Amsterdam Book Haul

A scenic view of a canal in Amsterdam.

My husband and I took a trip to Amsterdam over Indigenous Peoples’ Day weekend. I’ve never been to Amsterdam before and didn’t know what to expect. Amsterdam was a very pleasant surprise. The city was beautiful, friendly and had wonderful museums and restaurants. Plus, bookstores galore. Win-win.

I visited countless bookstores and bought two books from two places, Waterstones (I was pleasantly surprised and so happy to find a Waterstones in Amsterdam) and The Book Exchange (an English bookstore with three floors of used books). We also explored the many scenic canals.

And visited the flower market.

Sadly, I didn’t bring any tulip bulbs home. Next time.

I did bring home The Windsor Knot by S.J. Bennett from Waterstones. It’s a detective/mystery novel that features Queen Elizabeth II solving crimes. A very plausible scenario, in my opinion.

I purchased Ambition and Desire: The Dangerous Life of Josephine Bonaparte by Kate Williams from The Book Exchange. I’d like to think that I know quite a bit about Josephine, but that’s probably not the case. Kate Williams is a British historian, writer and tv presenter. This will be my first time reading her and I’m looking forward to diving in when I’m done with Victober reading.

Thank you for stopping by my blog today. Have a great day!

xoxo, Jane

My Victober 2021 Reading List

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We are almost half-way through October, so I thought I’d share my Victober reading list with you. To recap, Victober was founded by Katie, Books and Things, Kate Howe and Lucy the Reader. I’m not following the challenge exactly as listed below. I’m cheating a little to suit my reading needs. Let me know what you’re reading this month (Victorian or not)!

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THE 2021 CHALLENGES

1. Kate’s challenge: Read a Victorian sensation novel – Not really a sensation novel, but I’ll be reading A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins.
2. Katie’s challenge: Read a Victorian book set in the countryside AND/OR the city – I’m slightly cheating here by not reading a book for this challenge since everything I’m reading this month is set in the country or in the city.
3. Lucy’s challenge: Read a Victorian book with a female main character – Not a novel and not Victorian (though written during the Victorian period), but I’ll be reading The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
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) – I’m counting A Rogue’s Life by Wilkie Collins for this challenge. I know it’s cheating, but it’s a busy month. The point of this challenge is to read something Victorian, even if it’s just one book.
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) – I’m listening to Oscar Wilde’s Collected Stories.

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THE READALONG

Gothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell – I’m currently reading Gothic Tales and it’s quite an enjoyable read. Several of the short stories are based on facts and I’m impressed with Elizabeth Gaskell’s ability to draw from real life situations and turn them into gothic suspense mystery stories.

Happy Reading!

xoxo, Jane

PS. I’m on Instagram where I post about books and tea. Stop by and say hi.

If you were coming in the fall by Emily Dickinson

Via Wikimedia Commons.

If you were coming in the fall

By Emily Dickinson

If you were coming in the Fall,
I’d brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls—
And put them each in separate Drawers,
For fear the numbers fuse—

If only Centuries, delayed,
I’d count them on my Hand,
Subtracting, til my fingers dropped
Into Van Dieman’s Land,

If certain, when this life was out—
That yours and mine, should be
I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind,
And take Eternity—

But, now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee—
That will not state— its sting.

My Favorite Books of 2021 So Far

We are past the half-way point of 2021. Time to have a quick look at my favorite books thus far. The following books are my favorite because they touched my heart in one way or another.

I really enjoyed reading A Most English Princess by Clare McHugh. It’s a well-researched, fictionalized account of the early life of Empress Vicky of Prussia. Vicky was the eldest daughter of Queen Victoria. While her marriage to the Crown Prince of Prussia was an arranged union, it was a happy and fulfilling partnership. Vicky’s first child was Wilhelm II (yes, that Wilhelm). The novel charts the ups and downs of her marriage amidst the turmoil of 19th century Europe. I wrote more about the novel here.

Chère Annette: Letters from Russia is a compilation of letters from Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia to her favorite daughter Anna Pavlovna in The Hague. Maria Feodorovna was the wife of Paul I and the mother of Alexander I. The book’s editor traveled to the Netherlands to read and translate the letters from French into English. (The Russian court spoke French during this time). I love reading letters; it’s an authentic glimpse into the lives of women from history. Maria Feodorovna doesn’t have the best of reputations today and she isn’t as well known to modern audiences, but I loved getting to know her.

Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower chronicles the history of the city of Thessaloniki in Greece. The true story of this amazing city really touched my heart. Salonica went from being a city of Byzantium to an Ottoman stronghold to finally gaining independence by merging with the Kingdom of Greece. The book charts the history of the Greeks, the Jews and the Muslims. It’s a fascinating account of a fascinating city. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in Ottoman history, Greek history or the history of city planning.

Do you have any favorite books of 2021?

xoxo, Jane

July 2021 Wrap-Up

The Reader by Renoir.

Happy August!

My reading for July wasn’t as eventful as I’d like, but I kept busy by listening to several The Great Courses lectures. I love The Great Courses lectures and I regularly listen to new courses. Audible has a bunch of them and the courses really make learning so much fun. Anyway, here is what I read:

The Veil by Rachel Harrison is a short audiobook (Audible Original) set in the present day. Sally, the main character, falls in love with a young man who is from another era. Either that or he is a figment of her imagination. I’ll let you decide. Sally is married to her childhood sweetheart, but has long fallen out of love with him. This leads her to search for happiness and meaning in her life. I really, really enjoyed listening to this story. It is an otherworldly, spooky tale that actually made me laugh. The story is just under one hour long; perfect for taking a leisurely walk, cooking dinner or just lounging at home. I’d describe the story as Jane Austen novel meets Outlander meets Victorian England.

I also read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. This very interesting story takes place in Victorian England during the Irish nationalist movement. Thaniel Steepleton, one of the novel’s protagonists, must solve a recent bombing of Scotland Yard. The Irish nationalists are blamed for the bombing. Thaniel soon realizes that the group may not be the cause of the bombing. There is a more nefarious perpetrator afoot. His investigation leads him to Keita Mori, a kind Japanese watchmaker living in London. They work together to solve the bombing and become close friends in the process. The mysterious Mori quickly became my favorite character.

Reading this story immersed me in a new type of literary Victorian England: a diverse London featuring characters from other parts of the world and characters who speak more than just English. The story takes place in England and Japan. It was fascinating to arm-chair travel to Meiji era Japan. I also like that almost all of the characters have some sort of education or a specialty that they are passionate about. The ending left me wanting more; good thing there is a second book in this series.

What did you read in July?

xoxo, Jane

My Favorite Quotes from Literature

There are books, long after you finish the last page, that will stay with you forever. These are some of the books that have stayed with me. Today I’m sharing quotes from my favorite books to entice you to read them.

xoxo, Jane

I can no longer listen in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me that I am not too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you with a heart even more your own than when you broke it almost eight years and a half ago.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Reader, I married him. A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The small, slender woman with apple-red cheeks, greying hair, and shrewd, almost naughty little eyes sat with her face pressed against the cabin window of the BEA Viscount on the morning flight from London to Paris. As, with a rush and a roar, it lifted itself from the runway, her spirits soared aloft with it. She was nervous, but not at all frightened, for she was convinced that nothing could happen to her now. Hers was the bliss of one who knew that at last she was off upon the adventure at the end of which lay her heart’s desire.

Mrs Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico

The past, as we have been told so many times, is a foreign county where things are done differently. This may be true – indeed it patently is true when it comes to morals or customs, the role of women, aristocratic government and a million other elements of our daily lives. But there are similarities, too. Ambition, envy, rage, greed, kindness, selflessness and, above all, love have always been as powerful in motivating choices as they are today.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes

Marguerite suffered intensely. Though she laughed and chatted, though she was more admired, more surrounded, more fêted than any woman there, she felt like one condemned to death, living her last day upon this earth.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Melanie had found the Victorian chaise-longue on her last day of freedom when the threatening cloud was no larger than a man’s hand and could still, as by the finding of the chaise-longue, be replaced in her vision by toys.

The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

As soon as they were gone, Elizabeth walked out to recover her spirits; or in other words, to dwell without interruption on those subjects that must deaden them more. Mr. Darcy’s behaviour astonished and vexed her.

Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen

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

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.

Did I really need more Jane Austen books?

