Tag Archives: books

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Episode here or on iTunes.

This Tuesday, I’m delighted to say that I’m in conversation with Samantha Ellis, one of my favourite writers. As well as being a highly acclaimed playwright, Samantha has written the books How to be a Heroine and Take Courage: Anne Brontë and the Art of Life. In How to be a Heroine, Samantha reexamines the literary heroines she idolised as a young adult, and her latest book, Take Courage, is a biography of Anne Brontë.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

I adored How to be a Heroine, and in today’s episode I question Samantha a little about her first book, asking what she found most surprising when she returned to her favourite female characters as an adult.

Samantha also shares what inspired her to turn her hand to biography, and how learning more about Anne’s life taught her to be increasingly courageous in her own. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë is one my very favourite novels, so I was fascinated to learn more about Anne’s life from reading Take Courage. In this biography, Samantha truly brings Anne’s story to life and also writes openly about her own journey in discovering more about the Brontë family and her reflections on Anne’s writing.  Anne is – most undeservedly! – the least widely read of the Brontë sisters, and I was very pleased to get the chance to ask Samantha more about her thoughts on why Anne is still so little read.

If you’re a fan of the Brontës – and Anne in particular – then I highly recommend getting a copy of Take Courage to read yourself, but this episode of Tea & Tattle will give you a little taster of what you can expect from Samantha’s book.

T&T 27 | Samantha Ellis Discusses Anne Brontë

Listen for a fascinating insight into the life of Anne Brontë and her writing.

T&T 22 | Expanding Jane Austen’s World

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Podcast here or on iTunes.

Today, Sophie and I are hosting a special episode, as we’re in conversation with two other longtime friends: Janet Todd and Diana Birchall. Both Janet and Diana have written novels expanding upon or reworking Jane Austen’s books and are highly knowledgeable about our favourite author and her world. Sophie and I were thrilled to get the chance to sit down and chat with them both about their writing and how Jane Austen has influenced their lives and friendship.

Janet Todd is the former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, and is well-known for her non fiction works on early women writers and for her books about Mary Wollstonecraft, Aphra Behn, and Jane Austen. Janet has also branched out into fiction and wrote a fabulous rewriting of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, called Lady Susan Plays the Game. It was Diana who first alerted me to Janet’s other brilliant novel, A Man of Genius, which is set in the early 1800s and tells the story of Ann, a writer of Gothic fiction (coincidentally, A Man of Genius has just been released in its paperback edition, so do look out for it!). It was fascinating to learn how Jane Austen, women writers and Gothic fiction influenced Janet in writing this book.

Diana Birchall recently retired from her role as a Story Analyst at Warner Brothers, and she has written numerous stories extending the world of Jane Austen’s books, including the fabulously witty Mrs Darcy’s Dilemma. Diana regularly contributes stories and articles relating to Jane Austen to various publications and websites, including the Jane Austen Society of North America and Jane Austen Variations. Diana lives in America, but travels regularly to the UK.

Listen for a thought-provoking discussion on Jane Austen, her writing and world.

T&T 21 | Murder Most Unladylike

 

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

In today’s episode, I’m joined by the lovely Robin Stevens, to discuss her wonderful children’s book series, Murder Most Unladylike, which are hugely popular with children and adults alike. A delightful mix of Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton, the Murder Most Unladylike books are set in the 1930s and tell the story of two boarding school girls, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, who discover they have a remarkable knack for solving crime. The girls set up their own secret Detective Society and prove how capable they are at outwitting the adults around them, triumphantly solving case after baffling case.

Born in California, before moving to Oxford and attending Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Robin shares how her own background and school life influence her writing. We talk about Robin’s favourite Golden Age mystery writers, such as Agatha Christie and Josephine Tey, as well as her research process in recreating 1930s England and – for her next book – Hong Kong. I also questioned Robin on her most recently published book, Cream Buns and Crime, which has only just been released, and is a charming series companion to the Murder Most Unladylike novels. Robin explains how Cream Buns and Crime gave her an opportunity to broaden the reader’s experience of Daisy and Hazel’s world, and why ‘Bun Break’ is so important to her characters (lots of tasty sounding recipes feature in the new book!).

