While it’s true that we here at AAR read, with love, lots of romance novels, many of us also read and enjoy books outside the genre. I asked my fellow reviewers to pick their favorite non-romance book or books from 2011. Mysteries were the first choice—seven of the fourteen books were from that genre. Two chose the same book: Tina Fey’s bestselling Bossypants.
Here are our picks:
Blythe confessed her favorite this year was Stephen King’s 11/22/63. She called it an “Absolutely fabulous book – it was happy, sad, funny, romantic, and thought-provoking. I can’t stop recommending it to people.” In her review, she wrote “You might think from the title and the cover that this book is about the Kennedy assassination. It is, and it isn’t. It’s about time travel and all the big “what ifs,” but it’s also about a Maine English teacher who travels back in time and falls in love in small town Texas. That wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it was a lovely surprise.”
The book chosen by Bessie, Swamplandia!, a debut novel by Karen Russell, is described by Booklist as “Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air.” The book made many a “Best” list in 2011.
The one book picked more than once—by both SandyAAR and Jean Wan—was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Jean wrote: “I thought it was absolutely hilarious and a masterpiece in how a little goes a very long way.” Ms. Fey’s book has been a huge commercial success; it’s sold well over a million copies in the United States alone.
Reviewer Jane Granville had a hard time choosing any books from 2011. She wrote, “The two books that first came to mind — Room by Emma Donahue ans Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — were both 2010 releases. Does it count if the paperback was first published in 2011?” Many readers know the Collins books but maybe less familiar with Room, a much lauded novel about which the New York Times Book Review wrote “Emma Donoghue’s remarkable new novel, “Room,” is built on two intense constraints: the limited point of view of the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack; and the confines of Jack’s physical world, an 11-by-11-foot room where he lives with his mother.”
Pat H chose a relatively unknown book, But Remember Their Names by Hillary Bell Locke (obviously a pseudonym!). Pat wrote, “It’s a mystery about a neophyte lawyer who defends a teenage girl in a murder case. It’s a smart, funny, insightful look at the legal system. Brilliant!”
LinnieGayl also picked from the mystery genre. She picked two. The first was Jacqueline Winspear’s A Lesson in Secrets. She wrote, “This 2011 entry in the Maisie Dobbs series began to move the series forward into the pre- World War II era. While there wasn’t any real development in her relationship with James, I enjoyed the college setting of this book and also liked the direction Maisie’s life seems to be taking. I definitely look forward to reading the next in the series. A close second for me would be Alan Bradley’sI Am Half-Sick of Shadows, his latest Flavia de Luce mystery. I remain totally in love with this young girl sleuth and can hardly wait until the next in the series.”
Lee Brewer picked not a mystery but a spy thriller, Rip Tide by Stella Rimington. Lee wrote, “It’s the latest in her series about MI-5 Officer Liz Carlyle. The author used to be the head of MI-5 so her knowledge of what really goes on with spies and such really adds to her stories.”
Louise picked a memoir, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. She wrote “It is a memoir about a woman who loved the Little House books as a kid and goes on a pilgrimage following the Ingalls family’s travels. It is a book about nostalgia and self discovery. Anyone who fondly remembers having their ten year old nose buried in On the Banks of Plum Creek would love it!”
Reviewer Maggie Boyd picked three favorites from 2011, two mysteries and one quasi YA novel. Her mystery choices were Love You More by Lisa Gardner or The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen. Maggie wrote, “I couldn’t pick between my two mysteries because they were both brilliant, frightening edge of your seat thrillers.” She also enjoyed Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. About that book, she wrote, “It’s a difficult to classify book – it is marked ages thirteen and up and could be included I guess in Science Fiction or YA. Whatever it is, this book is outstanding.” In her AAR review of the book, Maggie wrote, “This wonderful fantasy novel told in first person narrative is a look at the relationships men of all ages have with their fathers. It captures how family members can lose the respect and love they feel for each other as disappointments mount up. But it goes far beyond just that, taking a look at what it truly means to come of age and how difficult it is to make those first decisions that we know will affect our whole lives.”
As for me, my favorite book of the year was one I read with my teenagers, the fabulous The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the second in his Kingkiller trilogy—the first is the phenomenal The Name of the Wind. Mr. Rothfuss has created an extraordinary world helmed by a stellar, layered hero—Kvothe—and peopled by vivid and compelling secondary characters. The Wise Man’s Fear isn’t quite the soaring accomplishment that is The Name of the Wind, but it was still marvelous and has one of the best final chapters I’ve ever read in a book.
Of the books our AAR reviewers chose, Bossypants, Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Swamplandia!, and 11/22/63, were on the 2011 Amazon.com Top One Hundred Best Books of the Year list. Swamplandia! and 11/22/63 were also two of the top ten 2011 fiction books chosen by the New York Times.
What about you? Do any of these books excite you? If you had to pick, what would be your favorite non-romance of the year?
– Dabney Grinnan