Deborah Cadbury’s Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages That Shaped Europe (2017)

victoria matchmaking

If you enjoy PBS as much as I do, chances are you’re also spending your Sunday nights watching Victoria. Even if you’re not following the show, if you like historical nonfiction with a hefty dose of fascinating interpersonal relationships, have I got a book for you! Not your typical Valentine’s Day read but full of romance nonetheless.

Deborah Cadbury transitioned to writing historical nonfiction after a long career as a BBC producer. Quite a few of her books have focused on royalty, though this one has a much broader focus and grander ambition.

At its heart is Queen Victoria in her later years and the various schemes she and her extended family concocted to marry off her grandchildren. Her overarching goal was one of balancing power and ensuring peace in Europe, and she firmly believed that marital alliances between her grandchildren scattered across the continent and their respective royal houses was the key to achieving this ambition. However, her interests were not entirely mercenary, as she also plotted to pair up those whom she felt were the most well-suited for each other. But as the old saying about the “best-laid plans of mice and men” acknowledges, nothing actually went according to plan. . . .

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E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952)

Charlotte's Web

Wilbur is a sweet pig with a big problem. He’s, well, a pig. And no matter how delightful of a friend he is to young Fern, the young girl who saves him from a tragic early end, or Charlotte, the spider who lives in the barn, he’s still going to end up as Christmas dinner. That is, unless Charlotte can think of a way to save him. . . .

Confession: I’ve never read this book until now. Yes, I know that makes me a weirdo–who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web?, you may ask. Well, me, that’s who. However, since it was the winner of the Great Berryville Read and is now officially our town’s favorite book, I decided to remedy my ignorance. And I’m glad I did.

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Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938)

rebecca

Asking people about which book they’d select for the Great American Read has been an fascinating exercise in armchair psychology this past few months–at least for me. Some folks have an immediate answer while others take some real time thinking it through.

Put me down as one in the thinking category. I couldn’t even pick 1! I finally narrowed my picks down to 3, but that was only after coming up with some perimeters to consider and pondering whether or not it should reflect personal favorites or some grand statement about the best/most influential American novel and resonant themes in American literature. (Gotta put that English degree to work every now and then.)

But, truth be told, if I were just picking one book solely on personal enjoyment, it would probably have to be Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

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Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

At the Berryville Library this summer, we’re all busy reading the books on the Great American Read list and pondering which ones we’ll vote for in the Great Berryville Read. When I mentioned the Great American Read to my friend and one of my former English professors Elise Bishop, she mentioned really enjoying A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Well, that was one I hadn’t read, so I was determined to make it one of my selections. I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it! (Thanks again for the great suggestion, Mrs. B!)

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Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove

lonesome-dove

We’ve been chatting a lot about our “first favorites” for the Great American Read and Great Berryville Read. Those are the first books on the list of 100 books that jump out at you as automatic favorites.

I had 3 instant picks, and the one I have been leaning toward the most is Larry McMurtry’s modern classic Western Lonesome Dove. I’ve discussed my love of Westerns before, but I really don’t think you can get much better than this one. (As far as Westerns go, the only thing that I think ties with it is possibly Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, another personal favorite. But it didn’t make the list!)

Trying to summarize the plot doesn’t do this novel, which is rich in characters and themes, justice. But at its heart, it’s the story of two former Texas Rangers, bored and burnt out with retired life, setting off on a cattle drive from South Texas to Montana. Along the way, they encounter psychopathic killers, stampedes, storms, snakes, sorrow, and more.

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Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

Growing up in the Great Depression in a houseboat on the Mississippi River isn’t easy, but Rill Foss and her siblings know no other life. And despite the hardships, the life they do have with their parents and each other is exciting, loving, and even magical, at least to hear her father’s stories. That life comes to a grinding halt when the siblings are abruptly separated from their parents and sent to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. At the time, the orphanage was seen as a place for wealthy, prominent couples to acquire orphans from “good” backgrounds. But it’s now well-known as a nightmarish place that kidnapped poor children and adopted them out.

Interwoven with the story of the Foss family is that of Avery Stafford, a contemporary woman from a prominent South Carolina political family. Despite her ostensibly happy life as a successful prosecutor with a promising political future, she is troubled by the poor health of her beloved father and grandmother and her own uncertainty about her future. A chance meeting at a photo op in a nursing home unnerves her, piques her curiosity, and leads her onto a collision course with the Foss family’s tale. . . .

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Larry Campbell’s Rollin’ Down The River (2017)

Rollin Down the River

For two months in 2016, Larry Campbell conducted an epic solo road trip, following the Missouri River from Montana down through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. And in this gorgeous coffee table book, you can follow along, as he recounts the places and faces he met along the way.

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