Sunday, April 22, 2018

Charmed Life (Book Review) #1977Club

The 1977 Club is a theme in which two prolific bloggers, Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings, promote a specific year of published books. Anyone can join in by reading and reviewing a book published in 1977 and adding a link to that book's review in the comments on Simon's blog. 1968 and 1951 have also been promoted recently. 
Title: Charmed Life (Book 1 in the Chrestomanci quartet)
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Publication: 1977, Beech Tree Books paperback edition
Genre: Children's Fantasy

Plot: As the younger brother of imperious Gwendolen, a talented young witch, Cat is used to being ignored and he is happy that way. But after their parents die and the town authorities put them in charge of elderly Mrs. Sharp, Gwendolen writes to their parents' oldest friend, Chrestomanci, about their situation. Chrestomanci comes to bring the two orphans to live with his own family and be educated with his children.  However, Gwendolen resents being treated like an ordinary child and begins plotting to use her magic not just to disrupt life at her new home but also promote her own greatness, without any concern for her brother's well-being.  

Audience: This is a children's book, suitable for ages 9 up, but just as delightful for an older reader. While characterized as fantasy and does include magic and witches, I would describe it as the type of fantasy that is set in a real world. Those who dislike dragons and elves don't need to worry.

My Impressions: Charmed Life is the first in a four-book series about Chrestomanci, which I read many years ago. It was a fun and entertaining reread and great introduction to the all-knowing and all-powerful Chrestomanci. The big reveal was clear to me because I remembered something similar in Archer's Goon (a book I recall as being especially clever) and, of course, it made me want to read the whole series in order (the book I am supposed to be reading today for my book group tomorrow is The Underground Railroad: Pulitzer prize winner though it is, wouldn't you rather read some well written fantasy?). 

Regular readers of this blog know that I love stories about orphans, and during this reread, I noticed that one of the usual conventions - that sibling orphans become closer and protect each other against outsiders - is flipped. Not only does Gwendolen have no loyalty to her brother, it is clear from the beginning of the story that she cares only about herself. There is a touching scene in which Cat, whose real name is Eric, yearns to play with Chrestomanci's children, Roger and Julia, who are playing with their toy soldiers (using magic their father has forbidden), and when they unenthusiastically invite him, he is afraid to accept because he knows Gwendolen would be furious. Later, he is flattered when they ask him to play in their treehouse because they have begun to accept him and once they are his friends, he becomes much more comfortable in his new home.   However,  Gwendolen's encounters with Chrestomanci continue to be contentious:

"I won't put up with it!" Gwendolen shouted at him. "In future, my letters are going to come to me closed!"

"You mean you want me to steam them open and stick them down afterward?" Chrestomanci asked doubtfully. "It's more trouble, but I'll do that if it makes you happier."

Gwendolen stared at him. "You mean you did it? You read a letter addressed to me?"

Chrestomanci nodded blandly. "Naturally. If someone like Henry Nostrum writes letters to you, I have to make sure he's not writing anything unsuitable. He's a very seedy person."

"He was my teacher!" Gwendolen said furiously. "You've no right to!"

"It's a pity," said Chrestomanci, "that you were taught by a hedge wizard. You'll have to unlearn such a lot. And it's a pity too that I've no right to open your letters. I hope you don't get too many, or my conscience will give me no peace."

"You intend to go on?" Gwendolen said. "Then watch out! I warn you!"

"That is very considerate of you," said Chrestomanci. "I like to be warned."