I was curious, too, to learn more about how the first Murder Most Unladylike book began as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, when Robin finished the first draft within a month to successfully complete the challenge. It was interesting to hear Robin’s perspective on the benefits of taking part in NaNoWriMo, as well as how she managed to subsequently procure an agent and publisher for her book.

Listen for a fascinating discussion on Robin Stevens’ writing process and inspiration. 

P.S. Apologies for the lack of blog posts lately; I’ve been struggling with a neck injury and have only been able to keep up with the podcast. Thankfully, I’m beginning to feel better, so regular posting will be resuming shortly. Thanks for your patience!

Book Club Discussion: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

I’m so excited to be writing a review for the first Miranda’s Notebook Book Club choice! When this post goes live, I’ll be just about to meet everyone attending the London get-together, and I can’t wait to chat about the book in person as well. Here are my thoughts, though, for our online discussion of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier:

Some Background to Jamaica Inn

At 22 years old, Daphne du Maurier got lost with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch as they set out on horseback from Jamaica Inn across Bodmin Moor. Daphne later wrote ‘we ventured out across the moors, desolate, sinister, and foolishly lost our way, to our horror rain and darkness fell upon us, and there we were, exposed to the violence of the night.’ They took shelter in a barn and eventually made their way to safety, but the dread she felt lost on those lonely moors clearly sparked an idea for what would later become Jamaica Inn.  

Bodmin moor, as described by du Maurier in her novel, becomes a character in its own right in the book, and its malevolent, brooding atmosphere is reminiscent of the Yorkshire moors in Wuthering Heights. Gothic novels were certainly an inspiration to du Maurier when writing Jamaica Inn (the opening scene of the book echoes the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and she liked to draw parallels between Cornwall and the Yorkshire moors made famous by the Bronte sisters. Indeed, du Maurier pointed out in her book, Vanishing Cornwall, that the Brontes had a Cornish mother and aunt, inferring that they would have been told Cornish myths and legends as children.

Just as their landscape, as well as stories and legends, inspire the Brontes, so did Cornwall inspire du Maurier, to the extent that her name is forever linked with the area. Jamaica Inn is one of her most gothically dramatic Cornish tales.

My Reactions to the Novel

** Warning! There are spoilers ahead! **

I first read Jamaica Inn as a teenager, so my recollections of it were a little hazy, although it’s hard to forget the brooding menace of the Cornish moors and the rotting inn Daphne du Maurier describes so brilliantly. I found it fascinating to reread the book as an adult, and this time, rather than the plot (which occasionally I found a little heavy-handed), it was the character of the protagonist, Mary Yellan, that I found most intriguing and kept me turning the pages.

Mary’s story begins with plenty of dark foreshadowing: hurtling through the driving rain (so different from the gentle drizzles of her native southern shores) across the Northern Cornish moors in a carriage whose driver urges her to reconsider her journey to Jamaica Inn. ‘That’s no place for a girl,’ he says darkly. Mary has little choice, however, but to continue her journey to her aunt and uncle-by-marriage, who live at the Inn. Having made a promise to her dying mother to go to her Aunt Patience and her husband, Mary is determined to keep her word. On arrival, she is horrified by the appearance of her aunt, who has been broken in body and mind by her brutish husband, Joss Merlyn. Her Uncle is not beyond threatening Mary too, but states he won’t touch her as long as she keeps her nose out of the mysterious business he conducts at the dilapidated inn, that never has any guests. Mary suspects her Uncle to be involved in smuggling, but soon discovers his secret is much more horrifying and deadly when he confides in her after a night of heavy drinking.

Male violence is a theme du Maurier explores many times in her books. The men she writes about are often murderers, with women as their victims. The topics du Maurier touches upon in Jamaica Inn – domestic violence, rape, murder – must have been shocking for her audience at the time (the novel was published in 1936) and many of the scenes are still disturbingly haunting today. In many ways, I feel Jamaica Inn is one of her angriest novels. Reading the book, you sense du Maurier’s wrath against male domination and brute strength on almost every page. Since childhood, du Maurier was intrigued by the differences between men and women (as a child she invented a male alter-ego for herself), and the frustration she felt at the restrictions imposed upon women seep through her writing.

In contrast to the female protagonists in novels such as Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, who are all undeniably feminine, Mary Yellan is quite a different kind of heroine. Described as being like a boy, with a ‘monkey face’, Mary isn’t too delicate to swear in annoyance. She displays a great deal of physical, as well as mental, strength: Mary can walk for hours on the moors; she fights off her would-be rapist and carries out physically taxing domestic tasks. Whenever she’s told she can’t do something (being only a woman), Mary invariably proves her naysayer wrong.

