Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons


Title: Nightingale Wood

Author: Stella Gibbons

Published: 1938

Main Characters: Viola or young Mrs. Wither ( 21 year old widow of Teddy ), Mr. Wither (Viola’s father-in-law), Mrs Wither (Viola’s mother-in-law), Madge (elder daughter of the Withers), Tina (younger daughter of the Withers), Saxon Caker (the Wither’s chauffeur and Tina’s love interest), Victor Spring (rich neighbor of the Withers and Viola’s love interest), Hetty (Victor Spring’s orphaned cousin).

Book Setting: Rural Essex (England) in the late 1930s.

Short Synopsis of the Story:  Recently widowed and impoverished Viola Withers finds herself forced to live with her in-laws -the Withers in their dull, gloomy country house in Essex. Mr. Wither is obsessed with his money and investments. Madge the elder daughter longs for a companion and finds it in a newly adopted dog.  Viola finds a companion in Tina who has a secret obsession for their handsome chauffeur Saxon. Viola meets their rich neighbour Victor Spring and finds in him her Prince Charming. Whether Victor Spring reciprocates her love and fully appreciates the seriousness of her regard is however another matter.

Thoughts About the Book: Superficially, Nightingale Wood is the quintessential Cinderella story. If the relationship between Viola and Victor Spring had been the soul focus of the book- then perhaps Nightingale Wood would have been a good but unremarkable story. However, the book has many layers to it. There are many relationships and stories that are simultaneously unravelling before our eyes. There is the unconventional relationship between Tina and Saxon. Herein, Gibbons shows us that money and status can overnight convert the opinions and regard of the English middle class. Whilst Viola longs for the sparkling, gaiety filled social life that the Spring’s enjoy, Hetty longs to leave her privileged existence at the Spring household and is fascinated by the gloom, austerity and ‘Chekhovian’ atmosphere of Mr.Wither’s house.

Gibbons narrates the story with great finesse. The fairy tale like romantic scenes of the book are described with beautiful language and description. Where I find Gibbons excels is her ability to bring the reader down to earth with her juxtaposition of romantic description with down to earth wit.

The following is a description of events and Tina’s feelings upon returning home to their dour house after a romantic summer ball and saying goodnight to her love Saxon.

The moonlight, the stillness of the woods, the solemn glimmer of tiny stars, acted powerfully upon her senses. How pure the moonlit air smelled! moving very slowly across miles of country where hawthorn and bean-blossom, orchards and gardens, could yet out-perfume the towns and garages, as they had conquered the middens of Charles II’s day. The old earth keeps her sweetness. And I have to go indoors, to bed, thought Tina, with all this beauty outside. I should like to drive all night, away to the sea. She could hear, in fancy, the long waves rolling in.

Mr Wither shut the front door.

‘Oh dear, I am so tired.’ Mrs Wither patted away a yawn and ruefully bent to rub her evening shoe, wherein a faithful corn was undergoing martyrdom.

Conclusion: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were many interesting characters and events to enjoy along with Gibbon’s exceptional descriptive storytelling and humour.

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

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Little M and I are working our way slowly but steadily though the Time Magazine’s Top 100 books for Children. We particularly enjoyed Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban.

Title: Bread and Jam for Frances

Author: Russell Hoban

Illustrator: Lillian Hoban

Published: 1986

Main Characters: Frances (the Badger), Mother Badger, Father Badger, baby sister Gloria and schoolfriend Albert.

Short Synopsis of Story: Frances the Badger is a picky eater. When her Mother gives her eggs for breakfast she chooses to eat her favourite food- bread and jam instead. She prefers to eat the same for dinner that night in lieu of breaded veal cutlets with string beans and baked potatoes. In fact, Frances is so in love with bread and jam that she exchanges her school lunch of chicken salad sandwich for bread and jam.

Her parents decide to teach her a lesson. The next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner Frances is given nothing but bread and jam. Faced with no alternative Frances comes to the conclusion that although she loves bread and jam she does not want to eat it at every meal.

The turning point comes when at dinner that night Frances cries and asks for spaghetti and meatballs instead of bread and jam.

Favourite Part of the Story: The illustrations in this book are just adorable. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of food in this story. Especially the section where Frances’s friend Albert unpacks his elaborate lunch at his school desk and eats every part of it with great relish.

He took a bite of sandwich, a bite of pickle, a bite of hardboiled egg, and a drink of milk. Then he sprinkled more salt on the egg and went around again… He ate his bunch of grapes and his tangerine…He set the cup custard in the middle of the napkin on his desk… He shut his lunch box, put it back inside his desk, and sighed. “I like to have a good lunch,” said Albert.

