Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2011

27 Dec
I’m bringing back the Top Ten Tuesday meme, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, again since they’re so much fun to participate in. This week’s topic: my ten favorite reads in 2011. Peeps, this is a tough one. Not only is it hard to get it down to ten, but I really haven’t had a super-organized strategy for recording what books I read, so I’ll do my best here.

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley. I want to say I heard about Susanna Kearsley from Nancy Pearl’s blog, but I may be totally lying. I picked Named of the Dragon but it was a cracking good read, but the individual title doesn’t really matter: they’re all excellent. Kearsley writes gothic mysteries, accompanied by a bit of a love story, in the tradition of Mary Stewart. There’s usually a little bit of unobtrusive paranormal activity too, in the form of parallel lives in different ages. Kearsley’s books are usually set in British territory – this one is specifically in Wales. The mystery, the gothic drama, the love story, the atmosphere…it all combines into magic for me. Kearsley is now one of my auto-buy authors.

Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio. This was a recommendation by a Powell’s bookstore employee when I visited Portland last fall. I’ve always loved comics and graphic novels, and this steampunk comic with a female heroine in Victorian times is near perfection. It has evolved into a web comic, which you can read at the series’ website. You tell me how I was supposed to resist a comic with the tagline “Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!”

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee. This is the debut novel in a young adult mystery series centered in Victorian London (it’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that I would like to time travel back to Victorian London). It’s fresh and clever, and Mary Quinn, an orphan and thief, is just the right combination of spunky and sensible. She’s recruited to the Agency, home of an elite cadre of female investigators, at the age of seventeen and must successfully complete her first assignment before she is really one of the gang.

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. Aha, something not set somewhere in England! I liked this because its tone was so different for me, and really contributed to the enjoyment of the novel. Mostly set in the outback of Australia, Jean Paget is an Englishwoman who survived a horrifying experience as a prisoner of war in Malaya. Now she is searching in the hot and spare deserts of Australia for the Australian soldier who helped save her life. During her journey, she trips over her good intentions again and again, but never gives up.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier. This book is heartbreakingly beautiful. Marillier is a stunning writer – she is able to write the most gorgeous prose but keep it accessible and entertaining. This retelling of the Six Swans fairy tale centers of the trials and tribulations of Sorcha, who must save her six brothers from her evil stepmother’s spell by sewing them each a shirt made from the painful nettle plant, all the while keeping absolutely mute. This isn’t a Disney fairytale; there’s some gnarly stuff in here, but it is absolutely captivating.

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx. Officially, this was a reread, but it’d been years since I read it the first time, so it was almost fresh! I love this story so much – there is such peace and calm and thoughtfulness and almost a weird fairy tale quality at some points. Quoyle’s faithless wife has just died, so Quoyle takes his sad sack self, his daughters, and his aunt to their ancestral home in Newfoundland. He’s not a very good father, or newspaper reporter, or lover, but he carries on nonetheless in the face of adversity and mocking. Eventually, he comes into his own and you really pull for him. I think he embodies all the doubts we have about ourselves, so when he experiences a victory, your whole body shouts with him.

Cold Magic by Kate Elliott. Here I am, banging the Cold Magic drum again. It’s just so good! It’s an alternate history of the world, with Africa coming out on top, and a conflict between magic and science takes center stage. Cat and Bee, two cousins, are caught up in a war between the ruling families, and Cat in particular must find her strength to overcome her struggles. I am SO about to buy Cold Fire, the sequel.

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn. Again, Raybourn is an auto-buy author for me. I don’t know that I’ve enjoyed a series as much as I have her Lady Julia Grey series. They’re mysteries, usually of the English country house variety, though one did take place in India (and it was awesome). Lady Julia Grey is perfection. She is plucky, smart, stubborn, and not always kind, though she loves her crazy family and pet raven very much. She also loves Nicholas Brisbane, who rivals Mr. Darcy in literary crushdom for me. I know, crazy talk, but give this series a try and you’ll see what I mean. Also, gypsies!

