With September behind us and October ahead of us, here is what I read last month. I reread Pause by Kylie Scott because why not. I also read Smoke Signal by Marie Benedict and Kate Quinn. It’s a historical novella which takes place during and after WWII. The best part about this story is that Agatha Christie is a main character. The mystery tale, which is based on a true story, is perhaps an homage to the great lady herself. Have you read it?
The big read of the month was Lotharingia by Simon Winder. It’s a historical account of France, Germany and the smaller countries in-between and how they came into existance. It’s action-packed history and reading the book made me feel like I was listening to a gossip session with a historian. If you are into history and gossip (haha), then I recommend this book. But if you frown upon making history fun and being gossipy about historical figures, then you’d best skip it.
Just a quick post to share with you my recent Paris book purchases from two fabulous bookstores.
Smith & Son: I purchased Lotharingia: A Personal History of France, Germany and the Countries In Between by Simon Winder. This is the book I’m currently reading. My goal is to finish it before September ends so I can start on my Victober 2021 planning and reading. Smith & Son is a British bookseller with an excellent tea room. If you are in Paris and have the time, I’d recommend you pay them a visit. Smith & Son is right across from the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden at 248 Rue de Rivoli. You can stop by for refreshments after your sightseeing excursions. They are open Monday through Sunday, but the tea room is closed on Mondays.
Galignani: Just a couple blocks further away at 224 Rue de Rivoli, you’ll find Galignani. A bookseller known for their excellent selection of decorative and fine arts books, they have been selling English fiction and nonfiction books since 1801. While browsing, I discovered Freya Stark‘s travel memoir, The Valleys of the Assassins. Freya Stark was one of the first Europeans to travel throughout the region known today as the Middle East. What a brave and interesting woman she must have been. I am so looking forward to reading her memoir. I also purchased Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation by Roderick Beaton. Roderick Beaton is not Greek, but he devoted his career to studying and understanding Greece. I’m looking forward to reading it as there are not many well-written books about modern Greece. It’s a fairly recent book; published in 2019.
Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!
PS. I’m on Instagram where I post about books and tea. Stop by and say hi.
Simon Winder is a witty, sarcastic type of writer. I like his writing style a lot. Lotharingia chronicles what happened after Charlemagne’s three grandsons each inherited a country: France, Germany and Lotharingia. As you probably already guessed, Lotharingia doesn’t exist anymore. It ended up becoming all the countries in between Germany and France: Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands…
Mr. Winder traveled widely throughout Germany, France, Austria and all the other countries in between. He compiled his personal experiences into a set of three books. Lotharingia is the third and final book in this series. The book is not a memoir, not even a travel memoir. It’s simply history retold through the personal experiences of the author. If you like history, then you might want to check out Simon Winder. But if you don’t like history told through a personal perspective with a lot of sarcastic remarks, then he might not be the writer for you.
A snippet of his writing style: “Bouillon’s fame is over nine hundred years old, through its association with Godefroy of Bouillon, the leader of the homicidal outing later known as the First Crusade.” As you can image, I’m laughing quite a lot while learning about history.
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.
If you like reading about royal history, then you may enjoy listening to podcasts about royals. There are a number of excellent podcasts I subscribe to that I think you might find of interest.
The Exploress Podcast is incredibly well-researched and a fun way to learn about ancient historical women. The recreations of historical dialogue are entertaining and a must-listen. Though there are many episodes on historic noble women, some of the women featured are commoners. It’s still an entertaining resource and I highly recommend the outstanding four-part series on Cleopatra. Plus, the website has a page devoted to book recommendations. Enjoy!
Noble Blood is a podcast about the footnotes of royal men and women; the stories we don’t learn in school. It’s well-researched and told in a narrative style, as if a good friend is sitting near you and whispering a gossipy tale. The episodes are about tyrannical royals, murdered royals and tragic princesses. Very entertaining. I can’t recommend it enough.
The History Chicks is run by two very good friends who enjoy talking about historical women. They began the podcast ten years ago because they couldn’t find any podcasts devoted entirely to women. Though a good number of royals are featured, they are not the main focus of this podcast. However, it’s worth perusing their catalog since it features many episodes of interest to royal history fans. I recommend their episodes on Gilded Age Heiresses, Catherine the Great and Empress Sisi of Austria.
