Beyond the Pale

GirlEbooks: ebooks by the gals (FREE to Download)

GirlEbooks is a brilliant website which “aims to make classic and contemporary works by female writers available to a large audience through the ebook medium.” It’s mainly the work of Laura McDonald and her mum, Joyce, with other contributing bloggers, and I happen to think it’s utterly wonderful.

Yes, there are many websites with free ebook downloads, but I particularly like the selections on offer here – they sort the wheat from the chaff, as it were.

You can get ebooks in lots of places on the internet, but our ebooks are hand-crafted and professionally formatted. Each ebook has a linked table of contents and text reflow for small reading devices. We create covers, correct errors introduced by digital conversion, and offer the ebooks in multiple formats to accommodate most ebook reading devices. All of our ebooks, even the ones in the ebook store, are DRM free (no digital rights management). This means that once you download the ebook, it is yours forever.

Here are some of my favourites, which you should probably all go and download immediately…

If you have ever heard me warbling on about one of my favourite ever authors – Georgette Heyer – and wondered what all the fuss was about, well, now you can find out for free by downloading The Black Moth (her first novel, published in 1921). It was also the first book of hers I read, a mere whipper-snapper myself, and I fell completely head-over-heels in love with her wit, sense of drama and the devastatingly attractive pictures she paints of complete cads  and utter bounders. Heady stuff for a young gal and gave me a taste for very clever, sarcastic men. Oh dear.

First published in 1823, these memoirs were written by the first lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette of France. Madame Campan became close to the Queen during her 18 years in service. Her memoirs divulge details of the daily life at the royal court as well as recount the events of the Revolution from the royal family’s perspective.

I’m reading this one at the moment, and it’s absolutely fascinating. Click the picture to be whisked to the download page. Highly recommended!

The Duchess of Devonshire’s second book, first published in 1778, chronicles the life of a young, newly married lady of high society not unlike its author. Written in epistolary format, the story follows Julia from her idyllic country life to her marriage to a rich aristocrat. She soon discovers her husband is nothing other than a rake, spending all his and her money on gambling and mistresses. An anonymous guardian, in the guise of The Sylph, writes to her, giving her guidance through her troubles…but will it be enough?

Cecilia, or Memoirs of an Heiress, was Fanny Burney’s second novel and was first published in 1782. It is the story of Cecilia Beverly, a young and beautiful heiress whose army of suitors is made up of gentlemen, scoundrels, and many who are not what they seem. Admired by Jane Austen and many other contemporaries, it is said that the title for Pride and Prejudice is taken from the last pages of Cecilia.

Belinda, first published in 1801, is the story of a young woman who comes of age amid the distractions and dangers of London society. Belinda stays with both the extravagant, aristocratic Delacours and the sober, rational Percivals and molds her views on love and marriage from both. Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a comic and entertaining novel of manners.

Comedies of manners don’t always time-travel well, but in Belinda (for the most part) the comedy still remains fresh, I think, which is something that can be a bit lost in some older novels. Lavish descriptions of costumes, too, which is always a boon.

Four women, all strangers, escape the dismal English weather for a month-long retreat in an Italian villa. Once there, the company of the other women along with the “wisteria and sunshine” brings each character to a heartening realizaion about herself. First published in 1922, The Enchanted April was a best-seller in both England

Oh I still love this one – an especially good choice if you’re feeling under the weather and just want to curl up in bed with a heart-warming story that will definitely bring a smile to your lips.

You can’t beat a bit of Agatha Christie – another good choice for when you’re feeling poorly, I think. This is her first novel, published in 1920, and introduces us to the enigma that is Hercule Poirot, who went on to appear in 33 of her novels and 54 of the short stories.

Anyway, this is a mere glimpse, a veritable smattering of my favourites, but you should go and explore for yourself – GirlEbooks is a treasure-trove of good reads, and perfect for dipping your toes into the works of authors you have always wanted to try, those books you always meant to read, and some you’d never heard of!


