Lost Roses: A Novel, by Martha Hall Kelly – A Review

Lost Roses 2019 x 200Are there any historical fiction readers out there who have not read the insanely popular Lilac Girls yet? Hello!

Martha Hall Kelly’s debut novel was published in 2016 – and like all book fledglings was sent out into the world with high hopes. Early reviews were rather mixed, but it hit the NY Times bestseller list immediately, a phenomenon for a debut novel. It has become one of those rare books in publishing that has an enormous wingspan, remaining on the bestseller lists for years.

One cannot even imagine the pressure on Kelly’s shoulders to produce her second novel, Lost Roses, released last month by Ballantine Books. A prequel to Lilac Girls, many of her readers will have high expectations. If she was smart, she would stick to her winning formula: base the story on real-life women facing challenges during historical events; transport readers into their lives and times through first-person narratives that are impeccably researched; offer page turning-prose that keeps you up into the wee hours; and finally, develop characters that we can empathize and care about. A very tall order, indeed.

Again, the story features a tryptic of women struggling on the home front during a world war. Lilac Girls introduced us to Caroline Ferriday in the 1940’s WWII. Lost Roses begins a generation earlier in pre-WWI and features Caroline’s mother Eliza Ferriday, an American socialite and philanthropist, her friend Sofya Streshnayva, a Russian aristocrat, and Varinka Kozlov, a Russian peasant. Continue reading

25 Downton Abbey-inspired Holiday Gifts for the Downtonite in Your Life

 Downton Abbey Season 5 poster

Acclaimed by critics and cherished by fans, Downton Abbey is the most popular period drama ever. North America is all anticipation of the premier of Season 5 on January 4, 2015 on Masterpiece Classic PBS. Until then, feed your Downtonite with these great holiday gifts.

GIFTS

     What is a Weekend Mug x 250     Countess Grantham Bear x 250

 1. What Is A Weekend Coffee Mug

When the Dowager Countess of Grantham asked “What is a weekend?” in season one of Downton Abbey, I was totally addicted to this fabulous period drama. That line summed up the classification of “aristocrat” as an endangered species and foreshadowed all the laughter to come. I now start my morning as an anachronistic aristocrat with this clever coffee (or tea) mug.

 2. Lady Cora Teddy Bear

Teddy bears became the rage during the American Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, so it seems only fitting that the American heiress Lady Cora Crawley should be featured as a Teddy Bear doll. This 14″ stuffed bear is soft and plush with old-fashioned felt paw pads, is fully-jointed and dressed to the nines in beautifully styled period costume. Continue reading

The Passing Bells: Book One of the Greville Family Saga, by Philip Rock – A Review

The Passing Bells, by  Philip Rock (2012)I love a good mystery. I just didn’t know that I would be so personally engaged in one for over thirty years.

In 1980, a read a book about an aristocratic English family during WWI that I absolutely adored. I was so enthusiastic about it that I promptly loaned it to my best friend who never thought of it again until about a year later when I asked for it back. She had no idea where my copy was. I was devastated. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to write down the title or author. I could only remember that bell was in the title.

Decades passed and the book never left my list of “to find titles.” When Internet search engines and online used book stores became available to me I searched again to no avail. Last month I was perusing the new release table at Barnes & Noble and a book title jumped out at me. The Passing Bells sounded vaguely familiar so I read the back description and checked the copyright date. “Originally published in 1978.” I stood and stared at the cover in stunned silence. I had found it again. It was a book miracle.

I immediately download a copy to my NOOK and commenced reading. After a long and unyielding quest, I wondered if time had romanticized my memory. Had The Passing Bells become my Holy Book Grail? Continue reading

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes – A Review

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes (2011)Season two of Downton Abbey has concluded and we are left in limbo until it returns next Fall in the UK and January 2013 in the US.

*deep sigh*

For those like myself, who have watched and re-watched every blessed minute, yet, just can’t get enough of the award-winning ITV/PBS television mini-series and are in total Downton withdrawal, may I suggests this stunning full-color coffee table-sized book about the series, The World of Downton Abbey?

The publisher touts it as a “lavish look at the real world–both the secret history and the behind-the-scenes drama–of the spellbinding Emmy Award-winning Masterpiece TV series Downton Abbey.” This is no idle boast. From cover to cover this 303-page oversized-volume is packed with sumptuous full-color pictures of the production, the cast, historical connections, and its shining star, Highclere Castle, the grand manor house in Hampshire where the series is filmed.

The author Jessica Fellowes is the niece of the series creator and writer Julian Fellowes. Not only does she have the inside scoop into the production of the series, she is also well qualified to write the text as a journalist and the former Deputy Editor of Country Life magazine. Equally important is the photographer Nick Briggs, who captures intimate and awe-inspiring images of the production that send us back into memorable scenes or highlight costuming and scenery.

Organized into nine chapters: Family Life; Society; Change; Life in Service; Style; House & Estate; Romance; War; and Behind the Scenes, each chapter is written in context to the series characters and their roles and included pertinent quotes from the screenplay illustrating key scenes and events in the series”

‘I mean, one way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.’ Violet, The Dowager Countess

There are also quotes from the actors and actresses about their characters:

‘There’s an independence about Mary – she’s not influenced by anyone and she’s very much her own person, she makes her own decisions. I understand her because I’m one of three girls too and I’ve always been defiant that I didn’t want to do what they did.’ Michelle Dockery

…and from the creator:

‘There’s an element of performance. They were all performing a role that had been decreed for them. For and aristocrat to be convincing, he must look like an aristocrat.’ Julian Fellowes

I particularly enjoyed the insights from the costume designer Susannah Buxton on her research influences for the clothing and the historical vignettes that linked the series to actual period personalities such as Daisy, Countess of Warwick, and Mary Leiter, an American buccaneer that inspired Julian Fellowes to create the character of Cora Levinson who married Robert, the future Earl of Grantham in 1889.

Overall, the most spectacular impression of this volume is its sheer bulk and beauty. Any Downtonite, Edwardian historian or period drama lover could get lost in this volume for days. Creator Julian Fellowes rightfully opens the book with a brief forward, offering us insights and asides, yet, I felt quite cheated that Violet, The Dowager Countess of Grantham was not given the last word.

4.5 out of 5 Stars

The World of Downton Abbey, by Jessica Fellowes
St Martin’s Press (2011)
Hardcover (304) pages
ISBN: 978-1250006349

Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE