Well, 2011 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been. Given that it’s New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t let the year slip into the past without sharing my top books of 2011 with you all. Just like last year, I couldn’t constrain myself to just ten books – so I decided to go with the flow and give you my top eleven again. It’s a diverse group of titles, with some familiar names and some newcomers as well. We have frustrated punk wannabes, kidnap victims, Jesus and Judas, allegories for the dangers of world government, time travel, video games, ancient China, worldwide conspiracies, and – of course – zombies. Enjoy!
This is the book that surprised me most this year. A disturbing and insightful exploration of the underside of relationships and personal awareness, my first reaction was – “The story didn’t so much end as it simply bled out, lying in a pool of it’s own vomit on the cheap linoleum bathroom floor of a mobile home.” But, as I let it marinate, I realized it would have been a gross disservice to the book to leave that as my final word. They story stayed with me, and that says a lot. Ludlow has a raw voice that deserves to be heard. (full review)
“Six Days” was part of the inaugural trio of books released from Maelstrom Books. There’s good reason Brian Keene chose to include Owen’s debut novel in the release. It’s a gripping story that finds us trapped in a dark basement with Jenny Schultz. With no further explanation, the narrative unfolds as Jenny struggles to figure out just what is going on. It’s a smart move on Owen’s part and serves to create a claustrophobic cocktail of unease and uncertainty. In today’s world of omnipotent narrators and worn out horror clichés, it’s refreshing in a very Chianti and fava beans sort of way. (full review)
One of the most engrossing and original stories I’ve read. From the moment Travis Chase stumbles across a downed 747 in the Alaskan wilderness containing the body of the first lady, to the final twists delivered in the book’s closing pages; this is a story that will not let you go. Lee deftly weaves sci-fi with political intrigue and straight-up action in this thinking man’s thriller. More than once I found myself caught flat-footed by a surprise turn, and the story hid its final secrets from me until the very end. That’s worth the price of admission to me.
I discovered this book on Twitter via recommendation from author James Rollins. What a great find. A thought provoking and, to some, controversial take on the Religious Fiction genre, “30 Pieces of Silver” runs two concurrent stories – one detailing the relationship between Jesus and Judas and one taking you on a modern day quest to find Jesus’ bones. The story is cinematic both in its ambition and execution. It also has one of the most shocking and unexpected endings I’ve read in a very long time. I can’t wait for the sequel. (As a side note, “30 Pieces of Silver” is the second most widely read review on The Word Zombie. Stay tuned for number one…) (full review)
This is the first young-adult Zombie I’ve read – and it’s a good one. Combining elements of “They Live”, “Percy Jackson”, and Brian Keene’s “The Rising” – it all comes together to give a fresh take on the zombie genre. A group of kids is pulled together by their ability to see the “Corpses” – undead invaders that appear as normal people to most. As they fight against potential invasion, Drago draws some subtle parallels between their struggle and the struggles we all face when crossing over from child to young adult. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series out in 2012. (full review)
Guy Gavriel Kay continues to raise the bar in historical fantasy literature. A hauntingly beautiful and lushly realized society, based on Tang Dynasty China, forms the backdrop for this tale. Shen Tai has spent the last two years honoring his dead father by burying the unremembered dead from the last Great War between empires. Presented with a gift of unimaginable value by his people’s enemies, Shen Tai is set on a course that intersects love and duty in the realm of emperors. Epic in scope and lyrical in delivery, “Under Heaven” is yet another jewel in Gavriel Kay’s crown.
“Deadline” is the second installment in Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy. With the first book, “Feed”, Mira Grant established herself as a major new voice in zombie fiction. With “Deadline”, she proves that “zombie” is a superfluous addition to that accolade. Here she weaves a tale about government overreach, the value of truth, and the dangers of trading liberty for safety. It’s a deeply layered and thought provoking exercise where the story comes first, the zombies second. The zombies are merely the symptom of the disease, the result of the action, the recoil of the gun. Do yourself a favor – read this book. (full review)
“11/22/63” is one of the best books from Stephen King in years. On its surface, it’s a story about time travel and one man’s journey to try and prevent the assassination of JFK. It’s a look at early 60’s America – both the idyllic small town life of nostalgia and the turbulent political maelstrom of the newswires. More than all of that, it’s a story about the choices we make, the paths we take, and the true value of love. A special thanks goes to King’s son, Joe Hill, who – according to the afterword – suggested the emotionally resonate ending for the story.
“Forbidden” is set in a world where almost all emotions have been genetically repressed, only fear remains – fear that is used by the government to keep the population under control. It’s a compelling meditation on the dangers of centralized world government. It explores the idea that – while human feelings and passions are messy, and people have a capacity for both good and evil – the alternative to that chaotic swirl of emotions is an antiseptic and bleak existence. Like “Deadline”, this book will force you to consider what it really means to sacrifice freedom for security – even if that freedom is just the freedom to feel. (full review)
At times nuanced and at other times blunt, Thor pulls no punches in deconstructing the broader adversaries aligned against us in the world today in “Full Black”. It’s a story about layers, and serves to lay the foundation for the continued evolution of both Thor as a storyteller and Scot Harvath as a character. Not a simple “stop the plot, save the world” story, “Full Black” is instead an intelligent examination of current events and a wake-up call for free thinking people everywhere. It may only be fiction, but it’s a book you should read. Consider it an alarm clock. We’ve hit the snooze button one too many times already. It’s time to wake up. (“Full Black” is the most widely read review on The Word Zombie. Thanks Brad!) (full review)
In my review of “Ready Player One”, I wrote – “It may only be August, but I feel certain I’ve just read my favorite book of 2011.” I was right. Wade Watts is one of millions consumed with the virtual reality world of OASIS. When its creator dies, he sets in motion an epic quest to unlock the secrets of the system. The story is a love letter to all things pop culture from the 80’s – and it’s great fun. It’s hard to imagine a book being more perfect for me. It drew me in from the first chapter and whisked me along on a trip down memory lane. So much of my childhood is represented in this book; it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old blue jeans. I realized about half way through that this is the book my 13 year-old self didn’t know he was preparing my 40 year-old self to love. No doubt about it – best book of the year. (full review)
So there you have it – my 11 favorite books of the year. Did I leave something off? Disagree with the order I have them in? Anything you think I need to read next year that will make the list? I would love to know what you think. Until then – Happy New year!
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