Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates: Outlander

Thank you very much to Sonya Bates for this week’s comfort read. I’m a big fan of the Outlander TV series but I haven’t read the books yet … I think I need to do something about that soon!

Comfort Reads with Sonya Bates Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

A comfort read means different things to different people. Nostalgia perhaps, humour or a happy ending. Classics, memoirs, books from your childhood, romance. For me, it means escape.

When I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed (like when a pandemic sweeps the globe), I don’t want to have to work too hard. My brain is already in overdrive, thinking about other things – worrying. It doesn’t need another workout. What I want and need is something soothing, something I don’t have to concentrate on. The book has to pull me in right from the start and hold my attention. I need to be able to gloss over paragraphs if my mind gets distracted and not lose the thread of the story. And I need to be able to put it down and pick it up on a whim, even if days or weeks have passed.

I have several books that fit the bill, so it was hard to choose just one. In the end I chose Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – a book I’ve read several times but never seems to disappoint. On the first read, it might not qualify as there’s a lot going on, but escapism doesn’t come any greater than this. A young woman travelling through time via a stone circle and ending up in the 1700’s? It takes you away from the troubles of the 21st century in a heartbeat. It’s adventure, it’s time travel, it’s a love story. The characters are larger than life and encounter (and survive) almost insurmountable situations – even try to change history. It suspends belief at times, but hey, the premise itself suspends belief. It’s the kind of story that can help you forget about pandemics and isolation and second waves, if only for a little while.

It’s a familiar read for me, so perhaps somewhat nostalgic, and I know the characters and the story well enough that I can put it down and pick it up again without a hiccup. It is one of my go-to comfort reads, the only caveat being that the first in the series is followed by seven very large sequels. It can be hard to stop at just one, so I need to be prepared to be immersed in the land of Outlander for quite some time if I start that first chapter.

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About the Author 

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Sonya Spreen Bates  is a writer of adult and children’s fiction living in Adelaide, South Australia. She was shortlisted for the inaugural Banjo Prize in 2018 for the unpublished manuscript for Inheritance of Secrets, and several of her children’s books have been commended by CCBC Best Books, Resource Links, or the Junior Library Guild in the USA.

Born in Iowa City, USA, Sonya grew up in Victoria, Canada. She studied Linguistics at the University of Victoria before moving to Halifax, Nova Scotia to study Speech-Language Pathology at Dalhousie University. She worked in paediatric Speech Pathology for 25 years, first in rural British Columbia, and then in Adelaide, South Australia when she moved there in 1997, and currently works as a casual academic in clinical education.

Sonya’s first children’s book was published in 2003. Her short stories and novels have been published in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and foreign rights to her chapter book, Wildcat Run, were sold to a Chinese publisher. She started writing for adults in 2015 and her debut adult novel Inheritance of Secrets was published by HarperCollins Australia in April 2020.

Read my review of Inheritance of Secrets

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My Favourite Comfort Read: Anne of Green Gables

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It’s taken me a while to decide which book to choose for my comfort read. It’s always tough for me to choose just one book as a Scatterbooker who reads such a wide variety of genres, so I have decided to cheat a little bit and write about the Anne of Green Gables series.

I think almost every bookish young girl can relate to Anne Shirley on some level. Like Anne, I grew up with my nose in a book and a talent for letting my imagination (and my hot temper!) lead me into some crazy situations. I still have to make an effort not to burn everything I try to cook and the time Anne accidentally died her hair green reminds of the time my grandmother had to cut my hair out of her curler … or the time I decided to put chewing gum behind my ear like Violet Beauregaurde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Anne: “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice”.

Marilla: “I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones”.

But one of the most important features of Anne’s personality is her unwavering optimism, even after the harshness of her life before she arrived at Green Gables. Anne undoubtedly endured some of the very worst that human nature has to offer in her early years, but she worked so hard to look on the bright side and to always seek out the best in others. Yet somehow she manages to strike a perfect balance and avoid being overly sweet. She always went out of her way to make ‘kindred spirits’ of the oddballs and outcasts she met and she was usually greatly rewarded with rich and interesting friendships for her efforts.

