YOUR Favorite Reads of 2011

We asked for it, and you sent them, in droves: Your Favorite Reads of 2011!  Thank you so much for sharing your favorite reads with us (and that so many of you took the time to write your favorites down!).

Now, I know this is one *massive* post, but sometimes, spending quality time pondering highly recommended titles all gathered together can be the best half hour of your day.  If you want short cuts, though, click on their names for the favorites of Patty Friedrichs, David Swatling, Katherine Matthews, Keefe Cordeiro, Jonathan de Souza, Gabriëlle Linger, Retno Trimbos, Sara van Bussel, Marjolein Balm, Natalie Gerritsen, Em Angevaare, Oona Juutinen, and Ellyn Cook.

Here’s to 2012 holding as many good reads as 2011.  🙂

Patty Friedrichs

5. The Mitford Girls – Mary S. Lovell

4. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

3. How To Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

2. What Ho!: The Best of Wodehouse – P.G. Wodehouse

1. Damned – Chuck Palahniuk

David Swatling

We the Animals – Justin Torres
Brilliant and fiercely poetic short debut novel unlike any other.

The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht
Another striking debut, myth and mortality in the Balkans.

Pure – Andrew Miller
Elegant historical novel set in late 18th century Paris cemetery.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere – Jan Morris
Melancholy meditation on memories of an unusual city.

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,000 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them – Donovan Hohn
Title says it all, really.

Katherine Matthews

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
A classic so well-known that, even if you haven’t read it, you can reference it. Some books of this sort become so iconic that the actual book is gravely disappointing or even unreadable (Don Quixote is this way for me), yet Lolita even transcended all the praise that I’d heard about it. I can’t believe it took me so long to finally read it. Nabokov truly is a magician with words.

Journey by Moonlight – Antal Szerb
This book had the element of surprise in its brilliance, because I’d never heard of it, or its Hungarian author. It begins with a newly married couple on holiday, and the man decides to miss the train, and escape his new wife/life, and a dark tale emerges slowly. It is excellent storytelling, and beautifully written.

Out of Sheer Rage – Geoff Dyer
An excellent book written about trying to write a book and failing.
Dyer captures a writers’ neurosis really well, and it’s a great dry comedy about his internal struggle.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Nobody does bleak as well as Cormac McCarthy. He gives you beautiful human stories, and places them in the middle of hell to see what happens to the people. The Road is a poignant story of post-apocalyptic relations between a man and his son, as they try to keep moving south through a barren winter.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan
This is quite a short one, and perhaps that’s why it’s so impressive to me. Organized as a series of vignettes, each based around a word (organized alphabetically as a dictionary), it tells a nice story about relationships, and its brevity is nearly poetry.

Keefe Cordeiro

1. Generation A – Douglas Coupland
Picks up stylistically from Jpod, and doesn’t let go till the last page – satirical and unbelievably real!

2. Wimbledon Green – Seth
A green and sepia mystery; great art and great narratives.

3. Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer
Am all for educated consumption, and this was a real bender.

4. Read Hard – edited by the Believer
I only started reading the Believer last year, so this was a great primer for all the goodness I’ve missed.

5. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman
Only the 4th time I’ve read this book…and still good fun!

Jonathan de Souza

5. Pygmy – Chuck Palahniuk
You’ll never look at a sleeper cell the same way again once you read the adventures of Pygmy and his band of misfits. This is a funny book with quirky anecdotes of how outsiders might view the United States and its citizens.

4. Emma – Jane Austen
If it weren’t for one of my classes I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read this 19th century classic.
However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the tale of the matchmaking Emma and her acquaintances with all the gossipy women in town.

3. Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
The thrilling conclusion to The Hunger Games trilogy does not disappoint as it finally gives closure but not before bringing us up-close to the war that Katniss has started and eventually has to end. One of the best Young Adult novels I’ve read in a while.

2. Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
Survivors of a nuclear holocaust try to stay alive in the underground system of the Moscow Metro.
Glukhovsky offers thrills and chills around every corner of the metro and describes the stations so elaborately that it feels like you’re right behind the main character, with your life just as much in peril as his. One of the best post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read in a long time.

1. This Perfect Day – Ira Levin
What does the future have in store for us? We never know. But that’s why Ira Levin is here. With This Perfect Day Levin gives us a terrifying glimpse into an all too possible future in which everyone is controlled by a supercomputer that has them checking in and out of places so it can keep track of them (OV-chipcard anyone??). I’m such a fan of both Levin and Dystopia that I actually decided to write my English language thesis on this topic. A must read for any sci-fi or dystopia buff.

