Can't tell a Duchess from a dustman? A banger from a biscuit? With the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton saturating daily news reels, The King's Speech taking multiple top honors at the Academy Awards, and London preparing to be the world's center stage for the 2012 Olympics, it's time to make the land across the pond your cup of tea. Read this list, and when you hear "The British are coming!" you'll know you're ready.
by Kate Morton
The ingredients: A spooky castle in the English countryside. An eccentric old lady still mourning the lover she lost circa WWII. A modern-day protagonist you hope has the sense to not get killed by the crazy old lady still living in the creepy castle. Alternating between the 1940s and 1990s, The Distant Hours tells the story of three grown sisters living alone in the crumbling Middlehurst Castle. Edie, our heroine, discovers a long-lost letter nearly 50 years after her mother Meredith was evacuated to Middlehurst during WWII — and discovers the three sisters still living in the dilapidated castle. The result: as Edie starts unraveling this spooky mystery tinged with British history and modern British sensibilities, you dive into this book and won't come up for air until you know how it ends.
by Amanda Foreman
Drinking and drugs. Gambling. Ménage à trois. Front-page scandals. Is this a book about Charlie Sheen's latest tabloid escapades? Nope, this book's about an aristocratic 18th century gal with high social standing and a weakness for wayward behavior. Georgiana Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire, (a direct ancestor of Princess Diana) was BFFs with princes and political leaders and set fashion and beauty trends while living the high life '80s-style — 1780s, that is. She partied, drank and had affairs. She turned a blind eye to her husband, the Duke of Devonshire, and her best friend's frequent excursions in bed. She wasn't all naughty; her political influence was particularly impressive for a woman of her day. But it was her out-of-control gambling and the ensuing massive debt that was her unfortunate legacy. Thanks, Duchess, for reminding the modern world today's British monarchy didn't write the book on Royals Behaving Badly.
by Sophie Kinsella
In what has become one of my favorite passages from a book, the ghost of a London woman who died in her 90s sees a picture of her old-self and says "...it's not me. I never felt like that. No one feels like that inside. This is how I felt ... like this. A girl in my twenties. All my life. The outside is just cladding." And so, the delightful ghost of Sadie — a flapper very dedicated to the perfect Charleston and a gin fizz — takes her very-much-alive niece Lara on hilarious romps through London, and they both learn quite a lot about family and love along the way.
by Alfred Lansing
Read Endurance, and your worst day ever looks like a walk through Hyde Park. Unless, of course, you too have been on an Arctic exploration, had your boat stuck in the ice, which is subsequently crushed by the ice, and were forced to evacuate your crew to the middle of nowhere with little more than personal pluck and determination. Then take comfort in the fact you have something in common with one of Britain's premier explorers. The gripping account of this true story is a powerful tribute to what dimming chances of survival do to the body and mind and makes you wonder — if faced with similar circumstances, to what lengths would you go to see your loved ones again?
by Emily Giffin
A sequel to Giffin's Something Borrowed (starring Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin on the big screen this summer), Something Blue has bad-girl Darcy fleeing from a broken engagement, a best-friend's betrayal and a whoops pregnancy with a rebound boyfriend (wait, can he be considered a rebound if she was sleeping with him while still engaged to his best friend? Mere details.) Our girl — and she will be your girl by the end of the book — decamps to London to live and learn life lessons. Does self-centered, beautiful, delightfully accessorized Darcy have a single redeeming quality? The reader has a rollicking good time discovering Darcy's depths during her Scarlet O'Hara-like attempt to turn things around. London is far more than just the setting in this book — in Giffin's capable hands it becomes the other lead character, leaving the reader feeling as if they are on holiday in London with their fun, if woefully wicked, best girlfriend.
by J.K. Rowling
I'll be honest: when I think of fusty and dank British castles, Hogwarts springs to mind. The spooky oil paintings, hidden passages and heavy, creaking doors just scream old-world Europe to me. Plenty has been written about this series, so I'll simply say this is worth the read if only to brush up on British vernacular like daft, bugger and bloke.
by Paul Johnson
Let's face it: the words "biography" and "page turner" don't usually travel in the same circle. The New York Times best-seller Churchill by Paul Johnson is the exception. Blame it on Churchill's fascinating life or credit Johnson's deft ability to enable readers to appreciate this British leader without mundane details — but don't blame me for not warning you this is one biography that's hard to put down.
by Alison Weir
When I read this book, I alternated between thinking Anne Boleyn was the Tudor version of today's Mean Girl, and feeling sorry for her — and not just when she was in the queue for the scaffold. In its simplest form, Anne loved an important man and used her smarts to snag him. Henry VIII's blinding infatuation with Anne made his power-hungry courtiers as skittish as foxes in hunting season, so they set about undermining her bond with the king with frightful persistence and precision. It didn't help Anne's case that she was flirty, couldn't provide an heir to the throne, and made an enemy of nearly everyone who came in contact with her — including one particularly pretty lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour. Or that Henry wasn't exactly the picture of mental health himself. I am pretty sure if Anne could give Kate Middleton a piece of advice it would be "keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." That, and pick really, really ugly ladies-in-waiting.
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About Amy M. Dawson
Amy M. Dawson has more than 15 years experience as a newspaper columnist, writer and marketing consultant. During middle school she wrote a history paper about the Tudor era aristocracy. She was horrified and fascinated in equal measure with the British and their royals, and remains intrigued by all things U.K. to this day. Visit her website at www.amymacwrites.com.
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