Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon Source: Goodreads


I know I am not the only one obsessed with Downton Abbey, so I have no problem admitting it. Reading this book may have slightly intensified my obsession!

I remember being so excited when I saw Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey on a Downton Abbey display table at Barnes and Noble last year, but it took me a while to get started reading it. I firmly believe that you have to be in the mood to read different books; I hadn’t been in the mood for nonfiction. It wasn’t until I formed a mini book club with a few friends for the book Below Stairs (basically, this is a Downton-based club!) that I got to reading it, and I will definitely be recommending it for my book club’s next read!

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey chronicles the life of Almina Wombwell once she becomes the 5th Countess of Carvaron in 1895 and begins her life at Highclere Castle, the location where Downton Abbey is filmed. Though her parentage was questionable, Almina came with quite a large dowry, which was necessary to keep Highclere running (this is somewhat similar to Cora in the show). As she grows into her position as Countess, Almina flourishes; she hosts grand parties, and spares no expense. Luckily, her father Alfred de Rothschild is more than generous with his money, and so Almina has no reason to worry about expenses.

When her husband the Earl is involved in  a horrible car crash, Almina is dedicated to nursing him back to health, and this is where she finds her calling. When World War I breaks out in Europe, Almina immediately knows that she wants to turn Highclere into a hospital for wounded soldiers. She contacts all the necessary people to gain approval, and with yet another contribution from her father, is able to furnish and staff the hospital with all the best equipment, doctors, and nurses handpicked by Almina herself. Almina’s philosophy in running the hospital is simple. She believes that each soldier requires and deserves the very best care. Every patient will be roomed in one of the castle’s many bedrooms and enjoy the luxuries that come with being a house guest – the finest sheets, pajamas, and food. Nurses are to talk to the soldiers and get to know them as well as looking after their wounds; it is necessary to provide the emotional care on top of physical healing. Almina personally looks after many of the soldiers herself and takes the time to contact the families of each patient that comes in to the hospital, inviting them to visit. Her hard work and commitment to such a personal level of care proved to be just what the patients needed time and time again, and many letters were sent to Almina throughout the war to describe how thankful many of them felt for her kindness and generosity.

There were so many things that I absolutely loved about this book. For starters, this felt like a great companion to Downton Abbey. The fact that it focuses on the family (and the servants!) in Highclere at the time that Downton takes place, makes it that much easier to appreciate the historical accuracy of the show. Not only does the book highlight the history of the castle, but it helps give a clearer understanding of World War I for those who may not be quite as familiar with it. I remembered the very basics from high school history class, and while history was always my favorite subject, World War II was my favorite topic. I never truly understood how horrifying World War I was, and how much it changed not only the way wars are fought, but also the history of the world. There are repercussions we still see today, and I doubt I would have ever realized this had it not been explained in Lady Almina. Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon, did an unbelievably wonderful job researching and writing this book. Every aspect was explained so thoroughly, with the greatest attention to detail. Her style of writing was perfect; I often felt as though I were having a conversation with the Countess, listening to her tell me the story of Almina while I sipped a cup of tea (at home, though; not at Highclere😦 )!

Anyone who is a fan of Downton would be doing themselves a favor to give this book a try. I truly feel like it will give you an even greater appreciation for the show, but more importantly, an even greater appreciation for Highclere itself, which I know was the Countess’s reason for writing it. Her love for the castle and its history is so very evident, and it’s so very nice to see.

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Book Review – Call the Midwife

Not surprisingly, I loved Call the Midwife even more than I love the show. Jennifer Worth details her early years as a midwife at Nonnatus House in London’s East End, starting with her surprise at working in a convent. Throughout her experiences, Jennifer finds herself changing from a young woman who finds the nuns and their practices amusing, and who has no strong religious ties of her own, into a woman who finds the wisdom in a Sister’s advice – “Go with God.”

Each chapter often focuses on one experience, whether it’s a mother whose child she, Jennifer, is helping to deliver, or an elderly woman whose life she learns about while treating her over time. Each person that Jennifer comes into contact with has a unique history and life that shows the diversity and hardships of living in the East End during the 1950s.

This is not a book that I would expect myself to have read, if not for the show on PBS. I cannot say enough how much I enjoyed this book. There are stories which break your heart, and stories which make you smile. Overall, when I finished the book I felt humbled, in a way. I felt happy to have read such a beautifully-written memoir, and to learn of so many experiences that people went through and yet continued to have hope. I know that as soon as I closed the book, I could only say, “I loved this book.” I cannot recommend the book (or the show!) enough.

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Call the Midwife

Thank goodness for adorable, high-quality shows! I know adorable isn’t the best adjective to describe a show aimed at adults, but it was the first to pop into my head. “Call the Midwife” is my current obsession; I’m telling everyone I know, “You have to watch it!” I came across it randomly one day while flipping channels – there was some special (I’m guessing) about it on PBS, and it reminded me of Downton Abbey. I figured since I’m going through Downton-withdrawal, I may as well give this show a try, and thank goodness I did!

