Marie’s Top 5 of 2011

Ah, the end of year favorites list–it’s a New Year’s tradition, especially in the world of book blogging!  I’ll share my five favorite reads of the past year, and then share some other 2011 best-of lists with you.

These are not necessarily books that were published in 2011, just books that I read in the past year.  Here you go, readers, my 2011 top five:

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley
I was utterly thrilled to discover Priestley this year.  He writes for a young adult audience, and his work is intelligent and atmospheric.  He tends to write Victorian Gothic-style horror (see my review of Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror), so Mister Creecher is a bit of a departure, in that it’s not pure horror.  The plot, courtesy of Bloomsbury: “Billy is a street urchin, pickpocket and petty thief. Mister Creecher is a monstrous giant of a man who terrifies all he meets. Their relationship begins as pure convenience. But a bond swiftly develops between these two misfits as their bloody journey takes them ever northwards on the trail of their target . . . Victor Frankenstein.” 

This is a brilliantly conceived piece of historical fiction, chock-full of literary references, atmosphere, and suspense.  It’s great as a semi-retelling of Frankenstein–Mister Creecher, you’ve probably already figured out, is Frankenstein’s Creature (but I won’t tell you who Billy is.  I hope you get to the end, as I did, and say, “Hey, wow!  Nice one!”) .  It’s also a great story on its own.  I love the relationship that develops between Creecher and Billy.  There’s so much pain and need and grudging understanding, and perhaps some real affection.  Yet the ending is not a happy one (how could it be?), and we are disillusioned right along with Billy–and we understand how he ends up being who he is by novel’s end.

Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Plot (thank you Amazon): “When Beatrice gets a frantic call in the middle of Sunday lunch to say that her younger sister, Tess, is missing, she boards the first flight home to London. But as she learns about the circumstances surrounding her sister’s disappearance, she is stunned to discover how little she actually knows of her sister’s life – and unprepared for the terrifying truths she must now face. The police, Beatrice’s fiance and even their mother accept they have lost Tess but Beatrice refuses to give up on her. So she embarks on a dangerous journey to discover the truth, no matter the cost.

The power of this novel lies in its portrayal of the bonds of sisterhood and the exploration of grief.  The prose is beautiful and moving, and Beatrice’s voice is clear and strong–but perhaps not entirely reliable, which adds interest to the story.  As a mystery it’s a touch on the weak side, but as I said, its merits as a piece of literary fiction make up for that.  People who like crime fiction that’s intelligent and literate will find a lot to like here, and those who just like beautiful prose that’s used to examine people and relationships will, too.

The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds
Pardon me while I cheat a little.   You can read my review and synopsis of this novel here.  Sheri Reynolds is another author that I discovered and fell in love with in 2011.  Her characters are so beaten-down and not even always likable, but they are heartbreakingly honest and ring true.  There’s a certain beauty to the style of her writing–it seems to swing between lyricism and brutality, striking an odd sort of balance between the two.

A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
And cheat a little again.  You can read my review of this one here.   This novel gives us Bizarro-World Bridget Jones.  Our narrator is obsessive about her self-help books and with finding a boyfriend, but instead of going out with the girls when her “head-state = v. bad,” Annie Fairhurst digs up your flowers and trashes your wheelie bins.  And that’s just for starters.

It’s full of black humor and satire, but it’s also scary and sad.  A delightful mix, especially with a narrator like Annie, whose head we really don’t want to be in…and yet we can’t quite tear ourselves away.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
I’ve mentioned this one a few times, but I never did a full review of it.  Brief plot summary, from the author’s website: “Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls...As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story.”

Sounds pretty run-of-the-mill Law and Order or CSI stuff, I know.  But really, this book is freaky, psychological terror at its finest.  Utterly twisted, utterly disturbing, and an ending that will get you whether you were expecting it or not. You know what, I’ll let Stephen King tell you about it, because he’s much better at blurbs than I am, and I can’t put it any better:

To say this is a terrific debut novel is really too mild. I haven’t read such a relentlessly creepy family saga since John Farris’s All Heads Turn as the Hunt Goes By, and that was thirty years ago, give or take. Sharp Objects isn’t one of those scare-and-retreat books; its effect is cumulative. I found myself dreading the last thirty pages or so but was helpless to stop turning them. Then, after the lights were out, the story just stayed there in my head, coiled and hissing, like a snake in a cave. An admirably nasty piece of work, elevated by sharp writing and sharper insights.

So there you are!   Feel free to share your favorite books of the past year in the comments!

Here are some links to see you into the New Year.  Enjoy!

NPR’s Best Books of 2011

New York Times Book Review Best of 2011

10 Best Books of 2011 from Esquire Magazine

2011 Goodreads Choice Awards

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