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The Gilded Age Heiresses in Fact and Fiction

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Jennie Jerome (Lady Randolph Churchill) later in life and Consuelo Vanderbilt (Duchess of Marlborough)

The Lost Summers of Newport put me in a Gilded Age mood. While that era (approximately 1870 to 1900) is only one of the three timelines in the story, it is a favorite era of mine. So, here are a few books to help you get into the Gilded Age Spirit.

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I found this mystery hiding on my Kindle, but, obviously, haven’t read it yet. It sounds good and I hope to get to it soon. Under a Gilded Moon: A Novel by Joy Jordan-Lake is set in North Carolina at the time the Biltmore House is being finished. I’m guessing from the summary of the story that if she plays her cards right, Kerry MacGregor could potentially become a near-heiress at least since the Vanderbilts want that land of hers!

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Jennie Jerome was among the very first of the dollar heiresses. She was likely expecting when she married Lord Randolph Churchill, a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough and brother of Consuelo Vanderbilt’s Duke, for when he was born future Prime Minister Winston Churchill was an awfully big “premature” baby. Like my grandmother (born in 1904) always said, “First babies can come at anytime, but after that they all seem to take nine months.” Her home was replaced by Madison Square Garden and her father helped found the Jockey Club. He was one of those men who made regulating the stock market necessary. That Churchill Woman: A Novel by Stephanie Barron. I’ve read so much about the Churchills that I did not finish this, but if you do not know much I’m sure it’s very good.

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The American Adventuress by C.W. Gortner is also about Jennie and arrives in September, but is available for pre-order now.

I Prefer This Biography

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This (originally two volume) biography of Jennie came out in the 1970s and was as readable as any novel. I’ve read it more than once and highly recommend it. Martin doesn’t assume Jennie consummated every “affair.” There are newer theories out there on Lord Randolph’s death, and like Prince Harry, Jack Churchill endured all kinds of theories on his parentage, but anyone who looks at him (just like Harry) can see he is a Churchill. Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill by Ralph G. Martin (now in one volume). There are other, newer biographies, but I haven’t liked them.

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The American Duchess by Karen Harper is about Consuelo Vanderbilt the ultimate dollar heiress. I did not get to finish–barely got it started, when I had to return it to the library due to holds.

Or, if you prefer non-fiction:

Consuelo & Alva: The Story of a Mother and Daughter by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart 

The Glitter and The Gold by Consuela Vanderbilt Balsan (Consuela’s memoirs)

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Aside from making a mess of the titles (Your Royal Highness, not Highness. It’s Sir after you’ve used the full title), this one is good. The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin. (My review was lost on my old blog).

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Gilded age Chicago! Where “Mr. Selfridge” got his start–Marshall Fields! What the Lady Wants about Marshall Field. Lots of great Chicago history–including a dramatic account of the great fire. What the Lady Wants by Renee Rosen. Field’s daughter married British Admiral Beatty.

Field’s partner, Levi Leiter, gained a much more impressive English son-in-law in George Nathaniel Curzon–later Viceroy of India. Sadly, Mary Curzon’s biographies are mostly out-of-print (but available used).

Mary Curzon: The Story of the Heiress From Chicago… by Nigel Nicholson.

Here is an excellent book on Mary and George Curzon’s daughters that has a lot to offer on Mary and the family: The Viceroy’s Daughters by Anne De Courcy–it reads like a novel.

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The real-life inspiration for t.v.’s fictional Cora, Countess of Grantham was Almina, Countess of Carnarvon.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon

These books are part collective biography, part social history of the whole “Dollar Princess” era.

To Marry an English Lord by Gail Mac Coll

The Husband Hunters by Anne De Courcy

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau by Julie Perry

Have you read any of these books? Leave me a comment or a link to your review.

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Review: Lost Summers of Newport

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My Interest

The Gilded Age is a favorite of mine and the Cottages of New Port are on my Bucket List. I really enjoyed Lauren Willig’s Band of Sisters (click for my review) last year. (I’ve read one book by Karen White but have no memory of it–it’s just in my Goodreads “Read” list. I haven’t read any by Beatriz Wiliams though I started one and ran out of library time). Plus, I was intrigued by the idea of a committee of three writing a novel (apparently it is their second novel written as a trio).

