[DWJ] Best Books of 2006 (complete with silly categories, and much longer than it should be )

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Sat Dec 30 07:48:39 EST 2006

There's actually some chance that things might change before the end 
of tomorrow, but as my scribbled short-list ran to some 26 books, it 
seemed marginally more sensible to go ahead and do this thing now. 
Over-all it was an unusual but good year (wrt reading, this is - RL 
is another story); I read all the Casson family books for the first 
time, all of Jaclyn Moriarty's books, John Green, Laurie Halse 
Anderson's Speak...   So there was nothing for it but continue 
inventing new categories and sub-categories, and forget about any 
attempt to pin down *one* best book.  Almost all are YA or 
children's, and surprisingly few spec fic.

Best 'series' fight-out:

Hilary McKay's Casson family books (but not so much Caddy Ever After, 
which I found a *little* disappointing, both in style and plot) vs 
Jaclyn Moriarty's books (but definitely not Becoming Bindy MacKenzie, 
which I found a lot disappointing).  Both manage to achieve a 
wonderful mix of hilariously funny and wise; both have great 
characters; both do somewhat improbable wackiness while achieving an 
emotionally satisfying realism.  If I were forced to choose between 
them, it would be very difficult indeed.  I think it would come down 
to a choice between the fun of the format of Feeling Sorry for Celia 
& Finding Cassie Crazy* - epistolary plus - and the odd beautiful bit 
of prose of the Hilary McKays, getting you right in the solar plexus 
as you've just fallen off your chair laughing.  Every time I think 
I've gone for the latter, I remember something like the perfect 
lightness-of-touch which which JM snuck in the self-harming in 
Finding Cassie Crazy, and I hesitate again.  But what a year, in 
reading all of both.

* Probably preaching to the choir here on these two authors anyway, 
but in case anyone hasn't heard of them and wants to try - the Hilary 
McKay books should be read in order (Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star and 
Permanent Rose) and Finding Cassie Crazy was called The Year of 
Secret Assignments in the US.  Becoming Bindy MacKenzie was The 
Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, I think.

Best YA trauma (with lots of humour and intelligence):

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  See - by making the previous 
category for (loose) series, I can put this in a separate one.  I'd 
heard raving about this in various places but kept my distance 
because I'd thought it was going to be in the 'Well done but makes 
you want to crawl in bed and stay there forever' class.  I'm a wimp 
about trauma.  Big-time.  This was just wonderful, though.  If I 
hadn't already used all the funny-but-very-moving descriptions for 
HMcK and JM, I'd feel better talking about this book, but will leave 
it at amazing, and wimps like me don't need to avoid it.

Any other year, several other books would have been strong contenders 
for this Best as well:  The Boyfriend List, by E. Lockhart (don't be 
put off by the fluffy title); Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta 
(thought it lost it a bit at the end, but still very good, and also 
want to read Looking for Alibrandi and her latest - thanks to Jon for 
the rec for the latter); Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen (others of 
hers on the TBR pile too).

And in a similar category but children's rather than YA (and less 
angst) are Happy Kid! by Gail Gauthier and Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs 
Fall in Love (don't go by the title!) by Maryrose Wood.

Best Dystopias for younger ages:

Siberia, by Ann Halen and The Giver, by Lois Lowry.  Probably 
everyone in the world had read The Giver aside from me, but I was 
happy to join the throng of admirers whenever.  And Siberia (a 
Sherwood Smith rec) was beautifully done too.

Best Greek/Norse Myth-based books:

Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books and Nancy Farmer's The Sea of 
Trolls respectively.  The Percy Jacksons were being raved about on 
many of my favourite blogs, and turned out to be just as much fun as 
promised, and Sea of Trolls was loaned by Dorian and I *still* 
managed to be surprised by how much I liked it.

Best I don't quite know why I liked this so much when it had moments 
I thought it was losing it entirely book:

Exchange, by Paul Magrs.  I think there were enough 'Oh yes - that's 
a perfect description of the experience of loss, reading, life' 
places that the few OTT ones, or I'd dearly love to argue that with 
the author ones, or whatever else, didn't overwhelm it.  (Also 
clearly the book I find hardest to talk about, given the hopelessness 
of this category and following babbling.)

