You guys, I know I say it every year, but it finally feels like autumn and it makes my heart so GLAD. Though DC does autumn well, it took a bit longer for it to get its act together this time around. But this week, I finally got to pull my fall jacket out of the closet and my cup of hot tea now actually matches the weather and general mood. 

That said, I hope you’re enjoying the season in a likewise manner and have a nice stack of books on your coffee table to go with your hot fall beverage of choice. “Seasonal reading” is something I’ve come to appreciate maybe over the last year. Naturally, a good book is a good book at any time of year, but there’s definitely something nice about reading a story with significant ambiance and a tone that reflects the current season. So if you need ideas for what to crack open this fall, here are my picks. 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie 
There’s nothing like curling up with a blanket, hot beverage, and a murder mystery on a fall evening, am I right? I recently finished a new audiobook version of Orient Express and it was phenomenal. This was my first Christie read and I now understand why she’s known as the queen of mystery and crime fiction. And let me tell you, this book has an atmosphere. A train stuck in a snow drift. One of the passengers murdered in the dead of night. One detective among the remaining passengers. Every other passenger a suspect. Oh, and did I mention that Dan Stevens narrates the audio version I heard? Need I say more?
Photo Credit: Goodreads

The Angry Tide (Poldark #7) by Winston Graham 
I talk Poldark plenty on this blog, and I honestly think any of the books could be fitting choices for autumn because of the wild, stormy, and sometimes dark ambiance of the whole storyline. The Cornwall setting mirrors the protagonist, Ross Poldark, in that both of them are rugged, unpredictable, and untamed. But I’ve now read up through book 7, The Angry Tide, and I think this installment is particularly suited to autumn. It has a darker feel than many of the other volumes and Ross is forced to face struggles within himself that he has perhaps left buried for too long. It’s a book of trial and loss, but also of rebuilding and hope.
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Persuasion by Jane Austen 
I think this is one of Austen’s lesser known gems. It’s shorter and has a mellower tone compared to the bright and lively starlets of her canon like Pride and Prejudice or Emma. It’s set during autumn, much of the story takes place near the seashore, and the heroine is not a blushing, innocent girl in the prime of youth. The curtain opens on Anne Elliot, a woman of twenty-nine who lives with deeply held regret over a broken engagement from eight years earlier. What follows is a thoughtful, heartwarming tale on second chances and love set against the test of time. 

Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain 
I confess upfront that I gave this one a try recently, but did not finish it. However, I read enough to appreciate the writing and setting. This is the memoir of a woman who worked as a nurse during World War I and reflects back on that experience with fairly intense despondency. She argues that the war robbed her generation of its youth, never to be recovered. It was the deep sadness and resentment of the author’s tone that made it unfit for me at this point, but I still appreciated her memory of this harrowing war, her honesty about what it did to her, and her beautiful prose. This quote stands out particularly in my memory and it definitely rings of autumn: 
“I suppose it’s no use weeping over last year’s dead leaves. All the tears in the world cannot make them green again. Perhaps when it is all over we shall find that other and better things have taken root in the mould of their dying.”
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
This is a classic on many school reading lists, but if that’s been your only exposure to it, it’s well worth revisiting, especially in the fall. It’s a gothic romance and a mystery, and the action unfolds on the windy moors of northern England in an old mansion where odd sounds and accidents seem to occur regularly. The plain, orphaned Jane Eyre stole my heart a long time ago with her strong principles and generous heart, and the enigmatic Mr. Rochester is the perfect definition of a tortured and brooding hero.
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan 
This is my current read. Doesn’t the mere title suggest autumn? I’m very excited to dig in further. It’s a novelization of true events surrounding the life of Pino Lella, an Italian who endured the World War II Nazi occupation of Italy during his teen years. He worked as an underground resister and helper of Jews, a soldier, and eventually as a spy inside German leadership. I’m looking forward to learning more about this remarkable man’s life and being all hunched up in suspense with a blanket as I read. 
Photo Credit: Goodreads

Happy Thursday, happy fall, and happy reading. Do you have any favorite books that are particularly suited to autumn? Any other favorites that are better in another specific season? Let me know in comments!
Hello friends and readers and hello October! I feel like I’m constantly apologizing for long breaks between posts, so can we all just agree to understand the delays? Life, guys. Just life. I need to start scheduling them more ahead of time. It’s just hard when blogging isn’t your full-time job, though I’d love that. But I promise I’m still reading away, constantly planning the next trip to England, and always looking for stories to share here. I have post ideas that I’m excited about and hope to get published here soon. But today I want to share some reflections on my first year in DC that I’ve been turning over in my head for a while now.

