10 Ways I Plan to Keep My Child Preoccupied During Times of Coronavirus Induced Social Distancing

Noel Streatfeild - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I have an eight year old daughter and whilst she is a bookworm – it can be hard to keep her engaged during long periods of isolation, like those required during the Coronavirus social distancing recommendations.

I’m going to share ten tips on how I plan to keep my daughter engaged during these long periods of indoor time and I hope it will be helpful to some of you:

 

1) Read Books

It helps that my daughter is a bookworm and is happy reading for hours on end but I know that not every child is in the same situation. My daughter is still at that happy stage that she likes to enact scenes from her favourite books through her menagerie of soft toys. I could write a whole blogpost about her favourite books and will probably do so at one point. Some of her current favourite are : The Laura Ingalls Wilder Series, Chronicles of Narnia, ALL the Enid Blyton’s, Roald Dahl and so much more.

 

2) Make Puzzles

My daughter recently finished a large 250 piece Winnie the Pooh puzzle. Making puzzles can happily engage children for long stretches of time and also tests their problem solving skills. I helped my daughter with some hard bits. Having someone do the puzzle with you – is encouraging to them.

 

3) Listen to Audiobooks Together

I’m a big Arthur Ransome fan and have a beautiful hardcover set of his ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series. My daughter has her own paperback set too. A lovely way to spend some time is listen to chapters of the audiobook together whilst reading from your own editions.

 

4) Practice Your Drawing Skills via YouTube Videos

There are many lovely YouTube videos that share how to draw animals, cartoon characters, birthday cakes and so much more. Set kids up with drawing supplies and the video and they can hone their drawing skills all by themselves. This activity is SUCH a favourite with my daughter.

 

5) Give Kids a List of Chores

My daughter takes great pride in doing things by herself. Some of the chores she enjoys are – tidying her room (I might need to give her a bit more encouragement on this one), making herself a snack (sandwiches), watering the plants, folding clothes etc. Make a fun chores list with stickers and stars when they get the job done.

 

6) Play Boardgames

Our favourites are Ludo, Snakes and Ladders and Junior Scrabble. I still haven’t embarked on the endless game of Monopoly with her.

 

7) Have Afternoon Tea Together

Sharing the ritual of making and eating afternoon tea together can be fun. Make some sandwiches, have some small cakes and a cool refreshing drink at hand.

 

8) Make a Fun Playlist of Songs that Make You Want to Dance

My daughter loves all the current dance tracks (Maroon 5 and Ed Sheeran are some current favourites). Letting them dance off all that extra energy can be a good thing. I’m looking into sourcing some cool indoor strobe lights for added effect.

 

9) Provide Some Structure to Their Day

I find, at least for my child, that unless I give her day at home some structure – things can get a bit out of hand. I’m afraid I’m one of those mums who gives their child homework every day, even during the summer holidays. I find that without some feeling of having done some ‘work’ my child is unable to appreciate or give value to her ‘play time’.

Some learning activities that I think my child has benefited from have been learning poems, learning a new language (Bengali in her case), writing short essays, practising spelling, practising mental sums, writing short book reviews and learning from the atlas.

10) Screen Time

I do let my child have some screen time during holidays  but it’s always limited. Some of her favourite things to watch are still Disney classics, Winnie the Pooh, BBC Dramas, Swallows and Amazons, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Parent Trap.

I realise that not all children are the same and some of these points may not work for your child, but I do help that these tips can help you create alternative ideas to suit your child.

I’d love to hear your tips of keeping children occupied indoors.

January 2020 – Month in Review

 

My January Diary

January was a month of new beginnings. On the work front I had new things to learn and new projects to embark on and they kept me very (pleasantly) busy. I was also craving good book discussions and participated in two readalongs on Instagram. One – was ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair. I read this with a close group of friends and the book was light and it was amusing to share excerpts and peculiarities of character, whilst reading.

The second book I read with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram – ‘A City of Bells’. I had this beautiful first edition sitting on my bookshelf – just crying out to be read. I enjoyed this book so much.

We had two birthdays in the family – my daughter’s and my Mum’s. I bought Amitava Ghosh’s ‘Gun Island’ for my mum because she is a huge fan.

Mid-January, the husband and I had four nights of attending Dover Lane Music Conference – an Indian classical musical soirée in Kolkata. Two nights, we stayed up all night and walked home as the sky was turning pink at dawn. There is nothing so uplifting as music and is so needed to lift one’s spirits. I’ll think of the good music I listened to and it will make me happy when I remember it throughout the remainder of the year.

