The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf


For a month I have been devouring The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. It tells the story of scientist Alexander von Humboldt’s love for science and nature, describing in exciting detail all the countries that he visited and all of his achievements.

I carried it down to South America intending to read it on the plane, but sleep prevented that. Then I brought it back home to the US, where it sat on the bedside table of my aunt’s house in Virginia for three weeks while I hung out with my cousins.

So many distractions emerged that I was not able to get to it until June, and it gripped me at once. Including compelling sketches and visuals of his journeys, it made me somewhat nostalgic for a time when there was more to discover.

Von Humboldt was in love with science, and had a level of concentration for his projects that I envy. After a tour of South America, he spent every free moment writing an account of his journey and discoveries that spanned several books, which I intend to read at some point.

Science has never been one of my fortes, but as I read The Invention of Nature I wondered whether that may have been different if I’d learned hands-on like he did. I found myself itching to dig in the ground with him for an interesting beetle, or to scale mountains that strike awe in me today.

His love for nature might be strong as my love for literature. What I feel is a physical need to always have a book with me; what he felt was a physical need to discover the truth of the world. They’re different subjects, but the passion is similar, and isn’t truth still truth, whether it is in the pages of a book?

Some of the things von Humboldt did make me smile, like when he promised the Empress Alexandra that he would find her diamonds in the Russian mines, and showed up with dozens of them.

He rightly believed slavery to be immoral, and spent his entire life as an abolitionist. While he got along well with American presidents, he constantly lamented that, at the time, it did not seem that slavery would be abolished.

There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

Alexander von Humboldt

Von Humboldt wrote tirelessly on the broad subjects of nature and science, until he became too old to travel anymore. At this point, heartbreakingly, he began to forget what he himself had said.

Nonetheless, he became a hero, and the world mourned when he died. He had become the trusted voice on science; he inspired who we consider to be the greats of nature writing, like Darwin and John Muir.

I love books about historical figures, and I am grateful that this one exists. More people should know about Alexander von Humboldt and all the things he did to contribute to our knowledge today.

Until recently, I didn’t have a “favorite” genre when it came to books; this past year, I’ve discovered that, aside from the classics, I most enjoy history and historical fiction. I want to read about figures that changed the world, even finding obscure heroes that should be known. Perhaps it stems from an innate desire to someday, somehow, change the world myself.

My focus has therefore shifted to history as well as fantasy, and I’m eager to explore these two genres. Fantasy makes me dream; history makes me grateful– or, in certain situations, humbles me.

I recommend The Invention of Nature because I think more people should love their work in the way hat von Humboldt did. He was the very first person to see many remarkable things that we take for granted today.

Though it might seem as if everything in the world has been discovered, there is always some marvelous thing that needs to be seen for the first time, if not by the world, than by the person looking.

Do you have a historical hero that you think should come to light? Give me history book recommendations; I beg you, I can’t get enough of it!

To Whom It May Concern


Let it be said of me
That my words waded
Where the waves
Devour,

Intent on saving you
For a new Day,
For it was not
Your Hour.

I don’t believe
I will meet you;
I shall not Know
Who you are,

Yet my words,
Relentless, found you,
Be it near or far.

For those who found my work long aft I’ve faded like a flower,

I hope you found a verse or two, to last another hour.

xx

5 Books Set In Paris (Part 1)


Before I had the opportunity to visit Paris with my wonderful mom and brother last year, I had a theory. I told myself that, if I found and read enough books set in Paris, I could pretend I had been there before.

With each book that I read set in Paris, I believed that the street names and locations would become more familiar; I could create a sort of map in my head of the City of Light.

Can Books Replace Reality?

The map was not accurate, though, for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • You can only experience a city in a novel to a certain point. Different authors reflect different versions of themselves in their stories. Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens are not going to paint the same version of Paris.
  • The books that I read were set in different time periods. We have WWII-era Paris with airplanes and bombs; then we have Emile Zola’s novels, where marketplaces were described in minute, fascinating detail. This is not a bad thing: It means the city has many faces, and through books, we can see them all.
  • The struggles of the characters change the flavor of Paris. Is the character happy living there, or are they trying to escape? Are they grieving a death or celebrating a marriage? This is the joy of literature.

While I did not create an accurate present-day map of Paris, I still benefited from my collection of books set in France. I felt connected enough with the city to satisfy my inner traveler until the day I made it there. Then I was blessed to see Paris with my own eyes; thanks Mom!

