Sunday, January 1, 2012

Best of 2011 and Looking Forward to 2012

So, I made it through 34 books in 2011. A pittance for many book bloggers, but a respectable tally for me! My goal in 2012 is to have more time to read books that I really want to read, as I had so many "review" books to deal with this year. So my TBR shelf (shelves) keep growing and growing!

Here are my top ten favorite books that I read in 2011, with links to my reviews, listed in the order that they were read and reviewed:

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Can Katniss Everdeen win the final fight against the Capitol? Against all odds, she's survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she is still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what's worse, President Snow has made it clear that no-one else is safe either. Not Katniss's family, not her friends, not the people of District 12...

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Fort Repose is an idyllic little town located in Central Florida. At least everything is idyllic until "The Day". "The Day" is the day that the bombs fell-- nuclear bombs-- and entire cities were wiped off the map.


Room by Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world. . . . It's where he was born, it's where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.

Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it's the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack's curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer.

Room is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating--a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

The California Roll by John Vorhaus

What do the Merlin Game, the Penny Skim, the Doolally Snadoodle, and the Afterparty Snuke have in common? They’re all the work of world-class con artist and master bafflegabber Radar Hoverlander. Radar’s been “on the snuke” since childhood, but he’s still looking for his California Roll, the one big scam that’ll set him up in sushi for life.

Trouble arrives in the stunning, sassy package of Allie Quinn—either the last true innocent or a con artist so slick she makes Radar look like a Quaker. Radar’s hapless sidekick, Vic Mirplo, a lovable loser who couldn’t con a kid out of a candy cane, thinks Radar’s being played. But if love is blind, it’s also deaf, dumb and stupid, and before Radar knows it, he’s sucked into a vortex of double-, triple-, quadruple-crosses that’ll either net him his precious California Roll or put him in a hole in the ground. 

As timeless as a perpetual-motion machine, as timely as a Madoff arraignment, The California Roll brings you deep inside the world of con artistry, where every fact is fiction and the second liar never has a chance.


The Civilized World by Susi Wyss

When Adjoa leaves Ghana to find work in the Ivory Coast, she hopes that one day she'll return home to open a beauty parlor. Her dream comes true, though not before she suffers a devastating loss—one that will haunt her for years, and one that also deeply affects Janice, an American aid worker who no longer feels she has a place to call home. But the bustling Precious Brother Salon is not just the "cleanest, friendliest, and most welcoming in the city." It's also where locals catch up on their gossip; where Comfort, an imperious busybody, can complain about her American daughter-in-law, Linda; and where Adjoa can get a fresh start on life—or so she thinks, until Janice moves to Ghana and unexpectedly stumbles upon the salon. 

At once deeply moving and utterly charming, The Civilized World follows five women as they face meddling mothers-in-law, unfaithful partners, and the lingering aftereffects of racism, only to learn that their cultural differences are outweighed by their common bond as women. With vibrant prose, Susi Wyss explores what it means to need forgiveness—and what it means to forgive.

Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran

Smart and ambitious, Marie Tussaud has learned the secrets of wax sculpting by working alongside her uncle in their celebrated wax museum, the Salon de Cire. From her popular model of the American ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, to her tableau of the royal family at dinner, Marie’s museum provides Parisians with the very latest news on fashion, gossip, and even politics. Her customers hail from every walk of life, yet her greatest dream is to attract the attention of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI; their stamp of approval on her work could catapult her and her museum to the fame and riches she desires. After months of anticipation, Marie learns that the royal family is willing to come and see their likenesses. When they finally arrive, the king’s sister is so impressed that she requests Marie’s presence at Versailles as a royal tutor in wax sculpting. It is a request Marie knows she cannot refuse—even if it means time away from her beloved Salon and her increasingly dear friend, Henri Charles.

As Marie gets to know her pupil, Princesse Élisabeth, she also becomes acquainted with the king and queen, who introduce her to the glamorous life at court. From lavish parties with more delicacies than she’s ever seen to rooms filled with candles lit only once before being discarded, Marie steps into a world entirely different from her home on the Boulevard du Temple, where people are selling their teeth in order to put food on the table.

