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March 2021 Wrap-Up

March was a shamefully light reading month. In fact, I shouldn’t even be writing this blog post, but since my goal for 2021 is to write monthly wrap-ups (instead of quarterly wrap-ups), I’m going public with my shame.

So here we go…

I only read two short books in March! But in my defense, I listened to hours and hours of podcasts.

One of the books is An Accidental Birthright by Maisey Yates. The plot is quite unique. Bear with me here…the heroine is impregnated with the prince’s child due to a mix-up at an IVF clinic. It’s a weird concept (I can’t image this exact scenario happening in real life) but it worked for me. This forced a marriage with the prince (another concept that won’t work in real life but hey reading is fantasy, right?). I enjoyed this book because the prince is very kind and romantic; i.e. not a jerk at all. You know I hate the jerk heroes that seem to be prevalent in the older Harlequin novels. So, if you are looking for another Maisey Yates romance novel, then I recommend this one.

I also read Catherine Tinley’s debut novel, Waltzing with the Earl. I loved it! If you are looking for a historical novel with all the feels, then this is it. Set in 1814, it’s an updated version of the Cinderella story. In this story, the stepmother-figure is a distant aunt. Her two daughters take the part of the stepsisters and one of them provides comic relief with her antics and jealousy. The heroine, Charlotte, has to live with this family in their London home while her father finishes up his military campaigns on the Continent. It’s a really good take on the Cinderella plot, with a heroine who is intelligent, capable and independent. There is even a ball! The Earl is dashing. The conflict (the Earl can’t marry Charlotte because she’s poor) kept me on the edge of my seat! But my favorite part of this book really has to be the comical cousin. This book made me laugh and cry. I definitely plan to read the other books in this series.

What did you read in March?

xoxo, Jane

Pandemic Coloring

To ease some stress during the pandemic, I took to coloring in adult coloring books! I asked my husband for coloring pencils and coloring books as Christmas gifts and he delivered!

I’ve been obsessed with all things Victorian so my husband gave me two Victorian homes coloring books. What I love about them is that they aren’t just for coloring; there are sections explaining the history of the Victorian house and the functions of each room.

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Victorian Houses by A.G. Smith is a great one to pick up if you want to color (or draw) real Victorian houses. Each historic Victorian house illustration comes with an explanation of where it is located and what color scheme it currently is.

The Victorian House Coloring Book by Daniel Lewis (illustrated) and Kristin Helberg (written and researched) is a short history of Victorian homes. If you want to learn about the function of each room while coloring, then this is the book to pick up.

I’ve owned Secret Paris by Zoe De Las Cases since before the pandemic and am I ever so grateful for that. It’s a fun, whimsical book with illustrations of Paris life such as the picturesque streets, bistros and boutiques. It’s very cute.

What have you been doing to destress?

xoxo, Jane

Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court by Stefano Papi

As you can probably tell, I love royal jewelry and royal history. And I feed my passion by reading as much as I can on these subjects. One of my favorite books on royal jewelry is Jewels of the Romanovs: Family & Court (2nd edition) by Stefano Papi. The book is not just about royal jewelry, it’s also a Romanov history of sorts. 

I can’t rave enough about this book and have read every single word, more than once. Papi manages to tell a mesmerizing story with each jewel (this is the book where I first learned about the Vladimir Tiara and its fascinating origin story). This hefty tome is truly a treat. It’s not just an index of Romanov jewels and their whereabouts, but a history of the last Romanov family. 

The coffee-table book is divided in six sections. Papi begins with the story of the last tsar and his tight-knit family, then introduces you to the various family relations. The book ends with the tragic downfall of the last tsar and the dispersal of the royal jewelry.

There are plenty of images to bring the stories to life: photographs of the family and their sumptuous jewels, image reproductions and drawings. Each jewel has its own story to tell and Papi tells it magnificently. 

