Series I love

Series I Love: Royal Spyness

It’s been a while since I posted a Series I Love post – since Amelia Peabody in January last year to be exact – so I thought it was time for another. As I finished the latest in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series this week, and really enjoyed it but because I said I wasn’t going to write about any more Christmas books, this seemed like a good solution!

Set in the 1930s, our heroine is Lady Georgiana Rannoch, daughter of a duke and a cousin of George V, and whose family lost most of their money in the Great Crash late in the 1920s. Her father is dead and she’s trying to survive on her own, because life with her brother and sister-in-law is just too unpleasant (and cold) to contemplate. Luckily for her, Queen Mary quite likes her and keeps asking her to undertake little tasks to help out the Royal Family. Unluckily for her, this also tends to lead to her stumbling across bodies as well as the dashing but possibly disreputable Darcy O’Mara. There are 15 books in the series now and they’ve taken Georgie around various of the royal residences, the English and Scottish countryside, over the water to Ireland and the south of France and much further away to Transylvania and Africa.

If you’re a history nerd like me, you have to not think to hard about where in Queen Victoria’s family tree exactly Georgie’s family are meant to fit in, but equally if you’re a history nerd all the details about the royals in the 1930s are really quite delightful and more accurate than a lot of similar books are (I’m naming no names, but there are some terrible attempts out there). Georgie is a very fun narrator – she’s very inventive and determined not to end up dependent on her brother and end up as free labour for her sister-in-law, the awful Fig. At the start of the series she starts a housecleaning business – trading on the snobbery of people who want to be associated with a distant royal, whilst hiding the fact that she doesn’t actually have a staff and is doing the cleaning herself. But she’s also grown up quite sheltered from the real world, which means that the reader can often see stuff coming that she can’t – like when she tries to hire herself out as a dinner and theatre companion, when her housecleaning business starts struggling.

Georgie is also surrounded by an entertaining group of supporting characters. As well as the handsome Darcy, there is her accident prone and not very good maid Queenie (who she can’t bring herself to get rid of) and her daring Bright Young Thing friend Belinda. There’s also her maternal grandfather a former policeman who is uncomfortable around all of Georgiana’s posh friends and royal relations. Then there’s his daughter – Georgie’s mother Claire – who after managing to marry into the peerage with Georgie’s father, is now working her way through a string of rich husbands and gentleman friends. The books are working their way through the 1930s and Claire is set up as a bit of a rival to Wallis Simpson and you get some delightful sparring between the two of them whenever they come into contact with each other.

The latest book in the series, God Rest Ye Royal, Gentleman is set at Christmas 1935, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next as we move into the somewhat frantic events of 1936 and the Mrs Simpson situation comes to a head. As regular readers will know, I do love a book set around the abdication crisis (Hello Gone with the Windsors) so I’m hoping Rhys Bowen has got some fun ideas for how to get Georgie involved in it all.

I started reading the series slightly out of order – as I picked up a few of the early ones from the Works (see my BotW post about A Royal Pain for details) but I’ve been up to date for a while now and reading them as they come out. I would say you can read out of order – if you want – up until about book 11, after that, you sort of want to be going in order a little bit. Or at least you do to get the maximum fun out of it all.

If you like historical mystery series like Phryne Fisher or Daisy Dalrymple then these are worth giving a try. Bowen also writes the Molly Murphy series, which I’ve not read – yet – because I’ve never managed to get hold of the early ones in the series at a price I’m happy with. I’m sure it will happen at some point though. If you read the Boyfriend Club series or some of the early Sweet Dreams books when you were a teenager, Rhys Bowen is also Janet Quin Harkin, so you may find that you like the writing style, even if you don’t usually read historical mysteries.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, holiday reading, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Traitor King

So as you can see from yesterday’s post, I read a lot of stuff while we were on holiday, so I had plenty of choice, and a lot of the stuff from that list will pop up somewhere else on the blog. But for today’s pick I’m going with Traitor King – which I spotted in Waterstones in hardback the other week and really wanted, but couldn’t justify buying two hardbacks – as I was also buying a signed hardback of the new Judith Mackerell. But when I spotted the airport version (that’s the giant sized paperback, but it’s still a paperback and not a hardback so easier to read) in the WH Smiths at Luton, I was delighted to pick myself up a copy as my holiday book.

