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I’m ready for 2021 (and my new planners)

Well, I don’t know about you but I sure am ready to say farewell to 2020 in the hope that 2021 will treat us more gently.

My two new planners should see me through the new year. For 2021, I have a desk planner, plus a smaller one for my handbag and future travel (you know, for the days when we are allowed to go places again). In the past, I’ve lugged my big planner around with me on airplanes which is cumbersome. The smaller planner will be much better, plus it can hold my passport and credit cards.

I’ve always been a big lover of paper planners. Planners help me stay organized and efficient. Plus, if I write down my to-do list it helps me sleep better. Another weird thing about me, if I write something down (even if it’s having lunch with so and so), I don’t cancel the plans no matter what. It’s not in me to not go through with something once it’s written on paper. However, I must admit, lately I’ve been easing up on my massive to-do list and allowing myself to transfer tasks to the next day. (#2020!)

The Bibliophile Planner is a weekly calendar with a two-page horizontal spread per week and includes a notes section. The monthly section has a place for writing down the books you’ve read and the books you want to read. There is also the usual month-at-a-glance, which I will use for blog post titles and blog ideas. So there you have it, a pretty decent planner to help me stay focused and on task for the coming year.

My favorite part about it? The author birthdays, full-color graphics of books and literary milestones throughout the planner.

Do you use paper planners?

xoxo, Jane

Favorite Books of 2020

I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read this year, but there are a few that touched my heart in one way or another.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico is a charming novel about an elderly woman who works as a housecleaner for several households. One day she comes across a gorgeous dress by Dior and decides she needs to own one just like it. She isn’t rich and decides to do without a number of little luxuries, like tea, to save money for the dress. Finally, after meeting her financial goal, Mrs. Harris takes a trip (her first time on an airplane) to Paris to visit the House of Dior. It’s a heartwarming tale of going after what you want.

Persuasion by Jane Austen was a re-read, which proved to me how much I still love this novel. Anne Elliot is a nice woman who gets her happy ending with Captain Wentworth. This is the kind of book I like to read. Life is hard as it is, so it’s nice to lose myself in a fantasy world.

How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman is her amazing experiment of living like a Victorian for an entire year. I enjoyed following the author along on her Victorian journey. I highly recommend it for those who are fascinated by the Victorian era.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens really touched my heart. I’ve put off reading Charles Dickens because I thought his stories would bore me. And maybe some of his books will bore me, but this story is something special. It tells you everything you need to know about Charles Dickens. He cared for social justice very much, which is evident in every aspect of this story. I think he did a lot for humanity by writing A Christmas Carol. For example, before this story was published, it wasn’t normal for employers to pay their employees to take time off (even for Christmas). We also get a number of our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens. He did so much good by writing this story and I’m glad I finally read it.

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade details the lives of five women (H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf) who lived on the same London street between the two world wars. It’s a touching account of the struggles and sexism they endured to get ahead in their chosen professions. The author did an excellent job of tying all five women together.

What are your favorite books of 2020?

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (To Marry an English Lord)

It’s been a while since we’ve had a book and tea pairing so today we are pairing a good cup of tea with one of my all-time favorite books, To Marry an English Lord.

To Marry an English Lord is about the American women who “swapped dollars for titles” by marrying titled British men and moving to the UK. This book was an inspiration for Downton Abbey (Cora is a dollar princess). With meticulous research, Gail MacColl and Carol Mcd. Wallace write in great detail about the women, the men they married and loved (or didn’t love) and the grand houses they lived in. They also give lots and lots of gossipy anecdotes. It’s a fun book that includes plenty of illustrations and a handy directory of the American heiresses. I love a well-researched book about women from history.

When it came time to pair a cup of tea with this book, I had to pick Fortnum’s Albion, a strong black brew. Albion, the ancient name for Britain, makes a perfect pairing. What do you think?

xoxo, Jane

October, November & December 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

The first part of the last quarter of 2020 was dominated by Victorian-themed reading and began with How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. I’m glad I read this book first because it gave me a deeper understanding of the Victorian period which helped me better understand the literature written during the Victorian era. Ruth Goodman spent a year living like a Victorian (literally) to write her book. It was a fascinating inside look of the era. I wrote more about it in an earlier post.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is my first Charles Dickens story and certainly not my last. It was nice to finally meet Ebenezer Scrooge in the written form.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë was my second Brontë novel, after Jane Eyre. The story centers around two friends, Shirley and Caroline, and their romantic interests. It is a fascinating study of Industrial England after the Napoleonic wars but left me feeling that Jane Eyre will remain my favorite Brontë novel, whether I read the other works or not. Fun fact: Shirley is originally a male name, but this novel helped transform Shirley into a female name. Today it’s predominantly female.

I also read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I really do enjoy reading classic literature (as is evident by this blog) but I didn’t enjoy Cranford as much as I thought I would. It’s not a novel, rather a set of interconnected short stories about a group of people in a fictional village in England. While the writing is beautiful, I found myself feeling bored due to the lack of plot. But don’t let this turn you off from reading Gaskell.

The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski is a spooky novella from the 1950s republished by Persephone. I say spooky because the main character takes a nap and wakes up in someone else’s body. It’s short and thought-provoking.

Outside of the realm of the Victorian, I also read Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch. This is a fun compilation of important women of the Regency era. I love reading books about women and women’s history. I wrote more about this book in an earlier post.

So, have you read any of these books?

Find Part II here. Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

Bring on the holiday books: Snow Day by Tony Vassiliadis

Happy December 1st! If you need a sweet, short romantic audiobook to start off your holiday reading, may I recommend Snow Day by Tony Vassiliadis?

Description: What makes for a wonderful life? On a crowded Christmas train from Milan to Paris, Amy, an American headed to meet her fiancé, and Martijn, a Finn headed anywhere but home, meet cute. But when their train gets delayed in an Italian Alps hill town due to a snow storm, they, along with a passel of fellow stranded passengers, find comfort and joy in a cozy inn, run by a wise Italian man who forces them to look at the holiday and each other in a whole new light. 

This fun audiobook is only a little over one hour long. It makes for a quick listen to get you in the holiday spirit. The two main characters, who meet on a train and then get stuck together because of a snow storm, are completely likable and lovable. The narration is just wonderful. It’s a full cast with plenty of soundtrack and background noise, just like listening to a romantic, holiday movie or a radio program. The setting is beautiful Italy during Christmas. I loved it and highly recommend it.

This was created for audio only, so it doesn’t exist in book form. But if you love reading short romantic stories, you’ll love listening to Snow Day. Happy Holidays!

xoxo, Jane

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