Mary does, however, perceive a weakness within herself: her attraction to Joss’ younger brother, Jem. Unsure whether she can trust him, yet feeling at ease in his presence (whilst still noticing his rather fine hands), Mary riles against herself over accepting Jem’s kisses. In time, however, he is proven worthy of her faith.

In contrast to Mary’s resolute, unwaveringly courageous character, it is the men in the novel who display the most weakness. Joss Merlyn is revealed to be a blustering bully with an insatiable taste for drink. He cannot control his binges or his tongue and at night is tormented by the faces of the men and women he has killed. He is exposed as a mere puppet in the hands of a much more sinister opponent, against whom he is ultimately powerless.

In general, I enjoyed rereading Jamaica Inn, although I do not feel it stands up so well against du Maurier’s later novels. It lacks the depth of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, and, although I admire Mary Yellan, in the end I felt a little dissatisfied with her character. She is brave and headstrong, yes, but what else? Compared to du Maurier’s later protagonists, Mary feels two-dimensional, for all her toughness and courage. Perhaps my dissatisfaction stems from preferring du Maurier when she writes in the first person, when the reader can become truly immersed in the mind of her narrator. I feel, too, that du Maurier is at her very best when she’s exploring the (albeit it often strained) dynamics between men and women in love. Jem and Mary’s romance feels a perfunctory affair, and Jem barely says more than handful of lines in the novel, so there seems little to his character but superficial charm. Jem ‘rescuing’ Mary at the end is rather a let down; surely, after everything else she’d handled unflinchingly alone, Mary could have managed her escape perfectly well by herself? Mary choosing to hop into Jem’s cart and ride off into the distance with him, facing their future together, lacks any real emotional charge. Jem’s uncharming little speech to Mary where he says she’ll probably live to regret her decision, left this reader at least without hope for much romantic bliss between them.

In conclusion, then, I felt Jem and Mary’s relationship was the novel’s biggest flaw, but Daphne du Maurier’s ability to evoke a sense of place and atmosphere and build up heart-thudding suspense is dazzling, and the descriptions of the desolate Cornish moors, coupled with a strong-willed heroine, make Jamaica Inn very much a tale worth reading.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Jamaica Inn, so please do add them in the comments. Here are a few questions as prompts to get the conversation flowing, but feel free to comment on whatever aspect of the story you wish to explore. I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Some Questions to Prompt Discussion:

What is your opinion of Mary Yellan? Did you warm to her? What did you like / dislike about her?

Mary is repeatedly told she is ‘only a woman.’ In what ways, though, does she repeatedly show she’s more than a match for her male companions?

Do you find the romance between Mary and Jem believable? Did you feel Mary’s liking for Jem was an unfortunate weakness on her part, or were they well-matched?

What types of evil does du Maurier describe in the book? Does she write about one more convincingly than the other?

What did you think of the Vicar of Altarnun? Did you feel there was a supernatural quality to him?

In what ways does du Maurier use the setting to build up suspense?

Did the novel’s ending come as a surprise to you, or did you guess what would happen?

How do you feel Jamaica Inn compares to du Maurier’s other novels?

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T&T 16 | Jane Austen Heroines

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

I’m especially excited about sharing today’s episode, as this week on Tea & Tattle, Sophie and I are discussing one of our very, very favourite authors: Jane Austen. Having both read Pride & Prejudice aged 9 (after being mesmerised by the BBC adaptation), Sophie and I devoured every Jane Austen novel (as well as her letters and biographies about her) throughout our teens. We still regularly reread the books, and of course Sophie’s teaching at Oxford covers some Jane Austen (apparently she’s just about to start teaching Emma – I wish I could be in her class!).

Our love for Austen’s delightful heroines was certainly one of the building blocks of our friendship, and we exchanged many a letter as teenagers recounting our opinions of each novel. Today’s conversation, then, covers very familiar territory, as we decide which Austen heroines are our favourites (it’s almost impossible to choose!), and the important life-lessons we have learnt from each of them.