Slightly battered copy of Traitor King - its been to Spain and back as well as to the beach in the beach bag!

Andrew Lownie’s Traitor King examines the life of the former Edward VIII did in the years following his abdication. As the title suggests (I mean it doesn’t have a question mark after Traitor King, so I think it’s fair to say that) what Lownie says he did was a lot of scheming and intrigue against the interests of his former Kingdom in the interests of himself and his wife both in terms of their position and their financial gain.

A lot has been written about the events leading up to the abdication, but not so much about what happened after – or at least not in as much detail as this. Lownie starts with the day of the abdication and moves on from there – assuming that the reader will know what has happened, which obviously I did because I’ve read a lot of stuff – fiction and non-fiction about this whole sitauation. Most of what I have read has suggested that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (as they became) were as the blurb says “naïve dupes” of the Germans in the run up to and the early stages of the Second World War, but Lownie’s thesis is that they knew what they were doing and were active participants themselves. He draws together threads of stories that I’ve come across before – the closeness of Wallis to von Ribbentrop, the rather dubious Charlie Bedaux and the trip to visit Hitler among other things – and comes to the conclusion that this was part of a concerted effort by the couple to conspire against British interests to try and benefit themselves. Unfortunately for Edward – and fortunately for the UK – Edward was not that bright and his plans were spotted by the various arms of the British establishment that were keeping an eye on him (which range from his friends, to his secret service detail, to the embassy staff and more) and documented. This is the documentation that Lownie uses to make his case – and he’s got the footnotes to prove it! The book also touches on the more usual aspects of the Windsor’s married life – ie were they actually in love, was it worth it and did Wallis learn sex tricks in when posted with her first husband in China – and draws some conclusions about them that I won’t spoil here, but the main focus is on the macchinations.

And it’s a very enjoyable and interesting read. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am very interested in the history of the first half of the Twentieth Century and the abdication crisis is one of the key events of it for Britain, outside the two World Wars. I’ve read a lot on the subject and this added some new perspectives and interpretations of events that I have read a fair bit about before. It’s got an extensive set of references – whether it’s the author’s own research or references to other authors working in the field – and it’s also got a really good further reading list at the back, which has a fiction list featuring my beloved Gone with the Windsors, as well as the nonfiction stuff. Speaking of Laurie Graham’s novel, I don’t think you can read that and come away with it with a particularly high opinion of the couple, but it would seem from this that Graham understated the case when it came to their meanness and the way they treated their friends and their staff. Despite the couple’s efforts to establish their relationship as the romance of the century, public opinion at the time was mostly against them and reading about it in the history books it is hard to draw a lot of favourable conclusions about them – even before you come to the Nazi connection.

I’m very pleased with my decision to buy this, it’s about to be sent out on loan to my mum and when it returns, it will undoubtedly find it’s way on to the Keeper Shelf. If you’ve got an interest in the period, or in the history of the British Monarchy, or even on stories about awful people, this is probably one you’ll be interested in. You’ll probably do best with it if you have a working knowledge of the abdication crisis to start you off with, but it does give you the basics so it’s not essential. I’m off to try and get hold of some of the other books Lownie mentions at the end, as well as his previous book about the Mountbattens.

As mentioned at the top, this is a hardback if you’re not going to an airport anytime soon, but it’s in the bookshops (the Waterstones I found it in isn’t a massive one in the grand scheme of things, especially as they have their top floor shut at the moment for Covid safety reasons) and Foyles have lots of options for click and collect. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo as well – but because it’s a hardback, the ebook versions are fairly expensive at the moment – more than £7 as I write this.

Happy Reading!

