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Downton Abbey-themed reads

The fourth season of PBS hit Downton Abbey has sparked an interest in Edwardian and 1920s era novels.
The fourth season of PBS hit Downton Abbey has sparked an interest in Edwardian and 1920s era novels.
Photos courtesy of respective publishers

Now that season four has premiered, us Americans are finally able to catch up with our beloved friends at Downton Abbey. If you’re feeling inspired by the show, or just can’t wait until next Sunday, check out some books to give you a Downton-esque fix.

“While We Were Watching Downton Abbey” by Wendy Wax: This charming novel follows the residents of The Alexander, an upscale Atlanta condo building, and what happens when they start watching PBS. Edward, the proper English concierge, starts holding screenings of Downton to bring The Alexander's residents together, and in the process three very different women build friendships they never expected. Each woman is facing her own struggles, whether it's writer's block, empty nest syndrome, parasitic siblings, single motherhood or a struggling marriage. What they learn is that even the most privileged women have real problems, and the secrets you learn whilst serving others are juicier than you imagine.

“Rutherford Park” by Elizabeth Cooke: It’s 1913, and Octavia Cavendish feels trapped and bored with her posh life in the Yorkshire countryside. When she catches her husband in a compromising position, her world shatters … and when a handsome American historian comes to stay at the house, it confuses her even more. With Rutherford Park’s heir chasing crazy dreams of flying aeroplanes, Europe on the brink of World War I and the suspicious death of a maid, the house faces its share of drama in this historical fiction tale that feels much like the world of the Crawleys. A sequel, "The Wild Dark Flowers," is set for July.

“Summerset Abbey” by T.J. Brown: This series features three books about the Buxton family: “Summerset Abbey,” “A Bloom in Winter,” and “Spring Awakening.” When their father dies, Rowena, Victoria and their adopted sister, Prudence, are taken in by an uncle to live at the family estate, Summerset Abbey. But because of her commoner background, their uncle forces Prudence to take a place as lady’s maid to the other girls. Family scandals, confusing romances, women’s suffrage, and the impending war make these entertaining reads.

“Ashenden” by Elizabeth Wilhide: The story starts with a modern-day brother and sister who’ve just learned that they inherited an aunt’s crumbling 18th-century English estate, then moves throughout the centuries to tell the story of the stately house and its inhabitants, both upstairs and downstairs. Whether it’s the building’s construction in the 1700s, the prisoners held there during the second World War or the new owners’ struggles about whether to sell a piece of their family history that draws you in, “Ashenden” is a sweeping and worthwhile novel.

Nonfiction companions:

“Behind the Scenes at Downton Abbey” by Emma Rowley and Gareth Neame: This gorgeous coffee table book includes plenty of photographs and insider information about the stars, production and background of the show, including a look at Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed. Fashion fans will love a detailed look at the costumes, history buffs can read about how they source the vintage props, and foodies get to see how the real dishes are made for the show. This volume covers the first four seasons (including spoilers), so you might not want to take a look if you’re still catching up on past episodes.

“Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle” and “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey” by The Countess of Carnarvon: In “Lady Almina,” the current Lady Carnarvon (who lives in Highclere Castle) has used the castle’s archives to paint an intriguing picture of Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon. From Queen Victoria's funeral to World War I through her husband's discovery of King Tut's tomb, Almina saw many significant events in her life. Much like the in the show, Highclere Castle's doors were opened to the wounded during the war (Almina even helped nurse soldiers), and her family money, similar to Cora’s, was extremely important to keep the estate from financial ruin.

In the follow up book, we learn about Lady Almina’s daughter-in-law, Catherine, an American debutante. Her time at the castle starts in 1923 when Catherine and her husband, Porchey, inherit Highclere's titles after the 5th earl's death, and ends in 1936 after Porchey's infidelity and their subsequent divorce. Later, the book covers Porchey and Catherine's remarriages and the impact of World War II on the castle, when it became a home for evacuated children.

“Servants Hall” by Margaret Powell: If you’ve ever wished to read Daisy, Ivy or Anna’s diary, this book is for you. In her memoir, the late Powell, a former kitchen maid and cook in fine houses, tells about a beautiful maid who caused scandal by eloping with the wealthy Wardham family’s only son (very Lady Sybil and Branson). Loads of period details about the lives of English servants make this a fascinating read.

Win a copy of Wendy Wax’s “While We Were Watching Downton Abbey” by heading to Facebook and completing the Rafflecopter giveaway form. A winner will be chosen on Monday, January 13. Good luck!

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