A Christmas Ramble

Christmas is coming! Notice that I didn’t say Christmas is here, because technically this is Advent – a time of waiting and preparation in anticipation of the day of Jesus’ birth.

I know that on the retail calendar, the Christmas season now begins immediately after Halloween, but traditionally (and on the church calendar) it begins on December 25th and runs for twelve days – through January 5th (Twelfth Night).

By the way, in Jane Austen’s time, that’s when gifts were exchanged, not on Christmas Day itself. Why? Because Twelfth Night marks the Feast of Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the kings (or magi), bringing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ child.

So how was Christmas celebrated in Regency England? You can scratch the excess hype and frenzy of today. But like now, it was a time to gather with friends and family, a time for music and singing, a time to feast and to share some of their bounty with the less fortunate. The particulars may have changed – the specific foods enjoyed, the songs sung, etc. – but the basics are still recognizable to us.

“Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood,” said Mrs. Palmer soon afterwards, “I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do, and come while the Westons are with us You cannot think how happy I shall be! It will be quite delightful!” (Sense and Sensibility)

Sidebar: Do you suppose Jane Austen imagined that the Palmers’ friends (mentioned here in S&S) to be the same Westons we know from Emma?

Christmas Day itself began for most people with a walk to church, which could be a very chilly affair, not only outside but in, since there often was no means of heating the building.

The Regency home would have been specially decorated with candles, holly, ivy, and other greens, but no Christmas tree. That tradition wasn’t fully adopted in England until Victorian times, when it was popularized by Prince Albert, who brought the custom with him from his native country of Germany.

This “no Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, eyeglasses and textChristmas tree” policy was used to great effect as a running joke in a play I saw recently – Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. On a whim, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy installed a Christmas tree at Pemberley one year. Each person that entered the room after that, including Darcy himself, suffered a mild shock upon seeing it, remarking with some distaste (or even horror), “You have a tree… inside,” or similar words. Elizabeth would each time have to, somewhat apologetically, explain it was a German tradition that she thought charming.

“…I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. Yours, etc.” (Elizabeth in a letter to Mrs. Gardiner, Pride and Prejudice)

From this passage, I inferred that Pemberley would be the Christmas gathering place thereafter. Sounds like the perfect setting to spend a couple of week – perhaps snow falling outside, good friends and warm hospitality within. Since I doubt that I’ll be able to wrangle an actual invitation, my imagination will have to do. So I wrote about it in Return to Longbourn.

The holiday itself began with a trip to Kympton for church. Later, back at Pemberley, much was made of the Christmas dinner and of the children’s enjoyment – all twelve Bingley, Darcy, and Gardiner offspring – and of the special little treats and traditions established within the family to commemorate the occasion. Mary was called upon to render the day all the more festive by employing her musical abilities, playing a number of yuletide hymns and popular tunes on the piano-forte…

(later)… Gazing out into the night, Mary could just make out the faded gray of the lawn below, guarded by a few sentinel trees, as it fell away toward the inky blackness of the lake. The filtered moonlight’s poor illumination rendered every familiar article in ghostly guise, or was it something else that made it all look so peculiarly eerie? Ah, it had begun to snow, she then realized. For the moment, it was only a sugar dusting, but doubtless by daybreak everything would be wearing a full coat of winter white. “It is snowing,” she informed the others.

Kitty, who had always been particularly enamored of snow, came bounding excitedly to the window. A few of the others followed more sedately. “How thrilled the children will be when they wake in the morning!” remarked Jane.

Without stirring, Mrs. Bennet said, “I for one am not surprised. I can always tell it will snow by how my rheumatism comes on. Oh, such pains and spasms as I have suffered all the day long! But then I never like to complain.”

No chance of snow here today in the Seattle area. We were down in the 20’s a week or so ago, but today it was almost balmy, reaching 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, the Christmas spirit has begun to overtake me. And not a moment too soon. I still have cards to get out (yes, I am one of the few who still sends them), decorating to do, a little shopping and wrapping too. But fortunately I have plenty of time, right? After all, Christmas doesn’t start until the 25th!

