Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2014
REVIEWED BY LAURA

This is a quirky and charming little book, composed entirely of Nina Stibbe's letters to her sister Victoria after she moved to London to be a nanny. Nina's letters aren't really like any letters I've read before, and they're very unlike letters I would write. Nina is hilarious and she has a keen ear for dialogue. She observes the most unusual things and manages to make the most mundane tasks funny (see excerpt below regarding laundering pillows). Throughout the book, she includes lots of little mini-dialogues between her and Mary-Kay (MK, her boss) and Sam and Will (her charges). For example:

MK: What are these?

Me: Pillows.

MK: Yes, but why have I got them? Where are my usual ones?

Me: Sam's probably got your usual ones.

MK: So what are these?

Me: I think they might be the ones I laundered.

MK: Laundered?

Me: Took to the launderette.

MK: Are they washable?

Me: Not as such, but it was kill or cure.

MK: It was kill.

To find that little vignette I literally just turned to a random page in the book. I find exchanges like this so charming because I would never think to write about a conversation like that in a letter, but it so perfectly illustrates the things that make up daily life. Her writing also made me really want to be a fly on the wall in that house so I could listen in on the razor sharp wit.

I should tell you that Mary-Kay is Mary-Kay Wilmers, who at that time was the editor of the London Review of Books. She is friends with several of the literary/cultural elite of London in the 1980s--Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, Claire Tomalin--most of whom stop by the house regularly. (The only one of those I had heard of before reading the book was Alan Bennett, because of his recent book The Uncommon Reader.) So this isn't just any household that Nina has found herself in--she ends up rubbing elbows with some pretty famous people.

This is a fairly breezy read--there's not much plot, per se, although I did become invested in the boys and Mary-Kay and I couldn't help but root for Nina as she began studying at university. But it's not really a page turner...it's more of a quiet and thoughtful book, perfect if you don't want anything too heavy or just have a few minutes to read (the letters are short, so it's easy to read a few in a short time). You could say it is "light reading" at its best.

The book has gotten quite a few absolutely glowing reviews, and while I liked it and enjoyed reading it, I didn't LOVE it. There is a lot in this book that feels like "inside baseball," meaning that I bet this book is infinitely more fun to read if you happen to have come of age in England in the 1980s. There are so many cultural and political references, as well as the ins and outs of living in England during that time, that I just couldn't fully appreciate (not having come of age in England in the 1980s).

I always get a little sad when I read these kinds of books because nobody seems to write letters anymore, do they? (It's all texting now, isn't it?) It's too bad, because letters are so fun...and it was fun to look back at how the letters included in this book told the story of Nina and her life through small glimpses. Let's just say I don't think anyone will ever compile a book of text messages...

BOTTOM LINE
Recommended for light and fun reading, especially if you happen to have grown up in England in the 1980s. I think this would be a great beach read or a book to read when you want something that you can dip into and out of easily. Parts are very, very funny and made me want to live with Mary-Kay, Sam, Will, and Nina.

RATING: B

Note: I received a review copy of this title courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
When Nina Stibbe applied for a job as nanny to a family in Bloomsbury, she was twenty years old, had never lived in London, and was unaware of the literary celebrities who would soon populate her world.

This was in the early 1980s and she was used to having long, detailed chats with her sister back home every night after work. Since her sister didn't have convenient access to a phone, Nina wrote her frequent letters, telling her about the family she was living with, the people who visited, tidbits about her new London neighborhood.

Her sister found the letters recently and as unlikely as it all seems, now they're a book. The book is in two parts, the first part is Nina's letters to sister Victoria as she settles in with the Mary Kay and her sons Sam and Will, ages nine and ten. Mary Kay Wilmers is an editor (and founder) at The London Review of Books. Her ex-husband and the father of the boys is Stephen Frears, a movie director. Alan Bennett lives just across the street and is over for dinner most evenings. Jonathan Miller lives down a few doors, close enough to borrow things from. Michael Frayn, playwright, is a neighbor, as is John Lahr, American theater critic, and a host of others. Some celebrities only pop in for cameo appearance, such as Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson.

The second part of the book consists of the letters Nina sent to Victoria from university. There's an overlap, as Nina was no longer the nanny, but Mary Kay invited her to stay at the house and Nina continued to help out but on a more casual basis. I found the university adventures less interesting than the Bloomsbury gossip.

Nina was a great letter writer, she included lots of detail, including plenty of snippets of conversation that give you a vivid picture of what the people in her life were like. She was hardly star struck, in fact her first letters to her sister describe Alan Bennett as being an actor in a soap opera and Jonathan Miller as being an opera singer.