US map showing Rhode Island credit  Photo Credit for Cottages Photo

The Story

The book cycles through alternating chapters telling the story of three members of the Sprague family (or their staff) in their Newport “Cottage” (i.e. mansion). Ellen, in 1899 (the Gilded Age) is music teacher to Maybelle Sprague whose brother wants her married off to an Italian Prince (this is the era of the Dollar Princesses–aka, Cora Crawley of Downton Abbey or Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome and his cousin’s wife, Newport’s own Consuelo Vanderbilt). In 1957 we have Maybelle’s great-granddaughter the oh-so-helpfully nicknamed “Lucky,” the 50’s upper-class party-hosting wife (JFK and Jackie are guests) of hard-drinking, Mad Men-ish skirt-chasing Stuyvesant Sprague, and daughter-in-law of secret-holding Dudley Sprague. In the present day (2019) we have TV host Andie who interacts with Lucky’s grandchildren while filming a reality show around the rules of “Don’t go near the boathouse” [cue the warning music] and “Don’t try to talk to Lucky” [more warning music]. Secrets, of course, abound!

My Thoughts

This is THE historical fiction beach/pool book of the year! Exactly what I needed for my commute, too. Never mind that enough clues are dropped that even I guessed one of the big secrets! Or that there are eye-rolling things happening everywhere. This was a darned good read from start-to-finish. Improbable? Sure, but why let that spoil any of the fun? It’s a beach or pool book — just roll with it (like the waves of the sea).

A few annoying things:

But why, oh why, do people try to voice children with crap like “I founded a worm?” or have them stuff crap up their noses when they are school aged?? Ugh!! And can’t anyone do anything to show affection to a little boy but tousling the kid’s hair? (It’s as annoying and ubiquitous as the guy always “tenderly” tucking a lock of hair behind the woman’s ear). The kid things were made worse by the reader doing super annoying speech impediment of w for r for the kid! (Hopefully he’s getting help for this at that school he’s always puking to get out of attending). More reader problems included pronouncing the Latin “Pater” as “Patter” and can’t decide if Joanie says “Ma-Ma” or “M’ma” (ala Prince Charles)–I didn’t think even the Preppy-ist of 50s era Preps said “M’ma” but who knows, right? 

My Verdict

3.5

Lost Summers of Newport: A Novel by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White

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JULY 1 Six in Six for 2022

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What is Six in Six?

The idea being that as the end of June approaches and we are then halfway through the year, let us share the books we have read in those first 6 months. In fact let’s share 6 books in 6 categories, or if time is of the essence then simply share just 6 books. My 2021 Six in Six post. If you are unfamiliar with this half year book list, click the highlighted words and go to my post or go here, to the originator’s post at The Book Jotter-there are all types of categories on the list you can choose from. Some are book categories, others are bookish.

Six From the Non-Fiction Shelf

Six books I have read on my Kindle

Six Espionage or Historical Novels I enjoyed

I will be reviewing The Lost Summers of Newport tomorrow, July 6, 2022.

Six Non-US/Non-British Authors & Six books I’ve read in an English translation

Six books set in a country other than my own

Six books I have enjoyed the most

The Bodyguard by Katherine Center published July 19, 2022. My review will be up before then.

Six books I did not finish

Past Six in Six posts: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2017, 2016

Did you do a Six in Six for 2022 post? Leave me a link!

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Spanish/Portuguese Lit Month Review: Portrait of an Unknown Lady by Maria Gainza translated by Thomas Bunstead

My Interest

In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed participating each July in Spanish and Portuguese Literature challenges hosted by blogger Winston’s Dad, so this year I kept a look out for new books to for this challenge.  The NY Times list of new translated books caught my attention. This book was in it and, happily, was novella length, and (best of all) was about 4 1/2 hours on audio. Perfect for my current attention span!

