2011 in Books (Wot I Read and Stuff)

I was going to make it a point to blog every other day this year, and it seems I’m already falling behind. But this post was long in the making, so here goes nothing.

Books! I read a lot of books this year, about 80 or so, actually, not counting a massive reread of every Laurel K. Hamilton book I have, and a brief foray into some childhood favorites, namely Hail, Hail, Camp Timberwood (which did not withstand the test of time), and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (which did).

Of all those new books, 58 were fiction and 26 were non-fiction. Broken down even further, 6 were graphic novels/trade paperbacks, 13 were volumes of manga (both of those previous genres I consider books), 37 were books from one series or another that I follow, and eleven were sci-fi/fantasy. 24 were mysteries. And like I said, there were 26 additional rereads.

Best book of 2011? Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. I wish I could explain how wonderful this thing is. First of all, it’s HUGE. And I was won over when I read the writer bio (he’s a surgeon. JFC, way to make me feel inadequate). It chronicles the story of two twins born in Ethiopia, and their mother’s subsequent death, and their being raised by her co-workers at the hospital in which she worked. Oh, and their mother was a nun. Oh, and there’s a civil war. Oh, and yeah. Just everything in this is fantastic.

SAMPLE: We come unbidden into this life, and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot. I grew up and I found my purpose and it was to become a physician. My intent wasn’t to save the world as much as to heal myself. Few doctors will admit this, certainly not young ones, but subconsciously, in entering the profession, we must believe that ministering to others will heal our woundedness. And it can. But it can also deepen the wound.

RUNNER UP: Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland

Worst book of 2011? Twisted Triangle: A Famous Crime Writer, a Lesbian Love Affair, and the FBI Husband’s Violent Revenge by Caitlin Roether. Now, this is one of those true crime books, and I was going through a phase where I wanted to read them all the time, so it was inevitable that I exhaust my supply at the local library. As I cannot read Ann Rule (she freaks me out to scariness), I gave this a whirl It details the “love triangle” of an FBI agent, her FBI agent husband, and the woman the first one had an affair with—Patricia Cornwell. Then it chronicles the slow spiral of INSANE that the husband goes through, right up to and including his complicated attempt to kill his wife, and ends with his incarceration. Publisher’s weekly says:

Though readers might pick up this title hoping to find out more about the private life of bestselling novelist Patricia Cornwell, the real protagonist is FBI agent Margo Bennett, who struck up a brief affair with Cornwell in 1992 after the author visited the training center where Bennett worked. When Margo’s husband, also a Bureau agent, finds out about his wife’s liaisons, he exacts a horrifying, meticulously plotted revenge, covering his tracks with lies and working the system against her.

And they’re right. I don’t care that much for Cornwell (I’ve never read any of her books), and she doesn’t come out well here (when Margo turns to her for help, she’s rather cold about it), but the whole story was finished and I was kind of like, meh, even though all of this is a matter of public record. I dunno.

RUNNER UP: Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Last Gleaming (Season 8, Vol 8)

Most disappointing book of 2011? Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is a collection of short stories from the author, and I thought it would be a good place to start. It’s been on my reading list for a long time, and finally, mum got it out for me. But I think I lasted about halfway through before I had to give up. Maybe it was my frame of mind, but everything was so scenic and nothing was happening. I have some tolerance for books that are stylistic in their scene setting, but not enough for Ishiguro. I had hoped to read Remains of the Day and I still might, but I will have to really work at it.

RUNNER UP: Tracy Lords: Underneath It All by Tracy Lords

Most surprising (in a good way) book of 2011? City of Shadows: A Novel of Suspense by Ariana Franklin. I had previously been introduced to Franklin this year via her Mistress of the Art of Death series, which are smart little mysteries that take place around the reign of Richard II. But this book is a stand alone. It follows a woman in 30’s Berlin, whose boss, a Russian ex-Pat, runs nightclubs and other unsavory activities. He finds a woman in an asylum who thinks she is Princess Anastasia, and decides that he’s going to make her Princess Anastasia. Interwoven in all of this is the slow rise of the third Reich, and a series of ghastly murders that seem to follow the crazy lady about. It’s very very good, and I was practically riveted.