Gabriëlle Linger

Shadowfever – Karen Marie Moning
I was already a fan of KMM’s Highlander series, but never thought a story about the Fae could be interesting. I mean faeries? Seriously! Boy was I wrong. I finally tried the Fever series this year when I saw the first book in the ABC discount sections.
No regrets. The first book was good, and the series kept getting better with each book. Shadowfever is an amazing final book of the series. It had me on the edge of my seat, its resolutions were unexpected and awesome, and all kinds of characters kicked all kinds of arse. The only way this book could have been better was if it had come with my own personal Barrons, or V’lane, or Christian or…

The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
What can I say, the man is brilliant as are his books. The second book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, much like its predecessor The Name of the Wind, had me breathless at times. To quote from the book: “It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.”
Also master Elodin totally does it for me!

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games was the first book I read in 2011. Once I started it, I read through the night, heart in my throat with each new scene. January 2nd I immediately rushed to get the rest of the trilogy. A fabulous series. Katniss Everdeen, ‘the girl on fire,’ has become one of my favorite female characters.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunnit – Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch
I almost toppled out of my chair laughing so hard. I don’t know who found this story funnier, the kids my colleague was reading to or me. Bathroom humor of the best kind.

Le Petit Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I’ve read this story countless times. The magic of this story never ceases to amaze me. Wise, beautiful and funny book.

The Black Prism – Brent Weeks
The way this trilogy starts off bears all the hallmarks of classic fantasy. What I enjoyed most though was a main character who is just hard to figure out. Talk about morally flexible, at least it looks that way. This world, this magic system read like an unexpected puzzle. One that I’m going to enjoy figuring out as the trilogy progresses.

Retno Trimbos

Every year I join the Goodreads reading challenge and I’ve accomplished this, reading 40 books in 2011.  This year I’ve read some interesting books, discovered genre and authors I’ve never read before.  Here are my favorite reads of 2011:

5. The Dead Zone – Stephen King

4. The Surgeon – Tess Gerritsen

3. Live Wire – Harlan Coben

2. Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom

1. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Sara van Bussel

This year, I feel my reading has been a lot of catching up. Books that other people loved to bits years ago I have been discovering just now. I have read some great modern classics, it has been hard to pick just five. But, my five most favorite reads of 2011 are:

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
I found this book cheaply and remembered hearing about the (then upcoming) TV show by HBO. I decided I should read it. When some of my friends found out I hadn’t read it yet they were jealous I could experience it for the first time. And for me, the hype is true, what a great story. After this book I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the other parts, and I am proud to say that I have read all books in the series this year, and have joined the impatient fans waiting for the sixth book.
This book, while seeming a fantasy story, is more about power, love, war, and family. I love how you can never be sure with Mr. Martin where the story will go, who will win, or who will survive. Fantastic stuff.

The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
On the blogs I read I picked up on the anticipation for the sequel to this book, The Wise Man’s Fear. I figured if so many people where excited for book two, book one must have been quite something. And it sure was. Great storytelling, great world building, and a great adventure.

Ender’s Game – Oscar Scott Card
In my mission to read more science fiction, more of the classics, I picked up Ender’s Game. And I wasn’t sorry. Even though I am no fan of those books concerning space wars, this was fantastic. Ender is great, the universe that is built up is… well not great but a good story, and the ending… I have part two already on my shelves, and I can’t wait to start it.

The Neverending Story – Michael Ende
This is a classic, even for me. I have read this book many times (in Dutch) when I was a child, and loved the movie. I have been looking forever for an English copy printed in two colors (like the Dutch book I read before), but when I found a second-hand copy in English I could not resist. It is as great as I remember it, a wonderful story of a fantasy world to keep our world in balance and of a boy being teased.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
This may be one of the most hyped books of 2011. Hypes don’t always deliver, but I (and many others with me) can honestly say, this one did. A wonderful, magical book about magicians, feuds, contests and love. A book to lose yourself in, especially in the dreary weather we are having now.

Marjolein Balm

The Red Umbrella – Christina Diaz Gonzalez
Lucia is living an ordinary life in Cuba in 1961, when suddenly Fidel Castro comes to power and her country and her life change rapidly. Because of the increasing danger of their safety, Lucia and her brother Frankie are put on a plane to the United States by their parents, where they are going to live with a foster family, but will they ever come home and see their parents again?