I suspect that as Jones was writing this book, she became so fond of Chrestomanci as a character that she decided she and we deserved more of him in future books! While Jones never received the acclaim (or sales) of J.K. Rowling, her books are creative, amusing, and intricate in a way that appeals to readers of all ages, and she probably did benefit as fantasy increased in popularity as Harry Potter became a craze. She is very funny without using slapstick humor I dislike. She also wrote for a variety of reading levels. Fire and Hemlock, one of my favorites, is a YA novel, so layered that I have reread it several times without being sure I got every nuance - great motivation for future rereads!
Source: I have enjoyed Diana Wynne Jones' books since I first found The Ogre Downstairs at the library and brought it home in the late 70s (I remember my mother laughing out loud as she read it that night). I collected her books when I could and, luckily, when I worked at Avon/Morrow I was able to get many of them in hardcover. I see I have a duplicate copy of The Spellcoats: leave a comment if you would like it.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

England 2018, Day 10

We had breakfast at our guest house and arranged to leave our bags before heading out to Mass at St. Peter's Church, the oldest surviving Catholic Church in Cardiff, and fortunately only half a mile away. Afterwards, I flagged down a bus and thanks to its helpful driver was able to buy an all-day group bus pass for £10 for all three of us. One of my ideas for Sunday had been to visit St. Fagan's, a living history museum on the other side of Cardiff, but there didn't seem to be any Sunday bus service there. The other plan was to visit Penarth, a seaside community on the other side of Cardiff Bay.
We were a little dubious in case the rain began again but set off regardless, jumping on a bus that arrived barely two minutes after we reached the stop. I told my companions we were heading to the Vale of Glamorgan, which sounded very glamorous.  From Penarth's town center (an appealing-looking bookstore was closed), we walked about 20 minutes down to a pier and impressive sea view.
It was a little damp and windy but the view was great, even if it wasn't the kind of weather for ice cream one is normally expected to enjoy in such venues.
from the pier
I could tell my niece was happy because she started taking pictures! After walking up and down the pier, then exploring the local shops, we returned to the pier where my niece and I had liked the looks of the Waterloo Café. It turned out to be the perfect place to spend an hour or so on a blustery day: it was designed so we could just watch the sea and the food was great.
My niece had carrot cake of which she has recently become a fan,  my mother had soup, and I (despite having admired those gamboling lambs) ordered Paprika Lamb Stew which came with warm brown bread and was delicious. The amiable young man at the counter, who had visited Boston, reminded me that Wales was known for its lamb and said it would have been a waste not to try it!
When we finally and somewhat reluctantly got up to leave, he suggested we walk to the Penarth Marina and check out the barrage. None of us knew what a barrage was but why not? We walked back up the hill toward the town, then turned right, and walked down some very, very steep streets to the marina. It turned out that the barrage is an artificial barrier over the bay that was meant to help control local navigation and provides a walkway between Cardiff and Penarth. It wasn't very exciting and we were reluctant either to take the walkway to Cardiff, lest we wound up in an area with no buses or climb the extremely steep hill back to the center of town. We waited at a bus stop outside the former Custom House, now a busy restaurant, for a bus that never came, and as it began to rain I could see my companions' spirits were flagging. I consulted my phone and amazingly summoned an Uber (I felt like Prospero in the Tempest)! In six minutes or so, just as it was starting to rain, a man duly appeared and brought us back to downtown Penarth, where we caught another bus and returned to Cardiff.  Sometimes technology really is our friend.

We checked out the local Waterstone's yet ended up at yet another Caffe Nero where I ordered hot chocolate. I checked out a shelf of discarded books that I am guessing once belonged to some congenial older lady who had passed away - there were hardcover Georgette Heyers, two Frances Parkinson Keyes, and other historical fiction. I caught sight of an author whose name I had come across several times recently: O Douglas, who was the literary sister of writer John Buchan, best known as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Intrigued, I chose two and approached the staff to ask if I could buy them, assuming they would say to help myself. To my surprise, the woman behind the counter said they weren't for sale and had to stay there (in retrospect, I knew I should have asked the guy but he had moved elsewhere as I approached).
Disgruntled (because now I really wanted them!), I finished my hot chocolate and went to put the books them back. A friendly lady and her husband were now sitting next to the bookcase and we started talking. She told me about several great places I could have gone to find second hand books! I thanked her but explained that we were leaving shortly and returned to my table. A few minutes later she came over and handed the two books to me! She said she had asked the guy if I could have them and promised she would bring him two replacement discards the next time she was in town! As my brother would say, "Very nice gesture!" I thanked her and we split with the books before they could be reclaimed.

