Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester: Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

Natasha Lester is one of the most generous authors in Australia. Her blog is inspiring and informative. It is this generosity, and a love of her travel updates on Facebook as she researches her novels, that inspired me to pick up Her Mother’s Secret – as much as the beautiful cover and intriguing blurb! I scored A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald through a free iBooks promotion via Facebook. I can hardly wait for The Paris Seamstress to come out in March.

Natasha captures the glamour of the 20s – the music, dancing, fashion, cosmetics, and hope of the time. After the first world war, women had had a taste for working outside the home, and they didn’t want to give that up. It was an exciting and liberating period for women. Natasha expertly throws you back in time to experience the ride alongside her beautiful characters.

What I loved most about Her Mother’s Secret and A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald:

  1. In a time when women were just starting to break further into the work force, Leo and Evie are fierce and ambitious. They have career goals as well as romantic desires. They break boundaries and surprise society.
  2. The ‘villainous’ characters exist in the grey. I can’t completely hate them, I have sympathy for them, even though they flaunt their cruelty.
  3. The romances are realistic – the characters are flawed – there are misunderstandings, lies, half-truths, sacrifices and amazing sex.
  4. I love how Leo and Evie each have a bevy of supportive women friends around them.
  5. I loved Alice’s photo shoot, jumping forward to 1930s New York. The tension and the beauty of this scene had me seething with envy. It was delicious to imagine, and Alice’s character really captured that 19-year-old angst and anticipation.
  6. I adored the history – cosmetics, fashion, advertising, ballet, Ziegfeld’s Follies, a speakeasy and obstetrics.
  7. Technically, Natasha is a wonderful storyteller. The novels have the right balance of setting the historical scene and keeping the story moving apace, dialogue and description, career goals and romance. The plots are compelling, and the characters are memorable and inspiring.

There is so much more about these novels that I could say and rave about, but really, you should just go read them for yourselves. Consider yourself forewarned though – they are un-put-down-able.

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Haddon Hall: for Jane Eyre and Princess Bride fans

Haddon Hall: for Jane Eyre and Princess Bride fans

Haddon hall is gorgeous and full of real and cinematic history.

There is no rope or prescribed route. Minimal crowds. You meander your way through as you please.

An oakpanelled room had an open fire and a musician playing twice during the day. A classical guitarist strummed to our visit, but I think they change it up regularly. It cost no extra. You could walk in and walk out as the music suited you.

The garden held a small wedding while we visited… and you could see why. It was so beautifully kept and in keeping with the stony backdrop of the Hall.

It’s a Medieval hall that used to be separate buildings, a hall, a chapel, the kitchens, but over time as the technology improved and the risk of fire reduced, they were connected. Tapestries depicting the senses decorate the walls. The main hall has a slightly raised dais at one end, and a manacle to chain you to the wall at the other end. Time was that refusing to drink was a punishable crime against the spirit of conviviality.

The royals seem to enjoy visiting the hall, they have graffitied the wall above one of the fireplaces. It is covered with glass or something to protect it.

So what kind of literary fan are you? If you were to visit Haddon Hall would you see Mr Rochester’s Thornfield or Prince Humperdinck’s castle?

I adore both. Jane Eyre for its intensity and richness of character. Princess Bride for its comedic value- and one of the best sword fighting scenes ever. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the films.

Even so, I don’t always like Mr Rochester, I think he’s a bit of a git. As for The Princess Bride, it is soooo corny. The side of my cheek is sore from biting it by the end.

Here are some of my favourite quotes from each:

Jane Eyre

“Do you think I am an automaton?–a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!–I have as much soul as you,–and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;–it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,–as we are!”

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.”

The Princess Bride

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

“As you wish!”

“They’re kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?”

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Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

Chatsworth house or Lyme park?

If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan (guilty! Though Persuasion is my favourite Austen) then you’ll likely be familiar with this question. Which makes for a better Pemberley?

Luckily you don’t have to answer it because you can visit both in person like my husband and I did. Or watch either as Pemberley.

In the 1995 BBC TV series, Lyme Park is used as Pemberley, in the famous lake scene semi-recreated here by my handsome hubby.

In the Kiera Knightley version, Chatsworth house features. For Austen fans, Chatsworth house has the added benefit of being visited by Elizabeth Bennet in her tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle.

Both houses and grounds are truly stunning, but with very different histories.

Lyme Park, house and garden was famously home to the Legh family. The house was built in the late 16th century, but Thomas Legh directed substantial renovations to the property in the Regency era. The tour of the house centres on the life of Thomas Legh, an adventurer who traveled through Egypt and wrote about his experiences. On returning home, he became an entrepreneur. The library is also home to the Lyme missal, a 15th century prayer book, touted as the most important printed book the National Trust’s collection.

I loved Lyme Park because we saw a magnificent herd of deer grazing. They also had a second hand bookstore in the basement. There was a lego tour and an opportunity to dress up for families, which was very sweet. My husband and I walked on though. We’ve done P&P dress up before 🙂 I’ll save that for another post. Lyme Park was also less busy than Chatsworth to my delight and relaxation.