The Queen of Water – Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango
Virgina is a seven year old girl, living with her family in a poor rural Andean village in Ecuador. One day she is sold by her Indigena (Indian) parents to a ruling-class Mestizo (Spanish descendants) family. She is sold to work for them as a maid. A gripping story about a girl who is suddenly taken away from her own family. The story is partly based on the life of Maria Virginia Farinango, and this is worked out into a novel by her friend, author Laura Resau, known for her fabulous cross-cultural books. There aren’t many fictional young adult books about this topic (Indigenas) and country (Ecuador).

Far From Home – Nai’ma B. Robert
Far From Home is a fantastic young adult novel about a black girl and a white girl who are linked by a horrible secret, set against turbulent times in Zimbabwe. It was written in two parts: the first part is from Tariro’s point of view, the second part from Katie’s point of view. It was written brilliantly, the author describes what happens in Zimbabwe in a clear way, so even if you are not familiar with the situation in Zimbabwe, the author explains everything. One of the most impressing books I have read in a while!

Uprising – Margaret Peterson Haddix
Gripping historical novel about one of the most horrible disasters in American history: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Every chapter is told from the alternating point of view of Bella, Yetta and Jane, three immigrant girls in New York, who work in the factory and have to fight to survive in poor living conditions and are fighting for their lives as the fire breaks out. As a reader I was immediately hooked from the first page. The story has so many layers and dramatic turns and twists, and Margaret Peterson Haddix crafted a very realistic view of the life of immigrant girls in the Lower East Side of New York in 1911.

Return to Sender – Julia Alvarez
Tyler Paquette is a twelve year old boy, living with his family on their farm in Vermont. Because his father had a tractor accident, and his grandfather recently passed away, they are forced to hire undocumented Mexican workers. He becomes close friends with Mari, the daughter of the Cruz family, who are hired on the farm.  Mari is very worried they will be caught by La Migra and writes long letters in her diary to her mother back in Mexico. This is just a book you can’t put away! Recommend it to everyone, every age, as this book has a thing for young and old, boy or girl, from every ethnicity, a true book without borders!!!

Natalie Gerritsen

1. A Song of Ice and Fire series – George R.R. Martin
After reading all the staff favorites, I’ve given up all hope of being original in my own list, but I have to be honest: I loved all the books of A Song of Ice and Fire. The characters, the complexity of the created world and yet, the subtlety, made this my number one.

2. The Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin’s Quest) – Robin Hobb
Still in the fantasy genre is the Farseer trilogy. So far I’ve only read the first two parts, but while I read both books I completely forgot my friends and family until I finished them. They have all the great elements of fantasy, with a great hero, who isn’t always likeable, but always interesting.

3. The Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins
Another unoriginal entry is the Hunger Games trilogy. It’s a great mix of romance, fun and some really dark parts. It’s actually one of the few times when I’m excited for one of my favorite books to be turned into a movie.

4. De honderd jarige man die uit het raam klom en verdween (The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared) – Jonas Jonasson
I’ve read this as a Dutch translation of a Swedish book, but I can’t seem to find the English translation just yet, although I think that’s just a matter of time. This book, about a hundred year-old man who one day just climbs out of his window and starts on a new adventure, is funny, cute and very, very clever. I loved every page of it.

5. Men of Tomorrow: The True Story of the Birth of the Superheroes – Gerard Jones
Men of Tomorrow is the history of the origin of comic books and superheroes. It focuses on their different creators and what drove them to creating the iconic figures of Superman, Batman and many more. It’s a well-researched book, but reads like a good novel.

Em Angevaare

And the Land Lay Still – James Robertson
I was tempted to leave out the other four altogether and let this stand by itself. An intricately and lovingly constructed history-as-fiction of Scotland in the last fifty years, it seems to contain simply everything.

The Woodcutter – Reginald Hill
I’m always afraid that after I-don’t-know-how-many crime novels Hill’s books are getting a bit tired – and then he comes up with something like this.

On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
Heartbreaking but beautiful.

The Empty Family – Colm Tóibín
Tóibín always makes it into my top fives, so I couldn’t leave him out this year. Whole worlds in small stories.

Kiss my Relics – David Rollo
All right, it’s not much use recommending this unless you’re interested in medieval intertextuality, have read the Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) and know a bit of Old French, but it’s one of the most challenging and surprising books I’ve read this year. And then there’s the title …

Biggest waste of time:

Before I go To Sleep – S.J. Watson
A thriller based on an interesting premise that unfortunately turns out to be repetitive, predictable and anything but thrilling. Reads like a longish homework assignment.