We retrieved our luggage from the Tanes Guest House - I was worried no one would be home and we'd be standing on the doorstep for hours but a sullen and unfriendly man who I suppose was the owner let us in although did not invite us to sit down. We hoisted our luggage back onto the bus (this was our 5th trip so we really got good value out of our all-day pass!) and found our way back to Central Station where a very friendly Arriva staffer escorted us to a waiting room we would not otherwise have known about.
Although odiferous, that was where my mother wanted to wait for our train. My niece and I reluctantly left her and went to Carluccio, a nice Italian restaurant we had found during our meanderings Saturday (its friendly manager Mario had promised to find us a table if we returned but it was sufficiently early that the place was not full), and then we three took the train to Gloucester. It was only two stops but it felt like the middle of the night when we arrived, and I had to remind my companions this was an adventure and that a brisk walk would take us right to the Edward of Gloucester Hotel where we had a cozy top floor triple waiting for us. One of the owners welcomed us and carried my heavy bag upstairs, and we liked our room which had three twin beds and was spacious so we weren't on top of each other.

Church count: one
Book count: two

Thursday, April 19, 2018

That's What She Said (Book Review)

Title: That’s What She Said: Wise Words from Influential Women
Author: Kimothy Joy
Publication: HarperCollins Wave, hardcover, April 2018
Genre: Nonfiction/Women/Inspirational/Gift
Description: This is an illustrated book that blends watercolor and short biography to showcase the contributions of more than fifty influential female leaders.  Author/editor Kimothy Joy found herself poring over the biographies of brave women throughout history—those who persisted in the face of daunting circumstances—to learn from their experiences. Turning to art, Joy channeled her feelings to the canvas, bringing these strong women to life in bold watercolor portraits surrounded by inspirational hand-lettered quotes. She shared her watercolors with her online community and encouraged everyone to raise their own voices and recharge for the battles ahead.

Now Joy has gathered her memorable illustrations and quotes and paired them with surprising, illuminating biographies of her subjects to inspire women of all ages, races, and backgrounds. That’s What She Said honors a powerful and diverse group of over fifty women—from Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and Virginia Woolf to Sojourner Truth, Malala Yousafzai, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—role models whose words and insights remind us that we must never give up the fight for a more just and equitable society.

This appealing book celebrates strong female leadership throughout history and may inspire current and future generations to find their voices and create change in their communities.

Audience: Readers who appreciate intelligent, outspoken women
Michelle Obama takes the high road *
My Impressions: Rather than simply review this book, I thought I would share some of my favorite quotes:

Emmeline Pankhurst – This famous suffragette family has interested me since I was a teen when I watched a miniseries called Shoulder to Shoulder about them.
“As long as women consent to be unjustly governed, they will be.”

Jane Addams – Ever since I read a Childhood of Famous Americans biography of Jane Addams, she has been a favorite (and that was before I learned more about her from Emily of Deep Valley)
“True Peace is not merely the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.”

Grace Hopper – brilliant mathematician and Naval Rear Admiral
“Probably the most dangerous phrase that anyone could use in the world today is the dreadful one: “But we’ve always done it that way.”

