Monday, December 3, 2012

Top 10 Favorite Reads in 2011

According to Goodreads, I read 64 books in 2011 and gave none of them a 5 star rating.  So I either had a particularly poor reading year or I was a serious grump all year.  Both are equally likely.  I did give a 4 star rating to 24 books so it wasn’t a completely lost year.  Here, I think, is my top 10.  For now.  Today.  Oh and I’m going to cheat.  I read a lot of series and if I rated more than one book in a series highly I include the entire series as one item on the list.  Here’s the list in no particular order:
1)      The Julian Kestrel Mysteries by Kate Ross
 This series of 4 books includes (in order) Cut to the Quick, A Broken Vessel, Whom the Gods Love, and The Devil in the Music.  These are historical mysteries set in the British Regency Era (according to Wikipedia, somewhere between 1795 - 1837).  The protagonist, Julian Kestrel, is an enigmatic member of the Haute Ton who develops an unusual taste for unraveling crimes.   He’s intriguing and likable and, at the end of the series, has enormous unexplored potential.  Sadly Kate Ross died young of cancer.  So the only bad thing I can say about the series is that I was pining for more by the end of book 4.  The first in the series won the 1994 Gargoyle Award for best Historical Mystery and The Devil in the Music won the Agatha Award for Best Novel in 1997.
2)      The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Epic fantasy set in a well developed and fascinating world.  Awesome adventure to get lost in.
3)      Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
The story revolves around a 17th century English village being ravaged by the plague.  It is told from the perspective of widowed housemaid Anna Frith, who loses her two children and watches her community disintegrating around her.  Though this sounds grim, and it often is, this is a book of beauty and rebirth.
4)      Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
This is the first book in a mystery series and while I’ve enjoyed all of the 4-5 books in the series I’ve read, I definitely like this first book the best.  Which is strange because it’s the book with the least amount of mystery storyline – a large portion of the book is devoted to introducing Maisie and her methods of detecting which are unique and involve a lot of psychology and mind games.  It’s another historical series and is set in the aftermath of World War I in Britain. 
5)      Bossypants by Tina Fey
By the end of this book I had expended my full allotment of belly laughs for a month and was completely smitten with Tina Fey.  Just a ton of fun.
6)      The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
Lucy is a children’s librarian in a small(ish) town library who is kidnapped by one of her most charming patrons, ten-year old Ian.  Ian is the kind of unique kid that you never want to see squashed and in Lucy’s eyes (and Ian’s eyes) his parents are doing just that.  As Lucy travels with Ian, she learns a lot about herself as well.  That of course makes this book sound trite and awful but really what it’s pretty darn charming.
7)      In the Woods by Tana French
This is a mystery you can sink your teeth into.  It ultimately frustrated the hell out of me but what came before was so magnificent, I forgave.  This book is really a character study of its protagonist Rob Ryan, a detective on Dublin’s Murder Squad.   His portrayal and evolution through the book is done with incredible skill by Tana French. One of the best character studies I’ve ever read.  Tana French is an amazing writer
8)      The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
A literary werewolf novel.  Seriously it’s a beautifully well-written, brooding, and vicious novel with a page-turning plot.  
9)      The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
In one part the interesting science story about HeLa cells  - the first strain of cells scientists were able to grow and produce.  They have been the foundation of some of the most important scientific advances in the last 50 years.  This story becomes extraordinary, however, as Rebecca Skloot’s investigates and reveals the woman who unknowingly donated these cells and her descendents.  A personal and riveting story.
10)   The Keys to the Kingdom Series by Garth Nix
This is a young adult series of 7 books which are in order: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday.  After reading this series and a couple of Garth Nix’s short fiction, I am convinced that he is one of the most creative writers writing today.  He is particularly talented in building worlds and cultures that fascinate while simultaneously making you a bit nervous.  He reminds me a bit of Phillip Pullman.  I felt swept away by this whole seven-book story.

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