tenrestaurants
Monday, March 6th at 5 p.m.

From Delmonico’s to Sylvia’s to Chez Panisse, a daring and original history of dining out in America as told through ten legendary restaurants. Combining a historian’s rigor with a foodie ‘s palate, Ten Restaurants That Changed America reveals how the history of our restaurants reflects nothing less than the history of America itself. Paul Freedman, the Chester D Tripp Professor of History at Yale University will give an illustrated talk at the Essex Library on Monday, March 6th at 5 p.m. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.

Whether charting the rise of our love affair with Chinese food through San Francisco’s fabled The Mandarin, evoking the richness of Italian food through Mamma Leone’s, or chronicling the rise and fall of French haute cuisine through Henri Soulé’s Le Pavillon, food historian Paul Freedman uses each restaurant to tell a wider story of race and class, immigration and assimilation. Freedman also treats us to a scintillating history of the then-revolutionary Schrafft’s, a chain of convivial lunch spots that catered to women, and that bygone favorite, Howard Johnson’s, which pioneered midcentury, on-the-road dining, only to be swept aside by McDonald’s. Lavishly designed with more than 100 photographs and images, including original menus, Ten Restaurants That Changed America is a significant and highly entertaining social history. Read the review of the book by Tejal Rao in The New York Times here.

Professor Freedman specializes in medieval social history, the history of Catalonia, comparative studies of the peasantry, trade in luxury products, and the history of cuisine. Freedman earned his BA at the University of California at Santa Cruz and an MLS from the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He received a Ph.D. in History at Berkeley in 1978. His doctoral work focused on medieval Catalonia and how the bishop and canons interacted with the powerful and weak elements of lay society in Vic, north of Barcelona. Freedman taught for eighteen years at Vanderbilt University before joining the Yale faculty in 1997.

whenparissizzled

Saturday, February 4th at 1:30 p.m.

When Paris Sizzled vividly portrays the City of Light during the fabulous 1920s, les Annees folles, when Parisians emerged from the horrors of war to find that a new world greeted them one that reverberated with the hard metallic clang of the assembly line, the roar of automobiles, and the beat of jazz. Mary McAuliffe traces a decade that saw seismic change on almost every front, from art and architecture to music, literature, fashion, entertainment, transportation, and, most notably, behavior. The epicenter of all this creativity, as well as of the era s good times, was Montparnasse, where impoverished artists and writers found colleagues and cafes, and tourists discovered the Paris of their dreams. Major figures on the Paris scene such as Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Proust continued to hold sway, while others now came to prominence including Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Cole Porter, and Josephine Baker, as well as Andre Citroen, Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, and the irrepressible Kiki of Montparnasse. Paris of the 1920s unquestionably sizzled. Yet rather than being a decade of unmitigated bliss, les Annees folles also saw an undercurrent of despair as well as the rise of ruthless organizations of the extreme right, aimed at annihilating whatever threatened tradition and order a struggle that would escalate in the years ahead.

We’ll welcome When Paris Sizzled author Mary McAuliffe to the Essex Library on Saturday, February 4th at 1:30 p.m. She’ll describe the unique time in Paris when the famously creative and creatively famous were at their peak of activity. If you enjoyed Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris, you’ll want to hear all the tales from this fabulous time. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be available for purchase & signing.

Friday, January 20th at 7 p.m. at Centerbrook Architects 67 Main St. Centerbrook
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2016 marked the centennial anniversary of the Yale School of Architecture. In recognition of this occasion, Jimmy Stamp, co-author with former YSOA Dean Robert A.M. Stern of the book Pedagogy and Place: 100 Years of Architecture Education at Yale (Yale Press, 2016) will trace the development of the School’s pedagogy alongside a critical overview of the succession of buildings designed to house Yale’s architecture program. Stamp will draw parallels between historic moments in Yale’s history and things that have happened more recently.

Jimmy Stamp is a writer at Robert . M. Stern Architects whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Smithsonian, and the Journal of Architecture Education.

This program is free and open to the public.

robertwyssThursday, January 19, 2017 at 7 p.m.

