Saturday, January 09, 2010

Yeas and Nays of July through December 2009

(First, to let you know, I've pulled the names from the hat, and my two new pen pals for 2010 are Smithereens and Jodie. Could you two please email me with your full names and addresses? Sorry to the rest of you, but maybe I will add some more later in the year, depending on how it's going.)

Man, two posts in a row that contain the words "favorite" and "books." If I'm not careful, I'm going to start having a panic attack. Oh well, at least I also get to include the words "least favorites" as well. As always, there are twelve total, meant to represent one yea and one nay for each month from July through December (but I'm giving you one "yea" to grow on, because I really should have included it somewhere in my last post). Here you go (in no particular order, because I am living dangerously this year):

The 6 Yeas (or Favorites)

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
So much so that I went out and bought a nice, pretty new copy of The Woman in White from OneWorld Classics to read in 2010 (so expect more raving).

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
One of the best portrayals of both the raw brutality and raw tenderness of children that I've ever read. Oh, and it's disguised as "high adventure at sea."

In the Woods by Tana French
Thriller/mystery at its very best. Could. Not. Put. It. Down. And woe to anyone who interrupted me while reading! If you don't trust me, listen to Bob, "One of the best books I've read in years." (Of course, that was before he decided to start a debate with me about whether or not the ending was a bit disappointing.)

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions
Okay. This isn't a book. It's a short story. However, it's probably long enough to qualify as a novella (especially if someone chose a small trim size and included some illustrations). It must be included, though, because it is the epitome not only of an excellent ghost story (maybe the most if others would quit rattling chains in my brain and sadly whispering, "What about me?"), but also of an excellent short story. (Bob agreed with me on this one, too.)

The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
"What?" I hear those of you who know me say, "a book about a garden on Emily-the-Black-Thumb's list?" But there you have it. You see, like all good books, this one isn't really about a garden at all. Well, yes it is, but it's about so much more than a garden. It reminded me of reading Rose Macaulay's The Pleasure of Ruins: so much interesting trivia written so delightfully, but this one -- although not written quite as delightfully as Macaulay -- has a little more soul, since Swift interweaves some very personal memoir into it.

The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
19th-century, supernatural, moralistic fiction at its best (what else would you expect from an author who was a minister?).


Cross Channels: Stories by Julian Barnes
I didn't need verification, having read several of his novels, that Barnes is one of the "best of the best" of contemporary authors. However, I got it in spades with this amazing, beautiful little collection of loosely inter-connected stories. If all short-story writing were like this, instead of being a reluctant reader of them, I'd be an addict.

The 6 Nays (or Least Favorites)

The House of Mystery: Room and Boredom by Matthew Sturges, Bill Willingham, and Luca Russi
A hideous troll encountered along the road on my quest to understand the graphic novel. Why didn't I stop reading when the woman (very graphically) gave birth to the maggots that left her a half-empty shell? Luckily, Joe Hill came along to put the troll under Locke and Key, which helped erase this thought, "Most graphic novels ought to be subtitled, 'An Extraordinarily Confusing, Nonlinear Tale.'"

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black
A fine example of why a darling of the literati should not try his hand at genre fiction. Perhaps he shouldn't even be a darling of the literati (but I really shouldn't judge before reading one of his other books).

Piercing the Darkness by Katherine Ramsland
I am a masochist, you know, because I was disappointed by this one when I tried to read it a couple of years ago. I picked it up again, because I thought it would help inform me for a character I am trying to create. It didn't. It just reminded me that there are a lot of sick people in this world, and Ramsland didn't do nearly as good a job of writing about them as she did with her book about ghosts.

The Yellow Room by Mary Roberts Rinehart
I am still convinced that this book had a one-page-forward-two-pages-back spell cast upon it. By far, the most boring book I read all year.

