Thursday, October 31, 2013

What I've Read This Week Part I

What I've Read This Week Part I . . .

A Christmas Courtship by Carola Dunn, Karla Hocker, and Joy Reed -- Regency Christmas novellas

In The Christmas Party by Carola Dunn, Miss Prudence Figg alias Seraphina Savage is a novice actress appearing in a Christmas theatrical at the Marquis of Easthaven's Christmas party. When she meets the son of the Marquis, Lord Rusholme, she finds the handsome, teasing man attractive but knows that men like him only want one thing from girls like her. Rusholme is determined to seduce Miss Savage and turns on all his charms to win her over but she proves to be the most prudish actress he's ever met. His mother has other plans and he's determined to escape the marriage noose for as long as he can. Even though Miss Savage seems to reject his favors, she's good with his young nieces and nephews and refreshingly honest. He can't help but feel a growing attraction to her. The hero of this story ruined what could have been a sweet, charming romance. He sets out to seduce Pru sight unseen merely because he's bored with his mistress and he thinks actress is synonymous with lightskirt. The clues are all there that Pru isn't what she seems and he even realizes that to some extent but still persists in trying to win her over. The secondary characters are rather stereotypical but one of the young ladies reveals hidden depth which I liked. The last half of the story is better than the first. There's far too much quoting from the play within the story but the romance is nicer. The only character I really liked was Pru. I liked how she tried to make a better life for herself. She was a bit naive at times, but strong at others.

Under the Mistletoe by Karla Hocker is a companion to another novel but stands alone as a short story for the most part. It's darker than the usual Christmas story. The heroine, Susan Cavendish, is just out of mourning for her late husband Frederick, but she feels guilty for NOT mourning him in her heart. Frederick was cruel and abusive and now she fears he's still alive. Susan's belief is based on voices and noises heard in the walls behind the secret passageways. Frederick's cousin Andrew is eager to help Susan. He is not so secretly in love with her and wishes to marry her and protect her. Susan isn't sure what she wants. She's never had the chance to find out. When her best friend Elizabeth Rowland, Duchess of Stenton, arrives, Susan hopes to find the answers she seeks. Elizabeth arrives with her ghost, Annie Tuck, a former nursemaid, who falls in love with Andrew! Annie is jealous of Andrew's feeling for Susan but when danger strikes, she must decide whether to put her feelings aside and help Susan or hope Andrew will join her in the spirit world forevermore. I didn't really like this story. Frederick was a despicable, horrific man and everyone turned a blind eye. There's not much back story to explain how he got that way when his mother seems perfectly nice. The plot is a bit too Gothic for my tastes. I felt very bad for Susan that she never had the chance to figure out who she is or what she wants out of life. While Andrew is a very worthy hero, I think he should have kept his feelings to himself for awhile longer. This story is for those who enjoy realism blended with Gothic mystery. This would be a better story for Halloween than Christmas. The ghost seemed really familiar to me but I can't find a record of having read the story she  first appears in. It's possible I read that or even this story before and forgot.

The Christmas Beau is a lighthearted story about a young girl, Melanie Hartman, in her first season who dreams of marrying her neighbor, Lord Colby and traveling to Italy. When her brother brings home a friend from London, Mellie is aghast that an uncouth savage Scotchman should be allowed to speak to her. William McCraig proves to be conversable, chivalrous and a big help in a crisis. When he asks for Mellie's hand in marriage, she's horrified but he is a very persistent young man. Will Mellie get to marry the man of her dreams? I liked this story best of all the three in the collection but I did not like the heroine. Melanie is spoiled, selfish and really really rude. Her mother should have corrected her behavior. The Colby gentlemen are cads and Melanie refuses to see her beloved Lord Colby as he really is. Her realization comes a little too late for me. I loved Mr. McCraig. He's so funny and charming. The crisis scene had me smiling and laughing throughout. He didn't deserve Melanie and would be better off with her younger sister Nina. Nina is a much nicer girl.

These stories are a little long for an anthology and they lack the heartwarming nature of some of the other Regency Christmas stories I've read. This one isn't tops on my list.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . . 

Spellbound Hearts : Three Bewitching Tales of Regency Romance by  Jo Ann Ferguson, Karla Hocker, Joy Reed 

This collection of tales centers around Halloween and is perfect light reading for this time of year.

In Spellbound by Jo Ann Ferguson, Faye Wynchwood is asked by her dear friend Venetia to cast a love spell or else Venetia will die of a broken heart like the other women in her family. Faye is cautious. She doesn't like anyone to know she's a witch and she doesn't really consider herself one, despite the tales in the village. She knows the folklore and remedies her great-aunt taught her but she does know how to help her friend. When she discovers that her friend's true love is from the family that has persecuted the Wynchwoods for centuries, she's torn between loyalty to her family and her desire to see the handsome, teasing stranger who caught her stealing dirt from his estate. This story is a little too cute for my tastes. In everything else I've read, witches don't cast love spells. That never goes well. The excuse here is that it only works if the two hearts are willing. Cassidy St. James is an alpha hero and he's a little too in control for my tastes but I can see Faye's attraction to him. The plot was resolved in a weird way and I didn't quite understand it. It goes with the magical theme but seems strange given the rest of the story. It's not a bad story and I liked it, I just didn't love it. 