A little over a year ago now, my mom and I rolled into Washington, DC in a car stuffed to the brim and only a vague idea of where we needed to go first. I remember feeling pretty in over my head once I spied the Washington Monument from the beltway. Upon arrival in the city and getting our bearings, we hastily arranged my things in the glamorous intern dorm, a task that was naturally not complete without an emergency trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, and then spent the night with friends in Annapolis before flying out to England the next day. That vacation was very good for me in many ways – I needed to get away from normalcy for a while and I was also excited for an adventure that I’d planned and wanted for a long time before facing the unknown adventure of DC. But when I returned and began to fall into a routine in DC, I was a little surprised to realize how much I was enjoying myself and that I maybe wanted stay longer than the mandatory semester. A year later, I couldn’t be more pleased that I did. 

Why I moved to DC 
To be clear, I will always have a special love for my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. But I hadn’t ever been far from it for an extended period. I went to college only two hours away and went back there as soon as I graduated. I had worked there a good while and was feeling stuck. I couldn’t see my frustrating job situation (unfulfilling work, dead ends, etc) changing anytime soon. So even though it scared me, I figured it was right to take a leap into something new where I knew no one and could start fresh in a lot of ways. 

What I immediately liked about DC 
Ah, where to begin?! For those who can’t handle long chunks of text, I shall now trick you with bullet points.
  • All the history and memorials and stuff: History nerd that I am, I do think it’s pretty neat to be so near the heart of our country’s history. DC can get a bad rap for all the snooty politics and elites, but at its core, it’s still a beautiful city with a rich heritage worth seeing. I feel fortunate that I not only see it, but live in the midst of it. I still stare in awe at the Capitol at least twice a week even though I walk by it literally every day.
  • It does each season well: I arrived in DC on the cusp of autumn and was delighted to see that it’s a REAL autumn, unlike the measly 4-5 days of fall Alabama gets. The leaves actually change colors and the temperatures stay between 50 and 70 for a good two months. Later on, winter, spring, and summer followed the same pattern. A good sampling of all four seasons comes to DC in full force, which has been a welcome change from Alabama’s summer-winter-summer pattern.
  • The variety of people to be met with: Since moving here, I’ve met people from all corners of the country and the world – the people in my everyday circles hail from states as different as California, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Others came here from even farther away places like South Africa, Australia, England, Kenya, and Korea. I’ve never lived in a place of such varied backgrounds and it’s been a joy to get to know them. 

    Capitol Hill in the fall... I couldn't get enough
Cool and unlikely moments that wouldn't have happened if I'd lived anywhere else
  • Talking with a TV reporter from Norway about American politics
  • Listening to an abortion survivor testify at a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill
  • Meeting THE Ben Shapiro in my work building
  • Getting to go for a bike ride down to the Lincoln Memorial after work one night
    Probably the biggest reason I stayed in DC
    There have been many things I’ve loved about DC – the internship that brought me here, my fellow interns that semester, the city quirks, and the snug coffee shops and bookstores. But my first real Sunday here, I walked the four short blocks to Capitol Hill Baptist Church and sat in a back pew a little nervously as I watched a sea of unfamiliar faces file in around me. About five minutes into the service, as we were singing “He Will Hold Me Fast” in the loudest, most beautiful harmony I’d ever heard from a church congregation, I knew I’d be coming back for the rest of the semester. This conviction to stay at that church only grew stronger as the weeks wore on, and a year later, Capitol Hill Baptist is unquestionably what has made this city home to me more than anything else. Here are just two things that I think make it such a special place: 

    • Good ecclesiology in action: Admittedly, I probably couldn’t have explained ecclesiology before I came to CHBC, and I’m sure other members would say the same. That’s not to say that previous churches of which I was a member were unhealthy or unbiblical, but CHBC emphasizes and makes transparent what is often behind the scenes in many churches. The pastors and elders talk regularly about how their responsibilities of shepherding and teaching are serious callings and sacrifices – I’ve been told that elder meetings can go till late hours of the night, and preparing for members’ meetings has to be one heck of a job from their end. But they do it because they love the congregation and they expect much of the congregation. If I were to disappear from services for a month, they’d notice and take steps to find out where I am. When they know they’ll be praying for me in an elder meeting, they’ll email me and ask if there are specific ways they can pray. I’m so thankful for their commitment. 
    • Jesus is truly our unifying foundation: All those states and countries I mentioned above? They’re represented at CHBC. People of every background, custom, age, upbringing, and nationality imaginable come together there every Sunday. It’s been more valuable than I can express to tangibly see how Jesus unifies people who might experience division by human standards. 

