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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Hi guys! It’s the end of the third quarter of the worst year of our lives. Hooray! Also, in case you missed it, Part I and Part II.
I listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Mary Stewart’s romantic thriller Madam, Will You Talk? And.it.was.fabulous! Sadly it’s not available anymore. I also listened to Audible’s A Grown-Up Guide to Dinosaurs by Ben Garrod. I have no idea what possessed me to listen to several hours worth of dinosaur history but I enjoyed myself immensely. This is a guide to dinosaurs for grown-ups! If you are a dinosaur buff, then this audiobook is not for you. But it’s perfect if you are like me, totally clueless. I think I slept through science class because everything in this book was new to me. (Shame on me!)
I listened to Albion: The Legend of Arthur by Robert Valentine because I was in the mood for an Arthurian adventure. If you are a die-hard fan of the Arthurian Legend, then this book might disappoint you. It’s a completely different story and not part of the original stories. I enjoyed listening to it because the acting was superb. It had a full cast with talented actors and an amazing soundtrack. The only things I didn’t like were the grunting when the characters where eating and the sex noises (I really think that the sex scenes could have been left out as they added no value to the story). So that said, this book is not appropriate for young listeners but is a decent adventure story.
The Indignities of Being a Woman by Merrill Markoe and Megan Koester is a comedic stroll through women’s history. I wrote about it in-depth here and I highly recommend it. If women’s history is your thing and you don’t mind salty language, please check it out.
Model Undercover: A Crime of Fashion by Carina Axelsson is a fun YA. I don’t often read YA but this one was enjoyable enough. It began a little slow and picked up speed towards the middle. It’s the first book in a series where the main character, Axelle, works as a model and solves crimes. This first story takes place in Paris. A few scenes even take place underground in the famous catacombs. The scenes were so realistically written that I began to feel claustrophobia.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico was the most charming book I’ve ever read. Yesterday, I wrote about how wonderful it is. If you missed it, hop on over here.
The last book on the list is a re-read of Persuasion by Jane Austen. Sigh. My absolutely favorite novel. I love it more and more as the years go by.
This wraps up my quarterly reading. I’m really looking forward to Victober so I think the last quarter of 2020 is already starting out well. I just hope it ends with a new President-elect (fingers crossed!!!!).
I normally only read biographies of historic royals. But I had to read Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand because I am a huge fan of the Duchess of Sussex. I was horrified at the awful and biased treatment she received from the British press. I’m sad that she and Harry left royal life behind (at least for now) because I was looking forward to seeing her perform royal duties. Anyway, I digress. This is a great biography. The book takes you from Meghan’s early years to her acting days in Toronto. It talks about her impeccable work ethic and her ambition for an independent life. It talks about how Harry and Meghan met, about their joined values and the life they want to live together. It’s almost like you’re gossiping with a very good friend, who is filling you in on Harry and Meghan.
It’s interesting that the book begins with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about making your own path in life, almost like a foreshadow of what’s to come. I’ve learned that when it comes to women, few people like or approve of a woman who goes her own way in life. That’s probably why so many are mad at Meghan and Harry. They dared to go their own way. I think what we have to understand is that we don’t own Harry and Meghan. They are not our friends and don’t owe us anything. They are humans who are entitled to live the life they want to live. If you are a Meghan super fan, this book is for you. If you are angry that they are living a private life, you should probably pass.
The Real Sherlock by Lucinda Hawksley is an Audible Original about the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. It features the usual narration, but also interviews and interesting tidbits. If you’re a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, then this audiobook may be too elementary for you. I didn’t know Arthur Conan Doyle very well and it was fun to learn about him and how he created his most famous character.
Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger is a graphic novel about the life of French fashion designer Christian Dior. If you like fashion and graphic novels, it might be a fun read for you. This link takes you to my earlier review.
The Secret Garden retold by Elizabeth Goodnight is a young child’s version of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I borrowed the audiobook from the library not realizing it was the shorter, condensed and retold version. Now that I listened to this version, I can tell you that it’s the perfect audiobook for children’s bedtime. The narrator’s voice is soothing and charming. Perfect for young children.
The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is the sequel to The Royal We. If you enjoy royal fiction, then this is a great series. But you should start with The Royal We. The Heir Affair begins where The Royal We left off, with Bex and Nick married and in self-imposed exile. But when they’re discovered at their secret location, they return to Kensington Palace to face the music. The plot is almost slow and uneventful, until Bex discovers a huge royal secret with serious consequences. Bex and Nick try to figure out what to do with this earth-shattering secret. I won’t give it away, otherwise I’ll spoil it for you.
I hope you’re reading lots of fun books right now. I’ll post Part III at the end of September.
It’s time for the quarterly wrap-up. I began the third quarter of the worst year of our lives with romance novels.
