Winter Rooms, Winter Books
Last week’s dalliance with spring has ended abruptly and it’s in the twenties again this week. The fire’s crackling, the teapot singing. Edward is snuggled in his favourite chair. There’s no better time to open a captivating new book. So, for these last weeks of winter here’s some tempting choices for your bedside table, along with some scenarios to hopefully create the perfect mood. Just click on the book’s photo to find out more.
A Weekend at Aunt Veronica’s
Growing up, Aunt Veronica scared every cousin you had. One was afraid of her long red nails, another of the streak of white in her ebony hair. Another was afraid of her laugh, and it’s true it was a sound one didn’t hear every day; a hybrid of whoot and whish that spilled out of her unexpectedly, never quietly, and never at the things generally regarded as funny. The sight of a school bus, for instance, was always guaranteed to set her off. Was it that particular shade of yellow, or the little faces so perfectly silhouetted in the windows? You never knew. She would howl with laughter if she saw her reflection in a rain puddle, giggle uncontrollably whenever she misplaced her keys. While the rest of the kids in the family made themselves scarce whenever she came to visit, you found Aunt Ronnie enchanting and followed her round like a shadow. You were the only one who begged to visit her in the summer holidays and you looked forward to those two weeks in her rambling house by the sea with all the anticipation of Christmas. There, once a year, you ate strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, went barefoot on forest trails, guided only by her Irish Wolfhound, Finn, and listened as Aunt Veronica read to you by candlelight. Always candlelight. Her voice, though low and resonant, was far from frightening to you, rather it was the perfect voice for reading aloud, something you implored her to do each night before bed. No Little Women or Anne of Green Gables for Aunt Veronica, though. No, she was the one who read you Wuthering Heights and The Moonstone. She introduced you to Miss Havisham and Mr. Hyde, Grace Poole and Ethan Frome. Her choice of books always had a touch of mystery about them. They sparked your imagination, even as they sometimes sent a shiver down your spine.
As you pack on this blustery night for a weekend visit to your favourite Aunt, you find it hard to contain your happiness at what’s to come. There will be strawberries and chocolate for breakfast, of course. And though Finn has long gone, you are looking forward to taking a long walk with Joyce, another grey Wolfhound. There will be a stack of new, mysterious books by the candlesticks on your bedside table. Let’s see... which one of these will you read to your Aunt?
The Winter People
by Jennifer McMahon
I’ve heard good things about this one.
A wee bit spooky, which is what you want on a cold, stormy night.
Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
I’ve never read anything by this author, so I don’t know what to expect.
But from the cover to the reviews... I can’t resist reading this.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things
by Alice Hoffman
by Edith Wharton
The ultimate wintertime book.
The plot cuts like a rapier through the blowing snow.
A Winter Week at Michael’s
No one expected Michael to accept the invitation. A college reunion, all the way across the country? No one would have ever dreamed it to be his cup of tea. Rather, this sort of conventional gathering would usually provide the perfect opportunity for his most exquisitely barbed witticisms and generate enough fodder for at least a month’s worth of wildly entertaining dinner parties. So you were all brought up short by his surprise announcement over Sunday lunch at Margaret’s that he intended to attend. In fact, not only was he going - his plane ticket already purchased - but, though at obvious pains to conceal it - he was clearly excited at the prospect. (An old girlfriend named Melanie was shyly mentioned.) There was a pause round the table - forks suspended in mid-air - but happily only a slight one, before everyone jumped in with good-natured efforts to make his journey trouble free. Freddy and Vivian said they’d watch over the garden, promising to handle all the winter pruning that had been scheduled for the upcoming week. Lily said she’d take care of the mail. And you volunteered to move in to care for Wesley, Michael’s imperious and much adored terrier. This was no sacrifice, you had to admit, for Michael’s cottage, sitting as it did in the middle of one of the loveliest gardens in the county with an interior as utterly comfortable as it was sublimely beautiful, is simply one of the most inviting places you know. So here you are, with a bag full of wide-ranging books, a tartan bathrobe, and the full intention of spending the week ensconced in Michael’s cozy, colourful sitting room, a fire popping in the grate and Wesley curled in his favourite chair. The pantry is stocked with custard tarts, Darjeeling and Port and there are red roses in a vase by your bed. You wish Michael a wonderful time, but seriously doubt it will be as delightful as yours, Melanie or no Melanie.
