chestnut book blog

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Hello again!

Goodness, this little corner of the internet has been a bit quiet hasn’t it??

I thought a round-up of the things I’ve been getting up to over the last few months in the real world, to help explain my absence here, was in order before diving into some of the wonderful books I’ve escaped into this winter!

I am very lucky and travel relatively frequently for work. A lot of the time, it is less glamorous than it sounds – a litany of bland airports, hotel rooms and offices, with twinges of homesickness adding an extra little kick. However this Autumn, trips to Athens, Madrid and Paris were all magical in different ways.

Acropolis, Athens, Nov 14

Acropolis, Athens, Nov 14

I spent a week in Athens in November, escaping a grey and wet London for blue skies, lemon trees and balmy heat. In my time there, I managed to walk up to the Acropolis, explore the small streets with ruins around every corner and eat my body weight in succulent Greek salads (as well as doing some of my day job!). I hadn’t expected a lot of Athens, having heard stories of smog and political chaos. I arrived on November 17th, the date of a notorious yearly protest in Greece, and as my taxi fought through crowds and riot police, I was even more apprehensive and unsure. However, after that the culture, the people and the general friendly and calm atmosphere utterly charmed me. Not only will I be going back to Greece under my own steam again soon, but I will be building in an escape from November in the UK into my routine if I can.

In early December, I made a flying visit to Madrid which was again a lovely opportunity to soak up some sunshine, although the temperatures were just as cold as the UK. I have been to Madrid quite a few times now on business, and will continue to visit. I have yet to get under the skin of this city – my lack of Spanish not helping I am sure (why did I decide Latin was a better idea than Spanish or German at school???). I will keep trying though! This trip was the culmination of a large project at work, which had been taking a lot of my energy, leaving little left over for this blog – hence the neglect!

Finally, just before Christmas, I visited the City of Lights, Paris. At that time, still blissfully unaware of the tragic events that were due to unfold this January. The city more than lived up to its reputation for light! The Grand Palais and the Christmas markets on the Champs Elysees were stunningly illuminated and I spent a lovely evening wandering around. I also lost myself for some time in the lovely Parisian pharmacies, exploiting the lack of liquid restrictions on Eurostar to bring back lots of skin care goodies! This may be slightly heretical, but I do find it is a little tricky to find good food at restaurants in Paris when I go and again experienced very average meals whilst I was there. Any recommendations for good, central, inexpensive Parisian restaurants are welcomed!

Paris, Dec 14

Paris, Dec 14

If you are interested in my travels, I do tend to post pictures on Instagram so do follow me over there: @caro1ine_p

I then spent a quiet, family Christmas in Yorkshire. Chestnut the guinea pig came up with us and enjoyed lots of cuddles. She also got along quite well with Henry the Labrador, shown here below on his Boxing Day walk in Wass Woods!

Henry the Labrador, Wass Woods, North Yorkshire, 26th Dec 2014

Henry the Labrador, Wass Woods, North Yorkshire, 26th Dec 2014

In all of that time, I was kept company by a series of wonderful books. I loved Shogun by James Clavell. It was a favourite of my Grandad, who passed away last year, so he was very much in my mind as I read it. It was a pacey, swashbuckling adventure story with fascinating insights into Japanese culture and history. I was left longing to visit Japan and read more about its history. For Christmas, I received a book to accompany an interior decorating programme that I was addicted to in the autumn, the Great Interior Design Challenge. I enjoyed learning about design principles and techniques in a little more detail than I ever have before and there were lots of inspiring ideas that I’ll be using in future decorating projects. At the same time, I also read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am very partial to a dystopia and this future world has a heavy dose of Shakespeare as well so I was in heaven! Whilst this is not on par with great dystiopian novels like those by Orwell and Atwood, it was enjoyable and though-provoking, on the nature of fame in particular. I started The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton after Station Eleven. I didn’t finish it. It is quite rare for me to give up on a book and perhaps I just wasn’t in the right mood…I enjoyed some of the prose but found the first quarter confusing, dull and lacking in good female characters (not to say that is a requisite for me, but it helps me to stick with books even if the subject matter doesn’t grab me!). I might go back to it one day, but based on the very mixed online reviews, I don’t think I am the only one that has given up! Have you read it? What did you think? Is it worth giving another go? Finally, I am no over half way through The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I am absolutely gripped at the moment and hope to finish it this weekend, so a more in-depth review will follow.

It is nice to be back! I won’t leave it so long next time…


Autumn: Five Favourite Things

Autumn is my favourite season, as you may already know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while. The winding down of the year and the run up to Christmas. It also encompasses one of my favourite nights of the year in the UK, the slightly eccentric Bonfire Night! Rather than associating Autumn with gloom and darkness though, I see it as a final flare of beauty from nature and a necessary period of patience before Spring can begin again.

Autumn leaves, courtesy of

Autumn leaves, courtesy of

My favourite things about the Autumn are:


The leaves haven’t quite started turning here yet after a very long, warm summer, but it won’t be long. I love the rich reds, ambers and russets. Kicking leaves on the pavement and smelling the distinctive smokey, mossy aroma are both small joys on the way to and from home.

