book round-ups, non-fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books about Queen Victoria’s dynasty

As you may remember from last year’s post about the History Books on the Keeper Shelf, As a child I had a serious Queen Victoria obsession.  Other children were obsessed with My Little Pony, Lego or Beanie Babies, but I had a thing for the Empress of India.  I could recite all her children’s full names in order.  Where other kids wanted to go to Alton Towers as a treat, I wanted to go to Osborne or Frogmore (and my parents took me to both, bless their hearts).  One of my favourite dressing up games was to be her eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, with my little sister taking on the role of Princess Beatrice.  I think you’re getting an idea of the scale of the problem.  Anyway over time it developed into my love of history and the history degree that I enjoyed so much.  These days I love a good nonfiction history book as well as historical fiction and I’m particularly susceptible to books about Queen Victoria and her family.

Cover of Queen Victorias Matchmaking

Earlier in the year, I read Deborah Cadbury’s Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, which I was hoping would be right up my street as it was billed as an examination of her role in using her granddaughters’ marriages to exert international power and influence.  Sadly for me, it was more a of a group biography of the various grandchildren and what happened to them after her death than an examination of her machinations.  It would make a great introduction to the subject, but if, like me, you already have an interest in the subject, there wasn’t a lot of new information here.  It did get me thinking though about other books that I’ve read around the subject and reminded me to fill in a few gaps and read some books I had on the list and then it spawned this post.  There’s a little bit of cross over from the aforementioned Keeper Shelf post, but there are some new books on the list too. So, if you’ve read Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking and want to know more here, are my suggestions (which I hope would work equally well if you’re just interested in the subject).

If you want to read a group biography about the principal granddaughters, my choice would be Julia Gelardi’s Born to Rule, which examines the intertwined lives of the five of the granddaughters who went on to become queens of other European countries and gives you a good jumping off point if you want to find out more.  Spoiler: they don’t all get happy endings.  You’ll probably have come across one of these before – Alexandra, the last Tsarina of Russia.  If you end up with a to find out more about the Romanov’s there’s Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Romanovs, which I’m still working my way through on audiobook.  I’m still only in the nineteenth century and I can vouch for the fact that it’s incredibly gruesome well before you get to the execution in Yekaterinburg.  I listen to it while I’m out running, because it makes me go faster listening to all the terrible ways the Romanov’s found to kill people.

I wrote about Hannah Pakula’s An Uncommon Woman back in that Keeper Shelf post, and if you can get hold of it and want to find out what was going on in Prussia in the second half of the nineteenth century it’s still worth a read and is marginally more cheerful than a book about Kaiser Wilhelm would be.  But only marginally – it’s still a story of what might have been and ominous portents of what is to come.

If you want to find out how Edward VII turned into the Uncle of Europe, but in a light and fun way, Stephen Clarke’s Dirty Bertie shows how the playboy prince turned into a shrewd manoevering diplomat who was able to help keep the peace in Europe during his lifetime, and why it all fell apart after he wasn’t there to hold it together any more.

And if you don’t mind me breaking my own rules about repeating authors too frequently, and want some fiction about one of the granddaughters, there’s Laurie Graham’s The Grand Duchess of Nowhere, about Ducky, aka Princess Victoria Melita, one of the daughters of Prince Alfred – who comes up in passing in Cadbury’s  book, but who actually had a fascinating life, even if she didn’t marry a king.  I reviewed it for Novelicous back in the day, but it’s like having a drink with an indiscreet, drunken elderly auntie.  I still need to find a proper biography of Ducky to find out how much of it is accurate.

Cover of the Grand Duchess of Nowhere

Still sitting on my to read list, hoping that I’ll get to them one day are The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley and Three Emperors by Miranda Carter as we head into the twentieth century.  If you’ve got any more books that I should add to the list, let me know in the comments!

And now for the links.  I got my copy of Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking via NetGalley  but it is out now in hardback and KindleBorn to Rule is harder to get hold of – there’s no Kindle edition and it’s 10 years old – but there are reasonably priced secondhand editions available on Amazon and Abebooks.  Dirty Bertie is available on Kindle and is still in print in paperback so you may be able to find it in an actual bookshop as well as on Amazon.

Happy Reading!

