Reading Links #81

Currently Reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Hello, everyone. How was your week? Mine was fine, but I can’t believe Halloween is just around the corner. The weeks seem to be going by quick which, honestly, is a really good thing. I’m not watching the presidential debate tonight. My poor heart can’t take it. I’m going to bed early with my book (and my husband). I hope your weekend is filled with good books and that you have a safe place to call home.

My favorite museum guidebooks.

This article from April on what I’m enjoying during isolation is still…sadly…relevant. I sure didn’t expect us to still be in this hot mess. Let’s vote the **%#%* out of office. Ok?

What to read when you need an escape. Sadly, still relevant.

A very short history of the Lutetia Hotel in Paris. (This is a must read for a little history so we never forget the past.)

My pairing books with tea archives. In case you are looking for a rabbit hole or two.

I read A Christmas Carol and loved it!

Also, Where Do Reading Lists Come From? (And Why Do We Love Them?)

Have a great weekend!

xoxo, Jane

Victober Update

Let’s have a little Victober check-in, shall we? I finished reading How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. It was a fabulous read. The author lived like a Victorian for one year so she could write this book. The details were just riveting. It was so interesting that I lost myself in the book for hours at a time, but every once in a while I was jolted out of my revery when I came across the most unsavory details (like learning all about the privy). Parts of it were also painful to read, such as the section on fashion which described what corsets actually did to the body.

I don’t know if you could convince me to live like a Victorian even for a day, but I am incredibly grateful that Ms. Goodman lived the Victorian experience so I could read all about it in this book. I think it gave me a better understanding and appreciation of Victorian literature.

A few interesting tidbits from the book:

  • The Victorians believed that women were weak and that corsets would hold them together.
  • When the new fancy toilets began to appear in households, Victorians believed that servants or institutionalized people were not smart enough to use a toilet.
  • America was the leader in the production of toilet paper. The first brand was launched in 1857. The first British toilet paper company began production in 1880.
  • Mutton-chop side burns were all the rage.
  • Hunger was a pandemic.
  • School beatings were beyond cruel. Some children died from the beatings.

Gosh, Charlotte Brontë did not exaggerate in Jane Eyre, that’s for sure. Not that I ever thought she was exaggerating, but How to Be a Victorian brought the Victorian era to life for me. And what about Charles Dickens? He definitely didn’t exaggerate in his novels, not one tiny bit. His personal experiences from living in a workhouse made their way into his books. But Ms. Goodman’s book wasn’t all doom and gloom. It discusses the bravery of the feminists, improvements in the treatment of children, and fun-to-read details about the many innovations that came out of the Industrial Revolution.

I was especially touched by how the author ended her book. “If I could speak to any of them [Victorians] back down the years, I would like to say ‘thank you.’ I cannot imagine that any of the great improvements that have made my life so much more comfortable and healthy could have happened without their efforts. It is not just the revolutionary ideas or the actions of the powerful that make the world, it is the cumulative work of everyone. Victorian Britons – we owe you.” – Ruth Goodman

On a lighter note, next up in my Victober reading is Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford is about the imaginary village of Cranford and its inhabitants. Originally it wasn’t meant to be a novel, but vignettes of village life. I’ve never read Gaskell before and am so looking forward to it.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

July, August & September 2020 Wrap-Up Part III

Hi guys! It’s the end of the third quarter of the worst year of our lives. Hooray! Also, in case you missed it, Part I and Part II.

I listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Mary Stewart’s romantic thriller Madam, Will You Talk? And.it.was.fabulous! Sadly it’s not available anymore. I also listened to Audible’s A Grown-Up Guide to Dinosaurs by Ben Garrod. I have no idea what possessed me to listen to several hours worth of dinosaur history but I enjoyed myself immensely. This is a guide to dinosaurs for grown-ups! If you are a dinosaur buff, then this audiobook is not for you. But it’s perfect if you are like me, totally clueless. I think I slept through science class because everything in this book was new to me. (Shame on me!)

I listened to Albion: The Legend of Arthur by Robert Valentine because I was in the mood for an Arthurian adventure. If you are a die-hard fan of the Arthurian Legend, then this book might disappoint you. It’s a completely different story and not part of the original stories. I enjoyed listening to it because the acting was superb. It had a full cast with talented actors and an amazing soundtrack. The only things I didn’t like were the grunting when the characters where eating and the sex noises (I really think that the sex scenes could have been left out as they added no value to the story). So that said, this book is not appropriate for young listeners but is a decent adventure story.

