August 2021 Wrap-Up

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

Hello, friends! Welcome to autumn, my all-time favorite season. I hope September finds you well.

My August reading consisted of wonderful, unputdownable books and some romantic poetry.

I listened to Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Audible’s version is performed by a full cast. I have no words! This is one of the funnest, most wonderful books I’ve read in a long time. I only regret that I didn’t read Jules Verne years earlier. The entire time I felt as if I too was on the adventurous race with Phileas Fogg and Passepartout. Have you read it?

Classic Love Poems by Audible is narrated by the fabulous, dreamy Richard Armitage. I won’t lie, I picked this poetry book solely because it’s narrated by Richard Armitage (aka Mr. Thornton and Sir Guy).

Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess is another one of her lovely, illustrated books. Megan Hess writes about fashion (and other non-fashion subjects) but her books always include her dreamy illustrations. I enjoyed learning about French fashions, but mostly loved what a gorgeous book I was holding in my hands. I wrote more about Megan Hess’s other books here and here.

I have a new favorite romance author, Kylie Scott. I read, back-to-back, her following books: Pause, Repeat and Lick. The books are not just plot-driven, but heavy on the emotions between the main characters. Steamy, slow-burn types of stories, if you will. Just perfect for what I look for in a romance novel. Thank you, Ms. Scott!

What’s next for September reading? I would like to re-read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I want to see if I can find similarities between the main characters in The Yellow Wallpaper and The Victorian Chaise-Longue.

xoxo, Jane

PS. I’m on Instagram where I post about books and tea. You should stop by and say hi.

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

June 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Happy July, everyone!

I can’t believe we are more than half-way through 2021. Just yesterday I saw the 2022 planners at a bookstore. I was pretty close to buying a new planner (who can resist them?) but I forced myself to walk away from the table. Who am I kidding? You know and I know that I’ll go back this weekend to purchase that 2022 planner.

My June reading consisted of two fantastic books!

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is a novella and morality tale about not toying with children’s hearts and affections. The story begins at an Austrian resort in the early 1900s. It’s a dark tale. The main character, referred to as the Baron, desires a beautiful woman upon first sight. She, however, does not act on it. In his desperation the Baron befriends her young son just to get to her heart. The boy becomes enamored with his older friend. However he soon realizes that his friend, the Baron, wants nothing to do with him. The Baron finds ways to get rid of the boy so he can be alone with his mother. This upsets and hurts the boy very much, which leads to dangerous consequences that I don’t want to spoil for you. It’s an interesting story that teaches a lesson about how to treat and not treat children. Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for. I felt awful for the poor little boy and found the Baron a vile and selfish creature.

The pages of this story are filled with vivid descriptions and rich metaphors. The story evokes the romance and the travels of a bygone era. Even if this particular novella is not your cup of tea, I still recommend reading something by Stefan Zweig. In his day, he was the most widely translated author. He was Jewish and his incredible work was banned by the Nazis. Also, because of the Nazis, Zweig left Austria in the 1930s. He made his way to England and New York before settling in Brazil. Escaping the Nazis was not enough to bring the light back into his life. As European capitals fell like dominos, he became despondent. He committed suicide in 1942.

In his suicide note, Zweig wrote “my own language having disappeared from me and my spiritual home, Europe, having destroyed itself” and “I salute all my friends! May it be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go on before.

The film The Grand Budapest Hotel was based on a compilation of his stories.

A picture from my walk for your viewing pleasure.

I also read The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson. It’s the third book in the Miss Buncle series and takes place in a charming English village during World War II. While the focus is on Miss Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her niece, also Mrs. Abbott, numerous new characters are introduced. World War II looms heavily in the background. While the war is not mentioned too often, you know it’s there because the characters experience rationing, discuss their black-out curtains, and so on.

The story focuses on the intricacies of English village life and each chapter is a vignette of village situations. Not all characters have their stories resolved by the end of the novel. While it’s a charming story and I enjoy everything by D.E. Stevenson, there were times I was bored because nothing really ever happens. Yes, there were funny moments like the comical scene where an elderly woman discovers a German spy sleeping in the forest. While she clearly saves the day, we hear nothing else about the situation. Whatever happened to the spy? How did he make his way into an English forest? I guess we’ll never know.

I spotted these two friends during my walk.

What did you read in June?

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

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

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

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

January 2021 Wrap-Up

I usually write quarterly wrap-ups, but this year I want to aim for monthly reading wrap-ups. In January I read A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and an adorable book for children (but for grown-ups too), Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography.

January Reading

Now that I’ve read Mansfield Park by Jane Austen I can finally state that I’ve read all of the full-length Jane Austen novels. Initially I avoided this particular Austen novel because of the cousin factor. First cousins Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, who grow up together in the same household, fall in love with each other. I know it used to be a social norm to marry your first cousin, but I still couldn’t get past it. While I enjoyed reading Fanny’s journey, she is very sweet and dear, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as the other Austen novels. But don’t let me put you off, it’s truly an excellent book that touches upon several of society’s dark undertones. I don’t regret reading it, but it won’t be a re-read for me. Have you read it?

January Flowers

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer is a Christmas-themed, cozy murder mystery. The setting is a Tudor-era estate in the English countryside. In the beginning of the novel I was overwhelmed by the numerous character introductions, but once I got past the initial chapters I enjoyed reading this mystery. The owner of the Tudor estate is killed while in his bedroom, but the issue is that the door is locked from the inside and presumably none of the guests were able to enter the room to commit the murder. I thought I had the murder solved, but I was wrong and taken by surprise by the actual murderer. If you like murder mysteries set in the English countryside this book might be your cup of tea.

Last but not least, I read Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography (Library of Luminaries). It’s a whimsically illustrated biography and the perfect introduction to Jane Austen for the toddler in your life.

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

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