The Girl I Left Behind Me

I will admit that I am a little bit of a nostalgia junkie.

I’m especially susceptible to collecting old books. One reason I love them so much is the quality of books that were produced in by-gone times

We live in such a disposable society now days that we forget that there was once a time when books were printed on paper so well milled you could actually feel the texture of the fibers as you ran your fingers across a page. And leading artists of the day were hired to create not just cover art, but chapter headings and story illustrations throughout the book, as well.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean, and share with you one of my favorite antique books. The Girl I Left Behind Me by Weymer Jay Mills was published in 1910. My copy is not in the best shape; there are some tears on the pages and some foxing, as well. I enjoy it anyway, because it was an unusual book even for its time because it was so beautifully illustrated.

Even the copyright page had its own little piece of artwork by artist John Rae, who had free rein to illustrate and embellish scenes from the novel as well as page and chapter headings.

Color illustration of a young woman sitting on a bench. She is facing backwards, but has turned her body in order to drape her arm across the back of the bench and look toward the reader. She is wearing a bonnet and clothes from about the 1880s. In her hands she holds a book. Standing behind her on the back of the bench is a small cupid, who looks over her shoulder in order to read the book. On the back of the bench, in letters that mimic figures that might be carved into the wood, is the copyright notice that reads: Copyright 1910 by Dodd-Mead & Company.

One reason why this particular book may be more lavishly illustrated than others of its time is the reason it was published in the first place. Here’s a close-up of the book’s dedication page:

To Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg

I wondered, after I read it, who Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg was, and what she did to excite so much admiration that the publisher and author would produce such a lavishly adorned volume. It only took a little bit of Internet research find out.

Round portrait of Emily seated in a  chair, reading a book. Her hair is brown and arranged at the back of her head. Her gown is black and adorned with black beads; it has a wide neckline and beaded shoulders.
A watercolor portrait of Mrs. Ladenburg from the New York Historical Society.

Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg (born Emily Louise Stevens) was a powerhouse of east coast American society from the 1880s until her death in 1937. Her father was a wealthy New York banker; her husband, whom she married at the age of twenty-two, was a wealthy partner in a Wall Street investment firm.

Black and white full-length photo of Emily Ladenburg. She is wearing a white  full-length gown with a train at the back. Flowers are arranged at the shoulders of the gown. Her hair is dressed in a knot at the top of head in the style popular for the time.
Emily Ladenburg, from a 1902 magazine at the New York Public Library.

Emily was a skilled horsewoman, and is credited with being the first woman who dared to wear a “split skirt” while riding, which allowed her to modestly straddle her horse, instead of riding side-saddle.

She was also a charitable whirlwind, who dedicated much of her time and energy to aiding women and children (she championed one of the first school lunch programs in New York).

By the age of thirty-one Emily was a widow, and a very wealthy one. She never married again, but she was a frequent subject of romantic speculation in newspapers across the country. Here’s an example from  a Virginia newspaper in 1902:

Newspaper clipping: 
Headline: Brides-Elect Who Are Social Stars. 
Two women, widely known and prominent in society, are reported as engaged to be married. The first is Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg, widow of a conspicuous financier, who has been engaged by the gossips of society nearly once a week since her husband was lost overboard in midocean in 1896. She is now reported engaged to Jay Phipps, Jr., son of a Pittsburg steel magnate, who will inherit about $5,000,000. He is 25 and his fiancee 36 years old. Mrs. Ladenburg is now at her home at Newport.
From the Virginia Chronicle, July 16, 1902.

In one three-month period alone her name was romantically linked with three different men; one newspaper asserted she had been engaged to each man for a very short period of time.  Whether that’s true or not is still a topic for debate.

How this little book came to be written about Emily is also a mystery. I think it’s possible that at one time her path crossed the author’s path. Weymer Jay Mills was a magazine editor and writer who covered the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, the Astors, and other prominent members of society. It would not have been difficult for him to come upon Emily Ladenburg during the course of his job.

