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Book review: 'Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey' is as marvelous as the television series

Published: Saturday, Dec. 21 2013 5:20 p.m. MST

Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey is by Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Countess of Carnarvon and shares the story of the real life occupants of Highclere Castle during World War II. (Random House) Lady Catherine, the Earl and the Real Downton Abbey is by Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Countess of Carnarvon and shares the story of the real life occupants of Highclere Castle during World War II. (Random House)

Editor’s note: The fourth season of “Downton Abbey” will start airing on Jan. 5 on PBS, and a fifth one has recently been announced, too. Until then, here is one of several books that have crossed out desks recently that explore aspects of the show and the era.

"LADY CATHERINE, THE EARL AND THE REAL DOWNTON ABBEY,” by Lady Fiona Carnarvon, the Countess of Carnarvon, Broadway Books, $15.99, 353 pages (nf)

For anyone who has ever wondered how much of "Downton Abbey" is based on real life, “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey” holds answers. The lives of the actual people who experienced love, heartache and service at Highclere Castle, the real name of the majestic building showcased on Downton Abbey, are told in this riveting book. Although technically a historical biography, the countess of Carnarvon has written a book that reads more like an exceptional novel.

The countess delves deeply into the history of the estate from the 1920s through the 1945 armistice. The characters upstairs are presented well. The love story of the sixth Earl and his American bride is recounted so beautifully that their eventual divorce is heartbreaking. The dangers they and their children experienced during World War II are superbly recounted. Reading about Highclere becoming training grounds for tanks, billeting displaced children and narrowly missing being bombed out by enemy shells can help readers appreciate the beauty that is Downton Abbey.

"Downton Abbey" season four airs on Sundays, from Jan. 5 to Feb. 23 on PBS. Season 4 finds aristocrats and servants coping with last seasons shocking finale. The acclaimed ensemble is back, including Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery, Jim Carter, Penelope Wilton, and Laura Carmichael together with returning guest star Academy Award-winner Shirley MacLaine and new guest star Paul Giamatti. The show is filmed at Highclere Castle. (Carnival Film and Television Limited 2013)

The countess of Carnarvon and her husband currently reside in and own Highclere Castle, the setting of the wildly popular "Downton Abbey." Her previous book, “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey,” tells the true story of when the castle was turned into a hospital during World War I. While the books can be read sequentially, reading her first volume is not necessary to enjoy and understand this most recent one.

“Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey” has clean language and romance. While marriages crumble, lives are lost and a war is fought, all are dealt with in a modest manner.

Elizabeth Reid has bachelor's degrees in economics and history. She has worked in retail, medical billing, catering, education and business fields. Her favorite occupation is that of wife and mother. Her email is bizziereid@gmail.com.

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