Audie Award Nominee, Biography and Memoir, 2013
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration and setting for Julian Fellowes's Emmy Award-winning PBS series, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants: Lady Almina, the fifth Countess of Carnarvon.
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 Cora Crawley, 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.
As a fan of the "Downton Abbey" series, I picked this selection on a complete, total lark. I expected it to be lightweight, fun, and not much more than a marketing exploitation based on the new fame of the series. Instead I found a completely interesting story of lives, society and a time, enveloped and transformed not only by the tragedy of WWI, but also by the discovery of King Tut's tomb. Not only well done and interesting, but the narrator, Wanda McCaddon. is fabulous and completely appropriate to the story. Really enjoyed this.
19 of 19 people found this review helpful
This is not exactly Downton Abbey fan fiction -- it has more substance than that. But in the intro the author rightly states that she's not writing history, biography or a novel --it's sort of a combo of all those genres - and as much about the estate as the Countess. It wouldn't succeed as strictly bio, novel or history, but take the listen for what it is-- splendid background to late Victoriana transitioning to Edwardian and beyond. I think it would be really useful listening for fans of historical fiction or period novels who might not "get" some of the references to the times when they made obliquely. I enjoyed the social history portrait for itself, understanding that it's not a critical look at the people or times depicted.
McCaddon delivers this with all the formal Brit-ness the listen deserves, and since she (or any of her audio alter egos) seems to be the kind narrator that reviewers either love or hate, listen carefully to the sample if you are unfamiliar with her.
25 of 26 people found this review helpful
Where does Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
Very high....love the history, and after seeing Downton Abbey on PBS, goodness, it really brings the book to life! By the way, I have watched Downton Abbey, both seasons, twice on Amazon Prime...in HD.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey?
I haven't listened to it the second time, so that is up to the reader...can't answer that one.
Any additional comments?
Get it, if you are a fan of the PBS show, listen to this...it is pure fun!
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
If you could sum up Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey in three words, what would they be?
Energetic, Opulent .Fairytale
What other book might you compare Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey to and why?
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson I loved this book when I first read it in 2005, because it involved an historical event - the Columbia Exposition in Chicago in 1892 and 1893 - and was based on the inspiration of real people who planned and executed the Fair that many felt was not possible. I kept having to remind myself that there weren't cell phones, fax machines, air travel, and mass communication. The task was enormous and the task was completed. In the background there was a psychotic killer who was systematically killing innocents, unnoticed by the general public. It held my interest throughout the book as did "Lady Almina".
Have you listened to any of Wanda McCaddon’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
I have heard her before (though I can't recall which book it was), but felt that this was very well done. It had to be read by someone with an impeccable British accent.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
Three moments: 1) the death of Almina's father, Alfred 2) The death of Almina's husband and 3) the discovery of King Tut's tomb and all that resulted from that event.
Any additional comments?
The book surpassed my expectations and I'll recommend it to many who ask if I've read a good book recently.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Is there anything you would change about this book?
Yes! I would like to see more focused research about Lady Almina's life rather than listen to lists of who was at dinner, what was served and who wore what.
Which character – as performed by Wanda McCaddon – was your favorite?
I liked the son's adventures the best.
If this book were a movie would you go see it?
Any additional comments?
Based on the comments of other readers, I was excited about reading this book. I listened to the audible version and I must say that, while interesting, it didn't engage me as I thought it would. Yes, it tells the story of the countess of Highclere Castle, the site of Downton Abbey; and, yes, Lady Almina lived a very compelling life, especially in her years as a nurse during World War I. But I was immediately wary when the Introduction states that this is not a biography nor is it a history. So, then, what is it? Much of the book (especially the early chapters) are lists culled from guest books and photographs. Who came to dinner. What did Almina wear on her wedding day? Who were her bridesmaids. Where did they have their wedding reception and what was served? Frankly, this was not particularly compelling to me.
The book gets more interesting when journalistic records of the time improve and we learn more about Lord Carnarvon's many trips to Egypt and his discovery of King Tut's tomb.
This is rich material but because of the lack of sufficient research, it lacks a deep exploration of the key relationships in Lady Almina's life. After all, relationships form the foundation of the engaging Downton Abbey...that's what keeps us involved in the show...and that's what is missing here.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
I would recommend it to my friends. It gives you a real feeling on how people lived and what they went through before and during WWI. Most people aren't as rich as this family but she talks about the common people and the servants that worked at the castle. I really enjoyed this book.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Lady Almina was my favorite character. She had everything, beauty, wealth, love and yet she opened a hospital in her home for the wounded soldiers and sailors of the war. she didn't open the hospital but worked in the hospital. Amazing woman.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
I am not a Downton Abbey fan. Yet. I don't have a TV. Netflix has just sent the first DVD! My people are English going way back, and I enjoyed all the Upstairs, Downstairs PBS shows plus Victorian literature. This book is like a puzzle piece offering new insights to a lifetime of study and experience. So in this book we get a description of how a great house was run, how the British people coped with WWI, and then the opening of the tomb in Egypt! The effort, energy and organization is phenomenal! American lowlife media would suggest that rich people are all rotten and undeserving. Not by a long shot! Having served in the military myself, as an officer, I noticed that Lady Almina opened her home to OFFICERS, i.e., the really nice men, her kind of people. Probably those pretty rooms would have been wasted on hayseeds. As for the Egyptian story, I attended the Tut exhibition in San Francisco and read the names of the men who opened the tomb. This story tells so much of their long pursuit of the subject, effort to bring in real experts, though they had studied much, themselves.
I would have enjoyed hearing more about the laundry, the clothes, keeping track of everything. Also more about Lady Almina's clothes, who designed them, who sewed them, England's early fashion industry. The book really disappoints some of us in that area.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
While this clearly isn't world-changing literature, it certainly was an enjoyable read for this Downton Abbey fan. Lady Almina's story is an interesting one, and her lasting legacy on Highclere Castle an important one.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
The story of the real Lord and Lady of the manor is as fascinating as the fictional Downton - and I am a Downton fan. I had no idea the real occupants of Highclere Castle were so fascinating. For anyone with a sincere interest in the period, this is a must.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I was a bit disappointed I this book's apparent lack of research...using phrases such as "perhaps she would have..." or "one could assume...." just rather put me off. I liked the character descriptions, the way the clothes were described etc. The narrator read well and was a pleasant storyteller, but that's what it felt like...being told a story, more like gossip or supposition, than a well researched historical account.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful