Sunday, January 1, 2012

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot....

My Notable Reads for 2011

I’ve read some awful reviews lately. Mean spirited, vitriolic and sometimes just ignorant to the point of ugliness (“There should be a warning that there are girls kissing each other in this book! Gross!” “Too many F-bombs!”) I’m not saying that you have to like everything you read. I don’t, certainly. But I don’t understand why someone would take the time to write a review of something they hated. If you hated it, just shut the book and move on. I always thought that reviews existed to help readers make better, more informed decisions. These hateful reviews tell me more about YOU than they do about any book you could possibly talk about.

With that in mind, I’ve put my Para-Librarian/Reader’s Services skills to work, and present to you my Notable Reads from 2011
(Nota Bene: These are my favorite books I READ in 2011, not necessarily books PUBLISHED in 2011)

WHEN SHE WOKE by Hilary Jordan

Not today, I thought. I’m just not up for a dystopian re-telling of The Scarlet Letter in a dystopic Near-Future Religious-State America…Maybe later. Three hours later I had not moved from my chair.  Urgent, poetic, terrifying and strangely…optimistic.

TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan

A brutal opium-dream of a tale. The bones of this book lay in the story Snow White and Rose Red, but Lanagan has created a world beyond that story, and created a new language for talking about choices and survival, what it means to dream, and what it means to face the world.

Valente has done something impossible, preposterous. She has created a truly original fairy tale of her own – one that still retains the teeth and claws and wondrous brightness of Grimm tales, yet emerges as wholly unique, a world to itself. I recommend reading it one chapter at a time, at bedtime, so as to savor it more fully.


I thought about these books long after they were finished. These are the kind of books that make me want to avoid telling anyone its premise. Because the premise is so much SMALLER than the book, and gives very little clue as to the books’ various powers. It is true that I enjoyed THE MAGICIAN KING more than THE MAGICIANS, I think that’s only because I’m more interested in stories like Julia’s than in stories like Quentin’s.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

My experience reading this book was so intense I had to take a couple of days off. This is the circus I wish I could attend. This is the way magic works in my imagination. This is the story I wish I would have told. Let the book build gradually around you, let yourself become grounded in its reality. Let it misbehave. And do not miss it.


This book jumped up and down on almost every single button I have. 19th Century Brothels! Puppets! Dirty Puppets! Intrigue! Thwarted Love! Koja has achieved something remarkable with this book, something dark and erotic with a strange quiet at its center, not unlike the quiet that precedes a bombing.

IRON THORN by Caitlin Kittredge

The city of Lovecraft whirrs on under the shadow of the Protectors and in the wake of the Necrovirus plague, leaving a trail of madness in its wake. Aoife (say: Ee-Fah) is assured that she, too will go mad when the virus activates in her at age 16. She turns 16 in a few weeks. The narrative moves forward with the urgency of a thriller, but also with a kind of tenderness. Kittredge makes space for the weird and wonderful. I’m anxiously awaiting the sequel.

THE WINTER SEA by Susanna Kearsley

I waited months…LITERALLY months for my turn to come up at the library for this one. And after so long a wait, it is very easy for me to be disappointed. I was not. And while Jacobite Scotland is not something I know anything about, Kearsley was able to bring me up to speed without overloading me with infodump. She moves deftly between the modern story of a historical romance novelist researching her book in Scotland, and story of romance and intrigue that took place in the very same spot in the 18th century. Swift and compelling, and reminded me that my heartstrings CAN be pulled in a romance novel. But only if, as here, the characters are real and believable, with real and believable feelings.

SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY by Mary Robinette Kowal

In Kowal’s Regency Period England, ladies of a certain standing learn certain accomplishments: playing the piano forte, French, water colours … and Glamour. Glamour that can make those waves you just painted move, that can make your nose smaller, your hair brighter. It is about a family with two marriageable daughters: One who is very pretty. And one who is very good at Glamour. I like fantasy like this that can create stakes that, while high and dramatic, don’t have anything to do with a chosen one saving the world. And besides, this is Regency England. Who are you to say where her world ends?

I read a great many Themed Anthologies, and this one stood out against many of the excellent ones I read this year. Not only were the stories of a consistently high level, I liked that each writer had a slightly different interpretation of “Steampunk” and “Supernatural”, so the stories crossed a broad and intriguing range. Highlights included “Christopher Raven” by Theodora Goss, Peter Beagle’s “Music, When the Soft Voices Die”, “The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons” by John Langan, and “The Proving of Smollett Stanforth” by Margo Lanagan. This anthology, by the way, was how I found TENDER MORSELS (earlier in this list) and how I found Theodora Goss’s THE THORN AND BLOSSOM (one of my most anticipated books of 2012).

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