    And otherwise, this church just loves well. I feel richly blessed to be part of this family called Capitol Hill Baptist Church – my brothers and sisters there have encouraged and challenged me well and speak truth to me consistently. One of the most precious things in the world to me now is the sight and sound of all one thousand and twenty (?) of us singing a hymn in thunderously loud harmony together. I can’t wait to sing with them in eternity!
    Thank you to Aurora Publicity for an advance reader copy of Journey From Skioria in exchange for this review! 

    Need a nice and easy fantasy escape for your kids? Journey From Skioria by Kandi J. Wyatt might be the answer. The story opens on Tania, a young girl who is mysteriously lost at sea during a storm and wakes up to find herself in another world. The adults are the size of children and everyone lives in trees and berry bushes. Tania feels scared and uncertain, but the people of Skioria quickly determine to help her back to her parents. But along the way, Tania realizes that she’s gained somewhat of a second family in this strange new place. Can she remain a part of both worlds, or must she give up one to keep the other? And that’s not to mention the many obstacles that must be overcome to reach her parents again. 
    Photo Credit: Amazon

    I’d recommend this book for young grade school readers. For adults, it can feel disjointed and a bit slow, but friendship, magic, and adventure are at the center from start to finish and will entertain many a young reader. I enjoyed seeing Tania slowly realize that she has two families in two separate worlds and wrestle to figure out how to keep them both. I do think that the author could have done more to develop that struggle and grow her as a character as well as the other characters. I thought most of them were a bit under-developed by the end and most of the conflicts were resolved a little too quickly. But the question of how the group would be able to keep each other as friends was an overall good one that kept the story going. Tania and her friends have a generally good and straightforward adventure that many children will enjoy! 

    Journey From Skioria was released earlier this month and is now available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. Thank you again to Aurora Publicity for an advance reader copy of this work!
    Can you believe 2017 is more than half over?! Yeah, me neither. But let me just tell you, 2017 has been a great year for my England-loving heart. I’ve encountered so many wonderful British gems that I’m now going to share with you. Unsurprisingly, these finds range from TV to news to personal life to bookishness. 

    A new Pride and Prejudice is in the works 
    Yes, it’s happening, friends! Read the full story here! It’s been twelve years since Joe Wright’s gorgeous adaptation of Austen’s classic, so it’s clearly high time for someone new to step up to the plate. ;) The fact that the people behind Victoria and Poldark are taking it on makes me even more excited. I’m ready with my tea and crumpets already.

    Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria and Tom Hughes as Prince Albert in Mammoth Screen's new drama "Victoria" (Photo Credit: Masterpiece PBS on Facebook)

    This show by Mammoth Screen stepped into Downton Abbey’s time slot on PBS earlier this year and wow, did it deliver! Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes are positively electric and charming as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Less is popularly known about the early phases of Victoria’s life and reign, but these two are bringing them to delightful life, brilliantly undergirded by Daisy Goodwin’s writing. She’s spent hundreds of hours poring over Queen Victoria’s now publicly available diary entries and it clearly shows in the drama’s historical detail and its deep exploration of Victoria and Albert’s relationship. Plus, the costumes and design take my breath away in nearly every frame. Approximately every two minutes I change my mind about my favorite dress of Victoria’s and maybe every two seconds my heart goes all fluttery at Prince Albert’s deep German drawl. Bring it on, Season 2! 

    The Crown 
    And while we’re on the subject of British monarchs, this Netflix original show about young Queen Elizabeth II is literally winning television this year. I think it’s been nominated for what, 13 Emmy Awards now? New ones could seriously be made up for John Lithgow’s performance of Winston Churchill and for Peter Morgan’s writing. Those are the two aspects of this show that consistently floored me as I watched it.
    Claire Foy as Elizabeth II in Netflix's "The Crown" (Photo Credit: The Crown on Facebook)

    Two scenes in particular come to mind when I think about Morgan’s exquisite writing for The Crown. The first is a tense exchange between Elizabeth and her high-spirited sister Margaret. They consider how their father’s relationship with them continues to affect their adult lives, and despite their personality clashes, they each seem to glimpse the trials that Elizabeth’s unexpectedly early rise to the throne has placed on the other. And the second is a conversation between Churchill and the artist painting his portrait. With so many hours of painting and sitting, barriers between the two men drop in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise, and viewers receive a poignant hint of the turbulence and tragedy behind the steely politician the world knew as Winston Churchill. 