The only downside to this book? The cost. The list price is a hefty $75.00. However, last I checked Amazon had copies for approximately $60.00 or you may even be able to buy a less expensive used copy elsewhere. But don’t forget to check if your library has a copy for you to borrow. I still borrow many of my jewelry history books from the library. 

If you are interested in the Romanovs and their jewelry, I highly recommend this book. If you’ve already read it, please let me know your thoughts.

(This article is also posted at my other blog, The Royal Archivist.)

Hello

I haven’t been reading or writing much, which is why it’s been quiet on here. I’ve been taking long walks, cooking, watching a lot of tv and reflecting on life.

But this morning, I started reading a new Harlequin Historical so I think I’m back on track.

After the rain.

I don’t have any pictures of books to share, but I do have some spring flowers for you.

I took a walk after a rain shower and the reminder of spring and rebirth all around helped lift my spirits.

I can’t resist a blossom, that’s for sure. I read somewhere that it helps to find something to be grateful for every day. Well, today I’m grateful for the flowers all around us.

I hope wherever you are and whatever you are up to that you are safe and happy.

xoxo, Jane

March Library Haul

It’s always a good day when you have new library books to read. This month my taste runs a little wild: there are Nazis, royals and the decorative arts. I borrowed Royals and the Reich by Jonathan Petropoulos because I want to read more about the infamous crown jewels theft by American military members based in Germany after World War II. They were caught and sent to prison, but sadly a large portion of the historic jewels were never recovered.

I also picked up the guidebook to Hillwood Museum & Gardens so I can do some museum armchair visiting. If you haven’t heard of it, Hillwood Museum is an incredible mansion filled with Russian and French decorative arts.

I borrowed Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie so I can learn more about the Russia from before the Revolution.

A Taste for Splendor is another book by and about Hillwood Museum. The museum has a large selection of Russian decorative arts and I can’t wait to obsess over every page of this book.

What’s on your reading list for March?

xoxo, Jane

Spell the Month in Books – March

Last month I spelled February with books and it was great fun finding books in the house so I thought I’d do it again for March. Here we go!

Mariana by Monica Dickens is about a young Englishwoman and her adventures set in the 1930s. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Monica Dickens is a great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens! How can I not read this book!! Also, the novel is republished by Persephone Books and a book by Persephone has never disappointed me.

Next on the list is The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. This one is very high on my list to read because as you may know I really love reading books based on real princesses. This book is about the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sisi). I haven’t started reading it yet, but my guess is the title stems from the fact that Sisi wasn’t supposed to marry Emperor Franz Josef. He was supposed to marry her sister until he met Sisi and changed his mind. Hence, the “accidental.”

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart is another novel on my list. I’m fairly new to Mary Stewart and her romance and romantic suspense novels are the best! As the title suggests, the setting is a thatched cottage in the English countryside. It’s a romantic suspense set in 1947.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey is another book republished by Persephone Books. The story takes place during the course of a wedding day and focuses on the bride who is NOT marrying the man she loves (this is not a spoiler). I found it poignant and somewhat funny. The short novella is packed with emotion.

This illustrated copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is always a good idea!! The illustrations and various pull-out documents and maps contribute to an even funner reading experience.

What’s on your list for March?

xoxo, Jane

February 2021 Wrap-Up

Gari Melchers (1860-1932) Woman Reading by a Window

If reading takes you to new worlds then in February I traveled to 19th century Imperial Russia. February’s reading was more non-fiction than fiction but I plan to read more lighthearted books this month.

Chère Annette: Letters from Russia is a compilation of letters from Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her beloved (and probably favorite) daughter Anna Pavlovna in The Hague. Maria Feodorovna was the wife of Paul I and the mother of Alexander I. The letters were written between 1820 and 1828. The book’s editor traveled to the Netherlands to read and translate the letters from French into English. (The Russian court spoke French during this time). I would have also loved to read the letters Anna wrote to her mother, but I assume those letters are lost to history after 1917. If you are a Romanov super-fan I recommend this book. Reading the intimate letters between mother and daughter helped me see Maria Feodorovna in a new light. She was warm and caring. But I should also mention she was a fan of the death penalty for looters, rioters and revolutionaries (so I guess I can see why the events of 1917 unfolded). If you only have a passing interest in Romanov history, then I’d say skip this book.

