“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis
Hello, all! It’s been as silent as the grave on my blog because I’ve been busy enjoying life and sometimes I just don’t have anything to share if I’m in the middle of reading books. I don’t read as fast as most of you. But right now I’m extra busy because I’m taking a course via FutureLearn. If you haven’t heard of FutureLearn I recommend you stop by to check it out. They offer free university courses on virtually every subject. The course I’m taking is a throwback to my BA in English, Literature of the English Country House. It focuses on studying literature through the historical context and through close reading. I admit I don’t close read most of the time, so this course is useful (and super fun!). I would also like to try my hand at writing poetry so the next course I plan to sign up for is How to Make a Poem.
Other things entertaining me: The Great Courses via Audible, my current course is American Heiresses of the Gilded Age. I’m also currently reading a Harlequin Historical novel, Taken by the Border Rebel by Blythe Gifford. And taking lots of walks and soaking up the blossoms before they disappear.
What have you been up to?
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?
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.
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?
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.)
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.
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.
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 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?
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?
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?
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. 6 – Mansfield 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. 5 – Emma (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. 4 – Sense 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. 3 – Pride 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. 2 – Northanger 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. 1 – Persuasion (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!
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.
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.)
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.
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!
PS. If royal history is your thing, I write about it here.
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?
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…
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.
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?