[DWJ] Best and Worst of 2007
Allison Marles Gryski
apm at alumni.uwaterloo.ca
Wed Jan 2 16:05:10 EST 2008
I didn't keep a list, so I've forgotten a lot of what I read (or
re-read), but here's some that come to mind (spoilers included).
I've just yoinked my LibraryThing reviews for the ones I've already
written about. Maybe this year I will start a reading list.
First Time Reads:
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (YA fantasy)
An entertaining, if occasionally awkward, fantasy about a young
woman who can see (usually invisible) fairies for all their beauty
and danger. The fairies of this world are generally nasty and
Aislinn must hide her Sight. That becomes increasingly difficult when
she discovers that a king amongst them has taken a particular
interest in her and has begun appearing with a human glamour to
entice her. For the most part, the characters flowed well, but some
portions regarding sex showed too clearly the author's imposition on
the text and did not feel entirely natural. The plotting was a little
too predictably structured in that events did not generally cause the
characters to change their behaviour, nor actions by the characters
change the events that occurred. The book does seem to have some
strong ideas about the inevitability of your fate, but I think the
"plot on rails" is more a result of it being a debut novel. Overall,
Aislinn's world, so differently seen from the rest of the mortals
around her, is intriguing as is her dangerous dilemma.
Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause (YA fantasy)
Klause expertly draws a portrait of a teenage werewolf and her pack.
Many small details are used to create the sense that Vivian and her
extended family are not human, even when they have human appearance. The
sensuality and violence that are a natural part of Vivian's world can be
a bit shocking at times, but they do work well to create the
otherworldly atmosphere. I appreciated the fact that the werewolf was
not depicted as two independent halves, but rather, a single creature
with two forms. Too often, the werewolf is depicted as a human who is
the victim of a strange disease and has no control in wolf-form. This
book was a refreshing departure from the monster-movie style of
werewolf. The story itself is a coming-of-age tale with a twist. The
outcome is pleasantly surprising, and Vivian is a compelling, though not
always likeable, character who learns to accept herself. Fans of the
vampire genre, including Klause's own "The Silver Kiss", will probably
enjoy Blood and Chocolate.
The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson (YA historical romance)
I know some people here really like this book, and that's why I read
it. But it wasn't for me. This book is embarrassingly bad. I was
hoping for something like a Georgette Heyer, but what I got was the
sort of romantic slush that Heyer's heroines are forbidden from
reading. While some of the characters are occasionally charming, the
events feel terribly contrived. The good characters are nauseatingly
perfect and the ludicrously evil characters have no redeeming or
realistic qualities. (I mean, really, it's not bad enough for the
"other girl" to be tricking the hero into marrying her just for his
title, not to mention being nasty and self-absorbed and duplicitous?
No, just to make it really clear that she was the baddie, she had to
essentially be a Nazi too. I laughed out loud at that point ... and
in the laughing AT not laughing WITH sort of way.)
Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg (non-fiction, philosophy)
This book retains a surprising amount of relevance given its age. Some
of the unwritten assumptions about a woman's life are obviously
dated, but the ideas of simplicity, accepting growth in
relationships, and living in the present moment are all still
extremely applicable to modern life. I liked the conceit of using
sea shells to explain and remind one of the concepts discussed.
Apartment Therapy by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan (non-fiction, household)
The main bulk of this book is devoted to describing an 8 week "cure" for
your home, which addresses everything from repairs to regular cleaning
to cooking at home to what art you display. It is equally applicable to
houses, though it does focus on some issues inherent in smaller spaces.
In addition to giving you a structured set of tasks to improve your
living space and how you use it, this book helps you determine what
style you'd like to achieve and what types of problems your particular
personality is likely to encounter. Even if you find following through
with the whole "cure" a bit too intensive, this book has a lot of
helpful concepts and techniques.
The Game by Diana Wynne Jones (YA fantasy)
DWJ again weaves well-known myths into the fabric of a familiar
world. She has done it before, most notably in "Eight Days of Luke"
and "Fire and Hemlock", but it's presented with a fresh perspective
here. The magical system is inventive and the characters are
well-drawn. A short, but excellent book. I would have loved more.
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (picture book)
An imaginative book that makes the reader want to tell the stories
behind the pictures. It's a lovely concept and there are such a wide
range of ideas that everyone is sure to be captured by at least one.
Allsburg's slightly ethereal style is very well-suited to the mysterious
nature of the "story". There is a dream-like quality to both the story
fragments and the accompanying illustrations. I highly recommend
this to everyone, regardless of age.
Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth (picture book)
An excellent child-friendly introduction to some Zen concepts
told by a very charmingly depicted Panda.
First Rider's Call by Kristen Britain (YA Fantasy)
This was a sequel to Green Rider. The first book left room for a
sequel, but stood on its own. I couldn't say that at all of this
one. It's left things in a completely unresolved state (which
almost reminds me of Joyce Ballou Gregorian's Castledown). I like
the world, and the style of magic, but this book felt a lot more
derivative than the first one. Here's hoping for a weak middle
leading to a strong ending.
Sunshine by Robin McKinley (fantasy)
I *love* this book. I first heard about it here, so THANK YOU. It's
so different from her other novels (of which I've been a fan for
years) that I was a little surprised. I always have a mad urge to
bake after reading this book. The world feels very well crafted,
with many dark corners left unexplored and unexplained. The titular
character is a baker for a coffee shop whose life is turned upside
down when she's captured by vampires. McKinley's vampires aren't the
devastatingly handsome and charming variety, but rather a
particularly nasty and horrifying sort of demon. The supporting
characters are interesting and varied, as you would expect in a
coffee shop. Sunshine is strong and independent, sometimes too much
for her own good, but always a character that you can respect. Almost
everyone is more than they initially seem and it's all slowly
revealed through Sunshine's eyes. I desperately hope that there will
one day be a sequel.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (cyberpunk)
Snow Crash is a modern classic. This book has all the cyberpunk
ingredients: cyberspace, hackers, couriers, drugs, sex, viruses,
religion, globalization. It weaves quite a bit of myth and spirituality
into a technology-ridden society in an effective and interesting way. I
re-read this book every few years and Stephenson's distinctive writing
style still pulls me in on the first two pages. The post-cyberpunk
world is inventive and detailed and perhaps better realised than the
characterizations. There is a "pulp" quality to the action-packed plot,
with some of the darker implications of the world not actually explored
in the text, but merely suggested to the reader. But you can't deny
that this novel has brilliant style
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (fantasy)
I'm re-reading this one and enjoying it again. He's done an
excellent job of capturing the feel of a grown-up fairy tale. I was
surprised by how much I liked the movie too.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (fantasy)
Stories written by two authors are sometimes horribly disjoint. Good
Omens is a wonderful exception. It's dark and funny and strange and
surprising, and everything that you'd expect from these two writers.
It's an engrossing book that begs to be re-read. Often.
The end of the world is coming, but one angel and one devil aren't so
sure that's what they want anymore. So how do you stop the inevitable?
There's also a newly recruited witch hunter and a young woman with a
remarkable book of prophecies and the antichrist and the four horsemen
of the apocalypse, and they all have a role to play in the apocalypse.
But will they play their assigned roles or change the rules?
On the DWJ front, I re-read Conrad's Fate and The Merlin Conspiracy, and
I loved them both on the second time around.
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