I began by reading Honor Bound by B.J. Daniels, which is the last book in her romance series, The Montana Hamiltons, set in Montana. I didn’t read any of the prior books which may be the reason why I felt pretty lost within the various story arcs happening in this particular novel. There were too many mentions of earlier characters I hadn’t met yet. When I wasn’t feeling lost, this was a decent story about the love and trials of the daughter of a man about to be elected president. The president-elect in the series is a Republican and normally I wouldn’t care, but because of the turbulent times we live in, the mention of a Republican left a bitter taste in my mouth. The Grand Ole Party (founded by Abraham Lincoln) is no more and no amount of sexy romance novel heroes can convince me otherwise.
Diamond in the Rough by Diana Palmer is a modern-day Cinderella story. The plot follows the 19-year old heroine and the hard life she leads. She falls in love with a very rich rancher who keeps his wealth hidden from her to make sure she really likes him for him and not his money. While it has a compelling plot, I wasn’t fond of the heroine. She kept complaining how she was a poor, stupid girl and that she’d rather knit than go out and that her nicest dress is two years old. I have clothes older than two years old so I can’t fathom how this is supposed to demonstrate to the reader that she is very poor indeed. I think the author implies that rich women buy new dresses daily. This book wasn’t a winner for me, mostly because I prefer to read about women who don’t think ill of themselves. However, I finished this book because for the life of me I can’t not finish a book. It’s an awful habit that must stop so I can reclaim my reading time.
The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards is one of my favorite reads of this quarter. It’s quite the gossipy and entertaining read. The book begins with an interesting tale of Princess Caroline in the 1980s. Just when the reader is sucked in to the drama of her divorce with Philippe Junot, the reader time-travels back to the very beginning of Monaco and to the very first Grimaldi. (Otto Canella, born in 1133, is the father of Grimaldo Canella, born in 1162, who in turn becomes the father of Oberto Grimaldi, born in 1188). It’s a very entertaining and highly recommended book if you are interested in Grimaldi history. The book was published in 1992, so obviously it does not cover the current Grimaldis. It is a good stepping stone into the early history of the Grimaldis.
Paris to the Moon is a collection of short stories by essayist Adam Gopnik. They are witty, entertaining stories about living in Paris as an American. I’m a proud Francophile and loved reading this book very much. If you are interested, this link will take you to my earlier review.
Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is a biography of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. It’s a non-traditional biography in the sense that the reader peeks into glimpses of Princess Margaret’s life, most of the time not in chronological order. Each glimpse equals a short chapter. The chapters are so short that it makes for a fast read. I enjoyed this unique style of biography very much. Hint: Princess Margaret was an awful, selfish person. I’m sure she had some good qualities but it sounds like she was born in an era where royals were treated like God and didn’t have to earn respect. I think she’d hate being born a royal today because you can’t actually get away with being awful (or can you?).
Hello, there. Welcome to the second portion of my quarterly wrap-up. You can read the first part here.
I listened to To Tempt a Sheikh by Olivia Gates. This was my first time reading Olivia Gates and what I liked the best is that the hero (sheikh) wasn’t an archaic caveman. I plan to read/listen to more of her books.
In a previous post, I wrote about Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. The story of the five women covered in this non-fiction book made an impact on me. If you’re searching for a book about women, feminism and London between the two world wars, then this book is for you. I wrote about my thoughts in a previous blog post. Please consider reading it if you are curious about Square Haunting.
Faberge Treasures from the Kremlin is a small museum guide book I bought at my local library sale for $1.00. The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas hosted an exhibit titled “Faberge: Treasures from the Kremlin.” The treasures traveled to Las Vegas from the Kremlin and were (mostly) Faberge creations of royal provenance. They were discovered in 1990 during the renovation of a house in Moscow. Though the book features exquisite photography of the jewels and decorative art pieces, what piqued my curiosity is the person who hid them. Did they plan to sell the treasures once the revolution was over? But since freedom never really came, did it dawn on that person that a sale would never be possible? Was the hiding spot forgotten after the jewel-taker’s death? I’ll never know the truth, but I have already concocted a story in my writer’s mind which I will share with you someday soon.
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey is a novella easily read over a weekend. The story takes place during the course of a wedding day and focuses on the bride. Unfortunately the bride is not marrying the man she loves (not a spoiler). I found it poignant and somewhat funny. The insightful dialogue kept me gripped from the first page to the last. Admittedly, the story left me feeling sad.
Waiting by Jane Odiwe is a short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In a previous blog post I described it like eating chocolate, short and sweet. The story takes place right after the end of Persuasion where we find a nervous Captain Wentworth and Anne awaiting permission for their marriage from Anne’s father.
A Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Alexandra Deutsch and Betsy Bonaparte by Helen Jean Burn are two well-researched, well-written biographies of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte. Madame Bonaparte of Baltimore was the spouse of Jerome Bonaparte, youngest brother to Napoleon Bonaparte. Unfortunately for the young couple, who were madly in love with each other, Napoleon had their marriage annulled. Jerome, being accustomed to the finer things in life, didn’t want to be cut off by his brother so he caved and married Princess Catherine of Württemberg. Napoleon made Jerome the King of Westphalia. Elizabeth Bonaparte spent the rest of her life seeking recognition and a title for their son, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte. Fascinating woman, fascinating story, sad ending depending on who you are or whose side you are on.