Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch

Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch is a tidy compilation of women’s roles during the Regency era. Bea Koch, a bookseller and bookstore owner, wrote this book to shed light and truth to the forgotten women who ruled the short era that is Regency England.

The women in the book, much like real life, come from varied backgrounds and of different religions. Bea Koch focuses on the women who made strides in astrology as much as on the Jewish women who dedicated their lives to education. It’s a fun and fascinating read, especially if you are interested in a diverse representation of women’s history. And if you love reading Regency romance novels then you’ll love reading this book.

All of the women featured are interesting, but the woman that touched my heart the most is Mary Seacole. A nurse just as good, if not better, as Florence Nightingale, she was ill-treated because of the color of her skin. She was refused a nursing position in the Crimea so she funded her own travels to help with the war effort. However, once there, she was rebuffed by Florence Nightingale. Nevertheless, she operated a hotel in Crimea for wounded soldiers and continued on with her nursing duties. Much like the women who came before and after her, she persevered through the racism.

What I love:

  • Each chapter ends with a conclusion and a list of recommended reading.
  • The book is timely because it’s about how history attempts to erase contributions of non-Whites. Something that continues to this day.
  • The men are blobbed out of the famous painting on the cover.
  • I can’t think of another book that compiles into one slim volume the important women of the Regency.

While the book has a few grammatical errors and some sentences seem overly chunky or stilted, I was able to overlook them enough to allow myself to get lost in Regency England.

Have you read Mad & Bad?

xoxo, Jane

Nonfiction November

As part of Nonfiction November, I’m reading Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by Bea Koch. I’ll circle back with my thoughts once I’ve finished reading it.

Description: Discover a feminist pop history that looks beyond the Ton and Jane Austen to highlight the Regency women who succeeded on their own terms and were largely lost to history — until now. Regency England is a world immortalized by Jane Austen and Lord Byron in their beloved novels and poems. The popular image of the Regency continues to be mythologized by the hundreds of romance novels set in the period, which focus almost exclusively on wealthy, white, Christian members of the upper classes. But there are hundreds of fascinating women who don’t fit history books limited perception of what was historically accurate for early 19th century England. Women like Dido Elizabeth Belle, whose mother was a slave but was raised by her white father’s family in England, Caroline Herschel, who acted as her brother’s assistant as he hunted the heavens for comets, and ended up discovering eight on her own, Anne Lister, who lived on her own terms with her common-law wife at Shibden Hall, and Judith Montefiore, a Jewish woman who wrote the first English language Kosher cookbook.

As one of the owners of the successful romance-only bookstore The Ripped Bodice, Bea Koch has had a front row seat to controversies surrounding what is accepted as “historically accurate” for the wildly popular Regency period. Following in the popular footsteps of books like Ann Shen’s Bad Girls Throughout History, Koch takes the Regency, one of the most loved and idealized historical time periods and a huge inspiration for American pop culture, and reveals the independent-minded, standard-breaking real historical women who lived life on their terms. She also examines broader questions of culture in chapters that focus on the LGBTQ and Jewish communities, the lives of women of color in the Regency, and women who broke barriers in fields like astronomy and paleontology. In Mad and Bad, we look beyond popular perception of the Regency into the even more vibrant, diverse, and fascinating historical truth.

The challenge consists of reading four nonfiction books over the course of the month, but I will probably just stick to this book for November since I’m also writing a series of short stories for NaNoWriMo. I believe this challenge was founded by Olive at A Book Olive, but please correct me if I’m wrong or if I’m missing any other founders. November will be a super busy month, but it should be fun and interesting. Also, the holiday season is upon us, my favorite time of year!! This year I’m decorating before Thanksgiving because 2020 is a bear. I’m sure no more explanation is needed.

What are you currently reading?

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl)

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Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier is my favorite “French girls” book! I’ve had my weather-beaten copy since 2003 and it’s what inspired my very first solo trip to Paris. Even if you’re tired of these types of books, please believe me this one is a must read.

Debra Ollivier lived in Paris for a decade before returning home to the US. So she feels quite confident writing about that elusive ‘je ne sais quoi’ and how the rest of us can attain it.

The book has chapters on how to look stylish, how to shop like a French woman and how to feel comfortable eating by yourself in a Parisian bistro. How French women style their hair (spoiler alert: they keep it classic and simple and don’t alter their hairstyles as the seasons change, the way we do in the US.) How French women don’t chat up strangers and give away all of their secrets. There are interesting sidebars of observations about French women and society, fun tips and interesting quotes to live by. At times it feels like you are chatting with your closest friend. Which is maybe why the book is titled Entre Nous, French for between us.

