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

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