Like Downton Abbey? Pick Up Lauren Willig’s “The Ashford Affair”

I don’t think I need to explain to anyone how much I like to read. I do. A lot. So much in fact that recently I’ve been wondering why I haven’t absconded to the publishing capital of New York City and started a life of reading bliss. But, that’s a discussion for another time…

One of my favorite author’s is Lauren Willig. Her Pink Carnation series is excellent and definitely gave me much reason to procrastinate throughout college and graduate school. Okay, let’s face it — it still gives me reason to procrastinate. With 9 Pink books currently in publication, a 1oth due out in August 2013, and an 11th in progress, Willig has provided readers with a fun and easy to read adventure through history as main character Eloise Kelly researches her doctoral dissertation in England and discovers that her interest in the flower-named spies of the Napoleonic Wars is more involved than she could ever imagine. Intrigue, mystery, a little bit of danger, humor, and some romance never fail.

Now, however, Willig has embarked on a new adventure: a fantastic stand-alone saga called The Ashford Affair.

Source: laurenwillig.com

Source: laurenwillig.com

In 1906, 5 year old Addie is taken in by her wealthy Uncle and Aunt, Lord and Lady Ashford, and goes to live with them and her four cousins at their estate Ashford Park. Seen as a poor, heathen relation and an imposition by her Aunt Vera, Addie spends her childhood and adolescence trying to make up for what her Aunt sees as her bohemian origins — even though her father was the younger brother of Lord Ashford.

Despite her Aunt’s criticisms, Addie quickly befriends and forges a sisterly bond with her cousin Bea. Different in both outward appearance and personality, Addie and Bea do everything together and travel through their childhoods and adolescences as each others’ closest companions. As adulthood beckons, Bea is fêted as the Debutante of the Decade and quickly marries the Marquess of Rivesdale, securing her mother’s expectation of a successful marriage and her own childhood dream of becoming a Marchioness. As always, Addie is by Bea’s side through it all. However, the aftermath of the First World War and personal choices create fissures in their relationship, and when one cousin makes a decision that transports her from the grandeur of London to the red dust filled fields of Kenya, the cousins find their bond tested to its very core…

Nearly 70 years later in 1999, 34 year old Clementine Evans is on the cusp of achieving her dream of making partner at her Manhattan law firm, even if doing so has come at great cost to her personal life. When she attends her beloved Granny Addie’s 99th birthday party in New York City, Clemmie has no idea that her life is about to be turned on its head. Despite her close relationship with her grandmother, Clemmie doesn’t know much about Granny Addie’s history. So when in her weakened state Addie reveals a snippet of information that leaves Clemmie confused and her mother, Marjorie, and Aunt Anna suspiciously silent, Clemmie becomes curious.

Clemmie’s confusion and curiosity lead her to uncover a deeply held family secret that threatens everything she knows to be true and holds the key to her family’s often complicated dynamics. From the rooms of Ashford Park and the 1920s nightclubs of London to the coffee fields of Kenya and the streets of 1999 Manhattan, the events of The Ashford Affair questions the strength of sisterly bonds, explores the true meaning of family, and reveals the complexities of life and love in times of drastic change and war.

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I really enjoyed this book and it was definitely a nice departure to read a totally different kind of book from Lauren Willig. I am a great fan of historical fiction, particularly the kinds of historical fiction that juxtaposes a modern frame story with a historically placed story. In The Ashford Affair, Willig weaves an intricate mystery of the character of Addie and does an excellent job of placing her characters within the complex period of the early twentieth century. I had a great time uncovering the true story of Addie and Bea and watching Clemmie discover just what the truth was. Willig deftly stretches the mystery out until the final chapters, revealing bit by bit as she goes but never giving away too much too soon.

 

 

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Last Minute Holiday Gifts Under $35

judgemental santa

Don’t look at me like that, old man. You don’t know my life. Wait….

