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A Year of Reading | My Favourite Books of 2021

a plate of tarts and a teacup in front of an open book

Here we are at the end of 2021… already? It seemed like a busy year for me with so many projects going on, but I still managed to get in a fair amount of reading too. How about you? Since I started this blog series, last year, I thought I would carry it on by sharing my favourite books I read this year. In no particular order, here they are!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This was maybe my favourite book of this year, recommended to me by my friend Meghan, who also has a YouTube “booktube” channel, in case you are interested. (I get so many great book recommendations from her!)

This is the biography of Louis Zamperini, which follows his life from his beginnings as an Olympic runner in the 1936 Berlin games, then to his time during WWII as a fighter pilot and after that as a POW in a Japanese camp. I wouldn’t recommend this one if you don’t like reading about war, especially the Pacific theatre, as it is quite brutal at times. He went through, and suffered, a lot during the war, but thankfully the book doesn’t end there. It chronicles his path afterwards, finally ending in a very powerful and beautiful redemption.

Miss Fortune by Sara Mills

This is a fun spy/espionage novel set in the 1940’s just after WWII. It is written in the style of film noir, about New York’s only female private eye, the “P.I. Princess” Allie Fortune. Unfortunately the author intended to write three books, but was only able to finish two of them. This is the first one, which does set up the beginnings of a secondary storyline which isn’t completed, but the main storyline is good and is resolved by the end. (I wouldn’t recommend the second book in the series, though, because she never wrote the third one, and there was too much of a cliffhanger at the end.)

Target Africa by Obianuju Ekeocha

Africa has a long history of colonial influence from the West. In this book, Obianuju Ekeocha, who is a biomedical scientist and founder of Culture of Life Africa, talks about how the West is still trying to influence African countries with what she calls “Ideological Neocolonialism”. She talks about how much of the “foreign aid” from wealthy donor nations comes with strings attached; including the population control abortion agenda, sexualization of children and radical feminism, which many African nations, including her own country of Nigeria, are not interested in. It was an eye opening look into how much of the foreign aid money sent from Western nations, including my own country of Canada, is being used ineffectually and is siphoned off into corrupt organizations, instead of being used to help poor third world nations with their immediate needs, and to actually help them flourish.

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

This is another quick and enjoyable novel, this time set during WWII about a young woman who moves to London in hopes of becoming a war correspondent. Instead, she accidentally ends up getting hired as an assistant to a women’s magazine advice columnist! I read this one in a couple of days, and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are a couple of more intense scenes, because it is set during the London Blitz, but it’s overall an entertaining, heartwarming and funny story.

the covers of the three Madame Chic books

Lessons from Madame Chic, At Home with Madame Chic and Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic by Jennifer L. Scott

This is a three-for-one, because this is actually a series of books that I read this summer. Jennifer is the blogger and YouTuber of “The Daily Connoisseur”, and in these books, like her blog, she speaks about how to add elegance and “chic” to your everyday life. When she moved to Paris as an exchange student, she was so inspired by how the French live, that she adopted many of their habits. She shares these stories and lessons that she learned from her host family about how to add elegance and poise to your own everyday.

My favourite one was definitely the first in the series, Lessons from Madame Chic, since I found there was a bit too much overlap with the other two books. It felt a bit like I was re-reading the same advice for several chapters- perhaps if I had read them farther apart I wouldn’t have noticed it so much.

The Shallows by Nicolas Carr

This is the other book that ties for #1 with Unbroken in my list. (Though they are totally different subjects, so maybe they can both place #1 in their respective categories!)

The most striking thing about this book is that it was written in 2010- more than ten years ago now- and it so accurately predicted the trajectory of internet; our usage and habits, and how it has continued to affect us as a society. He talks about how the internet is quite literally changing our brains, which is in turn making us more distracted and less capable of critical thinking. Interestingly, social media was in it’s infancy in 2010, (Instagram wasn’t even around at the time of writing) but already he saw the negative impact it was having on people. Reading this book and then taking a look around at the culture in which we are living in now was more than a little eery. Of course, here I am writing about the evils of the internet…on the internet! He doesn’t condemn it entirely, but instead demonstrates how we should be aware that the internet is making us “shallow”, and how we should take the time to put limits on it; relegating it once again to just a tool.