The weather has been unseasonably cold in Kolkata. That, and perhaps the new flat is rather chilly! Whatever the reason – I finally caved and bought a space heater. We celebrated Republic Day with Subway Chicken Tikka sandwiches and Dutch chocolate ice-cream. There was a holiday deal. Sandwiches are the highpoint of our (Meli and my) fast-food life!

Meli spent most of January practicing for Sports Day at her school. She is reading aloud ‘Little House on the Prairie’ to her grandmother, who is visiting at the moment.

I hope you all had a good start to the New Year.

 

This is my month in review :

The Books I read in January

A City of Bells - Elizabeth Goudge

1) ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

I read ‘A City of Bells’ with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram. The lady who hosts the readalong accompanies the books with wonderful images taken from the scenes of the book… in this case the city of Wells, England. This definitely helps to make the book come alive.

’A City of Bells’ was such a charming book. Very well written, a nice plot that was engaging to the last and a host of very endearing characters. And the best of all! The story contained a quaint little bookshop. How can a bibliophile not love a book with a bookstore in it? More on the book later… as I hope to review it in depth.

2) ‘The Prime Minister’ by Anthony Trollope

I’ve been listening to Trollope’s ‘The Prime Minister’ on audible for a few months now. I finally managed to finish the book in January and enjoyed it overall. I think the fact that the central character had a very dislikeable personality deterred me from listening to the book. Sometimes, his vices and personality got too much for me. The book is the fourth in Trollope’s famous ‘Palliser Chronicles’. The most important themes in the book were politics and a greed to make easy money.

3) ‘A Winter Away’ by Elizabeth Fair

Elizabeth Fair - A Winter Away

 

4) ‘The New Chalet School’ by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

I read ‘The New Chalet School’ in an Armada paperback version and it is abruptly cut short at the end. I will have to search for the next Armada book ‘A United Chalet School’ where the story continues to satisfactorily resolve the story. Next month I will pick the most momentous book in the series – ‘The Chalet School in Exile’ and I have an unabridged Girls Gone By Publishing edition that contains the missing chapters of the Armada editions. As ‘Exile’ is my favourite book in the series, I am VERY excited to proceed.

 

Mixed Media in January

I didn’t watch much television at all in January but did manage to watch a few episodes of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Particularly haunting, was the tragedy that befalls a Welsh mining town. Meli and my Mum are re watching episodes of ‘Anne with an E’. I hope to catch up with the newly released third season soon.

I was ever so hopeful that the ‘Little Women’ movie would come to theatres in Kolkata but it hasn’t and I’m still hopeful and waiting!…

Meli and I have discovered Maroon Five’s ‘Memories’. Quite distressingly, Meli has also picked up the lyrics which might not be the most appropriate for an eight year old …

I listened to the Slightly Foxed podcast. Episodes that I enjoyed included Episode 13 (Nature and Story) and Episode 14 (The Vital Spark). The latter was a very engrossing discussion on what sparks a lifelong love of reading. This is a topic very much after my own heart as I take great efforts to encourage Meli to read.

The husband and I spent four very lovely evenings (and in two instances whole nights) at the 68th Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata. It’s an Indian classical music conference held every year in our city and I attended the event after many years. My favourites were a Double Violin recital by L Shenkar and a vocal recital from Ustad Rashid Khan.

 

What I Made in January

Noel Streatfeild - Laura Ingalls Wilder

I made a delicious chocolate banana almond bread in January. Although we enjoyed it, I still found it on the dry side and will be tweaking the recipe further.

I also baked a chocolate layer cake with coffee chocolate icing for Meli’s birthday. It was delicious and not too heavy on the icing at all, which we like. Meli loves to have Cadbury Gems (or M&M’s/ Smarties) spell out the birthday number on the cake. I’ve been doing this since she was a small child and she loves the tradition.

I’ve been making and drinking a lot of cardamom milk tea this January. I find it very soothing to drink during the colder months. Simply boil pierced cardamom pods in water, add strong black tea and gently simmer for about 5 mins on the stove top. Add milk and sugar to taste and then serve.

 

What I Bought or Received in January

January Book Haul - Laura Ingalls Wilder- Enid Blyton

I purchased books for the 8 year old’s birthday, because as she says herself – books make the best presents. The books I gave her were Noel Streatfeild’s ‘Holiday Stories’. I was a bit naughty in that I wanted this beautiful book for myself but I managed to convince my daughter that she would enjoy it too when I mentioned that one of the stories was labeled ‘Chicken for Supper’. As my daughter loves to eat chicken and food in general, she didn’t need much convincing after that! The second book we gave her for her birthday was a Full Colour Edition of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘By The Shores of Silver Lake’. There was also another old book find – to add to the Famous Five collection. She also received a splendid illustrated edition of ‘The Goblet of Fire’ by J.K. Rowling from a generous uncle.

