chestnut book blog

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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 geograpy.org.uk

Autumn leaves, courtesy of geograpy.org.uk

My favourite things about the Autumn are:

Leaves

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?

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Top Five Books for Autumn

As the air starts to smell of bonfires and falling leaves dance around me on my walk home, my attention is drawn to particular books on my shelves. Some books are just made to be read in Autumn, curled up with a hot chocolate, and here are my choices:

1. His Dark Materials series

Maybe it is the Armoured Bears of icy Svalbard that mean this series is indelibly linked to Autumn and Winter for me, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that as soon as the clocks go back, I’ll be reaching for Northern Lights, Lyra and dust!

2. Harry Potter series

These won’t be all young adult choices I promise, but here is another series which keeps me company in Autumn. Magic, Hogwarts and Harry Potter are made for reading at this time of year. As the Hogwarts pupils go back to school and Dementors creep up in the dark, I’ll be following their adventures again this autumn.

3. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Wonderful, strange and fragile. I return to this book most Autumns. It is one where I feel I have to reread it regularly as I am never sure I have fully understood it. I love it though even though I am sure I miss many of its nuances. Please let me know if you have read this and what you think of it if you have! I’d love to know,

4.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The wild Yorkshire Moors call to me at this time of year and Jane in particular.

5.  The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

You have got to love a spine tingling ghost story at this time of year and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is one of my favourites.

So those are my choices for this Autumn, what will yours be? I’d love to know. If you need any other inspiration, here are Richard and Judy’s Autumn 2013 choices.


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Autumn is coming…

As the nights are beginning to draw in noticeably and the air gets a little sharper, I’ve started to think about Autumn. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you might remember that Autumn is my favourite time of year (I wrote this post last year). I love the colour of the trees, the crunch of the leaves, the smell of bonfires and cuddly knits.

Here are a few things that are on my ‘looking forward to’ list for this autumn.

1. Autumn planting of our front garden flower bed.

I am no gardener, but we recently had our drive relaid, shovelled two tons of top soil and now have a flowerbed that looks like this (please excuse the phone photo):

Flowerbed in desperate need of planting!

Flowerbed in desperate need of planting!

What I had in mind was more this:

Hydrangeas, courtesy of WikiCommons and Raul654

Hydrangeas, courtesy of WikiCommons and Raul654

So we have some work to do. Apparently Autumn is a good time to plant hydrangeas so we might give it a try.

2. Read A Suitable Boy along with dovegreyreader as described here.

3. Getting the slow cooker out. I have just started receiving veg boxes delivered to my door with lovely seasonal produce tucked inside. I feel like a contestant on MasterChef as I unpack them all and plan what soup / stew / roast I can possibly make with them!  I love going out for a cold walk, leaving the slow cooker on and coming back to the most wonderful, homey smells.

4.  Craving a cuddly cashmere knit. I think this one would be wonderful.

5. Burning candles again. Nothing beats curling up with a book while a spicy, vanillery (is that a word?!) candle burns after a long, cold day. It is at times like that I really miss my parents’ open fire. My candles will have to do for now, but one day I’d like a wood burner or open fire of my own!

What are you looking forward to this Autumn?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

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The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I have just arrived back home after a drive from Yorkshire, where I spent the weekend. As I left, the sky was clear and blue but as I drove down the country, it was as if I was travelling into Autumn. Heavy rain was battering the windscreen and leaves were being blown across the road. Even the trees appeared to turn from greens and yellows to ambers and golds as I drove. It made such an impression on me as it is normally driving north that feels like this, not south!

Anyway, I digress. I think the seasons were on my mind as I had just spent a lovely Saturday afternoon in the company of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. In this book the seasons, in particular winter, are an overarching concern for all the characters as they means survival, or not. The first snows and the coming of winter are beautifully described in this book and I got utterly lost in it, so much so that I ignored my poor parents for a good two hours whilst I finished it yesterday! I was surprised to find it was a first novel as the pace, plot, characterisation and imagery of this tale were all wonderful in my opinion. In addition to the fairy tale heritage I mentioned in my last post, this novel also made me think about the bond between parents and children. Both Jack and Mabel are completely transformed when Faina enters their lives. Faina also, although always a mystery, is changed by their love. Not having any children myself, it really opened my eyes to that kind of transformative, unconditional love that I’d never thought too much about before. Ivey manages to keep this love unsentimental and realistic as well which I thought was a huge achievement. I think this is done by introducing the slight pessimistic, brooding tone of loss that also runs through the book. Mabel accepts that Faina, one day, will leave and this is always an undercurrent in her thoughts, and eventually Jack’s too.

This novel also made me think back to the assertion (see my earlier post) that the American novel is summed up by the idea of ‘Frontier’. The ‘Frontier’ is certainly a central image and idea in this book, along with the love between parents and children I have already mentioned.  Mabel and Jack move to Alaska in their middle age for a new start and to unite together in a battle against the elements. By taming their patch of earth, with the help of their new friends, Jack and Mabel triumph against the harshness of an Alaskan winter and this gives them both self-respect and a deepening in their own love for each other, despite being married for many years. Again, Ivey managed to portray this in an aspirational, almost romantic way, but steers clear of sentimentality, with no illusions about the harshness and life-threatening struggle for survival that Alaska presents.

I would thoroughly recommend The Snow Child, especially with our own winter arriving here in the UK. I enjoyed reading about Alaska so much that I am now going to follow-up the books on the rather wonderful Alaskan reading list at the back of this book. Why don’t more publishers do this – I think it is a great idea!