Eleanor Roosevelt – perhaps the most impressive First Lady
“Do what you feel in your heart is right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”

About the Author: Kimothy Joy is a Denver-based artist whose work combines watercolor and pen with hand lettering. Her artwork tries to add a sincere and hopeful message of empowerment to women and girls in a conversation where that is often lacking. She collaborates with like-minded individuals and organizations such as Melinda Gates, Reese Witherspoon's digital media company HelloSunshine, GUCCI, The Huffington Post, I AM THAT GIRL, and more - to spread a positive message of joy. 
Purchase Links: Amazon Barnes & Noble Harper Collins IndieBound

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes.   Please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:

Tuesday, April 3rd: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, April 4th: G. Jacks Writes
Thursday, April 5th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 10th: Leigh Kramer
Wednesday, April 11th: Literary Quicksand
Thursday, April 12th: Instagram: @thats_what_she_read
Wednesday, April 18th: Stranded in Chaos
Thursday, April 19th: A Bookish Way of Life

*Image of Michelle Obama is copyright to HarperCollins; shared above to show the illustrated format of the book

Sunday, April 15, 2018

England 2018, Day 8

Enid Blyton lives as we begin our adventure
In which we travel to the original Worcester:

It was time for my niece to be swept from her studies at IES by two of the family historians (and we could have used my brother Peter on many occasions). We met at Paddington (where we expected but did not see many stuffed bears for sale) and zipped off by train to Worcester, a city of 100,000 in the West Midlands. Why, Worcester, you ask? Not because Simon de Montford, one of my favorite historical characters was killed there in 1245 (I don't recall which Sharon Kay Penman recounted this sad event but I remember needed lots of Kleenex!)  It was more because I had heard that the Cathedral was beautiful and that there had been two significant battles in the English Civil War in Worcester, including the final battle.

Our luggage had gotten heavier (at least mine had! I wonder why) since arriving in London, and it was great to have additional hands. However, we were pleased to find our hotel was directly opposite the train station, the Worcester Whitehouse Hotel. Sometimes the hotels near the stations are seedy but this was very nice - by far the most spacious of the places we had stayed (you could have got about 4 or 5 of our London room into the twin room my niece and I shared) and my mother was pleased to have a luggage rack.

Composer Edward Elgar, native son 
We set off for the Cathedral which was a ten-minute walk from the hotel, and was impressive even on a gray (yet again) day. The two most interesting (non-architecture) aspects of the Cathedral were the tombs of Bad King John (died 1216; you may recall we saw his effigy on Day 1 in London at the Temple Church), younger brother of Richard the Lionheart and, more unexpected, the tomb of Prince Arthur, older brother of Henry VIII. Arthur was just 15 when he died in 1502, having been married to Catherine of Aragon six months earlier. The story goes that his father, Henry VII, did not want to return Catherine's dowry so insisted she marry his second son (later Henry VIII) after a suitable mourning period. Had Catherine's parents, Ferdinand and Isabella of Columbus fame, known what sorrow and humiliation were in store for their daughter, I hope they would have sent an escort to bring her home, no matter how beneficial an alliance between England and Spain would be!
With King John I (more or less)
Next we stopped at the Cathedral Café for a fabulous lunch! I had a Coronation Chicken panini, my niece had a cranberry and brie panini, my mother had mushrooms on toast (this was not a punishment - she requested it), and we shared a slice of Victoria Sponge cake between us (the first of many amazing desserts on this trip) as I had been yearning for one since my last trip. An army marches on its stomach!   Everyone was in a very good mood as we left the Cathedral, and headed for the Commandery, a historic building / war museum that served as Charles II's headquarters during the last battle of the Civil War. It had some good exhibits but is desperately in need of funding and some high-tech embellishments. I did think my nephews would have enjoyed all the weapons!  Some of us may have told the locals we were from the Worcester in the United States, which is only a slight exaggeration as it is barely an hour away and I visit my friend Judith there regularly.
A stool made from the famous Royal Oak that saved Charles II

My niece tries out the 5-meter training pike!
After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, Charles II fled and is reputed to have avoided capture by hiding in an oak tree. I had always imagined a hollow oak with a convenient hole but one exhibit describes him hiding in the branches as Parliamentary soldiers passed below and later a stool was made from the root of this famous Royal Oak.  We were surprised to learn that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had visited Worcester and the Commandery in 1786 (Adams seems to have cheered on Cromwell's victory - I guess not too surprising but regicide is not very nice, John). We stopped at one charity shop on the way back to the hotel (I found a Katie Fforde I didn't have and an Elizabeth Elgin, an author I had not read for years).