Pro tips:

1) Ask the staff lots of questions, they know heaps of history!

2) Wander up to the deer park for a gander.

Chatsworth house was the 16th century home to Bess of Hardwick, the second most important woman in Elizabethan England. The house is still occupied by the Cavendish line (of her second husband). Her fourth and final husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was tasked with being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots who was kept prisoner at Chatsworth house for a time.

I loved Chatsworth house because it had vast landscaped gardens you could amble through and lose the crowds that gathered in the house. The maze was magnificent and challenging. The house and family have a strong connection with fashion throughout history and there is currently an exhibition throughout the entire house celebrating this relationship. In the chapel, the family wedding dresses, christening gowns and mourning clothes were displayed – it was a deeply moving tribute to life and death through fashion.

Pro tips:

1) We did the garden first thing in the morning, and the house later in the day. The queue for the house was crazy long first thing.

2) Visit nearby Bakewell and The Bakewell Tart Shop (in the footsteps of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan). The Bakewell tart is delicious.

I can’t choose a favourite between them. Can you?

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The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan

Highly recommended. Find it here

When I finished this book, I wrapped my arms around my husband and cried a little. 

While I was reading it, I would often set it aside and curl myself up on his lap for a hug. 

A third of the way through, I had to set it aside for a few months until I felt stronger. This isn’t a book to be read over breakfast or lunch. It hurts too much. 

This is a book that sweeps you away in the stream of its beautiful prose. It portrays grief and anxiety with grace and sensitivity. It is raw and unflinching. It opened wounds and stitched them back together again with a fragile hope. 

It is a vivid and heartbreaking masterpiece. 

Have you read The Paper House? What did it make you think and feel? 

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Weekend coffee share

Weekend coffee share

If we were having coffee this weekend, it would be at Burgate Coffee house in Canterbury. I ordered a single shot flat white with almond milk, which made you laugh. I can’t handle more than a single shot of coffee … about once a week. I’m way to sensitive to the caffeine. As for the almond milk, er well, I prefer the nutty flavour and have been avoiding dairy for a little while for my stomach.

I was with friends in Canterbury this weekend checking out the Cathedral and wandering around the town. It was really nice – had some very pretty gardens – and old walls and gates. The crypt of the Cathedral was very peaceful. It was being set up for a wedding and looked very romantic. The train from London felt long, but is probably one of the shorter trains I’ve caught in England, cheaper too, for booking in advance.

I got in plenty of reading and am almost finished Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. Loving it! Given that I usually adore highlander romances and have a special interest in time travel – this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. I love the references to local mythology like waterhorses and changelings. The treatment of the witchcraft arc was so powerful! It’s a great window into the history of the Jacobite era.

I haven’t visited Doune Castle (pictured) just yet, but I hope to in August. It features in the TV series of Outlander, and in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The latter is how I hope to entice my husband on the trek. It’s about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, or closer to two hours by public transport.

Have you been to Canterbury Cathedral or Doune Castle? Are you an Outlander fan or Monty Python fan?


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Recently read: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Recently read: We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin

We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, is a dystopian novel where people are numbered not named, sex is managed via a pink ticket system, and every hour of the day is strictly controlled.

Can you imagine every wall being made of glass? Zero privacy?

Zamyatin did, back in 1924. Before Orwell’s 1984. Well before the Hunger Games or Divergent. We is one of the original dystopian novels. It is an incredible read… here are a few of my favourite quotes:

“And everyone must lose his mind, everyone must! The sooner the better! It is essential — I know it.”

“You’re in a bad way! Apparently, you have developed a soul.”

“There is no final one; revolutions are infinite.”

“Now I no longer live in our clear, rational world; I live in the ancient nightmare world, the world of square roots of minus one.”

As a mathematician – I really appreciated that last one and the many references to science through the novel. For interested readers, the square root of minus one is a number so special, it has it’s own letter: ‘i’ (unless you are working in electronics, where ‘i’ already means current and the square root of minus one is ‘j’). You can easily take the square root of 1 to get 1, 4 to get 2, 9 to get 3, 16 to get 4 and so on… but if you try to take the square root of minus one, or any negative number for that matter… you end up in the realm of ‘Imaginary numbers‘.

What’s so special about We is that Zamyatin talks science and poetry in the same paragraph, in such a way that you don’t have to know about fun things like imaginary numbers to understand the story. It’s polymathy in a novel. It’s brilliant.

What would it be like to read Zamyatin in his original language? I read the translation by Clarence Brown. It included an introduction, which really helped place the novel in the context in which it was written, the theories of Taylorism on efficient management, and described some of the translation choices, such as Yuny as the slang for uniforms.

Enough gushing. If you love dystopians – I highly recommend making this journey back to the source!

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The Obernewtyn Chronicles

The Obernewtyn Chronicles

Source: Pixabay

I Finished The Obernewtyn Chronicles! Capital F!

Reading one through seven novels over the past few weeks has been an all-consuming epic adventure. Love to my husband for bearing with me. I gave him regular updates on the characters, all the while begging more time to spend with them. Eyes glistening, hugging my kindle.