The characters in A Soul of Indiscretion by Karla Hocker are already married but the idyllic honeymoon period is over and after ten years, Philip and Amanda can't seem to get along. Philip feels Amanda is indiscreet and will ruin his political aspirations. Amanda doesn't like Philip's political mentor and fears the man will make her husband compromise his beliefs. Philip, an ex-clergyman, believes he is firm in his convictions. While staying at Philip's family's crumbling, spooky old manor home on an island in Northumberland, Amanda hopes they can repair their marriage, but Philip isn't sure what to do with her. when his eccentric and mysterious Aunt Sybil arrived (when she was believed to be dead), she forms her own opinions about the couple's relationship. As All Hallows Eve approaches, a sinister feeling is in the air. Can the couple reconcile before the pagan holiday's evilness ruin everything? This story is too sad and gothic for my tastes. Philip is a lot like Mr. Darcy. He's annoyingly stuffy and proper and believes himself to be right. Amanda is more like Elizabeth, lively, friendly and believing herself to be a good judge of character. On every other page it seems Amanda is weeping and she can't get Philip to stop and talk things out with her. He annoyed me so much. I liked Aunt Sybil the best. She provides some comic relief for this story. The ending was rather unusual and very strange. It's a good tale for Halloween but not my favorite.

Moonlight Masquerade by Joy Reed features two best friends who couldn't be more different. Minnie is flirtatious and forward and Susan is shy and reserved. Susan sometimes wishes she could be more forward like Minnie. Last Halloween, she shared a sweet flirtation and tender kisses with a masked gentleman at the Squire's Ball. She longs for the gentleman's kisses again, but she believes her true love is also the man Minnie has her sights set on marrying! Susan wishes just for once, a gentleman would see her and not Minnie. Perhaps she'll have a chance at the Squire's ball, if only she dares let go of some of her reserve. This is my favorite story in the collection. I can relate to Susan. My Junior High best friends were Minnie and I was Susan. I immediately sympathized with Susan and loved her instantly. I hated Minnie. She's a lot like Lydia Bennet and I found her only slightly less irritating. Her love interest isn't much better. He's similar to Mr. Bingley but dim-witted. Susan's romance is so sweet it will make you sigh. Her hero is worthy of a swoon or two. I guessed who he was right away but I understand completely why Susan didn't. Her feelings came as a surprise to her and the romance develops gradually. Even though it takes place in only one night, the pacing of the story feels just right and makes the romance sweeter. It could have been a little longer to be more realistic but I liked it a lot.

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Assassin (Lady Grace Mysteries 1) by Lady Grace Cavendish -- Middle Grades Historical Mystery

Lady Grace Cavendish is a Maid of Honour in Queen Elizabeth I's court. Her parents died in service to the Queen and left her in care of the good Queen. While the Queen has Grace's best interests at heart, sometimes Grace chafes against the restrictions placed on her. She enjoys running, climbing trees and associating with unsuitable people like her friend Ellie, a laundry maid and Masou, an acrobat. Grace is approaching her 13th year and it's time to choose a husband. Grace has three suitors: Sir Charles Amesbury, who is fun but really old (older than the 36 year old Queen); Sir Gerald Worthy, the arrogant nephew of her guardian and stammering young Lord Robert Radcliffe of Worcester. Naturally, Grace plans to choose Lord Robert even if he can't get two words out and the gossips say he's broke. When one of the suitors ends up dead and another accused, Grace can't let an innocent man hang. She's given permission by the Queen to make discreet inquiries and stumbles upon mystery after mystery. She hopes she can solve the case before it's too late. Grace chronicles all her adventures in her daybooke. This story is chock full of period details of life in the Elizabethan court and some of them are not pretty.  I like the inclusion of lower class characters and the cultural practices surrounding death. Grace is a spunky, fun heroine, but she doesn't seem very realistic for the period. She's a tomboy who is more at home climbing trees than curtseying. That I don't mind but she has some very modern thoughts about love and marriage and sometimes about class consciousness and court etiquette. This part of her character doesn't ring true. She seems like a modern girl plunked down in the Elizabethan era. The mysteries are not too difficult to figure out. I was way ahead of Grace in what and who. I didn't figure out why though. That came as a bit of a surprise. This series is best suited for the target age range (9-12). The mystery is too simple for adults.Fashion history fanatics will love the descriptions of the sumptuous outfits worn by the court ladies. I enjoyed learning how a woman got dressed and all the layers of clothing worn. I needed to consult the dictionary in the back to know exactly what each piece was. The book could have used some illustrations to show the reader the clothing.

Betrayal  (Lady Grace Mysteries 2) by Lady Grace Cavendish -- Middle Grades Historical Mystery

Lady Grace is back. This time the Queen is on summer progress and the Maids of Honour are along too. There's a new maid, the lovely Lady Jane Coningsby who immediately becomes the rival of the beautiful Lady Sarah Bartelmy.  They vie for the attention of the handsome Captain Francis Drake (still an unknown, not yet knighted) and his friend Captain Hugh Derby. When Lady Sarah doesn't return home, Grace is worried. She discovers evidence that Lady Sarah has eloped with Captain Drake! Her reputation will be ruined if word gets out so Grace sets off to discover Lady Sarah's whereabouts. She uncovers alarming evidence that Lady Sarah may not have gone willingly and soon Lady Grace, disguised as a boy, and Masou are on board Drake's ship posing as ship's boys and searching for Sarah. They must find her before something drastic happens and she loses her reputation for good. This story is downright silly. I'm Ok with gender-bending stories a la Shakespeare but this one was downright stupid. Grace acts without thinking and gets herself into a lot of trouble. The story hints at what may happen to Sarah without outright saying anything the target age group may be confused or disturbed by. As an adult, I can easily imagine what Sarah's fate may be. The mystery wasn't much of a surprise. I guessed it right away. The conclusion came as a bit of a fun surprise and made me like Lady Sarah a lot more. The details of life on board a ship are really realistic and very gross. I needed the dictionary to understand all the nautical terms. There are much better, similar stories for younger readers and I didn't really care for this one much. This series seems best suited for 9-12 year olds and not for teen or adult readers. I don't plan to track down the rest.

The e-edition of this two-in-one volume is free from any errors. It looks just like a print hardcover book.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What I Read This Week

What I Read This Week . . .

