Big Reads of 2008

I’m blessed with ample reading opportunities on my commute and in the bathtub, and like Diane I also like to read before I go to sleep. So it’s quite common for me to have a book on the metro and a book (or two) at home. You’d think I would have a lot more books to talk about than I actually do. I had to go and look at my account on Goodreads to see what I’ve read this year as well as the ones knocking around in my head.

I don’t read a lot of romance for various reasons, but I have to mention a couple: Pam Rosenthal’s wonderful, inventive, subtle, sexy The Edge of Impropriety, a book for and about grown-ups, and not just because of the sex. Honest. Also Julie Ann Long’s terrific The Perils of Pleasure, with its elegant prose and complex characters, though to be honest I’m not sure what it was about, but heck, I had a good time with it.

I also have been re-reading Heyer after an absence of, uh, several decades. I talked about Regency Buck a couple of weeks ago. I also read Cousin Kate–meh, zzzz, Gothically silly; Frederica–this must be the book which began the tradition in romance of adorable children and rumbunctious cute dogs, or the other way round if you prefer; The Nonesuch–sorry, all I could think of was Where’s Waldo, but it had a terrific spoiled bimbo anti-heroine; Devil’s Cub–loved it up to where Mary shot him and then was appalled that she turned into his mom (but obviously, with a cross-dressing loony as his real mother, what else would we expect?); A Woman of Quality–interesting because it was one of her later books with a heroine who was bored and grumpy, but no discernible plot; and Bath Tangle, which I gave up on after finding the hundreds of characters Heyer tends to throw at you in the first few chapters interchangeable, although I’m sure I would have noticed Mr. Spock, as the cover suggests.

I read the newest release by one of my very favorite authors, Jude Morgan (he’s a guy!), Symphony, about the love affair between actress Harriet Smithson and Hector Berlioz, with whom he fell in love when he saw her in her signature role as Ophelia (in English) in Paris. She inspired him–I guess that’s the right word, maybe it should be tormented him–to write the Symphonie Fantastique.

I discovered a new Irish writer called Tana French who writes modern Irish police procedurals; gorgeous, stylish, thought-provoking stuff. I lay on the sofa the day after Christmas and read her first book, In The Woods, and did nothing else all day. Blissful. I’d read her second, The Likeness, a few weeks before (I tend to read things out of sequence).

Early last year I had the interesting experience of reading, one after the other, two books on the same theme, modern retellings of the Orpheus legend–Gods Behaving Badly, the first novel by a smart, funny young English writer, Marie Phillips; and the beautiful, painful, eloquent Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital.

One book that was a major disappointment, but that translated into a wonderful movie, was The Jane Austen Bookclub (how about this one, Cara?). The writer(s) of the screenplay wisely took the author’s copious telling and translated it into dialogue between the characters. A pity–this was a book I wanted to love.

As for nonfiction, I enjoyed Sultry Climes, a book about the Grand Tour, or the STD Tour, as it should really be known. Those enthusiastic young men often brought back more than a few pieces of statuary from their educational travels. I also found a new book about servants, Master and Servant by Caroline Steedman, a thought-provoking interpretation of master-servant relationships in the late 18th-century, based on the case of an elderly clergyman whose female servant became pregnant (it wasn’t his child), and instead of righteously dismissing her, he kept her and the child in the house, doted on them, and provided for them both in his will.

I also discovered A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House, a collection of watercolors by a young girl named Mary Yelloly, painted in the 1820s when she was between eight and twelve years of age. She only lived to be twenty-one, which gives a sweet poignancy to her pictures. The paintings were discovered and published only recently. You can read about the book here, and this is one of the paintings.

And here’s something I hope you’ll read and enjoy–I’m doing revisions for it at the moment–coming in May, my next book, A Most Lamentable Comedy, available from amazon.co.uk, and although it’s not listed there yet, this UK site, The Book Depository, offers free shipping worldwide.

What are you reading? Plan to read? What books did you enjoy recently?

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20 Responses to Big Reads of 2008

  1. Diane Gaston says:

    Janet, as usual I am all admiration for your reading accomplishments and your selections.

    I must say, I was much better read when I listened to audiobooks on my way to and from work. I “read” all of Austen, most of Heyer, as much of Sharpe that then existed and a variety of other books as well. But I suspect you even put those days to shame with your reading.