Open fires and wood-burners

I’m just getting over a cold and am revelling in my sense of smell returning. I can just about pick out wood smoke in the air on particularly cold days now. The by-laws in London to prevent smog mean that it is only when I go home to Yorkshire that I see a comforting little puff of smoke from most chimneys and smell the gorgeous woody scent

Stews, soups and crumbles

I was given a slow cooker years ago by my grandparents; every year it is brought out in October and pressed into service again. I love the routine of browning my meat, chopping bright vegetables and then returning later from a cold walk to the smell of a warming stew or casserole. For dessert, there is really only one choice for me in Autumn – crumble! Our lovely neighbours had a bumper year in their rhubarb patch, so my freezer is stocked with enough to see us through to February in rhubarb crumbles, my favourite!

Crisp walks

I will probably be on my own here but, whilst I enjoy warm, sunny days, I actually don’t like extreme heat. I could never live in a tropical country. What I do enjoy is a bright, sharp day where you shrug on your favourite cosy coat, gloves and ear-muffs and stride through the countryside with a slight frost still on the grass. I also enjoy winter snow, but as long as I don’t have to struggle through it to work!

Autumn television

I am watching less television the older I get, often preferring to pick up a book or read blogs online. However, I do have favourite programmes, the majority of which seem to be on in Autumn. Downton Abbey, Strictly Come Dancing and other new period dramas that seem to pepper the Autumn schedules mean that I am as happy as a clam most weekend evenings at this time of year.

What is your favourite season?


A little book shopping…

Oh dear….a little bit of book shopping has just occurred!

A pile of new books

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A New England holiday

Earlier this summer, I had the good fortune to spend a few weeks in America. We started in Boston and then made our way around New England, stopping in New Hampshire and Maine respectively. We had a wonderful time and met up with friends along the way (thank you to Katie for meeting us for lunch in Boston!). I thought I’d share a few highlights, literary and otherwise, with you here.

1. Louisa May Alcott’s house

I think that, whatever your nationality, Alcott’s classic Little Women has something to say to you. All my female friends name this as one of their favourite childhood books and, as we were planning our trip to the USA, I knew I couldn’t go to New England without seeing the house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.

Orchard House, the home of the late Louisa May Alcott

Orchard House, home of the late Louisa May Alcott

Orchard House itself was fascinating, not only because the belongings and paintings of the family have been preserved, but also because these old clapboard New England houses are so different from anything in the UK. I was looking round with wonder at both the personal history and the architecture, marvelling at how a seemingly fragile wooden home could withstand the notoriously harsh New England winters. The intellectual curiosity, supportiveness and diligence of the Alcott family was very much in evidence, from the thoughtfully carved door frames (on an angle so they automatically shut behind someone entering the room) and Louisa’s handmade desk, to the encouragement of May’s (Louisa’s younger sister, the model for Amy in Little Women) art work on many surfaces around the home. We were shown round the house by a very knowledgeable guide who was very patient with all our questions! Towards the end of the tour, she pointed out a quilt on one of the beds, explaining that it is thought that the pattern may have been a coded message that this house was part of the underground railroad. Although this cannot, or rather has not, been proven beyond doubt, it did felt very much within the spirit of this home and the enlightened people that lived here.

2. Concord and Waldon Pond

After visiting Orchard House, we made our way into Concord. I was excited to see this historic small town and I was not disappointed. It was extremely quaint and we had a delicious lunch at the local deli cum restaurant. From there we drove a short distance to Waldon Pond. The weather was stunning and we walked round the lake slowly, taking in the scenery, listening to the gentle ‘twacks’ of swimmers in the water and examining the touching memorial to Thoreau’s cabin.

Waldon Pond

Waldon Pond


Thoreau's Cabin

Thoreau’s Cabin

3. Cape Cod

Sandwich, Cape Cod

Sandwich, Cape Cod

Many apologies if this is your home, but I just had to take a picture as it summed up the beautiful and serene Sandwich on Cape Cod. We spend an afternoon browsing in antique shops (fascinating for me as the goods and shops themselves are so different to antique shops in the UK) and taking in the beautiful scenery. I felt like I was on a film set all afternoon; it was such a perfect slice of New England.

4. Baseball

I was a little sceptical when my husband booked tickets to see the Boston Red Sox. I was imagining an atmosphere like a football match here in England, masculine, aggressive and not my cup of tea at all. I was very pleasantly surprised though and had a wonderful evening at Fenway Park. We indulged in hotdogs and pretzels, bought some genuine red socks for my Dad and brother (they were delighted with them!)  and sang our hearts out to ‘Sweet Caroline’! Amazing!

Boston Red Sox vs Minnesota Twins, Fenway Park

Boston Red Sox vs Minnesota Twins, Fenway Park

5. The White Mountains

The scenery in New Hampshire was beautiful and very big; big sky, big trees, big everything. We took a historic train ride and the views were spectacular. To my surprise, this was probably my favourite part of our trip if forced to choose. Historic Boston, Salem and Concord had all been beautiful and fascinating and the Maine lobster couldn’t be beaten, but New Hampshire felt both more ‘real’ and good for my soul somehow, if that is not too fanciful!