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy

Briar, Rosethorn and Evvy have been traveling in the kingdom of Gyongxe, a kingdom high in the mountains were people come to built temples to be closer to the gods. While Evvy practices her magic and learns about ancient shaman magic, Rosethorn is suffering from the altitude and homesickness. Briar can't wait to get his teacher back home where she will be healthy and he can be with his plants. Before they begin their final journey home they receive an invitation from the Emperor of Yanjing to come view his gardens. Rosethorn and Evvy chafe at the restrictions placed on women but Rosethorn feels it will all be worth it once she sees the famous gardens. Behind the beautiful facade of court life, the travelers discover there is a darker side to the Emperor. Evvy befriends a slave, Parahan, a captive prince from a nearby kingdom. Just as the travelers leave Yanjing, Evvy reveals startling news: the Emperor plans to attack Gyongxe. Rosethorn is sworn to defend the First Temple of the Living Circle and she must warn her friends. Briar won't leave without his beloved teacher and Evvy feels the need to stay too. Rosethorn is given a difficult and dangerous task while Briar and Evvy must use their magic to defend their friends. This story is much darker and violent than I remember the previous Emelan novels being. It's more mature in tone and definitely for older readers. The violence is frightening and some really horrific things happen in the novel. I was a bit put off by all the violence and it took me a few nights to get through the book. I wanted to know what happened but it was a difficult read. I knew the outcome since I read Will of the Empress and Melting Stones. As usual, the characters' relationships with each other provide much needed humor. I love Evvy and her cats. This story also contains more overt sensuality and sexuality than previous novels. I was surprised by something that happened in the plot and it seemed to come out of nowhere. What Tamora Pierce really excels at is world building. I could easily imagine a world like ancient Asia, high in the Himalayas. The magic building is really strong but I don't care for Evvy's stone magic and a lot of what happens in this story is just too hard to believe. It's more fantasy than the previous novels (except Melting Stones). I also didn't like how the story jumped around from Briar to Rosethorn and Evvy. I feel like Evvy was the most developed of the three and I really felt for her. We already know Briar and Rosethorn so I guess it makes sense to develop Evvy the most but I felt like there needed to be something more there. The story stands on it's own somewhat but it's best if you know the characters and the world. I feel like the world of Emelan is just not a good fit for my interests. It started off nicely with the whole ambient magic thing but the magic has gotten crazy and way too out there for me. This isn't my favorite Tamora Pierce novel but it's not my least favorite. 

Roast Beef Medium: The Business Adventures of Emma McChesney by Edna Ferber -- Classic Fiction

 First written in 1911, this book is a series of adventures and misadventures in the life of Emma McChesney, a traveling petticoat saleswoman. Emma is a 35-year-old divorced mother of a 17 year old son. Though Emma sometimes wearies of life on the road, she loves her job and the thrill of making a sale and beating her competitors. She's well liked and respected by everyone, including her boss and her biggest rival. Emma is determined to give her boy every advantage which sometimes doesn't work out as she had planned. Emma takes no nonsense from anyone and she lacks any romantic illusions about life. She's a been there, done that, decided against it type of person. Roast beef, medium, is her philosophy in life. I liked Emma's toughness. She has moxie and can handle anything that comes her way. Sometimes she gets depressed and it doesn't seem to fit her character. She's usually very accepting of whatever is happening in her life. She's a bit too obsessed with her son, in my opinion. She lives for her boy and doesn't allow him to grow up. The chapters are episodic so you can pick the book up and put it down and read it again when you have time. The end of the story surprised me a lot. The illustrations really help the modern reader envision the fashions of the day. I liked the book well enough. Some parts were a bit too dated in attitude (there's some antisemitic language) to be relevant today but I think modern career women will identify with Emma. The writing style is quick and easy to read but didn't make me want to rush out and read more of Edna Ferber's writing. I recommend this book to those who love early 1900s fashions! I loved the descriptions of the changing fashions. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

What I've Read Recently Part II

What I've Read Recently Part II

The Best Intentions (Country House Party #2) by Candice Hern -- Regency Romance

Miles Strickland, the Earl of Prescott is furious with his sister Winifred. Winifred has written to inform her brother that she will be arriving for a month-long visit with two female cousins in tow: one a girl just out of the school room and the other her older, widowed sister. Miles can see through his sister's matchmaking plot and he has no intentions of marrying a young girl whose thoughts of matrimony undoubtedly include love and romance. Miles is done with all that. He buried his heart with his wife two years ago. If it weren't for his two young daughters and his need for an heir, Miles wouldn't even consider marriage. Hananh Fairbanks, a nineteen year old bluestocking, also has no interest in marriage. She would much rather study ancient architecture than attend a country house party with an eligible earl. Her sister Charlotte has other ideas. Charlotte, a young widow, has every intention of capturing the Earl and introducing her hoydenish sister into Society. However, as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men... Hannah, determined to be herself, rebels against her sister's strict ladylike rules with very unexpected results.

This story is a must-read for Georgette Heyer fans. It's a true comedy of manners with well-drawn characters and a lively, entertaining plot. Miles is the perfect hero. He's rich, handsome, charming, a devoted dad, landlord and brother. What's not to love? Charlotte is an interesting character. I didn't really like her methods but yet I feel bad for her being a young widow in a society that isn't kind to women. I wish she had been fleshed out a bit more. The story is told primarily from the points-of-view of Hannah and Miles. It never gets inside Charlotte's head though from Hannah's thoughts we gain an understanding of what Charlotte is really like. Hannah is one of the best heroines I've come across. I was a bit nervous because she's so young but she's a very appealing heroine. I love that she studies ancient architecture and her passion and enthusiasm for the subject is almost catching. At any rate it provides some of the funniest moments in the book. I especially like that she's forthright and determined to be true to herself. Though I think she's a bit young to be married, I really enjoyed her story and found the romance believable. The plot made me giggle in many places, especially when Hannah forgot to act like a lady. The climactic moment had me breathless and amused at the same time. Hannah is just so much fun, you can't help falling in love with her. There's very little sensuality in this book and the romance is light and  clean. I haven't read A Garden Folly but this book stands on it's own because the events of the previous spring were explained. This book is almost one for the keeper shelf, but I will pass it along to someone else to enjoy. 

