I don’t tend to do Best Of lists, although in fact I’m doing a slightly insane one this year. Instead, I talk a bit about the books that stuck with me, for one reason or another.
For new readers (do I have new readers? Hello!): my process with these is that I go through my notebook and think, “Oh yes, I liked that one!” and put it down. Then I try to shorten the list, and panic a lot.
This was a record year for me: the most books since I started tracking them in 2003, with a grand total of 385. Clearly, not having homework makes a huge difference!
All Clear by Connie Willis: It is almost impossible to understate how much I love this book. The whole time traveling series is my favorite Willis stuff anyway, and this was the perfect conclusion to the whole thing. Also notable for making me cry myself to sleep.
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff: An eerie changeling story, with a lovely writing style and a great narrator. The cover is fantastic, and it only gets better from there. This is one I’ve been meaning to re-read.
Among Others by Jo Walton: I will admit that when I read this I had to stop part-way through because I couldn’t take reading a book where librarians featured heavily (this is when I had just not-gotten another job). But I picked it back up and am so glad I did. I think this is my favorite Walton: a growing up story, and an ode to sf/f, and a book about loving books.
The Demon’s Surrender by Sarah Rees Brennan: Definitely my most-anticipated release of 2011. I was incredibly nervous about it, for several reasons, one of them being that I felt like SRB might do anything including killing off my favorite characters. In the end, I was so pleased with the way the trilogy wrapped up, and with the fate of my favorites. Also notable for the fact that I completely switched my OTP partway through the third book of a trilogy. This does not happen.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: I know this one has gotten a lot of love, but oh friends, it deserves it. If you haven’t picked up Stiefvater’s story of horse racing, killer water horses, love, loss, and an island called Thisby, you should do that right now. It has one of my favorite relationships of recent years, and is beautifully written to boot. This book is special.
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve: I’ve been a fan of Reeve for a few years, but I sometimes find myself with mixed feelings after reading one of his books. Not this one, a prequel to his Mortal Engines quartet. I loved it from start to finish–the subtle references to the other books, the facility of the writing, the world that Reeve creates. I have the sequel in my TBR stack and only haven’t read it yet because I’m afraid it won’t be as good.
The Curse of the Wendigo and The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey: What can I say? The Monstrumologist series is one of those that just keeps getting better and better. They’re dark and often unsettling, but they’re also fascinating and beautifully written, and the relationship between the monstrumologist and Will Henry is so well done, I can’t even tell you.
Red Glove by Holly Black: Book three nooooooowwwwww! Not only is the worldbuilding for this amazing (it is!), Cassel is one of my favorite narrators of recent times. Snarky without being off-putting, and always with this underlying tenderness that he would probably totally deny but that’s there nonetheless. I hope the third book finds him getting a bit of happiness from his life, since up til now it’s been difficult. Also notable for a great supporting cast–Sam is my favorite, but they’re all awesome.
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy: I kept running across mentions of this book as the formative book for several fantasy authors, so I decided to read it myself. I love it–definitely my favorite of Mahy’s books (though I haven’t managed to read them all yet). Sorry and Laura convince that they’re meant to be, not by telling me so, but by weathering storms and fighting together. (Do you sense a theme in my favorite romances? You should.)
The Agency series by Y.S. Lee: Smart Victorian mysteries with a spunky but not annoying female detective, a great sense of the time it’s set in (Lee is also a Victorian scholar) and, for a bonus AMAZING covers. The third book is coming out in the US this year and I’m hugely excited! Can’t wait to see how Mary’s story ends.
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier: A beautiful fantasy, like a younger version of Patricia McKillip. I reveled in the writing and loved the characters, who were cantankerous, annoying, and also completely endearing. Another one I want to re-read soon.
The Folk Keeper and Chime by Franny Billingsley: Quite different in many ways, but equally well-done. And they both have this feeling of having stepped out of the past, not in a false or musty way, but in the way that sometimes old ballads and poems suddenly strike you as being entirely modern. (Or maybe it’s just me…hopefully not.) Billingsley is an extremely talented writer and I hope we have more from her soon.
