Friday, July 1, 2022

Book Review - A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen

My Review

A Dress of Violet Taffeta is a historical novel based on the life or Lucy Duff Gordon.  Lucy divorced her cruel  husband in the late 1800's and needed to find a way to support herself and her young daughter Esme. She had a gift for design and slowly built a business as a fashion designer. Over the years her business expanded to a design house with a ballroom and models. She met a wonderful man, Cosmo Duff Gordon, and found personal happiness again ... before a fateful trip on the Titanic.

Lucy Duff Gordon

Dress designed by Lady Duff Gordon, 1918

I wanted to read this novel because I love historical fiction and enjoyed the Poppy Redfern mysteries by Tessa Arlen. I also am interested in the Titanic (and long ago ship travel in general), so that added to my interest.

This was a fascinating novel!  I loved the glimpse of fashion design in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The descriptions of embroidery, beading, and especially colors, was so evocative -- I could picture the fashions described so vividly.  It was also interesting how Lucy worked toward a more natural (and comfortable!) silhouette for women, away from the rigid corsets of the 1800's.

Lucy was a wonderful protagonist. She was strong and caring and looked out always for her daughter and mother.  I enjoyed her relationship with her often outrageous sister, Elinor Glyn (who created the idea of the "It Girl"). I also liked the way Lucy treated her employees, including a close friendship with her shop assistant, and assuring good work conditions and a positive shop experience for all the other employees.

I also enjoyed the story of Lucy's slow moving romance with Cosmo.  He was a unique man for the time in his loving support of his wife's career goals.

The Titanic story was vividly evoked, and the story of the lifeboat escape was harrowing -- especially as the survivors witnessed the devastation of the ship at such close range.

I found A Dress of Violet Taffeta fascinating, and recommend it for other fans of historical fiction.  Readers with an interest in fashion history or the Titanic will especially enjoy it.

Book Synopsis

A sumptuous novel based on the fascinating true story of La Belle Époque icon Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, who shattered the boundaries of fashion with her magnificently sensual and enchantingly unique designs.

Lucy Duff Gordon knows she is talented. She sees color, light, and texture in ways few people can begin to imagine. But is the male dominated world of haute couture, who would use her art for their own gain, ready for her?

When she is deserted by her wealthy husband, Lucy is left penniless with an aging mother and her five-year-old daughter to support. Desperate to survive, Lucy turns to her one true talent to make a living. As a little girl, the dresses she made for her dolls were the envy of her group of playmates. Now, she uses her creative designs and her remarkable eye for color to take her place in the fashion world—failure is not an option. 

Then, on a frigid night in 1912, Lucy’s life changes once more, when she becomes one of 706 people to survive the sinking of the Titanic.  She could never have imagined the effects the disaster would have on her fashion label Lucile, her marriage to her second husband, and her legacy. But no matter what life throws at her, Lucy will live on as a trailblazing and innovative fashion icon, never letting go of what she worked so hard to earn.

Author Bio

Tessa Arlen writes historical fiction when she is not toiling away in her garden. She is the author of the Edwardian mystery series: Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson; the Woman of World War II mystery series. Poppy Redfern. And two standalone historical novels: In Royal Service to the Queen, and A Dress of Violet Taffeta.



Friday, June 24, 2022

Book Review - Remember Whose Little Girl You Are by Ellen Nichols

My Review

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are is the memoir of Ellen Nichols, who grew up in the Baby Boomer vintage south, the daughter of a Methodist minister. This book chronicles her life from early childhood through college.

I wanted to read this book because I found the time period and setting appealing.  I also grew up in a socially progressive Christian family in the Deep South, but about 20 years after the period chronicled in this book.  I found it interesting how much had changed and how much was still the same as well.

This is a charming book. I have been thinking about it since I closed the cover.  The author is a born storyteller.  It is a very short book (116 pages) with short chapters as well.  Ellen Nichols packs a lot into those chapters, though.  Her storytelling is natural and breezy, as if she was sitting beside you and leaning over to say "oh - and then this happened!"

There are some hilarious stories about her early childhood growing up in Methodist parsonages across the south.  She was the proverbial "wild child" preacher's kid (PK), ready to throw off her clothes or run around with boys who were eager to do her bidding as a very young girl.  I laughed out loud several times at stories, like the incident when she and a little boy took the church collection money and distributed it to friends -- until her mother found out and she went back around to collect it again.

She chronicles racial issues as well, as they touched her young life and the lives of her forward thinking parents.  She writes of going to the back of the bus to sit as a statement.  

She also chronicles the changes of the 1960's - a friend changed forever by Vietnam, freewheeling musicians, her early romances.  She had a young beau named Michael Edwards, who later dated Priscilla Presley, and Steve Young, who wrote the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road" about her.

