April, 1897: A young nanny arrives at Sandringham, ancestral estate of the Duke and Duchess of York. She is excited, exhausted—and about to meet royalty. . . .
So begins the unforgettable story of Charlotte Bill, who would care for a generation of royals as their parents never could. Neither Charlotte—Lala, as her charges dub her—nor anyone else can predict that eldest sons David and Bertie will each one day be king. Lala knows only that these children, and the four who swiftly follow, need her steadfast loyalty and unconditional affection.
But the greatest impact on Charlotte’s life is made by a mere bud on the family tree: a misunderstood soul who will one day be known as the Lost Prince. Young Prince John needs all of Lala’s love, the kind of love his parents won’t—or can’t—show him.
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 21, 2016)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (June 21, 2016)
I am a bit of an Anglophile and have long found the British Royal Family fascinating so I had a feeling that I would love The Royal Nanny and I did. I was not acquainted with Charlotte Bill, who was a real person and the much loved Lala of the children of the Royal Family from 1897-1919. The story that Harper tells about her is an absorbing one--a young woman dedicates her life and makes personal sacrifices for service, duty and a great love for the children in her care. There is romance in this historical novel, Charlotte turns down a proposal from Chad, the gamekeeper of Sandringham, as she felt her duty was to the children and a nursemaid or nanny was not allowed the distraction of a "follower at the door." But really the love story here is about Lala and her charges, especially the youngest child, Prince John (called Johnny by the family) and whom she bonded with as a sickly baby and cared for him throughout his life, fighting to keep him with her and the family as he developed epilepsy and it grew in severity. His epilepsy and his often unusual behavior, which would likely be diagnosed as some form of autism today, were misunderstood and feared at the time and for a Royal Family struggling with their image in troubled times, cause for shame and secrecy. One has to credit Lala, both the real person and the book version for her devotion to Johnnie and to the other five royal children including those that the world knows better--David (who became King Edward VIII, before abdicating the throne for Wallis Simpson--something that greatly angered Lala, along with his treatment of Johnny) and Bertie (who later became King George VI, father of the current Queen and who will ever be Colin Firth in my mind after The King's Speech). The book focuses mostly on Lala's years of service, but there is an epilogue that tells us what Charlotte did after (which I would have loved even more of and would root for a sequel).
The Royal Nanny is my first book from Karen Harper, author of many contemporary suspense and historical novels, but I am confident that it won't be my last. Her vivid descriptions of the times and life in a royal household brought me fully into the story and characters. I couldn't help but love Lala and reading her perspective about the family, The Great War, the Romanov family, and other famous people and events was absorbing and turned what might be a quiet close to 400 pages into a bit of a page-turner. Keeping track of all of the royals and their many names, both given and chosen, is an effort and I longed for a family tree before finally finding a list of the names and titles of the main characters in the back of the book. (Next time I will check there first before Googling!) ;-) Unless you are a true expert, you will likely learn something new about the Royal Family and the time period, and be inspired to look further (the author gives plenty of suggestions for further reading and viewing in her afterword) which to me is always the mark of a good historical novel. Definitely recommended.
Author Notes: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Karen Harper is a former Ohio State University instructor and high school English teacher. Published since 1982, she writes contemporary suspense and historical novels about real British women. Two of her recent Tudor-era books were bestsellers in the UK and Russia. Harper won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for Dark Angel, and her novel Shattered Secrets was judged one of the best books of the year by Suspense Magazine.
Find out more about Karen at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.
Although not completely food-filled, there is food to be found in The Royal Nanny between the nursery, teas, and dinners with the Royal Family. There is plenty of tea of course, biscuits, grapes, muffins with jam and milk, porridge, little sponge cakes, cherry tarts, scones like raspberry, apple cinnamon, currnt and blackberry, and Lala's favorite-scones with strawberries and clotted cream, roast goose, plum pudding, and slabs of bread with honey. There was a luncheon of cold salmon pâté, pigeon pie, tomato salad, haricots verts, Russian salad, jellies, tortes and cakes, pineapple ice cream, and raspberry sorbet and another ladies lunch with cold meats, asparagus tips, cucumber-egg sandwiches, cheese canapés with pickles, a salmagundi salad with spring flowers round its rim (a salmagundi is sort an old-school chef salad), and sponge cake with lemon sauce. There was Queen Alexandra's sixty-fifth birthday cake--six tiers with crystal bowls of goldfish next to the pillars between each layer, and an eight-course menu including; oysters and stewed trout, green pea or grouse soup, poached salmon with cucumber and mousseline sauce, mutton, roast ducking, parmentier potatoes, roast partridge squab, pâté de foie gras, cheese tarts and peaches in chartreuse jelly.
I was intrigued with the mention of Prince George's daily lunch--a fish dish intriguingly called Bombay Duck, but it was not duck and instead was a "crisp-fried and highly-seasoned fish imported from India." But what called to me the most was rice pudding which the children found to be a treat. Once Lala discovers the head nanny's mental illness and her mistreatment of the boys, she reports it and the head nanny is removed and Lala and her hungry charges have it for tea while waiting for their baby sister to be born.
