Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch

Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch is a tidy compilation of women’s roles during the Regency era. Bea Koch, a bookseller and bookstore owner, wrote this book to shed light and truth to the forgotten women who ruled the short era that is Regency England.

The women in the book, much like real life, come from varied backgrounds and of different religions. Bea Koch focuses on the women who made strides in astrology as much as on the Jewish women who dedicated their lives to education. It’s a fun and fascinating read, especially if you are interested in a diverse representation of women’s history. And if you love reading Regency romance novels then you’ll love reading this book.

All of the women featured are interesting, but the woman that touched my heart the most is Mary Seacole. A nurse just as good, if not better, as Florence Nightingale, she was ill-treated because of the color of her skin. She was refused a nursing position in the Crimea so she funded her own travels to help with the war effort. However, once there, she was rebuffed by Florence Nightingale. Nevertheless, she operated a hotel in Crimea for wounded soldiers and continued on with her nursing duties. Much like the women who came before and after her, she persevered through the racism.

What I love:

  • Each chapter ends with a conclusion and a list of recommended reading.
  • The book is timely because it’s about how history attempts to erase contributions of non-Whites. Something that continues to this day.
  • The men are blobbed out of the famous painting on the cover.
  • I can’t think of another book that compiles into one slim volume the important women of the Regency.

While the book has a few grammatical errors and some sentences seem overly chunky or stilted, I was able to overlook them enough to allow myself to get lost in Regency England.

Have you read Mad & Bad?

xoxo, Jane

The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

I’ve been putting off reading The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski because actual ghost stories terrify me. While this book isn’t a ghost story* (even though it’s described as such by several reviewers), it is an eery, spooky and unsettling read. I’m glad I read it and wish I hadn’t put it off for so long because it’s an excellent story.

The book begins in the present day, which in this case is 1953. In the very first scene we meet Melanie, who is at home with her doctor and recovering from childbirth. The first thing I notice is how the men in her life (her husband, the doctor) treat her, as if she is a helpless infant. For example, both the doctor and her husband do not trust her opinion and patronize her because, well, she is just a woman who needs men to tell her what’s best. Melanie seems to accept this way of life, even though I can tell she has a strong backbone. Upon the doctor’s advice that she get constant rest, Melanie lies down for a nap on the Victorian chaise-longue that she purchased during an earlier antique shopping excursion.

When Melanie wakes up, she is still on the chaise-longue but has somehow traveled back in time, 80 years earlier to be exact. The reader, along with Melanie, discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of her Victorian counterpart. There are other characters that seem to be the Victorian counterparts. There is a doctor, a possible love interest and a whole host of others who also patronize her. Melanie’s confusion and anguish at this turn of events was even making me feel as if someone was stifling me. The thought of not being able to get back felt like I was imprisoned. Whenever Melanie tries to explain her situation, the words would not come out of her mouth. If the words or situation didn’t exist during the Victorian period, then her mouth couldn’t formulate the cry for help. She could think about her era or her home, but it was impossible to speak about it since it hadn’t happened yet. How horrifying.

I found it to be a very well-written story, but an eery tale that left me feeling unsettled because it doesn’t have a proper ending. Or if it does have an “ending” then I’m still pondering its meaning. The author wrote the story in such a way that I was inside Melanie’s head, metaphorically crying for help along with her. In thinking about the horror of being stuck in somebody else’s body, at least I can close the book after finishing the last page. Melanie, not so much.

I highly recommend reading this book. It’s a thought-provoking, excellent story that transports you to the parlor room of a Victorian house during Victorian England. The foreword is written by P. D. James, the queen of suspense. The book can be read in a day or over a weekend. And because I spent October reading Victorian literature and about the Victorian era in general, I was able to pick up on the layout of the Victorian parlor room, the maid’s behavior and the general etiquette of the era through the Victorian characters’ demeanor. If I hadn’t educated myself about the Victorian era, I may have missed all these fascinating details.

xoxo, Jane

*A ghost story is described as fiction where ghosts appear in the story or the characters’ belief in ghosts are part of the premise.

