Sunday, April 17, 2016

Heroine of the Weekend: Madame de Sevigne

This weekend we take a quick look at one of the most famous and erudite letter-writers in history, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sevigne, who died on April 17, 1696.  She's known now as one of the most representative figures of the Enlightenment.

Born February 5, 1626 to an old, aristocratic family, she found herself an orphan by the age of 7, and was raised by her maternal grandparents and uncle, who gave her an excellent education.  She was married on August 4, 1644 to another scion of an old family, Henri, the marquis de Sevigne of Brittany, who had an ancient name but not much fortune.  The marriage produced two children, Francoise (b. 1646), who would be the recipient of most of her mother's famous letters, and Charles (b. 1648), but her husband died in a duel over his mistress in 1651.  Marie never remarried, devoting herself to her children and the intellectual life of the Paris salons.

In 1669, her beloved daughter married the comte de Grignon, who was soon appointed governor of Provence, and in their separation the stream of letters began, where the two discoursed about religion, philosophy, government, and the arts as well as family matters.  Buy 1673, the letters were being circulated and widely read.

According to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Sevigne's moral psychology explores the amatory structure of human desire and the difficulty of accepting one’s mortality. Representative of neoclassicism, her philosophy of art privileges the values of harmony, proportion, and balance. An avid reader of theological and philosophical works, she provides a running commentary on the theories of her favorite contemporary authors. Her letters reflect the intellectual sophistication of the period’s salon culture, where the philosophical controversies spawned by Cartesianism had become the object of everyday discussion.

For more info on her fascinating life, I like Francis Mossiker's Madame de Sevigne: a Life and Letters (1983)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Abigail's Patio Reviews: Upper Crust Pizza

Last night, Abigail visited one of her favorite casual spots around Santa Fe (and very near her beloved Plazaland, for walking off some of the pizza and wine after!), Upper Crust Pizza.  She gives it 4 barks out of 5, for the excellent pizza with a wide array of premium ingredients (faves include kalamata olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese), and their lovely whole wheat crust.  It doesn't hurt that they have (very) full pours of wine, including her mama's beloved Gruet Chardonnay.

The location is lovely, with a long portal fronting Old Santa Fe Trail where there is great people (and dog) watching, in a portion of "the oldest home in America" (built in the 17th/18th century), with twisty little adobe rooms.  Live music and fun employees make it even better.  (and it's very dog friendly).  Abby especially recommends the great lunch specials (3.99 for a slice, drink, and salad??!!)

Check them out here, and join Abigail for pizza and wine some night soon....

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Abigail's Patio Reviews: The Teahouse

There are so, so many things we've loved about Santa Fe since moving to Santa Fe last year!  Beautiful weather, the mountains, art and music, interesting people, great food.  One of the best is the way so many restaurants have patios, and thy don't just allow dogs, they love them!  Our little Poodle fur-baby, Abigail, loves it now that the weather is getting warm again and she can visit her favorite spots.  It's especially good for her now that she has a stroller, and can see the table and be part of the party!

She started the season today, with a walk up Canyon Road and lunch at The Teahouse.  Abigail gives them 3 out of 5 Barks.  Pluses: a pretty garden that welcomes dogs (there were at least 6 other puppies for her to meet!), an extensive tea menu (dozens of teas, all varieties--we tried an Imperial Grade Sencha, light and delicate, and a nice, smoky Lapsang Souchong, I like it the stronger the better), and tasty food (a simple lunch, a panini and a beet/goat cheese salad).  Minuses: a very long wait and slow service, which seems par for the course there.  If you have time for a leisurely meal, and just want to sit around with your dog in the shade, it's great.  If you're on a quick work lunch, not so much.

Abigail says she now looks forward to sharing all her favorite patios with you this spring. :)

The website for The Teahouse

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Heroine of the Weekend--Empress Marie Feodorovna

Happy Easter, everyone!  I am taking a small break from stuffing myself with Reese's Peanut Butter Eggs (the most perfect food in the world) to take a look at another heroine, the vivacious and courageous Dowager Empress Marie of Russia (owner of the gorgeous Winter Egg).

She was born, as all fairy princesses should be, in a palace, as Princess Dagmar of Denmark, second daughter of King Christian IX (the first being the future Queen Alexandra of England, Dagmar's lifelong best friend).  The family was relatively poor as far as royal families went, but were very close to each other, and had a lighthearted time together.  Dagmar loved to swim and ride, play cards, and collect dogs.  In 1864, she became betrothed to the Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia ("Nixa") a handsome and sensitive young man, whom she sincerely loved.  Sadly, he died in April of 1865, leaving Dagmar broken-hearted.  She was comforted by letters from Nicholas's brother, Alexander, and in June 1866 she accepted his proposal.  They were married in a lavish ceremony at the Winter Palace on November 9, after she converted to Orthodoxy and was named Marie Feodorovna.  Of the wedding night, her new husband wrote, I took off my slippers and my silver embroidered robe and felt the body of my beloved next to mine... How I felt then, I do not wish to describe here. Afterwards we talked for a long time

Welcomed by her new win-laws, the new Grand Duchess quickly made herself very popular in Russia.  Pretty, outgoing, fashionable, she became a leader of Society as well as renowned for her charitable activities (especially the founding of new hospitals and orphanages, as well as patronizing the arts), she was exactly what the country wanted.  She also quickly did her foremost duty of heir-producing.  Nicholas was born in May 1868, followed by Alexander in 1869 (who died in infancy), George, Xenia, Michael, and Olga (1882).  She proved a loving if slightly commanding mother (much like her sister Alexandra).

