Gifts Ideas for Book Lovers

It’s December and I’m in full shopping mode as I get ready for Christmas.

Shopping for the right gift for the right person is one of my favorite things to do. Luckily, many of my friends and family members are book lovers, so when I shop for them, it’s almost like shopping for myself!

So here are a few gift ideas I’ve got my eye on . . . maybe they’ll help you find the perfect gift for the book lover in your life, too. Just click on any of the images to learn more about each item.

Sorry, My Night is All Booked. Order it as a tee-shirt, sweatshirt, or comfy nightshirt.

 

Felted Wool Animal Bookmarks. Choose from six different animals, all avid book readers. Each one is about 3″ high.

Keep Calm and … oooooohh, a New Book! This tee-shirt comes in a nice variety of colors.

Bookmarks are for Quitters. Choose a coffee mug . . .

. . . or a shirt in a variety of styles and colors.

Stained glass hanging of books on a shelf. Wouldn’t this be a lovely addition to a favorite sunny window?

I wouldn’t mind at all if Santa brought me any of these gifts on Christmas morning (hint, hint); but in the meantime, I’m snagging some of them for my favorite book lovers. Happy shopping to you!

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Scenes from Cheapside

I’m working on a new story; it’s a variation on Pride and Prejudice that centers on the mayhem caused by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.

Some of the scenes will take place in the London home of the Gardiners in Cheapside.

Since my memory and imagination are sparked by visual cues, I’ve collected quite a few images of Cheapside for inspiration. Today I’ll share some of those images with you..

A map of the City of London in 1799, bounded in red, bordering the River Thames.

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For orientation, Cheapside is located in the City of London (not to be confused with London. Yes, London and the City of London are two different places.).

A close-up view of the 1799 map showing Cheapside and Gracechurch streets (in rectangles). St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London are highlighted in circles.

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Cheapside is located in the heart of The City. For hundreds of years it’s been the country’s main center of commerce and trade. In fact, it gained its name from the old Saxon word Chepe, meaning market or bargain.

A 1911 postcard showing bustling Cheapside; Mansion House is the structure with columns on the left

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Street names like Poultry, Milk, Pudding, Ironmonger, Bread, and Shoemaker serve as reminders of the area’s old market origins.

The gateway to Cheapside as it appeared in 1903. Mansion House is the building with columns on the left. The road that angles off to the right is Cheapside, with the church spire of St. Mary-le-Bow.

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Geographically, Cheapside covers less than a mile but more tradesmen were packed into the length of this street than any other avenue in the City of London.

A view of Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of London, as it appeared in 1837.

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Mr. Gardiner was engaged in trade in Cheapside, while his home was located on Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners lived within blocks of London Bridge on the east end of The City. I like to imagine they may have had a very good view of the Tower of London from their windows.

Cheapside, looking east down the street. The Church of St Mary-le-Bow is on the right. circa 1760.

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The Gardiner home would have been within walking distance of the center of England’s economic power.

The Bank of England (building on the right with columns) and Royal Exchange (on the left) as they appeared in 1907.

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Nearby was Mansion House (the residence of the Lord Mayor of London), the Bank of England, the Treasury, Custom House, and Royal Exchange.

The Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, and Mansion House by Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet.

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Beside great houses of commerce, Cheapside was famous for its retail establishments. Some of the best shopping to be had in Jane Austen’s time was in Cheapside.

A booksellers shop at No. 73 Cheapside, about 1790.

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From hat-makers to perfumeries, stationers to pianofortes, time-pieces to cottons and silks—the finest merchandise could be found in the warehouses and shops at Cheapside.

The London to Brighton Coach making a stop at Cheapside about 1830, by William Turner.

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Even on Gracechurch Street, where the Gardiners lived, shops and businesses of all sorts mingled with family homes.

The interior yard of the Spread Eagle Inn on Gracechurch street, about 1850.

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It’s no wonder, then, that merchants in Cheapside were extremely successful, and Mr. Gardiner was no exception.

