July, August & September 2020 Wrap-Up Part II

In case you missed it, Part I and Part III.

I normally only read biographies of historic royals. But I had to read Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand because I am a huge fan of the Duchess of Sussex. I was horrified at the awful and biased treatment she received from the British press. I’m sad that she and Harry left royal life behind (at least for now) because I was looking forward to seeing her perform royal duties. Anyway, I digress. This is a great biography. The book takes you from Meghan’s early years to her acting days in Toronto. It talks about her impeccable work ethic and her ambition for an independent life. It talks about how Harry and Meghan met, about their joined values and the life they want to live together. It’s almost like you’re gossiping with a very good friend, who is filling you in on Harry and Meghan.

It’s interesting that the book begins with a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson about making your own path in life, almost like a foreshadow of what’s to come. I’ve learned that when it comes to women, few people like or approve of a woman who goes her own way in life. That’s probably why so many are mad at Meghan and Harry. They dared to go their own way. I think what we have to understand is that we don’t own Harry and Meghan. They are not our friends and don’t owe us anything. They are humans who are entitled to live the life they want to live. If you are a Meghan super fan, this book is for you. If you are angry that they are living a private life, you should probably pass.

The Real Sherlock by Lucinda Hawksley is an Audible Original about the life of Arthur Conan Doyle. It features the usual narration, but also interviews and interesting tidbits. If you’re a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, then this audiobook may be too elementary for you. I didn’t know Arthur Conan Doyle very well and it was fun to learn about him and how he created his most famous character.

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger is a graphic novel about the life of French fashion designer Christian Dior. If you like fashion and graphic novels, it might be a fun read for you. This link takes you to my earlier review.

The Secret Garden retold by Elizabeth Goodnight is a young child’s version of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I borrowed the audiobook from the library not realizing it was the shorter, condensed and retold version. Now that I listened to this version, I can tell you that it’s the perfect audiobook for children’s bedtime. The narrator’s voice is soothing and charming. Perfect for young children.

The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan is the sequel to The Royal We. If you enjoy royal fiction, then this is a great series. But you should start with The Royal We. The Heir Affair begins where The Royal We left off, with Bex and Nick married and in self-imposed exile. But when they’re discovered at their secret location, they return to Kensington Palace to face the music. The plot is almost slow and uneventful, until Bex discovers a huge royal secret with serious consequences. Bex and Nick try to figure out what to do with this earth-shattering secret. I won’t give it away, otherwise I’ll spoil it for you.

I hope you’re reading lots of fun books right now. I’ll post Part III at the end of September.

xoxo, Jane

Photo via Pexels.com

Library Haul

My local library is not yet open to the public, but they are letting us borrow books with curbside pick-up. I borrowed one book of essays and two royal history books.

You may have heard of Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker. In 1995, he moved to Paris with his wife and young child. This book is a collection of essays inspired by his time living in Paris.

The Grimaldis of Monaco by Anne Edwards was published in 1992. I don’t know anything about Anne Edwards or whether this book was well-received. However, it sounds like an interesting read and a good introduction to the history of the Grimaldis.

Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown is just as the title says. It’s not a traditional biography of Princess Margaret. The front flap reads: “Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty, moving meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.” Sounds like a good escape to me.

I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t know with which book to start. I suppose this is not a bad problem to have.

What’s on your nightstand?

xoxo, Jane

Inside The Royal Wardrobe by Kate Strasdin

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Description:

Inside the Royal Wardrobe: A Dress History of Queen Alexandra by Kate Strasdin

Queen Alexandra used clothes to fashion images of herself as a wife, a mother and a royal: a woman who both led Britain alongside her husband Edward VII and lived her life through fashion. Inside the Royal Wardrobeoverturns the popular portrait of a vapid and neglected queen, examining the surviving garments of Alexandra, Princess of Wales – who later became Queen Consort – to unlock a rich tapestry of royal dress and society in the second half of the 19th century.

More than 130 extraordinary garments from Alexandra’s wardrobe survive, from sumptuous court dress and politicised fancy dress to mourning attire and elegant coronation gowns, and can be found in various collections around the world, from London, Oslo and Denmark to New York, Toronto and Tokyo. Curator and fashion scholar Kate Strasdin places these garments at the heart of this in-depth study, examining their relationships to issues such as body politics, power, celebrity, social identity and performance, and interpreting Alexandra’s world from the objects out.

Adopting an object-based methodology, the book features a range of original sources from letters, travel journals and newspaper editorials, to wardrobe accounts, memoirs, tailors’ ledgers and business records. Revealing a shrewd and socially aware woman attuned to the popular power of royal dress, the work will appeal to students and scholars of costume, fashion and dress history, as well as of material culture and 19th century history.

