New Book: The Literature Book by DK

I’m really enjoying my new book, The Literature Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained by DK. I love this book which is no surprise because I enjoy all the books published by DK. (Love DK!!!)

I would describe this book as bite-sized summaries and analysis of literature from 3000 BCE to present day (literally to present day: it ends with an analysis of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.). It’s not meant for helping you study. It’s just an introduction to literature for book lovers.

There are illustrations, author bios, charts, graphics and timelines to pore over. Also, since I’m a huge history buff, I appreciate the in-depth historical features. I’ve always thought studying literature should include reviewing the historical context stories are placed in. If you are a literature/history nerd like me, then this book is for you. If you are looking for something to help you pass an exam, this book is not for you. The Literature Book is for browsing, inspiration and fun learning.

Do you read books by DK?

Happy Reading!

xoxo, Jane

This and That

Photo by Satoshi Hirayama on Pexels.com

Hello, all! It’s been as silent as the grave on my blog because I’ve been busy enjoying life and sometimes I just don’t have anything to share if I’m in the middle of reading books. I don’t read as fast as most of you. But right now I’m extra busy because I’m taking a course via FutureLearn. If you haven’t heard of FutureLearn I recommend you stop by to check it out. They offer free university courses on virtually every subject. The course I’m taking is a throwback to my BA in English, Literature of the English Country House. It focuses on studying literature through the historical context and through close reading. I admit I don’t close read most of the time, so this course is useful (and super fun!) I would also like to try my hand at writing poetry so the next course I plan to sign up for is How to Make a Poem.

Other things entertaining me: The Great Courses via Audible, my current course is American Heiresses of the Gilded Age. I’m also currently reading a Harlequin Historical novel, Taken by the Border Rebel by Blythe Gifford. And taking lots of walks and soaking up the blossoms before they disappear.

What have you been up to?

xoxo, Jane

March 2021 Wrap-Up

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

March was a shamefully light reading month. In fact, I shouldn’t even be writing this blog post, but since my goal for 2021 is to write monthly wrap-ups (instead of quarterly wrap-ups), I’m going public with my shame.

So here we go…

I only read two short books in March! But in my defense, I listened to hours and hours of podcasts.

One of the books is An Accidental Birthright by Maisey Yates. The plot is quite unique. Bear with me here…the heroine is impregnated with the prince’s child due to a mix-up at an IVF clinic. It’s a weird concept (I can’t image this exact scenario happening in real life) but it worked for me. This forced a marriage with the prince (another concept that won’t work in real life but hey reading is fantasy, right?). I enjoyed this book because the prince is very kind and romantic; i.e. not a jerk at all. You know I hate the jerk heroes that seem to be prevalent in the older Harlequin novels. So, if you are looking for another Maisey Yates romance novel, then I recommend this one.

I also read Catherine Tinley’s debut novel, Waltzing with the Earl. I loved it! If you are looking for a historical novel with all the feels, then this is it. Set in 1814, it’s an updated version of the Cinderella story. In this story, the stepmother-figure is a distant aunt. Her two daughters take the part of the stepsisters and one of them provides comic relief with her antics and jealousy. The heroine, Charlotte, has to live with this family in their London home while her father finishes up his military campaigns on the Continent. It’s a really good take on the Cinderella plot, with a heroine who is intelligent, capable and independent. There is even a ball! The Earl is dashing. The conflict (the Earl can’t marry Charlotte because she’s poor) kept me on the edge of my seat! But my favorite part of this book really has to be the comical cousin. This book made me laugh and cry. I definitely plan to read the other books in this series.

What did you read in March?

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

Spell the Month in Books – March

Last month I spelled February with books and it was great fun finding books in the house so I thought I’d do it again for March. Here we go!

Mariana by Monica Dickens is about a young Englishwoman and her adventures set in the 1930s. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Monica Dickens is a great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens! How can I not read this book!! Also, the novel is republished by Persephone Books and a book by Persephone has never disappointed me.

Next on the list is The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. This one is very high on my list to read because as you may know I really love reading books based on real princesses. This book is about the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sisi). I haven’t started reading it yet, but my guess is the title stems from the fact that Sisi wasn’t supposed to marry Emperor Franz Josef. He was supposed to marry her sister until he met Sisi and changed his mind. Hence, the “accidental.”

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart is another novel on my list. I’m fairly new to Mary Stewart and her romance and romantic suspense novels are the best! As the title suggests, the setting is a thatched cottage in the English countryside. It’s a romantic suspense set in 1947.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey is another book republished by Persephone Books. The story takes place during the course of a wedding day and focuses on the bride who is NOT marrying the man she loves (this is not a spoiler). I found it poignant and somewhat funny. The short novella is packed with emotion.