Book you recommended to people most in 2011? Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre. Honestly, if the writing wasn’t sly and witty, this would STILL be a good book. It’s one of those stories that I had never heard of before (and when we’re talking about WWII, there’s a lot of them, so that’s saying little), but a great deal of it had been classified until recent years. And the cast of character are humorous REAL people, fueled by the drive to win the war, but also to pull off a great prank. I do love me some war pranks.

Best series you discovered in 2011? The Queen & Country series, by Greg Rucka (and various artists). I haven’t got into the actual novels much, just the first novel, A Gentleman’s Game, but I did read all of the omnibus TPBs, which are lengthy and complex. It’s spy novels for the 21st century—gritty, hard, post-cold war and complicated. They follow Tara Chase, an SIS minder, through her career at the agency. It’s full of killing, boredom, drinking, squabbles with the Home Office, intrigue, sitting around, therapists, and one night stands. If I had one quibble with the TPBs, it’s that the artists sometimes took a little bit too much license with Tara’s form, and she’s seen strutting about the office in clothes that might get a stripper kicked off stage for indecency (well, no, but the point stands.) She’s an SIS minder—she could kill you with her brain. I don’t think she wears shirts that you would have to tape at the neckline to keep from exposing one’s breasts. At least, to work, anyway.

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2011? TOO MANY. Laura Joh Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series pretty much guarantees that I’ll follow her anywhere. Susan Jane Bigelow’s Broken was a top contender for my favorite book, and she has others in the series coming out, so I’ll follow her too.

Most hilarious read of 2011? ALL OF THE PSYCH BOOKS: Call of the Mild, A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read, Mind-altering Murder, Fatal Frame of Mind, and Mind Over Magic, all by William Rabkin. It’s like the show, if they had longer than an hour and they weren’t limited in their pop culture references.

SAMPLE: “Ironic, isn’t it?” Shawn said.

“It’s not ironic at all,” Gus said.

“Dude, it’s so like a black fly in your chardonnay.”

“How many times do I have to tell you that’s not ironic, either?”

“Rain on your wedding day?”

“‘Irony’ is the use of words to convey a meaning that’s opposite to their literal meaning,” Gus said. “That stupid song came out fourteen years ago, and we still have this exact conversation at least once a week.”

“Yeah,” Shawn said. “Ironic, isn’t it?”

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011? Broken, by Susan Jane Bigelow. I got this as part of a kickstart, and I was interested, but some of it was to support my sistah in Candlemark & Gleam, our shared publisher. It sat on my desk for a few weeks, and then I picked it up one night when I didn’t have a book to read for bedtime. And then I turned out my light at 4:30 after I had closed the back cover. It was that good.

I wish I could describe the careful world-building that Bigelow does– a dystopian society where the government has gone wrong and superheroes are a dying breed almost, or bent to the whims of those in power. The blurb describes the main character (at least, I think he’s the main character): Michael Forward can see the future, but all he wants is to escape the destiny he has struggled against all his life. When the moment comes, though, he finds he can’t refuse. Now he needs the help of a homeless ex-superhero to save a baby who may be the key to humanity’s freedom.

It’s a great story, a lovely read. If I had one nit to pick I would say that there’s an info dump in the first third of the book or so that doesn’t seem to have any real application to the plot except that it might be a pet of the author—you know, those things you love so much you want them in there, even thought they don’t really fit? It’s only jarring because she does the dumping in a pamphlet that the character is reading, so you get about three pages about a social structure you never get to see again in the rest of the book.

But yeah, read this one.

Book you most anticipated in 2011? Anticipated? Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher. I have a soft spot for the Dresden Files, and lately they had been…herm, just not bringing the same heat. Harry gets more powerful! Oh noes! He has a daughter! Oh noes! Vampires are evil! Oh noes! The best thing I had seen out of the books recently had been Talking Mouse the dog.