If you’re anything like me, you wait until the last minute… for anything. Writing papers, doing your makeup, and especially at this time of year, sending Christmas cards and getting my shopping done. From middle school all the way to my last week of graduate school, however, I was only rewarded for my last minute efforts with good grades, so I haven’t had much of an incentive to change my ways. Since that Mayan apocalypse didn’t happen, I guess Christmas (and my student loans) are still on. (Yay?) I only have a few things to pick up/finish making, but everything to wrap. Between work and commuting to work, or driving to whatever Christmas event where my presence is required, I don’t have a whole lot of time left. But, in all of that time I spend commuting to my new job as a bridal gown consultant, I have a great opportunity to think about any number of things. This includes anticipating (possibly unnecessarily) any wedding dilemmas my fiance and I might encounter, what I need to throw in the laundry, or, this blog post. So, here are some suggestions for last minute gifts or stocking stuffers for your friends and family. Yes, most of this is from Target, and yes, I do wish I was getting paid for my endorsement of these products, but doesn’t it just seem easier when you can find almost all of it in one store? Plus, Target did an amazing collaboration with over 20 designers to create exclusive products for this holiday season, and in these last few days leading up to Christmas, the entire line is 50% off!

holiday gifts for girls

1. For some holiday flair: OPI Nail Polish in Skyfall – $7.99 (wherever OPI Nail Polish is sold… try Sally Hansen Beauty Supply) This deep ruby red, inspired by the latest James Bond flick, adds a nice pop of color to the dark wardrobes of winter.

2. For the Woman with A Plan: Greenroom Planner  – $7.99 (from Target) Monthly planner with plenty of space for everything she needs to organize in 2012-2013 made from recycled paper, featuring a cute floral-patterned cover.

3. For the Hostess: ScentSationals Mini Fragrance Warmer  – $10 (from Wal-Mart) Melt scented wax cubes without a flame — plug this warmer in to release an aroma of Lemon Chiffon, Soft Cashmere, or any of the other great scents available.

4. For the Gym Fanatic: Goody QUIKSTYLE Paddle Brush – $11.99 (from Target) Super-absorbent microfiber bristles remove 30% of water as you blow dry or brush your hair, reducing styling time as you go from the locker room to the classroom, office, or wherever you’re heading.

5. For a touch of glamour: Multi Illusion Gold Short Necklace – $14.99 (from Target) This necklace adds a bit of polished elegance to any party outfit.

6. For the Funny GirlIs Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling – $11.20 (from Target) In addition to starring in her own TV show while The Office wraps up its last season, Mindy Kaling found time to write an autobiography, detailing her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood.

7. For the Girl on the Go: Carolina Herrera Travel Bags – $19.99 (WAS $39.99!, from Target)  Three bold prints adorn this Carolina Herrera travel cosmetic bag set. Each chic bag comes in a different size with a zip top and brass Carolina Herrera logo pull to ensure you always travel in style.

8. For the Label Lover: Oscar de la Renta Tote – $29.99 (WAS $59.99!, from Target) This spacious canvas tote, featuring a print by Oscar de la Renta, has a timeless shape and an affordable price.

9. For the Jersey Shore Guid-ette: Downton Abbey, Seasons 1 & 2 – $32.99 (from Target) Is one of your gal pals sad that Jersey Shore has been cancelled? Give her something new to love, featuring all the drama and scandal, but none of the spray tan or fist-pumping….

holiday gifts for guys

1. For the Kid at Heart: Nerf N-Strike Blaster Maverick – $9.97 (from Wal-Mart) C’mon. It’s a Nerf gun. Even I love Nerf guns.

2. For the Dude with Everything: Porcelain Gnome – $12 (from Target) This little guy is a fun guest in any room. He’s a bit fragile, so I suggest putting him somewhere up high… but that may add a “creepy gnome” factor…

3. To stay comfy and cozy: Printed PJ Pants – $12 (WAS $16.94, from Old Navy) Guys can always use a new pair of pj pants. Get him a pair to open on Christmas Eve so he can wear them to open gifts in the morning.