Books I bought for myself included a second hand copy of E.H. Young’s ‘William’ and two Girls Gone By Publishing stories – ‘Highland Holiday’ by Jane Shaw and ‘Refuge for the Chalet School’ by Amy Fletcher.

 

Posts I Published in January

Milton Place - Elisabeth de Waal - Persephone Books

I regained my blogging mojo in January and published a few posts that I’ve listed below:

6 Tips to Overcome the Post-Christmas Blues

The Faded Glory of the Old English Country House: Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

Best Books of 2019

The Highpoint of the Month

Brown paper packages

I received a wondrous package from two dear Instagram friends – Kathy (kstarnes on Instagram) and Shelbi (the nobbylife on Instagram). I spent a whole afternoon opening the parcel and enjoying its contents while sipping on a cup of tea. The wrapping was so pretty that I had to take a flat-lay photograph to share. The books are highly coveted vintage editions of O. Douglas – out of print and hard to find. I love them so much. I feel very grateful to have such considerate friends.

O Douglas - The Setons - Priorsford

Favourite Book Excerpt of the Month

“I think it will last,” said Grandfather. “In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. Yes. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”

~ ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge

Best Books of 2019

Best Books of 2019

I always look forward to posting my Best Books List every year and they are some of my most favourite posts to peruse on other blogs too.

2019 was a year of comfort reading. I always find my mood for the year reflected in the books I choose. There was a Chalet School book every month, along with a Miss Read book – and although many of these will not feature in my best books list – they certainly did their job of providing comfort. For this I am very grateful.

It was also a great year for acquiring many old paperback puffin and penguin editions. This was due to the 2 second hand book sales that I was lucky enough to visit and where I bought books by the box load (all that you can fit into a box at a flat price). 

I hosted a few readalongs on Instagram this year. Memorable were the DE Stevenson readalong of Katherine Wentworth and Mrs Tim’s wartime diaries. Also of course,  Miss Read’s Fairacre series culminating in the reading of the supremely cozy Christmas book- Village Christmas in December.

I read 44 books in total in 2019.

So, without much further ado :

Here are my top 10 books of 2019

1. Greengates by RC Sherriff

Written in the slow, delicious and detailed style of RC Sherriff, this was a wonderful novel tracing the life of an old couple who are adjusting to life after retirement. The small recalibrations of daily life that are needed to restore equilibrium to the couple are exquisitely described. The novel is highly domestic, the trials and tribulations might seem petty but the feelings are very real and instantly identifiable. Hats off to Sherriff for dealing with a non-glorified and lesser described stage of life – but one, nonetheless, that is very important.

 

2. Mrs Tim of the Regiment by DE Stevenson

Mrs Tim Carries On- DE Stevenson

In the introduction to the book published by Bloomsbury there is an author’s original note. Stevenson mentions that Mrs Tim was the result of her own personal diaries being read by a friend who wanted to learn some insights about the reality of living in a Highland Regiment. The friend was so amused with the diary that Stevenson was encouraged to send her notes to a publisher. The results were the highly popular Mrs Tim books.

I’m a big fan of the epistolary novel – although personally I need to read these kind of books in little bites. They are the perfect kind of book to sneak in a few pages before bedtime or during breakfast or a lunch break.

What makes this novel particularly delightful is the excellent writing, amusing anecdotes and the glimpses of life lived in Scotland.

There are a few interesting relationships and characters in the book too.

Hester reminds me of the Provincial Lady (EM Delafield) – slightly clueless about what is going on around her- in her own dreamworld.

She is happily married to Tim-  a major in the Regiment- but she still has a bevy of admirers who are perhaps struck by Hester’s endearing personality.

The latter half of the novel is set in Scotland and I think for me, is the better part of the novel. There are many lovely outings to beaches, local fairs, Scotch cities. The writing is a lilting ode to Scotland.

In my mind the book ends a little abruptly – so I’m eager to follow along with the further adventures of Hester in ‘Mrs Tim Carries On’.

 

3. The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

The Call- Edith Ayrton Zangwill -Persephone Books

I finished reading ‘The Call’ this week – review copy gifted to me by @persephonebooks) . ’The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill follows the personal story of a young woman scientist, through the course of historical events that dominated the women’s suffrage movement in England, leading up to the outbreak and onset of the First World War.

Although the story is one of fiction, the series of events that pervade the novel, come across as remarkably real, no doubt drawing from the personal experience of Edith Ayrton Zangwill – a member of the WSPU herself.

The ‘Call’ refers to the call to action experienced by Ursula Winfield. A call to shun and relinquish everything she held dear, in order to enable the progress of the women’s suffrage movement.

