Tag Archives: books

First Signs of Spring in London

Inspired by this week’s Tea & Tattle episode, where I’m chatting with one of my very favourite floral photographers, Georgianna Lane (you can listen to our conversation here), I took an early morning walk in London to seek out signs of spring.

The spell of warm weather has meant that spring has sprung a little early, and I was delighted to discover daffodils already blooming in Green Park and St James’s Park.

During the spring, more than 250,000 daffodils planted in Green Park open their yellow faces to the sun, making it the only time of year you’ll see flowers blooming in this park. The legend goes that Queen Catherine, wife of the womanising Charles II, caught him picking a bouquet for his mistress in the park and ordered all flowers to be removed. Since then, only daffodils appear once a year in this London oasis.

As I walked by Buckingham Palace, I was delighted to witness a carriage pulled by two prancing horses travelling between the Palace and the Royal Mews, most likely on its way back from delivering mail from St James’s Palace (which is done daily by horse and carriage!). The continuation of ancient traditions that permeate London is part of the reason I love the city so much.

After my stroll through the parks, I set off towards Bond Street to visit two of my favourite florists: Wild Things and the Wild at Heart Liberty branch.

Wild Things always have the most beautiful bucket of blooms outside their front door, and I can never resist snapping a photo whenever I stroll by. I loved this display of pale pink, white and burgundy roses – such an old-fashioned, romantic colour combination.

As I made my way towards Liberty, crossing New Bond Street, I saw a tree hanging over the gates of Hanover Square, scattering white petals over the ground.

The blossom is only just starting to appear in the city, and I love tracking its progress through London. North London is always a little behind the rest of the city, but I know that clouds of pink and white blossom will start appearing in Hampstead soon too.

Liberty never fails to live up to expectations; I can never tire of its beautiful entrance way that showcases spectacular flowers in old zinc buckets. The hyacinths and ranunculus particularly caught my eye. The smell of hyacinths always heralds spring for me, and I love the soft delicacy of ranunculus and their tutu-like petals.

Thank you so much to Georgianna Lane for inspiring such a delightful morning walk in my home city. Georgianna is so talented at capturing florals in the city, and I’m very excited by her latest book, New York in Bloom (a follow up to Paris in Bloom). I am going to New York in the summer, and I’ve been using Georgianna’s book to help plan some excursions for when I’m there.

Georgianna will also be publishing London in Bloom next year, which of course I’m very much looking forward to! To hear more about Georgianna’s work and her advice for individuals wishing to pursue a creative career, have a listen to our chat on Tea & Tattle. I hope it inspires you to seek out the earliest signs of spring as well.

Connect with me on instagram: @MirandasNotebook and @MirandasBookcase

Subscribe to my newsletter, London by the Book, which explores an area of London through a work of fiction each month.

P.S. You may also enjoy my blog interview with Georgianna Lane from a couple years ago, which you can read here.

London by the Book

I’m so pleased to announce a new project of mine, London by the Book, which is a monthly newsletter that explores an area of London through a work of fiction. I know so many of my readers are London lovers as well as literary anglophiles, so I think you’ll enjoy these monthly letters.

When I first stepped foot in London aged 16, it felt like a homecoming, as I’d traversed the city so frequently in my imagination. I’d walked the streets in company with Holmes & Watson, Bertie Wooster, Mrs Dalloway, the Fossil sisters and so many others. What amazed me was how well the city lived up to my imagined expectations.

My aim through these newsletters is to show you the parts of London immortalised in literature, not only by contemporary novelists, but also by such classic authors as Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Virginia Woolf. Along the way, I’ll also recommend the best cafes, shops and museums to see in each area.

If you’d like to receive these newsletters, please sign up here. An introductory letter will be sent out this evening, and the first proper ‘London by the Book’ instalment will be delivered to your inbox in March.

Book Talk: Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates

I found this first edition of Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates in a secondhand bookshop a few months ago and have been eager to read it ever since. I thought it an appropriate read in the run up to Valentine’s Day, so picked it up last week and finished it in a few evenings.

I have actually read Love for Lydia before, as a teenager, after watching the old television series, but I could barely remember the plot. What a joy to rediscover this wonderful book in my 30s. I think H.E. Bates is sadly underrated; his work seems to have gone out of fashion, and when I looked up a new edition of Love for Lydia on Blackwells, I was disappointed by the dreary cover. However, it’s worth getting a copy, as this book deserves to be much more widely appreciated, and it’s a brilliant read for February.