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

A lot of people just focus on the first book of the series, but the rest of the Anne books were just as important to me because we get to follow Anne from her time at college, her teaching career and romances, her marriage to Gilbert Blythe (of course!) and raising her own children through to the end of WW2. The way that Anne managed to hold onto her unwaveringly dreamy and optimistic nature while she matured and navigated her life is such an important and comforting message: that it’s ok to maintain these bookish and optimistic qualities, even after we grow up and life becomes tough.

“Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

I also love the picturesque Prince Edward Island setting and still live in hope that I’ll get to see it for myself one day. Did you know that you can visit the real Green Gables in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island that you can visit?

“Because when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worth while.”

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Green Gables, Cavendish, Prince Edward Island

 

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Author Eliza Henry-Jones shares her favourite comfort read: the books of James Herriot

Today’s comfort read is brought to you by the wonderful Australian author of contemporary adult and young adult novels Eliza Henry-Jones

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My favourite comfort read is the series written by James Herriot (the pen-name of Yorkshire based vet, James Wight).

Wight writes with warmth and humour about his experiences as a country vet during the 1930s through the war and into the 1950s. While parts of it haven’t dated well (unsurprising, given the first book was written in the 1960s!), his books never fail to make me laugh out loud and feel very cosy and cheery. I first read them when I was nine and stayed in Yorkshire a few years ago, so it’s sort of nostalgic on two fronts.

About the Author

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Author Eliza Henry-Jones

Eliza Henry-Jones is a novelist, researcher and freelance writer based on a little farm in the Yarra Valley of Victoria.

Her debut novel In the Quiet (2015) was published as part of a three book deal with HarperCollins Australia. She has since published Ache (2017), the young adult novel P is for Pearl (2018) and How to Grow a Family Tree (2020). Eliza’s novels have been listed for multiple awards.

Eliza has qualifications in English and psychology as well as grief, loss and trauma counselling. She has completed a first class honours thesis exploring representations of bushfire trauma in fiction and is currently a PhD candidate at Deakin University.

Eliza is a proud ambassador for the Satellite Foundation, which supports children and young people who are impacted by parental mental illness.

Eliza has been awarded a residential fellowship at Varuna in New South Wales, a young writer residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Western Australia,  the Tyrone Guthrie Fellowship in Ireland and an Australia Council Grant to work on a new novel set in Scotland.

Eliza is an experienced public speaker, facilitator and writer. You can find out more about her writing and other services here.

Click/Tap the titles to read my reviews of Ache, P is for Pearl, and How to Grow a Family Tree

Cassie Hamer talks about her favourite comfort read: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

While it feels like the world is going mad right now it’s even more important than ever to take the time to lose yourself in a book. I bet I’m not the only one finding it difficult to concentrating on reading, even though I know I really do need to sit down, take a break, and forget about what’s happening, so I’ve decided to put together a list of books that are perfect for comfort reading with the help of some of my favourite authors.

Today’s comfort read is brought to you by Cassie Hamer, author of After the Party and The End of Cuthbert Close.

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Cassie Hamer, author of After the Party and The End of Cuthbert Close

Cassie Hamer has a professional background in journalism and PR, but now much prefers the world of fiction over fact. In 2015, she completed a Masters in Creative Writing, and has since achieved success in numerous short story competitions. Her bestselling debut fiction title After the Party was published in 2019. Cassie lives in Sydney.

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At the age of nine I was obsessed with two things – ballet and books. So you can imagine my incredible delight at discovering Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. I fell in love with the cover first – it was an image of a young ballerina in pink satin pointe shoes – the ballerina I so desperately wanted to be. Then I turned to the inside and promptly fell head over heels for the book’s feisty young protagonists – Paulina, Posy and Petrova – three orphans being raised in impoverished circumstances by their guardian, the kindly Sylvia, and their strict-but-loving, Nana.