I love reading about historic women. The woman featured in Inside the Royal Wardrobe was Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra), a Danish princess who married into the British Royal Family. She was married to Edward VII and was the great-grandmother of Elizabeth II. 

Alexandra was known for being under the thumb of Queen Victoria, but Inside the Royal Wardrobe disproves this theory and showcases the subtle sartorial ways Alexandra may have rebelled. This fascinating read is a character study as opposed to a history lesson and all aspects of Alexandra’s wardrobe were analyzed.

What I love

The book features illustrations and color fashion plates which allowed me to better visualize Alexandra’s wardrobe. There is also a chart that details which colors Alexandra preferred to wear.

Between 1870 and 1890, Alexandra wore black 24 times and white 31 times. Her least favorite color appears to be pink as she only wore that color four times.

Kate Strasdin was able to find concrete proof that Alexandra rebelled quietly against Queen Victoria. One story is that King Leopold of the Belgians gave Alexandra some Brussels lace as a wedding present. Alexandra had plans to use it for her wedding dress but this was vetoed by Queen Victoria. The Queen felt that English silk was more appropriate. Alexandra didn’t have a choice in the matter and did as she was told. However, unbeknownst to the Queen, Alexandra sewed some of the Belgian lace inside the skirt of her wedding gown.

Interesting tidbits

Alexandra wasn’t a vain woman. She dressed the part as Princess of Wales and later Queen because she understood the importance of how the public perceived her. She viewed it as playing a role.

Privileged women and aristocrats were expected to attend fancy dress balls (fancy dress = costume). Fancy dress balls were a major aspect of the season. This means they had to buy their fancy-dress outfits far in advance for those last minute invitations. Families on the upper-end of the social ladder were able to use their ancestral garments as fancy dress. (!!!) I admit I had heart palpitations at the thought of actually touching an antique dress of historical significance.

When Edward VII and Alexandra stayed at the grand houses of the aristocracy, the aristocratic families were under stress to spend a lot of money on renovating the rooms the royal couple would use. This included new furniture. I read somewhere else that such Dukes went bankrupt trying to entertain Edward VII. I can’t imagine what a renovation must have done to their finances. (When I have guests, I normally buy sparkling water, some flowers and call it a day.)

Alexandra’s clothing survive in museums around the world because through the years she gave her clothes as gifts to her dressers. The dressers left the clothing to their descendants and so on until eventually families donated or sold the pieces to museums. Kate Strasdin tracked down clothing to reconstruct Alexandra’s dress history.

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What I don’t love

The paperback binding fell apart. The hardcover was too expensive so I bought the somewhat affordable paperback, but the pages began coming loose. This is not the author’s fault. Bloomsbury, if you are reading this, maybe try to keep your voracious readers in mind for your next book binding session?

Thanks for reading! xoxo, Jane

Book Haul

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I’m quite pleased with my recent book haul. I had to buy The Other Side of the Coin by Angela Kelly, the Queen’s dresser. It documents the special relationship Angela Kelly has with the Queen. There are some wonderful tidbits to enjoy, lots of history and dress facts. The beautiful pictures are in abundance. I can’t wait to dig in.

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I’ve read Megan Hess before and wrote about it here and here. Her books are gorgeously illustrated. I’m beside myself that I own two more. I feel like a child, so excited that I don’t know where to begin reading them. Elegance is Megan Hess’ newest book and focuses on all the great French designers such as Chanel, Dior, Givenchy, Hermes and others. It’s a gorgeous book that I won’t be able to put down.

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I know I’ll enjoy The Dress. It’s an illustrated jaunt through fashion history. The sketches are just beautiful. So far though, my favorite part of the book is the author’s dedication: “For Gwyn, All the dresses I’ve drawn, and all the dresses I own, will one day be yours.” So sweet!

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I did not need to own another journal, but I could not pass this one up. It’s for journaling about the books we read. I probably won’t use it for every book, but it would be fun for those very special books that stay with me long after I’ve turned the last page.

What have you been reading lately? Any new books in your possession?

xoxo, Jane

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

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The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson is a historical fiction set in Canada and England. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author. The story centers around three women, two from the past and one in our present day.

Description:

London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation’s recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honor: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown.

Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan’s connection to the celebrated textile artist and holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?

With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love.

