I have been making a list of my fave books of the year for a while now, but before now they have only been chronicled in my reading journals or on Facebook last year, so its pretty sweet to have it out in the blogosphere for the first time 🙂
1. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
This was the first book I started in 2011 (on the 1st of January and all!) and was also one of a few books I read around that time that were the final instalments in major trilogies I had been reading for a while (the others are Destiny by Fiona McIntosh which is also in this list, and The Reawakened by Jeri Smith-Ready that I finished on January 1st so it missed out being on this list :P). I read the first two of the His Dark Materials series, Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass) and The Subtle Knife in 2009 and late 2010 respectively and each one was more gripping and imaginative as the story went on culminating with The Amber Spyglass which was just amazing. Philip Pullman brought everything to light and wrapped up all the loose ends that had developed throughout the series and although many of these conclusions were heart-breaking, the ending felt right. I was left with a sense of awe at Pullman’s abilities and it certainly opened up my year of reading with a bang.
2. Destiny by Fiona McIntosh
Destiny was another wonderful conclusion to a gripping series, but one that I had been invested in for much longer. As I have said before there was a big gap between starting the Trinity trilogy and finishing it as I read the first book, Betrayal way back in 2008, then the second book, Revenge a couple of months later but was unable to acquire Destiny until early 2011! It was lucky that I re-read the first two books before finding it but even still it was at least a year between the end of Revenge (which was quite a cliffhanger) and the beginning of Destiny so it took me a while to understand what was going on. However once I was caught up this final instalment certainly didn’t disappoint with more twists and turns then the most intense rollercoaster and countless moments that made me gasp in shock or burst into tears. There were so many satisfying conclusions to conflicts that had carried through the whole trilogy and the final ending was very emotional and riveting, showing Fiona McIntosh’s ability to weave a great ending that doesn’t shy away from harsh realities and fall into the “happily ever after” trap.
3. The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll
This was a beautiful, quirky, charming little novel which was a surprise highlight of my year. Andrew Nicoll described the fictional Baltic town of Dot as well as all the unique characters inhabiting it with loving detail that made me eager to read for hours on end. The story was quite simple – a forbidden love story between the Mayor of the town and his married assistant – but it was the execution of it that was so addictive to me, the dancing around the two did, never admitting their feelings for each other and by the end I was quite frustrated with them both (which made me want to read even more just to see if they’d ever get their act together!). Even ‘tho it took a really strange turn at its climax this only made me like the book more as it was so unexpected. A great read for someone who loves a good RomCom but one that’s a tad odd 🙂
4. Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris
This one was a big surprise because as I am a huge fan of Joanne Harris and am use to her usual fare of magic, food and small town politics (or other tight-knit communities like a college or nunnery), or as in her earlier works gothic styled historical novels with a touch of mystery and Blueeyedboy certainly doesn’t fit into those categories. Well and truly in the modern age, this novel tells its story exclusively through LiveJournal posts which gave it a creepy atmosphere of confession and mind games. It was a frightening, disturbing and unsettling book where the lines between fiction and reality and between online and offline personas was very blurred and I was constantly changing my mind about who was the “monster” and who was the victim. The twists were often very unexpected and sudden, so I found myself reeling through most of it, but by the end I was left impressed by Joanne Harris’ talent (to create a fantastic psychological thriller so different from her usual style) and even that early on in the year (I read it over a week in February) I knew it would be on this list as I stayed with me long after the last word.
5. Twilight by William Gay
I almost didn’t read this fantastically atmospheric book because of its title, but I am so glad a bunch of glittery vampires didn’t put me off as it was a fantastic, if quite confusing read. This is the first of my Top Reads that I have reviewed on this blog, and that review can be found here. Since I went into why this book was so amazing in that review I won’t go into it much here, but will just say that this book showed some of the finest writing of my readings this year as well as being one of the more creepy and vividly described novels I read in 2011. Not for the faint hearted or easily confused, but for lovers of language and spooky imagery this is a real treat.
6. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
This is another book I reviewed this year so I won’t go into too much detail, but as soon as I finished it I knew it would be on this list as it certainly made an impact on me. This is one of those novels that grew on me (like my friend Sarah would say, like a fungus :)) and the second half was read in huge devouring sessions as opposed to the snail’s pace of the first half. If any of you decide to give this little french gem a shot I would highly recommend that you watch the movie adaptation afterwards as it cleverly takes the story from page to screen and was a lovely little film in its own right 🙂
7. Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker
This one is definitely not for those light of heart (or stomach!) as it is a classic Barker tale filled with gruesome creatures, violent sexuality and lots of gore. I have yet to review it, even ‘tho I reached the end on the 20th of October (naughty naughty!) as it has been hard to find the right words to explain it. It is a blend of absolute horror in the craziest supernatural form that Clive Barker excels at, and a tale of the underbelly of Hollywood from its Golden Age of ageless movie starlets in glorious black and white and blissful silence, to the modern age of plastic idols. Not one I would recommend as an introduction to Clive Barker (it would likely scare many away) but once readers are used to his work (maybe starting with lighter novels like Abarat and then moving on to his crazier stuff like Sacrament?) this is an excellent example of his expansive and very warped imagination. He’s a freak but I love ‘im 🙂
8. The Secrets of the Chess Machine by Robert Löhr
This was a more light-hearted read of 2011. Although there was some murder mystery elements and other dark parts It was always easy and fun to read as opposed to some on this list which I dipped into less often. I love a good Historical Saga, especially one that is based on real events rather than just a certain time or place in history, and this little beauty was exactly what I was looking for. More details can be found in my review but be warned, this one may be a bit difficult to find. I was lucky enough to find it at my local library, but since reading and reviewing it a friend and fellow Library student has been trying to find it in bookstores to no avail. My best bet would be an online bookstore such as Book Depository or second-hand and rare book supplier Abe Books.
9. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This book was a fairly recent read (I finished it on the 8th of December) but I knew from a few chapters in that it would be a highlight of 2011. I first heard about it from my mum who saw it reviewed on Australian morning show The Circle and thought I would like it as before my Library studies I was a floral assistant and I have always been intrigued by the Victorian custom of courting lovers communicating through flowers. She then bought it from me as part of my amazingly generous birthday presents and I was lucky enough to choose it out of my To Read pile at the beginning of November. I have yet to review it (I’ll get there I promise!) but it was a beautifully touching story with an interesting and solid background in the meaning of flowers and the effect the foster child/adoption system has on children even into adulthood.
10. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
This last book almost didn’t make it on the list as when I started it on the 9th of December, even ‘tho I loved it from the first chapter I didn’t think I would finish it before the start of the new year. But thanks to some marathon reading, mostly due to the fantastic writing skills of Tracy Chevalier and my ardent wish to include it in my Top Reads I finished it the day before New Years Eve 🙂 This was a very interesting and touching novel that amerses you in a historical time and place perfectly. Tracy Chevalier is wonderful at capturing a time and place and inventing believable details surrounding a pivotal artistic (or in this case scientific) movement. I have loved every book she has ever released from the moment I read The Virgin Blue as they were all sound Historical novels with a backbone of facts and a great deal of heart. This one is based on the true story of Mary Anning, a working class girl in 19th century England who discovers the first aquatic dinosaurs and sets the scientific world alight with talk of extinction and the age of the earth, but it is also about the friendship between two women (Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot) who are from a different class and background and two decades apart in age but share a love of fossil hunting. I promise I’ll do a proper review as soon as I get through the 8 that are still backed up 😛
Stay tuned for my other highlights of the year in the form of my 2011 Book Polygamist Awards! which I will post within the next couple of days, and I hope to see all my usual Bookbaggers as well as lots of new faces throughout 2012 🙂
In case you weren’t aware 2012 is The National Year of Reading in Australia, which libraries around the country are getting involved in with special activities and programs as well as extra storytime sessions, displays and the like, so expect some extra little tidbits this year 🙂
One idea I had was to post a small quote from one of the books I’m reading every day as part of Project 365 but what with my last semester of study being this year as well as continuing casual work at libraries, and hopefully some form of social life, I don’t see myself keeping that up for longer than a few weeks, so maybe I’ll make it something more achievable like a quote once a week?
Let me know what you guys think in the comments and as always, HAPPY READING!!!! (in caps for added New Years emphasis :P)