It’s equally possible that Mr. Mills was just someone who adored Mrs. Ladenburg from afar and hoped that by writing this story, he could somehow attract her attention. Either way, it seems to me that Mr. Mills was quite smitten with Emily Ladenburg.

Just like Helen of Troy, whose beauty launched a thousand ships, Mrs. Ladenburg’s beauty and style launched a lovely little book that has been on my shelf for many years. Mr. Mills’ writing style is fanciful and over-the-top; Mr. Rae’s illustrations are romantic and sweet.

You can click on the cover below to open a PDF of the book so you can read the story and see all of the lovely illustrations the artist created. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do!

My Facebook Fiasco

It’s no secret that I’m not technologically savvy.

Websites stump me.

Constantly changing social media platforms are my nemesis.

And I cannot download apps to my phone because my current phone is so old it won’t accept software updates anymore. Despite that, I refuse to replace it because it works just fine for my needs, thank you very much.

It always seems that I struggle when it comes to any device or software, especially the ones that promise to be “user intuitive.”

And that brings me to the topic of my latest struggle with Facebook.

For the last nine years I’ve had a Jenny Berlin Author page on Facebook. I haven’t always posted faithfully, but I’ve certainly done plenty of posts since the page first went live in 2013.

But a couple of months ago I began to receive notices from FB that they were going to delete my Jenny Berlin Author page because it was grey.

I admit I have a touch of grey hair at the temples, but I don’t think my account needs to be deleted because of it. (A little joke. Not a good one, but a little one.) I like my FB page; I want to keep it just as it is.

But I quickly learned you can’t argue with Facebook. There’s no way to protest their decision. And even when I followed the links on their messages to try to remedy the situation, either the links didn’t work or the pop-up screen told me to click on links that didn’t exist.

So I’m stuck.

That means that as of August 31 Facebook will delete my Jenny Berlin Author page, whether I like it or not.

So I took matters into my own hands and resurrected an old Facebook account I set up years ago and rarely used. It’s a personal profile account that I never did much with because I was so busy with other things.

But as of today, that old Facebook profile is alive and well and ready to go! You can find it by clicking here:

If you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll stop by to say hello!

My Dark Spooky Castle Addiction

Last year I set up a new reading nook and created a plan to reduce the number of books I own (you can read about it here).

Progress was slow at first; then I gained a bit of momentum as I went through my old Mills and Boon nurse romances. Every single one of them made it into the “donate” pile.

Next I tackled my collection of Heartsong Presents romances. In the 1990s they were some of the first Christian romances I read, including this early novel by Lauraine Snelling:

Dakota December, a 1996 novel by Lauraine Snelling.

I remember how happy I was to find these books. I think they were among the first romances I found that included an element of faith woven into the story; and the best part was the publisher distributed the books by mail order. Every month four new Heartsong Christian romances magically appeared in my mail box! Woo-hoo!

Another genre I read a lot was romantic suspense; and because my older sister bought just about every Victoria Holt gothic adventure novel ever published and passed them along to me, I developed quite a passion for them.

The cover of The Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt.

Each of Holt’s novels followed a pattern: A beautiful/lovely young woman—alone in the world—inherits/takes a job/goes to live in a legend-haunted castle/chateau/mansion.

Cover of The King of the Castle by Victoria Holt.

Soon after her arrival, the heroine either gets curious or inadvertently discovers a long-buried secret, thereby putting herself in danger. Usually that danger involved spooky specters, trap doors, and attempts to murder her in order to keep that dark family secret hidden from her prying eyes.

This epigraph in the front of Holt’s novel The King of the Castle helps set the tone for the spookiness about to ensue:

To me Holt’s heroines were a wonderful blend of Nancy Drew, Jane Eyre, and Lucy Pevensie. They were honest, brave, resourceful, and smart. And no matter what threats or dangers were thrown in their way, they never backed down. In the end, they were rewarded with everything they ever wanted: love and a place to belong.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I devoured Victoria Holt’s books. Manfreya in the Morning was my favorite and I’ve read it many times over the years.  

