2011 – Best Books

It is that time of the year, when everyone and her mother wants to tell you about the best books of the year. Well, let’s be honest, I’m no exception to the rule. I like to go back through what I’ve read for the year and reflect on what has continued to speak to me throughout the course of the year. I did things slightly differently this year, and chose only from the books I reviewed this year, which includes a few read in 2010, and none read in December of 2011. This is actually part of the reason I’m able to write this post before the end of the year, because everything I’m reading right now will be considered for my 2012 list (particularly since I’m mostly reading things with 2012 release dates at the moment).

Because I reviewed over 200 books this year in a variety of genres (not counting Saturday Story Spotlight), I found it difficult to pick just 10, or even 20 best books. Instead, I broke my list into a the genres I read in the most, and picked up to 5 books that most stood out in each. Books marked with an asterisk are back list books, which I read in 2011. Books are listed in the order reviewed.

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The Books I Gushed About in 2010

‘Tis the season for ‘best of’ lists! Over the past couple of years, I have discovered in myself a tendency to shy away from picking 10 books as my favorites. Part of this, I’m sure, is that 10 seems to be such an arbitrary number, particularly when you read from a variety of genres as I do. A bigger part, though, is that I have read over 230 books this year, and I hate thinking at the end of the year that only 4% of what I read is worth mentioning.

That being said, you also don’t want to look at a list of 100+ books because I want all my books to feel equally loved or don’t want to feel I’ve wasted my time. To solve this conundrum, here are the books I gushed about this year. These are the books I got effusive about in reviews, pushed on people in real life, and couldn’t stop tweeting about. Most, but not all, of these were published in 2010, and they are here in the order I read them:

In audio:

Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan, narrated by Erik Davies – Gritty, self-referencing crime drama, with a narrator who sounded like he was born to voice this role.

Feed by Mira Grant, narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein -Zombies, bloggers, and political sabotage, what more could you ask for in a book? This was a smart book with fantastic world building, and the narrators brought Grant’s story to life. I can’t wait for the second book in this trilogy, out in 2011.

The City and The City by China Mieville, narrated by John Lee – Crime drama? Fantasty? A little of both, actually, and spectacularly done both by Mieville and by Lee. Another one with absolutely amazing world building.

In print:

The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar – Gorgeous, gorgeous, GORGEOUS writing. Someone remind me to read everything that Thrity Umrigar has ever written in 2011, okay?

The House of Tomorrow by Peter Borgnanni – Punk rock and geodesic domes, who would think the two belong together? This is an amazing coming-of-age story, Borgnanni’s empathy for his characters was so great that he made me care about what they cared about, even though what they cared about was not something I tend to care about.

Bad Marie by Marcy Dermansky – Marie is just the most lovable damn kidnapper ever. I have no idea how Dermansky kept her from being obnoxious and ridiculous, but somehow she made me love her.

The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurt – A novelist writing about a novelist, whose story is told through excerpts from the books she has written. A novel concept, and one beautifully executed. Plus there’s the whole thing with her son being suspected of killing his girlfriend to keep the plot moving.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman – Absolutely beautiful writing, and a plot that was heartbreaking without being maudlin and just realistic enough to be somewhat hopeful. As an aside, Waldmman’s book of essays, “Bad Mother,” made my list in 2009 as well.

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane – A fictionalization of the investigation into the worst civilian disaster of WWII-era Britain may not sound fascinating, but this was. I was particularly impressed by the depth Kane managed to impart to her large cast of characters.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – I have been hearing recommendations for this series for years but have been intimidated by the thought of adding seven or more very hefty books to my TBR. Now I wish I had listened earlier. Getting to at least the next three books is a high priority for me for 2011.

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley – In addition to beautiful prose, Sunley wove Icelandic lore and tradition into this book masterfully, and without ever making the reader that she was subjecting them to an info dump. Most of all, though, Freya’s voice so absolutely authentic and amazing.

Skating Around the Law by Joelle Charbonneau – So. Much. Fun. A murder in a skating rink, a a frisky grandfather, and a camel make for an enjoyable and well-written romp that I couldn’t stop recommending.

The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez – Henriquez has beautiful prose, every word of which supports the fascinating story of discovery of self and family.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore – A testament to the power of the written word to work on our lives, every reader needs this book. If nobody gave it to you for Christmas, go buy it yourself right now.

A Friend of the Family by Lauren Grodstein – Grodstein wrote a book I just didn’t want to put down. The story of doctor Pete Dinzinoff, what he lost, and how he lost it was absolutely gripping without feeling manufactured.

Harry Potter Film Wizardry by Brian Sibley – If you had told me a year ago that an entertainment books like this would be on my ‘best of’ list, I would have scoffed, but this one is so well done and so well put together that all Harry Potter addicts need it.

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore – Full disclosure: Graham and I had lunch together after I wrote my review, so if you think that unduly influenced me, feel free to ignore this recommendation, but I did really enjoy this book – never have I raved so much about pacing! It is worth noting that quite a few people I recommended this book to have read it and really enjoyed it even without having lunch with Graham. So there.

Some of the above books were provided to me for review.