Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 ~ Best In Books

Since it's almost over, I feel like I can come out and say that this past year has been one of the best of my life so far. So many amazing things have happened to me, and I've experienced so much growth both personally and professionally. It's been such a wonderful journey, and I'm so thankful to have shared pieces of it with you guys!

But enough rambling about me. Since this is a blog about books and writing and the love of reading, I thought I'd take a look back at some of the books that kept me company over the course of 2011, and recommend them.

(NOTE: Since I have a number of younger blog readers, I have a new policy for noting which YA books are more mature in content along with my recommendations. I don't want anybody who is sensitive to reading about frank depictions of sex, violence, or swearing to be blindsided when it comes to something I rec'ed. Obviously the adult books all contain "adult" content, but I feel that is expected.)

Best Overall Read:

While there are a LOT of books that could be considered for this category (I read MANY excellent books this year!), the best book I read this year was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Of course, this one is a modern classic, so... no surprise there. Really, though. Genius book.

Most Life-Changing Read (fiction):

Hate List. This book about the (ex)girlfriend of a high school shooter takes an incredibly nuanced look at tragedy, hatred, and guilt. I read it at a particularly difficult time in which I was dealing with something personal that oddly coincided with the message of the novel, and it hit me hard about how I handle blame when it comes to villainizing others and looking at their mistakes, even when those mistakes are admittedly heinous and worthy of condemnation. This was also one of those rare books where I was deeply invested emotionally without any real love story to speak of in the book, just friendship.

This was definitely a mature YA, with lots of cussing and raw depictions of life.

Most Life-Changing Read (non-fiction):


Half the Sky. Named from the proverb "women hold up half the sky," this book tells shocking, horrifying stories about the violence MILLIONS of women around the world suffer every day, woven through with an inspiring and empowering message about practical things we can do to change this reality. It was so wonderful for me to finally read something that talked about the problem of violence towards women in a problem-solving way instead of a "oh well, isn't that horrible, that's just the world we live in" kind of way, or a "everyone else is doing it wrong and we know all the answers" kind of way. The book approached possible solutions with a balanced, everybody-can-help attitude that isn't specific to a particular ideology or political position (for instance, the book was respectful to both sides of the abortion debate, not something I often see). The research is incredibly thorough, and the writers are forthright and honest about the complexity of the situations (for instance, rescuing a woman from sex slavery isn't always as easy as buying her out of it). If you haven't read this book, you MUST do so. It rocked my world, and gave me tons of great ideas for charities and giving programs that I could get involved with as soon as I finished reading it (my personal favorite is, where you can make small loans to people wanting to start businesses in places like Africa and South America... they talk about how much that sort of thing can help in the book).

Most Surprisingly Enjoyable Read:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I wasn't expecting to love this one... I was just reading it because it was a classic, and I am trying to brush up on the ones I've missed. I'd recently finished Love in the Time of Cholera, which, while of course brilliant, was a bit of a chore to read at times, and I was expecting the same with TBoSLR. But I was blown away by the beautiful questions this book asked.

Runner-Up for Most Surprisingly Enjoyable Read:

Cross My Heart. I started reading this on my Kindle out of utter boredom while waiting for my husband in a store. I expected it to be boring (or terribly cliche) for some inane reason I can't remember. Instead, I was up until 3 AM reading frantically to reach the end, and I went back and re-read it the day after I finished it. While the story definitely delivered the mac-and-cheese type of "expected payoff" that I read it for in the first place (you know, bad boy meets good girl, bad boy and good girl fall for each other, encounter problems with her parents, etc), it also went some places I wasn't expecting, and the characters unexpectedly grabbed my heart and didn't let go. I really, really loved the twist ending, too.

This was probably a mature YA book. It got a little steamy! I can't remember the language at all but I'm sure there was some.

Anna and the French Kiss. People were gushing all over the place about this book, talking about how amazing it was. The cover looked cutesy in a way that I normally don't really go for, and I was like, "It will probably be just okay," and then I read it and really enjoyed it. The characters were well-rounded, the writing was sharp and funny, and the story was poignant, romantic, and very satisfying.

I would say this was a mature YA book when it comes to content.

Most Confusing Read:

The Crying of Lot 49. Seriously, WHAT even happened in this book? I'm sure it was clever and funny and oh-so-sharp in its day, and I know it's on the Times' list of 100 most important novels of the 20th century, but... most of the jokes and satirical comments were lost on me, since (duh) I don't get most pop culture references from fifty years ago. Yeahhhhh. The whole time I was reading it I kept thinking, "This is what 30 Rock is going to be like for my grandchildren, isn't it?"

Most Original Read:

The Scorpio Races. I'm not sure what I was expecting this book to be--a dystopian, maybe, or a paranormal romance based on the blurb I read. Instead, I found an odd and beautiful hybrid of historical fiction, Scottish (Irish?) mythology, and magical realism, with hints of fantasy hidden amid the mouth-watering literary prose. I especially enjoyed reading a YA book for horse-lovers again (I was a Stephen Farley fanatic as a child); it made me so wildly nostalgic and sappy inside.

Although this one was very grown-up in structure and style, I'd say this is a "for everyone" YA.

Most Anticipated Read:

Mockingjay. Who WASN'T waiting for this book? The end of the Hunger Games trilogy was pretty controversial, but I personally think the book brilliantly achieved its objective and poignantly illustrated the main theme of the series--which was an incredibly complex look at the effects of violence (and subsequently, war) on a society as well as the people in that society. I think a lot of people were wanting a happy-happy yay-yay ending, but that wouldn't have gone with the message of the series. This was a truly dystopian book, wildly depressing ending and all, I for one was pleased (if yes, a little depressed too) with the ending.

Mature YA for violence only, otherwise "for everyone."

Funniest Read:

Bossypants. Great memoir. Tina Fey is hilarious as always. If you're a fan of 30 Rock or SNL, you should definitely check this book out.

Runner-Up for Funniest Read:

The Name of the Star. Really, anything written by Maureen Johnson is going to go in this category. This book was also SURPRISINGLY creepy. I read it around Halloween in broad daylight in my own home and got so scared I had to put it down and wait for my hubby to come home to finish reading. So... yeah. Hilariously funny and really honest-to-goodness scary. Only Maureen Johnson could pull that kind of stuff off, kids.

I can never tell if MJ's stuff should be considered mature YA or not, because while she isn't afraid to "go there" she does it in such a funny, innocent kind of way. I'm tempted to call this "for everyone" YA except that it was reeeeally scary, ya'll.

Favorite Book I Wrote/Published:

The Curse Girl (although there aren't much to choose from this year, hopefully that will change in the near future!)

This is an "suitable for everyone" kind of YA. :)


There you have it--my year in books, and I have so many books to look forward to in 2012!

What's your favorite thing YOU read this year?


  1. i'm looking forward to reading "Hate List". It was one of 20 books that won the Georgia Peach Award for teen readers!

  2. wow! i don't think i've read very many of these... but i just bought one on my kindle! which one you ask? well, it starts with "The" and ends with "Curse Girl" :)

  3. Trupti: HATE LIST was really, really great. I'm glad to see it's been getting some recognition!

    Vic: Yayyy :) Did you get it for Christmas?


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