Pairing books with tea (Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte)

On my current TBR shelf (to be read soonest as I’m obsessed with Josephine) is Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams. The book chronicles Josephine’s humble beginnings, her rise and her downfall.

Their love was legendary, their ambition flagrant and unashamed. Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife, Josephine, came to power during one of the most turbulent periods in the history of France. The story of the Corsican soldier’s incredible rise has been well documented. Now, in this spellbinding, luminous account, Kate Williams draws back the curtain on the woman who beguiled him: her humble origins, her exorbitant appetites, and the tragic turn of events that led to her undoing.
 
Born Marie-Josèphe-Rose de Tascher de La Pagerie on the Caribbean island of Martinique, the woman Napoleon would later call Josephine was the ultimate survivor. She endured a loveless marriage to a French aristocrat—executed during the Reign of Terror—then barely escaped the guillotine blade herself. Her near-death experience only fueled Josephine’s ambition and heightened her  determination to find a man who could finance and sustain her. Though no classic beauty, she quickly developed a reputation as one of the most desirable women on the continent.
 
In 1795, she met Napoleon. The attraction was mutual, immediate, and intense. Theirs was an often-tumultuous union, roiled by their pursuit of other lovers but intensely focused on power and success. Josephine was Napoleon’s perfect consort and the object of national fascination. Together they conquered Europe. Their extravagance was unprecedented, even by the standards of Versailles. But she could not produce an heir. Sexual obsession brought them together, but cold biological truth tore them apart.
 
Gripping in its immediacy, captivating in its detail, Ambition and Desire is a true tale of desire, heartbreak, and revolutionary turmoil, engagingly written by one of England’s most praised young historians. Kate Williams’s searing portrait of this alluring and complex woman will finally elevate Josephine Bonaparte to the historical prominence she deserves.

When it came time for me to find a tea to pair with this biographical book, I didn’t hesitate in choosing a tea named for an earlier queen, Thé de Marie-Antoinette (Marie-Antoinette tea). It makes for a perfect pairing because the French tea contains rose petals; Josephine cultivated rare roses at her home, Château de Malmaison. I think this tea is a nice homage to Josephine, even if it is named after an earlier queen.

What do we think of this tea pairing? Also, have you read Ambition and Desire or other books about Josephine?

xoxo, Jane

My November Reads

Hi friends! Happy November.

I hope the second to last month of 2021 is off to a great start for you.

I am thrilled about the books I plan to read this month. There are three on my list (though I may end up reading more).

I’m currently reading Windsor Knot: Her Majesty The Queen Investigates by S.J. Bennett. Full disclosure: this book is completely fiction but completely fun. As you can surmise from the title, the plot centers on Queen Elizabeth II solving crimes on top of her queenly duties. Clearly this is the fictitious part. I’m not aware of the Queen moonlighting at Scotland Yard, but do correct me if I’m mistaken. The Windsor Knot is such a fun book to read. I’m not that far into it yet, but it is already bringing me so much joy. My favorite quote thus far is from Chapter 2 when Elizabeth II tells Philip: “They forget. I’ve lived through a world war, that Ferguson girl and you in the Navy.”

The next book on my November TBR shelf is The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton. The truth is, I’ve always been fascinated by Frau Merkel. She is the intelligent, fearless woman that we all aspire to be. I can rarely find a reputable biography in English but I think I found it with this book.

The last book on my list is a reread. I’ve already read The Little(r) Museums of Paris by Emma Jacobs, but since I now live in Paris I wanted to refresh my memory about all the smaller, lesser known museums to visit. It’s an illustrated book detailing Paris’ hidden museum gems. The illustrations are charming and I know it will make for an inspirational reread. Also, it’s perfect for lightly participating in Nonfiction November.

What are you reading this month?

xoxo, Jane

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris & Mrs Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico is the most charming book I’ve ever read. If I knew how charming and heart-warming it was, I would have picked it up much sooner.