4. For your James Bond: rag & bone Flask – $14.99 (WAS $29.99, from Target) This slim, stainless steel flask is great for a sip of his favorite adult beverage on a cold winter day.

5. For the Bros: Band of Outsiders Set of 2 Toboggans  – $14.99 (WAS $29.99, from Target) He can keep one and give the other to a friend, but you may want to convince him to let you have it with its 70% wool/30% cashmere blend. I couldn’t stop touching the inside of these when I was in the store — so soft and warm.

6. For the ComicThe Onion Book of Known Knowledge: Mankind’s Final Encyclopedia (Hardcover) – $21.83 (from Target) Everyone has that friend who posts articles from The Onion, only to have someone take the headline “Obama Paranoid Government Coming for His Guns” seriously. This is the perfect book for that friend.

7. For a stylish topper: Men’s Sweater Cardigan – $22.50 (WAS $34.94, from Old Navy) Even the most ironic t-shirt can still look a little classier when he throws this cardigan over it. My fiance pairs his with a white button down and a skinny black tie for a dressier look.

8. For the Blockbuster Buff: The Dark Knight Trilogy – $27.29 (from Target) Was your brother at the midnight premiere of the final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s spin on Batman? Give him the complete set.

9. For the Mustachio-ed Gentleman: Silver-Plated 4 Piece Shave Set – $28.99 (from Target) Unfortunately, this one is online only, but you can give him an IOU. (Who hasn’t done that before?) This set makes his morning routine a little more special.

 

What’s on your wish list this year?

The Best DIY Project for Your Fall Wardobe: Infinity Scarf

Sweater weather. Those are my two favorite words to hear in late September. However, with the weather we’ve been having in northeast Ohio, real fall weather hasn’t really appeared until the last week or so, and it’s still not consistent. It’s supposed to be in the mid 70s this afternoon. I’m hoping the fall temperatures become more reliable soon. Fall is, hands down, the best season in my book, and it always has been. Even though January 1 traditionally rings in the new year, I always feel like fall brings a fresh start with a new school year, or a second try if your year didn’t begin as you’d hoped it would. (At least this year it did for me, since I wasn’t heading back to class for the first time in 20-some years this fall. I just really like buying school supplies and picking out my “first day of school” outfit, ok?) Fall means great September thunderstorms, mugs of hot chocolate or hot apple cider (apple anything, really), watching the leaves turn beautiful shades of red and orange, new seasons of my favorite television shows, pumpkin ice cream, football and marching bands, and cozy scarves. Actually, I love all staples of a fall wardrobe, but cardigans and scarves are really at the top of the list.

I’ve already shared super-simple tutorials for DIY makeovers for your summer and winter wardrobes, and now I’d like to give you one to top off your fall looks. Infinity scarves have been popular for a few years now, and while I love my cute floral patterned ones from Charming Charlie’s, this scarf will take you through fall and into winter, and is much cheaper than anything you can get in stores. You should be able to make two scarves for less than $6 — keep an eye out for JoAnn’s Fabrics and Crafts coupons! If you’re using a sewing machine, this project should only take you less than a half hour. If you’re hand-sewing like I did, get comfy with your Hulu Plus queue — I’d suggest 2-3 episodes of Downton Abbey. (Not “Downtown Abbie,” as Brian referred to it.) I started watching this a couple of weeks ago and I absolutely love it. Anyway, here’s what you’ll need to get started with your new accessory:

1.75 yds of medium-weight plaid/flannel fabric
Mine isn’t very thick and not very fleece-like. Consider that it will be doubled over and then wrapped around your neck twice.
Spool of thread
Any color that coordinates with your fabric will do.
Straight pins
These are so much more helpful than I ever realized… I wish I’d used them for other projects I did this summer.

Step 1.

