Risky Regencies

Reads and Things 2008

Over the holiday (no day job for two weeks!) I spent a lot of time watching DVDs (not just Mamma Mia, I swear!). As you may have noticed, I really love movies, and I’m often very inspired by them to find stories of my own. I watched some that were new-to-me and re-watched some favorites. Among the re-watches–Cranford (I would love to do a sort of village-panorama story, if there was a market for such things), Our Mutual Friend, Anna Karenina (with Helen McCrory), and Topsy Turvy (one of my very favorite movies, though this one was an archaic VHS because for some unfathomable reason it is not on DVD). One of the new-to-me DVDs was The Way We Live Now, from the Trollope novel. Matthew McFadyen as a dim-witted cad, pursued by a wild Shirley Henderson! Miranda Otto pretending to be Scarlett O’Hara, threatening to get out her pistols and whips if a jilting Cillian Murphy doesn’t marry her! David Suchet as the ultimate vulgar arriviste! I really liked it, and am not sure how I missed it this long.

I also watched a couple more of those Shakespeare Re-told movies (a few months ago, I saw their genius version of Taming of the Shrew, also with Shirley Henderson and a cross-dressing Rufus Sewall). This time I watched James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes as a celebrity chef and pushy wife version of Macbeth.

Oh, and I also watched Part One of that new version of Tess of the D’urbervilles on PBS. I have never much liked Tess (maybe Hardy is just too fateful and painful for me?), so I’m not much of a judge of how good an adaptation this might be. It sure looks pretty, with all those green rolling hills and picturesque cows, with Gemma Arterton’s pretty hair and Eddie Redmayne’s pretty lips. I do wonder why Hans Matheson seems to think he is playing Chuck Bass, just as he did as a (very whiny and in need of a bath) Essex in that Elizabeth I series with Anne Marie Duff. He was okay in that new Doctor Zhivago, though.

And speaking of Chuck Bass, I’ve also been watching a few season 1 episodes of Gossip Girl and have to say–season 2 has been much stronger. Now if they would just forget the totally wishy-washy Serena and Dan and make it “The All Chuck and Blair All The Time” show, I will be entirely happy.

Oh, but this is a book blog, yes? Okay, here is what my 2008 reading life looked like (from what I can remember):

I am far behind on romance reading. For one thing, much like Elena I can only hold one couple in my mind at the same time, and I have been on a constant deadline this year. I also don’t like to feel inadequate when trying to finish writing a book, which a really, really good read can easily do. So I buy them and save them as vacation and “finish the book” treats! I think I read 4, and one was Diane’s Scandalizing the Ton. I also totally recommend Nicola Cornick’s Unmasked (dark and dramatic, with complex characters and great writing).

In fiction, I really enjoyed With Violets by Elizabeth Robards, a story of the Impressionist artist Bertha Morisot (this was especially good after my France trip and a visit to the Musee d’Orsay). And What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn, a re-telling of Anna Karenina in modern-day New York.

I read a lot more non-fiction. One I loved was Read My Heart: A Love Story in England’s Age of Revolution by Jane Dunn, the tale of Sir William Temple and Dorothy Osborne. The couple fell deeply in love on first meeting, but faced strenuous family objections (the Osbornes were committed Royalists and the Temples sorta Parliamentarians, but the main objection was that neither had money). They wrote passionate letters for 7 years before marrying, and then had a long and loving marriage, despite money challenges, a complex Court career, and the loss of their children. A terrific and inspiring story. (Dunn also wrote some other good non-fiction in years past, like Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens and Moon in Eclipse: A Life of Mary Shelley)

There was Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fisher, about the French explorer, soldier, spy, mariner, etc. I actually did not know much about him except his name when I picked up this book, but as I wrote about last week I’m fascinated by 16th century exploration. Champlain fought for King Henri IV, and over 30 years traveled over 6 Canadian provinces and 5 states, founding and administering French settlements in North America. He also faced intrigue and warfare among native tribes and (worse!) court intrigue in Paris.

I received several books about France for Christmas, like the beautiful Marie Antoinette and the Last Garden at Versailles and A Revolution in Taste: The Rise of French Cuisine. I loved Tony Spawforth’s Versailles: The Biography of a Palace, though it was not long enough! I wanted to know more, he had such a great style and way of making life at Versailles (the good, the bad, the ugly) come vividly to life.

So, happy 2009! May it bring us many good reads…

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Megan Frampton
13 years ago

Oh, oh, oh! I am going to put The Way We Live Now on the queue. And that Cornick book sounds good.

Elena Greene
13 years ago

From your post to my Netflix queue. At least it’s an easy list to manage, though I’m way behind.

I just caught up with the new Mansfield Park the other day, when I wasn’t feeling well. While I didn’t quite hate it, I agreed with many of your earlier comments on the film. Liked Edmund, didn’t care for Fanny, found many of the artistic choices puzzling at best. It’s like if it doesn’t make sense, show some more bosom and hope no one notices?