Blood Sisters: FREE Novel
June 14, 2010, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Authors, Books, Decadence, History, Marie Antoinette, Paris, Writers | Tags:

Melanie Clegg – author, history buff, blog-writer and all-round good egg – has just published her second historical novel, Blood Sisters. What’s more, it is completely FREE to download until midnight tomorrow (June 15th)!

Click HERE to be whisked to the download page.

A stirring, dramatic and romantic tale of three aristocratic sisters, Lucrèce, Cassandre and Adélaïde that carries the reader from the splendours of Versailles to the bloodsoaked dangers of Revolutionary Paris, while all the while the guillotine looms overhead…

So, what are you waiting for? Go and get it, immediately, I compel you, dear hearts. You wont be sorry, and I am convinced you’ll be back for more from this author. Her first published novel, The Secret Diary of a Princess, was one of my favourite histroical reads of last year.

Sherlock Holmes The Movie: Sherlocky Style
January 10, 2010, 7:24 pm
Filed under: Books, Fripperies, Trinkets, Victorian, Victoriana | Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t seen this yet (our nearest cinema is a nightmare to get to unless you drive, which we don’t) so may have to wait for the DVD again, but ooooh I am looking forward to it.

I wasn’t, to tell the truth, because I dislike Jude Law really quite intensely and it all seemed a bit tawdry, and not in a good way.

However, many of my friends have given this film excellent reviews and the trailer does make me want to watch it.

Ah, seedy Victorian underworlds, my favourite. 🙂

Inspired by all things Holmes-y, I put together a little selection of trinkets & fripperies available from the ever-delectable Etsy sellers.

Just how ridiculously adorable Sherlock Holmes gal (knitting pattern)? I may have actually squealed slightly…

Sherlock Holmes Doll Pattern, by Hand Made Awards: $4.50

I wish I could knit, I want one! She looks really sassy and slightly mischievous, doesn’t she?

In fact, I would like all of these things. Maybe not to wear all together. There’s a fine line between “rocking a look” and “fancy dress”.  🙂

I do hope you enjoy – and let me know what you thought of the film if you have seen it already!

Direct links to items shown, left to right:

1st Row: 1) Spoonful of Chocolate, 2) Hand Made Awards, 3) Art Find

2nd Row: 1) Big Bad, 2) Foowahu, 3) Dirty City Vintage

3rd Row: 1) Clayshion, 2) Eclectic Circle, 3) The Stapelias Company

4th Row: 1) Little Squidgeon, 2) Dragon Cat, 3) The Honey Press

I’m delighted that this selection is also a current Etsy Treasury. Yay! (Expires Wednesday 3:50am)

[EDIT: Aww, the Sherlock Holmes book bag has already sold! Still, do have a look around the rest of Spoonful of Chocolate – lots more book bags to choose from. I love them, so unusual].

Yours tweedily,

Miss Nightingale,


Thinking of Alison: Adventures, Quips & Cocktails
December 22, 2009, 11:11 pm
Filed under: Books, Brooches, Etsy, Fripperies, Gift Ideas, Style, Trinkets

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I present the latest hand-picked selection of gifts where It’s The Thought That Counts

This little selection of temptations is inspired by Alison – a fabulous lady I don’t know as well as Hester (the previous incumbent of the Fantasy Gift Recipient), but wish I did.

On the first occasion I met her, I was slightly intimidated as she’s one of those people who seem to have it all, who can walk into a room and keep everyone entertained whilst juggling volovants, making witty quips and dancing a waltz. She’s a sarcastic adventuress with an eye for good makeup, and she has excellent taste in music.

