The Montmaray Journals by Australian author, Michelle Cooper
RAF pilots. Aristocratic balls and gowns. A rocky isolated island kingdom. Nazis. Spies. Family. Spain.
1. A Brief History of Montmaray
Sophie FitzOsborne lives in a crumbling castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray, along with her tomboy younger sister Henry, her beautiful, intellectual cousin Veronica, and Veronica’s father, the completely mad King John.
When Sophie receives a leather-bound journal for her sixteenth birthday, she decides to write about her day-to-day life on the island. But it is 1936 and the world is in turmoil. Does the arrival of two strangers threaten everything that Sophie holds dear?
From Sophie’s charming and lively observations to a nailbiting, unputdownable ending, this is a book to be treasured.
2. The FitzOsbornes in Exile
I lifted my Spode teacup and was suddenly convinced that I was dreaming. What other explanation could there be for me sitting here, having tea with a viscount in an elegant drawing room?
Forced to leave their island kingdom, Sophie FitzOsborne and her eccentric family take shelter in England. Sophie’s dreams of making her debut in shimmering ballgowns are finally coming true, but how can she enjoy her new life when they have all lost so much?
Aunt Charlotte is ruthless in her quest to see Sophie and Veronica married off by the end of the Season, Toby is as charming and lazy as ever, Henry is driving her governess to the brink of madness, and the battle of wills between Simon and Veronica continues. Can Sophie keep her family together, when everything seems to be falling apart?
An enticing glimpse into high society, the cut and thrust of politics as nations scramble to avert world war, and the hidden depths of a family in exile, struggling to find their place in the world.
3. The FitzOsbornes at War
A cold numbness had settled upon me the moment Mr Chamberlain had begun to speak. I’d been praying for a last-minute miracle. For Stalin to change his mind, for the Americans to intervene, for Hitler to fall under a train . . . anything. Now I understood how stupid I’d been.
Sophie FitzOsborne and the royal family of Montmaray escaped their remote island home when the Nazis attacked. But now that war has come to England and the rest of the world as well – nowhere is safe.
Sophie fills her journal with tales of a life in wartime. Stories of blackouts and the Blitz. Dancing in nightclubs with soldiers on leave. And desperately waiting for news of her brother Toby, last seen flying over enemy territory.
But even as bombs rain down on London, hope springs up in surprising places, and love blooms. And when the Allies begin to drive their way across Europe, the FitzOsbornes take heart. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a way to liberate Montmaray – to go home again at last.
Sometimes heart-stopping, sometimes heart-breaking, Sophie’s story will, as always, capture readers’ hearts.
The Montmaray Journals, for me, fulfilled a reading love for history, family, and great characters. If you enjoy any of the previous discussion of history, British families during WWII, or, to be completely cliché, Downton Abbey, you will really love this trilogy.
The first in the trilogy is the A Brief History of Montmaray. Cooper begins by introducing us to the eccentric, yet, tight-knit family: Victoria, Toby, Sophie, Henry (and they live on the island of Montmaray as it is their official kingdom. It’s an epistolary novel, which means it’s written in a series of letters .The writer is Princess Sophie, who is the best choice among characters to reveal their quirky kingdom in the sea. Sophie treats the island as another member of the royal family, as I think it certainly is a character in its geographic self. An island castle lends itself to romance, but Cooper’s description of the rocky shoreline and needs-some-20th-century updates castle truly brought me right into the book. Sophie is also a teenager who grapples with her pleasing personality, her own insecurities, her curiosity about life on the mainland, and her fear of a pending war.
Without giving away the end of the book, Sophie and her family have to deal with the intrusion of political games of the Nazis which leads them to change their current lives. The ending definitely has the reader heading straight for the second in the series (at least it did for me!).
The second in the trilogy, The FitzOsbornes in Exile, leads the reader back to Mitford Park with Aunt Charlotte because they are indeed, exiled, and from their home since the Nazis discovered their rock island. They discover a very different way of life of aristocracy, balls, and formality; Sophie deals with the transition through her journals, again. If I had to pick my personal favorite out of the three, I believe it would be this novel; the plot, characters, and pace just really came together.
Aunt Charlotte is mainly concerned with proper marriages for Sophie, Veronica, and Toby which proves to be a difficult task, in Aunt Charlotte’s social eyes. She’s also tasked with taming Henry, their younger sister, who is more thrilled with farm animals than cross-stitched. The FitzOsbornes deal with a different geography in a very literal and figurative way; the ocean is further from them, and they have to become social with a much larger group of people.
One element of this book that I enjoyed was how seamlessly Cooper integrated true historical events and people into their lives [“Kick” Kennedy, Sir Oswald Mosely, Joe Kennedy]. The events in this novel begin in 1937 and end in 1939, so the reader gets to see a disruptive time in British history, as if he or she were there with Veronica arguing politics. The contrast of life for Brits during those years (as I would imagine) is reflected in Cooper’s writing style. There are scenes and moments of Sophie, just a young girl, thinking about true love and adapting to high society rules. Then, there are many heavy moments as this family contemplates an impending war. Each of the characters reveals more about his or her character in this book.
As The FitzOsbornes in Exile ends in 1939, it’s very obvious as to how The FitzOsbornes at War will begin. Even though the FitzOsbornes have more modern access and amenities (for some parts) than they did on Montmaray, I, as the reader, pondered what the difference was between the novels. The character’s loss of innocence and development really made this book shine as they navigated their way through the dangers of living in London while being bombed mercilessly by the Nazis. We see much of real history work through this novel, and I really enjoyed Cooper’s attention to detail. She also made life in London frightening, and, yet, a life that continued each day for the FitzOsbornes and their neighbors. There are a few many events in this novel that truly spoil for any future reader, so I’ll leave the review here. However, the third book really highlights the whole trilogy.
Pick up this series, as soon as you can! I was thoroughly charmed by the family and Cooper’s writing; a great trilogy for many readers beyond the “Young Adult” audience.