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. 🙂

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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