Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book Review and Giveaway: Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon

Pages: 368
Genre: Adult Non-fiction/Biography
Pub. Date: October 29, 2013
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, a transporting companion piece to the New York Timesbestseller Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, tells the story of Catherine Wendell, the beautiful and spirited American woman who married Lady Almina’s son, the man who would become the 6th Earl of Carnarvon. The couple presided over Highclere Castle, the grand estate that serves as the setting for the hit PBS show. Following the First World War, many of the great houses of England faded as their owners fortunes declined in the new political and social world of the 1920s and 1930s. As war loomed, Highclere’s survival as the family home of the Carnarvons was again in the balance—as was peace between the nations of Europe.  Using copious materials—including diaries and scrapbooks—from the castle’s archives, the current Countess of Carnarvon brings alive a very modern story in a beautiful and fabled setting, paying particular attention to the staff who provide Highclere Castle with continuity between generations."
Catherine Wendell grew up in America, but after a family tragedy, her mother uprooted the whole family to England.  While on vacation, she meets Porchey or Lord Porhester, the man who is eventually going to become the 6th Earl of Carnarvon.  Porchey's father, the famous Lord Carnarvon who discovered King Tut's tomb along with Howard Carter, died suddenly making Porchey the next Earl rather quickly.  Although he should find a rich American bride to help maintain and pay for Highclere Castle, his ancestral home, he can't deny that he is in love with Catherine, a charismatic and beautiful young woman, but not independently wealthy.  The couple marries and fortunately they find a way to keep Highclare Castle and survive life after WWI, thanks to some help from his mother Lady Almina.  However, WWII is coming and along with England's precarious position, Porchey and Catherine are having problems as well.  Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon is a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the residents of Highclare Castle in the tumultuous time of the 1920-1930s.

Catherine is someone that I was immediately captivated by.  The events of her childhood along with her climb to become Lady Carnarvon was very interesting. I find the time period of the Roaring Twenties as well as 1930 to be equally fascinating, so I completely devoured Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey.  On the other hand, Porchey is an insufferable womanizer that I didn't care for.  Their relationship disintegrates, thanks to his philandering, and of course as the years go by, he struggled to find someone to replace Catherine whereas she was able to move on, but not without dealing with some of her own demons first. 


The author, Countess of Carnarvon, includes a lot of historical details, but not so many that it becomes tedious. She did a great job helping readers to understand what was going on in the world at the time and how it impacted Highclare Castle.  I also like how she included tidbits about the servants as well as the "upstairs" residents of Highclare.  There are also photographs included in Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, which I thought was a nice touch and added to the authenticity.  Although this book is considered non-fiction, it never was bogged down like a history book, but instead was entertaining, gossipy, and downright fun, especially if you are a fan of Downton Abbey.

There's something comforting about reading memoirs or biographies. It's nice to know that people throughout the ages have dealt with both the good, the bad and the ugly in their lives and have lived to tell the tale. I love reading about the ups and downs of a person's life, how they coped, and how they eventually overcame obstacles.  Even though Lady Catherine spent most of her life in the lap of luxury, I liked that she dealt with trials and tribulations, just like a normal person.

It comes as no surprise that I am obsessed with Downton Abbey, so I really enjoyed Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey. I can't wait to check out Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, which is all about Porchey's mother.  If you are a fan of Downton Abbey, you must check out these books. They would be the perfect holiday gift for the Downton fan in your life.  

Thanks to Crown and Broadway, I am hosting a giveaway a copy of Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey to one lucky US reader.  The deadline is December 27th and please refer to my giveaway rules.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

9 comments:

  1. I've never seen Downton Abbey Christina! *hangs head in shame* I do want to live in that castle/estate on the front cover of this book though, it's absolutely gorgeous. I love historical novels though I don't often read non-fiction, but every once in a while it's nice to pick up something completely outside my comfort zone. Thanks for your thoughts on this one!

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    1. OMG. You need to see Downton right now, Jenny! I am dying to visit there. I was a little hesitant about this one b/c it was non-fiction, but I loved it! Thanks for visiting!

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  2. I'm on a huge Downton Abbey kick so this sounds fascinating!

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    1. It really was fascinating---especially when you can make connections to the show. Thanks for dropping by, Christa!

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  3. I have been meaning to read these as I am also obsessed with Downton Abbey and interested in this time period historically too.

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    1. Me too!!! You would love this book then, Christina! You should definitely check it out. Thanks for visiting.

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  4. I'd be all over this if it was Canadian! Great review! xx

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    1. Thanks, Ashley! :) Sorry that it isn't open to Canada. Check out my international giveaway though!

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  5. With the return of Downton to US screens this week ! Hurrah Hurrah!!! Series IV those visiting your cleverly written website may wish to know that following on from my books on Lady Evelyn Stanhope and Elsie Howard, the two Fourth Countesses of Carnarvon and harnessing the remaining ripples from Almina Wombwell, the indefatigable Fifth Countesses of Carnarvon, I have now completed a further controversial book on the two Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon. " Catherine and Tilly: Porchey Carnarvon's Two Duped Wives. The Tragic Tales of the Sixth Countesses of Carnarvon" . This will play out alongside Highclere's latest romp on the American refugee Catherine Wendell. My narrative draws on original papers, newspapers and the Wendell papers in Portsmouth Athenaeum, in Maine, USA as well as the good will of members of the Wendell family. It will also be based on interviews and testimony from several people who knew and dearly loved Catherine. The book also includes a long detailed narrative on the life and times of Tilly Losch the great Austrian dancer, and bit part actress, who was Countess of Carnarvon from 1939-1947. William Cross, FSA Scot, South Wales, UK

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