The Brontes: Wild Genious on the Moors

Juliet Barker


All I knew of Charlotte Bronte’s life, I read in Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography, written shortly after Charlotte’s death.  This book was an good antidote to that uneven, inaccurate in places, highly emotional book.

Starting with Patrick Bronte as a young man, and ending with the aftermath of Charlotte’s death in childbirth, the book is full of detail, derived from the in-depth research of the author. Coming in at 1100+ pages, it requires a commitment  on the part of the reader, one that is richly rewarded with the in-depth study of an unusual family.

It is well worth the time necessary to immerse oneself in the world of the Brontes.


Victoria the Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire

Julia Baird


This biography explores the two sides of an extraordinary woman—the public side, involved in politics and negotiating the tensions of monarch as real power, and the private side of wife, mother, and widow.

When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the monarchy was a very different thing than when she died in 1901, and Julia Baird successfully negotiates the pressures Victoria dealt with over her long life, particularly the succession of prime ministers, not all of whom were comfortable dealing with this powerful woman.

It is the tension of being a women in power in a time that did not see women as having a role outside the home, and the demands of her personal life as mother to nine children that make this book so interesting. Julia Baird moves effortlessly between the private woman and the public monarch.

The book balances the demands of a monarch with the demands of a wife, mother, and widow, with a deftness that makes this book so readable.


Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters

Laura Thompson


They were the Kardashians of their day. It seemed they could do nothing without stirring the press into a frenzy. Their political opinions were all over the map. One was a dedicated Nazi who fell in love with Hitler, one was a Fascist who spent time in prison for her beliefs, one was a communist who lived in America, one a best-selling novelist who used her family as inspiration, one lived out of the spotlight raising chickens, and one was a duchess with ties to the Kennedy clan. Together they were the Mitford sisters who charmed or enraged everyone who knew them.

The problem in writing about them today is making them relevant and writing a book about six different sisters without getting them jumbled in the reader’s head. It seems impossible, given the source material, that one could write a confusing and boring book about such strong personalities, but Laura Thompson succeeds. Her book also suffers by comparison with Mary S. Lovell’s coherent and well-written book The Sisters.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advance reader copy.