View from the North Conway Historic Railroad

View from the North Conway Historic Railroad

6. The Big Chicken Barn

Whilst I went in to many great bookshops during our New England tour, the best undoubtably was The Big Chicken Barn just outside Ellsworth, Maine. A huge old chicken shed by the side of the road (mercifully no longer smelling of chickens!) had been converted into the biggest antique and secondhand bookshop I’ve ever seen. I could have spent a fortune and a week in there (in fact, I still spent a pretty long time in there – my husband went for a nap in the car whilst I fell down the book and antique rabbit hole!). In the end, I decided that I would only purchase things that I wouldn’t be able to find at home, and so came away with a companion to American Literature, a book from the 1930s on the history of quilting (the Alcott quilt inspired me!), some embroidered napkins, a pair of porcelain Spode candlesticks with a ‘Salem’ pattern, an old American cookery book and an American first edition of Christina Rossetti’s poems. As I struggled to the car with my purchases, my weary husband informed me that I was going to be in trouble when we went over our luggage allowance!

A few paragraphs can’t do justice to all the things we saw and learnt during our time in New England, but hopefully this has given you a flavour of the highlights and will maybe inspire a trip of your own!


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My ten most influential / inspiring books

A little Facebook meme has been keeping me and my friendship group amused recently. We’ve all ‘tagged’ to write a list of the ten books that have most influenced / inspired us. I thought I’d share mine here to hopefully inspire a few more recommendations and inspirations!

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The first time I read this book, the world looked a little bit different after I had finished it. I have read this book countless times now and every time I love it a little bit more.

2. Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery
My favourite childhood series and I have a very soft spot for the red headed orphan to this day.

3. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
* I wrote a little explanation below for my friends on this one, but if you are a regular here, you’ll know how much I love this one already!

Am I allowed non-fiction? This book is virtually unknown, but I turn to it every time I need a comfort read. It describes the author just reading from her own library for a year, without buying any new books. She discovers old favourites, remembers the authors she has met and the stories around her books. In the end she complies her list of 50 essential books…fascinating and inspiring.

4. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Not as well-known perhaps as The Age of Innocence (which is also one of my favourites) but Lily Bart’s story broke my heart. Beautifully written.

5. The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
My Dad’s favourite book and so I absorbed this from the cradle upwards! A masterpiece.

6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Just how did a woman who had barely left a Yorkshire parsonage imagine a man like Heathcliff??

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
As a Yorkshire woman, I feel I am allowed two Brontes on my list. This was the first classic I read around the age of ten or eleven and so it has a special place in my heart. I have a quote from Jane Eyre engraved on one of my favourite bracelets: ‘I am no bird, and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will’ …just to remind me!

8. Othello, Shakespeare
Does a play count? I really struggled whether to choose Othello or Macbeth, but went for Othello as I don’t think anyone understands or describes human beings better than Shakespeare and all his genius is displayed in Othello. Having studied both at school and seen them many times, I can quote from them copiously!

9. Atonement by Ian McEwan
The ending astonished me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after I had read it. A modern classic.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Opened my eyes in so many ways.

I apologise to all the wonderful books that I have forgotten to mention, but this was the list that came to me on Tuesday night. My friends’ lists contained some other wonderful recommendations that I have never read: I’ve added the The Deptford Mice trilogy by Robin Jarvis and Shogun by James Clavell to my wish list! What would be on your list? I’d love to know.


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Last days of summer

I distinctly noticed a slight change in the air this morning and I think it means that Autumn is on its way. We escaped for a last-minute summer break to Scotland last week and I had a blissful time…this picture pretty much sums it up!

Relaxing by the loch, Highlands, Scotland

Relaxing by the loch, Highlands, Scotland

Normal service will now be resumed after a very busy summer so expect this little corner of the internet to be a lot more active from now on.

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Five Favourite Things

Here are my favourite things this month:

1. The Bees by Laline Paull

Ever wondered what it is like to be a bee in a hive? Bizarrely, I actually have and now I have my answer! Not only does Paull have a beautiful and vivid imagination, but she has clearly done a lot of research into bee behaviour as well. The two together make this a brilliant story. I couldn’t put it down and, since finishing it, I have recommended it to everyone I talk to! Interesting fact: Laline was the name my brother called me when we were little, before he could pronounce Caroline…

2. Books and Quills

Since getting back from holiday, I’ve discovered ‘Book-Tubers’ on YouTube. I have read book blogs for many years, but had been a bit sceptical about how that would translate into videos. In general, I have to say that I still prefer my blogs, but Books and Quills is an exception. Sanne, the ‘YouTuber’ in question, has a varied and interesting taste in books. Her Dutch / American accent is very easy to listen to and her enthusiasm for books is infectious. Here is her wonderful book shelf tour, which sent me scurrying to the nearest book shop to check out her recommendations!

