Book Year in Review

I have to admit–I haven’t read much fiction this year! The reason is simple. I’ve had tight deadlines, and when I’m working on my own stuff I avoid other novels. My ego is fragile enough as I try to finish a story, I don’t need a fabulous book giving me a breakdown. I would end up spending all my writing time sobbing “My book will never be as good as this! Never, I say!” So, I buy books and put them on my teetering TBR mountain, and save them for a bribe for finishing the book before deadline. Or at least on deadline.

On my romance TBR pile right now are: Janet’s Rules of Gentility (soon to be joined by Diane’s Vanishing Viscountess and Michelle Willingham’s Her Warrior King), Elizabeth Hoyt’s second two books of the Prince trilogy, Juliet Landon’s The Warlord’s Mistress, Kathryn Albright’s The Angel and the Outlaw, and Lisa Kleypas’s entire “Seasons” quartet (yes, I’m a bit behind). I’ve also been re-reading Mistletoe Kisses for the holiday season, which includes Diane’s novella Twelfth Night Tale. It’s perfect for escaping from modern-day holiday madness!

I’ve been mostly reading non-fiction, research type books, but there have been several real gems this year. I had to cut my list down to the Very Best, and here are just a few:

Janet Todd’s Death and the Maidens: Yes, yet another book about the Shelley circle, but Todd (who also has great bios of Mary Wollstonecraft and Aphra Behn to her name) centers her story on the rarely-seen Fanny Wollstonecraft, go-between, smoother-over, overlooked first daughter of MW, who killed herself at age 22. It’s also a meditation on the role of all women in this sphere, which makes me feel lucky to have only known them through books!

Janet Gleeson’s Privilege and Scandal: a biography of Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough, sister and inseparable friend of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, mother of Caroline Lamb, lover of–well, lots of people. Her life in many ways mirrored that of her sister–turbulent marriages, massive debts, illness, travel, dramatic love affairs. All written in a riveting style that turns these long-ago lives into fascinating soap opera!

Lucy Worsley’s Cavalier: A Tale of Chivalry, Passion, and Great Houses: Worsley is Chief Curator of Britain’s Historic Royal Palaces (a job I envy deeply), this detailed book centered on the 17th century William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, shows her work in every loving, lavish detail of his houses and all the people who lived in them. A fabulous resource for the period. (For more of this family, check out Katie Whitaker’s terrific biography of William’s author wife Margaret, Mad Madge)

Linda Colley’s The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: I recently saw that the NY Times listed this as one of their Top Ten books of the year, which surprised me. Not because this isn’t a great book, which it is, but because I thought I had found a hidden gem, LOL! This book chronicles the obscure but extremely adventurous life of 18th century Elizabeth Marsh. She came from a seafaring family who rose to prosperity thanks to an ambitious uncle in the Admiralty. At 20, she was captured by Barbary pirates and nearly ended in the Morcocan sultan’s harem. She married a British merchant, and went through times of prosperity and high living followed by bankruptcy and a new life in India (where she spent 18 months touring the country in the company of a dashing officer who was not her husband!). And these were just a few of her adventures…

And Georgina Howell’s Gertude Bell, Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations: Another book about an adventurous woman! Gertrude Bell is not obscure like Elizabeth Marsh, but I find the details of her life fascinating. Born into England’s 6th richest family, she was a poet, historian, archaeologist, mountaineer, gardener, linguist, and politician who was vital in shaping the early 20th century Middle East (which also makes her story very timely for today).

As far as films go, for most of the year I was pretty disappointed by the movies I saw. Then, in the last few weeks, I’ve seen 4 great ones! Atonement, Juno, Enchanted, and the DVD of the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose. All very different, but all highly recommended. ๐Ÿ™‚

So, that is my reading year in review! I just hope 2008 is just as great. What have been your own favorite reads this year? What are you looking forward to in the coming months??

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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21 Responses to Book Year in Review

  1. Jenny says:


    Thanks for pointing me to some wonderful new nonfiction books of the type I love. I’ve just ordered three of them from Interlibrary Loan. I’d read the Gertrude Bell book, but that was the only one I knew about.

    Here some new books I read this year that perhaps some of you would enjoy:

    Fathers and Sons : The Autobiography of a Family, Alexander Waugh.
    Evelyn’s son describes three generations of difficult father/son relationships.

