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

Pairing books with tea (Square Haunting)

Just for fun, we are changing things up today. Instead of tea, today’s book is paired with a cup of coffee. I am pairing a cup of my husband’s dark roast blend with Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. I’ve talked about this book before and how much the women mentioned in the pages of Square Haunting and their struggles touched me.

I can imagine any of the five women (H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Wolf) fueling up on many cups of coffee as they pen their works. After all, coffee and writing go hand in hand.

How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for eve with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” – Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Which beverage would you pair with Square Haunting?

xoxo, Jane

April, May & June 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

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.

The other Harlequin book I read was The Billionaire’s Housekeeper Mistress by Emma Darcy. Give me a Harlequin with the word billionaire on the cover and it’s an auto-read.

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 recognization 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.

What’s on your reading list?

xoxo, Jane

Another Small Book Haul

Happy Canada Day to my Canadian friends. Canada and Canada Day will always have a special place in my heart because once upon a time after returning home to the US from Montreal (during Canada Day weekend) I met my husband. Le sigh.

This year is quickly becoming the year I bought the most books. Let’s start with Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. I won’t lie, I bought it because of the adorable title. Luckily, the plot is just as cute. This edition contains two novellas, Mrs Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs Harris Goes to New York. Mrs. Harris is a Londoner and senior citizen who travels to Paris simply to buy a Dior dress. I’d love to own a vintage Dior dress myself, so I can sympathize with Mrs. Harris. It’ll make for a fun summer read.

I also received in the mail the latest book in my Persephone Books subscription, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It was written in 1924 and takes place in a small town in America. The premise of the story is that after the husband and father of the family hurts himself and becomes wheel-chair bound, his wife takes a position at a department store to support the family. The father then becomes the home-maker. It was written in a period where it wasn’t normal for men to stay home and raise children. I also learned that the term “home-maker” is an American term not used in the UK. Persephone Books lists it as a feminist book but is quick to note that Dorothy Canfield Fisher did not consider herself a feminist. I’m grateful that I learned about her through Persephone Books. Even though she was a prolific writer in her day, I had never heard of her, nor did we study her in school and college.

After hearing Miranda Mills of Miranda’s Notebook review The Almanac Journal by Lia Leendertz, I had to buy it. It’s a journal where you record your thoughts and notes on the firsts of every season. Such as when you notice the first rose, the first snow, the first anything. The idea of the journal is to help you enjoy and appreciate nature.

The last book on my list is not a book. It’s a book of stickers, The Antiquarian Sticker Book. It was definitely a splurge (for me) and I could easily live without it, but I really wanted it. The stickers are gorgeous. I plan to use them on letters, cards and in my planner.

The book itself is a beautiful hardback. It contains over 1000 stickers, all themed in the Victorian era style. I’m very happy with it.

Have you bought any books lately?

xoxo, Jane

Library Haul

My local library is not yet open to the public, but they are letting us borrow books with curbside pick-up. I borrowed one book of essays and two royal history books.

You may have heard of Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker. In 1995, he moved to Paris with his wife and young child. This book is a collection of essays inspired by his time living in Paris.

The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards was published in 1992. I don’t know anything about Anne Edwards or whether this book was well-received. However, it sounds like an interesting read and a good introduction to the history of the Grimaldis.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is just as the title says. It’s not a traditional biography of Princess Margaret. The front flap reads: “Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty, moving meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.” Sounds like a good escape to me.

I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t know with which book to start. I suppose this is not a bad problem to have.

What’s on your nightstand?

xoxo, Jane

Waiting by Jane Odiwe

Waiting by Jane Odiwe is a short story inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The story is part of the anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. It imagines the uncertainty Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot endure as they await Sir Walter’s approval for their marriage.

I first bought and read this anthology years ago. I decided to reread the stories since it’s been a while. I started with Waiting because Persuasion is my favorite Jane Austen novel.

Reading this story was like eating a sweet treat, it made me happy. It’s a bite-sized epilogue to Persuasion. It was nice to meet up with my favorite characters again. Bath was its own character and the bustling streets were brought to life for me, more so than in Persuasion.

My favorite part was the “flashback” to their initial meeting and when they fell in love with each other. It was nice to have a snippet from their shared past that wasn’t a part of Persuasion. Also, the story is told from both of their POVs, which is nice because their inner monologues show their worries and their love for each other.

I thought the author stayed true to Jane Austen’s writing style and to the original story itself. There was no deviation and it was a charming read. A perfect little story for an afternoon of light reading.

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Backwards in High Heels)

Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female by Tania Kindersley and Sarah Vine is a self-help book of sorts to help women navigate life. I bought it ages ago (10 years to be exact) and I’m happy to report it stands the test of time.

