August 2021 Wrap-Up

Gari Melchers (1860-1932) Woman Reading by a Window

Hello, friends! Welcome to autumn, my all-time favorite season. I hope September finds you well.

My August reading consisted of wonderful, unputdownable books and some romantic poetry.

I listened to Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Audible’s version is performed by a full cast. I have no words! This is one of the funnest, most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time. I only regret that I didn’t read Jules Verne years earlier. The entire time I felt as if I too was on the adventurous race with Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. Have you read it?

Classic Love Poems by Audible is narrated by the fabulous, dreamy Richard Armitage. I won’t lie, I picked this poetry book solely because it’s narrated by Richard Armitage (aka Mr. Thornton and Sir Guy).

Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess is another one of her lovely, illustrated books. Megan Hess writes about fashion (and other non-fashion subjects) but her books always include her dreamy illustrations. I enjoyed learning about French fashions, but mostly loved what a gorgeous book I was holding in my hands. I wrote more about Megan Hess’s other books here and here.

I have a new favorite romance author, Kylie Scott. I read, back-to-back, her following books: Pause, Repeat and Lick. The books are not just plot-driven, but heavy on the emotions between the main characters. Steamy, slow-burn types of stories, if you will. Just perfect for what I look for in a romance novel. Thank you, Ms. Scott!

What’s next for September reading? I would like to re-read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I want to see if I can find similarities between the main characters in The Yellow Wallpaper and The Victorian Chaise-Longue.

xoxo, Jane

PS. I’m on Instagram where I post about books and tea. You should stop by and say hi.

My Favorite Books of 2021 So Far

We are past the half-way point of 2021. Time to have a quick look at my favorite books thus far. The following books are my favorite because they touched my heart in one way or another.

I really enjoyed reading A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh. It’s a well-researched, fictionalized account of the early life of Empress Vicky of Prussia. Vicky was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. While her marriage to the Crown Prince of Prussia was an arranged union, it was a happy and fulfilling partnership. Vicky’s first child was Wilhelm II (yes, that Wilhelm). The novel charts the ups and downs of her marriage amidst the turmoil of 19th century Europe. I wrote more about the novel here.

Chère Annette: Letters from Russia is a compilation of letters from Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her favorite daughter Anna Pavlovna in The Hague. Maria Feodorovna was the wife of Paul I and the mother of Alexander I. The book’s editor traveled to the Netherlands to read and translate the letters from French into English. (The Russian court spoke French during this time). I love reading letters; it’s an authentic glimpse into the lives of women from history. Maria Feodorovna doesn’t have the best of reputations today and she isn’t as well known to modern audiences, but I loved getting to know her.

Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower chronicles the history of the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. The true story of this amazing city really touched my heart. Salonica went from being a city of Byzantium to an Ottoman stronghold to finally gaining independence by merging with the Kingdom of Greece. The book charts the history of the Greeks, the Jews and the Muslims. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in Ottoman history, Greek history or the history of city planning.

Do you have any favorite books of 2021?

xoxo, Jane

June 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Happy July, everyone!

I can’t believe we are more than half-way through 2021. Just yesterday I saw the 2022 planners at a bookstore. I was pretty close to buying a new planner (who can resist them?) but I forced myself to walk away from the table. Who am I kidding? You know and I know that I’ll go back this weekend to purchase that 2022 planner.

My June reading consisted of two fantastic books!

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is a novella and morality tale about not toying with children’s hearts and affections. The story begins at an Austrian resort in the early 1900s. It’s a dark tale. The main character, referred to as the Baron, desires a beautiful woman upon first sight. She, however, does not act on it. In his desperation the Baron befriends her young son just to get to her heart. The boy becomes enamored with his older friend. However he soon realizes that his friend, the Baron, wants nothing to do with him. The Baron finds ways to get rid of the boy so he can be alone with his mother. This upsets and hurts the boy very much, which leads to dangerous consequences that I don’t want to spoil for you. It’s an interesting story that teaches a lesson about how to treat and not treat children. Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for. I felt awful for the poor little boy and found the Baron a vile and selfish creature.