    A Picture History of the Grenville Family of Rosedale House sounds like a treasure. I immediately ordered it from Amazon!

  2. I’m about to do a Diane. Order the picture book from Amazon. I have the link opening up in a different window. ๐Ÿ™‚

    2008 was a notable reading year in that I read only one Georgette Heyer: The Masqueraders (sp?).

    In the next two months, I’m looking forward to a contemp by Lisa Kleypas and a historical by Connie Brockway. My list of books-to-buy is long indeed. But this year, I’ve resolved to read a little less fiction, which will only come about if I can stop being tempted; my list of Authors-I-Love is long.

  3. Janet, I also enjoyed “Gods Behaving Badly” very much (especially the first part, with the grotty house and the ridiculously un-godly jobs!), and I liked “Symphony,” though not as much as Morgan’s previous book, the one about the Romantic poets!

  4. Cara King says:

    Keira, I love the Masqueraders! Such fun.

    Janet, I think Frederica is the only book on your Heyer list that I’d put in my top two Heyer tiers…oh, wait, Devil’s Cub, too. IMHO Cousin Kate didn’t quite work, Lady of Quality was tired and repetitive (and lacks plot towards the end), Regency Buck was a jerk… Oh, I guess Nonesuch would go in my second tier, too. (Used to be in my first!)

    Bath Tangle I find hard to take.

    I found the Jane Austen Bookclub movie disappointing, actually! I think you’re the only person I know who really liked it…

    Cara

  5. I was disappointed in the Jane Austen Book Club, too. Didn’t see the movie. I loved the Nonesuch, I would put that in the first tier of Heyers. Along with Devil’s Cub.

  6. M. says:

    After encountering the Heyer name so much recently, I launched on my first title…and got stuck half way through. It’s ‘Bath Tangle’ (my cover has no hint of Spock, darn it)and as of this moment I’m asking myself where all the original, sympathetic characters and witty dialogue are. Most of the book seems concerned with the characters all remarking to themselves or others how gauche/badly behaved someone else is.

    As of this moment, I’m not discerning the Heyer genius.

  7. Cara King says:

    You just started with the wrong one, M! Heyer published about fifty novels, and they’re not equally enjoyable — and unfortunately, you started with one of her most widely disliked.

    She wrote to support her family much of the time, so if it was a year when she or her husband was sick, or someone close to her died, or something, she still had to write and publish…and so her books aren’t evenly good, IMHO.

    To see her true genius, I’d recommend you forget about finishing Bath Tangle, and instead try on of the following:

    For an action-packed 18th-century romantic adventure with Scarlet Pimpernel overtones: THESE OLD SHADES

    For a comic 18th-century romance also with SP overtones: THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE

    For her most Jane Austeny romance, with an independent heroine and a rake hero: VENETIA

    For an extremely funny, often farcical, not overly “romantic” novel with a young hero and heroine: FRIDAY’S CHILD

    For a sexy clash of wills with a powerful hero and heroine: FARO’S DAUGHTER

    For a great, funny, warm, colorful family story/romance with an intelligent heroine: FREDERICA

    Other good places to start would include BLACK SHEEP, SYLVESTER, and THE UNKNOWN AJAX.

    IMHO, the worst romances to start with include BATH TANGLE, APRIL LADY, CHARITY GIRL, LADY OF QUALITY, COUSIN KATE, and A CIVIL CONTRACT.

    Good luck!

    Cara

  8. Cara, what an excellent Heyer summation!

  9. janegeorge says:

    Wow, that picture book looks incredible. I’ve added it to my list.

    LOL on the Spock/Heyer cover reference. Which reminds me, I recently attended a burlesque/variety revue where I saw The Final Frontiersmen. OMG. Jane Bob sez check ’em out!
    http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=300587581

  10. Elena Greene says:

    Yes, Cara, that was a great summation and I pretty much agree with your tiers. I like SYLVESTER a lot because of the interestingly flawed characters.

    That picture book is now on my wish list. It sounds a bit like MRS HURST DANCING which I enjoy very much.

  11. Thanks for the great analysis of Heyer books, Cara! I think I’d better try Venetia or Sylvester next.

    Yes, the Grenville book is rather like Mrs Hurst Dancing, one of my favorite books.

    And, boohoo, I just found out my book has been pushed back to August! But I’ll get some cover flats soon.

  12. Janet, Venetia, next, please.

    Cara, fabulous analysis!