Photo via Pexels.com

The Indignities of Being a Woman by Merrill Markoe and Megan Koester is a comedic stroll through women’s history. I wrote about it in-depth here and I highly recommend it. If women’s history is your thing and you don’t mind salty language, please check it out.

Model Undercover: A Crime of Fashion by Carina Axelsson is a fun YA. I don’t often read YA but this one was enjoyable enough. It began a little slow and picked up speed towards the middle. It’s the first book in a series where the main character, Axelle, works as a model and solves crimes. This first story takes place in Paris. A few scenes even take place underground in the famous catacombs. The scenes were so realistically written that I began to feel claustrophobia.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is a short read and perfect for October. If you are looking for a short, gothic tale then look no further.

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris and Mrs. Harris Goes to New York by Paul Gallico was the most charming book I’ve ever read. Yesterday, I wrote about how wonderful it is. If you missed it, hop on over here.

The last book on the list is a re-read of Persuasion by Jane Austen. Sigh. My absolutely favorite novel. I love it more and more as the years go by.

This wraps up my quarterly reading. I’m really looking forward to Victober so I think the last quarter of 2020 is already starting out well. I just hope it ends with a new President-elect (fingers crossed!!!!).

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 one of her client’s houses, 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

Victober 2020

I’ve decided to participate in the upcoming Victober reading challenge. I’ve never done it before (actually, I’ve never heard of it before) but I’ve been wanting to read more Victorian literature and I think this challenge is a nice way to dive in. Short of just a few novels, I’ve never spent much time with Victorian authors. I’ve never even read Charles Dickens.

What is Victober? Victorian October is about reading Victorian literature all month long. It was created by the current co-hosts Katie at Books and Things, Kate Howe and Lucy the Reader. So, for the purposes of this challenge, the definition of Victorian literature is a book written or published by a British or Irish writer, or a writer residing in Britain or Ireland, in the years 1837-1901. But I’ve decided to only read books that I own or I can access from Project Gutenberg. This means that I’ll alter the challenge slightly to suit my needs.

The Challenge

Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.
Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters: I’m thinking about reading a small portion of Queen Victoria’s letters. They are available on Project Gutenberg.
Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author: I’ll listen to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens on Audible.
Read a Victorian book from a previous Victober TBR that you didn’t get to, or one you’ve been meaning to read for ages: This is where I’m cheating a little. I’ll be reading a modern-day nonfiction by Ruth Goodman, How to Be a Victorian. I’ve already started reading it and it’s been on my TBR for a few years. I think it’s a nice way to learn about the Victorian era while I read actual Victorian literature. I would also like to read The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski, first published in 1953. Not Victorian, but the main character wakes up in the Victorian period where she inhabits the body of a Victorian person. It’s a bit of a nightmare situation because she can’t figure out how to come back. I am terrified to read it and have been putting it off.
Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian/Victorian-esque: This is a fun idea and I’ll have to think about it. Maybe there is something in my wardrobe slightly Victorian-esque. I’ll have to check.

The Read-Along

Part of the challenge is reading a book along with everyone else. You can join the Goodreads Group if you want, but I prefer to read it alone. The book assignment is Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. The only Brontë book I’ve ever read is Jane Eyre, which I love very much. I feel daunted by Shirley, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Will you participate in Victober 2020? Who are your favorite Victorian authors?

xoxo, Jane

What Are You Currently Reading?

This is my copy of the book, but you can find the US version here.

Hello! Let’s chat about our current reading.

I’m listening to Jane Austen’s Persuasion on Audible. It’s a comfort read for me and I’m enjoying it very much. Captain Wentworth is always a good idea!

I’m also reading a new-to-me nonfiction book, How to Be a Victorian. It’s really great. The author, Ruth Goodman, spent a year living like a Victorian and wrote about her experiences. It’s fun, interesting and educational. I’m never going to want to actually live like a Victorian (I love my modern amenities too much), but, as a history buff, I enjoy learning about the past. Plus it feels like the perfect autumnal read to me.

What are you reading?

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

A Recommendation: Madam, Will You Talk?

Image via BBC Radio 4

Just a quick interruption to tell you that I finished listening to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk? It was great! An adventure in my ears. The story is a romantic thriller set in the South of France.

I discovered Mary Stewart in recent years and am making my way through the backlist. This dramatization is two episodes long. Make sure you wear a headset/headphones so you can be immersed in the background noise/clatter. It’s free to listen, but the episodes won’t be available for much longer. If you are interested and need the fun distraction of a virtual trip to France, then I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

July, August & September 2020 Wrap-Up Part I

Hello, there!

