Archive for June, 2009

During the Regency, sport, gambling and trials of strength and stamina were woven into daily life at every level of society.

The Earl of March, or OldQ as he was also known, once bet that he could cause a letter to cover 50 miles in an hour. The bet was duly accepted, but generally deemed impossible to win – the fastest horses could only travel around 30 miles an hour over a short distance.  Ingenious Lord March, however, had the letter enclosed in a cricket ball and had twenty cricketers stand in a measured circle throwing the ball as fast as they could between themselves.  The distance was easily covered and the Earl ended up richer by 10,000 guineas.

‘Pedestrianism’, or walking wagers were one of the most popular events. These Captain Robert Barclay Allardicewere competitions between two or more individuals or challenges accepted by one man.  Captain Robert Barclay Allardice’s attempt to walk 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours for 1,000 guineas was one of the most famous.

In 1809 Captain Barclay was bet that he couldn’t walk 1000 miles in 1000 hours for 1000 Guineas – meaning he had to walk one mile in every consecutive hour 24 hours a day – the challenge therefore taking 42 days with the maximum an hour and 20 minutes sleep at any one time (if you walk back to back miles in different hours).  During the 607th mile, Captain Barclay even needed his aide to beat him around the head and shoulders with a walking stick to keep him awake!  He completed the challenge on 12th July 1809, losing three stone in the process, his challenge hailed as ‘one of the greatest human feats ever attempted.’*

And – WOW – in 2009, exactly 200 years on since Captain Barclay’s feat of endurance, champion jockey, polar explorer and BBC presenter, Richard Dunwoody MBE is recreating this amazing challenge!!  Richard is walking the same mile 1000 times in Newmarket – 1000 miles in 1000 hours but this time to raise a substantial sum for charity – Alzheimer’s Society, SPARKS, Racing Welfare and Spinal Research.

Richard Dunwoody-Challenge

Fortunately, Richard’s aids in completing the challenge will be an ipod and a Blackberry, rather than Captain Barclay’s brace of pistols and a stick to be beaten with to keep awake!

Do check out the web-site for this fantastic challenge here or by clicking on the image above, and follow Richard’s progress through the Richard Dunwoody-Challenge page on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Most importantly, please make a donation which will benefit some very worthy charities.  Oh, and some famous faces are walking the miles with him!

The challenge ends on 10th July 2009 when Richard will be doing his last mile up the home straight of Newmarket racecourse at approx 2.20pm before the Ladbrokes Bunbury Cup.

*from The Celebrated Captain Barclay by Peter Radford

Part 3 will be posted tomorrow and will include the story and photographs of another 2009 Regency wager recreation … the famous Coughton Coat!


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Woohoo! My new Regency romance, Ice Angel, is officially published tomorrow (30th June), and as a wager features in the book, I thought I’d blog on the fascinating subject of Regency wagers and gambling in general.

Ice Angel

There will be three parts in all, posted on consecutive evenings, so here goes with Part (1) …

Gambling was a passion in Regency times.  It dominated society in London (and elsewhere) from Queen Anne’s time until the start of the Victorian era. Gambling for high and sometimes ruinous stakes was at its zenith in the late eighteenth century, but it continued into the Regency period.   Men and women indulged in gambling and not only for fun.  For many, it was a serious business and a serious addiction.

Whole fortunes could be won and lost in one evening.  Individuals and families found themselves ruined by the roll of a dice and on the turn of a card.

charles_james_fox-400Charles James Fox, MP and a member of Brooks’s Club, enjoyed marathon gambling sessions.    Horace Walpole noted that on a debate in the House (of Commons) on 6th February 1772, Fox did not display his usual oratory skills.  Hardly surprising when you consider his other activities during the period…!

He (Fox) had sat up playing at Hazard at Almacks, from Tuesday evening 4th.  An hour before he had recovered £12,000 that he had lost, and by dinner, which was at five o’clock, he had ended losing £11,000.  On the Thursday (6th) he spoke in the debate; went to dinner at past eleven that night; from thence to White’s, where he drank till seven the next morning; thence to Almack’s, where he won £6,000; and between three and four in the afternoon he set out for New market.  His brother Stephen lost £11,000 two nights after, and Charles £10,000 more on the 13th; so that in three nights, the two brothers, the eldest not twenty-five, lost £32,000.