Roman Holiday by Jody Taylor is a short story about “a bunch of disaster-prone historians who investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” In this story, the historians travel to ancient Rome. It’s hilarious. Highly recommended if you need a laugh.

A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is a fictionalized account of Princess Victoria (Vicky, and later Empress Frederick), the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It’s part historical fiction, part romance novel. It’s impossible to tell the story of Vicky without also talking about her beloved husband Fritz and this book did it brilliantly. I love this book so much that I worry my words won’t make it justice, but I wrote more about it here.

After reading A Most English Princess I wanted to learn more about the daughters of Empress Frederick. The Prussian Princesses: The Sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II by John Van Der Kiste was a fascinating account of their lives. Their lives were mostly sad. Makes you realize that being a princess is not guaranteed for a happily ever after. While their lives started happy enough, they soon delved into sadness and tragedy as was the case for most of the 20th century royals in countries where titles and properties were confiscated. I would only recommend this book if you have a good grasp of the various European monarchies because royals are frequently mentioned without a previous introduction, which may cause confusion.

How was your reading month? What’s next for you?

xoxo, Jane

Ranking the Jane Austen Novels

Hello, everyone! I can finally say that I’ve read every full-length novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817); Mansfield Park being my most recent Austen novel. It’s been a fun literary adventure. So now let’s rank them from least favorite to top favorite. And I hope you’ll share your favorite Austen novels in the comments!

No. 6Mansfield Park (1814)

Mansfield Park is my most recent read. While it’s a compelling story that contains several serious themes (slavery being one of them), it’s my least favorite Austen. I was not able to get past the love interests being first cousins. That’s honestly the only reason.

No. 5Emma (1815)

Emma is #5 on my list for the pure reason that the main character, Emma, is not likable. But the joke is on us since Jane Austen said that she purposely wrote about a character that only she would like. But it’s not fair to write off this book. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it because out of all the Austen heroines, Emma goes through the steepest learning curve in terms of character development. And that makes for an interesting read.

No. 4Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful story. The friendship between Elinor and Marianne (the two sisters who are also the main characters) is heart-warming. It’s a fascinating and highly entertaining read. This is one of the novels where Austen shines! She uses her skills to weave a story that has love, heartache and tons of humor.

No. 3Pride and Prejudice (1813)

It’s not a surprise that Pride and Prejudice is next on my list. The story sparkles with humor and misunderstandings that are nicely resolved by the end of the book. Lizzie Bennet is a great heroine. Intelligent, opinionated and fearless. Lizzie refuses to bow down to social norms and remains true to her principled self. Sometimes I wonder if Jane Austen wished she was a little more like her. And who knows, if Jane Austen was more financially independent she could have been a real-life Lizzie.

No. 2Northanger Abbey (1817)

Northanger Abbey was published posthumously. I really enjoyed reading this story. It very rarely makes the top three for readers but I think it’s genius. The theme is a mock-gothic tale. Jane Austen was brilliant because she took a fad (in this case the Gothic romance novels) and made it funny and timely for her readers.

No. 1Persuasion (1817)

My top favorite Jane Austen is Persuasion, also published posthumously. This book is my comfort read. I’ve read or listened to it many times over the years and I never tire of it. Anne Elliot is a nice woman who endures a lot of heartache. She has ridiculous sisters–to the point of being comedic. And it makes it all the more wonderful for Anne when she gets her happy ending.

It’s been a fun literary adventure! Persuasion was my favorite long before I finished reading the other novels. If you haven’t read Jane Austen yet I hope you’ll consider it!