  13. Cara King says:

    Wow, thanks, everyone!

    Though I’m sure I left out some key books… ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Cara

  14. M. says:

    Gah! I also have ‘April Lady’ in my TBR pile! I stumbled upon someone’s Heyer castoffs!

  15. Santa says:

    YES! A new book from Janet. Color me happy!

    I’d say some of the best reads I enjoyed this past year was the stash of Mary Balogh traditional Regencies that I pounced on at my UBS! It more than filled the holes in her backlist without paying EBay prices.

    There are a ton of books coming out that I’m looking forward to. I can’t even begin to list them all here.

    What I would like to try this year is to get into Georgette Heyer. I’ve tried and tried. A Civil Contract was my first Heyer book and the hero POed me so much that it tainted a couple of the other books I’ve tried. Sigh.

  16. Diane Gaston says:

    A Civil Contract was my first Heyer book and the hero POed me so much that it tainted a couple of the other books I’ve tried. Sigh.

    I really really did not like A Civil Contract. I never found the heroine appealing, even though I felt sorry for her. And the hero never fell in love with her; he just sorta accommodated to her. The one thing I liked about it was the way the hero recovered his fortune.

    Try Venetia, Santa.

    I think Heyer’s books may be important for sparking the Regency genre but maybe now we’ve all read such wonderful Regencies that we see the flaws in hers.

  17. Cara King says:

    What I would like to try this year is to get into Georgette Heyer. I’ve tried and tried. A Civil Contract was my first Heyer book and the hero POed me so much that it tainted a couple of the other books I’ve tried. Sigh.

    Hmm… Not knowing precise which annoying part of him tainted the other books, Santa, I’m not entirely sure of the best recommendation for untainting your enjoyment, but…. ๐Ÿ™‚

    — If you thought he was too much of a jerk in general (too much of a bully, or too vain), I would recommend THE FOUNDLING…in which the hero is anything but. (Though there’s not a huge amount of romance in that book, I still love it. Great, unusual hero, and a wonderful view into the amazing lives of dukes.)

    — If you thought he ended up not dedicated enough to the heroine (which IMHO is the biggest thing that disappoints me in that book), you might try VENETIA or COTILLION.

    — If you thought he was too much of a snob, you might try THE UNKNOWN AJAX or BLACK SHEEP.

    Good luck!

    Cara (the obsessive Heyer fan)

  18. Cara King says:

    I think Heyer’s books may be important for sparking the Regency genre but maybe now we’ve all read such wonderful Regencies that we see the flaws in hers.

    I guess I’m very much of an opposite opinion, Diane! When I started reading Regencies, I read probably 2/3 Heyer…and I saw flaws right from the start. IMHO, her books are definitely not equally good — but I think that’s because she was ambitious, and constantly trying new things, and these things didn’t always work. (Plus she had to write for a money, and so occasionally turned out work that she herself felt was inferior.)

    But in what she did best, I’ve never yet seen an author even come close. (Then again, I’m not saying that what she did best is better than what a lot of modern authors do best…but there’s a reason she had and has so very many passionate fans…)

    Plus, as she was writing for a hardcover publisher that usually expected one novel a year from her, she had the freedom to write long books with tons of fun (non-plot-crucial) scenes and subplots and texture and all sorts of things that a lot of authors don’t necessarily have the freedom to do nowadays, when they have to generally stick to 100,000 words or less and usually stay on topic and have romance be strongly present throughout the book…

    (Which is not to say that the modern romances I’m talking about aren’t also wonderful…but I do think modern readers can often find things in Heyer they have trouble finding elsewhere…)

    Cara

  19. Diane Gaston says:

    Cara, I LOVE Heyer and think she deserves every accolade.

    I think some readers, so used to Romance, might be more bothered by her weaker books than her contemporary readers would have been.

  20. Todd says:

    My opinions largely line up with Cara’s (isn’t that weird?), but one Heyer that I like very much that I think she doesn’t like quite as well is The Grand Sophy. Very funny, with a great, strong-willed heroine and stubborn but well-meaning hero.

    I think A Civil Contract leaves many people unhappy…a romance in which one of the couple cares much more than the other, or in which one or both seem to be “settling,” is very unsatisfying. And I also don’t much care for The Reluctant Widow, which has hardly any romance at all. (It’s basically a mystery.)

    Todd-who-still-has-a-few-titles-to-go

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