This roughly translates to a loss of £3.2 million in today’s monetary terms!

The three main clubs of St. James’ during the Regency were White’s, Brook’s and Boodle’s. (Watier’s, or the ‘Great-go’ was opened in 1807)  They were descended from the coffee and chocolate houses of the 17th and early 18th century.  The coffee houses were meeting places open to all and, as such, became unsuitable haunts for men of fashion, politics, religion or the judiciary when gambling increased in popularity.  They preferred to lose or gain fortunes in private among their own kind.  Gambling was made illegal in the 18th century, as was the act of keeping a house or establishment for prohibited gaming,  In practice, however, the wealthy and influential clientele of the clubs ensured that they were protected from the law.

White’s was perhaps the most exclusive establishment with a definite Tory leaning during the Regency period, whereas Brooks’ membership was more, but not exclusively, politically biased and considered a Whig stronghold.  Here are some of Brooks’ club original rules :-

21. No gaming in the eating room, except tossing up for reckonings, on penalty of paying the whole bill of the members present.
22. Dinner shall be served up exactly at half-past four o’clock and the bill shall be brought up at seven.
26. Almack shall sell no wines in bottles that the Club approves of, out of the house.
30. Any member of this society that shall become a candidate for any other Club (old White’s excepted) shall be ipso facto excluded, and his name struck out of the book.
40. That every person playing at the new quinze table do keep fifty guineas below table.
41. That every person playing at the twenty guinea table do not keep less than twenty-guineas before him.

Most men of the ton were members of several clubs and moved between them.  Pall Mall and St. James’ also housed a large number of low gaming houses, or gaming hells.   These were well-named, being temples of ruin, sin and villainy.

In the exclusive clubs, the gambling room itself was usually furnished in sumptuous style and catered for a high degree of comfort.   It could be open or divided by a series of folding doors or screens into a series of ‘rooms’, each dedicated to a particular form of gaming.  Also provided were tables for writing IOUs, dice, chairs, tables, gaming counters, counter bowls and rakes for collecting counters, and oblong, green baize covered table for Hazard.  Supper rooms usually adjoined the gaming room.

Because of the illegal status of gambling, gaming hells were usually separated from the street by a series of locked doors, some equipped with peepholes to survey potential visitors.  Some hells had as many as seven locked doors to pass through before the gaming room was reached.

Interior of Modern Hell - Cruickshank

Interior of Modern Hell - Cruickshank

Curtains in the gaming room were usually kept drawn and light provided by chandeliers and lamps.  This added to the sense of excitement and disconnection with the outside world.  Daylight would intrude on this created atmosphere and curtail gambling sessions.  Visitors lost all notion of time and thus indulged in marathon gambling sessions. The higher the stakes (and therefore the more exclusive the venue), the later the establishment’s opening time.

Gaming Room at Brooks's Club

Gaming Room at Brooks's Club

The betting books at White’s and Brooks’s provide a fascinating insight into the members’ reactions to the events of the day, and the way that scandal and gossip proved fertile ground for betting.  Bets were, of course, placed on horse races and prize fights, but members also bet more eccentrically, such as on the sex of their children (with their wives or their mistresses) or other peoples children; on the time of death of their friends and enemies alike and on the state of the King’s health. Bets were hand written in the book by those making the bet.  Famous names like Beau Brummell appeared in the book, both when they were making bets and as the subject of wagers themselves.

Mr. Brummell bets Mr. Irby one hundred guineas to ten that Bonaparte returns to Paris

Lord Alvanley bets Mr. Goddard five guineas that Mr. G. Talbot does not die a natural death.

Lord Alvanley bets Sir Joseph Copley five guineas that a certain Baronet understood between them will be in very embarrassed circumstances within a given date.  If he is observed to borrow small change of the chairmen or waiters, Sir Joseph to be reckoned to lose.