Expectations of Happiness by Rebecca Ann Collins -- Austenesque/ Sense & Sensibility Sequel

Seven years after Sense and Sensibility comes to an end, Elinor and Edward Ferrars are happily married with young sons, Margaret is a bluestocking and teaches at a young ladies' seminary and Marianne is a desperate housewife. Colonel Brandon is often gone to his estates in Ireland or to rescue Eliza from some new trouble or other and Marianne is bored. When Elinor discovers that Willoughby is back in the area and without his wife, she worries about her sister. Marianne makes some new friends who bring her into contact with Willoughby. She feels she's a little older and wiser now than she was but is thrilled to find someone who shares her interest in history and literature. Will she succumb to his charms once again? Elinor seems to think so and dreads a scandal. Meanwhile Margaret has the chance to go on a trip of a lifetime to France with a good friend. They're met by two young gentlemen who escort the ladies around. Margaret experiences love and heartache for the first time with one of her traveling companions. Mrs. Dashwood is experiencing changes of her own. When Lady Middleton dies unexpectedly, Mrs. Dashwood is called upon to run the household and finds she enjoys it very much. This book is supposed to be a sequel to Sense and Sensibility, but I didn't find the characters were very true to the original. Elinor becomes a worry-wort and imagines doom and gloom wherever she goes. She's always wringing her hands and weeping. I found her intensely annoying and lacking the sense she has in the original. Marianne resembles someone from a television soap opera. She was so forthright and open when she was younger, I don't know why she doesn't just talk to Colonel Brandon. She's a bit more mature than she was seven years ago but not a whole lot. I am not a fan of this sort of domestic drama plot. Margaret is a bluestocking and far too modern for the period. I'm not certain there were schools of that sort yet at that time, let alone ones that would employ such liberal ladies. The big question for her is: is she willing to risk everything for true love? I have mixed feelings about her love affair. On one hand, it's sweet and tender but on the other, it's weird and creepy. If you like brooding heroes and melodrama a la Jane Eyre, you might enjoy this romance. The romance is essentially clean but certain things are implied and referenced. I wanted to love Margaret for standing up for her beliefs but some of her decisions are just too unconventional for the period. I can't imagine there wouldn't be fallout or that Elinor wouldn't lecture. Mrs. Dashwood's subplot is essentially pointless and very predictable. She's the only character who matures and becomes more sensible. I liked the author's writing style though and how her gentle tone echoes Jane Austen without copying the period language exactly. I wouldn't recommend this sequel to Jane Austen lovers but as a stand alone novel it's not too bad.

Darcy and Anne: It Is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That Lady Catherine Will Never Find a Husband for Anne by Judith Brocklehurst -- Austenesque 
 When Mr. Darcy takes Elizabeth Bennet to be his wife, his formidable aunt Lady Catherine deBurgh refuses to speak to him ever again. That promises lasts only a few short months. Unable to find a husband for her daughter Anne in their limited country society, Lady Catherine is determined that Darcy and Elizabeth be responsible for finding a husband for Anne. During the journey calamity strikes and Lady Catherine is stuck ill and injured. Anne must make decisions for herself for the first time in her life, including heading to the spa town of Burley where Lady Catherine can get a doctor. The kind doctor notices Anne's poor health and understands the cause. He takes away her medications, removing Anne's last claim to being unable to do anything for herself. She writes to the Darcy cousins to be rescued but in the meantime she makes the acquaintance of the Caldwells, a kind family who knew Anne's father. Edmund Caldwell encourages Anne to think about the wider world and important social issues. Anne finds herself disagreeing with her mother's opinion! Just as she begins to know the Caldwells, Anne is whisked away to Pemberley where she is immediately accepted into the family fold. She finds love and acceptance with her Pemberley family and even finds love. Alas, her suitor is ineligible in her mother's eyes and as Lady Catherine recovers, it's clear she's lost none of her overbearing, haughty ways. Can Anne learn to stand on her own two feet? Does she have the courage to defy her mother and what will happen if she does? The title of the story is very misleading. The story is all about Anne and her coming into her own. Darcy plays a minor role and he's happily married to Elizabeth. I really liked the character development. It seems plausible that away from her mother Anne might thrive, especially in a kind and loving environment. I liked watching her bloom and I think any young girl leaving home for the first time can easily relate.The other characters behave true to how they are portrayed in Pride and Prejudice, except Darcy. Darcy has learned to laugh and tease very quickly! The Bennets make appearances and are still the same annoying family as ever. Colonel Fitzwilliam appears briefly and has a surprising plot of his own. I didn't quite like his plot and didn't find it really believable. Lady Catherine, is of course the most true to the original or perhaps even more snobby than ever.  The romantic plot was sweet and somewhat predictable though I never could have guessed what Lady Catherine does to stand in the way of her daughter's happiness. There were many entanglements in the plot that left me wondering what would happen next. As such, the last quarter of the novel was very rushed and that was where the actual plot kicked in. It could have stood some more development instead of just telling us what happened. This story is written in a tone similar to Jane Austen though the writing is nowhere near as polished or witty. The romance is clean and sweet. This is a cute sequel to Pride and Prejudice and worth a read if you want to know what may have happened to Anne. The Kindle edition has a lot of problems with spacing that made it difficult to read at some points. Find a copy of the print edition instead. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What I've Read Recently part I

What I've Read Recently Part I . . .