The pages of this story are filled with vivid descriptions and rich metaphors. The story evokes the romance and the travels of a bygone era. Even if this particular novella is not your cup of tea, I still recommend reading something by Stefan Zweig. In his day, he was the most widely translated author. He was Jewish and his incredible work was banned by the Nazis. Also, because of the Nazis, Zweig left Austria in the 1930s. He made his way to England and New York before settling in Brazil. Escaping the Nazis was not enough to bring the light back into his life. As European capitals fell like dominos, he became despondent. He committed suicide in 1942.

In his suicide note, Zweig wrote “my own language having disappeared from me and my spiritual home, Europe, having destroyed itself” and “I salute all my friends! May it be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go on before.

The film The Grand Budapest Hotel was based on a compilation of his stories.

A picture from my walk for your viewing pleasure.

I also read The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson. It’s the third book in the Miss Buncle series and takes place in a charming English village during World War II. While the focus is on Miss Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her niece, also Mrs. Abbott, numerous new characters are introduced. World War II looms heavily in the background. While the war is not mentioned too often, you know it’s there because the characters experience rationing, discuss their black-out curtains, and so on.

The story focuses on the intricacies of English village life and each chapter is a vignette of village situations. Not all characters have their stories resolved by the end of the novel. While it’s a charming story and I enjoy everything by D.E. Stevenson, there were times I was bored because nothing really ever happens. Yes, there were funny moments like the comical scene where an elderly woman discovers a German spy sleeping in the forest. While she clearly saves the day, we hear nothing else about the situation. Whatever happened to the spy? How did he make his way into an English forest? I guess we’ll never know.

I spotted these two friends during my walk.

What did you read in June?

xoxo, Jane

New Books New Books New Books!

I was in NYC recently! If you’re like me, NYC isn’t a visit unless you visit bookstores. On this trip I stopped by Strand Book Store and Rizzoli Bookstore. The pandemic isn’t over, but almost everyone in NYC was really good about wearing their masks and social distancing so I felt good about browsing indoors. I even found a few books that I’m excited about.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley looks really fun. It’s Victorian/Steampunk and takes place in Victorian London and Japan during the same timeframe. Thaniel Steepleton, the novel’s main character, discovers a pocket watch on his pillow. The mysterious item saves his life and takes him on an adventure to Japan. I’m really excited about this book and will start reading it this week.

Description:

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.

Next on the list is Lost Splendor by Prince Felix Youssoupoff. Felix is the man who killed Rasputin. He was one of the richest aristocrats in Russia. Felix fled during the Russian Revolution with his wife and lived the rest of his life in France. His memoir was first published in 1953. I’m a huge royal history buff. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.

I also purchased a short novella by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. Burning Secret is set in an Austrian ski resort and “is a darkly compelling tale of seduction, jealousy and betrayal from the master of the novella.” Sounds intriguing. The novella was first published in 1913.

Not a book but I also bought a card game, The Mystery Mansion. It’s a murder mystery card game set in a mansion. The aim of the game is not to solve the murder but to create the scene, the location, the plot, the murder, etc. I actually bought it for plot ideas and am having a lot of fun with it.

No more books for me for the rest of 2021 unless they are from the library. Wish me luck!

xoxo, Jane

Shopping My Shelves: Summer 2021 Reading Recommendations

Hooray! Summer is upon us. If you need some light (and not so light) reading recommendations, then please come in! I shopped my bookshelves to share a few reading ideas with you!

Let’s start out with a very light reading recommendation. The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart is a novella (more of a long short story, really) set in the breathtaking Canary Isles. It’s a Mary Stewart classic so this means there will be a ton of suspense packed in while a romance is brewing on the side; hence perfect read for the beach getaway. (Or if you’re like me and not traveling far because of the pandemic then read it at home with a frosty beverage. Win-win.)