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I bought three new books from my local independent bookstore. (Curbside, contactless pick-up!) Did I need new books? No, I did not. Did I need newer editions of three of the Austens? No. But in my bid to support and shop local (so I keep telling myself) I thought I’d treat myself to these new editions.

I bought the annotated Northanger Abbey. I loved this story and I wanted to better appreciate and understand the background, the fashion and the era. Also, it contains maps, illustrations, literary comments, analysis and more. I want to reread this novel so I can fully enjoy the annotations and illustrations for my own education before rewatching the 2007 film. If I enjoy reading it as much as I think I will, I’ll buy an annotated version of my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion.

I recently finished Emma. While she is not my favorite heroine (not even in the top three, I’m afraid), I couldn’t resist this gorgeous Penguin Classics edition for my library.

Last but not least, I also treated myself to the Penguin Classics edition of Mansfield Park. This is the only full-length Jane Austen novel I haven’t read yet.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

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

What to read when you need an escape

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When I need a distraction I turn to my bookshelves. I’ve always loved books and reading. I grew up in a family of six in a one-bedroom apartment (!!!) and I still remember searching for quiet corners to escape with my library books.

Once again, I feel the need to escape with my books, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorite novels with you.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

I love Persuasion! You probably know that the plot focuses on Anne Elliott, the 27-year old heroine. Anne was persuaded to end her relationship with Wentworth, the man she loves, because he didn’t have any future prospects. Well, it turns out he made quite a killing (pun intended) in the Napoleonic Wars and is now very rich indeed. Captain Wentworth (the name alone makes me swoon) re-enters Anne’s life and causes havoc in her heart. My favorite movie adaptation is the one with Ciarán Hinds.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I admit this is the only book I’ve ever read by Charlotte Brontë (or any of the Brontë sisters). I’m not an expert on Brontë literature, but Jane Eyre has my heart. Clearly, I am under-explaining the plot here, but it’s about a young lady, Jane Eyre, who, after a violent and unloved childhood, decides to forge her own path in life with nothing but her spirited independence and her brilliant mind. She leaves behind the elusive Mr. Rochester when she finds out he is married, but at the end gets her happily ever after. “Reader, I married him.”

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart

Thornyhold is a must-read tale. It has everything you’d need for a magical time: an enchanted cottage nestled in a forest, a reclusive, handsome hero and an intelligent, kind heroine. I’d give this book a read if you really want to forget about the outside world for a few hours.

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

In times of troubles, read Miss Buncle’s Book. It will make you laugh. Set in an idyllic, sleepy English village, Miss Buncle decides to take pen to paper. The book she writes becomes a hit, but the problem is that she doesn’t do a very good job of camouflaging the actual village people she writes about. Chaos ensues. Laughter will be in abundance.

Happy reading and stay safe!

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #37 (Jane Austen edition)

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In honor of Jane Austen’s birthday next week (December 16, 1775), today’s reading links are all about the lady herself. Make a cup of tea and stay awhile.

Romance and Reality in Jane Austen’s World.

The History Chicks Episode #38 is all about Jane Austen.

Read more about Jane Austen’s writing desk.

Three Pamphlets on the Leigh-Perrot Trial: Why Austen Sent Susan to Crosby.

Tea, Jane Austen Style.

three books stacked
Image via Pexels.com.

‘It’s an escape’: the Americans who want to live like Jane Austen.

The Fashion of Jane Austen’s Novels.

This Jane Austen Letter Highlights the Horrors of 19th-Century Dentistry.

Jane Austen and the Making of the Modern Marriage.

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Bath, England

This is my Jane Austen mug. I love it!

Speaking of mugs, 8 Jane Austen Mugs You Will Fall Ardently In Love With.

20 Jane Austen Gifts for the Most Ardent Fan.

2020 Jane Austen quotes calendar.

Jane Austen’s 6 novels defy rankings. Here’s what each one does best.

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Photo via The Jane Austen Centre in Bath.

The Jane Austen Centre in Bath sells this exclusive regency teacup set. I think Jane Austen would approve.

Jane Austen and social judgement.

This gorgeous clothbound book is my copy of Persuasion.

A literary Christmas.

The Real Reason Jane Austen Never Married.

And one more, a review of the Pride and Prejudice musical.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s reading links edition.

xoxo, Jane