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (A Most English Princess)

A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is about the life of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria (Vicky). When she was 17, she married Frederick (Friedrich or Fritz), the Crown Prince of Prussia. Their first child was Kaiser Wilhelm II. As far as dynastic marriages go, Vicky and Fritz shared a very happy and fulfilling marriage. A rarity in their era, they remained very much in love and committed to one another. The story takes you from Vicky’s childhood in England to married life in Prussia. It’s a fictionalized account but the author’s research shines through every conversation.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia painted by Oskar Begas, 1867.

Unfortunately their marriage was marred by hardship. First, their first born, Wilhelm, was a difficult child and grew into an obstinate, unkind adult who hated his “English mother.” On top of that, Bismarck never trusted Frederick and Vicky; they were too liberal and open-minded. For example, Frederick and Vicky believed in a free press. Bismarck did not. So Bismarck successfully convinced the Emperor not to allow the Crown Prince Couple to have any say in policy. Lastly, by the time Frederick took the throne as Frederick III, he was already terminally ill with cancer. He died just 99 days later. Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power and we all know how that went and where it led. (Though I should note that the book does not end with Frederick’s death. It ends much earlier and on a good note.)

Wikimedia Commons. Frederick in 1874, painted by Heinrich von Angeli.

The year 1888 is known as the Year of the Three Emperors (Wilhelm I, Frederick III, Wilhelm II) . And it’s easy to remember the year because just think of the three eights as the three emperors.

A Most English Princess is very well written and entertaining. I could not put it down. The history was accurate. Every character has both flaws and positive traits, which made me sympathize with and better understand the various historical characters. All this to say that if you enjoy royal history, British history or Prussian history, I highly recommend this book.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, painted by Franz Winterhalter, 1867.

Now on to our question of the day. Which tea should we pair with this novel? Well, in honor of Vicky, I’m pairing it with a fine English tea called Albion, which is the ancient name for England. I think Vicky would approve!

xoxo, Jane

PS. If royal history is your thing, I write about it here.

Paintings of Women Writing

A Lady Writing a Letter by Johannes Vermeer.

A year into the pandemic and we still can’t visit museums or other venues. At least we can enjoy art online. A number of my favorite museums are hosting virtual lectures and tours. You can even take 360° tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And the National Museum of Women in the Arts has an online exhibition you might like, The Book as Art: Books in Disguise.

Last week we looked at paintings of women reading. Today, let’s take a look at women writing.

I don’t know how I feel about this painting by Vermeer. The subject in the painting must be upper class because her coat is lined with ermine. Also, is she wearing large pearl earrings? She must be very rich indeed. How do you feel about this painting?

Young Woman Writing by Giovanni Boldini

The first thing that popped into my mind about this painting is that the subject doesn’t look very comfortable. But maybe that doesn’t matter since she seems focused on the letter she’s writing. Maybe she’s writing a love letter to a suitor…

Phillis Wheatley writing.

This is an etching of Phillis Wheatley. She was an enslaved woman who secured her own freedom. Phillis became a literary prodigy and visited London in 1773 to promote her poetry. I hope you want to learn more about Phillis. If you do, you can learn more about her on this podcast by The History Chicks.

Woman Writing a Letter, with her Maid by Johannes Vermeer 

I don’t know Vermeer well, but I am catching on that he enjoyed painting vivid scenes of women while they were writing. The detail in this painting is incredible. Did you notice the sealing wax on the floor? There is even a painting in the painting!

What’s your favorite painting of women?

xoxo, Jane

Spell the Month in Books – February

Hello! I saw this fun tag on Elaine Howlin’s blog and thought I’d give it a try. I think the idea is to spell out the books you want to read this month, but I’m cheating because I’m going to spell books I’ve read, books I won’t read and books I want to read. Here we go!

First up is Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. I picked it up at Costco and it’s been worth the purchase. It’s about the history of fashion and includes detailed timelines for every era. There is also an overwhelming amount of gorgeous illustrations and photography. I never tire of reading this book. For some reason, Amazon sellers are charging over $100.00 for a new copy. I bought mine at Costco for around $20.00. If you are interested, you should buy a used copy. I’d never pay that much for a book. There is no reason for it.

