For those who have been following my blog throughout the year, the books on this list won’t come as a surprise. I write long reviews, though, so below you can find much shorter descriptions of my favorite books from 2011. All the books I reviewed or authors I interviewed are linked to the original post.
Note that these are books I read in 2011, not necessarily books published in 2011. At first I attempted to sort the titles in terms of my most favorite, but ultimately decided to sort them by author’s last name. The order of most favorite probably changes a little (or a lot) every day and it feels like a disservice to those near the end even though they’re all on this list because I loved them! I also decided, rather than go for an even number like “favorite 10” or favorite 25,” to simply list those that I adored, whatever the number.
1. DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD by ANNE BISHOP
If I had stuck with my original plan of sorting these books in terms of how much I enjoyed them, this one would still deserve a place near the top! Bishop not only creates a detailed, distinct fantasy world, but her story appeals to both my emotion and my intellect. The plot raises so many questions about major aspects of humanity, such as: sexuality, gender, violence, love, honor, and, oh, I could go on! (My review of this book is the longest review I have ever written!)
2. HOUSE OF THE STAR by CAITLIN BRENNAN
This is a must-read for horse fanatics, but a great book for other bibliophiles. Elen lives in a universe where different worlds are connected by magical roads across which only special horses can travel. She desperately wants to become a trained rider on one of these horses, but that means going to Earth (the only planet on which the horses can breed) and working alongside a perceived enemy.
In the ONYX COURT series, a fey court lurks beneath the mortal one in historic London. Each book is set in a different century and, with fascinating attention to detail, Brennan examines how the fey must adapt if they wish to survive in a human-dominated world.
The very premise of this book could be posed to a class on ethics. Miryo is a witch in training, but she learns that before she can harness and control her magic she must kill her doppelganger. Murder might seem like the obvious unethical option, but if Miryo doesn’t slay her doppelganger, her magic will ricochet out of control and kill many more than one innocent person.
5. LOVE INC by YVONNE COLLINS and SANDY RIDEOUT
I adored this book! Very few books actually hook me so that I don’t (or can’t) put it down, but here’s one that did! Three girls meet in a counseling group for teenagers with separated or divorced parents and realize they’re all dating the same guy! Spurred by their own romantic failure along with that of their parents, they start a hilarious if morally questionable business devoted to solving other people’s romantic problems.
6. WITHER by LAUREN DESTEFANO
A good test of how much you enjoyed a book is how much you remember and think about the book months later. I still can’t get Rhine’s world, where men die at twenty and women at twenty-five, out of my mind. I can’t wait for the next installment, especially because I have absolutely no idea where the second book is headed.
7. GOOD OMENS by NEIL GAIMAN and TERRY PRATCHETT
This work (and these authors) is pretty established by now and has many devoted fans, but for those who haven’t heard of this title: it’s a hilarious take on the apocalypse. And I’m not talking a handful of great jokes. I mean almost every line is funny.
Fantasy and history find a nice blend here. The authors are actually very minimalist in their use of fantasy, which only makes the real magic all the more exciting. Set during the Sertorian War, the story focuses on fictional characters but crosses paths with historical figures.
9. A TALE DARK & GRIMM by ADAM GIDWITZ
This middle grade novel tackles Grimm’s fairy tales and actually manages to stay fairly true to the original story without traumatizing younger readers. Each chapter is a twist on a specific Grimm fairy tale. However, the stories are all connected with the characters Hanzel and Gretel, who just want to find a real happily-ever-after.
10. AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by JOHN GREEN
This book is laugh-out-loud, read-quotes-to-innocent-bystanders hilarious. As the cherry on top, it’s intelligent humor, too. Child prodigy Colin might have peaked too early, but after being dumped for the nineteenth time by yet another girl named Katherine he attempts to put his genius to work determining a mathematical formula for how long a relationship will last.
Ginn Hale’s LORD OF THE WHITE HELL duology wins the prize for hardest books for me to put down this year. I not only stayed up ridiculously late to finish the first one, but I found myself desperate and impatient to get my hands on the second book ASAP! Kiram accepts a scholarship to a foreign school, but they dump him (the outsider) with the least desirable roommate. Er, make that least desirable to most people. While others fear Javier and the strange magic that curses him, Kiram feels an instant attraction - not a problem where he’s from but male-male relationships are forbidden in this land.