Meanwhile, many resent the vast separation between rich and poor. In salons and cafés across Paris, people like Camille Desmoulins, Jean-Paul Marat, and Maximilien Robespierre are lashing out against the monarchy. Soon, there’s whispered talk of revolution. . . . Will Marie be able to hold on to both the love of her life and her friendship with the royal family as France approaches civil war? And more important, will she be able to fulfill the demands of powerful revolutionaries who ask that she make the death masks of beheaded aristocrats, some of whom she knows?

Spanning five years, from the budding revolution to the Reign of Terror, Madame Tussaud brings us into the world of an incredible heroine whose talent for wax modeling saved her life and preserved the faces of a vanished kingdom.


The Bells by Richard Harvell

The celebrated opera singer Lo Svizzero was born in a belfry high in the Swiss Alps where his mother served as the keeper of the loudest and most beautiful bells in the land. Shaped by the bells’ glorious music, as a boy he possessed an extraordinary gift for sound. But when his preternatural hearing was discovered—along with its power to expose the sins of the church—young Moses Froben was cast out of his village with only his ears to guide him in a world fraught with danger.

Rescued from certain death by two traveling monks, he finds refuge at the vast and powerful Abbey of St. Gall. There, his ears lead him through the ancient stone hallways and past the monks’ cells into the choir, where he aches to join the singers in their strange and enchanting song. Suddenly Moses knows his true gift, his purpose. Like his mother’s bells, he rings with sound and soon, he becomes the protégé of the Abbey’s brilliant yet repulsive choirmaster, Ulrich.

But it is this gift that will cause Moses’ greatest misfortune: determined to preserve his brilliant pupil’s voice, Ulrich has Moses castrated. Now a young man, he will forever sing with the exquisite voice of an angel—a musico—yet castration is an abomination in the Swiss Confederation, and so he must hide his shameful condition from his friends and even from the girl he has come to love. When his saviors are exiled and his beloved leaves St. Gall for an arranged marriage in Vienna, he decides he can deny the truth no longer and he follows her—to sumptuous Vienna, to the former monks who saved his life, to an apprenticeship at one of Europe’s greatest theaters, and to the premiere of one of history’s most beloved operas.

In this confessional letter to his son, Moses recounts how his gift for sound led him on an astonishing journey to Europe’s celebrated opera houses and reveals the secret that has long shadowed his fame: How did Moses Froben, world renowned musico, come to raise a son who by all rights he never could have sired?

Like the voice of Lo Svizzero, The Bells is a sublime debut novel that rings with passion, courage, and beauty.


The Reversal by Michael Connelly

Longtime defense attorney Mickey Haller is recruited to change stripes and prosecute the high-profile retrial of a brutal child murder. After 24 years in prison, convicted killer Jason Jessup has been exonerated by new DNA evidence. Haller is convinced Jessup is guilty, and he takes the case on the condition that he gets to choose his investigator, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.

Together, Bosch and Haller set off on a case fraught with political and personal danger. Opposing them is Jessup, now out on bail, a defense attorney who excels at manipulating the media, and a runaway eyewitness reluctant to testify after so many years.

With the odds and the evidence against them, Bosch and Haller must nail a sadistic killer once and for all. If Bosch is sure of anything, it is that Jason Jessup plans to kill again.


Smonk by Tom Franklin

It's 1911 and the secluded southwestern Alabama town of Old Texas has been besieged by a scabrous and malevolent character called E. O. Smonk. Syphilitic, consumptive, gouty and goitered, Smonk is also an expert with explosives and knives. He abhors horses, goats and the Irish. Every Saturday night for a year he's been riding his mule into Old Texas, destroying property, killing livestock, seducing women, cheating and beating men-- all from behind the twin barrels of his Winchester 45-70 caliber over and under rifle. At last the desperate citizens of the town, themselves harboring a terrible secret, put Smonk on trial, with disastrous and shocking results.

Thus begins the highly anticipated new novel from Tom Franklin, acclaimed author of Hell at the Breech and Poachers.

Smonk is also the story of Evavangeline, a fifteen-year-old prostitute quick to pull a trigger or cork. A case of mistaken identity plunges her into the wild sugarcane country between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, land suffering from the worst drought in a hundred years and plagued by rabies. Pursued by a posse of unlikely vigilantes, Evavangeline boats upriver and then wends through the dust and ruined crops, forced along the way to confront her own clouded past. She eventually stumbles upon Old Texas, where she is fated to E. O. Smonk and the townspeople in a way she could never imagine.

