Monday, July 25th, 2016
Today we have a special treat– a guest If You Like from Sheila!
As Sheila points out below, when we dip our toes into the past, we tend to focus on the propertied and privileged– because, let’s face it, they had better clothes. (Although not necessarily better teeth. But I digress.) But what about the maid who pulled those laces for her mistress? Or the tweeny carting up all that coal? We often see them as shadowy figures at the back of the picture, but very seldom brought to the fore.
So now over to Sheila, for a list of books that bring the “downstairs” upstairs. If you like books that focus on the servants’ side of the story, you’ll probably like….
Lovers of historical novels often play the game of “Gee, I would love to live then. Beautiful clothes, horses, mansions, unspoiled countryside. Yet I know I would certainly come back as the tweeny, and would soon miss mod cons like plumbing, antibiotics and anesthesia.
— Valerie Martin’s Mary Reilly was a big bestseller several years ago, desevredly so. Mary is Dr Jekyll’s housemaid, and she endeavors to help him in his struggles with Mr. Hyde.
— Lauren and her writer buds have given us serving girl Olive Van Alan in The Forgotten Room, who tries to find why her father killed himself. A wonderful book, as most of you know.
— Longbourn, by Jo Baker, is thank goodness, not a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Rather, it is the tale of what is happening in the lives of the Bennett servants, coincidentally at the same time as P&P.
— Lastly I would mention a traditional Regency series, A House for the Season, by Marion Chesney. If you like MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth, you like her, as they are one and the same, complete with acerbic wit. The series is typical: young girl comes to London, meets rich guy, moany obstacles, etc. The ongoing story of the servants is what makes it really interesting. The butler Rainbird is a true hero. This is the first time I read about the doings of the many people who make possible the doings of our beloved characters.
Thanks, Sheila! You’ve got me thinking…. It’s harder than I would have imagined to think of books that focus on the downstairs rather than the upstairs. Governesses, yes. There are governesses in fiction by the thousands, from Jane Eyre on up. But housemaids? Not so much.
Leading the list is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, a butler’s reminiscences of his days serving in a grand household. Focusing on the butler and the housekeeper, this is a look at the upper end of the downstairs world, the royalty of the servants’ hall.
There’s Eva Ibbotson’s A Countess Below Stairs, in which a Russian noblewoman winds up hiring herself out as domestic staff in England after the Revolution. (Although, of course, that’s part of the “noblewoman in rags whose true quality will be recognized by the end of the book” tradition, which is distinct from a true “downstairs” story.)
Perhaps more to the point, there’s Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance, which paints a very vivid picture of the life of an underhousemaid in an Edwardian great house.
Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, in which the narrator is a former housemaid, also jumps to mind.
For non-fiction, there’s Lucy Lethbridge’s Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times.
But other than that, I’m coming up blank! Can you think of any good novels set more downstairs than upstairs?
Friday, July 22nd, 2016
Now that the draft of the next stand alone is in the hands of my editor, I’ve been catching up on reading the large pile of ARCs (advance review copies) that accumulated next to my desk over the past few months. It’s been an eclectic and fascinating mix of reads, including:
—The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo. This debut novel (coming out in January 2017) is hands down one of the best books I’ve read in a while– even though it will make you cry, possibly in public places. A vivid and heart-wrenching look into the lives of two nurses during World War II, one in Europe, one in the Pacific, each enduring the unendurable. Brilliant, heart-breaking, and redemptive.
— Becoming Bonnie by Jenni Walsh (coming out May 2017). Did you know anything about Bonnie and Clyde? I didn’t. But I still found this tale of a young woman’s transformation from church-going future teacher to gangster’s moll compelling and convincing. What really caught me about it was the way a person can be tugged by circumstances into a life entirely different from the one she imagined.
— The Wife’s Tale by Christine Wells. This one is currently out in Australia, but not yet in the U.S. (Although it looks like it might be available stateside on audio?) Pure candy for anyone who likes 18th century courtroom drama or books about secrets in great houses with attractive but brooding owners. The story goes back and forth between the present day, an Australian lawyer who finds herself helping to prop up a fading mansion on the Isle of Wight, and the 18th century, when a marriage of convenience goes very, very wrong.