A fun, quick trip back to the eighties for fans of the London book and theater crowd.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2014
Nina Stibbe moves to an upscale neighborhood in North London to become a nanny to Mary-Kay Wilmers, a single mother and editor of London Review of Books. She writes home to her sister, Victoria, "Being a nanny is great. Not like a job really. Just like living in someone else's life." Her charges are Mary-Kay's two sons, Sam and Will. Nine-year-old Will is the worrier; it’s 1982, and he’s concerned about nuclear war. Sam is 10 ½ and has some physical disabilities that aren't named. Appearing to take his condition in stride most of the time, he’s a keen observer who seems wise beyond his years.

The neighborhood is a Who's Who of literary and creative types. Alan Bennett, playwright and actor, drops in often, especially at meal time. Nina wrote Victoria that he starred in the long-running and very popular British soap opera “Coronation Street,” but she is incorrect. Jonathan Miller, actor and opera director, is another neighbor whose occupation Nina gets wrong. Eventually, she sorts it all out and comes to really enjoy being in the company of this eclectic group of folks. Her observations and descriptions of the friends and neighbors who come and go from the Wilmers household are fresh and unedited. She writes that Mary-Kay, Sam and William all have basin (bowl) haircuts, Mary-Kay often cusses, and privileged folks don't talk about money. She introduces her charges to Toffos, which Will decides are "just naked Rolos," and describes the men Mary-Kay dates.

Nina's letters to Victoria are full of opinions and bits of conversations about daily life. Nina dyes her plimsoles (sneakers) a greeny-blue in the washer, and then all the laundry seems to be a bit greeny-bluish. She is sent to the Millers to borrow a saw to trim the trunk of the Christmas tree, and the family misplaces it. Bottles of milk arrive regularly on their doorstep, but never a milk bill, even though Mary-Kay reminds the milkman. Meal-time conversations might be about the digestive system, pie fillings, a neighbor's large behind, or how to cuss in German. Children the ages of Sam and Will are keen observers of human nature, and their running commentaries are usually spot-on.

This peek into the domestic life of Mary-Kay, her children and their neighbors is quite interesting. Nina's descriptions are simple yet accurate, and readers feel like a fly on the wall. It would be interesting to dine with the family, even though Nina puts tinned tomatoes in the Hunter's Stew, which Alan Bennett considers a mistake.

Reviewed by Carole Turner
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2014
A delight. Laugh out loud. Letters can be awkward to read, but the economy of these ones, and in particular their use of dialogue, was winning. Nina Stibbe's youthful eye on domestic life was a pleasure.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2014
In 1982, Nina Stibbe moved from Leicestershire to London to take a job as a nanny. From 1982 until 1987, she worked as a nanny and went on to a polytechnic school. During this time, she wrote very frequent and detailed letters to her sister, Victoria. Love, Nina is a compilation of these letters. Nina describes being a nanny as "just like living in someone else's life" and this is exactly what readers are treated to in this novel. Nothing outrageous or sensational happens, but there are some funny parts and a few great one-liners. Overall though, reading this book was reminiscent of looking through someone else's photo albums. It is quite nice to see a few pages, but after a little while, you just want to skip to the end. That aside, I do think that the writing has a nice flow to it, so I would be interested in reading Ms. Stibbe's first work of fiction due to be published in the US in 2015.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2014
A fun, fresh and loving tale told through the eyes of Nina, a young nanny to a delightfully eccentric London family, taken from the letters Stibbe wrote home to her sister at the time. It's funny and sweet, with the sub-text of a young girl's intellect beginning to bloom in an encouraging hothouse. Subtle, clever and entirely winning, a great book for when you want to be uplifted and encouraged.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2014
I kept reading it, hoping that it would get better. But I did hang in with it, till the end. There are splashes of wit--not quite enough--
and some grit would have helped. The children are well drawn, and not insufferable as most charming children are.
All in all, a light, repeat light read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2014
I would not have chosen this read had it not been for a reviewer in some magazine calling it out as a surprisingly great summer read. ( I realize it isn't summer yet but you get the gist) Anyway, it is a memoir of sorts more like a british sit-com, The humor is dry, sarcastic and totally enjoyable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 3, 2014
My constant cracking up while reading this book prompted my husband to buy it too although he loathes doing this so that we have to pay for it twice on kindle. But his reaction was the same as mine We both howled with laughter all the way through. Hated to finish it. This is the only book Nina Stibbe has written? She makes the recounting of every day conversations between herself, her employer, her charges as a nanny and the friends who wander in and out of their home in London excruciatingly funny. I am relying on this book being a huge success so that she will be moved to write more. She is a great comedic talent.
Of the 300-odd books on my kindle this is the first that overcame my preference for getting on with the next one to bothering to review the last. I really really want her to write another. Please.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2014
I enjoyed this book so much, so many of Nina's letters to Vic had me in fits of laughter. I was as ignorant as Nina about background of some the friends and neighbours she met, so it was easy to understand the mistakes she made about their backgrounds. I loved MJ, Sam, Will and AB. What a wonderful time she had with them all. Its a joy to read a book that is funny, entertaining and made me laugh so hard it was actually painful.
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