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?
Monday, May 23rd, 2016
Since I’ve been deep in the writing cave, the wonderful Rachel very kindly offered to take up the slack by writing a brand new “If You Like” post– and may I just say how delighted I was when she offered and how even more delighted I was once I read it?
Here, without further preamble, is our latest guest If You Like: If You Like Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction. And now over to Rachel!
I don’t know about you all, but once in a while I get a taste for a certain genre/ trope/ character personality and go crazy with it. I’ll look up recommendations on Goodreads, talk to friends, and make a list of things to check out from the library. Lately, because of Laurie R King’s latest in her “Beekeeper’s Apprentice” series [which I know has been a big hit on this website before!] I’ve been on a “Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction,” kick. The latest installment is intriguingly titled “The Murder of Mary Russell” and actually alternates between the Mary/ Sherlock storyline and Mrs. Hudson’s early life, as the famous housekeeper has her own intrepid adventures. King’s series is intelligent, amusing, and fast paced while packed with incredible dialogue and character/ plot development. The lady does her research. In the past few weeks I have also delved into several new (to me) series that promised similar devices to King. So if you like Mary Russell/ Lady Detectives in Historical Fiction, you may also like…
The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Rachel McMillan- The “first” in a series (there is a prequel available also) about two friends, Merinda and Jem, who eschew the patriarchal norms of 1910 Toronto and form a detective agency. Merinda is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes stories and uses them as research to help in their own cases. Fun, fast paced, and full of colorful personalities. (And if you like the Canadian show “Murdoch Mysteries”, you will surely like this series!)
Sister Beneath the Sheet by Gillian Linscott- First in a series about Nell Bray, a suffragette working under Emmeline Pankhurst, who directs Nell to look into a suspicious death. Slightly darker in plot and detail, this story still contains a great deal of history and atmosphere of the early suffragette revolution. Male-female relations in the book also raise though provoking questions in the midst of the current political debate over gender in America.
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn- First in a series about protagonist Lady Julia Grey, a woman who becomes involved in detecting when her husband unexpectedly expires at a dinner party. (Think “Gosford Park” meets the “Lady Emily” series by Tasha Alexander.) She is joined in her investigation by her husband’s acquaintance Nicholas Brisbane, who does get get along with Lady Julia at the outset and causes much consternation for her and amusement for the reader. Steamier and, in parts, darker, this book contains elements of several adored genres.
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear- I’m almost done with this one, and it is blowing my mind. My favorite so far for no particular reason other than I am connecting with the eponymous Maisie. Incredibly bright, she is born into a lower class but rises up with the help of her employer-turned-patron. I definitely see elements of Mary Russell in Maisie Dobbs, except that Maisie has struck out on her own to open a detective agency and does not work with a partner after leaving the tutelage of Dr. Maurice Blanche. Maisie is able to easy sympathize with her clientele, drawing on shared WWI experiences (Maisie served as a nurse).
On tap for me (because I over-indulged at the library) are: Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary, Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, and This Dame for Hire by Sandra Scoppettone.
Thank you so much, Rachel! I’m busy scribbling notes to myself since while half of these are old favorites (am I the only one reading this who feels a strong need to re-read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice right about now?), the other half are new to me. Which is very exciting.
I’ve been racking my brains to think who else I would add to this list…. There’s Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mysteries (Scottish, 19th century), Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc (American, turn of the century), Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher mysteries (Australian, 1920s), and, of course, Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness (English, 1930s).
Who are your favorite historical lady detectives?
Monday, May 2nd, 2016
So many thanks to Tracy Grant, who has broken the long If You Like drought here on the website! Tracy is the author of the Charles and Melanie/Malcolm and Suzanne Napoleonic-set mysteries, of which the latest, London Gambit, comes out this week.
Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?
