Reading in Lockdown

I know that many people were struggling to read at the beginning of the lockdown but that wasn’t a problem I had.  All I wanted to do was devour books all day long.  However, as the weeks have gone on I’ve found that my reading rate has slowed down considerably.  I couldn’t really understand it as I was fairly sure that I was spending the same amount of time reading.  Having said that, I have also been keeping myself very busy with other things such as chores outside, painting and crochet – things I never normally make the time to do.

My reading had definitely slowed down though and in the end I decided it must be because of my reading choices – I was steadily reading my way through the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome.  I absolutely love these books but I do have to admit that they are very gentle stories and not action packed – they are not the kind of fast-paced book which forces you to keep reading so you know what happens next.  They very much allow you to take your time and luxuriate in them.

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It has been wonderful to re-read my way through the series in order (apart from Winter Holiday which I read every Christmas and didn’t want to read again so soon) but I am beginning to feel the need to read something a bit more gripping.  Not that I will stop reading Swallows and Amazons – I will just intersperse them a bit with something else.  My first choice was Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping – I bought his latest book just before the lockdown started and I’ve been catching up with the series since then.  I don’t just enjoy the stories themselves – I love how intellectual the Latin and historical references make me feel!

Book Clubs at Home

Channel 4 have recently been doing a Stay at Home Academy in the evenings – Jamie Oliver did a series on cooking in the lockdown, then Kirstie Allsopp had some crafting episodes.  This week is Richard and Judy’s turn – I was thrilled to find out that they are presenting ‘Keep Reading and Carry On’.

I have very much enjoyed the first few episodes.  Of course, I would love for them to be longer so we could see some more in depth discussions of the books but the fact that there is a whole programme dedicated to books on primetime television is wonderful.

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I particularly loved Graham Norton and Louis Theroux’s guest appearances. They both came across as genuinely enthusiastic about the books and I would love to have a bookish chat with either of them.

I have also been loving the bookshelves I have seen in the houses of everyone broadcasting from home.  Stephen Fry has a particularly enviable study.  However, when I watched the BBC’s Big Night In a couple of weeks ago my favourite background was Jason Manford’s – he had a blank wall behind him with pieces of paper pinned up saying, ‘Bookshelves’.  I loved it!

Childhood Adaptations

Last week I wrote a whole post about watching the two different versions of Swallows and Amazons.  I had actually intended to write an entirely different post – I had been watching the new BBC Malory Towers series and really enjoying it.  I needed something to fill the gap when the series finished and remembered enjoying the 1970s Famous Five series as a child.  I was given some of the episodes on video when my cousin grew out of them and I watched them over and over again.  Now seemed like the perfect time to revisit them.

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I was pleased to find that I still very much enjoyed them and was just settling in to watching them when I was inspired to watch the 1990s series alongside them.  I completely missed these ones as a child so I was really looking forward to comparing the two.

I have a strong emotional attachment to the series from the 70s but I have to admit that the 90s version holds up very well.  It is set in the forties for a start and I much prefer those costumes to those from the seventies.  For another, they do in the main seem to be more accurate adaptations of the books.  There are a few instances when that is not the case but mostly it is.

However, I am not so fond of how argumentative the children are.  They bicker much more than they are shown to do in the books and they are often very aggressive in the way they speak – both to each other and to others.  I didn’t really see that it was necessary.

I am very much enjoying both series and am especially glad that I chose to watch them together – it is fun to compare them!  I am beginning to be aware though that I will run out of episodes soon.  I have no idea what I can use to fill the gap they will leave – any recommendations for similar series would be highly welcome!

Swallows and Amazons

Last weekend I finally sat down to watch the 2016 film of Swallows and Amazons. This was one of my favourite books growing up and I also loved the 1974 film so I was looking forward to the film with some trepidation but mostly excitement. As soon as it started I was taken back to my childhood. The setting was of course stunning and the costumes were just perfect.

I was not at all prepared for the storyline though. Whilst it was loosely based on the book, the adaptor seems to have felt that the book was far too boring for a modern day audience and that a much more exciting plot needed to be added. For me, Swallows and Amazons is a wonderful, gentle book about a group of children playing make believe and exploring the Lake District. This film did not convey that feeling at all.

Not only that – the children seemed much more argumentative and not nearly as nice to each other as I remembered. In fact, I did immediately start re-reading the book and can confirm that the original children were much friendlier. The film also made them far more incompetent than the book. I didn’t see that it was really necessary for them to lose their entire food supply before they even arrived on the island. Susan is meant to be a pretty decent cook and the idea of cold, miserable, hungry children just seemed odd.

Having said all of that, I think the film itself was actually very good. If I hadn’t grown up loving the books I would have adored the film – my only gripes with it were where they have significantly changed the plot. Which does make me wonder why they had not just written a spy story with their own characters.

The next evening I did go back and watch the 1974 film. It is certainly not as exciting as the new one but it gives me much more of the happy, peaceful feeling of the books. I was very glad to find that I still loved it just as much as I did as a child.

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.

