Weekend picks for book lovers: The love life of King Edward VII

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY’s picks for book lovers include a new biography that dishes about the scandalous love life of England’s Edward VII.

Edward VII: The Prince of Wales and the Women He Loved; Catharine Arnold; St. Martin’s Press, 250 pp.; non-fiction

Victorian England: We know what that was supposed to mean — all priggish prudery and “we-are-not-amused” harrumphing. Except now we know it wasn’t all that, a point driven home by a new biography on the many women in the life of Queen Victoria’s heir, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.

The portly pepperpot of a prince could hardly be considered sexy, even then, but being heir to a 900-year-old monarchy had its charms. And with little else useful to do for 50 years, thanks to one of the worst royal mothers ever, Bertie, as he was called, indulged his sensual tastes for women’s company, often in bed.

At his 1901 coronation, he even invited some of his royal concubines to sit in a pew in Westminster Abbey designated for “the King’s special ladies.” They didn’t call him “Edward the Caresser” for nothing.

Now comes Edward VII: The Prince of Wales and the Women He Loved to give us the 411 on these women. Prostitutes and good-time girls, actresses and aristocrats, socialites and social-climbers, all took a turn in Bertie’s bed, becoming famous, at least among the royal, titled and rich set, for being the Prince of Wales’ mistress.

His lovers included one of the first American “dollar princesses,” Jennie Churchill, Winston’s mum; pin-up beauty Lillie Langtry, the original Jersey girl; the “divine” Sarah Bernhardt, the bisexual French stage actress with an opium habit.

Bertie’s last mistress-in-chief, Mrs. Alice Keppel, was the great-grandmother of Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, the second wife of the current Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, Bertie’s great-great-grandson.

USA TODAY says ***½ out of four stars. “Focuses deliciously on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria’s eldest son.”

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw; Mulholland, 330 pp.; fiction

A police officer named William South on the southeastern coast of England discovers a body connected with his own violent childhood.

USA TODAY says *** stars. “An excellent read.”

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs; Simon & Schuster, 320 pp.; non-fiction

At age 38, Riggs, a poet and direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, discovers that treatments for her breast cancer are no longer working and that the disease has become metastatic and incurable.

USA TODAY says **** stars. “Beautiful and haunting… A book every doctor and patient should read.”

The Force by Don Winslow; William Morrow, 479 pp.; fiction

Winslow’s new crime thriller is a riveting ride-along with the Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite NYPD unit commissioned to battle drugs, guns and gangs in upper Manhattan’s mean streets and projects.

USA TODAY says **** stars. “Intoxicating… sweeping, thoroughly researched.”

The Prisoner in His Palace: Saddam Hussein, His American Guards, and What History Leaves Unsaid by Will Bardenwerper; Scribner, 248 pp.; non-fiction

Tells the story of how Saddam Hussein became an avuncular presence to his 12-man band of U.S. guards, even as they remembered the unspeakable horrors the former Iraqi dictator had perpetrated.

USA TODAY says ***½ stars. “Deftly toggles from a non-stop supply of terror to occasional scenes of normal life.”

Contributing reviewers: Maria Puente, Charles Finch, Matt McCarthy, Don Oldenburg, Ray Locker

usatoday.com