However, as the novel progresses, we discover that this call to action is experienced by other people and for other causes- be they women’s suffrage, the call to do one’s duty in the war, or the call of a more personal nature- that of all-consuming love.

I gave this book a 5 star. I think it’s such an important book to read, dealing about an important chapter in women’s history.

 

4. Katherine Wentworth by DE Stevenson

Katherine Wentworth’ was such a dreamy, lovely book- filled with the gentle romance of yesteryear. Some of my favourite things about the book were the settings – in Edinburgh, England and the Scottish Highlands. In particular, the last third of the book was set in a little cottage, skirting the shores of a Scottish loch. I enjoyed ‘Katherine Wentworth’ so much that I was eager to read more about Katherine’s future. I’m sorry to say that the sequel didn’t enthral me as much- but that is alright…

I’ve been trying to analyse what endeared me to ‘Katherine Wentworth’. I find I’m particularly drawn to books that capture realism – the kind of realism that is part of mundane, everyday life. For within the tapestry of quotidian everyday events, there emerge moments filled with little sparks of joy- if we have the eyes and the receptiveness to appreciate them. DE Stevenson writes with incredible sensitivity – rendering the dull, less than perfect life of a widowed Mother of three – to interesting heights. There are little moments of delight and I love writers who make ordinary people and their cares and concerns – more than ordinary.

 

5. We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet tells the story of a small child called Pamela, who has been mistakenly placed on a bus that is heading out of bomb torn Southampton during the Second World War. When the bus arrives with the evacuees in the quiet village of Upton, Pamela is discovered by a village resident – newly married Ellen Parr.

Nobody knows anything about little Pamela’s precedents – who might be her parents, where she came from and why she was separated from her mother.

Childless Ellen takes the small girl into her heart and her home but when the time comes for the two to separate – we learn about Ellen’s past and the heart wrenching grief she feels to let go of Pamela.

This book was just beautifully written and there were many times when I thought I might break down and cry. At the heart of ‘We Must Be Brave’ is Ellen’s poignant history. The history of her childhood deprivations, how it feels to have your world crumble around you and feel truly alone. We Must Be Brave is a story set in War times. Though the backdrop of the story is the war and the bravery of the men and women fighting in the war, the bravery referred to in the title is one of personal bravery. Bravery of the spirit and soul. Bravery at times when life surrenders to all encompassing loneliness.

 

6. Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson

Jill was one of my most delightful discoveries in 2019. I had read and greatly admired Ruby Ferguson’s ‘Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary’, published by Persephone Books. It hadn’t struck me that I would find her children’s books so engaging. I’m not particularly taken by pony books either. However, Jill’s story was so well written and so inspiring that I recommend that you all find these books and read them! Ferguson’s voice in these books reminded me of E Nesbit and Frances Hodgson Burnett. There were some economic hardships that Jill’s family faced in the book – but it was wonderfully inspiring to read how Jill managed to realize her dream of keeping her own pony and participating in a gymkhana. Jills’s voice is particularly candid and endearing. Read this if you enjoyed ‘The Railway Children’ or ‘A Little Princess’.

 

7. The New House by Lettice Cooper

The first book I read by Lettice Cooper and already I am looking forward to reading her ‘National Provincial’. Another very slow book, drawn out over the course of a single day. A day in which a family undertake a move to a new house. A house that is much smaller than the family are used to. A house that fits in with the changing fortunes of a once rich family who have fallen on harder times. We see familial tensions stretched out on the wire under the straitened circumstances. The petulance of a spoilt widow and mother, the hardship of the unmarried, elder daughter under the burden of heightened economy and the responsibility of her mother. An interesting novel that deals with changeable social circumstance.

 

8. The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I started reading the sweeping saga of the Cazalet family with a group of friends on Instagram. The novels require you to dedicate a large chunk of your time to their reading but are well worth the effort. A compelling drama that encompasses many interesting characters whose lives are deeply affected by the onset of World War 2. Whether you read the books for the family drama, the social history of the crumbling fortunes of the aristocratic class, or because you are a history enthusiast, ‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard makes for compelling reading.

 

9. The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read

The Christmas Mouse - Miss Read

The perfect book to put your feet up with a pot of tea and a mince pie during the Christmas break. The story has all the lovely details of Christmas preparation and a moral to the story too. As usual, Miss Read provides all the comfort needed and much more. Already on my list of annual Christmas re-reads along with ‘Village Christmas’.

 

10. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Although I strongly disliked the protagonist, Emma Bovary, with a passion that slowed down my reading of the novel, Flaubert’s beautuful, rich, prose, bordered on the lyrical. An exceptional story that makes me eager to read more by the author. One can only imagine what it would be like to read the writing in the author’s native French.