Victober 2020 Finale

Victober reading.

This post is later than I had originally planned because the US elections consumed my every waking moment, driving me into the abyss of madness, stress and sheer exhaustion. However, all ended well. #relieved #thankgoodness

I enjoyed my first Victober reading challenge and will definitely partake again next year. Here is a run-down of the challenge and my thoughts.

  1. Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre. I picked Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s a collection of short stories about the fictional town of Cranford. Truth be told, it didn’t have much of a plot and sometimes I was bored. It was nice to read vignettes of Victorian English village life though.
  2. Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author. I decided to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was my first time reading anything by Dickens. I loved it! Why I waited so long to read this story I shall never know. I finally meet Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him. It is very cleverly written. I love that we get our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories. I’m also a little obsessed with Charles Dickens right now so feel free to tell me your favorite Dickens tidbits.
  3. Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters. I read a collection of letters written by Queen Victoria. I have mixed feelings about Queen Victoria. I’m no expert on her reign, but it really bothered me that she wrote letters about frivolous things while so many families (especially children) went hungry. The starvation during Victorian England was an epidemic so I was annoyed reading Queen Victoria’s letters raving on about that minister or that gathering when real life was horrific for the 99%.
  4. Read a Victorian book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. I read How To Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman and The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. This is the category where I cheated because both of these books were written long after the Victorian era, but that’s okay. Rules are meant to be broken, right?
  5. Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian. I don’t own anything Victorian so I wore perfume. The Victorians enjoyed perfume, so I think this counts.
  6. The Readalong: As part of a month-long readalong, I read Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. This was my second Charlotte Brontë book. The story is a bit of a love triangle with a lot of drama and some laughs. Everything ends nice and tidy though. While it was a wonderful story, I felt like it went on too long. There could have been a few scenes cut, methinks. But the Victorians, they loved their big books.

How did you fare with your Victorian reading?

xoxo, Jane

Reading Links #83

Image via Joebiden.com

Well, this week has been something. I had planned to write a couple bookish articles, but wow did that go off the rails. After a hellish and very exhausting week, I’m happy and relieved that Joe Biden is our new President-elect. And wow, the first woman VP-elect! How cool is that? Talk about shattering glass ceilings. In honor of Kamala Harris, today’s readings links are dedicated to her.

Kamala Harris’s historic victory speech.

55 Things You Need to Know About Kamala Harris.

The many identities of the first woman vice-president.

Kamala Harris’s sorority sisters reflect on their sisterhood and time at Howard University.

Kamala Harris is the First Black, South Asian, Woman Vice President of the United States.

Here’s to a better future for all of us.

xoxo, Jane

Nonfiction November

As part of Nonfiction November, I’m reading Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch. I’ll circle back with my thoughts once I’ve finished reading it.

Description: Discover a feminist pop history that looks beyond the Ton and Jane Austen to highlight the Regency women who succeeded on their own terms and were largely lost to history — until now. Regency England is a world immortalized by Jane Austen and Lord Byron in their beloved novels and poems. The popular image of the Regency continues to be mythologized by the hundreds of romance novels set in the period, which focus almost exclusively on wealthy, white, Christian members of the upper classes. But there are hundreds of fascinating women who don’t fit history books limited perception of what was historically accurate for early 19th century England. Women like Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave but was raised by her white father’s family in England, Caroline Herschel, who acted as her brother’s assistant as he hunted the heavens for comets, and ended up discovering eight on her own, Anne Lister, who lived on her own terms with her common-law wife at Shibden Hall, and Judith Montefiore, a Jewish woman who wrote the first English language Kosher cookbook.

As one of the owners of the successful romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, Bea Koch has had a front row seat to controversies surrounding what is accepted as “historically accurate” for the wildly popular Regency period. Following in the popular footsteps of books like Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History, Koch takes the Regency, one of the most loved and idealized historical time periods and a huge inspiration for American pop culture, and reveals the independent-minded, standard-breaking real historical women who lived life on their terms. She also examines broader questions of culture in chapters that focus on the LGBTQ and Jewish communities, the lives of women of color in the Regency, and women who broke barriers in fields like astronomy and paleontology. In Mad and Bad, we look beyond popular perception of the Regency into the even more vibrant, diverse, and fascinating historical truth.

