It’s hard to believe that we at Shiny Book Review are going on our second year in existence. It seems like only yesterday when we came up with the concept of reviewing books for our own enjoyment. Who knew that so many of you would agree with us? We are all very, very flattered and thankful that you’ve hung around and continued to support our efforts.
In 2011 we reviewed 81 books and had 1 interview. That’s about 1.5 book reviews a week, give or take. 2012 looks even more promising as we continue to receive more and more books from publishers looking at us to review their latest (and upcoming) wares, as well as other books coming out later in the year that all of us really want to read. We also had guest reviewers for the first time, and welcomed new potential reviewers to the fold. We also said goodbye to friends who have moved on to greener pastures or have been forced to focus more on their studies.
So here are our favorite books of 2011. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did. They are listed in no particular order.
— The Lion of Cairo (Scott Oden, Thomas Dunne Books — Reviewed March 2011) – Oden had a winner here. The Lion of Cairo is a fun, fantastic trip through the ancient middle east during a time of great upheaval – the Crusades. Intrigue, murder and mayhem follow the hero of the story as he tries to make sense of it all… while accomplishing his mission. (Jason)
— Against All Things Ending (Stephen R. Donaldson, Putnam — Reviewed January 2011) – This is a book that does many things, including: continuing on a major fantasy world, reanimating a dead character in a humane, interesting, intelligent way, showing a complex and multifaceted love story, and using all sorts of unusual, arcane words to both prove erudition (which wasn’t necessary) and to promote the sense of another place and time (necessary). A book well worth studying, because as I said at the time I reviewed it, it’s both “depressing and hopeful.” How many books can do that at the same time? Especially in a long-running genre series? (Barb)
— Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure (Tim Harford, Farrar, Straus & Giroux — Reviewed July 2011) – This is an excellent nonfiction book that proves the power of persistence, melded with the powers of creativity, will always net rewards if you give it time enough and actually learn from why your first attempt (or attempts) didn’t work. (Barb)
— Inventing George Washington (Edward G. Lengel, HarperCollins — Reviewed March 2011) – My fifth selection was tough, but of all the non-fiction books I read this year, Lendel’s Inventing George Washington was the most fascinating. A historian who writes the way I like to read (not too dry, well paced, interesting), this was a very good book that I simply devoured. (Jason)
— Fat White Vampire Blues (Andrew Fox, Ballantine Books — Reviewed March 2011) – This one was tough, primarily because it’s not nearly as fast paced as the other fiction stories on this list. However, the idea of an obese vampire fighting for survival in a changing world tickled me silly and Fox’s writing style was enthralling, to say the least. Can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel. (Jason)
— Countdown: The Liberators (Tom Kratman, Baen — Reviewed August 2011) – Liberators is a venture into modern military fiction by acclaimed SF author Tom Kratman. Despite a long buildup, the action is fast and thrilling when it does finally happen. Well-drawn characters and Kratman’s extensive military knowledge make it a book very worth your time. (Leo)
— Triptych (J. M. Frey, Dragon Moon Press — Reviewed December 2011) – This is the story of the alien, Kalp, and his two human lovers, scientist Gwen Pierson and engineer Dr. Basil Grey. It starts out with Kalp suddenly dead and his lovers back in time trying to stop yet another atrocity from taking place. Then, in the middle, we see things from Kalp’s perspective — how he does his best to integrate into our society by way of the “Institute,” where both Pierson and Grey work. How they take an interest in him, getting him out of the communal alien barracks he lives in and bringing him to live with them; how, eventually, they all become lovers, which seems just right to Kalp as his people marry in threes. Excellent and highly readable, it’s hard to believe this is Frey’s debut novel. (Barb)
— Monster Hunter Alpha (Larry Correia, Baen — Reviewed October 2011) – Please. Like I was going to leave a Monster Hunter book off this list? Granted, Monster Hunter Alpha wasn’t written from the usual point of view of the series hero, but I think this created an added depth to the series and this book could very well be the linchpin that ties everything from here on out together in one neat bow. (Jason)
— Mouse and Dragon (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Baen — Reviewed January 2011) – This book is a sequel to “Scout’s Progress” and a prequel to “I Dare,” so an avid reader of Lee and Miller’s Liaden Universe (TM) knows what will happen but can’t help but be riveted to the page anyway. Liadens Da’av, Delm Korval, and his lover, Aelliana Caylon, may be fated for one another as they’re mystically suited to each other beyond anyone else. But that doesn’t mean all the temporal problems have faded away; oh, no. An excellent book from many perspectives. (Barb)
— Ex-Heroes (Peter Clines, Permuted Press — Reviewed February 2011) – By far the best superhero novel I’ve ever read, Ex-Heroes takes the superhero idea and meshes it seamlessly with the growing zombie genre. Mixing adventure, mystery and action around the lives of extraordinary heroes, this novel was, by a huge distance, my favorite novel of 2011. Considering the list of contenders this little book went up against, that’s saying quite a bit. (Jason)
— In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson, Crown — Reviewed April 2011) – Best book of the year? Without question, that’s Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.” This is by far the book with the most depth and breadth to it; it’s both personal and historical and it gets to the bottom of things fast. The detailing is excellent. There’s new stuff in there for people who’ve read a lot about WWII and the run-up to it (as I have) that’s both terrifying and interesting — maybe it’s interesting in its terror? And the writing is superb. (Barb)
So there you have it, our favorite books of 2011. Agree? Disagree? Let us know.
Enjoy your New Year’s celebration. We’ll see you January 1st.