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 it is Halloween this week my online book club has been reading Dracula. This was my first time reading it and, as I scare pretty easily when reading or watching anything remotely frightening, I was expecting to be terrified.
There were definitely some very atmospheric and spooky parts – the early chapters in Dracula’s castle were especially good. I was not, however, at all afraid. Normally a scary book will make me reluctant to take the dog out at night so this was unexpected.
Some of that was because of the book itself. It does have some issues but mainly I was frustrated by how oblivious all the men in the book are – they don’t even notice when someone has been bitten by the vampire. The only character with real intelligence is a woman – who doesn’t get the credit she deserves.
Partly though, I was affected by the fact that I was listening to the audiobook whilst doing other things like driving or laundry. I don’t think you get the full effect of the atmosphere when you are at a roundabout! I also didn’t like the particular version I had – it was read by two American actors putting on English accents. The accents weren’t perfect but I could have lived with that. What I did struggle with was the fact that every so often they would completely mispronnounce a word and I would find it so distracting that I would miss the next couple of sentences. I think if the whole thing had been read in an American accent it would have been fine – it was the sudden lapses I found jarring.
As ever, my book club discussion was excellent. I love hearing everyone’s reactions to the book and it is so good to have found kindred spirits with whom I can vent over plot frustrations. I am so looking forward to the next one!
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.
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!
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?!
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 always on the lookout for new (to me) cosy crime books. They are just so comforting and the best kind of relaxation so when I heard about the Mystery Bookshop series by V M Burns I had to try it out. It is set in a mystery bookshop after all!
Samantha Washington has long dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore. And as she prepares for the grand opening, she’s realizing another dream–penning a cozy mystery set in England between the wars. While Samantha hires employees and stocks her shelves, her imagination also gets to work as her heroine, Lady Penelope Marsh, long-overshadowed by her beautiful sister Daphne, refuses to lose the besotted Victor Carlston to her sibling’s charms. When one of Daphne’s suitors is murdered in a maze, Penelope steps in to solve the labyrinthine puzzle and win Victor.
In the meantime, however, the unimaginable happens in real life. A shady realtor turns up dead in Samantha’s backyard, and the police suspect her–after all, she might know a thing or two about murder. Aided by her feisty grandmother and an ensemble of enthusiastic retirees, Samantha is determined to close the case before she opens her store. But will she live to conclude her own story when the killer has a revised ending in mind?
I very much enjoyed this book. It is light, easy reading which is perfect right now. The mystery kept me guessing and I especially loved reading about Nana Jo and the girls. I only hope I’m half as active and resourceful as them when I’m their age!
I hadn’t realised that half of the text would be taken up by the crime novel which Sam is writing. That did throw me a bit to start with but I actually really like the way it was woven into the main plot. There were however some aspects of the portrayal of life in 1930s England which grated and I did feel that perhaps some more research could have been done here.
Overall though, I thought it was a fun book and I will definitely be reading more in the series.
The Plot is Murder by V M Burns Publisher: Kensington Publishing ISBN: 9781496711816 RRP: £11.99