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Atkins -- Non-Fiction

Jane Austen's England covers life in the Georgian era from birth to death. The authors use letters, diaries and other period sources to describe how the common people REALLY lived. Far from the genteel world of the drawing rooms of Jane Austen's novels, the England portrayed in this novel is dark, dirty, diseased and at times crude. The authors nicely balance "period drama" world that we love to romanticize with the world of the common people. They cover the lives of the gentry and the aristocrats but also explain the difficulties of trying to survive as a common working man or woman. The chapters cover everything from etiquette, advice and fashion to disease and death. I especially liked the extensive quotes from period sources to show that the authors did their own original research. At times this book was really slow and relied on quotes that were far too long. I knew a lot of this information already from reading other books about Jane Austen's life and times and also from blogs. I do feel I learned a lot though. The language is fairly accessible to non-scholars but the use of primary sources may be daunting to some. I would recommend this book to those who have a serious interest in learning more about Georgian England.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition by Jane Austen, edited by David M. Shapard

 The Annotated Pride and Prejudice: A Revised and Expanded Edition
by Jane Austen,edited by David M. Shapard contains the original text of the novel and on the facing page, explanations on the text. Included throughout are period illustrations, many of which have nothing to do with the story. There is also a chronology, maps, and a bibliography. Clocking in at over 700 pages, it's a difficult task to read all the annotations. I felt like many of the annotations were unnecessary. The reader can figure out the meaning from the context. I also skipped a lot of the annotations explaining different types of carriages, clothing, etc. and things I already knew. What I really liked was the explanation of etiquette. Because there's so much to keep track of I have a hard time remembering everything, but here it's in context so it's easier to remember. I also liked that the annotations forced me to reevaluate my thoughts on the novel. I had to look more carefully at the characters and their words and motivations. I didn't interpret everything the same way as the editor but it was interesting to read his take on it and review my own thoughts. I found myself not liking the Bennets very much - not even Lizzy. In contrast, I liked Darcy more than ever before. I don't really know why except that the interpretation made me see the characters in a new light. Mr. Bennet is a terrible father when previously I thought he was funny and not so bad as Mr. Darcy makes him out to be. I loved Lizzy before and thought she was witty and now I think she's a bit more rude than I had realized and she tends to always make light of situations like her father. I admire her for her outspokenness and willingness to stick to what she feels is right.

The illustrations are nice to have but some don't have any relevance to the story. This paperback edition only has black and white illustrations. The maps are not very detailed but help provide a frame of reference.

If you are reading this novel for the first time, especially for a class, I would recommend this edition. If you're an experienced scholar who has studied Jane Austen's life and times, you won't really need this much explanation.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bath: Other Sites of Interest

Bath: Other Sites of Interest

While I spent as much time as I could walking Georgian and Regency Bath, there were a few other sites of interest I visited that you might be interested in reading about.

The Roman Baths

The Romans founded the town and temple complex known as Aquae Sulis around AD 63. Near here, was a large natural hot spring shrine of the Celtic Brythons, dedicated to their goddess, Sulis. The Romans built an extensive bath and temple complex around the hot springs. The Roman complex was discovered in the late 19th century and has been on display to visitors ever since. There is now a museum with many of the ancient artifacts which have been discovered over the years and displays that shed light on the history of the baths, explain the significance and put the baths in context.

The original Roman spring was a sacred site. Worshipers of the goddess dropped offerings into the spring. By the 6th century, the temple and baths had fallen into disuse and collapsed. Water levels rose. In the 12th century the site was named King's Bath after Henry I. It was used as a curative bath. In the 17th century the statue of Bladud and balustrade were added. The 18th century pump room is above.  The ledge around the spring is all that remains of the King's Bath floor.

The great bath. Since it's now open to the elements, algae has built up given the water a green tinge but since the Roman baths were covered, the water would have been clean.

Parade Gardens 
The Parade Gardens is a lovely park on the site of the Lower Assembly rooms. You have to pay a (small) admission fee, but it's worth the price. There are beautiful flower and herb displays, a gorgeous view of the river Avon and a lovely little tea shop where you can take tea in the gardens. 

Mineral Water Hospital 

The Royal Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases opened in 1742 for relief from Rheumatic Disease among the “Beggars of Bath.” Patients were bathed in the mineral waters in hopes of curing their diseases. Queen Victoria gave the hospital Royal status. Inside the chapel is a small exhibit showcasing the history of the hospital. When the volunteer learned I’m a librarian, she showed me their old record books dating back to the 1740s! They treated men, women and children which was unusual at the time. They treated not only rheumatic diseases but also skin diseases. A lot of travelers came in from the colonies. Many of them had diseases like scurvy or scabies that they didn’t understand back then. Also on display is a wheeled Bath Chair. It was a wooden black cylindrical box used to carry people around the city. The bath chairs that went to the hospital had a special bulge for the knees for the patients. They had some instruments from the 20th century used to operate on patients and metal things used for joint replacements. They also had a portable X-Ray machine from the 1940s. The old lady told me that X-Ray machines date back to around WWI. Her ancestor was an American doctor from Texas and he fought to join the British Army as a doctor before the U.S. entered the war. He went out to France with his portable X-Ray machine to treat injured soldiers. He was killed just before the war ended. His hometown in Texas honors him each year with his own day. They hope to add more information and artifacts as they discover things in their archive. It's a working hospital, so if you visit, be respectful.

Sally Lunn House

The legend states that “a young Huguenot refugee – Solange Luyon (Sally Lunn) – came to Bath in 1680 after escaping persecution in France. She found work in the kitchen of the bakery in the street known in those days as Lilliput Alley, and originally sold the baker’s wares from a basket in the lanes around Bath Abbey. “ She brought with her a recipe for a brioche bun similar to the French festival breads. The recipe is a secret. You get half a bun toasted with the topping or meal of your choice. I ordered a bun with cinnamon butter. The bun comes topped with an orange slice. I wish I had the recipe because the buns are really good!
There's also a kitchen museum in the basement. The building that exists now dates back to 1480 and claims to be the oldest house in Bath. In the kitchen museum in the basement you can see the floor level from Roman to medieval times to modern. Their website says “Seven separate floor levels have been discovered, each containing bone pottery debris. A prize exhibit is part of a fine green glazed face Jug made at Laverstock, near Salisbury. The lowest floor level can be dated to around 1150 and rests on rubble containing rich pink burnt stone from the fire of 1137.” They also show Sally Lunn cooking in her Georgian kitchen.

