Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Title: Goodnight Moon

Author: Margaret Wise Brown

Illustrator: Clement Hurd

Published: 1947

Main Characters: a little bunny, an elderly lady bunny.

Short Synopsis of the Story: It is seven o’clock at night and a little bunny in striped blue pajamas is lying in bed in his green bedroom. There are many objects in the green room that are described in great detail- a telephone, a balloon, some kittens and a pair of mittens and also an elderly lady bunny sitting by the fire knitting, willing the little bunny to go to sleep. The large bedroom window is partially draped to reveal a midnight blue night sky with many stars. The bright lights in the green room gradually grow dim, casting light and shadow across the objects in the room, lulling the little bunny into sleep. As we say goodnight to each little object in the room, the bunny gets sleepier and sleepier, the rooms gets darker and darker, the stars get brighter in the night sky and the moon appears like a white lump of cheese. Soon the green room is completely dark except for the light shining in the red doll’s house and the red flames of the fire. The little bunny falls asleep.

Favorite Part of the Story:  This is the quintessential bedtime book. Visually it is a very appealing book. The details of the little objects in the room are captivating. The pairing of the beautiful images with the simple repetitive rhyme of the story lulls us into sleep. The transition of the lighted green room into the darkened green room, illuminated by the starry night sky outside and the doll’s house lights inside is perhaps the most memorable part of the story.

This is a nice book to introduce to children from a very early age as a daily bedtime ritual. It is understandable why this is a timeless classic for children.

Summer of 2015 Holiday Reading

We will be visiting our hometown of Kolkata in India during the month of August. I haven’t been to Kolkata for five long years. I can’t wait to catch up with friends and family, eat savory street side snack food and be overwhelmed all over again by the sights and sounds of the city. Though it is essentially a holiday, I will be taking some work with me. But, I expect that in between socializing and working,  I will have a little time to myself to catch up on my reading.

It is such a delicious task to select books to read on a holiday. I find the Kindle so handy for such circumstances. I can pack a huge library within a sleek gadget and I don’t even have to feel ashamed about hoarding so many books! Even though I may not end up reading a single line, it is comforting to know that the books are close to me and can be reached easily if I need them.

Although I do enjoy using my Kindle, I also really like reading from the Kindle app on my iPod. It is a little narrow and you do have to flip the page every few seconds but It is very convenient for reading in bed. I can lie down and read on my back (my favorite reading position) and my arms don’t hurt.

Since I don’t expect to have Wi-Fi in Kolkata (I will have internet access in the form of a data port inserted into my laptop) I’ve downloaded my books in advance. I thought it might be fun to share a look at the books I will be reading on the trip. They represent the ultimate in my concept of comfort reading.

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The author’s writings just take me to a calm and relaxing place. They are often witty, light and often convey a strong sense of place.

The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith is the fifth installment in the 44 Scotland Street Series set in Edinburgh, Scotland. The series was originally published in serial format in a Scottish newspaper and still runs to this day. Apart from providing delicious glimpses into Edinburgh city life, the stories are quirky, and have a variegated cast of characters. They make me smile and each short chapter is the perfect small morsel to fit into 10 minutes of reading time.

I am finishing off The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim and enjoying it immensely. It is the perfect summer read. It takes place in Italy. Four, lonely women decide to rent a medieval castle together for the month of April to escape their everyday lives in London. The writing is humorous and the characters well drawn.

Barbara Pym is a favorite author of mine and I have not yet read Jane and Prudence. Pym is often compared to being a latter day Jane Austen. I find her writing wry and intelligent. I cannot wait to dive into it.

I also enjoy reading books in the epistolary format especially those set during war times. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and These Wonderful Rumours by May Smith particularly spring to mind as books from this genre. When I read These Wonderful Rumors last year, many parallels were drawn between it’s context and that of the ultimate wartime diary- E. M. Delafield’s The Provincial Lady Diaries. A trip is a wonderful opportunity to read books in this short chapter format.

Betty Neels is the ultimate escapist read. Please don’t read her books if you have a very rational mind. Nothing makes sense in her stories. The Dutch doctor always rescues the English nurse and marries her and whisks her away to the Netherlands into a loveless marriage that blooms later on. To me though, the books are very charming and provide tiny glimpses of a side of Europe that I am unfamiliar with.