Streatfeild published the book in 1936, a mere eight years after women were given the vote in the UK. But even today, Ballet Shoes remains a deeply relevant and feminist book – the story of three young women who are driven to make a name for themselves and achieve self-sufficiency via the stage. The girls experience success and failure. They wear velvet and organdie dresses. They are constantly drinking delicious concoctions with the boarders that share the big house on Cromwell Road. They are told, regularly, that their ambition is acceptable, but they should still be decent human beings.

See? It’s just lovely, isn’t it.

I never did become a ballerina – I was as flexible as a pole – and I never got to own a pair of pointe shoes. Instead, I became a writer and, even now, I see the impact of Ballet Shoes on what I write. I’m utterly devoted to understanding and expressing the female experience. My books have a subtle feminist bent. My characters are ambitious, practical and feisty, just like the Fossil sisters. And, in a case of life imitating art, I now have three girls of my own. It has been one of the joys to rediscover this book as a mother and share it with my daughters.

It is my theory that the books we read and love in our early years leave a scar-like mark on our psyche – an indelible imprint of thought and feeling that we return to for comfort because it reminds of who we once were, the dreams and hopes we once held.

I cannot think of a happier place in which to dwell.

 

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The End of Cuthbert Close by Cassie Hamer

‘Captures Australian suburbia perfectly. Has the reader gripped until the end. Perfect for anyone who wants to devour easy-to-read fiction, while also doing some detective work of their own.’ Mamamia

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your neighbours. (Trad. proverb, origin: Australian suburbia)

 Food stylist Cara, corporate lawyer Alex and stay-at-home mum Beth couldn’t be more different. If it wasn’t for the fact they live next door to each other in Cuthbert Close, they’d never have met and bonded over Bundt cake. The Close is an oasis of calm and kindness. The kind of street where kids play cricket together and neighbours pitch in each year for an end of summer party.

But no one’s told Charlie Devine, glamorous wife of online lifestyle guru, The Primal Guy. When she roars straight into the party with her huge removal truck and her teenage daughter with no care or regard for decades-old tradition, the guacamole really hits the fan.

Cara thinks the family just needs time to get used to the village-like atmosphere. Beth wants to give them home cooked meals to help them settle in. Alex, says it’s an act of war. But which one of them is right? Dead guinea pigs, cruelly discarded quiches, missing jewellery, commercial sabotage and errant husbands are just the beginning of a train of disturbing and rapidly escalating events that lead to a shocking climax.

 When the truth comes out, will it be the end of Cuthbert Close?

Dymocks

Angus and Robertston

QBD Books

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Book Review: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen

I’ve been hoarding my beautiful Vintage Classic edition of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY for some time, so I was excited to make the time to revisit an old favourite during my month of selfish reading.

I was giving the gentlest of nudges to hurry up and get reading by the brilliant author of THE GIRL ON THE PAGE, John Purcell, who reminded me of the universality of Jane Austen’s novels in his bestselling debut. We have since bonded on Twitter over our mutual agreement that there is no problem in the world that can’t be made better by curling up my favourite classic author.

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SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen

“I do not attempt to deny,” said she, “that I think very highly of him – that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

Paperback, 444 pages

Published: June 26th 2014 by Vintage Classics (first published October 30th 1811)

Original Title: Sense and Sensibility

ISBN: 0099589346 (ISBN13: 9780099589341)

Goodreads

“Elinor is as prudent as her sister Marianne is impetuous. Each must learn from the other after they are they are forced by their father’s death to leave their home and enter into the contests of polite society. The charms of unsuitable men and the schemes of rival ladies mean that their paths to success are thwart with disappointment but together they attempt to find a way to happiness.”

 

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It’s been years since I read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, or any of Jane Austen’s novels, and it felt just like catching up with a good friend. Austen’s debut novel tells the story of two sisters, Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, who are about as  different as two sisters can be.

Marianne is the youngest and has the very strong opinions commonly found in teenagers. She is convinced that her future husband will love all the same things as she does, will sweep her off her feet in a whirlwind romance, and that it is only possible to truly love one person.

Elinor is far more sensible and spends a great deal of her time making excuses for Marianne’s rudeness to potential beaux and well-meaning neighbours alike.

