Book Review: The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces

The Butler's Guide

The Butler’s Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces by Stanley Ager and Fiona St. Aubyn

Rating: 3/5

The Butler's Guide to Running the Home and Other Graces

Remember when I talked about books inspired by Downton Abbey? Well I’ve found another one and it’s a doozy. If you thought Martha Stewart ran a tight ship, you’ve never heard of Stanley Ager.

Mr. Ager was a butler at St. Michael’s Mount for most of his life. He did everything from ensuring food was ordered on time to ironing the napkins. In The Butler’s Guide he shares his tips and tricks for keeping house.

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Focus On: WWI & WWII


Ever since the latest season of Downton ended, I’ve been searching for something to fill the void. Though there’s nothing quite as funny as watching Maggie Smith talk about weekends, I found a few substitutes. It’s only natural that I turned first to historical fiction set in the 20s  before moving on to fiction set in the 40s.

I'll Be Seeing You

I'll Be Seeing You

First up is I’ll Be Seeing You by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan.

It’s January 1943 when Rita Vincenzo receives her first letter from Glory Whitehall. Glory is an effervescent young mother, impulsive and free as a bird. Rita is a sensible professor’s wife with a love of gardening and a generous, old soul. Glory comes from New England society; Rita lives in Iowa, trying to make ends meet. They have nothing in common except one powerful bond: the men they love are fighting in a war a world away from home.

Brought together by an unlikely twist of fate, Glory and Rita begin a remarkable correspondence. The friendship forged by their letters allows them to survive the loneliness and uncertainty of waiting on the home front, and gives them the courage to face the battles raging in their very own backyards. Connected across the country by the lifeline of the written word, each woman finds her life profoundly altered by the other’s unwavering support.

A collaboration of two authors whose own beautiful story mirrors that on the page, I’ll Be Seeing You is a deeply moving union of style and charm. Filled with unforgettable characters and grace, it is a timeless celebration of friendship and the strength and solidarity of women.

Summary from

This one is an absolute joy to read — it’s a mixture of nostalgia, romance and the power of friendship. Written as a series of letters between two women whose husbands have gone off to war, the novel show the intense impact the war had on those at home. Glory and Rita are endearing as women, mainly because the authors have allowed them to be imperfect. All too often in historical fiction women are shown as perfect wives and mothers, not so here! This book is guaranteed to make you pull out your stationary and write a letter to a friend!

Rating: 4/5

House-Bound by Winifred Peck


Next up is a book that I haven’t quite finished but am absolutely adoring, House-Bound by Winifred Peck.

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote: ‘If I could have back one of the many Winifred Peck titles I once possessed I would choose House-Bound. The story never moves out of middle-class Edinburgh; the satire on genteel living, though, is always kept in relation to the vast severance and waste of the war beyond. The book opens with a grand comic sweep as the ladies come empty-handed away from the registry office where they have learned that they can no longer be “suited” and in future will have to manage their own unmanageable homes. There are coal fires, kitchen ranges and intractable husbands; Rose is not quite sure whether you need soap to wash potatoes. Her struggle continues on several fronts, but not always in terms of comedy. To be house-bound is to be “tethered to a collection of all the extinct memories… with which they had grown up… how are we all to get out?” I remember it as a novel by a romantic who was as sharp as a needle, too sharp to deceive herself.’

Summary from Persephone Books.

House-Bound is  part of a delightful series of books published by Persephone Books. Persephone takes books written by women over the past 200 years and gives them new life. Often these are the books that have fallen out of print with time or, in the case of several of their books, were never printed at all. House-Bound is a lot of fun to read but certainly isn’t as action-packed as modern novels. It’s the perfect answer to what to read before bed.

Rating: Withheld as I’m not finished yet!

In case you’re looking for a quick fix, here are two television series I highly recommend that capture both the glamour and the scarcity of wartime. (Bonus: they’re both available on Netflix!)

  1. Land Girls: A fun mini-series about girls who have joined the Women’s Land Army in England. Though most of them are used to hard work, when an aristocratic girl who has never lifted a finger shows up hilarity ensues.Land Girls
  2. Bomb Girls : This series follows Canadian women who are employed in a munitions factory during the war. Tensions are high as pressure is put on the factory to produce more bombs.Bomb Girls

Sunday Reads: February 10, 2013

By Invitation Only

By Invitation Only: How We Build Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkins Wilson

The story of how two HBS grads came from wildly different places to start one of the most successful online sample sale sites, By Invitation Only isn’t light reading but it’s definitely fun. I really liked how the A’s (as they refer to themselves) show every step in the startup process and how quickly things change in that environment. They give helpful management tips at the end of every chapter, highlighting what they learned from their experiences – I liked these because I could pretend I was doing homework for my management class!

Of course, I was predisposed to like By Invitation Only. I was an early convert to the online sample sale craze, joining Rue La La, One Kings Lane, Hautelook, and others just weeks after they opened. Even without all of my sample sale love the book stood on its own as an interesting portrayal of life at a startup.


Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney

As Downton Abbey mania sweeps the United States a whole slew of books about the Edwardian era have come out. Though it’s easy to fall in love with the glamour seen at Downton/Highclere, the reality is that running a house like that was hard work!In this rendition of “Upstairs/Downstairs” Maloney recounts typical menus, daily chores and standards of decorum. Interspersed with excerpts from Punch and other papers, Life Below Stairs was fun to read and definitely made me appreciate my modern household appliances!

Check out some other books about servant’s in the Edwardian era:

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell: This one is a memoir by a woman who was once a kitchen maid.
While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax : A little different, Wax’s book shows how the series bring a group of fictional women together.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon : If you just can’t get enough of Downton, check out this true history of Highclere Castle where it is filmed. I have this one out from the library right now so I’ll let you know how it is!
The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: From Lady Mary’s Crab Canapes to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding – More Than 150 Recipes from Upstairs and Downstairs by Emily Baines: Looking for something to eat as you watch tonight’s episode of Downton? Why not try Lady Mary’s Crab Canapés?


I haven’t done much magazine or online reading this week, so instead I thought I’d share the films I’ve been enjoying:

 Valentino the last emperor

Valentino: The Last Emperor *– Ever since I saw The September Issue, I’ve been yearning for a good fashion movie. Valentino hits the mark with beautiful dresses, posh Italian accents and sweeping views of Paris – c’est magnifique!

Funny Face

Funny Face* – I’m a sucker for anything starring Audrey Hepburn but this might be my new favorite. She plays a nerdy bookseller who is taken to Paris to be the face of a magazine and a prominent designer’s new collection. As an added bonus the author of Eloise, Kay Thompson, plays the fashion editrix!

J.crew the man who dressed america

J.Crew and the Man Who Dressed America – Part business documentary, part profile of J.Crew this documentary is a wonderful escape from the real world. Clocking in at under an hour it’s the perfect lunchtime treat.

*available on Netflix

~ available on Hulu