Now that Cheltenham Literature Festival is open – and actually more than half over which is sad – I have had a bit of a chance to catch my breath. Of course, I am still working very hard but not for quite so long each day – and I am revelling in the festival atmosphere. There is nothing quite like drinking tea and reading my book surrounded by other people who love books just as much as I do. It is an added bonus that the leaves are just starting to turn so everywhere is looking simply beautiful and autumnal.
I have even managed to get to a few talks but for me the highlights so far have definitely been meeting Anna James and Onjali Rauf and getting my books signed. They are both just the nicest people – and Onjali made my day when I saw her again later and she remembered my name! It is wonderful to see children so excited by books too – there were little girls clutching piles of books and literally skipping away from Anna James’ signing. It made me so happy!
Perhaps my favourite part of each day though is when I finish each evening. I’m normally very tired but I treat myself to a hot chocolate, find myself a bench and just sit and read for an hour or so. It is the best way to end the day and soak up every last bit of festival atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly, I am still obsessed with the Olympics and am very much enjoying watching everything I can. However, as predicted I have picked up the next book in Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh series. I actually skipped a book as I read The Black Hunting Whip not all that long ago and so I went straight on to Cargo of Horses.
This was in fact the first Monica Edwards book I ever read – a customer ordered a different book in the series into the shop and Cargo of Horses arrived by mistake. Naturally, I snapped it up – I am always looking for new pony books! As is perhaps obvious I loved it and have been looking for other books in the series ever since. They are not easy to find, vintage copies can be incredibly expensive and some of the old paperbacks were slightly abridged. I was very annoyed when I found that out.
This all makes me very grateful that Girls Gone By Publishing have been reprinting the books – and even if they are out of print again second hand copies are often available. My collection isn’t yet complete but it is getting there and I am very much looking forward to the day when I have every book!
When Harry Potter was first published I was exactly the target age for it. At the time I was always very proud of the fact that I was reading it before it was cool! I have a very vivid memory of sitting on the edge of my bed devouring my library copy of Chamber of Secrets. I’m fairly sure I was supposed to be doing something else – possibly sleeping – but I was too scared to stop reading.
After that I was hooked. Book one was soon received as a Christmas present but I was made to wait for book three to come out in paperback before I was allowed that one. By the time book four came around I was buying the hardbacks as soon as they were published. I even went to my local bookshop’s midnight opening for the final book and stayed up all night to read it.
I grew up with the characters and so the books have remained close to my heart – despite any shortcomings I might be able to see now. However, I do find that my emotional responses to them have changed. As a teenager The Order of the Phoenix was my least favourite book – partly because the ending broke my heart (I cried a lot) and partly because Harry was just so angry all the time. I found him incredibly annoying!
These days I have a lot more patience with Harry. I am currently listening to the audiobooks for the first time and having just finished book five I find that instead of being annoyed with Harry I am angry with all the adults – and especially Dumbledore – myself. Why not tell Harry why he needed to learn occlumency? If he’d known he might have tried harder and even if it didn’t work he would have been prepared for the consequences. As far as I can see the only reason not to tell him is to enable the plot to develop as it did.
Neither can I see any real reason not to tell him earlier why he needs to stay with the Dursleys every summer. Since eleven year old Harry knew Voldemort wanted to kill him wouldn’t it have been comforting to know that he was safe as long as he spent some of each year in Privet Drive? Plus, of course it would have made being there just a bit more bearable.
All that aside, these books were a big part of my childhood and they are hugely nostalgic for me now. I am sure I will visit them again many times in the future. Do you have any childhood favourites with which you have a different relationship now?
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.
Every December I read Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday. I love the Swallows and Amazons series and this one is so perfect for reading at Christmas. Even if all the food does make me hungry. Last year I thought I would read a different book in the series but when it came to it I had to choose Winter Holiday. I couldn’t resist!
Earlier this year I started reading the series again in order and got as far as book five (I skipped Winter Holiday though as I read it so much!) so when December arrived and I started yearning for my cosy reading I was determined to pick up where I left off with Pigeon Post.
I couldn’t do it. Apparently I need to read about the Fram, the igloo and all that snow. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without it!
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.
As we head into a second lockdown I find that I am more anxious than I was last time. Primarily I think that is down to the combination of the waiting and the uncertainty. Last time lockdown just started – although we knew something would happen – whereas now we have had a few days warning. As I have spent those constantly speculating about how it will affect me personally (I know it doesn’t help but I can’t stop!) I have been very on edge all week.
So much so that my reading – especially in my breaks at work – has suffered. I just can’t concentrate on my book when I’m in the staff room! I am doing much better at home – but there I am sticking to cosy, comforting reads. That definitely seems to be the way forward for me.
Therefore, my plan over lockdown is just to read whatever I feel like at the time. If a book isn’t working I’ll put it down and try something else. Children’s books or cosy crime are probably going to be the best – I am seeing a lot of Betsy-Tacy, LM Montgomery and Margery Allingham in my future. Of course, my cat will also be there to keep me company!
On a side note, when I couldn’t read this week the thing that worked best for me was decorating envelopes for my penpals. It is something I always enjoy doing but I have never been quite so obsessed as I have been this week!
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!
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!
I have been a fan of Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series for years so, although I am very sad that Death Sets Sail is the last in the series, I was incredibly excited to receive a review copy from Penguin Random House.
The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series.
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile. They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two;what they get, instead, is murder.
Also travelling on theSS Hatshepsutis a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs. Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night.
It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim’s timid daughter is being framed – and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet.
But there is danger all around, andonly one of the Detective Society will make it home alive…
I have been waiting for this book for so long that I was afraid I might have built it up too much in my mind and I would be disappointed. I needn’t have worried though – this is a great book which definitely lives up to the rest of the series.
Of course, I am well above the target age for these books but even so I found the plot had a lot of unexpected twists and I only guessed the murderer a few pages before they were revealed. That’s the best kind of mystery – it’s satisfying to be able to work it out but only if it’s right at the last minute! I also loved the fact that the book is set in Egypt and I especially enjoyed the Agatha Christie references.
The characters have grown a lot over the course of the series and I will be sad to see them go. Hazel in particular has developed so much and I found myself cheering for her several times in this one. Robin Stevens has just announced a new series which will begin in 2022 and will focus on Hazel’s little sister May – I will be very much looking forward to that. In the meantime if you haven’t read Murder Most Unladylike yet I would highly recommend giving it a go.