The old Royal Exchange with the dome of St. Paul’s in the background, depicted in 1795 by Thomas Girtin. The Royal Exchange pictured burned down in 1838 but was rebuilt on the same site. It’s located on Threadneedle Street at the east end of Cheapside.

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Mr. Gardiner supported his family very well, indeed. Jane Austen described the Gardiners as well-bred and elegant. His income allowed him to host parties at the theater, while Mrs. Gardiner was free to squire Elizabeth, Sir William Lucas, and Maria Lucas through a day of shopping in London.

A 1930 photograph of the oldest house in Cheapside. Legend has it this building on the corner of Cheapside and Friday Street survived the Great Fire of 1666.

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Mr. Gardiner’s business was sound enough to allow him to take time off on a fairly regular basis. He and his family made frequent trips to visit the Bennets for as long as a week at a time.

View of The Monument from the south end of Gracechurch Street. Beydon The Monument is Fish Street Hill and old London Bridge. The church spire belongs to St. Magnus Martyr. The Monument was erected to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.

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And in March 1812 the Gardiners invited Elizabeth to join them on a lengthy “pleasure tour” of the Lakes. In the end, unexpected business concerns forced Mr. Gardiner to postpone their travels until July of that year, but they still intended to spend a month touring Derbyshire.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC miniseries looks over the countryside of the Peak District in Derbyshire.

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I have to admit Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are two of my favorite Pride and Prejudice characters. Mr. Gardiner is an effective foil for his sister Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Gardiner is a loving and trusted confidante to the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.

Joanna David and Tim Wylton as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice

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I’m looking forward to writing about the Gardiners’ home in Cheapside and the many visitors they receive there. (Hint: one of their callers will be a very proud young man from Derbyshire.)

Stay tuned for more . . .

A Special Month for My Special Friends

In my last post I described an old English tradition called Whip Dog Day. It’s one tradition that is best forgotten.

Today I want to talk about a twentieth century American tradition that is best remembered. It’s celebrated every year throughout the month of October. I’m talking about Adopt a Shelter Dog Month.

This is a celebration I can really get behind. I’ve had several pets during my long life and almost all of them joined my family after I found them at a shelter.

Let me introduce you to a few of my family members who came from dog shelters . . .

This is Byron, a corgi/basset hound mix, who is probably the smartest dog I’ve ever known.

He knows lots of words in Human, which is impressive when I realize I don’t know a how to say a single word in Dog.

Here’s Keats, a corgi/Dachshund mix:

He, too, was a shelter dog. He’s not as smart as Byron, and he had some very concerning behavioral issues when I first brought him home; but once he settled in and learned to trust me, I discovered something I hadn’t expected: he’s unfailingly happy all the time. An added bonus: if you toss a squeaky toy to him, he will be your devoted slave for the rest of his life.

Based on my photos, you may have noticed some trends in my preference for pets.

I tend to adopt dogs with black fur, because I once read that black dogs were less likely to be adopted than dogs with lighter hair color.

I tend to adopt dogs who have been at the shelter the longest. They are more likely to have medical or behavioral issues that make them less desirable for adoption. And that means they are more likely to be put down than other dogs.

I also tend to adopt dogs that no one else seems to want. So far, it seems no one wants dogs with satellite dishes for ears, but I do.

You may also notice that I have a predilection for naming pets after 18th Century Romantic poets.

Byron.

Keats.

By all rights, the next dog in line for adoption should be named Shelley, just to complete the triad.

That was my plan . . . But then something unexpected happened. Lacy came into my life.

Lacy, too, was a shelter dog when my cousin adopted her a few years ago. But when my cousin fell ill and had to be hospitalized, Lacy came to stay with me.

It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement; but a few days soon turned into a few weeks, then months, as my cousin remained hospitalized.

Unfortunately, my cousin never left the hospital; she passed away last February, and Lacy became a permanent member of my family.