Put on moccasin slippers and refresh your mug of cocoa. Lay the fabric out flat on the floor or a long table, lengthwise. Cut the fabric on the folded edge along the entire length, giving you two identical pieces. Toss one piece off the the side and use it to make a gift for a friend later! Fold your piece of fabric lengthwise with the right side of it facing in. It should be about 10-ish inches wide now.

Step 2.

Pin your fabric together on the “open” edges, leaving about 3/4″ for a hem. Sew along the entire length of the fabric to close the open edges and create a tube. For this part, it was nice to have a straight line on the fabric to follow with my stitches. Once you’re done sewing the edges together, be sure to remove all of the pins.

Step 3.

Turn the fabric right-side out and lay the tube out flat. (It will be the same way it was when you were sewing the open edges together, except now the edges have been hemmed inside. On one end of the tube, fold the edge down about 1″ to create an even hem. It should look like a shirt sleeve at this point.

Step 4.

This part is a little tricky to explain, so I drew a little diagram to make it easier to understand. (I promise it’s easy to do.) Keeping all of the fabric flat, insert the open edges (cut end) from the opposite end of the tube between the folded down edges (hem end). It will be helpful here to pin everything together. Now, you’ll sew through all 6 layers of fabric, as shown in my handy little drawing. Make sure you’re getting all of the layers, since this is how you join the edges and close up the loop.

Step 5.

It doesn’t exactly matter where you tie the knot at the end, since no one is going to see it anyway. For my scarf, however, just so I didn’t snag it on anything, I flipped over the little flap created by the hem and tied my knot underneath.

And you’re done! Wasn’t that easy? Now go show your new fall scarf off to your friends and see if they believe you only had to sew two straight lines. Make a mistake? That’s ok, these scarves are very forgiving. After all, it’s just a piece of fabric wrapped around your neck. 🙂

If you liked this post, be sure to check out:

I choo-choo-choose you, Valentine!

Valentine’s Day. Shmalentine’s Day. Ok, I’ll admit that it never amounted to a hill of beans when I didn’t have a reliable and pretty permanent plus-one. But, I’m a little softer on the holiday now that I do, and it’s changed my perspective on it a bit. Valentine’s Day isn’t just about being head over heels in love with your Mr. (or Ms. Charming), but showing all of your significant others in your life that you love them. I did not spend Valentine’s Day this year with my manfriend, but he still found a way to make it special by sneaking a card into my purse while I was sleeping. However, I’m excited to have our V-Day date tonight, including a viewing of “When Harry Met Sally.” (There is literally nothing we we’re willing to shill out 20 bucks for to see at the theater.)

I spent my Valentine’s Day non-school or work hours (all 3 of them, after the hour drive home and before my mom fell asleep) with my mother and sister. I made a dozen chocolate covered strawberries for them, only to have my mom remind me that she’s not a big fan of them. (My bad.) But that’s ok. Not a day goes by without me telling my mom I love her, whether it’s in person or over the phone. My family is pretty small, so it’s important for me to be as connected to them as possible.

That leaves my lady friends. I wanted to be really awesome at doing a holiday right, but something always gets in the way of me being awesome. So, I’m compiling a short list of my favorite Valentine’s Day related things for my fellow Dames. Happy V-Day, lovely Valentines!

First, here’s a playlist for your listening pleasure. Only slightly NSFW (one silly but catchy song, I’m sure you’ll be able to pick it out), I found this mix by looking up other mixes featuring Red Wanting Blue. I’m a big fan of 8tracks — I’ve found a lot of cool music through it.

For Joni:

from chadat.tumblr.com

For Sarah:

For Jeannette:

from someecards.com

Maybe Conan O’Brien can help us find Valentines? (Yes, John Krasinski. My answer is yes.)

Nothing on TV, you say? Turn on PBS! – Part 1

Note: This post is an addendum to both Jeannette and Abbie’s posts from last week about this Fall’s TV schedule and the Emmy Awards.