The author has a gift at evoking another time and place in passages like:

"One steamy summer night, he took me to a party in the backyard of a friend of his who had hung Japanese lanterns from the tree branches.  Because of the intense humidity, each lantern had a misty aura wisping around it.  Hundreds of swirling fireflies added to the feeling of being in an exotic, tropical location.  We drank beer, ate potato chips and sandwiches, and danced to the latest music of Bo Diddley, Otis Redding, and Soloman Burke, getting closer to our dance partners with the downing of each beer.  But the true mating dance began when the host turned off the record player, picked up a trumpet, and played 'Tenderly' as if he were born in a New Orleans brothel" (pp. 54 - 55).

Ellen Nichols mentions a second volume in the works, and I hope it is published soon.  I want to read more!  I loved this little book and recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys southern storytelling and a glimpse of Mid-Century life in the Deep South.  

Book Synopsis

Remember Whose Little Girl You Are captures the flavor of the Deep South like no author since Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor. Ellen Nichols captures the tenor of small-town Southern life in the fifties and sixties, with its vicissitudes and hilarity. One is captured with her openness and drawn deeply into the dialogue-so much as to, according to one reader, sometimes feel guilty of spying.

Read it and see if you want those times back-or are just relieved they’re gone.

Buy, read, and discuss this book:

IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Author Bio 

Ellen grew up in the American Deep South, but with a spirit of adventure, she went up to Toronto, Canada, to go to graduate school, and stayed 50 years.

No, she wasn’t a slow student, she just ended up getting married, raising a family, and building a successful career in charitable fundraising. She has been writing for a living for years, but was always writing for someone else. Her grant proposals, direct marketing letters, and especially her thank you letters, are legend. Her persuasive writing skills raised millions of dollars.

Those Canadians loved her tales about her southern life so much, she decided to write them down and they became Remember Whose Little Girl You Are.

Recently, she moved back down south where she lives on Santa Rosa Sound near Pensacola. And yes, she is now writing about all her Canadian adventures.

You can learn more about Ellen on her website.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Book Review and Giveaway - Bayou Book Thief (A Vintage Cookbook Mystery) by Ellen Byron

My Review

Ricki James is a young widow who has moved to New Orleans for a new start in life. She lands her dream job, managing a museum gift shop that specializes in vintage cookbooks and cookware. When a pesky docent shows up dead - and books he owned (many stolen) are sent to her - she becomes involved in solving the murder mystery.

I wanted to read Bayou Book Thief because I have enjoyed Ellen Byron's Cajun Country Mystery series so much. I love New Orleans. And most important - I collect and sell vintage cookbooks.

This is my favorite start to a new cozy mystery series in ages. Ricki is a smart and likable protagonist. She really knows her vintage cookbooks, and her knowledge about cookbooks - and cooking history - is interspersed through the novel in fascinating tidbits.

I loved the delightfully captured New Orleans atmosphere, and the beauty and quirkiness of the museum as well. I liked Ricki's friends on the staff, and her potential romantic interest as well.

The mystery was well plotted and kept me guessing. It was well paced and so engrossing that I didn't want to take "life breaks" from reading.

I highly recommend Bayou Book Thief for fans of cozy mysteries, especially anyone who loves vintage cookbooks or New Orleans settings. 

Book Synopsis

A fantastic new cozy mystery series with a vintage flair from USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award–winning author Ellen Byron.  

Twenty-eight-year-old widow Ricki James leaves Los Angeles to start a new life in New Orleans after her showboating actor husband perishes doing a stupid internet stunt. The Big Easy is where she was born and adopted by the NICU nurse who cared for her after Ricki’s teen mother disappeared from the hospital. 

Ricki’s dream comes true when she joins the quirky staff of Bon Vee Culinary House Museum, the spectacular former Garden District home of late bon vivant Genevieve “Vee” Charbonnet, the city’s legendary restauranteur. Ricki is excited about turning her avocation – collecting vintage cookbooks – into a vocation by launching the museum’s gift shop, Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware. Then she discovers that a box of donated vintage cookbooks contains the body of a cantankerous Bon Vee employee who was fired after being exposed as a book thief.  

The skills Ricki has developed ferreting out hidden vintage treasures come in handy for investigations. But both her business and Bon Vee could wind up as deadstock when Ricki’s past as curator of a billionaire’s first edition collection comes back to haunt her. 

Will Miss Vee’s Vintage Cookbooks and Kitchenware be a success … or a recipe for disaster?

Author Bio

Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and multiple Lefty Awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Bayou Book Thief will be the first book in her new Vintage Cookbook Mysteries. She also writes the Catering Hall Mystery series under the name Maria DiRico.

Ellen is an award-winning playwright, and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like Wings, Just Shoot Me, and Fairly Odd Parents. She has written over two hundred articles for national magazines but considers her most impressive credit working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. An alum of New Orleans’ Tulane University, she blogs with Chicks on the Case, is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America and will be the 2023 Left Coast Crime Toastmaster. Please visit her at

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Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Review - Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner

My Review

Bloomsbury Girls is a historical novel set in post-war London. Bloomsbury Books is a wonderful, old fashioned bookstore that needs just a bit of change. That change may come in the form of three female employees: Vivien Lowry, an ambitious and forward thinking young woman whose fiance was killed in World War II;  Grace Perkins, a young mother who is working to support her family; and Evie Stone, a bright, very young woman who didn't find her place in academia. 

