Monthly Archives: December 2007

My Top Ten Books of 2007 … and a contest!!

We’re nearly at the end of 2007, and it’s time for me to look back through a year’s worth of book reviews and pick my ten favourites.  Hard to know what criteria to apply — “literary quality” is such a nebulous thing, and not always what makes a book memorable for me.  I guess I’ll just go with those that linger longest with me, the ones I will be most likely to reread and recommend to others. 

I reviewed 46 novels and 21 works of non-fiction this year — which is pretty much what I read, except that I don’t usually review books I reread, and there were several of those throughout the year.  Out of that list, my top ten picks (with links to my reviews) are: 

1. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling 

3. Cloud of Bone by Bernice Morgan 

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 

5. The Irresistible Revolution by Shaine Claiborne 

6. Grace, Eventually by Anne Lamott 

7. Passion by Jude Morgan 

8. Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris 

9. The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory 

10. Digging to America by Anne Tyler 

AND NOW …. AN EXCITING CONTEST!!!  You (yes you!!) can WIN any a copy of any one of these ten books (your choice) simply by entering my New Year’s Book Giveaway.  Here’s what you have to do.

Look at the header of this blog (if you’re reading in a feed, you have to actually click to the blog to make this work).  On the shelf behind my head are about 50 books.  The large ones right behind my head are photo albums: don’t worry about those. There’s another section of books I wrote myself: ignore those; they don’t count for contest purposes.  From the other books behind me on the shelf, how many can you identify (title and author’s name)? 

Use whatever technical wizardry is at your disposal to enlarge the photo if that will help (but the resolution is poor, so it may not).  Any of these spines look familiar, even if you can’t pick out the words?

Five people who can send me a list of FIFTEEN of the books on the shelf behind my head (excluding the ones I wrote), will win any book they choose from this year’s Top Ten list.  Don’t put your list in the comments below; email it to me at trudyj65@hotmail.com .  Good luck; I hope I get to send out some books! 

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Turtle Valley, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Turtle Valley is a quiet, restrained novel about big events — a forest fire and evacuation, a death, a marriage falling apart, buried memories of family abuse, insanity, infidelity and perhaps even murder.  The main character, Katrine, returns to her childhood home to help her elderly parents prepare for evacuation.  While there she uncovers a myriad of a family secrets and faces her own conflicted feelings about both the past and the future.

Katrine’s husband, Ezra, has suffered a stroke a few years before the time of the story, and Katrine is still dealing with the permanent changes in the man she married.  As she begins excavating her family’s past she realizes that her long-dead grandmother faced the same kind of challenges: Katrine’s grandfather experienced shell-shock and brain injury as a result of his injuries in World War I, and remained unstable and unpredictable throughout their marriage.  Katrine feels she must decide whether to repeat her grandmother’s choice and stay in a marriage with a man who needs more than he can give back in return.

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Isobel Gunn, by Audrey Thomas

Many years ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I did an MA in English and wrote my thesis on Audrey Thomas.  Just in case you were wondering, the thesis was called Mother Tongues: Language and Maternity in the Fictions of Audrey Thomas, and one of the eight zillion things I disagreed with my thesis supervisor about was that I had originally written “in the Fiction of Audrey Thomas” in the title, and she insisted on FictionsAnd that is one reason among many why I never purused a career in Academia. But. I. Digress.

Audrey Thomas’s early work, particularly her early novels Mrs. Blood and Blown Figures, are extremely postmodern and experimental, so much so that I recall one critric saying of Blown Figures that you could call it a book, but not a novel.  Her later work has become much more conventional in form, which I personally (not being a huge fan of postmodern experimentation for its own sake) find allows her fine ear for language and strong characterization to shine through.

Isobel Gunn is a slim historical novel about a girl from the Orkney Islands in the early 1800s who disguises herself as a man to go work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in what was then called Rupert’s Land.  The work is hard, but it suits Isobel better than life as a poor woman in rural Scotland.  In fact, she’s quite pleased with her life in Canada — until her secret identity is revealed when she inconveniently gives birth.

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Nectar From a Stone, by Jane Guill

Nectar from a Stone is set in medieval Wales, in the era of the Black Death. The plague is a menacing presence that looms in the background of the story, influencing the characters and all they do. The main character is Elise, a reluctant wife to the boorish and abusive Maelgwyn. When Elise and her faithful servant Annora take to the road, fleeing for their lives, they cross paths with the handsome-but-brooding Gwydion. Even before Elise and Gwydion meet (which takes awhile, as their stories are set up separately for several chapters before their first encounter) you know what’s going to happen. When two characters are so clearly set up as the hero and heroine of romance, the driving force is never suspense about the outcome, but interest in how the author is going to get them there.

Once the romance plot begins, it moves the story along: Elise and Gwydion are more interesting together than either of them is alone. One of my problems with the novel was that I found Elise, as the heroine, a hard character to grasp. She’s not unlikeable, but I didn’t find her compelling either. I thought Gwydion was the better realized and more human of the two, even though he’s very typically the dark, driven, but basically decent heroine of a hundred romances.

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Livyers World, by Robin McGrath

Livyers World is a young-adult science fiction novel with a fascinating premise.  It’s set in a future Newfoundland — or rather, two future Newfoundlands. The young protagonist Viddy is drawn into what he first thinks is an interactive computer program, but it quickly begins to seem more like a parallel world to his own, an alternate path the future might have taken.

We don’t learn much directly about Viddy’s world, since the entire story takes place in the “program.”  But from his memories, and what he tells others, we discover that Viddy is growing up in a highly technologically advanced society, one in which many of our present environmental problems have been solved, human knowledge and population have continued to increase, and things we only dream of today are possible.

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