Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 book list

It's been a good year in reading, even though I haven't been doing so much blogging. As always, this is the list of books I've read all the way through for the first time this year. I don't include rereads, but then again I don't think there have been many... Links to books I've mentioned on the blog, * for my top picks, and a summary post coming later for those of you who don't like reading through lists. There are a lot I haven't mentioned on the blog, but for many of those I've added some short notes.

Some themes from the year's reading:

War- from WWI (A Very Long Engagement) to child soldiers in Nigeria (Song for Night) and the experience of everyday life in war-torn Iran (Persepolis), war dogged my reading this year. While it was diverse, reading this year (and planning for next year's reading) has really brought home how big the influence of the world wars has been on Western literature. Oh, and I dislike war more than ever. 

Fairy-tales- I talked about this earlier this year, but I sought out a lot of fairy-tales this year, inspired by reading The Bloody Chamber, which I followed up with some originals in the form of The Grimm Reader. Mostly retellings, with a short focus on the Twelve Dancing Princesses thanks to Wildwood Dancing, I also bought a few new fairy-tale collections (not represented on the list). Probably the most unusual fairy-tale retelling was Deathless, set in WWII Russia and based on Koschei the Deathless.

Steampunk?- I also sought out fantasy set in the 19th century, after reading Cold Magic and A Matter of Magic (collecting Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward) close together. Not sure if what I was looking for was steampunk exactly, but it's hard to describe. Maybe a fantasy-of-manners? Something that picks up the social structures of the 19th century rather than the technology. That said, Cold Magic is not exactly that either... So maybe I'll settle for saying quasi-Victorian fantasy settings.