See the source imageI will leave you with an adapted version of a Christmas sentiment Miss Bingley wrote in a letter to Jane Bennet. My best wishes that you would have a wonderful Christmas (or whatever tradition you celebrate this time of year) are truly sincere, unlike Miss Bingley’s. Please fill in the blanks as you choose. (Since you may be planning to spend Christmas somewhere other than Hertfordshire, and you may be wishing for something other than numerous beaux! Or maybe not?)

“I sincerely hope your Christmas in _________ may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your _________ will be numerous!”


Other Christmas posts:

2014 Christmas Decorations and Waxing Philosophical

2012 The “W” in Christmas

2011 Christmas Cards

2010 The Stories of Christmas



Posted in English Regency culture, History, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Quotes, my books, Shannon Winslow, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Specter of Mr. Collins

See the source imageThis passage from Pride and Prejudice (chapter 26) talks about how Elizabeth’s relationship with Charlotte changed after Charlotte married Mr. Collins. It was the inspiration for a “missing scene” I wrote a few years ago for another blog. When I ran across it again today, it made me chuckle, so I decided to share it with you here. Hope you enjoy it!

The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and every body had as much to say or to hear on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been; that is should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and, though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been, rather than what was.

When Elizabeth had said goodbye to the former Miss Lucas at the church door, it had been with a heavy heart. The previous years of unreserved friendship, of easy intimacy, were over. The fact that one was now married and the other not would have formed somewhat of a barrier in any case. But the manner of Charlotte’s marrying – whom she had accepted and why – was an obstacle Elizabeth feared could never be overcome. Henceforth, the specter of Mr. Collins would always divide them.

Nevertheless, out of respect for what had been, she was determined to preserve at least a remnant of their past friendship. Charlotte had asked her to visit Hunsford in March, and Elizabeth had agreed, though she foresaw little pleasure in the scheme. In the meantime, there would be letters exchanged.

Elizabeth anticipated the first missive from Kent with a sort of morbid curiosity. Not that she hoped her friend would be unhappy. Certainly not! It was simply impossible for her to imagine the situation as being otherwise, to envision Charlotte’s state of mind without her own feelings creeping in. “You were right, my dear Lizzy!” she would surely say. “I have made the biggest mistake of my life in marrying Mr. Collins, and it is one from which I fear I will never recover. Why, oh, why did I not listen to your advice?”

But instead, Charlotte wrote the following:


My dearest friend,

 I know you will have been wondering how we are getting on here in Kent. So I will jot down a few lines for you, while I have a half-hour’s leisure, to assure you that Mr. Collins and I are very well. We experienced no difficulty with our travel from Hertfordshire after the wedding, arriving in good time. And my impressions upon first setting eyes on Hunsford were most agreeable as well.

 The parsonage, while not grand by any means, is as neat and tidy as any reasonable person could well wish for. I already feel quite at home and have been allowed to claim a pretty little parlor at the back of the house for my own particular use. I find the furnishings throughout exactly suited for a clergyman’s family. This should come as no surprise since Lady Catherine has done it all according to her own discriminating taste and judgment, as she informed me herself when she condescended to visit me the very day after my arrival. Was not that considerate? I anticipate that she will be just as generous with these civil attentions as my husband has always given her the credit of.

 As for more about our distinguished neighbor, her daughter, and the splendors of Rosings Park, I must defer to another occasion the detailed descriptions Mr. Collins has encouraged me to make to you. I simply have not time or room on the page to do them justice now. In any case, you will see all these things for yourself when you come in March. For the present, be satisfied to know that everything here – house, furniture, gardens, neighborhood, etc. – is to my liking, and I am well satisfied with my situation.

 Please write soon, Lizzy. I long to hear all the news from Meryton – all your little comings, goings, and doings – and none of my own family has yet proved to be a very satisfactory correspondent.

 With loving regards from Hunsford,

Charlotte Collins

 P.S. – Mr. Collins sends his greetings to you and to your family as well. He asks that you would be so kind as to apologize to your father on his behalf, for his not having written more promptly himself. This is a circumstance he promises to remedy very soon, at which time he will beg Mr. Bennet’s pardon in proper form.


