It’s a little past the halfway point of the year now, but better late than never, right?  It’s been a pretty good year for reading, actually.  I’ve read fewer books than usual (looking through the list I seem to have also read more lengthy books than usual), but a higher percentage of them were really good and I keep finding more books that I just can’t leave off a list like this one.  This list includes all books read in 2011, not just those published this year.

So far this year there are two books I’ve read that stand out the most.

A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

A Dance With Dragons is the latest installment in one of my favorite series ever and I loved it.  This is still, in my opinion, the best sprawling, multi-cast epic fantasy series there is.  It’s a fantastic story, the characters are multi-dimensional, and there are so many subtle details – and there is now so much more to speculate on. (Review in Progress)

Daughter of Smoke and Bone was another book on my list of highly anticipated books.  Although my expectations were rather high based on Laini Taylor’s other work, it definitely met them.  First and foremost, Laini Taylor can write beautifully, but she’s multi-talented since she does everything exceptionally well (plot, world, characters, dialogue, injecting a sense of humor, writing memorable scenes, and instilling the urge to devour every book she’s every written). (Review)

Other notable books read this year:

The Sea Thy Mistress by Elizabeth Bear (Review)
If I were to add a third book to the above list, this would be the one.  It’s full of Norse mythology, but it’s also not a rehash – Bear uses these elements but makes it her own at the same time.  Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of her books that has impressed me the most (along with By the Mountain Bound, another part of this same trilogy).

The Native Star by M. K. Hobson (Review)
My favorite just plain fun book I’ve read this year.  It’s set in an alternate western US in the 1800s and is filled with magic and adventure and has a great romance. This would be the book that took me by surprise the most this year since I never would have read it based on the back cover description. Thank you, fellow book bloggers, because I would never have picked this one up if not for your reviews!

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente (Review)
Another gorgeously told story and a semi-modern retelling of the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless.  It’s Catherynne M. Valente, need I say more?

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (Review)
My favorite urban fantasy from this year, which is a bit surprising considering a new Kate Daniels book came out this year.  While I still love Kate, I have to say I enjoyed this one more than the latest Kate Daniels.  Seanan McGuire just keeps getting better and better with this series.

Aside from M. K. Hobson, there aren’t any new-to-me authors on this list, so here are some favorites by authors I hadn’t read before this year:

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge (Review)
The book that makes me the most foolish – because John has been telling me to read it for years and I hadn’t before now.  It is complex, dense, detailed scifi but it’s also very good scifi and I ended up rather pleasantly surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.

Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly (Review)
This is one of those books that plays with fantasy tropes and it had the best ending of any book I’ve read this year.

Eona by Alison Goodman (Review)
I couldn’t quite connect with Eona in the first half of this duology, but in this one the way she handled herself and the obstacles she faced made me love her.  Plus it’s based on Chinese mythology, and I have a tendency to enjoy reading fantasy inspired by Asian settings.

I also don’t feel like a list like this is complete without giving a shout out to the following two books:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (Review)
Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey (Review in Progress)

So, all in all, a very good year so far!  What are the best books you’ve read so far in 2011?