Thursday, December 22, 2011

2011 Books of the Year

In terms of sheer volume, 2011 was a pretty average year of reading for me, but when it comes down to quality, this was one of my best years in recent memory.  What made the year so damn special is that I read two books that became immediate all-time favorites.  It has been a while since I’ve read one book in a year that I’d consider an all-time favorite, so to nab two in a year is an extremely special treat for me.  In terms of my reading habits, I more or less stuck to my secret goal of alternating between books and graphic novels. That pattern did fall apart a bit towards the end of the year, when I got crunched for time and certain “must read” titles sat unread on the shelf.  All things considered, the fact that I managed to read about 40 titles, all while attending school full time, and working part time is a number I am pretty pleased with.

So without further ado, I give you the Battle Hymns 2011 Top 5 Books of the Year….

TOP 5 BOOKS of the YEAR:

#5. Moxyland: When I reviewed Moxyland back in April I said it rekindled my love of reading because it felt so incredibly fresh and so clean.  That sentiment still stands because even 8 months later, it still feels the same thinking back on it. 

Moxyland represents two major deviations from my normal reading, for one, it is a science fiction book, a genre I don't dabble in too often, though it appears maybe I should.  Secondly, it is a book written by a woman.  Its a bit embarrassing to admit but I don't tend to read too much stuff by female authors...there's no good explanation why, but I don't.  Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that Moxyland is not my "usual" read, and yet it is one of the best books I've read all year.  So my pearl of wisdom is this: it pays to read outside of your comfort zone on occasion.  

If you haven't had a chance to give Lauren Beukes' stuff a shot yet, I urge you.  I haven't read Zoo City but have heard lots of great things, and I was very impressed with Beukes' effort in the Vertigo Strange Adventures anthology comic.

#4. Retribution Falls:  Hooray for Bucklepunk!  

There's almost no chance Chris Wooding had me in mind when he wrote Retribution Falls but damn if it doesn't seem like he had a little Battle Hymns devil sitting on his right shoulder whispering plot and character advice into his ear while he  toiled away at the manuscript.  This novel has all the makings of a hit: great characters, non-stop action and shenanigans, intriguing characters, and a great plot too.  Hard to argue with all that.

Kudos to Wooding for creating a world that is a nice blend of science and fantasy with engaging, dastardly characters who, despite their shadiness and checkered pasts, are easy and fun to root for.  This is one of those books I couldn't put down simply because it was so much fun to read.  I wanna be a crew member on the Ketty Jay.

#3. The Heroes: Joe Abercrombie is a favorite fantasy author of mine, so it is always a pleasure to read one of his books.  However, never before has that pleasure been so um, pleasurable.  

With The Heroes I feel like it all came together for Joe here.  With the story taking place over the course of a few short days in one small area, the scope is much more narrow, and I think that tighter focus made his writing sharper and the story stronger.  

All the things you'd expect from a Joe Abercrombie novel are here:  mixed loyalties, backstabs, betrayals, messy politics, messy battles, messy wounds, characters of ill repute, and much much more.  You can't go too far wrong with any of Abercrombie's stuff, but for my money this is his best effort yet.  

#2. Replay: This title is definitely one that snuck up on me.  Prior to October of this year, I had never even heard of Replay, let alone had any desire to read it, but here it stands at the number two spot.  Not too shabby. 

 So how did I find Replay?

Well, after reading ThePrestige and Mythago Wood both decent to AH-maaaaaaaaa-zing reads, and both recipients of the World Fantasy Award, I figured I’d scour the list of past winners and see if anything else tickled my fancy.  That’s how I met Replay.  We went out for coffee, rode the bus together a few times, had lunch, next thing you know, we’re in bed together.  (Just thought I’d let you know when and where I do most of my reading…)

If you like time travel, Groundhog Day, a realistic romance story, and a book that makes you think, ask questions of your life, and entertains, than Replay is your book.  Mega-highly recommended. 

#1. The Prestige:  Picking my number one book of the year was an incredibly easy task.  For as much as I enjoyed the other titles on this list, The Prestige easily rules them all. 

This is one of those rare, absolutely amazing books.  The characters are phenomenal, the plotting is fantastic, and the story is one that will give you plenty to think about long after you’ve read the final words.  I think what I love the most about The Prestige  is that it practically begs to be read and re-read over and over again.  There is a large degree of unreliable narration, and half-truths being flung around that it can be very difficult to figure out what really happened. 

With dual narrators, and plenty of lies and deceit, I’m not totally sure I even know what went down, but I know I loved every page of The Prestige and I’m already thinking about when I should read it again.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to give this one a read, I urge you to make it happen.  This is one of best books I’ve ever read. 

Honorable Mention:

The Dark Tower: It was a pretty awesome achievement to finish out Stephen King’s Dark Tower series this year, and I thought the series couldn’t have had a more fitting ending.  I’m very excited for 2012’s addition to the series.

20th Century Ghosts: Got a little father/son thang going here…Simply put, I was very impressed with Joe Hill’s debut short story collection.  With each story you get a different brand of horror, and each one is amazing.  


Niall Alexander said...

I'm kinda psyched for the new Dark Tower too, though it was years ago I read the last volume... did you see the wee teaser on Made me silly happy that Oy's about again. :)

Merry Christmas, Ryan! Hope you have a nice, relaxing holiday from it all!

Ryan said...

Yeah, I'm excited. No, haven't seen the teaser... I'll have to check it out.

You have a great holiday too sir!