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.

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.

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.

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


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This is my first Hemingway novel. It’s a quick read and struck me for being so detached. The writing style seems indifferent by nature, focusing little on the main character’s emotions and more on dialogue.

I don’t know if Hemingway’s writing is like this in other novels. It isn’t bad: the way the main character interacts with others, rarely showing strong emotion even to the woman he loves, gives the settings sheens of gray.

At first I thought Maybe he doesn’t love her as much as he thinks. Later, when his child is born, he feels nothing towards it, not even anger. Maybe it’s the war, and the drinking certainly didn’t help. Whatever the case, it’s a powerful scene, bringing out his inability to feel.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
― Ernest Hemingway

Some criticize Hemingway’s style for being too bare. We know what’s going on from what the characters say to one another. The writing is very minimal, so I could not pick it apart for layers like I have done with Dickens. You’re pulled along by its straightforwardness.

There are different styles for different authors; it’s a reminder that there isn’t a right or wrong way to tell a story. The book is worth a try, keeping in mind that some will enjoy it and others will not.

There were descriptions that plunged me in. You will find and remember them. Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s a powerful statement about writing style and the impact it has on a story.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten


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Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girlsthe book title was clever. I’m not sure what I expected to find once I started reading. This is a good thing. Any book title is used to draw readers in: it makes them want to lift the cover and glance at the first page, where there should be a hook.

This book title was strong bait indeed; it cleared the way for me to be pulled into the page-turner.

Since I have not read many thrillers, I can’t comment on plot devices used. I enjoyed the read, and it made me consider reading more thrillers in the future. This post is not so much a review as it is a musing, my impression as a reader.

How far would you go for revenge? How broken must a person be to pull off the perfect murder? Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls features one of the darkest characters I’ve read; she’s dark in her brokenness.

I believe this would not have been possible if the protagonist, June, had not been such a contrast. Comparison is a powerful way to write a memorable story. Black and white – shadow and light – June and Delia are a dark, sad balance.

They are both struggling. The difference is this: June lacks the nerve to pull off the feats Delia gets away with. June is the follower in this friendship. She is the weakling, though Delia often pretends otherwise. She is a toy to help Delia feel powerful.

June seems designed to grip the target audience, channeling their weaknesses. The author plays with your mind from the moment you see the cover. She’s not finished, though–once you’ve started reading, she uses your insecurities to help you connect with June! Like her, most of us struggle with insecurity. Most of us have a desire to fit in.

As you see, my commentary focuses on the characters. June and Delia are a fantastic example of characters used strategically. June and Delia–opposites attracted to each other, and not a good pair at all.

However, this must be said: June was not always weak. My favorite scenes featured her trying to grow despite the sadness on her shoulders. There were times she stood in the name of friendship to find out what happened to Delia. It helped me remember, as an insecure reader, that nothing keeps me from standing in the midst of a storm except my own fear.

The plot, pace, and characters were arranged so you will remember them. I finished this book in a day, pulled into the atmosphere, the mystery, the struggle. Whether or not you enjoy this book, I promise you won’t forget it.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro


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I was looking for a lighthearted read to end the year of 2017. Perfectly suited for the job, A Study in Charlotte turned out to be a clever and captivating spinoff of Sherlock Holmes. Parallels to the classic mystery books give it a sense of familiarity–“I’ve read this before!”–while the new setting made it refreshing.

Charlotte Holmes and James Watson are the descendants of the famous detectives and become fast friends at the Connecticut boarding school they attend. Though it was fun to pick out similarities with their ancestors, I often wondered how they–and especially Charlotte–could be so similar to their great-great-grandfathers. Though it made me ponder, it wasn’t enough of an issue to distract me from the story.

I thought the other students, as characters, were rather shallow. Though I know the book is directed to a YA audience and should have similar themes, most of the students felt like cutouts from other teen books I’ve read. They might have been rather weak, but it meant that Charlotte and James were all the more interesting.

I loved reading about Holmes and Watson as their friendship progressed from awkward and tense to one of utter trust–sometimes trusting to a fault. In scenes where they were in the lab, I could sense a connection so perfect that it must have been hereditary. When they had an ugly fight, my heart lurched; they absolutely belonged together.

Though I prefer the heavier tones of classic or fantasy novels, I liked the light and vivid writing style used to tell the story. It kept me turning pages in a state of daydream; each chapter was loaded with surprises. The tone left ample room for readers to imagine the setting on their own, no overdescription bogging it down.

