Books of the Year
2011 Top Ten plus in no particular order. Couldn’t get it down to 10 there were just too many great books this year and I could have easily included another 10 titles.
Read from July 12 to 13, 2011
Ignore anything that says this is the 4th in the Mistborn series. It is set in the same world but in a different time so don’t let anything (like not having read the first 3 Mistborn books) dissuade you from reading it if you like inventive, action-packed stories with strong characters. Even though this is set on a distant world in a distant time it has a decidedly western feel to it with lots of firearms and rugged individualists who put honor and responsibility above personal wants. Waxillium Ladrium, has left the Roughs and his career as a frontier lawman behind to return to the city following the death of his sister and uncle. Taking up his place in society he sets aside his guns only to find he has to pick them up again when a gang of thieves called the Vanishers invade a huge wedding reception and kidnap his date. The Vanishers have been robbing trains in a way that has all mystified. Wax does have both Allmancy and Feruchemy talents that give this book a very visual and cinematic feel. He, his companions Wayne, and Marasi, as well as the city of Elendel are vivid and vital. The guns, trains, and societal mores give this a distinctive steam punk feel. Nathan Herald describes this combination of steam punk and western personalities as weird west which I’m hoping is a rising genre. Cherie Priest’s series that started with Boneshaker, Midori Snyder’s The Flight of Michael McBride, and Emma Bull’s Territory.
Read in October, 2011
Mara Dyer has moved to Florida after her three friends in Rhode Island died in the collapse of an abandoned asylum. She was the only survivor but has no memories. Because of her fragile emotional and mental state her parents move the family to southern Florida where her lawyer father has been invited to take over a high profile criminal defense case. At her new private school in Miami, Mara immediately annoys the school mean girl and her muscle bound sidekick while capturing the interest of Noah, the hot boy everybody wants. Mara has hallucinations of her dead friends calling out to her. She “sees” her dead boyfriend walking around. She “sees” a man who she had reported for abusing a dog, dead, and then he turns up dead. Strange and mysterious happenings begin accumulating as her mental state goes further in doubt and she and Noah try to delve into the strangeness that surrounds her.
This is a difficult book to synopsize, as teen members of the Bistro Book Club have repeatedly told me as they gushed about how good it is. And they are right. This complex thriller, complete with accelerating pacing is a riveting read with surprising twists and tuns. Not to be missed.
Read in December, 2011
A delightful combination of time travel, romance, ghosts, complicated family relationships, mystery, and a secret society blend into a must read book. Sixteen-year-old Gwyneth Montrose lives with her widowed mother and two younger sibs in a Mayfair mansion filled with their extended family. Gwyneth’s cousin Charlotte was the one in the family who supposedly inherited the gene that allows time travel and she has been nurtured her whole life to have all the tools necessary to survive on trips to the past but it is Gwyneth who is suddenly and unexpectedly yanked into the past. Teamed up with Gideon, a gorgeous but supercilious and bossy 18-year-old, they are on a mission to collect blood from four of their ancestors to bring a prophecy of the secret society, The Guardians, to fruition.
I could not put this book down. I’m often wary of translations but this was superbly done. Fans of historical fiction will also like the forays into the past with authentic clothing and the interactions with people in earlier time periods. I can’t wait to read the next two books in the trilogy.
It seems that the genre blending in this could be confusing — paranormal as Gwyneth sees and can talk with ghosts of people and gargoyles, — fantasy as she is thrust back in time with no warning and no machine, —science fiction as the chronograph, powered by blood, is used to send those with the time travel gene back to specific dates and times, and — mystery as Gwyneth and her BFF Lesley try to find out why Lucy and Paul absconded with the first chronograph but it all hangs together nicely
Read in August, 2011
I was afraid to read Welcome to Bordertown. All too often I have jumped into a book I had eagerly anticipated and had it disappoint. I think, sometimes, because I have so looked forward to a book and have made it the best book ever in my mind, I don’t appreciate the perfectly good book it is. I loved NeverNever, ElseWhere, Finder, The Essential Bordertown and all the rest in this shared world that defined urban fantasy. I am happy to say that Welcome to Bordertown did not disappoint. It was even better than I hoped. Like all anthologies it had some stories that suited me better than others but all were excellent. Even though vampires are so yesterday and I usually don’t equate them with urban fantasy (I know, I’m old school here) Annette Curtis Klause author of my favorite vampire book The Silver Kiss contributed “Elf Blood” that I really liked. Other stories that stood out for me included Charles de Lint’s “A Tangle of Green Men” and “The Rowan Gentleman” by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. I found something enjoyable in all the stories of people lost and found, of dreams and nightmares, of all the interesting people with stories to tell who converged on Bordertown.
This was a procrastiread for me, a book I stretched out over 3 days because I couldn’t bear for it to be done.
