Friday Book Whimsy: The Mitford Murders

The author of The Mitford Murders – Jessica Fellowes — is the niece of Julian Fellowes. She has co-authored several Downton Abbey companion books alongside her uncle. So it is not surprising that the novel – which I think is her first crack at fiction – has quite a feel of Downton Abbey to it. That, of course, is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s what prompted this reader to pick up the book.

The story is based on a real-life event – the actual murder of Florence Nightingale Shore, the goddaughter of famous nurse Florence Nightingale. The murder, which took place during the middle of the day on a train in 1920, was never solved in real life. Fellowes takes a stab at solving the mystery via her fictional protagonist Louise Cannon.

Louise is on the run from her wicked uncle who has promised great harm to Louise and/or her mother should she not continue to steal for him. She takes a job as a nanny to the Mitford children. Continuing with the combination of fiction and nonfiction, the Mitfords were a real-life and controversial British family known for their style and their politics. In this novel, Louise happens to ride on the train on which the murder takes place. Her connections to the Mitford family – and particularly her relationship with Nancy Mitford – keeps her connected to the murder case, which is being worked on by two young police detectives.

The book promises to be the first in a series that will feature Louise Cannon and one of the police officers, who develop a romantic connection.

The story had a fun upstairs/downstairs feel to it, though some of the characters and situations were a bit predictable. Fellowes’ writing could have a bit more literary drive to it. I found that I wasn’t particularly compelled to pick up the novel once I had put it down. The best thing about the book is that it is a so-called locked room mystery, something I always find fun and challenging.

I think there is hope for the series with a bit of character development and creativity.

It is a book that fans of Downton Abbey and other upstairs/downstairs novels might enjoy. Very light reading.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: Belgravia

searchPeople who, like me, are still mourning the loss of our Sunday evenings with the Crawley family – Lord and Lady Grantham, the unpredictable Lady Mary and her sisters, the irascible yet loveable dowager countess, and the always loyal downstairs staff – take heart. Downton Abbey’s creator Julian Fellowes has written a book just for the likes of us.

Belgravia’s story begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The Duchess of Richmond holds a ball that is famous for decades as the highlight of social elegance. In addition to the standard social set, the duchess invited several newly-rich industrialists, shocking many of the aristocrats. A romance that is set in place at this ball between the son of an aristocrat and the daughter of a wealthy but not aristocratic working class man and woman sets off a string of intrigue, romance, scandal, and family secrets that would make Dowager Lady Grantham blush.

Fast forward to the 1840s, when secrets are revealed that set the story into play. Much like Downton Abbey, Belgravia has both the upstairs and the downstairs drama. The story, while admittedly predictable, is still fun and dramatic and a fascinating look at the mores of the the early- to mid-19th Century, when the Industrial Age was making common people wealthy.

Belgravia won’t win any literary awards. Fellowes’ novel reads more like a screenplay than a novel. But the characters are interesting and it’s fun to get a peek into their world, and the world around them. Unlike the Downton Abbey downstairs staff, the maids and cooks and butlers are not so good and open to corruption if the price is right. Lots of dastardly deeds.

A fun read for fans of Downton Abbey.

Here is link to the book.  


Friday Book Whimsy: The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

imagesI love to read and hear about how the other half live. I think this is why I am so intrigued with the British Monarchy and why Downton Abbey so thoroughly captured my interest. So when I came across the opportunity to read about life inside the White House – not the politics but the real-life stories about the people who have lived there – well, my interest was immediately piqued.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House, penned by Kate Brower Andersen, gives readers a glimpse of what life is like within the so-called people’s house. The stories come from the mouths of those who know the house the best – the staff, many of whom have worked there for an extremely long time.

Brower covered the White House for Bloomberg News, so she had a bit of a leg up when it came to access to White House personnel. But she clearly did a lot of research because the people with whom she spoke went as far back as the Kennedy years.

Historically, White House staff are very closed-mouthed about what goes on inside those four walls (well, it is actually about 55,000 square feet in size, which includes 132 rooms, 3 kitchens, and 35 bathrooms). And there are certainly no state secrets spilled in this book. The author says time and time again that the people who work at the White House are loyal and reluctant to talk about the families who reside there.

Still, the reader gets some glimpses into more of a real-life image of these people who appear to us to be bigger than life. I can’t say that I learned anything astounding, but I did get a picture of the atmosphere in the White House during each of the individual administrations.

Clearly, the winners were George H.W. and Barbara Bush, and the loser, well, I won’t give it up.

If you like Downton Abbey, you might enjoy reading about our very own Downton Abbey at 1600 Pennsylvania in Washington, D.C.

Here is a link to the book.


