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

October, November & December 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

I finished the last book of the year just today! Hooray!

Here is the second part of my recap of the final quarter of this terrible, terrible year. (And the first part is here.) There is no rhyme or reason to my choice of books. I love classics, romance and modern fiction all the same.

The Weirdies by Michael Buckley is a fun audiobook about three weird orphans and the very kind woman who adopts them. It’s hilarious and completely weird. If you like children’s tales and don’t mind a dark side, I recommend this audiobook.

Nighthawk by Rachel Lee is an older romance (from the 1990s) from her famous Conard County series. I do love a classic romance. If you enjoy reading the older Conard County series, I’d recommend this one. Also, another romance I read is Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee, which I enjoyed reading very much. I wrote about it here.

I also listened to Snow Day by Julie Lipson. I previously mentioned it here, but it’s an adorable short audiobook with two very likable characters stuck together in a romantic Italian village over Christmas.

Pirates! Scoundrels Who Shook the World by Scott McCormick is an audiobook about the history of pirates. This is meant for young people, but I firmly believe it can be enjoyed for those who are young at heart! I also listened to Rivals! Frenemies Who Changed the World by the same author. Like the title suggests, it’s about the rivalries between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, Puma vs. Adidas and a few others. History made super fun. If you are searching for a way to get your child interested in history, I’d recommend these audiobooks by Scott McCormick.

Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit is about the history of walking. I am a walker, both of cities and trails, so the idea of this book fascinated me. The author talks about the famous walks of philosophers, of diplomats walking and talking business with each other, of people who love to meander through cities, and even characters taking walks in books. But there is also an underside to walking that the author did not gloss over, such as the harassment women face when they go out for walks. When women walk they are universally harassed. The author herself mentions the vile names she has been called just while walking in broad daylight. I read this book because I love to walk. But it brought back an unsavory memory of my time in Morocco when I dared to walk in broad daylight to the school I was volunteering at. A man followed me and refused to leave. He even grabbed me by the sleeve. I turned around and screamed at him to leave me alone. Luckily that did the trick. The attention from bystanders was apparently too much for him and he left. Anyway, really good book if you are fascinated by walking and its history.

I also read more Charles Dickens. The Chimes is a Christmassy/New Year’s short story. I also re-listened to A Christmas Carol because it is that good. This time though I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Grant. It was fantastic. Then I read another very short story by Charles Dickens, Christmas Festivities.

The book I finished today is High Rising by Angela Thirkell. This was my first time reading Angela Thirkell. While the book was an enjoyable romance set in a small English village in the 1930s with a crew of lovable and interesting characters, I was taken aback by the main character’s occasional foray into antisemitic comments. I guess this book is very much a book of its time, but it still shocked me. For this reason, I probably won’t be reading any more of Angela Thirkell’s books (unless I am 100% certain there is no antisemitism in them).

And that’s a wrap! How did you fare with your reading?

Happy New Year!

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

Favorite Books of 2020

I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read this year, but there are a few that touched my heart in one way or another.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico is a charming novel about an elderly woman who works as a housecleaner for several households. One day she comes across a gorgeous dress by Dior and decides she needs to own one just like it. She isn’t rich and decides to do without a number of little luxuries, like tea, to save money for the dress. Finally, after meeting her financial goal, Mrs. Harris takes a trip (her first time on an airplane) to Paris to visit the House of Dior. It’s a heartwarming tale of going after what you want.

Persuasion by Jane Austen was a re-read, which proved to me how much I still love this novel. Anne Elliot is a nice woman who gets her happy ending with Captain Wentworth. This is the kind of book I like to read. Life is hard as it is, so it’s nice to lose myself in a fantasy world.

How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman is her amazing experiment of living like a Victorian for an entire year. I enjoyed following the author along on her Victorian journey. I highly recommend it for those who are fascinated by the Victorian era.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens really touched my heart. I’ve put off reading Charles Dickens because I thought his stories would bore me. And maybe some of his books will bore me, but this story is something special. It tells you everything you need to know about Charles Dickens. He cared for social justice very much, which is evident in every aspect of this story. I think he did a lot for humanity by writing A Christmas Carol. For example, before this story was published, it wasn’t normal for employers to pay their employees to take time off (even for Christmas). We also get a number of our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens. He did so much good by writing this story and I’m glad I finally read it.