Lacy blends right in, and since her arrival, I’ve realized that my dogs and I have a lot in common. We’re all motivated by treats and praise.

We all have short legs. And we all hate the vacuum cleaner.

But the key thing my dogs and I have in common is that we want to be loved, and we have plenty of love in our hearts to give back. With those kinds of benefits, there’s no reason anyone should believe they have to wait until October rolls around again to adopt a shelter dog.

I adopted Byron in the month of June. Keats came home with me during May of 2015. And Lacy became mine in February of 2016. So I can say from a place of experience that any month is the right month to bring a new pup home.

So even though today is the last day of October—and the last day to celebrate Adopt a Shelter Dog Month—there are plenty of reasons to visit your local animal shelter in November (or any other month) and find that special dog just waiting for you to take him or her home.

I’m tempted to go visit my Denver shelter in the next few weeks myself, just to see if they might possibly have a dog that would make a good addition to my own family . . .

. . . A small dog with black fur who wouldn’t mind answering to the name Shelley.

On This Date . . .

In England October 18 is St. Luke’s Day, a day to commemorate Luke, the patron saint of artists, physicians, bachelors, surgeons, students and butchers.

October 18 is also Whip Dog Day, an old ritual in which local boys ganged together to round up and literally whip any unfortunate dog they happen to find on the streets.

It was an ancient custom, established in a church in York, when a priest, celebrating mass, dropped one of the consecrated wafers. A stray dog that had wandered into the church snatched it up and promptly ate it. The poor animal was instantly captured and killed, and on the anniversary of his crime all stray dogs are forced to pay the price for the wafer-eater’s sin.

Detail of a 1616 (oil on panel) painting by John Gipkin (fl.1594-1629); courtesy the Society of Antiquaries of London, UK/ The Bridgeman Art Library

I’ve read some accounts that say the practice of whipping dogs on October 18 was confined to York, but further reading tells me that the custom was more wide-spread.

In A History of Derbyshire author John Pendleton writes this about the village of Baslow:

I’m okay with the idea of gently nudging sleeping congregants to keep them awake during Sunday church services; but that whole business about whipping dogs makes me shudder.

Dog whipping remained part of St. Luke’s Day traditions for hundreds of years. It was still in practice during the Regency era in some parts of the country.

I’ve never read a novel set during the Regency in which Whip Dog Day was mentioned, although there is a scene in chapter nine of Georgette Heyer’s Arabella in which the heroine saves a dog from a group of boys bent on tormenting it.

Can you imagine whipping this sweet pup? Neither can I.

Thankfully, the practice of celebrating Whip Dog Day died out in the late 1800s when we humans made the turn and began viewing animals in a more humane light. It’s an observance that is no longer practiced today and for that I—as a lifelong dog lover—am truly grateful.

Win a Netherfield Library Prize Package!

Last week I had the good fortune to visit Meredith Esparza’s blog, Austenesque Reviews, where Meredith and I talked about my new book, Mary and the Captain.

This was my first appearance at Austenesque Reviews, and I was so excited to be there! I decided to commemorate my visit by offering a giveaway to Austenesque readers!

The best part is, there’s still time for you to enter to win the prize package, inspired by items Mary and Captain Bingley found in the library at Netherfield Park.

The prize package includes:

Netherfield Library Prize Package

• A wax seal set you can use to seal your own letters and cards, just as Mary and Robert set their seal to the letters they wrote together in the library.

• A pair of desk scissors inspired by the very scissors Kitty lent Robert to open an important letter he received.

• A modern-day ballpoint pen bearing Jane Austen’s autograph, perfect for writing your own clever correspondence.

• A red-and-white ribbon bookmark, so you’ll never have to worry about losing your place in the story.

• A signed copy of my book, Mary and the Captain.

• A lovely Pride and Prejudice inspired bag to carry your copy of Mary and the Captain wherever you go!