Bath is a really nice little city. It's beautiful, clean and very walkable (if you can walk up and down hills). There's so much to see and so, you really need to spend a few days to a week exploring and shopping. Though I was there for a few days, I could have used a few more days to explore. The people were all friendly and willing to help. I liked being called "madam" as if I were a grand lady in Jane Austen's time. I would love to go back again some day. 


Walking in Jane Austen's Footsteps Part II

Walking in Jane Austen's Footsteps Part II

A few things of note from my trip to Bath that you might be interested in. Click the album to view the larger photos and captions.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jane Austen festival Day 6

Jane Austen festival Day 6
A Jane Austen Pilgrimage

We drove out to the country via Salisbury Plain. We saw a white chalk horse on the cliff. This one only dates to 1800 or so but Jane Austen would have seen it on her journey to Bath. We passed by bronze age hill forts and iron age burial mounds. They were simply amazing! 

At last we made it to Hampshire. We approached Steventon the village where Jane Austen was born and passed by the spot where her family’s rectory was. Her brother had it torn down in the 1820s. It was very old. The well still stands with a danger sign. Then we drove up the road to St. Nicholas Church where Jane’s father was Rector. Then a couple in Regency dress stepped out! It was almost like a wedding or a movie!  The 12th century church was very cold and damp. I can’t imagine sitting there every Sunday. It had memorial plaques to Jane Austen’s nephew and his descendants and other local families. They had some Jane Austen bookmarks and notecards for sale for a small donation to the church.

We walked down the road to see the spot where the house was. The ladies’ skirts were dragging on the ground and the lady who had come out of the church said the other night when it was raining, her petticoat really was 6 inches deep in mud!

The cars picked us up there and on to Chawton. I made the mistake of stopping for the introductory video. It didn’t tell me anything new. In case you don't know... when Jane Austen’s father died, he left the women virtually penniless. They were dependant on Jane’s brothers for income until finally, her second oldest brother Edward found them a cottage on one of his properties. He had been adopted by a wealthy family and inherited two estates. The bailiff’s cottage was renovated and in 1809 Jane, her sister Cassandra, their mother and their spinster friend Martha Lloyd moved in. Here Jane revised Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and the manuscript she called Susan (Northanger Abbey). She wrote Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion at her desk here. Supposedly there was a creaky door joint so she could put away her writing whenever she heard anyone coming but the story seems silly because it was an open secret that she was a writer. Jane loved being back in the country where she could walk around as her health permitted.
The cottage is tiny. It didn’t take long to go through it. Downstairs is a drawing room,  dining room, a reading room . In the vestibule there are prints of illustrations from the novels, portraits of the family members and in closed drawers you can see the topaz crosses Jane’s brother Charles brought back for his sisters and a lock of Jane’s hair, faded from it’s original auburn color. I had seen photos of them and it’s hard to believe I was seeing them in real life. The pictures don’t do justice to the beautiful crosses. Jane and Cassandra must have valued such exquisite gifts from their beloved brother. There’s a bedroom scene behind glass with a patchwork quilt made by Jane, Cassandra and their mother. Upstairs are several themed rooms with artifacts belonging to the family. There’s Jane and Cassandra’s bedroom (they always shared) with a replica bed similar to the ones made for Jane and Cassandra when they lived at Steventon. They have original watercolors by Cassandra and her sampler too. In the Austen Family Room there are toys and games that belonged to the family. I skimmed the Admirals’ Room not being much interested in Charles. There are a lot of reproduction dresses throughout the house and Anne Hathaway’s dress from Becoming Jane.

  I went out to check out the kitchen in a separate building. It’s set up as if someone has just left off cooking. You can make a lavender sachet to take home. The bakehouse in another building and is not set up as if someone still lives there. It houses Jane Austen’s donkey cart she rode in when she was ill. By this time it was pouring so I didn’t get to stroll the gardens or even walk down to the Manor House.

We drove down to the church to see where the two Cassandras are buried. 

Then last stop Winchester. They had a small panel exhibit on Jane Austen and we paid our respects in front of Jane’s grave and memorial window. 

Then I wandered off and while everyone else went in the crypt I finally got to go to a library. I saw the Winchester Bible which dates to the 12th century. This was really cool to see in real life. I took History of Books and Printing and it was awesome to actually see what I had studied. No pictures allowed. They also have a bunch of printed books made in the Cathedral. 

The Cathedral sells some pretty Jane Austen watercolor notecards that I hadn’t realized were done at the Cathedral and benefited the Cathedral choir or something like that. Jane Austen loved music and I think she would like that. 

Finally, to the house where Jane Austen died. It’s a private home but the guide read about her final hours from a biography while we stood in the pouring rain. It was a sad end to the day. They usually do the tour backwards so it’s not so sad.

As soon as we left Hampshire it stopped raining. We stopped at Beechan Cliff in the sunshine to admire the view once again.

This was my last day in England. I was so pleased to have been able to visit Jane Austen's home and see things I had read about and seen in photos. I really wanted to visit Chawton House, a rare books library and center for research on early women writers in English. There wasn't enough time and our guide was unaware that it was open for tours. I was also suffering from a miserable cold and was exhausted and wanted to go back to bed. My poor health ruined some of my enjoyment of what should have been an amazing day. I shall simply have to go back. I recommend visiting Chawton Cottage in the middle of the afternoon when it's less crowded and on a sunny day when you can stroll in the garden and walk along the country path as Jane would have done. It would make the perfect addition to a Jane Austen pilgrimage. 

