As the year draws to a close, my attention turns to the list of books I have read this year. I’ve been keeping track for the last three years, and I’m surprised at how much pleasure this small habit gives me. I only write down the books I have finished, which eliminates many books every year, nonfiction taking an especially big hit since I often read selections from nonfiction books instead of reading them from beginning to end. Re-reads count, as do beta reads for novelist friends. Short stories and novelettes do not count unless they are in a collection, but novellas sometimes do…if I remember to include them.
Looking over my list for 2011 as of today, I’ve selected my ten favorite new-to-me reads thus far this year. It’s been a fantasy-heavy year for me, in stark contrast to my list of favorites of 2009, which was very science fiction-heavy. Maybe next year I can find more of a balance.
I did read several YA dystopias this year, but upon reflection I am unable to include any of them on my “Best of” list this year. While some of them were entertaining, none of them hold up particularly well in my memory, and almost all of them suffer from some flaw or another that makes me hesitate to recommend them. I haven’t read all the recent YA dystopias that have received good buzz yet (I’ve heard good things about Blood Red Road and Legend, for example), so it’s my hope that I missed a few gems that I’ll catch up on next year.
Favorite YA Novels:
1. Where She Went, by Gayle Forman. Contemporary YA
This is the sequel to If I Stay. It is told from the point of view of a young rock star who is trying to come to terms with his life and his decisions. The two main characters are both passionate about music, which possibly explains why I particularly like it.
This is book 2 in the Curse Workers series, and it does not stand alone. I’ve been really enjoying this series; the world building is strong and the books have their own distinctive voice that make them both enjoyable and memorable.
This is by far the best YA novel I read this year. The worldbuilding, voice, plot, characters: all of them worked for me. It reminds me a bit of old Robin McKinley a la The Blue Sword, but definitely tells a story all its own.
Favorite Adult Fantasy Novels:
5. The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of the Gods, by N.K. Jemisin
The last two books of her trilogy, these books do (more or less) stand alone. This is epic fantasy written straight for my own personal taste. I think I particularly love these books because they are NOT set in Ye Olde Medieval Europe only sanitized; the setting feels real and true to itself, and the characters aren’t cookie cutters either. Plus I love the books’ cosmology so much, and I enjoyed the last book in particular, told from the POV of one of my favorite of her gods.
You might have to be an SF/F fan to truly appreciate this book (although that being said, plenty of its references did not hit the mark with me). This book takes place after the big show-down of the plot, so can be seen as a novel-length denouement (although of course it is more than that) and it unfolds itself leisurely and with great character depth. The end didn’t work for me, but even so, it was one of my best reads of the year.
I suppose this novel is technically science fiction, since it involves time travel, but it read more like fantasy to me. A spellbinding yarn that weaves in and out of itself in a few (to me, at least) unexpected ways, this historical fantasy/sf/whatever-it-is charmed me, especially in the sections involving the author H.G. Wells.
It’s the worldbuilding of this novel that makes it stand out, set in modern South Africa exploring the consequences of one little addition of fantasy/magic to the world we know now. This novel moves at a furious clip, and occasionally the plot suffers from this, but it’s worth the read to be immersed in this fascinating world.
9. Under Heaven, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Historical Fantasy
10. The Lions of Al-Rassad, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Historical Fantasy
What is most noteworthy about my reading year is that I discovered the beautiful prose of Guy Gavriel Kay. I have to be in a certain mood to read him, but when I am, there is absolutely nothing better.
What books did you read this year that you particularly enjoyed? Please let me know so I can add them to my reading list!