In turns hilarious, violent, bawdy and terrifying, Smonk creates its own category: It's a southern, not a western, peopled with corrupt judges and assassins, a cuckolded blacksmith, Christian deputies, widows, War veterans, whores, witches, madmen and zombies. By the timethe smoke has cleared, the mystery of Smonk will be revealed, the survivors changed forever.
 

Jarred Into Being by Pat Lawrence

After the tragic death of her parents, Eva Lange must battle for her freedom; indeed, her very life. Fleeing her aunt's abuser, she falls prey to a murderous drug lord and his wife in their luxurious lair of lust. Using her wits, beauty, and sexuality to save herself and break the bonds of captivity and degradation, Eva struggles against corruption and powerful political forces to reclaim her independence and save the life of the man she loves. 



And here is a list of some of the top books that I look forward to reading in 2012:

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Sometimes being on the vanguard of scientific progress thrusts you into the teeth of danger. For Minnesota pharmaceutical researcher Dr. Marina Singh, that means being sent into the remotest region of the Amazon jungle to track down her former mentor. Finding Dr. Annick Swenson promises to be perilous: The last scientist assigned to find her has disappeared too. What follows is the most ambitious novel yet by Bel Canto author Ann Patchett as its adventure story opens into a penetrating study of personalities, loyalties, and ethics. Editor's recommendation.

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Intense, powerful, and compelling, Matterhorn is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead and James Jones's The Thin Red Line. It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat. The experience will change them forever.

Written over the course of thirty years by a highly decorated Marine veteran, Matterhorn is a visceral and spellbinding novel about what it is like to be a young man at war. It is an unforgettable novel that transforms the tragedy of Vietnam into a powerful and universal story of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice: a parable not only of the war in Vietnam but of all war, and a testament to the redemptive power of literature.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.
 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don't.
 

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive. A dystopian fantasy series starter with wings. Editor's recommendation. 

Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel

One sunny morning in 1969, near the end of her first trip to Miami, twenty-six-year-old Frances Ellerby finds herself in a place called Stiltsville, a community of houses built on pilings in the middle of Biscayne Bay.

It’s the first time the Atlanta native has been out on the open water, and she’s captivated. On the dock of a stilt house, with the dazzling skyline in the distance and the unknowable ocean beneath her, she meets the house’s owner, Dennis DuVal—and a new future reveals itself.

Turning away from her quiet, predictable life back home, Frances moves to Miami to be with Dennis. Over time, she earns the confidence of his wild-at-heart sister and wins the approval of his oldest friend. Frances and Dennis marry and have a child—but rather than growing complacent about their good fortune, they continue to face the challenges of intimacy, and of the complicated city they call home.

Stiltsville is the family’s island oasis—until suddenly it’s gone, and Frances is forced to figure out how to make her family work on dry land. Against a backdrop of lush tropical beauty, Frances and Dennis struggle with the mutability of love and Florida’s weather, and with temptation and chaos and disappointment.

But just when Frances thinks she’s reached some semblance of higher ground, she must confront an obstacle so great that all she’s learned about navigating the uncharted waters of family life can’t keep them afloat.

In Stiltsville, Susanna Daniel interweaves the beauty, chaos, and humanity of Miami as it comes of age with an enduring story of a marriage’s beginning, maturity, and heartbreaking demise.
 

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Magic is dangerous--but love is more dangerous still.

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by--and torn between--two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length...everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world...and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.
 

Here's wishing everyone happy reading in 2012! 

1 comment:

Julie @ Knitting and Sundries said...

Great list - wonderfully diverse as well! My thoughts on the ones I read: I liked Mockingjay a bit less than the first two (probably because I got used to all of the heart-stopping action)

Room was great once I got used to Jack's dialogue, but I was perplexed by his mom's actions after they escaped.


Madame Tussaud: I always like a good historical fiction novel .. I think I REALLY liked the factual items that were included in this one maybe more than the actual story.

The Bells - I LOVED it

A Discovery of Witches - I liked because in my alter-life, I myself would likely be an academician buried in the library :)

The Help - I'm sorry it took me so long to read it.

Wither - My daughter and I BOTH loved this one.

The ones I haven't read: State of Wonder and Stiltville are near the top of my wishlist. Clockwork Angel - bought for Not-So-Bebe-Girl Autumn - it's somewhere in her room (I think - likely buried in the piles of clothes in the corner) - I must try to dig it out!