My favourite quote which I didn’t copy down, but recall from memory, goes something like “the internet is so helpful and good a servant, that it would be a little churlish to note that it also seems to be our master.” I definitely recommend checking this book out, if you’ve ever thought about your internet habits and wondered whether they are entirely all that healthy.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

This is one of my favourite books of all time and I like to re-read it every few years when I need some encouragement.

The Ten Boom family was a Dutch Christian family who hid Jews in a secret room in their house in defiance to the Nazi’s during WWII. The story follows the family pre-war, how they got involved in the Dutch Resistance and then how Corrie and her sister were eventually sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. The book doesn’t end with the war; she focuses the final section, most importantly, on forgiveness, her faith in God and how there is “no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still”.

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto

In a similar vein, here is another book about WWII (I sure read a lot from that era this year) and this time from a Canadian perspective. The author shares about his grandparents’ experiences during WWII, and how their stories weave into each others lives and into his life. His maternal grandfather fought for the Canadian army in the Pacific theatre against the Japanese army, and his paternal grandparents were Japanese immigrants to Canada who lost everything they owned in BC and were sent to forced labour in Alberta.

He writes poignantly about his own struggles towards key figures and events in his life and how he was able to learn forgiveness from his grandparents and how they were able to forgive the “other side” and build a new life together after the war- one that wouldn’t even have been possible without that forgiveness.

If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley is a British historian and curator at Historic Royal Palaces, so she is definitely qualified to write a book about the history of the home. However, maybe even more importantly, she is also a great presenter who is quite funny, in a cheeky way, and so her books (and TV programs) are engaging as well as informative.

I had already watched the BBC program that this book is based on, but I still enjoyed reading about the evolution of the way we live in our homes. She talks about the practical and social reasons changes occurred, from the medieval times of the Great Hall, to the more intimate and private Victorian Parlour, all the way to the current Living Room (which is remarkably similar to that medieval model). If you don’t feel like reading it, I would recommend watching the four part BBC program!

Unplanned by Abby Johnson

I had listened to Abby Johnson’s testimony before, but I still wanted to read her book: and then I received it for Christmas and was able to read it just in time to add to this list! In this book, Abby shares her story of how she started volunteering at Planned Parenthood in her college days, which eventually led to her working full time as a clinic director. She wanted to be able to help and counsel women in crisis, but God used a series of events to lead her to leave the clinic and, to her surprise, join the pro-life movement instead.

Educated by Tara Westover

The last book in my list is another excellent one. I had heard about this memoir last year and then when one of my favourite bloggers listed it among their favourite books, I knew that I had to pick it up the next time I was at the library.

The author chronicles her life growing up in a dysfunctional family in a rural area. Although it wasn’t that remote of an area, they didn’t mix with other people, and she only attended school sporadically. The story is quite intense and frightening at times as it follows the author’s life as she grows up and decides to eventually leave her family’s home and go to university. This book is a rare glimpse into what life in an isolating and abusive environment can be like, and how it can affect even the strongest person.

Tara Westover truly has a gift for words and engaging storytelling; I was hooked from the moment I read the introduction.

Well, that’s my list of favourite books from this year. I read 50 books in total this year, so these are just the highlights. I’ve already got a stack on my nightstand…so here’s to reading more good books in 2022!

What was your favourite book you read this year? Do you have any recommendations? 

Adding Simple & Subtle Touches of Christmas to Your Decor

a candle and evergreen bouquet on a windowsill with a lace curtain

I just love Christmas decorating! Do you? I change my decorations each year- I can never do exactly the same thing or I get bored with it. This year, while I do have lots of vintage and retro decorations such as glass ball ornaments, mercury glass pieces etc., I didn’t use most of them and instead went for much more laid back, natural and simplified look. In past years I have done a lot more decorating, but this year it just felt right to have a more subtle look for my new space.