    Dark North, Gillian Bradshaw.
    Bradshaw has been on my “Must Read” list since Hawk of May. I can’t think of anyone who writes a better historical novel. This book is set in an army camp in the North of Roman Britain in 208 AD with a Moorish hero. The book is MUCH better than any description of it would make it sound.

    The Verneys : a True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-century England. Adrian Tinniswood.
    Drawing on family documents this is an interesting look at a more typical family that isn’t famous or filled with authors.


    The Commonwealth of Thieves : The Improbable Birth of Australia. Thomas Keneally.
    A fascinating look at the fate of those first shiploads of convicts who were transported to New South Wales. Lots of great details about the way of life. Terrific read!

  2. Cara King says:

    I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the movie of Atonement! And Juno. And the video of La Vie En Rose.

    Just saw Sweeney Todd last night…

    And so, so many books on my TBR list… (And 140 movies in my netflix queue! Never enough time…) ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. I’ve got Death and the Maidens lined up too, Amanda — to join Passion and Love’s Children. The fascination of those Godwin girls (all three) seems unending.

  4. Diane Gaston says:

    Thank you for mentioning Mistletoe Kisses, Amanda!

    The other books sound wonderful. I sure hope I get some bookstore giftcards for Christmas.

    I have the Privlege and Scandal book (didn’t I buy it in Williamsburg when we went?) and, Jenny, I have The Verneys, too, Jenny.

    Would everyone PLEASE stop listing books, because I might go bankrupt…or run out of space in my house.

  5. What did you think of Sweeney Todd, Cara? I’m debating whether I should go see it next week…

  6. Susan/DC says:

    “Mistletoe Kisses” definitely brightened my holiday. For whatever reason, I’m a sucker for Christmas stories.

    I saw “La Vie en Rose” when it was in theatres and enjoyed it, even though Piaf was not always a likable character. However, I must admit that one reason I liked it so much, beyond Marion Cotillard’s amazing embodiment of Piaf, was Jean-Pierre Martins, who now is the image I think of when I read of all those gorgeous dark-haired heroes in romance novels. And if any of you Risky authors wrote a character based on the events of Piaf’s life — raised in a brothel, father a contortionist in a traveling circus (and that was only her early life) — critics would castigate you for over-the-top writing.

  7. I’ve just come back from seeing Atonement; it’s a really wonderful movie.

  8. Well, it’s about as far from romance fare as you can get (ee-yeww depressing!) but I thought The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was fantastic and like nothing I’ve ever seen. There’s a sense of moment-to-moment beauty about it that I found uncanny and unforgettable.

  9. doglady says:

    I echo the Divine Ms. G. Please stop listing books. The floors of my house are going to cave in if I buy all of the books I have discovered because of the Riskies! I really want to see Atonement and Sweeney Todd. I sang in the opera and it is a deliciously mad story.

  10. “Drawing on family documents this is an interesting look at a more typical family that isn’t famous or filled with authors.”

    I was struck, though, by how many of the women in their family were such free-thinking sorts! ๐Ÿ™‚ Such a fascinating time period.

    Pam, “Diving Bell…” isn’t playing around here yet, but I’ve heard such great things about it! I was a bit worried about how the director would adapt Atonement, it’s such a beautiful book, but it came off very well. I hope James McAvoy isn’t overlooked at Oscar time, as he was last year!

  11. I’m dying to see Enchanted and Stardust. And yes, isn’t Keira Knightley’s emerald dress FABULOUS in Atonement? I really enjoyed La Vie en Rose.

    Cara, how was Sweeny Todd??

    Ammanda, I would recommend going from book #1 to book #3 then coming back to book#2 of Hoyt’s Prince trilogies. Lisa Kleypas published book #1 of her Gypsy series that leads off the Wallflower series, so get, er, cracking with reading her books. I ADORE, ADORE her and her books.

    Cara, hope you and Todd are on the mendโ€”Todd from the wounds of his defeat and you from Todd’s wounds of defeat.

    I am completely at odds with everyone who’s seen Atonement: I was disappointed in the movie.

    And I have a confession to make here. When I really like a book, I’ll re-read. Right away. I’m on my third consecutive reading of a certain DG’s VV.