David Brower (1912–2000) was a central figure in the modern environmental movement. His leadership, vision, and elegant conception of the wilderness forever changed how we approach nature. In many ways, he was a twentieth-century Thoreau. Brower transformed the Sierra Club into a national force that challenged and stopped federally sponsored projects that would have dammed the Grand Canyon and destroyed hundreds of millions of acres of our nation’s wilderness. To admirers, he was tireless, passionate, visionary, and unyielding. To opponents and even some supporters, he was contentious and polarizing.

As a young man growing up in Berkeley, California, Brower proved himself a fearless climber of the Sierra Nevada’s dangerous peaks. After serving in the Tenth Mountain Division during World War II, he became executive director of the Sierra Club. This uncompromising biography explores Brower’s role as steward of the modern environmental movement. His passionate advocacy destroyed lifelong friendships and, at times, threatened his goals. Yet his achievements remain some of the most important triumphs of the conservation movement. What emerges from this unique portrait is a rich and robust profile of a leader who took up the work of John Muir and, along with Rachel Carson, made environmentalism the cause of our time.

Robert Wyss is associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and a journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, Smithsonian, Yankee, and the Providence Journal. He is the author of Covering the Environment: How Journalists Work the Green Beat (2007).

This program is free and open to the public.

3 More Quick-Read Titles

December 23, 2015

You can read any of these in an evening, or less. They’ll stick in your memory for a long time though.

Suggested by Librarian Ann Thompson:

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The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A beautifully-written novella about the pleasure of reading with Bennett’s inimitable manner of sending up both royalty and commoners but especially commoners around royalty.

The End Of The Alphabet by C. S. Richardson
What would you do if you had only a month to live and you were deeply, hopelessly, in love with your spouse? Sorry, cue the tissue box.

Three Men In A Boat: to say nothing of the dog by Jerome K. Jerome
A classic of English humor unscathed by time.

It’s a short work week at the paying job, for most of us, so we thought we’d throw out suggestions for some great quick reads because we know you’re busy too. Essex Library Staff were challenged to come up with 3 books that can be enjoyed when you don’t have time for a longer novel.

Librarian Emily Boucher’s suggestions:

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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff:
It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm, charming, feisty love affair.

We Were Liars: E Lockhart:
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf:
A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.

Authors As Secret Santas

December 17, 2014

At the risk of appearing to endorse Penguin Books UK, we want to pass along a very amusing video they made of a secret santa event they held amongst some of their authors. It is widely held that books make the best gifts!

Wednesday, March 19th at 7 p.m. at the Essex Library
Given short shrift or overlooked by many historians, the Hampton Roads Conference of 1865 was a crucial turning point in the War Between the States. In his well written and highly documented book, James B. Conroy describes in fascinating detail what happened when leaders from both sides came together to try to end the hostilities. Click here to reserve a copy of this book.

There really is something for everyone in the forthcoming fiction in February; books by for your favorite authors and terrific debuts too. Love stories, naturally, appear in the month of Valentines accompanied by medical, espionage, and crime thrillers. Ghost stories, historical fiction, fantasy and a wee bit of science fiction round out the group. Click on the title to place a hold–some of the well-known names already have holds queues.

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
Working a 26-year-old cold case involving the murder of a convicted felon’s mistress, retired Baltimore detective Roberto Sanchez becomes tangled up in a web of bitterness, jealousy, and greed that spans 30 years and connects five women whose lives will never be the same once the truth is exposed.

Bark: Stories by Lorrie Moore
From the author of Birds In America…Here are people beset, burdened, buoyed; protected by raising teenage children; dating after divorce; facing the serious illness of a longtime friend; setting forth on a romantic assignation abroad, having it interrupted mid-trip, and coming to understand the larger ramifications and the impossibility of the connection . . . stories that show people coping with large dislocation in their lives, with risking a new path to answer the desire to be in relation–to someone.

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
A latest collaboration by the best-selling author of the Stephanie Plum series and the best-selling author of the Monk series finds FBI agent Kate O’Hare once again forced to covertly team up with brilliant con man Nicholas Fox to take down a big-league criminal.

The Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
When the Norwegian ambassador to Thailand is found dead in a Bangkok brothel, Inspector Harry Hole is dispatched from Oslo to help hush up the case. But once he arrives Harry discovers that this case is about much more than one random murder.

Concealed In Death by J D Robb
When her husband discovers evidence of 12 murders while demolishing a former New York shelter for troubled teens, Lieutenant Eve Dallas tracks down the stories of each victim only to realize that they are connected by someone Eve knows.