‘She had long coils of black hair that fell across her shoulders….She seemed, I thought, about fifteen. It was my first mistake about her.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is set in the inter-war years and starts on a snowy, late February day in Evensford, a factory town in Northamptonshire. The young male protagonist, Richardson, is working as a journalist for the local newspaper (a job he loathes), and when he spies the arrival of the wealthy Aspen sisters and their niece, Lydia, who live in a beautiful house surrounded by parkland on the outskirts of town, he’s persuaded by his boss to seek an interview. So begins his friendship with Lydia Aspen, whose aunts are delighted she has the company of someone her own age. Richardson teaches Lydia how to ice-skate on the frozen river and quickly becomes infatuated with her.

As the days blossom into spring and summer, their love grows, but as autumn blazes and frosty winter nights return, Lydia grows increasingly interested in two of Richardson’s male friends. Lydia’s selfishness and Richardson’s jealousy spark events that have tragic consequences, and Richardson must come to grips with his own character and place in the world before he can fully understand his feelings for Lydia.

‘The sun went down a moment later in a plunge of wintery magnified fire that left on the ice, the snowy meadows and the cold sky a wonderful afterglow. A lichen-like green hung above the sunset, and the shadows, all across the snow, became of indigo brilliance before finally dissolving. A biting moment of dispersing day, exhilarating and almost cruel, hung in the pure stark air before the first star sparked into green sky above the sunset.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

Love for Lydia is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have read. Elements of the story are apparently loosely autobiographical, which perhaps explains the raw, honest portrayal of the young narrator. The novel is told from the perspective of an older Richardson, who can look back on his early manhood and reflect on his own shortcomings and naivety. By the end of the book, Richardson is able to make a commitment to Lydia that speaks of maturity and mutual understanding, rather than blind puppy-love.

As always with Bates’s prose, what truly stands out are his poetic descriptions of an idealised British countryside. Richardson shares Bates’s love for flowers and landscape, and his observations of the changing seasons are breathtakingly lovely.

Ever since interviewing the fantastic Laura Freeman about her memoir on food and books, I’ve been more aware of descriptions of food in the novels I read, and here again Bates shines. From the burning hot jacket potatoes and sizzling fish and chips that Lydia and Richardson laugh over as they first get to know each other, to picnics of cheese and bread and curd tarts, and Richardson’s first taste of champagne (‘slightly on the dry side’) one memorable New Year’s Eve, Bates’s recounting of meals invariably made my mouth water.

‘That night Nancy cooked us roast sirloin, with beans and new potatoes and a lot of excellent gravy, with a dessert of tarts. There was a refreshing smell of peasmint in the air. The meat, roasted in the old range, with coal, was crisped at the edges, and you could taste the delicious fire-burnt crusty juiciness of it on the long red sides….. Tom had brought in some beer, and between beer and beef and plum-fat slices of curd-tart I began to feel blown and hot and sleepy.’ — H.E. Bates, Love for Lydia

I couldn’t recommend a better Valentine’s Day read, and if you’re still in need of a special gift for a loved one, there’s a rather gorgeous first edition, signed by the author, of Love for Lydia here. Otherwise, the paperback is available through Blackwells.

What to read next…

If you adored Love for Lydia as much as I did, here are some suggestions for what to read next:

  • The Darling Buds of May series by H.E. Bates. These five books, unlike many of Bates’s novels, are still in print, and they’re delightful reads, chronicling the adventures of the loveable Larkin family in the Kentish countryside. Start with The Darling Buds of May.
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Another wonderful coming of age story, this time told from the perspective of a young girl.
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. The young Charles Ryder, starstruck by the aristocratic Sebastian and Julia Flyte, has similarities to Bates’s narrator.

If you’d like to get in touch with me, you can find me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase.

Bath’s Best Bookshops

One of the (many) things I love most about Bath is its wealth of fantastic bookshops. I wanted to share four of my favourites with you here. I popped into all these bookshops on my most recent trip to Bath and, as a result, came back to London staggering under the weight of a stuffed suitcase!

1/ Topping & Company Booksellers

Topping & Company Booksellers is my favourite bookshop in Bath that sells new books. A well-curated selection of beautiful books stretches floor to ceiling in this delightful shop, so that tall ladders are needed to access the top shelves. The staff are friendly and helpful, and plenty of events are offered throughout the year, as well as a regular fiction reading group.

What seals the deal for me is that complimentary tea (beautifully presented on a tray with teacups, teapot, milk jug and biscuits) is offered to those shopping. I very much enjoyed drinking a cup of the refreshing brew as I decided what I wanted to purchase (in the end, I went for a lovely Christmas anthology).