The cover of Manfreya in the Morning by Victoria Holt

But my spooky castle novel addiction didn’t stop with Victoria Holt. Once I finished reading all of her books, I sampled gothic suspense novels by other authors.

The cover of A Finger to Her Lips by Evelyn Berckman

They were pretty good, too; but for me, Victoria Holt was the queen of romantic suspense.

Over the last few weeks I’ve re-read her wonderful novels. The stories are still great; but reading them also took me back to a time when they provided a much-needed escape from my humdrum world of school and work. And now that I’ve reread them all, I know it’s time to say goodbye to them.

It’s a tough decision to make, but into the donate box they go. Next week I’ll pick another genre of books from my collection to re-read and either donate or re-shelve. I wonder what books I’ll choose?

Is there a book or genre that takes you back and reminds you of “the old days” every time you read it?

What’s Keeping Me Busy

I’ve been busy!

My “real job” still takes up a lot of my time, but I’ve managed to make some progress on some of my personal goals:

My sister and I have been writing a new book, and it’s really coming together! Our work-in-progress just passed the 90,000 word mark, which means it’s going to be a real, honest-to-goodness novel one day.

But, as always, what really keeps me busy is the Isabella Alden website. Between writing posts, researching the lives of Isabella and her family, and searching for more of her stories to share, it’s almost another full-time-job!

I think my efforts on the blog are paying off, though, because the number of subscribers and visitors continues to grow daily. Last Friday morning readers from a variety of countries visited the site:

Table showing the number of readers by country: United States, Canada, Mexico, India, Brazil, Australia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary.

It’s thrilling to know Isabella once again has fans all over the world!

And the best part of that growth is that I still have plenty of her stories to share, as well as bits and facts about her life.

So, I guess that means that I can look forward to having my almost-full-time-job of running the Isabella Alden blog for some time to come.

Is there a topic or story you’d like to see featured on Isabella’s blog? Leave a comment and let me know!

Dreams of Gold, Silver, and Bronze

Are you watching the Winter Olympics? I missed the opening ceremony, but I’ve been trying to watch at least part of the coverage of every event category. I’ve watched curling, speed skating, bobsled heats, all kinds of skiing, and even hockey.

By far, the skating events are my favorite. When I was young I became fascinated with ice skating, mostly because I grew up in southern California where snow and winter sports were uncommon. But my mother was a fan of Olympic skater-turned-actress Sonja Henie, who parlayed her three gold medals into a film career. My mom never missed one of Sonja’s movies when they were on TV.

The movie I remember most was “Sun Valley Serenade.” In it Sonja and co-star John Payne (who played Natalie Wood’s optimistic neighbor in “Miracle on 34th Street”) sang, skated and danced their way around an Idaho ski resort. Hi-jinks and romance ensued.

I tried ice skating once when it was about twelve. Unfortunately, I spent more time falling on the ice than gliding across it, so I never tried it again. But like Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I’m pretty certain that:

If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.

Instead I’m content to watch Olympic ice skating on TV.

Pairs skating are my favorite events. I was mesmerized by USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ beautiful free skate performance; the same for France’s Gabriella Papdakis and Guillaume Cizeron (who earned a gold medal in the event).

So yesterday, when I was browsing Amazon for a new book to read, this one caught my attention:

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? I’ve never read this author before, but the book has some great reviews. And since I was in an ice skating mood, I didn’t hesitate to tap the “Buy It Now” button. It’s going to be my weekend read as we head toward the Olympics closing ceremony on Sunday.

What do you think? Have you ever been inspired to read a book based on real-life events?

(By the way, I don’t receive any compensation for directing you to Traci Hunter Abramson’s book; I just like to share interesting books I find with others.)