If you want to add some festive wintery touches, without going crazy with the faux snow and garlands, here are some ways to incorporate Christmas touches into your space without it looking like Santa’s workshop.

amber bottles of berry branches on top of a shelf with a vintage painting in the background

Faux berry branches look more realistic when you pair them with real branches. You also need very few stems to create an impact. (To see how make a little Christmas tree like this one, see this post here.)

sparkly silver mini wreath on the back of a chair and a candle and bouquet sitting on a windowsill

Sometimes a tiny wreath hanging on the back of a chair, or a vase with evergreens in it is enough to add a festive touch. And of course, candles always add a warm and cozy feeling to any space, at this time of year!

wooden christmas garland

Switch out your summery artwork for wintery artwork. On my dresser mirror, I added a vintage Christmas postcard. (And a little wooden snowflake garland).

I also have two beautiful encaustic pieces by this artist; one is a summery field and blue sky scene, and this one is a beautiful snowy scene. I switch between them, depending on the season.

wintery artwork

Pinecones make great natural seasonal decor. I like to place them around in vignettes. If you have access to pine trees then they are free, and if you don’t feel like storing the pinecones, you can always go and toss them back in the bush after Christmas.

Sometimes you can add a festive touch just by making a few tiny presents to adorn your existing decor; in this case a glass hot air balloon! Or, like with this little cloche, change what you have displayed under the glass.

Also, if you don’t have a tree, you can also hang pretty ornaments in your windows from thread or fishing line, or loop some (unbreakable) ornaments over your doorknobs.

For my mom’s living room mantle, this year we kept it simple with bouquets of evergreen branches and candles of varying heights flanking both sides of the nativity.

nativity scene on a mantle with evergreen bouquets

And, again, pinecones made a great natural garland to ground the candlesticks. I made this one by wiring bunches of pinecones together onto a piece of sisal rope, which we then arranged along the mantle. Lovely golden beeswax tapers finish off the look.

garland of pinecones

Finally, my favourite piece of holiday decor, which is new this year for me, is an advent calendar. I made this one last year out of origami “masu” boxes. (not very well, I might add- I’m definitely not an origami professional. Don’t look too closely, or you’ll see how crooked it is!)

handmade advent calendar

Each box contains a scripture passage and a chocolate to countdown to Christmas; and the best thing about making your own calendar is that you can put better quality chocolates in them, instead of those waxy tasting ones!

How about you? Do you like to change up your decor each year, or stick with a tried and true formula? Do you like to DIY your seasonal decor? 

Christmas Crafting a Little Tree out of Book Pages

diy christmas tree out of book pages on a shelf

December means that it’s time for Christmas crafting as well as decorating! I put up some of my Christmas decor yesterday and today, and I think we might even decorate the tree this weekend.

The majority of my Christmas decorations are ones I’ve found in thrift stores, collected from nature or have made myself- excluding things like faux berry stems. While I love to browse in the boutiques for seasonal decor (I even used to work in a decorating store!) it can get a bit pricey, can’t it? That is why I love to make my own Christmas decor, like this little paper tree. Bottle brush trees have been a huge trend for the past few years, but I’ve never found any that were quite right for my colour scheme. Then, a couple of years ago I saw, in a shop, a tree made out of paper snowflakes and thought, “I bet I could make something like that!” This didn’t turn out quite like the one I saw in the shop, but it was inspired by it, and I do like how I was able to put this together for just a few dollars and a bit of time.

Ps. Yes, I do craft with old books- but I only use previously damaged ones! I have a stack of Reader’s Digest Condensed books that are missing pages or have damaged spines. Though, to be honest, you can find tons of those in thrift shops and I don’t feel bad about repurposing even good copies of them, because they aren’t very valuable on their own. 

all the supplies needed

For this project you will need:

-old book pages

-wooden dowel or bamboo skewer

-decorative edged scissors. The patterned ones I used were called “Victorian”.

-wooden cookies, or something else to use as a base for the tree

-templates of circles. I traced a bunch of lids, jars etc. onto cardboard.

-wooden beads with a hole the same size as the skewer, to use as spacers

-liquid glue

-a drill if you are using a wooden base

– a hole punch

step one, trace and cut out circles

Step One: Trace your circles onto the pages and cut out with your scalloped scissors. I cut three sheets at a time. You might need more or less circles for different sizes depending on the fullness. I’d start with 4-5 circles of each size.

circles cut and holes punched

Step Two: If you’ve cut your circles from a stack of pages, you might want to trim each piece a bit more so that none of the circles are exactly the same shape. Then punch a hole in the middle of each circle. I used a punch for setting grommets, so I could reach the centre of each piece. If you have a regular hole punch, you could fold the pieces in half to reach the centre.

crumpled pieces ready to go

Step Three: Once all the pieces are punched, it’s time to crumple them! This will give them fullness and dimension.

