Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 End of Year Book Meme

I picked up this meme from Reactions to Reading, who got it from Jen's Book Thoughts. I read 103 books in 2011 (two more than 2010).

1. Best Book of 2011 - A close run thing but I'm going with Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke. Here's what I said in the review: "Burke uses Greek mythology, theology and philosophy to deconstruct and satirise the life of a writer, the crime novel and contemporary society, especially the Irish health system. The result is a very clever book, that’s at once fun and challenging. The prose and plot has been honed within an inch of its life, full of lovely turns of phrases, philosophical depth and keen observational insight. ... Absolute Zero Cool takes the crime genre and its many tropes and stereotypes and throws them out the window. It’s a genuinely unique tale." My favourite non-fiction book was Ghost Mountain Boys by James Campbell.

2. Worst Book of 2011 - Agent X by Noah Boyd. Here's my damning verdict. "In my view it was the literary equivalent of a Steven Seagal movie. The prose was workmanlike and flat and the dialogue wooden, lifeless and corny. The characters have no depth and their back stories are practically none existent. There is barely any chemistry between the leads, despite their supposed attraction. The plot is totally unbelievable, both in premise and its unfolding, with Vail solving a whole series of very difficult puzzles in a matter of seconds, undertaking James Bondesque escapes where the baddies really should have finished him off several times, and relying on a couple of unlikely coincidences."

3. Most Disappointing Book - Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly. I'm a massive Connelly fan, but for me this one fell well short of his best work. Here's part of my verdict. "The story felt rushed, with prose that was workmanlike and flat. And the plot was weak, feeling like two shorter stories jammed together. The part of the book set in Hong Kong, in particular, seemed to lack life, depth and credibility. There was a particular event that happens that is described as if it had barely any emotional resonance or trauma to Bosch and other characters, and it continues as a notable absence throughout the rest of the book. And from the minute Bosch arrives back from Hong Kong, very little of the plot seems credible. The result is a police procedural/psychological thriller with the psychology bit mostly missing; a Harry Bosch story where Bosch seems like a very pale version of himself." Still can't believe I wrote that about a Michael Connelly book; he's usually bang on the money.

4. Most surprising (in a good way) book
- Mixed Blood by Roger Smith. Bought on a whim in a bookshop in London and with no sense of what to expect. It was one of my discoveries of the year. My verdict: "starts at a nice quick pace and steadily gathers more speed, rattling and twisting along like a rollercoaster by the end. This pace, however, is not at the expense of plot, sense of place or characterisation. Indeed, Smith manages to pack an awful lot into three hundred pages and Mixed Blood is a masterclass in tight, taut and tense writing."

5. Book you recommended to people most
- Absolute Zero Cool by Declan Burke and The City, The City by China Mieville (I work in an academic Geography department and the latter is an interesting exploration of territory).

6. Best series you discovered - Difficult to judge but I plan on continuing with these four series - William Ryan's Captain Korolev, Asa Larsson's Rebecka Martinsson, Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway, and Stan Jones' Nathan Active.

7. Favourite new authors you discovered - I read books by 71 authors new to me in 2011. Alan Glynn, William Ryan and Victor Gischler made sufficient impact that I read two of their books during the year. Other new favourites include John Brady, Tom Franklin, Roger Smith, Esi Edugyan, Frank Bill and Sergios Gakas.

8. Most hilarious read - I didn't read half as many humorous novels as I would have liked, something I intend to alter in 2012. Top of 2011 list though goes to Eoin Colfer's Plugged. "A zip along plot; lots of action; plenty of twists and turns; some very funny scenes; a healthy dose of witty one liners; and a load of colourful characters."

9. Most thrilling, unputdownable book - Field Grey by Philip Kerr, closely followed by Mixed Blood by Roger Smith and The Holy Thief by William Ryan.

10. Book you most anticipated - Devil Red by Joe Lansdale; One of Our Thursday's is Missing by Jasper Fforde; Field Grey by Philip Kerr. Big fan of all three series.

11. Favorite cover of a book you read - Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. I like the simplicity and humour.

12. Most memorable character - Rudi "Gatsby" Barnard in Mixed Blood; Captain Korolev in The Holy Thief; Larry Ott in Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter; Sid in Half Blood Blues; Ruth Galloway in The Crossing Places

13. Most beautifully written book - Sweet Money by Ernesto Mallo had an unusual and engaging style, David Peace's 1974 was like reading a pitch perfect scream, Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep was beautiful sculptures of prose, Frank Bill's Crimes in Southern Indiana was all float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, but I'm going for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. My verdict was: "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a masterclass in Country Noir - atmospheric, understated, dark, humane."

14. Book that had the greatest impact on you - difficult to judge. The affective response to 1974 by David Peace and Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill were both quite powerful. Simon Carswell's Anglo Republic had my blood boiling at times.

15. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2011 to finally read? The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson first published in 1952. What can I say? I'm still catching up on the classics. Was it worth the wait? You betcha. The writing was tight, all tell and no show, and plotting and characterization was excellent.


Maxine Clarke said...

Excellent list. In particular I agree so much about the cover in 11, brilliant (even though I haven't read the book).

kathy d. said...

Of what I've read that corresponds to your list, I agree with much of your commentary.

I was disappointed, too, with Nine Dragons, not typical thinking, profound Harry Bosch. Lots of action, fighting, deaths, but not much of a real story with depth, like others with Bosch.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a masterpiece. I liked both main characters, especially Silas, but Larry Ott's alienation and loneliness led me to tears.

I would vote for Tom Franklin's book to be required reading in U.S. high schools for many reasons -- the writing, characters, depiction of the South, poverty, racism, friendship -- and, all in all, another side of the human condition.

Can't say enough about this book, which seems to be the consensus of many reader/bloggers.

Paul D Brazill said...

Some great stuff there, and I'm with regarding the best book of the year.

Anonymous said...

Rob - I admit I haven't read all of the books you mention here, but of the ones I've read, you've made some fine choices (but I liked 9 Dragons better than you did). Just loved Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter so I'm glad you mentioned that one :-). And that cover for #11 is terrific.

Mack said...

Excellent list, Rob.

Re #15 Catching up on the classics -- I recommend that your first Jim Thompson novel in 2012 be Pop. 1280. It is his last significant novel and I think his best. It is one I read every year.

Cathy said...

I'm glad you enjoy the Ruth Galloway and Nathan Active series. I have Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter loaded on my eReader, and I know I'll be reading it soon!