Oh, my. Well satisfied. It was precisely what she should have expected to hear from her friend – all cheerful practicality and no complaints. Elizabeth could accept that much. She could even respect such a statement, whereas she would never have believed a claim of Charlotte’s being deliriously happy with Mr. Collins. Impossible! Very well. Elizabeth supposed she must be satisfied too. She could not quite understand it, but she owed it to Charlotte to be glad for her, to be glad she could be content with the life she had chosen for herself. There was clearly nothing else to be done.

Well, there was one more thing. Elizabeth drew two sheets of paper from the desk and took up her pen to write an answer.


My dear Charlotte,

Thank you for your letter. I was so pleased to hear that you are well, and that you find everything at Hunsford so consistent with your taste and expectations. Here at Longbourn, we continue on much as you left us…

Is this the way you imagine these events playing out?




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World Travels

I wish I could tell you I have made great progress on all four of my current writing projects (see three previous posts) in the last month. I did get the play written, but that’s about all I’ve had time to accomplish. I’ve been a little busy with family obligations and with travel. Here are just a few of my vacation photos:



20180924_145850_resized 20180923_114447-1_resized20180921_115240-1_resized







No doubt you recognize these exotic destinations – Venice, obviously, and Paris, one of the great pyramids of Egypt, and the New York City skyline. And that’s only a small sample!

Are you jealous of my world tour? Or are you getting a bit suspicious?

Okay, I confess; the idea of an extended world tour, lovely as it sounds, is pure fiction. In truth, I never left the US, and all these pictures were taken in one place: Las Vegas.

I hadn’t been to Vegas before, and I probably won’t go back again – not really my kind of town. But we sure saw and did some cool stuff while we were there. We visited the neon lights museum, viewed the largest gold nugget in the world, experienced the amazing Fremont Street overhead canopy light show, ate at some interesting restaurants (some outstanding, some not so much), and attended an awesome concert (Queen), which was the reason we made the spontaneous decision to book this trip in the first place.


There’s plenty to do for a few days in Las Vegas, even if you don’t gamble.  But in case you’re wondering how I fared at the casinos, I’m happy to report that I managed to break even. Want to know my secret? If you never place a bet, you can’t lose any money!

Finding a Jane Austen connection for a post about an American gambling Mecca wasn’t easy, but I chose this exchange between Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park:

“The metropolis, I imagine, is a pretty fair sample of the rest.”

“Not, I should hope, of the proportion of virtue to vice throughout the kingdom. We do not look in great cities for our best morality. It is not there that respectable people of any denomination can do most good; and it certainly is not there that the influence of the clergy can be most felt.”

Actually, we did see a lot of churches in the area – quickie wedding chapels, that is. But, no, I would not point to Las Vegas as the example of our county’s best morality!

What brought Jane Austen most to mind on our trip, however, was the day we rented a car and drove down to Lake Havasu City, Arizona, to see the London bridge moved and reassembled there in 1971. It was about 108 degrees that afternoon, but I was determined to leave the comfort of air conditioning long enough to walk across the bridge that once spanned the Thames.

London_Bridge_circa_1870I even had in mind that perhaps Austen herself might have crossed the same bridge on one of her visits to London. Alas, this could not be true, I learned, since the bridge wasn’t constructed until several years after her death. Still it was well worth seeing.


20180922_131914_resized_1In any case, I’m glad we made the trip to Las Vegas and beyond, but I’m also glad to be home again.

Next, I’m going to take courage and submit my play for consideration. I’ll let you know how that goes – if and when it will be presented. Then it’s back to work to see if I can make some more progress on my other three writing projects. Where does the time go?

I hope you had some big adventures and happy travels this year too.




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Jane Austen’s Devotion

I told you that I have three writing projects underway at the same time – something I’ve never attempted before – but I have a confession to make. There’s now a fourth. Yes, crazy but it’s true. When a friend, who has a long-time connection with a Seattle playhouse, suggested I should try my hand at writing a play, I got pretty excited by the possibility of seeing something I’ve written performed live on stage! So I got to work immediately, studying up on playwriting and trying to condense The Ladies of Rosings Park down to a play-length story. Not an easy task, as it turns out.