I know there are more books set in Paris and I am still woefully underread as far as the lists go. I have not yet read bestsellers such as The Nightingale or The Lost Girls of Paris; I do plan to read them eventually.

Here are five books I did read and enjoy.

1- Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

Edward Rutherfurd writes novels in which the main characters are cities, rather than people. I have only read one to this day, Paris, a sprawling 800-page glimpse into Paris that covers different time periods. My favorite scenes were those written during the construction of the Eiffel Tower. I enjoyed seeing the city as she grew into what she is now.

2- The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

This was a beautiful and heartbreaking fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Hadley. It features legends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. Imagine becoming such a famous author that you’re a character in someone else’s book. I hope if that happens to me one day, I’ll be an interesting one!

3- Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

For fans of YA fiction, Anna and the French Kiss simply has to be on this list. I like that it showed Paris from a student’s point of view; Anna is going through different life changes. At the time when I read it, her angst was more relatable. The story is simply lovely.

4- The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

If you need a reason to give this delightful novel a try, here’s an excerpt from the blurb on the back:

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

5- Moonlight Over Paris by Jennifer Robson

Okay, here I’m cheating. I read Moonlight Over Paris after my visit to that delightful city, but it was still an enchanting read. It’s apparently part of a series, so I will keep an eye out for the others in that series: I found this third installment in a secondhand bookshop.

Books & Travel

While reading didn’t really take me to Paris as it is now, I can’t deny that reading takes you on an adventure. I met Hadley Hemingway and explored the marketplace of La Halle in The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola (who wrote more books set in those remote parts of the city; he loved it dearly.)

Do you have any suggestions for books set in France? Perhaps you have a favorite that isn’t listed here? I would love to know. Leave a comment and I’ll check it out!

A PROVISION FOR LOVE by Heather Chapman


It has been a long while since I read a book that warmed my heart as much as this one did. A Provision for Love by Heather Chapman was too short, in my opinion. This might be a good thing; in many cases, the short books are more potent, finding their places in your heart more easily.

Ivy’s grandmother has written for her a list of qualities to seek in a potential husband; this list includes traits that mean a man isn’t worth Ivy’s time. The list is written in a poetic form, and in some places borders on absurdity, but it was fun watching as Ivy sized up her possible suitors according to the advice that her grandmother had given—and watching Grandmother have fun as she watched the process unfold.

I was satisfied with the ending; I don’t think Ivy’s choice could have been more perfect. The list worked; it led her to a worthy gentleman—or rather, opened her eyes to the gentleman who had been standing in front of her the entire time. I know I will be reading this delightful little book again.

Nine Ladies Dancing: Clinging to Youth


It’s frightening to grow up. Taking on responsibilities, leaving old habits behind, speaking of childhood in the past tense—it’s no wonder so many people take their time, whether or not they realize it. The world is a scary place, after all.

I believe this message was the strongest theme for Nine Ladies Dancing, the fourth novella in the Belles of Christmas collection, which I have been enjoying thoroughly.

Add to my above list the future inheritance of a grand estate and title. It’s no wonder the male protagonist, Matthew, has not yet grown up, seeking comfort in the things that make him feel free…such as horses. His parents have noticed, though, that he isn’t getting any younger, and neither are they.

With this in mind, his mother strikes a deal with him: he must get to know nine ladies before Twelfthnight. If he does not fall in love with any of them, she will finally stop telling him what to do with his life. To make the deal sweeter, his father promises him a new horse if he doesn’t fall for any of them.

As a reader, I laughed quite a bit at the horse detail. He prefers a horse to true love! But, back to the review.

It sounds easy to not fall in love, so Matthew accepts the deal with his mother. The catch, which he does not realize until several embarrassing incidents later, is that he was already in love…but with the last person he could have imagined. Meg does love him, though, and puts up an admirable fight.

Too bad he’s so obsessed with the new horse that, eventually, Meg gives up. When Meg gives up fighting for him—well, something doesn’t feel quite right with his head…or is it his heart?…he cannot decide. Suddenly, though, he’s far more interested in her and what she’s doing—and the gentlemen she’s talking to.

Eventually, the horse is no longer so enticing.

My heart ached many times over the course of this book for Meg and for silly Matthew. It’s a well known truth that you do not know what you have until you lose it; however, this book has a happy ending, which soothed that ache. Matthew finally does grow up.

