Raising a Bookworm

We’re a bookish family and one of the parts of parenthood I’ve looked forward to most is sharing my love of stories with my daughter. I’ve been collecting books for her since birth and have given her the lowest shelf on our bookcase within her reach, but it’s only in the last few months that she’s shown a real interest in stories.

In Scotland, the Scottish Book Trust distributes free books at intervals from birth to five years old to encourage a love of reading and promote literacy. A few of my daughter’s earliest favourites were books she received from the health visitor, including a simple rhyming bed time story called One Sleepy Night and a peekaboo lift the flap book, there was also a rhyming book to help children learn to count in the most recent Bookbug bag by Julia Donaldson called One Mole Digging a Hole that my daughter really likes too.

Although I’ve read to my daughter since birth, once she became mobile she lost interest in books so I picked up a few more interactive sensory books for her from the “That’s Not My” range and a couple of Nosy Crow lift the flap books too to try to keep her interest.

As she’s gotten older, her language skills have developed and her attention span has increased we’ve been able to introduce more narrative stories. One of her earliest favourites that she demanded over and over again was Corduroy by Don Freeman, which tells the story of a bear in a department store who gets overlooked by customers because he’s missing a button on his dungarees and sets out on an adventure to find a button once the shop closes. It’s a really lovely story and one that has aged well since it was first published in 1968.

Another popular classic in our household is The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which also happens to have been one of my husband’s favourite childhood stories) which describes the life cycle of a caterpillar hatching from an egg, eating a lot of food and eventually transforming into a butterfly. My daughter practically knows this one off by heart and enjoys pointing out all the foods that the caterpillar eats.

Between Halloween and Christmas last year, my daughter discovered the wonderful rhyming stories of Julia Donaldson and has been demanding “Broom!” (Room on the Broom) and Gruffalo’s Child regularly. For those unfamiliar with these stories, Room on the Broom is about a witch who keeps losing her belongings which are returned to her by various helpful animals she meets on her journey, who all ask to travel on her broom with her and eventually team up to rescue her when a dragon threatens to eat her. It’s a fun story about helping each other and team work. While The Gruffalo’s Child is the sequel to The Gruffalo, in which the Gruffalo’s daughter sets out on a quest to find the big, bad mouse that scared her father in the original story.

I’m looking forward to seeing how my daughter’s reading tastes change and develop as she grows, and have enjoyed this chance to look back at some of the books that we’ve read together over the last couple of years. Have a lovely week. X

2021 ~ My Year in Books

I fell back in love with reading in 2021, I derived so much comfort and pleasure from books, and it was the first year I’ve ever managed to reach my goal of reading 52 books. My final tally was actually 66 books and I reviewed 47 of those on the blog.

I began 2021 with a mystery, a new genre to me, and where better to start than with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie ended up being my most read author, as I read five of her Poirot mysteries last year, though Leigh Bardugo, V.E. Schwab and Maggie Stiefvater were close behind with four books each. I started and finished reading whole series last year, binge-reading trilogies and quartets like Shadow and Bone, The Folk of the Air and The Raven Cycle.

Of the 66 books I read, three were actually re-reads. I re-read Maya Angelou’s Letter to my Daughter, as well as two of my all-time favourite novels Jamaica Inn, Daphne du Maurier’s thrilling and chilling tale of smugglers in Cornwall, and Emily Bronte’s gripping story of obsession and revenge, Wuthering Heights.

I read a real mix of fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, magical realism, children’s fiction with a few autobiographies, classics and even a parenting guide thrown in. More than any other genre I found myself drawn to and devouring Young Adult stories, and I found so many new favourite writers and books among them.

My Top 10 favourite books were comprised of stories that captured my imagination, left me wanting more and that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Among my favourites were fantasy stories inspired by the legends of King Arthur (Legendborn) and Owain Glyndwr (The Raven Boys), West-African folklore (Raybearer) and Arabian mythology (The Empire of Gold) as well as enemies-to-lovers romances (The Wicked King and Dance of Thieves), paranormal mysteries (Ninth House) and even a classic (Pride and Prejudice). I couldn’t put them all in order, but I tracked down hardback copies of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education to survive rereads and because I couldn’t possibly wait for the sequels to come out in paperback, these two were absolute highlights of my reading year.