And now over to Tracy, for If you like…Ensemble Series:
I’ve always loved series as both a reader and a writer. I love delving into a world and staying there. Perhaps for this reason, I particularly like “ensemble series” – series in which there may be a central character or couple but in which there is also a large cast of recurring characters. In my own series, I love writing the complicated marriage of former spies Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, but I also love following the other characters. Harry and Cordelia Davenport, attempting to rebuild their own marriage; David Worsley and Simon Tanner, prevented by the time they live in from having an open relationship, though London Gambit finds them in effect raising children together; Addison and Blanca, Malcolm’s valet and Suzanne’s maid, who are spies themselves and have their own romantic thread; Lady Frances, Malcolm’s grand dame aunt, with her string of lovers and numerous children of varying parentage; Raoul O’Roarke, Suzanne’s former spymaster and Malcolm’s father, with complicated relationships with both of them, who may now be at the fragile beginning of a romance of his own with with the Rannoch children’s former governess, Laura Dudley. The end of London Gambit is a game changer that the shifts the board the series is played on and affects all these characters and their relationships with each other. As a writer, it left me simultaneously feeling a bit guilty for what I put my characters through and also very excited to explore where the various characters will go next.
If you like “ensemble series” you may like…
Lauren’s Pink Carnation series – one of the delights of this series for me was following the wonderful cast from book to book and seeing them and their inter-relationships grow and change. Even the relationships between couples who had seemingly already had a “happily ever after.”
Deborah Crobmie’s Duncan and Gemma series – I mentioned in another post recently that reading a new book in this wonderful mystery series set in present day London is like sitting down for a cup of tear sharing a pint in a favorite pub with an old friend. Duncan and Gemma are vibrant, wonderful characters but their friends, co-workers, and children also have ongoing story lines I am eager to pursue.
Winston Graham’s Poldark series – the central triangle of Ross, Demelza, and Elizabeth is fascinating, but the other characters, from miners to aristocrats, make for a richly textured portrait of late 18th/early19th century Cornwall that comes to vivid life in this series (and in the 1970s and current television adaptations).
C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series – Sebastian has enough ongoing romantic and familial tensions of his own, but his friends, enemies (the most formidable of whom is also his father-in-law), servants, and family add wonderful complexity to the story. In this series, as in others, it’s fun meeting characters in the course of a stand-alone mystery and seeing them become part of the ongoing ensemble.
Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily series – I loved Emily and Colin from the first, but I also love following the secondary characters, seeing who will come to the fore in which book, watching them grow and confront new challenges.
Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series – I found the first book in this series years ago on the “new” shelf at the library. It’s a fabulous mystery, but what had me eagerly scanning the lists for the next book was the already complicated relationships among the characters. It’s a harrowing journey at times, but in a way that only makes me all the more wager for the next installment in the series.
Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia series – Julia’s family may at times drive Julia (and Brisbane) mad, but they add so much to this series, both in their interactions with the main characters and in their own story lines.
So many thanks to Tracy for this amazing list, which contains so many favorites old and new, historical and contemporary.
Which are your favorite ensemble series?
I imagine we could have a great deal of fun coming up with a companion list of ensemble TV series. Downton Abbey, anyone? Doc Martin, Grantchester, more Poldark….
Check back next Monday for more about London Gambit— and a give away!
Monday, May 11th, 2015
After a long hiatus, If You Like is back! It’s all thanks to Tracy Grant, who provided this week’s guest If You Like post on one of my favorite topics: governess books.
Without any further ado, if you like governess books… here’s the lovely Tracy Grant, with some recommendations:
My book The Mayfair Affair, which releases, on May 15 is many things–a historical mystery, a spy story, an adventure. But it is also a governess story. The book begins with Laura Dudley, governess to the children of my central spy couple Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, accused of the murder of a powerful duke. Laura has been in the background in earlier books in the series. It was fun to explore her story and secrets. In honor of Laura, here are some of my favorite governess stories.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. How could I not start with this? The archetypal governess book. I first read it at the age of nine and discover new things in the story to this day.
The Orchid Affair by Lauren Willig. One of my favorite books in a favorite series. I love Laura Grey, intelligent, sensible but with an adventurous heart. And I think it’s cool both Lauren and I, separately, named our quite different governess characters Laura!
