Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Things - 2011 edition

Last year, I said I wasn't going to call my end-of-year list, a "Best of." Instead, I called it "A Few of My Favorite Things," and that's perfect for this year as well. I know the year isn't over. And, I still have more reading to do, so I reserve the right to add a book or two to the list. But, it's been a while since I read a book that I would call a "favorite," so I'm taking a chance now.

These books are the ones that stuck with me. I can still tell you about the books, the plots, months after I read the books. It's a very idiosyncratic list. The books fit my mood when I read them, and maybe that's why they resonated with me. Ask me about my favorite mysteries, and the list will be somewhat different. So, this is my list of favorite books of 2011, in alphabetical order by author. (I am a librarian - smile.)

Chihuahua of the Baskervilles by Esri Albritten. Albritten launched a fun new series about a trio of ghost hunters for Tripping Magazine, a magazine for those interested in the paranormal. The team goes to towns, hoping to find ghosts and ghost stories. The author is going to be sending her characters to towns all over the country in search of ghosts. In this one, they end up in Manitou Springs, where Charlotte Baskerville is convinced she has heard the ghost of her dead Chihuahua, Petey. Along with the story of Charlotte Baskerville and Petey, the team also finds time to cover the quirky town of Manitou Springs with its annual Emma Crawford Festival and Memorial Coffin Races, the haunted Miramont Castle, and a restaurant supposedly haunted. Petey's ghostly story is just one more story in a town that would definitely attract readers of Tripping Magazine. It's fun to watch the cynical magazine team explore Manitou Springs. These additional stories add to the charm of the book.

Donna Ball's Keys to the Castle is a romance that was just satisfying, but the heroine has stayed with me. And, I've passed this romance on to family members and library patrons who also found it satisfying. At forty-six, Sara Graves ranted at her sister that she had been plain old Sara Graves, a middle-aged workaholic who finally took a chance at adventure by marrying a French poet who lived in the U.S., and suddenly she's the widow of a man she only knew for three months. Even worse, she has to make a trip to France to settle her late husband's estate. When she discovers the estate is a run-down castle, she finds herself on a collision course with the lawyer who wants her to sell it. Keys to the Castle is a warm, charming story with two needy main characters.  The characters, the gorgeous French setting, the castle itself, are all well-developed.  And, it's refreshing to see the relationship between two middle-aged workaholics.  Donna Ball's book swept me away to another world.  She says,  "Keys to the Castle is a grown-up fairy tale for those who no longer believe in second chances."

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels - A Love Story by Ree Drummond is the only nonfiction book to make my list of favorites this year. Drummond tells her own story, the true account of a city girl who fell for an Oklahoma rancher, a steady, reliable man who was always there for her. She had a few lessons in ranch life to learn along the way, but she has become a wife, mother, successful blogger, cookbook author, and celebrity on the Food Network along the way. Drummond's voice and account are lively and fun.

Kevin Hearne's urban fantasy series, set here in Arizona, was my discovery of the year. His first three books in The Iron Druid Chronicles came out this year, Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered. Atticus O'Sullivan is a Druid who has lived for twenty-one centuries, but looks to be twenty-one, a perfect appearance for living in a college town. He now resides in Tempe, Arizona, where he owns an occult bookshop, Third Eye Books and Herbs. He's perfectly content to operate his store, spend time with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon, and hang out at his favorite Irish pub, Rúla Búla. It's too bad the gods have other plans for Atticus besides his bookstore. He has to deal with angry gods, witches, and all kinds of adventures. Hearne takes his mythology seriously. At the same time, Atticus and Oberon are a wonderful pair, and the humor is terrific. To top it off, the release party for Kevin Hearne's next book, Tricked, will be held at Rúla Búla in Tempe in April, and I have tickets! This is the best urban fantasy series I've read since Jim Butcher's Dresden Files.

Anthony Horowitz brought us The House of Silk, the only Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate. And, he captured the mood, the atmosphere and the characters perfectly in this dark story told by an elderly Watson. Once again, Dr. Watson relates the story of a complex case that Sherlock Holmes agreed to take. Watson’s wife was out of town for a short while, so he moved back to 221B Baker Street just in time to get caught up in the adventure.  Now, years later, after Holmes has died, Watson can finally tell the truth about the adventures of The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk. They were two cases linked together, but the details are so appalling that Watson wanted them locked away after his death, and not released for one hundred years. If you were ever caught up in the stories, the fog and hansom cabs, the clubs and politics, the crime of Holmes’ London, you’ll be caught up once again in this extraordinary piece.

