November 2021 Wrap-Up

Would Jane Austen approve of my November reading list?

I loved everything I read in November and I’m so happy about that.

Here is what I read in November:

Can I Touch Your Hair by Irene Latham and Charles Waters is a wonderful children’s book that I recommend for all elementary school students. The illustrated book is written by two poets who teamed up to explore race and childhood through poetry. The poems are meant to spark a conversation about tolerance and respect.

The Hill We Climb is the poem Amanda Gorman wrote for and read at the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. It’s a short, uplifting read.

Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett is a murder mystery where Queen Elizabeth II solves crime on the side. I have to say that it was very well done; respectful of the Queen and her royal duties. It’s as if the author knows the Queen personally because at times the reader was inside the Queen’s head solving a crime how you’d think the real Elizabeth II would solve a crime. My only complaint about the novel is that it’s a little misleading as the Queen doesn’t actually do all the crime solving by herself. She has a trusted team of private secretaries who hit the streets to investigate, interview and even risk their lives for answers. All in all, it’s a fun take on the modern British murder mystery.

I also read Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Can you believe that this was my very first Agatha Christie? It’s crazy, but it’s true. I’ve seen plenty of movies and tv adaptations of Ms. Christie’s books, but I’ve never actually read one. I don’t know what took me so long! This classic mystery takes place entirely on a train in the winter. Hercule Poirot’s brilliance for solving a mystery shines through every page. My favorite part of reading an Agatha Christie novel is that I got to follow along with Hercule Poirot’s thought process, which is something not easily translatable on the big screen.

I love Audible because there are so many stories made only for audio, like The Royal Assignment by Terence Gray, Erin Day and Ian Thake. This was the funnest royal romcom audiobook I’ve heard in a long time. It takes place in a fictional country and both of the main characters are completely likable. If you want to listen to a short, romantic story during the holiday season, then this is your book. — Maggie Patel has landed her dream job at The New York Spectator; or, it would be, if she could get a decent story assignment. When a career-making interview finally lands on her desk, it’s with the last person she’d ever want to see again – Edward, the Crown Prince of Bairmorne…and her long-ago friend.  When Maggie was a child, her mother worked as a housemaid at the Royal Palace of Bairmorne, a small European nation, until they were unceremoniously kicked to the curb…amidst a cloud of whispered controversy and palace intrigue. Now, Prince Edward and Maggie are all grown up and they both have jobs to do – but there’s a spark between them they can’t deny. Will that spark lead to something more, and can their attraction withstand public scrutiny, royal duty, and secrets from the past?

I also listened to a dramatization of The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate, narrated by Olivia Colman. I’ve never read the actual book, but this radio version of the novel (detailed below) was interesting and intriguing. — It is the autumn of 1913. Sir Randolph Nettleby has assembled a brilliant array of guests at his Oxfordshire estate for the biggest hunt of the season. An army of gamekeepers, beaters, and servants has rehearsed the intricate age–old ritual, the gentlemen are falling into the prescribed mode of fellowship and sporting rivalry, the ladies intrigued by the latest gossip and fashion. Everything about this splendid weekend would seem a perfect consummation of the pleasures afforded the privileged in Edwardian England. And yet it is not: the moral and social code of this group is not so secure as it appears. Competition beyond the bounds of sportsmanship, revulsion at the slaughter of the animals, anger at the inequities of class ––these forces are about to rise up and engulf the assured social peace, a peace that can last only a brief while longer.

And now for a surprise! Visit the blog every day in December until Christmas Day for a literary advent calendar. I created it so we can enjoy a literary treat or a book recommendation every day during the holiday season.

Happy Holidays!

October 2021 Wrap-Up / Victober 2021 Finale

Woman Reading by a Window by American artist Gari Melchers.

Another month over, another reading wrap-up. These are my favorite posts to write because I love looking back at all the wonderful books I read. I also enjoy sharing with you the books I read (or don’t read). Books make me happy. I used to lock myself in a room seeking solitude with my books or whatever magazines I could find lying around. It was six of us in a two bedroom apartment; solitude was and is my friend. My family did not have extra money for books, so I patiently waited for my library’s bookmobile to make its way to my neighborhood so I could return my books and check out new books. Decades later I still find reading to be one of the most magical moments of my life.

Let’s dig in, shall we? My October reading consisted of books for the Victober 2021 challenge.

I read the following as part of the reading challenge:

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Though it’s not Victorian, nor a novel, it was written during the Victorian era by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The Yellow Wallpaper is written in the form of diary entries. The journal entries are written by a woman (our narrator) who is married to a doctor. According to the doctor-husband, the narrator suffers from some sort of “hysteria.” – An all too common ailment for 19th century women. – The husband decides the best way to restore her health is to confine his wife to one room and to forbid her from writing. It’s in this room that the narrator begins to see women creeping around in the yellow wallpaper. The narrator’s husband is not a bad man; he loves his wife, but like all 19th century male doctors he is severely misguided on how to treat female patients. It’s a sad story about women not having the right to make decisions for themselves. I’m not a literary expert, but I don’t think the narrator is suffering from hysteria. I think that forcing a person into confinement and not allowing her to work or pursue interesting hobbies can harm one’s mental health. If you have an hour to spare, I recommend reading this short story. It’s a powerful take into the oppression faced by 19th century women.

A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins

This was my first time reading Wilkie Collins. I like him as a writer; I also like the narrator of the audiobook version. I just didn’t like the main character, Frank. I found him to be an extremely pompous jerk who never made any effort to better his life. Frank also didn’t believe in putting in an honest day’s work. It’s supposed to be a comic novel, but because I couldn’t stand Frank it just wasn’t enjoyable for me.

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell was my favorite read of October. The short stories had me at the very edge of my seat. Some of them are based on true crimes. If you read just one book from October’s list, then please pick this one. There is definitely a story in this short story collection that will suit you.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Père-Lachaise.

Collected Stories by Oscar Wilde

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is so much fun. Until I listened to this audiobook of short stories I didn’t know he wrote fairy tales. Which makes me feel bad for never digging deeper into his works. In honor of the inimitable Oscar Wilde and Victober, last month (on Halloween) I paid him a visit. He is buried at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise. I love Oscar Wilde. He was a genius, and a wonderful, witty writer. I also think he was far ahead of his time. And because I love him, I wish he had a happier life and a better end to his life. I wish that he had that fairy tale ending that he wrote for so many of his characters.

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you. – Oscar Wilde

This sums up my October reading. What did you read in October? What are you reading now? Inquiring minds want to know. 🙂

xoxo, Jane

September 2021 Wrap-Up

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.

A moody picture of Chateau d’ Amboise in the Loir Valley for your Victober inspiration.

I’m currently reading Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell in honor of Victober. Are you participating in Victober this year? I hope so!

xoxo, Jane

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

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