You can not go wrong with Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. It’s the charming tale of Miss Buncle and her adventures. Miss Buncle, you see, is in need of some funds. So she sets out to write a book set in her village which features all of the villagers. Unfortunately Miss Buncle did a terrible job of disguising the actual people she wrote about and the villagers become quite upset with her. All kinds of mayhem ensues. If you love classics, romance and English villages then this is the summer read for you!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson is a little bit more serious but just as charming of a read. Miss Pettigrew is a governess who endured hardship most of her life. But thanks to a plucky young American she finally (after a very long day gallivanting around London) may just get her happy ending. I’d compare this story to Cinderella but without the stepsisters.

Summertime should be all about adventures. So what better adventure than the Harry Potter series? I just love this series and will never tire of it. I wonder if they are teaching Harry Potter in schools yet? I think they should. The school curriculum in the US is extremely outdated (we can all live without reading Lord of the Flies ever again) and I think they should replace a few of the books for the Harry Potter stories, in my humble opinion.

Can we let summer pass without reading a Jane Austen novel? Not in this house! May I recommend the timeless, sparkling tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? If you need another Austen recommendation, Persuasion is a good book for any time of year. Persuasion happens to be my most favorite Jane Austen novel. If you’re interested, I ranked the Jane Austen novels in an earlier post.

Which books would you recommend for summer reading?

xoxo, Jane

Currently Reading: Salonica City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower

Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower is literally the biography of Thessaloniki in modern-day Greece. The story begins in 1430 when Salonica fell to the Ottomans. The book ends in 1950, though I’m only half-way through.

It’s a remarkable story for a remarkable city. Before 1430, Salonica had enjoyed seventeen hundred years of life as a Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine city. But after it fell to the Ottomans, Salonica’s bright light wasn’t extinguished. The city carried on, a multicultural gem in the heart of the Ottoman Empire. Christians, Jews and Muslims lived near each other, though within their designated quarters. Christians and Jews were classified as unequal to Muslims: their court testimonies did not count, paid higher taxes then Muslims and Muslims were not charged with a crime if they murdered a Christian or a Jew. Salonica gained freedom from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, reverting to the Kingdom of Greece. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

March Library Haul

It’s always a good day when you have new library books to read. This month my taste runs a little wild: there are Nazis, royals and the decorative arts. I borrowed Royals and the Reich by Jonathan Petropoulos because I want to read more about the infamous crown jewels theft by American military members based in Germany after World War II. They were caught and sent to prison, but sadly a large portion of the historic jewels were never recovered.

I also picked up the guidebook to Hillwood Museum & Gardens so I can do some museum armchair visiting. If you haven’t heard of it, Hillwood Museum is an incredible mansion filled with Russian and French decorative arts.

I borrowed Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie so I can learn more about the Russia from before the Revolution.

A Taste for Splendor is another book by and about Hillwood Museum. The museum has a large selection of Russian decorative arts and I can’t wait to obsess over every page of this book.

What’s on your reading list for March?

xoxo, Jane

February 2021 Wrap-Up

Gari Melchers (1860-1932) Woman Reading by a Window

If reading takes you to new worlds then in February I traveled to 19th century Imperial Russia. February’s reading was more non-fiction than fiction but I plan to read more lighthearted books this month.

Chère Annette: Letters from Russia is a compilation of letters from Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her beloved (and probably favorite) daughter Anna Pavlovna in The Hague. Maria Feodorovna was the wife of Paul I and the mother of Alexander I. The letters were written between 1820 and 1828. The book’s editor traveled to the Netherlands to read and translate the letters from French into English. (The Russian court spoke French during this time). I would have also loved to read the letters Anna wrote to her mother, but I assume those letters are lost to history after 1917. If you are a Romanov super-fan I recommend this book. Reading the intimate letters between mother and daughter helped me see Maria Feodorovna in a new light. She was warm and caring. But I should also mention she was a fan of the death penalty for looters, rioters and revolutionaries (so I guess I can see why the events of 1917 unfolded). If you only have a passing interest in Romanov history, then I’d say skip this book.

Roman Holiday by Jody Taylor is a short story about “a bunch of disaster-prone historians who investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” In this story, the historians travel to ancient Rome. It’s hilarious. Highly recommended if you need a laugh.

