Thursday, 3 April 2014

Books in bed


Firstly, I'm so sorry that it's taken so much longer than promised to announce a winner for Christine's book giveaway - I'll do that in my next post once I've got organised again - your stories were a complete, and very comforting, delight. I've been in bed with the worst bout of tonsillitis that I've ever experienced (and as someone who has form for getting tonsillitis several times a year, I have a substantial history on which to base comparisons). I don't usually stop for illness (which is something that infuriates my husband and causes him to adopt a Basil Fawlty voice and bluster around saying things like 'Just dying, dear, but must press on! Important things to do!' whenever he passes me), but in this case I felt so dreadful that I actually just lay in bed and slept for hours on end and when I woke up the only thing I had the energy to do was to devour books and actually listen to my husband's orders (a very rare occurrence) to do absolutely nothing. Although with a temperature over 100, I was required one day to take a brief authorised break from resting to rustle up a fancy dress costume, but more on that for another post.


I borrowed my husband's Kindle several years ago and at the time really didn't enjoy the experience of digital reading, but I stole it back last week and found myself unexpectedly falling in love with it. As I'd worked my way through all 629 pages of the beautiful cloth-bound copy of Wilkie Collin's epic novel 'The Woman in White', I'd found myself exhausted by having to keep the pages open and hold such a weighty book (yes, that feeble) and would invariably fall asleep over it, drifting in and out of consciousness with an awareness that the cover was jabbing me in the cheek, but without the presence of mind to actually move the book before falling back to sleep. So, on finishing that, when I moved on to Kindlised versions of books, I experienced a sensation of 'Oh my goodness: so light; so little page turning; so uninjurious while I sleep; such instant acquisitions of new reading fodder; so wonderful to not have the room littered with teetering towers of books; so refreshing not to have to try and make room for new books on our already overflowing bookshelves'. I've found myself feeling quite attached to it.


I have read more books in the last two weeks than I've read in the whole of the previous year. Here was my rather random choice of reading material.

1) The Last Runaway, by Tracy Chevalier - my best friend bought this for me and, happily, in amongst the wonderful story, it features quilting quite heavily and most deliciously. I love that it does this without having been penned for a freaky sub-genre entitled 'Novels Written Specifically for Quilters' (Quilt Lit? Quilt Fiction?). There's an assumption within in it that regular people will enjoy hearing the details of constructing an English paper pieced quilt; there's nothing quite as lovely as having your obsession normalised. (You can read Tracy's blog, which features some quilts as well her writing news, here).

2) Girl with a Pearl Earring, by Tracy Chevalier - having fallen in love with Tracy Chevalier's writing style in the previous book, I went straight onto my (husband's) Kindle and downloaded this. No quilts, this time it's painting, but wonderful all the same.

3) The Homecoming, by Anna Smith - I really enjoyed this book - it's a story set over a hazy summer in Scotland, within a small rural farming community, where a secret lies at the heart of it. Gripping, but a very easy and enjoyable read.

4) The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins - I feel like my life would be richer for this having been edited down from 629 pages to 300, but it was so compelling that I couldn't abandon it without finishing it. My father, sister and friends all love this book; I enjoyed it but felt as though I'd missed something as I wasn't quite as delighted by it as they were. Perhaps it had something to do with the jabby book cover that attacked me in my feverish state.

5) Narrow Margins, by Marie Browne - this is the true story of a family who, facing financial ruin during the recession, left their conventional life to live on a near derelict Narrow Boat with their young family. I'm unsure quite why this tale of the gruelling reality of such a thing thrilled me so much, but when I finally felt well enough to turn my laptop on, the first thing I did was book a summer holiday for my own family aboard a narrow boat. I'm so looking forward to this (luckily, it's of the not-at-all-derelict-and-actually-ridiculously-luxurious variety).

6) The obsession continued. Next I read the sequel, Narrow Minds, also by Marie Browne.

7) A Street Cat Named Bob, by James Bowen - I downloaded this having remembered seeing it mentioned in the press and on virtually every book table in every bookshop I've been in recently. This is a true story about a recovering drug addict whose life is totally transformed when he takes in a stray ginger Tom cat who ends up busking with him each day in Covent Garden and later, sitting by James' side as he sells copies of The Big Issue. Giving a thankfully wide-berth to the voyeuristic real-life stories genre, it is wonderfully honest, without a hint of self-pity and just incredibly upbeat, endearing, hopeful and lovely. I've bought the abridged version he's released for teenagers to give to my daughter as I think she will adore Bob and James and also because it discusses drug addiction and homelessness in a way that feels completely right).

8) A Fault in Our Stars, by John Green - I discovered this on a list of '25 Books to Read Before You're Thirty'. Having missed the age deadline, but wanting to fill in the gaps anyway, I bought it. It has had rave reviews and was number 1 on The New York Times bestseller list. Written for teenagers, but seemingly enjoyed by adults in equal measure, it's a beautifully written novel, which I wept and laughed my way through in much the same way as I did through R J Palacio's Wonder a few years earlier.

9) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce - I got less than half way through this before abandoning it, as I was finding Harold too irritating. It's possibly unfair to review a book that you haven't actually finished as some novels are all about the ending, so I'm biting my tongue (and typing fingers) and not detailing the many reasons why I found Harold such a loathsome creature, which is incredibly difficult as just thinking about him makes me feel like ranting. Out of 2753 reviewers on Amazon, only fifty other people felt the same as I did about Harold…most found him eminently likable. I don't know quite what to make of that, other than questioning whether I was in a bad temper when I read this book and so failed to warm to him.

10) My impatience for Harold shelved, I risked choosing another book with a male character at the heart of the book, but this time I'm finding him much more endearing and likable. I'm half way through The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion which I'd avoided initially, wrongly assuming from the title that it was chick-lit (which I do occasionally read, but it's just not what I was in the mood for this week). However, it's wonderful and when I've been reading it in bed late at night I've risked choking by inhaling my own laughter in an attempt to not wake my husband.

I'm considering moving on to the Light Between Oceans, by L M Stedman after this. Do you have any recommendations?

Florence x

33 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear you've been so poorly. As a fairly "newby" sewer, I love your blog, you create such beautiful things and now it seems I love your reading style too! I love Tracey Chevalier but have not yet read The Last Runaway, it will definitely be my next book. My favourite of hers so far is Remarkable Creatures, well worth a read. I too found Harold Fry a real bore, though I did jump to the end - just to see what happened! Lol. Thanks for your great book reviews and inspirational sewing. x

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    1. That's so lovely to hear, Suze - thank you. Ooh! I'll download the sample of Remarkable Creatures then - thank you. x

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  2. I really enjoyed The Last Runaway, and not just because of the copious references to quilting! I've been confined to bed for weeks thanks to an inner-ear infection that has affected my balance and was extremely grateful for my kindle! I can highly recommend The Book Thief..

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    1. Oh no - you too. Kindle's are wonderful when you can't make it to the shops, aren't they. My daughter's school recently did an assembly recommending all the girls read The Book Thief so I'll look into that - thank you for the suggestion.

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  3. Some of these I've read, others not yet, but they will go onto my list of "books-to-devour." I liked Harold Fry and the ending made me like him even more.
    I loved Light Between Oceans, but cried my eyes out.

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    1. Oh no, maybe I should have persevered. So pleased to hear you liked Light Between Oceans too.

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  4. Oh dear, Florence, glad you obeyed orders and stayed in bed - hope you were awarded gold stars or something, as I always expect to be when Doing As I'm Told. Did you not find the reading very exhausting? I have ME and have come to favour short stories and the shortest novels. Have you read The Summer Book by Tove Jansson? Fair Play by her is great too. And I really enjoyed Tell It To A Stranger, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berridge (Persephone, so sort of the anti-Kindle, but it's only a slim volume). Just downloaded the unabridged Don Quixote free with an Audible offer, weeks of listening there! x

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    1. Nina, you poor darling, I didn't know you had ME - that must be so hard, particularly as you always come across as being a naturally quite lively sort of person (albeit in a thoughtful, quiet way). I do have some Tove Jansson short stories that the same friend who bought The Last Runaway bought for me, although I can't remember if that's the title of them - I'll have to dig them out and see - I somehow haven't ended up reading them yet. If you like short stories then do try Maile Meloy's Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it - they're fantastic and I used to lend the book to my father each week when he took my son to his swimming lesson for me and one week he said the story was so good that he was actually late collecting him, which I think is a reaffirmation that they're really very good!

      Even thought I do love the Kindle, I think I'd still want the actual physical Persephone anyway - ownership and reading are equal pleasures when it comes to those books!

      I had an Audible offer, but didn't quite understand where I'd download it to…I'm wondering now if it would be my iPhone or maybe my computer. I ought to look into it as I love audio books for sewing. x

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    2. Ah yeah, I tend not to mention it on my blog - too tedious! Perhaps you have Travelling Light? The Summer Book and Fair Play are short novels, although in both of them the chapters are very self-contained. I'll look up the Maile Meloy now, thanks for the suggestion. x

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  5. Glad you are feeling better, and thank you for the recommendations. I adored The Last Runaway, so have high hopes of the ones I haven't read!

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    1. When I mentioned I was reading that on Instagram it seemed like a book that many quilters had read - I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of it.

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  6. You may not know that Tracy Chevalier has curated an exhibition of old and new quilts which has just opened at Danson House in Kent. The exhibition is called Things we Do in Bed! More info here
    http://bluemothdoings.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/things-we-do-in-bed.html

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this - my mother had mentioned it to me while I was ill, but it had washed over me due to feeling so dreadful, so it's nice to be reminded of it. x

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  7. I loved The Light between Oceans. Also I've just started Life after Life by Kate Atkinson which I am really enjoying too. I hope it carries on that way!