I’m setting my goal to 52 books for 2022 as well, though this year I’m really hoping to make a bigger dent in my TBR pile (which seems to permanently hover around 40 books) though my most aniticipated books coming out this year are the concluding parts of Naomi Novik’s The Scholomance trilogy and The Inheritance Games trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, and the sequel to Legendborn by Tracy Deonn.

What were your favourite books of 2021? Have a lovely week. X

Three Bookish Things Tag

I don’t normally do these types of posts but I had fun thinking up the answers for this one, thanks to Hundreds & Thousands of Books for nominating me. I can’t find a comprehensive list of rules or the original prompt creator so I’ll just press on. Feel free to have a go!

Three Bookish Goals for 2021:

Read 50 Books (22/50)

Read at least 5 Non-Fiction books (1/5)

Read What I Own (Failing miserably at this one, my TBR is already an avalanche risk, and I keep adding to it)

Three Favourite Authors:

Leigh Bardugo

Emily Bronte

Daphne du Maurier

Three Characters I Love:

Inej Ghafa (Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom) – I love that Inej is a survivor who overcomes some really traumatic experiences and finds a new purpose. I also love that she expects her love interest to try to overcome his own traumas if he wants to be with her, and she’s willing to walk away rather than settle.

Father Chains (the Gentleman Bastards series) – this mysterious figure adopts orphans (including Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen) in order to educate and train them into becoming the most cunning con artists, he also appears to know everyone worth knowing and everyone from the nobility to criminals respects him. Father Chains is only shown in flashbacks in the series, but I’d love to read more about him.

Irene Winters (The Invisible Library series) – Irene is such a lovable and relatable heroine, a member of a Secret Society of Librarians travelling around alternate worlds collecting rare books, she’s resourceful, brave, principled and self-deprecating.

Three Weirdest Things I’ve Used for Bookmarks:

Receipts, tickets and a pressed leaf.

Three Favourite Covers:

Three Titles I’ve Watched But Not Read:

The Lord of the Rings

The Umbrella Academy

The Never Ending Story (this was my favourite film as a child and it’s a short book so I really don’t have any excuses)

Three Series I’ve Binged:

The Chronicles of Narnia

The Hunger Games

Shadow and Bone

Three Unpopular Bookish Opinions:

It might be because I worked in a bookshop for years but rainbow shelves, and worse, books with the spines hidden and pages facing out, make my fingers itch, sure it looks good but how on Earth do you find anything?!

I’m a paperback reader and while I appreciate the aesthetic value of a special edition hardback, it really annoys me that hardbacks and ebooks are usually released at the same time but the paperback comes out a year later, grrr.

I’m put off by long-running series. There are obviously exceptions, but I much prefer a concise little trilogy, duology or even a standalone novel to a series that goes on and on. I think stories should leave you wanting more, not wondering if the author will finish the series before they die. ☠️

Three Nominations:

Laura at Freedom and Flour

Jess at Beyond the Front Cover

Nicole at Nicole’s Book Thoughts

Have a lovely weekend! X

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I’ve been finding a lot of comfort in fiction lately and decided to re-read The Night Circus when I was in the mood for something whimsical and romantic. I first read The Night Circus back in 2013 but I’d forgotten almost everything about it and felt like I was discovering it all over again.

The story follows two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, bound together in a competition between the two rival magicians who trained them. The Night Circus or ‘La Cirque des Reves‘ becomes their battleground as they seek to find out who can create the most stunning illusions.

I was captivated from the very first page, drawn into a world full of illusionists, contortionists, acrobats, fortune tellers, costume designers, architects and clockmakers, and it’s full of sumptious descriptions of the costumes, food, perfomances and, of course, the illusions that Marco and Celia create. The plot is meandering but not uneventful or lacking in suspense or twists. I was enchanted by circus life, the competition and courtship between the protagonists, and I really didn’t want it to end.