All three main characters are lovely, but I connected the most with Frenchwoman Miriam. Miriam is a survivor of Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women. (If you want to learn more about this concentration camp, then visit this page on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.) It is clearly obvious the author did her research and she did it very well. Miriam reminded me of my mother who also survived the Nazis (though unlike Miriam, my mother was not sent to a concentration camp).

Even though Miriam was kind, well-spoken, a diligent seamstress and never gave anything away about her past (at least initially) I could sense her sadness and despair. I really bonded with Miriam as a character. This is what makes Jennifer Robson such a good author.

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What I love

I love the history and background about the Queen’s wedding dress. We (the reader) are literally in the sewing studio, watching the seamstresses hard at work. I was able to visualize every stitch. The author got everything right because she interviewed one of the four seamstresses who worked on the actual royal wedding dress. Again and again, it becomes obvious that serious research went into this story. But in a seamless way, which made this book so enjoyable to read.

There is one scene, where Heather, the modern-day character, spends an afternoon shopping at Fortnum & Mason. This really made me smile as I love Fortnums and was happy it played a small part in the novel.

What I don’t love

There is a rape scene. It’s not graphic or detailed, but it’s a major reason why one of the characters ends up on a different path in life. Had I known there was a rape scene in this book, I probably would not have read it. I’m really sensitive to scenes where women and children get hurt. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t know about it, because I’m happy I read The Gown. It was heartwarming and touching and I will be thinking of the characters for months to come.

I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but all three women have their happy ending. I guess I just want to throw that out there in case you think the subject matter is too sad. It was a phenomenal book and the months-long library hold was worth it.

Will you be reading The Gown?

xoxo, Jane

First image of the novel and a peek of my own wedding dress by me. Second image via Pexels.com

 

Pairing books with tea (Désirée)

Désirée by Annemarie Selinko is a novel based on real events as recounted by one woman, Désirée Clary. It’s an epic, fictionalized biography of Désirée, the one-time fiancée of Napoleon. (I very briefly talked about this book here.)

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Désirée lived a very interesting life through some turbulent times in France. She began life as the daughter of a silk merchant and ended her life as the Queen of Sweden.

After Napoleon broke her heart to marry Josephine, Désirée moved on by marrying the tall and dashing Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a decorated Marshal in Napoleon’s court.

Through her marriage to Bernadotte, Désirée became Queen of Sweden because Sweden picked Bernadotte as their next king. Bernadotte reigned as Charles XIV of Sweden. (Talk about the ultimate get-over-him plan. Ladies, next time a guy breaks your heart, marry a king!)

This part isn’t in the book, but Napoleon hoped that Bernadotte would enact Swedish laws that favored France. Much to the anger and dismay of Napoleon, Bernadotte refused to be a puppet king. He even used his personal fortune to pay Sweden’s national debt. (As an aside, the illustrious Bernadotte line continues to reign in Sweden today.)

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Désirée Clary, 1807. Wikimedia Commons

The book is completely engrossing and written entirely in the form of diary entries. It’s a mixture of historical fiction and historical gossip sessions. Désirée is completely relatable even though it’s nearly impossible to relate to a young, rich French socialite. I think her diary entries (her gossip rants, her worries, her funny anecdotes, her undying devotion to her child) make her endearing to the reader.

Also, Paris is very much a main character in this book (before the move to Stockholm, that is) and her diary entries are sprinkled with Parisian locales and addresses. Of course, the book was made into a movie. Marlon Brando played Napoleon.

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I think the perfect tea for this book is by Ladurée. Ladurée is a decadent Parisian tea and Désirée, for her entire life, loved everything Parisian. I think Désirée would approve of this pairing. You can take the girl out of Paris, but you can’t take Paris out of the girl.

What do you think of this tea pairing?

xoxo, Jane

PS. In case you feel like going down a rabbit hole, my other posts in this series can be found here.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to use the links. xoxo, Jane

April, May & June 2019 Wrap-Up

July is almost behind us and I’m only now posting my quarterly wrap-up. I hope you will forgive my tardiness. I was busy reading and writing…

The second quarter of 2019 fun-reading consisted of one short story by George Orwell, one romantic fiction by Meg Cabot (love her!), one classic (Mary Stewart), one royal history book and two illustrated books that I loved so, so much!

(The links below take you to my earlier reviews, except for Orwell’s short story and Inside the Royal Wardrobe.)

The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot.

This was a very sweet read. I think it had a touch of Jane Austen’s Persuasion because the hero and heroine were forced to let go of each other many years earlier.

You and the Atom Bomb by George Orwell. “It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons.” 

This short story was written during a time when everyone was terrified of being obliterated. It’s always interesting to read serious pieces from the actual era they were written in. I also learned that I should read short stories more often. It was an enjoyable (if not sobering), quick read.