Fool Me Once

I’m always on the hunt for stories by my favorite Christian authors. By now, you probably know who my top three are:

Isabella Alden (writing as Pansy)

Grace Livingston Hill

Marcia Livingston (writing as Mrs. C. L. Livingston)

I love finding a gem of a story that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, and making it available for others to read.

So you can imagine my excitement when I came across a book for sale that had not one—not two—but three novel-length stories by Isabella Alden!

The seller provided a helpful snapshot of the anthology’s table of contents:

I recognized the title of the first story; The Randolphs was one of the first Pansy books I ever read; but the other two Pansy titles were brand new to me. So, of course I hit the “buy now” button and claimed that book for my own!

The book arrived yesterday, and I could hardly wait to open it up and begin reading. I snuggled down in my favorite chair and turned to page 65 to read the story titled “A New Craft.”

Imagine my surprise when I saw this instead:

Image of the first page of the story with title "A New Graft on the Family Tree" at the top.

Argh! That’s not a new story, at least, not for me. I’ve had my very own hardback copy of A New Graft on the Family Tree on my bookshelf for years.

But I shook off my disappointment, remembering I still had a third story to read, Wise to Win. So I flipped to the appropriate page, took a sip of my favorite tea (to help get me back into reading mode), and dove into the story.

Image of the first page of the story with the title "Wise to Win" at the top.

I hadn’t read very far before I began to think the story sounded familiar. So I did a search of all my Pansy books and found it was word-for-word the same as One Commonplace Day, another book I already had.

Argh, again!

One Commonplace Day was originally published in 1886, so I’m not sure why it was reprinted in this 1903 anthology under a different title. I’ll confess, though, that this isn’t the first time I’ve been fooled like this. Over the years I’ve bought a few Pansy books, only to find out I already owned them under a different title:

Interrupted was republished at a later date under the title, Out in the World.

Ester Ried, Yet Speaking was republished as Following Heavenward.

And Six O’clock in the Evening was published under two different titles: Grandma’s Miracles and Stories Told at Six O’clock in the Evening.

Luckily, I caught myself before I bought Way Station, a reprint of Twenty Minutes Late.

I’m a little sad that my latest book-buying experience didn’t end the way I wanted. Still, there are a few of silver linings:

  • The remaining stories in the book are ones I haven’t read before, so I’m looking forward to enjoying them.
  • This one-hundred-and-eighteen-year-old book is in great shape! Once I’ve read it, I plan to donate it so someone else can enjoy the stories as much as I have.
  • It has illustrations! I may have already shared the stories before, but the illustrations of key moments in the Pansy stories are very nice and worth sharing in future blog posts.
Photo of open book showing one of the book's illustrations.

Will my latest book-buying experience deter me from buying other Pansy books? Absolutely not! I’ll continue to hunt for short stories and novels written by my favorite authors; and when I find them, you can bet I’ll share them on my Pansy blog.

If you haven’t visited my Isabella Alden blog yet, please follow this link. You’ll find lots of Christian books and stories to read for free. See you there!

My New Book Nook

It pains me to have to admit it, but I have come to the point in my life when I have to own up to the fact that I have too many books.

There. I said it.

Now the question is: What do I do about it?

Meme. Having too many books is not a problem. Not having enough shelving, that's a problem.

When I stand back and look at my bookcases full of the books I love and want to read again; and books I want to keep forever; and books just waiting to be read for the first time—I honestly wonder how I can ever part with any of them.

But I have to, because there just isn’t room in my home for any new books. So I’ve come up with a plan to help me make the tough decision about which books stay and which books go.

Now that the weather is nice, I set up a little reading nook on my screened porch, with a small bookcase and a comfy chair. The window blinds help shield me from passersby, but I can adjust them to let in the right amount of reading light. And the rug on the floor brings a bit of warmth to the cold concrete floor.

Photo of chair, side table with coffee mug, and short bookcase with books on each shelf.

