[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.


More information about the Dwj mailing list