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stuart. When I was thirteen I thought this was one of the most romantic books I’d ever read. I still do in many ways. It’s also a Cinderella story and a wonderful, gripping adventure set in the French countryside.
The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh. An intensely emotional story that stayed with me long after I read it. Definite echoes of Jane Eyre but with a fresh spin.
The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton. The central characters are the four American débutantes who marry into the British aristocracy, but the governess is an important character in her own right. A wonderful portrait of the limited options faced by women without fortune or family and the challenges of living as a governess part and yet not part of a family. Her name is Laura Testvalley. I honestly didn’t think about her name being Laura as well until I wrote this post. I wonder subconsciously if that’s why I named my own Laura.
What are your favorite governess stories?
Thanks so much, Tracy! I cannot wait to read your governess book. (Which, if I remember correctly, comes out this Friday.)
And why do you think there are so many governesses named Laura?
Governesses are a topic dear to my heart right now because the heroine of my upcoming book, The Other Daughter, starts out the novel as a nursery governess. Her life takes some rather strange and ungovernessy twists after that, but the opening of the book is an homage to one of my all time favorite books, Nine Coaches Waiting, which Tracy discusses above.
For more governess book recommendations, here is another list I compiled for If You Like a few years ago. You’ll notice a certain amount of overlap….
Monday, February 9th, 2015
Since this is Pink Anniversary month, if you like The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, you’ll probably like….
— The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy: the original flower-named spy. His exploits are a generation earlier than those of the Carnation, during the Terror, but the same spirit prevails.
— Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini. Like the Pimpernel, this is set a decade or so before the Pink books, during the height of the Revolution, and has one of the best opening lines ever: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.” A true, old-fashioned, swashbuckling adventure.
— The Spymaster’s Lady, by Joanna Bourne. Moving into the realm of historical romance, Joanna Bourne writes the best Napoleonic spy novels out there, going deeply into what it really means to live in the shadows.
— To Catch an Heiress, by Julia Quinn and The Accidental Duchess, by Jessica Benson. For sheer, madcap comedy– with spies– you can’t beat these two Regency romances. Never was spy more beset. Or dialogue funnier.
— Speaking of clever dialogue… we can’t leave out Georgette Heyer. Among others, try Sprig Muslin, my inspiration for what I call “mob scenes” (i.e. comic scenes involving a lot of people talking at once). Or pretty much any Georgette Heyer, really.
— With This Ring, by Amanda Quick. This book provided the inspiration for Miss Gwen’s literary ambitions, as the heroine is a writer of horrid novels. It’s also very similar in tone to the first Pink book.
— Tracy Grant’s novels, starting with either Secrets of a Lady or Vienna Waltz. Tracy’s beautifully written mysteries feature a husband and wife spy team, a wonderfully different spin on the world of Napoleonic espionage.
— Deanna Raybourn’s Silent in the Grave and Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive. While these are both Victorian rather than Napoleonic, Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia books and Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily books tend to be bundled with the Pink books as historical mysteries featuring strong heroines and tongue in cheek humor– and I’m so flattered to be in such amazing company!
— And while we’re talking historical mystery… Kate Ross’s four Julian Kestrel mysteries, featuring a Regency dandy (or perhaps something more?) turned sleuth, starting with Cut to the Quick.
— Moving back to the madcap, Gail Carriger’s steampunk Parasol Protectorate series, starting with Soulless. There’s a lot of Miss Gwen in there. Plus werewolves.
— On to the big (and little) screen, I can’t leave out: The Scarlet Pimpernel movie with Anthony Andrews, Scarlet Pimpernel movie with Leslie Howard, and “Nob and Nobility”, Blackadder, Season III.
What would you recommend for fans of Pink I?
Monday, December 15th, 2014
It’s been a while since we’ve had an If You Like here! But, thanks to Betty, we’ve got a holiday themed If You Like this week.
Get the gingerbread out and the cider mulling! Here’s Betty’s list of holiday reads:
Christmas Mail-Order Brides is a four author collection of women seeking homes in the American west during the 1880’s. These heartwarming stories of both men and women who take a chance on finding happiness with people they have never met are written by Susan Page Davis, Vickie McDonough, Therese Stenzel, and Carrie Turansky.
