Winter Reads / Pay It Forward

Last year I aimed to write monthly posts on what I’d been reading and then to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing them with the readers of this blog. Rather than repeat those monthly posts which I failed at (sorry!), I thought I’d share some of my favourite reads each season as quarterly posts seem more realistic for me. I also want to continue to 'pay it forward' with my book purchases so if you would like to receive any of these titles listed below then please let me know. You can do this by leaving me a comment below, sending me a direct message on Instagram @jenlittlebirdie or emailing me on Sorry, but for postage costs this will be UK only. I'll be randomly selecting a reader on Friday 8 February 2019 but please make sure to leave me some contact details so I am able to find you.

Winter is the perfect time to get reading and I love staying in bed or curling up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, with a good cup of coffee and a great book, especially when the rain is lashing down outside. These are what I have been reading and enjoying this Winter:

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver - Set in 1937, this is the tale of three young men setting off to work on an isolated base camp in the Arctic circle where they will study the weather. Whilst travelling to the Arctic on a Norwegian ship, the Captain and his crew hint that there is something not quite right about the place the young men are heading to and they are reluctant to hang around once the ship arrives at the destination. As the three men settle into their tiny, cramped accommodation, they start to feel the pressure of isolation and stress levels begin to rise. They also have to content with the Arctic winter - four months of complete darkness and a frozen sea. Unexpectedly, two have to depart due to illness, leaving wireless operator Jack on his own with only the working dogs as company. Before long, Jack starts to feel that something really evil is lurking outside, trying to drive him away. As the dogs whimper and howl in the cage next to the cabin, Jack sits alone in the dark trying to survive. It’s an old fashioned ghost story, with some genuinely creepy moments and if you are easily frightened it may make you a little nervous of turning the lights off at bedtime. The descriptions of the Arctic isolation and landscape are beautifully written but there are also some nasty descriptions of animal deaths/cruelty which aren’t very pleasant to read.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler - This is the story of Aaron, a middle aged man who suddenly loses his wife Dorothy in a tragic accident. A few weeks after her death, Dorothy starts to appear to Aaron for short periods of time and in the strangest of places. Gradually she stays around for longer and they begin to talk, confronting their imperfect marriage. Essentially this is a novel about grief and how we try to come to terms with it. I read this over a couple of days and I just loved it. Anne Tyler’s books are always superb and I think she’s one of the finest writers alive today.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell - I haven’t read this one yet but I’m looking forward to starting this at the weekend. It’s been described as the perfect read for a winter night. Here is the blurb:

‘Some doors are locked for a reason...

Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband's crumbling country estate, The Bridge. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home lies a locked room, and beyond that door lies a two-hundred-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself... ‘

I can’t wait to start this! I do love a good Gothic ghost story in the style of Susan Hill and MR James.

Take Courage - Anne Bronte and the Art of Life by Samantha Ellis - I’m a little obsessed with the Bronte sisters and have worked my way through all of their novels over the last few years. As much as I enjoyed Emily and Charlotte’s novels, it was always Anne Bronte’s novels that I was drawn to most. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of my favourite books of all time and yet Anne’s work is often overlooked in favour of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. ‘Take Courage’ is a personal journey by Samantha Ellis into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. Each chapter looks at different aspects of Anne’s life - her relationship with her father, her brother and her sisters as well as her working life as a governess. From her in depth research, Samantha Ellis pieces together Anne’s strength and courage, portraying her as a trailblazing feminist well ahead of her time. If you are a fan of the Brontes, it’s a must read and I learned lots of interesting things I never knew even though I’ve visited the Parsonage several times. I also found myself shedding a little tear when I read Samantha’s account of Anne’s death in Scarborough aged only 29. Next time I’m at the North Yorkshire Coast, I’m going to take some flowers to Anne’s grave.

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George - I stumbled upon this book in Salts Mill a couple of months ago and had to get it as I loved the blurb on the back cover - ‘One a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers. The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself.’ Doesn’t that sound like the perfect story? The premise reminded me of Joanne Harris’ ‘Chocolat’ and her other novels that feature the wonderful character of Vianne Rocher and if you have never read any of her books then I highly recommend them. This novel isn’t nearly as good as Harris’ work, but I did enjoy it and liked the central character of the heartbroken bookseller Jean Perdu very much.