Risky Regencies

Great Discoveries of 2006

Great discoveries, whether of silk or of gravity, are always windfalls. They happen to people loafing under trees.”
Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex.

I’ve read a lot of good books this year, tried bravely with a lot of books that I tried to like and couldn’t (but I’m not telling you what they are) and wanted to share with you the following results of my own loafing under trees.

Top of the heap, Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. Its back cover blurb describes it as a literary detective novel, which I suppose it is. The book is about a group of people who you think at first have nothing in common, but as the book progresses, you see how their lives are linked together. Two murders are common threads, but there’s a lot more going on; at the end, you know more than the characters do, and it’s a pleasure to put the pieces together. Wonderfully written, wry, and funny. A sequel has just been released and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I was a bit nervous of Emma Donoghue’s collection of short stories, Touchy Subjects. I loved her first book, Slammerkin, and found myself wondering with her next full-length historical, Life Mask, how such a good writer could make such an interesting setting and group of characters so, well, boring. But I loved these short stories, ranging from the touching and mysterious to the ribaldly funny (hint: gentlemen, do not choose a hotel in Dublin where everyone knows you for an attempt at artifical insemination with your wife’s best friend).

Somehow I missed Jeffrey Eugenides’s brilliant, erotic, funny Middlesex when it first came out in 2003. We’ve been passing Middlesex around at work, and we’ve all been enchanted and thrilled by it. It’s hard to describe what this book is about, a huge, rich, rambling chronicle of a Greek-American family, a cross between Greek myth and Tristram Shandy, spanning decades and generations.

Another book I loved this year, because it had the power to take you into another time, was Kate Dolan’s Restitution. Set in eighteenth-century Maryland, it tells the story of ordinary people caught up in the tumultuous years before American independence; they’re not called upon to perform heroic acts, but they do have to make choices and sacrifices. Restitution blends both fictional and historic characters and paints a wonderfully vivid picture of colonial life.

And, guess what, I actually read some romances this year! And enjoyed them. First, Pam Rosenthal’s wonderful The Slightest Provocation–another book that blends fiction and history. This is a complex, challenging, adventurous read; Rosenthal blends the past and present of her characters, and her hero and heroine are annoying, frustrating, human people who don’t always behave well, but are completely convincing in their frailty. They have a strong sense of the ordinary about them, of people caught up in extraordinary events and times, and trying to make the best decisions. Read the Riskies interview with Pam here.

That’s what I also enjoyed about Eloisa James’s The Taming of the Duke–ordinary people (although more caught up in the trappings of the aristocracy than Rosenthal’s) dealing with ordinary, stupid, human tragedy. I loved the way James dealt with her Duke’s alcoholism–not a hint of modern theory of disease, but a thoroughly believable and moving account of his attempt to remake his life and confront his past. And chock full of literary and theatrical references, a real treat. A perfect romance–why can’t they all be this good?

And a couple of contemporaries, both written by smart Englishwomen (well, Julie’s from Maine, but she sounds English to me, and lives in my home town). Portia da Costa’s Entertaining Mr. Stone is a very funny erotic novel. It’s set, mainly, in a labyrinthine local government office where everyone, er, misbehaves. Imagine Kafka in a good mood letting his hair (or pants) down. A great naughty read. Again, ordinary people faced with the extraordinary. Is this a theme, class?

And Julie Cohen’s Delicious is, in a word, delicious. He’s a superstar chef, she’s a teacher–ordinary people again, more or less. It’s all about taking risks and allowing yourself to trust–nothing new, but beautifully written, and written from the heart, and with deep sympathy for the adolescent kids, who, in a lesser writer, would have been only wallpaper.

My best re-read of 2006 was Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, which I blogged about a few months ago here.

Happy new year, everyone!

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Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I’ll second Pam Rosenthal’s THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION, and throw in Julia Ross’s CLANDESTINE, and Jami Alden’s DELICIOUS (same title as the one Janet mentioned, but a totally different book).

Other books I just loved this year included THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN SIX GLASSES by Tom Standage, Ian Kelley’s bio of BEAU BRUMMELL, and THE TURK also by Tom Standage (an account of a chess-playing automaton that fascinated 18th century Europe).

Apparently I was on a Standage kick and didn’t even know it until I was creating this post . . . I wonder what else he’s written?

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I loved Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummel. Loved it. I also read Mistress of the Elgin Marbles by Susan Nagel, which I did not enjoy as much.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

MISTRESS OF THE ELGIN MARBLES is in my TBR pile (like so many other things).

15 years ago

I third Kalen’s suggestion of Pam Rosenthal’s Slightest Provocation. One of the best non-Riskies romances I’ve read this year.

Eloisa James’s Pleasure for Pleasure and Connie Brockway’s Hot Dish were my latest fun reads.