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins The sequels to The Hunger Games, which I wrote about back in 2010- fast paced and addictive reads
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson A nice read about an life in an English village and a late-in-life romance
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark Strangely sinister coming-of-age story set in a girls' school around a charismatic teacher
Goodbye to Berlin - Christopher Isherwood Set in the underworld of 1930s Berlin, the basis for Cabaret
We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson American Gothic tale of a family living in their crumbling house on the outskirts of an unsympathetic village. Classic unreliable narrator
Saraswati Park - Anjali Joseph The quiet lives of a middle-aged couple living in Bombay and the coming-of-age of the nephew who comes to live with them
House of Many Ways - Diana Wynne Jones Fun sequel from one of my favourite fantasy writers, even if it doesn't quite live up its predecessors, Howl's Moving Castle and Castle in the Air
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters Dickensian tale of love between orphans girls in Victorian England, full of twists and turns
On Beauty - Zadie Smith I love Zadie Smith's stories of class and race in the contemporary world, this one is set in American Academia
The Tattooed Potato and other clues - Ellen Raskin 
The Good Master - Kate Seredy Tales from Kate Seredy's childhood in pre-WWI Hungary, told for children. Like a Hungarian version of the Little House books (with fewer pioneers) 
Fire and Hemlock - Diana Wynne Jones A retelling of Tam Lin by Dianna Wynne Jones, sounds fantastic! And is good, although a little incoherent towards the end
The Road Home - Rose Tremain Enjoyed this book about immigration in the UK, until one incident which made me less sure of it
* Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons I had a lot of fun with this book about a 'modern woman' setting out to modernise her cousins and their ancient farm, the no-nonsense heroine is great 
Chiggers - Hope Larsson
The Neon Court - Kate Griffin Really enjoy Kate Griffin's fast paced urban fantasy
Memory- Margaret Mahy
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe - Penelope Lively
* White Cat - Holly Black Fascinated by the set-up of a family of criminal magicians, I was still wary of this book, but the smart con-man hero, the world and the plot were all so engaging, I loved this
Lord Edgeware Dies - Agatha Christie
Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot - Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermere All these Patricia Wrede books are enchanting, this one is written as a letter game, with two writers exchanging letters to build this epistolary novel set in a magical 19th century
Rivers of London - Ben Aaronovitch Flawed but mostly fun crime/fantasy books with a sometimes funny, sometimes irritatingly slow magician's apprentice/policeman hero
Moon over Soho - Ben Aaronovitch
A Red Herring Without Mustard - Alan Bradley 
The Murders at the Rue Morgue - Edgar Allan Poe Billed as the first detective story and a predecessor of Sherlock Homes, but of more historical than readerly interest
Willful Creatures - Aimee Bender Fantastical, strange, but somewhat cold short stories
Notwithstanding - Louis de Bernieres A nostalgic look at the English countryside and English eccentrics
Soulless - Gail Carriger Picked this up looking for a fantasy-of-manners, turned out to be more steampunk-paranormal-romance
The Door in the Hedge - Robin McKinley Short story retellings of fairy tales, as well as new fairy tales
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender 
The Likeness - Tana French A sequel I liked even better than its predecessor, Into the Woods, Tana French always keeps me on the edge of my seat, scared but intrigued 
Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente Started off a bit disturbed, but this book won me round, it is a fairly dark fairy-tale retelling set in WWII Russia. Still not quite sure what to think of it
After Dark - Haruki Murakami Bearing a lot of similarities to number9dream, but shorter (and written first, I should point out), really enjoyable novel of Tokyo night-life along with a touch of the supernatural/uncanny
Liar - Justine Larbalestier
A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman - Margaret Drabble A collection of short stories from Margaret Drabbles writing career, focusing on different women
The Good Thief - Hannah Tinti A rollicking great Western with orphans, con-men/thieves, vengeance and sordid pasts. Recommended.
Red Glove - Holly Black The sequel to White Cat follows in the same vein, throwing up more questions and even more problems for the hero to navigate
I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett
10 Short Stories You Must Read in 2011 - Various Writers It was free!
Two Doors Down - Annie M. McCartney 
Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi Graphic novel (or rather, graphic memoir) of the author's childhood in Iran- really interesting look at Iranian history and what it's like growing up in turbulent times
Cold Fire - Kate Elliott Sequel to Cold Magic, with much high tension and joy for me
Necropolis - Catharine Arnold Interesting, if bitsy, history of burial and burial grounds in London
Skim - Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki Coming-of-age story set in a girl's school in Canada (graphic novel). Found the hints of student-teacher relationship a little off-putting
The Floating Admiral - Various Brings together G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie and other Golden Age detective writers to write one story, a chapter each. What's not to like?
Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie
Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby
Full Dark House - Christopher Fowler I heard these were more Crime/Fantasy books- but they're not exactly fantasy, although they're certainly not realistic. They are quite fun, not to be taken seriously
Seventy-Seven Clocks - Christopher Fowler
The Water Room - Christopher Fowler
Claudine in Paris - Collette Could not like this, felt somewhat seedy and didn't really like the narrator, but I know that other people think they're fun- I think part of it is that I just really dislike father-figure romances. 
The Easter Parade - Richard Yates Known for his depressing stories, this is a depressing story of two sisters who choose different paths in life but both end up miserable. I know that sounds dismissive, but really it is good and takes in the changing choices available to women in the middle of the 20th century
The Pastor's Wife - Elizabeth von Arnim So funny and yet so sad at the same time, this made me incredibly glad to be alive today rather than 100 years ago. Liked the first half best, the POV of the main character just seemed less believable towards the end, too naive
The Girls of Slender Means - Muriel Spark
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson Would have been a lovely book if not for the racism. Still manages to be quite fun and zesty as a portrayal of friendship between women and second chances, at least in parts
Goodbye To All That - Robert Graves
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs Incorporating found photographs, this didn't start off as I was expecting, but was quite sinister and strange, before moving toward a more familiar fantasy narrative. But sinister in all the right ways. Hard to put down.
The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes Thought this was about the unreliability of memory, but after reading it I think it's more about the unreliability of the narratives we create about the past and ourselves. If that's so different. 
ETA Hark! A Vagrant - Kate Beaton Almost left this out- a Christmas book of comics from Hark! A Vagrant, a webcomic I always enjoy (literature! history! pop culture! laughs!)


  1. Looks like a great list, any books you are looking forward to for this year?

  2. Well I haven't put together a list for my century of reading yet, but I'm hoping to read some Proust, which I'm looking forward to! Also hoping the next books in the White Cat and Cold Magic series come out this year, because I'm looking forward to them. I'm also keeping an eye out for The Long Ships by Frans Bengtsson, which I've heard good things about.

    What about you? Anything that you're hoping to read this year?