Goodbye M’ Lord and M’ Lady

0922_FL-downton-abbey_2000x1125-1940x1091Last night I sat in front of the television for nearly two hours watching the final episode of Downton Abbey. It’s true. I will no longer be able to watch Lord Grantham as he struggles to figure out how to navigate the 20th Century, which carries with it things like hair dryers and women having lives beyond their families and being stuffed and tied into corsets. Lady Grantham’s tilted head and unending smile will no longer be there to take the edge off my day. The Crawley sisters’ bickering won’t be reminding me that sibling rivalries aren’t just a thing of the 21st Century. And Lady Violet. Oh, how I will miss Lady Violet.

Ever since the very first time I heard those bells tingle in the show’s opening sequence six years ago, my life was changed in a small way. And I’m not sure why. It was like entering into a dream.

I never yearned to be one of the Crawleys. I would have gotten lost in that gigantic home. Heavens knows I can’t even imagine having to wear formal wear EVERY SINGLE NIGHT to dinner. Life in the late 19th and early 20th Century was no piece of cake, even for families like the one in Downton.

Still, I enjoyed watching the show. There will be a hole in my Sunday nights that won’t be easily filled. Between the ending of football season and the series finale of Downton Abbey, I might have to take up embroidery.

It is no exaggeration to say that I cried throughout the entire episode last night. Seriously, from the beginning until the end. The fact that I was having to say goodbye to the Crawleys was no small part of the reason I cried. But Julian Fellowes (the series’ creator and writer) simply handed me a finale that was so flipping satisfying in every way.

I recognize, of course, that real life doesn’t always wrap up so conveniently and satisfactorily in 90 minutes as did the life in that little town in York. But I think that is why I found the show so incredibly addicting. It was nice to have drama and comedy and angst and family rivalries for six weeks in the middle of winter wrapped in such a beautiful package.

Because Downton Abbey was nothing if not beautiful. The clothes were lovely. The house was unimaginably beautiful. The manners, the British accents, the scenery – all made for astoundingly beautiful visuals.

For the most part, the characters were kind and smart. In the first season, I kept waiting for the wealthy Crawley family to be evil and greedy. That’s Hollywood’s typical depiction of the rich and powerful.  But no; instead, they were serious about trying to make a good life for the people for whom Lord Grantham was responsible. Not just his staff, but the people of the village.

The staff downstairs had their own interesting characters, story lines, saints and devils. I enjoyed getting a glimpse each week into what went on in the way of providing service for a family in a house the size of a small village. It was fun to root for the good guys and boo for the bad guys.

At the end of the day, I have enjoyed watching this beautiful program for the past six seasons, and am sad to say goodbye. But I feel like I’m leaving Downton and all the people there in good hands.

This post linked to the GRAND Social


When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is turn on my computer. As it goes through its gyrations to get to a point where I can open up my email, I walk around and open the blinds and get a pot of coffee perking.

I then go back to my computer and open up Comcast to check my email. It’s important that I look first thing in the morning in case the president tried to contact me to get my assistance in some matter. So far he hasn’t, but you never know.

But to get to email, I must go through Comcast’s home page, which is always full of critical news. The top 10 reasons you shouldn’t drink diet soda, the 20 most dog-friendly cities, why you shouldn’t use punctuation in your text messages. I mean, really. The important stuff.

The other day the news that caught my eye was the television programs that are ending their runs in 2016. Now that was worth making the president wait another few minutes if he was trying to reach me.

I was aware of several of the television shows wrapping up their television time. There is, of course, Downton Abbey. Season 6 will be the end of the road for Lord and Lady Grantham and their minions. I’m hoping Edith will move to London, run her magazine and marry the agent (and can anyone tell me what an agent is?). I also have high hopes that the return of Tom and Sibby means Mary and Tom are going to wind up together. It seems like the only reason Tom and Sibby would have left Boston to return to Downton and Sibby and George should be brother and sisters. It simply has to happen.

Unless you live on Mars, you must be aware that American Idol is in its final season. I’m a devoted fan, but I think it’s time to say bye bye to the show. It’s been fun to watch all of the judges through the years. Ellen DeGeneres was a bad experiment much as I like her. Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey? Who thought that was a good idea? I like the chemistry of the current judges, but the show has just gotten kind of predictable and unexciting. And Bill is disappointed over the fact that they don’t show the bad tryouts anymore.

searchMost of the rest of the 16 shows ending their runs I had never heard of. Banshee? Rectify? I have no clue. There was one show that I wasn’t aware was concluding of which I watch and was somewhat disappointed to hear they were ending – Rizzoli and Isles. The show happens to be the television show that delivers TNT its highest ratings, but apparently that isn’t enough to save it. According to the story, TNT is hoping to go in an “edgier direction.” I don’t know what that means except I’m pretty sure it will entail comic-book-based superheroes, vampires, or slutty female lawyers. I’m also pretty sure I’m not the demographic for the edgier programs they envision. That statement can be confirmed by the fact that I used the word “perking” when talking about making coffee in the first paragraph. Coffee hasn’t perked in 40 years.