Read on November 05, 2011
Sisters Amy and Phin Goodnight are from a long line of Texas witches. When their aunt Hyacinth goes on vacation, the two go to take care of her herb farm which is completely surrounded by a large independent ranch owned by the McCulloch family. Amy (Amaryllis), is the practical one in the family and has just graduated from high school. Phin, (Delphinium), is majoring in Chemistry and Physics at UT because there are no universities that offer good paranormal programs. She invents devices to use to scientifically explore preternatural manifestations. Despite trying to not be magical following a horrific experience when she was eleven, Amy has an affinity for ghosts. The two sisters, eighteen and nineteen-years-old, divide up the farm sitting chores with Phin taking care of flora, and Amy, fauna. A smelly dog bathing effort and no towels in the bathroom takes Amy to the laundry room in her skivvies when she discovers Phin did not close a gate and the farm has been invaded by a calf which really has nothing to do with the goats escaping their pen by climbing a tree, leading her outdoors where nobody is around anyway to see her, and right into meeting Ben McCulloch, who has issues with Aunt Hy and immediately comments on Amy’s Victoria’s Secret, cherry decorated underwear. Even though the farm house is spelled with strong protections, Amy sees a ghost, in addition to their late uncle who lives there, which shouldn’t be able to happen and when she goes out to where bridge builders have found human bones she finds more bones. Mystery, mayhem, and romance ensue. I really liked the setting. It felt truly Texas, not as imagined by an east coast city person and the characters were quirky and likable. The family and community relationships also rang true reminding me of Tanya Huff’s Gale family in The Enchantment Emporium.
Read in October, 2011
Luke King has all the moves of a secret agent and more but will they allow him to get the girl, save his dad, and stop a potential apocalypse?
Luke has grown up moving every six months or so, never putting down roots. His roots have been his loving family but now, his mom is gone and his dad, who once taught him several different deadly skills as well as how to survive, has turned into a drunken stoner. Living in a tin can of a trailer, Luke crushes on his best friend Meena, a Pakistani girl whose father works at the top secret installation at the edge of town, and tries to avoid the Sunglass Mafia, a group of pale eastern European students. When his father is kidnapped, he uses a coded message to send Luke to an abandoned mansion where Luke discovers a secret about himself that may just give him the edge to save his dad, Meena, and the world from a diabolical mad scientist type plot.
Despite, the thrill of covert-ops, nicely developed non-stereotypical paranormals, forbidden romance, mad science, martial arts, and real multi-cultural characters, it is an involving full throttle read that does not get bogged down in messages and political correctness but depicts people I would want to know in situations I would never want to experience.
by Kevin Brooks
Read in September, 2011
I read this because the Bistro Book Club teens loved it so much. Like the other books by Brooks that I read it is extremely grim but in this case I was ok with it. Tom lives in the gritty 30 story high housing projects near London. They are wracked by crime, violence, and poverty. One day, on his way to visit a lifelong friend, he hears his name, looks up, and sees something falling toward him from 30 floors up. When he comes to a few weeks later after being in a coma he learns his friend was gang raped, her brother beat up, and an iPhone had shattered his skull and parts of it were imbedded in his brain in inoperable areas. As he recovers he realizes his brain has incorporated the bits of the phone into itself and he has acquired iPhone powers including the ability to surf the net and hack into anything. This goes beyond the traditional superhero story as Tom grapples with issues of right and wrong, good and evil, as he tries to keep those he loves safe.
Read in June, 2011
Kathryn Erskine writes amazing books, Quaking and Mockingbird, full of heart and soul. The Absolute Value of Mike is also laugh out loud funny in a real life non-sanitized way. When his widowed engineering professor father goes to teach for a summer abroad, fourteen-year-old Mike is sent to stay with Moo and Poppy, his octogenarian great-aunt and uncle. His father thinks Mike will be spending the summer helping Poppy engineer an artesian screw but when he arrives he finds Poppy almost catatonic over the death of his son and Moo wildly driving Tyrone, her named Ford Taurus and best friend, while pretending she isn’t nearly blind. Do Over, the town where some signs are missing letters, is coming together as a community to help raise the $40,000.00 a young widowed woman needs to adopt Misha, an orphan from Romania. Among the quirky characters who pitch in under Mike’s determined leadership to bring Misha home, are a homeless man who has a laptop and cell phone, and three men who appear very much like the three stooges. I love the way Erskine writes about loss, grieving, failings, and insecurities while imbuing her people (they are much more real and alive than mere characters) with kindness, generosity, and good will. This is another winner from an author rising among my many favorite authors with each subsequent book.
The math concepts at the beginning of each chapter did remind me of Blythe Woolston’s Morris Award Winning Freak Observer (I think the same font was even used) as well as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Catalyst.