On the shelves are a variety of books:

  • Some I have not yet read, but they’ve been sitting on the top of my To-Be-Read pile.
  • Some I have read, but I read them so long ago, I need to refresh my memory in order to decide if they’re still keepers.
Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction novels in order by author last name.

Of course, I had to organize them by genre, then by author last name (don’t ask me why; I just had to).

Photo of book shelf showing spines of historical fiction boooks.

And I added this little lady to keep watch over the historical romance shelf:

Photo of porcelain figurine of woman dressed in 19th century gown.

Once I’ve worked my way through a re-read of these books, I’ll be able to make that crucial decision of which books to keep and which to donate or share with others. Then I’ll restock the book nook shelves with the next round of books to re-read.

I tried it out yesterday with a cup of tea and had a very nice hour of reading time. This may turn out to be a very good system. What do you think?

Jo March’s Writing Career

I mentioned in an earlier post that I recently purchased a lot of old newspapers and magazines. I know some people like to rip old newspapers apart in order to frame their advertisements, but I collect magazines and newspapers for the articles and stories.

A lovely wood-cut illustration from Gleasons’ Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion.

Somehow, mixed in with the newspaper issues I purchased, the seller had added a few issues of a periodical called Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, all of which were dated in the 1850s.

I never heard of the magazine before. Flipping through the pages, I saw they were filled with poems, song lyrics, bits of news stories, brief biographies, and histories of all sorts.

But the best things were the stories. They have titles like:

The Pirate’s Dungeon

Rodolpho: The Mystery of Venice

The Clergyman’s Love

Conrado de Beltran: The Buccaneer of the Gulf. A Romantic story of the Sea and Shore

As soon as I saw the titles I thought immediately of Josephine March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Perhaps you’ve read Little Women, too.

In particular, I was reminded of the latter part of the novel, when Jo went to work as a governess to the children of a family friend, Mrs. Kirke, at a boarding house in New York. While there, she cared for Mrs. Kirke’s children by day, but at night she wrote sensational stories for a newspaper called The Weekly Volcano.

Her first story was a “thrilling tale;” and when the newspaper’s editor bought it for the princely sum of “twenty-five to thirty,” Jo saw a way to make some good money. She “rashly took a plunge into the frothy sea of sensational literature” and produced story after story.

Soon Jo’s “emaciated purse grew stout, and the little hoard she was making to take [her sister] Beth to the mountains next summer grew slowly but surely as the weeks passed.”

When I was young, the March sisters—Jo, in particular—were my favorite literary characters. But as I flipped through the pages of the old magazines I received, and saw the story titles, I realized it’s been decades since I last read Little Women.

In fact, my last read was so long ago, when I sat down to write this blog post, I couldn’t remember the titles of any of Jo’s sensational stories—or even if the titles were ever mentioned in the novel!

So, of course, there was only one way I could think of to answer that question: I had to drop everything and re-read Little Women to refresh my memory.

The Frontispiece from my poor battered, often-read copy of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Hours later, I’m still reading, unable to lay Little Women aside. I’d forgotten how well written and entertaining the novel is, and how much I care about Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; and even Aunt March, Marmee, and Laurie. The last few hours of reading have reminded me of all the reasons I loved Little Women when I was young—and all the reasons this charming, entertaining novel deserves to be read much more often than once every twenty-plus years!

So, thank you to the book seller who tucked a few issues of Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion into my recent order. You have given me many more hours of pleasure than I anticipated.

How about you? Is there a book you loved in your younger years that deserves a re-read?

A New Version of an Old Favorite

I’ve become a very picky TV watcher.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to watch a variety of programs in different genres, but over  the last several months I stopped watching programs I used to enjoy.

Dramas have become too gritty and upsetting; medical shows too intense; and comedies, for the most part, are just annoying and rarely make me laugh.

I don’t know when it happened, but the number of programs I watch—and especially the number of channels I’m willing to tune into—have really shrunk in number.