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade details the lives of five women (H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf) who lived on the same London street between the two world wars. It’s a touching account of the struggles and sexism they endured to get ahead in their chosen professions. The author did an excellent job of tying all five women together.

What are your favorite books of 2020?

xoxo, Jane

October, November & December 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

The first part of the last quarter of 2020 was dominated by Victorian-themed reading and began with How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. I’m glad I read this book first because it gave me a deeper understanding of the Victorian period which helped me better understand the literature written during the Victorian era. Ruth Goodman spent a year living like a Victorian (literally) to write her book. It was a fascinating inside look of the era. I wrote more about it in an earlier post.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is my first Charles Dickens story and certainly not my last. It was nice to finally meet Ebenezer Scrooge in the written form.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë was my second Brontë novel, after Jane Eyre. The story centers around two friends, Shirley and Caroline, and their romantic interests. It is a fascinating study of Industrial England after the Napoleonic wars but left me feeling that Jane Eyre will remain my favorite Brontë novel, whether I read the other works or not. Fun fact: Shirley is originally a male name, but this novel helped transform Shirley into a female name. Today it’s predominantly female.

I also read Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. I really do enjoy reading classic literature (as is evident by this blog) but I didn’t enjoy Cranford as much as I thought I would. It’s not a novel, rather a set of interconnected short stories about a group of people in a fictional village in England. While the writing is beautiful, I found myself feeling bored due to the lack of plot. But don’t let this turn you off from reading Gaskell.

The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski is a spooky novella from the 1950s republished by Persephone. I say spooky because the main character takes a nap and wakes up in someone else’s body. It’s short and thought-provoking.

Outside of the realm of the Victorian, I also read Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch. This is a fun compilation of important women of the Regency era. I love reading books about women and women’s history. I wrote more about this book in an earlier post.

So, have you read any of these books?

Find Part II here. Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

Bring on the holiday books: Snow Day by Tony Vassiliadis

Happy December 1st! If you need a sweet, short romantic audiobook to start off your holiday reading, may I recommend Snow Day by Tony Vassiliadis?

Description: What makes for a wonderful life? On a crowded Christmas train from Milan to Paris, Amy, an American headed to meet her fiancé, and Martijn, a Finn headed anywhere but home, meet cute. But when their train gets delayed in an Italian Alps hill town due to a snow storm, they, along with a passel of fellow stranded passengers, find comfort and joy in a cozy inn, run by a wise Italian man who forces them to look at the holiday and each other in a whole new light. 

This fun audiobook is only a little over one hour long. It makes for a quick listen to get you in the holiday spirit. The two main characters, who meet on a train and then get stuck together because of a snow storm, are completely likable and lovable. The narration is just wonderful. It’s a full cast with plenty of soundtrack and background noise, just like listening to a romantic, holiday movie or a radio program. The setting is beautiful Italy during Christmas. I loved it and highly recommend it.

This was created for audio only, so it doesn’t exist in book form. But if you love reading short romantic stories, you’ll love listening to Snow Day. Happy Holidays!

xoxo, Jane

Victober 2020 Finale

Victober reading.

This post is later than I had originally planned because the US elections consumed my every waking moment, driving me into the abyss of madness, stress and sheer exhaustion. However, all ended well. #relieved #thankgoodness

I enjoyed my first Victober reading challenge and will definitely partake again next year. Here is a run-down of the challenge and my thoughts.