There are 2 parts to this post, because there’s simply too much to talk about!

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What do you think when you hear the phrase PBS?

I know, I know. Some of you are groaning right now, saying “Please don’t write a blog post about that boring channel Joni!”

Don’t worry, I would never purposely bore you. That’s why I’m going to tell you why PBS isn’t boring, and why you shouldn’t only think of it as the channel that broadcasts Sesame Street.

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Do you like Drama? Maybe some Romance? Mystery? Murder? Political Thrillers?

Then Sundays at 9pm should be your night and Masterpiece (previously Masterpiece Theater) should be your show!

Masterpiece is divided into three sections: Classic, Mystery, and Contemporary. Masterpiece Classic is broadcast from January through April, Masterpiece Mystery is broadcast in the summer and fall, usually through October, and Masterpiece Contemporary is broadcast in the late fall through December. So, basically, there’s something to watch almost all year-long!

By far, the best program from Masterpiece this past year was Downton Abbey. In fact, if ratings and the Emmy Awards had anything to say about it, it may be the best program in the history of Masterpiece. Broadcast over four weeks in January of 2011, Downton had already been broadcast in the UK (where it was filmed and produced) in the Fall of 2010 to rave reviews.

Downton follows the Crawley family at their home Downton Abbey. The Earl and Countess have 3 daughters, and no sons, so when the Earl’s cousin who is set to inherit the estate and the Earldom dies on the Titanic, chaos ensues. The series explores how the lives and world of the Crawley family and their household staff changes as the new heir descends on the Abbey. A mysterious servant arrives, a maid is keeping a secret, the Countess and her mother-in-law are conspiring against the Earl, a Turkish diplomat dies in a compromising position, and world war looms on the horizon.

Downton’s popularity earned it multiple Emmy Awards last week and has been renewed for 2 more seasons. New episodes air in January.

Other Masterpiece Classic programs to check out:Upstairs Downstairs, Any Human Heart, and South Ridingall broadcast in Spring 2011.

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If you like murder mysteries, then it is “elementary” that you tune in to Sherlock.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are back and better than ever, but this time they’re solving murders in present-day London. Three episodes were broadcast as part of last year’s Masterpiece Mystery season, and more are coming in the future. I highly suggest you check this out!

Masterpiece Mystery is rife with programs, many based on the mysteries of Agatha Christie – Poirot and Miss Marple. But, also check out the Inspector Lewis, Zenand the forthcomingCase Histories.

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Finally, Masterpiece Contemporary rounds out the Masterpiece line-up. Although it features far fewer programs than its counterparts, watching Masterpiece Contemporary is a great way to wile away cold, winter Sunday nights. Check out:

God on Trial –  Broadcast in the Fall/Winter of 2008, this 90-minute production follows a group of Jewish concentration camp prisoners as they place God on trial in absentia for his abandonment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. This brilliant and profound drama depicts the simultaneous faith and loss Holocaust victims experienced during their horrific imprisonment.

The Last Enemy – Does Big Brother, like George Orwell depicted in 1984, really exist? What if it did? After spending years in China, obsessive-compulsive genius Stephen Ezard comes home to Britain for his brother’s funeral. But not all is as it seems. Mystery and danger abounds as Stephen is roped in to becoming the spokesman for the new government Total Information Awareness program that tracks every citizens every movement. It is supposed to protect you, but is a world where nothing is private and you cannot ever disappear protecting or controlling you?

This Fall, check out Page Eight about a veteran British spy who stumbles across a conspiracy that may destroy the British government. He’ll have to figure out what to do about it though, before he falls victim to it himself.

Also, look for the 50-minute long Song of Lunch starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as former lovers who meet for lunch 15 years after their relationship ended. The production is based on the poem of the same name by Christopher Reid.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the other programs you can see on PBS.

For now, turn on your local PBS Station – you may be surprised by what you find!