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.)

Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner

Description

A practical, armchair travel guide that explores eighty of the most iconic literary locations from all over the globe that you can actually visit. A must-have for every fan of literature, Booked inspires readers to follow in their favorite characters footsteps by visiting the real-life locations portrayed in beloved novels including the Monroeville, Alabama courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird, Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and the Kyoto Bridge from Memoirs of a Geisha. The full-color photographs throughout reveal the settings readers have imagined again and again in their favorite books. 

My Thoughts

If you miss traveling, then I think Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner might be for you. It takes you to all the real-life locations mentioned in various novels (even Harry Potter earned a spot).

I like that the essays are organized by region (Americas, Europe, Africa, etc.) and that there is plenty of scenic photography to provide visual context to the literature. The section on Pemberley is my favorite part of the book.

As a writer and reader, I appreciate the sentiment in this thoughtful book. If you are in need of some arm-chair traveling, then this book might fill that need. The only downside is that the author primarily focuses on literary novels. I would have also liked to have read about cozy mysteries or romance novel locations. And it was a little disappointing that just one Jane Austen novel location is featured in the book.

Many thanks to The Unapologetic Bookworm for bringing this book to my attention.

xoxo, Jane

Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee

Description:

“You want me to find you a wife? “No. I want you to be my wife.”

Garrett Song is this close to taking the reins of his family’s LA fashion empire…until the Song matriarch insists he marry her handpicked bride first. To block her matchmaking, he recruits Natalie Sobol to pose as his wife. She needs a fake spouse as badly as he does. But when passion burns down their chaste agreement, the flames could destroy them all…

Will they end up with more than they bargained for?

What I love

Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee is the first book in The Heirs of Hansol series. This being a Harlequin, there is the requisite romance trope. This story uses one of my favorites: the fake marriage. What I love best about this story is the heroine. Natalie is super nice, sweet and honest. She admits right away to her fake fiancé that she is not good at lying so he’ll have to do it for her. I love that about her. I’m not good at lying either and wouldn’t be able to lie my way through an event (not that anyone is asking me to fake marry them). Natalie is also ambitious and smart and in the running for a Director position. But they both need to marry each other for their own reasons. Natalie needs Garrett so she can adopt a baby and Garrett needs a wife if he wants to be promoted to CEO. Garrett is not a jerk (and I’m so glad the days of jerk heroes are mostly behind us). The stakes are high, the hero and heroine are likable and I found myself rooting for them.

What I don’t love

There isn’t much I don’t love, but if I had to nitpick I’d say that from the time of the marriage agreement to the wedding day it all goes too fast. I feel like I was missing a few pages. Even the moving-in-together scene is glossed over. They went from being colleagues to suddenly being married. That said, I highly recommend this romance novel if you enjoy reading the other books in the Harlequin Desire line.

What are you reading these days?

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

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.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico is the most charming book I’ve ever read. If I knew how charming and heart-warming it was, I would have picked it up much sooner.

Originally published in the 1950s, this newer edition contains both stories in one novel. Though both stories are wonderful, I’ll focus on Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. The book introduces the reader to Mrs. Harris, a widow in her 60s who works as a housecleaner. Mrs. Harris, after falling in love with a particular Dior gown at a client’s house, decides she too must own such a fine creation.

It takes Mrs. Harris a few years to save up for the dress and a trip to Paris. She foregoes her weekly cinema excursion, economizes on her loose tea leaves and, at one point, even plays the lottery to win some money. After a few years of scrimping and saving, she meets her financial goal and sets off for France. This is her first time leaving the British Isles and she begins to feel nervous about it. Unfortunately, when she arrives to Paris, things don’t go as planned. For example, after one look at Mrs. Harris, the Dior staff refuse to help her. Soon though, her warmth and kindness win them over. Through her inimitable ways, Mrs. Harris charms the Dior staff (and practically all of Paris) who make her dream of owning a Dior gown come true.

