2007 Best cellars

21st December 2007 at 00:00
Whet your appetite, dear readers. Julia Golding, the award-winning author, picks some of the year's best books.

Was 2007 a good year for new books? A summer of sparkling, fruity tomes? Or a case of cheap lit? Looking back, there were some excellent examples added to the best cellar list.

In children's books, our taste buds were unquestionably dominated by the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, that magnum champagne of a book, but there were many wonderful tipples to be found elsewhere.

I am not a snob when it comes to Harry. I have enjoyed the phenomenon and so devoured part seven with great gusto. Personally, I am grateful to J.K. Rowling for all sorts of reasons apart from the book itself. What other story would have my two sons dressing up as death-eaters to collect their latest copy?

No other volume has been as fiercely fought over in the household so that our reading became something of an Olympic relay race. While Deathly Hallows, like some of its overlong predecessors, has flat sections, it generally fizzes over with the power of good storytelling.

Before reading it, I was afraid that after so much hype J.K. Rowling might fall at the final fence, but the book exceeded my expectations.

Other classy editions from the children's shelves this year have been the two most recent books by Cressida Cowell (How to Twist a Dragon's Tale and A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons). These books are exuberantly illustrated by the author, and recount the adventures of that most unlikely Viking hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock, and his dragon, Toothless. As laugh-out-loud books, they will convert even the most reluctant reader to take their first dip.

A complex book for the older palate is Noman, the final part in William Nicholson's Noble Warriors trilogy. It shares something with his best known screenplay, Gladiator, being both epic in scale and preoccupied by the spiritual.

As The Golden Compass hits cinemas, I would recommend Noman as a fascinating contrast to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, on which The Golden Compass is based. William Nicholson also tries to find an answer to the biggest question of all and, while a challenge to my normal tastes, his version of religion is perhaps even more thought-provoking than the small Miltonic god of Pullman.

On the adult shelves, I enjoyed sampling Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. It follows Oskar, a precocious child who lost his father in the Twin Towers, as he searches for answers concerning a key his father left behind.

Though I did not find it easy to suspend my disbelief about some of Oskar's adventures, I savoured the interweaving of family stories, going back to the Dresden fire bombing, as well as the Tristram Shandy-esque playing with the form of the novel. By linking 911 to other tragedies, Jonathan Safran Foer gives the book a more universal frame. Though he does not attempt to make sense of human atrocities (who could?) he skilfully tackles the mutilating effect of grief and ultimately there was bitter-sweetness in the healing process.

For a shot of something strong and cheering, I turned to The Uncommon Reader, a novella by Alan Bennett.

In the year that started with Dame Helen Mirren winning an Oscar for playing the Queen in the film of the same title, it seems particularly appropriate to end with Alan Bennett annexing Her Majesty into his world of gentle but perceptive wit.

The Queen runs rings round her staff and government with her newfound passion for reading, just as one rather suspects the real thing does behind the drapes at Buckingham Palace. My Christmas toast goes to him. Cheers, Alan.

Julia Golding's first novel, The Diamond of Drury Lane, won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2006 and the Nestle Children's Book Prize 2006. Her next book, Black Heart of Jamaica (Egmont Press), will be published in February.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. J.K. Rowling. Bloomsbury pound;17.99.

How to Twist a Dragon's Tale and A Hero's Guide to Deadly Dragons. Cressida Cowell. Hodder Children's Books pound;5.99 and pound;8.99

Noman. William Nicholson. Harcourt Children's Books pound;12.99

Extremely Loud Incredibly Close. Jonathan Safran Foer. Penguin pound;7.99

The Uncommon Reader. Alan Bennett. Profile pound;10.99.

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