Books for the Romantic

With the holidays behind us and Valentine’s Day in the near future, can we talk about books for the romantic at heart?

It’s no secret that Persuasion by Jane Austen is my favorite novel. It’s about the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Anne is persuaded to end her relationship with Wentworth because he has no prospects, a decision Anne regrets almost immediately. Luckily for her, the young man, now an older Captain Wentworth, returns home, rich from the Napoleonic wars. Captain Wentworth, at first weary and hurt, plays a little hard to get. No one said the path to love wasn’t going to be rocky. It’s a very satisfying and fulfilling love story.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson is the story of an older, down-on-her-luck governess. She has no money to buy food, no money to pay her rent and the workhouse is looming. Things can’t get any worse when she accidentally lands a job with a young American nightclub singer, Miss LaFosse. Miss LaFosse, not a child nor in need of a governess, nevertheless takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing. Before the employment agency is made aware of their error, Miss Pettigrew embarks on a mad-cap tour of London with Miss LaFosse, where she finds mayhem and true love. It’s silly, frothy and romantic. It’s a Cinderella story and Miss LaFosse, young, beautiful and silly, acts as Miss Pettigrew’s godmother. I highly recommend reading it.

Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole is a short story set in the court of King James IV. Agnes Moor, an African woman, is considered the “exotic” of the court. She also acts as an informal adviser to the King. But when the King organizes a tournament, a Scottish knight vies for Agnes’ heart and uses the tournament to prove his love for her. It’s so romantic and perfect to read for Valentine’s Day. If you are in need of a Scottish Highlander tale, then look no further.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (of The Secret Garden fame) is part Cinderella-story, part dramatic thriller. The heroine, penniless and with no options left to better her situation, attracts the eye of a wealthy Marquess. They marry and live happily ever after. Or at least that’s how the story is supposed to end. But in this story, the ending doesn’t come with the wedding. After the wedding, ominous characters appear out of the woodwork to make the Marchioness disappear. I won’t give away anymore, but I’ll just say that love conquers all.

The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly is an excellent regency romance. The heroine, Sally Paul, is living on her last penny when she meets Admiral Charles Bright. The Admiral swiftly marries her, but as they embark on their new life together trouble looms ahead. This Cinderella story has tension, a little mystery and a very satisfying ending.

These are just a few of the romantic books I’ve read over the years and still love very much.

What are your favorite romantic novels?

xoxo, Jane

New book for my TBR pile: A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh

I’m excited for my next read. A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh is a novel based on the life of Princess Vicky, the daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She married the Crown Prince of Prussia, Frederick (later Kaiser Frederick III). Before diving in, here are some of the facts I know about Vicky: She truly loved her husband and he loved her. Their eldest son, Kaiser Wilhelm II treated her in an atrocious manner. Shortly before she died in 1901, Vicky sent her letters and other documents home to her brother, Edward VII, because she knew Kaiser Wilhem II would confiscate or destroy them. This correspondence included letters her mother, Queen Victoria, had written to Vicky over the decades. Also, Vicky’s husband was Kaiser for less than 100 days before he died of his illness. Though this novel is fiction, I’m really looking forward to diving in.

xoxo, Jane

From HaperCollins Publishers:

To the world, she was Princess Victoria, daughter of a queen, wife of an emperor, and mother of Kaiser Wilhelm. Her family just called her Vicky…smart, pretty, and self-assured, she changed the course of the world.

January 1858: Princess Victoria glides down the aisle of St James Chapel to the waiting arms of her beloved, Fritz, Prince Frederick, heir to the powerful kingdom of Prussia. Although theirs is no mere political match, Vicky is determined that she and Fritz will lead by example, just as her parents Victoria and Albert had done, and also bring about a liberal and united Germany. 

Brought up to believe in the rightness of her cause, Vicky nonetheless struggles to thrive in the constrained Prussian court, where each day she seems to take a wrong step. And her status as the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria does little to smooth over the conflicts she faces. 

But handsome, gallant Fritz is always by her side, as they navigate court intrigue, and challenge the cunning Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, while fighting for the throne—and the soul of a nation. At home they endure tragedy, including their son, Wilhelm, rejecting all they stand for.

Clare McHugh tells the enthralling and riveting story of Victoria, the Princess Royal—from her younger years as the apple of her father Albert’s eyes through her rise to power atop the mighty German empire to her final months of life.

Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading

Earlier this week, I wrote a draft about some of the fabulous books I’m looking forward to reading this year. But that got waylaid because of the awful events on January 6, 2021 right here in my backyard. I’ve been in shell shock ever since. I’m upset, scared and horrified. Domestic terrorists came to my town from all over the United States and caused brutality. But here’s the thing. Us non-terrorist Americans are pretty damn resilient. We don’t cower. We’ll continue to vote, we’ll continue to educate ourselves and stand up to tyranny. Also, the United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists, so my guess is the domestic terrorists will end up in a federal penitentiary. Good riddance!

Now on to books.