Lastly, a book from my favorite genre- mysteries. I have heard many good things about A Scream in Soho. It is a part of the newly re-released British Library of Crime Classics series. The cover looks lovely with a vintage feel. Need I say more?

In addition to e-books I decided to download the free audiobooks app on the iPod. I intend to walk everyday to get in my daily exercise and I thought listening to some audiobooks would be perfect to listen to during my walking. The librivox audiobooks are free to download. I rarely read classics nowadays, so I thought I would download a few classics. The following are the audiobooks I’ve downloaded:

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That, in a nutshell, is a glimpse into my summer holiday reading. Any bets that I won’t even finish a single book? Never mind. I won’t be heartbroken if that happens because I know that the time will have been filled with other enjoyable pursuits. Hope you are having a wonderful summer (or perhaps winter) wherever you are. I’m off to venture forth into a summer adventure.

Preparing for a trip to Martha’s Vineyard, a Library Haul (week 25, 2015) and my obsession with stationery

My brother of Budgettraveller.org fame is visiting us this week. We will be going on a mini-holiday with him to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As usual, it’s more about preparing for the trip for me. I like to plan, make lists of things I would like to do, see and eat on the trip… and there is one thing you should know about me. I love stationery. Notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, pencil pouches- I love them all. This is the first trip on which I will be using my Midori Traveler’s Notebook or MTN for short. It looks like this.Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset

Basically, its a piece of beautiful dark brown leather that can house several small notebooks that you can take on your travels with you or use at home. One of the three notebooks I have inside has a long list of things to do in Martha’s Vineyard. Of course there’s a section devoted to the bookshops and public libraries on the island ( typical of me and my priorites in life).

Something else that I am planning are the art supplies that I want to take with me.

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Here’s what I am thinking: my mtn, the hobonichi for journaling which I have neglected in the past week, a moleskine sketchbook and a Winsor and Newton pocket paint palette. Oh, and the little orange suitcase is a tiny receptacle for holding paint water!

Something else that I am currently obsessed with is my summery watermelon pouch, immortalized forever in my art journal.

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I am planning to take Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence with me. I am reading a chapter a month throughout this year and have April, May and June to catch up with. It’s the perfect book to take on travels.

Here is the library haul for this week.

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Sometimes books on my ‘to be read ‘ list are very much pre-meditated. Sometimes, though, visiting the ‘New in Fiction’ book shelf at the library can be a very dangerous place for me. Especially if the blurb on the back seems interesting, and the front cover is appealing- you will find the book quickly disappearing into my library book bag. The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera- had me in two seconds. Briefly the book is about Prudence Prim, a young woman who accepts a position as a librarian in the village of San Ireneo de Arnois and quite unexpectedly finds love. A young woman, a rural foreign setting, mentions of tea, cake and libraries – it was all more than I could resist. Can’t wait to start this book.

I have been on the waiting list to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo since the beginning of this year. I was requester number 556 on the long list and this week my luck changed and it was my turn to take the book home. I’m not really in the mood for spring cleaning at the moment but I will give the book a quick lookover, given the great popularity that surrounds it at the moment.

Inspector Lewis is a great detective series that I thought we could watch together in the evenings at Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve not seen or heard anything about Clatterford, but it is a BBC production and therefore in my eyes can do no wrong.

Tangled- well it is a great favorite of Little M’s especially since she has a Rapunzel or ‘Funzel’ nightdress now. The poor DVD spends more time at our house than on the library shelves!

Till next week, when I will hopefully bring back travel tales, farewell friends!

Week Nineteen 2015- A Library Haul and Other Musings

FullSizeRender-2Week Nineteen was packed full of events and books. We celebrated multiple birthdays in our small family and there was lots of cake and good food. I made a pasta drenched in lemons, olive oil, thyme, parsley, garlic and with Italian sausage and red peppers. It was based on a recipe from Laura Vitale who is a great favorite in our household. Our chocolate birthday cake had pastel colored  tiny sugary confetti on it that Little M called ‘little M and M’s’.

