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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-01-18 20:32
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle - Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon

My husband bought me the two Highclere Castle books written by the current Countess of Carnarvon for Christmas because I am a fan of the TV show Downton Abbey. Being a fan of the show and with this book being set overlapping the same time period as the show, I expected an interesting and similar portrayal of the era. This expectation did not disappoint (the chapters on World War I were particularly interesting).


Lady Almina is cast in a perfect glow of selflessness, kindness and generosity when it comes to those around her but the book seems to skip over her selfish demeanor with money as she spends through her father's cash like there is no tomorrow and then after his death sells two paintings against his wishes. After the support he had shown her throughout her life, the least she could have done was hang on to two paintings that he specifically wished to not be sold. Another point that makes it difficult to connect with Lady Almina is her inattention and seemingly indifference of her children as they grew up. While I'm sure this was common practice for women of her stature to have a nanny raise her children, Lady Almina seemed much more interested in her father's money and being the perfect hostess of her exquisite house parties than the lives of her children. 


Lady Almina spends much of her time and talents nursing wounded soldiers during World War I and her family back to health when illness or injury befalls them. While this is very admirable and caring, it is of great note how often both her husbands and even her son fall ill while in her presence. The book notes the many times that her first husband, the 5th Earl of Canarvon, falls ill and must be nursed back to health by Almina. When she marries her second husband, it is noted that he also falls ill constantly and must be nursed back to health by Almina. When her son returns from World War I, he almost immediately falls ill with appendicitis; the same ailment his father had suffered from shortly before. Maybe I am looking into these statements too much and with the era and medical treatment of the time were what caused so many of those men closest to her to fall ill. I find it strange though.


Overall, I liked the book very much and found it interesting and, at times, riveting. While there are some issues I found with the writing style, vocabulary and with the flow of the book (one minute Lord Canavon would be in London, the next in Egypt and shortly afterwards back at Highclere with no explanation of when and how this occurred. One can only assume that a jump in time was made with no explanation), I chalk this up to the differences in British writing and American writing and can place no fault on this.  


With this said, I would still recommend this to any fan of Downton Abbey.

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