I mentioned in my last post that Five by Hallie Rubenhold was one of my favourite books from last year. It is essentially a biography of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and is very much a book about their lives and not their deaths – although those are covered too.
It is an utterly fascinating book and I was genuinely gripped by it. I wanted to know what happened to those women and how they ended up on the streets of Whitechapel.
Non-fiction can be a struggle for me. No matter how much I am interested in a subject and want to read the book, I do not tend to pick them up. Instead I go for stories. I can’t really explain it but I love to get lost in another world.
In the case of Five, it had been sitting on my shelf for months just waiting for me to pick it up. Every time I started a new book it was overlooked. Then I thought of audiobooks and borrowed a copy from the library.
It was a revelation. I was hooked and just couldn’t stop listening. Which was potentially awkward at times when I had forgotten my earphones – if someone had walked in on me and just heard snippets out of context it might have sounded odd!
Audiobooks are definitely a great tool and something I will remember the next time I want to read a non-fiction book but am putting off starting it. I should manage to learn much more this way!
I’m a little late with my round up of last year’s reading because I wanted to post about Christmas last week. It is still nice to reflect on the year though so better late than never!
2019 was a good reading year for me. I’m not overly driven by numbers – it is much more important for me to feel that I have been enjoying my reading. There were a couple of times when I got bogged down in a book I didn’t much like and which really slowed down my reading but on the whole I can say that I read a lot of books I loved. Most of the time I just wanted to get back to my books.
That being said, I do know that I read 128 books last year – of which 16 were re-reads – which was a big jump up on the 91 of the year before. Of course, part of that is because I listened to 44 audio books – up from 14 in 2018. That definitely helped!
I am not at all good at picking favourites – they change so much depending on my mood. There are a few which stick in my mind though – I loved Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Waverley by Walter Scott. Hallie Rubenhold’s Five was fascinating and I was completely hooked by it.
As for reading resolutions for the new year, I have stopped setting myself firm reading lists as for me they creates too much pressure and stop me enjoying the books so much. The only resolution I really have is to read the books which bring me joy. I so much loved reading my cosy books over Christmas that I want to carry on doing the same all year round and not pressure myself into reading books I think I ought to read. That sounds like a pretty good year to me.
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.
A slightly early post this week, just to wish everyone who celebrates a very Merry Christmas.
Last week I got to go and see Lucy Worsley talking about Queen Victoria. I was lucky enough to get to see her Jane Austen talk last year and she was brilliant so I was very excited about seeing her again.
It was blowing an absolute gale on the way over but I had such a good time. Lucy Worsley is a great speaker and of course the subject matter is so interesting.
Naturally, I couldn’t leave without buying a book. I loved the Jane Austen at Home book which went with last year’s talk and so I really wanted all of the books on offer. In the end though I stuck with the book about Queen Victoria which actually related to the talk. I am so looking forward to reading it!
My book club’s choice for our last meeting was Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. It was not a book I would have necessarily chosen for myself but several of the other members were raving about it so I was certainly intrigued and looking forward to reading it.
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
And who does the little girl belong to?
I found that I was somewhat ambivalent about this book. I did enjoy it and I think it is well written. I really liked the characters (especially Rita and Mr Daunt) and I was rooting for them to have a happy ending. The mixture of science and folklore was interesting too and I spent some time trying to figure out how fantastical the story was – the author’s note at the end explained a lot!
However, it wasn’t a book which made me really want to pick it up each time. I can’t really articulate why either – as I said, I did enjoy the story. I think I was letting it flow over me instead of being really invested in it.
The other members of my book club loved it though. So much so that I thought we were going to have a very short meeting indeed – we don’t tend to have a lot to say when everybody likes a book! Luckily though we did find tthings to talk about and it was a great meeting.
I would still recommend Once Upon a River to others – it is a good book, I just wasn’t in quite the right frame of mind to really love it. That was just me though and shouldn’t be held against the book. The weather, however, was perfect – absolutely pouring rain which really added to the atmosphere of the book!
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
I have written before about how much I love audiobooks but I have realised recently that I have been listening to them more than ever. Before I discovered I could download audiobooks from the library onto my phone I had a limited supply of books – my choice isn’t limitless now but it is much wider. I am listening to books almost constantly – in the car, working in the stables – any time I can’t read an actual, physical book.
The increase is very obvious when I look at my reading log. Last year I listened to 13 audiobooks – so far this year I have heard 39, with two months still to go.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been working hard on a pair of crochet socks – I often have spells when I am very enthusiastic about crochet and don’t want to be doing anything else. Audiobooks are perfect for that as I can lose myself in the story whilst still having both of my hands free. The only downside is that I have been reading far fewer physical books and I do miss the act of sitting down with my book.
It has also meant that I can’t necessarily read the book I really want as I don’t have access to it in audio form. I am, however, reading a much wider range of books – I tend to just browse until something takes my fancy. I’m sure it’s very good for me!
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a book which has been intriguing me ever since I first saw it. It has sat in the young adult section of the bookshop for months, looking at me and clearly needing me to read it. Eventually the right time came along and I treated myself to a copy.
The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.
But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth . . . ?
This book was everything I had hoped it would be. I was completely gripped by the story and read it long into the night – well past my bedtime! I just had to know what happened next and I have to confess that the solution did take me by surprise.
I thought the book was very well written and I particularly appreciated the low levels of teenage angst. No longer being a teenager myself, I do often find myself infuriated by the behaviour of teenagers in books. That was most definitely not the case here and I have recommended this book to several ‘proper’ grown-ups who have also loved it.
I have also just heard about the sequel which is due out next year and I cannot wait!
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
Publisher: Egmont Publishing
Like most of you (I imagine!) I am constantly on the look out for book shops. The lure of a book shop is almost irresistible and I love to find new ones to explore.
Some of my favourite finds though have been the mini book exchanges and charity book shops which seem to have been popping up in more and more places recently. Not only are they unexpected, they are often very beautiful as well.
How lovely is this?!
I have seen several in old phone boxes too which I love. The only trouble is that unless I know when I leave the house that I will find one I very rarely have a book with me which I can swap – only the one I am actually reading. Still, that just means another trip to find some books and that’s not really a hardship!
I quite often find that my reading slows down over the summer. There is just so much to do outside and I have been particularly busy this summer – see my alter ego Gadding About with Galahad if you want to know why!
Not that I haven’t been reading – I have made a reasonable dent in the TBR shelves I showed you in July (ten books read) as well as several extra ones I snuck in. It is just that I wasn’t reading as much as I would have liked.
However, the onset of autumn always makes me want to read. It’s partly all the back to school stuff in the shops and partly the long dark evenings when a blanket and a book by the fire seem like the most wonderful idea. Either way, I’m hoping to read a great many more books over the next few months!