The challenge consists of reading four nonfiction books over the course of the month, but I will probably just stick to this book for November since I’m also writing a series of short stories for NaNoWriMo. I believe this challenge was founded by Olive at A Book Olive, but please correct me if I’m wrong or if I’m missing any other founders. November will be a super busy month, but it should be fun and interesting. Also, the holiday season is upon us, my favorite time of year!! This year I’m decorating before Thanksgiving because 2020 is a bear. I’m sure no more explanation is needed.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

Reading Links #82

I don’t have any reading links this week. So instead I’ll leave you with a link to my current read, The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. Set in 1950s Britain, the main character somehow wakes up to discover she is inhabiting the body of a woman during the Victorian era. It’s the perfect spooky read, that’s for sure. Even though it’s not a Victorian novel, I made this book a part of my Victober challenge.

Happy Halloween!

xoxo, Jane

October Book Haul (oops)

I enjoyed listening to A Christmas Carol so much that I purchased the book to re-read for years to come. I picked up my pre-order from the bookshop but you know that it’s almost impossible for me to enter a bookshop and not browse. So I did just that and eventually left with a couple more books not on my list. C’est la vie.

I discovered this really cool version of Pride and Prejudice. Did I need it? No. Would it make me feel better during this terrible time? Yes!! This version includes the characters’ hand-written letters scattered throughout the book. The handwriting is beautiful. I love this book so much. I’m really glad I bought it and can’t wait to settle in with all of the letters.

Last but not least, I also picked up this bookish agenda for 2021. Besides the usual holidays, it also lists the birthdays of authors. I love it!

The bookshop also gave me an advance reader’s edition of Rachel Kushner’s upcoming book of essays, The Hard Crowd. I’m looking forward to trying something new. (And I’m pretty sure there is no relation to the inept, unqualified son-in-law adviser to the equally inept president.)

That’s all on my end. I’m near the end of my Victober reading challenge and will write more about it next week.

What’s on your reading list?

xoxo, Jane

Reading Links #81

Currently Reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hello, everyone. How was your week? Mine was fine, but I can’t believe Halloween is just around the corner. The weeks seem to be going by quick which, honestly, is a really good thing. I’m not watching the presidential debate tonight. My poor heart can’t take it. I’m going to bed early with my book (and my husband). I hope your weekend is filled with good books and that you have a safe place to call home.

My favorite museum guidebooks.

This article from April on what I’m enjoying during isolation is still…sadly…relevant. I sure didn’t expect us to still be in this hot mess. Let’s vote the **%#%* out of office. Ok?

What to read when you need an escape. Sadly, still relevant.

A very short history of the Lutetia Hotel in Paris. (This is a must read for a little history so we never forget the past.)

My pairing books with tea archives. In case you are looking for a rabbit hole or two.

I read A Christmas Carol and loved it!

Also, Where Do Reading Lists Come From? (And Why Do We Love Them?)

Have a great weekend!

xoxo, Jane

Victober Update (A Christmas Carol)

Image via Heritage Commons.

I did not expect to enjoy A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, first published in 1843. Also, this was my first time reading anything by Charles Dickens. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know if I’ve ever had the desire to read any of his works. But I’m so glad I did. This story was incredible. I’ve never seen any of the movie adaptations either, but I picked this story as part of Victober 2020 because of the film The Man Who Invented Christmas. The film was based on this book, in case you’re interested. I listened to A Christmas Carol on Audible narrated by Tim Curry, who did a phenomenal job. If you want to listen to the story, I recommend the version narrated by Tim Curry.

It was fascinating to get to know Mr. Scrooge and seeing his transformation into a better human being. Even though many films and books copied Charles Dickens’ original idea of the ghosts from the past and the present, it was interesting to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (which I found the most ominous). The plot is a pretty brilliant idea and the fact that lots of our Christmas traditions stem from it makes the story even more wonderful. Also, this is the perfect Christmas read to get into the holiday spirit, so I plan to re-read it in November.