Mrs. Harris may be a fictional character, but she is incredibly relatable because we’ve all known that one special person who always seems to remember our birthdays or surprises us with little unexpected gifts. It’s nice to read a book where a nice person is given a good life and a happy ending.

If you’re looking for a feel-good adventurous romp through Paris, then this book might be for you. Be sure to grab the copy that contains both stories because the New York adventure is just as charming and endearing. I loved getting to know Mrs. Harris and her entourage.

xoxo, Jane

July, August & September 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

In case you missed it, Part I and Part III.

I normally only read biographies of historic royals. But I had to read Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand because I am a huge fan of the Duchess of Sussex. I was horrified at the awful and biased treatment she received from the British press. I’m sad that she and Harry left royal life behind (at least for now) because I was looking forward to seeing her perform royal duties. Anyway, I digress. This is a great biography. The book takes you from Meghan’s early years to her acting days in Toronto. It talks about her impeccable work ethic and her ambition for an independent life. It talks about how Harry and Meghan met, about their joined values and the life they want to live together. It’s almost like you’re gossiping with a very good friend, who is filling you in on Harry and Meghan.

It’s interesting that the book begins with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about making your own path in life, almost like a foreshadow of what’s to come. I’ve learned that when it comes to women, few people like or approve of a woman who goes her own way in life. That’s probably why so many are mad at Meghan and Harry. They dared to go their own way. I think what we have to understand is that we don’t own Harry and Meghan. They are not our friends and don’t owe us anything. They are humans who are entitled to live the life they want to live. If you are a Meghan super fan, this book is for you. If you are angry that they are living a private life, you should probably pass.

The Real Sherlock by Lucinda Hawksley is an Audible Original about the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. It features the usual narration, but also interviews and interesting tidbits. If you’re a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, then this audiobook may be too elementary for you. I didn’t know Arthur Conan Doyle very well and it was fun to learn about him and how he created his most famous character.

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger is a graphic novel about the life of French fashion designer Christian Dior. If you like fashion and graphic novels, it might be a fun read for you. This link takes you to my earlier review.

The Secret Garden retold by Elizabeth Goodnight is a young child’s version of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I borrowed the audiobook from the library not realizing it was the shorter, condensed and retold version. Now that I listened to this version, I can tell you that it’s the perfect audiobook for children’s bedtime. The narrator’s voice is soothing and charming. Perfect for young children.

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is the sequel to The Royal We. If you enjoy royal fiction, then this is a great series. But you should start with The Royal We. The Heir Affair begins where The Royal We left off, with Bex and Nick married and in self-imposed exile. But when they’re discovered at their secret location, they return to Kensington Palace to face the music. The plot is almost slow and uneventful, until Bex discovers a huge royal secret with serious consequences. Bex and Nick try to figure out what to do with this earth-shattering secret. I won’t give it away, otherwise I’ll spoil it for you.

I hope you’re reading lots of fun books right now. I’ll post Part III at the end of September.

xoxo, Jane

Photo via Pexels.com

The Indignities Of Being A Woman by Merrill Markoe and Megan Koester

I subscribe to Audible, Amazon’s audiobook platform. They recently made a huge chunk of their catalog (Audible Plus Catalog) available to the monthly subscribers. This means that I don’t have to spend my credit on anything in the Audible Plus Catalog and can listen to as many books as I want. Sort of like a Netflix for audiobooks. I still have my monthly credit which I’ll use for those books that aren’t part of Audible Plus. Ok, all this to say that one of the free listens was The Indignities of Being a Woman by Merrill Markoe and Megan Koester. I am so glad I listened to this history book.

The Indignities of Being a Woman is a comedic walk through women’s history. The writers, who are comedians, broach serious subjects relating to women such as Inequality, Beauty, Religion, Fashion and Politics (and much, much more) but in a comedic way. You’ll definitely laugh. But you’ll probably get angry too. During Europe’s witch-burning years, many of those put on trial and burned as witches were married women without children because not having children as a married woman signified witchcraft. I would have been put to death for sure if I lived during that era. And since women’s history is generally not good, you may even cry a little. For example, marital rape in all fifty U.S. states was not illegal until 1993. (!!!)

