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Book picks for Autumn…

... and win 'em all! Curl up into a comfy chair, pour a glass of wine, and dive into a new fab book with this month's hottest new reads.

Book of the month – How To Be A Gentlewoman by Lotte Jeffs

It’s odd that a book encouraging us to be gentle and kind should feel so revolutionary but, given the brutal world we live in right now, this self-help guide-meets-personal memoir stands out. Subtitled ‘The art of soft power in hard times’, it also provide a welcome corrective to ‘go girl, you do you!’ narcissism. Engaging with the people and world around us is the key to contentment, says journalist Lotte – and please be nice while you’re doing it.

Rocket science it is not then, but there’s lots to love in this charming book that urges you to reassess your life at home, at work and online, plus your approach to fashion, friends and family – thought-provoking ‘back to reality’ post-holiday reading, essentially. There are interviews with various ‘gentlewomen’ of note – an academic, an agony aunt, experts in fashion, music and wine, and a happiness consultant among others. Plus there’s lots of personal insight from the author – as a gay, married mother-of-one, for example, she argues that straight couples should take a more egalitarian, communicative approach to starting a family and running a household, rather than following societal norms.

But it was the advice and quirky detail I especially enjoyed – the recipe for risotto (it’s basically mindfulness in a pan, as you have to focus on the task on hand and keep stirring for ages), the instruction to make your bed every day (so simple yet so easy to neglect when you’re in a rush) and Lotte’s thoughts on email, aka the menace of my (and probably your) working life: “A gentlewoman doesn’t care about clearing her inbox before filling her outbox. If she did she’d be so exhausted by responding to other people there would be little energy for her own projects and purposes. It’s not pleasant to be around someone who is stressed.” Amen to that.

PS: Lotte is one of our speakers at the Muddy Stilettos Book Club Live at Henley Literary Festival on Sat 5 Oct so if fancy meeting her and observing her gentlewomanly ways, click here for more details.

Also out recently…

Don’t worry, I’m not going to recommend David Cameron’s autobiography – let’s not even go there! The other major literary talking point this month is the return of Margaret Atwood with The Testamentsthe long awaited follow-up to dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale. Why is this not Book Of The Month, I hear you cry? Because the publishers have kept it under lock and key, meaning reviewers won’t receive a copy until publication day (although it’s already been nominated for the Booker Prize so presumably someone has read it). All I know is that it’s set 15 years after the previous book ended, when Offred was bundled into a van by unidentified men – friends or foes? I guess we’ll find out very soon. 

Another literary big-hitter returns this month with a new novel: The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton. The Confession has a fabulously compelling setting – 1980s LA, with all its sun-baked glamour and grit. It provides the backdrop to the blossoming friendship between Elise and Constance – and a life-changing moment that ripples down the decades to present day. Meanwhile, last year’s I Invited Her In was veteran novelist Adele Parks’ first foray to the dark side – as in the domestic noir genre – with a tale of a toxic friendship so gripping I devoured it in three hours flat. Her new one, Lies Lies Lies, is similarly devilish and delicious, as Parks introduces a happily little family, that, when you scratch beneath the service, is anything but.

Finally, a book worth buying a new coffee table to artfully display it atop. As a Geordie by marriage (is that even a thing?!), I loved the Cook House by Anna Hedworth, a canny self-taught chef who created an award-winning restaurant in the unlikely location of two shipping containers plonked in an industrial area of Newcastle. She’s since moved to new premises but this delightful book traces her journey. It’s an uplifting read for anyone thinking of retooling their career (she used to work for an architect but wanted to put her passion for local Northumberland produce to good use) and is jam-packed with divine recipes and quirky advice for hands-on home cooks, from foraging to plucking a pheasant to building a beach fire to cook your catch of the day. Look out for a Speedy Supper recipe from Anna very soon.

Words @Kerry_Potter

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