Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Favorite Reads of 2011

Tada! Happy New Year! As always, I'm going to start the year with a list of my favorite books of 2011. Shelfari informs me that I read 59 books in 2011. At one point I thought I was going to climb back up to my old reading levels, but then I started reading loads of nonfiction for MagicalNovel research. I'm a little sad to have only read 8 five star books this year, but part of this is because a) I'm in the middle of reading two books I think WOULD have made this list if I'd finished them already and b) I am getting pickier and more crotchety in my old age. Looking for patterns in them, I can see that only one lacks a speculative element, three are set in the past, three have a pretty extensive kissy plot, and two of them I read with their Australian covers. Nearly all of them are books to savor, not books to flip the pages faster and faster. Make of that what you will. Without further ado, however, here are the books I adored and links to my reviews of them.

1) Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Gritty, coastal novel set in a grim future where our protagonist scavenges broken ships for the useful bits still left on them. My review says: "Just a neat and satisfying package, all in one. Incredibly well written. Do yourself a favor and read it . . . slowly. This isn’t a book to be eaten in a night, though it could be done."








2) Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. A fairly dire but well-written YA historical about Lithuanians relocated to Siberian labor camps during World War II. I said: "It is a side of World War II that you might not have seen before. I certainly hadn’t heard these stories of displaced Europeans, and I have to say, having been to Lithuania on tour last year, it made so much of what they said have deeper meaning. I found their fierce national pride lovely and charming when I was there; after this novel, it seems incredibly brave and honorable."






3) The Big Bad Wolf & Me, by Delphine Perret. I know, it has pictures. But they are delightful, and I have Thing 1 and Thing 2 to think about. This book is full of sly humor and I laughed as much as they did.









4) Flyaway, by Lucy Christopher. A sweet middle grade novel with some faint magical realism. A girl finds a wounded swan while her beloved father is in the hospital. I said in my review: "It is precisely what it promises you. Sometimes I want to be shocked, yes, and sometimes I want twists, and sometimes I want to read about a very unexpected body in a closet. But this book promises that it is a certain sort of book on the first page, and then it gives you exactly that. Soft and sweet."







5) Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion. Oh, how I adored this book. I found it while in a reading slump and it basically cured me for most of the year. It's a zombie book — but not like you think it is. I said: "You’ve been looking for a book where you finish it with a smile on your face, haven’t you? I know it. Well, this is it."










6) The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Everyone in the world has read this novel about a mysterious circus that pitches its tents in the middle of the night and runs on possibly real magic, but for those who haven't, I recommend it. This is one of those books to read over a few days, not a few hours. I said: "This is not a thriller. This is a not an action-packed adventure. It’s not even a simmering revenge or bubbling rivalry novel. It is a novel about a thing, with love in it, and it spans over a decade. If you have a problem with that idea, it’s best you walk away now. But if you like Ann Patchett or Audrey Niffeneggar novels, or if you really thought JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL was the bee’s knees, well. WELL. You have just found your next read. Enjoy. I did."



7) Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. I loved this book about brothers behaving badly and magic an unreasonable amount. It is a standalone companion to Gaiman's American Gods, and I preferred it. My review, however, was terrible. An excerpt: "This book is good.
This book is fast.
This book is fun.
This book is what it says it is.
Which is fun.
This book is a good, fast, fun read."




8) The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey. I was incredibly taken by this historical fantasy about the boy assistant to a monstrumologist — a scientist of the occult who is rather like an aging and unreformed Wizard Howl. My review said: "he beginning. Also, the middle. Also, the end. There is a character twist two thirds of the way through the book that I just did not see and I literally gasped on a plane. Then I was so delighted that a book had made me gasp on a plane that I punched Lover in the shoulder and made wild hand gestures."






Near misses on the Maggie-Five-Star-Train:
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo
In the Country of the Young, by Lisa Carey
An Aran Keening, by Andrew McNeillie
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