Ah, Louise Penny. I don't think I've had a list in recent years that hasn't included Louise Penny's latest Inspector Armand Gamache mystery. This year is no exception. A Trick of the Light, the latest Armand Gamache novel, takes readers into the dichotomy of the soul, the dark and light, the good and evil sides. It's another masterpiece. No one entwines the past and present as skillfully as Louise Penny, past events that continue to resonate years later. There are consequences to evil comments, to fear, to hatred. And, Penny links so many comments and actions in this book. A Trick of the Light may be the story of a murder, but it's so much more. Penny's previous books have led to this one, the story of Clara Morrow's art show, a murder, and the consequences of both. Penny delves deep into the world of art, and the world of Alcoholics Anonymous, to explain pain and fear. At the same time, A Trick of the Light, presents a world of contrasts. Both worlds offer the opportunity for hope and change, for light, in contrast to living in shadow and fear. Life is a world that continues to offer surprises. Gamache finds a world where no one is what they appear to be. What is a trick of the light, and what is reality? Leave it to Louise Penny to continue to ask important questions. How can anyone question the importance of the mystery genre when Penny asks, what is truth and what is A Trick of the Light?

I'm a big fan of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, so The Son of Neptune, the latest in his Heroes of Olympus series, makes this year's list. Like Kevin Hearne, Riordan respects mythology, and uses it creatively. In previous books, Riordan told the stories of the Greek gods. Now, in this book, the Roman gods come to the forefront. The Roman demigods in Camp Jupiter are leery about trusting Percy. But, it's Percy's fate to bring together the Roman and Greek demigods to fulfill a prophecy. Riordan's books are fast-paced, imaginative stories with great humor, terrific characters, and suspense.

I can still tell people the plot of Todd Ritter's Bad Moon months after reading it. On July 20, 1969, the night Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, ten-year-old Charlie Olmstead disappeared. The police chief of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, and the townspeople, concluded he rode his bike to Sunset Falls to see the moon, and fell to his death. But, Charlie's mother never accepted that. And, when she died forty-two years later, she left her younger son with one request. Find your brother. He turned to Nick Donnelly and Police Chief Kat Campbell for help. Now, the three investigators face the consequences of secrets held by someone in town for forty-two years. Ritter's characters are realistic, with all the complexity of human nature. Bad Moon is an intricate, riveting story with twists that will challenge most readers.

Jeri Westerson's Troubled Bones rounds out my list of favorites this year.I fell in love with her character, the disgraced knight, Crispin Guest. One night of drunkenness in a tavern forces Crispin to take a job for the Archbishop of Canterbury, protecting the bones of Thomas a Becket.So, Crispin is in the cathedral when a pilgrim is murdered, and Geoffrey Chaucer, who is along with those pilgrims, is a suspect. Westerson's book is a fascinating mystery that combines literature, history, and a fascinating puzzle. Oh, and then there's that interesting former knight.

If you notice, my list of favorites only includes nine titles. Those nine books definitely belong on my list. But, I couldn't decide on the tenth book. Jim Butcher's Ghost Story? City of Secrets by Kelli Stanley? I liked John Scalzi's science fiction novel, Fuzzy Nation, Love You More by Lisa Gardner, and two novels set in Ireland, Katie Fforde's Love Letters and The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice. Then there are mysteries by Juliet Blackwell, Avery Aames, Krista Davis, Jenn McKinlay. So, I'm leaving my options open for number ten. It just could be any of them.

What were your favorite books of 2011?


Jen said...

I really enjoyed BAD MOON, too, Lesa! That Todd is a talented young man. Looking forward to more from him.

Kaye Barley said...

Well, you've done it again, girl! Just added 3 books to my list of books to look into. Including BAD MOON.

I'm still pondering my faves - it's hard! But Louise Penny's A TRICK OF THE LIGHT will most definitely be on the list. As will, THE NIGHT CIRCUS.

Merry Christmas, Lesa!

Lesa said...

Bad Moon was destined for my favorite list, Jen, from the day I finished it. Terrific book.

Lesa said...

It is hard to come up with that list, Kaye. That's why I left the tenth spot open. I didn't read The Night Circus, although I have an ARC in my closet. I just haven't been in the mood, and a friend told me she didn't think it was my type of book. She's usually pretty much on target for me.

SandyG265 said...

I wasn't crazy about Chihuahua of the Baskervilles but I really liked Keys to the Castle.

le0pard13 said...

HOUSE OF SILK certainly made mine, Lesa. Excellent list. Many thanks.

Marce said...

Wow, you have me so excited to read Bad Moon now, I have it.

Bev Stephans said...

Kevin Hearne's trilogy did it for me. This was one of your recommendations and I loved all 3 books. I'm now eagerly awaiting #4.

Louise Penny's latest was also a keeper for me. Her books just seem to get better and better.

Lesa said...

Thanks, everyone! It's fun to see that some of the books on this list were ones you also enjoyed. And, I appreciate knowing when I book didn't hit home for you. Keep the comments coming!

Cathryn said...

Found your blog through a recommendation by Louise Penny. What a delightful list to explore! Thanks for posting it for us all to enjoy. I look forward to your future lists!

I, too, love everything by Louise Penny. My husband and I actually draw straws to see who gets to read each new book first.

One of my other favorite books this year was not written this year. "The Breaking of Eggs" by Jim Powell was a lovely discovery of an adult self-examination of assumed beliefs and new life lessons in the most unexpected of places. The plot is so involved that I can hardly do it justice. I highly recommend it!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Catherine. I'll have to look for "The Breaking of Eggs." That was so nice of Louise Penny to recommend my blog. Thank you. I hope you enjoy the blog, and some of the book suggestions. Welcome!

Esri Allbritten said...

Lesa, thank you so much for the shout out! (Yet again, my last name works for me.) I just wrote a free Christmas story featuring Charlotte Baskerville and Ivan Blotski that I think you'll enjoy. It's called 'Twas the Chihuahua Before Christmas,' and you can read it on my website, EsriAllbritten.com . Have a great holiday!

Karen C said...

Thanks for your list, Lesa. There are some on your list that are on my TBR list that I just haven't gotten to yet.

Some of my favorites include Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry, The Color of Heaven by Julianne MacLean, and Rock Bottom by Erin Brockovich with CJ Lyons. I know there are more, but those came immediately to mind.

danielle-momo said...

I loved A Trick of the Light (Louise Penny).
Thank you for the list, I will try Keys to the Castle

Sandie Herron said...

I've got BAD MOON on reserve at another bookstore where he did a signing -- got the last signed first edition, too. How could I resist that after the review you did?

I'll get the book after Victoria Laurie goes to the same bookstore and signs Ghoul, Interrupted. Sounds like good stuff.

I also enjoyed the new book by Simon Wood. I confess I haven't read the entire book, but I did enjoy the portion I did read.

Definitely Shirley Rousseau Murphy's CAT TELLING TALES would make my list -- I'm just about finished and will write a review. My apologies to anyone waiting to read it -- I'm late. But you can bet it'll be positive!

I'm discovering Louise Penny thanks to Lesa. But I'm going in order so it will take a while to get current.

Since I began hanging out with Lesa again, my TBR pile has been talking about staging a sit in. After the pile topples over on me during the night.

What did I do to deserve such punishment? Ah, yes, read too slowly. But I hate missing any part of the book by reading fast. You never know what part of a mystery will be important in the end.

I must also add Lisa Gardner's LOVE YOU MORE for pure adrenaline crisis - in me! Thrilling, absorbing, well plotted; I broke out crying at one part in sadness and fear and in year another in sheer joy. That's good writing.

I was also scared, but in a different way, reading Tess Gerritsen's THE MONKEY KING. This particular story was a little out of line with Tess' usual stories but then to try and define usual for her is impossible, so that's a statement that's hard to back up.

I haven't counted, but I better quit. I'm lucky in that I've enjoyed all the books I've read this year very much. Let's hope 2012 follows the same trend.


Lesa said...

Esri! Thank you. I'm going to have to get to that short story later this week. Thanks for telling us about it!

Thanks everyone! It was great to see the books you've enjoyed this year, and hear about the ones you're planning to try.

Oh, Sandie. Hang around with me too long, and that TBR pile is going to be really bad. Bill's going to have to build you something else to contain it. I don't want it falling on you!

Oh, me too. I hope 2012 brings good reading to all of us!

Trisha said...

Thanks for this list! I enjoyed reading Keys to the Castle over the long weekend. It reminded me(favorably) of Meeting Lily, which I also loved.