Book Review: The Secret Rooms

So after last week's very Marvel-heavy posts, I'm excited to get back to writing about books.  Today, I'm here to share the first of the three book reviews I have lined up for the next two weeks.  I realize I'm a day late, but that's because I was called into work at the last minute yesterday, and so didn't have the daylight to take a picture of the book when I got home.  I have a good excuse.

Okay, let's get into the review.

Title: The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, A Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret

Author: Catherine Bailey

Publisher/Price: Penguin Books/$13.50 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: History

Number of pages: 512

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Format: There are 60 chapters in this book, each only a few pages long.  These are further divided into 8 parts – each covering a different part of the story.  The author switches back and forth between the past and present.

My thoughts: I loved this book.  An endorsement from the back of the book recommends "The Secret Rooms" to fans of Downton Abbey, and I would agree with that.  I think it is a great read for anyone who enjoys history or period dramas.

When I picked up this book, I wasn't sure if I would like it or not.  But I decided to check it out at the last minute, and I couldn't be more glad I did.  It took me a couple chapters to get into it, but once I was in, I was hooked.  My favorite books of all time are nonfiction books about history that read like novels.  "The Secret Rooms" was definitely one of those.  The story is a true mystery that centers around the 9th Duke of Rutland and World War I.  The author is the first person to go into the "secret rooms" or more formally known as the Muniment Rooms of the duke's castle, of which there were five.  They had been locked up by the duke's son and had stayed that way for over 60 years.  It was in these rooms that the elder duke remained for the last two years of his life, working feverishly on a project only a select few knew of.  He died in those rooms, leaving his project unfinished.

The author, Ms. Bailey, originally goes into the Muniment Rooms to study the family archives they housed while researching a totally different book.  However, as she travels deeper and deeper into the family's personal records: letters, diary entries, documents, she makes a puzzling discovery.  There are three gaps in the archives, each spanning a couple years.  The duke had tediously removed all traces of what happened during these three gaps.  The author decides to leave her original mission and throws herself into uncovering the reasons for the duke's painstaking erasion of family documents during three periods of his life.  Her journey to solving the mystery is the book she ends up writing.

Okay, so after that very long plot summary, let me share why I liked this book so much.  Now as you probably know if you've been following this blog for any amount of time, I am a huge history lover, and I'm proud to say that.  While this book doesn't focus on a part of history I am particularly interested in or one I would like to learn more about, what really got me was the fact that there was a mystery involved.  I love mysteries about anything, about any time period, and the fact that this one is true really made me love it.  Also, I love the writing style.  The author is a fantastic storyteller, seamlessly weaving her search for answers with what was taking place back in the early 20th century.  She is able to move back and forth between her actual discoveries in the present and what was taking place in the duke's life.  The novel-ness of the book was really what kept me reading it (which I did very quickly).

There were a few parts where I found myself skipping down the pages a little, parts where the author was writing about what was going on during the duke's life, but that is to be expected in a nonfiction book.  Overall, I think this is a book for someone who loves mysteries, is a fan of period novels/dramas, or is a complete history nerd.  You won't come away from it knowing a ton of information you will ever use again, but it was an intriguing story, and the author's style was enough to make me want to read it over.

I hope you enjoyed that!  Next up is the second review for this month.  xo, Ella

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