3. Quits

This is surprising as I am not much of a crafter. I am left-handed, which meant both my Grandma and Mum’s many attempts to teach me to knit have failed spectacularly over the years. If I am honest, I’d also just rather be reading a book, which is another reason I’ve not managed to learn basic sewing / knitting etc life skills. Despite this, on our recent holiday to the U.S, I became a little bit obsessed with quilts and quilting. It started with a tour of Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord , Massachusetts (which was amazing and I will do a post on that soon), where a ‘Flying Geese’ quilt was pointed out as a potential sign that the Alcotts were part of the underground railroad. By the time we had reached Bar Harbour in Maine, by way of a few roadside quilt shops in New Hampshire, I was fascinated. Since then, I have purchased a few books on the history of quilting, which I will share with you shortly, and I am seriously considering booking myself on a sewing course!

4. Flat peaches

Have you tried flat peaches? I absolutely adore them. An even more delicate and delicious flavour than a normal peach, but also with a much more convenient design for eating!

5. London in the summer

I’ve also fallen a little bit back in love with London this summer. A country girl at heart, I often see only the negatives in this city I live in. However, I am back working in the very centre of London with my new job and as I walk up to Piccadilly Circus and through Trafalgar Square each evening, I do reflect on how lucky I am to live in this amazing place. With a trip to the Proms to hear Elgar’s beautiful Enigma Variations just behind us and a tour of the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery planned, my renewed appreciation for London will continue.

So there are my favourite things from the last month. I am sorry my posting has been a bit sporadic. It is likely to continue to be so for the remainder of the summer, as life is a bit busy at the moment. In the Autumn I’ll return to my usual schedule of two posts a week though. In the meantime, I hope you are having a wonderful summer as well!


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Book Benches

I’ve just found about a new public art, literacy and charity initiative that I thought you might be interested in – book benches! Aren’t they beautiful, practical and fun?!

Wind in the Willows Book Bench Courtesy of Books About Town

Wind in the Willows Book Bench
Courtesy of Books About Town


You can see these fifty benches around London throughout July. They will then be auctioned to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust, an amazing cause.

I’m now back from a wonderful holiday and will be writing a few posts about it shortly. I hope you are all having a lovely start to your summers.

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Five favourite things

Here are a few of my favourite things / things making me smile this week:

1. I saw this on Facebook this week and it struck a chord! I believe that not caring at all what others think is not always a good thing (that way megalomania lies!) but I am both a healthier and happier person when I don’t worry too much about other people’s opinions..and that is getting easier as I get older.


2. Galia melon and Parma ham, a flavour combination made in heaven…I have always loved it, but recently have been compelled to have it at least twice a week!

3. I have a book voucher to spend courtesy of my lovely brother and his fiancée. I am enjoying browsing the shelves of the enormous Waterstones Piccadilly and contemplating my choice. Anticipation is sometimes more than half the fun isn’t it?!

4. Orly Hottie Nail Varnish: neon pink, garish, vulgar and I am loving it on my toes! Summer in a small bottle.

5. I finally got round to weeding and tidying up my front garden. It had looked a bit neglected for a while and it was irritating me!  Now, I can look at the freshly dug soil and thriving hydrangea bush with a deep sense of satisfaction!

What have you been enjoying this week?


Five favourite things

I am so sorry about the unexpected intermission in activity here at Chestnut Book Blog. Real life got a bit hectic for a while, with a new job, travelling and a few family things. However, I am back now on and raring to go! To celebrate, I thought I’d share five of my favourite things at the moment.

1. London in the sun

We’ve had a few house guests recently and so have been into central London a little more than normal on a weekend. This photo was taken from the Royal Opera House terrace, looking down into Covent Garden. A blissful view accompanied by a very blissful cold drink!

Covent Garden, London

Covent Garden, London

2. White roses

So Richard of York will be buried in Leicester after all it seems. The flower of my native county was his badge, but is also one of my favourites.

White rose

White rose

3. Warsaw

I went to Warsaw for the first time a few weeks ago. My new job involves a lot of travel in Europe and this was one of my first trips. Not only did I see what I think was Joseph Conrad’s house (the sign was in Polish, so who knows really but it looked likely! If you read Polish, do let me know what it really says!)

Joseph Conrad's house?

Joseph Conrad’s house?

but I was made to feel very welcome by this surprising and vibrant city.



4. French Sole Marseilles Ballet Flats

I live in ballet flats. I do love heels but. in London, a girl needs to be able to run. I treated myself to this pair a few months ago and I have hardly worn anything since. They are comfortable, chic and go with everything. They are a little pricey, but are lasting well and there is 15% off at the moment if you fancied treating yourself too!

French Sole Marseilles Ballet Flat

French Sole Marseilles Ballet Flat

5. My Kindle

I was bought a Kindle for my birthday a few months ago. It will never replace the joy of real books for me but it has a place in my affections now. With travelling so much for work, it is such a comfort to know that I have as many books as I need at the touch of a button. It is also light and convenient; gone are the days of  my luggage weighing a ton!

What have your favourite things been this month?

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The hundred acre wood

Watch out for tiggers! We recently went away for the weekend and found ourselves in the hundred acre wood, also known as part of Ashdown Forest in Sussex. The experience sent me rushing to the book shelf to reread ‘Now we are six’, one of my ancient favourites!