I waited eagerly for this book to release, and finished it in a day. All of the novellas in this collection have me enchanted, and I’ll be sad when there are no more. Also, I think the cover for Nine Ladies Dancing is the most beautiful of the five. However, they all make me dream.

I’m already reading the final novella, A Duke for Lady Eve. Thankfully, there are more sweet Regency novels from these authors, and I won’t have to say good-bye to the magic that is in this collection. I am so glad to have found it; every book was worth the read!

Strength in Song: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir


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Two words describe The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir–heartbreaking and hopeful.

I liked the way it was written, a first person novel following the points of view of several members of an exclusively female choir. While the notion might not seem unusual now, it was previously unheard of in the book, and only formed because all of the men in the choir had gone off to war.

This choir unites the young and old, the foreign and the native, in a delightful example of how diversity can create the best music. This is, after all, what happened during WWII: people who wouldn’t have met otherwise were side-by-side in the struggle to survive, mentally and spiritually.

The ladies in this choir bond through their music. It can be seen in their letters and journal entries that, in the most desperate times, they are stronger when they come together. I think it is true that all of us are stronger when doing something we love with people we love.

Since these ladies are in different phases of life, we see the world through different lenses. We have the innocent perspective of fourteen-year-old Kitty, as well as her sister, Venetia, who is in the bud of womanhood, discovering new things. There is Silvie, a Jewish girl who is staying with them because her country is under attack. I thought it fascinating that, though Silvie’s journal entries were few and short, she was more alert.

This book shows how no woman sees the world in the same way, but friendship wins even in the midst of war. If war can bring about such growth in people so different, imagine what we could do if we would set aside our differences in times of peace!

The war inspired many stories, but The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is one I will remember because of the different colors each woman contributed; I will let it remind me that there is only so much we can do alone.

I will cherish this book, and hope that I can be strong as them, when adversity comes.

Q&A With Author Ashtyn Newbold


The Belles of Christmas collection has been the highlight of the season for me. Each novella is short and sweet enough to make the wait for Christmas Day more bearable! No two are the same, though they share similar elements–like handsome gentlemen, sweet dances, and the Happily Ever After!

Last week I got to interview author Martha Keyes, who wrote Goodwill for the Gentleman (read my review here!); this week, I interviewed Ashtyn Newbold, whose story The Earl’s Mistletoe Match (my review here!) played with my emotions in all the right ways.

Follow her on Instagram and on Facebook!


1- Where did you get the idea for The Earl’s Mistletoe Match?

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is part of a multi-author series. Martha Keyes came to me with the idea for the series this summer, and it sounded so fun, that I had to join! The five of us authors collaborated on the idea to link our stories together by putting our characters all at the same masquerade ball at the beginning of each book. As I brainstormed my story, I wanted to play up the mistaken identity aspect that could come from a ball like that. I loved the idea of using mistletoe as well. The ideas came together and developed slowly as I came up with a title, my cover, and characters.

2- Do you believe in happily ever after?

Of course! I’ve been a hopeless romantic ever since I was a young teen, reading all the sweet romance books and watching all the cute romantic comedies. I’m a believer that books and movies should have that HEA, and that it can happen in real life too. Happily ever after encompasses so much more than romance though, and a theme I always try to put in my stories is that happiness is also a choice. No matter what life gives us, if we are always wanting or waiting for something more, we might miss out on the happily ever after we already have.

3- Do you have a Christmas tradition or memory you would like to share with readers?

I spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house every year, where we have soup for dinner, sing Christmas songs, exchange gifts, and watch the younger grandkids act out the nativity. For as long as I can remember, this has been how my family spends Christmas Eve, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Q&A With Author Martha Keyes


img_4797Goodwill for the Gentleman is one of the warmest stories I’ve read this year. If you want to know why, check out my review here. It is an amazing joy to have contacted the author, Martha Keyes, with questions about this charming Christmas story that had me believing in happy endings again.

I believe that speaking with the author and seeing their view of the world adds depth to a story, and the answers to these questions certainly did that. If you have not yet started the Belles of Christmas collection, I highly suggest you do so; each of these tales will leave you with a light heart and a great deal of hope.

Be sure to check out Martha’s new novel, Cecilia, which was released this weekend. I can’t wait to get lost in it!

Without further ado, here are the questions!