But Ghost Story, which takes place largely with Ghost Harry (he was shot dead in the previous one) was awesome and freaky and a mystery that I didn’t guess until they kind of dumped it on me. And it leaves us with a cliff hanger that I quite admire and anticipate, too. So that will probably be my most anticipated book of 2012. Unless Meyers and Collins team up to publish The Twilight Games: The Story of the Slaughter.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2011? I am not kidding you, Dark Mirror by Diane Duane. I am sure that I have read this before, but I didn’t remember it. And I spent quite a long time staring at Picard on the cover. On one side: ANGRY! On the other side: uhm, not angry. That is your mirror self! ANGRY! And apparently, it’s all in the eyebrows:

Most memorable character in 2011? Sherlock Holmes! Okay I have a confession-I read all of the stories back when I was like 13 or something, and so that means that I don’t remember ANY of them. So lately I read A Study in Scarlet, which I was surprised to find that they had modeled A Study in Pink on. Yes, yes, handwavey, Amand-r is dense, yes. So then I went through and read a bunch of other shorts, and then The Hound of the Baskervilles. Then I read Caleb Carr’s The Italian Secretary, and Anthony Horowitz’s The House of Silk. The former did a great job of capturing Doyle’s Watson voice, and there were some great adventures re: Mycroft! Trains! Explosions! Murders! Queen Victoria! I recommend it, but in the end, I thought the conclusion was a little anticlimactic. I dunno. I guess that’s what a conclusion is supposed to be.

The OTHER, though, having been recently released, I had the pleasure of listening to (when I wasn’t being assailed by Dalek Tom-Tom), and it was read by Derek Jacoby. It’s pleasantly modern in that way, such as it’s Holmes and Watson as Watson looks back and tells the story that he didn’t dare to tell when it had happened. I shan’t spoil it for you, but it’s rather pertinent to today, and still very much the Victorian London spirit of Doyle’s work.

Also Holmes is arrested, which is always fun.

Most beautifully written book in 2011? The Levee: A Novel of Baton Rouge by Malcolm Shuman. I read the blurb and really wanted to read this book. It’s a short read, and it’s not as…vibrant as Verghese. But that’s what makes it special. On his website, Shuman’s blurb for the book begins: Colin Douglas, 63, is a true crime writer. Lately he has been besieged by dreams of the spring of 1959 when, as a high school freshman, he and his friends camped on the Mississippi River levee south of Baton Rouge and a terrible thing occurred. Finally, he decides he must return to the place where it happened and confront his demons. And that’s pretty much what happens. There’s some back and worth in time, but it’s all very straightforward, until you realize that there IS a mystery, and you have no idea what’s going on, what’s pertinent. The conclusion was…not shocking, I don’t want to say that because it implies that I was freaked out by it, but it was a surprise, and I enjoyed that immensely.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2011? The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Of course I had to reread this for the thing I did this year, and when I did I realized just how much I didn’t know. I read the annotated version, which was chock-o-block with all kinds of factoids that I ended up trying to wedge into my story, and indeed, should you ever read the annotated version of Adventures ion Wonderland, and then follow it up with my story, House of Cards, you might get all the Easter eggs (except the Rhianna one, because Carroll hadn’t heard of her, and I bet he would have thought she was ghastly.)

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2011 to finally read? I am finally reading Agatha Christie! OH MY GOD. Okay, I always thought she was dry. I don’t know. So far, all I have been able to get are Murder at the Vicarage, Murder on the Orient Express, A Murder Is Announced, and Death on the Nile. and only because I have seen the two films was I really interested in the Poirot. The Marple ones are much more amusing! And immediately I adored all the talk of the pussies. Oh Agatha, you sly minx.

A few that didn’t make the list but I want to mention anyway:

Hero bu Perry Moore which was a great YA superhero novel, if it had just decided whether it was going to be about being gay (I suspect that was the driving force) or a giant conspiracy in the superhero community. Normally, I would say a book could be both, but the gay seemed forced at time, as if Perry was all wrapped up in the superhero plot, and then he would remember, “oh wait! The main character is suppose to be freaked about coming out!” and then we’d get pages of that.

Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, because it is my first Jeeves book evar and it is lol. I especially appreciate that according to Wodehouse, you can apparently just abbreviate any w. that you feel l.

Queen Victoria, Demon Hunter by A. E. Moorat, for obvious reasons.

Sweet Valley Confidential: Ten Years Later by Francine Pascal, which wither healed me or violated my childhood in the most unspeakable manner

So there you have it. All my fricking books.

About Amanda Ching

I write. Fo' you.
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