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 one of her client’s houses, 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.

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.

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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 here.

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

Waiting by Jane Odiwe

Waiting by Jane Odiwe is a short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The story is part of the anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. It imagines the uncertainty Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot endure as they await Sir Walter’s approval for their marriage.

I first bought and read this anthology years ago. I decided to reread the stories since it’s been a while. I started with Waiting because Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Reading this story was like eating a sweet treat, it made me happy. It’s a bite-sized epilogue to Persuasion. It was nice to meet up with my favorite characters again. Bath was its own character and the bustling streets were brought to life for me, more so than in Persuasion.

My favorite part was the “flashback” to their initial meeting and when they fell in love with each other. It was nice to have a snippet from their shared past that wasn’t a part of Persuasion. Also, the story is told from both of their POVs, which is nice because their inner monologues show their worries and their love for each other.

I thought the author stayed true to Jane Austen’s writing style and to the original story itself. There was no deviation and it was a charming read. A perfect little story for an afternoon of light reading.

xoxo, Jane

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

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Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between The Wars tells the story of five important women during a time when they lived on the same street in Bloomsbury, London. They didn’t necessarily know each other, nor did they all live on Mecklenburgh Square during the same time. However, their lives, struggles and the street they lived on bind them together. This is the foundation that Francesca Wade builds on in her debut book about Hilda Doolitle (H.D.), Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

It took me almost two months to finish Square Haunting. Partly because it’s dense, academic reading and partly because I wanted to savor it. I loved reading this book and I learned so much, such as that H.D. was an American. How could I have not known that?

Francesca Wade took years to research and write this book. Her scholarly work shows through in the five sections devoted to the lives and scholarly pursuits of each woman.

“I like this London life in early summer – the street sauntering & square haunting.” Virginia Woolf, diary entry April 20, 1925

All five women were born during the Victorian era. An era when women had few options and weren’t allowed to think for themselves. The way the men in their lives treated them left me drained. All five of these ladies had to unlearn the social norms of Victorian society so they could flourish in their professions.

Even within the home, women were deterred from living a life of their choosing. To borrow Virginia Woolf’s famous words, a woman did not have a room of her own. For example, Francesca Wade highlights the difference between the study and the drawing room. A study was for a man. A woman was not allowed in the study, at least not without the man’s permission. The drawing room is a room reserved for the woman, but it is not her private room. Anyone can enter at any time, especially visitors. This resonated deeply with me; long after I finished reading the last page I am still thinking about the difference between these two rooms.

“The drawing room, Harrison wrote, was designated the wife’s territory, yet remained a public space, as ‘the room into which “visitors are shown” – a room in which you can’t possibly settle down to think, because anyone may come in at any moment.’ The husband’s study, by contrast, was ‘a place inviolate, guarded by immemorial taboos’, where the man of the house ‘thinks, and learns, and knows’; there were, Harrison noted, ‘rarely two chairs’ in the room.”

If you know even a little about Virginia Woolf, then you know how her life ends and Square Haunting does not gloss over it. World War II brought a great depression over her spirit. With airplane bombers flying over her house, and the bombings of London and the English countryside, it appeared to Woolf that there was no end in sight. After writing farewell notes for her husband and her sister, she walked into a river and drowned herself. Do you know what I wish? I wish I could invent a Time Machine and travel back in time to tell Woolf to hang on for just a few more years. That Churchill, and the Allies, would bring the war to a victorious end. I wish I could have told Woolf that not only would we win the war, but that future generations would come to admire, study and seek inspiration from the stand that Britain would make against Nazi Germany.

The current global pandemic is probably the worst event my generation has experienced. I must remind myself that for pre-Baby Boomers, life was generally awful: famine, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, the two World Wars… I could go on. Yet, these five ladies persevered through hardships and fought to make a living from their desired professions.

The women that dominate the pages of Square Haunting left me feeling inspired to continue working on my book and writing projects.

I’m glad I spent two months with these ladies. I thought about them as I went about my day. I thought about Sayers writing her detective fiction as I plotted my own fiction. I thought about Woolf worrying about the war as I pondered about our own economic and political troubles. And when I finished the book, even though I had tears streaming down my face, I felt a relief wash over me. Relieved that I honored them by reading about their lives and keeping their memories alive, but I also felt sad turning the last page because I was saying goodbye to my five ladies (as I privately began to call them).

Have you read Square Haunting or any of the published works of these five women?

xoxo, Jane

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

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Description:

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters

Three offbeat stories of crime and conundrum, set in the present moment, from The New York Times best-selling, Edgar Award-winning author of Underground Airlines and The Last Policeman.

Inside Jobs: Tales from a Time of Quarantine includes:

The Crimson Parrot
It’s not easy masterminding the crime of the century when your whole gang is working from home. A high-stakes tale of larceny, deception, and teleconferencing.

The Cape House
As the world shifts around them, two estranged brothers end up in their childhood home. But it’s the memories they unearth that will change them forever.

Stop Motion
With endless time on her hands, an apartment-bound young woman gets to all the hobbies she’s neglected—martial arts, playing the sax, photography…and solving a murder?

My thoughts

Normally, I’m not drawn to contemporary crime stories, but this collection of short stories is part of May’s free Audible Originals, so I thought I’d give it a listen.