No time to visit Edward Elgar's birthplace but I thoughtfully hummed Pomp and Circumstance from time to time so my niece would know what she was missing.

Dessert at Slug and Lettuce


My mother was not interested in dinner after a surfeit of mushrooms (literary allusion) but after my niece and I recuperated for a bit, we set out to explore the Worcester night life. Although most of the city shut down promptly at 5, we found a branch of a chain called Slug and Lettuce (British humor?) that had great food and a lively bar scene. There was one moment when the waitress took my niece's empty water glass away and never refilled it, but we liked the vibe and the dessert was delicious!



Book count: Two
Cathedral count: One

Saturday, April 14, 2018

In Her Skin (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: In Her Skin
Author: Kim Savage
Publication: Farrar Straus Giroux, April 2018 (hardcover, Kindle, audio)
Genre: YA
Plot: From childhood Jolene Chastain's mother taught her how to survive by scamming the public, pretending to be someone else to garner sympathy and extract cash. Jo can be whatever or whoever anyone wants her to be. When her mother takes up with a series of bad boyfriends, Jo's life deteriorates rapidly even as her con artist skills become very lucrative. But after her mother is killed, she takes off, ending up on Boston where she makes friends with another abused teen, Wolf, in the tent city where the homeless live.

Hanging out at the Boston Public Library during the day, Jo becomes fascinated by a beautiful young woman she sees studying, Temple Lovecraft, about her age but clearly from an extremely privileged background. After stealing Temple's ID, she googles her and learns that seven years ago 9-year-old Vivienne Weir disappeared from Temple's home while the two girls were playing. This gives Jo the idea for the biggest scam of her life and one that could provide the long-term security she knows she needs - to pretend to be long-lost Vivi. Jo's ability to play a part is undeniable but what if Vivi's life does not represent safety but, terrifyingly, another source of danger?
The Boston Public Library where Jo makes her con artist move
Audience: If you like authors such as E. Lockhart, Michelle Gagnon, and Annabel Monaghan, you will enjoy this YA suspense novel.

My Impressions: This is an original and darkly compelling story about a teenager mature and self-reliant beyond her years. I was attracted initially because I have always been fascinated by impersonation stories and was also intrigued by the Boston setting. Kim Savage certainly delivers an intricate and unforgettable story with memorable characters, including a heroine who the reader roots for from the beginning. Jo has gone through very difficult situations so this may not be suitable for pre-teen readers.

The author says In Her Skin is about the danger of forgetting who you are. It is interesting that Jo does not have many happy reasons to remember who she once was: while her mother clearly loved her, her mother's bad choices led to the mother's death and physical harm to Jo, and yet she was trying to leave to save them both when she was killed and Jo remembers the lessons her mother taught her and uses them to survive:
Remembering past lives. Isn't my only skill. Long ago, I learned I was good at using the ones right in front of me. Momma had a name for it: said I was an Intuit.  See, every time I switched schools, to avoid getting teased for my backwater accent or my short pants, I'd pick a certain girl - the girl whose laugh could leave you bleeding, the one who moved other kids around like chess pieces, the one teachers let get away with murder. I couldn't copy clothes, or the smell of clean scalp, or a hard little chin. But I'd get good at the cool rhythm of her speech, her shuffle walk, her nonchalance. Eventually, it wasn't enough to be on the outside: I wanted in.
Jo has used this skill to survive trials that would send someone weaker straight to social services but she is smart enough to realize there are tradeoffs. Even after she assumes Vivi's identity, she is conscious that her real self is still there, however deeply buried, and she doesn't want to lose it.