The Counterfeit Agent by Alex Berensen
Unable to prevent the assassination of a CIA station chief by Iranian hostiles who are allegedly plotting a nuclear attack on the United States, John Wells goes undercover to discern the truth on an assignment that takes him from Guatemala and Thailand to Hong Kong and Istanbul.

The Daring Ladies Of Lowell by Kate Alcott
Moving to the mill city of Lowell in 1832 to escape farm life, young Alice is disillusioned by the local factory’s harsh working conditions and struggles to advocate on their behalf while recklessly falling in love with the mill owner’s son, a situation that is complicated by a murder and sensational trial.

This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash
After their mother dies unexpectedly, 12-year-old Easter and her 6-year-old sister Ruby are kidnapped by their errant father Wade, an ex-minor league baseball player whom they haven’t seen in years, while their court appointed guardian races against time to find them before a vengeful killer does.

The Free by Willy Vlautin
Severely wounded in the Iraq war, Leroy Kervin has lived in a group home for eight years. Frustrated by the simplest daily routines, he finds his existence has become unbearable. An act of desperation helps him disappear deep into his mind, into a world of romance and science fiction, danger and adventure where he is whole once again. Freddie McCall, the night man at Leroy’s group home, works two jobs yet still can’t make ends meet. He’s lost his wife and kids, and the house is next. Medical bills have buried him in debt, a situation that propels him to consider a lucrative–and dangerous–proposition. Pauline Hawkins, a nurse, cares for the sick and wounded, including Leroy. She also looks after her mentally ill elderly father. Yet she remains emotionally removed, until she meets a young runaway who touches something deep and unexpected inside her.

The Ghost Of The Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin
In 1872 the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste was discovered adrift off the coast of Spain. Her cargo was intact and there was no sign of struggle, but the crew was gone. They were never found. This maritime mystery lies at the center of an intricate narrative branching through the highest levels of late-nineteenth-century literary society. While on a voyage to Africa, a rather hard-up and unproven young writer named Arthur Conan Doyle hears of the Mary Celeste and decides to write an outlandish short story about what took place. This story causes quite a sensation back in the United States, particularly between sought-after Philadelphia spiritualist medium Violet Petra and a rational-minded journalist named Phoebe Grant, who is seeking to expose Petra as a fraud.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson
When Liana Dector, a woman who is possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police, storms into his favorite Boston tavern demanding his help, George Foss, unable to say “no” to his first love, is drawn into a world of murder, betrayal and secrets from which there is no escape.

The Good Luck Of Right Now by Matthew Quick
When his mother dies, 38-year-old Bartholomew Neil, who doesn’t know how to be on his own, discovers a letter in his mother’s underwear drawer that causes him to write a series of highly intimate letters to actor Richard Gere, while embarking on a quest to find out where he belongs.

The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Greene
Found mentally altered in Central Park, the headmaster of an elite boarding school imparts a story that is shaped by complicated memories, the evolution of a loving relationship and a tragedy he cannot comprehend. By the award-winning author of Envious Moon.

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira
The best-selling author of My Name is Mary Sutter presents a tale inspired by the romance between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas that finds young Mary struggling with self-doubt after being rejected by the Paris Salon before entering into a tempestuous relationship with a fellow artist.

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman
Disregarding a death threat from an irate doctor who has been denied custody of a baby because of his court report, psychologist Alex Delaware is shocked to learn that a hit has been taken out on him, that the doctor has been found murdered and that the baby has been kidnapped. By the best-selling author of Guilt.

Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li
A tale set in America and China follows the experiences of three people who in their youths were involved in a mysterious accident that resulted in a friend’s fatal poisoning and who years later are haunted by the possibility that one of them actually committed a murder. By the award-winning author of The Vagrants.

The King’s Marauder by Dewey Lambdin
Ordered to conduct raids along the Spanish coast to address growing discontent in the spring of 1807, Captain Lewrie finds the mission complicated by an incompetent officer, a lurking Secret Branch agent and violent adversaries.

