Christmas Puzzling

I have said before that this time between Christmas and Epiphany is one of my favourites in the whole year. Any stress of getting ready for Christmas should be over and the time is more or less your own to spend as you like. Of course, I do have to go to work so most of the days are spoken for but the evenings are so precious. Much of my time is spent curled up with a book by the tree – Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday is my current choice. An old favourite which gets re-read every Christmas.

This year I have the added pastime of a jigsaw puzzle. I never had much patience for these when I was little – books were far more exciting – but I did enjoy finishing off the puzzle my sister had at her wedding a few years ago and this year I couldn’t resist these bookish puns.

I’m only spending half an hour or so at a time on it but I am very much enjoying it and it turns out that when it comes to books I have quite a talent for remembering where they fit. How surprising!

Reading by Candlelight

Some of – if not the – first signs of Christmas in our house are the welcome lights which go up at the beginning of December. We have three sets, one of which always sits in my window. They are so welcoming when we get home after a long day.

Since they went up this year I have got into the habit of lighting an actual candle at bedtime and reading purely by candlelight – which is something I always used to do anyway but which I had stopped doing when I was ill once and never started again. I had forgotten just how lovely it is.

For me, it is a much calmer and more peaceful way to end the day than having my bedside lamp on. I have been feeling far more relaxed since I started having the candles and I shall be sorry to see the welcome lights go after Christmas. I am determined to remember this feeling and get back into the habit of lighting candles. It is so worth it!

Christmas Crime

Now that December is well and truly upon us I am beginning to want to read all the Christmas books. However, although I am listening to A Holiday by Gaslight – which is utterly charming – my main reading has actually been very much focused on cosy crime. Apparently that is what I want from Christmas right now!

I have just finished Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair. I have been slowly working my way through her books as until a year or so ago all I had read was Daughter of Time. I loved that book so much but for some reason had never moved on to any other, maybe because I was worried that it was the Richard III theme which appealed and not the writing itself. It turns out that – unsurprisingly – Josephine Tey is a great writer and I very much enjoy her books.

The Franchise Affair is possibly my favourite so far – except for Daughter of Time of course. I was hooked very early on and all my spare thoughts were occupied by it. Inspector Grant actually featured very little but I loved Robert Blair and was completely invested in his story. Plus that of the Sharpes of course.

In short, I loved this book and I am very much looking forward to the next.

Advent Reading

This week my main bookish delight has actually been a cookbook – which is unusual for me. I love to bake but rarely make the time for it – there are so many other things going on!

This particular book though is Advent by Anja Dunk and is a collection of ‘festive German bakes to celebrate the coming of Christmas’. I love the Advent season, as things slowly get more Christmassy and we spend more evenings curled up by the fire with books and delicious things to eat. Reading this book has definitely brought me that cosy, hygge feeling – the author has included lots of personal anecdotes as well as recipes – and I have been loving it.

I have only baked one thing so far – the Dattel-Walnussmakronen – but they were the most delicious thing. So light and airy, but still rich and chewy. They are incredibly moreish and I will be indulging in some this evening when I start my card writing. More recipes will definitely be tried soon!

Recharging

Having just spent a week away in Dartmouth I have been reminded once again just how good reading is for me. I had been feeling pretty stressed and wound up and that time away – where I did very little other than read, walk and paint – was exactly what I needed.

I rediscovered all my old reading haunts and even found some new ones. Just sitting on the rocks away from the hurly burly of life is a wonderful balm for the soul.

Also lovely were the evenings. On several days I sat out until it was too dark to read and was very grateful for the warmth of the flat when I got back. Then I could settle down with hot chocolate and my book or a board game and watch all the lights of the harbour. Bliss.

Christie Immersion

Over the past couple of days I have been exploring round Dartmouth and enjoying it very much. There are so many gorgeous houses on the edges of the town – and over the river around Kingswear – and what with those and the palm trees I feel as if I am in an Agatha Christie novel. I can practically see people walking to tennis parties. This is the heart of Agatha Christie country after all

Unfortunately whenever I am here there seems to be an awful lot of building work going on. The walls and fences springing up around those houses make them look more like fortresses and I am convinced they looked much more welcoming in their heyday. I appreciate that the owners don’t want people all over their lawns but four private notices on one gateway does seem excessive. All the pretty blocked up gateways make me very sad too – and it doesn’t help at all that most of the houses are not lived in all year round.