A Darcy Christmas is composed of three novellas written by Amanda Grange, Sharon Latham, and Carolyn Eberhart. Two take us to Christmases after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. The third begins with Darcy’s obsession with Lizzy and quickly carries through to their Christmas honeymoon and other Christmases during their married life, giving a glimpse into the Darcy future.
A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh is the story of Eleanor Transome who honors her father’s dying wish that she marry Randolph Pierce, the proud Earl of Falloden, even though she dreads it will mean a lifetime without love. Other Christmas books by Balogh include Christmas Beau, A Christmas Bride, and Under The Mistletoe. Christmas Beau tells the story of Judith Easton who jilted the Marquess of Denbigh to marry another man. Now a widow after an unhappy marriage, she meets Denbigh again who is determined to seduce her and break her heart. In A Christmas Bride, two people in their thirties, one a widow with a past and the other a man determined to at last find a bride, are thrown together while spending Christmas with friends. Under The Mistletoe is an anthology of five Christmas novellas. All of Mary’s books are regency romance at its best.
A Wallflower Christmas by Lisa Kleypas brings together her four friends from the Wallflower series who are attempting to match-make during the Christmas season by bringing together an American, Rafe Bowman, and society beauty Natalie Blandford. Wherever the Wallflowers are, confusion, humor, and drama are sure to follow. Another Christmas book by Kleypas, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, moves into modern time in Seattle and tells the story of Mark Nolan who suddenly finds himself a father when his sister is killed in an automobile crash, leaving Mark as the guardian of her daughter Holly. The only problem is that Holly won’t talk after her mother’s death. This book was made into a 2012 Hallmark movie entitled Christmas With Holly. It is also the beginning of an intriguing series that follows the other two Nolan brothers who all come from a dysfunctional family.
Last, but not least, is another modern story, Comfort & Joy, by Kristin Hannah. It brings together Joy Candellaro, newly divorced and facing Christmas alone, and six-year-old Bobby O’Shea who is about to experience his first Christmas without his mother. Bobby’s father Daniel is trying to help his son cope, but can’t understand his sudden bonding with Joy. This is a story with a twist that will keep you guessing in a world where only the magic of Christmas can heal.
Thank you, Betty! There are so many here that I need to check out.
If you’re looking for more books, you can find some of my suggestions for holiday reading here and here.
(Do you have an If You Like with suggestions you’d like to share? Send it along to me, and I’ll post it here!)
Monday, June 9th, 2014
What with all the spring give aways, we haven’t had an If You Like for a while.
In honor of That Summer, I was going to do an If You Like on novels involving Pre-Raphaelite art or artists, but… I couldn’t think of any!
There is A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which features Burne-Jones’ Beguiling of Nimue on the cover, and is deeply immersed in that milieu, even though it focuses on poets rather than painters.
I’ve had some tips from author friends. Kate Forsyth (whose books I adore– if you haven’t read Bitter Greens, get your hands on it as soon as you can!) recommended Essie Fox’s Elijah’s Mermaid, which was inspired by a Waterhouse painting and, like That Summer, features an imaginary Pre-Raph.
In other Pre-Raphaelite novel news, Kris Waldherr recently posted an interview with Kirsty Stonell Walker, who has written a novel about one of Rossetti’s later flings, A Curl of Copper and Pearl, as well as non-fiction about other Pre-Raph models and muses.
And that’s it. The sum total.
Help! Have you stumbled across any Pre-Raphaelite inspired novels– other than That Summer?
Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Since we missed our regularly scheduled If You Like this morning, here’s a make-up If You Like, inspired by Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens.
If you like books based on fairy tales, you’ll probably like….
— Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, a tale set in 17th century France and 16th century Italy, woven around the story of Rapunzel. I am currently very much in love with this book, which brings both those eras to life beautifully. (I’ve also heard wonderful things about her The Wild Girl, but haven’t read it yet.)