I wanted to read this book because I love historical fiction, especially books centering on this time period. I worked in bookstores for years, sell vintage books, and found the bookstore setting immensely appealing.

This is such a lovely, engrossing book!  I can't believe I haven't read The Jane Austen Society, which evidently is linked to this story, but now I clearly have to. 

The author does a wonderful job at setting the time and place. She has three distinctly different protagonists, but they are all fully realized characters, appealing and interesting in their own way. I found Vivien's story particularly compelling and especially enjoyed her storyline - which included meeting literary figures like Daphne Du Maurier.

I like the framework of the novel, with chapters that begin with a rule from the bookstore, i.e. "Rule No. 27  Fraternizing with customers outside the shop is strictly prohibited" (eBook location 1311). Of course, the following chapter relates to each rule.

I have already started telling friends about Bloomsbury Girls, which I enthusiastically recommend for fans of historical fiction, especially for anyone who loves bookstores and a bookish setting.

Book Synopsis

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare book store that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager's unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiance was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances--most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she's been working to support the family following her husband's breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she's working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time--Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others--these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

Author Bio

Natalie Jenner is the author of two books, the instant international bestseller THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY (2020) and the forthcoming BLOOMSBURY GIRLS (2022). A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for best historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller, and has been sold for translation in twenty-one countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

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Book Review - 100 Days of Adventure: Nature Activities, Creative Projects, and Field Trips for Every Season by Greta Eskridge

My Review

100 Days of Adventure is a big, colorful book for children, parents, and teachers.  It has experiments, crafts, and recipes that are fun and accessible to do at home, when traveling, or in the backyard.  Many of the activities are free or low cost. The book is geared toward children ages 6 to 10.

I wanted to read this book because I enjoyed working for years in preschool, afterschool, and summer camp settings. I often review books for children here.

First: this is a great looking book! It is illustrated by Emily Paik. The cover is bright and appealing, and similar artwork appears throughout the book. 

This is a unique book. It could be read as a family or by children who have an adventurous spirit and good reading skills.  The book is divided by seasons with fun activities for every time of year.  A few of the appealing activities include:  

Make a Summer Nature Collection

Meteor Slumber Party

Chalk Art Masterpiece

Poet Practice: Fall

Rainy-Day Ramble

Snow Castle

Feed the Birds

Take a Night Hike

Backyard Pumpkin Patch

The activities include descriptions, tips, and specific information to make the activity work smoothly - and fun!

I would recommend this book for homeschooling families, for children who love crafts and backyard activities, for teachers, Scout leaders, and anyone who works with kids.  It is a great resource presented in a lively and appealing manner.

Book Synopsis

Second-generation homeschooling mom Greta Eskridge shares 100 hands-on, learning activities for kids that will connect and enrich your family through adventures, small and big. Turn off the screen and turn on the creativity, curiosity, and love of nature as you have a meteor slumber party, attend a symphony concert, take a hike in the rain, preserve colorful fall leaves, make nettle pesto, and venture into the great, wide, real world.

In 100 Days of Adventure, children ages 6 to 10 will

  • unplug from electronics and explore the world, from backyard bugs to farmer’s market veggies and plants along the trail
  • learn about nature, art, music, and themselves through STEAM projects and new experiences
  • bond with parents and siblings, learn new skills with individual investigations, or explore with friends in an educational or homeschool group

This full-color activity book for kids includes

  • 100 indoor and outdoor activities, projects, experiments, crafts, recipes, and field trips, divided by season
  • many activities that are free or low cost, with options for different kinds of families and locations
  • step-by-step directions, nature journal prompts, tips, and checklists
  • beautiful photos and helpful illustrations
  • a note to parents with encouraging start-here guidance on growing a family culture of curiosity and adventure

Whether your family is looking for fun activities for school breaks at home, road trip vacations, or everyday ways to learn together, this collection of interactive educational activities will help your kids get creative, get into nature, and get closer to each other.

Don’t miss Greta’s essential guide for parents on building a connected and loving family through exploration, Adventuring Together: How to Create Connections and Make Lasting Memories with Your Kids.

Author Bio

Greta Eskridge is a home schooling mom of 4. She loves to fill her family’s days with reading, making art, and being outside as much as possible. Her favorite places to be are on a hiking trail or at the tide pools–preferably with an iced coffee in hand. Greta loves laughing, having adventures and taking cat naps in the afternoon. She and her artist husband, Aaron, make their home in sunny southern California.

Greta is also an author and speaker. She travels the country speaking and sharing her message of joyful, connected parenting.

Greta would love to connect with you. You can hang out with her on her Instagram feed. You’ll find her @maandpamodern. You can also find her on her blog at