The Night Circus is a delightful, whimsical and romantic story, and given that most of the story takes place at night is a perfect cosy, comfort read for long, dark winter evenings. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

2020 in Books

A combination of sleep deprivation from caring for a newborn and too much time spent watching news of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and the US Election unfold meant whole weeks passed with me barely managing to read a single page. Having said that, I was much less concerned with quantity than quality in 2020, and although I only managed to read 28 books (and shared 24 reviews with a little backlog still to post), I’ve loved so many of them and discovered some new favourite books and writers. The vast majority were fiction, and almost half of those were fantasy, though magical realism was also well represented. I also read my first mystery novel, and that’s a genre I plan to explore this year.

I enjoyed so many of the books that I read in 2020 that it’s genuinely hard to pick my top five, but Crooked Kingdom, The Vanished Bride, The Lollipop Shoes, The Night Circus (a re-read) and A Conjuring of Light were the highlights.

On the flipside, I’m of the opinion that there are too many books in the world to force myself to read something I’m not enjoying. I have a 100 page rule but after that I give myself permission to give up without feeling guilty, and there were three books that I didn’t finish in 2020. I had high hopes of a Latin-American inspired fantasy with Nocturna, but I found it too derivitive of the Shades of Magic trilogy and lacking in the Latinx mythology and setting I was looking for, I gave up on page 154 of 471. I loved the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, but I’ve been underwhelmed by the rest of the trilogy and the third book just didn’t hold my interest so I gave up on page 369 of 724. The Architect’s Apprentice was a bit different from the stories I normally read, and I left it on page 195 of 452 because I found it too slow-paced and couldn’t sympathise with the protagonist.

I’ve set myself a reading challenge but beyond the numbers I’d like to read at least five non-fiction books, and I’m hoping to finish or catch-up on a few series that I’ve started (The Invisible Library series, The Daevabad trilogy, The Bronte Mysteries and the Broken Earth Trilogy to name a few) before starting any more. I never stick to book-buying bans but would like to prioritise reading what I already own, though there are a few books that I’m eagerly anticipating coming out in paperback that I know I won’t be able to resist; there are also a few old favourites I’d like to re-read, something I typically don’t do because there are so many new books to read.

I’d love to know what your favourite reads of 2020 were, and have you set any reading goals for 2021? Take care, and have a lovely week. X

The Missing of Clairdelune by Christelle Dabos

It’s been a cold, dark and rainy month, and I’ve been seeking cosy, comfort reads. A Winter’s Promise (reviewed here) was a complete delight, and I couldn’t wait to return to the Mirror Visitor series to find out what the eccentric characters were up to in the second installment.

The Missing of Clairdelune starts shortly after the events of the first book; when Ophelia starts receiving anonymous, threatening letters and the other people who received similar letters begin disappearing, she and her fiance, Thorn, begin investigating. After a slow start, it turns into a gripping mystery as Ophelia and Thorn race against the clock to rescue the missing persons and discover who’s behind the letters, and find themselves caught up in an even bigger conspiracy that spans the rupture of the world, creation of the Arcs and the history of the family spirits.

Ophelia is such an unusual heroine – she’s clumsy, mumbling and absent-minded but also brave, resourceful and determined. Meanwhile, Thorn is completely inscrutable, and their developing relationship is fascinating to follow.

There are some pacing issues as almost all the action takes place in the second half of the story, but it’s a genuinely delightful, gripping and unexpecedly thrilling sequel with some clever twists. The third book is one of my most eagerly anticipated reads because I’m so enjoying this original and quirky series. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

I watched the film adaptation of Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman many years ago, but picked the book up from the library recently when I was in the mood for something witchy to read in October.

Practical Magic follows sisters Sally and Gillian Owens, raised by their aunts who practice witchcraft. Sally and Gillian are as different as could be, sensible to a fault, Sally just wants to be normal, while Gillian is a free-spirited drifter, but both are trying to escape the Owens’ legacy and the family curse of doomed romances.

After nearly two decades apart, Gillian turns up at Sally’s door with her dead boyfriend in the car, and the plot revolves around what happens when he continues to haunt them after they bury him in the backyard.