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. Ok, I don’t know if I loved this book, but I think it was really important for me to read. I have adored A.S. Byatt ever since I read Possession in college. She may be the smartest person I’ve ever read. Her brain is amazing to me. Overall, I don’t think I’ll read The Children’s Book again, as the characters just weren’t likable enough for me, but it had so many elements that really stimulated my brain and allowed me to shake off some of my ingrained thinking patterns. Kind of like taking a bracing walk in the cold wind after sitting cozily inside all day.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Again, another reread, but I wanted to finish this list strong. Man, am I a big cheater or what? I love this book hard. To me, it’s the flip side of Pride and Prejudice, my very favorite Jane Austen. Where Pride and Prejudice is all mirth and light and outrage, Persuasion is somber and deeply loving and a little sad. If these books were people, Persuasion is where Pride and Prejudice will be in about fifteen years, after she gets disappointed a few times. Girlfriend didn’t write a bad book, but I think Austen really lets the reality of life in that time seep through here. Through it all is an incredibly believable and very beautiful love story.

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9 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2011”

  1. Rebecca December 27, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Yay! Your top-ten list!

    I’m only mildly surprised that not only have I not read any of the books on your list, I haven’t even read any of the authors (not even Austen, which I’m looking to remedy with the audio book of Emma soon). I really like the sounds of a few you listed. You totally have a Victorian thing going. I’m right there with you, but my reading taste tends to be more fantasy than mystery, and those aren’t often set in England.

    If you haven’t read Gail Carriger (http://gailcarriger.com/), you are in for a major treat. You’ll love her stuff.

    (Oh, one request: I think you should set up your links to open in a new tab. That way I don’t have to hold down the pesky control button when I hit them. But that’s just because I’m lazy.)

    You might end up being the reason I get a cell phone: so I can look up your blog while I’m in the bookstore and find some new good books. I planned on buying myself something new for Christmas, got to the bookstore, and couldn’t remember any of the authors you’d recommended! Or, I guess, I could write them down, but boo to that!

    • Amanda December 27, 2011 at 8:25 am #

      I know, you ask for a top ten list, and I respond! It was actually pretty tough to put together, and I came away from it with one thought: need to challenge myself a little more.

      I do love me some Gail Carriger! I love her series – my friend bought me the whole shebang for my birthday last year. Soulless remains my absolute favorite of the series.

      Omg, yes, please get a cell phone! Then I could text you all day long. Well, not all day, but I will be texting you.

  2. Rebecca December 27, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Like how I just randomly mentioned Carriger? Sorry, I thought I set that up, but apparently that thought didn’t make it to my fingers. Carriger writes Victorian-era paranormal fantasy with elements of steampunk. And, best of all, they’re really funny. Vampires and werewolves, but it feels fresh, which I find remarkable after the last five or so years of the paranormal fantasy trends, which have pretty much inundated me with all things vampire and werewolf (but have yet to explain why the two are always paired).

  3. 1girl2manybooks December 27, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    I also had The Dark Enquiry….awesome. I haven’t read Named of the Dragon – one of the very few Kearsley’s I haven’t gotten to yet! Must try and track it down!

    • Amanda December 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

      I’m always amazed by how many people love Deanna Raybourn as much as I do! I’m looking forward to reading Kearsley’s new book, The Rose Garden, next.

  4. Eva December 30, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    Ohhh: I’ve read half of your list and loved them all (the Austen, Byatt, Kearsley, Marillier, & Lee), so I’ll have to track down the other five! 🙂

    • Amanda December 30, 2011 at 7:47 am #

      Eva, I think I heard about Juliet Marillier from your blog, so I thank you for that!

      Of them all, I think A Town Like Alice was my biggest surprise, having never heard of the author before, but apparently he has a wide and ardent following.

  5. Shannon (Giraffe Days) January 10, 2012 at 8:58 am #

    I loved The Shipping News, read it years ago now but I was so impressed with the writing. Still, I never felt an urge to read anything else by her!

    I have several of these to-read – Kate Elliott’s new series (she’s one of my favourites, so great to find someone else who loves her work!) and the Juliet Marillier book – I’m coming really late to her, she’s big back home in Australia but I never read any, and I held off here for so long because I found the covers ugly (I really don’t like what Tor does with typefaces! I know, silly reason) but I caved and recently got this one and The Dark Mirror. And I have the first four books of the Julia Grey series to read and haven’t even started them yet! So much to catch up on!!

    • Amanda January 10, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      Shannon, I keep running across Annie Proulx’s books everywhere I go – I think it might be a sign for me to try more than The Shipping News!

      I know what you mean about covers putting you off, especially in fantasy series. I just read one where the heroine is in some skimpy bikini thing, and she’s a tomboy in the book. Oh well. Whatever sells, I guess.

      I do hope you enjoy the Julia Grey books – they’re one of my all-time favorite series. Kind of a lighter Jane Eyre relationship, mashed up with Mary Stewart.

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