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The Story

What caught my eye about the story, beyond being set in Argentina (a country I have not “read” before) and being translated into Spanish, was that it concerned the art world–especially high-priced forgeries–those who create them and those who track them down and expose them. Instead the story is a rambling, disjointed mess of thoughts, text, and occasionally happenings.

My Thoughts

I think the world “surreal” was thrown in there somewhere in what I read about this book and I should have headed it. Like theatre of the absurd that one word says it all–surreal. Or, to my mind, ridiculous. Much of the book was a boring recital of the descriptions of pieces of art in a gallery or sale catalog. Interspersed between these entries were seemingly random about the art work such as: “The swollen mouths anticipate the rash of Botox use in the city 50 years later.”  Ok…. Then there was the need to intrude–no force into our brains the image that one piece of art was rumored to be used by its owner as a mastra—–y aid. ICK to the nth degree. This line told all I needed to know about this book–it was published because of who the author is and not because it is at all creative. It is just a mess. I finished it so you don’t have to.

My Verdict

2 stars

Portrait of an Unknown Lady: A Novel by Maria Gainza, translated by Thomas Bunstead

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Six Degrees of Separation: Wintering by Katherine May

How the meme works

Books can be linked in obvious ways – for example, books by the same authors, from the same era or genre, or books with similar themes or settings. Or, you may choose to link them in more personal ways: books you read on the same holiday, books given to you by a particular friend, books that remind you of a particular time in your life, or books you read for an online challenge.

A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the ones next to them in the chain. You can read all the rules at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

About the book

Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered. A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat…..

I read, and surprisingly loved, this book. Here is a link to my review.

Follow up on my review. After reading the book, I’ve spent more than a year having an ice-cold smoothie for breakfast. It is almost always chocolate blueberry. (1 cup of Carbmaster vanilla yogurt, 2 teaspoons baking cocoa, 1 cup of water, ice). I’ve always gone for cold drinks in the morning. The smoothie helps as much, or more, than just a cold caffeinated drink (unsweetened iced tea). That could be the vitamins in the unsweetened blueberries, but I think that blast of super-cold also helps. The idea came from one of the stories in the book and how to adapt that story’s “cure” to a landlocked area.

My Chain

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I intentionally read this book at the same time as May’s, so it was the first book that came to mind. This time the wintering is about geese. We still learn about coping and adapting though, just like in May’s book, both from the life of the geese and from the life of the author. Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt (the link is to my review).

Another book, and excellent movie, with flying fowl in the winter is The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate. Young Osbert’s duck still haunts me. (I read this not long after it came out so the link is to Amazon–I do not make money off your clicks). 

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Another book set on a (likely) one-time sporting estate that would have hosted shooting parties is The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly.

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Another kind of estate is the one that conveys money and other “effects” to one’s heirs. Of that estate is put into  a “trust” for tax purposes like in the book Family Trust by Kathy Wang.

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A book that includes both types of estates and has a garden-tie in (the Rose Festival) is the wonderful My Mrs. Brown by William Norwich, in which the main character benefits from the legal estate and decides to do something based on something she’s read.

 

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Another book (a lifelong favorite of mine) in which a main character decides to do something based on something they’ve read and involves a (legal) estate is Auntie Mame. (Sorry no geese). Patrick reads in The Digest (ok, it’s a magazine, not a book, but….) about someone’s most unforgettable character and decides to tell about his most unforgettable character–his Auntie Mame who was his only living realitive after his father died and so took him in and raised him.  Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. (I’ve read Auntie Mame and Dennis’s The Joyous Season more times than I can count.)

So from a nonfiction book on coping to a book of the same title about geese to a book about shooting water fowl for sport to a book about the garden of an estate where birds probably were once shot for sport to the other kind of estate, to a book with both kinds of estates where a character bases a decision on something she read to another book where a character is affected by a legal estate and then acts on something he’s read. Got all that? Whew!