The Mangle Street Murders by Martin Kasasian
After her father dies, March Middleton has to move to London to live with her guardian, Sidney Grice, the country’s most famous private detective.It is 1882 and London is at its murkiest yet most vibrant, wealthiest yet most poverty-stricken. No sooner does March arrive than a case presents itself: a young woman has been brutally murdered, and her husband is the only suspect. The victim’s mother is convinced of her son-in-law’s innocence, and March is so touched by her pleas she offers to cover Sidney’s fee herself.The investigations lead the pair to the darkest alleys of the East End: every twist leads Sidney Grice to think his client is guilty; but March is convinced that he is innocent.

The Martian by Andy Weir
Stranded on Mars by a dust storm that compromised his space suit and forced his crew to leave him behind, astronaut Watney struggles to survive in spite of minimal supplies and harsh environmental challenges that test his ingenuity in unique ways.

Moving Target by Judith Jance
B. Simpson teams up with Sister Anselm to investigate a suspicious accident that has left a teen prison inmate severely burned, while in England, Ali Reynolds investigates the decades-old murder of Leland’s father. By the best-selling author of the J. P. Beaumont series.

The Museum Of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
The daughter of a Coney Island boardwalk curiosities museum’s front man pursues an impassioned love affair with a Russian immigrant photographer who after fleeing his Lower East Side Orthodox community has captured poignant images of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. By the best-selling author of Here on Earth.

Private L.A. by James Patterson
When Hollywood’s biggest superstar couple disappears without a word from their ranch, private investigator Jack Morgan confronts dangerous secrets to expose an underworld of desperation and deception. Murder is only the opening scene.

The Red Road by Denise Mina
Preparing to testify against a violent arms dealer, police detective Alex Morrow finds her efforts challenged by a privileged Scottish lawyer’s money laundering scheme and a vengeful woman prisoner. By the award-winning author of The End of the Wasp Season.

RedDevil 4 by Eric Leuthardt
A debut novel based on cutting-edge research follows the efforts of an obsessed neurosurgeon who is forced to set aside his personal and professional goals to help a technophobic detective investigate a string of brutal killings being committed by prominent citizens with no history of violence.

River Road by Jayne Ann Krentz
Returning 13 years after an embarrassing incident from her teens to the hometown of her beloved late aunt, forensic genealogist Lucy Sheridan makes shocking discoveries about her aunt’s death, the disappearance of a cold-blooded local and an attractive former cop. By the best-selling author of Dream Eyes.

Somerset by Leila Meacham
Follows the lives of two antebellum southerners, Silas Toliver and his best friend Jeremy Warwick, as they head into a new territory known as “Texas” in search of black gold in this prequel to the best-selling novel Roses.

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Shaffert
Feeling apprehensive about how the 1898 Omaha World’s Fair will change him and his Wild West city, ventriloquist and con man Ferret Skerritt falls in love with traveling actress Cecily, who discounts their relationship until the night they share a fateful gondola ride. By the author of The Coffins of Little Hope.

That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay
A lonely British woman strikes up a pen pal friendship with a successful American author and they offer each other help and support with their relationship dramas before agreeing to finally meet up in Paris. From the author of The View From Here.

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot
Forced to witness and commit unspeakable atrocities after being abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army, Ugandan teen Esther struggles to survive and escape before crossing paths with Jane, an American journalist who has traveled to Africa in the hopes of advocating on behalf of children like Esther. By the award-winning author of Evening.

Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell
A tale inspired by the romance between genius composer Wolfgang Mozart and prodigy soprano Anna Storace follows her transformation from an ambitious and carefree girl to a passionate young woman facing the dilemmas of her choices in controlling 18th-century Vienna. A first novel.

Where Monsters Dwell by Jorgen Brekke
When a brutal murder in Norway bears close resemblance to one in Virginia, two detectives half a world away investigate these similar murder cases and discover a link to The Book of John, a journal bound in human skin written by a serial killer back in 1529 Norway.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
Coming of age in an old farmhouse, 19-year-old Ruthie begins a search for her agoraphobic mother and discovers the century-old diary of the farmhouse’s long-ago resident, a grieving mother who died under mysterious circumstances. By the best-selling author of Island of Lost Girls.

The Wives Of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit
An emotionally charged debut told in the collective voices of the wives of the team who created the atom bomb traces their struggles to adapt and raise children in a rugged military town where everything their husbands are doing is an intense secret.

Descriptive content provided by Syndetics™, a Bowker service.