  1. Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre. I picked Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s a collection of short stories about the fictional town of Cranford. Truth be told, it didn’t have much of a plot and sometimes I was bored. It was nice to read vignettes of Victorian English village life though.
  2. Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author. I decided to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was my first time reading anything by Dickens. I loved it! Why I waited so long to read this story I shall never know. I finally meet Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him. It is very cleverly written. I love that we get our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories. I’m also a little obsessed with Charles Dickens right now so feel free to tell me your favorite Dickens tidbits.
  3. Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters. I read a collection of letters written by Queen Victoria. I have mixed feelings about Queen Victoria. I’m no expert on her reign, but it really bothered me that she wrote letters about frivolous things while so many families (especially children) went hungry. The starvation during Victorian England was an epidemic so I was annoyed reading Queen Victoria’s letters raving on about that minister or that gathering when real life was horrific for the 99%.
  4. Read a Victorian book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. I read How To Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman and The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. This is the category where I cheated because both of these books were written long after the Victorian era, but that’s okay. Rules are meant to be broken, right?
  5. Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian. I don’t own anything Victorian so I wore perfume. The Victorians enjoyed perfume, so I think this counts.
  6. The Readalong: As part of a month-long readalong, I read Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. This was my second Charlotte Brontë book. The story is a bit of a love triangle with a lot of drama and some laughs. Everything ends nice and tidy though. While it was a wonderful story, I felt like it went on too long. There could have been a few scenes cut, methinks. But the Victorians, they loved their big books.

How did you fare with your Victorian reading?

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

Reading Links #81

Currently Reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hello, everyone. How was your week? Mine was fine, but I can’t believe Halloween is just around the corner. The weeks seem to be going by quick which, honestly, is a really good thing. I’m not watching the presidential debate tonight. My poor heart can’t take it. I’m going to bed early with my book (and my husband). I hope your weekend is filled with good books and that you have a safe place to call home.

My favorite museum guidebooks.

This article from April on what I’m enjoying during isolation is still…sadly…relevant. I sure didn’t expect us to still be in this hot mess. Let’s vote the **%#%* out of office. Ok?

What to read when you need an escape. Sadly, still relevant.

A very short history of the Lutetia Hotel in Paris. (This is a must read for a little history so we never forget the past.)

My pairing books with tea archives. In case you are looking for a rabbit hole or two.

I read A Christmas Carol and loved it!

Also, Where Do Reading Lists Come From? (And Why Do We Love Them?)

Have a great weekend!

xoxo, Jane

Victober Update

Let’s have a little Victober check-in, shall we? I finished reading How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. It was a fabulous read. The author lived like a Victorian for one year so she could write this book. The details were just riveting. It was so interesting that I lost myself in the book for hours at a time, but every once in a while I was jolted out of my revery when I came across the most unsavory details (like learning all about the privy). Parts of it were also painful to read, such as the section on fashion which described what corsets actually did to the body.

I don’t know if you could convince me to live like a Victorian even for a day, but I am incredibly grateful that Ms. Goodman lived the Victorian experience so I could read all about it in this book. I think it gave me a better understanding and appreciation of Victorian literature.

A few interesting tidbits from the book:

  • The Victorians believed that women were weak and that corsets would hold them together.
  • When the new fancy toilets began to appear in households, Victorians believed that servants or institutionalized people were not smart enough to use a toilet.
  • America was the leader in the production of toilet paper. The first brand was launched in 1857. The first British toilet paper company began production in 1880.
  • Mutton-chop side burns were all the rage.
  • Hunger was a pandemic.
  • School beatings were beyond cruel. Some children died from the beatings.

Gosh, Charlotte Brontë did not exaggerate in Jane Eyre, that’s for sure. Not that I ever thought she was exaggerating, but How to Be a Victorian brought the Victorian era to life for me. And what about Charles Dickens? He definitely didn’t exaggerate in his novels, not one tiny bit. His personal experiences from living in a workhouse made their way into his books. But Ms. Goodman’s book wasn’t all doom and gloom. It discusses the bravery of the feminists, improvements in the treatment of children, and fun-to-read details about the many innovations that came out of the Industrial Revolution.

I was especially touched by how the author ended her book. “If I could speak to any of them [Victorians] back down the years, I would like to say ‘thank you.’ I cannot imagine that any of the great improvements that have made my life so much more comfortable and healthy could have happened without their efforts. It is not just the revolutionary ideas or the actions of the powerful that make the world, it is the cumulative work of everyone. Victorian Britons – we owe you.” – Ruth Goodman

On a lighter note, next up in my Victober reading is Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is about the imaginary village of Cranford and its inhabitants. Originally it wasn’t meant to be a novel, but vignettes of village life. I’ve never read Gaskell before and am so looking forward to it.

What are you currently reading?

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