Read in February, 2011
In a steampunk version of an alternate US in the 1950s, Lovecraft is the urban center of Massachusetts. It is run by Proctors who make sure that heretics are burned, myth and religion based on supernatural deities is banned, monsters prowl by night, and a necrovirus can cause insanity if it doesn’t turn you into a flesh eating monster. Aoife, who never met her father and faithfully visits her insane mother in a mental institution fears her approaching sixteenth birthday because a latent necrovirus carried through her family usually manifests as madness at age sixteen. Talented at math and science, Aoife who grew up with her now mad and missing elder brother in group homes, is the only female student in an academy of engineering. A coded message from her brother sends her and her best friend Cal on a danger filled quest to Graystone, her wealthy father’s estate near the town of Arkham, guided by Dean, a sexy bad boy from the wrong side of Lovecraft. At Graystone, Aoife, finds hidden rooms and discovers her affinity for the mechanical has hidden depths. She also discovers she has been taught lies throughout her life and that her world is on the brink of collapse if a parallel world cannot be saved. Despite its great length it was a page turner. Unfortunately the story is just beginning and readers will have to wait for further installments in the Iron Codex. There are so many little bits and pieces throughout that will resonate with readers of fantasy and steampunk. It brings to mind Impossible by Nancy Werlin, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray, City of Ember, Fever Crumb, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, countles tales set in the darker realms of faerie as well as H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. It is a booklovers delight.
by Mike Mullin
bookshelves: adventure, science-fiction, speculative-fiction, teen-older-teens, thriller
Read in December, 2011
Bonnie Kunzel talked about this one at DragonCon so I was thrilled when a copy of it came in. It is every bit as good as she, and so many others have said. It starts off with a bang when fifteen-year-old Alex is left home alone for the weekend when his parents and younger sister go off to visit relatives. Suddenly the earth shakes and his room collapses around him as flaming debris from the super volcano at Yellowstone flung from 900 miles away hits his house. It doesn’t take long for civilization to completely break down and in the aftermath of a gruesome home invasion, Alex decides to set out to find his family. Along his grueling journey he experiences dangers, meets evil, and finds some of the good people who have refused to descend into savagery. The fall of ash from the volcano turns his world unimaginably dark and cold. He meets a seventeen-year-old living with her mother on a farm who has awesome mechanical and practical skills. It is one of the best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a long time. It made me want to go back and read Wolf and Iron by Gordon Dickson. This page turner is not for the faint of heart but anyone who picks it up will find it almost impossible to even take a break from reading.
by Laini Taylor
Read in June, 2011
GoodReads. Why did my review lock you up then fail to save? Total frustration as I had so precisely crafted a review of one of the most extraordinary books of the year. Anyway, to be brief, this masterful original tale is full of truth about life, love, friendship, humanity, and beauty. I don’t have the time or inclination to rewrite right now but Crowinator posted a superb review and said what needs to be said eloquently.
Read in March, 2011
Never thought I would give a boxing book 5 stars but like Markus Zusak’s Fighting Ruben Wolfe this is much, much more than a book about boxing. Sharenow author of the outstanding debut novel My Mother the Cheerleader, is a master at bringing 20th century history to life through story. In The Berlin Boxing Club, scrawny Karl Stern meets famous boxing champion Max Schmeling at his father’s art gallery and is given lessons in exchange for a painting. As the Nazis become more oppressive, Karl is expelled from his school, the family is evicted from their apartment, and the family’s business goes under. Through it all Karl has boxing as his refuge. I loved Karl’s relationships with his sister, his first love, his corner man, the Countess, and the evolution of his relationship with his father. A Printz worthy book.
Read in August, 2011
Science fiction is definitely experiencing a renaissance. Kayla and Mishalla are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, best friends who know that when they reach fifteen they will probably never see each other again. After things on Earth fell apart, a colony of settlers moved to another planet. They instituted a strict caste system based on those who funded the migration and the people who indentured themselves to go. Several decades before the story starts, The Infinite(the GENs’ deity) inspired a trio of prophets to create the GENs to do the work that had been done by low-borns and infused them with animal DNA to enhance the skills they would use in working. Mishalla has been sent off to care for low-born orphans but they keep disappearing, taken away in the night. Kayla, who has extremely strong arms is sent to care for an elderly trueborn man who strangely enough has a tattoo similar to the tattooed dataports on the GENs cheeks. Sandler deftly weaves strands of race, privilege, politics, greed, and romance into a fascinating culture. The young protagonists are very real and exhibit great strength of character. Another book that I enjoyed that used tattoos to signify caste was The Diary of Pelly D by L J Adlington. (Strangely enough, the German title for The Diary of Pelly D was Gen Tattoo.
Read in July, 2011
Outstanding horror story involving Cas, a teen ghost buster who inherited his late father’s ghost hunting skills and athame. After sending a hitchhiking ghost who makes people crash their cars in the spot he was murdered onto wherever ghosts go he moves with his mother, a witch, to a community where the legend of Anna Dressed in Blood scares teens. Trying to find out about Anna, he is lured to the house she lived in. Everybody who has entered the house has been torn apart but somehow the ghost doesn’t kill him but does kill his rival. Cas sees something more in Anna than a murderous ghost and tries to find out what went wrong back in 1958 when she was dressed for her first dance. Meanwhile he plans to hunt down the ghost responsible for slaying his father when he is done with this case. I read this on one of my “everything-that-can-go-wrong-did-but-at-least-nobody-died travel days”right before I came down with a horrible flu that wiped me out for a couple of days. It made the the delays bearable. I really liked the wry humor, Cas’s personality, and the way the story played out. This is a series in which I will read the next book.
Read in February, 2011