I received We Must Be Brave from Harper Collins India and The Call from Persephone Books, as review copies. However, as always, all opinions are my own.

6 Tips to Overcome the Post-Christmas Blues

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We are now in that bleak stretch of the year – when the jollity of Christmas and the New Year are behind us and the promise of Spring and lighter, brighter days seems like a faraway dream.

I personally enjoy the winter but this year it’s a little different. Even in Kolkata, with its mild winters, our homes, built for the long Indian summers, have been rendered unseasonably chilly this year and everyone seems to be suffering from the sniffs and the snuffles.

 

Here are my 6 tips to alleviate the post- Christmas blues and help to soften the blow of the winter months.

Read books that are wintry, partly Christmassy or are written in a diary format

I do put away my Christmas reading in New Year. It just seems wrong to me to be reading about festive frolic in January. I must admit that books with ‘Winter’ in the title, snowy scenes or those that have occasional Christmas chapters are acceptable to me, however. At the moment I’m reading ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge. Her writing is so mellow, beautifully descriptive and luckily enough, this book has a bookshop in it AND a Christmas chapter or two. Would you just look at that beautiful cover too! Other books on my January TBR are Elizabeth Fair’s ‘ A Winter Away’, recently reissued by Dean Street Press. I’m also reading a review copy of Peresephone’s latest offering – Stella Martin Currey’s ‘ One Woman’s Year’. To start a book in January, with January as a first chapter is perfectly satisfying, as I’m a diary writer myself. If all else fails, EM Delafield’s ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ is sure to provide comfort.

 

Bake season appropriate confections

Firing up the oven during the cold months and making something from scratch feels particularly gratifying. I find Christmas cakes a bit on the heavy side. For the winter months I love baking with raisins, fruits and nuts and find that the addition of cinnamon, orange peel, ginger and other aromatics makes cakes, perfect for snacking with a hot cup of tea or coffee. The best cakes in my opinion, combine equal amounts of sugar, butter and flour.

 

Indulge in all the Vlogmas videos you weren’t able to cram into December

‘Vlogmas’ or the art of vlogging every day in December till Christmas Day is a tradition we indulge in at the end of the year. Although I have never knitted a pair of socks, can’t run a sewing machine and haven’t picked up a pair of needles in a few years, I enjoy watching Vlogmas videos from the following makers : Sew Sweet Violet and Sandy By the Lakeside. There’s something particularly cozy about their videos as they open advent calendars, bake and sew, craft and knit and drink Nespressos. Their videos really put me in the mood for Christmas. Owing to the lack of time to devote to YouTube during December, I always have a backlog of Vlogmas videos in January and it feels just lovely to watch them then.

 

Take down the tree but keep the fairy lights and Christmas cards up

I receive many of my Christmas cards well into the New Year. I’ve even received them in April in past years. There’s nothing as lovely to crack open an envelope from a far away place and feel the pleasure of reading a handwritten note from a thoughtful friend. The greatest gift we can give each other in this fast day and age, is the gift of time and it certainly takes time to pick out a card, write a note and post it. This is why I like to leave the cards up in January. Twinkly fair lights also help to brighten the gloomy days and long evenings.

 

Walk in Nature for even 30 minutes and listen to something

I really am not very good at hitting the gym but I do like to walk in a park or if possible, run my errands on foot. I walk in a small park near my home every day.  It’s a monotonous stretch of path that winds in an ‘L’ shape around a lake and the sameness of the scenery is broken up by listening to various bookish podcasts and audiobooks. Walking in greenery instantly lifts my mood and I take the time while listening to notice small details around me. The patterns of the different leaves, birds flitting by, the undulating motion of branches swaying in the wind. Being mindful while listening to a discussion, a piece of music or a story is calming and grounding. I’m currently listening to Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Prime Minister’ on audiobook. Listening to long unedited, Victorian novels helps me put in those extra steps and keep my mind and body healthy.

 

Drink mulled apple juice and lace it with brandy for those cold cold nights

I’ve discovered mulled apple juice this year. Take cloudy apple juice and dilute it with water to suit your taste and toss in a cinnamon stick, handful of cloves, slit cardamom pods, slivers of ginger, orange slices and then gently bubble it on a stove top. Lo and behold, after ten minutes of steeping, you have a hot drink that will warm the cockles of your heart. Drink it in a mug and warm your hands while nursing the drink. Slosh in some brandy if you feel so inclined.

 

There are many things to look forward to in the new year. Setting up a new diary. Planning seasonal reads. Lighting candles. Baking. Wearing warm socks, creating a winter playlist and taking a hot water bottle with you to bed at night are some small ways in which you can bring greater comfort to your life.

