April, May & June 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

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Hello, there. How are you? I hope you had a great weekend! If today is a holiday for you, then I hope it’s a day filled with relaxation, books and some barbecue.

Here is what I’ve been reading since April, but I’m still reading and part two is coming in late June.

Cowboy’s Reckoning by B.J. Daniels is a romance novella set in Montana. The heroine, Billie Dee Rhodes, flees her mysterious past in Texas to a small town in Montana, where she finds a job as a cook. When her past catches up with her, retired rancher Henry Larson helps her to safety. Of course they fall in love. I find the idea of cooking for a bunch of people stressful and not fun, but otherwise this was a lovely romantic story, short and sweet.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman is a children’s poetry book about nocturnal creatures. It’s a fun way for children to learn about nature. But it’s also a fun diversion for us grown-ups too.

I listened to Emily Dickinson: Poems and Letters. The audiobook is a collection of letters, 75 poems and biographical sketches. The last time I read poetry by Emily Dickinson was in high school.

I learned two things from listening to her poetry:

1. I enjoy listening to poems much more than reading them.

2. I wish I’d known more about Emily’s biography in high school. It would have made me understand and appreciate her work so much better. The biography tidbits sprinkled throughout the audiobook helped me see her in a clearer light.

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham is the sequel in her Forbidden Vikings series, but can be read as a stand-alone. I liked being immersed in the world the story is set in. I barely know anything about the Viking era and this was a great way to jump in because I love a good romance. Like the first novel in the series, my favorite part of listening to this book was the narrator.

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Emma by Jane Austen is an interesting read for me. I love the storyline, but I sure didn’t love the heroine, Emma. However, the reader not liking Emma was Jane Austen’s intention. So, Jane Austen wins here. I briefly wrote about Emma in an earlier post.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling is a must-read if you are a Harry Potter fan. I’m only sorry it took me years to get to it. I wrote about the book in a previous post.

Inside Jobs by Ben H. Winters is a collection of short stories set during the current pandemic. “Planning a heist while working from home has its challenges.” I wrote about these stories in an earlier post. I don’t know how the author was able to write a collection of timely stories with fully fleshed out characters during a relatively short amount of time. #Talent. They were brilliantly done. Zoom calls are included (which was hilarious). If you are an Audible member, this story collection is free during the month of May. I highly recommend it if you like crime tales.

This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart is a romantic suspense novel, but it just didn’t jive with me. Normally I enjoy reading Mary Stewart. I was looking forward to this book because it’s set in beautiful Greece. But the story has more suspense than romance. I found myself not caring much about the murder or finding out who did it. I would have preferred if the romance aspect of the story was at least 30% of the book, but it was more like two percent. It might have just been the wrong time for me to read this novel since I am more of a moody reader. I have another one of her novels, Rose Cottage, sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. I’ll save it for summertime reading.

What have you been reading lately?

xoxo, Jane

Book Haul Update

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I bought more books to add to my Penguin Clothbound Classics collection. This should be the last ones I buy because I now own the full-length Jane Austen novels in this collection. My goal wasn’t to own the entire Jane Austen set, but the pandemic forced me to do a little bit of retail therapy to support my small, independent bookshop.

I bought Northanger Abbey from the collection which I’ve read before and enjoyed the movie adaptation. I also bought Mansfield Park, which I haven’t read and is up next. I am a little bit weary of this novel because it’s about cousin love (the hero and heroine are first cousins !!). I’m hoping I can enjoy the book regardless. We’ll see.

Oh, and can you spot my new book-inspired vase?

In other news, I’m currently listening to the Catch and Kill podcast by Ronan Farrow. If you don’t know what it’s about, it’s the podcast where Ronan Farrow and his guests (journalists, victims, private investigators, etc.) talk about the Harvey Weinstein investigation process and everything they endured because of it. If I didn’t already hate predators as much as I do, I would hate them even more now. I’ll probably read Ronan Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, afterwards. If I don’t explode from anger first. Have you read it?

xoxo, Jane

My reading life during the pandemic

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Enjoying a cup of tea while reading Square Haunting.

