is the Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm series by Monica Edwards. I read a couple of them as a teenager but couldn’t get hold of any more. I recently discovered that Girls Gone By Publishers have been reprinting them and I have slowly been building up my collection. I have been having a wonderful time reading them and the ponies seem to enjoy it too – Galahad wasn’t too sure at first but Cookster was very enthusiastic!

Book Review – Hollowpox

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.

Publisher’s Blurb

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!

Book Details

Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books

ISBN: 9781510105300

RRP: £12.99

Autumn Reading

I have been having a lovely bookish couple of weeks. Last week should have been the Bath Children’s Book Festival. Of course they couldn’t hold it in person but they teamed up with several other festivals to put on the Reading is Magic Festival online instead. All of the events were free and I had a great week picking talks to watch.

This week it is the turn of Cheltenham Literature Festival. They do have a very small number of people in actual physical audiences but they are also broadcasting the events online so every evening I am settling down for some wonderful booky content. It is great to feel so literary!

Of course I am sad all these festivals can’t go ahead as normal. Watching at home is great but it is not the same as being there in person. On the other hand, there is no way I would have been able to get to nearly as many events as I have watched this year so I have seen a small benefit of covid restrictions.

On top of all that, we had solid rain for about four days. It wasn’t particularly pleasant outside but it was perfect weather for curling up with a book indoors. Life is pretty great.

Book Festival in the Time of Covid

This week it was time for the Appledore Book Festival which is always a highlight of my year. Of course, this year the festival had to look a bit different. There was no antiquarian book fair and we certainly couldn’t gather a couple of hundred people into a hall many times a day.

I was convinced the whole thing would be cancelled or at least broadcast online only. The organisers though were determined to rescue something and came up with the brilliant idea of holding the UK’s first drive-in book festival. It was a stroke of genius and they couldn’t have had a better location – just look at the view!

As I was working at the festival, I got to hear most of the talks and I had such a great time listening to some fascinating people. We were incredibly lucky with the weather and I honestly can’t think of many things better than sitting in a field listening to people talk about books. Naturally I was well supplied with snacks too!

The whole festival was a delight but there were some highlights for me. Richard Osman was as brilliant (I’ve read the book – more on that another time but it is good!) as I expected and I also loved listening to Adele Parks and Viv Groskop. I could have listened to all of them for hours.

Of course, I couldn’t go to a book festival without bringing home a few books. Ths is quite a small haul but I am very much looking forward to reading them.

I loved this festival and in a way I will be sad to go back to normal next year. Naturally we hope that next time the audience will be able to sit together and actually meet the authors but it was so wonderful to have the whole event contained in one area. It would be lovely if the next event could still be outside or in a series of marquees – maybe there could also be a tea tent with a view of the sea!

Reading Spots

I have a need to read. After my studying post last week I got obsessed with doing the exercises in my calculus textbook and spent a lot of time working on those. I loved doing them but I could feel myself gradually getting more anxious as the week went on because I had lost so much reading time. Reading really does keep me on an even keel.

I take a book with me everywhere. I have even been known to take a teeny-tiny little book to a wedding – not that I actually read it! It does mean that I generally also have to carry a big bag with me all the time though. I do have some lovely, cute little bags but they just won’t accommodate a book. On the rare occasions that I use them I tend to carry a book separately. It might be a bit inconvenient but I console myself with the hope that maybe it makes me look a little intellectual.

It can also get me into trouble. As a child I got told off for reading when I should have been doing chores. If I’m honest I still do this now – I just don’t tend to get told off for it any more! I have never yet read in a queue for the till in a shop (although I have been tempted) but I do all the time when waiting for the train or even just in the street waiting to meet someone. I still maintain that it should be socially acceptable to read at a concert. I can enjoy the music just as much when I am reading!

All of this does mean that I can end up reading in some very odd places. I distinctly remember practising for my Duke of Edinburgh expedition by loading a backpack with the heaviest books I could find and taking myself for a walk. It wasn’t long before I had pulled out one of the books and started reading it as I walked. Then there is this lovely perch in the apple tree. Who could resist at apple picking time?!

Back-to-School Madness

When do normal people grow out of back to school fervour? It is some time since I graduated, yet every time September rolls around I am desperate to buy all the stationery. I want new pens, notebooks (the lure of a fresh exercise book is irresistible), planners, backpacks… I even crave a timetable I can colour code and hang over my desk.

So much so that I have been inspired to start designing my own stationery. I love sending letters and the lockdown gave me the time to create letter paper I will really love to use. Obviously I am back at work now but I am making the effort to try and paint at least a couple of times a week. It has been a lot of fun and I don’t want to lose that.



Most people set resolutions in January. I always want to study in the autumn. It might seem odd but I reason that I might as well make the most of the fact that right now all I want to do is learn. I even dragged out my university calculus textbook because I am all too aware that I have forgotten most of what I learnt.

My actual focus at the moment though is Latin. I wanted to learn Latin ever since I first read the Lord Peter Wimsey books as a teenager but it wasn’t offered at my school and by the time I took my A Levels my priorities were elsewhere. Since university though I have worked through one book by myself and taken two adult classes. I always get on very well to start with but get bogged down as the grammar becomes more complicated. I am one of the generation of schoolchildren for whom only basic grammar was considered necessary so when it comes to things like the subjunctive I struggle to define it in English, let alone in Latin. This time I am determined to crack it. I even have post it notes stuck up by my bathroom mirror.



Of course, Latin is not the most useful subject I could study. Yes I will (hopefully) learn more grammar than I did in English but I can hardly travel to Rome and have a conversation in Latin. I enjoy it though which is really the whole point. Besides, perhaps the apparent uselessness is part of the charm. There is no stress of a looming deadline, no practical situation where I will need to show my skill. I can just revel in the joy of learning for its own sake.

Book Review – Truly Devious

Several months ago I watched a Booktube video which recommended Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious as 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.

Publisher’s Blurb

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.

Book Details

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780062338068

RRP: £7.99

In Defence of Georgette Heyer

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.

Comforting Cosy Crime

I’ve realised that I have been talking a lot about cosy crime books recently – it seems that in times of stress I really do find them comforting.  I generally revert to old favourites – Margery Allingham, Catherine Aird, Dorothy L Sayers…  At the moment I am mostly (but not exclusively) reading familiar authors but have been seeking out new to me titles.  They have the double advantage of seeming comfortingly well known whilst still being exciting new stories.

I am not alone either.  I remember early on in lockdown reading a piece by Robin Stevens about how the reading of crime fiction always increases in times of crisis.  Apparently it is because it is (perhaps subconsciously) reassuring to read a book which has very human problems we know will be neatly solved by the end.  I think we can all see the appeal of that!

For me, there are some stricter rules.  I do not like books where it turns out the narrator – or someone whose thoughts we can follow – is the murderer.  That breaks one of the rules of golden age detective fiction, although it is one Agatha Christie was happy to break – she is well know for breaking many of them!  I do hate getting emotionally attached to the villain.

I also like to have a fair chance of solving the murder myself. All the detective’s clues should be available to me otherwise it just isn’t fair. I love Ngaio Marsh but Alleyn has a terrible habit of saying something along the lines of, ‘I’ll tell you on the way.’ to Inspector Fox and we never get to see that scene. It’s a bit infuriating sometimes.

I do also have an issue with books where it turns out the murder was in fact a suicide. This is a problem which is very specific to me but I just don’t enjoy those stories nearly as much.

I have however been having a lovely time indulging my taste for cosy mysteries.  They are a balm I can highly recommend.