For fans of Downton Abbey, the wait between Sunday evenings could try even the patience of a duchess. Below are suggestions for both novels and non-fiction to keep you busy between episodes of the Crawley household antics.

The Return Of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
London, 1920. In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram has turned his back on the world. But with a well-timed letter, an old flame manages to draw him back in. Mary Emmett’s brother John–like Laurence, an officer during the war–has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veterans’ hospital, and Mary needs to know why. Aided by his friend Charles–a dauntless gentleman with detective skills cadged from mystery novels–Laurence begins asking difficult questions. What connects a group of war poets, a bitter feud within Emmett’s regiment, and a hidden love affair? Was Emmett’s death really a suicide, or the missing piece in a puzzling series of murders? As veterans tied to Emmett continue to turn up dead, and Laurence is forced to face the darkest corners of his own war experiences, his own survival may depend on uncovering the truth.

Servants: a downstairs history of Britain from the nineteenth century to modern times by Lucy Lethbridge
From the vast staff running a lavish Edwardian estate to the lonely maid-of-all-work cooking in a cramped middle-class house, domestics were an essential part of the British hierarchy for much of the past century. Servants were hired not only for their skills but also to demonstrate the social standing of their employers, even as they were required to tread softly and blend into the background. But how did these countless men and women live? How did they view their employers and one another? And how did they experience the rapid social change of the twentieth century? In this “best type of history” (Literary Review), Lucy Lethbridge brings to life the butlers and lady’s maids, the nannies and cleaners whose voices have been largely ignored by history.

Lady Almina and The Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, The Countess of Carnarvon
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey , and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley.  Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war.   Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon’s ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.   This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders–but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

Park Lane by Frances Osborne
When eighteen-year-old Grace Campbell arrives in London in 1914, she’s unable to fulfill her family’s ambitions and find a position as an office secretary. Lying to her parents and her brother, Michael, she takes a job as a housemaid at Number 35, Park Lane, where she is quickly caught up in lives of its inhabitants–in particular, those of its privileged son, Edward, and daughter, Beatrice, who is recovering from a failed relationship that would have taken her away from an increasingly stifling life. Desperate to find a new purpose, Bea joins a group of radical suffragettes and strikes up an intriguing romance with an impassioned young lawyer. Unbeknownst to each of the young women, the choices they make amid the rapidly changing world of WWI will connect their chances at future happiness in dramatic and inevitable ways.

To Marry An English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace
From the Gilded Age until 1914, more than 100 American heiresses invaded Britannia and swapped dollars for titles–just like Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, the first of the Downton Abbey characters Julian Fellowes was inspired to create after reading To Marry An English Lord. Filled with vivid personalities, gossipy anecdotes, grand houses, and a wealth of period details–plus photographs, illustrations, quotes, and the finer points of Victorian and Edwardian etiquette–To Marry An English Lord is social history at its liveliest and most accessible.

The titled Americans : three American sisters and the British aristocratic world into which they married by Elisabeth Kehoe
Elisabeth Kehoe brings to life a sweeping, three-generational saga of the remarkable Jerome sisters-among the most glamorous women of their time-whose marriages to British aristocracy represented the first of such transatlantic unions. Although full of princely lovers, parties, and landed estates, the story’s heart is the intensely supportive and beautifully affectionate lifelong relationship among the sisters. Waves of grave financial hardship afflicted them all, but they always rallied to rescue one another. Beginning in 1840s America and ending one hundred years later in the middle of World War II-when the British nation was fighting for survival under the leadership of Jennie’s son, Winston Churchill-this biography presents an epic story of family and fortune that encompasses both the apogee and the twilight of the British Empire.

Below Stairs: the classic kitchen maid’s memoir that inspired “Upstairs, downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell
Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants portrayed in Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, Margaret Powell’s classic memoir of her time in service, Below Stairs, is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman who, though she served in the great houses of England, never stopped aiming high. Powell first arrived at the servants’ entrance of one of those great houses in the 1920s.  As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids’ curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlormaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress’s nephew, Margaret’s tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to “Pride and Prejudice, “the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic–into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars–and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