I no longer have a reading routine. It’s become quite erratic. I used to be able to sit down and devour a book in days. Now, almost nothing can hold my attention. I flitter from book to book, leaving unread novels collecting dust on the coffee table. With few exceptions, I don’t actually like not finishing books so I promised myself I’ll get back to these unfinished books someday soon.

Currently, I’m dividing my sporadic attention between two books: Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic and Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting.

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On the upside, the pandemic is forcing me to enjoy slow living.

Mary Stewart writes an excellent romantic suspense novel. She has the ability to transport the reader to the actual crime scene, almost as if we are embodying the heroine. This Rough Magic is set in Greece, where the heroine, Lucy, discovers a dead body on the beach. Normally, I’d feel invested in solving the crime, but I just want to finish the book to see who did it. What has happened to me? Also, I can’t tell who the male hero is supposed to be. There are several male characters in this book and all of them seem hero-ish to me. My only complaint with Mary Stewart books is that it takes her a long time to get to the romance portion of the plot. I suppose my complaint is not legitimate because she is the queen of romantic suspense so the romance aspect of the book will be secondary.

Square Haunting is set between the two world wars and focuses on five women (Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf) living and working in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. While it’s fascinating, and I look forward to reading a page or two every day, it’s taking me a long time to get through it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s very academic and at times dense or because of the uncertain times we live in. Maybe a little of both. It’s a fascinating read about these five inspiring women because it gives me an intimate glimpse into their lives and now I feel invested in them. I plan to write my thoughts in a future blog post when I finish the book.

I hope we will all see a light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, I hope you can get lost in, and concentrate on, good books.

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #58

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Today’s reading links are brought to you by Mother Nature. Enjoy! Have a great day!!

The debate: how many books should you have on the go at once?

This was really fun. Highly recommended to take the quiz. This Soothing Quiz Will Tell You What Feel-Good Book To Read.

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Our new lockdown game: judging famous people by their bookshelves.

Ok, I loved this! I own the same books as a duchess. Footnotes: The Duchess of Cambridge’s viral bookshelf.

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This article is old but it still applies, especially now. The Guardian view on the joy of books: time for guiltless pleasures.

And in case you missed it, pairing books with tea (Emma).

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Emma)

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Recently I finished reading Emma by Jane Austen. It wasn’t a reread, but a first read. I have to say, I’m not sure whether I’m a fan of Emma. She has a big heart and means well, but I wouldn’t be friends with someone in real life who is such a nosy busybody. Emma just can’t mind her own business. It’s possible she’ll grow on me in the years to come, I don’t know. For now, I must place her at the bottom of my Jane Austen heroine list.

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Now that I have my little rant out of the way, let’s pair a tea with this book. Since weddings seem to be the theme of this novel (as in every Jane Austen novel, of course), I thought it would be fitting if we paired it with Fortnum’s Wedding Breakfast Blend created on the occasion of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding. I had it this morning and it was a delicious cup of tea.

I’d love to know your opinion of Emma.

Happy reading and tea drinking.

xoxo, Jane

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

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Description:

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

Written by J.K. Rowling. Read by Sally Mortemore, Warwick Davis, Evanna Lynch, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Wright, Noma Dumezweni and Jude Law.

Performed by talented actors from across the Wizarding World, this is the first ever audiobook edition of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which was originally written in 2007 by J.K. Rowling and has raised money for her children’s charity Lumos ever since.

As familiar to Hogwarts students as “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” are to Muggle children, Beedle’s stories are a collection of popular fairy tales written for young witches and wizards. So, if you’re wondering what’s in store in this brand-new audio edition…well, your ears are in for a treat.

Once you’ve checked this fabulous Hogwarts Library book out, you’ll start by hearing the author’s introduction, read by Sally Mortemore (librarian Madam Pince from the Harry Potter films). Then it’s time for the tales to begin….

My thoughts

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a recent convert to audiobooks. I listened to this book because it was a free download. I’m glad I downloaded it because it was wonderful to listen to five magical tales that got my mind off current worries. J.K. Rowling has a brilliant mind, that’s for sure. She not only created an entire set of fairy tales out of thin air, but she wrote this book to benefit the children’s charity she founded, Lumos.