Have you read A Christmas Carol?

xoxo, Jane

Reading Links #80

View of the Cloaca Maxima, Rome, 1814 by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg.

Good morning! I hope your weekend is off to a lovely start!!

Grab your cup of tea and enjoy some light procrastination.

Painting returned 87 years after Nazis stole it from a Jewish family in Berlin. I always cry with relief when I hear of stolen property being returned. Though it can’t undo the pain and trauma.

I’m listening to Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. It’s not as good as Jane Eyre, but it’s a completely different story so it’s not fair to compare them. It’s a bit of a love triangle between two good friends and the man they both love. I’m just not sure how I feel about it yet, but I’ll write more when I finish listening to the audiobook.

Victober 2020 is so much fun. Yesterday I gave a mid-month Victober update.

A Beginner’s Guide to Gothic Fantasy and Best Books.

9 Halloween books to read with your kids this October.

Jane Brontë’s obituary by The New York Times.

The secret meaning of ghost stories.

Why embracing change is the key to a good life.

xoxo, Jane

Victober Update

Let’s have a little Victober check-in, shall we? I finished reading How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. It was a fabulous read. The author lived like a Victorian for one year so she could write this book. The details were just riveting. It was so interesting that I lost myself in the book for hours at a time, but every once in a while I was jolted out of my revery when I came across the most unsavory details (like learning all about the privy). Parts of it were also painful to read, such as the section on fashion which described what corsets actually did to the body.

I don’t know if you could convince me to live like a Victorian even for a day, but I am incredibly grateful that Ms. Goodman lived the Victorian experience so I could read all about it in this book. I think it gave me a better understanding and appreciation of Victorian literature.

A few interesting tidbits from the book:

  • The Victorians believed that women were weak and that corsets would hold them together.
  • When the new fancy toilets began to appear in households, Victorians believed that servants or institutionalized people were not smart enough to use a toilet.
  • America was the leader in the production of toilet paper. The first brand was launched in 1857. The first British toilet paper company began production in 1880.
  • Mutton-chop side burns were all the rage.
  • Hunger was a pandemic.
  • School beatings were beyond cruel. Some children died from the beatings.

Gosh, Charlotte Brontë did not exaggerate in Jane Eyre, that’s for sure. Not that I ever thought she was exaggerating, but How to Be a Victorian brought the Victorian era to life for me. And what about Charles Dickens? He definitely didn’t exaggerate in his novels, not one tiny bit. His personal experiences from living in a workhouse made their way into his books. But Ms. Goodman’s book wasn’t all doom and gloom. It discusses the bravery of the feminists, improvements in the treatment of children, and fun-to-read details about the many innovations that came out of the Industrial Revolution.

I was especially touched by how the author ended her book. “If I could speak to any of them [Victorians] back down the years, I would like to say ‘thank you.’ I cannot imagine that any of the great improvements that have made my life so much more comfortable and healthy could have happened without their efforts. It is not just the revolutionary ideas or the actions of the powerful that make the world, it is the cumulative work of everyone. Victorian Britons – we owe you.” – Ruth Goodman

On a lighter note, next up in my Victober reading is Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is about the imaginary village of Cranford and its inhabitants. Originally it wasn’t meant to be a novel, but vignettes of village life. I’ve never read Gaskell before and am so looking forward to it.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #79

Autumn!

I binge-watched Netflix’s Emily in Paris. It’s an adorable new series about a marketing executive from Chicago who takes a job in Paris. She learns to navigate French work culture, dating and getting by on zero French. The Atlantic wrote that Emily in Paris is an Irresistible Fantasy. But French critics blasted it as “embarrassing.” Have you seen it?

I’m still reading How to Be a Victorian and listening to Shirley by Charlotte Brontë and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. And since we’re talking about Victober, why was Victorian London so smelly?

Speaking of Victorian London, have you seen this interesting article about Queen Victoria’s goddaughter?

Have a lovely October day and a nice weekend!

xoxo, Jane