Daughter Of Empire: my life as a Mountbatten by Lady Pamela Hicks
Few families can boast of not one but two saints among their ancestors, a great-aunt who was the last tsarina of Russia, a father who was Grace Kelly’s pinup, and a grandmother who was not only a princess but could also argue the finer points of naval law. Pamela Mountbatten entered a remarkable family when she was born at the very end of the Roaring Twenties. As the younger daughter of the glamorous heiress Edwina Ashley and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Pamela spent much of her early life with her sister, nannies, and servants–and a menagerie that included, at different times, a bear, two wallabies, a mongoose, and a lion. Her parents each had lovers who lived openly with the family. The house was always full of guests like Sir Winston Churchill, Noel Coward, Douglas Fairbanks, and the Duchess of Windsor (who brought a cold cooked chicken as a hostess gift). When World War II broke out, Lord Mountbatten was in command of HMS “Kelly” before being appointed chief of Combined Operations, and Pamela and her sister were sent to live on Fifth Avenue in New York City with Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1947, her parents were appointed to be the last viceroy and vicereine of India and oversee the transfer of power to an independent Indian government. Amid the turmoil of political change, Pamela worked with student leaders, developed warm friendships with Gandhi and Nehru, and witnessed both the joy of Independence Day and its terrible aftermath.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence and the patronage of her benevolent employers she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Rose: my life in service to Lady Astor by Rosina Harrison
In 1928, Rosina Harrison arrived at the illustrious household of the Astor family to take up her new position as personal maid to the infamously temperamental Lady Nancy Astor, who sat in Parliament, entertained royalty, and traveled the world. “She’s not a lady as you would understand a lady” was the butler’s ominous warning. But what no one expected was that the iron-willed Lady Astor was about to meet her match in the no-nonsense, whip-smart girl from the country. For 35 years, from the parties thrown for royalty and trips across the globe, to the air raids during WWII, Rose was by Lady Astor’s side and behind the scenes, keeping everything running smoothly. In charge of everything from the clothes and furs to the baggage to the priceless diamond “sparklers,” Rose was closer to Lady Astor than anyone else. In her decades of service she received one £5 raise, but she traveled the world in style and retired with a lifetime’s worth of stories.

At Home by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as he found it in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has fig-ured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.

Serving Victoria by Kate Hubbard
During her sixty-three-year reign, Queen Victoria gathered around herself a household dedicated to her service. For some, royal employment was the defining experience of their lives; for others it came as an unwelcome duty or as a prelude to greater things. Serving Victoria follows the lives of six members of her household, from the governess to the royal children, from her maid of honor to her chaplain and her personal physician. Drawing on their letters and diaries–many hitherto unpublished–Serving Victoria offers a unique insight into the Victorian court, with all its frustrations and absurdities, as well as the Queen herself, sitting squarely at its center. Seen through the eyes of her household as she traveled among Windsor, Osborne, and Balmoral, and to the French and Belgian courts, Victoria emerges as more vulnerable, more emotional, more selfish, more comical, than the austere figure depicted in her famous portraits. We see a woman who was prone to fits of giggles, who wept easily and often, who gobbled her food and shrank from confrontation but insisted on controlling the lives of those around her. We witness her extraordinary and debilitating grief at the death of her husband, Albert, and her sympathy toward the tragedies that afflicted her household.

A Star For Mrs.Blake by April Smith
The United States Congress in 1929 passed legislation to fund travel for mothers of the fallen soldiers of World War I to visit their sons’ graves in France. Over the next three years, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers made the trip. They are strangers at the start, but their lives will become inextricably intertwined, altered in indelible ways. These very different Gold Star Mothers travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery to say final good-byes to their sons and come together along the way to face the unexpected: a death, a scandal, and a secret revealed. None of these pilgrims will be as affected as Cora Blake, who has lived almost her entire life in a small fishing village off the coast of Maine, caring for her late sister’s three daughters, hoping to fill the void left by the death of her son, Sammy, who was killed on a scouting mission during the final days of the war. Cora believes she is managing as well as can be expected in the midst of the Depression, but nothing has prepared her for what lies ahead on this unpredictable journey, including an extraordinary encounter with an expatriate American journalist, Griffin Reed, who was wounded in the trenches and hides behind a metal mask, one of hundreds of “tin noses” who became symbols of the war.

Gosford Park
Of course, before Julian Fellowes created Downton Abbey he wrote the script for the film Gosford Park. Intrigue during an old fashioned country house shooting party absorbs characters  above stairs and below.

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