It’s time for the quarterly wrap-up. I began the third quarter of the worst year of our lives with romance novels.

I began by reading Honor Bound by B.J. Daniels, which is the last book in her romance series, The Montana Hamiltons, set in Montana. I didn’t read any of the prior books which may be the reason why I felt pretty lost within the various story arcs happening in this particular novel. There were too many mentions of earlier characters I hadn’t met yet. When I wasn’t feeling lost, this was a decent story about the love and trials of the daughter of a man about to be elected president. The president-elect in the series is a Republican and normally I wouldn’t care, but because of the turbulent times we live in, the mention of a Republican left a bitter taste in my mouth. The Grand Ole Party (founded by Abraham Lincoln) is no more and no amount of sexy romance novel heroes can convince me otherwise.

Diamond in the Rough by Diana Palmer is a modern-day Cinderella story. The plot follows the 19-year old heroine and the hard life she leads. She falls in love with a very rich rancher who keeps his wealth hidden from her to make sure she really likes him for him and not his money. While it has a compelling plot, I wasn’t fond of the heroine. She kept complaining how she was a poor, stupid girl and that she’d rather knit than go out and that her nicest dress is two years old. I have clothes older than two years old so I can’t fathom how this is supposed to demonstrate to the reader that she is very poor indeed. I think the author implies that rich women buy new dresses daily. This book wasn’t a winner for me, mostly because I prefer to read about women who don’t think ill of themselves. However, I finished this book because for the life of me I can’t not finish a book. It’s an awful habit that must stop so I can reclaim my reading time.

The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards is one of my favorite reads of this quarter. It’s quite the gossipy and entertaining read. The book begins with an interesting tale of Princess Caroline in the 1980s. Just when the reader is sucked in to the drama of her divorce with Philippe Junot, the reader time-travels back to the very beginning of Monaco and to the very first Grimaldi. (Otto Canella, born in 1133, is the father of Grimaldo Canella, born in 1162, who in turn becomes the father of Oberto Grimaldi, born in 1188). It’s a very entertaining and highly recommended book if you are interested in Grimaldi history. The book was published in 1992, so obviously it does not cover the current Grimaldis. It is a good stepping stone into the early history of the Grimaldis. 

Paris to the Moon is a collection of short stories by essayist Adam Gopnik. They are witty, entertaining stories about living in Paris as an American. I’m a proud Francophile and loved reading this book very much. If you are interested, this link will take you to my earlier review.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is a biography of Princess Margaret, the Queen’s sister. It’s a non-traditional biography in the sense that the reader peeks into glimpses of Princess Margaret’s life, most of the time not in chronological order. Each glimpse equals a short chapter. The chapters are so short that it makes for a fast read. I enjoyed this unique style of biography very much. Hint: Princess Margaret was an awful, selfish person. I’m sure she had some good qualities but it sounds like she was born in an era where royals were treated like God and didn’t have to earn respect. I think she’d hate being born a royal today because you can’t actually get away with being awful (or can you?).

Have you read any of these books?

I’m still reading. Part II and Part III.

xoxo, Jane

What I’m Currently Reading

Hello, there! I hope you’re having a great day.

I have so many books on my To Be Read shelf that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the unread pile of books, but I’m happy to report that I started three new books (because the days of being able to relax and concentrate on one book at a time are behind us).

I’m reading a library book, Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger. It’s a beautiful graphic novel about Dior’s first fashion show in 1947. It’s completely charming. Speaking of Dior, I also started reading Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico. It’s such a dear story. The main character, Mrs. Harris, works as a cleaner for several rich families in London. She travels to Paris for the sole purpose of buying herself a Dior gown. I love that the protagonist is an older woman with limited means who will definitely have a happy ending (at least I hope so!). It was also nice to learn (not through this book) that Paul Gallico was a close friend of Princess Grace. She didn’t have a large circle of friends, but he was a trusted friend to her. I can picture Princess Grace reading this very book.

Last but not least, I’m also reading Model Undercover by Carina Axelsson. I’ve owned the ebook for a number of years and finally decided to give it a try. It’s a super cute story of a teenager, Axelle, who wants to be a detective, but her parents prefer that she have a more fashionable job, such as modeling. They send her to her aunt’s in Paris hoping she will just grow out of her detective phase. However, once in Paris, she learns that a model has gone missing so of course she begins to investigate. I’d describe this book as a fashionable YA of a young Sherlock Holmes in Paris. Completely adorable.

What’s on your nightstand these days?

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

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