[DWJ] Books of 2007

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Tue Jan 1 18:12:31 EST 2008


Still snorting at Chad Spice as a character, as I do my reading year 
list-(ish).

I read fewer books this year than I have since I've been keeping a 
list, which was a result of several factors - one being the great 
wodge of often loooong 19th century books I read for the MA (from 
which I'm now on leave of absence), one being a major family crisis 
early in the year, and one the fact that I cannot yet read and knit 
with ease, and I went on a mad fit of knitting after bunking off from 
the academic programme.  I think I read two adult novels this year in 
total (both lent/given to me by list-members, co-incidentally, and 
both excellent) so my list-(ish) is all YA/children's books.  Most of 
these books have already been babbled about on LJ anyway, but it's 
still interesting to stop and get a view of the year as a whole.  And 
seeing Sherwood Smith and Martha Wells on Melissa's list of writers 
found from the list has only increased my burning desire to book push 
as hard as I can.  :)

I can never pick just one, no matter how 'creative' I get with the 
categories, though possibly, if I *had* to pick just one favourite, 
it might be Hilary McKay's  *Forever Rose*.   I certainly loved it 
wholeheartedly, and no less so for reading in an interview that 
Hilary McKay herself felt that *Caddy Ever After* had been the 
weakest of the Casson family books. *Forever Rose* had a stretch in 
the middle which was so poignant it was barely funny (though the end 
returns to the comic admirably), but that's not a criticism at all. 
One of the two scenes which struck me hardest over the year's reading 
was that in which Rose lit a fire by herself, thinking how nice it 
would be to show her family what she could do, only to struggle 
desperately to put it out again, it having occurred to her that then 
Indigo wouldn't come home to light one for her when she was alone in 
the house.  The ending - not only cheerful but downright celebratory 
- wasn't achieved by forcing us to accept that characters hadn't 
really been that selfish/whatever - or that the adults had really 
known what they were doing all along - but rather by everyone's 
filling the nice parts of their selves more fully.  I'd love there to 
have been more books planned, but this was a perfect ending to the 
series, so it's probably better.  And I can't wait to see what McKay 
does next.

Historical Fiction:

Read quite a few of these, including several of my bests, and a few 
which were not so good at all - though none achieved anything like 
the low of last year's *I, Coriander*.

Three of my favourites were *Gatty's Tale*, by Kevin 
Crossley-Holland, *Hattie Big Sky*, by Kirby Larson, and *The Green 
Glass Sea*, by Ellen Klages.  I think you'd have to have read the 
previous three Arthur books to appreciate *Gatty's Tale* fully, and 
there are a lot of interesting arguments to be had around the 
representation of religious intolerance (or lack thereof) in the 13th 
century, but I enjoyed this with complete abandon.  *Hattie Big Sky*, 
about a girl home-steading in Montana during World War I, was a very 
different kind of historical fiction reading experience, obviously - 
also very well done, I thought.  And finally, very different again, 
*The Green Glass Sea* would be another strong contender for best read 
of 2007, were my back against the wall to choose just one. 
Beautifully written and a really fascinating angle for a story, as it 
was told from the perspective of girls whose parents were scientists 
working in Los Alamos in 1943.

Finally in this category is the stunning *Here Lies Arthur*, by 
Philip Reeve.  I still haven't decided if this is one of my 
favourites, precisely, but it is definitely one of my 'best' books. 
Another that's beautifully written, it shows Arthur as the product of 
a very skilled spin doctor, with obvious modern-day resonance. 
Stripping the myth from one of Britain's seminal mythic characters 
isn't something every writer could do well, but I can't imagine it 
being done much better than this.

Fantasy:

For sheer gothic over-the-top energy, *Flora Segunda*, by Ysabeau S. 
Wilce would take a lot of prizes - I can't think of anything remotely 
like it, and loved it despite being sometimes almost overwhelmed by 
the wealth of weirdness there.  If for nothing else other than the 
House it'd have been worth it for me. Very much looking forward to 
the sequel.