It appears that this book is free for Audible members through January 7, 2021.

What I love

I enjoyed this book very much. It was really wonderful to return to the land of Harry Potter and it reminded me why I should reread the series. This audiobook has it all: sound effects, music, appropriate background clatter and a very animated Jude Law.

Each tale was clever and a few were funny. I met kings, warlocks, witches and entered an enchanted forest.  One story, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, was particularly good. It tells the story of a young warlock who wants to avoid falling in love and turns to dark magic to make sure it never happens.

I loved listening to Mr. Dumbledore (aka Jude Law) and the other fabulous characters who acted as narrators. Everything was so imaginative and I pictured a young Ron Weasley reading the tales. The book is only 1 hour and 36 minutes long, but I wish it could have kept going.

J.K. Rowling found ways to tie each tale into her Harry Potter novels. I should mention this book was written in 2007. I know, I’m really behind, but as they say: better late than never.

What I don’t love

That it ended.

xoxo, Jane

Weekly Recap

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An old picture of St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. from the days when being a tourist was allowed.

Happy Saturday, dear friends. May your Saturday (and all your days) be without stress and with good health. Just for fun, here is a round-up of this week’s blog posts.

Pairing books with tea (Tea with Mr. Rochester)

Did I really need more Jane Austen books? Spoiler alert: the answer is a resounding yes. They are so beautiful to look at it. I’m thinking of pulling a Duchess of Cambridge and placing them on my desk.

Small Moments of Happiness: April 2020

Thursday Reading Links #56

My Favorite Museum Guidebooks

xoxo, Jane

My Favorite Museum Guidebooks

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Museums worldwide are doing a fabulous job of keeping us entertained, informed and connected through their online programs and exhibits. It’s a wonderful diversion during these troubling times, that’s for sure.

Am I the only one who loves to purchase museum guidebooks after a visit? I don’t do it for every museum, just for those very special museums.

Here are three of my favorite museum guidebooks. Be sure to share your favorite museum guidebooks in the comments.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I could live inside the Met. Since that’s not possible, their website has countless exhibits, paintings and articles to enjoy, such as this fun online exhibit about their new British Galleries. The Met is amazing for many reasons. One reason is that it represents 5000 years of art. Blows my mind.

The guidebook I bought is like holding the museum in my hands. It’s filled with paintings, decorative arts, photographs and articles to explain each object. Plus it’s a beautiful book.

I bought my book a number of years ago with an introduction by a previous Met director, but a quick glance online shows me that the guidebooks have been updated with a new introduction by the Met’s new director. In case you care about such things, the current director is Max Hollein. He has been the director since 2018 and hails from Austria. I digress, if you could buy only one museum guidebook, it should be this one.

National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. is pretty special. It was created because of a major donation from Andrew W. Mellon. He was Secretary of the Treasury under four US presidents and firmly believed that the United States should have a national museum devoted to art, just like the European capitals. Mellon purchased 21 spectacular masterpieces from the Hermitage Museum in Russia and in 1937 donated them to the Federal Government with the aim of opening this museum. History aside, this museum has one of my favorite paintings by Da Vinci, Ginevra de’ Benci. I look forward to visiting her again when Covid-19 is far, far behind us. It appears that my guidebook isn’t for sale anymore (it’s a very old copy), but this is their newer version.

Louvre Museum

The Louvre Museum needs no introduction from me. It has pieces dating back to 8000 BC and I cannot comprehend that, it’s so incredible. In five visits, I have yet to see everything.

I’m sure there are a gazillion different guidebooks for the Louvre Museum, but I own a thin copy bought many years ago during my first trip to France. It holds a special place in my heart because I love Paris and the Louvre Museum so much. For a smallish book, it’s quite comprehensive and satisfies my desire to read a little bit about everything. I don’t think my book is for sale anymore, but I believe this is a similar version with an updated cover.

I hope you enjoyed a tour of my three favorite museum guidebooks. Have a great weekend (whatever a weekend is anymore)!