This may have been the same Baronet about whom Mr. Methuen bets Colonel Stanhope ten to one that he does not of necessity part with his gold ice pails before this day twelvemonth. The ice pails being found at a pawnbroker’s will not entitle Colonel Stanhope to receive his ten guineas.

Perhaps one of the most astonishing bets appears in Brooks’s betting book:  Ld. Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500gs whenever his lordship ***** a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the earth.


Part (2) will be posted tomorrow, when you can find out more about an attempt to recreate a famous Regency wager, 200 years on!

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MrDarcyVampyre cover-1
In a joint blogcast with my fellow Regency Romance author Elizabeth Hanbury, it’s our great pleasure to welcome historical romance writer Amanda Grange to my blog.

Amanda is the author of adventurous historical romances set mainly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She also writes Jane Austen-inspired novels from the heroes’ points of view, including the best-selling Mr. Darcy’s Diary and Captain Wentworth’s Diary.

Amanda’s new book – Mr. Darcy, Vampyre – is due out from Sourcebooks in August 09. Now without further ado, let’s find out more….

Welcome Amanda! Mr. Darcy, Vampyre sounds very intriguing! Can you tell us a bit about the story?

Hi! Thanks for inviting me. Mr Darcy, Vampyre is a Pride and Prejudice sequel with a difference. It starts on Lizzy and Darcy’s idyllic wedding day and follows them on their wedding tour where strange and unsettling things start to happen.

What inspired you to write Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and how long did you spend researching/planning before you began?

The inspiration was really three fold. I used to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was on TV here in the UK and I always hoped they would do a Pride and Prejudice episode, where the characters got sent into the world of the book, with Buffy being Lizzy and Angel being Darcy. I think that was where the idea of Darcy as a vampyre first came from. Then, last year, the title, Mr Darcy, Vampyre popped into my head and I loved it. Around the same time I was reading a lot of Regency Gothics as research for Henry Tilney’s Diary (which I was writing at the time, but which is still not finished!) and the plot of Mr Darcy, Vampyre just came to me. Because it had been simmering inside me for so long I didn’t spend any further time researching or planning, I just started to write.

It looks like this was something you wanted to do for some time. Clearly, you are very well versed in the vampire tradition, since the Gothics you were reading were the beginning of the genre. Some people might be wary of reading a Jane Austen story with a vampire. What would you say to them to persuade them to try it?

As long as they aren’t positively set against the idea of a “what if?” story with Darcy as a vampyre then I don’t think there’s anything in the book that will upset Austen fans. Jane Austen herself liked the Gothic novels of her day, and in Northanger Abbey Henry Tilney says to Catherine, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure.”

Lizzy and Darcy are still Lizzy and Darcy in Mr Darcy, Vampyre, but their marriage has more problems, and stranger problems, than most marriages face in the honeymoon period! There’s a lot of beauty and romance in the book as well as a lot of secrets and horror and unease, culminating in an epic finale. As the back cover says, this is a test of love that will take them to hell and back.

You seem to be emphasizing the more romantic aspects of vampires. What do you think is the appeal of vampires? Why are they so seductive a concept?

That’s a difficult question to answer in a nusthell. Whole books have been written on the subject! I think it’s partly the sex / death correlation, partly the thrill of the unknown, partly the attraction of super powers – great strength, speed etc – but mostly the appeal of immortality.

What is your favourite vampire/gothic novel and why?

I think it would have to be Dracula because it’s the first full-blown vampyre novel and it gave us all the things we now associate with a vampyre story.


Speaking of going back in time, it’s almost 200 years since Pride and Prejudice was first published and Jane Austen’s novels continue to be enjoyed by each generation. Why do you think Jane Austen’s characters, particularly Mr. Darcy, have such enduring appeal?

It’s because her characters are real. We can recognise them because every generation has its cads, flirts, pompous people, lively people, impossibly good people and people who are above their company! Mr Darcy, of course, is the ideal man, not because he’s rich and owns a vast estate (although that helps!) but because he genuinely loves Elizabeth. He’s a flawed individual but he learns and grows throughout the book, until he’s at last worthy of her, and she, too, has to learn and grow before she can be worthy of him.