When I was one I had just begun
When I was two I was nearly new

When I was three I was hardly me
When I was four I was not much more

When I was five I was just alive
But now I am six, I’m as clever as clever;

So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

By A.A. Milne

The Hundred Acre Wood

The Hundred Acre Wood aka Ashdown Forest

Pooh sticks at Pooh Sticks  Bridge

Pooh Sticks at Pooh Sticks Bridge





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Fashion or Paris Street Style?

I’ve been thinking about fashion and style recently. I don’t think they are the same thing but I am also quite conflicted about the entire subject to be honest. There is a significant part of me that says fashion is a thing that shallow people care about. There is another (large!) part of me though that says, man or woman, how you dress expresses something important about your personality and your sense of self. People do judge you by how you look, like it or not, and so you should care about it and make an effort.

It has been this internal dialogue that led to me considering my work wardrobe with my new job in mind. I try to keep my work and my ‘home’ clothes quite separate. This is mainly because when wearing my ‘cleaning the guinea pigs out’ outfit of hoodie and jeans, I look like an aging student – not really appropriate for the office! But it is also about my mental attitude I think. This distinction between sections of my wardrobe tells me when I am in ‘work’ mode and when I am in ‘home’ mode. Everything blurs though when I work from home. I have noticed that I am more productive when I am sat at my laptop in something respectable rather than my pajamas! Do you agree?

So, with all that in mind, I decided that I needed some bookish help from the very stylish French to help me plan any new purchases and make best use of what I currently have. Enter Paris Street Style: A Guide to Effortless Chic. I seized it in Waterstone’s after aimlessly browsing the rails of the high street with little inspiration one lunchtime. I wanted to look like myself, but an ‘effortlessly chic’ version of myself!

Paris Street Style

I gobbled up the pictures of elegant ‘put-together’ French ladies and here is what I learned:

– Being chic is not effortless. The sub-title is a lie. It actually required careful consideration and thought when purchasing clothes, planning outfits and getting dressed. But that was time I was prepared to invest (at the moment anyway).

– Should your bag and shoes match, in colour at least? Yes, at least to be classically elegant if a bit old-fashioned. Noted. I will be going for an elegant look whilst trying not to look too old for my age I think.

– A trench coat and V neck cashmere are two essential items. I never really though trench coats suited me, but I will try again. V neck and cashmere – two of my favourite fashion words so that one is not a problem!

– You do not need to be rich to look good but you do need to choose carefully, recognise quality when you see it and be disciplined enough to save for important, more expensive items. The author of this book had a horror of cheap shoes for example (with the exception of Converse). I think I probably agree that, in my experience, very cheap shoes are usually a false economy.

– I really don’t think it is ok to wear fur (particularly new fur), despite what this book has to say on the subject. I saw a lot of women in Switzerland wearing it (much more so than you ever see in England) and I found it unnerving and was a bit shocked by it.

I finished this book and I did feel a lot more enlightened and I’d had a good time in the process. If you are thinking about planning a new look and admire French style, then it is definitely for you. Since reading this book and applying a few of its lessons, I have also had more compliments about my outfits, so something must be working.  Finally, it has given me the comfort blanket I needed that I won’t look a complete mess for my new job. That said, I think the most stylish thing you can be is yourself rather than a bad copy of someone else, and so taking books like this (with lots of rules) with a pinch of salt, and cherry-picking what works for you, is essential too!


30 things before I’m 30 – an update

The first signs of spring have been seen in London! I walked home from work last night listening to cheerful bird song and saw the first signs of blossom. I took a few photos to share as it really put a spring in my step (pardon the pun!).

Blossom in London


The spring arriving also means that it is now less than a month before I hit a Big Birthday (I felt it needed capitals!). I thought I’d reflect on the list I made this time last year, to see how much progress I’ve made. I have to confess that this list was for me as much as anyone else, and some of it feels a lot less relevant now after a year of exciting opportunities and changes, but it might be of interest nevertheless.

30 things before I’m 30, in no particular order….

1. Have a dog in my life: Still no dog unfortunately, but steps are being made towards it and Mr Chestnut Book Blog has finally agreed I can definitely have one when my job allows i.e. I am at home a bit more. That is a lot of progress in my book! I am also now on the RSPCA list as a Guinea Pig ‘foster-carer’ (isn’t that funny?!) so there will be many more piggies in my life soon I hope!

2. Start my PhD: No progress on this at all because a few other interesting, work-related opportunities have  taken priority in the last year and will continue to do so in all likelihood. I’ll come back to this one day though.

3. Start writing again by continuing my blog and writing at least one short story: The blog has had a few quiet periods when life has got in the way, but in general I’ve stuck to it well in the last year and I have been doing more creative writing.

4. Save more: This was going reasonably well until we went skiing in February and then we booked a trip to the US for this summer! Oh well! I’ll try again soon.

5. Read all of Shakespeare’s history plays (and try to go and see a few): We saw Macbeth at the Globe last summer which was fantastic and I have cracked through two history plays, but have many more to go.

6. Go swimming at least once a week: I have been swimming, but certainly not once a week so a bit of a fail! I did rediscover an enjoyment of tennis this year though and we played once a week in the summer. Can I count that, do you think?!