2/ George Bayntun

When I lived in New York as a child, my Mum would sometimes order secondhand children books for me from the UK. I acquired many vintage Chalet School and Abbey Girl books as Christmas and birthday presents in this way over the years, and I still own the majority of my collection. One of the British bookshops my Mum would order from was George Bayntun in Bath, a bookshop that specialises bookbinding and rare first editions, but which also has a fantastic range of more affordable secondhand books.

I was so excited to visit the bookshop in person in October, and it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. George Bayntun is housed in an old Victorian building, and the large upstairs is beautiful with its impressive bookcases, wooden floors and exposed plaster walls. There’s still an excellent range of vintage school stories in the basement, as well as plenty of other treasures, so do make sure to visit if you’re ever in the area (George Bayntun is conveniently located very close to the train station).

On my last visit, I came away with three gorgeous 1940s editions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice (you can see them here).

3/ Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop

Another delightful bookshop selling new books in Bath is Mr B’s. Twice named as the UK’s best independent bookshop, this place is a labyrinth of delights for bibliophiles. Rooms filled with books sprawl upstairs and down, and there are comfy chairs to sink into and deliberate over what to purchase.

Apparently, Mr B’s was first dreamed up by two honeymooners – Nic and Juliette – who, after visiting The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, decided that perhaps they should give up being lawyers and open a bookshop instead. Mr B’s Emporium Bookshop opened in Bath in 2006 and became an instant hit.

I was particularly impressed by the fabulous children’s section, which – along with lots of wonderful books – featured imaginative displays and fun, quirky details (I loved the books piled high in a bathtub!).

4/ Bath Old Books

Whenever I’m in Bath, I like to a pay a visit to Bath Old Books, located in the beautiful Margaret’s Buildings, very close to the Royal Crescent. The bookshop is tiny (though do remember to check out the basement too), but has a lovely selection of secondhand books. I’ve found a few treasures there, including a charmingly illustrated copy of English country lore.

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Next time you’re in Bath, I definitely encourage you to check out at least one of these charming bookshops (and do remember to bring a large suitcase…).

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like to read A Spontaneous Afternoon in Bath.

Tea & Tattle | Ann Mah Discusses The Lost Vintage

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This week on Tea & Tattle, I’m joined by the journalist and author, Ann Mah, to discuss Ann’s bestselling book, The Lost Vintage. Having grown up in America, Ann developed a love for France from a young age, and she now splits her time between Washington DC and Paris. Her memoir, Mastering the Art of French Eating, describes the year Ann spent travelling through France and sampling different regional dishes of the country.

Ann Mah

I read Ann’s latest novel, The Lost Vintage, before my trip to Burgundy earlier in October. It was the perfect book for the occasion, as it’s set in Burgundy and tells the story of Kate, a wine expert who is studying for the Master of Wine exam. Kate travels from California to Burgundy to stay with her French relatives who own a vineyard, so she can brush up on her knowledge of Burgundian wines.

The vineyards that inspired The Lost Vintage

Whilst there, Kate discovers a hidden room within the family’s cellar, full of priceless bottles of wine that were hidden from the Nazis during WW2. But Kate also uncovers some disturbing information about her family – could one of her ancestors have collaborated with the Nazis? The Lost Vintage is a gripping book full of beautiful descriptions of the Burgundian countryside, as well as fascinating information about French food, wine and history.

The Town Hall in Meursault, where much of Ann’s novel is set.

In today’s discussion, Ann tells about the inspiration behind the book and why she become so fascinated by France’s history during WW2. It’s a brilliant discussion that’s sure to please any Francophone.

The Lost Vintage Giveaway!

I’m so delighted to say that Ann Mah is very kindly giving away some copies of The Lost Vintage to four lucky Tea & Tattle listeners (two in the USA and two in the UK). To enter to win, simply:

1/ Follow Ann Mah on instagram: @annmahnet.

2/ Follow me on my books-only instagram account: @mirandasbookcase.

3/ Like the above photo of The Lost Vintage on my instagram feed and add a comment, tagging a friend who you think would enjoy the book too.

4/ Make sure your instagram profile is public so the entry requirements can be checked.

The giveaway is for USA and UK residents only, and the winner will be announced on 6th November. Good luck!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Tea and Tattle | 10 Books to Read in the Autumn

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

This Friday, instead of the usual Tea Reads, I’m bringing you a special Tea & Tattle episode, where I’m catching up on the latest news, chatting about some of my recent Jump for Joys and cultural recommendations, and also sharing a list of books that I think are perfect to read in the autumn.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend ahead of you, and that listening to this Tea & Tattle helps to make it just that bit cosier!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea Reads: A Visit From the Sea by Robert Louis Stevenson

Listen to the latest Tea & Reads here.