 

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Why not join the fun next month? We’ll start out chains with The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

My review of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, from 2014 on my old blog:

  Odd book that isn’t really about a Buddhist nun like it proports to be. My favorite character was the cat. A little sprinkling of sci-fi and a dump of hard science that I couldn’t begin to fathom, but that didn’t last long. A few “ick” moments (skip the intro if you want to miss the biggest one). Overall, the story was interesting though. Could have done without the mandatory PC-anti war screed, but it was a fleeting second in the story.”
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Two Reviews: A Real-Life Odyssey and a Nonfiction Thriller

These two books were what people used to call “real pills”–as in trouble. Trouble to review that is. I decided to quit trying to review them in my normal way and do a shorter version.

Candace Millard’s books are must-reads for me (though I skipped her Churchill book). She can tell a whale of a story. This time out is no different. Her portraits of her characters are vivid and full of life. (Though her strong prejudice against Speake came through a little too loud and clear). The adventures chronicled in this book are better than an Indiana Jones movie. But why was it important for us to know about one person’s pornography collection and porn sharing club?? This is the kind of crap that takes serious history down to the level of a bodice-ripper. Happily, that was a tiny blip in the book. Just about every human emotion is in here somewhere and believably conveyed, too.

River of the Gods by Candace Millard

The Special Air Service, SAS, was Britain’s covert paratroop unit in World War II. These men deployed via parachute behind enemy lines in France to wreck havoc any way they could to aid the Resistance. Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned on such covert operations and some were killed, others taken prisoner. Sadly, these men, though in correct uniform, were not treated as POWs by the Nazis–they were treated as spies and tortured. This is a true thriller–true in both it meets the criteria for the thriller genre and that it is a true story. The courage and heroism displayed here was extreme.

Churchill’s Band of Brothers by Damien Lewis

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Review: Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

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Thanks to blogger Covered in Flour (aka The Messy Baker) for alerting me to this book.

Won’t you be nice and click the link above and read her post, too? Leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.

My Interest

A woman fed up with her husband, fed up with her grown children? Never! A lady whose hobby has become a profession for which she now has a real reputation? Yes! And she runs….away???  And finds a younger man to adore her? Oh yeah! Sounds like an Anne Tyler except that she’s a painter and the time is the early 1930s in England and “Illyria” which is sort of today’s Croatia down to Albania. So, a book as pleasant as a Dean Street Press/Furrowed Middle Brow story, but helpful to my Reading the World project too, since I go by setting rather than nationality of the author. A final vote in this book’s favor was the title including the word “Spring” since it was still Spring when I started reading it–so it fit with my seasonal reading goal.

The Story

“…I’ve begun to find out what it is to feel free, out here–and now I’ve got to find out how to be free at home.” (p. 251)

Grace Stanway, aka Lady Kilmichael, wife of renown economist Sir Walter Kilmichael and mother of Linnet, Teddy and Neville, goes off to paint in much the same way my mother used to threaten (jokingly) to go off for a pound of butter and never return. Grace goes off to the Continent to paint and escape a headstrong daughter, a husband who treats her like an idiot and twins who, being in college, know everything. That’s not to say that she hates them! No, she does love them–in fact various things everywhere bring them happily to mind. She’s just, well, she’s just had it with being the family’s joke. She isn’t taken seriously. And, what’s more, it appears that dear Walter is “straying.” But is he? Does he take her for granted and see her as unintelligent–silly even? Hmmmm.

Along the way she meets a disenchanted, but charming and well-bread young man who aspires to be a painter. Except his father, a General, is imposing Architecture School on his dream to make him more respectable and to get him off the General’s payroll. Nicholas explodes telling Grace she simply can’t draw before he learns who she really “is.” After the explosion the two come to know each other and learn from each other. Nicholas falls in love, but Grace simply likes being taken seriously and being adored. She also enjoys showing him tricks of the painting trade–all of which help him improve his craft.

While this idyllic trip goes on, Walter is back home worried. Finally, he and Linnet go abroad as does The General. You can imagine what happens next I’m sure.