7. Reach out to friends once a month (at least): Yes! I think and hope I have been a much better friend this year. I’ve also made quite a few new friends this year  – I’ve observed it is harder to make new friends the older you get so that has been lovely!

8. Stand on the Great Wall of China: Yes and it was just as amazing as I dreamed! Here is one of the pictures:

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu region

The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu region

9. See the Northern Lights: This didn’t happen in the end, because we couldn’t turn down the offer to go skiing with friends instead. I will go one day though!

10. Save up for a gorgeous handbag: Gorgeous handbag is now mine with a little help from some birthday and Christmas contributions from my lovely family and husband. I hope I’m not too much of a materialistic person, but my handbag is very beloved!

11. Get enough sleep by going to bed a little earlier: I think this has been going a bit better this year, although I do need to remind myself frequently to stick to it, as it makes such a difference to my general well-being. I am no Margaret Thatcher, surviving on four hours a night!

12. Remember to be serene if things are stressful: Progress on this has also been mixed but I think, in general, I don’t worry about things I can’t control quite as much as I used to and am happier for it.

13. Be brave when there is the opportunity: I’m taking a leap of faith in changing my job shortly, but being brave enough to meet challenges head on, rather than being an ostrich, will always be a goal of mine.

14. Try being blonde for a while: I did this. I think it is fair to say it wasn’t a huge success and I am now back to the safety of brunette-dom! You live and learn, but the journey was fun!

15. Sort out my pension tax issue once and for all: Done and I felt very smug after I navigated the maze of automated telephone options that the Inland Revenue sends to try us!

16. Go to the theatre: We went to see Macbeth as I mentioned above, but there are quite a few plays coming up that I’d like to see so one to continue with.

17. Move to the country: No progress on this and, in fact, it is actually going to be another year or two until we can move because of jobs etc, but the dream is still there!

18. Try a new recipe at least once a month: I’ve definitely done this and find cooking new things calming and enjoyable. Mary Berry has become my foodie hero this year!

19. Reread the Anne of Green Gables series: I am just coming to the end of Anne of Ingleside!

20. Wear more bright lipstick: When I do this, it makes me feel happy! That was a very unexpected side-effect. It has also introduced me to a whole new world of ‘lipstick on the teeth’ issues though!

21. Spend more time with my family: I don’t think I’ll really be able to do this until we move a bit closer to them, but I’ve tried!

22. Try to stop the nervous habit of chewing the inside of my cheeks: Limited success. Dentist still unhappy with me! Perhaps my worrying is less under control that I think!

23. Invest in some good skincare: I’ve tried to generally look after myself better this year and I think it is working.

24. Listen to more music – buy those cd’s you’ve been thinking about and dig out your iPod: Biting the bullet and getting an iPhone has actually done the most towards this goal. I now have my lovely Dolly Parton with me wherever I go!

25. If it is not beautiful or useful, get rid of it!: I have definitely been more selective about what I buy and more ruthless with what I keep this year and will continue to be so.

26. Kiss my husband everyday: Generally successful!

27. Lose 7 lbs: Skiing did this, yay! How on earth that happened given the moutnains of cheese I also ingested during that week, I have no idea!

28. Figure out how to be happier in my job or work towards getting a new job: New job will start in May. Excited and nervous!

29. Watch less rubbish T.V: I’ve definitely been reading more than ever this year and so watched much less T.V.

30. Remember this is only the beginning!: I will remember!

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I read once that you should go to at least one new place each year. Switzerland was my first new place for 2014. I’ve skirted around the borders before, in France, in Italy and Germany, but Switzerland itself was a bit of an unknown. As you can see though, it was beautiful:

The Slopes, Nendaz

The Slopes, Nendaz

Haute Nendaz, looking towards St Bernard's Pass

Haute Nendaz, looking towards St Bernard’s Pass

Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva


We stayed in a beautiful chalet and this book was on the bedside table in our room – Swiss Watching: Inside the land of milk and money – I couldn’t resist a flick through! With a slight disclaimer that I didn’t have time to read the whole thing, what I did read was very good. Not only was it funny, but it also summed up some of my own observations of Switzerland. Here are a few headlines:

– The countryside, lakes and mountains  are absolutely stunning, but there is a surprising amount of ugly graffiti in towns.

– CH is used on Swiss number plates. I was confused by this as it seems to bear no resemblance in any language used in Switzerland to the country’s name: La Suisse, Schweiz etc. This book informed me that, because of the many languages used in Switzerland, and the Swiss love of consensus, they chose a long dead language to use as their international registration code. Confoerderatio Helvetica – the name for the area from an ancient Roman tribe.

– I love cheese. I didn’t like fondue as much as I thought I would though. There is much more to Swiss cooking than fondue though. See here for some examples we tried. The food was eye-wateringly expensive, but excellent quality wherever we went. As we were in the french-speaking area it was also (luckily for me as I’m not a huge fan of German food I’m afraid) more French than German influenced.