In a previous post I wrote about how much I enjoy Signed, Sealed Delivered, and you can bet I’ve watched the entire series as well as the films over the last few months. But old favorites only go so far.

So when I heard that Britain’s BBC had filmed a brand new adaptation of All Creatures Great and Small (the semi-autobiographical books by veterinarian James Herriot), and it was coming to American PBS stations in the new year, I was intrigued.

I was a big fan of James Herriot’s books when they first appeared in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. I read them all, and enjoyed them so much I read them again. They’ve been on my keeper shelf ever since.

Then the BBC adapted the books for TV in a delightful series that I watched and loved. It ticked all the boxes: quirky characters, entertaining anecdotes about animals, some drama and some laughs, and a sympathetic main character who was just your average guy trying to learn the ropes of a new job in a brand new city.

The original leads in the 1978 TV series.

One of the main reasons I loved the original books and TV series was how comforting they were. They made me nostalgic for a time I never knew but would like to: when life was simple, and people talked to each other face to face; when handshakes meant something, and neighbors helped neighbors.

A sweet moment in the new adaptation.

In fact, I loved the old show so much, I wondered if the new adaptation could possibly live up to my expectations. Would they try to modernize the story to make it “relevant” for the twenty-first century?

I am happy to report, they did not!

I’ve watched the first three episodes of the new version, and I like it very much. It’s a faithful adaptation of Herriot’s books. The characters are just as lovable, charming, and entertaining in the new version as they were in the old.

The cast of the 2020 adaptation.

Another thing I love about the new series is the pains they took to expand James Herriot’s world. It depicts Yorkshire—its villages and countryside—in all its glory, so I really get a sense of place, and how different those new surroundings must have been for James to get used to.

Actor Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot with the gorgeous Yorkshire countryside as a backdrop.

At last I found something new to watch on TV! And since PBS has aired only half the episodes, I now have a show I can look forward to watching for the next four Sunday evenings. How refreshing!

A charming Yorkshire village setting for the new TV series.

One good thing that has resulted from watching the new series is that it has inspired me to dust off my old copies of the original James Herriot books and reread them. It’s been several years since I even touched them, and I have to say it’s like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

As much as I enjoyed the 1970s TV show and like the new 2020 version, the original book is better. It just is.

Do you have a favorite television show you like to watch over and over?

In the crazy pandemic world we live in, is there a book, TV show, or movie that entertains and comforts you?

What a Year!

Like a lot of people, I had some big plans for 2020.

And as it did for a lot of people, COVID-19 changed each and every one of those plans. Changed them as in, none of my plans were accomplished. Not one.

In any other year, I would have beaten myself up for such poor performance, but not this year. With the box full of crazy uncertainty this year foisted on us all, I decided I would not fall into the trap of focusing on my shortcomings.

Run for your lives! It’s the attack of the year 2020!

Instead, I want to tell you about something good that happened—something from which we will all benefit.

If you know anything about me, you know I’m a fan of writer Isabella Alden. Her novels mean so much to me, and I admire her example of living a Christ-centered life. It’s been my joy to help spread the word about her stories on my other blog ( and help new readers discover the beauty of her stories for themselves.

Because I post regularly on that blog (and on corresponding Facebook and Twitter accounts) with samples of her stories and news about her life, I’m always on the hunt for information I can share about Isabella.

A couple of months ago, I found a treasure trove of some of her short stories in a collection of magazines I purchased from an auction site. Each story is new to me with titles I’ve never heard of before.

A few of the stories are only one chapter long; some stories are as long as eight chapters; and one is a full-length novel! I feel as if I hit the Isabella Alden Jackpot!

If you’re like me, you probably need a good Isabella Alden story after the year we’ve had, and I’ve got the perfect one to share. Please  check with me here (or on Isabella’s blog) on January 12, when I’ll publish the first of the new stories, “For This.”

In the meantime, I wish you a bright and promising New Year! See you in January!