My Thoughts

This was the perfect novel to read out on my deck in the evenings! I loved Grace, I loved Nicholas–I loved Walter and came to like Linnet. This is a sweet, wonderful story without being cloying or precious. There are a few things that modern readers may find disagreeable (I don’t think there was anything that would anger someone)–especially Grace or Nicholas’ thoughts on the locals. The book came out in 1935, that was then. We’ve moved on so ignore it and enjoy the story.

My Verdict

3.5

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Summer 2022 To-Read List

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My summer TBR is a work in progress. This year, like many years, setting a list of books I must read is too much like homework. And, with my new job and much, much tighter budget I’m totally at the mercy of the public library and deeply discounted kindle book sales to get my hands on books. I did one version of a summer TBR here in my 20 Books of Summer post (click the link to read it).

Here are a few more books I may read this summer–or may not!

From NetGalley:

From the Lost Section of My Kindle:

Others:

Why not join in the Top Ten Tuesday fun next week?

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

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Review: The Ardent Swarm: A Novel by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnaud

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My Interest

I was trolling thru my Kindle looking for something different and landed on this short novel. I’m counting it in my Reading the World project as “Tunisia” because the author is Tunisian, it draws on the culture of that country and though set in am unnamed country, the story could be set there. CIA World Fact Book–Tunisia.

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The Story

(Don’t be put off by the first chapter). Sidi is a beekeeper who keeps to himself, takes good care of his bees and his donkey and minds his own business. He lives outside a small village in an undeveloped (“backward”) part of a poor North African country. The country is ruled by “the Handsome One.” One day everything starts to change in ways Sidi and his rural neighbors could not imagine. Largely illiterate they are faced with a new challenge–electing their own leader. Religious leaders arrive in the village and teach them to vote for their party by it’s symbol. To reinforce their voters’ learning they bring crates of food, clothing, blankets, and other necessities to the very poor villagers. A voting booth is put up. A village with no electricity or running water, no school, now had a voting booth. A voting booth where they could vote for the pigeon symbol instead of learning to read and think for themselves.

Soon after Sidi’s bees are violently attacked by a strange black hornet the likes of which no one has ever seen before. Society changes as rapidly as the life in the beehives. Suddenly women are covered head-to-toe, men dress differently too, and many carry rifles or even semi-automatics. The religious leaders make pronouncements. The professor Sidi goes to see about his bees suffers greatly from this new regime (trying to avoid spoilers). What will become of the bees and the people?

My Thoughts

This novel (novella in length), told in the style of a parable shows what can happen when people don’t pay attention to what is going on around them. Sidi, shows the difference one man (my “one” vote that people refuse to cast because it is “useless”) can make. 

I found it chilling to read this book at a time when many (I am not divulging my political opinions) feel the USA is now going the way of Sidi’s country–to a theocracy. It also brings to mind the famous quote about the Nazi’s

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

(Martin Niemoller)

“After the revolution, the time had come for democracy and journalism, but what came was and endless media debate in which politicians blamed one another for all that ailed the country.” (p. 114)

Too often today people want to ignore politics, to live in their own “bubble.” New is skewed totally to the opinion of one party or the other. “Serious” journalists now take only a Liberal point of view. It is too easy to tune it all out and focus on a ridiculous prince and his horrible wife or on real housewives or sports or (fill in the blank). We must be awake in life. As anxiety-producing and anger-invoking as politics can be, we must not turn a blind eye to it. We must not let corrupt politicians drive our nations an internal cataclysm of “us” versus “them.” We must unite to save ourselves from those corrupt politicians of we, too, will have the fate of the professor Sidi consults. Wake up, America. Unite.

The Ardent Swarm The Ardent Swarm: A Novel by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnaud

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Books with creeks, rivers, lakes, ponds, fjords or bays in the title.

First of all, thank you to She Reads Novels for the idea for this topic. Won’t  you please click and go read her post that inspired me?

I’ve read the majority of these. A few are on my TBR and the fjord book was added to even the numbers!

Do you like to do themed lists?  Have you done this topic or something similar? Leave me a comment or a link to your post–I’d love to read it.