Apparently a federal mandate was handed down from the White House, or possibly the Borg, to all book bloggers at the turn of the New Year: You must post a “Top Ten Books I Read in 2011” blog post, or you will be assimilated. Surrender immediately. Resistance is futile.
Who am I to resist Obama, or the Borg Queen? Here's my Top Ten List of books I've read this year (though some were published far previous to 2011). More original post coming next week, assuming I haven't been assimilated.
Best Books I Read In 2011, In No Particular Order
1.“Death of Kings” by Bernard Cornwell
Ah, the master himself with his latest installment in the Saxon Stories, a bloody and exuberant tale starring acerbic warrior hero Uhtred of Bebbanburg. Cornwell provides his usual stream of dry one-liners, battlefield heroics, and gorgeous writing – all wrapped up in one lovely package with a hero so hunky that I would time-travel back to the Dark Ages, risking an existence of dismemberment, violence, and no deodorant, for a single chance to meet him in person.
2.“The Second Duchess” by Elizabeth Loupas
The best debut I've read in a long time: a clever and level-headed Austrian princess newly married to the same Duke of Ferrara who stars in the famous Browning poem. Cautiously, the new duchess investigates the mysterious death of her predecessor while negotiating the snakepit of Renaissance politics and the attentions of her sometimes attractive, sometimes terrifying new husband. Deliciously twisty plotting, sensuous prose, and unforgettable characters.
3.“The Last Queen” by C.W. Gortner
A much sadder historical fiction read which I nevertheless devoured in a single hot summer day. The life of Juana of Castile makes for gut-wrenching reading as she travels from exuberant young princess to the woman who will be walled up and unfairly dismissed by history as a madwoman, but it's like watching a car wreck – you can't look away for a minute. Read with a large plate of Spanish tapas and a glass of sangria for consolation, preferably under the loggias of the Alhambra palace where Juana grew up.
4.“Ghost Story” by Jim Butcher
Just to prove that I don't only read historical fiction. Jim Butcher's urban fantasy series about a lanky wise-cracking wizard operating in modern-day Chicago is as addictive as crack. This one is no exception. Harry Dresden, wizard and wise-ass, is one of the best fictional heroes around – and this is one of the few books I can think of where the narrator spends pretty much the whole book dead.
5.“Song of the Nile” by Stephanie Dray
I love an unabashedly ambitious heroine, and Dray's Selene really fills the ticket – Cleopatra's intelligent daughter who does her best to claw, scheme, and manipulate the Emperor of Rome into giving back her birthright of the throne of Egypt. If only the Emperor of Rome weren't a first-class creep who wants waaaaaay
more than a girl should reasonably have to give up in pursuit of power. Sequel to “Lily of the Nile,” and altogether a darker, harder, more grown-up read.
6.“Major Pettigrew's Last Stand” by Helen Simonson
A gem – if Masterpiece Theatre doesn't snap this book up for a movie remake starring Derek Jacobi, it would be a crime. A gentle but hysterically funny romance about a reticent English widower who finds himself, to his considerable inconvenience, falling in love with a charming Pakistani widow. Humorous, understanding, and sweet – and how lovely to see a passionate romance between a Romeo of sixty-eight and a Juliet of fifty-eight. As if only the young and beautiful are entitled to star in great love stories.
7.“Dance With Dragons” by George R.R. Martin
The long and not very patiently awaited installment in Martin's iconic and massive “Song of Ice and Fire” series. I won't bother recapping the plot of this thousand-page doorstopper, since your screen would explode, but it was worth every hour of sleep I lost over it.
8.“11/22/63” by Stephen King
Another doorstopper on the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and worth every penny of the doctor's bills you will incur for the wrist strain that settled in after hours of holding this brick up close enough to read. A teacher in 2011 finds a mysterious portal that takes him back to 1958 – and he decides to stick around and see if he can't prevent the Kennedy assassination from happening. The answer may surprise you – Stephen King has not one whit lost his touch for horror, creativity, and poignancy, sometimes all in the same sentence.
9.“Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English” by Natasha Solomons
Middle-aged Jack Rosenblum is a German Jew who escaped Nazi Germany by moving his family to England - and for twenty years, Jack has devoted himself to becoming the perfect English gentleman. He has the tweed suits from Harrods, the pipe and the Jaguar, but one thing eludes him: membership to a golf club. When every good golf club rejects Jack (no Jews allowed! Germany certainly didn't corner the market on anti-Semitism) Jack decides with grandeur that he will build his own golf course. What a bad idea – and what a funny, moving, satisfying book about the results.
10.“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain
How to classify this book: Memoir? Expose? Humor? Its author is easier to pin down: a hard-drinking, hard-swearing, hard-living executive chef (and now Travel Channel star) who can't write a sentence without being funny, poignant, or offensive, often simultaneously. Bourdain's macho testosteronal voice would be unbearable if he didn't make just as much fun of himself as he does of everyone else. I can't walk into a restaurant now without wondering if the crew making my food is the kind of swaggering foul-mouthed batch of borderline psychos who are depicted so vividly in the pages here.
So there it is – my top ten list, along with everyone else's. Now please, Mr. President or Ms. Borg Queen, can I pretty please go back to my book and not be assimilated?