At the same time, I don’t want to neglect my other projects – #1 a Northanger Abbey sequel and #2 a non-JA story, which I profiled for you in my previous two posts, as well as #3: a Jane Austen devotional based on her prayers.

See the source imageI have always been curious about Jane Austen’s spiritual side. We know she was raised in a Christian home, the daughter of a (by all accounts) dedicated Anglican minister, as well as having a brother (and later a second) belonging to the profession. She no doubt attended church nearly every Sunday of her life. Still, that didn’t prove sincere faith then anymore than it does now.

I suppose an argument could even be made to the contrary. For example, we see very few overtly Christian sentiments expressed in her novels. In fact, some of the portraits she draws of clergymen are quite unflattering (i.e. Mr. Collins). Also, some darker examples of her razor-sharp wit/humor (especially some preserved in her personal letters) might even be called caustic or irreverent.

See the source imageHowever, I think it would be a mistake to conclude from this that Jane Austen didn’t take her faith seriously. Being a Christian doesn’t mean having no sense of humor, and not every pastor is a shining example, especially in Jane Austen’s day, when many went into the profession for the wrong reasons – as a convenient means of making a genteel living rather than in answer to a true calling from God.

As for Jane Austen’s novels, although they are stories written from a Christian perspective, upholding Christian beliefs and values, they would not qualify for today’s “Christian Fiction” genre. Indeed, in Austen’s society there would have been no reason for what is now a separate and distinct category of fiction, no need to make a point of declaring the gospel message in every book where church attendance and allegiance to the Christian faith were the norm, not the exception. I believe this fact explains a great deal.

Here and there in Austen’s novels, however, we do catch a glimpse of something that might be construed as a reflection of Austen’s personal faith. We notice the “God bless you” at the close of Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth, for example, and the many occasions where God’s name is invoked in crisis or in thanksgiving. But perhaps the clearest example appears in Mansfield Park. There, Austen uses Mary Crawford’s attitude toward elements of faith as one means of revealing that lady’s faulty character. Mary openly ridicules the practice of family prayers, chapel attendance, and the clerical profession as a whole. By contrast, Austen’s heroine Fanny Price is reverent, honorable, and chaste – a much better candidate for an Austen-style heroine and a better choice of partner for future clergyman Edmund.

See the source imageFor the most convincing evidence of Jane Austen’s sincere personal faith, however, we must look beyond her novels, which are, after all, not autobiography but fiction. We must look to how she faced death (when she made a point of receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion) and we must look to her prayers.

Give us grace, Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our Hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present, from Thee no secret can be hid. May the knowledge of this, teach us to fix our Thoughts on Thee, with Reverence and Devotion that we pray not in vain. (opening of Jane Austen’s prayer “On Each Return of the Night”)

See the source imageNo one knows how many eloquent prayers the authoress may have composed in her lifetime. As with her letters, it seems likely that only a fraction of the original number have survived. We have only thee rather lengthy examples remaining to us, in fact. But each line of each one is a mini pray in itself, I realized, worthy of pausing for further contemplation.

So that’s what I’m doing in the devotional I’m working on. I have broken Jane Austen’s three surviving prayers down into individual petitions, allowing each to inspire a separate meditation with illustrations from her novels. Jane Austen drew her characters so convincingly – seeming like real people with real thoughts and problems – that their stories constitute a rich resource for teaching spiritual principles.

The devotional is about 1/3 done, which means it’s currently in the lead among my three main writing projects as to reaching the finish line!  But the dark horse in the race is that play I mentioned.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes!


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An Inspiring Trip to the Lake

In my previous post, I told you about the new writing projects I’ve been working on, and I shared a sneak peek at one of them: the beginning of my Northanger Abbey sequel. Today, I thought I’d give you a little clue about one of the other projects, since I’ve just returned from a week in the place that inspired the story idea: Ashley Lake, near Kallispel, Montanta.