— Robin McKinley’s Beauty, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast (I could practically recite the first chapter of this book word for word in Middle School). She took a second stab at Beauty and the Beast with her book Rose Daughter. (She also took on Sleeping Beauty with Spindle’s End, Donkeyskin with Deerskin, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses in The Door in the Hedge).
— Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, another of my all time favorite books, which transports the story of Tam Lin to a college campus (a thinly veiled version of Carleton) in the 1960s. It’s one of those books that makes you remember the joy of learning, and those wonderful college days where everything is woven through with Shakespeare and Milton and whatever else you’ve been studying. With, of course, a touch of faerie.
— Patricia C. Wrede’s Snow White and Rose Red, an Elizabethan version of Snow White and Rose Red.
— Eloisa James’s fairy tale romances: When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), A Kiss at Midnight (Cinderella), The Ugly Duchess (the Ugly Duckling), The Duke Is Mine (the Princess and the Pea), and Once Upon a Tower (Rapunzel).
— Kate Holmes’s The Wild Swans. I read this one a while ago, but I remember a) being impressed that she managed to pull off a romance where the heroine isn’t allowed to speak for most of the book, and b) thinking that the hero was particularly Miles-esque.
What are your favorite novels based on fairy tales?
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
Since I did 1920s set costume dramas last week, it seemed like a natural (if somewhat chronologically backwards) progression to look at Regency costume dramas this week.
So, if you like Regency-set costume dramas, you’ll probably like….
— the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Let’s not beat around the bush with any of those other adaptations; this one does a gorgeous job of bringing Lizzy and Darcy to life (and, occasionally, dunking him in the lake);
— the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root Persuasion, one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen (and a constant re-watch during the early days of writing the Pink books);
— the relatively recent Masterpiece Theatre Northanger Abbey, which finally, finally gave us a good adaptation of one of my favorite Austen novels (as opposed to the rather lugubrious adaptation I remember from my youth);
— the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet Sense And Sensibility— or perhaps I should just call it the Alan Rickman Sense & Sensibility?
— the Sharpe series, particularly Sharpe’s Rifles, which show a very different Regency from the Austenian drawing room as we delve into the nitty gritty of the Peninsular War (also, two words: SEAN BEAN);
— and, for the naval side of things, the Ioan Gruffud Horatio Hornblower (this, like the Pink books, is actually pre-Regency, but when it comes to costume drama joy, what’s a decade here or there?);
— and, finally, for sheer fun, Barbara Cartland’s A Hazard of Hearts, with Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Serena Staverly, Christopher Plummer as the father who gambles her away in a game of cards, and– so much joy– Diana Rigg as the hero’s villainous mother. And, yes, there is actually a villain who utters the phrase: “She will be mine. Oh, yes, she will be mine.” (In tones of intense boredom, which makes it even better.) My little sister and I can recite much of this film by heart.
What are your favorite Regency-set costume dramas?
Monday, January 13th, 2014
It’s Downton Abbey season again! So I’m straying temporarily from books to another favorite topic: BBC costume dramas. Specifically, BBC costume dramas set in the 1920s and 1930s.
If you like 1920s and 30s set BBC costume dramas, you’ll probably like…
— The House of Eliott, one of my all time favorite mini-series, in which two sisters slough off their Edwardian upbringing and found a fashion dynasty in the midst of the roaring Twenties;
— Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons’s hysterically funny novel, translated to screen with Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, and others;
— Love in a Cold Climate, which combines two of my favorite books, Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, into one (and very deftly, too);
— Bright Young Things, a not entirely successful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1920s satire, Vile Bodies;
— and Brideshead Revisited, an entirely successful adaptation of Waugh’s classic novel (how can you go wrong with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews?);
— Upstairs Downstairs, the new series, set in the 1930s, which isn’t quite up to its Edwardian predecessor, but makes for fun watching all the same;
— and, of course, a host of mystery series, including the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Campion, the Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Tommy & Tuppence.
What are your favorite 1920s and 30s set costume dramas?