June 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Happy July, everyone!

I can’t believe we are more than half-way through 2021. Just yesterday I saw the 2022 planners at a bookstore. I was pretty close to buying a new planner (who can resist them?) but I forced myself to walk away from the table. Who am I kidding? You know and I know that I’ll go back this weekend to purchase that 2022 planner.

My June reading consisted of two fantastic books!

Burning Secret by Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) is a novella and morality tale about not toying with children’s hearts and affections. The story begins at an Austrian resort in the early 1900s. It’s a dark tale. The main character, referred to as the Baron, desires a beautiful woman upon first sight. She, however, does not act on it. In his desperation the Baron befriends her young son just to get to her heart. The boy becomes enamored with his older friend. However he soon realizes that his friend, the Baron, wants nothing to do with him. The Baron finds ways to get rid of the boy so he can be alone with his mother. This upsets and hurts the boy very much, which leads to dangerous consequences that I don’t want to spoil for you. It’s an interesting story that teaches a lesson about how to treat and not treat children. Children are more perceptive than we give them credit for. I felt awful for the poor little boy and found the Baron a vile and selfish creature.

The pages of this story are filled with vivid descriptions and rich metaphors. The story evokes the romance and the travels of a bygone era. Even if this particular novella is not your cup of tea, I still recommend reading something by Stefan Zweig. In his day, he was the most widely translated author. He was Jewish and his incredible work was banned by the Nazis. Also, because of the Nazis, Zweig left Austria in the 1930s. He made his way to England and New York before settling in Brazil. Escaping the Nazis was not enough to bring the light back into his life. As European capitals fell like dominos, he became despondent. He committed suicide in 1942.

In his suicide note, Zweig wrote “my own language having disappeared from me and my spiritual home, Europe, having destroyed itself” and “I salute all my friends! May it be granted them yet to see the dawn after the long night! I, all too impatient, go on before.

The film The Grand Budapest Hotel was based on a compilation of his stories.

A picture from my walk for your viewing pleasure.

I also read The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D.E. Stevenson. It’s the third book in the Miss Buncle series and takes place in a charming English village during World War II. While the focus is on Miss Buncle, now Mrs. Abbott, and her niece, also Mrs. Abbott, numerous new characters are introduced. World War II looms heavily in the background. While the war is not mentioned too often, you know it’s there because the characters experience rationing, discuss their black-out curtains, and so on.

The story focuses on the intricacies of English village life and each chapter is a vignette of village situations. Not all characters have their stories resolved by the end of the novel. While it’s a charming story and I enjoy everything by D.E. Stevenson, there were times I was bored because nothing really ever happens. Yes, there were funny moments like the comical scene where an elderly woman discovers a German spy sleeping in the forest. While she clearly saves the day, we hear nothing else about the situation. Whatever happened to the spy? How did he make his way into an English forest? I guess we’ll never know.

I spotted these two friends during my walk.

What did you read in June?

xoxo, Jane

Shopping My Shelves: Summer 2021 Reading Recommendations

Hooray! Summer is upon us. If you need some light (and not so light) reading recommendations, then please come in! I shopped my bookshelves to share a few reading ideas with you!

Let’s start out with a very light reading recommendation. The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart is a novella (more of a long short story, really) set in the breathtaking Canary Isles. It’s a Mary Stewart classic so this means there will be a ton of suspense packed in while a romance is brewing on the side; hence perfect read for the beach getaway. (Or if you’re like me and not traveling far because of the pandemic then read it at home with a frosty beverage. Win-win.)

You can not go wrong with Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson. It’s the charming tale of Miss Buncle and her adventures. Miss Buncle, you see, is in need of some funds. So she sets out to write a book set in her village which features all of the villagers. Unfortunately Miss Buncle did a terrible job of disguising the actual people she wrote about and the villagers become quite upset with her. All kinds of mayhem ensues. If you love classics, romance and English villages then this is the summer read for you!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson is a little bit more serious but just as charming of a read. Miss Pettigrew is a governess who endured hardship most of her life. But thanks to a plucky young American she finally (after a very long day gallivanting around London) may just get her happy ending. I’d compare this story to Cinderella but without the stepsisters.