— Christmas in Paris, by Anita Hughes (coming out in October). Paris seen through a snow globe: a modern fairy tale romance set in Paris at Christmas, complete with haute couture, fancy hotels, and a light dusting of happily ever after.
I also seized the chance to sample from a pile of books a friend had sent, including:
— Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets a cocktail menu, with frightening paranormal creatures, magical drink mixes, and a whole arcane history of booze.
What have you been reading this week?
Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
The Other Daughter is out in trade paperback today!
Booklist called The Other Daughter “vibrant and thrilling”.
RT Book Reviews writes, “… the complexity of the story-line and the characters draws readers deeply into the story until they are completely invested and hooked until the end. Readers will find themselves looking into their hearts and relationships, comparing their reactions to the characters.”
And now you can read it and see what you think….
Friday, July 8th, 2016
If you’re like me and tend to wait for the paperback… the paperback of The Other Daughter is heading your way!
My author’s copies arrived on the doorstep last week:
Don’t they look snazzy?
Here’s the official blurb:
Raised by her widowed mother in genteel poverty in an isolated English village, for the past six years Rachel Woodley has been working in France as a nursery governess. When her mother unexpectedly dies, she returns to England to clear out the cottage, and finds a scrapbook full of cuttings from London society pages—all pictures of her supposedly deceased father, very much alive. He’s an earl, socially prominent, with another daughter who is living a charmed life: a debutante, much photographed, and engaged to a rising Tory MP. Rachel’s cousin confirms the horrible truth: her father is alive, with a legitimate, acknowledged family. Which makes Rachel…not legitimate. Everything she thought she knew about herself and her past—even her very name—is a lie.
Still reeling from the death of her mother, and furious at this betrayal, Rachel enters into an uneasy alliance with a mysterious man-about-town, who promises her access to her father. With his help, Rachel sets herself up in London under a new identity and insinuates herself into the party-going crowd of Bright Young Things, with a steely determination to unveil her father’s perfidy and bring his—and her half-sister’s—charmed world crashing down. Very soon, however, Rachel faces two unexpected snags: she finds she genuinely likes her half-sister, Olivia, whose situation isn’t as simple it appears; and that Rachel herself might just be falling for her sister’s fiancé.
From Lauren Willig, author of the New York Times Best Selling novel The Ashford Affair, comes a page-turner full of deceit, passion, and revenge.
Just three days more!
Once The Other Daughter paperback is out in the world, I’ll have more news to share about my next stand alone novel– and another collaboration with my end-of-the-alphabet besties, Karen White and Beatriz Williams.
Friday, July 1st, 2016
Happy July! I’ve mostly been researching the next book– about which I’m staying mum for the moment– so much of what I’ve been reading won’t appear here just yet. On the fiction front, though, I’ve stumbled upon a few new to me books and authors, including:
— Chris Cleave, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, a novel of World War II, set back and forth between blitzed London and Malta, following the fortunes of Mary, a socialite turned teacher, and Alistair, a restorer at the Tate turned soldier, as well as several side characters along the way. The prose was brilliant, clever and snarky and bright; the characterizations were beautiful; the subject matter… so very, very hard. But, then, it’s probably good to be reminded, so vividly, of just how awful it was.
— Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe. More wonderfully written but tough reading. Post-colonial “Bimshire”, aka Barbados, in the 1940s, where, over the course of a night, a woman relates her history to the police constable and sergeant, providing a painting of the darker sides of island life.
Between the Blitz and the legacy of slavery, I felt the need for something light after that and took refuge in Trisha Ashley’s A Winter’s Tale, in which the impoverished heroine unexpectedly inherits the family stately home and must protect it against the schemes of her property developer cousin. Because who doesn’t love an unexpected inheritance and a good stately home?
What have you been reading recently?