I visited a few other spots of interest in Bath which I will write about in a separate post. I was so sad to have to leave. I enjoyed my trip very much and long to return to England when I can stay longer. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Jane Austen Festival Day Five - Part 2

Jane Austen Festival Day Five - Part 2


That evening (Wednesday September 18) I attended a performance of Two Bit Classics Pride and Prejudice - For 2 Actors

The play was in rehearsals and we got to see a workshop of some of the scenes. The actress is also the playwright and she was looking for feedback on her script. She tried to be faithful to the novel and not use anything Jane Austen didn’t write. The director wanted feedback on the action since there’s only two actors. The actor and actress play all the roles and the narrator. They don’t always play someone of their own gender but it worked. Someone pointed out that the clothing styles are very androgynous and that helps. We especially liked that the writer kept in the narration which is the funny parts. Someone commented that the film and TV people seem to think Jane Austen = serious literature and forget how witty she was. The director pointed out the advantage of live theater where you can get the narration. It was funny and the quick change characters flowed well once I got used to it. It wasn't too difficult to figure out who was speaking. Each character has a prop of some sort to help the audience better distinguish between two characters. Also, the actors' voices changed depending on which character they were speaking. Caroline Bingley sounds exactly how Caroline should sound - with a snobbish drawl and Mrs. Bennet speaks very quickly and is always popping something in her mouth. Mary Bennet is represented by her music stand and she's referred to but didn't speak in the scenes we saw. I wish we could have seen the whole thing. 

The play is a lot of fun and if you are able to catch it on tour or see it at next year's festival, I recommend it. I look forward to reading about the finished play.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jane Austen Festival Day Five - Part 1

Jane Austen Festival Day Five - Part 1

Carriage to Meryton


The carriage aka mini van took us up the hills and outside of Bath and on to the Cotswolds. We saw sheep grazing in the park on the way out of Bath. It looked very similar to what Jane Austen would have seen when she lived there. 

The Costswolds is the largest Area of Outstanding Beauty in Britain consisting of a high plateau and wooded valleys. Cot is an Anlgo-Saxon word for shelter like a cottage and Wold us a Saxon word for rolling hills. Before Jane Austen’s time this area was most open grazing land for sheep but in her lifetime the Enclosure Acts led to building dry-stone walls.

First stop: Castle Combe, a very tiny village. There’s not much here except a medieval church, a market cross and a manor house. This village was used in the movie War Horse.We walked along the street viewing the beautiful, quaint old buildings. This is how tourists envision England! The village looks like something out of a fairy tale or period drama with stone buildings, ivy covered doors and a tea shop in the center of town.

Next stop : Lacock! Lacock is best known to period drama fans. It was used as Meryton in Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Cranford. Lacock in Jane Austen’s time sat on one of the main roads from London to Bath. Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 by Ella, Countess of Salisbury. After Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539, the Abbey became a private home. Here Henry Fox Talbot invented photography in 1835. The whole village is owned by the National Trust and is a popular location for filming period movies and TV mini series like Pride and Prejudice 1995, Cranford, Emma 1996 and Harry Potter.

We started at the Manger Barn and followed the guide around town a bit. The guide pointed out the sites like High Street and the National Trust Shop used in Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth rode his horse along the street in the mini series. The Red Lion Pub was used in P&P as the Meryton Assembly Rooms exterior. It’s also used in Cranford as their new store, Johnson’s. The film crew added a bay window over the original ground floor windows. The Lacock Bakery was also used in Cranford. Miss Poole (Imelda Staunton) lived next door and a garden was built for her parrot to take regular airings. We stopped in the old Tithe barn to see an exhibit on the films and TV series filmed here.

I took a look around the Abbey grounds. It’s very pretty. The Abbey was used in the first three Harry Potter movies. I wanted to go to the Abbey to see where Harry Potter was filmed and see the Pride and Prejudice exhibit, but there wasn’t much time. I walked around the grounds and browsed the gift shop. They had a small exhibit on Henry Fox Talbot, the father of modern photography who took some of the first photographs out his window. I picked up a print of one of his photos for the photographer in my family.

Then on to the last stop: Corsham, a Cotswolds village. In Jane Austen’s time it was an important source of Bath stone. Corsham was the inspiration for Charles Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers; it is thought that he borrowed the name from Moses Pickwick, a coachman who was born in Pickwick, lived in the "Hare and Hounds" inn, and ran coaches between Bath and London. Corsham Court, a royal Saxon Manor House is here and has been part of Lord Methuen’s estate since 1745. Standing on a former Saxon Royal Manor, it is based on an Elizabethan manor home from 1582. The house has an extensive collection of Old Masters, rooms furnished by Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale, and parks landscaped by Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. The house is open to the public all year round excluding December and is famed locally for its peacocks, which sometimes freely wander about the streets.

On the way back we stopped at Beechan Cliff, a spot where Catherine Morland walks with Henry Tilney and gets a lecture on the picturesque. In the 18th century, wealthy British men went on a Grand Tour on Europe and much admired the villas and landscapes of Italy and France. When they came home, they hired landscape architects to copy what they had seen on the Grand Tour. Jane Austen was a country woman. She understood the beauty of the English countryside and poked fun at the picturesque craze in her novels. We could see the church where Jane Austen’s parents were married. It’s hard to imagine walking all the way up that steep hill even with stairs. It’s even harder to imagine climbing up there in a dress! The view is magnificent and worth the hike. It's so easy to see Bath as it was in the nineteenth century because not much as changed. Jane Austen loved the country but there's much to be said for Bath and the surrounding area.