– This bit made me laugh: ‘But the Swiss and the British are more alike than either realise. Both societies are ruled by etiquette and red tape, and outsiders find it hard to make friends or become fully integrated. Added to that both share a reluctance to commit to European federalism, have a common distrust of the Germans and want to keep their own currency.’ Massive generalisations there, but more than a grain of truth I think!

– Switzerland is, of course, land locked. This book argued that the mountains have historically served a similar purpose to the sea and helped keep Switzerland somewhat isolated and remote. I thought this was interesting. I also found that I was very aware of not being anywhere near the sea, for the whole time I was in Switzerland. This was a bit strange and unexpected. I think I must have been a sailor in a former life because I love the sea and could never live in a land-locked country I don’t think.

All in all, we had a wonderful time in Switzerland and I’d recommend it for a short visit. I won’t say too much about the skiing we did itself, apart from to say that I came home in one piece, but with some huge bruises!


Love in a Cold Climate

Nendaz Plateau

Courtesy of wikicommons and Norbert Aepli

On Valentine’s Day night this year, I will be throwing my things into a case as I prepare to leave for a week in Switzerland. Romance will have to wait until the next day when we are safely snuggled up by the fire in Nendaz. This is my first visit to the land of the clocks, chocolate, banking and snow and I’m excited. In theory, as well as sitting besides fires and doing some snowy walks, there will also be skiing involved. Staggering around like Bambi on ice might be the more accurate description of what I will be doing though! While I’m thinking about packing, I thought I might share a few of my holiday essentials with you in case you need inspiration for a get-away as well.

1. Books!

You didn’t really expect me to start with anything else did you? Whilst I am very tempted to take Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate as the title is so perfect,  I’m actually going to take Longbourn and How to be a Heroine. Longbourn is a re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants. Normally, I’m not a big fan of meddling with the classics, but I think this sounds very interesting and I will make an exception. As for How to be a Heroine, any book that starts with the author realising that all her life she’d wanted to be Cathy (Earnshaw) when really she should have wanted to be Jane (Eyre) gets my vote! I can’t wait for more revelations and musings from author Samantha Ellis. I suspect it will make me want to go back to all my old favourites!

2. Suncream and Sunglasses

Hopefully it will be sunny as well as cold and snowy in Switzerland, but regardless, I’ll be wearing my favourite sporty sunglasses (these ones are fab too) and suncream.

3. Cosy knits and layers

Mountain Warehouse have some good offers on pure merino wool base layers at the moment. I’ll be wrapping up in these during the day beneath my outer gear and then relaxing in soft fleece and jersey on an evening as I tuck into my fondue. Hush does lovely soft leggings, knits and cosy, casual outfit ideas if you haven’t come across them before.

4. My new favourite film

I’m more of a reader than a television or film viewer, but I have been absolutely loving the film Paul recently. Have you seen it? It is incredibly silly, but I laughed so much I cried the first time I watched it and I may have indulged several times since as well! I’ve also got season two of Game of Thrones and all of American Horror Story to catch up on so I should have plenty of viewing choices.

5. Audio

On the flight out, it will be very early, so I thought I’d listen to some podcasts rather than reading. I’ve downloaded several episodes of Radio 4’s Book Club and Books and Authors programmes. I’m also trying out Audible, with a free download of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I’ll let you know how I get on! If you would like to try it too, you can get a free download using this link.

I hope you are all doing well and if you are going on holiday soon, have a wonderful time!

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Telephone Box Libraries

We were whizzing through the West Country a few weekends ago, on our way home after a lovely day with friends who have recently decamped to the country. The weather was absolutely terrible, but through the gloom of a night downpour, I saw a beacon of light.

A library in a telephone box

A library in a telephone box! Unknown source but please contact me if it is yours and I’ll gladly credit or remove.

An old telephone box had been turned into a tiny library. The small glow from the lights beamed out through the rain, picking out the cheerful covers. I didn’t have the inclination to get out into the dark and have a closer look at the time, but it has been on my mind ever since. What a good idea! Is there one near you?

I suspect this kind of thing can only work in small communities because they operate on trust, but what a wonderful way to both protect old telephone boxes, rapidly disappearing because of mobile phones, and help isolated communities access books. The more I think about it, the more I admire the person who thought of it. Could you get a more perfect marriage of two great old survivors, analogue ideas in a digital world?

Whilst I was growing up, we used to drive past a reclamation yard which always seemed to have these beautiful old telephone boxes. They were derelict and on sale as a rather grand garden ornament. The sight always made me a little sad. Isn’t the tiny library a much better use of them?

A quick look around the internet has shown me that these libraries are popping up in rural communities around the U.K. This completely bucks the trend in the closing of public libraries, and shows me that essential services, for that is what libraries are, find a way to survive.



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A Yorkshire walk

Happy New Year to all my lovely readers and followers.

Its been a busy start to the New Year so far for me. To help me maintain my holiday serenity and general good mood, I have been reflecting on walking generally and one walk in particular.

On 29th December, my husband and I set off to walk on the Yorkshire Moors, a short drive from my parents in Thirsk (for your interest, a small market town with literary / television connections. It is the supposed nearest town to Downton Abbey in the wonderful series and is also the setting for James Herriot’s stories). My husband is a keen walker and all round general sporty person. I would describe myself as more of a meanderer who likes the idea of the romance of striding out on to the moors (like Emily Bronte!) slightly more than the reality, usually. This walk was a bit different though. It was a rare, perfect winter day and we had the most perfect walk.

