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.

Making Reading Lists

The mornings and evenings have now got an unmistakable feeling of autumn about them. In fact, I found it quite alarming how late the sun rose this morning. We are still having some gorgeous weather but there is no question that autumn is fast approaching.

This time of year always makes me hanker after learning again – last year I spent several weeks studying Latin and even did some calculus. My post it notes are still stuck up in the bathroom but I can’t honestly say that I have done any work with them for quite some time. Life gets in the way!

This year I need to resist that urge. I have far too much work to do on my stationery to have any time to spare pretending to be a student again. However, I will try to use that feeling in my reading. I own so many classic books that have been languishing on my shelves for years and now may be the time to get through at least a few of them. A Gossip’s Story is right at the top of my list and maybe I’ll finally, finally get around to Rebecca. I have just finished listening to The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I bought about fifteen years ago. It was very good to cross that one off the list.

The most recent book I have started though is not strictly speaking a classic – although it was published in 1912. A Fourth Form Friendship is the first Angela Brazil I have read – surprising given my love of school stories. I can tell it won’t be my last though!

The Pursuit of Love

Over the past week I have been reading The Pursuit of Love with a wonderful group of bookish friends. I know that I have read it before but apart from the fact that I had a vague idea Paris came into it somewhere I couldn’t really remember anything about it. Even when I started reading it nothing seemed familiar which was a pleasant surprise and very unusual for me.

I really enjoyed the book – Nancy Mitford’s writing is just suited to me and I raced through it. It’s a funny thing though – although I love the writing I am not immediately drawn to read any more of her books. I can only think that I didn’t find the plot uplifting enough to draw me in for more. No doubt that will change and I will be reading her again in the future.

The best bit though was the discussion we had afterwards. We covered topics from class structure to drag hunting to rationing and I loved it. Bookish friends are the best!

Olympic Reading

This has been a slow reading week for me. I have some excellent books on the go (I am very much enjoying Amari and the Night Brothers) but the Olympics have started and as usual I am absolutely hooked. Of course, many of the events are happening in the middle of the night for me when I would not normally be reading – not that it stops me getting up to watch!

However, much of my reading time is taken up with the Olympics now. I watch sport whilst I eat my breakfast and even manage to do so in my breaks at work. I do still have a book with me but honestly it’s hard to focus on reading when we are fighting for a medal! In fact, my reading right now mainly consists of the schedule of events.

However, I am itching to read more and in fact the amount of dressage I have been watching has made me very keen to pick up the next book in the Romney Marsh/Punchbowl series by Monica Edwards. I love these books and am so much looking forward to being immersed in that world again. First though, there are medals up for grabs in the middle of the night and I need to get some sleep before then!

Keeping Track

Back in January I wrote about trying to read my way through my unread shelves. Every so often I try to make a bit of an effort to do that but it is never long before I can no longer resist the urge to get something new. Sometimes I’m just not in the right mood for something on the shelf!

This time I was determined things would be different – hence my drawing of all the unread books I owned at the beginning of the year. I had a hundred and every month I get to colour in any books I read in a new colour. You can probably see that I started off very enthusiastically but things have trailed off a bit!

Nevertheless, the drawing does help. The idea of going a whole month without colouring in a book is terrible and as for ending up with more books than I had before – that would be a disaster! If I only colour in one book a month that would at least be something. Of those original one hundred books I have now read thirty three so I am in high hopes that I might have read half of them by the end of the year.

Besides having the drawing to colour in, I am also keeping a tally of the total number of unread books I own – so every month I subtract those I’ve read and add on those I have acquired. This is currently giving me a less pleasing figure (84) but at least it is still fewer than in January! Keeping this account is definitely making me better at not buying books I am not going to read straight away – very nearly every book I have acquired this year has been read within a couple of weeks which is a definite improvement for me.

I now have two main problems. The first is that I have read through most of the easy reads on my shelf and am left with the ones I am not so enthusiastic about. Some of them I have my eye on to just admit I’m not going to read them and get rid of them. Others I still want to read – just not right now! If you can see any you think I should pick up straight away, do tell me! The other problem is very minor. I need to find the rest of my coloured pencils. I know they are around somewhere but if I don’t find them one month’s books will have to be coloured white and, well, that just isn’t going to work!