Tea & Tattle Podcast - our favourite Jane Austen Heroines

Listen to hear how Anne, Elizabeth, Emma, Catherine and Elinor have influenced our lives and continue to inspire us.

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T&T 15 | A Chat With Carol Dyhouse

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle episode here or on iTunes.

Happy Valentine’s Day! This week, Sophie joins me for the first time in a Tea & Tattle interview. We are in conversation with the social historian and author, Carol Dyhouse, to discuss Carol’s fascinating new book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire. Our chat ranged from Byron, to Mr Darcy and present-day literary ‘heartthrobs,’ and Carol offered a compelling perspective on what the cultural history of the ‘heartthrob’ can teach us about women, desire and social change.

Sophie and I questioned Carol on the subject of male and female ‘glamour,’ the ways in which what young girls watch and read influence their romantic ideals as women, and why romance novels have a long history of being ridiculed. We also united in a shared love of Georgette Heyer, with Carol describing which Heyer novels she loves best (they’re definitely Tea & Tattle favourites too!).

Hit play for a fascinating discussion on the ways in which culture and society influence women’s perception of the opposite sex and what they consider to be a figure of desire.

Happy Listening!

Miranda’s Book Club Has Launched!

Online and London Book Club | Miranda's Notebook

I’m so excited to announce the first book for the Miranda’s Notebook Book Club; some of you who know me well will likely have guessed which author I would pick already….so (drumroll please) the first book is:

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

‘After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan crosses the windswept Cornish moors to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. There she finds Patience a changed woman, downtrodden by her violent husband, Joss Merlyn. Mary discovers that the inn is a front for a lawless gang of criminals, and is unwillingly dragged into their dangerous world of smuggling and murder. Despite herself, she becomes powerfully attracted to a man she dares not trust – Joss Merlyn’s brother. Before long she will be forced to cross her own moral line to save herself.’ – Virago Modern Classics

Daphne du Maurier is one of my very favourite authors, and I always think her novels are fantastic for sparking discussion. As the blog theme for February will be romance, I thought it appropriate to pick one of her most dramatically romantic books. I first read Jamaica Inn as a teenager, and haven’t revisited it since, so my recollections of the novel are rather hazy, and I’m looking forward to finding out what my impressions of the book will be as an adult.

I can’t wait to read it together and discuss it with all who take part!

There will be opportunities to join both an online and in person (for those in London) version of the Book Club. Both will be held on the last Wednesday of every month. The in person meet-ups will be held at a location on the Southbank, from 6.30-7.30pm. I’ll most likely be bringing along cake, as I do always feel a slice goes rather well with book chat! If you’re interested in joining the London Book Club get-togethers (and I do hope you are!), then please pop your email in the form below (or here, if you’re reading this in your email and can’t see the form) so I can provide you with more details (you’ll only be signed up to receive London Book Club news):

Please don’t be shy – all the Miranda’s Notebook readers I have met so far have been a very friendly bunch 🙂

In terms of the Online Book Club, I’ll publish a blog post recounting my thoughts on the book, with questions to invite further discussion on the last Wednesday of every month (see below for a list of dates and upcoming titles). There will also be some Cornwall / Daphne du Maurier themed posts published throughout February. I’m toying with different ideas of how best to host an online book group at the moment, so please bear with me as I iron out any initial wrinkles. If you have any ideas or suggestions for what you’d most like from an online book club, then please let me know.

If you’d like to read ahead, then here are the book choices for the following few months, with the dates for discussion and meet-ups:

**February 22nd – Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

**March 29th – Longbourn by Jo Baker

**April 26th – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Will you be joining the Miranda’s Notebook Book Club discussion? Have you read any Daphne du Maurier books already, or are you excited to start your first? I’d love to know your thoughts!

T&T 07 | A Chat With Ysenda Maxtone Graham

The latest Tea & Tattle Podcast Episode is live! Listen to it here, or on iTunes.

In this episode, I’m interviewing the writer Ysenda Maxtone Graham on her recently published book, Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979. I read this book after being invited to Ysenda’s book launch at Daunt Books, and once I started it, I couldn’t stop reading! An Old Boarding School Girl herself, Ysenda has written a fascinating account of what British boarding schools were really like from the 30s-70s. In researching the book, Ysenda interviewed a great deal of women, some of them famous (I was especially interested in Judith Kerr’s anecdotes), some of them not, but all of them offering an engrossing glimpse into a bygone age.

