Victoria: A Novel

by Daisy Goodwin (St. Martin’s Press)
Novelist Goodwin (The American Heiress) became intrigued by Queen Victoria’s early years after reading a diary entry about the future Prince Consort: “How handsome dearest Albert looks in his white cashmere breeches, with nothing on underneath.” Pass the smelling salts, Honoria—that’s not how most of us think of the redoubtable Queen! The thing is, Victoria first wore the crown as a beautiful and susceptible 18-year old girl, and Goodwin imagines what life as a monarch might have been like for a debutante wielding the scepter of the most powerful nation on Earth. This Victoria firmly disengages herself from her German mother’s apron strings and forms her own lavish court; some of the descriptions of gowns are just as fine and delicate as the beading must have been. Goodwin, steering her plot firmly toward the betrothal of the queen and her cousin, also shows some of Victoria’s missteps and challenges, making this a novel of political intrigue as well as young love. The author’s been as busy as a royal diary, writing this book as she finished the script for the new eight-part Victoria miniseries starring Jenna Coleman (coming soon to Masterpiece on PBS).
—Bethanne Patrick

The Making of Outlander: The Series: The Official Guide to Seasons One & Two

by Tara Bennett (Random House)
This extensive guide traces Jamie and Claire’s transition from the page to the small screen. Luckily, after a few previous film options, a producer got a hot tip from a softball teammate about the romance/ adventure/historical fiction series that just might make exciting television.
These are in-depth, behind-the-scenes stories about things like casting the leads (“We call Jamie ‘the King of Men’ in the writers’ room. So it’s strange we found him so quickly”), filling the writer’s room (half men and half women/half fans of the books and half nonfans) and costume design; they matched family tartans with plant dyes that would have been available in those specific parts of Scotland! Anyone who’s seen the show shouldn’t be too surprised at the effort and attention to detail it takes to re-create mid-1700s Scotland, but it’s still almost as shocking as time travel. The complete episode guide includes tons of the little details—and, even better, behind-the-scenes photos. Character spotlight pages reveal how actors and writers crafted each character. Add an introduction by author Diana Gabaldon and this is a must-have for fans.

A History of Britain in 21 Women: A Personal Selection

by Jenni Murray (Oneworld Publications)
Some subtitles merely explain; this one defines. Murray, known to anglophiles everywhere as the presenter of BBC 4 Radio’s Women’s Hour, is an ardent feminist who prefers women who make history over the well-behaved ones whose stories are often lost to time. When she says that her new anthology is “A Personal Selection,” she means it: Here you’ll find biographies of fierce Queen Boadicea, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, fashion maven Mary Quant, parliamentarian (and American-born) Nancy Astor, Margaret Thatcher and 16 others whose deeds and principles have defined eras of British history from ancient to modern. Murray, whose previous books include a cheeky volume about menopause, writes these mini-biographies in a dynamic but quite serious style. To cement her subjects’ places in history, Murray remains an interviewer/journalist throughout, asking readers to consider what they already know, or don t, of these famous women.
—Bethanne Patrick

Mr. Barry’s War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament After the Great Fire of 1834

by Caroline Shenton (Oxford University Press)
In Shenton’s award-winning The Day Parliament Burned Down, architect Charles Barry watched the glow of the flames and thought, “What a chance for an architect!” In this sequel, Barry wins a competition and gets the chance to build the New Palace of Westminster—and then spends a quarter century of his life designing, constructing and, possibly the most difficult of all, fighting political battles to erect his “Great Work.” A holiday gift for anyone, such as certain politicians who might need reminding that the Houses of Parliament, again in great need, are worth cost and sacrifice.

Orley Farm

by Anthony Trollope (Oxford World’s Classics)
For those who feel like tackling one of the great classics, take a recommendation from Lord Julian Fellowes. “My favorite Trollope is probably Orley Farm,” the Downton Abbey creator tells BHT. “For me, one of the things that matter most about Trollope is there are no good people and no bad people in his books. There’s always a kind of sympathy for the transgressors and some judgment for those who have been born lucky—and I like that. He shares my morality, or I share his. I think in Lady Mason, who is a central character, he’s created one of the great figures of 19th-century literature.” Incidentally, the author shared Lord Fellowes’ opinion; Orley Farm was also Trollope’s favorite among his own works.

The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales

by Colman Andrews (Abrams)
Banish all thoughts of stewed tea, mutton and bland porridge from your mind! Former Saveur magazine editor Andrews puts to rest the notion that food in Britain is terrible—fit only for small children and unsophisticated palates. While he acknowledges that “bruschetta, moussaka and curry” are as likely to be offered in modern British cafés and restaurants, he also highlights chefs—Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, Fergus Henderson of St. John and Lisa Allen of Northcote—who celebrate old-fashioned fare like frumenty, a true mulligatawny soup, a proper Dover sole, roast grouse, Toad in the Hole and regional curiosities like “Hindle Wakes” from Lancashire. Throughout, Andrews sprinkles and seasons with quotes, historical anecdotes and notes that place these dishes in context. Even nervous cooks might consider attempting mushy peas, rumbledethumps and Eton Mess under his guidance. There is a small section on tea, but it’s quite brief—this is not a volume of fussy confectionary, but a true tribute to how landscape, agriculture and people developed a way of eating that is also a way of life. —Bethanne Patrick