Step Four: Take your first bead and place it 1.5″ -2″ from the bottom. You might need to glue it in place if the bead isn’t tight enough to not slip out of place.

placing the first pieces on the dowel

Step Five: Now it is time to start stacking the circles on the skewer. Every 4-5 circles or so, place another bead as a spacer, giving room for the pieces to fluff out. The beads will stop the circles from all falling to the bottom, so add them as needed to keep the circles evenly spread out.

stacking circles to make the tree

As you go, you might need to add more circles of some of the sizes so you don’t get empty spots. It’s definitely an art, not a science! As you near the top, you’ll probably need more tiny circles, and you won’t be able to place as many bead spacers since they’ll show too much.

Step Six: Once you finish all the circles, add a final bead and cut the skewer off level with a saw or blade. You could also use a decorative star bead instead of a plain one. I am thinking that I might cover my wooden bead it a bit of glitter, just to give it a bit of sparkle.

adding the base

Step Seven: The final step is adding the base of the tree! I used a birch branch cut into little wooden rounds, drilled a hole for the skewer and then glued it all in place. If you don’t have a branch to cut yourself, I know you can pick these up, pre-cut, at the dollar store.

final tree

Or another idea, that I originally planned to do but couldn’t find the pieces for, is to get a miniature terra cotta pot, paint it white, fill it with clay and then plant the tree into it, covering the clay with fake snow or moss.

After you’ve finished the base, then you’re done- a very quick and easy Christmas craft for a snowy winter afternoon! This tree measures approximately 9″ tall, and I’m thinking it would be cute to make some more of different heights to create a grouping.

Do you enjoy Christmas crafting? Have you ever tried your hand at replicating a piece of decor you’ve seen in a shop? 

finished book page tree

Fashion Library: Favourite Editorial Books for Inspiration

stack of fashion books

I’ve mentioned before that I dedicate a lot of space on my bookshelves to fashion books. As nice as the internet and Pinterest can be for inspiration and information, there is still something great about pulling out a book and paging through beautiful fashion spreads.

I have several fashion books in my personal library that are editorial in style, and I love to look through them and see some of the best moments of modern fashion history (mostly from the 20th century). These are some of my favourite books that really helped to define my interest in fashion. If you are looking to add some books to your own library, or just want to page through some amazing fashion spreads, then these are my favourites!

Vogue: The Covers book

“Vogue: The Covers”

by Dodie Kazanjian and published by Abrams Books

This lovely book is what sparked the idea for the #MyVintageCover challenge here on the blog, and on Instagram. This book is divided by decade, and each section begins with a brief written introduction to that era. Then, as suggested by the name of the book, the rest of the pages are is filled with images of Vogue covers. Each cover is labeled with the date and name of either the illustrator or photographer. Some of the covers also have the model’s name included.

Vogue: The Covers page

My one frustration with the book is that the covers are not arranged chronologically, which is a missed opportunity, in my opinion, to show the progression of fashion throughout the years. However, I do still love this book for inspiration for my own cover reproductions and to see what couture fashion was popular in each era.

Grace book cover

“Grace: 30 Years of Fashion at Vogue”

by Grace Coddington and published by Phaidon Press

This is an absolutely stunning coffee table book. I would never have bought a book like this ($$$) but I actually won it in a contest on Instagram several years ago. I never win contests, so even if I never win another thing ever again in my life, this was a worthwhile prize!  If you can find a copy of this one, it is absolutely gorgeous and I love looking through it whenever I want a little bit of fantastical editorial fashion inspiration.

Grace book pages

Grace Coddington was the artistic director at Vogue magazine, and this is a compilation of some of her work over the years. She has stories sprinkled throughout the book, sharing details of the shoots and where her inspiration came from, as well as full-page photo spreads. It’s a beautiful look into the world of fashion photography and the large size of the book makes the images all the more beautiful.