Many of the stories of the girls’ lives at the eccentric establishments Ysenda describes will appall the modern reader, but Terms & Conditions is written with so much quiet humour, that it’s almost impossible not to chuckle your way through the book. I had a marvellous time interviewing Ysenda about her writing process and inspiration behind her latest publication, and I’m sure you’ll love listening to her too!

Christmas Reads | Books for Babies

Christmas Reads | Babies and Toddlers via Miranda's Notebook

*** A N N O U N C E M E N T ***

Would you like to become a part of Miranda’s Notebook?

This post marks the first contributor post to Miranda’s Notebook! I’ll be gradually taking on some contributors over the next few months, leading towards a slight change to the blog in the summer. Would you like to get involved, or do you know someone who might? Please help spread the word! There will be opportunities to contribute both one-off articles, or to be featured as a regular contributor. This partnership would be perfect for anyone who’s interested in guest-posting to direct more traffic to their own site, or for people who are keen to build a portfolio of written/creative content online, but don’t feel they have the time to commit to creating and building their own website.

Get in touch at: mirandasnotebook@gmail.com to learn more. Please note: I do not accept guest posts written for PR companies, or containing sponsored links, and the tone and style of the content & photography must match the rest of my site. If you’re interested in writing about books, crafts, recipe posts, motherhood, travel, fitness and self-care, or collaborating with illustrations or photography then please get in touch! 

***

I’m excited to introduce my very first contributor to Miranda’s Notebook: my mum, Donna! With a background in English Literature, and an especial expertise in children’s books and how to get young children reading, she’ll be making some regular book-related contributions to the blog. For this first post, Donna describes one of our much-loved Christmas traditions: buying a special book each year for Christmas. She also gives some brilliant suggestions for books to buy for a baby or toddler, as well as tips on what to look for when buying picture books for small children.

Christmas Reads for Babies and Toddlers

 by Donna Mills

It’s that time of year, Miranda and I “get the Christmas books out” and pop them in baskets, on shelves and in piles around the flat wherever we might be tempted to pick one up and browse its pages. Carefully put away for the rest of the year (shelf space is rarer than hens’ teeth chez nous!), I can not tell you how much fun it is to see the treasured volumes again, read and share aloud pages or whole stories to one another.

‘How fun it is to see the treasured volumes again, year after year.’

When you have a newborn or toddler, you generally don’t have much time to think about “making” traditions: you’re too busy in December doing – helping them make Christmas cards and decorations, their first gingerbread house and biscuits, and praying that their inevitable colds and coughs won’t turn into whooping cough or go to YOUR chest. Nevertheless, if you have time for a thought at all, one of the most undemanding and fun Christmas traditions you can start is to have a collection of books that come out only in December and that you read and share with one another. No child? No such tradition? Don’t worry! It’s never too late to start one for oneself and, indeed, Miranda and I are still adding to our own collection and can never resist the urge to pick up something new (to us at least) in the bookish line for Christmas to read and wrap for one another, ready for Christmas morning.

My suggestions for anyone starting such a collection is to by all means try out titles from the library first and then always buy the best version of the book you can – if all you can afford at the time is a discard from the library shelves 20p paperback version, get that, if you’re able to spend a bit more go for a hardcover version every time. Generally for babies and children of 2 or under you want to be with them, reading the story, talking about the illustrations and generally being unobtrusively in charge, showing by example that books are treated gently, pages turned carefully and with joy, and are always put back from whence they came on high up shelves carrying book and child to show them where it goes (take it from me as a mother and former teacher, tidying up is a skill you cannot start teaching too young!). If the book is available in a board book format get one of those too if you can swing it. Children need their own little shelves and baskets where robust versions can be handled independently, pored over and shown to teddies, Daddies, dolls and you.

‘Children need variety as much as adults.’

Remember, children need variety as much as adults. The books you choose for them (or for yourself!) should be rich in language and style. That’s not to say they should all sound like the St James Version (though of course you’ll want a picture book of the nativity whose text is exactly that). You want the poetic and the commonplace, American, British, Canadian, New Zealand etc, don’t forget translated texts beautifully rendered into English – the more varieties of English as it is spoken then and now the merrier. Here too is your chance of placing before your child’s eyes a variety of illustration styles, and all of the highest quality. Search out everything from black and white line drawings, to woodcut prints, to watercolours and oils, to comic style and rich abstract design. As long as the illustrations illuminate and enhance the text, you can’t go wrong. These books can be about Christmas specifically or about Winter generally.