However, I try not to dwell on that and just enjoy the sea air and gorgeous views. I neglected to take a Christie book with me but I did have A Tourist’s Guide to Murder by V M Burns which – completely fortuitously – involves a trip to Dartmouth and so was very appropriate. It is definitely the perfect place for reading cosy crime.

Comfort Watching

I am very sad that the book festival is over but I am definitely appreciating the shorter working days and even some time off. I feel as if I could sleep all day! The festival was wonderful, although interestingly my two main highlights were more related to watching stories on screen than reading them myself. The first of these was getting to meet Hayley Mills – she gave a great talk and I was completely starstruck.

Second was meeting Andrew Davies. He was such a nice man and he too gave a fascinating talk. We had a lovely chat afterwards and he even signed my copy of The Making of Pride and Prejudice – which has been very well read!

Period dramas have really been helping me through the past few weeks. I have been exhausted when I get home and have just been collapsing on the sofa and watching an hour or so of something. It started with the Andrew Davies adaptation of Sense and Sensibility which I don’t think I have seen since it first came out. I loved it even more on a second viewing and it is definitely one I will be keeping for the future. Since then I have watched the Kate Beckinsale Emma – which I love for having Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – and two different versions of Persuasion. The Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds one is still easily my favourite.

Then I moved on to Mansfield Park and watched the version with Billie Piper. Again, I only saw this when it was first shown and I remember enjoying it. This time, I was constantly saying, ‘Fanny wouldn’t do that… That’s not right… Where are they going now?’ It seemed to have taken the characters, changed them a bit and thrown them into a similar – but not quite the same – story. After that I had to watch the 1983 adaptation with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell which was much more recognisable as the story from the book and is the version I will watch again. I have still not seen the 1999 version – I feel as if I should but it has always sounded as if I wouldn’t like it much!

Now I am running out of dramas. I have Wives and Daughters to start soon – I loved the book but have never watched it before. After that I don’t know where I will go next. Maybe a rewatch of Anne of Green Gables or North and South but I’m open to suggestions. I do have Vanity Fair lined up but I need to read the book first – I’m planning to start it in the next few days and am very much looking forward to it.

Indecisive Reading

It turns out that, although the autumn has made me crave some more serious reading, I am not able to read just the weightier books. Over the past few days I have been reading A Gossip’s Story by Jane West and at the same time listening to Rebecca. Neither of them are particularly difficult reading but when I finished Rebecca I had to immediately start something much lighter – the latest in the Needlecraft Mystery series by Monica Ferris was exactly the palette cleanser I needed.

I am very much enjoying A Gossip’s Story – which I have been wanting to read for years because of the idea that it may have helped inspire Sense and Sensibility. However, as with many eighteenth century novels, it is interspersed with long (33 pages) sections of poetry which do not advance the plot and do not always hold my interest. I appreciated the fact that the author said it was easy to see where the narrative resumed so I could skip the poem but I am definitely a completionist and I couldn’t bear to do that. Therefore, on my day off – when I really needed to be sucked into a story – I picked up another cosy crime book – this one the next (for me) in V M Burns’ Mystery Bookshop series.

This series is a lot of fun and – although I find some aspects of the sections which are from a 1938 cosy crime book set in England a little grating – I keep being brought back for more. I only have one more book to go before I catch up with the author now!

All of which goes to show that it is very important – at least for me – to have a variety of books on the go. I am such a mood reader that I never know what I will want from one day to the next!

Balm for the Soul

The past few weeks have been pretty stressful for me. Work has been very chaotic and busy and my days off have been packed full too. It is lovely to be selling books and stationery at village fêtes or taking my dog to an agility competition but hardly restful. I am definitely someone who needs time to myself to recharge.

My reading wasn’t helping either – in my breaks at work I was reading Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan for my book club and I was struggling somewhat with the content. It is certainly not a book which is designed to cheer me up!

However, on Saturday I had a free day with nothing to do but ride my pony and watch the cross country from Bicton Horse Trials. I had practically a whole day in which I could do nothing and I made the best use of it.

The day started off perfectly as my Mum made me a wonderful tray of breakfast so I could just sit and eat and read at my leisure. A murder mystery might seem an odd choice of comfort reading but it really does work – and having something that gripping was exactly what I needed. Besides, I love the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series!

After the horsey part of my day was done, I took my book and hammock outside and spent a very happy few hours curled up just reading. Even the dog thought it looked like fun.

It was wonderful and exactly what I needed.

Pony Reading

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!