Pairing Books with Tea (The Victorian Chaise-Longue) and some discussion questions

I’d describe The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski as a spooky Victorian thriller, even though I’m probably misusing the term “thriller.” I’ve also seen this story described as a ghost story even though there isn’t a ghost present. Or perhaps there is a ghost? That’s the beauty of this story, you can decide whether you spot a ghost or not.

Set in 1950s England, the plot centers around a young housewife, Melanie. After waking from a nap on her newly-purchased antique chaise-longue, Melanie discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of an older woman, Milly. To make the living nightmare even worse, it’s 80 years earlier and her husband and other loved ones are nowhere to be found.

While Melanie struggles to figure out how she can return home and back into her own body, the reader recognizes that the lives of the two women ran parallel. For example, the women experienced recent trauma involving a child. It’s implied that both women were involved in illicit affairs. Both women are stifled and isolated by the men in their lives. And as a final example, both women are capable of making their own decisions yet are treated like helpless children. It’s safe to assume that Melanie is in the body of her alter ego from 80 years ago.

Reading this superbly written novella made me feel as if I was being physically stifled. If you are looking for a spooky, thought-provoking novella then I’d highly recommend this story. The Victorian Chaise-Longue was initially published in 1953 and reprinted by Persephone Books in 1999.

As you know, from time to time, I like to pair a good cup of tea with a good book. For this particular book, I paired a strong English Breakfast Tea. Why? You’ll need something strong to stay alert and keep your wits about you. It’s an interesting, eery tale and I highly recommend it for your upcoming autumn reading lists.

For those who’ve read it, I have questions for you:

  • Is there a ghost?
  • Is the antique chaise-longue to blame for this spine-chilling situation?
  • What did you think of the ending? Was it left like that on purpose so we can draw our own conclusions?

Let me know your thoughts!!

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 – March

Last month I spelled February with books and it was great fun finding books in the house so I thought I’d do it again for March. Here we go!

Mariana by Monica Dickens is about a young Englishwoman and her adventures set in the 1930s. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Monica Dickens is a great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens! How can I not read this book!! Also, the novel is republished by Persephone Books and a book by Persephone has never disappointed me.

Next on the list is The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. This one is very high on my list to read because as you may know I really love reading books based on real princesses. This book is about the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria (Sisi). I haven’t started reading it yet, but my guess is the title stems from the fact that Sisi wasn’t supposed to marry Emperor Franz Josef. He was supposed to marry her sister until he met Sisi and changed his mind. Hence, the “accidental.”

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart is another novel on my list. I’m fairly new to Mary Stewart and her romance and romantic suspense novels are the best! As the title suggests, the setting is a thatched cottage in the English countryside. It’s a romantic suspense set in 1947.

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey is another book republished by Persephone Books. The story takes place during the course of a wedding day and focuses on the bride who is NOT marrying the man she loves (this is not a spoiler). I found it poignant and somewhat funny. The short novella is packed with emotion.

This illustrated copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling is always a good idea!! The illustrations and various pull-out documents and maps contribute to an even funner reading experience.

What’s on your list for March?

xoxo, Jane

Books for the Romantic

With the holidays behind us and Valentine’s Day in the near future, can we talk about books for the romantic at heart?

It’s no secret that Persuasion by Jane Austen is my favorite novel. It’s about the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Anne is persuaded to end her relationship with Wentworth because he has no prospects, a decision Anne regrets almost immediately. Luckily for her, the young man, now an older Captain Wentworth, returns home, rich from the Napoleonic wars. Captain Wentworth, at first weary and hurt, plays a little hard to get. No one said the path to love wasn’t going to be rocky. It’s a very satisfying and fulfilling love story.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson is the story of an older, down-on-her-luck governess. She has no money to buy food, no money to pay her rent and the workhouse is looming. Things can’t get any worse when she accidentally lands a job with a young American nightclub singer, Miss LaFosse. Miss LaFosse, not a child nor in need of a governess, nevertheless takes Miss Pettigrew under her wing. Before the employment agency is made aware of their error, Miss Pettigrew embarks on a mad-cap tour of London with Miss LaFosse, where she finds mayhem and true love. It’s silly, frothy and romantic. It’s a Cinderella story and Miss LaFosse, young, beautiful and silly, acts as Miss Pettigrew’s godmother. I highly recommend reading it.

Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole is a short story set in the court of King James IV. Agnes Moor, an African woman, is considered the “exotic” of the court. She also acts as an informal adviser to the King. But when the King organizes a tournament, a Scottish knight vies for Agnes’ heart and uses the tournament to prove his love for her. It’s so romantic and perfect to read for Valentine’s Day. If you are in need of a Scottish Highlander tale, then look no further.

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (of The Secret Garden fame) is part Cinderella-story, part dramatic thriller. The heroine, penniless and with no options left to better her situation, attracts the eye of a wealthy Marquess. They marry and live happily ever after. Or at least that’s how the story is supposed to end. But in this story, the ending doesn’t come with the wedding. After the wedding, ominous characters appear out of the woodwork to make the Marchioness disappear. I won’t give away anymore, but I’ll just say that love conquers all.

The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly is an excellent regency romance. The heroine, Sally Paul, is living on her last penny when she meets Admiral Charles Bright. The Admiral swiftly marries her, but as they embark on their new life together trouble looms ahead. This Cinderella story has tension, a little mystery and a very satisfying ending.

These are just a few of the romantic books I’ve read over the years and still love very much.

What are your favorite romantic novels?

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

The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

I’ve been putting off reading The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski because actual ghost stories terrify me. While this book isn’t a ghost story* (even though it’s described as such by several reviewers), it is an eery, spooky and unsettling read. I’m glad I read it and wish I hadn’t put it off for so long because it’s an excellent story.

The book begins in the present day, which in this case is 1953. In the very first scene we meet Melanie, who is at home with her doctor and recovering from childbirth. The first thing I notice is how the men in her life (her husband, the doctor) treat her, as if she is a helpless infant. For example, both the doctor and her husband do not trust her opinion and patronize her because, well, she is just a woman who needs men to tell her what’s best. Melanie seems to accept this way of life, even though I can tell she has a strong backbone. Upon the doctor’s advice that she get constant rest, Melanie lies down for a nap on the Victorian chaise-longue that she purchased during an earlier antique shopping excursion.

When Melanie wakes up, she is still on the chaise-longue but has somehow traveled back in time, 80 years earlier to be exact. The reader, along with Melanie, discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of her Victorian counterpart. There are other characters that seem to be the Victorian counterparts. There is a doctor, a possible love interest and a whole host of others who also patronize her. Melanie’s confusion and anguish at this turn of events was even making me feel as if someone was stifling me. The thought of not being able to get back felt like I was imprisoned. Whenever Melanie tries to explain her situation, the words would not come out of her mouth. If the words or situation didn’t exist during the Victorian period, then her mouth couldn’t formulate the cry for help. She could think about her era or her home, but it was impossible to speak about it since it hadn’t happened yet. How horrifying.

I found it to be a very well-written story, but an eery tale that left me feeling unsettled because it doesn’t have a proper ending. Or if it does have an “ending” then I’m still pondering its meaning. The author wrote the story in such a way that I was inside Melanie’s head, metaphorically crying for help along with her. In thinking about the horror of being stuck in somebody else’s body, at least I can close the book after finishing the last page. Melanie, not so much.

I highly recommend reading this book. It’s a thought-provoking, excellent story that transports you to the parlor room of a Victorian house during Victorian England. The foreword is written by P. D. James, the queen of suspense. The book can be read in a day or over a weekend. And because I spent October reading Victorian literature and about the Victorian era in general, I was able to pick up on the layout of the Victorian parlor room, the maid’s behavior and the general etiquette of the era through the Victorian characters’ demeanor. If I hadn’t educated myself about the Victorian era, I may have missed all these fascinating details.

xoxo, Jane

*A ghost story is described as fiction where ghosts appear in the story or the characters’ belief in ghosts are part of the premise.

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

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 recognition 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

Pairing books with tea (Tea with Mr. Rochester)

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I’ve been making an effort to read more short stories. They pack a punch in just a few short pages. I’m left thinking and rethinking about the plot for days after I finish the story. Tea with Mr. Rochester is one such short story collection.