Grace Coddington book pages

There is such a depth and richness in film photography, which makes up the majority of the book, and the creativity of the print medium gives me such a feeling of nostalgia whenever I page through this book. Sadly, many modern fashion spreads seem to have lost that beauty and creativity, so this is a lovely look through history.

A Matter of Fashion book cover

“A Matter of Fashion: 20 Iconic Items that Changed the History of Style”

edited by Valeria Manferto De Fabianis and published by White Star Publishers

Gifted to me by a friend, this book highlights 20 iconic fashion moments and how they impacted the fashion world. Some of the items seem rather underwhelming to me, but I do agree that jeans, the trench coat, the Kelly bag and the stiletto are definitely pieces that changed the trajectory of modern fashion. And what do I know? Perhaps the rest of the items I’d never heard of really did radically change the evolution of fashion, like “the cerulean sweater” of The Devil Wears Prada.

A Matter of Fashion book pages

This book goes through the history and details of each item, and then features a lot of fashion photography and illustrations that are always enjoyable to look at.

Vogue book covers

“Vogue: The Shoe” by Harriet Quick & “Vogue: The Jewellery” by Carol Woolton

Published by Conran Octopus

Vogue The Shoe pages

So many of these books are about Vogue, but really it’s such an iconic magazine! These two large coffee table books are part of the Vogue Portfolio Series and are a deep dive into one specific item of fashion: the shoe and jewellery. Featuring images from across the decades, these books highlight a wide variety of styles- from practical to fanciful- and then include information about the designers and other interesting details.

Vogue the Jewellery pages

Again, I never tire of looking at beautiful fashion photography from any era. There is another other book in this series, Vogue: The Gown. I saw it for sale secondhand and I didn’t buy it, which I kind of regret, but maybe someday I will come across it again!

Vintage Fashion book cover

“Vintage Fashion: Collecting and Wearing Designer Classics”

published by Carlton Books

I took the dust jacket off of this one, because it was ripped, but I kept the cover image so I just sat it on top for the photo. This book is kind of an overview, or beginners guide, to vintage fashion. It’s got some great vintage fashion photography and interesting information about the designers and iconic styles of each era.

Vintage Fashion page

For example, it explains many different movements, from Dior’s New Look silhouettes of the 1950’s to the Youthquake of the 60’s. It also highlights design movements, such as Modernism, Orientalism, and Punk. For each section there is also a page of “Key Looks of the Decade”, which is helpful to get a good overview of a decade.

Vintage Fashion decade overview page

So those are the six books that I currently have that fall into this category of “editorial style” fashion, and thus concludes this mini series of posts about fashion books. I love fashion books, so I am sure I will add more to my collection as I find them. And, I will share them here too, because it is quite nice to see reviews before you buy!

What are some of your favourite fashion books? Have you paged through any of these titles? Do you have any other good recommendations to check out? 

book stack

10 Tips for How to Start Writing Letters

a desk with stationery in front of a bouquet of sweet clover and a cup of tea

Letter writing has been around for nearly as long as people have been on this earth. It’s a way to communicate with people if you aren’t able to be there in person and for much of history writing letters has been the only channel of long distance communication. At least until the advent of the telegram, telephone, and internet. As wonderful as those advancements in technology are, though, there’s still something so special about receiving a handwritten note in the mail. I love writing letters, and while I’m not always consistent, I do try to write a few times a year to my friends and family who live far away. I inherited my love of writing letters from my Grandma. She was an excellent letter writer and it was always such a joy to receive one from her in the mailbox! If you aren’t used to writing, here are my tips on how to start writing letters.

a paper pad with a nib pen on top of it and a cup of tea beside it

Of course my first tip is to make yourself a lovely cup of tea (or other beverage) and find a comfortable spot to sit at. Perhaps even light a candle to make the experience more enjoyable. I wouldn’t suggest playing music, though, as I find that I get distracted and start to listen to the music instead of writing! Try to think letter writing as an elegant ritual.

