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.

Summer Mysteries

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.

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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?

Working and Reading

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!

Audiobook Crafting

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!

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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.

Comfort Reading

At the moment, reading is a very important escape for many of us. For me, that takes the form of comfort reading. I do not want to be reading books which make me miserable and if that means I spend a few weeks or months reading only children’s books then I am okay with that. In actual fact though, there will probably be at least some cosy crime books consumed, if not some nice middlebrow fiction (my Mum is currently reading the Mrs Tim books by D E Stevenson and making me want to read them again).

I am just getting to the end of The Cricket Term by Antonia Forest. I borrowed the first book in the series from the library many years ago and loved it but have only come across one of the intervening books in the meantime. I love this series but I do need to find the rest of the books – and probably the first one again – as there are a lot of passing references to events about which I know nothing!

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I very rarely make myself a set reading list but I have gathered together a few books which I think will be good for me at the moment. I am about to read Daddy-Long-Legs for the umpteenth time and will probably finally read my lovely, hardback, unabridged copy of The School at the Chalet. I am yet to read Catherine Aird’s latest book – Inherintance Tracks – and now may be the time when I actually get around to reading some books I have seen recommended many times – including The Penderwicks and All-of-a-Kind Family.

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I am also just getting to the end of listening to Pride and Prejudice and have already decided that I will go back and re-listen to the Needlecraft Mysteries series by Monica Ferris. I listened to almost the entire nineteen book series (my library doesn’t have the last one yet) within a few months last year and they are exactly the kind of cosy mystery which I know will be comforting right now.

What is your go-to comfort read? I would love to have some more recommendations!

Re-reading Old Friends

I recently watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for the first time since seeing it (twice) in the cinema. I adored it when I first saw it and was very pleased to find that I still loved it just as much.

So much so that I immediately fetched the book off the shelf to read that again too. I haven’t read it for several years, beyond a quick flick through to remind me of the main points before I first saw the film.

As I expected, I still loved the book too. It is such a comfort read for me and it was wonderfully cosy to come back to it. I had forgotten though just how many changes the film had made – I knew there were quite a few differences but it was only reading the book properly which reminded me just how many. Some of them made practical sense but there were some things which I just couldn’t understand.

However, it is interesting to find that I do love both the book and the film, despite those differences. I think the film keeps the same spirit as the book and of course the main plot is more or less the same. They are both beautiful stories and I cannot help loving them. I need more like them please!

Jólabókaflóð

I am sure that by now most of you will have heard of the Icelandic tradition of Jólabókaflóð or book flood on Christmas Eve. If you haven’t, in Iceland it is traditional to give each other books on Christmas Eve and then settle down to read them and eat chocolate.

For several years I have wanted to adopt this practice for myself and this year, finally, I managed it.

We actually had company for dinner so we couldn’t spend hours reading but once they had gone we shared our books and settled down to finish the day. I received a lovely copy of Dear Enemy – the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. It is one I have read before but I wanted a nice vintage copy because my previous one had been print on demand and didn’t contain the pictures which add so much to the story.

I wasn’t disappointed either – I loved the pictures and was once again swept up by the story. It was the best way to wind down on Christmas Eve and I will definitely be hoping to do the same thing again many times in the future.

Cosy Comforting Christmas

Christmas reading time is here! One of my favourite things about Christmas is the long, dark evenings which can be spent in front of the fire with a board game or a book. It is just so cosy and wonderful.

It has to be the right kind of books though and I have made a tentative stack of books I may read over the next few weeks. Or possibly not. The whole point is to read exactly what I want and what makes me happy.

Most Christmases I try to read lots of my favourite children’s Christmas stories but this year not all of the books are obviously Christmassy. Some of them do have hidden Christmas scenes – I am reading What Katy Did at School primarily for the wonderful Christmas box the girls receive – but what I really want right now are cosy comfort reads. In fact, I have been looking forward to these books for weeks – which makes me think that perhaps I should read more of them throughout the year!

I have just finished reading Daddy-Long-Legs (I still love it as much as I ever did) and have moved on to Katy which I have not read for years. I know I am going to thoroughly enjoy the next few weeks!

Do you have Christmas reading (or other) traditions? I would love to hear them.