The stories in Inside Jobs are set during the present-day Covid-19 pandemic. The title itself alludes to crime committed by those closest to you. When this nightmare first began, I told myself I would not read fiction about Covid-19. It’s just too soon for me. How could I possibly enjoy it? I mean, I still don’t read fiction about the September 11 terrorist attacks. I doubt I ever will.  But these three stories aren’t about Covid-19. Rather they are three cleverly constructed stories about people stuck at home. The pandemic acts as the reason for everyone being stuck. It worked well and didn’t cause me any stress.

The Crimson Parrot is a comical heist story. Imagine a gang of criminals attempting to commit a crime while stuck at home and via Zoom. There are arguments and misunderstandings. I laughed a lot.

The second story, The Cape House, is sad and intense. Two brothers reunite after the death of their father at their childhood home. Unfortunately one of the brothers is not mentally stable which causes further heartache. It was a depressing, but thought-provoking, story.

Stop Motion is a brilliant tale about a couple towards the end of their relationship. It had me at the edge of my seat because J.J, the ex-girlfriend, thinks she accidentally witnesses a crime. It was a charming story with very likable and relatable characters. The plot borrowed a little from the classic Hitchcock thriller, Rear Window.

What I love

I’m learning that the narrator can make or break an audiobook. Each short story in this collection has its own narrator, all three are fabulous. The voices and accents were spot on. I was never pulled out of the story, rather I was drawn in so much that I forgot about the boiling water on the stovetop.

What I don’t love

I can’t think of anything. I was really happy with this collection of short stories and I’m normally a tough customer.

What are you reading and what’s next on your TBR?

xoxo, Jane

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Description:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Written by J.K. Rowling. Read by Sally Mortemore, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Noma Dumezweni and Jude Law.

Performed by talented actors from across the Wizarding World, this is the first ever audiobook edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was originally written in 2007 by J.K. Rowling and has raised money for her children’s charity Lumos ever since.

As familiar to Hogwarts students as “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” are to Muggle children, Beedle’s stories are a collection of popular fairy tales written for young witches and wizards. So, if you’re wondering what’s in store in this brand-new audio edition…well, your ears are in for a treat.

Once you’ve checked this fabulous Hogwarts Library book out, you’ll start by hearing the author’s introduction, read by Sally Mortemore (librarian Madam Pince from the Harry Potter films). Then it’s time for the tales to begin….

My thoughts

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a recent convert to audiobooks. I listened to this book because it was a free download. I’m glad I downloaded it because it was wonderful to listen to five magical tales that got my mind off current worries. J.K. Rowling has a brilliant mind, that’s for sure. She not only created an entire set of fairy tales out of thin air, but she wrote this book to benefit the children’s charity she founded, Lumos.

It appears that this book is free for Audible members through January 7, 2021.

What I love

I enjoyed this book very much. It was really wonderful to return to the land of Harry Potter and it reminded me why I should reread the series. This audiobook has it all: sound effects, music, appropriate background clatter and a very animated Jude Law.

Each tale was clever and a few were funny. I met kings, warlocks, witches and entered an enchanted forest.  One story, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, was particularly good. It tells the story of a young warlock who wants to avoid falling in love and turns to dark magic to make sure it never happens.

I loved listening to Mr. Dumbledore (aka Jude Law) and the other fabulous characters who acted as narrators. Everything was so imaginative and I pictured a young Ron Weasley reading the tales. The book is only 1 hour and 36 minutes long, but I wish it could have kept going.

J.K. Rowling found ways to tie each tale into her Harry Potter novels. I should mention this book was written in 2007. I know, I’m really behind, but as they say: better late than never.

What I don’t love

That it ended.

xoxo, Jane

The Queen of Paris by Pamela Binnings Ewen

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The Dress: 100 Iconic Moments in Fashion by Megan Hess

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My recent finished read is a fashion illustration book. Megan Hess illustrated (with permission) 100 of the most iconic dresses in fashion history in her book, The Dress. The book is organized in six sections: Designers, Icons, Weddings, Music, Film and Oscars.

It’s more than just a book filled with nice illustrations. Every dress Megan Hess illustrates comes complete with historical tidbits or background about the history of the dress. Page after page, gorgeous dresses jump out at you. It’s truly a delight to pour through this book.

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One of my favorite dresses is this gown worn by Grace Kelly at the Oscars. I admit that I rewatch Grace Kelly movies (especially To Catch a Thief) over and over again simply for Grace Kelly’s sumptuous wardrobe.

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I adore this dress by Carolina Herrera. The floral ballgown was created in 2013 and Actress Lucy Liu wore it to the 2013 Golden Globes.

I also think the most touching part of the book is the author’s dedication: “For Gwyn. All the dresses I’ve drawn, and all the dresses I own, will one day be yours.”

Now on to the criticism. While each dress gets a double page feature (as shown above), I wish there was additional content devoted to each dress. The information was skimpy at best and could have used much more historical detail.

If you like the combination of history, fashion and illustrations, then this book might be for you. Now if only I can figure out how to make the dresses jump out of the book and into my wardrobe…

xoxo, Jane