Top 5 Books for Downton Abbey Addicts by Sarah McDuling

I was supposed to be born in England some time in the late nineteenth century. I firmly believe that. Sadly, by virtue of a cosmic accident, I was born in Australia about a hundred years behind schedule. In hopes of rectifying this obvious mistake, I have written several strongly worded letters addressed to Fate and The Powers That Be.

I am still anxiously awaiting a response.

Another thing I’m anxiously awaiting is Season 3 of Downton Abbey. There’s nothing quite like sitting down with a cup of tea, a plate of cucumber sandwiches and an episode of Downton. For anyone who has spent the past two years in a coma or stranded on a deserted island (these being the only two reasons I will accept for not being a confirmed Downton Addict) Downton Abbey is a TV show about an aristocratic English family and the army of servants who run their household.  It is a show that has everything. Star crossed lovers, long lost family members, unexpected deaths, back-stabbing sisters, murder trials and blackmail schemes and Maggie Smith (who absolutely owns every scene in which she appears as the indomitable Dowager Duchess of Grantham).

It is largely thanks to Downton Abbey that I’ve recently found myself reading lots of books set in pre/post war England – the time period and homeland of my soul. And so, for all my fellow tea-totalling Anglophiles out there, here are some great reads to tide us over while we wait for the next season of Downton Abbey. Each book listed will receive a “Downton Award”, to be presented by a character from the show.

The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

 Winner of the Downton Award for “Most Dignified Butler” – to be presented by Carson.

Have you ever found yourself wondering what it would be like if Downton Abbey’s dour-faced butler, Carson, was secretly in love with Mrs. Hughes? The Remains of the Day will satisfy your curiosity and then some. This is a heart rending tale of love gone unspoken between a butler and a house keeper, told in the subtle yet emotionally fraught style of Kazuo Ishiguro.

I come back to this book time and again and with each re-read, I get so completely caught up that I inevitably find myself hoping that it will end differently – only to be struck anew by the perfectly bitter-sweet conclusion.


I Capture the Castle

by Dodie Smith

This is one of my all-time favourite books, one that starts with what I think is the best opening line ever –

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

So begins the diary of Cassandra Mortmain, hands down the most charismatic narrators I have ever encountered. Cassandra and her family live in the crumbling ruins of a castle in the English countryside. The Mortmains are very poor and wonderfully eccentric. Cassandra’s father is an author suffering from writer’s block. Her stepmother is a former artist’s model and occasional nudist who goes by the unlikely name of Topaz and her sister, Rose, is very beautiful, somewhat selfish and (much like Lady Mary of Downton Abbey) extremely good at getting her own way.

When an American family moves into a neighbouring property, both the Mortmain sisters fall in love and what ensues is a perfectly charming, often hilarious and overall very touching coming-of-age story. A must read for anyone who had ever dreamt of living in a castle and getting to swim in the moat.

Cassandra Mortmain lives in the shadow of a beautiful older sister. She is somewhat shy and awkward, the kind of girl who constantly ends up blending into the background rather than stealing the limelight.

As such I Capture the Castle wins the Downton Award for “The Most Often Overlooked Younger Sister” – to be presented by Edith Crawley.



 Winner of the Downton Award for  “Star-crossed Lovers” – to be presented by Anna and Mr Bates.

 Ahhhh Atonement. Here is a book that is bound to enthral any Downton fan – a beautifully imagined tale of tragic romance in which a pair of lovers are cruelly separated by misfortune (much like Anna and Mr Bates.)

Atonement is a sweeping family drama, taking place in wartime England. Our narrator, Briony Tallis, begins the novel as a very foolish young girl who makes a terrible mistake, one that ends up having devastating consequences. As she grows up in a country ravaged by war, Briony’s memories of the past shift like a kaleidoscope till she is forced to face a terrible truth.

In Atonement you will find all the key elements that make Downton Abbey the greatest show in the history of television. Secret affairs, a hero wrongly accused of a crime, young lovers torn asunder, sisterly betrayal and brave young men marching off to war. Briony even trains as a nurse, just like Downton’s Sibyl Crawley!

Warning: Do not read without access to a box of tissues.


Cold Comfort Farm

A delightfully comical story following the adventures of Flora Poste, a very modern and extremely confidant young woman who takes it upon herself to improve the lives of her rustic country relatives.

I adore Cold Comfort Farm, however, it does happen to include one of my pet peeves – i.e. people marrying their cousins. It might have been socially acceptable for people to marry their cousins in ye olde English times, but that kind of thing simply doesn’t fly these days. So whenever I encounter a story featuring cousins getting married, I’m forced to imagine fake backstories for the characters in order to make it less icky. For instance, even though in Downton Abbey Lady Mary and Mathew Crawley are (distantly) related, I still like to pretend that Mary was secretly adopted.

Cold Comfort Farm was a runner up for the Downton Award for “Kissing Cousins” however it lost by a narrow margin to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park*.

Instead, it wins the Downton Award for “Most Hilariously High-Handed Busy-Body” – presented by the incomparable Maggie Smith AKA The Dowager Duchess of Grantham.

I imagine that when the Dowager Duchess was a young woman, she would have been exactly like Flora Poste, taking great pleasure in micromanaging the lives of all her relatives so as to ensure that everything and everyone is settled in just the way she thinks best.

*Unbeknownst to her parents (and Jane Austen) Fanny Price was accidentally switched at birth and is therefore not really related to Edmund.


The Forsyte Saga

Also a runner up in the “Kissing Cousins” category, The Forsyte Saga wins the Downton Award for “Most Scandalous Family” – to be presented by Sibyl Crawley and Tom Branson.