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

“It’s like if it doesn’t make sense, show some more bosom and hope no one notices?”

LOL!!! Sadly, Elena, I think that was probably the producers’ thinking. 🙂

I watched no Austen over the holiday, because I loaned most of my DVDs to a woman at work who (gasp!) hadn’t seen them. I loaned her P&P and Emma while she had surgery a few months ago, and then she wanted to see them all. And I just now ordered the new S&S, which comes in a package with “Miss Austen Regrets” (using holiday gift cards). Can’t wait to get it!

Megan, I hope you like TWWLN–once I started watching it, I couldn’t stop and watched it all the way through in a long evening. There’s only a little romance in it, but the characters are fascinating!

Cara King
13 years ago

“The Way We Live Now” does sound great! (Though at first I expected it to be a book about dishwashers and SUVs!) 😉

Keira Soleore
13 years ago

You saw some great movies on DVD. I’ve added the following to my Netflix list…

The Way We Live Now (Matthew MacFadyen)
The Taming of the Shrew (Rufus Sewell)
Macbeth (James McAvoy)

I’m watching parts one and two of Cranford this weekend.

I’m probably the rare person who liked Tess in book form; haven’t seen the movie. I have never forgotten that description from the carriage of her lips like ripe strawberries, and what I learned on how to show emotions and events in such a, to me, subtle manner.

Anna Campbell
13 years ago

Hey, Amanda, just popping by to get ready for my visit tomorrow and couldn’t resist commenting on your post. Unmasked is fantastic, isn’t it? I was riveted right from page one and I loved the unusual elements of the story. Did you read Nicola’s Edwardian romance, The Last Rake in London? It was huge fun!

Hey, I love BBC adaptations. We get them here on the ABC (our publicly funded network). I adored Our Mutual Friend. Thought it was the best of the Dickens adaptations. I’ve never been a Hardy fan either! Have you seen the Bleak House adaptation with Gillian Anderson? The ending is too rushed but for most of its length, it’s amazing.

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Hello Anna! I did read “The Last Rake,” on the plane to Europe last fall, and loved it. I wish there were more Edwardian books out there!!

And I agree about the “Bleak House” adaptation–I re-watched that one not too long ago. It was excellent, but I still think “Our Mutual Friend” is a bit better (maybe because the romances are more compelling?) The casting in both series is just right. (I heard there is a new version of “Little Dorritt” that hasn’t played in the US yet–anyone seen it?)

There was once a Hardy adaptation I liked very much, a TV movie of “The Return of the Native” that had Clive Owen and Catherine Zeta Jones. I wonder if that one is on DVD…

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

Amanda, dear, guess what book is on the top of my TBR stack and will be started on Monday? Yes, indeed! High Seas Stowaway! I can’t wait! I don’t read on Sunday as it is my day off and I try to devote all of it to writing. Your book will be my reward for the pages I finish on Sunday!

I have wondered about The Way We Live Now! I am so glad to hear that it was good! Definitely going to get that one. Checking out the others you listed as well.

Isn’t Unmasked fabulous! And The Last Rake in London was SUCH a great read!

I’m sorry, but I just didn’t care for Tess in the book form at all. And I have seen several film versions and NONE of them managed to change my opinion. However, The Return of the Native was not bad at all and I LOVE Clive Owen so I may have to give that version a whirl.

I am so mad at Wal-Mart I could spit! Anna Campbell’s book Tempt the Devil is NOT in my store. Our book guy said it MAY have been deemed too racy for rural Alabama. Give me a break. This small town has got more subplots than a daytime soap, each one more scandalous than the last! And to make matters worse, wal-mart online doesn’t have it either! Of course when I told the girls at work that Tempt the Devil was too racy for Wal-Mart they immediately went to amazon or to the BAM in the next town to get it! VBEG!

I WILL get my copy of TTD and I WILL read it in the workers’ lounge at Wal-Mart so PFFFFFFT to their prudish policies!

Louisa Cornell
13 years ago

YAY!! I just rechecked Wal-Mart’s online site and they DO have Tempt the Devil !!!! It just went online today!! YAY!!

Amanda McCabe
13 years ago

Hmmm, my local Wal mart didn’t have TTD, either–but then, they’re painfully slow about getting books on the shelves. That’s bad since it’s the only place here to get Harlequin Historicals!!

Speaking of which, I hope you like HSS, Louisa! I do get nervous when people I know read my stuff…

Cara King
13 years ago

Oh, and as to the Dickens adaptations, I loved Our Mutual Friend, too, though not quite so well as Martin Chuzzlewit! And I think I liked MC better than Bleak House, too…perhaps because it was a tad less bleak… 😉


13 years ago

Elena wrote:

It’s like if it doesn’t make sense, show some more bosom and hope no one notices?

Well, at least that’s compensation for half the audience!

I didn’t much care for the new Mansfield Park, either. I did like all three of Martin Chuzzlewit, Our Mutual Friend, and Bleak House very much, but they were so separated in time I’m not sure I can compare them. They were all excellent.


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