Summertime should be all about adventures. So what better adventure than the Harry Potter series? I just love this series and will never tire of it. I wonder if they are teaching Harry Potter in schools yet? I think they should. The school curriculum in the US is extremely outdated (we can all live without reading Lord of the Flies ever again) and I think they should replace a few of the books for the Harry Potter stories, in my humble opinion.

Can we let summer pass without reading a Jane Austen novel? Not in this house! May I recommend the timeless, sparkling tale of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? If you need another Austen recommendation, Persuasion is a good book for any time of year. Persuasion happens to be my most favorite Jane Austen novel. If you’re interested, I ranked the Jane Austen novels in an earlier post.

Which books would you recommend for summer reading?

xoxo, Jane

Spell the Month in Books – February

Hello! I saw this fun tag on Elaine Howlin’s blog and thought I’d give it a try. I think the idea is to spell out the books you want to read this month, but I’m cheating because I’m going to spell books I’ve read, books I won’t read and books I want to read. Here we go!

First up is Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style. I picked it up at Costco and it’s been worth the purchase. It’s about the history of fashion and includes detailed timelines for every era. There is also an overwhelming amount of gorgeous illustrations and photography. I never tire of reading this book. For some reason, Amazon sellers are charging over $100.00 for a new copy. I bought mine at Costco for around $20.00. If you are interested, you should buy a used copy. I’d never pay that much for a book. There is no reason for it.

I haven’t read Elegance: The Beauty of French Fashion by Megan Hess yet, but I know I will enjoy it. I love reading Megan Hess’s beautiful books. If you haven’t heard of her, she is an illustrator and her books are illustrated tales of fashion history. This particular book is about the iconic fashion houses of Paris. Ooh la la.

Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria by Julia P. Gelardi is a must read if you are interested in royal history; especially if you are fascinated by the descandants of Queen Victoria. The five granddaughters that are the subjects of the book are Tsarina Alexandra of Russia, Marie, Queen of Romania, Victoria Eugenie of Spain, and Queen Maud of Norway.

The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes edited by Elizabeth Longford is a fun compilation of facts and tidbits about the British royals from Boudicca to Elizabeth II. I picked it up at a library book sale and it’s fun to peruse it from time to time. The book also contains numerous genealogical charts which I find useful since I love reading royal history.

I have no intention of reading Urban Guerrilla Warfare by Anthony James Joes. I don’t own any books that begin with U so I borrowed this from my husband’s office. If you are interested in the guerrilla conflict of Warsaw in 1944 or Budapest in 1956 then you may want to pick up this book as it comes highly recommended by my lovely husband.

A Nervous Splendor by Frederic Morton is about 19th century Viennese history, first published in 1980. I haven’t read it yet, but I will.

The publisher’s description: On January 30, 1889, at the champagne-splashed hight of the Viennese Carnival, the handsome and charming Crown Prince Rudolf fired a revolver at his teenaged mistress and then himself. The two shots that rang out at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods echo still.

Frederic Morton, author of the bestselling Rothschilds, deftly tells the haunting story of the Prince and his city, where, in the span of only ten months, “the Western dream started to go wrong.” In Rudolf’s Vienna moved other young men with striking intellectual and artistic talents—and all as frustrated as the Prince. Among them were: young Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, and the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, whose La Ronde was the great erotic drama of the fin de siecle. Morton studies these and other gifted young men, interweaving their fates with that of the doomed Prince and the entire city through to the eve of Easter, just after Rudolf’s body is lowered into its permanent sarcophagus and a son named Adolf Hitler is born to Frau Klara Hitler.

The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore tells the story of the history of the Romanovs, from beginning to end. I briefly began to read it just to get a taste, but I haven’t finished it yet. I do plan to read it soon though. It’s an excellent, detailed account of the fascinating history of the Romanovs.

I don’t own books that begin with Y (I do borrow from the library quite often and my personal collection is not extensive), so I paid a visit to my husband’s office and found Ypres: The First Battle 1914 by Ian F. W. Beckett. I have no intention of reading this book, but if you are interested in Word War I history my husband highly recommends it. (He is a WWI buff.)

And there you have it! February spelled out in books. This was super fun and I may do it again for March.

Have a great day!!

xoxo, Jane

Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner

Description

A practical, armchair travel guide that explores eighty of the most iconic literary locations from all over the globe that you can actually visit. A must-have for every fan of literature, Booked inspires readers to follow in their favorite characters footsteps by visiting the real-life locations portrayed in beloved novels including the Monroeville, Alabama courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird, Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice, and the Kyoto Bridge from Memoirs of a Geisha. The full-color photographs throughout reveal the settings readers have imagined again and again in their favorite books. 

