With September behind us and October ahead of us, here is what I read last month. I reread Pause by Kylie Scott because why not. I also read Smoke Signal by Marie Benedict and Kate Quinn. It’s a historical novella which takes place during and after WWII. The best part about this story is that Agatha Christie is a main character. The mystery tale, which is based on a true story, is perhaps an homage to the great lady herself. Have you read it?
The big read of the month was Lotharingia by Simon Winder. It’s a historical account of France, Germany and the smaller countries in-between and how they came into existance. It’s action-packed history and reading the book made me feel like I was listening to a gossip session with a historian. If you are into history and gossip (haha), then I recommend this book. But if you frown upon making history fun and being gossipy about historical figures, then you’d best skip it.
Just a quick post to share with you my recent Paris book purchases from two fabulous bookstores.
Smith & Son: I purchased Lotharingia: A Personal History of France, Germany and the Countries In Between by Simon Winder. This is the book I’m currently reading. My goal is to finish it before September ends so I can start on my Victober 2021 planning and reading. Smith & Son is a British bookseller with an excellent tea room. If you are in Paris and have the time, I’d recommend you pay them a visit. Smith & Son is right across from the Louvre and the Tuileries Garden at 248 Rue de Rivoli. You can stop by for refreshments after your sightseeing excursions. They are open Monday through Sunday, but the tea room is closed on Mondays.
Galignani: Just a couple blocks further away at 224 Rue de Rivoli, you’ll find Galignani. A bookseller known for their excellent selection of decorative and fine arts books, they have been selling English fiction and nonfiction books since 1801. While browsing, I discovered Freya Stark‘s travel memoir, The Valleys of the Assassins. Freya Stark was one of the first Europeans to travel throughout the region known today as the Middle East. What a brave and interesting woman she must have been. I am so looking forward to reading her memoir. I also purchased Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation by Roderick Beaton. Roderick Beaton is not Greek, but he devoted his career to studying and understanding Greece. I’m looking forward to reading it as there are not many well-written books about modern Greece. It’s a fairly recent book; published in 2019.
Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!
PS. I’m on Instagram where I post about books and tea. Stop by and say hi.
Simon Winder is a witty, sarcastic type of writer. I like his writing style a lot. Lotharingia chronicles what happened after Charlemagne’s three grandsons each inherited a country: France, Germany and Lotharingia. As you probably already guessed, Lotharingia doesn’t exist anymore. It ended up becoming all the countries in between Germany and France: Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands…
Mr. Winder traveled widely throughout Germany, France, Austria and all the other countries in between. He compiled his personal experiences into a set of three books. Lotharingia is the third and final book in this series. The book is not a memoir, not even a travel memoir. It’s simply history retold through the personal experiences of the author. If you like history, then you might want to check out Simon Winder. But if you don’t like history told through a personal perspective with a lot of sarcastic remarks, then he might not be the writer for you.
A snippet of his writing style: “Bouillon’s fame is over nine hundred years old, through its association with Godefroy of Bouillon, the leader of the homicidal outing later known as the First Crusade.” As you can image, I’m laughing quite a lot while learning about history.
Victober is upon us. Last year I so enjoyed participating in the Victorian-themed reading challenge that I plan to do so again this year. I haven’t decided the books or stories yet, but if you have ideas feel free to share them in the comments.
What is Victober? Victorian October is about reading Victorian literature all month long. It was created by 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 can access from the library or Project Gutenberg. This means that I’ll alter the challenge slightly to suit my needs.
1. Kate’s challenge: Read a Victorian sensation novel 2. Katie’s challenge: Read a Victorian book set in the countryside AND/OR the city 3. Lucy’s challenge: Read a Victorian book with a female main character 4. Group challenge: Read a popular Victorian book you haven’t yet read (how you define popular is up to you – could be popular now, popular on Booktube, popular in the Victorian period itself) 5. Bonus challenge: Read aloud a section of a Victorian work, or have it read aloud to you (ie, by a friend or an audiobook)
Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell
Gothic Tales includes the following shorter works: Disappearances The Old Nurse’s Story The Squire’s Story The Poor Clare The Doom of the Griffiths Lois the Witch The Crooked Branch Curious, If True The Grey Woman
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?