Speaking of resilient Americans, A Promised Land by Barack Obama is his post-presidential memoir. I miss him so very much. I don’t have the words to describe my feelings, really. This memoir was a very thoughtful Christmas present from my wonderful husband.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is also on the list because I keep starting it, but never finishing. I’m determined to read it this month. Mansfield Park will be the last Jane Austen full-length novel waiting for me to read. After that, I plan to read the shorter or unfinished works she wrote. Hooray for Jane Austen in January.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling will be a reread (after first reading it over a decade ago) and this particular edition contains the most gorgeous illustrations I’ve ever seen. I’ve already started admiring the illustrations and can’t wait to really dive in. This is going to be such a fun read.

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne tells the story of two women, one set in present day America, the other in Nazi Germany. Jane Thynne is a phenomenal storyteller. Her research is immaculate and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the time period she writes about. I always enjoy reading her female characters, as she makes them real and likable. Jane Thynne’s books are auto-buys for me.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is the story of Mary Bennet, the youngest (and annoying) Bennet sister. I bought this book last year but never got around to reading it. I love that Mary gets her own story and I’m very much looking forward to diving in and getting to know the real Mary Bennet.

What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Do you have any recommendations for me?

xoxo, Jane

Christmas Book Haul

Hi! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday.

I must have been on the nice list this year because Santa brought me some lovely books to read and enjoy.

My TBR pile just got a little longer, but I don’t mind. I received A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer. It’s a murder mystery and I’m very excited about it because I love a good manor house story. It will make for a perfect winter read, so I actually plan to read it soon and not wait for the next Christmas season.

Next on the list is Walking Dickens’ London. At least this way I can armchair travel through Dickensian London.

There is also an illustrated Harry Potter book which features so many pop-up pages, maps and other magical items that I think I may lose my mind from joy. I’m still a kid at heart.

I also received President Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. I think it will take me a while to pick up this book because I miss him and I’m still sad about what came after his presidency. I don’t know if I will ever get over the travesty, chaos and horror of the last four years. But I’m happy to own this presidential memoir written by America’s first African-American president. I only wish it was signed. Maybe if I reach out to his office, his staff might send me a signed bookplate?

Last but not least, Santa also brought me Geoffrey Munn’s latest book, Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years. I’m over the moon excited because jewelry and royal history is my catnip. Wartski specializes in selling antique jewelry, such as Fabergé items of imperial provenance. This book details the history of their first 150 years of business.

Did you get a lot of reading done over the holidays?

(PS. Many thanks to my wonderful husband who masquerades as Santa Claus every year.)

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

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

Victober 2020

I’ve decided to participate in the upcoming Victober reading challenge. I’ve never done it before (actually, I’ve never heard of it before) but I’ve been wanting to read more Victorian literature and I think this challenge is a nice way to dive in. Short of just a few novels, I’ve never spent much time with Victorian authors. I’ve never even read Charles Dickens.

What is Victober? Victorian October is about reading Victorian literature all month long. It was created by the current co-hosts Katie at Books and Things, Kate Howe and Lucy the Reader. So, for the purposes of this challenge, the definition of Victorian literature is a book written or published by a British or Irish writer, or a writer residing in Britain or Ireland, in the years 1837-1901. But I’ve decided to only read books that I own or I can access from Project Gutenberg. This means that I’ll alter the challenge slightly to suit my needs.

The Challenge

Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters: I’m thinking about reading a small portion of Queen Victoria’s letters. They are available on Project Gutenberg.
Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author: I’ll listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens on Audible.
Read a Victorian book from a previous Victober TBR that you didn’t get to, or one you’ve been meaning to read for ages: This is where I’m cheating a little. I’ll be reading a modern-day nonfiction by Ruth Goodman, How to Be a Victorian. I’ve already started reading it and it’s been on my TBR for a few years. I think it’s a nice way to learn about the Victorian era while I read actual Victorian literature. I would also like to read The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski, first published in 1953. Not Victorian, but the main character wakes up in the Victorian period where she inhabits the body of a Victorian person. It’s a bit of a nightmare situation because she can’t figure out how to come back. I am terrified to read it and have been putting it off.
Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian/Victorian-esque: This is a fun idea and I’ll have to think about it. Maybe there is something in my wardrobe slightly Victorian-esque. I’ll have to check.

The Read-Along

Part of the challenge is reading a book along with everyone else. You can join the Goodreads Group if you want, but I prefer to read it alone. The book assignment is Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. The only Brontë book I’ve ever read is Jane Eyre, which I love very much. I feel daunted by Shirley, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Will you participate in Victober 2020? Who are your favorite Victorian authors?

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

Another Small Book Haul

Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends. Canada and Canada Day will always have a special place in my heart because once upon a time after returning home to the US from Montreal (during Canada Day weekend) I met my husband. Le sigh.

This year is quickly becoming the year I bought the most books. Let’s start with Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. I won’t lie, I bought it because of the adorable title. Luckily, the plot is just as cute. This edition contains two novellas, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs Harris Goes to New York. Mrs. Harris is a Londoner and senior citizen who travels to Paris simply to buy a Dior dress. I’d love to own a vintage Dior dress myself, so I can sympathize with Mrs. Harris. It’ll make for a fun summer read.

