Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Book Review: ‘Lady Davina Dove, A Christmas Story’ by Jani Tully Chaplin

Book Review: ‘Lady   Davina Dove, A Christmas Story’ by Jani Tully Chaplin
Review by Tracey Kifford, owner of WowThankYou, a marketplace for UK-based designer-makers

 I was asked to review the above book via Mumpreneur MumsClub and saw it as a great opportunity to introduce my two children – my daughter Millie-Mae (aged 7) and my son Toby (aged 5) to this book in The Manor House Stories series. I decided that the WowThankYou blog was a good place to post this review, as it is an ‘all British’ publication, with the author having written the books in Devon, with a British printer producing the printed copies.

They say you can always judge a book by its cover, and our first impression was a good one – a nice sized solid hard covered book with an inviting illustration and a shiny smooth slip cover, with a red ribbon page marker hanging through it. A good size to suit most hands – from young early readers through to adults.

When you open the book, the first thing you notice is a Foreword by Julian Fellowes, the writer of Downton Abbey. This alone suggests we’re about to read something a little special. Turning a few more pages and there’s a double-page spread containing lovely illustrations of some of the characters – all of them rather dapper with equally posh names! It does make you feel, though, that there are a lot of characters in a relatively small book (68 pages). You do wonder how these will all be included, and once you start reading the first few pages, this worry doesn’t immediately go away …

The story, if you haven’t read any of the other books in the series, does require you to concentrate as there’s a lot to take in. New characters are mentioned in what seems like every other paragraph initially and you fear you’ll forget who they are due to ‘character overload’. But once the story gets going, it all seems to seamlessly come together and when coming across a character last mentioned right at the beginning, the author very cleverly reminds you who they are!

The story itself is a very festive one. To us, it is a cross between Downton Abbey and Wind in the Willows as it is set in an era approximately late Victorian through to Edwardian times when country estates were still commonplace with a large staff. In this instance, the cast are all animals.

The head of Manor House is Lord Peregrine Falcon and his wife, Lady Davina, is always responsible for arranging Christmas – everything from organising the household to buying presents. From childhood she’s had a secret Christmas wish of her own, but it would never come true as she’d never told anyone about it. Or was that about to change …

Preparing the Manor House for the festivities is the focus of the story – where you are introduced to such delightful characters as Sarah Sparrow the Scullery Maid, Delia Duck the Cook, Cream and Sugar the Milkmaids, Chesterfield Penguin the Butler and Rory Redshank the Footman. All have very specific instructions on what they need to do to make Christmas flow without a hitch. You learn about how resourceful they are, from eating vegetables grown in the Manor gardens by Radish Robin the Gardener, to receiving nuts, berries, apples and seeds from the hoarded bounty in Sgt. Simon Squirrel the Quartermaster’s storeroom. Supermarkets were many years away from being invented! It is a genuine case of “grow your own” and “make do and mend”, as indeed it was in those days.  Even the Christmas tree had been grown in their own forest!

 On Christmas Eve, once everything was ready for the feast the following day, and Lord Peregrine had lit the first candle on the tree, a group of characters go carol singing. Everyone from Lady Davina to the milkmaids sing their way around the village, entertaining the residents of each and every cottage they visit. It’s a nice touch as it shows that, even though for most of the time there was a definite ‘upstairs/downstairs’ divide, they can come together and put their social standings aside.

As Christmas Eve drew to an end, and Lord Peregrine had spent the evening talking to his guest Sir David Bunnyburrow about all the conservation efforts underway in the estate to provide safe habitats for many creatures, Lady Davina went to bed. Here, just before she fell asleep, she once again repeated her wish to Father Christmas. But does it come true? It’s not for us to say, but we will tell you that she’s awoken by the sound of tinkling bells …

It is a lovely story that both children enjoyed. The illustrations are beautiful and you do feel you are reading a collectable ‘classic’ akin to Beatrix Potter. This book is a keepsake item without a doubt. In terms of reading age, my 7 year old (who has a good ‘beyond her years’ level of reading) would struggle with some of the words, mainly owing to them not being used on an everyday basis – specifically the actual characters names. This is definitely a book to read to your children, and is that perfect length that allows you to read the whole book in a single session holding the children’s attention from the start to the end.

