It’s that time of year again – time to reflect on favorites of 2011. I always have a terrible time with this because it’s so hard to pick books with all their different strengths and weaknesses, and this year I had a really terrible time because there were 12 books I wanted to stuff into the top 10. That’s with books divided into a top 10 published in 2011 and a top 5 of older books, so I’d say I had a very decent reading year when there are that many books I enjoyed that much.
These are favorite books, not necessarily the ones I thought were the best books I read (although some of those are somewhere on this list as well).
Favorite Books Published in 2011
1. A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin | Review
It wasn’t as fast-paced and jaw-dropping as A Storm of Swords, but I enjoyed this one a lot more than A Feast for Crows. It’s a massive book and I think it took me as long to read as about 4 or 5 average books, but it was worth it because I thought it was wonderfully well-written and subtle. It really rewards paying attention to detail and I just loved how all these different details are woven in. Plus I loved the characters and even though it felt very much like a transition book I thought it was a really good transition book (which was not the case with the book that came before it). So amazingly complex.
2. Cold Fire by Kate Elliott
Since this was one of the books I read during this busy month of December, I haven’t reviewed this one yet and plan to make it my first review of 2012. I absolutely loved everything about it. Cat’s narrative voice is excellent, and I just love how she words her thoughts. I also love her as a character, as well as the other characters and how they interact with each other. The dialogue is wonderful, and the romance! It is my type of romance where the two involved banter and you wonder if they’ll ever get together and it is just fantastic. Start to finish, I was just so happy to be reading it. And so ready for the next book when it ended!
3. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor | Review
Laini Taylor is one of my favorite author discoveries of recent years and Daughter of Smoke and Bone was just beautiful. No one writes like Laini Taylor. Her writing is concise but gorgeous and she just gets how to describe emotions in a way you never thought of but that just fits perfectly. While she has amazing skill with prose, it’s not just a book with fantastic writing but one that is full of good qualities – her characters, mythology, and story are all fantastic as well. I devoured it. Bring on book 2!
4. The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear | Review
This ended the Edda of Burdens trilogy on a high note. It’s elegantly written, the characters have depth, and it has themes of transformation. It’s all based on Norse mythology, but it’s also still very much Bear’s own interpretation of the myths as they’re not completely familiar. It’s both poignant and heart-breaking, and this is one of the ones I think is one of the very best I read this year in addition to being a very readable favorite book.
5. Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire | Review
It’s a close call between this one and One Salt Sea, which both came out this year and were the two strongest installments in the Toby Daye series yet. But I’m giving it to Late Eclipses because it had so many of the revelations I’ve been waiting for in the series and it was so exciting to find out about them! This year these were quite easily my favorite books read in the urban fantasy genre. It has a great setting with the fae, a main character who has a strong and humorous narrative voice, and Tybalt! Tybalt just might be the character I’ve found myself talking about the most. (My husband may have decided I’m crazy this year just based on how I’ve gone on and on about Tybalt while reading one of these books.)
6. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells | Review
This was one of those rare books that grabbed my attention from page 1 and just never let up. The world is fascinating, populated with races that are not human but have very human problems and personalities. I loved learning about the Raksura, a race of shapeshifters, and how their society worked and the main character is very endearing. The Cloud Roads was one of my biggest surprises of 2011 and has me wondering why I hadn’t read anything by Martha Wells sooner.
7. Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey | Review
This ended up being my favorite book in the Naamah trilogy. I just loved how it came around full circle back to plots and people from the first book, the beautiful writing, and how different cultures and beliefs were portrayed with such compassion. It was also interesting to see more of the world as well as how far Moirin had come as a character since the first book in the trilogy. She wasn’t one of those static characters – her personality hadn’t really changed, but her experiences had shaped her and for that I thought she was a very well-developed character.
8. Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock | Review
This was my favorite 2011 debut of the year I read. It’s character-driven, dark fantasy that left me thinking about it a lot because there was just so much about it I found really interesting. It has a different world with its own rules and is a very different take on the common fantasy story of the battle between heaven and hell. I also appreciated that the main character was 40 years old and acted like you would expect a 40-year-old man to act. One of the other major characters, Rachael, was also a mature adult with a strong sense of justice and fairness and I also loved reading about her.
9. All Men of Genius by Lev A. C. Rosen | Review
Favorite debut was a very close race between this and Miserere this year. They’re very different books and this steampunk adventure is one of the more fun books I’ve read this year. It’s inspired by both Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest. It’s about Violet, a brilliant young scientist, who cannot go to the best scientific academy because she’s a girl. So she dresses up as a boy and starts to fall for the headmaster, and of course, much entertainment ensues!
10. The Magician King by Lev Grossman | Review
This was a look at fantasy quests and what it means to be a hero. I found it really interesting to see how much Quentin had grown up in this second installment. He’s not perfect but he is much more likable, and I think I liked it a little better than The Magicians because of that. Also, the ending! It was perfect but also depressing and it really stuck with me. I also loved the sense of humor in this book. There were a lot of lines that made me laugh out loud.
That was a tough one and I actually ended up surprising myself with #10. I had thought for sure that was going to be an honorable mention out of the twelve books I was considering. I was having a really hard time choosing between one book I had an immensely fun time reading but that I liked less the more I thought about the ending and one that I thought was an amazing book but just couldn’t connect to as much as I wanted to. Then I realized The Magician King was both a book I found both really enjoyable and really interesting, and the more I thought about it, the more I thought it fit on the above list instead.
Honorable Mentions for Books Published in 2011
Of course, I also read some books published before 2011 that I wanted to mention. This list ended up being easy because there were exactly 5 books I thought stood out over all the other other ones.
Favorite Books Published Before 2011
1. The Native Star by M. K. Hobson | Review
This was my biggest surprise of the year when it came to books I loved. I never would have picked this up based on the back cover description, but I kept hearing it was good – and I was so glad I read it! The Native Star would probably be the most fun book I read all year. It hooked me almost immediately, and it was full of adventure and had a nice romance that slowly developed over the course of the book. I was absolutely enchanted by it.
2. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge | Review
Although I had a GREAT reading year in general, I didn’t have a very good one when it came to science fiction books. There was one SF book I really didn’t like and a couple I thought were ok. The rest were ones I liked but didn’t think were anything super special and then there was A Fire Upon the Deep, which was awesome. Vernor Vinge is one of my husband’s favorite authors, and he’s been after me to read this book for a while. I put it off because it looked long, and I thought it would be dry and dull and tedious. It did have it’s slow parts, but I ended up surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. It’s complex and imaginative, and I thought the alien race was very interesting. (I haven’t read the sequel that came out this year yet, though.)
3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones | Review
This is such a charming story! Sophie, the girl who is transformed into an old lady by the Witch of the Waste, is such a terrific character. And of course, Howl steals the show as the exceedingly vain but endearing wizard. He’s one of those characters who has flaws but they just make him all the better for it. There’s also a delightful sense of humor throughout the tale and it’s quite clear why this is such a beloved book by many.
4. Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly | Review
Jenny and her choices was what made this book for me. Jenny is a 37-year-old woman who has tried to compromise between her love and their children and her magical studies. Because of this, she’s not a great mage and she has to wonder what might have been had she done what a mage is supposed to do and devoted herself entirely to her studies. It had such a heart-wrenching bittersweet ending – one of those endings where either choice comes with both good and bad, both happiness and sorrow. This is the best kind of ending.
5. The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
This is another book that is still sitting in my “to review” pile, which is a shame because I desperately want to read the next book and I told myself I can’t until I review this one. This is a fun series and this book just made me love the roguish Han and the determined Raisa even more (especially Han – Han is pure awesome). With the way this left off, I am DYING to read the next book!
Wow, that’s a lot of books! What are your favorite books you read in 2011?