Television producers likely spend lots and lots of money before deciding what programs should stay and what programs should go. They, of course, don’t ask for my opinion. Neither, frankly, does the president. It’s probably a good thing too.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that anyone of any age would be hard pressed to not laugh at Lucy Ricardo doing the commercial spot for Vitameatavegamin in one episode of I Love Lucy. It’s not edgy, but it sure is funny. Those were the good ol’ days of television.

Fire the Underbutler

Housons 2015

Bill, Bec, Jen and I enjoyed our annual New Year’s Eve LUNCH at Houston’s in Scottsdale. We were sound asleep at midnight.

The first Monday after New Year’s Day is always a combination of a letdown and a great relief. I’m sure many of you are like me, that is, beginning somewhere around Thanksgiving you enjoy an extravaganza of eating, drinking, shopping, and partying that is like no other time of the year. I swear that since December 24, I have eaten every iteration of beef imaginable. My colon is going to seize.

Like many others, I woke up yesterday morning determined to start anew. I went to Walmart fixing to purchase nothing but healthy items so that I could cook wonderful and nutritious meals for Bill and me.  I, of course, was not the only one who had decided to stock up their larder after the holidays, particularly here in the Valley of the Sun with the return of the winter visitors. I’m pretty sure I say this every year: Do my larder stocking during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Someday I will actually remember this.

Nevertheless, things went pretty well Walmart-wise, until I tried to pay for my groceries. As you are all probably aware, stores everywhere are in the process of changing their credit card machines over to ones that accept the new chipped credit cards, which mine is. Many more stores are ready to go here in Arizona than they are in Denver. In Denver the only store I have found ready to go is my little neighborhood liquor store, which is owned by a friendly husband and wife who apparently are smarter than King Soopers when it comes to installing the new technology.

Anyhoo, after the cashier rang up all of my groceries, she gave me the total. Once I got over the shock of how much she said I owe, I stuck my card into the card reader and it proceeded to tell me my chip was damaged. Now, that was a possibility of course. However, minutes before, the chip had NOT been damaged at Target. But, things happen and perhaps it had gotten damaged while riding in the car in my purse in the front seat. You never know. The cashier, however, told me that her particular Walmart store had been having technical troubles the past couple of days with their little credit card machines. (Perhaps they should contact my Denver liquor store owners.) She kept trying, and the people behind me in line kept getting more and more impatient. As for me, I kept telling her, “Never mind, I have another card I can use.”

Finally, she reluctantly agreed to let me use my second credit card. However, you guessed it. It, too, wouldn’t go through. “We’re having lots of trouble with our little machines,” she told me once again. By this time the line behind me was becoming just short of belligerent. A riot was about to ensue. The seniors were revving up their electric carts.

“I have one last option,” I told her. (Golf clapping from the masses behind me.) “I have a debit card.”

Well, I’m happy to tell you that my debit card worked and a riot was forestalled. Remember the olden days when we used, uh, cash? Something that mostly doesn’t exist in my wallet.

This, by the way, was not a problem faced by Lord and Lady Grantham Sunday night in the Season 6 premiere of Downton Abbey. Financial issues, yes. A possible need to fire the underbutler was the greatest crisis Robert and Cora are facing following the season premiere. There is a promise of much greater drama, however. I won’t say any more at this time as I’m not wont to be a spoiler. (See, sitting down and watching one episode makes me say things like “not wont.”) The only thing I will say is, oh Anna. You’re beginning to get on my very last nerve.

With her bad luck, her credit card wouldn’t go through at Walmart either. Although it would undoubtedly be Mrs. Patmore who would be sent to stock up the larder. And she would actually call it a larder, as well. Oh no! I’m starting to speak in Downton Abbeyese.  I may have to speak to Bill about firing the underbutler. Oh, wait. He is the underbutler.

Thursday Thoughts

Thinking Outside the Bun, Again
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about our disappointing visit to Taco Bell, I want to tell you that I sent a comment to the head honchos (why, that sounds like something that would be served at Taco Bell!)  at Taco Bell Corporation. It felt mean to blast them in my blog and not let anyone know that they have a rogue store. I assure you I’m not trying to get a free Dorito-flavored taco out of them. I wonder if I will hear something from them, however.

The Sleepover
We had made plans for Kaiya and Mylee to have a sleepover last week, but something came up and it didn’t work out. Instead, the two girls came over Monday and spent the night. Sometime late Monday morning, Maggie Faith telephoned me and asked if she, too, could spend the night. Why not, I thought. They can keep each other busy. Well, let me tell you, the three of them had the best time. Especially Maggie and Kaiya, who are the same age. Mylee is a bit of a happy loner, though she will wander in and out of games. Maggie and Kaiya shared a room, Kaiya sleeping with her head at the head of the bed and Maggie sleeping with her head at the foot of the bed. It didn’t look terribly comfortable, but they were happy. When Mylee woke up Tuesday morning, the first words out of her mouth were, “Nana, I’m having the best time I’ve ever had.”