Book Review – The Plot is Murder

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!

Publisher’s Blurb





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?

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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.

Book Details

The Plot is Murder by V M Burns
Publisher: Kensington Publishing
ISBN: 9781496711816
RRP: £11.99

 

Book Review – Death Sets Sail

I have been a fan of Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike series for years so, although I am very sad that Death Sets Sail is the last in the series, I was incredibly excited to receive a review copy from Penguin Random House.

Publisher’s Blurb

The ninth and final novel in the number-one bestselling, award-winning Murder Most Unladylike series.

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are in Egypt, taking a cruise along the Nile.  They are hoping to see some ancient temples and a mummy or two; what they get, instead, is murder.

Also travelling on the SS Hatshepsut is a mysterious society called the Breath of Life: a group of genteel English ladies and gentlemen, who believe themselves to be reincarnations of the ancient pharaohs.  Three days into the cruise their leader is found dead in her cabin, stabbed during the night.

It soon becomes clear to Daisy and Hazel that the victim’s timid daughter is being framed – and they begin to investigate their most difficult case yet.

But there is danger all around, and only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive…

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I have been waiting for this book for so long that I was afraid I might have built it up too much in my mind and I would be disappointed.  I needn’t have worried though – this is a great book which definitely lives up to the rest of the series.

Of course, I am well above the target age for these books but even so I found the plot had a lot of unexpected twists and I only guessed the murderer a few pages before they were revealed.  That’s the best kind of mystery – it’s satisfying to be able to work it out but only if it’s right at the last minute!  I also loved the fact that the book is set in Egypt and I especially enjoyed the Agatha Christie references.

The characters have grown a lot over the course of the series and I will be sad to see them go.  Hazel in particular has developed so much and I found myself cheering for her several times in this one.  Robin Stevens has just announced a new series which will begin in 2022 and will focus on Hazel’s little sister May – I will be very much looking forward to that. In the meantime if you haven’t read Murder Most Unladylike yet I would highly recommend giving it a go.

Book Details

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

ISBN: 9780241419809

Publisher: Puffin

RRP: £6.99

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?

Jane Austen Society

Last weekend should have seen the AGM of the Jane Austen Society UK at Chawton House.  This year is the 80th birthday of the society and so it would have been quite a special occasion.  Of course, for obvious reasons, this couldn’t happen.

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Instead, Chawton House hosted an online event which included a tour of the house and a talk about the history of the society which was very interesting.  1940 seems like an odd time to be creating such a society and I can understand why people thought there were more important things going in in the world.  It is however an excellent example of keeping calm and carrying on.

The highlight of the day for me though was the selection of birthday wishes from Jane Austen societies around the world.  It was very moving and even humbling to see how much people love Jane Austen and her world.

The videos are still available on the Chawton House YouTube channel and are well worth a watch if you can.

Literary Escapes

A conversation at work about Jane Austen adaptations (I still need to see the new Emma!) led me to re-watch Lost in Austen over the weekend.  I haven’t seen it since it first came out but was very happy to find that I still thought it was excellent.

I love that Amanda is so involved in the world of Pride and Prejudice that the people and manners in her real life seem brash and even vulgar by comparison.  I too have wished that I could escape to Jane Austen’s world.

It got me thinking though – if I really could change places with someone in a book, who would it be?  Of course, Elizabeth Bennet is a good choice and I can definitely see myself in the world of Pride and Prejudice.  Betsy Ray would be another – I would so love to spend time in Deep Valley, go to some skating parties and experience Sunday night lunch at the Ray’s house.  Perhaps the ultimate though is Anne Shirley.  I have wanted to go to Avonlea ever since I first read the book and, of course, Gilbert would be there too.

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The only flaw in the plan is that I would have to actually swap places with these characters when what I really want to do is spend time with them.  I want to explore Avonlea with Anne and I definitely would love to talk to all three of them – plus so many others.  Switching places isn’t the answer.  I need a new plan!

Where in literature would you go if you could?