    Claire Foy and Matt Smith’s deliveries of Elizabeth and Philip are also as riveting as they’re relatable – the viewer loves them both and hardly knows who to sympathize with more when they encounter the inevitable conflicts of life as a married couple within a royal family steeped in tradition and expectation. All that to say, if you’re slightly less old-fashioned than I am but would still be interested in a little British history and excellent drama, The Crown is definitely a good choice.

    New Northanger Abbey Audio Drama by Audible
    THIS. THIS, my friends! My favorite Austen hero changes frequently, but Henry Tilney is firmly in first place right now thanks to Jeremy Irvine’s deliciously teasing and masculine voice for him in this audio drama. But seriously, this is a charming rendition of Jane Austen’s most clearly satirical work. The characters somehow seem more vibrant even than their film counterparts because of the delightful voice cast here. Ella Purnell’s Catherine Morland speaks with the appropriate sweet earnestness and innocence, while Lily Cole’s loud, syrupy drawl lends the perfect mix of charm and insincerity we’d expect of Isabella Thorpe. It’s also lovely to hear Eleanor Tomlinson in the part of Eleanor Tilney – my Poldark-loving heart is always warmed to see dear Demelza in fun roles. But the crowning jewel of the production is of course Emma Thompson as Jane Austen/the narrator. She takes the reader into every extreme of Catherine’s turbulent teenage emotions, making the comedy funnier, the disappointments stronger, and the triumphs happier. 

    A Poldark Coloring Book 
    First of all, if you love Poldark and haven’t been following PoldarkDish, do yourself a favor and go watch all of their recaps NOW. I look forward to them almost as much as the show itself. Even the behind-the-scenes crew of Poldark found the lovely ladies of PoldarkDish and the Anglophile Channel so amusing that they invited them to be extras in Season 3. Sweet Marlise and Elyse came back with a whole bunch of Aidan Turner-signed merchandise for fans like me who could only live vicariously through them, and… I WON SOMETHING!! Yeah, it hardly ever happens to me either, so can you imagine my excitement and disbelief when they pulled my name out around the 14:15 mark of this recent recap they did? It still feels a little weird going back and watching it. But anyways, the prize of a signed coloring book is now here and I definitely giggled like a middle schooler when I opened it.
    Hope you’ve had a great week, friends! Any other British news or items of interest I should be on the lookout for? You know I need to know these things so hit me up if you run across something!
    Hello again, fellow Poldarkians! I have had such fun discussing the beautiful and hotly debated Elizabeth Poldark with all of you. Part I and Part II of this series have led to some wonderful conversations and I'm so excited to share this final post about her with you! (Spoiler alert! Thorough spoilers from Seasons 1 and 2 and books 1-4 ahead!)
    Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

    We left off last time with Francis's tragic early death, the resulting effects on Elizabeth, her marriage to George Warleggan, and her part in her eventual affair with Ross. By this point in the series, she is not the same person she was at the beginning of it. Years' worth of disappointment, loss, and hiding her real feelings have turned her into a very cynical and hardened person. It's sad to me more than it's anything else. Many fans dismiss her contemptuously as a villain by this time because, after all, her choices have gotten her here. Well, yes and no. Many of the choices were hers, but in most of the circumstances in which she found herself, she felt she didn't have another choice. I'd argue that both of her marriages fall into this category. On the other hand, her choices where Ross is concerned are indeed less admirable. And yet, I can't deny that I've found myself far more frustrated with Ross than Elizabeth for much of the show and the books. Here is where the remainder of my thoughts on the subject will focus. After the first three considerations I've laid out in the previous posts, here is one more long one I'd offer. 

    Consideration 4: Ross is equally to blame, if not more so, for the problems involving Elizabeth 

    Yes, I’ll argue it. Elizabeth was undeniably guilty in the adultery, but I think there’s a strong case to be made for Ross being more responsible for the grand and complicated architecture of all the problems between them. I love him and truly believe he’s a good man at heart, but he’s also probably the most emotionally incompetent human being in all of fiction. He’s written that way purposely and I think it’s partly why he’s such a great character to watch and read about. He’s both maddening and endearing in many ways, and his relationship with Elizabeth is where I (and many others, no doubt) find him most maddening. He practically turns to putty at the sight of her and his reason leaves far too often when she’s around. There’s no doubt in my head that he’s deeply in love with Demelza, but he slips into fantasizing about Elizabeth far too easily when marriage gets tough. 