The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge: I’ve already raved about this one several times here, but agh! Frances Hardinge spins a wonderful tale here. It’s a thick book, but it never feels bloated because at the heart of it is Hathin, the little Lace girl who changes the world. Baldly put, it sounds ridiculous, but it’s done with a deft touch. This is one of those books that I marvel at–it all seems so effortless, but when you break down the number of things Hardinge does well, it’s amazing.
Bloodline Rising by Katy Moran: Almost straight historical history, with just a hint of fantasy to it. It features a young thief in Constantinople who travels to Britain. Please tell me how I could not love it. Also strongly reminiscent (in a good way) of Rosemary Sutcliff, though with its own flavor that keeps it from simply being an homage.
The Returning by Christine Hinwood: I’m often drawn to after-the-war stories, and this is a great one. I appreciated the delicate touches that kept either side from becoming the right one–our early sympathies are with Cam and his family, but by the end of the book, that is almost entirely muddied. There is an odd moment of fairly strong content right towards the end of the book, which I’m mentioning so that those who are bothered by such things can be aware of it. But I don’t think it should keep you from reading this–it’s a beautifully written story.
The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kitteridge: I took awhile to get hooked by this book, but in the end I loved it. The mix of fantasy and steampunkish alt history is great and I liked the way the seemingly obligatory love triangle seemed to be playing out. I’ll definitely be looking forward to the rest of the books in this world.
Nightspell by Leah Cypress: I was a bit nervous about this sequel to Mistwood, as I am about most sequels to books I really liked. It’s different, both in characters and setting, but I think it stands quite well on its own. The world that Cypress describes is original and in some places genuinely unsettling. I loved the main characters and the fact that it’s about family.
The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway: I wasn’t sure how I would like this one, and I think the best term for it is gritty. But it’s also fascinating, hugely entertaining, and thought-provoking. Also, almost impossible to summarize. Another large book that doesn’t feel bloated, this is one for fans of slightly-futuristic stories with a bent for the absurd.
Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin: A retelling of some of the events of the Aeneid, from the point of view of Lavinia, Aeneas’ wife. I loved the tone, which is quiet and understate but also incredibly strong, and Lavinia, who can be described in the same way. I also loved the bits with Virgil, about writing and characters and getting things right. It’s a lovely book.
Blood Red Road by Moira Young: Not everyone will like this book, which is written in dialect and can also be described as gritty. But I found it entirely compelling, mostly because of Saba’s voice, which convinced me that she was a real person. Her toughness and hidden vulnerabilities both shone out. I’m hoping the sequels are just as good.
Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson: I can’t say much about this, but I personally felt it was one of my favorite unreliable narrator books of recent years. And I liked Alison and her dilemma a lot–I’m having a hard time guessing what might happen in the sequel but I’m willing to bet that it’ll be good.
Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming: My favorite non-fiction of the year. It takes the story of Amelia Earhart, which we all think we know, and uses historical documents as well as quotes from people at the time, to illuminate parts of Earhart’s life and legacy that are usually ignored. Besides this, it manages to make the search for her missing plane one of the most gripping sagas you can imagine, even though the reader presumably knows the ending.
A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper: I’ve already gone into spasms over these two books, but in case I haven’t made myself clear: one of the best alt history series I’ve ever read, with completely engaging characters and a version of the past which shows both meticulous research and originality. The second book takes place in the run-up to WWII, and I can’t wait to see what Cooper does with the FitzOsbornes in the third book.
Liar’s Moon by Eliabeth C. Bunce: Another sequel I was nervous about because I loved the first book so much. Silly Maureen! Elizabeth Bunce delivers another whammy (my professional language is so not here right now) with this historical fantasy mystery. Digger is a great heroine, brash in some ways and understated in others. I will just say that I started the book feeling very dubious about the romance and ended up all swoony, so there is also that. Also notable for an awful cliffhanger of an ending.