Choose who you will write your letter to and consider your audience. From there, decide if it is to be a formal or casual letter. What you write to your grandmother might not be what you write to a friend. My Grandma often used to leave her writing paper out on the table for a week or more, adding bits and pieces to the letter as she thought of them. They were quite newsy and a joy to read since she’d include tidbits in her letter that you wouldn’t always think to say on a telephone visit. She’d include information about what the weather was like at the time of writing, where she was sitting in the house or about the chickadee she was watching out the window. Details like that really did make reading her letters feel like you were there with her.

If you aren’t used to writing, and don’t quite know where to start, then start slow by sending a greeting card with a heartfelt note written inside. A “thinking of you” card is nice to receive in the mail and it’s not as much pressure to send as a long letter is. Since there are only two pages on the inside of a card, it gives you a boundary to write a quick note without feeling the need to write an entire epistle.

a lovely cup of tea beside a bouquet of clover

Get some good writing paper. It doesn’t have to be stationery, though that is a nice thing to invest in. I often use lined paper that I trimmed out of a journal. It’s a perfect size to fit in an envelope, and the lines help me to stay tidy. Once you’ve gotten the rhythm of writing letters, and perhaps found a pen pal, then getting some dedicated stationery or writing paper is a nice touch. You can find all sorts of beautiful stationery including monogrammed and letterpresses, all the way down to simple plain paper. Keep an eye out for sets of stationery that have matching envelopes in the correct size, so that you don’t have to origami your letter to fit in an envelope for mailing. That being said, I have received letters that were written on construction or copy paper and I never cared, since it was the words on the paper that were of much more importance!

Letter seals or stickers are a fun touch to add to your envelopes- some stationery sets even include matching stickers. Wax seals are another gorgeous touch, that hearken back to the days when security was of utmost importance for top secret correspondence. Another way that letters were kept confidential was through the art of “Letterlocking”. This is a fascinating article from the BBC about how letters in the past used ingenious methods of folding and cutting to ensure that they couldn’t be tampered with. I want to get some heavy writing paper and try out this technique- wouldn’t it be fun to receive a letter like that in the mail?

Another nice touch, is to use a pen that writes really well; I personally prefer liquid ink pens to ballpoint pens. I don’t use a pen with a nib, though I would like to learn how. Right now, I use the Uni-Ball Vision Needle pens in black and I like how they write. I’ve found that when I have a nice smooth pen, my writing is neater. If my pen is scratchy or dry, then my writing gets progressively worse!

writing a letter at a desk with a cup of tea beside the pen and paper

On that note, letter writing is a great way to practice your handwriting. Cursive is another lost art, sadly, and while I don’t have the best handwriting myself, I do like to practice while writing letters. I’ve been trying to slow down when I write, because when I write fast, I might as well write in shorthand considering how illegible it can become!

If you plan to start sending letters often, then buy your stamps in bulk. They aren’t cheaper the more you buy but (at least here in Canada) if you buy a single stamp at the mail counter it is more expensive than buying a pack. Also in Canada, we have “permanent stamps” which means that when the price goes up next time, we can still use the stamps we already own. So buying a roll of stamps might save you money in the future.

Always include a return address, either in the top left hand corner or back of the envelope. Once I mailed a letter but forgot to put on a stamp- oops! At least because I had included a return address, the postal worker just placed it back in my box. Otherwise that letter would have been lost into the abyss! Also, make sure that your letter is clearly and neatly addressed. Some postal services are quite excellent (yay England!) while others can be rather abysmal (looking at you Canada Post).

As for receiving letters in return, if someone does send you a letter back, make sure to answer it in a timely fashion, or you’ll forget what you wanted to say. As I read a letter I’ve received, I find myself thinking of all kinds of things to write back in return but, if I put it off, then I find that I’ve forgotten all of those bits of “news” and have to rack my brain to find something to write down!

Well, those are my tips to start writing letters. Of course, letters can’t replace other forms of communication in our lives, but I think that there is a special art in letter writing, and that it is a lovely way to add a bit of elegance to your everyday life. Oh, and of course I can’t finish off this post without mentioning that if you’re looking for some greeting cards to send, you can check out my shop here or here.

How about you- do you enjoy writing letters? Or do you prefer instant communication instead? If you haven’t in the past, do you think you’ll start writing letters?

writing a letter at a desk with a cup of tea and a bouquet of flowers