A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is a fictionalized account of Princess Victoria (Vicky, and later Empress Frederick), the eldest child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It’s part historical fiction, part romance novel. It’s impossible to tell the story of Vicky without also talking about her beloved husband Fritz and this book did it brilliantly. I love this book so much that I worry my words won’t make it justice, but I wrote more about it here.

After reading A Most English Princess I wanted to learn more about the daughters of Empress Frederick. The Prussian Princesses: The Sisters of Kaiser Wilhelm II by John Van Der Kiste was a fascinating account of their lives. Their lives were mostly sad. Makes you realize that being a princess is not guaranteed for a happily ever after. While their lives started happy enough, they soon delved into sadness and tragedy as was the case for most of the 20th century royals in countries where titles and properties were confiscated. I would only recommend this book if you have a good grasp of the various European monarchies because royals are frequently mentioned without a previous introduction, which may cause confusion.

How was your reading month? What’s next for you?

xoxo, Jane

Ranking the Jane Austen Novels

Hello, everyone! I can finally say that I’ve read every full-length novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817); Mansfield Park being my most recent Austen novel. It’s been a fun literary adventure. So now let’s rank them from least favorite to top favorite. And I hope you’ll share your favorite Austen novels in the comments!

No. 6Mansfield Park (1814)

Mansfield Park is my most recent read. While it’s a compelling story that contains several serious themes (slavery being one of them), it’s my least favorite Austen. I was not able to get past the love interests being first cousins. That’s honestly the only reason.

No. 5Emma (1815)

Emma is #5 on my list for the pure reason that the main character, Emma, is not likable. But the joke is on us since Jane Austen said that she purposely wrote about a character that only she would like. But it’s not fair to write off this book. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it because out of all the Austen heroines, Emma goes through the steepest learning curve in terms of character development. And that makes for an interesting read.

No. 4Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful story. The friendship between Elinor and Marianne (the two sisters who are also the main characters) is heart-warming. It’s a fascinating and highly entertaining read. This is one of the novels where Austen shines! She uses her skills to weave a story that has love, heartache and tons of humor.

No. 3Pride and Prejudice (1813)

It’s not a surprise that Pride and Prejudice is next on my list. The story sparkles with humor and misunderstandings that are nicely resolved by the end of the book. Lizzie Bennet is a great heroine. Intelligent, opinionated and fearless. Lizzie refuses to bow down to social norms and remains true to her principled self. Sometimes I wonder if Jane Austen wished she was a little more like her. And who knows, if Jane Austen was more financially independent she could have been a real-life Lizzie.

No. 2Northanger Abbey (1817)

Northanger Abbey was published posthumously. I really enjoyed reading this story. It very rarely makes the top three for readers but I think it’s genius. The theme is a mock-gothic tale. Jane Austen was brilliant because she took a fad (in this case the Gothic romance novels) and made it funny and timely for her readers.

No. 1Persuasion (1817)

My top favorite Jane Austen is Persuasion, also published posthumously. This book is my comfort read. I’ve read or listened to it many times over the years and I never tire of it. Anne Elliot is a nice woman who endures a lot of heartache. She has ridiculous sisters–to the point of being comedic. And it makes it all the more wonderful for Anne when she gets her happy ending.

It’s been a fun literary adventure! Persuasion was my favorite long before I finished reading the other novels. If you haven’t read Jane Austen yet I hope you’ll consider it!

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (A Most English Princess)

A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is about the life of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria (Vicky). When she was 17, she married Frederick (Friedrich or Fritz), the Crown Prince of Prussia. Their first child was Kaiser Wilhelm II. As far as dynastic marriages go, Vicky and Fritz shared a very happy and fulfilling marriage. A rarity in their era, they remained very much in love and committed to one another. The story takes you from Vicky’s childhood in England to married life in Prussia. It’s a fictionalized account but the author’s research shines through every conversation.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia painted by Oskar Begas, 1867.