On Mother’s Day we visited Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, which is an outdoor historical museum showcasing some authentic period houses that have been moved from their original locations to OSV. Actors dress up in period costume and tell stories of their past. We badgered them with numerous questions, especially in the  village store selling merchandise of all kinds. Being particularly interested in the stationery and art supplies of the day I was fascinated to find an old watercolor set which would have been popular- perhaps with young ladies painting botanical illustration. Here it is. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Back to the Library Haul. Little M enjoyed Fraggle Rock recently. I decided to pick up the Complete Season 1 of Fraggle Rock along with a book. The book is more like a comic strip and a little too advanced for Little M. Nevertheless she is having a good time looking at the pictures.

Recently I enjoyed re-reading the Darling Buds of May by HE Bates. I decided to pick up the dramatization of the various books. It features stellar performances from the inimitable David Jason as Pop Larkin, Pam Ferris as Ma Larkin and a very young Catherine Zeta-Jones as Mariette.

I had requested a vintage crime novel  from the library by John Dickson Carr called the Mad Hatter Mystery. It came in this ancient omnibus edition. Looking forward to my first book by this acclaimed master of the locked room mystery.

Lastly, Emma: A Modern Retelling was lying on the new book shelves at the library. I have too many books to finish at the moment but I could not resist picking this up. McCall Smith is one of my favorite modern day writers. I wonder what he will do with Austen’s masterpiece?

I leave you with some pictures of Old Sturbridge Village and an entry in my art journal.  See you next week!IMG_0807IMG_0733IMG_0738FullSizeRender-3

Library Haul Week Sixteen-2015

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We’ve had glorious weather this past week. The snow has melted, birds are chirping, the first of the gentle buds are forming on the tips of branches. Nature is poised to leap into Spring. We went on a glorious picnic on the weekend. I read a Betty Neels book- ‘Sister Peters in Amsterdam’ on the picnic. I had never read Betty Neels before and was recommended this book by a friend on Instagram. When I received the book from the library I laughed at the funny cover design!

IMG_0470Since then I’ve read a couple of her books and have come to the conclusion that her stories  are a nice, very light read but are a tad formulaic. There is usually a young British nurse, a Dutch doctor and the romances are very genteel… at least the ones I’ve read. What I liked most were descriptions of food, nature, clothing and how charming the books are, if a little repetitive. They are set in interesting locations. Madeira, Amsterdam, Delft and rural England featured in the ones I read. The books are not always very complimentary to women, however. The women always forsake their careers for marriage- which seems to be the be all and end all purpose of life. So if you are willing to overlook the ‘datedness’ of these book you may enjoy them.

‘Whose Body’ by Dorothy L Sayers was my first book by this author who I have been meaning to read forever. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of the story and am eager to read more about Lord Peter Wimsey. Find the full review of the book here.

‘I Want my Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen was an interesting book for Little M. It was funny and quirky and just a tad cruel. Little M  did not fully comprehend the ending and I didn’t force the truth upon her.

Lastly we have been hooked on the dramatization of the Outlander. Last year I read the book and had mixed feelings about it. I loved the premise of the book- a woman slipping back into time several hundred years into medieval Scotland with a chance to change history. I found the book rather long and some of the descriptions gruesome but overall  I enjoyed it. When I saw the DVD at the library I leapt at the chance to see it. The picturization of rural Scotland is just captivating and the dramatization very well done. Cannot wait to catch up with the second half of the series which is airing now on television.

A good week. I will leave you with my journal entry for the cover of Sayer’s ‘Whose Body’

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Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Title: Whose Body?

Author: Dorothy L Sayers

Published: 1923

Main Characters: Lord Peter Wimsey (amateur detective), Inspector Parker (Wimsey’s friend and accomplice), Inspector Sugg (Scotland Yard), Bunter -Lord Peter’s butler, a host of different suspects.

Book Setting: LondonEngland in the 1920s.

Short Synopsis of the Story:  The body of a man is discovered in the bathtub of a Mr. Thipps, wearing nothing but a pair of pince nez. Nobody knows anything about the identity of the man and even less about how he came to be in Mr. Thipp’s bathtub.On the same day that the body is discovered Sir Reuben Levy, a wealthy  financier goes mysteriously missing. Could the two incidents be connected? Lord Peter Wimsey puts his wits to the test in order to get to the bottom of the question, aided by Parker and his faithful butler Bunter.

Thoughts About the Book: I’m a great enthusiast of the mystery novel genre especially books that hail from the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction. It seemed natural that I should look towards the works of one of the stalwarts of the genre – Dorothy L Sayers herself. Initially I found the character of Peter Wimsey delightful but a tad superficial. He reminded me a little of Bertie Wooster with all the hallmarks of the English aristocracy. In the opening page, Sayer’s quirkily and memorably describes Wimsey’s appearance as follows:

His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.