"Less than an hour later, I sat with David and Bertie in the day nursery eating our generous tea of biscuits, jam, porridge, milk--tea for me--and, to the delight of the boys, rice pudding."
-Charlotte Bill, The Royal Nanny by Karen Harper
I did not like rice pudding as a child but have developed a fondness for it the past few years. (There are eight recipes for it if you look at the tab on my side bar!) ;-) It's warm, comforting and seems like the perfect thing for two little boys, seeking love and acceptance and finding it with their loving and protective nanny.
There was not a description of the rice pudding enjoyed by Lala, David and Bertie. I suspect it may have been a classic baked style but I decided to consult with one of the masters of British nursery food, Nigel Slater and found several recipes. Being that it is summer--his 20-Minute Rice Pudding, made on the stove and being relatively quick--without a lot of fuss, appealed to me the most. I switched out the milk, cream, and butter for non-dairy versions (making this a vegan version) and reduced the sugar because coconut milk has it own sweetness, and I planned to top the pudding with a sweet and tangy summery jam. (My changes to the recipe are in red below.)
My favorite part of rice pudding is stirring things into it--like fresh or dried fruit, or nuts, so jam, often accompanying biscuits and scones in the British nursery, seemed like a fun choice. Another modernization, I make chia seed jam because of the ease and the nutritional benefits the chia seeds add (I have also made and posted a few other chia seed jams--blackberry, cinnamon-peach, and plum if you want to see other versions), and since I had both fresh strawberries and black plums on hand, I thought mixing them would be tasty.
20-Minute Rice Pudding
Adapted from Nigel Slater via TheGuardian.com
8 heaped Tbsp arborio rice
300ml (about 10 oz) milk (I used coconut milk)
300ml (about 10 oz) double cream (I used coconut milk + coconut creamer)
vanilla pod, split in half lengthways or 1 tsp vanilla extract (I used 2 tsp vanilla paste)
6 Tbsps water
large knob of butter (I used non-dairy butter)
4 Tbsps caster sugar (I used 1 Tbsp coconut sugar)
Put the rice in a medium-sized, heavy-based pan, then pour in the milk, cream, vanilla pod or extract and water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then turn down the flame until the milk is bubbling gently.
Let it cook for 15-20 minutes. Add the butter, no more than an ounce, whip out the vanilla pod, and stir in the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, the pudding is ready.
Strawberry-Plum Chia Seed Jam
by Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes about 3 1/2 cups of jam)
2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
4 medium plums, peeled, pitted and chopped (I used black plums)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp fresh orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp maple syrup, or to taste depending on the sweetness of your fruit & preferences
1/3 cup chia seeds
Place chopped strawberries and plums, maple syrup, lemon juice, orange juice, vanilla extract and cinnamon into a medium-large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring as fruit begins to liquefy and mixture comes to a gentle boil. Taste and add maple syrup, to your desired sweetness level (I added about 2 Tbsp).
Reduce heat to medium-low and allow fruit to simmer for 20-25 minutes until it breaks down and starts to get saucy, breaking up the chinks with a wooden spoon or potato masher as preferred. (Note--I like a chunkier jam so I cook it about 20 minutes and mostly leave the small chunks that are left. If you like a smoother consistency, cook jam about 30 minutes and break up the chunks with a fork or potato masher.) Taste for sweetness and add more maple syrup if desired.
Reduce heat to low and slowly stir in chia seeds--making sure the seeds are mixed thoroughly into the fruit mixture and don't clump. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. Jam will begin to thicken (and it will thicken much more as it cools) but if it seems too thin, you can add additional chia seeds.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the jam to thicken and cool to room temperature. When cooled, place in jar(s) and place in the fridge. Jam will keep tightly-covered in the refrigerator for a few weeks and in the freezer for a few months--if it lasts that long.
Notes/Results: Yum! This is the second time I have used risotto rice in rice pudding (the first being Ellie Krieger's version) and it certainly makes a quicker and creamier pudding. I still love the chewiness and extra bit of fiber from brown rice pudding--however, arborio rice does make a wonderful occasional indulgence. The milk and cream in this version (coconut milk and creamer in my case) certainly add to the luxuriousness of the texture and a small portion is very satisfying. For a humble dish, it does feel like a treat. The jam was a nice contrast of sweetness from the strawberries and a little bit of tangy from the plums. I like my jams chunky as a rule and knowing I was going to use this one as rice pudding topping, I left it a little extra chunky, with lots of small fruit pieces. You could of course break the fruit down even more (I like to use a potato masher) but finding the fruit bites in the pudding is always enjoyable. I would happily make both of these recipe again.
I am linking this post up to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it is Potluck week. The time to make any recipe from our current featured chef or any of the previous IHCC chefs (like Nigel Slater). You can see what everyone made by following the picture links on the post.
I'm also linking up this review and recipe to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "The Royal Nanny" was provided to me by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in return for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review and as always my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.