This illustrated copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is always a good idea!! The illustrations and various pull-out documents and maps contribute to an even funner reading experience.

What’s on your 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.

Spell the Month in Books – February

Hello! I saw this fun tag on Elaine Howlin’s blog and thought I’d give it a try. I think the idea is to spell out the books you want to read this month, but I’m cheating because I’m going to spell books I’ve read, books I won’t read and books I want to read. Here we go!

First up is Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. I picked it up at Costco and it’s been worth the purchase. It’s about the history of fashion and includes detailed timelines for every era. There is also an overwhelming amount of gorgeous illustrations and photography. I never tire of reading this book. For some reason, Amazon sellers are charging over $100.00 for a new copy. I bought mine at Costco for around $20.00. If you are interested, you should buy a used copy. I’d never pay that much for a book. There is no reason for it.

I haven’t read Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess yet, but I know I will enjoy it. I love reading Megan Hess’s beautiful books. If you haven’t heard of her, she is an illustrator and her books are illustrated tales of fashion history. This particular book is about the iconic fashion houses of Paris. Ooh la la.

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi is a must read if you are interested in royal history; especially if you are fascinated by the descandants of Queen Victoria. The five granddaughters that are the subjects of the book are Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Marie, Queen of Romania, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and Queen Maud of Norway.

The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes edited by Elizabeth Longford is a fun compilation of facts and tidbits about the British royals from Boudicca to Elizabeth II. I picked it up at a library book sale and it’s fun to peruse it from time to time. The book also contains numerous genealogical charts which I find useful since I love reading royal history.

I have no intention of reading Urban Guerrilla Warfare by Anthony James Joes. I don’t own any books that begin with U so I borrowed this from my husband’s office. If you are interested in the guerrilla conflict of Warsaw in 1944 or Budapest in 1956 then you may want to pick up this book as it comes highly recommended by my lovely husband.

A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton is about 19th century Viennese history, first published in 1980. I haven’t read it yet, but I will.

The publisher’s description: On January 30, 1889, at the champagne-splashed hight of the Viennese Carnival, the handsome and charming Crown Prince Rudolf fired a revolver at his teenaged mistress and then himself. The two shots that rang out at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods echo still.

Frederic Morton, author of the bestselling Rothschilds, deftly tells the haunting story of the Prince and his city, where, in the span of only ten months, “the Western dream started to go wrong.” In Rudolf’s Vienna moved other young men with striking intellectual and artistic talents—and all as frustrated as the Prince. Among them were: young Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, and the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde was the great erotic drama of the fin de siecle. Morton studies these and other gifted young men, interweaving their fates with that of the doomed Prince and the entire city through to the eve of Easter, just after Rudolf’s body is lowered into its permanent sarcophagus and a son named Adolf Hitler is born to Frau Klara Hitler.

The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of the history of the Romanovs, from beginning to end. I briefly began to read it just to get a taste, but I haven’t finished it yet. I do plan to read it soon though. It’s an excellent, detailed account of the fascinating history of the Romanovs.

I don’t own books that begin with Y (I do borrow from the library quite often and my personal collection is not extensive), so I paid a visit to my husband’s office and found Ypres: The First Battle 1914 by Ian F. W. Beckett. I have no intention of reading this book, but if you are interested in Word War I history my husband highly recommends it. (He is a WWI buff.)

And there you have it! February spelled out in books. This was super fun and I may do it again for March.

Have a great day!!

xoxo, Jane

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

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

First book of 2021

Happy New Year! Here’s to a really wonderful 2021 (fingers crossed!).

The first book of the year is a Christmas-themed book. It’s a cozy murder-mystery by Georgette Heyer, A Christmas Party. The plot is set over Christmas in a Tudor-era home in England. So far, I’m liking it a lot. I also love the ambience of the Tudor estate. (Fun fact: I once stayed in a Tudor estate.) Though, I have to admit, most of the characters are completely unlikable. Since I don’t read murder-mysteries often, I wonder if that’s the point? If I’m supposed to figure out who committed the murder, then I can’t find every character charming, right?

Description:

A colorful assortment of guests at a festive holiday house party discover there is a killer in their midst when their universally reviled host is found dead-in a room locked from the inside. 

For Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard, the investigation is complicated by the fact that every guest is hiding something-throwing all their testimony into question and casting suspicion far and wide. The clever and daring crime will mystify readers, yet the answer is in plain sight all along…

What’s your first book of the year?

xoxo, Jane