The first novel was first published in 1987 and the seventh in 2015. I think I read several of the earlier novels around 2003? Maybe? Too long ago to remember more than the barest glimpses, but recent enough to still want to know how the saga ended. So I went to the start and read them all back to back.

It was very rewarding 🙂 Highly recommended.

The series is a post-apocalyptic fantasy by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. It follows the life and adventures of Elspeth Gordie, a heroine possessing powerful mental abilities. The supporting characters are richly developed over the course of the chronicles. The subplots, twists and turns, are as intriguing as they are numerous.

These characters have stayed in my heart at least a decade. I’m sure I will carry them with me always. I suspect I am not alone. Check out the Facebook page and fan website if you are interested.

Jesi x

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Be Proactive

Be Proactive

I knew which habit I sucked at most rather early into reading Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”.

Did you notice the silence lately? That was a distinct lack of proactivity.

I did the quiz thingy after. It’s official. But who needs a quiz when you just know.

Putting first things first, prioritising, also not a strong point. Of course, it would help if I had a strong handle on what the first things are. When I wake up in the morning the first thing I want is more sleep, even if I’ve had hours. When I get to work, the first thing I want is to sip tea and check emails – even though I know that’s not productive.

Beginning with the end in mind is my third worst of the habits. Is that part of being a daydreamer? There are so many possible ends, how do I pick just one?

Private victories. My weaknesses.

I can keep at a proactive bent for a while. It’s easier if there is some external motivation: team to play sport with, people to run with, fellow NaPoWriMo bloggers to keep me on track. But without that external motivating force? Relying only my internals?

This is why I eat eggs on toast when it’s just me, but will roast a chicken or two when I have guests over.

So this is my new personal motto: be proactive.

I want to build that internal muscle. Interdependency is great – but I’ve got to bring my own self to the table first otherwise it’s just dependency.

Even now, when I’m coughing a lung up after a holiday to Dallas gave me allergies to bring back to chilly London, I’m trying to be proactive on the small things like washing dishes, and clothes, and bullet journalling daily and some of the big things – like this blog 🙂

Start small, fire up.

What habits do you want to build? How do you work on being proactive?

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Reading like a writer

I’m trying to read like a writer.

Choosing books that will inspire and educate me. Award winning and well-written, innovative and classic.

However, that only gets me so far. I also have to feed my romance and self improvement addictions. Leaving aside academic papers for the day job and email correspondence for long distance family, friends and wedding planning.

I’m saving audio books for when my eyesight fails, though at this rate, that might be sooner than planned!

Read lately:

  • The left hand of darkness – Ursula Le Guin
    I loved the long shots in this: the icy tundra, the sense of scope between this planet and the wider universe, the history of each. I also loved the intertextuality of it: first person narrative interspersed with historical documents, journals, and what felt like oral accounts of local history and myth. This was such a ground-breaking novel, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970. Highly recommended.
  • A falcon for a queen – Catherine Gaskin
    This was a bit of fun; a historical romance. Mostly a turn-pager, though it did get a little bogged down in the presentation of the historical research. I think Gaskin was trying to make a point about the difference between two characters, but it dragged a little in these places.

Pace in a novel is something that I look forward to addressing in redrafts. For now I have to focus on getting the words written. But I find it such an interesting concept. I wonder how much of it is subjective.

The Long Shot – is something I need to work on. I think my writing style is very sparse. As much as I step back and look up in real life, I forget to do it when I write.

Currently reading:

  • Far from the madding crowd – Thomas  Hardy
  • Speaking Out – Tara Moss
  • The 7 habits of highly effective people – Stephen Covey

Have you read any of these? Further recommendations based on these?

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Book Recommendation | The Time Traveler’s Wife


What a debut novel by Audrey Niffenegger!

I know I’m late to the game, and many of these recommendations will be, but I’m a strong advocate of seeking out books that mean something to you, and this one has been on my to-read list for a while. When I spotted it in a second hand bookstore, with pages lovingly browned – resistance was completely futile. It didn’t disappoint.

This beautiful love story told from the perspectives of both Henry and Clare resonates deeply. It is harsh in circumstance, but gentle in portrayal, bleeding honest and above all: present. It brims with cultural allusions and references. I guarantee I didn’t get all of them. I loved the quotes of Rainer Maria Rilke and A. S. Byatt’s Possession that were littered throughout.

I read this book largely because I’m interested in time travel in fiction, especially the closed/causal loop variety. I wanted to see it written. It’s so complicated and clever; tightly woven. To keep it interesting you always have to be one step ahead of the reader, feeding them titbits of a future that’s already written. If you haven’t seen the film Predestination, with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, I highly recommend it as well. It was built off the back of a short story by Robert A. Heinlein.

This was a case of I-saw-the-movie-years-ago-but-the-book-is-always-better, so I went back to it. I love film, manga, anime, television. I love it when texts interconnect and are translated to new mediums; especially when they add something new. Looking forward to going back to rewatch TTTW film one day, but for now, just sitting and enjoying the masterpiece that was the book. The original thought. The seminal creation.

Find a copy and reviews at Goodreads: here.

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