Tree on the North Yorkshire moors

We started in a small hamlet called Hutton-le-Hole (isn’t that a wonderful name?). It looked like this:

Hutton-le-Hole. North Yorkshire

We then walked across the countryside to the next village, Lastingham, which looked like this:

Lastingham, North Yorkshire

And we had our lunch whilst we looked at this view:

North Yorkshire Moors, view from Lastingham Millennium Cross

Things did get a little muddy at times:

Yorkshire Mud!

But the beauty was astounding. In fact, it is difficult for me to describe how I felt as I looked at those views without sounding unduly hyperbolic (to quote Prof. Bryan Cox‘s favourite phrase!), so I won’t! What I will say though is that I felt more alive during that walk than I had in months. Both my lungs and soul felt clean and sparkly. I’m now back in London and trying desperately to cling on to that feeling. I’ll need another fix soon…


Favourite Books of 2013

Here are my favourite books of 2013. It has been very hard to choose, but my criteria was the stories that had stuck in my memory and lingered on after I had read the last page. These are books that were new to me in 2013, rather than all books that were published in 2013.

Parade’s End

This was an extremely challenging read and I was relieved to finish it. However, it is in my favourites list because of the massive sense of achievement it gave me, the beautiful sentences and the intriguing characters. I’ve never read a book quite like Parade’s End and that is an accolade in itself.

A Novel Cure: An A – Z of literary remedies

I’ve not done a full review of this yet so I am slightly jumping the gun, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my rifle through the ailments and literary cures in this tome. Chosen again because it is a unique addition to my collection, it is fascinating and a brilliant topic of conversation as you debate each prescription!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Just wonderful really. This was the biggest surprise of the year for me as a someone who is not a big crime or spy book reader. Exquisitely rendered characters, a sense of menace and desperation and some of the best plotting I have ever had the joy to read – highly recommended!

Howard’s End is on the Landing

I discovered this in June time and if you’ve been reading this blog since then, I’m sure you could have predicted this would be in my favourites list. Susan Hill has become one of my favourite writers this year. Previously, I hadn’t got much further than The Woman in Black, but thanks to blogs like Cornflower and dovegreyreader, I’ve had the joy of discovering her writing, both fiction and non-fiction, this year.

On a more personal note, 2013 will stand out for me as the year my eyes were opened by our wonderful trip to China in particular. The world hasn’t looked quite the same since!

What have your favourites been?

Have a Happy New Year and see you in 2014!


Bookish Christmas Gift Guide

Here are a few Christmas gift ideas from around the interweb for the book lover in your life!

Dorothy Book Map

Dorothy Book Map, courtesy of

1. A beautiful street map made up of titles from the cannon of English Literature and a few more beside from the team at Dorothy. I can see this being framed above a desk and generating many pleasant daydreams.

Fairy Tale Bookends from

Fairy Tale Bookends, courtesy of

2. I love these whimsical, fairy tale bookends from

Brass Cuff with Literary Quote, courtesy of JezebelCharms

Brass Cuff with Literary Quote, courtesy of JezebelCharms

3. I have a similar cuff to this from JezebelCharms on Etsy. I love being able to look down  at my wrist to see an uplifting quote from one of my favourite books. Quotes from Shakespeare, Bram Stoker and Austen are available as well – a perfect present for a book and jewellery lover.

Kindle Paperwhite, courtesy of

Kindle Paperwhite, courtesy of

4. A Kindle Paperwhite would be an excellent present if your bookworm doesn’t already have one.

And finally, a wonderful online shop for all things generally bookish is the The Literary Gift Company. Have a lovely time browsing!


Afternoon Tea at The Goring

Last week, my Mum visited us here in London for a spot of early Christmas shopping. We had a lovely time but a particular highlight was afternoon tea.

After a hectic morning and early afternoon, we dropped our bags and headed to The Goring for one of my favourite things in London – afternoon tea! The Goring is a family run, historic hotel that Kate Middleton spent the night before her wedding at. Arriving is like stepping into an older, more perfect world. We were greeted beautifully and led into a rich red and gold room. The carpets were thick, the silverware shone and there was a pleasant hum of polite conversation in the background.

The Goring Hotel, courtesy of

The Goring Hotel, courtesy of

I have been lucky enough to go to several London hotels for afternoon tea, including The Ritz, but The Goring has recently been voted the best. The sandwiches, scones and hand-crafted patisseries were all delicious. I took a very bad photo which I’ll include now, but please forgive me as it really doesn’t do it justice. However, it didn’t feel appropriate to take a while to get the perfect image so a quick snap was the only option at the time!

Afternoon tea at The Goring

Afternoon tea at The Goring

All in all, we had a wonderful time and, for a few hours, felt like calm Edwardian ladies rather than harassed twenty-first century shoppers! If you are in London for any length of time, I’d thoroughly recommend an afternoon tea for a wonderful taste of elegance and luxury. Beautiful!