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #56

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I have been enjoying Belgravia very much. No surprise there. It’s the highlight of my week. (Sad, but we are living through some intense days.) The Armchair Anglophile published recaps of each episode. They are funny, insightful and snarky. Highly recommended. Just don’t read ahead to the recaps you haven’t seen the episodes for. (Unless you don’t mind spoilers.)

If you’d like to burn hours on the internet, may I recommend the military maps of George III? Happy browsing.

13 Books Where the Earth Comes Alive. I’ve only read one from this list, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Fashion Plates. I’d love a modern version of this dress.

A Brief Tour into the World of Cozy Mystery Authors.

Which languages are easiest for native English speakers to learn? Insightful!

The Economics Behind Grandma’s Tuna Casseroles. This was fascinating to read. I’m not going to make fun of 1950s American food ever again.

xoxo, Jane

Did I really need more Jane Austen books?

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I bought three new books from my local independent bookstore. (Curbside, contactless pick-up!) Did I need new books? No, I did not. Did I need newer editions of three of the Austens? No. But in my bid to support and shop local (so I keep telling myself) I thought I’d treat myself to these new editions.

I bought the annotated Northanger Abbey. I loved this story and I wanted to better appreciate and understand the background, the fashion and the era. Also, it contains maps, illustrations, literary comments, analysis and more. I want to reread this novel so I can fully enjoy the annotations and illustrations for my own education before rewatching the 2007 film. If I enjoy reading it as much as I think I will, I’ll buy an annotated version of my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion.

I recently finished Emma. While she is not my favorite heroine (not even in the top three, I’m afraid), I couldn’t resist this gorgeous Penguin Classics edition for my library.

Last but not least, I also treated myself to the Penguin Classics edition of Mansfield Park. This is the only full-length Jane Austen novel I haven’t read yet.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Tea with Mr. Rochester)

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I’ve been making an effort to read more short stories. They pack a punch in just a few short pages. I’m left thinking and rethinking about the plot for days after I finish the story. Tea with Mr. Rochester is one such short story collection.

When I think of Mr. Rochester, I think of the character from Jane Eyre. If that’s who you thought of too, then you can probably guess the common theme of each story in this collection: love. Most of the stories don’t necessarily end happily. Or maybe they do, depending on your view. The beauty of a short story is that it doesn’t tell you how or what to think. You are left thinking and analyzing for days afterwards.

Take for example, the sixth story in this collection, Spade Man from over the Water. It takes place inside the drawing room of a married woman, Mrs. Penny, who is entertaining her new neighbor. The new neighbor, Mrs. Asher, hopes she can become good friends with Mrs. Penny. All we know at this point is that Mrs. Penny has a husband who travels often. He seems to never be in the picture. Her husband discourages Mrs. Penny from having friends, but she yearns for the friendship of women. Mrs. Asher and her children move into the cottage near Mrs. Penny. She too has a husband who travels a lot. When Mrs. Asher sees a picture of Mrs. Penny’s husband she grows quiet and mysterious. They end the evening proclaiming they will become good friends. But that never happens, much to the disappointment of Mrs. Penny. The cottage is emptied virtually overnight. Mrs. Asher and her children disappear, never to be heard of again.

This ending left me stumped. The only solution that I can come up with is that Mrs. Penny’s husband leads a double life with Mrs. Asher. This might be why Mrs. Asher disappears after seeing the photograph of Mrs. Penny’s husband.

For this short story collection, I’d pair Fortnum’s Fortmason tea. The tea is black, strong and heavily infused with orange blossoms. You’ll need a strong tea to get through some of these (very excellent, some sweet, some bizarre) short stories.

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #55 (Bibliophile Edition)

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Capitol Hill Books

I’ve been using more of my own photography on the blog, as opposed to stock photos. I took this picture years ago at Capitol Hill Books in Washington, D.C.

Another bookstore nearby is East City Bookshop. Well worth the visit when the pandemic is behind us.

A few more book-related links:

I like pairing books with tea.

I enjoy reading the bookish articles at Book Riot.

Seven French Food Books.

The Books Briefing: What Personal Letters Reveal About Human Struggles.

Bookshops in Bath.

By the Book: Classic Literature in Film/TV.

Shakespeare & Sons Bookshop in Prague.

Be well and stay safe!

xoxo, Jane