And so, the following is a selection of items I think she’d like. I’m not as sure as with my selection for Hester, but certainly they certainly make me think “Ah, that’s very Alison…”

Direct links to items shown, left to right:

1st Row: 1) Jennifer Morris Photo, 2) Nan Lawson, 3) Bookity

2nd Row: 2) Mishima, 2) Banana Strudel, 3) Yummy Pocket

3rd Row: 1) Ju Ju Too, 2) Tent Pitcher, 3) Simple to Enchant

4th Row: 1) Sarah Anntiques, 2) Boy Girl Party, 3) Bajue Boutique

The brooch I could also have given to Hester. Indeed, I am very glad to say, to any number of my friends who have equally book-addled brains!

Until next time, I do hope you enjoy browsing these wonderful shops.

Miss Nightingale


Hounds of the Morrigan: Favourite Books & Cosy Nooks

Hounds of the Morrigan, by the now sadly departed Pat O’Shea, was 10 years in the writing. It can be classed as a children’s book, but I have been reading it on and off since I was 11 years old, and it still remains one of my favourite books in the whole world. Such imagination, dark humour & a great cast of characters – I just had to honour it with a blog post and – of course – a selection of goodies inspired by fond memories of the novel itself…

Hounds of the Morrigan 1Hounds of the Morrigan 2

Direct links to items shown, left to right:

1st Row – 1) Levan’s Photography, 2) Earthworks Journals, 3) Maclancy

2nd Row – 1) C.D. Childs, 2) Madrin Photography, 3) Propellers

3rd Row – 1) Nesrin Dugan, 2) Tuscany Studios, 3) Shop Greyhounds

4th Row – 1) Pern Circlets, 2) Short Girl Designs, 3) Lee Imagery

The story is the age old battle of Good v Evil, in the same rich vein as Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence; but it’s really the cast of characters and the adventures they have together that always brings me back to the world Pat O’Shea created.

Hounds of the Morrigan

I always, always wished for another book from her, a continuation of the story, the chance to meet old friends. There is a tantalising glimpse of what might have been in her obituary, printed in The Guardian newspaper:

The few brilliant chapters of the unfinished sequel are almost worth publishing alone: a Christmas card scene, candelit shop windows, carol singers and a robin… and into this cheerful scene rides the great Irish witch the Morrigan with her wild sisters, bringing mayhem and magic and mischief.

*sigh* How selfish it is of us voracious readers to wish someone alive again merely so they could finish/begin a sequel. It’s all a bit Kathy Bates in Misery for words, but I do sort of understand that constant, gnawing wish for more.

Hounds of the Morrigan cover 3

Of course unfinished sequels always hold a power that a published book can never have (much as we mourn the loss of new songs from our favourite recording artists who died too young, or the films we’ll never see of actors who went before their time).

Hounds of the Morrigan cover 4It’s an aching void always begging to be filled with new material from rambunctious upstarts or delving into the classics to see from whence your favourite sprang… but you have to get over it each time the craving begins, or that dreadful self-pitying kind of mourning for what might have been starts to spread, like little spores of black mould in a damp bathroom.

Relish the tangible, that’s the cure!

Hounds of the Morrigan Cover 2

With this in mind, I feel I must very soon curl up in a cosy nook…

Cosy Reading Corner

Cosy Reading Corner by Homes and Gardens

…wearing something scrumptiously soft & a good pair of thick bed socks…

1940's Jaeger Bed Socks - Free Printable Pattern by V&A

1940's Jaeger Bed Socks - Free Printable Pattern by V&A

…heaped with blankets and cushions, drinking hot chocolate [possibly with a slug of something wicked in it] and reading The Hounds of the Morrigan for the umpteenth time!

Hot Chocolate

Oh, and don’t get me started on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – another of my all-time favourites which I hold to my bosom and treasure like a rare jewel. And OH MY GOD – HOW did I not know that she’s written a [proper] sequel?! Ordered it immediately, of course. I may return to this to wax lyrical at length…

Ah, Howl, my first literary crush.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

Whatever your favourite cosy read is, I hope you have time to snuggle up with it, soon. I truly believe it’s balm for the soul, and most especially at this time of year, don’t you think?

Girl Reading by Fragonard

Girl Reading by Fragonard

Do share with me your favourite cosy reads – or the books you keep coming back to throughout the years – I’d be fascinated to know!