Many people read Pride and Prejudice because of the romance between Darcy and Elizabeth. How much does Elizabeth feature in your new novel, and how does she like having Darcy as a vampire?

Like Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy, Vampyre is told from Elizabeth’s point of view. She is blissfully happy on her wedding day – anyone who wants to read about a very romantic wedding day for Lizzy and Darcy should pick up Mr Darcy, Vampyre! – until she catches a glimpse of a look of torment on his face.

From that moment on she becomes increasingly unsettled as her life begins to spin out of control. It begins when Darcy changes their destination, saying that instead of going to the Lake District he’s going to take her to Europe (during the Peace of Amiens), and then her familiar world begins to vanish. Only Darcy remains constant, but he is not the man she thought she married . . .

As to how she likes having Mr Darcy as a vampyre, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

To return to the twentieth century: out of all the actors who have played Darcy, who is your favourite (or who do you envisage as Darcy when you are writing about him)?Is there someone who hasn’t played Darcy who you think would be perfect in the role?

I don’t envisage any actors when I write about Darcy, I see the Darcy of my imagination. I like all the actors who have played him in different ways, but none of them are perfect for me. I would very much like to see Jonathan Rhys-Meyer as Darcy, playing him with the sense of entitlement he gave Henry VIII in The Tudors. I think that unconscious arrogance would suit Darcy very well.


Do you think a modern, post-feminist woman would tolerate a Darcy-like alpha male, vampire or not?

I think any woman with a heartbeat would tolerate Darcy!

Well, certainly the success of Mr Dary’s Diary testifies to his continued popularity, as do the various sequels that have been published. You’ve written a number of very successful novels in diary form. Is this one going to be first person as well?

No, this is written in the third person. There’s an extract on the Mr Darcy, Vampyre blog

What you think Jane Austen would say in a letter if she read Mr Darcy, Vampyre?

I think she would say, “This is the most brilliant book I have ever read!” Oh, sorry, I went into a dream world there. I don’t know. I like to think she would approve. If not, I’m going to have a lot of answering to do when I take tea with her in the after life (accompanied by Mary Crawford playing the harp).

What’s next after Mr. Darcy, Vampyre?

Good question. I don’t know. Well, I do, but I’m not saying!

Thank you very much for talking to us, Amanda! Elizabeth and I can’t wait to read Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.

This joint interview was brought to you by Monica Fairview, author of The Other Mr Darcy , and from Elizabeth Hanbury, author of Ice Angel. Both books will be coming out from Robert Hale (UK) on the 30th of June 2009.

IceAngel Cover (Amended) 3-2 Other-Mr-Darcy-for-web-2

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As part of the celebrations for the joint June 30th release of our new books — ICE ANGEL and THE OTHER MR DARCY

Copy of 9780709087847 Other-Mr-Darcy-for-web

authors Elizabeth Hanbury and Monica Fairview have teamed up to bring  you a special announcement and exclusive interview.  Best selling author Amanda Grange has a new novel coming out in August.  Mr. Darcy, Vampyre is a Pride & Prejudice sequel with a difference!

Monica and Elizabeth have conducted an exclusive joint web interview with Amanda.  You can read the full interview here and on Monica’s blog from 9pm Sunday 21st June. Amanda gives us some fascinating insights into Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and the enduring appeal of Jane Austen’s characters so don’t miss it!

To whet your appetite, here’s the Sourcebooks press release for Mr. Darcy, Vampyre …

Sourcebooks Landmark Announces New Major Release:
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre

NAPERVILLE, IL (June 10, 2009) —

Sourcebooks Landmark, the leading publisher of Jane-Austen-related fiction, is excited to announce a major release in the category: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by international bestselling author Amanda Grange.

Amanda Grange’s style and wit bring readers back to Jane Austen’s timeless storytelling, but always from a very unique and unusual perspective, and now Grange is back with an exciting and completely new take on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.