So, have I found my je ne sais quoi? Probably not. I’m an eternal klutz and my hair won’t ever behave, no matter how hard I work at keeping it tamed. I can’t seem to master French, no matter how many classes I take and I seem to talk too much and overshare with the lady at the deli counter (all verboten in the world of French women).

But none of this stops me from living my best life, reading good books, attempting to look somewhat chic and returning to Paris as time (and money) permits.  Oh, plus I enjoy eating alone in restaurants. So, perhaps it’s mission accomplished after all?

Forget tea! Honestly, I’d pair a glass of French wine with this book. Voila.

à la prochaine, Jane

Four Books About The Cold War

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I’m intrigued by the Cold War era for so many different reasons. It’s why I set my own fiction during this era (more on that another day).

So, it’s no surprise that I read a lot of non-fiction books about the Cold War. I wanted to share a few of them with you. Let me know what you think or if you’ve read any of these.

Iron Curtain – The Crushing of Eastern Europe by Anne Applebaum

Anne Applebaum is a columnist for The Washington Post. Iron Curtain covers the horrifying period in Eastern Europe between 1944-1956. The dedication in this book gives me the chills: “This book is dedicated to those Eastern Europeans who refused to live within a lie.”

Vaclav Havel

Spymaster: My Thirty-Two Years in Intelligence and Espionage Against the West by Oleg Kalugin

This book is written by former KGB general, Oleg Kalugin, who spent decades spying in America. Eventually he grew disillusioned with the Soviet system and its institutional corruption. He went public about it all in 1990 and now lives in Washington D.C.

Spy Sites of Washington, DC by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton

This is a fun read and I highly recommend it. It covers espionage in Washington, D.C. between the years 1790 and 2016. I bought it for the extensive Cold War section. What’s fascinating (and fun) is that the book actually gives you physical addresses of buildings and homes where spy activities took place, including dead drop locations.

A Spy Among Friends: Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre

If you are at all interested in the Cambridge Five, I’d read this book. It’s a comprehensive volume of Kim Philby’s life as a double agent. I am fascinated by Kim Philby. Not because he was such a stellar guy (he wasn’t) but because I can’t understand giving it all up to live behind the Iron Curtain. For those who don’t know about the Cambridge Five, they were a network of privileged young men recruited by the KGB at Cambridge. Philby was one of them. He defected to Moscow in 1963 because he was about to be outed as a mole. He died with full Soviet honors in 1988.

Do you have any favorite non-fiction books about the Cold War?

xoxo, Jane

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

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Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is a fun, nonfiction read about real-life princesses who didn’t have the perfect fairy-tale ending we read (or dream) about.

Description:

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, and you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But real princesses didn’t always get happy endings. Sure, plenty were graceful and benevolent leaders, but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their majestic closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elisabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev slaughtered her way to sainthood. And Princess Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield with her toddler strapped to her back.

The book is organized in sections by type of princess. The sections are Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies and Madwoman.

As an aside, I find it interesting that some of the women featured weren’t princesses, rather noblewomen or fake princesses (Anastasia, anyone?).

There were a number of princesses I was familiar with, such as Sophia Dorothea (Survivors), Roxolana (Schemers), Pauline Bonaparte (Floozies), Sisi, Elizabeth of Austria (Madwoman, ouch. A bit harsh?), and Charlotte of Belgium (Madwoman).

But I learned about new-to-me women such as Pingyang (Warriors), Wu Zetian (Usurper), Sofka Dolgorouky (Survivors) and Caraboo (Partiers). The biographies were not very long. Each princess had a few pages devoted to her, but they were long enough to give me a good grasp of the life and history of the featured princess.

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

What I love

Everything! It’s a really neat concept with bite-sized chunks of history about real-life women. I love reading women’s history and, in my opinion, there are never enough books on this subject.

The book features special inserts about historical eras or other tidbits, such as “Death and the Victorian Age” and “Seven Warrior Queens of Antiquity.” This is a nice touch because I think it helps place the princess in history. I also love the (few) illustrations.

The tidbits I learned were incredible. I didn’t know that Stephanie von Hohenlohe was part of Hitler’s inner circle. Bad Stephanie!! I think the author really dug deep into the archives to research and write this book.

What I don’t love

Sometimes the author inserted her opinion into the narrative which jarred me out of my reading. Otherwise, it was a completely fun and enjoyable read. History made super-duper fun!

As always, thank you for reading!!! xoxo, Jane

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