Oona Juutinen

Here’s my list of my favourite zombie books read in 2011.

Feed – Mira Grant
Zombies, journalism and blogging! Even before opening this book I knew it just had to be made of awesome. And yes, Feed has everything you want from a zombie novel – suspension and action, some witty banter in the middle of fighting off a hoard of zombies, and a convincing background on how the outbreak occurred and what happened to the world and its inhabitants afterwards… Beside being a great zombie novel, Feed also examines the nature of fear and what it does to people, and in doing so manages to say quite a lot about the current state of the world.

Deadline – Mira Grant
Deadline is the second book in Newsflesh-series, a sequel to Feed, and it’s every bit as awesome as Feed was. It’s a fast-paced action story and it also gives everything a little more depth – the loveable if messed-up characters, the background and the workings of the virus that cures both cancer and the common cold but turns people into zombies, and of course the massive conspiracy behind it all. I read Deadline in one sitting and can already predict that the day Blackout, the third part of the series, comes out, I will be racing to the book store like the living dead were after me.

World War Z – Max Brooks
This is The Book that people on online zombie forums recommend beginners read as one of their first zombie books. (Yeah, I hang out on online zombie forums, and I’m not even ashamed of it!) And unlike usually, this books also lives up to expectations and truly delivers. Written like a collection of survivors’ interviews, it is one of the scariest things I have ever read. Not because of the amount of gore (of which there is surprisingly little) but because it feels like it could all happen: the reactions of people, the governments and the military. And their mistakes, too…

Can YOU Survive the Zombie Apocalypse? – Max Brallier
I’ve always envied my American friends of their childhood spent reading choose-your-own-adventure books. I remember bumping into such a story only once, and the experience was mind-blowing. Luckily for me a genius called Max Brallier has now written a choose-your-own adventure zombie book for grown-ups, filled with hard decisions, foul language and several storylines that resemble a hilarious B-movie. There are naked ninja strippers, a comic con that turns into an epic battlefield – and the possibility to barricade yourself inside a Barnes&Noble in order to read zombie books and so prepare for the future. Needless to say, this was hands down the funniest book of the year.

Hungry for Your Love – edited by Lori Perkins
The idea of combining zombies with romance and erotica seems like a bad one, but amazingly enough Hungry for Your Love is not a disgusting book that only perverts will enjoy. Instead it’s a collection of short stories that range from the hysterically funny to the heartbreakingly sad – and yeah, some of them will get you a little hot, too! Like with any and every collection of stories written by a bunch of different authors, the quality of the stories varies a little, but all in all the book was such an interesting reading experience that it definitely deserves a place on this list.

Ellyn Cook

1. At Home – Bill Bryson
Amusing as ever, Bryson’s latest will not disappoint fans and will win new ones. It’s as simple as:

2. An Autobiography – Agatha Christie
If you enjoy Agatha Christie’s work yet haven’t read her autobiography there’s now no excuse! A special edition published in 2011 that includes a CD with recordings featuring Christie dictating parts of the manuscript is superb; Agatha gives a real insight into the influences on her life, her methods for devising characters and plots and her enthusiasm shines through on every page.

3. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond
Diamond’s consideration of the fragilities of past and present societies and their relationships to the natural world is extremely interesting and informative. A long volume with some repetition essential to consolidation of both facts and arguments, the message behind the book is clear and very important.

4. New Europe – Michael Palin
In an exploration of twenty countries in eastern European previously separated from the West by politics and ideology, Palin’s New Europe brings a feeling of exploration, (re-)discovery and vitality. Constructed from his hand-scribbled note-books kept during filming for the BBC TV series of the same name, Palin conveys real hope that a now more united Europe might have the freedom to focus on co-operation rather than conflict. As Palin says, ‘East and west share a heritage and a history going back over centuries. We need to find out more about each other, to learn respect for each other and to do away with the old ideas of Us and Them. The future will be that much more secure if we can all be Us.’

5. Amsterdam – Geert Mak
A definitive history of a centuries-old-city from its very beginning when people settled along the Ij, the body of water in the north of the present city. Jam-packed full of subjects including art, architecture, canals, cogs, dykes, trade routes, tolls, religions, churches, harbour tales, city governments, the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC), royalty, painters, places, the city and its dilemmas during the world wars, newspapers, prominent figures in the Dutch resistance in Amsterdam, post war developments and social movements, immigrants. Informative and very readable – multiple times!