Lord Peter lives in a block of new expensive flats opposite Green Park, dines at the Club, buys expensive rare antiquarian books, plays the piano, keeps a butler and dabbles in detective work in his spare time to amuse himself. However, as the story progresses and more details of Wimsey’s character become apparent we start to gain a greater understanding for his actions and motivation in his life. Wimsey has a great regard and respect for his butler Bunter. We learn that they both were comrades in the Great War. Bunter is therefore privy to Wimsey’s weaknesses, especially his nightmares that are the result of shell shock during the war.

Wimsey is highly conscientious. When he finds himself deeply embroiled in the mystery, he confides in Parker-

“That’s what I’m ashamed of, really,” said Lord Peter.”It is a game to me, to begin with, and I go on cheerfully, and then suddenly see that somebody is going to be hurt, and I want to get out of it.”

Parker responds to Lord Peter-

‘Life’s not a football match. You want to be a sportsman. You can’t be a sportsman. You’re a responsible person.”

The ever jocular Peter Wimsey responds –

“I don’t think you ought to read so much theology,” said Lord Peter.”It has a brutalizing influence.”

Conclusion: Its very difficult to write a review of a mystery story without giving something away but I will say that Sayer’s presents an intelligent plot in this mystery novel. What sets Sayers apart from others is the depth of her intelligence. This is evident in her wit and her ability to humanize a character. By the end of the novel not only do we start to respect Lord Peter Wimsey but we are also eager to learn more about his character and all his future detective endeavors. A great start to a detective series.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

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Title: I Want My Hat Back

Author and Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Published: 2011

Main Characters: A bear, a rabbit, a pointed red hat and several woodland characters.

Short Synopsis of the Story: A bear has lost his hat. He politely asks several woodland creatures that he passes whether they have seen his hat or not. One particular woodland character, a rabbit (wearing a pointed red hat) rather strongly denies that he has stolen the hat and quickly dismisses the bear. Later on the bear rather sadly lies down on the ground and worries he may never see his hat again. One woodland creature comes up to him and asks him what the hat looks like. The bear says it is red and pointed and only then is struck with the thought that he has seen the hat recently on someones’s head! He travels back to the rabbit and accuses him of stealing the hat.

Next we see the bear sitting down with the hat back on his head. A passing squirrel asks the bear if he has seen a rabbit. The bear protests very loudly that he has neither seen nor eaten a rabbit. He asks the squirrel not to ask him anymore questions.

Conclusion: I enjoyed the part of the story where the rabbit and the bear protest too loudly especially when they are in the wrong. This made me laugh. However, the fact that the bear had eaten up the rabbit to retrieve his hat was a hard story to deliver to my three year old. When I told her, she very aptly responded with,”Did he need to eat the rabbit up?”

Did he indeed?

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

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Title: The Story of Ferdinand

Author: Munro Leaf

Illustrator: Robert Lawson

Published: 1936

Main Characters: Ferdinand the bull.

Short Synopsis of the Story: The story is set in Spain. Ferdinand the bull is a placid creature. When his fellow bulls are busy playing aggressive games and fighting with one another, nothing pleases Ferdinand more than to sit  quietly by himself and enjoy the scent of the flowers. One day when Ferdinand is much older, several men arrive form Madrid to pick a bull for the fighting. They try to pick the most aggressive bull. On that particular day Ferdinand gets stung by a bee and jumps up and down like crazy. The men from Madrid think he will be the perfect bull for the bullfight and pack him into a cart to be taken to Madrid. On the day of the bullfight, the stadium is packed with excited onlookers. The Banderilleros, Picadores and Matadors enter the stadium and are shivering with anticipation and fear. At last Ferdinand emerges into the ring and to everyones surprise sits down quietly and sniffs the fragrance of the flowers in the ladies’ hair. There is no bull fight that day and Ferdinand is escorted back home where he continues to lead a peaceful life.

Favorite Part of the Story: The message of non- violence is an important one to be taught to children from an early age but I think the concept of bull fighting was beyond the scope of my three year olds understanding. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read to go back to in a couple of years I think.

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

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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.