Unfortunately their marriage was marred by hardship. First, their first born, Wilhelm, was a difficult child and grew into an obstinate, unkind adult who hated his “English mother.” On top of that, Bismarck never trusted Frederick and Vicky; they were too liberal and open-minded. For example, Frederick and Vicky believed in a free press. Bismarck did not. So Bismarck successfully convinced the Emperor not to allow the Crown Prince Couple to have any say in policy. Lastly, by the time Frederick took the throne as Frederick III, he was already terminally ill with cancer. He died just 99 days later. Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power and we all know how that went and where it led. (Though I should note that the book does not end with Frederick’s death. It ends much earlier and on a good note.)

Wikimedia Commons. Frederick in 1874, painted by Heinrich von Angeli.

The year 1888 is known as the Year of the Three Emperors (Wilhelm I, Frederick III, Wilhelm II). And it’s easy to remember the year because just think of the three eights as the three emperors.

A Most English Princess is very well written and entertaining. I could not put it down. The history was accurate. Every character has both flaws and positive traits, which made me sympathize with and better understand the various historical characters. All this to say that if you enjoy royal history, British history or Prussian history, I highly recommend this book.

Wikimedia Commons. Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, painted by Franz Winterhalter, 1867.

Now on to our question of the day. Which tea should we pair with this novel? Well, in honor of Vicky, I’m pairing it with a fine English tea called Albion, which is the ancient name for England. I think Vicky would approve!

xoxo, Jane

PS. If royal history is your thing, I write about it here.

Retail Therapy: Book Haul

I needed a little retail therapy so I treated myself to some new books, which I’m very excited about.

I’m becoming a fan of Georgette Heyer, so I picked up another novel by her. This one, Devil’s Cub, is a Regency romance (possibly Georgian, I haven’t figured it out yet) and the hero is dashing and the heroine is smart and has a mind of her own. Yes, please.

I also bought The Odyssey by Homer. I’ve been meaning to read this book for, oh, about 25 years or so. So I thought now might be a good time. I also bought the audiobook version so I can listen while I’m cooking or cleaning. I have a feeling this book, while a fascinating and adventurous tale, might take me a while to get through.

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali is set in 1953 Tehran and in modern-day USA. I will admit to you that I picked up this book purely because of the beautiful cover, but it appears to be a poignant story of an idealistic teenager in Tehran and I look forward to diving in.

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War by Ben Macintyre is a nonfiction book about a KGB spy, Oleg Gordievsky, who ended up helping the West. In my mind, I have a vision of Costa Ronin who played Oleg in The Americans. It’s described as “a riveting story of Cold War intrigue…” and I cannot get enough of Cold War tales so this is on the top of my list.

Have you read any of these? What’s on your nightstand these days?

xoxo, Jane

Happy Book Birthday to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice was published on this day in 1813!

And just like that, readers were introduced to the ever-popular enemies to lovers romance trope. It’s true! Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet initially loathed each other, but later fell passionately in love. It’s a trope still popular in romance novels today.

Pride and Prejudice is a romantic and humorous tale set during the Regency era. It’s the story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. But it’s also the story of Elizabeth’s sister, Jane Bennet and her beau Charles Bingley. It’s a love story filled with humor, misunderstandings and silly people. It’s one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. If you haven’t read it yet, you are in for a treat.

Fun Facts about Pride and Prejudice

  • Jane Austen enjoyed weaving a really good bad boy into her stories. Pride and Prejudice is no exception. Mr. Wickham is probably the baddest boy in her literature. He elopes to Gretna Green with the youngest Bennet sister, Lydia.
  • Jane Austen loved a man in uniform. She grew up surrounded by brothers in the military as the Napoleonic wars raged in the background. In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet sisters are beyond excited when the militia comes to town (Fleet Week, anyone?).
  • The novel was initially titled, First Impressions. Makes sense, because the first impression between Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet was…not so good.
  • The first edition of Pride and Prejudice cost 18 shillings. According to a historical currency calculator, that’s about $80.00 today.
  • Also, a gorgeously illustrated edition was published by The Folio Society.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice?

xoxo, Jane