I really appreciated that it captured the complexity and intensity of female relationships between sisters, mothers and daughters, and even aunts and neices, the love and loyalty, the rivalry and jealousy, and even the sense of duty and obligation that characterises so many familial bonds.

I was hooked from the first page, the prose is descriptive and atmospheric, and the story wrapped itself around me like a blanket. Practical Magic is a tale of love, heartbreak, family, superstition and witchcraft, and it was a perfect choice for October and Halloween reading. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure

I enjoyed The Lollipop Shoes (reviewed here) so much that I dove straight back into the third installment of the Chocolat series. Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is set eight years after Chocolat (reviewed here) when Vianne recieves a letter from a deceased friend in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, she decides to return to the village with her daughters. Vianne finds Lansquenet has changed dramatically in the intervening years with an influx of Muslim immigrants, and the atmosphere in the village is tense as the French villagers clash with the newcomers.

Like Chocolat, the narrative switches between Vianne and her old adversary, the village priest, Francis Reynaud, who finds himself under suspicion from both his own congregation and the Muslim community when a school for Muslim girls burns down.

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Unlike Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes, which had a certain timelessness, I suspect Peaches for Monsieur le Curé will be easier to place in time as it reflects the real-world political tensions and suspicions between Muslim immigrants and the native French. Lansquenet is as rife with secrets and discord as ever, yet there is reason and tolerance, as well as prejudice and hypocrisy on both sides of the conflict.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find Peaches for Monsieur le Curé quite as charming or captivating as its predecessors but I did enjoy returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and it had enough suspense and mystery to keep me guessing until the end. Take care, and have a lovely week. X

 

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Chocolat (reviewed here) a few years ago, but didn’t get around to reading the sequels until now when I was in the mood for some escapism and decided to return to the delicious world of Vianne Rocher.

The story switches between three different narrators, Vianne (now going by the name of Yanne Charbonneau), her eldest daughter Anouk and a mysterious identity thief, calling herself Zozie, who wears the titular lollipop shoes.

Vianne and her daughters, eleven year old Anouk and four year old Rosette live in Paris, where Vianne runs a chocolaterie. Cautious and fearful, Vianne is a shadow of her former self, she and her daughters live like fugitives trying hard to fit in and trying to avoid drawing any attention to themselves, with the chocolaterie barely breaking even until Zozie arrives.

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While Chocolat took place between Lent and Easter, The Lollipop Shoes is set between Halloween and Christmas about four years later. The almost diary-style way the series is written adds suspense as the story counts down day by day to the inevitable, thrilling conclusion.

I love the supernatural elements of the story, the references to the wind that seems to push and pull Vianne from place to place, the tarot and charms, and the little spells (or cantrips) the witches cast.

Every bit as enjoyable as Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes is an enchanting and sinister tale of secrets, temptation and revenge, mothers and daughters, friends and bullies, witchcraft and, of course, chocolate. Have a lovely week. X

The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman

TheBurningPage

The Burning Page is the third book in The Invisible Library series and picks up shortly after the events of The Masked City (reviewed here); Irene is still on probation for leaving her post as Librarian-in-Residence to rescue her apprentice Kai (preventing a war between the Fae and Dragons in the process), and they’re still recovering from their traumatic experiences in Venice.

The arch-villain of the series, Alberich, is back and openly threatening the Library; Librarians are being hunted and killed, and portals to the Library are being destroyed trapping Librarians in alternative versions of reality.

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Though these stories are delightfully fun, there is a moral dilemma at the heart of The Burning Page as Irene is forced to contemplate just how far she’s willing to go to save the Library – all the while being haunted by the seeds of doubt Alberich sowed that the Invisible Library might not be the force for good she believes but a self-serving organisation that does little to help the alternate worlds it meddles in.

Irene is as self-deprecating, harassed and resourceful as ever, and it’s genuinely entertaining to see how she uses the Language (a refreshing alternative to magic) and her other skills to get herself out of traps, ambushes and face Alberich in a thrilling duel. Have a lovely week! X