 

Now that I’ve poured out my old-fashioned ways to you, tell me, what can we add to this list of wintertime comforts?

 

Top 10 Books of 2017

 

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Looking back on 2017, I see a wonderful list of books and honestly I can’t say that I regret reading a single one of them. In this particularly good year of reading (52 books in the year) a few stood out to me.

 

These are the ten books that left the most indelible impression on me in 2017:

1. Mariana by Monica Dickens

A coming of age novel dealing with a young girl’s quest to find the perfect love. Though the body of the novel is well written and engaging, it is the beginning and ending of the novel that elevate the quality of the story in my opinion, making it truly memorable. There are echoes of Tennyson’s poem ‘Mariana’ in this book.

2. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

What a delight of a novel. The characters are excellent, the plot immaculately constructed and the writing is very funny.

A young woman, Miss Barbara Buncle opts to become a novel writer when her annual dividends are not as lucrative as usual. As the young lady has no imagination whatsoever, she writes completely from experience, portraying the people and incidents occurring in her rural corner of England. When the village people read the book and discover themselves (in an unflattering light) in the pages of the story, they determinedly set out to uncover the identity of the perpetrator of the village crime.

3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

This might be my new favourite du Maurier novel alongside Rebecca. It kept our book club continually guessing (we are still unsure to this day). Apart from the suspenseful aspect of the novel, I enjoyed the Cornish setting and the gothic feel of the story.

4. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This was such a quiet, wistful novel, spanning the events of one particular day. It deals with the struggles of the post-WW2 upper-middle class, coming to terms with the loss of their glorious past and changing domestic situations.

5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

A suspenseful, fast-paced Victorian novel and a pre-decessor of the modern day thriller, although in my opinion, much better written than most of the modern-day bestsellers.

6. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Hard to describe Mrs Dalloway. Perhaps to me- it strikes as a poem of a novel talking about deep-seated issues – some of them related to mental health. The descriptions of  London in the novel are glorious.

7. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Set in Toronto during World War 2, Earth and High Heaven deals with the then frowned upon love affair between a Canadian English woman and a Canadian Jewish man. The book is an elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

8. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The last book in the Barsetshire Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul searching, heart-rending book about a man’s quest to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

9. My Grandmothers and I by Diana Holman-Hunt

A memoir written by the grand daughter of the eminent pre-raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt. It tells of her unusual upbringing, alternating in the homes of her paternal and maternal grandmothers. It is a wonderful chance to glimpse into the eccentric lifestyle of Holman-Hunt. It’s also a rather poignant memoir written in a cheerful way, from the viewpoint of a young girl, who was essentially an orphan and who never knew the comfort of a stable home.

10. Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

The subject of this Victorian novel had quite a modern tone. It dealt with illegitimacy and the strictures of Victorian society and religion. However, what I appreciated the most about this novel was the fact that the pain and suffering, the vulnerability of a young orphan girl was highlighted, thus painting her plight in a very sympathetic way.

Please leave me a comment sharing your favourite book of the year.

Here’s to many more books in 2018.

10 Books Set in the English Countryside

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Give me a story set in an English village, inundated with curious characters and gentle descriptions of nature and musings about life- and you have me sold. Here in no particular order are some of my most favorite books set in rural idylls. I go to them, for comfort…

1) One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This is the story of a day in the life of a woman, set in the small coastal English village of Wealding. In the aftermath of the Second World War the English middle class are struggling to come to terms with their new life, less dependent on domestic help and trying to let go of the grandeur of the old days. This is a quiet contemplative novel which captures the beauty of the location. Despite not having much plot the story conveys a sense of longing and melancholy hard to capture in words.

 

2) Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

Dora Jessie Saint who wrote under the pen name of Miss Read captured the bucolic beauty of Cotswold villages and penned wonderfully human, simple stories that conveyed a sense of calm and goodwill. Tinged with a wry wit and the most wonderful characters, Miss Read’s ‘Fairacre‘ and ‘Thrush Green’ series are the height of comfort reading.

 

3) Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Tolstoy freely admitted that one of the influences in his writing were the novels of Victorian author Anthony Trollope. One of Trollope’s most famous series are the Barchester Chronicles– a set of six books set in the fictional rural county of Barsetshire. Apart from writing about nature and characters set in small towns and villages, Trollope wrote remarkably about money, social prejudice, politics and women with the most humane touch.

 

4) If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot

James Alfred Wight wrote semi-autobiographical novels under the name of James Herriot. A veterinary surgeon, he wrote about his work and personal life in the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire. Though the work was often back breaking and hard, Herriot’s love for the location and the Yorkshire people freely emanate from each page. His books are a sheer delight.

