The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell
This book caught my eye last month when I was reading the January book reviews of one of my favourite bloggers, Mostly Yummy Mummy. She strongly recommended this fascinating account of a British journalist’s decision to move, for her husband’s job, to one of the most remote parts of Denmark. She made it her mission to discover why this cold and dark country regularly tops world happiness polls. Part sociology, part memoir, part lifestyle, this is always brilliantly, wittily written and certainly made me long to be Danish. It’s highly unlikely my husband will be offered a job in Denmark any time soon, but if he was this book would tempt me into encouraging him to accept. With my political hat on I found it interesting and inspiring that Danes are willing and proud to pay high taxes in order to provide top quality public services for everyone, and that this has resulted in an equal, contented and economically successful society. There’s a lesson there, Mr Osborne…
The Light Years, Marking Time & Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Wow! My best friend and fellow bookworm bought me all five of the Cazalet chronicles for Christmas, and I love her more than ever for it. I’ve read the first three, and am half way through the fourth, and I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading anything so much. The novels are a proper old-fashioned family saga, following the lives of the extended upper-middle class Cazalet family in the years leading up to, during and immediately after the second world war.
Howard has a superb gift for evoking that world and drawing you so deeply in to the lives of her characters that they feel almost more real than the people around you. She switches effortlessly from character to character, storyline to storyline, skilfully treading the fine line between dissatisfaction and satiety. I wept, agonised and laughed along with the main protagonists, but I also particularly enjoyed the intricate pen portraits of incidental characters who would be passed over by many other novelists.
These are the kind of books you can’t stop reading (I hope I haven’t neglected my children too severely), but never want to end. They are also books I know I will read again and again, and the characters will live vividly in my head for the foreseeable future. If you haven’t read these, get to a library or bookshop immediately, you have a treat in store.
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Carry On, Jeeves, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Thank You, Jeeves & Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
February hasn’t been the best month ever for me, as I seem to have been feeling unwell for most of it. I was so ill with tonsillitis that I actually ended up spending three or four days in bed, which is almost unheard of. At the time I was in the middle of the second Cazalet novel, and, although I was loving it, I felt too headachy and under the weather to properly appreciate it, and I wanted a good old comfort read. My husband is a huge P.G. Wodehouse fan, as was my late father-in-law, so we have a huge stash of his work, and husband suggested there was nothing better as a feel-good-pick-me-up. I took him at his word, and motored through five Jeeves novels during my enforced rest.
One of them had an introduction which included this quote from Evelyn Waugh:
Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity which may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I couldn’t have put it better myself. One of my favourite things about reading is that there are worlds and people I can visit whenever I want to. Anya Seton can take me to medieval England, L.M. Montgomery to late Victorian/Edwardian Canada, Maeve Binchey to 1950s Ireland. Whatever is happening in my own life, those alternate realities will never change. And frankly, when you are lying in bed in the 21st century, feeling miserably sorry for yourself, and worrying about your husband being left on his own to cope with two poorly, grumpy children, and the housework all piling up, then escaping to a 1920s Piccadilly bachelor flat, or luxurious country house, with a butler on hand to smooth all life’s difficulties is pretty good. When this world is depicted so hilariously and in such deliciously rich language, then being ill in bed becomes almost a pleasure.
Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson
My husband got me this for my birthday, knowing that I love a good cookery book, and I especially love a Nigella cookery book. I adore her writing style, and her recipes tend to be my go-to favourites. They always work, they’re always delicious, and they suit my slightly freestyle kind of cooking. I haven’t actually made anything from this book yet, but there are loads of dishes I’m dying to try. Chilli Crab Risotto, Eggs in Purgatory, Prawn Pasta Rosa, Cappuccino Pavlova or instant Chocolate Orange Mousse, anyone?