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2016 TBR Pile Challenge: Matriarch

We’re getting pretty close to the end of the year! Which means holidays, darker days, lots of eating scheduled, and that I’m running out of time to complete the Unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge.

I’m not quite throwing in the towel, but I’m starting to resign myself to the fact that it might not happen this year.

But the year isn’t quite over, so I dug into Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards.

So Queen Mary was the real deal. She was born a Princess, but was one of those impoverished relatives who spent her youth putting off creditors and relying on other, more well-off relatives for extended visits.

queen-mary

At some point, Queen Victoria decided that lovely, clever, dignified Princess May (she was born Victoria Mary Augusta Louisa Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes but was called May after the month of her birth) would be the perfect wife for second-heir Prince Eddy (eldest son of heir Bertie, who would become King Edward VII). But then Eddy had to go and die (he was an odd duck, a possible homosexual and rumoured to have been Jack the Ripper) and after a suitable period of mourning, her “affections” were transferred to Prince Eddy’s younger brother, Prince George (who would go on to become King George V).

Here’s the number one thing I learned about Queen Mary: she believed in the power of Monarchy. She was dignified, a core of strength for her family during some dark days and she revered the position of Monarch.

“Queen Mary had lived her life with dedication to the principle of Monarchy, and she died as she had lived, as her Sovereign’s most devoted subject.”

Seriously – Queen Mary is the reason Queen Elizabeth II is as dedicated as she is. She was the role model for duty before everything else. Also, early pictures of Princess May show a remarkable resemblance to QEII, and now to Princess Charlotte.

She wasn’t a warm mother and most of her children had a distant relationship with her. But everyone agrees that in any capacity (as Princess May, Princess of Wales, Queen Consort or Queen Mother) she was always the very personification of dignity. She loved to dress well and because of her incredibly regal bearing, she was able to wear an insane amount of jewels (ropes of pearls, diamond necklaces stacked all up her neck, tiaras, jewelled stomachers, bracelets, rings and any number of jewel encrusted orders) and look just right.

Queen Mary’s life covered an incredible amount of history: born in the Victorian era, she lived through the reigns of Edward VII, George V, Edward VIII and George VI. She died just before the coronation of her granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II.

And while Anne Edwards’ book is very thorough and clearly well researched, the whole time I couldn’t help but think “but this is Queen Mary’s book.”

A lot of this book looks at the reigns and troubles of the men in her life: her father-in-law, husband and later, her sons. And while there’s no way to tell Queen Mary’s story without also talking about the wars, relationships with various Royal relatives (she never got over the fact that they weren’t able to save their cousin Tsar Nicholas II and his family), and her son’s Abdication, their stories aren’t hers. I found myself frustrated  by all the time spent talking about the education of her sons , their loves and travels.

I wanted Queen Mary only.

That said, I’m glad to have finally read this book. It’d been on my list for ages.

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Royal Blood: A Royal Spyness Mystery

Yup, a Royal Spyness Mystery. Get it? Like a Royal Highness but its a mystery so she’s a Spyness?

I grabbed Rhys Bowen’s Royal Blood at the Library Sale a few weeks back. I liked the cover. This is a common failing of mine. Sometimes it works out, other times it doesn’t. This time, I think, it fell somewhere in between.

This is the 4th book in a series and it’s one of those times where the references to what’s come before creep in all over the place. Clearly to really enjoy this book, I should have read the three before. But I didn’t so I just tried not to pay too close attention to all the references to things that I’d missed.

Lady Georgiana Rannoch is 34th in line to the British throne, who’s family has fallen on hard times. They haven’t yet had to sell their family seat, Rannoch House in Scotland, but they’re not far off. So when Queen Mary (the story takes place in the early 1930s) wants to have lunch with Lady Georgiana (Georgie), curiosity and the promise of a free meal get the better of her and she goes. Turns out there is a wedding between the Prince of Bulgaria and the Princess of Romania and Queen Mary would like Georgie to represent the Royal Family. Evidently the bride is someone that Georgie went to school with and, although Georgie can’t remember any Princess friends, she is going to be a bridesmaid.

There’s the small matter of a lady’s maid – Georgie needs to bring her own but she doesn’t have one or the money to find one. She ends up finding one that is totally unfit and this is supposed to lead to all kinds of hilarity. She ends up on the train to Transylvania with a chaperone that is used to all kinds of adventure, being married to an ambassador in the Middle East.

By the time they get to the castle, which is predictably reminiscent of the seat of Count Dracula, you’re kind of hoping that the mystery part starts already. And still, it doesn’t. There are rounds of introductions to make, gowns to wear, and political situations to build up. The bride’s brother is the detestable Prince Siegfried who, I gather, Georgie was supposed to marry at some point to save her family’s fortunes and all that.

I love a good mystery and this is not a good mystery. It’s fun at times, the characters are good for a chuckle but I found myself completely distracted by the constant reminders that it was the 1930s. You know how sometimes you read a story in a different time and it’s perfectly obvious but never outrightly declared? And then there are those times when the story tries too hard to remind you about the fact that it’s a different time? This was the latter.

Despite all that, when I was able to sit for a while and read undisturbed, we finally started getting somewhere and I found myself enjoying it. Totally accidentally of course. But it isn’t one that I’m pining for now and I probably won’t try to track down any of the other books in the series.