The best part is, there’s still time to enter the drawing! Just click here to leave a comment on my post at Austenesque Reviews, and you’ll have a chance to win the prize package.

Hurry! The last day to enter is August 30!

 

 

A Dangerous Game of Billiards

Today I’d like to share with you an account I found of a 1798 billiard game that went horribly wrong.

This was a case that attracted a lot of attention at the time. The parties were:

Mr. Pitter, “a German” who had been a gentleman’s servant; and

Colonel Fitzroy, a man of some renown and, possibly (based on his surname), a man connected to the Royal Family.

Here’s the news account:

“It appeared in evidence that, on the third of August last, the plaintiff and defendant were at the library at Eastbourn. In this library there was a billiard table. Mr. North (the Bishop of Winchester’s son) and other gentlemen were present.”

Game of Billiards by August Serrure

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“The plaintiff . . . played several games with the Colonel.”

A Game of Billiards by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1807

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“A dispute took place respecting the laws of the game, in the course of which the plaintiff contradicted the defendant.”

“The Colonel asked him how he dared to contradict a gentleman, and then beat him in so violent a manner, that he was under a surgeon’s hands, and kept his bed for several days.”

Game of Billiards by Theodore Levigne

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“The defence to this action was that the plaintiff had used very provoking language to the defendant, and that he had brought the assault upon himself by his insolent behaviour.”

“The learned judge of the court lamented that gentlemen of fortune and family should play with such men as the plaintiff. If they chose to make any men their companions, and get into scrapes, they must abide the consequences. His verdict: The plaintiff was entitled to a verdict, with reasonable damages. Verdict for the plaintiff—Damages Ten Pounds.”

The Billiard Game by Jean-Baptiste_Simeon Chardin, 1725

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I love reading accounts like this because they contain so much information about what it was like to live in Georgian England. The story is a compact little primer on societal prejudices, class distinctions, and monetary values in the late 1700s.  I was also intrigued by the reasoning the judge used to reach his verdict.

Who knew a simple game of billiards could have such consequences!

 

Jane Austen and the Weekly Reader Book Club

When I was a kid in grade school the best day ever was the day my teacher distributed the Weekly Reader Book Club catalog to the class.

A Weekly Reader catalog from 1964

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It was a four-page listing of paperback books children could purchase. For me (growing up in a family that didn’t believe in giving children an allowance) that meant I had to earn the money to buy books. I did extra chores for my parents and neighbors, like pulling weeds for a quarter and sweeping out the garage for fifty cents. I essentially volunteered to do any job that no one else wanted to do.

But come Weekly Reader day, I had money to spend, and that’s what mattered.

Arrow Book Club catalog from the late 1960s

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I have vivid memories of taking my Weekly Reader catalog home and studying it very carefully. My money was hard-earned, and there was only so much of it to go around. I was intent on making the best possible book choices.

Once I decided on my purchases, I filled out the order slip, counted my change into an envelope, which I sealed and wrote my name on, and handed everything—order form and envelope—to my teacher the next day.

The Wrong Box was the first book I read by Robert Louis Stevenson, bought through the Weekly Reader.

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Now that I think about it, ordering the books was easy. The difficult part was waiting for the books to arrive. It’s hard to describe how exciting it was for me two weeks later to see the box sitting on my teacher’s desk, knowing she was going to open it at the end of the day and deliver my books to me at my desk.

My books. Those two words were powerful to me. I loved the idea of owning books of my very own. Books I didn’t have to return to a library; books that didn’t come from a second–hand store. The books my teacher delivered to me were new and beautiful and had never been read by anyone else before. They were just for me.

That experience—repeated over and over again through my elementary and middle school years—firmly established my life-long love for books and reading. The books I bought as a child became my treasures. Now, as an adult, I still have many of the first books I purchased through the Weekly Reader Book Club.

Another purchase. I bought this novel because it was the basis for a Disney movie.

