For the Jane Austen Lover on Your List

Well the holiday season is officially upon us. I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of readers on my Christmas list and this time of year I’m trolling around trying to find books that they would love.

If you have stumbled here because you are looking for gift ideas, I would love to help you. But first, I would like to offer this caveat: books are very personal gifts. You need to know the person very well to know what they would like to read. So go forth gently. And always get a gift receipt.

If there’s a Jane Austen lover on your list (and there definitely is), may I recommend Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love and Jane Austen?  It is wonderful.

I mentioned that I was sick last week. I didn’t mention that my husband felt so sorry for me that he went out and bought me a book to try and cheer me up. First Impressions was that book and I only waited long enough to be able to hold my head up to start reading it.


Sophie Collingwood is a modern recent graduate and lover of Jane Austen, trying to sort out what the next step is going to be. She just finished a Master’s in English Literature at Oxford and is at a bit of a loose end. She bumps into Eric Hall, a charming American who ends up kissing her in the garden of her parents’ country estate and then takes off to read his way through Europe.  Soon after, her beloved Uncle Bertram (Bertram!), the man who shared his love of old books with her, dies under suspicious circumstances. Sophie, the only other person in the family who loved books as he did, is left his London apartment and ostensibly his collection of books.

Sophie decides she might as well go and live in the London apartment but when she walks in she discovers that all of his books have been sold to help pay debts. In her quest to find the books, she starts working for an old friend of Uncle Bertam’s, in a rare book store. And that’s where she meets Winston. He’s after a rare edition of allegorical tales by a Richard Mansfield, but only the second edition. Hours later someone else calls asking for the very same volume.

As Sophie puts together the pieces, she realizes that what she’s doing could ruin Jane Austen’s reputation.

While we follow Sophie trying to figure out what happened, we meet a young Jane Austen striking up an unlikely friendship with 80-something Richard Mansfield. Having just published a volume of allegorical tales, he is eager to help her with her story, Elinor and Marianne. After Jane confesses a sin of her youth to him, Richard encourages her to embark on another project as a way of making up for it.

Lovett’s understanding and knowledge of Jane Austen make First Impressions a delight to read. Even if you are only marginally familiar with her, you will enjoy his allusions to her work. The connection to Austen as she is writing means that large portions of her most famous work are included and it made me want to re-read her books all over again. I’ve told myself that Persuasion is the next one slated for a re-read but Pride and Prejudice made a fairly strong case for itself.

I loved the weaving of a literary mystery with the writing process of one of the most beloved authors in history. I don’t mind telling you that I could not get enough of this book. The book itself was beautiful and as a serious book collector himself, you know that Lovett has great love for his subject matter. By loving this book I’m probably at risk of being labeled an “Austen fangirl” – those readers that will read anything with a whiff of Austen. But I’ve always been extremely selective with the Austen spinoffs I’m willing to read. First Impressions is one of the best.

I’m on the lookout for his other novel, The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession now.


Embracing the Cold: Books to Keep You Warm

The festive season is upon us. I live in Canada so we did the Thanksgiving thing a while ago, which was just as well since I was sick last week. I’m still recovering and I would like to report that I devoured a bunch of books during my illness but I was way too tired to even read very much.

You know a book lover is really sick when…

Anyway, I hope those of you that did just celebrate Thanksgiving had a lovely holiday!

In Vancouver we’re in the middle of a cold spell. Cold for the West Coast anyway; it was -4 (Celsius) this morning. Earlier this year when everyone was suffering from super cold temperatures, I put together a list of books that I thought would make for good cold weather reading. While I try and sort myself out and put together some proper reviews for you, here’s a list of books you should read when the weather is cold to tide you over.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett. I’m not quite finished with this one but having read it during a cold spell, I know it will make for excellent cold weather reading for everyone else. The book takes place mainly during the summer but the writing is such that you can almost feel the warm summer sunshine on your skin. No bad thing if you’re suffering from some Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder. There’s a nice little romance, Jane Austen and some bookish sleuthing. What’s not to love?

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. Have you read this yet? This is possibly one of the most important books to read for human kind – I don’t think I’m overstating it. But it’s a big one. If you’re going to hang out inside avoiding the cold weather, you might as well make your way through a book like this. I promise you, it’s worth the time. I read it almost two years ago and it’s still one of the books I recommend all over the place; I’m hoping that sneaking it onto a bookish list will make someone else run out and read it.

Anything by Camilla Lackberg. I do think that cold weather is conducive to mystery reading and Camilla Lackberg is probably my favourite contemporary crime fiction writer. If you liked Stieg Larsson, you will love Camilla Lackberg. All of her stories take place in the small Swedish vacation town of Fjallbacka and they are all totally messed up as only the Swedes can be. Start with the Ice Princess and work your way through the eight translated books available. I just finished Buried Angels and it was fantastic.

Get a start on that series you’ve been meaning to read. I think days spent with Claire and Jamie Fraser wouldn’t be terrible and there are so many books in the Outlander series that you could binge on them all winter. If you haven’t read Harry Potter yet, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your time but I’d say this time of year would be a good time to go to Hogwarts for the first time. Maybe now that Mockingjay Part 1 is out, you think it’s time you finally read the books (it is). I know I’ve been told that I need to read the Pink Carnation books at least twice so that’s something I’m going to actually look into! (Those covers though.)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This was one of the most exquisite books I read this year and I can’t think of a better way to read about Marie-Laure and Werner than under a pile of blankets, near a fire, with a cup of tea close at hand. (Incidentally this is my favourite way to read anything.) Bonus points if you have an animal companion to keep you company as you go.

Read up on the royals. Royals make for great reading, fiction or non-fiction. Anne Easter Smith has a great set of books devoted to the York Women; Philippa Gregory has great love for the Tudors. Julia P. Gelardi has some incredible biographies covering royal women in Russia, England, Spain, Romania and Greece; Antonia Fraser put together the biography that served as the inspiration for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; Amanda Foreman was responsible for the biography that saw Keira Knightley portray Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire. Cold weather is a great excuse for getting to know any one of these extraordinary women.


Are you experiencing cold weather? What’s your go-to read for this time of year?