1. What was the inspiration for Goodwill for the Gentleman?

A few factors played into this, actually. Because the book is part of a multi-author series, we had to decide a few ground rules at the beginning. One of those was the year the story was taking place. The year we chose (1813) was a very, very cold winter in England. They had very intense winter weather, and I thought about that quite a bit as I tried to decide on a story. Interestingly, I decided upon a title before anything else. I had been brainstorming things we associate with Christmas—words, phrases, smells, etc.—and I came upon the word “goodwill” and the phrase “good will toward men/man” from a couple of well known Christmas songs. I thought that was an interesting concept if I just changed it to “goodwill for the gentleman.” And from that, the beginnings of the story were born!

IMG_9452.12. Is there a message you want readers to learn from it?

I really wanted readers (and myself) to think about the way we view the people around us. We are always operating with limited information as we make judgments and assumptions about others, just as Emma is in the book. She has taken the behavior of Hugh in jilting her sister and kind of assumed the worst of him. As she comes to know him, she realizes that there is so much more to him than the one thing she has judged him on and that even that action wasn’t as selfish as it appeared. I am a religious person, and I find that Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us to reevaluate any grudges we are holding and try to do for others what Christ does for each of us—believe in us and the believe the best of us. I hope that those things come through a bit in the story.

3. Do you have a nice Christmas memory or tradition you would like to share?

I grew up in a family that focused heavily on music, and one of our Christmas Eve traditions is for each of us to choose our favorite Christmas song or hymn to sing together while my mom plays the piano. There are eight kids in my family (plus a number of spouses), so it actually takes quite awhile to do this, but I think it brings a special spirit that only music can. Over the past five or so years, we have shifted things a bit to where we don Santa hats and go caroling to a few of our neighbors who are home-bound or elderly, bringing along a bag of caramels to gift them. I live in Utah, and we often have snowy Christmases, so we are all ready to cozy up when we get back from doing this. I love bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise spend Christmas Eve alone.

Broken Hearts & Happy Endings: The Earl’s Mistletoe Match


The Earl’s Mistletoe Match by Ashtyn Newbold is the third book in the Belles of Christmas collection. However, it seemed to me the most powerful.

It must have been the characters; their attitudes and motives are very real. They are not perfect, and they know it. They make decisions they regret. They struggle.

It starts out with romantic drama. Olivia, a spinster, pretends to be her cousin Esther at a masquerade, when she suspects an earl plans to court her.

Olivia does this out of mistrust for the earl, Andrew. She has been hurt in the past by men of rank; being in charge of her cousin now, she does not want Esther to endure the same.

Olivia does not count on the earl falling for her, instead.

Their conversation at the ball was short and did not end well. However, it was long enough for Andrew to fall in love with the lady behind the mask, the one he believes to be Esther.

When Andrew goes to Esther’s house to apologize for his behavior at the ball, he is no fool. The Esther he meets sounds and acts nothing like she did while hidden behind the mask.

It’s not long before he spots Olivia and realizes there was a switch. What he cannot figure out is why. How come Olivia mistrusts him so?

High expectations from families and a fear of disappointing are the driving forces for these characters. How I love it when, in a story, expectations are tossed out the window and love wins, as it should.

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is a quick read that will lift your spirits. I promise there is a happy ending; we can all certainly use more of those.

Goodwill for the Gentleman: Emma & the Beast


The second novel in the Belles of Christmas collection, Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes was a delight. It tugged at my heart in all the right ways; it was a balance of sadness and romance that kept me hooked.

I love to read about tormented characters, and this book had just that. Lieutenant Hugh has returned home from war to a house where his family has thought him dead, because he has not written to them in a long time.

Why did he stay away for so long that they thought him dead? The answer is simple: matters of the heart. Love can make us do things that we regret; thankfully, in fiction, there are happy endings.

He left for the war after refusing to marry a woman he did not feel he loved enough. The decision to set her free, though well meaning, made him the beast in the eyes of society—including in the eyes of the woman he truly loves, Emma Caldwell.

To complicate matters, Emma is the sister of the young lady he turned down. Can love get more complicated? Well…yes.

When at last Hugh returns home, he finds that none other than Emma has come over to visit, and she is not pleased to see him. Can it get more complicated? Yes—because a snowstorm kicks in, making the roads unmanageable and trapping them under the same roof for Christmas.

Not wanting to spoil the family reunion, Emma suggests a truce: they will pretend to get along for the benefit of his mother, who is happy for the first time since he left. How long will their truce last? How long before they are no longer pretending to be kind to each other, but gentle words come from the heart?

