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

July 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Happy August!

My reading for July wasn’t as eventful as I’d like, but I kept busy by listening to several The Great Courses lectures. I love The Great Courses lectures and I regularly listen to new courses. Audible has a bunch of them and the courses really make learning so much fun. Anyway, here is what I read:

The Veil by Rachel Harrison is a short audiobook (Audible Original) set in the present day. Sally, the main character, falls in love with a young man who is from another era. Either that or he is a figment of her imagination. I’ll let you decide. Sally is married to her childhood sweetheart, but has long fallen out of love with him. This leads her to search for happiness and meaning in her life. I really, really enjoyed listening to this story. It is an otherworldly, spooky tale that actually made me laugh. The story is just under one hour long; perfect for taking a leisurely walk, cooking dinner or just lounging at home. I’d describe the story as Jane Austen novel meets Outlander meets Victorian England.

I also read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. This very interesting story takes place in Victorian England during the Irish nationalist movement. Thaniel Steepleton, one of the novel’s protagonists, must solve a recent bombing of Scotland Yard. The Irish nationalists are blamed for the bombing. Thaniel soon realizes that the group may not be the cause of the bombing. There is a more nefarious perpetrator afoot. His investigation leads him to Keita Mori, a kind Japanese watchmaker living in London. They work together to solve the bombing and become close friends in the process. The mysterious Mori quickly became my favorite character.

Reading this story immersed me in a new type of literary Victorian England: a diverse London featuring characters from other parts of the world and characters who speak more than just English. The story takes place in England and Japan. It was fascinating to arm-chair travel to Meiji era Japan. I also like that almost all of the characters have some sort of education or a specialty that they are passionate about. The ending left me wanting more; good thing there is a second book in this series.

What did you read in July?

xoxo, Jane

My Favorite Quotes from Literature

There are books, long after you finish the last page, that will stay with you forever. These are some of the books that have stayed with me. Today I’m sharing quotes from my favorite books to entice you to read them.

xoxo, Jane

I can no longer listen in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own than when you broke it almost eight years and a half ago.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The small, slender woman with apple-red cheeks, greying hair, and shrewd, almost naughty little eyes sat with her face pressed against the cabin window of the BEA Viscount on the morning flight from London to Paris. As, with a rush and a roar, it lifted itself from the runway, her spirits soared aloft with it. She was nervous, but not at all frightened, for she was convinced that nothing could happen to her now. Hers was the bliss of one who knew that at last she was off upon the adventure at the end of which lay her heart’s desire.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

The past, as we have been told so many times, is a foreign county where things are done differently. This may be true – indeed it patently is true when it comes to morals or customs, the role of women, aristocratic government and a million other elements of our daily lives. But there are similarities, too. Ambition, envy, rage, greed, kindness, selflessness and, above all, love have always been as powerful in motivating choices as they are today.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and chatted, though she was more admired, more surrounded, more fêted than any woman there, she felt like one condemned to death, living her last day upon this earth.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Melanie had found the Victorian chaise-longue on her last day of freedom when the threatening cloud was no larger than a man’s hand and could still, as by the finding of the chaise-longue, be replaced in her vision by toys.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

As soon as they were gone, Elizabeth walked out to recover her spirits; or in other words, to dwell without interruption on those subjects that must deaden them more. Mr. Darcy’s behaviour astonished and vexed her.

Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen

Pairing Books with Tea (The Victorian Chaise-Longue) and some discussion questions

I’d describe The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski as a spooky Victorian thriller, even though I’m probably misusing the term “thriller.” I’ve also seen this story described as a ghost story even though there isn’t a ghost present. Or perhaps there is a ghost? That’s the beauty of this story, you can decide whether you spot a ghost or not.

Set in 1950s England, the plot centers around a young housewife, Melanie. After waking from a nap on her newly-purchased antique chaise-longue, Melanie discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of an older woman, Milly. To make the living nightmare even worse, it’s 80 years earlier and her husband and other loved ones are nowhere to be found.

While Melanie struggles to figure out how she can return home and back into her own body, the reader recognizes that the lives of the two women ran parallel. For example, the women experienced recent trauma involving a child. It’s implied that both women were involved in illicit affairs. Both women are stifled and isolated by the men in their lives. And as a final example, both women are capable of making their own decisions yet are treated like helpless children. It’s safe to assume that Melanie is in the body of her alter ego from 80 years ago.

Reading this superbly written novella made me feel as if I was being physically stifled. If you are looking for a spooky, thought-provoking novella then I’d highly recommend this story. The Victorian Chaise-Longue was initially published in 1953 and reprinted by Persephone Books in 1999.

As you know, from time to time, I like to pair a good cup of tea with a good book. For this particular book, I paired a strong English Breakfast Tea. Why? You’ll need something strong to stay alert and keep your wits about you. It’s an interesting, eery tale and I highly recommend it for your upcoming autumn reading lists.

For those who’ve read it, I have questions for you:

  • Is there a ghost?
  • Is the antique chaise-longue to blame for this spine-chilling situation?
  • What did you think of the ending? Was it left like that on purpose so we can draw our own conclusions?