 

5) Portrait of Elmbury by John Moore

Portrait of Elmbury published by Slightly Foxed is the first book in the rural trilogy, recounting the history of a small market town in England, named Elmbury. In this first book, the author John Moore describes his childhood and youth in the market village. How the village was hit by the aftermath of war, the poverty and declining conditions of the Depression era. The rural descriptions are particularly evocative of time and place.

 

6) Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Freely borrowing from Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire, nearly a century later Angela Thirkell wrote a long series of loosely linked novels that mapped the social history of a generation destabilized by the Second World War. Thirkell’s books are light and frothy but they capture a slice of history that is interesting to witness as a reader.

 

7) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Though some of Gaskell’s works are set in the city and beautifully depict the Industrial Revolution of Victorian times, Cranford is set in a rural location. The small country town of Cranford supposedly corresponds to Knutsford in Cheshire. Small country customs and the portrayal of wonderful human characters cover the scope of this novel.

 

8)Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book is delightful not only due to the unique plot but also the brilliant cast of characters set in a small country village. 30 something unmarried Barbara Buncle resorts to novel writing as a source of income. As she has no imagination whatsoever her book draws heavily upon the characters and incidents occurring in her village. And when the villagers discover the book and their own unmistakable, unflattering portrayal they are determined to hunt down the secret author.

 

9)A Month in the Country by JL Carr

In this story a young war veteran seeks occupation in the form of the restoration of a church mural in a sleepy, English village. Recovering from shell shock, the restoration of the religious mural is accompanied by the artist’s own reparation of spirit and sense of well being.

10) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Sailing holidays in the English Lake District, hunting for stolen treasure and camping on deserted islands- Ransome’s books abound with the charm of a time that was much safer and secure. The descriptions of the lake country will simply mesmerize you.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim, Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge, Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons receive honourable mentions. Before I finish it would be remiss of me to omit the works of Thomas Hardy- the ultimate guru of pastoral literature.

Books that I intend to add to this list are George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the novels of Tolstoy. Let me know of your favourite books set in rural locations. I’d love to hear about them.

Top 10 Books of 2016

 

This was a really satisfying year of reading good literature even though I didn’t read that many books (about 35). I was able to read Dickens, Trollope and Gaskell from the classics and a few interesting biographies and modern classics.

There are several books on my Top 10 list that I know I will be re reading again and that have become great favourites. Read on and discover a few of my favourites (in no particular order).

1) A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr. Full review here.

 

2) Diary of a Provincial Lady by EM Delafield. Find my review for Novelicious on their website.

 

3) Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Find review here.

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A few days ago we discussed Dickens' opening of Bleak House and so many of you commented on the narrative structure of the novel. Bleak House is considered by many to be Dickens' masterpiece. For one, the narrative technique is extraordinary. In Bleak House we observe Dickens using two different types of narrative. The first is the omniscient narrator who is impersonally telling the story in the third person. The second is the first person narrative via the character of Esther. Whilst reading the story I immediately felt I was drawn intimately into the story in the 'Esther chapters'. The tone of the young girl is fresh and innocent although meek and considerably self-deprecating. This contrasts sharply with the satirical rather jaded tone of the omniscient narrator. In providing this vivid contrast in narrative and the tense in which the story is told (present tense for the omniscient narrator, past tense for Esther) we are alternately pulled in and out of the narrative. The use of the omniscient narrator broadens the scope of the novel, however. There are certain situations that Esther cannot be part of although we do see the narratives intersecting in certain parts of the novel (eg. The event of the young law-writer and lodger at Mr Krook's dwelling). ~ Here are a few questions for us to ponder: ~ What did you think of the narrative technique? Did it feel modern to you? Did you feel that the transitions were awkward or did they provide you with a respite from the intensity of a first person narrative for a novel of this immense length? Do you feel Esther is a reliable narrator at this point in the story? What do you feel about Esther's character so far? She opens her commentary with the disclosure that she is 'not clever'. Did you gain this same impression from her narrative technique? Is she how you imagine a Victorian woman to be represented? ~ We are a fourth of the way into the novel. Are you enjoying it so far? Feel free to also post your own discussion questions too below. I have not added any spoilers (I think!) but please realize a few may crop up in the comments below.

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4) Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple. Find review here.