And now to some specifics: Miranda and I have put our heads together to give you a small list of what you might consider buying this December in the picture book realm. I would say avoid too long and involved a story at this stage. Poetic rhymes and beautiful illustrations, things for baby’s eyes and fingers to discover, words you can learn quickly by heart are all perfection.

christmasreads

1/ The Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett.

Who doesn’t love Jan Brett’s vibrant illustrations, and coupled with the traditional Christmas song, they’re a sure hit with little ones. Knowing the words off by heart is a talent likely to endear oneself to the very young: you can keep both eyes on them and their responses to the pictures, and they don’t have to wait for you to scan the pages hastily as they hop from one page to another pointing out what they see in the illustrations. However bad a singer you are, you can also be assured your little audience won’t mind.

2/ Dear Santa by Rod Campbell.

Rod Campbell’s bold, colourful and deceptively simple illustrations have been proven delightful time and time again in our household. This Christmas lift the flap one is wonderful. Your toddler can lift the flaps to see what Santa has sent in a series of wrapped presents. There’s a touch and feel element and the last flap reveals the perfect Christmas present!

3/ Spot’s First Christmas by Eric Hill.

From one and up Miranda was enchanted by the Spot Lift the Flap Series by Eric Hill – both the Easter and the Christmas ones are classics, charming without being saccharine and both easy on the eye and and to read out loud. This is the board book version, but ours is the ordinary hardcover. It was robustly made with firm pages that little fingers find easy to turn and the flaps stood up well to all the delighted lifts they’ve received from Miranda herself and other visiting toddlers over the years.

4/ On The Night You Were Born written and illustrated by Nancy Tillman

Reading this one aloud catches you in the back of your throat a bit, but it captures in the most perfect way the celebration of a baby’s birth (and in the end what if not that is Christmas about?), the words are poetic and lilting and the illustrations beautiful in a dreamy, timeless style. Nancy has also written and illustrated a more specifically Christmas title, The Spirit of Christmas, stuffed full of the sugarplums that dance in your head and definitely worth buying, but it’s this, her first book, that I’d press you to buy first. Bonus: available in every format, including board book.

5/ The Christmas Story by Ian Beck

Sadly now out of print, but readily available for 1p plus postage as an Amazon secondhand bargain, this beautifully illustrated and simply told story of the nativity story is well worth searching out. Ian Beck’s illustrations shine and illuminate every page and the language is not too complicated or sophisticated for little ones.

6/ Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

Again, now out of print, but to my mind the perfect mix of King James’ Version language with awe-inspiringly beautiful cut-outs and silhouette illustrations. A forever classic – do search one out for your own Christmas before secondhand hardcover versions go up in price and become “collectible”.

7/ Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr

Now sold as a sturdy boardbook as well as a paperback and hardcover version, what right thinking child once introduced doesn’t love Mog. Again easy to read aloud with lovely detailed illustrations and with plenty of humour to keep you smiling even on the 50th read aloud!

8/ Christmas Parade by Sandra Boynton.

Boynton has some of the best board books for the very young: simple rhymes, bold and bright illustrations and a quirky sense of humour that appeals to parents and children alike, I can’t imagine not giving a Boynton board book in a parcel for a new baby and ALL the words of her Moo, Baa, La La La! are still bubbling in my brain nearly 30 years after I first read them to Miranda. Christmas Parade has all the hallmarks of her best work and makes a lovely addition for baby’s first Christmas.

Do you have any book-buying Christmas traditions? Which are your favourite picture books to read to babies and toddlers this time of year?

Article written by Donna Mills for Miranda’s Notebook. Get in touch with Donna @penandpencilgal 

Book Corner | Monthly Round Up 01

book_corner

I’m starting a new regular series on Miranda’s Notebook, where each month I’ll share a round up of the latest books I’ve read. I’m hoping this project will not only provide you with some interesting reading suggestions, but will also encourage me to read more, as it can be far too tempting in the evenings to zone out in front of a television show, rather than pick up a book.