Each chapter is dedicated to a particular subject that plays a role in a woman’s life, such as love, food, career, health and men (and lots of other topics). What I love best is that the authors fiercely and unapologetically state that the woman must put herself first. I completely agree.

This book is not a guide to life, by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a fun read with tips, thoughtful anecdotes and encouragement to live your best life.

Which tea shall we pair with it? As a feminist, I’ll just say that you can drink whatever you please while reading this book. My choice is a cup of milky tea.

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #60

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Hello, there. How are you?

Today’s readings links are brought to you by yours truly.

This was an interesting read about how boredom can spark creativity. I do love being bored and having a lot of downtime. Though it hasn’t resulted in a masterpiece yet. Here’s hoping.

Just when I was telling you that I’m not going to buy any more of the Penguin Clothbound Classics, look what I found: this Sanditon edition. Of course, I couldn’t resist ordering it and it’s on the way. Yippee!

Photo Essay: Bookstores Are Opening, Cautiously, Across the Country.

20 Must-Read Free Classics You Can Find on Project Gutenberg.

In case you missed it, yesterday I wrote about my thoughts on Francesca Wade’s Square Haunting.

This is so cool. Roman mosaic floor found underneath vines in northern Italy. I can’t believe how beautiful (and new) the recently discovered Roman mosaics look.

Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

 

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

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Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between The Wars tells the story of five important women during a time when they lived on the same street in Bloomsbury, London. They didn’t necessarily know each other, nor did they all live on Mecklenburgh Square during the same time. However, their lives, struggles and the street they lived on bind them together. This is the foundation that Francesca Wade builds on in her debut book about Hilda Doolitle (H.D.), Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

It took me almost two months to finish Square Haunting. Partly because it’s dense, academic reading and partly because I wanted to savor it. I loved reading this book and I learned so much, such as that H.D. was an American. How could I have not known that?

Francesca Wade took years to research and write this book. Her scholarly work shows through in the five sections devoted to the lives and scholarly pursuits of each woman.

“I like this London life in early summer – the street sauntering & square haunting.” Virginia Woolf, diary entry April 20, 1925

All five women were born during the Victorian era. An era when women had few options and weren’t allowed to think for themselves. The way the men in their lives treated them left me drained. All five of these ladies had to unlearn the social norms of Victorian society so they could flourish in their professions.

Even within the home, women were deterred from living a life of their choosing. To borrow Virginia Woolf’s famous words, a woman did not have a room of her own. For example, Francesca Wade highlights the difference between the study and the drawing room. A study was for a man. A woman was not allowed in the study, at least not without the man’s permission. The drawing room is a room reserved for the woman, but it is not her private room. Anyone can enter at any time, especially visitors. This resonated deeply with me; long after I finished reading the last page I am still thinking about the difference between these two rooms.

“The drawing room, Harrison wrote, was designated the wife’s territory, yet remained a public space, as ‘the room into which “visitors are shown” – a room in which you can’t possibly settle down to think, because anyone may come in at any moment.’ The husband’s study, by contrast, was ‘a place inviolate, guarded by immemorial taboos’, where the man of the house ‘thinks, and learns, and knows’; there were, Harrison noted, ‘rarely two chairs’ in the room.”

If you know even a little about Virginia Woolf, then you know how her life ends and Square Haunting does not gloss over it. World War II brought a great depression over her spirit. With airplane bombers flying over her house, and the bombings of London and the English countryside, it appeared to Woolf that there was no end in sight. After writing farewell notes for her husband and her sister, she walked into a river and drowned herself. Do you know what I wish? I wish I could invent a Time Machine and travel back in time to tell Woolf to hang on for just a few more years. That Churchill, and the Allies, would bring the war to a victorious end. I wish I could have told Woolf that not only would we win the war, but that future generations would come to admire, study and seek inspiration from the stand that Britain would make against Nazi Germany.

The current global pandemic is probably the worst event my generation has experienced. I must remind myself that for pre-Baby Boomers, life was generally awful: famine, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, the two World Wars… I could go on. Yet, these five ladies persevered through hardships and fought to make a living from their desired professions.

The women that dominate the pages of Square Haunting left me feeling inspired to continue working on my book and writing projects.

I’m glad I spent two months with these ladies. I thought about them as I went about my day. I thought about Sayers writing her detective fiction as I plotted my own fiction. I thought about Woolf worrying about the war as I pondered about our own economic and political troubles. And when I finished the book, even though I had tears streaming down my face, I felt a relief wash over me. Relieved that I honored them by reading about their lives and keeping their memories alive, but I also felt sad turning the last page because I was saying goodbye to my five ladies (as I privately began to call them).

Have you read Square Haunting or any of the published works of these five women?

xoxo, Jane

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