20180723_202613_resizedMy husband is originally from Kallispel, and his family used to own a cabin on Ashley Lake. Through a serendipitous turn of events, that very same cabin is now back in his extended family, and we’ve generously been invited to use it for our vacation destination the last two summers. The lake itself is beautiful, with some of the clearest turquoise water you’ll ever see outside of the Caribbean. Knowing the history of the cabin makes the spot that much more special for us.

20180722_122451_resizedWhen we were there last summer, someone told us about a sunken car on the far side of the lake. So we paddled our canoe over to take a look. Sure enough, there in about fifteen feet of water was the rusting hulk of a VW bug, the roof and various other parts missing.

20180722_100026_resizedI couldn’t help wondering what the story was. Who had owned the car and how had it ended up at the bottom of the lake? It was too far from shore to have been pushed or driven into the water, accidentally or on purpose. VWs used to be reputed pretty air-tight and therefore able to float for several minutes. Had somebody, on a dare or as a prank, rowed it out as far as they could before it sank? The other possibility seemed to be that it had been driven out on the ice in the winter. Was the ice too thin and it had broken through? Or had the car been abandonded there intentionally to sink with the spring thaw? And why?

I’d love to know the answers, but I probably never will. No matter. The wheels were already turning as I began imagining a scenario of my own. Then I got the idea it might be interesting to tell the story from the car’s point of view.

The project sat on the back burner while I finished up The Ladies of Rosings Park, but I kept rolling it over in my mind from time to time. Visiting Ashley Lake and its mysterious sunken VW again this past week has encouraged me to keep working to see what I can make of it. Unfortunately, I haven’t thought of a Jane Austen connection for the story yet!


Here’s the opening. Let me know what you think and if this is the craziest idea I’ve ever come up with. Okay, I know it is, but maybe it’ll work anyway? 🙂


Not all cars have souls. At least that’s what I have concluded after all these years. In fact, I might be the only one. I have looked hundreds – probably thousands – of other vehicles in the face, sending them positive energy and hoping to detect some sign of intelligence in return. But I’m always disappointed. Blank stares; that’s all I ever get. Blank stares and silence.

True communication would be impossible, I realize, even if we all achieved consciousness. Unfortunately our creators haven’t seen fit to give automobiles the ability to speak. Which is very short sighted of them, in my opinion. Think how many accidents could be avoided if one car could simply yell to another, “Hey, watch out! My driver hasn’t seen you, and he’s not going to stop in time!” The real solution, of course, would be self-driving cars. Let’s cut out the middle man and leave the driving to the experts. That’s what I say. Well, maybe someday, but not as of 2007.

Still, I like to think that certain humans possess the ability to connect with beings beyond their own species. Maggie did. I suppose she still does, wherever she is. We had a real connection. I think she might even have loved me, at least enough to give me my own name: Leonard. Maybe that’s how I got my soul too; her love made me worthy of one.

Now look at me. I can hardly believe that a noble VW beetle, especially one who was found soul-worthy, should end in this kind of disgrace. But maybe that’s what happens to us all eventually. I don’t know. We’re used until we show our age and then left to corrode and die somewhere, alone, forgotten, perhaps even stripped of vital parts.

Still, a cold, watery grave seems particularly harsh. In my current predicament, there’s nothing I can do to prevent every passing fish from swimming in and out my open windows and other orifices, nipping at my faded, flaking, powder-blue paint and dropping their filth wherever they please. I try to ignore them… same as I try to ignore the feel of rust eating ever deeper into my steel frame, like some terrible, creeping skin disease. I don’t want to think about what must have happened to my engine by now. And I shudder to imagine what sort of nasty creature has recently made a home for itself in my tailpipe.

What can I say? It’s degrading, and my main consolation is remembering my glory days with Maggie. It was a long time ago now, but I still recall every detail of those few wonderful years. Taking good care of her, especially when danger struck, is what made my whole life worthwhile. Never mind what came afterward. Even knowing the end from the beginning, I would gladly do it all over again.

20180719_095727_resizedNow don’t panic! I wouldn’t leave poor Leonard there at the bottom of the lake, fish swimming in and out. Trust me. You know I believe in happy endings!

