Book review of 2008

Book review of the year


Best in category: Anne Frank’s Diary, a re-read for me (though this edition has all her original text in); a searingly unforgettable account of life in an intolerable situation.

Also excellent: Primo Levi’s Periodic Table, and Alain de Botton’s guide to Proust.

Very very good: The Know-It-All, A History of the Arab Peoples, Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, Trillion Year Spree, The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street, Aung San Suu Kyi, Thant Myint-U, Julian Cope on megaliths, Daniel Keyes on Algernon, Patricia Fara on magnetism, Ellis and Connolly on Tudor Ireland, Bose on conflicts, Doctor Who locations, Tat Wood on Who seasons 22-26 (and The Movie).

Very good: Longitude, Lawrence of Arabia, Bertrand Russell on Christianity, Julius Caesar on Gaul, Tony Judt on Europe, Jeremy Paxman on the English, David Starkey on Elizabeth, Zlata’s Diary, Alastair Cooke, Amos Oz on Israel, Jonathan Bate on Shakespeare, Tulloch and Alvarado on Who, Time Out on Rome, Fage on Africa, Glavin on extinction, Nancy Soderberg on US foreign policy, A History of the Black Death in Ireland, The Battle of the Boyne, The Cecils, English Place Names, Jean Sibelius, Dublin Castle and the 1916 Rising, Becoming Somaliland, James Pettifer on Kosovo, Cyprus 1974 from Ankara’s viewpoint, ex-President Clerides reminisces, making a new Cyprus constitutionBrussels versus the Beltway, Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh’s hunting expedition in the AdriaticSarah Steele’s biography of Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh.

Good, with reservations: Alison Weir on Elizabeth I, Simon Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches, Andrew Roberts on Waterloo, Christopher Hitchens on Cyprus, The Penguin Dictionary of Jokes, Teach Yourself to Learn a Language, Endgame in Ireland, Oxford Take-Off in Russian, After-Dinner Stories, The Fantastic in Irish Literature, Berlitz Turkish, Rosemary Freeman on Edmund Spenser, Ten Historical Fantasies, analyses of the Lisbon Treaty, local history of our village, McCormick’s biography of Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh.

OK: Ancient Wine, essays on Liberal Democracy and Globalisation, Kenneth Kavanagh’s biography of Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh

Less good: Daniel Grotta’s biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, David Cohen’s biography of Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh.

Couldn’t finish: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis, Daughters of Britannia by Katie Hickman, A History of India by John Keay.

Fiction (not sf):

Best in category: Vanity Fair, Thackeray’s story of life among the declining gentry of the early nioneteenth century.

Also excellent: Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, The History of Sir Richard Calmady by Lucas Malet, Proust vol 6, Roald Dahl, The Office vol 2.

Very very good: An Instance of the Fingerpost, Mystic River, True History of the Kelly Gang, No Great Mischief, When Nietzsche Wept, Proust vol 5, The Office vol 1, A House for Mr Biswas.

Very good: Don Quixote, The Prince of Tides, Death in Holy Orders, The Moving Toyshop, Saturnalia, Odd Man Out.

Good, with reservations: Gösta Berling’s Saga, Emma.

OK: Peter Abelard by Helen Waddell.

Couldn’t finish: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

Comics (other than Doctor Who)

Best in category: The Fixer, Joe Sacco’s questionable tales from Sarajevo before, during and after the war.

Also very good: Alias vol 4.

Good: Fables vol 1, The Burma Chronicles, Berlin vol 2, Macedonia.

Less Good: Tales of Human Waste.

Shakespeare Plays

Best in category: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – a marvelous, inventive play.

Also excellent: The Comedy of ErrorsRomeo and JulietMuch Ado About Nothing, As You Like It.

Very very good: Richard III  

Very good: Julius Caesar

Good, with reservations: The Merchant of Venice, Henry IV part I, Titus Andronicus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, King John, Henry VI Part I, II and III.

OK: Richard II, Henry IV Part II.

Less good: Henry V.

Awful: The Taming of the Shrew, Love’s Labour’s Lost.

SF and fantasy (other than Doctor Who)

Best in category: Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, which I hadn’t read before.

Also excellent: Heaney’s Beowulf (which is certainly fantasy), The Owl Service, Nation, Silverberg’s Hall of Fame anthology.