  12. Cara King says:

    I really liked Sweeney Todd! Though I will say that it’s *very* bloody…lots of violence, lots of gore. (I looked away during most of that, though; the good thing about it is you can see it coming, and look away in time!) ๐Ÿ™‚

    I know the musical somewhat; I saw it on stage once, saw the PBS video of the original stage show, and know a few of the songs from recordings. But I really don’t know it all that well. Todd, though, knows it much better than I do, and he liked it too!

    I thought Johnny Depp did very well in the singing department; okay, he’s no Len Cariou, but as it’s a movie, he didn’t have to be. Very nice voice, and I thought very successful interpretations of the songs.

    I didn’t think Helena Bonham Carter’s voice was quite up to what all the songs needed, though. But the actors playing Johanna and Anthony (both very new to film, and quite young) have lovely voices.

    And I thought it stayed quite true to the original (cuts, yes, and a few changes, but no distortions), and yet was very cinematic.

    Anyway, that’s my report on it!


  13. Thanks, Cara.

    I’m wondering if I can con, er persude, Hubby for kid duty every night for the next four nights so I can catch up to the pre-Xmas releases. Hm. All the possibilities…

  14. Todd says:

    Having finally gotten my head above water long enough to comment…

    Keira, we may have to fight another duel to decide who won the last duel. But it is The Christmas Season, and dueling seems contrary to the spirit of it all.

    I liked Sweeney Todd very much. I’ve always had a peculiar attachment to that show…can’t think why, really…and I was very wary when I heard that they were doing a film version where almost all the major roles were played by non-singing types. But I thought it was very successful! And they did go with real singers for Johanna and Anthony. (Both very young, pretty types as well, I noticed.)

    Anyway, I thought it was very good, and I hope it does well. Not really typical Christmas fare!


  15. Todd says:

    Oh, and I guess this is my last chance to comment about what books I’ve liked this year. I’m not great at picking favorites, but here are a few that I’ve enjoyed, fiction and nonfiction.

    The Sea Rover’s Practice, by Benerson Little. About pirates and privateers in the 17th and 18th centuries. I also read a very charming selection of Charles Lamb’s letters, and the first two years of Pepys’s diaries.

    Two books that fit a theme: Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. Classic science fiction about the world after a plague wipes out nearly all of humanity. And The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, who uses the idea of what would happen if we all suddenly disappeared to examine the impact of humans on the environment. These both also eerily fit with the recent film I Am Legend.

    Also in nonfiction, The Shock of the Old by David Edgerton, about the different ways technology is adapted in the rich and poor worlds.

    Some excellent children’s books: Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, and The House of Arden by E. Nesbit. And, of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling (which I read along with the rest of the literate world).

    And a book I’m reading right now, and really enjoying: My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk.

    Too long a list, already! And I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t really read that much romance this year. So that sounds like good grounds for a New Year’s Resolution!


  16. “Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild,”

    This was one of my very favorite books when I was a kid! I also loved Skating Shoes (I cherish my dog-chewed old copy, since it’s out of print!) and Theater Shoes. I think I was a budding Anglophile back then. ๐Ÿ™‚

    “Ammanda, I would recommend going from book #1 to book #3 then coming back to book#2 of Hoyt’s Prince trilogies.”

    I’ll take your advice, Keira! I read book 1 just a few days ago, and have 2 and 3–I’ll read 3 next. I let the book sit for a long time because I wasn’t sure I would like the premise–heroes sometimes look like dolts when they don’t recognize the heroine just because she puts a mask on, lol! But I was totally swept up in the characters.

  17. And I’m going to see Sweeney Todd on Christmas, too–thanks for the review, Cara and Todd! I always try to escape the family to the movies on Christmas. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  19. A final salvo from me before the holiday and our trip…

    Riskies, you’ve made this year a very fun one for me, filled with laughter, teasing, tons upon tons of learning, and close friendships. Thank you for your kind and warm welcome to your online home. I look forward to a great 2008 with you. Merry Christmas!!

  20. Cara King says:

    And Merry Christmas to you, too, Keira!

    And to everybody! (Unless you don’t celebrate Christmas, in which case, happy week!)


  21. Todd says:

    Cara wrote:

    And Merry Christmas to you, too, Keira!

    And to everybody! (Unless you don’t celebrate Christmas, in which case, happy week!)

    And Deity-of-Choice bless us, every one!


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