Book previews, books

Autumn New Release Preview

Why hello there.  It’s September.  The schools are going back and the nice weather won’t last.  So to ease your pain, I thought I’d tell you about some upcoming books I’m looking forward to or have been fortunate enough to have already enjoyed.  But if that’s not your bag, here’s my books about schools post from two years ago if you feel the need to start the academic year with a boarding school book or two! So, in no particular order (well not by date anyway) here we go:

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (22 September)

Recognise the name?  Yes, it’s that Mara Wilson – who played Matilda and was in Mrs Doubtfire – now all grown up, she’s written a collection of essays and it’s getting a lot of buzz.  It’s hard to find out what it’s about – from what I can work out it’s part memoir, part life lessons – but I’ve seen lots of good buzz about it – and the early reviews on Goodreads are really positive.  Plus I’ve always wanted to know what she did after she left films.  I’m hoping this will answer some of my questions.  Pre-order on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones, Foyles.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (6 October)

Today Will Be Different follows a day in the life of Eleanor Flood, who knows she’s a mess but wants to tackle the little things to try and get back on track.  Unfortunately today is the day that life is going to get in the way.  I’m a little trepidatious (is that a real word or one that I got from Buffy/Clueless?) about this one.  Will this be Good Semple or Bad Semple?  I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadette, but I detested This One Is Mine to the point that if I hadn’t enjoyed …Bernadette so much I would have DNF’d it.  I like the plot summary and several of the book podcasts I listen to are excited about it, so I’m hoping for the best and going to give it a go. Pre-order on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones, Foyles.

How to Party with an Infant by Kuai Hart Hemmings (8 September)

Single mum Mele is trying to get over her obsession with the father of her daughter by writing an entry for a cookbook writing contest.  Except she’s doing it a little differently and going into “elaborate and shocking detail”. This is a recent addition to the list (and coming out really soon) after I saw it on Book Riot’s What We Read In August list where the contributor said “This made me laugh the way Where’d You Go, Bernadette? did.” and then I had to have it.  Maybe I’ll save it until after I’ve read Today Will be Different in case that’s a disappointment and I need a pick me up! Pre-order on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Foyles.

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang (3 November)

Charles Wang has lost the fortune he made after he arrived in the US.  Now he’s taking his family on a cross country journey from their foreclosed Bel-Air mansion to New York to pick up his other daughter. But will the journey bring them all back together or will it split them even further apart.  And will they all even make it as far as the other coast, faced with temptations en route?  I just keep hearing about this book.  Everywhere.  So I want to read it.   Pre-order on AmazonWaterstones, Foyles.

Queen Bees by Siân Evans (8 September)

I’ve actually already read this – after lucking into a preview copy a month or so back.  This is a collective biography of six famous society hostesses in the UK between the wars. It is not the most massively in depth look at any of them – I wanted a little more detail on some of them – but you get a really good sense of the personalities of the women and the rivalries between them.  If you’ve read anything about society in this era (perhaps some of the Mrs Simpson saga, or some of the many timeslip novels set in the 1920s and 30s which feature real people as well fictional ones), you’ll have heard of some or all of these women – Lady Astor (first woman to take up her seat as an MP) and Emerald Cunard are probably the two most well known – but it’s also peppered with other people of the period – like the aforementioned Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII and then Winston Churchill, The Mitfords and the Mosleys.  This is a period I love reading about (and have read quite a lot about) and I enjoyed Queen Bees and felt I learnt stuff from it.  I’ve lent it out already – and will go and find a proper copy in the shop when it comes out so I can check out the bibliography and references – which were missing from my version – to get some more reading ideas.   Pre-order on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones, Foyles.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch (3 November)

This is the sixth book in the Rivers of London series and if you’ve been reading my book based ramblings for any length of time, you’ll know how I feel about PC Peter Grant (see here, here and here ) – and be unsurprised that I’m hopping around with excitement at the prospect of the next book.  I’m trying to take my time reading the latest comics so I’ll be bang up to date for this one, which apparently sees Peter, Nightingale and the crew from the Folly trying to solve a bloody, magical problem in mansions of the super-rich in Mayfair.  I can’t wait.  If you’re not already on this bandwagon, do yourself a favour at start at the beginning. Pre-order on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Waterstones.

And there you have it.  Five books I’m looking forward to reading and one I’ve already read as a bonus. It may have got a touch long, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  Hopefully none of these will end up on the 50-pages and out pile and I can report back in positive terms in a couple of months time.  Please do recommend any more upcoming releases you think I might like in the comments – you know how much I love making the to-read pile bigger – and let me know if you’ve already read any of these and have Thoughts.

Happy Reading