Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Best of 2011!

Here are my favorite books of the year. 
Separate posts will follow with other favorites in each category. 

2011 - My Favorite Novel of the Year 
(even though it came out in 1972)

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson rescued me. It’s gentle prose, philosophies and humor spoke to me when I most needed it. If you liked The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you’ll like this. It made for a great book discussion.  Much of it begs to be read aloud. It’s spare and evocative of the remote island in the Gulf of Finland where Sophia and her grandmother spend the summer. Readthe full review here. 

2011 - My Favorite Non-Fiction Book of the Year

The Windward Shore by Jerry Dennis tells of a winter the acclaimed outdoor writer spent in different places along the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan.  Nothing prepared me for the deep connection it forged with me – a connection so strong that I spent two weeks avoiding reading the last chapter so the book would never end. The book is similar to Walden and The Sand Country Almanac. Yet, it’s entirely accessible and would be suitable for fishermen, motorcyclists or hunters as well as for natural history devotees.  Read the full review here.

2011 - My Favorite “Debut” Novel of the Year

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is a book you, your husband and your sons will love. Henry arrives at a small college on the shores of Lake Michigan to play baseball; perhaps to save the team with his fielding. He becomes the best until he makes on unforced error and everything changes. You’ll remember his captivating teammates long after flying through this big, heartfelt book.  Don’t think that you have to know about or love baseball to enjoy this novel.  Trying to live without ever making an error is certainly a metaphor for life not just for baseball.  The characters in this connect with more than just baseball fans.

2011 - My Favorite Novel that will Stick With You and that You’ll Beg Your Friends to Read (GPR)

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown -Three sisters return home when their mother is ill. Their father is a Shakespeare professor and everything from their names to the way he talks to them mirrors the Bard. You’ll love being a part of their family and you’ll appreciate the subtle lessons the story tells. I underlined numerous passages that still resonate especially about the stories we tell ourselves.  Read the full review here.

2011 – My Favorite Ironic Novel

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta tells of a “Rapture” type incident in which a portion of the earth’s population disappeared in an instant but with no understandable rhyme or reason as to who disappeared and who stayed. Three years later the leftovers, those left behind, are coping in unusual ways.

2011 – My Favorite Mystery of the Year

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny - Chief Inspector Gamache is the best multi-dimensional crime solver since Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley.  He’s in Quebec City recovering from a case he didn’t solve in time when a murder caught up in the conflict between the French and English intervenes and he sends an aide to reopen a case in a small Quebec town.  This novel shows that goodness can triumph over evil.  I wish I’d begun with her Still Life as Bury Your Dead is the sixth in the series.  Read the full review here.

2011 – My Favorite Suspense Novel

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier is so gothic and eerie that it almost feels like you’re inside a movie like Cape Fear or North by Northwest. It’s also eloquent, ethereal and elegiac. While it takes place in early 1960s North Carolina it seems more like the depression era.  Luce is a wonderful character who’s taken guardianship of her twin niece and nephew whose stepfather killed their mother and who resemble frightening forest nymphs more than preschoolers. Bud, the evil stepfather, manages to get off and tracks them down in a series of actions that won’t let you sleep till it ends.

2011 – My Favorite Short Fiction (a tie)
– short stories and novellas

The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad - the 80-year-old author worked in tribal areas and his voice captures those living in this hidden world where Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and where the borders are blurred because tribal loyalties have always been stronger than nationalism. It’s told in inter-related sketches featuring a boy who bridges the Baluchistan tribal culture with the military, other tribes and other peoples. I think every person in Congress and the military should read this and so should we. 

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon - these interrelated short stories depict the lives of those left behind on a Texas base when the men deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Her perspicacious writing forces us to bear witness to what we’ve asked them to do. It’s a must read even though it’s emotionally demanding. Read the full review here.

2011 - My Favorite Memoir of the Year

The Long Good-bye by Meghan O’Rourke - The climax hits early when the author’s mother dies and she learns how to grieve.  She’s 34 and single and she’s one incredible writer. Her metaphors make the reader experience exactly what she feels. Anyone who’s lost a parent or anyone close will thank O’Rourke for writing this.  

2011 – My Favorite Book for the Soul

Devotion by Dani Shapiro - Sad things happened in Shapiro’s life and she looked for ways to find meaning. Her simple explanations of living mindfully with purpose, of paying attention, and of believing in loving kindness resonate because she’s such a fine, fine writer.  This is for everyone. If you loved Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup you’ll find the same hope-filled philosophy here.  Carpe diem! 

2011 - My Favorite Children’s Book for Anyone 
           Over Age 10

Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt is a book for teens and adults. It’s 1968 and Doug’s brother is in Viet Nam, his other brother is trouble and his pathetic father has lost his job so the family has to move.  Doug discovers an Audubon folio in their new town and things begin to change. Read this to see what a difference determination and people who care can make. It’s perfect for book clubs of all ages.  Read the full review here.

2011 - My Favorite Young Adult Novel

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - 15-year-old Lina is studying for art school when the Soviets ship her family east from Lithuania to Siberia in 1941.  Lina sends “art” messages to her father who’s taken away as they continue east.  The determination and humor of the characters is formidable and their journey to the northern Arctic Circle is compelling and wrenching. This has become a best seller and award winner in Britain. There’re so many well-written novels about the holocaust, now we have one that makes Stalin’s atrocities real.  Adult and teen book clubs should read it.  

2011- My Favorite Picture Book

Press Here by Hervé Tullet is an adorable old-fashioned “interactive” book that will delight 3 to 7 year olds.  It’s addictive. Press the dot and use your imagination.  Adults find it irresistible too.

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