Both of my children gave this story 5 out of 5 – and I agree with them. It is a very charming read and we will definitely read it again x

Have I really been too busy to blog?

It all started so well – a few blog posts listed soon after this page was launched. But then it fell silent … I hadn’t forgotten about it – I actually felt rather guilty that I appeared to be avoiding it. But life has undergone lots of twists and turns these last few months that writing a blog was way down my list of ‘must do’s’.

What happened? Well, my youngest started school full time meaning I had two under 8s in school – and I found myself continually on the school run – picking up/dropping off on playdates, after school clubs … my days were dictated to by them. I bought a puppy – not an excuse, but having chosen a working Springer Spaniel I knew that I’d be walking her, a LOT.

But the biggest change was my husband going back to college to train to be a chemistry teacher. Having worked together for over 12 years, the house suddenly felt very quiet with just me kicking around in it! The demands of a trainee teacher cannot be underestimated either – we’ve hardly seen him since September …
So I’ve just been ‘adjusting’ to my new lifestyle and my new sole support role to both children and Huw. And of course, pushing on with WowThankYou.

With Christmas approaching I started to crave a family holiday. For those who know me, this isn’t unusual, but I wanted to go to Lapland and with a student in the house, this really wasn’t going to happen! My little boy Toby asked me one day if we could make a snowman (it was a miserable autumn day) and I found myself promising that he would make one before Christmas. Not one to forget my promises, and with no snow on the horizon, I cashed in some Tesco Clubcard vouchers to pay for a Eurotunnel crossing, found a comfortable budget hotel in Les Houches in the French Alps, and bought roof bars for my little economical car … and when the children broke up from school last week, we loaded ourselves, our bags, and dog, into the car and set off on our mini adventure. We may only have had two days away (we are hosting Christmas Day so need to be home the evening before), but it has been fabulous family time.

Putting aside the slight issue of getting our car stuck down an icy slope and Huw slipping on black ice resulting in Izzy the dog nearly getting hit by a bus – I never said it wasn’t eventful! – we filled our two days with lots of fun things. We spent a day in the wonderful town of Chamonix, sampling some of the best coffee I’ve had in Europe (served in really groovy glass mugs!), shopping in some rather swish and contemporary stores, sampling the souvenir shops and staring at the most amazing cakes in the many patisseries … and sampling a couple, it would be rude not to! We took the mountain railway high up into the mountains to see, and walk inside, a glacier. The ice was bright blue and the cable car ride down was fun too. In our rustic hotel room we ate bread, cheese and ham with hot chocolate (I never travel without my kettle!) Our balcony looked out over some snow-capped mountains and we watched skiers slalom their way down the pistes. So very far removed from the view from our suburban home.

 The second day was spent in Annecy, a favourite place of mine. A beautiful clear day, cold though – the perfect setting to walk around their Christmas market, with lots of food stalls, including one selling the largest blocks of nougat I’ve ever seen (the size of a footstool!) Yes, yes, you only buy a slice – but the uncut versions looked rather impressive! We ate croques and waffles and again hit the shops! After purchasing a fluffy toy husky, a toy snow plough and a locally made Christmas tree decoration, and yet another Swiss Army knife (Huw’s a ‘collector’ or should I say hoarder?) we headed back to our hotel, and then out for a last walk in the snow. 

Annecy Christmas Stall

The view from our balcony
It took 8 hours of driving across France to reach Chamonix (slightly longer actually when our Sat Nav went a bit mad and sent us in the wrong direction) – but was it worth it? Definitely! Did Toby make his snowman? Well, the truth is, he was so pleased to just be playing in the snow, he never got around to it! So the inflatable one we spotted in Annecy will have to do. We have brought home some amazing memories – of the snow, the car slipping down a hill, the coffees and cakes – but above everything, we left work and our daily lives at home and had a proper family adventure. As Barclaycard would say – it was priceless x