Giveaway: There is a giveaway to win a finished copy of In Her Skin. Click on the Rafflecopter link to enter from April 10 through April 24, a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the Author: Kim Savage is the author of three critically acclaimed young adult novels, After the Woods, Beautiful Broken Girls (named by Kirkus as one of the 10 Best YA of 2017), all by Farrar, Straus, Giroux/Macmillan. Her novels have been published internationally and been optioned for TV. A former reporter with a Master's degree in journalism from Northeastern University, she lives with her family near Boston. Kim and her husband have three children, each of whom begs to appear in her books. They shouldn't.

Purchase Links: Goodreads * Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Book Depository * Kobo * IndieBound * iBooks

Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and the Fantastic Flying Book Club for review purposes, and recommend it. You can visit other stops on the tour and read those reviews by clicking below:

Tour Schedule

April 10th


Pink Polka Dot Books- Welcome Post

April 11th


A New Look On Books- Official Book Playlist

April 12th


The Last Page- Review
Vicky Who Reads- Creative Option

April 13th



April 14th


Phannie the Ginger Bookworm- Review & Favorite Quotes
Mama Reads Blog- Creative Option: Playlist

April 15th


Jessabella Reads- Review & Book Playlist
Kat’s Books- Review
Bookablereads- Review & Favorite Quotes

April 16th



Friday, April 13, 2018

England 2018, Day 7

The Old Palace, Hatfield House
The one place my mother wanted to see more than any other on this trip was Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, where Elizabeth I had grown up and where she was living, under house arrest, on November 17, 1558 when Sir Nicholas Throckmorton*  rides from London to tell Elizabeth her sister Mary I had died and she was now queen. Tradition has it that Elizabeth was standing under an oak tree when she heard the news and said, "This is the Lord's doing: it is marvelous in our eyes." Of course, we wanted to stand beneath that same oak tree. There were two small obstacles: the first was that the ree was a 20 minute walk and we were already tired. Luckily, before we had been walking for more than five minutes, a man
Where Elizabeth I and Edward VI did lessons
appeared on a golf cart and magically whisked us to the oak. However, the second obstacle is that the tree is gone. Although many oaks older than 16th century have survived, this one did not. Luckily, the Cecil family handled that by asking Queen Elizabeth II to plant a tree in the same place. My mother had been planning to declaim Psalm 118 (or the excerpt cited above) but was too modest in front of our driver. Still, it was worth it to get a ride!

We toured both the Old Palace (three-quarters of which was torn down to provide bricks for the new house) where young Elizabeth I had spent most of her child and young adulthood, sometimes with her brother Edward (who ruled briefly before Mary as Edward VI), and it was a thrill to be in the same room where Elizabeth had studied with her tutor Roger Ascham (and our guide received an impressed, "I learned several things I didn't know," from my mother who often knows more than the docents). Then we went to Hatfield House next door which is gorgeous and was built in 1611 by Robert Cecil (son of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Elizabeth I's lord treasurer). Robert succeeded his father as one of Elizabeth's most trusted advisors, and the estate is still owned by his descendants; the current owner is the 7th Marquess of Salisbury.
The Famous Oak Tree

This ceiling was painted gold for Queen Victoria's visit!
One of the reasons Hatfield House has a different feel than other sumptuous estates is that the current owner and his family actually live in the house (presumably on the top floors, although we were told they use the main floors we were touring for parties). I was reminded of Eva Ibbotson's A Company of Swans in which the heroine's dreadful aunt and her friends like to go to visit Stately Homes in the hope of a sighting of the owners. No sightings for us but we had tea and lunch at the restaurant on site before taking a look at the front of Hatfield House, then walked back to the train.
Hatfield House from the front
Once back in London, my mother went to visit her favorite church, St. Etheldreda near Fleet Street, and I went to a shrine of my own (just kidding), Foyles on Charing Cross Road! I had fun browsing and made the mistake of reading half a book without writing down the title or author (debut novel about a woman having an affair; her lover gets murdered and she is the suspect). I got a pot of tea and bought a classic old mystery by Lois Austen-Leigh. Book count for the day was a mere one.
In the evening my niece and I went to see Chicago! It was an amazing production with a strong cast and Cuba Gooding Jr. playing Billy Flynn. He seemed to be having a great time, and if his voice was not the strongest in the cast, no one seemed to mind. The theatre was full and the audience very appreciative, as were we.