When I think of Mr. Rochester, I think of the character from Jane Eyre. If that’s who you thought of too, then you can probably guess the common theme of each story in this collection: love. Most of the stories don’t necessarily end happily. Or maybe they do, depending on your view. The beauty of a short story is that it doesn’t tell you how or what to think. You are left thinking and analyzing for days afterwards.

Take for example, the sixth story in this collection, Spade Man from over the Water. It takes place inside the drawing room of a married woman, Mrs. Penny, who is entertaining her new neighbor. The new neighbor, Mrs. Asher, hopes she can become good friends with Mrs. Penny. All we know at this point is that Mrs. Penny has a husband who travels often. He seems to never be in the picture. Her husband discourages Mrs. Penny from having friends, but she yearns for the friendship of women. Mrs. Asher and her children move into the cottage near Mrs. Penny. She too has a husband who travels a lot. When Mrs. Asher sees a picture of Mrs. Penny’s husband she grows quiet and mysterious. They end the evening proclaiming they will become good friends. But that never happens, much to the disappointment of Mrs. Penny. The cottage is emptied virtually overnight. Mrs. Asher and her children disappear, never to be heard of again.

This ending left me stumped. The only solution that I can come up with is that Mrs. Penny’s husband leads a double life with Mrs. Asher. This might be why Mrs. Asher disappears after seeing the photograph of Mrs. Penny’s husband.

For this short story collection, I’d pair Fortnum’s Fortmason tea. The tea is black, strong and heavily infused with orange blossoms. You’ll need a strong tea to get through some of these (very excellent, some sweet, some bizarre) short stories.

xoxo, Jane

Pairing books with tea (Persephone Biannually)

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During this anxious time we are living in, I wanted to soothe my spirit and the best way I do that is by organizing my bookshelves. Well, during the organization I re-discovered my old copies of the Persephone Biannually.

If you haven’t read this magazine by Persephone Books, then you are in for a treat. It’s a literary magazine written and published by Persephone Books, a publisher that focuses on republishing forgotten female (and a few male) authors.

The articles in the magazine focus on their authors, the story behind the books and interesting details about their famous endpapers. There is no charge for the magazine (at the time of this writing) and if you are interested in their books, then you can sign up to be added to their mailing list so they can ship the magazine to you.

Today, I’m pairing a tea with this wonderful literary magazine. Which tea shall we pair? How about Harney’s Citrus Blend? It’s a black tea with an orange flavor. Light and citrusy, perfect for an afternoon of magazine reading. Enjoy!

xoxo, Jane

January, February and March 2020 Wrap-Up Part III

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Read more about this lovely painting.

I read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen for the very first time. It was so good! Of course, I kept picturing Hugh Grant and Professor Snape. I’m sure you know the plot so I won’t rehash it here, but I felt the anguish the two older Dashwood sisters and their mother must have had to relocate from the only home they’ve known to a small cottage, further away. Jane Austen must have keenly felt the unfairness of the inheriting system. I also really loved John’s awful wife. There is something to be said for mean characters. They are so entertaining. And laughable. You can read it for free here.

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The Little(r) Museums of Paris by Emma Jacobs is just what it says it is. A book about the smaller, lesser-known museums of Paris, plus it comes with illustrations. It’s really cute. One of the museums it mentions is Musée de Cluny – Musée National du Moyan Âge (National Museum of the Middle Ages). I have visited this museum before. It was part of a pass we bought from our hotel, but I’d never heard of it. When we stepped into the museum, I almost lost my mind from joy. This is the museum where the long lost unicorn tapestries are housed. This museum is a must-visit if you are in Paris. The author also gives the histories of the buildings the museums are housed in. This being Paris, you can imagine how fascinating those stories are.

Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers is a collection of short stories initially published in 1949, after the author passed away. The book I own is a loving re-issue by Persephone Books. The stories are not intertwined with each other, but they do have one thing in common: love. The stories featured are about unrequited love, young love, and happy-we-found-each-other love. For those who love a good cry, there is a love story about a soldier departing for World War I (and this being England, not coming back alive) and leaving a girl broken-hearted for the rest of her life. That story still haunts me.

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Not a book, but I also read the most recent issue of The Persephone Biannually. The magazine features articles about the books they publish, the history behind their famous endpapers and essays about their authors. I normally do not enjoy literary magazines, but this one is the exception.

And if you’re in the mood, here is Part I and Part II.

xoxo, Jane