12. DRAGON CHAMPION by E.E. KNIGHT
Auron’s story is a tale about survival. By the way, Auron is a young dragon. In his world, dragons are being hunted into extinction and this book, though stuffed with fantasy, echoes with the sad reality of endangered species.
13. THE MERMAID’S MIRROR by L.K MADIGAN
On the surface, this story sounds unoriginal, but what brings it to life is the characters, each real, unique, and flawed. Madigan avoids the didactic trap some young adult writers fall into and lets her characters be selfish and make mistakes without ruining their likability.
14. SEPULCHRE by KATE MOSSE
Mosse utilizes a similar format to that of her first book: a fantastical twist and interwoven modern and historical plotlines that crash together at the end. The main characters are not likable, which can be an issue for some readers, but they are nonetheless believable and their story engrossing.
15. HIS MAJESTY’S DRAGON by NAOMI NOVIK
Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this world doesn’t seem so different from our own except that there’s an extra branch of the military: those that train and ride dragons. The novel holds together with solid research and details, but the themes of chivalry and honor and the strengthening bond between the human Laurence and “his” dragon Temeraire are what hooked me.
16. WHO FEARS DEATH by NNEDI OKORAFOR
This is not an easy story to read. Okorafor doesn’t hold her punches with the graphic violence, but the story transcends morbid fascination with brutality and presents nightmares like war rape and circumcision as traumas real women endure. Not to mention that this isn’t a flat story about violence. There’s depth here in a painful exploration of humanity’s propensity for aggression and cruelty.
17. ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER by NNEDI OKORAFOR
This book is much lighter in tone than Okorafor’s WHO FEARS DEATH while still managing to give the reader little scares with strange, frightening monsters. The foremost theme - being an outsider - is universal in young adult literature.
18. LOST VOICES by SARAH PORTER
This story was a breath of fresh air. (Sorry for the cliché.) Sirens are usually depicted as monsters that lure men to their deaths for no particular reason other than that it’s in their nature, but Porter delves into this myth and gifts these mermaids and their devastating songs with the layers and backstory they deserve.
19. THE GOLDEN COMPASS by PHILIP PULLMAN
Pullman’s trilogy is one of the most complex works I have ever read. Every detail from characters to setting to plot seems carefully thought through. Also, it’s hard not to like the defiant eleven-year-old protagonist Lyra and I dare say impossible not to be caught up in her journey, which is peppered with characters who each seem to have their own, intricate story and packed with obstacles of all kinds.
Like Porter, Simner also takes material that has become fairly repetitive in literature and molds something new. This is a post-apocalyptic fairy story! Simner’s writing has an easy flow that tugs you along and she treats every character with compassion so you can understand where everyone is coming from even as they disagree or, well, try to kill each other.
21. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by LAINI TAYLOR
This book was not only an incredible find, but it led me to the author Laini Taylor. I devoured all of her work after discovering this book and now consider her one of my favorite authors. Her writing zings with her own distinct style and she creates some beautiful metaphors so apt that I marvel that I’ve never read them before. In DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE, Taylor also demonstrates brilliant pacing. The story pulled me along, making me want to know more, but I never found myself frustrated. Details were always divulged at the exact moment I most wanted them.
These two books follow Magpie the fairy. At first she might seem like your fairy stereotype - small, cute, whimsical - but this fairy pre-teen spends most of her time hunting down demons that humans foolishly release into the world.
23. LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by LAINI TAYLOR
Three stories fill this collection connected by themes of longing not to mention the fey. The first follows the type of girl the goblins desire: the girl who longs so badly to be popular that the goblins can almost taste her longing…and it tastes delicious. The second story details a cruel curse that prevents a young woman from ever speaking. And in the third, by far the darkest, children are nothing more than toys and hosts for the fey.
This series is such a quick, easy read that it’s tempting to put intellect on pause and just enjoy a fun story, but once the questions start coming you realize there’s quite a lot to think about and debate. Tally lives in a far future society where everyone is required to have a surgery at age sixteen to make them “pretty.” I actually don’t like Tally, who wants nothing more than to do what’s expected of her, but her friend Shay, the one who questions the surgery and urges Tally to do the same, definitely belongs on my favorite characters list.