Take Me to the Movies
As part of their treat, I took Kaiya and Mylee to see Inside Out, the new Pixar movie. I enjoyed it very much, and the girls enjoyed it too. I thought the theme might be a bit vague for them, but they loved every minute. For my part, I was heartily impressed, as always, at the animation. What astounded me was that the characters actually resembled the actors who provided their voices. Such creativity. It is so nice that kids’ movies now are also enjoyable for the adults. Man, that wasn’t the case when Court was young. I sat through many a Smurf or Transformer movie that was just dismal. I love that movies today have lines that are funny for the adults and not offensive for the kids. Five stars for Inside Out. Borrow a grandkid, niece, nephew, or neighbor kid.

More Movies
Bill and I went to see a movie as part of our anniversary extravaganza. We saw Spy, with Melissa McCarthy. It was hysterically funny, if equally off-color. We loved it. We went to a movie theater that had reclining seats. I was afraid either Bill or I would fall asleep, but we managed to stay awake. Can you imagine? Reclining seats. What will they think of next?


See? Smirking.

Scullery Maid
Our new dishwasher was delivered earlier this week, and Bill’s installation was going to be a piece of cake. Except that it wasn’t. The wiring was screwy, (sometime soon I’m going to write a blog post about home building practices in homes built in the 1970s) requiring the need for an electrician, who finally appeared late yesterday. I guess it was too much to ask that they drop all their existing orders to rush to our house to work on ours. Until the dishwasher is installed, Bill has had to shut off our water in the kitchen. So, in the meantime, we are carrying our dirty dishes into the laundry room and washing them there. By hand. Like Daisy in Downton Abbey before she got her edukashun. In the meantime, my lovely new dishwasher sits in the kitchen smirking at me.


What it felt like….

Stormy Weather
Yesterday afternoon at 4 o’clock, I rode my scooter to the grocery store to pick up food to grill. There were a few rain clouds off in the distance. At 4:30, Bill and I were sitting out on our patio watching the birds at their feeder. At 5 o’clock, dark clouds began to form like a film that is on high-speed. At 5:10, my telephone began beeping that there was a tornado WARNING in our area and telling us to take shelter immediately. I’m not exaggerating. It was that quick. Of course, instead of rushing downstairs, Bill began working

What it actually looked like...

What it actually looked like…

underneath the sink, trying to get the water turned back on. I texted my loved ones: Are you safe? Dave, Jll, and the kids were safe and sound in their basement. Court, on the other hand, responded to my text saying Yes, why, is something wrong? All was normal in my world.



Friday Book Whimsy: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman

imgresThink Downton Abbey with a big dash of Miss Marple, and you will begin to get a flavor of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, a debut novel by Tessa Arlen. Fans of Downton Abbey will heartily enjoy Arlen’s story featuring a look at the upstairs/downstairs phenomenon in pre-World War II England.

Lord and Lady Monfort are hosting their annual summer ball at their estate, Iyontwood. Both the upstairs privileged class and the downstairs servants have been involved in the preparations. Unfortunately, the ball concludes with the disappearance of a young house maid and the daughter of one of Lord and Lady Montfort’s close friends (who had attended the ball), as well as the gruesome murder of a particularly distasteful character, the nephew of Lord Montfort. Are the matters related? The search for the young girls and the killer ensues.

Lady Monfort sees immediately that her beloved son is going to quickly become the prime suspect. So she asks for the help of Iyontwood’s pragmatic housekeeper Mrs. Jackson (Downton fans, think Mrs. Hughes). Together, the two of them work to find the real killer using their skills and individual connections.  Since almost everyone at the ball seems to have a good reason for wanting the despicable character dead, the solution isn’t readily apparent.

In addition to being a pretty darn good murder mystery, the novel presents a clear picture of the crumbling of the peerage system beginning shortly after World War I. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed the novel as much were I not such a big fan of Downton Abbey. I definitely understood the upstairs/downstairs relationships better than I would have pre-Downton Abbey.

Arlen lays out the mystery very subtly and effectively. She leaves clues all along the way, so readers must pay attention. I did not solve the mystery and was surprised at the solution.

Since this is a debut novel, I’m not sure whether this will become a series. I rather hope so, because I was very fond of the characters and would like to meet them again. I think I can definitely count on more offerings from this writer, and I look forward to reading them in the future.

Buy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman from Amazon here.

Buy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman from Barnes and Noble here.

Buy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman from Tattered Cover here.

Buy Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman from Changing Hands here.