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Monthly Reads - February & Pay It Forward

As I sit here writing this blog post the 'Beast from the East' is currently terrorising the neighbourhood. The city is plunged into chaos as the snow is falling heavily, the roads have turned into slippery track marks and the traffic has ground to a halt. I've been watching from my bedroom window as the buses creep slowly down steep hills, pedestrians are fighting with the bitter winds and the treachorous conditions and it's only going to get worse before it gets better. The schools have been closed and the moody teen is enjoying an unexpected lie in. It's a day to keep warm, a day for a hot bowl of soup, a day of staying indoors with the heating on. 

It's also a day for curling up on the sofa with a hot drink, legs under a woolen blanket and the opportunity to lose yourself in a good book. Reading is my passion and books are one of the only things I do allow myself to buy regularly (although I get a lot of books from the library too). I tend to get through a book a week, although often it's more than that and reading in bed is something I look forward to every night before I go to sleep. No phones are allowed at bedtime and mine always gets switched off overnight. I want to be fully engaged in a story not  checking to see what I might be missing on social media. Over the next year I'm going to document what titles I've enjoyed each month and share them on here. Hopefully some of you will enjoy reading them too. 

Previously I used to have a serious attachment to my books and I struggled to part with them. My bookshelves and cupboards would groan with piles of books - cookery, interior design, fiction - so many titles I would read and then return to a shelf, sadly never to be picked up again. Over the years I've learned that I don't need to keep them all and that I'm happy to read them and then pass on to others or donate them to the charity shop. With that in mind I thought it would be nice to use this blog as a way of sharing my love of books and passing them on to my readers. So for the next year I'm going to 'pay it forward' by posting out the books that I've bought, read and shared on here. Each month I plan to pick a blog reader at random and send them the titles I'm ready to pass on  and if you'd like to support this idea then that would be really lovely.  There are a couple of conditions -  sorry but it will be UK readers only for postage reasons and after reading I'd like the books to be passed on to a  charity of your own choosing. This month there are five books I'd like to pass on and they are the asterisked (*) and in bold type titles listed below and if you'd like to receive these books then please let me know by leaving a comment at the bottom of this page with contact details (email or social media account - not Twitter) or alternatively send me an email at jenlittlebirdie@yahoo.co.uk (please put Pay It Forward in the subject box so I don't miss it). If you've read any of them before but still want to sign up simply let me know which ones you don't want to receive and they can go to someone else! You have until March 15th to pop your name down. 

I do hope some of you would like to join in and make this a great year for reading and sharing books. Here's what I've been reading in February: 

Currently reading - *'Everything I Never Told You' by Celeste Ng - I've only just started this so technically it'll be finished in March! But I wanted to include it this month as I'm really loving it so far. This is the tale of a Chinese-American family living in the 1970s in a small town in Ohio.  Lydia is controlled by her pushy parents who are determined that their daughter will fulfill the ambitions they were never able to achieve. Sadly her body is discovered in a local lake and the family dynamic is shattered, leaving them struggling to cope. Younger sister Hannah knows more about what happened than anyone cares to notice. It's a novel about love, lies, secrets and race. Unputdownable and it won Amazon's book of the year in 2014. I'm obviously a little late to the party with this one but it's absolutely been worth the wait.  

Read in February:

'Rain - Four Walks In English Weather' by Melissa Harrison - this was a library book I stumbled upon and it has since been returned but I wanted to include it here as I found it a lovely read that captures the beauty of the natural landscape under inclement weather. Each walk is undertaken in a different season and in a different area of the country. I particularly enjoyed the walk around Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire as it is a nature reserve we visited a couple of years ago and absolutely loved (it's our favourite ever National Trust site). I enjoyed reading about the other walks - Shropshire, Darent Valley and Dartmoor yet it was her evocative description of Wicken Fen that transported me back to that location and made me long to return. Melissa concentrates on the small details of the flora and fauna of each area are 

'The Almanac - a seasonal guide to 2018' by Lia Leendertz - this really isn't a book that you read in one sitting. It's a month by month guide to the seasons with tips for star gazing, gardening, seasonal eating, nature spotting and recipes to celebrate festivities throughout the year. At the beginning of each month I pick it up and remind myself of what to look out for - phases of the moon, what constellation is visible, what crops to sow in which month, what birds to listen out for. It's a lovely, simple guide for the year ahead. 

*'Call Me By Your Name' by Andre Aciman - This is a story of first love between seventeen year old Elio and his father's house guest, Oliver.  Set in the glorious Italian Riviera during a restless summer,  it is a romance that both frightens and fascinates these  two lovers. This is a beautifully written novel that will leave you teary eyed and remembering what is was like to fall deeply in love for the first time. Recently made into a movie and nominated for several Oscars this year, I'm so looking forward to watching it soon. 

'The Dry' by Jane Harper - Set in the small country town of Kiewarra in Australia where it hasn't rained in over two years. The commnity is devastated and struggling economically and emotionally with the impact of the drought. Tensions then become unbearable when three members of a local family are found dead and it appears that the father killed them before taking his own life. Yet, all is not as it seems and an old secret plays a huge part in determining what has really happened. This was the winner of the CWA Gold Dagger award in 2017 and the Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year. It's a gripping novel which I finished in a couple of days as I couldn't put it down. Probably my favourite book of the year so far. 

* 'Truly Madly Guilty' & *'Big Little Lies' by Liane Moriarty - I've popped both of these together as they are simply good fun to read. Having watched Big Little Lies over the Christmas holidays and enjoying it immensely I really wanted to read the original novel and other titles by Liane Moriarty. I've started with these two and I'll definitely be reading her other work soon. If you haven't seen Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman then you really should as it's a terrific piece of television. Although you can kind of guess what is going to happen it's still a terrific ensemble piece that highlights that no matter how perfect life appears to others, there are quite often some darker issues going on behind the scenes. I know people have raved about the beautiful clothes and houses in the tv show but for me it was the utterly beautiful photography and direction by Jean Marc Vallee that made the series work. The novel is darker in places than the tv show with more details of the horrific abuse that several of the characters endure so at times it's difficult to read. There are several different plot changes and characters within the novel that do make it worthy of reading even if you have seen the show. Truly Madly Guilty I read straight after Big Little Lies and I enjoyed it immensely although I also guessed what was going to happen plot-wise. Put simply it's about six lives that are affected after one afternoon at a friend's barbecue  with the result of a lifelong friendship in tatters, a marriage on the rocks and even an innocent bystander dead. Both novels have the knack of keeping you engrossed in the story lines as Moriarty writes about engaging and enigmatic characters and it's a pleasure to immerse yourself in their stories. 

*'Fingers In The Sparkle Jar - a memoir' by Chris Packham - I've been meaning to read this for a while as I've long been an admirer of Chris Packham. This is a fascinating account of his childhood, his struggles growing up with Aspergers in a world which didn't understand the condition and then sadly his conversations in his forties with a psychologist after he's contemplated suicide. It's utterly heartbreaking at times and at others laugh out loud funny. The time period jumps around often, the prose is lyrical and beautifully written. His recollections of moments are incredibly detailed almost as if they only occurred a few days ago not in the 1970s. It's an engaging memoir, hard going for me in places with his descriptions of animal death yet his love and his trust in wildlife are keenly observed and I found myself profoundly moved by his story and much more aware of how a person with Aspergers deals with everyday life and situations. 

Thanks for reading. Back soon. Jen x