It’s getting cold now isn’t it? We had real snow yesterday. Just a little, but it was still snow. What better to do with these wintery nights than to light a few candles and cosy down with a book.
So, here’s the latest instalment of what I’ve been reading.
You can also catch up with the rest of My Year In Books.
The One With Many Stories
The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan
Have you ever considered the significance of o lonely lost glove on a park bench, or a random coat button in the street? The lives they had before they were lost, what happened leading up to the moment they became a lost thing? And what the person without them is feeling?
Well there are many a lost thing hidden within this beautifully charming, jolly and quirky read set in London, England. All with a story to tell.
Anthony knows what loss feels like, he lost the love of his life. That along with a promise he failed to keep many years ago has led to a life of collecting.
“Most people wouldn’t even have noticed it, and those who did would have dismissed it as rubbish. But Anthony knew that for someone, its loss could be incalculable.”
Laura, recently divorced and a little lost in life, applies for a job as Anthony Peardew’s assistant. Typing up his manuscripts and helping around the house.
“Padua was clearly a house where all these things, including the tray cloth, were part of everyday life; and Mr. Peardew was a man whose everyday life was exactly the kind that Laura longed for.”
This main narrative is interspersed with one from a different timeline. The story of Eunice. We follow both independent women (not in the words of Beyoncé) as the mystery of what links them unravels.
Along the way we meet a few well written characters, one of my favourites being Sunshine. She has a genuine honesty with no motive. Sunshine and I share a respect for The Lovely Cup Of Tea, and it’s great how tea seemed to accompany anything of importance in the novel.
“Thinking was something she did slowly. She was quicker at feeling. She could feel happy or sad, or angry or excited in a wrinkling of the eye. And she could feel other things too, which were more difficult to explain. But thinking took longer. Thoughts had to be put in the right order in your head and looked at properly so that your brain could do the thinking.”
The theme of lost and found runs further than the collection of objects. I feel Padua was a place for all lost things. Including Laura, Sunshine, Freddie, Therese, and maybe even Anthony.
I’ve always been a bit sentimental, attaching memories to objects. Reading this book has made me think more about the things you see laying around. Many times have I come across a child’s toy or glove or something. Now I will think about what led to that moment.
It’s the first book from Ruth Hogan that I’ve read and I really liked her style. It was delicate yet big. The way that looking at stars makes me feel tiny.
“she unlocked the door and stood out on the cramped balcony of her flat looking up at the inky sky. She wondered how many other people in the world were looking up at the same vast sky at that exact moment. It made her feel small and very much alone.”
The One A Friend Was Reading
Reluctantly Home – Imogen Clark
After finishing the previous read for book club I was left not quite sure what to start on next. I had plenty of books lined up, I always do, but none of them jumped out at me.
What do you do when you don’t know what to read? Ask a reading friend. She suggested Reluctantly Home. A book she’d picked randomly from Kindle Unlimited, had recently finished and enjoyed.
Human rights lawyer Pip Appleby has reluctantly returned to her family home (get the title!) in Southwald, Suffolk, after a tragic event that turns her life upside down.
“She’d spent ten years trying to escape the place, had grabbed hold of her dreams and turned them into reality, and yet now she was right back where she’d started, helping out in a charity shop and having her breakfast burned by her mother.”
Haunted by what happened, Pip develops anxiety and panic attacks. She can see no way forward, no way of her life returning to normal. To help aid recovery and get back into the world, well the tiny claustrophobic world that is her hometown, Pip starts helping out at a local charity shop. When sorting through some donated boxes of old books, Pip finds a diary. Flicking through and becoming intrigued, she sneaks it into her bag to continue later.
“But actually, it was the prospect of spending an evening or two lost in someone else’s life that was too enticing to ignore – anything to escape the horrors of her own.”
Reading the diary, set in 1983, Pip grows fond of Evelyn and realises their situations aren’t all the different.
“The writer appeared to be stuck in the wrong place just like she was, although Pip hadn’t yet worked out why. She needed to read some more.”
As Pip goes on a quest to find Evelyn and discover what happened to her, we unravel the mystery through snippets of past diary entries, chapters from Evelyn’s perspective, and Pips narrative.
“The parallels between herself and Evelyn were undeniable. Both had had their lives snatched from under them in one cruel, ill-fated second.”
I’m really glad I was recommended this little gem. It’s not something I would ever have picked up myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set not too far away from where I live, familiar places were mentioned, I could visualise the type of place they lived, the close knit community, rural landscape and seashore.
A mystery of sorts, it wasn’t too far from my go to genre. But it had a warmth throughout, with characters that I became involved with. To begin with I wasn’t too sure on Pip, but we soon became friends. Speaking of which, the importance of friends is a big part of this book. With both lead female characters having a decent, fun and loyal male bestie. I loved this.
“‘I always think,’ said Evelyn, ‘that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.’”
The One That Could Have Been Better
The Secrets Of Us – Lucinda Berry
Another Kindle unlimited read, because why not make the most of a limited time subscription when your TBR is already going to outlive you.
Since being placed together, foster sisters Nicole and Krystal have meant everything to each other. With a bond that developed from challenging childhoods, they knew each other inside and out.