I haven’t read Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess yet, but I know I will enjoy it. I love reading Megan Hess’s beautiful books. If you haven’t heard of her, she is an illustrator and her books are illustrated tales of fashion history. This particular book is about the iconic fashion houses of Paris. Ooh la la.

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi is a must read if you are interested in royal history; especially if you are fascinated by the descandants of Queen Victoria. The five granddaughters that are the subjects of the book are Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Marie, Queen of Romania, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and Queen Maud of Norway.

The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes edited by Elizabeth Longford is a fun compilation of facts and tidbits about the British royals from Boudicca to Elizabeth II. I picked it up at a library book sale and it’s fun to peruse it from time to time. The book also contains numerous genealogical charts which I find useful since I love reading royal history.

I have no intention of reading Urban Guerrilla Warfare by Anthony James Joes. I don’t own any books that begin with U so I borrowed this from my husband’s office. If you are interested in the guerrilla conflict of Warsaw in 1944 or Budapest in 1956 then you may want to pick up this book as it comes highly recommended by my lovely husband.

A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton is about 19th century Viennese history, first published in 1980. I haven’t read it yet, but I will.

The publisher’s description: On January 30, 1889, at the champagne-splashed hight of the Viennese Carnival, the handsome and charming Crown Prince Rudolf fired a revolver at his teenaged mistress and then himself. The two shots that rang out at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods echo still.

Frederic Morton, author of the bestselling Rothschilds, deftly tells the haunting story of the Prince and his city, where, in the span of only ten months, “the Western dream started to go wrong.” In Rudolf’s Vienna moved other young men with striking intellectual and artistic talents—and all as frustrated as the Prince. Among them were: young Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, and the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde was the great erotic drama of the fin de siecle. Morton studies these and other gifted young men, interweaving their fates with that of the doomed Prince and the entire city through to the eve of Easter, just after Rudolf’s body is lowered into its permanent sarcophagus and a son named Adolf Hitler is born to Frau Klara Hitler.

The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of the history of the Romanovs, from beginning to end. I briefly began to read it just to get a taste, but I haven’t finished it yet. I do plan to read it soon though. It’s an excellent, detailed account of the fascinating history of the Romanovs.

I don’t own books that begin with Y (I do borrow from the library quite often and my personal collection is not extensive), so I paid a visit to my husband’s office and found Ypres: The First Battle 1914 by Ian F. W. Beckett. I have no intention of reading this book, but if you are interested in Word War I history my husband highly recommends it. (He is a WWI buff.)

And there you have it! February spelled out in books. This was super fun and I may do it again for March.

Have a great day!!

xoxo, Jane

Paintings of Women Reading

The Reader by Renoir

Do you like looking at paintings? I’m not an expert and I’m sure when I view a painting at a museum I’m probably not seeing what the artist meant for me to notice. But I do know what I like, whether I can explain it or not. This painting by Renoir is so interesting to me. It appears that the woman is wearing make-up and some type of overcoat. Maybe she’s at work but taking a brief moment to read her book? She seems lost in her novel and that’s nice to see.

Young Girl Reading by Fragonard

I’ve always loved this painting by Fragonard. I use it in my reading wrap-up posts. And a framed copy hangs on the wall above my reading chair. The young lady looks very comfortable in her chair and leaning against that puffy pillow. She seems lost in the story she’s reading.

Girls at the Piano by Renoir

This is also a Renoir, but not of women reading. I included it because the two sisters are reading; they’re reading music sheets. I’ve always loved this painting because of the comradeship between the sisters and the elegant but cozy room they’re spending time in.

Woman Reading by a Window by Gari Melchers

I saved the best for last. The woman in this painting looks so peaceful. I love the vibrant red hue peeking in from the garden. Also, from what little I can see of her house and garden, it appears to be a dreamy space.

Do you have favorite paintings of women reading?

xoxo, Jane