(Some Of) Amanda’s Favorites Of The Year

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I ate too much (of course) and have already spent my gift cards, but I did get the Eiffel Tower Barbie on my list, as well as some Hello Kitty pajamas and Balenciaga Paris shower gel, so it was a happy time all around.

I also love reading the yearly favorites of the other Riskies, and of our visitors, to see what I missed and what I need to buy from the bookstore immediately! (If I had any bookstore gift cards left, that is…). I’ve already talked about a few of my own favorites this year, like Bill Bryson’s At Home and Katie Whitaker’s A Royal Passion, but there was also a lot I enjoyed as well! Here are just a few. Were any of them on your own list? (I tried to divide them into categories, and I’m sure there are a lot I forgot!)

(I haven’t had time to read nearly as much romance as I would like this year, but there were some fabulous ones!)

–Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James: I got to interview Judith James here at the Riskies earlier this year about this book, and it still stays in my head now! My favorite historical romance in quite a while, it has a wonderful, vivid Restoration setting, a truly rakish hero, a spirited heroine, very richly drawn and sexy.

Iron Duke by Meljean Brook: This book has quite rightly gotten an enormous amount of buzz online, and I heartily recommend it! I’ve been obsessed with reading steampunk lately, and this is the best of the genre I’ve found, highly imaginative, complex world-building, action-packed–plus a great hero and heroine. And just look at that cover–yum

In For A Penny by Rose Lerner: a wonderful Regency romance! A typical Regency storyline–rakish lord, marriage of convenience, etc–turned on its head in a deceptively complex story. Great characters and a well-drawn authentic setting!


–Her Highness’s First Murder by Peg Herring: It’s 1546, and a serial killer stalks London. Who better to solve the mystery than the young Princess Elizabeth, especially after one of her own ladies is killed? She joins forces with her physician’s son to track down the killer! Very suspenseful and clever, with another well-drawn setting and fascinating characters. I imagine a young Elizabeth I would be quite a bit like the one in this book…

Bellfield Hall by Anna Dean: the first Regency-set Dido Kent mystery, and I’m already looking forward to the next! Dido is a spinster in 1805, who has to investigate when her niece’s fiance mysteriously disappears during their betrothal ball…

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: Possibly my very favorite work of fiction of the year! I can’t recommend it enough, it was sort of like a more witty Nancy Drew story (with better secondary characters). It’s the 1950s and 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, a budding chemist with a special interest in poisons, has to solve the death of a man in her family’s garden. She is definitely one of the most resourceful characters I have seen! (And the second Flavia book is out soon, yay!)

Historical Fiction

–Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin: an engrossing look at the life of the “real Alice in Wonderland” Alice Liddell (who I did not know had a royal romance with Queen Victoria’s son Prince Leopold as a young lady!)

Charlotte and Emily by Jude Morgan: Like Janet, I’m a huge fan of Jude Morgan’s book, and this was no exception. I read it straight through–definitely the best Bronte historical fiction I have come across. It’s so beautifully written and feels very “real”


Eiffel’s Tower by Jill Jonnes: An account of the building of the Tower and the 1889 Exposition, and all the colorful characters involved in this enormous undertaking (Eiffel himself, of course, as well as Edison, Annie Oakley, an Indian maharajh, Balinese dancers, etc etc). It reminded me of Brunelleschi’s Dome, another account of the times and characters surrounding a phenomenal architectural undertaking

–And along those same lines, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb: a collection of stories about famous and not-so-famous Parisians in various historical periods. I never knew what I would find when I turned the page, and I loved that! I find books like this to be enormous inspiration when coming up with my own plots and characters

Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O’Brien: An account of a journey undertaken by Louisa Adams from St. Petersburg to Paris in the middle of winter in 1815, across war-torn Europe just as Napoleon arrives back from Elba. A wonderful portrait of a strong and fascinating woman (usually overshadowed by her in-laws), her difficult marriage, and the culture of the times against the backdrop of an extraordinary voyage

Fifth Avenue, 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman by Sam Wasson: I was recently reading a film blog about the best movie scenes of the year that mentioned Howard Hawks’ old dictum that a film only needs 3 or 4 scenes to be a good film. In the case of one of my favorite movies ever, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it really only takes one scene to make me ignore the film’s (many) flaws and love it. Well, really there are several bits I love, but the ending is gorgeous. It’s Audrey Hepburn in a trench coat! She can’t find the cat! And it’s raining! And “Moon River” plays and they kiss–okay, now I’m crying. But this book is a great “behind the scenes” look at the making of the movie, and how revolutionary it really was
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff: An attempt to strip away the myths and encrusted conceptions of Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor, etc) and find the real woman, who wielded unprecedented power in a brutal world

Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans: A tremendous undertaking, a history of nothing less than ballet. Of course I loved it! A must-have for anyone who loves the art, it traces the evolution of technique, choreography, and performance. Very beautifully written, and engrossing.