I waited impatiently for Emma’s heart to melt; I felt Hugh’s pain when he sensed no one needed him. By the end of the book, I was an emotional wreck, but it was worth it.

This collection of Christmas themed stories has not been a disappointment; I cannot wait for the third, which I will start tomorrow. What a warm, cozy way to settle into the holiday spirit!

Unmasking Lady Caroline & Building the Christmas Spirit


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Hoping to feel the Christmas spirit early this year while easing into my genre, I’ve been looking for Christmas-themed regency books. Imagine my delight when I found a collection exists of Christmas stories which bring to mind the smell of pinecones and the splendor of Downton Abbey! It’s called Belles of Christmas, and I have to say the covers alone are beautiful.

Of the five novels, three have been released, and two remain for pre-order. The three available are Unmasking Lady Caroline, Goodwill for the Gentlemen and The Earl’s Mistletoe Match. To find the books, click here!

Naturally, I began the series with Unmasking Lady Caroline. I could not put it down. Lady Caroline is a spinster; her mother seems convinced there is no hope left for her. I felt sad for Caroline. Though she played a silly game that could have cost her her happiness, I cannot judge.

When, at a masquerade, she spots a friend she’s always had feelings for, she keeps on her mask and does not tell him her name. Instead, she keeps her secret and adopts the alias of Miss Tree. Drawn to her and frustrated, her friend, Peter, is determined to find Miss Tree and win her heart.

He does not realize for a long time that Miss Tree is his friend, Lady Caroline, with whom he played as a child. He hasn’t seen Caroline in ten years, having spent that time traveling to escape a scandal; now that he’s returned and she’s grown into a woman, everything about her has changed, including his feelings for her.

It amused me that he became so taken by the anonymous Miss Tree while obviously harboring feelings for Caroline, but we all know that the heart does strange things. There’s a happy ending in this book: he finds his Miss Tree, but not without a roller coaster of trouble and emotion.

What struck me about this story is the personal growth of Lady Caroline. She’s been told for so long that she’s not needed that she’s grown to believe it. I think that’s why she chose to hide as Miss Tree, why she held on to that alias until circumstance pulled it away.

She never thought someone could fall in love with her; for Christmas, she was proven wrong.

A clean and short read, I finished Unmasking Lady Caroline in a day. It’s a page turner. The minor characters are endearing, and the description is so well done that I could smell snow and feel the trees when they went into the forest.

Lovers of historical fiction must give this charming novel a try. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get to the second book in the collection, Goodwill to the Gentlemen.

Wild Strawberries: Angela Thirkell’s Warped Downton Abbey


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Happy Halloween!

On the most magical day of the year, I’m sure many of you are bracing yourselves for the winter, preparing to write novels, or simply enjoying your pumpkin spice while wearing oversized hoodies (I am).

With a new novel to plan myself, I’m staying in today, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the occasion; every Halloween I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a tradition I created five years ago. It helps get me into the mood.

I won’t dwell on the spooky in this blog post. I’ve just finished a delightful novel called Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of her before. I got it as an eBook this summer before my trip to Europe, but did not get to it until yesterday. I was not disappointed; short, sweet, and humorous, it had a springtime vibe that made me forget the chill outside.

I’ve never before read a book that made me laugh out loud. Certain scenes had me in tears. Poking fun at aristocrats with their dignified houses, Thirkell has a writing style that leaves you wanting more. She crafts characters you cannot hate, even if they behave in ridiculous ways. It made me think of Downton Abbey, especially scenes where the butler participates, except this butler is more keen to cause a fuss than Mr Carson would be.

I thought I was good at crafting characters; now I envy Thirkell, with her ease for giving each protagonist their color. There is the quirky Lady Emily Leslie, sixteen-year-old Martin who is spoiled and seems to know it, Lady Emily’s daughter, Agnes, who pulls off the “simple-minded” character–I felt like the characters had already existed, and Thirkell was commenting on the things they did, almost in a bored fashion.

After I finished Wild Strawberries, Goodreads told me it is the second book in a series; this means I will need to find the first one. I don’t know where Angela Thirkell has been all my life, but like Rosamunde Pilcher, she is a new voice that I’m glad to have found. They have different tones: Thirkell is humorous, Pilcher seemed rather melancholic, but both told tales that engrossed me.

If you like Downton Abbey, read Wild Strawberries. When I read the other books in the series, I’ll report on those as well.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I hope you get lots of candy!

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