Very very good: I Am Legend, The Last Hero, Summerland, Vellum, Halting State, Farthing, The Cornelius Quartet, Teranesia, Brasyl, Sterling’s Mirrorshades anthology, Collected Short Stories by E.M. Forster (which ten are fantasy, one sf, and one not), Improbable Frequency (stage play).

Very good: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, The Atrocity Archives, Islands in the Net, Matter, Expiration Date, The Rediscovery of Man, The Child Garden, Rogue Moon, The Phoenix Exultant (Wright), The Execution Channel, The Carhullan Army, the most recent Captain Underpants, Children of the Atom by Wilmar Shiras, C. E. Murphy’s Negotiator trilogy, The Seeds of Time (Wyndham collection), Healy’s New Tales of Space and Time anthology, 5th Interzone Anthology, Year’s Best SF 13 (Hartwell/Cramer 2008 anthology), National Lampoon’s Doon.

Good, with reservations: The Possibility of an Island, Jhereg, The Faded Sun Trilogy, Gene Wolfe’s Peace, Gossamer Axe, Naked to the Stars by Gordon R. Dickson, Template by Matthew Hughes, the first seven Captain Underpants books, Walking Dead by C.E. Murphy (I read the pre-editing draft; no doubt final version will be great).

OK: The Historian, Abarat, The Pilgrim’s Regress, The Last Colony, The Ill-Made Mute, Great War: Breakthroughs (Turtledove), Sunrise Alley (Asaro), Humility Garden (Felicity Savage), Rising of the Moon (Flynn Connolly).

Less good: Little, Big (Crowley), Again, Dangerous Visions (Ellison-edited sequel anthology), Wandering Stars (Jack Dann’s Jewish sf anthology).

Poor: Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer, Astra and Flondrix by Seamus Cullen, Masters of the Fist by Edward P. Hughes.

Awful: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

Couldn’t finish: Shadowkings (Michael Cobley), The Golden Transcendence (Wright), The Sword of Shannara.

Doctor Who spinoff fiction (print)

Best in category: All-Consuming Fire by Andy Lane, in which the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Benny encounter Sherlock Holmes and the Great Old Ones. Glorious.

Also very very good: Eye of Heaven, Time and Relative.

Very good: The Feast of the Drowned, Winner Takes All, Love and War, Escape Velocity, Venusian Lullaby, City of the Dead, Year of the Intelligent Tigers, Psi-Ence Fiction, Campaign, The Dark PathDecalog 2 anthologyThe Doctor Who Storybook 2007 (anthology), Doctor Who Complete Ninth Doctor Comics, The Thirteenth Stone (Sarah Jane audiobook), Revenge of the Slitheen (Sarah Jane novelisation).

Good, with reservations: The Infinity Doctors, The Witch Hunters, Drift, Corpse Marker, Terry Nation’s Dalek Special, Doctor Who Storybook 2008 (anthology), Invasion of the Bane (Sarah Jane novelisation), Eye of the Gorgon (Sarah Jane novelisation), Warriors of Kudlak (Sarah Jane novelisation), The Glittering Storm (Sarah Jane audiobook), Another Life (Torchwood audiobook).

OK: The Stone Rose, Alien Bodies, The Gallifrey Chronicles, Interference (both books), Theatre of War, Cold Fusion, Last Man Running, The RoundheadsDoctor Who Monster Book Vol 2, Doctor Who Annual 1966.

Less good: Match Of The Day, The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures, Doctor Who: The Pescatons.

Doctor Who audios

Best in category: The Kingmaker, by Nev Fountain, a hilarious inversion of the story of Shakespeare’s play Richard III. (I won’t do a comprehensive review here, and they are not strictly speaking books anyway, but at some future moment I’ll do the whole Big Finish run.)

Doctor Who novelisations

Best in category: The first one published, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, by David Whitaker. (General roundup here.)

I won’t nominate a single Book of the Year, as it is too much like comparing apples to geodes; but I will admit that it is Anne Frank who comes back to mind when I least expect her to.

One thought on “Book review of 2008

  1. Judging from the War and Peace publicity stills (where she is married to Colin Baker) that would seem to fit.

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