Jane Austen At Home by Lucy Worsley

  • Title:  Jane Austen at Home
  • Author:  Lucy Worsley
  • Genre:  Biography
  • Pages:  387
  • Published:  July 2017 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  On the two-hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the world in which one of English Literature’s best-loved novelists lived.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the rooms, spaces, and possessions that mattered to her, and the way in which home is used in her novels to mean both a place of pleasure and a prison. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms; in fact, her life was often a painful struggle.

Jane famously lived a “life without incident,” but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr. Darcy.  (publisher)

My take:  I’ve enjoyed Jane Austen’s novels so reading Lucy Worsley’s biography of the revered author was a pleasure. It’s a compelling look at Austen’s life and, more specifically, how she lived. The impact of what was going on at any given time in her life was apparent in her heroines’ circumstances. The day-to-day minutiae landed on the pages of the novels that readers, then and now, recognize and can relate. That’s why there are so many Janeites still today. I found the book easy to read and, honestly, difficult to put down. I especially loved learning about Jane’s endearing relationship with her sister Cassandra. I appreciated the extensive research made apparent by the bibliography, notes and index. The photos and illustrations included in two sections enhanced the reading experience. I can say with confidence Jane Austen at Home would be a perfect gift for Austen fans.


 

A Royal Experiment by Janice Hadlow

  • a royal experiment (H.Holt 11:14)Title:  A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of King George III
  • Author:  Janice Hadlow
  • Genre:  Biography
  • Published:  November 2014 – Henry Holt
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  To Americans, King George III has long been doubly famous – as the “tyrant” from whom colonial revolutionaries wrested a nation’s liberty and, owing to his late-life illness, as “the mad king.” In A Royal Experiment, he is also a man with a poignant agenda. He comes to the throne in 1760, at age twenty-two, determined to be a new kind of king, one whose power will be rooted in the affection and approval of his people. He is equally resolute about being a new kind of man, a husband able to escape the extraordinary family dysfunction of his Hanoverian predecessors and maintain a faithful, companionable marriage and domestic harmony.

… His wife, Queen Charlotte, shares his sense of moral purpose, and together they can raise their tribe of thirteen sons and daughters in a climate of loving attention. But in a rapidly more populous and prosperous England, throughout years of revolution in America and in France, the struggle to achieve a new balance between politics and privacy places increasing stress on George and Charlotte as their children grow into adulthood. The story that roils across the long arc of George’s life and reign is high drama – tragic and riveting.  (from the book flap)

My take:  If you’re a fan of books about anything royal you’ll want to read A Royal Experiment. Author Janice Hadlow’s meticulous research of the Hanoverians is obvious and presented in a way that the reader feels she is missing no detail about their lives. You’ll get an insider’s look at the ups and downs of being one of the family. I was dismayed and, at some points, even felt sympathy for all involved.

At 600+ pages this is a big book and the print is not large (think textbook) – so be prepared. For that reason alone it’s one to consider for the eReader. I was glad to see a section that included portraits of all the principals. Also helpful is a family tree.  A Royal Experiment is an interesting work that almost begs for its own cable series. I would definitely tune in!

Provence, 1970 by Luke Barr

provence, 1970

  • Title:  Provence, 1970  MFK Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
  • Author:  Luke Barr
  • Genre:  Biography; Memoir
  • Published:  October 2013 – Clarkson Potter
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Provence, 1970 is about a singular historic moment. In the winter of that year, more or less coincidentally, the iconic culinary figures James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones found themselves together in the South of France. They cooked and ate, talked and argued, about the future of food in America, the meaning of taste, and the limits of snobbery. Without quite realizing it, they were shaping today’s tastes and culture, the way we eat now. The conversations among this group were chronicled by M.F.K. Fisher in journals and letters—some of which were later discovered by Luke Barr, her great-nephew. In Provence, 1970, he captures this seminal season, set against a stunning backdrop in cinematic scope—complete with gossip, drama, and contemporary relevance.  (publisher)

My take:  Luke Barr’s affection for his great-aunt Mary Frances Kennedy (MFK) Fisher is apparent in Provence, 1970. His narrative and anecdotes (culled from MF’s diaries and letters) of the last months of 1970 as well as the years before and after make for an interesting reading experience. The principal players have strong opinions where food and eating are concerned. I found myself in the camp of Beard, Fisher and Child. Cooking should not be intimidating or come with a purist attitude when presenting recipes for the masses. Rather, stress the importance of quality ingredients. Simplicity can be its own form of beauty. At least, that’s how I took the message.

Adding to the story were cooking purists who seemed to enjoy looking down their collective nose at American chefs. Their catty remarks about Fisher, Beard and Child seemed to be steeped in jealousy and self-loathing. Who knew? Not this foodie neophyte, that’s for sure.

At any rate, the late 1960s and the 1970s were times of great cultural change in the US and the world. The same could be said of the food world. Child and Beard were at the helm in showing regular people how to cook good food. And MFK Fisher wrote about eating good food. I enjoyed Provence, 1970 and think fans of cooking or any of the chefs listed, culinary students, and fans of books about eating will want to read it.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Title: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Genre: History/Biography

About: (Goodreads)  The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings.

My thoughts: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s book is one of the most inspirational I’ve read in quite some time.  She tells the story of Kamila Sediqi – a young woman who rose to the occasion when her father left the family in her care because he,her mother and brother had to flee Kabul after the Taliban invasion in the 1990s.

After some time had passed the need to buy food and other necessities prompted Kamila to find a way to earn money.  She went to her older, married sister who taught her how to sew.  From those lessons grew a cottage industry that employed many girls from her neighborhood. By teaching the girls to cut fabric, sew, bead, etc. she helped them gain confidence and self-esteem as well as a way to earn money to help support their families. Kamila risked her safety anytime she would go to the market where she bought fabric and sold finished garments. She couldn’t go out in public without her younger brother (a Taliban rule) and she had to wear the required chadri (burqa). She had faith that God would take care of her. That faith carried her through some very distressing times.

I was continually impressed by the courage and optimism displayed by all of the young people portrayed in this book. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a biography that reads like a novel.  It’s a compelling story of the power of the human spirit during impossible times.

I appreciated that the author included an epilogue and a Where Are They Today chapter.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Recommend? Yes, it’s an uplifting and inspirational story.

Source: HarperCollins