Conclusion: My three year old loved the story and kept pointing to the pictures asking to hear about the food descriptions again and again. Four out of five stars.

Library Haul – Week Twelve – 2015

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Another week means another library haul. Here is a picture of just a few of the reading and media items we have been enjoying over the past week. This week Spring comes to Massachusetts and many other places all around the world. Little M has been asking for the longest time, “Is it Spring yet Mamma?”

I keep telling her, it will be Spring when all the snow on the ground will have melted and we can see green grass again. Today is the first day of Spring, the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. Despite my best predictions there are still piles of dirty snow on the ground. Oh well, I never was much of a meteorologist!

I digress. Back to the library haul. I have two non-fiction books for you. ‘Joyous Health’ by Joy McCarthy was indeed a joyous read. Rather than being yet another book about a new fangled way to lose weight via a restrictive diet it is a guide with tips to improve digestion, increase energy, balance hormones, improve sleep and just overall improve one’s health. I did not go in great detail over the 150 recipes that the book offers but they all seem quite straightforward. I especially liked the chapters named ‘Get Your Gut on Track’ and ‘Superfoods and Healthy Lifestyle Habits for Joyous Health’. I made illustrative journaling notes of some of the ‘Clean 15’ fruits and vegetables that do not accumulate significant levels of pesticides.

Sara Midda’s ‘In and Out the Garden’ is a beautiful art journal style book related to all things grown in the garden. The illustrations are just delightful. The flyleaf has the following description-

” This book is a potpourri of garden lore. Here are summer days of raspberry picking, swarms of bees laden with pollen, peas ripe for podding, herbs for flavoring. Every page, including the text, has been hand painted. Dip into it for recipes, poems, proverbs and garden thoughts.”

I may have to purchase a copy of the book to keep for future journaling inspiration. It is a beautiful book to admire and browse.

I had wanted to see ‘The Hundred Foot Journey’ ever since it hit the cinemas last year. I am glad I didn’t. Overall it was an entertaining  if somewhat improbable look at an immigrant Indian family’s attempt to set up an Indian restaurant in France. Some of the points covered were the differences between Indian and French cuisine and a talented Indian chef’s attempt to merge the two cuisines with his cooking. Although I am Indian myself, the story just did not resonate with me. I have not read the book so maybe I am missing something when I watch the movie. On the plus side some of the scenes of rural France are just breathtaking. Three out of five stars for me.

Lastly we have that inimitable Disney classic ‘The Jungle Book’. I watched this movie when I was a child so it was nice to re-watch it with little M. She seemed to enjoy all the songs although she was a little afraid of the wild animals at first. After a while she made good friends with them. She asked to watch this again- high praise indeed from a three year old.

So till next week when I will have a fresh library haul for you- goodbye.

P.S. My attempts to illustrate and document the ‘Clean 15’  and ‘Dirty Dozen Plus’  fruits and vegetables below.

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Library Haul- Week Eleven-2015


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Most Saturday mornings we make a pilgrimage to our local library. It is one of the highlights of my week. I thought I would let you have a peek into my library book bag from Week 11 of 2015. I am reading Stella Gibbon’s dreamy Cinderella like novel- Nightingale Wood. It really is very enjoyable.

‘Little M’ -my three year old daughter is reading Esphyr Slobodkina’s ‘Caps for Sale‘ … well I am reading it to her and she is asking me lots of questions about it. Strange questions that disturb the flow of a really good story but which are of utmost importance to a three year old mind. The book is about a peddler, some monkeys and a handful of different colored caps for sale that get lost and the peddler is able to retrieve in the most unexpected way. This was a recommendation from kind Librarian Lady who gives us nice book recommendations when we visit.

I have a fascination for Paris. I’ve always wanted to visit the city. Rachel Khoo’s book ‘Little Paris Kitchen’ revamps traditional Parisian fare and I get to see luscious pictures of food and Rachel in beautifully styled outfits browsing Parisian markets. This serves to abate my Parisian wanderlust at least temporarily.

 Then we have two movies. Little M enjoyed ‘The Aristocats‘ judging by the fact that she did not move from her little sofa during the 79 minutes of playtime. When I asked her for a candid review she said it was good and particularly pointed to the cover picture of the baby cats and said the middle white cat had a pretty pink bow.

Lastly Woody Allen did not disappoint with ‘Magic in the Moonlight’. The movie was pure magic helped by a generous dose of Colin Firth.

Book Review- The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford


The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.