I saw a lot of beautiful places this day. They would have been more beautiful in the sunlight but it wasn't raining so I'm grateful for that. The Cotswolds are the loveliest place I've ever seen in England and I'd love to visit more places there some day.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Jane Austen Festival Day Four

Honours of the Table

Mr. Adams the Butler


Mr. Adams, a butler in a stately home in 1812 traveled to 2013 to tell us all about setting the table and dining etiquette. Mr. Adams is employed by an older gentleman who likes things done a certain way and NOT the new French way. He noted the differences between setting the table in our time vs. his time and discussed the etiquette of dining. 

He showed us how to set the table: everything has to be symmetrical. There is one centerpiece and two of everything else. They put a lot of knick-knacks on their table like china shepherdesses and nymphs and other things like that. He says they so often pop up in antique shops in “your time” because they had so many of them in his time and two of every kind.  Then there are two candlesticks. Then you add the plates. If someone cancels or shows up unexpectedly it upsets the numbers of the symmetry of the table.

Blue Willow China was very popular and expensive. It had to be imported from Chinaduring the Georgian era. Then Josiah Spode figured out the process of underglaze blue transfer printing on earthenware in 1783-84. Now transferware is very popular and less expensive.

The cutlery is placed face down -  a tradition that goes back to when men wore lacy cuffs and didn’t want to ruin them by getting them caught on the cutlery. The forks had four tines. He  explained that it’s a myth that “two tines for George II, three for poor George III and four for George IV and later.” He said that’s nonsense and it all depended on the deepness of your pocketbook and how much you wanted to show off. It also had to do with mechanization. They also don’t have separate forks and spoons for every dish. That came later in the Victorian era.

Mr. Adams explained the politics of the wine served: We don’t drink French wine because we’re at war with France. We’re patriotic and drink Port from our old ally, Portugal.

When dinner is announced, the mistress of the house asks the lady first in rank to lead the way to the rest, and walk first into the room where the table is served, then every other woman follows according to rank, ending with the hostess. The same with the gentlemen. The mistress sits at the upper end of the table and the master at the lower end with those highest in rank closest to them. The new fashion is for promiscuous seating with ladies and gentlemen sitting alternately around the table. The best families would serve up two courses of a variety of dishes  spread over the table in a pleasing arrangement and would be set down at the beginning of the meal. The new fashion is for dining a la russe with the courses being served in the modern way. Dessert was the last course. If you dine alternating gentlemen and ladies it’s called promiscuous seating

The table is laid and the food is served. It’s impolite to reach across and grab what you want. You eat what is in front of you. If you are younger and more fashionable, you can ask for something to be passed to you. After the first course, the table was removed and the table reset on a green table cloth for the next course. Then that was removed and the table reset for the third course on the bare table. 

Then the ladies retired to the withdrawing room and the gentlemen stayed to drink more port. By this time, they had drunk so much they were pretty well to go. During dinner if you had to use the facilities, you got up and just went out to the hall where there was a chamber pot behind the screen. After dinner, the men could get up and go in the chamber pot concealed in the sideboard. However, sometimes they were too inebriated to walk so they sat around and passed the chamber pot around the table! Sometimes they missed and watered their neighbor. There was a code phrase they used when that happened… It fell to the servants to clean up the mess. While the ladies sipped tea, the gentlemen got drunk and looked at naughty books. In the drawing room the ladies passed around a bourdeloue which looks like a gravy boat. The ladies wore split crotch drawers to make it easier. 

Mr. Adams was very entertaining. He was not a stately butler like Carson in Downton Abbey. Mr. Adams is a real character. His talk was laced with a lot of humor and audience participation. Everyone laughed and squealed "ew" at the description of what happens after dinner! It was such a different time period. They didn't have the same concept of privacy that we do and would probably find us very puritanical in that respect. It was a great talk and if you should happen to have the opportunity to meet Mr. Adams, I highly recommend doing so.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms, Bath

Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms, Bath

My next stop on my Jane Austen tour was a detour to visit the Fashion Museum. The Fashion Museum is AMAZING! They have a collection of popular dresses from the 1680s to modern times. 

The main room showcases 50 Fabulous Frocks from the museum's collection. I focused my attention on the 18th and 19th century dresses. They have some amazing Georgian dresses embroidered in gold and silver thread. I especially liked the Impressionist Era purple sprigged dress. 

They also have a display of 17th century gloves which are on loan to the museum. Each glove was a piece of art and no two are exactly alike.

Then they have a historic dress collection set up to show their archives. Each room showcases a different decade of the 19th century showing off not only the dresses, accessories and hats but also the archival storage methods. The audio tour went into more detail about what was popular when and with quotes from popular novels of the day. I really liked this section because my nerdy archivist self loves seeing behind-the-scenes how things are stored. I also loved seeing the dresses and accessories on display. The muslin dresses are to die for gorgeous. So dainty and delicate.

They had Queen Victoria’s mourning dress from the 1880s when she was elderly. She was about as wide as she was tall, poor dear, I can relate. She set the fashion for black dresses.

They have a dress-up area and I tried on a Victorian corset and crinoline. The corset was SO tight. I could hardly breathe. It does give you a cute little waist though. The crinoline was heavy! It was impossible to put the dress on over the crinoline so I removed it and tried the dress on. It was too big and the waist was in the wrong spot to be flattering. They didn't have another dress closer to my size. Like good Queen Victoria, I'm short but not willowy.

The Assembly Rooms are in the same building. These were known as the Upper Rooms in Jane Austen's time. This is where Catherine Morland goes her first night out in Bath and sits around without a partner all evening. The rooms must have looked amazing in candlelight but been very hot and stuffy with everyone crammed into small spaces. I looked at their computer guide to learn more about the Assembly Rooms. The Assembly Rooms were bombed during WWII and have been reconstructed. They’re just as beautiful now as they must have been in Jane Austen's time. Take a look at their website to learn more and do a virtual tour. Imagine you're Catherine Morland searching for a dance partner or Anne Elliot come to a concert in the tea room. It's so easy to do standing there.