Although no one in the Forsyte family does anything quite so outrageous as to elope with a chauffeur (or smuggle a the body of a recently deceased Turksish Ambassador out of their bed in the middle of the night) they certainly give the Crawley family a run for their money when it comes to dark family secrets and scandalous liaisons.

The Forsyte Saga is three novels worth of epic family drama. Beginning in 1906 and ending in the 1920s, it covers much the same time period as Downton Abbey. This is 20th century  English melodrama at it’s best.


And for those who prefer a more non-fictional read I highly recommend Life Below Stairs and Lady Almina and the Story of the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

I do not believe I am alone my Downton addiction. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there are plenty of Downton addicts out there who secretly believe they have been displaced in time – people who, just like me, are patiently waiting for someone to invent a time machine so they can finally get back to their real lives as auxiliary nurses and suffragettes (ladies) or fox-hunting English lords and Communist chauffeurs. Personally, I am rather anxious to return to my country estate and claim my title as Duchess of  ______shire.

So I implore you, kindred spirits – I know you’re out there – Tell me, what books have I missed? Which authors do you turn to when you’re hankering for a good Downton fix?

And because without him there would be no Downton Abbey…

Snobs/Past Imperfect Omnibus

by Julian Fellowes – writer and creator of Downton Abbey


Edith Lavery is a woman on the make. The attractive only child of a middle-class accountant, she leaves behind her dull job in a Chelsea estate agents and manages to bag one of the most eligible bachelors of the day – Charles Broughton, heir to the Marquess of Uckfield.

But is life amongst the upper echelons of ‘good’ society all that it seems Edith soon discovers there’s much more to the aristocracy than dancing in Anabel’s, shooting small birds and understanding which fork to use at dinner. And then there is Charles’ mother, the indomitable Lady Uckfield, or ‘Googie’ to her friends, who is none too pleased with her son’s choice of breeding partner.

With twists and turns aplenty, this is a comical tale worthy of a contemporary Jane Austen.


Damian Baxter is very, very rich – and he’s dying. He lives alone in a big house in Surrey, looked after by a chauffeur, butler, cook and housemaid. He has but one concern: who should inherit his fortune…

PAST IMPERFECT is the story of a quest. Damian Barker wishes to know if he has a living heir. By the time he married in his late thirties he was sterile (the result of adult mumps), but what about before that unfortunate illness? He was not a virgin. Had he sired a child? A letter from a girlfriend from these times suggests he did. But the letter is anonymous.

Damian contacts someone he knew from their days at university. He gives him a list of girls he slept with and sets him a task: find his heir…


Secrets and Lies – more please

We knowingly lie from the age of six.

We tell four lies a day.

We will have told 88,000 by the time we’re sixty.

Who knows how many secrets we keep?

Do liars make the best storytellers? Do secrets make the best stories? Deception lies at the heart of the most compelling stories.

Secrets and Lies is a series of eight modern classics with deception at their very core.

After all, the truth can be found between the lies we tell and the secrets we Continue reading

Richard C. Morais, author of The Hundred-Foot Journey, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru Asks

Richard C. Morais

author of

The Hundred-Foot Journey,

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born in 1960 in Lisbon, Portugal, the youngest of four boys. My parents were American and Canadian ex-pats stationed, by my father’s company, in Spain and Portugal in the 1950s and 1960s. When I was just 10 months old we moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where I went to private British and American schools.

At age 16, I left Switzerland to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts college on the perimeter of New York City, well known for its writing faculty. I was an American who had never before lived in America. When I graduated at age 20 and hit the streets of New York, it was the early 1980s, and the Reagan recession was in full swing. Down to my last $100, I took the first job that came along, which was in reinsurance. I freelanced for local Brooklyn papers at night. Eventually – and supported initially by my wife – the American business magazine, Forbes, hired me as a junior report in 1984 and then sent me abroad in 1986.

I worked for Forbes for 25 years, 18 of those years in London, where I was Forbes’s European Bureau Chief and its longest-serving foreign correspondent. Our daughter was born in the UK. We returned to the US in late 2003, and last year I left my position as Forbes Senior Editor to devote myself entirely to the dream I had long cherished – to make a living as a fiction writer. The Hundred-Foot Journey is my debut novel, has sold in 18 territories around the world, and is now in active film development. My next novel, Buddhaland, Brooklyn, is about a Japanese Buddhist priest sent by his superiors to an Italian neighbourhood in New York and instructed to build a temple.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

12 – Actor

18 – Writer

30 – Decently-Compensated Writer

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Back then I was convinced I knew what I was talking about.

4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

The Decameron by Boccaccio

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

As long as I can remember I have wanted to live off my imagination. My first love was acting, but I also knew I wanted a stable environment to raise a family in half-decent comfort. So writing seemed the most “practical” of the artistic professions on offer. My journalism career taught me Continue reading

The Breaking of Eggs by Jim Powell

Last April Weidenfeld & Nicolson paid a six-figure sum for the world publishing rights for the literary debut, The Breaking of Eggs, by Jim Powell. I don’t know whether the six figures was closer to $US100,000 or $900,000 but having spent a day or two reading it last weekend, I reckon they got a bargain.

Powell starts his story with restraint and a fair degree of dry humour. Enough to whet the appetite for something that is so much more than another quirky novel with an unusual setting for this is really a book  about the barriers and restraints of a life led in principle.

The year is 1991 and 61-year-old Feliks Zhukowski, an expatriate Pole who lives in Paris, finds himself in a crumbling world. Having escaped the war and joined the Communist party in France, he has lived his life virtually alone, eking out a living with his travel guides to eastern bloc countries, countries which reflect his own hopes and ideals. Now the unthinkable has happened. The Berlin Wall has come down, and an American company wants to take over and modernize his precious publications.

So what is it like to look around and suddenly discover that Continue reading


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