The story is told through the eyes of Fanny Logan, cousin to the Radlett children. Fanny’s mother- wittily described as the ‘Bolter’ in the story due to her tendency to form a series of monogamous romantic attachments, abandoned her daughter at a very young age, leaving her to be brought up by her younger, unmarried sister- Aunt Emily. Aunt Sadie, mother to the Radlett children is the third sister.

There are six Radlett children and their parents are Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie. They live in a large manor house in the Gloucestershire countryside called Alconleigh. The Radlett children have an unusual upbringing- bereft of any formal education. Their father-Uncle Matthew is a slightly eccentric, short-tempered, overbearing man. Their mother, Fanny’s Aunt Sadie is a mild-mannered woman. Linda, the protagonist of the story is the beautiful second daughter of the family.

Towards the beginning of the story we find Louisa, the eldest Radlett daughter engaged to be married to the much older John Fort William- a lacklustre personality of good pedigree. The alliance is a prudent one, guided by the head and not the heart and to Linda seems an uninspiring choice. Nevertheless, we see Linda Radlett consumed with  jealousy for her sister’s engagement.

In a couple of years Linda and Fanny who are of the same age make their debut. So eager is Linda to be in love and married, that she fancies herself in love with the first person she meets-  Tony Kroesig, son of a rich, banking family lacking a title. Despite her parent’s disapproval Linda quickly marries Tony and very quickly repents her decision. They are ill suited to one another. Tony is focused on his career and being successful. We very quickly see the marriage falling apart. Linda embarks on a decade long whirlwind of gay partying and socializing, remaining faithful to her husband but engaging in frivolous flirtations with all and sundry. In the interim she gives birth to a daughter, Moira, whom she literally abandons, leaving her to be brought up by family. After many years she meets a Communist reformer Christian Talbot, and perhaps overcome with a desire to at last do something meaningful, is enamored by his ideology and personality. She divorces Kroesig and marries Christian.

In the following years we find Linda following Christian to France to work with refugees during the Spanish Civil War. Here, her husband falls in love with the idealogical Lavender Davis. Linda realizing this truth decides to leave Christian  without a direct confrontation and returns to London via Paris.

In Paris, under the most unusual  and unexpected circumstances Linda meets the love of her life- a wealthy duke- Fabrice de Sauveterre. She spends several blissful months  as Sauveterre’s mistress living in an apartment. Although the arrangement seems distasteful and sordid, especially in view of the strong moral upbringing of the Radlett children- there is nothing sordid about the relationship Linda and Fabrice share. For the first time in her life, Linda finds herself perfectly happy and fulfilled in love. Then the Second World War starts and Linda finds her life taking a turn for the worse…

Some of the descriptions and imagery used in the tale are exquisite.  Mitford’s description alternate between the sublime and the most cruel. For example Fanny eloquently describes a photograph of Aunt Sadie and her six children, sitting around the table at Alconleigh-

” There they are, held like flies in the amber of that moment-click goes the camera and on goes life; the minutes, the days, the years, the decades, taking them further and further from that happiness and promise of youth, from the hopes Aunt Sadie must have had for them, and from the dreams they dreamed for themselves. I often think there is nothing quite so poignantly sad as old family groups.”

These beautiful, thoughtful musings are interspersed with numerous examples of Mitford’s quirky, cruel sense of humor. An example of such an eccentricity is Uncle Matthew’s habit of using bloodhounds to hunt down his children in mad capers across the countryside. Uncle Matthew’s children, however, give back as good as they get. There is an episode where Uncle Matthew and Aunt Sadie leave for Canada on an ocean liner. The Radlett children, lacking drama in their everyday life, rush to see the newspaper headlines every morning for news of sinking of the ship – ” they yearned to be total orphans- especially Linda, who saw herself as Katy in What Katy Did.”

It is hard to put a finger on what kind of novel ‘The Pursuit of Love Is’. On the surface the story reads as a frivolous tale of Linda Radlett’s foolish attempts to find a partner- stuttering from one wrong decision to another. During the course of the story we develop a whole-hearted empathy for this  short-sighted woman who yearns for nothing more than to love and to be loved in return. We want to guide her, hold her hand and to reassure her that she will find it in due course.

The Pursuit of Love is a comedy. However, it is also a tragedy. Mitford uses her peculiar sense of humor to full effect and delivers us a story that on the surface lulls us into a false sense of security about the happenings in the story. It then cruelly delivers an ending which we might anticipate but can hardly believe.

It leaves us with closure regarding Linda Radlett’s story but it hardly satisfies. We leave with an all powerful sense of awe at Mitford’s masterful story-telling. The Pursuit of Love is a book to be read and re-read and to be appreciated on many levels. I highly recommend it.