Best first novel:

I *thought* this was going to be the one easy decision, with 
Catherine Gilbert Murdoch's Dairy Queen fitting the bill so 
perfectly.  But then I remembered that John Green's Looking for 
Alaska was also a first, and had to re-think.  Finally, I decided 
Dairy Queen first, with Alaska close runner-up, was probably right. 
I didn't have one single negative thought about Dairy Queen, and 
that's saying a lot, given my horrendous pickiness.  (Only one minor 
one for Looking for Alaska, which is another wonderful book.)  Dairy 
Queen is in that same, favourite funny-and-wise category, and I 
enjoyed every single page, despite my intense lack of sportiness and 
lack of interest in myself being involved in family-owned farm.  (All 
in favour of them and those who want to, of course!)  I dreaded 
Looking for Alaska a tiny bit, given all I'd heard about its 
(relative) darkness, but An Abundance of Katherines put JG on my 
have-to-read-everything-he-writes list, and it wasn't too dark after 

Book which left me most impatiently awaiting the sequel:

Inda, by Sherwood Smith.  Not even all the Sherwood Smith fans among 
friends have liked it as much as her others, but I loved it.  And, 
this was also the most quickly gratified wish, as I got to read Inda 
2 as WIP this summer, with help from Charlie!  Big, engaging fantasy, 
without any touch of simplistic black-and-white morality, and with an 
incredible depth to the world.

I've run out of category-making steam, but these have to be recommended:

- An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
- Solstice Wood, by Patricia McKillip
- The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner (well, suppose that 
doesn't *have* to be recommended, as all MWT fans were going mad 
waiting for it)
- The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (ditto, because Melissa recommended 
it ages ago)
- Arthur: The Seeing Stone, by Kevin Crossley-Holland (many more 
quibbles with the second and third (half-way through this), but even 
those are still worth reading)
- The Loud Silence of Francine Green, by Karen Cushman
- Gideon the Cutpurse, by Linda Buckley-Archer (again, quibbles, but 
not enough to ruin the enjoyment)
- Into the Woods, by Lyn Gardner (quibbles yet again, but still with 
the highly enjoyable)
- Saga, by Conor Kostick (as intelligent and idea-rich as Epic, and 

And finally, the not-so-good.

Most unreadable, with feeling-worst apologies to the friend who liked 
it, whose reading taste I respect enormously:

Does My Head Look Big in This?, by Randa Abdel-Fattah.  Fantastic 
idea, I was very enthusiastic about reading it and expected to like 
it, but couldn't finish it.

I'd hesitate to call it the Worst Book of 2006, but not quite sure 
what else to call it - perhaps book I most enjoyed pulling apart:

I, Coriander, by Sally Gardner.   (Again, apologies to list-members 
who liked/loved it.)  What got to me about it?  The ideological bias, 
for starters.  Granted, no author (or reader!) can ever be free of 
his or her own preferences, dislikes, or (often incompletely 
examined) assumptions, but this book went way, way beyond that, in 
its presentation of London during the Protectorate, with the 
Royalists as all-wonderful and the Parliamentarians/Puritans as 
all-evil.  A few (relatively minor) historical inaccuracies combined 
with 'accuracies' that left out so much they became downright 
misleading, all to show how nasty the puritans were.  And if this 
simplistic binary opposition wasn't enough, there was an added bonus 
in the ugly-in-spirit = ugly-in-body one (hey - the evil stepmother 
is ugly AND fat - yay) (and we're not talking 
fat-without-puritanical-disapproval-of-gluttony, either).  Add to 
that a Fairie with some odd, if not downright senseless elements, 
unbelievable aspects of both Fairie and the 'real world', a complete 
nonentity for romantic hero, and - I'm sorry, but the most bizarre 
Resolution of All Problems I've read in ages, and ...  Yes, actually, 
this *is* a slightly toned-down version of what I thought of this 

And lest anyone think I'd be embarrassed out of mentioning any of 
Charlie's books on my Best list just because people *might* suspect I 
was a touch biased - not likely. I'd already read The Lurkers and 
Four British Fantasists (both published this year), in various 
versions, starting last year, but that doesn't mean they'll be 
without my votes.   Both in print - don't miss them!


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