Wait For Me! by Deborah Mitford, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire: A memoir by the 90-year-old duchess (and last surviving Mitford sister), it was funny and charming, though some parts were definitely more interesting than others! (All the Jeeves-and-Woosterish nicknames were hilarious, though I thought she was little too hard on her sister Nancy and too easy on her Nazi-sympathizing sisters Diana and Unity…). I found some of her earlier books very helpful in researching my “duchess” books, Duchess of Sin and The Shy Duchess, and this one was no different.

My favorite “comfort read,” especially when holiday craziness gets to be too much, is Harlequin Presents! This Christmas I read two I especially devoured:

The Twelve Nights of Christmas by Sarah Morgan

And Caught on Camera With the CEO by Natalie Anderson (who is fast becoming my favorite Presents author!)

They saved my sanity this December! But now I’d like to know–where are all these Italian tycoons and Argentinian polo players who are young and gorgeous and like “ordinary” women??? Send them my way asap…

As for movies–it hasn’t been the best of movie years, but I have found some I really loved! (But there are still a few I haven’t seen yet that I am really looking forward to, like The King’s Speech, The Tempest, All Good Things, and Somewhere). A few I enjoyed are: the crazy-over-the-top Black Swan; the gorgeous, operatic I Am Love (I’m amazed Tilda Swinton is not getting more awards buzz for this!); the “the way we live now” The Social Network; the hilarious but also strangely sad Get Him To The Greek; and The Kids Are All Right.

Over at my own blog, I have a look at some of my favorite fashion looks of the year as well! I can’t believe 2010 is almost over.

What did you enjoy this year–and what are you looking forward to in 2011???

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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10 Responses to (Some Of) Amanda’s Favorites Of The Year

  1. Diane Gaston says:

    Great list, Amanda! I love the diversity of your reading list!

  2. Jeanne M says:

    This year I enjoyed the many times my husband and I sat together and read and “compared notes” on what we were reading. The one nice thing about having our children grown and gone is having those types of evenings together.

    I also wanted to thank you for todays “best books” – I not only found two I hadn’t read but also Eiffel’s Tower that will be a great “read” for my husband. Thanks for the great suggestions!

  3. It’s funny–I always feel like I don’t have enough time to read as much as I’d like, and there always seem to be books I can’t get to, but when I look back over the reading year there was so much I liked. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jeanne, “Eiffel’s Tower” was such a fascinating book! It even gave me an idea for a romance novel. ๐Ÿ™‚ The good thing is it’s on the sale table at Barnes and Noble now, so would make a great gift for your husband

  4. Rachel says:

    Oh Amanda, how much I hate you and love you at the same time. My amazon gift cards are gone (I bought Sherlock, Framed and Downtown Abbey from Masterpiece Theatre) but I have a birthday coming up in a few days. My wishlist is now very long thanks to you! Great recs.

  5. LOL Rachel! I hope you enjoy them once you get them. It’s a terrible thing to be out of Amazon giftcards. ๐Ÿ™ (I’ve also spent all my bookstore cards, plus I blew my Target cards on handbags and “Mad Men” DVDs)

    I hope you’ll let us know how “Downton Abbey” is! I’ve heard such great things about it and can’t wait to see it. (I loved “Sherlock” too, but am still peeved about the last scene…)

  6. Rachel says:

    I saw the first episode of Downton Abbey while I was in the UK. It was amazing. Maggie Smith was brilliant. I can’t wait to watch the whole thing. It’s incredibly affordable on amazon ($18) which for a seven episode mini-series is a good deal.

    Sherlock made me happy and yet it made me angry. Angry that I have to wait a year to find out what happens, but happy that there will be another season. Pros and cons.

  7. “Angry that I have to wait a year to find out what happens, but happy that there will be another season. Pros and cons.”

    LOL–exactly! I just hope there are more episodes in the next season.

    And I may have to order DA from Amazon if it’s that cheap! I also want all the “Lark Rise to Candleford” DVDs

  8. Jane George says:

    Thanks for the recs!

  9. librarypat says:

    I have IN FOR A PENNY on my TBR shelf. Many of the other books are on my wish list. I have been pushing mostly comfort reads lately. I am so far behind on everything.

  10. Sarah says:

    I received a copy of Deborah Devonshire’s autobiography for Christmas, and the difference in US and UK covers is intriguing! The addition of her title makes sense enough, but whereas as the US have a glamorous portrait from her youth, we have a photograph of the Dowager Duchess as she is now, feeding her hens! I’m still enjoying her story, and her comedic style of writing, but I wonder if the ‘then vs. now’ photographs would appeal to different readers?

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