I found A Study in Charlotte to be a pleasant read. It will appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, but also to anyone seeking an original book in the YA genre. Be sure to consider it the next time you are searching for a light read!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


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Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve had a blessed day!

Every year at around this time, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is my favorite book, because Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas make me reflect on my own life.

The link between his story and our lives might be difficult to admit. Scrooge was such an unpleasant man that the Ghost of Christmas Future showed him nobody would attend his funeral. Instead they would steal the curtains from his bed and the shirt off his dead body.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is an extreme example. It’s also true that we can never make everybody like us. We can, however, admit our flaws and try to improve ourselves. It is difficult to do, so much so that many never try, putting themselves in danger of ending up like Scrooge.

It was greed that made him disagreeable, but are we blind to our own flaws?

I have many things about myself that need fixing, and so do you. It’s useful to ask on occasion what the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would say if it were us they’d come to visit instead of poor old Scrooge. It’s easy enough to judge him, but the message is universal.

Books have the ability to help us grow and change through characters and their choices. A Christmas Carol is poignant, relevant, and can be read in one or two days. The short length does not lessen the impact of the story: if read well, it will make you think.

I’m not perfect and neither are you. In that matter, we can relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. We’re human and in constant need of improvement.

A Christmas Carol is timeless for its wit and its message of hope: no matter how old we are or what we’ve done, there’s time to start over–Scrooge did!

Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust


kruse_swanns_wayOccasionally we find books so beautifully written that it seems the style, not the plot, keeps us turning pages.

Though translated from its original French, Swann’s Way did not lose its beauty in the process: every sentence reads like a verse from an old, nostalgic poem. As an example:

Meanwhile the scenery of his dream-stage scattered in dust, he opened his eyes, heard for the last time the boom of a wave in the sea, grown very distant. He touched his cheek. It was dry. And yet he could feel the sting of the cold spray, and the taste of salt on his lips.

That’s not to say the plot was dull–I only mean that I was entranced by the scenes, described in such a way that they drifted before me like dreams. Of the plot, I can say it’s unique in its depth, two points of view cleverly blended.

The two points of view seem as though they shouldn’t have anything in common. In Swann’s Way, the first scenes focus on young Marcel, loosely based on the author himself. This fact adds another layer of mystery. We want to get to know the author, and we wonder what traits he shared with his characters.

Marcel, the character, opens the novel with flashbacks to powerful moments in his childhood. It’s a sad, anxiety-ridden childhood; his fears plague him to a point where he cannot sleep if his mother doesn’t go upstairs to give him a kiss good-night. These kisses become ritual, seldom broken except for when the wealthy Charles Swann comes to visit.

Swann is the second main character. He is a wealthy stockbroker, friends with many important figures in Parisian society, and also controversial because of his marriage to a woman named Odette. Their courtship is a mark on his name forever, a favorite topic of Marcel’s grandparents to discuss when he is not around. His passages in the novel follow that tumultuous time.

We see his admiration for Odette become an obsession, then morph into anguish when she doesn’t reciprocate his love. When Odette distances herself from Swann, he begins to hate her as much as he wants her. Though he once thought her beautiful, he now loathes even her appearance. He fantasizes of a life without her, yet sends friends to stalk her and report her daily activities.

This jealousy is a trap for him as well as for Odette. This is where the story ripples like a reflection on water: as a reader, I didn’t like Charles Swann, but couldn’t bring myself to hate him. I knew he would never be happy, and I read many scenes with a grimace.

Swann and Odette eventually marry and have a daughter named Gilberte. Young Marcel falls for Gilberte in a manner similar to Swann’s obsession with Odette; it is here that their two stories become linked in an intriguing parallel.

Proust wrote this book in a way that he managed to manipulate time, much in the way painters mix color blends that tell stories; if we allow ourselves to soak in the sentences, we feel each emotion until the end.

This book may not be for everyone, because it is a rather heavy read, and a long one. It requires great patience–I found that speed-reading would not do, and forced myself to slow down so I could taste each word. If we miss one phrase, the enchantment does not grip us.

It is ideal for readers who like heavier stories, and those who soak in poetic writing. Swann’s Way will leave marks with the characters’ strong conflicts; there are certain scenes in which my heart will lurk forever.

I know I will read this book again one day.

If you would like to read Swann’s Way, it’s available for download here at Gutenberg! Have you already read the book? What are your thoughts on it?