[DWJ] Best Books of 2005

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Mon Jan 2 11:27:42 EST 2006

Though I should really change the subject for mine...   The end of 
course assignment for the final course of my degree was one of such 
horror, its scarring is still making itself felt: we'd to choose one 
(of a bizarre short-list of four) novel as the best of the 20th 
century (with wrinkles to the nastiness like ... no, I'll resist!). 
The fact that I actually submitted the blessed thing is testimony to 
the patience of those who listened to me *endlessly* moaning and 
bitching about this assignment.   So I'm not going to choose a best 
anything for a while, and will instead just ramble on a bit about 
some books I really enjoyed and some I didn't - without even 
attempting to establish my criteria for judging literature or defend 
- - oh, sorry again!  Most of them are  probably books I've already 
talked about, either here or on LJ, but nobody needs to read this 
anyway.  (Not being marked - which is joyous both for me and those 
who suffer with marking at this time of year!)

In case the length of this induces people not to bother reading all 
the way through, I'll start where I would normally finish my list. 
Last year I ended with books I was looking forward to reading or 
reading in published form in 2005, including two of Charlie's: _Death 
of a Ghost_ and _Four British Fantasists_ .  It looked very much as 
if I'd end up saying the same thing about those two this year, but 
thanks to the wonders of authors' copies, I now have DoaG with cover 
and all in my possession.  It's shipping from Amazon, and is either 
in shops now or will be soon, so everyone should get hold of this, as 
it's  fantastic.  Wonderful chapter/section pictures inside are done 
by David Wyatt, who also did the ones for _The Merlin Conspiracy_ 
too.  (Lest anyone's worrying on his behalf, Charlie *is* aware that 
I'm angling for a job as his PR person when he finally gets the 
literary fame he so deserves, so worry no longer.)

_Four British Fantasists_  is due out this May (at least I think it's 
May) in the US, and is going to be a must-read for DWJ fans.  Not to 
mention DWJ folks who might happen to be also Susan Cooper, Alan 
Garner and/or Penelope Lively fans.  Leaving aside (for the moment) 
the fascination of the subject matter, one of the things which is so 
impressive about it is the balance Charlie's achieved between 
rigorous scholarship and showing his own admiration for the works of 
these four authors: not something I think many academics are able to 
do (or willing to risk doing perhaps).  A job made even trickier by 
the fact that he's friends with two of them!  It's also a perfect 
balance between deeply thought-provoking and easily accessible - 
another not-always-achieved balance.  Just brilliant.

The Theme of the Year - End of Trilogies/Series:

Odd how these things group, for some reason (or none).  I read at 
least six, though admittedly two weren't published this year.

_The Witch of Clatteringshaws_ finished off Joan Aiken's 
Dido/whatever books, as most people probably know.  It wasn't the 
best in the series, IMO, but all the same, that's a series with a 
pretty high 'best', and there was still a *lot* to love about the 
book.  And an almost perfect resolution, given the circumstances of 
its writing.  The Afterword was very poignant, and I hope that JA 
herself got as much satisfaction from wrapping the series up for her 
characters as her many fans will have from reading.

_The Scarab_ was the last of Catherine Fisher's Oracle sequence, and 
was a more than satisfying conclusion as well, if not quite my 
favourite of the three.  The Underworld just rocked, and they were 
there for quite a while, so it must have been difficult to sustain. 
(It came off much better than the Otherworld in her _Darkhenge_, 
which I also read this year, and enjoyed, but not much more.)

_Ptolemy's Gate_ I was a bit doubtful about even trying, as I'd found 
the second one much less likeable than the first, but I was glad I 
had.  Surprisingly sad ending, I thought, but better - ehn, was going 
to work on a paraphrasing of 'Better drowned than duffers', but that 
would be too spoilerish.

The other gate, was of course _The Gate of the Gods_, by Martha 
Wells.  After stupid Amazon messed up the pre-orders (gah!) my 
anticipation level was higher than ever, and it should have been too 
high for this not to be disappointing, but it wasn't.  If anyone 
still has this to look forward to, and has the chance, I think 
rereading the other two books would be very helpful (I was too 
impatient), but it was great even without that.

Some Others I Enjoyed a Lot Without Bothering to Rank:

_The Child That Books Built_, Francis Spufford.  Great book - 
fascinating pulling together of a lot of disparate areas, all around 
the books he read as a child.  (And I'm v. proud of my signed copy, 
which I got by tagging along with Charlie when he met FS for coffee 
at Worldcon!)

Read quite a few books/novellas/short stories by Patricia McKillip 
this year, and enjoyed most of them, to varying degrees.  I think my 
favourite was _Alphabet of Thorn_, though _Od Magic_ came fairly 
close.  And I also loved the Beauty and the Beast story in _Harrowing 
the Dragon_ (what a great title!), 'The Lion and the Lark'.

I'm almost certain I've already raved about Graham Joyce's _The 
Limits of Enchantment' here (definitely on LJ if not), and totally 
certain I talked about _Everything is Illuminated_ (which I'd have 
given up on had Becca not insisted, and I'm glad she did).  Not so 
sure about _Elsewhere_, which I just loved to bits - though without 
making the least claim to proper 'judgment' on it - it was the 
perfect book for the time/mood when I read it.  One very easy award 
this year would be 'Weirdest Book', which definitely goes to Cory 
Doctorow's _Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town_.  I liked it 
immensely, though it wasn't without faults.  And finally, Penelope 
Lively's _Making it Up_, which was such a fantastic idea, beautifully 

The Best Recommendation *I* Made: 'The Faery Handbag', Kelly Link.

Recommended to Becca, who resisted so long I was sure she'd never 
read it, and then became a huge KL fan.  In some ways it's hardly 
representative of KL's stories, though in others it is, and I found 
it enormously impressive as a short story for children particularly.

Some I Didn't Enjoy so Much:

_Black Juice_, Margo Lanagan.  Always has to be at least one book 
over which I'm completely out of step with most of the rest of the 
world, and this seems to have been it this year.  The first story was 
everything I'd expected from the raves: powerful, disturbing, moving, 
but all the rest left me bored, unimpressed or downright irritated.

_A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian_ at least I know I'm not 
alone in my response to this one <waves to Emma>, but I still found 
it disappointing.

_The Wooden Sea_ by Jonathan Carroll was baffling, as I found it very 
involving, and liked the mundane/magical (to put it loosely) mix a 
lot, but my strongest reaction by the end was feeling that I just 
didn't trust Carroll, which is a strange one.

The next one I don't want to name (not because it was written by 
anyone likely to be reading this, but just because it wouldn't feel 
*nice*), so suffice it to say that one of my inner completists (a 
powerful one - involving a ballad used in two of my favourite books, 
one by DWJ - for an extremely transparent hint!) wasn't even enough 
to get me to finish it.  And everyone loved it!  Well, okay, not 
everyone.  But a lot of people, including some very influential ones. 
Just don't get it.

Looking Forward to in 2006:

_King of Attolia_, which must go without saying!

_Inda_, Sherwood Smith, which had a nasty blip preventing its coming 
out in August, as it was supposed to do.

And hey - Charlie's got *another* book due out this summer: _The 
Lurkers_, with Usborne, which (in in-progress form) is funny and 
scary and a lot of fun.

In a bit of seasonal retrospection, I've been thinking about the time 
I've been on this list - this being (gulp) my seventh year, and what 
it's meant to me.  To say it's been 'life-changing' sounds as if it 
*must* be indulging in hyperbole to some extent, but truly isn't. 


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