That’s not English: Britishisms, Americanisms, and what our English says about us by Erin Moore

25203170I can’t remember where I first heard of this book, but it’s basically a lighter, shorter version of Watching the English and other such books about the differences between Americans and English people. As an Anglophile about to visit England for the first time in over a year, I thought it would be good to brush up.

Each chapter/essay revolves around one word, usually an English English one (since it very much seems to be written for an American English audience) that showcases a tiny bit about the culture surrounding that word. But most of the words are ones that I’d already heard of (either they’re pretty common British English words or I watch too much British TV) and their explanations were pretty straightforward. Most seem to fall along the lines of “because British people, am I right?” Cultural differences are hard to pin down sometimes since the motivation behind school uniforms or tipping in restaurants seems to be “because that’s what we do here” a lot of the time, but I hoped for more.

As the author is an American, married to a Brit with a child who is growing up far more British than American, it was interesting to note the personal parts, where she talks about how difficult it is to break into British society and make friends, something I’ve noted in various places I’ve lived with insular societies and embarrassingly, something that was briefly touched on in “Ladies of London,” a Bravo TV show that I sadly love. Much of the book seems to cover how English people hate when Americans use “their” words when in England, but also despise when Americans use American words as well. So basically, we love them and they hate us. Good times.

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The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey

18079634I loved this book. I wasn’t totally sure what I was getting into when I grabbed this from the library after reading a brief synopsis in a Bas Bleu catalog, but I figured it dealt with the British aristocracy, so I would probably like it.

Catherine Bailey details her trip to Belvoir Castle to look at the family papers of the Dukes who lived there, as she was planning to write a book about World War I and its effect on the villages of England. What she found instead was mystery after mystery surrounding the family itself, perpetuated by the Duke who curated and preserved the very papers she wanted to read. Early on in her stay, she finds that the rooms that contain the papers were sealed after the Duke’s death and had very recently been opened again. Time after time, she is told, “no one goes in those rooms.” She soon discovers why.

The mysteries she can solve are not near as sinister as the title might lead one to believe, but it’s still quite fascinating to read. It reminds me that what we know of history, we only know by what survives. And who decides what survives and why is just as important as the documents themselves.

Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Di by Kris Waldherr

2764071I got the rec for this book from Katia, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Just like the title says, it’s a quick synopsis of each queen’s life (just two pages) with a helpful moral lesson and a quiz at the end of each chapter. There’s also a quiz at the end of the book to determine whether you are a doomed queen. There’s much more emphasis placed on ancient and historical queens than modern day (the last chapter goes from a queen in 1814 to Diana Spencer), but it was a quick, fluffy read that I enjoyed during my pedicure yesterday and lunch break today.

Unwise Passion by Alan Pell Crawford

303519I probably finished this book a month ago, but as you can see, it was so fascinating and interesting that I just had to write about it. /s

I asked for and received this book for Christmas. The title and synopsis seemed intriguing since it was about scandal, women’s place in society and Virginia’s colonial aristocracy. Unfortunately, the book is really not about any of those things. It seems to have no point of view and isn’t interesting the slightest. It jumps in time for no reason, going back to explain things in the middle of explaining other things. The “scandal” and it’s results are actually downplayed in favor of explaining more familial bonds/ties/relationships. It almost seems like the author started this project to get the answers about what really happened that night, didn’t find what he was looking for and decided to continue writing for another 200 pages. Very disappointing.

Bachelor Girl: 100 Years of Breaking the Rules by Betsy Israel

413433I bought this book over four years ago and have tried to read it several times, but never got through it. Now that I have, I figured out why I never finished it before – it’s just not good.

The subject matter intrigued me, and that’s why I grabbed it off the shelf all those years ago. But it’s clumsily covered in the text and randomly foot-noted. I know a little bit more about the terms and slang of the different groups of singles, but nothing really that I didn’t already know about social mores and singleness since the turn of the twentieth century. Since it’s less than 300 pages, it would of course be more breadth than depth, but even the breadth is just not done well.

Basically, it frustrated me and just made me long for a book about the subject that actually informed me instead of annoyed me.