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.
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!
I mentioned last week that I saw a lot of Betsy-Tacy in my near future and I was completely right – I picked up Betsy in Spite of Herself on Monday and I have been galloping through the books. They are wonderfully cosy and comforting and I don’t want to be reading anything else right now. Except perhaps for L M Montgomery – she has a conflicting claim on me and I want to be reading both together!
For some reason, reading Betsy-Tacy always makes me want to take my books outside. Probably mainly because of scenes like this one at the beginning of Betsy Was a Junior where Betsy is out on the lake with her journal. It is just idyllic and I want to be a part of it.
Of course, I haven’t just been reading this week – now I am partially furloughed again I have been helping outside once more. My hands are a mess of bramble scratches but the hedges are looking good!
The main plus side of doing the work though is that tidying up the hedges reveals the hidden perches in the trees. Today I found this wonderful nook which cradles me perfectly and is surprisingly comfortable. All I need is a cushion for my head and I could spend hours there. Perhaps not quite that long just yet – it’s a bit chilly if you sit still for too long – but in the spring I will be all set with a perfect new reading spot. I can’t wait.
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!
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.
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.
I am taking a few days annual leave this week. I have only been back at work for five weeks but it has been exhausting and I was more than ready for the break.
Of course, there are still things I need to get done this week but I was hopeful that I could spend a good chunk of the time reading. So far I have done pretty well and have read two of the Albert Campion series by Margaret Allingham – Traitor’s Purse and Coroner’s Pidgen. I have read both before so knew I would enjoy them and I have been revelling in them.
I would have moved onto the next one but it is new to me and I need to wait until I actually have a copy. Instead, I have been drawn to another cosy mystery – The Plot is Murder by V M Burns. I don’t know a huge amount about this one but it was recommended to me and it is set in a mystery bookshop. How can I not like it?
With the re-opening of shops this week, I have been called back in to work. I spent a long time thinking about the perfect book to take with me – it needed to be nice and cosy but not too gripping because I wanted to be able to leave it at work when I went home.
In the end I decided on Pat of Silver Bush. L M Montgomery is always the best comfort read for me and, although I remember thinking that Pat was very similar in character to me, I haven’t read it for quite some time. I hoped that would mean I would be drawn into the story and it would be a distraction if things got too stressful at work.
In fact, I have hardly read at all over the past few days. We are working shorter days which means we get less time for lunch and I only get through a few pages. Then when I get home I am completely drained and just want to collapse on the sofa in front of the television (I have been binge watching Miranda and it is just as wonderful as I remember).
Hopefully though I will settle back into work fairly quickly and I’ll soon be reading more again. I am very much looking forward to my day off and the extra hours of reading time that will bring!
I have written several times before about my love for audiobooks. Now we are stuck at home with the lockdown my audiobook consumption has reduced somewhat – I can no longer listen on my way to and from work.
I do still listen when I am doing yard chores for the ponies though and also whilst working on my crochet. I love to crochet but normally I don’t tend to make enough time for it. However, as soon as the lockdown started I just wanted to make things – I crochet when we sit down for a cup of tea and a chat and if we watch a film in the evening I am almost guaranteed to be hooking away. Of course, at other times of day, listening to audiobooks is a perfect accompaniment to crafting. It is amazing how quickly a project will progress if you work on it consistently!
All of which means that I am still listening, just in a different way. I am also strictly listening to cosy books – I am currently re-listening to the Needlecraft Mysteries series by Monica Ferris. Set in a needlecraft shop, I discovered them last year and absolutely loved them. This year they are the perfect comfort read and I am so enjoying listening to them. Apparently crime fiction always increases in popularity at times of stress. We love to read books where there’s only one thing wrong – the murder – and that always has a comforting solution. If you are looking for gentle mysteries to read I would highly recommend trying these.