I’ve recently discovered (finally!) Judith Ivory. WOW! Angel in a Red Dress and Black Silk.

I am currently reading a debut Regency mystery by C.S. Harris, titled What Angels Fear.

On my TBR list: Ian Kelly’s Beau Brummel and any Julia Ross, Judith Ivory, and Laura Kinsale books I can lay my hands on.

I loved The Queen and Marie Antoinette. I recently saw Persuasion (finally!) OK, Cara, I now get the brouhaha over Ciaran Hinds.

15 years ago

Reading and commenting on posts, I’ve missed while on my travels, in reverse order.

Todd, I loved Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf and From Paris to the Moon. Have you read any other Petroski books?

Bertie, drink up your eggnog. In a week’s time, there’s going to be not a drop to be found. And I’d recommend a wee dram o’ whiskey with your ‘nog. Improves the taste tremendously as well as the spirits.

Todd, perhaps Bertie’s valet can fix you an egg drink to cure your sore head. The only solution for too much indulgence is a bit more indulgence. ‘Tis the only solution to stress over the holidays is spiked eggnog.

Diane, what a wonderful Christmas poem. I especially liked: Ring in the valiant man and free, / The larger heart, the kindlier hand;

Amanda, Christmas came early for you with a week off of work. Your such a cutie All the best in the new year for your “Muses” WIP and the two new projects in research phase.

Amanda, I’ve seen Strictly Ballroom so many times, I have some of the dialogue memorized. Heh.

Amanda & Diane, I recently saw the 1997 black-n-white movie by Sally Potter, titled The Tango Lesson. It’s autobiographical (with bad acting on her part), but the hero is real-life tango great, Pablo Verón. And the tango dancing is jaw-dropping.

Amanda, you were such a sweetie.

Lois, happy birthday to you (a couple weeks late, but just as heartfelt 🙂

Susan, hope you’re enjoying your stay in Oklahoma. And hope there were twice as many books as you’d hoped under the tree for you.

Amanda, may the new year bring you many more opportunities to be carded.

Janet, hope Santa brought a present from the Title Fairy, just in time for your newest manuscript.

Elena, I loved the lady’s picture from Following the Fashion. All that running around you’ll be doing over the holidays will I’m sure cancel any of the goodies you consume.

I love the sun and the warmth it brings. But Christmas without snow is like… well, like… a clean-shaven Santa.

Bethany Presbyterian in Seattle
Susan, do be sure to let me know when your church choir is doing a concert. I’d love to attend.

I added Farinelli to my Netflix list. At this rate, if I don’t add any new movies, I’m guaranteed movies through 2009. Hm.

Amanda & Cara: I love Amadeus and Impromptu. Elena, I found Immortal Beloved heartbreaking.

Bertie, a standing ovation on your debut review. A word of caution though: Book reviews are nonfiction pieces of writing, where extemporaneous comments and, er, flights of fancy are kept to a minimum. As to raising a toast for mince pies and brandy: slainte!.

That scene from Pride & Prejudice is huge-sigh-from-my-toes worthy. Who couldn’t possibly be just the slightest bit in love with them? Loved this post, including all the comments, about how the hero and heroine are supposed to fall in love.

Phew! I’m all caught up now on the posts I missed.

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

I too love The Tango Lesson (but it’s partly color, right?). Sally Potter also directed Orlando (based on the Virginia Woolf novel) and The Man Who Cried (starring the lovely and talented Johnny Depp)–all terrific movies.
And welcome back. That was some catch-up!

15 years ago

Thanks, Janet. It’s good to be back. Crying and Johnny Depp. This I must see. I’ve added it to my Netflix list.

15 years ago

Keira wrote:

Todd, I loved Henry Petroski’s The Book on the Bookshelf and From Paris to the Moon. Have you read any other Petroski books?

I’ve read The Evolution of Useful Things, which I also found very interesting, though not as narrowly focused. (He starts by tracing the evolution of the fork and chopsticks.) Another, similar book that I’ve enjoyed is Really Useful: the Origins of Everyday Things by Joel Levy–it’s a big coffee-table book, with beautiful illustrations of, well, everyday things.

The Book on the Bookshelf had a particular resonance with me, though, since I am obsessed with books and libraries. 🙂

Welcome back, BTW, and Happy New Year!


15 years ago

Thanks, Todd. 2007 certainly promises to be a good year!

Janet, yes, I forgot. The Tango Lesson is partly in color. I found that the black-n-white medium worked really well for the tango. I’d forgotten how good visually the contrast and gray tones can be.

15 years ago

Hi Janet

I’m so glad you enjoyed Entertaining Mr Stone! It was a fun book to write, and something of a labour of love. It’s a sweet feeling to hear you say such nice things about it! 🙂



ps. I love The Tango Lesson too. Also Carlos Saura’s ‘Tango’…

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