The show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth and set in 1950s London (already perfect, in my opinion. Favorite era, favorite city). It focuses on a young woman, Jenny Lee, who begins work as a midwife at Nonnatus House, a convent. She and the Sisters and other midwives service the slums of the East End, and throughout the episodes she comes in contact with many different people, and finds herself growing into a compassionate woman.

Jenny is my favorite character; I feel like she and I are very similar. But believe me, it’s hard to choose one favorite. Every single person is so endearing. Aside from the characters, I absolutely love the clothing on this show! Everything is so classic and classy. I honestly believe that I was born in the wrong decade, and actually belong in the 1940s and 50s.

The hair and makeup is beautiful, too – natural and simple. I’m constantly searching for tutorials, but haven’t found any yet!

It’s a good thing my summer vacation is just getting started, because I would hate to be interrupted in watching Seasons 1 and 2; I’m already two episodes into Season 2 and can’t wait for Season 3 to begin! In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to pass the time with reading the books. Things could be so much worse, couldn’t they?

Have you seen Call the Midwife? What do you think? Who is your favorite character?

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Book Review – Beautiful Creatures

I finally made it through Beautiful Creatures over the weekend. I knew it was going to be hot, so I decided to take a day-trip to the beach. I packed my beach bag with a few books since I was sure I’d finish Beautiful Creatures, and of course I’d need a new book to start. I thought I should wait a little to write a post about it because I wanted to make sure I had all my thoughts in line. Get ready.

Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate lives in the small Southern town of Gatlin. This is your stereotypical small town where everyone knows everyone’s business, and no one leaves. Ethan is anxious to get out after high school…but then Lena Duchannes comes to town and changes everything. Ethan realizes that Lena is the girl he has been dreaming about, and finds himself “drawn” to her. They develop a relationship despite the fact that Lena, the niece of the town recluse, is the outcast at Jackson High and everyone is set on tearing them apart. As they grow closer, Ethan realizes that Lena’s differences come from special powers. She is a Caster. Lena’s sixteenth birthday is approaching, which means she will be “claimed” – she will be chosen as a dark caster or a light caster for the rest of her life. Knowing that her mother was dark, Lena fears that she will be the same and is desperate to stop it. Ethan spends every possible moment helping Lena search for a way to save herself…until her birthday comes, and it may be too late.

As you may remember, I had been struggling through the book and was not a very big fan. At all. I wouldn’t say I hated it, but it was far from even being considered for a favorites list. It’s an “eh” book. Like I said previously, I’m not sure if my opinion was swayed by the reviews I read on goodreads, but it didn’t take much to figure out why so many reviews were negative.

One of the things that really bothered me was a lingering confusion over what exactly it means to be a Caster…how do they develop their “powers”? Are they similar to witches? What kinds of things can they do? These things were touched on, and there were different examples of Caster powers throughout, but I felt like there was never a very good explanation. I’m not saying Twilight was anything to rave about, but at least I understood the whole vampire/werewolf thing while I read the books! I felt like the authors of Beautiful Creatures just wanted to write a paranormal story, and made things up as they went along instead of thinking it out beforehand. (They do say in their acknowledgments that it took them three months to write the book, before going through editing. Gee, I would never have guessed…)

A second thing that I didn’t like was that there was no apparent basis for Ethan and Lena’s falling in love. There seemed to be no development of feelings over time, no getting to know each other. You know, those things we normal people go through in real life. In Beautiful Creatures, Lena and Ethan are “drawn” to each other because of a dream they keep having. And when they finally meet, Ethan’s world changes forever. Please. PLEASE! And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous lines. I wish I had kept count of how many times I rolled my eyes and thought, “Oh my God.” I couldn’t help but think as I read this, that a number of my students were reading these books, or had read them, and now have in their heads that this is what love is like…at sixteen years old. Hate to say it, but you don’t get an electric shock when you kiss someone unless you’re holding a fork in a socket at the same time.

Overall, the book wasn’t atrocious; I was curious to find out what would happen and how the story would end, which kept me reading. But I was by no means enraptured with this book, where I could NOT put it down. If a student is looking for a book to read and I know they like romance stories or fantasy/paranormal, I’ll recommend it but it won’t be with much enthusiasm. Should you read it yourself? Eh, if you feel like it. If you’re planning on watching the movie and are the type of person that likes to read the book first, go ahead. Or if you are thinking to yourself, “I have to see for myself what she’s talking about…”

Or just skip it and thank me. Okay, maybe I did hate this book. Can’t win ’em all.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl Source:

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I have to “check-in”, because I feel like I am taking entirely too long to read my current book, Beautiful Creatures. I love Goodreads, and I often like to browse around to find books to add to my pile, or to get an idea of what to expect from a book I’ll be reading soon.

I decided to read Beautiful Creatures after watching a couple students devour it; they snapped it open on their desks at every chance they could, and would often choose reading over socialization, a rare thing in eighth grade. These girls kept telling me how good it was, and that I had to read it.

For about two or three weeks I have been slugging through this book, and I wish I could just get through it already. I don’t even know what to think – I have a feeling I read the reviews and let those sway my opinion. But so far I cannot disagree with what I’ve read on Goodreads…stay tuned. Hopefully I can have a review on here before the end of summer!

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