Originally published in the 1950s, this newer edition contains both stories in one novel. Though both stories are wonderful, I’ll focus on Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. The book introduces the reader to Mrs. Harris, a widow in her 60s who works as a housecleaner. Mrs. Harris, after falling in love with a particular Dior gown at a client’s house, decides she too must own such a fine creation.

It takes Mrs. Harris a few years to save up for the dress and a trip to Paris. She foregoes her weekly cinema excursion, economizes on her loose tea leaves and, at one point, even plays the lottery to win some money. After a few years of scrimping and saving, she meets her financial goal and sets off for France. This is her first time leaving the British Isles and she begins to feel nervous about it. Unfortunately, when she arrives to Paris, things don’t go as planned. For example, after one look at Mrs. Harris, the Dior staff refuse to help her. Soon though, her warmth and kindness win them over. Through her inimitable ways, Mrs. Harris charms the Dior staff (and practically all of Paris) who make her dream of owning a Dior gown come true.

Mrs. Harris may be a fictional character, but she is incredibly relatable because we’ve all known that one special person who always seems to remember our birthdays or surprises us with little unexpected gifts. It’s nice to read a book where a nice person is given a good life and a happy ending.

If you’re looking for a feel-good adventurous romp through Paris, then this book might be for you. Be sure to grab the copy that contains both stories because the New York adventure is just as charming and endearing. I loved getting to know Mrs. Harris and her entourage.

xoxo, Jane

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger is a graphic biographical novel about Mr. Dior and his eponymous fashion label, House of Dior. Originally published in French, it was translated into English in 2015.

The first Dior fashion show took place in 1947 in Paris. The story is told through Clara, a fictional character. The reader experiences, through Clara’s eyes, the very first Dior fashion show. This is where the world was first introduced to the “New Look.” The story doesn’t gloss over how controversial the New Look was. With war and austerity now behind France, Dior created feminine, waist-cinching skirts and dresses that reached down to the ankles. Women, however, didn’t want to go back to wearing longer dresses. They liked their short dresses just fine. But Dior, through his passion and a vision for a new post-war ideal, persevered and made his fashion house a success.

Clara also introduces the reader to the House of Dior and Dior’s “muses.” Though Clara is a fashion journalist, she soon quits her job to become one of Dior’s muses. This was a clever ploy because Clara and Dior become confidantes. This dynamic gives the reader a glimpse into the intimate details of the House of Dior and inside the mind of Dior himself. It worked because I found myself feeling sad for Dior’s lonely state since his wife’s passing. I saw him as a human, not just a famous fashion designer.

The book takes the reader from that very first show to the end of Mr. Dior’s life in 1957. It’s a very touching tribute to fashion and to the elegance that continues to be the House of Dior. In fact, I would describe this book as a love letter to fashion. If you are a fashionista or a lover of the history of fashion, then you’ll appreciate this book because the drawings of the dresses are sumptuous. Annie Goetzinger didn’t just write the novel, she also illustrated it.

I have one criticism about this book. Clara is a one-dimensional character. She lacks depth and has no strong feelings about anything. She quits her job, works for Mr. Dior, marries a rich man, quits her job again, spends time conversing with Mr. Dior, and so on. I think Clara’s sole purpose was to narrate the story of Mr. Dior. If you read the story knowing this, then you’ll be fine. Just don’t expect her to be multi-faceted, like heroines of other novels. That said, this is a charming book and it might help us, for just a few minutes, to get our minds off the troubling times we are living through.

Embed from Getty Images

Mr. Dior and his models.

xoxo, Jane

Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

There is a lot to love about Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik. To begin with, I adore the title. Paris to the Moon evokes something romantic from an old, bygone Paris. I love that the collection of essays are set in Paris. I also love that the essays are thoughtful, witty and, at-times, laugh-out-loud funny. I felt compelled to read many passages to my husband, much to his annoyance. “Yes, I know, he lives in Paris,” he’d say when I prefaced another out-loud reading with a “This writer who lives in Paris…”

I was drawn to this book for two reasons. It’s a collection of essays about living in Paris and I’m fascinated by the nuances of everyday Parisian life. But also because it’s written by a writer who manages to write full-time and support his family from his writing. I’m always interested in reading and learning more about that elusive, modern-day full-time writer.

Adam Gopnik moved to Paris with his wife and young son in the late 1990s. This book of essays is the culmination of his experience living there. He does not sugarcoat living in Paris, but even with the French bureaucracy and dossiers (you’ll have to read the book to understand why dossiers come up quite often), he loves living there with his family and I found it charming that he refers to his newborn daughter as their “French child.” Their son Luke, born in NY, is their “New York child.”

I should also mention that all of these essays were originally published in The New Yorker before they were compiled in this book.

My favorite essay is the one where he describes the fashion shows. I devoured the pages hoping for more essays on fashion, alas it was not to be. Instead I got essays on sports. Which, quite frankly, bored me to tears. What can I say, I like what I like.

When the author wrote about French cuisine, I felt pangs of hunger. I’m not sure if that was the author’s ultimate goal, but I immediately told my husband we’d be having something French for dinner. And I laughed out loud (again) when he compares the children’s figure Barney to President Clinton. The essays were full of unexpected thoughts and surprises about living in Paris.

All in all, this is an excellent book. Should you read it? I would say, read it only if you are truly interested in the nuances of everyday life as an American in Paris.

xoxo, Jane

Four Books Set in London

Who doesn’t love a literary walk through London? Now that summer is slowly coming to an end, let’s talk about books that make for perfect fall reading.

15.JemimaJ.jpg

Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans by Jane Green

Jemima J was the very first book I ever read by Jane Green way back when. This book is an oldie (Hello, 2001, I’ve missed you) but such a goodie! It’s a charming story about a Londoner, Jemima. She is overweight and bullied by everyone around her because of it. When Jemima meets a handsome Californian, Brad, over the internet, she quickly re-invents herself as JJ, a sexy, thin, and glamorous girl. But then of course Brad insists on meeting JJ and that’s when the fun and misadventures begin. I think the story held up really well over the years.

IMG_4248

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

I enjoyed reading Belgravia so much that when it ended I hugged the book. It’s set in London (specifically, a newly-created Belgravia) and follows the destinies of two British families. One family is newly rich and the other family is “old money.” Something happens (I can’t give it away as it will ruin the story for you) that forces the two families to intertwine with each other, much to the disdain of the “old money” family. It’s funny, heart-warming and fun to read. It really should be adapted for TV. I think the best part about this book is that Belgravia is a main character.

maisie-dobbs-550.jpg

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the first book in a series about a private detective set in London. Since this is the first book in the series, it introduces us to Maisie’s present and to her past. In her present, she tries to uncover a horrible secret involving veterans of the Great War. In her past, we learn that she herself is a veteran of the war. She worked as a nurse in the trenches of World War I. We have vivid flashbacks of her nursing days in the trenches. I must say, I’ve read lots of stories set in the trenches of World War I, but this is the only book where the scenes jumped out at me. I could actually visualize Maisie’s blood-soaked dress hems. If you are looking for a new mystery/detective series, with a witty female protagonist, then please start here.

Embed from Getty Images

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding

Was this the book that started the “chick lit” genre? I don’t know, but what I do know is that it was crazy enjoyable to read. It also made me fall in love with this type of story (single, living in a big city, job problems, guy problems, happy ending). Just like the title conveys, this book is written diary-style over the course of one year. Bridget writes about her dreams and desires, her weight issues, her guy problems… It’s really hilarious! Highly recommended!

Do you have any favorite books set in London? xoxo, Jane

Also, four books set in Paris.

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Désirée)

Désirée by Annemarie Selinko is a novel based on real events as recounted by one woman, Désirée Clary. It’s an epic, fictionalized biography of Désirée, the one-time fiancée of Napoleon. (I very briefly talked about this book here.)