Last but not least, if you enjoy royal fashion, then you may enjoy listening to Dressed. The two hosts are experts in fashion and textiles and are a joy to listen to. Their well-researched episodes feature everything from the history of haute couture to Oscars fashion and feature a good amount of interviews with experts.
The social injustice in our country (and actually in the whole world) is making my heart heavy with sorrow. I feel helpless. I vote in every election and I hope you do too. I have also donated to Black Lives Matter and to the Equal Justice Initiative. I will continue to make donations to them and to other causes that work on ending white supremacy in the United States.
As you can image, I am not in the mood to blog about books and such. It seems trivial compared to what is happening right now. I’m going to continue working on my own book while the blog stays quiet for just a little while longer. Thank you for bearing with me.
I leave you with this poem by German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who survived the Nazis. Unfortunately, this poem is as timely as ever.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
My recent finished read is a fashion illustration book. Megan Hess illustrated (with permission) 100 of the most iconic dresses in fashion history in her book, The Dress. The book is organized in six sections: Designers, Icons, Weddings, Music, Film and Oscars.
It’s more than just a book filled with nice illustrations. Every dress Megan Hess illustrates comes complete with historical tidbits or background about the history of the dress. Page after page, gorgeous dresses jump out at you. It’s truly a delight to pour through this book.
One of my favorite dresses is this gown worn by Grace Kelly at the Oscars. I admit that I rewatch Grace Kelly movies (especially To Catch a Thief) over and over again simply for Grace Kelly’s sumptuous wardrobe.
I also think the most touching part of the book is the author’s dedication: “For Gwyn. All the dresses I’ve drawn, and all the dresses I own, will one day be yours.”
Now on to the criticism. While each dress gets a double page feature (as shown above), I wish there was additional content devoted to each dress. The information was skimpy at best and could have used much more historical detail.
If you like the combination of history, fashion and illustrations, then this book might be for you. Now if only I can figure out how to make the dresses jump out of the book and into my wardrobe…
Women (and their accomplishments) are often left out of history. This is nothing new and we are well aware of it. It’s not right and it’s not fair. I’m going to do my part to write about women in history (especially in the Cold War era). Please join me as we kick off this new series with Miss Eloise Randolph Page.
Eloise Page began her career as a secretary in the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) in 1947. What’s remarkable about her is that she moved up through the ranks to become the CIA’s first Chief of Station in an era where women in intelligence were simply not promoted.
Miss Page was born in Richmond, Virginia. Emphasis on the Miss. She did not like being referred to as Ms. Miss Page never married or had children. Instead, she chose to break the glass ceiling in the intelligence community, steadily climbing through the ranks and eventually earning the nickname “the Iron Butterfly.” She retired in 1987 as one of the highest ranking female officer.
Miss Page is not mentioned in my Encyclopedia of the Cold War which I find to be a grave oversight. She is, however, mentioned in Spy Sites of Washington, D.C. which is how she came to my attention.
I tip my hat to this incredible woman who paved the way for other women to lead in intelligence.
A young Charles De Gaulle stayed there for his honeymoon. And it was this fortuitous visit that would change the course of the hotel’s history.
During the occupation of Paris, the Nazis requisitioned the hotel to house and feed their officers and French collaborators.
After the war was over, hundreds of thousands of former prisoners and Holocaust survivors began to make the trek home to France. The now General Charles de Gaulle remembered his luxurious stay at the Lutetia and demanded that the hotel house the survivors of the Holocaust because he wanted them to be housed in comfort after the horrors they suffered.
And this is how it came to be that the grandest hotel in Paris opened its doors to displaced persons and Holocaust survivors. The first survivors arrived at the hotel in April 1945. They received food, shelter, money and clothing.
The hotel also became the Paris headquarters for those searching for loved ones or waiting on Red Cross updates of family members sent to camps. An entire wall of the hotel was filled with photographs of missing persons. Relatives desperate for reunification with loved ones regularly stopped by to see whether missing family and friends had arrived from the camps.
The last displaced person left the hotel in September 1945. Soon thereafter the hotel reopened its doors for business as usual and celebrities once again flocked to the grandest hotel in Paris.
The Lutetia closed in 2014 for renovations and reopened in 2018. The old-fashioned decor was replaced by chic, contemporary pieces. The dark paneling was removed to make room for a marbled lobby that boasts an airy, light-filled space. Once again, celebrities and the well-to-do made the Lutetia Hotel their home away from home.
As for the ghosts, they probably still roam the halls.