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    1. I've been tempted by the Kate Atkinson, so it's good to know you're enjoying it. x

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  8. Since you mentioned The Woman in White, try anything by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (Marina, especially. Or the Shadow of the Wind books) Also, The Perfume Collector is fantastic. Feel better!

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    1. Thank you so much for the recommendations - I'm sure I've read a review of The Perfume Collector at some point and thought it sounded interesting - i'll definitely add it to my list now - thank you.

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  9. Sorry you've been ill:( That said, I fondly remember being ill one half-term as a child and reading through the whole of the Anne of Green Gables series - spending all day in bed reading is one of the few (maybe the only) perks of being unwell. As far as recommendations go, I recently read 'Instructions for a Heatwave' by Maggie O'farrell, which I loved. I've checked some of her other books out of the library, but haven't had a chance to read them yet.

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  10. My mother read me and my sister the whole of the Green Gables series when we were children and I adored it too! I also love Maggie O'Farrell - Esme Lewis is wonderful, as is The Distance Between Us. The only one of her's that I haven't liked was My Lover's Lover, which seemed unlike anything else she's written. I hope you enjoy your haul from the library. x

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  11. Your description of The Homecoming reminded me of The Last September, by Elizabeth Bowen, which I loved more than one ought to love a book assigned for a college English-lit class. I suppose you have already read it though, perhaps also in school?

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    1. No, I'd never heard of the title of this book, so thank you so much for mentioning it - I've just read a précis of it and it looks like exactly the type of thing I'd enjoy - thank you!

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  12. Such good recommendations for books to try (or perhaps avoid!). I've just finished The Light Between Oceans and really enjoyed it despite its fundamental tragedy. I'd also recommend Life after Life or anything else by Kate Atkinson that you may not have read. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is fascinating. It is set in Iceland in the early nineteenth century and tells the story of a condemned woman. It was very bleak but completely involving.

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    1. Another one for Kate Atkinson! My father enjoyed this too - I'll definitely have to download the sample of it. And thank you for the Burial Rites recommendation. x

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  13. Sorry to hear you've been ill - I used to suffer badly with tonsillitis almost monthly (so badly that it was difficult to breathe at times!) until I finally persuaded the doctors to remove them when I was 15. It's a nasty thing to have :(
    As for book recommendations, I can second the Carlos Ruiz Zafon (especially Shadow of the Wind). If you want something funny, Bill Bryson's travel books are hilarious (I can't read them in public as I laugh too much!). The Iron Druid Chronicles are a nice read and also quite funny, I don't know if you are one of the 0.00001% of people that haven't yet read the Song of Ice and Fire series yet (Game of Thrones) but I've only just started reading them and they are great! If in doubt, there's always good old Austen too; Pride and Predjudice or Emma are my faves. My all time favourite book though is Watership Down, which hardly anyone I know has read, although most people have seen the cartoon. The book is so much better!
    Hope you're feeling better soon!

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    1. I read quite a lot of Bill Bryson several years ago and, like you, had difficulty reading them in public. I haven't looked into what he's written recently though.

      I'm ashamed to say that Science Fiction is an area into which I never venture as I don't enjoy the element of suspending my disbelief. However, I do adore P&P and especially Emma though as this was one of my A' Level texts and I remember all the books we studied for that with much fondness.

      I haven't read Watership Down - I agree - it's much more common to just watch the film!

      Thank you for the recommendations - I'm just going to go and look up the Carlos Ruiz Zafon. x

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  14. Ha! I have just read The Last Runaway too. Really enjoyed it, especially the insight into Quakers.
    I also enjoyed The Twins by Saskia Sarginson, but be warned, you might just end up booking another holiday, this time in sunny Suffolk. It is a real reminder of childhood

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  15. I laughed at "so uninjurious while I sleep," having many times in the past been awoken by a book hitting my face. Now that I listen to audiobooks, the only night-time danger is a dramatic narrator who suddenly adds an artistic flourish in the form of shouts or exclamations. Or just weird voices! Nothing like falling asleep listening to a harmless tale, then gradually realizing there is a demented stranger talking in your bedroom.
    Take care of yourself, and I hope you feel 100% well very soon!

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  16. Hi - I hope you feel better quickly. I enjoyed Nora Roberts Dark Witch quite a lot. I'm finishing Austenland now. Its ok too.

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  17. Feel better soon! If you are in the mood for something summery, beachy and American you could try anything by Dorothea Benton Frank -- Pawley's Island or Folly Beach are good.

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  18. Just a thought re. injuries sustained from falling asleep when reading... a kindle can hurt quite a lot if they catch you across the bridge of your nose when you sleepily let go of them - don't ask how I know! :)
    I'd also recommend Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon plus the follow up The Angel's Game.
    I'm so pleased you started this post because I'm getting lots of inspiration of what books to read next. x

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  19. Blog interactions are very pretty .

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  20. I have just discovered your blog and absolutely love it! http://finestprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk/

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  21. I really enjoyed "the Rosie Project" and then gave it to my 19yr old Son who is studying engineering and doesn't like reading fiction. He started it to stop me nagging him,then really enjoyed it too.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x