[DWJ] Books of 2007

Gili Bar-Hillel gbhillel at netvision.net.il
Wed Jan 2 04:48:55 EST 2008


I had a very strange year readingwise. My reading was very unevenly
scattered over the year - long barren stretches with occasional gluts -  and
I think I read quite a bit less than I do on an average year. Probably this
is due to my having had a baby in May and the translation of "Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows" from July to October. Two of the best books I read
this year I read only last week.

I actually kept a list of books I read this year (not including picture
books and some work-related stuff) which is a bit OCD of me but I hope not
completely boring:

* "Memory" by Lois McMaster Bujold.  I don't need to tell this list about
Bujold. I've been reading the Miles books completely out of sequence, but
enjoying them anyway.

* "Avielle of Rhia" by Dia Calhoun. All the right elements somehow added up
to a really mediocre book. If the mix had been just slightly different I
could have loved this book, but I found it predictable and a bit preachy in
a hit-you-over-the-head fashion.

* "Dragon Slippers" by Jessica Day George. Just the opposite: a slightly
different mix would have made this a run-of-the-mill YA fantasy of the type
we've read a hundred times, but George added just enough humor and panache
to make this a tremendously enjoyable book. I highly recommend it.

* "The Frog Princess" by E. D. Baker. Blah. Silly.

* "Sahara Special" by Esme Raji Cordell. Tearjerker about a misfit
fifth-grader. I cried my eyes out, and can't say it wasn't a good book - but
I had to wonder who the target audience was. An adult wouldn't read a book
so clearly marketed to young readers, and I doubt many young readers would
have the perspective to appreciate the characters.

* "Hide and Seek with Angels" by Lisa Chaney. This one is non-fiction, the
first of two biographies of James Barrie that I read this year, as part of
my research for the annotated edition of "Peter Pan" I've translated for an
Israeli publishing house. Barrie's life makes for fascinating reading,
stranger than fiction. I haven't read many biographies and don't have a good
basis for comparison, and I'm sure having such a rich, complex and
well-documented object makes some aspects of the job easy for a biographer,
but I suspect this one was also simply well written.

* "The Skiver's Guide" by Diana Wynne Jones

* "A Song for Summer" by Eva Ibbotson. There were many things I loved about
this book, but ultimately it is not one of my favorites from Ibbotson, and
my gripes with this book drew my attention to flaws in some of her other
books. She does this bit with everything seeming to build up to a happy
ending and then going wrong, and then dragging out for a bit more up to the
true happy ending. It's like a suitcase with a false bottom. I find it
disconcerting. But the characters were delicious, as a former drama major I
particularly appreciated the artsy-fartsy Brecht production. I wonder how
much of the plot was born out of Ibottson's fascination with the word
"defenstration".

* "Book of Enchantments" by Patricia Wrede. Nice collection of short
stories. This book was actually picked out for me and purchased by my
husband - I was impressed, I'm not easy to buy books for.

* "Daughters of the Dragon" by Marit Ben-Israel. It doesn't look like this
Israeli novel will be translated into English anytime soon, more's the pity;
I would have loved to hear some of your takes on it. I found it a compelling
albeit depressing book. The story, in very basic lines, is about the little
girls sacrificed annually to a vicious dragon, who makes them serve as
slaves for a year and when they're all spent devours them just in time for
his next offering. One of the little girls figures out a way to kill the
dragon, and then turns his hide into a giant puppet so she can continue to
receive the town offerings. She hopes to establish a secret community with
the other sacrificial girls, however when the next girl arrives they don't
really get on with each other. The narration keeps keeps getting sidetracked
into other stories, more or less relevant, and it can be a bit trying. The
third girl to be saved is an abandoned child from our world who crossed over
through a magic picture in an old book, her story is never quite resolved; a
fourth girl did a bout as a magic princess in a forest luring travellers to
be devoured by wolves - altogether impossibly complicated. In some ways,
this book reminded my of "The Neverending Story", in which each character
hints to an entire tragic history that can't be fully explored. And here too
there's a problem of audience: too dark for young readers, too fairytalish
for most adults. Reviews for this book were very mixed, and my opinion was a
bit mixed too, but overall it was so interesting that I would recommend
giving it a try - if only it could be translated into English.