“Amanda Grange is our internationally bestselling author of Mr. Darcy’s Diary,” says Sourcebooks acquisitions editor Deb Werksman, “and we were so excited when she came to us last year with this brilliant vision for an altered Darcy.  Amanda starts where Pride and Prejudice ends and introduces a dark family curse so perfectly that the result is a delightfully thrilling, spine-chilling, breathtaking read. A dark, poignant and visionary continuation of Austen’s beloved story, this tale is full of danger, darkness and immortal love.”

Sourcebooks has announced an on-sale date of August 11, and a 75,000 copy first print run.

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Attingham Park

Attingham Park

I re-visited Attingham Park recently and now technically-challenged moi has finally managed to download photos to my PC, here’s my blog report.

Attingham Park is one of the greatest country houses in Shropshire.  Built between 1782-5  for Noel Hill, 1st Lord Berwick, it was designed on an impressive scale so that Lord Berwick could outshine one of his cousins who lived nearby, just north of Shrewsbury.  (Nice to know that oneupmanship was alive and kicking even back then LOL!)  Attingham was to be home for five generations of the Berwick family.

Attingham was built in around an existing property, Tern Hall, which was not demolished until 1856.  The family lived in Tern Hall while building work progressed and the demolition left an open courtyard in the centre of the house.  Remnants of the foundations and some sections of Tern Hall can still be seen in the courtyard today.

The 1st Lord Berwick died young and it was left to his son Thomas to complete and furnish the vast new mansion. And it’s Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick, whose story I found most fascinating.  It’s a lurid tale of love, wallpaper and a famous Courtesan!

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick

Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick

The Regency period was a highpoint in the history of the house. Thomas loved buying and commissioning works of art, both at home and on the Grand Tour, which he displayed in specially designed rooms at Attingham.

In 1805, he commissioned the famous architect John Nash to design the Picture Gallery with its unique glazed roof, white marble fireplaces and rich inlaid floor.  Nash also designed the Grand Staircase which leads from the Picture Gallery to the first floor, and the fish scale decoration to the domed roof is reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion which Nash went on to design in 1815.   In recent years, an exciting discovery was made while renovating the tunnel-like flights of stairs leading from the Grand Staircase to the principal bedrooms.  Under layers of red oil paint, an elaborate decorative wallpaper scheme was uncovered.  It consisted of painted rectangular panels with cut away corners.  Fan shapes, wreaths and olive bands were incorporated into the design to give a trompe l’oeil effect of greater depth and space.  The patterns were stained, painted and applied onto individual sheets of wallpaper which were hung on the walls horizontally.

It might seem incredible to us now, but wallpaper was a very expensive commodity then.  As an expensive commodity, it was subject to tax – oh yes, we British have always  been ingenuous when it comes to taxation! – and each sheet was stamped by a tax inspector.  It was then tax stamped again if the paper was stained or coloured.  Displayed at Attingham are sheets of wallpaper stamped twice with the crest of George III and the date 1807.

Wallpaper tax stamp

Wallpaper tax stamp

Thrilling as it is, how does this story of Thomas, 2nd Lord Berwick’s extravagant expenditure on wallpaper and alike lead on to a famous courtesan’s arrival at Attingham and a connection with one of our best Regency authors, Nicola Cornick?

Here’s how.  Thomas, was in his late thirties when he fell violently in love with Sophia Dubochet.  Sophia was a courtesan, the younger sister of the famous Harriette Wilson.

Sophia Dubochet, later Baroness Berwick of Attingham

Sophia Dubochet, later Baroness Berwick of Attingham

After setting eyes on Sophia, Lord Berwick spent a fortnight driving up and down the street where Sophia lived in the hope of catching another glimpse of her.  He was eventually introduced to Sophia by Lord William Somerset and determined to marry her from that moment.

Sophia was reluctant, but allowed Lord Berwick to set her up as his mistress in a house in Montague Square.  Lord Berwick continued to spend extravagantly on his mansion in Shropshire (perhaps partly to impress Sophia) and to beg her to marry him; finally, she agreed and Berwick even wrote to Sophia’s father to ask for permission to marry his daughter.  They were married in St. Marylebone Church in 1812.