My Thoughts

If you miss traveling, then I think Booked: A Traveler’s Guide to Literary Locations Around the World by Richard Kreitner might be for you. It takes you to all the real-life locations mentioned in various novels (even Harry Potter earned a spot).

I like that the essays are organized by region (Americas, Europe, Africa, etc.) and that there is plenty of scenic photography to provide visual context to the literature. The section on Pemberley is my favorite part of the book.

As a writer and reader, I appreciate the sentiment in this thoughtful book. If you are in need of some arm-chair traveling, then this book might fill that need. The only downside is that the author primarily focuses on literary novels. I would have also liked to have read about cozy mysteries or romance novel locations. And it was a little disappointing that just one Jane Austen novel location is featured in the book.

Many thanks to The Unapologetic Bookworm for bringing this book to my attention.

xoxo, Jane

January 2021 Wrap-Up

I usually write quarterly wrap-ups, but this year I want to aim for monthly reading wrap-ups. In January I read A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen and an adorable book for children (but for grown-ups too), Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography.

January Reading

Now that I’ve read Mansfield Park by Jane Austen I can finally state that I’ve read all of the full-length Jane Austen novels. Initially I avoided this particular Austen novel because of the cousin factor. First cousins Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, who grow up together in the same household, fall in love with each other. I know it used to be a social norm to marry your first cousin, but I still couldn’t get past it. While I enjoyed reading Fanny’s journey, she is very sweet and dear, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as the other Austen novels. But don’t let me put you off, it’s truly an excellent book that touches upon several of society’s dark undertones. I don’t regret reading it, but it won’t be a re-read for me. Have you read it?

January Flowers

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer is a Christmas-themed, cozy murder mystery. The setting is a Tudor-era estate in the English countryside. In the beginning of the novel I was overwhelmed by the numerous character introductions, but once I got past the initial chapters I enjoyed reading this mystery. The owner of the Tudor estate is killed while in his bedroom, but the issue is that the door is locked from the inside and presumably none of the guests were able to enter the room to commit the murder. I thought I had the murder solved, but I was wrong and taken by surprise by the actual murderer. If you like murder mysteries set in the English countryside this book might be your cup of tea.

Last but not least, I read Jane Austen: An Illustrated Biography (Library of Luminaries). It’s a whimsically illustrated biography and the perfect introduction to Jane Austen for the toddler in your life.

xoxo, Jane

Books I’m Looking Forward to Reading

Earlier this week, I wrote a draft about some of the fabulous books I’m looking forward to reading this year. But that got waylaid because of the awful events on January 6, 2021 right here in my backyard. I’ve been in shell shock ever since. I’m upset, scared and horrified. Domestic terrorists came to my town from all over the United States and caused brutality. But here’s the thing. Us non-terrorist Americans are pretty damn resilient. We don’t cower. We’ll continue to vote, we’ll continue to educate ourselves and stand up to tyranny. Also, the United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists, so my guess is the domestic terrorists will end up in a federal penitentiary. Good riddance!

Now on to books.

Speaking of resilient Americans, A Promised Land by Barack Obama is his post-presidential memoir. I miss him so very much. I don’t have the words to describe my feelings, really. This memoir was a very thoughtful Christmas present from my wonderful husband.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is also on the list because I keep starting it, but never finishing. I’m determined to read it this month. Mansfield Park will be the last Jane Austen full-length novel waiting for me to read. After that, I plan to read the shorter or unfinished works she wrote. Hooray for Jane Austen in January.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling will be a reread (after first reading it over a decade ago) and this particular edition contains the most gorgeous illustrations I’ve ever seen. I’ve already started admiring the illustrations and can’t wait to really dive in. This is going to be such a fun read.

The Words I Never Wrote by Jane Thynne tells the story of two women, one set in present day America, the other in Nazi Germany. Jane Thynne is a phenomenal storyteller. Her research is immaculate and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the time period she writes about. I always enjoy reading her female characters, as she makes them real and likable. Jane Thynne’s books are auto-buys for me.