* "The Sea of Monsters" and "The Titan's Curse" by Rick Riordan. Books 2 and
3 in the Percy Jackson series: more of the same if you've read the first,
which I reckon is a good thing.


* "Yetzer Lev Ha'Adama" by Sarah Blau, not quite sure how to translate this
one - "The Passions of a Heart of Earth"? Another Israeli novel, not sure
what the prospects are for this one ever being translated. This one is
definitely for adults: about a self-loathing young woman who fashions a
Golem for herself, to satisfy her supressed sexual passions; but she can't
quite control the Golem and his supernatural influence gradually poisons her
world. Strong stuff, disturbing on many levels, often deliberately ugly and
quite frightening. Not an easy book but very interesting.

* "The New Policeman" by Kate Thompson. As recommended on this list. Did not
disappoint.

* "Wyrd Sisters", "Maskerade", "Carpe Jugulum" by Terry Pratchett. This was
my Terry Pratchett binge during my first hospitalisation for PIH (=Pregnancy
Induced Hypertension).

* "Lady Friday" by Garth Nix. This is the weakest of the "Keys to the
Kingdom" series so far, and I'll admit I was disappointed. But I suppose
even an utterly brilliant series has its slow installments.

* "The Game" by Diana Wynne Jones. Too short!  Interesting to read
back-to-back with the Rick Riordan books, which are also reworkings of Greek
mythology.

And then I was hospitalised again, and read:

* "The Merrybegot" by Julie Hearn. Overall a good book, even excellent, but
the end was a bit too deus-ex-machina for my liking.

* "Peter and the Shadow Thieves" by Dave Barry and Ridely Pearson. Not sure
why I bothered, given that I didn't like "Peter and the Starcatchers". This
sequel is maybe just slightly better. Still pretty Schlocky though. I don't
get how Dave Barry can be not funny.

* "Celandine" by Steve Augard, another recommendation from this list which I
thoroughly enjoyed, though was a bit peeved to discover it was book 2 of a
trilogy.

* "Voices" by Ursula Le-Guin, I remember enjoying this book but can't
remember almost anything about it. And yet again was peeved to discover it
was book 2 of a trilogy (nobody's fault but my own).

And then I decided to clear some reading "debts", the following three are
all titles from the adult imprint of the same publishing house for which I
select the YA books:

* "The Chronoliths" by Robert Charles Wilson. Science fiction of a social
vein, I enjoyed it.

* "Transformation" by Carol Berg was absolutely super, but the sequel
"Revelation" was a bit of a let-down.

At some point here I was hospitalised for the third and final time and baby
Haggai was born (on May 13). Then for a while was not capable of reading
anything but the cartoons and funny bits of back issues of "The New Yorker"
from 2003. But somehow reading skill returned and I read:

* "Small Steps" by Louise Sachar. Not nearly as good as "Holes", but still
better than your average YA book.

* "Tunnels" by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. There had been a bit of a
buzz about this book, hailed as "the next Harry Potter" (like so many books
nowadays), so I felt I had to read it. It was a decent enough page turner,
horror/fantasy blend, but not good enough for me to want to invest in
reading the sequels, despite ending on a cliff-hanger.

* "The Princess Diaries" by Meg Cabot. Don't know what I was thinking, I
should have known I wouldn't like this book. But still and all, SO much
better than the inane movie version.

* "Caddie Ever After" by Hilary McKay. Not as good as the other Casson
books.

I think this is the last book I read before the big freeze of "Harry Potter
and the Deathly Hallows". Then, all in the past month or so, I read:

* "Mirrorscape" by Mike Wilks. Another "the next Harry Potter". Quite good,
good pace, interesting world, a bit too complicated what with all the
hopping in and out of paintings, some of which sound to be quite bizarre
paintings (like a blend of Bosch, Dali and Escher).

* Several short books I've been asked to translate, including "Utterly Me,
Clarice Bean" and "Nim's Island"

* "Larklight" by Philip Reeve. Victorian outerspace steam-punk adventure,
quite witty in a toungue-in-cheek sort of way, me likes!

* "Dragonkeeper" by Carol Wilkinson. Possibly the best book I've read all
year. Or maybe I'm just still under the influence, having read it very
recently.

and lastly, "Whispering to Witches" by Anna Dale, sweet but nothing special.























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