* I suspect it is Throckmorton's daughter who later serves as the queen's lady in waiting and falls into permanent disfavor when she and Sir Walter Raleigh fall in love and someone winds up pregnant and secretly married (in that order).

Book Count: One

Thursday, April 12, 2018

England 2018, Day 6

On Wednesday, we headed to a fashionable part of London - Mayfair! My mother wanted to visit the house where composer George Frideric Handel had lived - now a museum housing both German-born Handel and Seattle-born rock star Jimi Hendrix memorabilia!  We have a particular interest in the former because my grandfather was a Handel scholar, author of a book on Handel that is still in print. The museum was small but charming: we enjoyed a young musician playing the harpsichord while singing Bach in German (he said he'd get to Handel if I was patient), and I learned a little about Jimi Hendrix also!  Most of all, it was exciting to think of Handel working on Messiah in this very house (and I was amazed to learn he had completed it in about three weeks), using this very bookcase. 
Handel's bookcase
Before leaving Mayfair, I also poked my head into nearby Claridge's Hotel which made me feel like the royalty and celebrities who often stay there. Perhaps one sign of a five star hotel (not to mention L500/night) is that they made me feel welcome even in jeans and sneakers (if it weren't always cold and rainy I might have looked less disheveled). The hostess at the restaurant urged me to bring my mother in for a coffee but there wasn't time.

Interior of St. George's, Hanover Square
My big miscalculation of this trip (at least so far) was looking on my phone at the distance between Brook Street and the Churchill War Rooms and deciding it was close enough to walk. It took us nearly an hour and half to get there and then there was an enormous line! Nicky had warned us the night before to buy tickets online but the website was uncooperative. It turned out that the tickets were sold out and a sympathetic guard said we might get in but it could be one hour or four! We were cold and disgruntled, so walked another 20 minutes before we found a Pret a Manger, where we partook of hot chocolate, tea, and cookies, which restored our good humor. The walk had been interesting, after all, and among other things we had visited St. George's, Hanover Square, the society church that makes appearances in Georgette Heyer's and others' books. We also walked by the shop (showroom?) of Jenny Packham, the British fashion designer patronized by the Duchess of Cambridge. As my guilty pleasure is WhatKateWore.com this delighted me.
Jenny Packham, clothing designer to the stars
I had read about a fabulous exhibit about Charles I, King and Collector at the Royal Academy, so although we hated to walk another meter, we girded our loans and hustled over to Burlington House on Piccadilly. The queue there was almost as bad as the one we had left behind but fortunately they sold us tickets for 3:30 and we only had to wait patiently for 20 minutes or so to enter. The exhibit had brought the treasures of Charles I from all over the world for the first time since, presumably, he was chased out of town by those vile Roundheads. It consisted of paintings, sculpture, miniatures (by Nicholas Hilliard!), tapestries, medallions and more, dazzlingly displayed in many rooms. The most impressive paintings were by Anthony Van Dyck, who came to England and essentially became the court painter, painting many portraits of Charles and his family. Each room was extremely crowded because the exhibit is closing on April 15th and people were trying to catch it. It was worth elbowing our way through to see such exceptional works.
I really wanted the exhibition poster but was not sure I could get it home intact
By 5:15, however, we were not just tired of the crowds but also eager to see the real reason for our trip, my eldest niece, who is studying in London this semester. We had arranged to meet her at Zizzi on the Strand (a chain but the food was wonderful), so we hurried through the rush hour commuters and a kind manager at the restaurant found us a table although we did not have a reservation. It was great to see my niece and hear about her adventures! She is studying theatre and after dinner we went to see a new play, Quiz, which had just opened and was cleverly staged and great fun.