Until one day when lawyer Krystal finds that her sister has been committed to a psychiatric hospital for attempting to kill her husband, and burning down their house.
“The weird thing about madness is that it follows a schedule too. But besides the increased pacing and meaningless chatter in the room, nothing out of the ordinary is happening.”
Krystal sets about doing everything in her power to defend Nicole, while knowing there are secrets in their past that neither of them will want exposed.
“We tell everyone our foster parents died in a tragic car accident during our freshman year in college.”
But does she know Nicole as well as she thinks? Why would she suddenly destroy everything when they had both put the past behind them and settled into happy lives?
“People think of redheads as fragile and exotic. Maybe it’s the pale skin that they associate with frailty, but Nichole is anything but fragile—she is fierce. Her personality matches her fiery red hair, exploding like lava when she gets upset.”
I feel this thriller had great potential, it really kept me guessing in places and had some good twists. However something felt lacking. It was hard to feel a fondness or protection for any of the characters, even though their story was a believable one.
“They always say the truth will set you free, but maybe it has to destroy you first.”
The Wholesome One
Ellie And The Harpmaker – Hazel Prior
A book club read, and one I hadn’t heard of before, I decided to go audiobook for this as it’s been a while.
Also I’m trying to use my hands a bit more, keeping them nimble and exercised to make the most of my Risdiplam opportunity. While listening I can continue with crafts, or do simple stretches with my squishy ball. Or that’s the intention anyway, until I get in the zone and forget I’m not part of the story.
This was a great one to listen to. Opening with harp music, it’s atmospheric. That and a brilliantly comforting west country accent really brings a sense of place to the book.
When searching for and downloading Ellie and The Harpmaker on Audible the genre description was ‘clean and wholesome’. This did make me chuckle, but was pretty spot on.
There’ll be nothing untoward going on in this book!
Ellie ‘The Exmoor Housewife’ is drifting along in life. Somewhat unfulfilled, she spends her days writing poetry, taking long walks and waiting on her husband. After the death of her father, Ellie creates a ‘Before 40 list’, not wanting to end life with regrets.
On one of her walks exploring the town Ellie comes across The Harp Barn. Home and business of harp maker Dan.
Dan is a practical man with the talent and skill for intricate design, but not the emotion for something as abstract as music.
Familiarity and structure are important to Dan, it puts him at ease. He has different priorities in life than many, and struggles in social situations. Nature is his comfort.
“I do, pretty much always tell the truth, even though I know you’re not supposed to. I can’t seem to help it.”
I love that Dan has time for life. He appreciates it and takes it for what it is.
A sweet and gentle read that is driven and made by some truly ‘wholesome’ characters. I enjoyed seeing these two develop through the story, each of their lives widened and given a new perspective by the other.
And as for Phineas, well you’ll have to read and see for yourselves!
“People say that certain sounds can melt a heart of stone. If there is anyone who has that sort of a heart―which I doubt (as far as I am aware hearts are made of fibrous materials, fluid sacs and pumping mechanisms)―if anyone does have a heart composed of granite or flint and therefore not at all prone to melting but just conceivably meltable when exposed to very beautiful sounds, then the sounds made by my cherrywood harp, I am confident, would do it. However, I had a feeling the heart of Ellie the Exmoor Housewife was completely lacking in stony components. I had a feeling it was made of much softer stuff.”
The One That Makes You Realise You’re Not Alone
The Humans – Matt Haig
I was first introduced to Matt Haig with his memoir Reasons To Stay Alive, which I was late to reading, just a couple of years ago.
I then went on to read The Midnight Library, and now feel I need to explore his whole back catalogue. I’m yet to come away from a Matt Haig book without considering my place in life, without my thoughts being opened, explored and confirmed. The Humans was no different.
Invading the body of Professor Andrew Martin, we see the human species from an outsiders (alien) perspective. As he attempts his mission to destroy all evidence of a Mathematical breakthrough that they don’t believe us humans could deal with, he also discovers what it is to be human.
“This was, I would later realise, a planet of things wrapped inside things. Food inside wrappers. Bodies inside clothes. Contempt inside smiles. Everything was hidden away.”
As a kind of mirror, we are shown ourselves. Exploring the mundane quirks of what being a human is. The complexities, the expectations and the stress we seemingly put on ourselves.
“And so they are lost, that is how I understand it. And that is why they invented art: books, music, films, plays, painting, sculpture. They invented them as bridges back to themselves, back to who they are. But however close they get they are for ever removed.”
His love of Emily Dickinson, and eventually tea, warmed me.
“I was drinking a cup of tea. I actually enjoyed tea. It was so much better than coffee. It tasted like comfort.”
I initially gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. But when writing this little snippet of a review and flicking through notes and quotes I’d saved, I changed that to 5 stars. What I realise is that you can stop on any page and find something that resonates, something meaningful. Well I can anyway.
“A paradox. The things you don’t need to live – books, art, cinema, wine and so on – are the things you need to live.”
I feel I can count on Matt Haig to make me feel alive, to make me appreciate the crazy, mundane, unbearable, amazing thing that is life.
“Politeness is often fear. Kindness is always courage. But caring is what makes you human. Care more, become more human.”