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is the story of Mary Bennet, the youngest (and annoying) Bennet sister. I bought this book last year but never got around to reading it. I love that Mary gets her own story and I’m very much looking forward to diving in and getting to know the real Mary Bennet.

What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Do you have any recommendations for me?

xoxo, Jane

Happy New Year 2021

Hello, friends!

Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my bookish posts. As someone who is a bibliophile, it really means a lot to me. Especially this year when I felt out of sorts and worried about so many things. It’s truly nice to be in touch with others who appreciate books just as much as I do and I hope you stick around as we turn the clock to 2021.

Speaking of 2021, may the new year treat all of us in a more gentle manner. Wishing you good health and lots of happiness.

Happy New Year!

xoxo, Jane

October, November & December 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

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?

Happy New Year!

xoxo, Jane

Christmas Book Haul

Hi! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas holiday.

I must have been on the nice list this year because Santa brought me some lovely books to read and enjoy.

My TBR pile just got a little longer, but I don’t mind. I received A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer. It’s a murder mystery and I’m very excited about it because I love a good manor house story. It will make for a perfect winter read, so I actually plan to read it soon and not wait for the next Christmas season.

Next on the list is Walking Dickens’ London. At least this way I can armchair travel through Dickensian London.

There is also an illustrated Harry Potter book which features so many pop-up pages, maps and other magical items that I think I may lose my mind from joy. I’m still a kid at heart.

I also received President Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land. I think it will take me a while to pick up this book because I miss him and I’m still sad about what came after his presidency. I don’t know if I will ever get over the travesty, chaos and horror of the last four years. But I’m happy to own this presidential memoir written by America’s first African-American president. I only wish it was signed. Maybe if I reach out to his office, his staff might send me a signed bookplate?

Last but not least, Santa also brought me Geoffrey Munn’s latest book, Wartski: The First One Hundred and Fifty Years. I’m over the moon excited because jewelry and royal history is my catnip. Wartski specializes in selling antique jewelry, such as Fabergé items of imperial provenance. This book details the history of their first 150 years of business.

Did you get a lot of reading done over the holidays?

(PS. Many thanks to my wonderful husband who masquerades as Santa Claus every year.)

xoxo, Jane

Favorite Books of 2020

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.

What are your favorite books of 2020?

xoxo, Jane

October, November & December 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

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.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is my first Charles Dickens story and certainly not my last. It was nice to finally meet Ebenezer Scrooge in the written form.

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.

So, have you read any of these books?

Find Part II here. Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

Victober 2020 Finale

Victober reading.

This post is later than I had originally planned because the US elections consumed my every waking moment, driving me into the abyss of madness, stress and sheer exhaustion. However, all ended well. #relieved #thankgoodness

I enjoyed my first Victober reading challenge and will definitely partake again next year. Here is a run-down of the challenge and my thoughts.

  1. Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre. I picked Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s a collection of short stories about the fictional town of Cranford. Truth be told, it didn’t have much of a plot and sometimes I was bored. It was nice to read vignettes of Victorian English village life though.
  2. Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author. I decided to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was my first time reading anything by Dickens. I loved it! Why I waited so long to read this story I shall never know. I finally meet Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him. It is very cleverly written. I love that we get our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories. I’m also a little obsessed with Charles Dickens right now so feel free to tell me your favorite Dickens tidbits.
  3. Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters. I read a collection of letters written by Queen Victoria. I have mixed feelings about Queen Victoria. I’m no expert on her reign, but it really bothered me that she wrote letters about frivolous things while so many families (especially children) went hungry. The starvation during Victorian England was an epidemic so I was annoyed reading Queen Victoria’s letters raving on about that minister or that gathering when real life was horrific for the 99%.
  4. Read a Victorian book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. I read How To Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman and The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. This is the category where I cheated because both of these books were written long after the Victorian era, but that’s okay. Rules are meant to be broken, right?
  5. Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian. I don’t own anything Victorian so I wore perfume. The Victorians enjoyed perfume, so I think this counts.
  6. The Readalong: As part of a month-long readalong, I read Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. This was my second Charlotte Brontë book. The story is a bit of a love triangle with a lot of drama and some laughs. Everything ends nice and tidy though. While it was a wonderful story, I felt like it went on too long. There could have been a few scenes cut, methinks. But the Victorians, they loved their big books.

How did you fare with your Victorian reading?

xoxo, Jane