Now, which book to read first....
A Star Called Henry
by Roddy Doyle
No one does dialog better, or dives deeper inside a character,
than the brilliantly observant, and completely Irish, Roddy Doyle.
If you’ve never read The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, well...
stop what you’re doing and read it now.
A Star Called Henry holds hands with the history of Ireland.
You’ll love it.
Dancing Fish and Amonites
by Penelope Lively
I have loved Penelope Lively for years and years. Her books seem so normal,
mere tales of ordinary life. But don’t be deceived.
There are undercurrents and secrets here, flowing beneath a calm and glassy surface,
ready to reach up and pull the reader under without warning.
Heat Wave comes to mind.
Moon Tiger was the first Penelope Lively I read, and it led me happily on to her others. Now in her eighties, Ms. Lively is tackling the subject of aging
in her latest work, Dancing Fish and Amonites.
I cannot wait to read what she’s thinking about.
From the House of Edward
by Pamela Terry
Well, why not?
There are even stories here for Wesley the terrier.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky
by Nancy Horan
I’ve loved Robert Louis Stevenson since The Land of Counterpane
and I think this historical novel of his life with his Indiana born wife, Fanny,
will be intriguing. Have you read it?
The End of a Month at Anna and Will’s
The cast comes off next week. You can hardly wait. And though it was incredibly hospitable for Anna and Will to offer their house for your recuperation, you have to admit you are getting weary of the view out the window. Winter, unrelenting winter, has greeted you for weeks; grey sea crashing on the steely rocks under a monochrome sky. The wind has howled, snow has fallen, and even though this season has its pleasures, trapped inside as you’ve been these past three weeks, you are itching for the sunshine of spring. Hobbling through the library all morning, you’ve found a stack of books to take you away to warm summer days and open-windowed nights. Chinese lanterns and ice cream. Pink dresses and flowers. Armloads of flowers. These are the books you've found to banish the cold and bring forth the spring. If only in your mind.
The Love Letter
by Catherine Schine
One of my favourite summertime books.
Such delicious seaside atmosphere.
There’s even a old bookstore with sandy wooden floors.
Well, of course there is.
The New English Garden
by Tim Richardson
Planning, planning, planning.
William and Dorothy Wordsworth, All In Each Other
by Lucy Newlyn
Because I can think of no better place to spend the springtime months than
deep inside the beauty of the Lake District, and because no two people are more entwined with this part of the world than they, I’m looking forward to reading this one.
My Family and Other Animals
by Gerald Durrell
I know, I know, I’ve recommended this before.
But really, there is no better way to escape to warmer climes
than tagging along with this family to Corfu.
The strawberry pink villa.
The rose beetle man.
The phosphorescence on the sea in the moonlight.
When you're longing for spring, this is just the best, warmest book ever.
Three Days at Home, All By Yourself
You are so happy you decided to stay. A ski weekend sounds like a brilliant idea, but the more you thought about it, the more a weekend all to yourself sounded so much better. You found all their sweaters, dug out the warmest gloves. You helped them pack.
“Don’t forget the sunscreen!”
“Don’t lose your ticket!”
“Yes, you must wear a helmet!”
You trust your husband with their welfare completely and refuse to worry
as you wave goodbye from the front porch.
“Yes, I’ll be fine here by myself!”
“Yes, I’ll miss you all!”
“Yes, I’ll find plenty to do!”
Now, as you close and lock the door, the silence sounds like music. As you pad into the kitchen to pour yourself another cup of hot coffee, you look down at your big sheepdog, Molly. She’s smiling, you swear, she is smiling. Both of you head back upstairs to your bedroom. You pull the heavy curtains back just a bit, put a match to the freshly stacked logs in the grate, and crawl back into bed. Molly watches you closely, then turns three or four times before curling up in front of the now crackling fire. In a tower by your bed are the books you’ve been wanting to read for awhile. So with three full days all to yourself, as the snow falls steadily outside the window, you decide which one to open first.
A Star for Mrs. Blake
by April Smith
by George Eliot
Because I so want to read the next book,
I’m re-reading this one first.
My Life in Middlemarch
by Rebecca Mead
The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Someone told me recently that this was their favourite book of all time.
I missed it when it was released, and her enthusiasm was infectious.
So it’s in my current stack.
Have you read it?
Now, I’m curious.
Do any of these scenes sound tempting to you?
If so, which one?