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham
Authors I love, historical

Recommendsday: Gone with the Windsors

While reading Royal Flush last week, where one of Lady Georgie’s tasks is trying to keep the Prince of Wales away from Wallis Simpson, I couldn’t help but think of Gone with the Windsors – my favourite novel that features Wallis.  Then I realised that I’ve mentioned it in passing several times on here* but never actually reviewed.  So Recommendsday this week seemed the perfect time to remedy that.

A copy of Gone with the Windsors
“A wicked comedy about the Romance of the Century” is pretty spot on

Gone with the Windsors is the story of Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII as seen throught he eyes of her (fictional) best friend, Maybell Brumby.  Maybell is a recently widowed Southern Belle who comes to London to visit her sister (married to a Scottish Earl) to one up her social rivals back home just as one of their old school friends is making a stir by stepping out with the Prince of Wales.  Soon Maybell is hobnobbing with royalty as Wallis (with the help of Maybell’s money) sets London society ablaze.  Maybell and her family are carefully woven into the real story and as someone who’s read a fair bit about the Edward and Mrs Simpson and the 1930s in general, I didn’t spot any howlers.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors
How could you not love Maybell’s insider view of the Abdication Crisis?

The Wallis of Gone with the Windsors is a ruthless social climber, with an aim in mind, who doesn’t mind stepping on anybody to get there.  David is weak and easily led, thinking more of his own pleasure than of his responsibilities.  But Maybell is a total joy.  I mean you wouldn’t want to be friends with her, but she is a brilliant prism to watch the slow motion car crash that was the Abdication Crisis.  She is delightfully dim (witness her dealings with her sister Doopie) and part of the fun is watching her misunderstand what’s going on – or miss the undercurrents.  Her sister is firmly on the Royal Family’s side against Wallis, while Maybell is convinced she’s picked the winner, which makes for fraught times on the summer holiday in Scotland.

Maybell finds new ways to keep herself occupied during a summer at her sister’s Scottish estate.

GWTW was my first Laurie Graham book – I spotted it in the window of Waterstones and had to have it – and since reading it she’s been an autobuy for me and I’ve picked up a lot of her back catalogue.  I like her straight up novels too, but my favourite are the ones like this where she takes a historical event or person and puts her spin on it.  I mentioned the Importance of Being Kennedy in my Inauguration Reading post, and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was my first review for Novelicious, but A Humble Companion (about a companion to one of George III’s daughters) and The Night in Question (about a music hall comedienne who gets caught up in the Jack the Ripper panic) are also excellent.

My copies of Gone with the Windsors
They’re both gorgeous, but I have a soft spot for the white one – as it was the first version I had.

As you can see, I have two copies of Gone with the Windsors.  The blue one is a signed copy sent to me by the author after I cried and wailed on Twitter about losing my original (white) copy** and it being out of stock everywhere, the other one is a secondhand copy I bought because the signed edition was too nice to read.  So now the pristine blue on is on the shelf with the other Laurie Graham books and the white one lives by my bed for when I need a dose of Maybell.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors
Maybell is just so much fun. Often unintentionally.

In a fabulous twist of fate, Gone with the Windsors is coming out on Kindle later this month – I’d actually already written a sentence saying that I was said it wasn’t available Kindle so now I’m very overexcited at the prospect of having Maybell to hand whenever I need a pick me up.  So, you too can preorder Gone with the Windsors on Kindle, or pick up a secondhand hardcover or a (new or secondhand) paperback copy from Amazon.  I’m hoping the preorder link for her next novel – a sequel to Future Homemakers of America out in June – appears soon as it’s been more than a year since her last new novel came out and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms.

Gosh this has turned into a long post.  But I feel very good for having told the world about my love of Maybell Brumby and her crazy view of the world.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – and I hope you get0 the book.

Happy reading!

*Usually when talking about another Laurie Graham book to say that GWTW is my favourite.

** I lent it out without writing my name in the front of it and never got it back. It was a salutary lesson.