Let me know your thoughts!!

xoxo, Jane

Nope Trope Book Tag

Photo by Ivo Rainha on Pexels.com.

Let’s do a little book tag, shall we? Today’s trope is brought to you by Zoe’s All Booked. Zoe invented this tag and you can check out her Nope Trope Book Tag video right here. I first heard about this tag from eleanor sophie who heard about it from Book Me Some Time. The tag pokes fun at the various book tropes we often come across in books, such as in romance novels. I do love me a good trope. Keep reading to find out which trope is my favorite!

1. Eavesdropping with miscommunicationName a book you heard great things about and expected to love but ended up hating.

I don’t have one. I can’t recall a recent book that I heard great things about but ended up hating. So I’ll have to pass on this question. Not a bad problem to have.

2. Love Triangles – Name a series where you can’t pick your favourite book.

Any book in the Clara Vine series by the inimitable Jane Thynne. I cannot wait for the next book to come out. The series is set in pre-war Nazi Germany. The main character, Clara Vine, is a British actress living in Berlin. Her secret is that she is an informant for British Intelligence and is also part Jewish, which doubles her danger. I’m left at the edge of my seat as I’m reading the books; they are so good and so suspenseful. There is also a little bit of romance. I love a good spy heroine story, don’t you?

3. Not Like Other Girls/Didn’t Know I’m Beautiful – Name a book that has a pretty cover but was boring as all hell.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Look how pretty the book is!! It’s clothbound. It has beautiful, foliage motif running throughout the front and back. But it was a very boring read. Vignettes of village life with no real plot to keep me hooked. Beautiful but boring.

4. All-Consuming Love –Name a book that gave you a book hangover.

Long after I finished the last page of Square Haunting, I could not stop thinking about it. Square Haunting by Francesca Wade tells the real life stories of five incredible women who lived in the same neighborhood during the interwar years. It tells of their struggles and passions. I wrote about it here.

5. Douchebag Boyfriend – Name a book that took you a while to get into, but you ended up loving.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes was a surprise. Initially I read a free ebook sample which bored me immensely. To be fair, when I downloaded the sample I was tired and should have gone to bed. Sometimes being tired does not make for good Regency reading. I bought the book while I was on vacation in Europe after I heard too many people raving about Belgravia. I am so glad I gave it a second chance, because it’s one of my favorite novels. I also really enjoyed the miniseries based on this book.

6. Tell us your favourite or least favourite trope!

I do enjoy a good enemies-to-lovers trope, which is why I’ll always love Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

It’s your turn. I tag all of you!!

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

May 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Well, hello there! Thank you for stopping by my blog.

Reading during the beautiful month of May consisted of one book and two short stories.

I read a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald as part of a creative writing course. The story we read is called Three Hours Between Planes. It’s short but very powerful. It’s a story about mistaken identity and about the “one that got away.” I was amazed at how much of a plot there was in just a couple of pages. And I say this as someone who does not enjoy reading F. Scott Fitzgerald. His writings usually leave me feeling depressed. What do you think of his works?

I also listened to a short romantic audiobook (novella-sized), A Vineyard Valentine by Nina Bocci. The setting takes place at a winery over Valentine’s Day. It was a short listen (just under two hours) but it’s a sweet and romantic story. The heroine is the owner of the winery and she meets a patron who happens to be handsome and funny! Sparks fly. Happy Ending ensues.

Last but not least, I also read Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower. The book chronicles the history of the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. Salonica went from being a city of Byzantium to an Ottoman stronghold to finally gaining independence by merging with the Kingdom of Greece. It’s not just about the Greeks and the Christian population. It’s also about the Jewish history, the Muslim history, it’s about the story of families and the story of the foreigners who came to Salonica for one reason or another. It’s comprehensive and well-researched. At certain times during my reading the true stories took my breath away. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city. If you are interested in Ottoman history, Greek history or the history of city planning, start with this book.

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

April 2021 Wrap-Up

Girl Reading in a Salon, 1876, by Giovanni Boldini.

Hello, friends! How are you?

April was another light reading month, but I trust you won’t judge me.

I re-read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and it was fabulous! If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. It is such a funny satire. I really appreciate the gothic story within the gothic story; the heroine, Catherine Morland, is obsessed with reading gothic novels and one of them, The Mysteries of Udolpho, plays a role in the story.

I read Taken by the Border Rebel by Blythe Gifford. The plot is set during the border wars in Scotland and England in 1529. Though it’s a serious and dark chapter from history, it was an enjoyable romance novel.

Last but not least, I also read Royals and the Reich by Jonathan Petropoulos. And all I have to say is: WOW! The book details the German royals who joined and aided the Nazi party. For me it was a very sad read, but a necessary read. What’s interesting (and infuriating) is that today most of these families live on their ancestral lands without having to pay retributions. Most of these families also refuse to open their family archives to the public. I assume it’s because they want to keep their Nazi past hidden. A very well-researched history book, if you’re interested.

What did you read last month?

xoxo, Jane

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