The novel begins when Mr Dashwood’s death means that the girls and their mother are forced to leave their home to allow their elder half brother and his greedy wife to move in. This reflects Austen’s own life, as she was also forced to move due to unfavourable inheritances.

Marianne finds romance with the charming Willoughby, while scorning the elder and far more steady Colonel Brandon. Elinor is left wondering if her romance with her sister in law’s brother, Edward Ferrars, was all she thought it was when she encounters a rival she never knew existed.

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed reading SENSE AND SENSIBILITY. Even though this was Austen’s very first novel, it is a delightful read. I couldn’t help but think on this reading that a lot of the problems he characters went through were very British and could have been solved with a little bit of straight talking, but their polite inability to say what they really think is one of the reasons the rest of the world loves the British so much.

5 stars!

 

HOW TO STOP TIME by Matt Haig @matthaig1 #BookReview

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HOW TO STOP TIME by Matt Haig

Goodreads Description

“The first rule is that you don’t fall in love, ‘ he said… ‘There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay.'” 

A love story across the ages – and for the ages – about a man lost in time, the woman who could save him, and the lifetimes it can take to learn how to live

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but owing to a rare condition, he’s been alive for centuries. Tom has lived history–performing with Shakespeare, exploring the high seas with Captain Cook, and sharing cocktails with Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

So Tom moves back to London, his old home, to become a high school history teacher–the perfect job for someone who has witnessed the city’s history first hand. Better yet, a captivating French teacher at his school seems fascinated by him. But the Albatross Society, the secretive group which protects people like Tom, has one rule: never fall in love. As painful memories of his past and the erratic behavior of the Society’s watchful leader threaten to derail his new life and romance, the one thing he can’t have just happens to be the one thing that might save him. Tom will have to decide once and for all whether to remain stuck in the past, or finally begin living in the present.

How to Stop Time is a bighearted, wildly original novel about losing and finding yourself, the inevitability of change, and how with enough time to learn, we just might find happiness.

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My Review 

Tom Hazard looks like a normal man in his 40’s but due to a rare and largely unknown medical condition, he is actually more than 400 years old. After surviving his early years in in medieval France and England  – where he worked for a brilliant young playwright called William Shakespeare and tragically fell in love – Tom became part of the Albatross Society.

The first condition of the secretive Albatross Society, made up of people like Tom, is that you can’t fall in love. Members are also forbidden from seeing a doctor, required to move location every eight years and must recruit new members for the Albatross Society in between each move.

After living this nomadic life for 400 or so years – which included sailing the seas with Captain Cook and encounters in jazz bars in Paris with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – Tom just wants to go back to his old home in London and live an ordinary life as a high school history teacher. Being back home and a forbidden romance bring up painful memories of Tom’s past and he has no choice but to decide between the restrictive, and increasingly dangerous Albatross Society or begin his life again in the present.

I loved HOW TO STOP TIME and I’m already looking forward to re-reading it soon! Matt Haig has an insightful way with words and beautifully conveyed the range of emotions that Tom experienced living for centuries. Long enough to watch everybody he loved and care for die, and then to watch humanity make the same mistakes over and over again throughout history.

I loved the way that real-life historical figures featured throughout the novel through Tom’s memories, particularly the way that Shakespeare was portrayed as an eccentric but kind hearted genius with a keen sense of observation.

5 stars!

About the Author 

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Matt Haig

 

Matt Haig is a British author for children and adults. His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive was a number one bestseller, staying in the British top ten for 46 weeks. His children’s book A Boy Called Christmas was a runaway hit and is translated in over 25 languages. It is being made into a film by Studio Canal and The Guardian called it an ‘instant classic’. His novels for adults include the award-winning The Radleys and The Humans.

He won the TV Book Club ‘book of the series’, and has been shortlisted for a Specsavers National Book Award. The Humans was chosen as a World Book Night title. His children’s novels have won the Smarties Gold Medal, the Blue Peter Book of the Year, been shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and nominated for the Carnegie Medal three times

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