I also received in the mail the latest book in my Persephone Books subscription, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It was written in 1924 and takes place in a small town in America. The premise of the story is that after the husband and father of the family hurts himself and becomes wheel-chair bound, his wife takes a position at a department store to support the family. The father then becomes the home-maker. It was written in a period where it wasn’t normal for men to stay home and raise children. I also learned that the term “home-maker” is an American term not used in the UK. Persephone Books lists it as a feminist book but is quick to note that Dorothy Canfield Fisher did not consider herself a feminist. I’m grateful that I learned about her through Persephone Books. Even though she was a prolific writer in her day, I had never heard of her, nor did we study her in school and college.

After hearing Miranda Mills of Miranda’s Notebook review The Almanac Journal by Lia Leendertz, I had to buy it. It’s a journal where you record your thoughts and notes on the firsts of every season. Such as when you notice the first rose, the first snow, the first anything. The idea of the journal is to help you enjoy and appreciate nature.

The last book on my list is not a book. It’s a book of stickers, The Antiquarian Sticker Book. It was definitely a splurge (for me) and I could easily live without it, but I really wanted it. The stickers are gorgeous. I plan to use them on letters, cards and in my planner.

The book itself is a beautiful hardback. It contains over 1000 stickers, all themed in the Victorian era style. I’m very happy with it.

Have you bought any books lately?

xoxo, Jane

Library Haul

My local library is not yet open to the public, but they are letting us borrow books with curbside pick-up. I borrowed one book of essays and two royal history books.

You may have heard of Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker. In 1995, he moved to Paris with his wife and young child. This book is a collection of essays inspired by his time living in Paris.

The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards was published in 1992. I don’t know anything about Anne Edwards or whether this book was well-received. However, it sounds like an interesting read and a good introduction to the history of the Grimaldis.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is just as the title says. It’s not a traditional biography of Princess Margaret. The front flap reads: “Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty, moving meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.” Sounds like a good escape to me.

I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t know with which book to start. I suppose this is not a bad problem to have.

What’s on your nightstand?

xoxo, Jane

Book Haul Update

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I bought more books to add to my Penguin Clothbound Classics collection. This should be the last ones I buy because I now own the full-length Jane Austen novels in this collection. My goal wasn’t to own the entire Jane Austen set, but the pandemic forced me to do a little bit of retail therapy to support my small, independent bookshop.

I bought Northanger Abbey from the collection which I’ve read before and enjoyed the movie adaptation. I also bought Mansfield Park, which I haven’t read and is up next. I am a little bit weary of this novel because it’s about cousin love (the hero and heroine are first cousins !!). I’m hoping I can enjoy the book regardless. We’ll see.

Oh, and can you spot my new book-inspired vase?

In other news, I’m currently listening to the Catch and Kill podcast by Ronan Farrow. If you don’t know what it’s about, it’s the podcast where Ronan Farrow and his guests (journalists, victims, private investigators, etc.) talk about the Harvey Weinstein investigation process and everything they endured because of it. If I didn’t already hate predators as much as I do, I would hate them even more now. I’ll probably read Ronan Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, afterwards. If I don’t explode from anger first. Have you read it?

xoxo, Jane

My reading life during the pandemic

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Enjoying a cup of tea while reading Square Haunting.

I no longer have a reading routine. It’s become quite erratic. I used to be able to sit down and devour a book in days. Now, almost nothing can hold my attention. I flitter from book to book, leaving unread novels collecting dust on the coffee table. With few exceptions, I don’t actually like not finishing books so I promised myself I’ll get back to these unfinished books someday soon.

Currently, I’m dividing my sporadic attention between two books: Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic and Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting.

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On the upside, the pandemic is forcing me to enjoy slow living.

Mary Stewart writes an excellent romantic suspense novel. She has the ability to transport the reader to the actual crime scene, almost as if we are embodying the heroine. This Rough Magic is set in Greece, where the heroine, Lucy, discovers a dead body on the beach. Normally, I’d feel invested in solving the crime, but I just want to finish the book to see who did it. What has happened to me? Also, I can’t tell who the male hero is supposed to be. There are several male characters in this book and all of them seem hero-ish to me. My only complaint with Mary Stewart books is that it takes her a long time to get to the romance portion of the plot. I suppose my complaint is not legitimate because she is the queen of romantic suspense so the romance aspect of the book will be secondary.

Square Haunting is set between the two world wars and focuses on five women (Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf) living and working in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. While it’s fascinating, and I look forward to reading a page or two every day, it’s taking me a long time to get through it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s very academic and at times dense or because of the uncertain times we live in. Maybe a little of both. It’s a fascinating read about these five inspiring women because it gives me an intimate glimpse into their lives and now I feel invested in them. I plan to write my thoughts in a future blog post when I finish the book.

I hope we will all see a light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, I hope you can get lost in, and concentrate on, good books.

xoxo, Jane