What did I learn after listening to this book? I learned that I would have been killed in previous eras (or put in a sanitarium during the Victorian era). Basically, in the past, a woman who wanted to use her brain risked jail or death. I kid you not.

My favorite thing about The Indignities of Being a Woman is the two writers. They were funny, supportive of each other and had a lovely rapport. I felt like I was eavesdropping on two best friends chatting and laughing away. I didn’t know it was possible to make awful subjects funny, but they somehow succeeded. I should also warn you that a personal rape experience is discussed in this audiobook and it comes up several times.

Should you listen to this audiobook? If you are a feminist, interested in learning more about women’s history and want to support two female comedians/writers/creators then yes, you should listen to this audiobook.

Who should not listen to this audiobook? If you love Donald Trump, if you love to hate women and if you hate that women have rights, then this amazing, well-written, and funny audiobook is definitely not for you. But this begs the question, what the heck are you even doing reading my blog?

xoxo, Jane

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger is a graphic biographical novel about Mr. Dior and his eponymous fashion label, House of Dior. Originally published in French, it was translated into English in 2015.

The first Dior fashion show took place in 1947 in Paris. The story is told through Clara, a fictional character. The reader experiences, through Clara’s eyes, the very first Dior fashion show. This is where the world was first introduced to the “New Look.” The story doesn’t gloss over how controversial the New Look was. With war and austerity now behind France, Dior created feminine, waist-cinching skirts and dresses that reached down to the ankles. Women, however, didn’t want to go back to wearing longer dresses. They liked their short dresses just fine. But Dior, through his passion and a vision for a new post-war ideal, persevered and made his fashion house a success.

Clara also introduces the reader to the House of Dior and Dior’s “muses.” Though Clara is a fashion journalist, she soon quits her job to become one of Dior’s muses. This was a clever ploy because Clara and Dior become confidantes. This dynamic gives the reader a glimpse into the intimate details of the House of Dior and inside the mind of Dior himself. It worked because I found myself feeling sad for Dior’s lonely state since his wife’s passing. I saw him as a human, not just a famous fashion designer.

The book takes the reader from that very first show to the end of Mr. Dior’s life in 1957. It’s a very touching tribute to fashion and to the elegance that continues to be the House of Dior. In fact, I would describe this book as a love letter to fashion. If you are a fashionista or a lover of the history of fashion, then you’ll appreciate this book because the drawings of the dresses are sumptuous. Annie Goetzinger didn’t just write the novel, she also illustrated it.

I have one criticism about this book. Clara is a one-dimensional character. She lacks depth and has no strong feelings about anything. She quits her job, works for Mr. Dior, marries a rich man, quits her job again, spends time conversing with Mr. Dior, and so on. I think Clara’s sole purpose was to narrate the story of Mr. Dior. If you read the story knowing this, then you’ll be fine. Just don’t expect her to be multi-faceted, like heroines of other novels. That said, this is a charming book and it might help us, for just a few minutes, to get our minds off the troubling times we are living through.

Embed from Getty Images

Mr. Dior and his models.

xoxo, Jane

July, August & September 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

Hello, there!

It’s time for the quarterly wrap-up. I began the third quarter of the worst year of our lives with romance novels.

I began by reading Honor Bound by B.J. Daniels, which is the last book in her romance series, The Montana Hamiltons, set in Montana. I didn’t read any of the prior books which may be the reason why I felt pretty lost within the various story arcs happening in this particular novel. There were too many mentions of earlier characters I hadn’t met yet. When I wasn’t feeling lost, this was a decent story about the love and trials of the daughter of a man about to be elected president. The president-elect in the series is a Republican and normally I wouldn’t care, but because of the turbulent times we live in, the mention of a Republican left a bitter taste in my mouth. The Grand Ole Party (founded by Abraham Lincoln) is no more and no amount of sexy romance novel heroes can convince me otherwise.