No scheme could have been more agreeable to Elizabeth…”Oh, my dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! what felicity! You give me fresh life and vigour. Adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are young men to rocks and mountains? Oh! what hours of transport we shall spend! And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers… We will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers…” (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 27)

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Coming Attractions

Time for a brief update, and then I have something fun for you to read – the opening of a work in progress. First, though, for those of you who have been asking, I wanted to let you know that the audiobook of The Ladies of Rosings Park will be out very shortly. Yay! It’s in the final review stage, and I don’t anticipate any further delays.

Now for my work in progress. If you read my post Which Book Should I Write Next? a couple of months ago, you know I was in a bit of a quandry at the time. The situation is still not entirely resolved either, not even after all your excellent suggestions. Instead of starting work on one new project, I’ve actually begun three at once, two of which weren’t even on my list of proposed options before!

I’ve started a non-JA short story / novella about a car (if you can believe it), my first non-fiction piece (a JA devotional), and then #3 from my list of possibles – a campy Northanger Abbey sequel, Gothic murder mystery style. How’s that for a ecclectic mix? Rather than settling down to one at a time, I may just work on whichever inspires me most on any given day and see which makes it to the finish line first.

See the source imageToday, though, I want to share the first part of what I’ve written for the NA sequel, proposed title: Midnight at Northanger Abbey. Be sure to let me know what you think!

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience. (Closing paragraph of Northanger Abbey)



Chapter 1 : Perfect Happiness


No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her in the beginning. But when a young lady is to be a heroine, no perverseness of circumstances can prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way, and Catherine Morland’s case was no exception.

Having thoroughly prepared herself for heroism in her adolescence by the industrious study of every novel – romantic to thoroughly horrid – she could, by fair means or even mildly foul, lay her hands upon, Catherine herself was hardly surprised when adventure and intrigue found her the moment she set foot outside her own sleepy community of Fullerton. It was inevitable that such a fate would overtake her, she believed, and oh, how she had longed for it! She had quite counted on it. Indeed, if nothing whatsoever had happened in Bath, if love and adventure had not been expectantly waiting for her there, she would have been exceedingly disappointed. She would have thought it unfair in the extreme.

See the source imageBut in fact, love and adventure did find her, as she had always foreseen. It was only now, some time afterward that she had difficulty believing it. Parts of the story began to feel like an implausible dream: those early heady days exploring Bath with the inconstant Isabella Thorpe, being introduced to Henry at the assembly rooms completely by chance, her uneven acquaintance with the rest of his family, the surprising invitation to Northanger Abbey, and finally her violent expulsion from that place with Henry following, resolved on marrying her.

It must all be true, however, Catherine reasoned when she blinked awake this particular morning, experiencing the same feelings of dawning pleasure as many other mornings before and since. This ceiling over her head was certainly not the ceiling of the crowded bedchamber she had shared with her sisters in Fullerton. This bed was more comfortable too, and its bedclothes newer and sweeter smelling than those which had embraced her throughout childhood (and which she had had the duty of laundering herself).

No, the dream was become reality, and this was Woodston parsonage. For the most conclusive evidence of that, she slowly turned her pretty face to the left, blushing becomingly in anticipation as she did so. As she suspected and hoped, it was not any mere sister’s visage that then greeted her eyes but a handsomely masculine face instead.

“Good morning, Mrs. Tilney,” he murmured low. “I hope you slept well.”

“Good morning, Mr. Tilney. Yes, I did, thank you.” she returned, smiling as if she possessed a delicious secret too good to tell. For it still seemed to her somewhat of a miracle that Henry Tilney was there in her bed, that he was truly her husband – a miracle that needed constant confirmation. The sight of him, albeit exceedingly agreeable, was not enough. Hearing his familiar voice, still rumbling with the effects of sleep, was yet insufficient for her. She must consult her other senses as well.

Henry had quickly learnt this about his young bride – her need for continual reassurance – and he was always happy to oblige her with every positive proof of his presence and his love that she required. Toward that end, he now pulled her close and proceeded to bestow kisses here and there upon her person – affectionate or passionate according to what was wanted – and to furnish whatever other personal attentions seemed advisable.