Stocking Up

I have never been able to decide which I prefer – sitting outside with my book in the summer or curling up with it by the fire in the winter.  At the moment I can just about get away with doing both – it has been very warm today and lovely to sit outside but the evenings have been cool enough for a fire still.

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Even though the evening fires may end soon I have the comfort of knowing that I am helping to build up our store of logs for next winter’s fires.  Since I am obviously not at work at the moment I am spending my time helping my parents out with the work on our fields (which are at home so we can carry on without breaking any social isolation rules).

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Specifically we have been doing a lot of work on the hedges – brambles have been pulled out and a few trees which had got out of hand have been felled.  The log store – which had been getting rather empty – is starting to fill up once more.  Of course, these logs won’t be burnable for a year or so but it is good to know that they will be there and ready when we want them.

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Book Review – A Kind of Paradise

I have seen Amy Rebecca Tan’s A Kind of Paradise recommened by many people and as it is set in a library I just couldn’t resist it.

Publisher’s Blurb

Thirteen-year-old Jamie Bunn made a mistake at the end of the school year.  A big one.  And every kid in her middle school knows all about it.  Now she has to spend her summer vacation volunteering at the local library—as punishment.  What a waste of a summer!

Or so she thinks.

A Kind of Paradise is an unforgettable story about the power of community, the power of the library, and the power of forgiveness.

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I loved this book.  It was exactly the kind of cosy, comfirting read I need at the moment.  As a celebration of libraries and community it is perfect but the plot is also engaging and you can’t help rooting for the characters.  Piecing together what happened to Jamie at school makes for fun problem solving as well.

I spent a lot of time at the library as a child – I would take out as many books as I was allowed and would quite happily have taken more and read them too.  They are such a fantastic resource and although they are closed at the moment this book reminds us of that.  I would highly recommend it to any book lover.

Book Details

A Kind of Paradise by Amy Rebecca Tan

Publisher:  HarperCollins

ISBN: 9780062795410

RRP: £12.99

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!

Book Review – The Other Bennet Sister

I recently received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which actually made me jump for joy when I opened it – it contained a review copy of The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow.  I’m normally very wary of reading sequels and retellings of my favourite books written by different authors as I am worried about what they will do with characters I love.  However, a book about Mary Bennet is hard for a bookworm to resist!

Publisher’s Blurb

In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have?  Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.

The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary.  An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance?  And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.

One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.

But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.

Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world.  Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.

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The very first sentence of this book drew me straight in.  It had a nod to Pride and Prejudice which caught my attention but it is very much its own story which is what kept me reading.  I loved the passing references to some of Jane Austen’s other novels (especially the discussion about muslin!) and I thought that Janice Hadlow had captured Austen’s tone well.

I found that this book to be more descriptive and contain less dialogue than Austen’s own work and it also had a more introspective feel to it.  This may have been due to the fact that it is told from Mary Bennet’s point of view – it suited her  very well.

I had expected to be given a different view of Mary and that was indeed the case.  Growing up I always wanted to be Lizzy (don’t we all?) but was afraid that really I was much more of a Mary.  Now that idea doesn’t worry me.  What I didn’t realise was that I would also see an entirely new side to Mr Collins.  I may have been unfair to him in the past!

I very much enjoyed this book and I would recommend to fans of Jane Austen.  It is obviously not the same as a book by her but it is a believable new story in her world and I think it fits nicely.  I have also appreciated the fact that it has sent me back to Austen’s own novels.  I have dipped into Northanger Abbey and am currently staying in Hunsford Parsonage as I work my way through yet another re-read (or – in this case – listen) of Pride and Prejudice.  Any book which gets me involved enough to go back and compare scenes with those told from a different perspective in the original novel is clearly doing something right.

Book Details

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Publisher:  Mantle

ISBN: 9781509842025

RRP:£16.99

Unexpected Adventures with a Book

This week was supposed to see my very first visit to the London Book Fair. I was incredibly excited and so, although it was absolutely the correct decision, I was very disappointed when it was cancelled. I decided that I would use the free time for my own literary adventures instead.

I started off with a visit to Westward Ho! – named after Charles Kingsley’s novel but also known for its connection to Kipling. I read Stalky & Co – which was based on his time at the United Services College near Westward Ho! – a couple of years ago and I loved it. The first stanza of If is set into the seafront and I had a lovely time walking along reading it.

It was a very blustery day and the wind was icy cold but that just made it more exciting. Plus, it meant we were thoroughly justified in warming up in the cafe!

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I also went to visit Malmsmead and the church of St Mary the Virgin at Oare – both places featured in Lorna Doone. The church is particularly significant as it is where Lorna and John Ridd were married – the shot is said to have been fired through the window on my right.

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The mist had really come down over Exmoor which gave gave a perfect eerie feeling to the day. However, for me no literary pilgrimage to the moor is complete without a picnic so – despite the non-existent view – we parked up and settled down for several hours of reading and eating. Inside the car of course – it was still far too windy and cold (not to mention the rain) to eat outside! It was a perfect afternoon.