The Secrets of a Courtesan - Nicola Cornick

The Secrets of a Courtesan - Nicola Cornick

This story put me in mind of Nicola Cornick’s recent, fabulously romantic e-Harlequin novella, The Secrets of a Courtesan. I don’t want to give spoilers here – do check it out for yourself, it’s a wonderful read – but the story of Berwick and Sophia proves that, on rare occasions, courtesans did find themselves pursued for honourable reasons by gentlemen of the English peerage ;0

There’s much more of interest at Attingham, but I’ll save that for another day 🙂  A few photos to end with (click to enlarge)…

Attinham Park viewed from the lake

Attingham Park viewed from the lake

The Park is wonderful at Attingham – it was initially designed by Thomas Leggett and improved upon by Humphrey Repton.

Attingham Park 005

Entrance to the Ice House

(I know….I’m a tad obsessed with ice houses *g*)

Diagram showing workings of the Ice House

Diagram showing workings of the Ice House

This description and diagram of the ice house is situated just at the entrance (as you can see in the above photo).  It was a hot day when I visited and as you walked down the steps and under the arch, you could feel the temperature drop significantly.

Grand Regency dining room at Attingham Park with table laid for dinner (photo NTPL David Levenson)

Grand Regency dining room (photo NTPL David Levenson)

The Grand Regency Dining room is currently laid out for a dinner party.  It looks fabulous and gives visitors a real sense of what an elegant Regency dinner party must have been like.  (The food wasn’t real though!)

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Now that the effects of the champagne have worn off, I’ll do my best to remember the highlights of this week’s Melissa Nathan Award ceremony.

The company: my favourite publisher – Lyn of Choc Lit.

The venue: Café de Paris, off Leicester Square. Actually, once we got inside, it could have been anywhere – it was pretty dark! But what we could see was very fetching (as far as I can remember).

The goodie bag, complete with lovely MNA logo: a copy of one of the shortlisted books (fortunately not mine), Love Heart sweets (my favourite in the absence of chocolate) and a few flyers, including the latest Honeypot newsletter (Honeypot received this year’s charity cheque from the Melissa Nathan Foundation) and the Story of Choc Lit (wonder where that came from?).

The judges and shortlisted authors: Lyn and I spoke to them all briefly. Next to some of them – no names, no pack drill – I felt about 150 years old and a size 48! I particularly remember chatting to Joanna Trollope and Gaynor Allen about Newcastle.

The entertainment: Jo Brand – compère – and Paul Hamilton – performance poet – had us in stitches. Then we were treated to a spot of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ as Sophie Kinsella played piano and her husband Henry sang. A Gershwin song, with lyrics adapted to reflect current political reality, was followed by a rendition of ‘These Foolish Things’. Two lines stood out for me – ‘Miss Emma Woodhouse thinks she’s high and mighty, When all she really wants is Mr Knightley’!

The award: all of us – not just the winner – were presented with a glass trophy inscribed with our name and book title. A very tasteful memento. And congratulations to the winner – Farahad Zama with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People! This has prompted headlines such as ‘Man beats all-female competition’ (guardian.co.uk, 11th June) – when he was actually a very polite, peaceable sort of man!

The catering: the place was awash with champagne and, as Harriet Smith would say in The Importance of Being Emma, ‘canopies’. Of course, it was so dark I didn’t know what I was eating (well, that’s my story), but I remember sampling the teeniest weeniest little burgers in buns. Sign of the credit crunch or this year’s posh nosh?

The irresistible hero: dressed in a white suit, setting female hearts a flutter with his cheeky grin, displaying the poise of someone 20 years older – it had to be 6-year-old Sam Nathan Saffron!

The last to leave (almost): yours truly and most of the Ed Victor Agency – Maggie, Sophie, Rebecca, Edina and (cue voiceover) Amy from Rhode Island!

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I’m a massive Twilight fan, and I was very excited to see that the first teaser trailer for New Moon (the second book in the Twilight series) is out now. If you haven’t read the book yet (Elizabeth and Georgia), the trailer contains MASSIVE spoilers….you have been warned!

A link to the trailer is here.


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