Catherine, sighing contentedly and abandoning herself to his capable ministrations, wondered if there could possibly be any felicity in the world to equal it.

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Summer Reading Picks

See the source imageThree years ago, I did a post on My Movie Picks. Now I thought I’d try recommending some of my favorites books. (By the way, this presupposes that you’ve already read all of MY books, possibly multiple times, and need something to do while you await whatever work of genius I produce for you next. Am I right?)

I’m also assuming you know that the novels of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer top my list, along with classics like Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, To Kill a Mockingbird, and selections from Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, and E. M. Forster. You can also add all James Herriot‘s All Creatures Great and Small books, Jan Karon‘s first three Mitford series books, and anything written by Julie Klassen.

I deliberately choose to read very little JAFF myself, since I don’t want to be influenced by another author’s storyline ideas. Instead, I try to sample from a wide variety of other genres. Being in a book club helps keep me from getting stuck in a rut. The assigned book of the month might not be something I would have picked on my own, but it usually turns out that I enjoy it… or if not actually “enjoy” it, at least I’m glad to have broadened my reading horizons a little.

So today I hope to broaded your horizons a little, too, by recommending a few books you may not have read (or even heard of before, in some cases). Who knows? It may turn out that you acquire some new favorites from my favoirites list! Here goes with a few real standouts. No particular order. All these books are worth 5 stars imho:

16158542The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown – This book tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for a gold medal at Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Very rarely do I come across a book that accomplishes the tricky twin feats of 1)making history completely fascinating and 2)being equally engaging for both my husband and myself. This is one of those rare finds. Some of the credit goes to the true-life material the author had to work with. Who doesn’t like to root for the home-grown underdogs to succeed against all odds, and then cheer when the dream miraculously comes to fruition? But the story was masterfully told as well. The author obviously did his research, and then humanized the events by letting us get to know and care about “the boys” involved. Since much of the action takes place in Washington State, where I live, the historical references were even more personal to me.

3153910The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein – Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

Just as enjoyable when I read it a second time. (PS – If you love dog stories, I would also recommend A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron.)

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly – Calpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

I found the home-spun feel of this story totally charming, reminding me of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s “for young readers” but it’s perfect for adults too. There’s a sequel (The Curious world of Calpurnia Tate) which is just as good.

I've Got Your Number: A Novel by [Kinsella, Sophie]I’ve Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella – Poppy Wyatt is feeling lucky because she’s about to marry her ideal man. Then one afternoon, disaster strikes. She loses her irreplacable engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, and then her phone (on which she’s totally dependant) is stolen too. As she paces shakily around the lobby, she spots an abandoned phone in a trash can. Finders keepers! Now she can leave a number for the hotel to contact her when they find her ring. Perfect, except that the phone’s owner, businessman Sam Roxton, doesn’t agree. He wants his phone back and doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and wading into his personal life. What ensues is a hilarious and unpredictable turn of events as Poppy and Sam increasingly upend each other’s lives through emails and text messages.

“A screwball romance for the digital age,” says one reviewer. It’s clever and fun. I enjoyed it tremendously and went on to read two more Kinsella novels. Fair warning: there is a fair amount of bad language to put up with in this one.

Me Before You: A Novel by [Moyes, Jojo]Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes – Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl who has barely been farther afield than her own tiny English village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

Don’t expect a JA style happily ever after. But it’s a compelling story well written. I liked it so much that I went on to read four more of Jojo Moyes’s novels afterward.

The Rosie Project: A Novel (Don Tillman Book 1) by [Simsion, Graeme]The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion – Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. Since Rosie Jarman possesses all these bad qualities, Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate. But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

Unique, quirky, fun, and full of heart. It is definitely one of my all-time favorites!

Honorable Mentions go to:

  • Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
  • One Summer, by David Baldacci
  • The Cat Who…, the series by Lilian Jackson Braun
  • Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Three Sisters, by Susan Mallery
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, series by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Habits of the House, by Fay Weldon
  • Maisie Dobbs, the mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear

I could go on… and on… and on, but you have to draw the line somewhere! Hope you find at least one you especially enjoy! Now, do you have a favorite to add to my list?

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, chapter 14)


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