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Paris: Through A Fashion Eye by Megan Hess.

I don’t know why I’ve never heard of Megan Hess before. She is a wonderful illustrator and this book is a fun walk through Paree.

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Coco Chanel by Megan Hess.

This was an illustrated novel of Coco Chanel’s life. I really love this book. It is so beautiful and fun. I’ve already picked it up several times to reread. I need another Megan Hess book pronto!

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The Wind off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart.

This novella was so charming and romantic. The only complaint I had was that it ended too abruptly.

Inside the Royal Wardrobe: A Dress History of Queen Alexandra (affiliate link) by Kate Strasdin.

This newish biography is a fascinating study of Queen Alexandra through her wardrobe. She was not who I thought she was, a timid woman who cowered under Queen Victoria. No! She was a strong woman who knew her own mind and tried to live life on her terms. She was a very caring Princess of Wales and became a good queen. This book warrants its own review, coming soon.

xoxo, Jane

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to use the links. xoxo, Jane

 

Royal Style – A History of Aristocratic Fashion Icons by Luise Wackerl

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Royal Style – A History of Aristocratic Fashion Icons by Luise Wackerl is a history of royal fashion through the ages.

Royals have been fashion icons throughout history and this book features the most famous ones, such as Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth I (yes, Princess Diana too). The book is divided by chapters that feature the various eras. While many nonfiction books of this caliber suffer from a lack of images, Royal Style overflows with photographs, illustrations, paintings and a timeline. That alone makes this book worth it.

Some of the featured royal style icons are Grace Kelly, Princess Margaret, Wallis Simpson, Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Queen Rania and the Duchess of Cambridge. 

What I love

The history tidbits! Wearing fashionable black was first introduced by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. I learned that Louis XIV wore high-heels with a red sole (hello, Louboutins!). Queen Victoria is described as the greatest bridal trendsetter. We do wear white wedding dresses because of her. Edward VII also has a section. He was a socialite and a trendy dresser. One of the chapters features the fascinating stories of the modern commoner princesses like Mary of Denmark, Queen Letizia of Spain and Mette-Marit of Norway. 

The book is also a little bit gossipy (but not in a negative way). For example, the author dubs Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece “The Dollar Princess”. It doesn’t explain why, but I think that might be because it’s rumored that her father (founder of Duty Free) provided her with a large dowry that benefited her new in-laws, the exiled and cash-strapped Greek royal family. Anyway, she may have married into an exiled royal family but her Valentino wedding dress was fit for a queen at a price of $225,000 (another tidbit).

Quotes by Vogue, Elle, Manolo Blahnik and Michael Kors (among others) are interspersed throughout the book, which gives it a lookbook feel.

What I don’t love

I am disappointed that Désirée Clary (Queen consort of Sweden) and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (wife of Archduke Franz Ferdinand) were not included.

Désirée Clary was the one-time fiancée of Napoleon and a fashionable member of Parisian high society. She loved her Parisian life so much that it took her over ten years to join her husband (King Charles XIV John of Sweden) in Stockholm.

Sophie was married to Archduke Franz Ferdinand. She may not have been the traditional fashion icon, but she was very much the talk of the town and the spouse of a future emperor.

That aside, I love owning this book because it combines my two interests, history and royals.

Royal Style is out of print, but you can find inexpensive used copies on Amazon.

Amazon US  Amazon UK

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. It doesn’t cost you anything extra to use the links. Thank you for reading my blog. xoxo, Jane

Christmas Gifts: Books

My husband and I have a lovely Christmas gifts tradition. We exchange books for Christmas. It’s fun, stress-free and romantic.

For Christmas 2017, I received these wonderful books: The Court of the Last Tsar, Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking and Polish your Poise with Madame Chic.

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I love royal history (more on that another time) and I can’t wait to dig in. I’ve read Greg King before so I know I will enjoy The Court of the Last Tsar. I’ve never read Deborah Cadbury before, but it’s about Queen Victoria’s family so I’m in.

I enjoy Jennifer L. Scott’s blog and books about living well, staying organized and the ten-item wardrobe in her Madame Chic series. I’m pretty excited to read her latest, Polish your Poise with Madame Chic.

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This morning’s tea: Harrods Earl Grey No. 42

I’ve decided that for every new book I buy in 2018 I should read two of the ones I already own. It’s a great goal, right? Except I kind of already broke it. I just ordered Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs.  Books about the Habsburgs are my catnip and I couldn’t wait to own this one. But I’ll try to do better next time…

xoxo, Jane