My Tea Read choice for this Friday is a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson called A Visit From the Sea. I’ve been inspired by my trip to Penzance (I’ll be travelling to Cornwall as this Tea Reads episode airs) to choose this poem, as there’s a fun connection between Robert Louis Stevenson and a Cornish pub in the area. Have a listen to the episode to find out more!

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea Reads | Claxton by Mark Cocker

Tea Reads | Claxton by Mark Cocker

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle here.

The Tea Read for this Friday is an extract from Mark Cocker’s nature journal, Claxton. In 2001, Mark Cocker moved to Claxton, a small village in Norfolk, and there he began journalling his observations of the plants and wild life surrounding his home. Mark Cocker writes about nature in astonishingly beautiful prose, and he has a wonderful knack for noticing those small wonders that make our everyday lives so precious.

For today’s episode, I’m discussing an extract from Cocker’s late September entires, which I think perfectly sums up this transitional month between summer and autumn.

Tea & Tattle is also available to listen to on iTunes and stitcher.

Tea Reads | On Rapture by Nora Ephron

Tea Reads | On Rapture by Nora Ephron

Listen to the latest Tea Reads here.

Today’s Tea Reads is a fantastic essay by Nora Ephron on the pleasure of getting truly immersed in a book. Entitled ‘On Rapture,’ this essay appears in the compilation of Ephron’s work, The Most of Nora Ephron.

I always think of Nora Ephron in the autumn, as one of my early fall rituals is to rewatch two of her classic films: When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. I thought, then, that it would be appropriate to choose an example of her intelligent, witty writing for this week’s Tea Reads. ‘On Rapture’ is sure to spark appreciative recognition in every bookish soul!

You can also listen to this episode on iTunes and Stitcher

On My Bookshelf | Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

On My Bookshelf | Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp

I’d heard good things about Margery Sharp’s books for years, so I was thrilled when my Dad treated me to four of her recently republished titles. It was hard to pick one to read first, but I settled for Cluny Brown, not least because I thought ‘Cluny’ a rather marvellous name for a heroine. And a delightful heroine Cluny proves to be….

Originally published in 1944, Cluny Brown is set in the inter war years and follows the humorous exploits of the eponymous Cluny. The trouble with Cluny, the heroine’s long-suffering Uncle Arn decides, is that she doesn’t know her place. Content with his life as a plumber with a steady business, Uncle Arn  is shocked by his niece’s extravagant behaviour. Cluny saves up to take herself to tea at the Ritz,  accepts invitations to cocktail parties, spends all day in bed eating nothing but oranges, and is admired by an array of men, despite being (in Uncle Arn’s bewildered opinion) ‘nothing to look at.’

Cluny is the classic jolie laide – her unconventional looks and happy-go-lucky nature make sure she’s noticed wherever she goes, and she sparks  interest both upstairs and downstairs at Friars Carmel, the grand house in Devonshire where her Uncle insists she takes a job as a parlour maid. It’s not only her striking physical appearance that sets Cluny apart, however, but also her endearing personality. Cluny has an active, enquiring mind and an independent spirit that isn’t easily cowed. At a time when social classes were rigidly distinct, even Cluny’s employers can’t help but treat her as an equal. Cluny’s search for where she truly belongs ultimately leads her to take a leap of faith and leave her homeland behind, as she becomes the woman she was destined to be.

Margery Sharp’s gently ironic humour and understanding of human foibles add depth to her writing and make for memorable characters. Indeed, there are many besides Cluny who are loveable in this book. I have a particular soft spot for Sir Henry Carmel, the quintessential English country squire, whose penchant for writing extremely dull letters to far-flung acquaintances across the globe had me chuckling:

As his physical powers declined, making hunting impossible, Sir Henry had taken to the pen; all over the world the friends of his youth began to receive very long, very dull letters from him. To Rhodesia, Tanganyika, Singapore, Australia, India, New Zealand and the Bermudas – Sir Henry’s epistles went forth ; for he never considered it worth while to write to any one nearer at hand. So the letters took a long time to get there, and the replies even longer to get back, and all the news was out of date; and this gave his correspondence a peculiar timeless quality which was very soothing.

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Cluny Brown is a light-hearted, quick read that is perfect for those who love P.G. Wodehouse and Nancy Mitford. Now, to decide which Sharp I should read next….