03 January 2017

Today's Read: Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams

review: Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate WilliamsImagine that the head of your powerful family suffered bouts of insanity and that most of his grown children failed to produce legitimate heirs. This is what happened in England as King George III ruled the country. His subjects pinned all their hopes on Princess Charlotte, but when dreams failed them, all eyes turned to baby Victoria and the long wait until she reached the age of majority.

The Duchess of Kent had been praying for years that King William IV, George IV’s brother and successor, would die before her daughter Victoria reached the age of eighteen. She wanted to be regent in order to secure riches and power for herself and her beloved adviser, John Conroy. The king hated the duchess, and he was grimly intent on holding on to power. Victoria turned eighteen on May 24, and the king finally stopped fighting to live.
Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams (Ballantine, 2016, prologue [paperback])

Quick Facts

  • Setting: first half of 1800s; England
  • What the book is about: We learn why Victoria became the legitimate and accepted heir to the British Crown. The book is basically a dual biography: first of Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince of Wales and granddaughter of George III, and second of the early life of her much-younger cousin, Victoria.
  • Genre: nonfiction, biography
  • General thoughts: Very readable and accessible account of the lives of two women who were born to reign. Williams relies on a variety of firsthand and eyewitness accounts to describe one of the most dysfunctional families ever. It's amazing that Britain survived the Georges—especially during a time of rebellion and a general movement to democracy—to flourish into a worldwide empire under the direction of Victoria. I had never heard of Charlotte and found her story to be fascinating.
  • Thoughts on the audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Random House Audio; 14 hr, 33 min), read by Katharine McEwan. McEwan's performance was engaging with good expression and pacing. She kept my attention and did a good job of signaling quotations and extracts. I appreciated the fact that McEwan remembered she was reading nonfiction and thus did not try to dramatize the principal players, yet her performance was easy to listen to, and I finished the audiobook in a matter of days.
  • Recommendations: Kate Williams's Becoming Queen Victoria would be a good pick for fans of biography and British history. It is also an easy way to gain some insight into Victoria's extended family before the PBS show about her life starts later this month. Audiobook fans shouldn't hesitate to listen (hit play to hear a clip).


Molly 1/3/17, 7:22 AM  

Since binge-watching The Crown on Netflix last month, I am obsessed with the British monarchy. I read Victoria by Daisy Goodwin and thoroughly enjoyed it. This sounds like another must read book for me :)

Kailana 1/3/17, 8:15 AM  

This sounds good! I all ready want to listen to so many books right now that I am not sure I need another one, but I am going to add it to my wish list. :)

Unknown 1/3/17, 8:29 AM  

Sounds fascinating. I recently watched a documentary that featured something similar to this.

My TT from Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea 1/3/17, 8:31 AM  

Definitely not a "me" book but I can see how others might enjoy this one. Thanks for sharing.

rhapsodyinbooks 1/3/17, 9:04 AM  

I get increasingly irritated over the whole idea of monarchy that somehow just being a relative qualifies you to lead. Oh well, there are worse things deemed "qualifying" LOL

Tina 1/3/17, 10:09 AM  

I would find this historical account interesting. Thanks for highlighting this book!

Anonymous,  1/3/17, 10:56 AM  

Oh, I would really like to read this. I've seen at least one movie and read at least one book about Queen Victoria and think she was a most amazing girl. I would love to read more about how she stood up to her mother and her advisor to become a queen who tried always to do right by her subjects. Adding it to my list now. Here's my intro/teaser for this week from Sheila Walsh's memoir, Loved Back to Life: http://wp.me/p4DMf0-1ra

Catherine @ Book Club Librarian 1/3/17, 11:08 AM  

A timely read for those of us looking forward to the PBS mini-series.

LuAnn @ BackPorchervations 1/3/17, 11:15 AM  

The biginning bit seems so familiar, but I don't know if I've come across this book before, or just the story about the king holding on until Victoria reached the age of 18. But I am a definite Anglophile, so this will go on my TBR!

Laurel-Rain Snow 1/3/17, 11:38 AM  

I haven't read historical books in a long while, but I am about to start. Yes, it began with The Crown on Netflix, which I adored...and binge-watched the whole season. And while the history in that series is Twentieth Century, there were hints of the past...and I want to know more.

Adding this one to my list! Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog.

Laura at Library of Clean Reads 1/3/17, 12:46 PM  

British monarchy is such a fascinating topic. I'm enjoying watching THE CROWN on Netflix.

Sandra Nachlinger 1/3/17, 1:12 PM  

What fun to hear an audio excerpt! This sounds like a book I'd enjoy listening to or reading.
Thank you for stopping by my blog today. Your comments are appreciated.
Sandy @ Writing With a Texas Twang

Heather 1/3/17, 1:56 PM  

This sounds great! I don't know as much about Victoria as I'd like. Most of what I "know" is from movies and TV. Which means it is probably wrong. lol

Margot 1/3/17, 1:56 PM  

I'm glad you included part of the audio. I listened to it and it convinced me to read the whole thing. I like it when history sounds like a juicy novel..

Cleopatra Loves Books 1/3/17, 2:48 PM  

This sounds really good Beth. I read lots of non-fiction about Queen Victoria when I was in my teens and she has always fascinated me as a character as well as the important changes that the Empire went through during her reign. I'd like to learn more about Charlotte too... and I have a nice book voucher ;-)

Iliana 1/3/17, 4:35 PM  

This sounds good but I would definitely have to get it in actual book form. Unfortunately I can only listen to "light" reads if I do an audio or else my mind wanders! :)

Paulita 1/3/17, 5:23 PM  

Love that you included an audio file, and the royal drama would definitely keep my attention on this one. Here's Mine

Nise' 1/3/17, 8:54 PM  

I never get British history questions right on Jeopardy. This one sounds very educational while being entertaining.

DoingDewey 1/4/17, 11:59 PM  

I recently read Victoria, a fictional YA account of Victoria's life, and although that particular book disappointed me, it has made me interested in learning more about her life. This sounds like it could be a great audiobook to pick up!

Daryl 1/11/17, 9:10 AM  

finally a quiet moment to read/comment ... i used to love biographies, thanks for this i am adding it to my wish list

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