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One of those books was Pride and Prejudice, which I bought when I was 12 years old. Like all lovers of Jane Austen, I now have multiple copies of the novel, but my 1966 Weekly Reader edition is still my go-to copy.

On the inside front cover is my signature scrawled in a twelve-year-old’s hand; and if I set the book down on its spine, the pages now fall naturally open to my favorite parts of the book.

My first copy of Sense and Sensibility also found its way into my home library through the Weekly Reader program. It was Sense and Sensibility that sealed my love for Jane Austen. It, too, is well worn; the cover and most of the pages came loose from the spine decades ago, and I have to keep them in place by tying the book with a ribbon. Still, this version remains my favorite reading copy of S&S.

It’s interesting to me that my love for Jane Austen’s novels was sparked at the same time I first realized my love for books and reading in general. They were simultaneous occurrences, and both combined into a single desire to build my own library of books that I would treasure my entire life.

Another Weekly Reader buy. Not everything I read as a kid was high-brow.

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What about you? Did you buy your own books from a school program like the Weekly Reader?

Do you remember the first book you ever bought? Please share the name of the book in the comments section. Do you still have the book today?

Geeking Out Over the Georgian Papers

Because I write historical romance, I do a lot of research. It’s part of the job, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I live in an age when a lot of what I want or need to know is only a mouse click away.

This week I found a new on-line resource for researching English history during the Georgian Era. It’s a website called The Georgian Papers Programme, and it houses the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.

The project to make the Royal Archives available on the Internet was begun by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. Workers are still digitizing documents, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2020. By that time, there will be over 350,000 pages of Georgian diaries, essays, love letters, state documents and dinner menus spanning the years 1714 to 1837.

I’ve already spent many pleasant hours browsing the collection. Much of what’s been digitized so far centers around King George III and his family.

King George III in his coronation robes

One of the treasures I found on the site is a hand-written book of menus documenting the meals served to the Prince of Wales and his guests at Carlton House.

As an example, here’s a portion of the dinner menu for the evening of Tuesday, December 1, 1812:

It’s hard to read, but the first course consists of:

Soupe Rice with Pullets
Soupe Clear

Soles for Shrimp Sauce

Turkey boild with Oyster Sause 2 pints
Ham with Scotch Cale

Mutton Pullets a la Soubrasse
Croquets of Pullet
Pullets of Capon
Fillets of Whiting with Tarragon

There’s another entire menu book devoted to the day of the Prince of Wales’ (George IV’s) Coronation.

There are drawings of almost fifty different dining tables, showing the place setting for each guest and where on the table each individual serving dish was to be placed.

It’s this level of detail that makes my inner Royalty Geek incredibly happy!

Another find was a 1781 letter from King George III to his Prime Minister Lord North that reads, in part:

My eldest son got last year into a very improper connection with an actress and woman of indifferent character. Through the friendly assistance of Ld. Malden a multitude of letters past which she has threatened to publish unless he in short bought them of her …

The letter goes on to reveal just how much the king was willing to pay that Woman of Indifferent Character to hand over those letters Prinny wrote, and he asks Lord North to help him settle the matter.

The Prince of Wales in 1798, by William Beechey; (c) Royal Academy of Arts; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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More treasures I discovered:

  • Records of spies working for King George III
  • Lovely letters written by Queen Charlotte to Lady Charlotte Finch, governess to the royal children
  • An abdication plan drafted by King George III
  • Princess Amelia’s will in which she (King George III’s youngest child) scandalized her family by leaving her possessions to Charles FitzRoy, her father’s equerry and the man she loved.

Princess Amelia

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I was even able to compare King George III’s signatures from 1787 to 1810, hinting at the progression of the disease that would eventually kill him.

King George III’s signature in 1788

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King George III’s signature in 1809

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King George III’s signature in 1810

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If you love digging into the details of royal life—especially royalty in the Georgian age—you’ll find plenty to delight you at the Georgian Papers Programme.

Here’s where you’ll find the website:

gpp.royalcollection.org.uk

Enjoy!