In March 1881, tragedy struck.  Her father-in-law, Alexander II, was assassinated, leaving Marie with sharp, lifelong anxieties for her family--Our happiest and serenest times are now over. My peace and calm are gone, for now I will only ever be able to worry about Sasha.

She was crowned with her husband on May 27, 1883, in a lavish ceremony at the Kremlin, attended by over 8000 guests, including her sister, who stayed for many weeks.  After, the Imperial family moved to Gatchina, a 900-room palace a few miles outside St. Petersburg for security reasons.  Marie missed the lively city life, the balls and theaters, though her husband preferred the quieter, more spartan life of Gatchina.  Despite their different temperments, they loved each other all their marriage, and had a very successeful union.

But it wasn't one that last as long as she would have liked.  By 1894, it was clear that the formerly robust tsar was very ill,   The choice of wife by their son Nicholas also had them worried.  Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was beautiful, but also shy, retiring, and in poor health most of the time, not strong enough for the challenges of life in Russia.  But Nicholas was in love, and reluctantly his parents agreed to the engagements.  Marie would never have much in common with her daughter-in-law, and often disapproved of her behavior, but the couple were married a week after Alexander's funeral.

Marie was still the leader of Society, since Alexandra seldom cared to take precedence, and she also often traveled abroad.  In 1906, she and her sister bought a danish villa, Hvidore, which would prove to be her last home.  In 1914, she was in England when war broke out, and rushed back to Russia.  There she threw herself into the war effort, becoming president of the Russian Red Cross and outfitting hospital trains.  In 1916, concerned about the evil effects of Rasputin on her son's family and unable to reason with him, she moved to Kiev, and it was from there that she fled to the Crimea when revolution exploded.  At first, she refused to leave Russia, sure that rumors her son was dead were not true, until her sister persuaded her to come to England.  King George sent the warship "Marlborough" to fetch his aunt, and she left with other relatives, carrying one Faberge egg with her, in 1919.

She made her home in Denmark, a leader of the Russian exiles, and always hoped her son would prove to be alive.  She still believed that when she herself died, October 13, 1928, and was buried at Roskilde Cathedral.  In 2006, her dearest wish was finally carried out, and she was reburied next to her husband in the Cathedral of Peter and Paul in St. Petersburg.

I love Marie for her energy, style, and level-headed intelligence, and also feel heartbroken for her in all the sorrow she had at the end of her life.

A great source for more about her is Coryne Hall's Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna (2006)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Happy Easter! And A New Blog Day

It's been much, much too long since I've visited this little blog of mine, and I've found lately that I really miss it (especially getting to discover and research some heroines in history).  It's a great break from deadline writing, so I am back here again, hopefully starting out with a couple posts a week, and maybe a giveaway or two in the near future.

To start out--happy Easter weekend, everyone!  I love this time of year, when the flowers start to peek out, the trees start to bud, and little girls wear their fluffy holiday dresses and white shoes (I always insisted on getting my spring clothes Easter weekend, even if it was still 40 degrees outside!).  To celebrate, here's a little look at my very favorite Easter egg of all--Faberge's Winter Egg of 1913.

From 1885 to just before 1917, the workshops of Faberge created two Imperial Easter eggs every year, one each for the tsar's mother, Dowager Empress Marie, and his wife, Empress Alexandra.  (There were a handful of non-royal eggs, as well).  Out of about 50 made, 43 are known to survive, and each one is an exquisite masterpiece.  My personal favorite is the Winter Egg, made for Empress Marie in 1913.  At the time, it was the most expensive of the eggs, costing 25,000 rubles (about $12,000); it vanished for many years, only to be bought in 2002 by the Emir of Qatar for 6.4 million pounds.

The Winter Egg was designed by Alma Pihl, the only female designer at Faberge, and was created from rock crystal fashioned to look like ice patterns, on a crystal base that appeared to be melting.  It used 1660 diamonds to create a snow-like sparkle.  The "surprise" inside the egg was a basket of flowers made of quartz on a bed of gold moss, made with 1378 more diamonds.  It's very elegant, just like the Dowager Empress herself (who is a favorite of mine!)

Here's a great overview of all the known Easter eggs.  Which is your favorite??

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Giveaway!

One last giveaway for this week!  Today I have two copies of one of my out-of-print titles from 2005, Lady Midnight.  I loved writing this one--it was very influenced by all the Gothic novels I gobbled up when I was a kid.  (and watch for it in e-book later this year!)

This one was an RT Reviewer’s Choice Award nominee (Best Historical Mystery/Gothic) and a Bookseller’s Best Award finalist/winner, Long Historical

A courtesan in training...

Everyone that Katerina held dear has perished in a tempest off the coast of Italy.  With not a penny to her name, she knows she must travel far to forge a new life.  No one would ever accept her if they learned that her mother was Lucrezia Bruni, the infamous courtesan who was breeding young Katerina to fill her shoes someday...

A governess in hiding...

Still mourning his late wife, Michael Lindley knows life must go on--and that his little sister and daughter need a woman's nurturing.  When a dark-eyed beauty alights on his doorstep, claiming to be a widowed governess, Michael feels a fire rekindle in him that he thought snuffed out long ago.  And in Katerina, who thought her capacity to love had gone down with the ship, there flares a yearning only Michael can subdue....

Monday, May 12, 2014

Giveaway Day 2!

Every day this week to re-launch this blog, I am going to be giving away a copy of some of my backlist books!  (also in a quest to at least somewhat clean out my garage...)  Next weekend, I will announce winners for each day.  Comment every day for a chance to win!

Today's giveaway--two books from the "Diamonds of Welbourne Manor" series!  The original anthology, and a copy of The Shy Duchess....

What are your very favorite connected series????