 

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'Someone At a Distance' by Dorothy Whipple and published by @persephonebooks is a story about adultery. It is a story about a husband’s weakness, a wife’s short-sightedness and a young, ambitious girl’s yearning to rise up from her provincial upbringing and to destroy the happiness of others. But the book is more than the sum total of these individual parts and the title reveals this. The title 'Someone At a Distance’ is a curious one. It is only towards the latter part of the novel that the significance of the title emerges and one realizes it has been used with much thought. The title deals with the idea that a person’s negative actions and thoughts can have a far-reaching consequence on the lives of people far removed from them. It is like a ripple effect. A strong undercurrent of ill-will may wreak havoc on the hitherto peaceful lives of people on distant shores. Such is the inter-connectedness of the world and its people. It is a beautiful book. I read it in one breath. It was virtually unputdownable. Whipple’s storytelling is superlative. The psychological tension she develops in taut situations can be felt acutely. When Ellen grieves in the aftermath of her husband’s desertion, which has been dealt to her out of no wrong-doing of her own, we grieve along with her. We feel and comprehend her every emotion. We sympathize with her and we yearn for her strength and salvation. On the opposite side of the spectrum we despise the young French girl Louise’s every movement and intention. And we hope and pray for some kind of justice. Whipple manipulates our emotional well-being, during the reading of the novel to good effect and delivers yet another stellar story. To read the full review please click on the link in my profile. I highly recommend this one!

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5) Look Back With Love by Dodie Smith. Full review here.

 

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"Next to the morning-room was the very large kitchen, with two tall dressers, a long row of iron bells, and a vast kitchen range with a glowing fire in front of which, in our early days at Kingston House, I had my nightly bath. Above me hung the family washing, on a wooden rack that could be pulled up to the ceiling". -'Look Back With Love' by Dodie Smith. ~ If you like me, loved reading Dodie Smith's classic novel 'I Capture the Castle' you will realize, upon reading the memoir, Look Back With Love, that Cassandra is to some extent Dodie Smith. They feel one and the same. Besides providing a detailed historical description of life and times in the Edwardian age, this bookish memoir is an intimate glance at the person who created a veritable body of literature. The anecdotes are splendid and unique. I cannot recommend this memoir published by @foxedquarterly enough and I hope to read later episodes in her life history in future. For a full review on my blog please click on the link in profile! Everyone, have a great day. Grey skies here in Kolkata! 🌧

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6) The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff. Full review here.

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"He had had the idea for his novel at Bognor Regis: watching the crowds go by, and wondering what their lives were like at home, he ‘began to feel the itch to take one of those families at random and build up an imaginary story of their annual holiday by the sea…I wanted to write about simple, uncomplicated people doing normal things". ~ This is RC Sherrif's motivation for penning the classic 'The Fortnight in September' which is what I am #currentlyreading as part of #persephoneseptember. Deliciously detailed, very very slow and highly evocative, the book deals with the minutiae of middle class living, the joys of the annual holiday, the small rituals of family and I am enjoying it very much thus far. This is also my book for @bookclubcollective's #septemberScollection for books or writers beginning with the letter S. Do you enjoy writers who write with exacting detail? Of course Proust comes to mind and among modern writers A. McCall Smith.

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7) The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher.

 

8) A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell.

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Today is the release date of several long forgotten books published in conjunction between #deanstreetpress and Scott from the blog The Furrowed Middlebrow. Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell is described as "a remarkable memoir, one of the finest to have emerged from the Second World War. Kate Atkinson calls it 'a gem of a book, one of the best personal memoirs of WW2 on the home front, written with an artist’s eye for detail and immediacy.' I'm a few chapters into the book and I am captivated by the detail with which the author describes the build up to the war, the emotions of the civilians and how human nature can adapt to very striking, sudden changes in circumstance. More thoughts later. I'm drawn to war memoirs. Do you have any particular favourites?

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9) North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

 

10) Period Piece by Gwen Raverat.

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PERIOD PIECE by Gwen Raverat was one of my most favourite books read in the past few months. I am a huge Charles Darwin fan. In my opinion, his theories on evolution were the singlemost important breakthrough in the collective scientific history of mankind. Hence, to be given an insight into life and times in the Darwin household (Gwen Raverat was his granddaughter) was an extra special treat. If you are curious to know about Victorian customs and etiquette in the vicinity of Cambridge, during these times, this is an excellent personal recounting. Gwen Raverat intersperses the narrative with a number of eccentric, wonderful characters that you might read about in books or imagine but never think existed in real life. It has been a couple of months but this book has secured a corner of my bookish heart. Do give it a try if you can find a copy. 💕

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So that’s my ten from this year. Honourable mentions should be given to ‘Our Spoons Came from Woolworths’ by Barbara Comyns, ‘Britannia Mews’ by Margery Sharp, ‘ The Warden’ and ‘Barchester Towers’ by Anthony Trollope and ‘The Constant Nymph’ by Margaret Kennedy.

My Top 10 Books from 2015 can be found here

See you next year for more delightful reading and I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday and rest of the year.

Arpita.