The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
The black hole of unbelievability.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
A pea in the pod with Benjamin Black, as far as too many over-the-top "surprises" that made no sense. Oh, what a disappointment! How could the woman who wrote The Time Traveler's Wife, who made me so believe that time travel was possible, write such an unbelievable book? How could a book that so beautifully has a man muse, "She was going to break my heart, and I was going to let her" be one that I ultimately found to be a complete waste of time? Just so many wonderfully imaginative ideas, so poorly executed and taken in all the wrong directions. Audrey, was your publishing house rushing you or something? I know you can do better than that.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Her Fearful Symmetry was a let-down. She's clearly knowledgeable about Highgate Cemetery, but somehow it felt forced, as if she was forcing a story around her research. I was talking with a friend about books last night, and we agreed that research should shimmer gently through plot and character in a novel, but not become lumpily obvious. I felt that in HFS, the research was in my face like big chunks of coal that I had to lift and throw over my shoulder before I could get on with the actual story.

Susan said...

Ooh, I love this idea - yeas and nays for the last 6 months - I think I'll borrow this one so I can catch up on my behind reviews! (more than your other post, I like this format better, I think). You know, I've been leery of Christine Falls for the exact reason you mention - that I've heard very mixed reviews about it - and same with Her Fearful Symmetry. Stephen King did recommend The Little Stranger in his 10 best of the year (in EW, my guilty secret reading), so I have hope that at least one of the bestsellers is good!!

And yaay! a shiny new copy of The Woman in White - have to warn you it's not quite the same as the Moonstone, which I prefer (The Moonstone over TWIW), but we don't really need a reason to rush out and buy a shiny new copy of a book, do we? At least, I don't.....

Did Bob find the ending of IN The Woods good or disappointing? I found it the latter, which is why it wasn't my book of the year (but in my favourite reads).

Lovely to see ghost stories on here too!

Rebecca H. said...

One of these days I'm going to have to read Tana French -- I know I will like her once I do!

Emily Barton said...

Charlotte, yes, the research most definitely got in the way, as far as I was concerned. And THEN, I just could not believe a mother would do what the mother did in that book. You, being a mother, must have felt even more so.

Susan, yes, Bob found the ending disappointing. He still felt it was a really good book, but he wanted less irony, I think (verifying that as much as I want to deny it, he is more of a romantic than I am. I felt the ending was completely realistic, the way life is, and, if not exactly satisfying, only disappointing in the way life typically is, and thus, just right).

Dorr, oh yes, you MUST read it (not to sound like Hobs or anything...).

litlove said...

A High Wind in Jamaica is definitely on my list for this year. I've heard only good things about it. So pleased you enjoyed The Morville Hours - definitely on my best reads of the year and lol for Benjamin Black and Her Fearful Symmetry. Nothing worse than an author trying too hard, right?

Anonymous said...

I love your list, even if I disagree on Christine Falls. If you agree that Wilkie Collins is a lot of fun, you should try Sheridan Le Fanu!

Stefanie said...

I am so glad you enjoyed Morville Hours. You never know, some of her green thumb might rub off ;) Now I am worried about Her Fearful Symmetry. James didn't like it and you didn't like it. Should I remove it from my TBR pile and not bother?

Emily Barton said...

Litlove, no, nothing worse than an author trying too hard, and I can't WAIT to read what you have to say about A High Wind in Jamaica. I am sure it will be brilliant.

Smithereens, see? I can already tell we're going to be filling pages and pages of stationery. I'd love to hear your full take on Christine Falls, because I'm wondering if I missed something. And I also love LeFanu.

Stef, don't bother with it. Bob didn't like it either (he actually read it first, and I kept thinking, "oh, it can't be as bad as he says." Yes, it could be. Worse, I think, because he actually had moments of trying to be fair when describing it to me).

Stefanie said...

Good to know. James read it a few months ago and didn't like it but I kept think the same thing as you did, it couldn't be that bad. What a disappointment.

Tai said...

Tana French: amazing. Her second book, The Likeness, is also unputdownable. And a third one is coming in June! Be still my heart.