Clary

Désirée lived a very interesting life through some turbulent times in France. She began life as the daughter of a silk merchant and ended her life as the Queen of Sweden.

After Napoleon broke her heart to marry Josephine, Désirée moved on by marrying the tall and dashing Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a decorated Marshal in Napoleon’s court.

Through her marriage to Bernadotte, Désirée became Queen of Sweden because Sweden picked Bernadotte as their next king. Bernadotte reigned as Charles XIV of Sweden. (Talk about the ultimate get-over-him plan. Ladies, next time a guy breaks your heart, marry a king!)

This part isn’t in the book, but Napoleon hoped that Bernadotte would enact Swedish laws that favored France. Much to the anger and dismay of Napoleon, Bernadotte refused to be a puppet king. He even used his personal fortune to pay Sweden’s national debt. (As an aside, the illustrious Bernadotte line continues to reign in Sweden today.)

Désirée_Clary1807-Robert_Lefèvre.jpg
Désirée Clary, 1807. Wikimedia Commons

The book is completely engrossing and written entirely in the form of diary entries. It’s a mixture of historical fiction and historical gossip sessions. Désirée is completely relatable even though it’s nearly impossible to relate to a young, rich French socialite. I think her diary entries (her gossip rants, her worries, her funny anecdotes, her undying devotion to her child) make her endearing to the reader.

Also, Paris is very much a main character in this book (before the move to Stockholm, that is) and her diary entries are sprinkled with Parisian locales and addresses. Of course, the book was made into a movie. Marlon Brando played Napoleon.

Laduree Tea

I think the perfect tea for this book is by Ladurée. Ladurée is a decadent Parisian tea and Désirée, for her entire life, loved everything Parisian. I think Désirée would approve of this pairing. You can take the girl out of Paris, but you can’t take Paris out of the girl.

What do you think of this tea pairing?

xoxo, Jane

PS. In case you feel like going down a rabbit hole, my other posts in this series can be found here.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to use the links. xoxo, Jane

Four Books Set In Paris

fullsizeoutput_7e8
View of the Louvre, February 2017

I love Paris!

Actually, I love all of France, but let’s focus on Paris. Paris is my favorite travel destination. I love the food, the people, the language, the museums, the cobbled sidewalks, the fashion, the boutiques….I could go on and on.

Because of my job and other obligations, I can’t travel there as much as I would like. Just once every other year or so. But in the meantime, I like to read books that feature Paris.

Paris is always a good idea.

Here are a few books that are set (or partly set) in Paris:

Desiree by Annemarie Selinko. This book is a saga of a love trilogy. It’s a fictionalized account of Napolean’s ex-fiancée, Désirée Clary, who went on to become the Queen of Sweden. I love this novel! It’s written in the form of diary entries, it’s fun, romantic and adventurous. There was also a movie based on this book and Napoleon was played by Marlon Brando.

Solitaire by Jane Thynne. This is the fifth book in the Clara Vine series. It’s a gripping spy drama set in Nazi Germany. Clara Vine, an Anglo-German actress, lives in Nazi Germany undercover and spies for British Intelligence. It’s riveting. In this installment, Clara’s work takes her to 1940s Paris.

ancient architecture art building
Photo by Frank Zienert on Pexels.com

Love from Paris by Alexandra Potter. This book was a delightful, frothy read. Our heroine, Ruby, travels to Paris where she stumbles upon a mysterious old apartment. She goes on to do some sleuthing and makes a stunning discovery. I assume this story was partly inspired by the real life story of this Paris apartment.

Barefood in Paris by Ina Garten. I love this cookbook. It’s one of my favorites. I’ve tried a good number of her recipes from this book and they’ve all come out delicious. The book includes plenty of anecdotes about her time in Paris. Ina also shares with us her list of Parisian stores for kitchen and cooking-related shopping.

If you have any favorite books set in Paris, I’d love to know! xoxo, Jane

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to use the links, but it’s also ok if you don’t use the links. I’m just grateful you are here and reading my blog. xoxo, Jane