*Undine* by Penni Russon was in a very different mode: specifically 
the Margaret Mahy one (with Charlie resonances as well, as Emma 
mentioned in her LJ).  It really didn't feel derivative to me 
overall, but Charlie and I had a few discussions about that, and I'm 
not at all sure he was equally convinced!  I thought there were 
plenty of twists to keep it fresh, and felt clever for guessing one 
that I really liked, so was all good.  I also liked the sequel, 
*Breathe*, but haven't yet managed to get hold of the third of the 
trilogy.

*Devilish* was my introduction to Maureen Johnson (Sherwood Smith's 
rec) and I'd have enjoyed it had it been 'just' a very intelligent, 
funny fantasy about the hell that is high school, and the 
understandable impulse to sell your soul to avoid the misery, but it 
was that and then some, so I was well happy.

Finally, *Wicked Lovely* by Melissa Marr is one I haven't even got 
around to writing about on LJ yet.  I was thinking about it this 
morning, and finally realised that the book that comes closest to it 
- in my mind only - is Emma Bull's *War for the Oaks*.  Not in style 
at all but in the way the Faerie-human interaction is presented. 
Faerie - here, the Summer King - isn't just all, "OMG, he's so 
gorgeous."  ::swoons::, nor is it only cold, heartless and cruel. 
Things are far more complex, and the 'games' which are 'played' for 
century after century may be horrifying and lead to great suffering, 
and yet there are options other than submit or attempt to destroy. 
There seemed to be a few too many/too long sequences in which Aislinn 
(the human protagonist) went around dreading the faeries and what 
they might do to her, but I still thought it was great.  And her 
fighting her attraction to a human guy, one with eyebrow and tongue 
piercings, while being essentially uninterested in the beautiful 
faerie king pleased me a lot.

Other ('realist'?  not 'non-genre' but whatever!):

Aside from *Forever Rose* the other top three are *Criss Cross*, by 
Lynne Rae Perkins, *The Off-Season*, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock and 
*Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac* by Gabrielle Zevin.  I guess *Criss 
Cross* could be properly put in the historical fiction batch, but the 
70s - not highlighted as a setting - nah.  I loved it for the 
lightness of touch, the characters, and the simple writing style, and 
found on setting about doing the LJ write-up that a *Midsummer 
Night's Dream* thread running through it was another delight.  This 
without having even noticed it on the first read either.

*The Off-Season* was an entirely satisfying follow-up to last year's 
Best First Novel - my last year's BFN, of course - *Dairy Queen*. 
Grimmer than *Dairy Queen* for a stretch, but wonderful.  (*Dairy 
Queen* was also my best recommendation of the year - I was sending 
*Eat Pray Love* to my sister, and decided to send DQ too, and it, 
even more than *Eat Pray Love*  was THE perfect book for her at the 
time.  *The Off-Season* wouldn't have been, and she didn't find it 
when she went looking for it, but read it last month and loved it as 
well.)

*Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac* took what could be a very lame 
plot-device (doesn't need spelling out, given the title!) and did it 
so well that I was absolutely won over - both as a reader fully 
engrossed in the story and as a slightly critical one occasionally 
becoming aware of how cleverly the narrative was being handled.  And 
it's funny with it.

Worst?  Don't really have one this year, though I have found a few 
things about which to snark from time to time, of course.  But the 
book which would probably put me in my severely out-of-step place if 
more people had read it is *The Hollow Kingdom*, by Clare B. Dunkle. 
Maybe the I-shouldn't-really-mention-this-AGAIN-but-*Beauty* kind of 
out-of-step place, at that.  I didn't think it was that great - or at 
least found it quite uneven - but the goblin king's changing from the 
terrifying figure who'd take a human bride against her will, 
understanding the horror of being forced to spend the rest of her 
life underground, prevented from even seeing a glimpse of the sky 
until the day she dies, to a concerned hubby whom Kate loves and will 
strive to save, was -- disturbing.  Very disturbing.  And the fact 
that her life in the outside world had been kind of rocky does not 
make it all fine and dandy.

Sherwood Smith's *The Fox* is not on my 2007 list, not because I 
didn't love it, but because I was lucky enough to read it as a WIP 
before it was published.  And I'm loving the third of the Inda 
trilogy (*The King's Shield*) as much now. 
</enthusiasm-rather-than-swank>

Hallie



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