Diamond in the Rough by Diana Palmer is a modern-day Cinderella story. The plot follows the 19-year old heroine and the hard life she leads. She falls in love with a very rich rancher who keeps his wealth hidden from her to make sure she really likes him for him and not his money. While it has a compelling plot, I wasn’t fond of the heroine. She kept complaining how she was a poor, stupid girl and that she’d rather knit than go out and that her nicest dress is two years old. I have clothes older than two years old so I can’t fathom how this is supposed to demonstrate to the reader that she is very poor indeed. I think the author implies that rich women buy new dresses daily. This book wasn’t a winner for me, mostly because I prefer to read about women who don’t think ill of themselves. However, I finished this book because for the life of me I can’t not finish a book. It’s an awful habit that must stop so I can reclaim my reading time.

The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards is one of my favorite reads of this quarter. It’s quite the gossipy and entertaining read. The book begins with an interesting tale of Princess Caroline in the 1980s. Just when the reader is sucked in to the drama of her divorce with Philippe Junot, the reader time-travels back to the very beginning of Monaco and to the very first Grimaldi. (Otto Canella, born in 1133, is the father of Grimaldo Canella, born in 1162, who in turn becomes the father of Oberto Grimaldi, born in 1188). It’s a very entertaining and highly recommended book if you are interested in Grimaldi history. The book was published in 1992, so obviously it does not cover the current Grimaldis. It is a good stepping stone into the early history of the Grimaldis. 

Paris to the Moon is a collection of short stories by essayist Adam Gopnik. They are witty, entertaining stories about living in Paris as an American. I’m a proud Francophile and loved reading this book very much. If you are interested, this link will take you to my earlier review.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is a biography of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. It’s a non-traditional biography in the sense that the reader peeks into glimpses of Princess Margaret’s life, most of the time not in chronological order. Each glimpse equals a short chapter. The chapters are so short that it makes for a fast read. I enjoyed this unique style of biography very much. Hint: Princess Margaret was an awful, selfish person. I’m sure she had some good qualities but it sounds like she was born in an era where royals were treated like God and didn’t have to earn respect. I think she’d hate being born a royal today because you can’t actually get away with being awful (or can you?).

Have you read any of these books?

I’m still reading. Part II and Part III.

xoxo, Jane

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

There is a lot to love about Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. To begin with, I adore the title. Paris to the Moon evokes something romantic from an old, bygone Paris. I love that the collection of essays are set in Paris. I also love that the essays are thoughtful, witty and, at-times, laugh-out-loud funny. I felt compelled to read many passages to my husband, much to his annoyance. “Yes, I know, he lives in Paris,” he’d say when I prefaced another out-loud reading with a “This writer who lives in Paris…”

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. It’s a collection of essays about living in Paris and I’m fascinated by the nuances of everyday Parisian life. But also because it’s written by a writer who manages to write full-time and support his family from his writing. I’m always interested in reading and learning more about that elusive, modern-day full-time writer.

Adam Gopnik moved to Paris with his wife and young son in the late 1990s. This book of essays is the culmination of his experience living there. He does not sugarcoat living in Paris, but even with the French bureaucracy and dossiers (you’ll have to read the book to understand why dossiers come up quite often), he loves living there with his family and I found it charming that he refers to his newborn daughter as their “French child.” Their son Luke, born in NY, is their “New York child.”

I should also mention that all of these essays were originally published in The New Yorker before they were compiled in this book.

My favorite essay is the one where he describes the fashion shows. I devoured the pages hoping for more essays on fashion, alas it was not to be. Instead I got essays on sports. Which, quite frankly, bored me to tears. What can I say, I like what I like.

When the author wrote about French cuisine, I felt pangs of hunger. I’m not sure if that was the author’s ultimate goal, but I immediately told my husband we’d be having something French for dinner. And I laughed out loud (again) when he compares the children’s figure Barney to President Clinton. The essays were full of unexpected thoughts and surprises about living in Paris.

All in all, this is an excellent book. Should you read it? I would say, read it only if you are truly interested in the nuances of everyday life as an American in Paris.

xoxo, Jane