Fiction

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

I actually read this book a few months ago, but never reviewed it, and as I just went to hear Sarah Perry discuss her novel at the Cambridge Literary Festival, I thought I could still include it in this round-up. Although not normally a fan of historical fiction (at least not if it’s set prior to the 1920s), I very much enjoyed The Essex Serpent, which is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read for some time. The story follows Cora Seabourne, an unconventional new widow and amateur naturalist who journeys from London to Essex in hope of unearthing the truth behind the rumoured mythical beast, the Essex Serpent, which is terrorising a local village. There she meets and forms a life-changing friendship with the vicar, Will Ransome.

As well as providing a thought-provoking account on how quickly fear can ignite and spread through a community, and the struggle of the individual to embrace their fears and look their demons squarely in the face, this novel is really a celebration of the many different guises of friendship and love. Just as integral to plot as the two main protagonists, are the fully-fleshed out friends and family of Cora and Will, and Sarah Perry shows her true skill as a writer in producing a whole cast of characters whose eccentricities and passions will linger in your mind long after finishing the final page.

The novel is arranged over the course of a year (it starts on New Year’s Eve and ends in November), with each month of the year divided as chapters. I was fascinated to learn that Sarah Perry wrote the book in real-time: for instance, writing the ‘June’ section of the novel in June, the ‘November’ portion in November etc. This dedication in striving after her most authentic voice certainly pays off: The Essex Serpent is charged with atmosphere, and it is easy to feel you are side-by-side with its protagonist, Cora Seabourne, as she strides through the bleak winter landscape of Essex. A perfect read to immerse yourself in during the run-up to Christmas.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

If you loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette, then you’ll definitely enjoy Maria Semple’s latest novel. In Today Will Be Different, Eleanor Flood wakes up one morning determined to be her best self. She’ll go to her yoga class, be patient with her son, loving to her husband and see an old friend for lunch. She’ll smile at strangers and put on a pretty dress, not sweats. Unfortunately for Eleanor, the day she decides to be different is the day that the past comes back to haunt her, she discovers her husband is not where he claims to be and she gets a call to pick up her son early from school. Hilarious – and entirely relatable – chaos ensues.

Maria Semple is a genius at pin-pointing the common neuroses of our time and writes with a razor-sharp wit, softened by an underlying tenderness and understanding that is extraordinary. This book would provide the perfect antidote to all the upcoming New Year Resolutions!

Non-Fiction

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham

I was lucky enough to hear Ysenda Maxtone Graham speak about her latest book, Terms & Conditions, at her book launch at Daunt Books, which made me instantly buy and read a copy. Those of you who have listened to the Introductory Tea & Tattle episode will know that, as a child, I collected girls’ boarding school books from the 1920s-1960s, and I’ve always been rather fascinated by boarding school culture. Ysenda’s book hilariously dispels the Malory Towers-tainted myth, however.

In Terms & Conditions, Ysenda (an ex-boarding school girl, herself) has collected and structured the recollections from various Old Boarding School Girls (some of them rather famous – I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes from Judith Kerr!) on what life really was like as a boarder at an all girls school. From hot water bottles that froze over night, to girls that thought a school ‘having a lab’ could only mean a Labradour, Terms & Conditions is sprinkled with reminiscences from a bygone era that are both poignant and laugh-out-loud funny. This book would make the perfect Boxing Day reading material, so be sure to add it to your Christmas list!

Cookbooks

The London Cookbook by Aleksandra Crapanzano

I am so enjoying reading this cookbook! It’s a collection of recipes from many of  London’s most loved eateries (Spring, Quo Vadis, Duck Soup, St Johns etc). There are plenty of anecdotes from the chefs and alluring descriptions of dishes and restaurants to make this an entertaining read, as well as a fantastic source of what’s-for-dinner inspiration.

I generally approach restaurant cookbooks rather cautiously, expecting long lists of gadgets and ingredients I do not own to greet me as I flip through the pages, but this book is different.  Happily, the majority of the recipes are relatively simple, with a refreshingly short ingredients list and nary a blowtorch in sight. Rather than making me think there’s a reason I eat at restaurants, I feel a kind of astonished confidence that yes, I could have a go at creating Peach Raspberry Mess with Toasted Almond Meringue (a Quo Vadis favourite), or perhaps Scallops with Corn Puree and Chile Oil a la Skye Gyngell.

What books have you read and enjoyed recently? I’d love to hear your recommendations!