Boudoir Style: Vintage Tips from The Ladies Dressing Room, 1892
September 20, 2009, 7:45 pm
Filed under: Beauty, Books, Decadence, Etsy, Fashion, Fripperies, Trinkets, Victorian Originals
Dressing Table

Photo by Decor to Adore

I have always adored the idea of a proper Dressing Room – lord, a dressing table would suffice right now, instead of the cluttered bedside table I currently use to store my lotions & potions! How deprived I sound, but truly I still lust after a dressing room – a boudoir nook to lounge nonchalantly on a chaise long whilst eating violet cremes and occasionally powdering my face or spritzing perfume in. Such a room would automatically make one feel glamourous, I think – and what a lovely start to the day, instead of scrabbling around in drawers crammed with half-used plastic containers… ~le sigh~

Incidentally, the above is taken from a really good article focusing on the history of dressing tables, and which really captures the heady opulence of owning and using one – from an inspirational decorating blog called Decor to Adore, which I shall certainly be adding to my blog roll.

As a little girl, I used to love watching my mother get ready for a night at the theatre or a cocktail party – impossibly glamorous, grown-up locations I yearned to be at, too. She had everything laid out neatly on the dressing table – heavy crystal pots containing scented powders and downy feather puffs with satin bows, an old-fashioned silver hairbrush & mirror set inherited from her mother, various perfumes, some in their original bottles, other decanted into vintage atomisers; pearls draping the mirrors, long gloves – all utterly wonderful, whimsical and highly covetable items which made great impressions on me, and which effortless, serene glamour I still aspire to, but shall likely never attain. ;p

One of my favourite book to dip into and dream of the past (and particularly how ladies were expected to look and behave in polite society) is the Old House Books reprint of the 1892 original: The Ladies Dressing Room. The Ladies Dressing Room

“The indispensable companion of every well-bred lady at the close of the nineteenth century.

In chapters on each part of the female form copious details guide the reader through such imperfections as wrinkles, sunburn, warts and even baldness – for which a concoction of rum and onion is prescribed – without ever venturing upon too much scientific explanation. Such simple and politely euphemistic terminology as ‘small black spots’ and ‘redness’, combined with the occasional piece of hearsay or high society gossip, gives the impression of a casual yet authoritative chat among nineteenth century aristocratic gentlewQuote 1omen.

Ever fearful of old age or indeed the illusion thereof, The Lady’s Dressing Room strikes a graceful balance between hopeless self-indulgence – chocolate is offered as a cure for bad breath – and an heroic call for ‘spartan frugality’ where there is even the slightest ‘tendency to grow stout’.

As well as being highly informative on its intended subject, this book also divulges a great deal about the writer’s contemporary society. Numerous pages of advertisements for everything from a carpet sweeper ‘the greatest labour saving invention of the century – Invention hath no nobler aim than to lighten woman’s labour’ and the ‘permanent removal of superfluous vein-marks, moles or warts through the administering of electricity by a lady electrician’ demonstrate a burgeoning consumerism (not to mention Victorian eccentricity).

Nothing was more important to a lady than to be seen to be a lady. This is the book that showed them how.”

Sometimes shocking, mostly amusing and always absolutely fascinating, this book is an indispensable addition to the research library of those who wish to gain a deeper insight into the customs & traditions of of the 19th Century. It also inspired (you know what’s coming, regular readers!) an Etsy selection – this one is actually a currently featured treasury on Etsy until wednesday 23rd at 10:15am – but preserved here forever for your viewing [one hopes!] pleasure. These are all things I would love to stock my dressing room with, or have delicately littering my boudoir – in any century. Happy browsing…

Boudoir Style 1

Direct links to items shown:


Katinka Pinka


Vintage Opulence

Signs by Diane

Del Guidice’s Studio

Boudoir Style 2

Further links:

Banglez Beadz


Beautiful Reign

Touch Me Not

Brass Paperclip

Reclaim the Throne

Georgette Heyer: Biting Wit, Social Commentary, A Bit of Romance & BETTER THAN AUSTEN!
September 12, 2009, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Books, Fripperies, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Literature, Regency, Stephen Fry, Trinkets

Yes. You read that correctly. Better than Austen, and I don’t care two hoots or give even a bit of figgy pudding who knows it. I rate Heyer that highly and I take every opportunity to tell people. Well. Not every opportunity. I don’t walk along the street frothing at the mouth whilst muttering the mantra over and over again; nor do I startle people in the park by screaming it in their faces, or have to be led away at family gatherings whilst having my hand patted and a dear relative having to explain that my nerves are not what they were.

I simply mean that whenever the topic of Georgette Heyer comes up, I feel urges overtake me and I must – absolutely must – share with someone in the vicinity how utterly glorious her historical novels are.

The Private World of Georgette HeyerBut hopefully share in a socially acceptable way with no need to call the rozzers or phone Social Services or any other unpleasantaries. So put that phone down immediately.

I think – bizarrely – most people I know came to read Heyer quite by accident. Finding a book whilst staying with relatives, espying the cover and buying it merely for – what one [incorrectly] assumes will be – a bit of froth with nothing beneath the muslin to give it substance. The highest instance of Heyer Discovery seems to occur in the sickroom – a prolonged period of illness in which one seeks out comfort and allows novels previously deemed well below one’s standard to vie for attention among the smelling salts and chest rubs.

Watch this fascinating clip of the ever magnificent Stephen Fry describing his “guilty pleasure” of his obsession with Heyer (which began in the sickroom at his school)… [starts talking about Heyer around 02:44 or thereabouts if you don’t want to watch the whole thing]

Such unfortunate discoveries seem to further denigrate her reputation – of which she was well aware during her career.  An excellent book to learn more about her, should you wish, is Jane Aiken Hodge’s biography, The Private World of Georgette Heyer; or for more general information about the Regency period, with particular reference to Heyer’s novels (and showing how meticulously she researched her work) do seek out Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester.

My absolute favourite of Heyer’s novels is, without doubt, The Grand Sophy. It’s just a masterpiece of farce combined with accute observations on family life and – overall – of society. The Grand SophyIn this way, I think it’s a very good start for a new reader to Heyer’s historical novels, and it shows that really (as with Austen) she wrote far more about manners than romance.

We Heyer fans will forever be relegated to the realms of Whismy Readers. Those who have never before picked up one of her books will delight in sniffing loudly and declaring “OH. You like ROMANCE novels, do you?” in a tone of voice usually reserved for the slightly insane or obviously working class. These people assume that it’s all gadding about on horseback and flapping around with lace hankies. Now, I cannot deny that Heyer’s novels usually have an amount of horseback-gadding and hankie-flapping, but they are incredibly well-written accounts of gadding & flapping, and really deserve greater respect [than I am giving them here, certainly!] and a wider audience.

This post was inspired by reading Melanie’s ongoing account of her favourite Heyer novels, and particularly the pleasure of witnessing someone (in this case a fellow blogger called Lucy who writes Enchanted by Josephine) who begins her latest post with the immortal words: “So now this is for sure…I’m officially hooked on Georgette Heyer.” Ha. Another convert for the clan. Join us, darlings, do!

By now you should know that any subject I love talking and writing about inspires me to curate a shopping gallery at Etsy, so here’s my latest offering. I do hope you like the pieces I have chosen, and wont think them too whimsical. Oh, actually, I don’t care if you do, because I adore them. ;p

Heyer 1

Direct Links to Items Shown:

Tara Fly Photos

Marmee Craft

Matti Online

Atelier Talaru


Posh Adornment

Heyer (2)

Further Links:

And Found Furnishings

Art Zodiac

Trim Goddess

Brick House Fabrics

Pattern Pedder

Andy Fee

Yours in whimsy,

Miss Nightingale.