Best Books of 2004

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Sat Jan 1 15:03:08 EST 2005

This really isn't the best exercise for someone so indecisive, but 
Melissa's first BB post made it look like too much fun to resist, and 
I've been hooked ever since.

Before my list, I'm throwing out a bit of symmetry I noticed about my 
reading year which really pleased me (uninteresting trivia to the 
rest of the world though it doubtless is): the first and last books 
of 2004 were new-to-me authors (Gillian Bradshaw and Nina 
Beachcroft), lent by friends, and I loved both.  Oh, and by 
circuitous and direct routes respectively, both friends came to be so 
through this list.

Best Book of 2004: _The Summer Book_, by Tove Jansson

I've already found myself quite unable to describe this book 
adequately, but it was absolutely beautiful, completely real and very 
moving.  Given the expectations I had before reading it, it's almost 
unbelievable that it wasn't a let-down, but it wasn't.

Best First Book/Happiest Independent Discovery: _The Cup of the 
World_, by John Dickinson

I've already raved about this, and already admitted it's probably not 
without flaws, but I really loved it.  Truly wonderful character 
development, great setting, and a deeply complex treatment of moral 
questions.  Also winner of an award for weird and annoying review 
comment: 'To call the novel a fantasy would be to demean it.'  This 
was Jan Mark.  ?!?

Best Recommendations: _Island of Ghosts_, by Gillian Bradshaw and the 
M.V. Hughes books.

IoG was my first and still favourite Gillian Bradshaw, and was pure 
delight.  I've read and loved some of her others in 2004 (_The 
Sand-Reckoner_ especially), and read and not loved some, and have a 
few more to look forward to this year.

I'd never heard of M.V. Hughes before Anna recommended (and kindly 
loaned) the London books to me, and these were another delight! 
Starting with _A London Child of the 1870s_ these are just my idea of 
perfect memoirs. 

Best Re-Recommendation (I love inventing silly categories): Eva 
Ibbotson - the ones I hadn't read before.

On the off-chance Deborah's reading this, I do intend to come back to 
your puzzling comment about _The Secret of Platform 13_ sometime, but 
not quite yet!  I'd read that (it's not my favourite, but still fun), 
_Which Witch_, and _Dial-a-Ghost_, and Cara had read _Island of the 
Aunts_ and _Journey to the River Sea_, but this year I was sent _The 
Great Ghost Rescue_, which is probably my favourite of her children's 
fantasy book group, and led to my reading quite a few more by her .

Guilty Pleasure:  I don't think I've had any real ones this year! 
The closest might be _Ill Wind_, by Rachel Caine, which had three hot 
guys for the heroine (who had an almost perfect body in a bikini, 
mentioned twice I think), but also had a system of magic I found very 
enjoyable and the characters were still very engaging, despite the 
seeming Mary Sue element.  It felt to me strangely like what I 
expected (and didn't find) from Tanya Huff's _Sing the Four Quarters_ 
after the DWJ rec..

Best Comfort Read: _A Countess Below Stairs_, by Eva Ibbotson

If I used the word 'adore' that way, it would describe how I felt 
about this book.  Totally old-fashioned romantic pleasure - with 
gorgeously eccentric and deeply likable secondary characters.  *Nice* 
people in every best possible meaning of the word, and I like nothing 

Most Heartbreaking Book: _Lincoln's Dreams_, Connie Willis

Becca finally forced me to read this - I knew it would leave me in 
bits, but unfortunately finished it the day after a much-loved dog 
was put down, increasing the impact.  It was wonderful, but would 
take me a long time to work up courage for a reread.

Other Great Reads:

_The Ships of Air_, Martha Wells
_The Archon_, Catherine Fisher
_Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress_, Dai Sijie
_North and South_, Elizabeth Gaskall
Several Kage Bakers

And for the not so great - at all ...

_The Pearl of the Soul of the World_, Meredith Ann Pierce
_Sorcery Rising_, Jude Fisher
_Blue Moon Rising_, Simon R. Green
_Waiting for the World to End_   (I'm not giving the author's name, 
as she kindly sent me the book, it's her first, self-published, and 
I'd imagine self-googling is a strong likelihood.)

And those which prove me to be out-of-step with just about *everyone* 
on the big children's lit hits of the moment:

_Inkheart_, Cornelia Funke
_The Tale of Despereaux_, Kate DiCamillo

Finally, looking forward to reading, hopefully in 2005:

_The Gate of Gods_ , Martha Wells
Please, please, the new Connie Willis book, titled 'All-Clear', I think.
More pleases about Emma Bull's _Territory_, which should have been 
published already by now, according to the info in The Green Man 
Definitely more hopes for something new by Megan Whalen Turner.
And two I can't wait to read in published form - both Charlie's: 
_Death of a Ghost_ and the book on the four fantasists (DWJ included, 
of course!).


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