Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Lit fic, translated from French. This was apparently a huge seller in France, and it seems to be doing good business here in the "bookclub" or Oprah's choice-ish line. It wasn't an Oprah's choice, but is the kind of book that would have been. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy it. I did. I loved the character of Renee, the concierge in a posh Parisian apartment building, who is outwardly unprepossessing but has an intellectual and artistic soul. I was less in love with Paloma, the precocious 12-year old who becomes her friend via the intervention of the urbane Mr. Ozu, the Japanese businessman who sniffs out Renee's hidden depths. Had the novel focussed entirely on Renee, I would have loved it. I think, too, that it was trying a little bit too hard to be profound in a Zen kind of way. Its message could have been conveyed a bit more subtly (and I think that lack of subtlety is what makes me think of Oprah).
Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver
This, I loved. Like Ballad, this is supernatural YA romance elevated from the masses by lovely writing and a believable romance. The werewolves in Shiver do not transform every full moon, but when the temperature falls below 30 degrees (F). The novel takes place somewhere in the US where that means the wolves are wolves about half of the year and human during the summer months. This is an interesting twist on the tradition, quite well worked out. The main thrust of Shiver, though, is a very lovely romance between one of the wolves and a "normal" girl. I'm really looking forward to the next one - don't know whether it continues to focus on these two characters or moves to others (the potential is there for it to be either, or perhaps both). My only complaint is about the conveniently oblivious adults. One set of parents that seems unconcerned about its offspring, perhaps. Three or more becomes dubious.
(counts as one, as all are re-reads) Megan Whelan Turner, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia
Brilliant, just brilliant. I read these quite some time ago and honestly had forgotten them, at least the first two, except that I had remembered how good they were. I love the twisty way the concealed motives of characters plays out via the pov. If ever I write my book on metafiction or post-modern irony in children and ya fiction, I think I shall have to include these.
Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock
Marchetta is one of my favourite ya novelists - her Saving Francesca was a "best book" of mine the year I read it (2005, I think, because I remember my mum was still alive). Finnikin is something of a departure, in that it is a fantasy, but it retains some of her strengths. There is a toughness about it, a maturity of outlook, that makes it very much a YA - some (particularly certain US-an audiences) might even list it as "adult" were it not for her reputation as a ya writer. The plot-line is slightly reminiscent of Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana: a kingdom has been essentially wiped out, its lands under the spell of a land-grabbing enchanter, surviving members unite to overthrow the invaders. I like the concept of the diaspora, and of the small band of rebels fighting to regain their kingdom, though of course it's hardly original. Although the plot tropes lack originality, the overall "feel" of the book, and the worldbuilding, is interesting if not staggeringly brilliant. I guessed certain plot points almost from the outset; however, all that being said, I loved the first two thirds, but found a rather cumbersome denouement make reading somewhat tedious towards the end. So my response to this is mixed - it's worth reading, certainly, as all Marchetta's work is, but this is not one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read.