    Heida Reed and Aidan Turner as Elizabeth and Ross in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

    And that’s the rub about Elizabeth for Ross. She’s a fantasy, similar to how he is for her, and he way too easily idealizes her when reality isn’t going well. He knows intellectually that Demelza is better for him in every way. He and Elizabeth are far too different for them to have worked out (even Elizabeth says that to him in the show!), and he and Demelza fit into each other’s lives so well that marriage was natural. Nothing huge changed once they got married because they were already working together so well, and Ross knows that. But Elizabeth has always been just out of reach, and he doesn’t take enough active steps to guard against the effect she has on him. He immaturely idealizes her, wondering if perhaps he missed the best he could have had. In book 5, The Black Moon, Ross tells Demelza’s brother that although falling in love with Demelza certainly helped him move on from Elizabeth, it was still years before he believed that she wasn’t second best. And at the end of season 2 of the show, Ross’s apology exchange with Demelza expresses his problem well: 

    Demelza: I am fierce and proud and steadfast and true and I’ll not settle for second best! 
    Ross: Why would you be? 
    Demelza: Because you love Elizabeth! Because you will always love Elizabeth! Because you cannot conceal your pain that George now possesses her body and soul! Do you deny it? 
    Ross: I do not deny that I loved her. Long before I set eyes on you, she was my first, perfect, untouchable love. 
    Demelza: Whereas I am dull, imperfect, and ordinary. 
    Ross: Not ordinary, but yes, imperfect! Human. Real. What that night with Elizabeth taught me – and God knows there should have been other ways for me to come to my senses, but my arrogance, my idiocy, has been spectacular. All I can say is after that night – because of it – I came to see that if you take an idealized love and bring it down to the level of an imperfect one, it isn’t the imperfect one which suffers. My true, real, and abiding love is not for her. It’s for you. 

    And there’s the rub – the realness of Demelza versus the idealization of Elizabeth. The audience sees it, but Ross can’t get it through his thick head till way later. Elizabeth certainly contributes to the adultery, but if Ross had actively pursued and nurtured his marriage to Demelza from its beginning, he already would have had a strong guard against the baits Elizabeth threw after Francis’s death. Many fans seem to think that everything is Elizabeth's fault because she was baiting him in the first place. Sure, she was wrong to do that, but what about the fact that Ross, you know... RESPONDED to them? And pretty eagerly. If he had kept his cool, maybe prioritized his own wife above Elizabeth, and accepted that Elizabeth is a just a woman, not a goddess, I'd say a lot could have been avoided. If he hadn't taken her baits, she would have eventually stopped throwing them.

    Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site

    Of course, Ross's enmity with George also plays a part in the affair, but again, Ross's overall immaturity in that sequence is truly disgusting. Though he and Elizabeth were deep in emotional unfaithfulness by then, he’d still given her no indication that he would be leaving Demelza, so I don’t know how he gets off thinking that he can dictate what Elizabeth does with her life. If she feels that marriage to the vilest person in Cornwall is her only option, then he should wish her well. How is it his business? It’s not, period. So to burst into her room, try to talk her out of the engagement without offering another viable suggestion, sleep with her, and then leave her high and dry is beyond reprehensible. Whether you like Elizabeth or not, she’s one thousand percent correct when she fumes in the show, 

    How can he treat me so? How can he leave things so up in the air?! … He tried to stop this marriage, but offered nothing in return! He has taken what was not rightly his and walked away from the consequences!
    Heida Reed and Jack Farthing as Elizabeth and George Warleggan in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

    As already mentioned, if two unmarried people slept together in the 1700s, the next step was to get married as fast as possible. So it may seem ridiculous to us that Elizabeth appears to expect Ross to drop everything for her, but it was normal and right for her to expect something from him. He had wronged her as well as Demelza and an apology would have been in order for both of them. He knows it too. The book says as much as he reflects on both of their parts in the affair: 

    But there had been other – and later – sins on his part. Over and over again during those first weeks following he had known he should go and see her and thrash the whole thing out in the light of day. It was unthinkable to leave the situation as he had left it, but that was precisely what he had done. He had behaved abominably first in going, then in not going; but he did not know what to say, and the impossibility of explaining himself had stopped him. If the history of the last ten years had been the tragedy of a woman unable to make up her mind, the last six months was the history of a man in a similar case. (Warleggan; Book 4, Chapter 6) 

     So there you have it. Elizabeth is certainly a mass of contradictions and has created many problems for every major character in the Poldark saga, but I can’t side with the haters. She makes many regrettable decisions and causes pain to an undue number of people, but I don’t see a villain when I look at her. I see a woman desperate for just a little bit of happiness, trapped by her upbringing, wronged by men she deeply trusted, and very embittered by harsh circumstances. She wants nothing but good for those she loves, but her need to please is consuming and she becomes so very hard. It’s tragic. Really, really tragic. 

    Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site