My Top Books of 2011

After a lot of thought, here it is: a list of my favourite books read in 2011! I would have found it almost impossible to put them in order, so I’ve just listed them alphabetically. I should also point out that not all of them were published this year (in fact, most of them weren’t).

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

(Read in January)

If I had to pick out just one book as my absolute favourite of the year, this would be it. Also published as Every Man Dies Alone, this is the story of two people living in Nazi Germany who launch a postcard campaign in protest against World War II. As well as being a very moving and thought-provoking story, it also has a thrilling plot and although it’s a cliche, I really couldn’t put this book down!

From my review: “I found the plot completely suspenseful, exciting and full of surprises…I would highly recommend it if you enjoy reading World War II fiction and would like to view things from a different perspective and also if you enjoy novels that are both gripping and heartbreaking.”

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

(Read in September)

Although this book was published just a few years ago, it has all the elements of a Victorian sensation novel: murders, mistaken identities, family secrets, betrayal and revenge. The ‘American boy’ of the title is Edgar Allan Poe, though he doesn’t actually play a big part in the story. This was the second book I read by Andrew Taylor this year and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work in the future!

From my review: “A very dark and suspenseful mystery – a perfect book to curl up with and enjoy at this time of year.”

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

(Read in March)

2011 is the year I ‘rediscovered’ Agatha Christie. I’ve read five of her books this year and this one is my favourite. Ten people are invited to stay at a house on Soldier Island and one by one they begin to die. Which of the ten is the murderer? I found it impossible to figure out!

From my review: “I admit that solving whodunits is not one of my strong points, but I think most people would be baffled by this one! Christie expertly leads you to believe one thing, then a few pages later proves you wrong.”

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

(Read in October)

The Children’s Book is a long and complex novel which follows the lives of a group of children as they grow up amid the social changes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This seems to be the type of book people either love or hate. I’ll admit that it wasn’t an easy read, but I enjoyed almost every page and didn’t have a problem with the slow pace and detailed descriptions.

From my review: “I enjoyed it…but if you’re not interested in the historical and cultural events of the Victorian and Edwardian periods, if you don’t like reading fairy tales, if you prefer books with more action and less description, then this may not be the right book for you.”

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

(Read in January)

This is the story of Marion and Shiva, the twin sons of an Indian nun and a British surgeon, who grow up within the community of Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I loved this book because not only is it a great story spanning several decades and continents, I was also able to learn a lot about Ethiopia, a country I previously knew nothing about.

From my review: “Even though it’s still only January, I can’t imagine I’ll be reading a lot of books this year that are better than this one.”

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

(Read in May)

I was very impressed by this book, my first by Jane Harris, and went on to read her previous novel, The Observations, which I also enjoyed, though not quite as much as this one. I loved the setting (Victorian Glasgow), I loved the voice of the narrator, Harriet Baxter, and I thought some of the plot twists were stunning! This is also one of the few books on my ‘top books of 2011’ list that was actually published in 2011!

From my review: “At times it even felt like a Victorian sensation novel to me, which probably explains why I enjoyed it so much! Gillespie and I has been one of my favourite reads so far this year.”

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

(Read in January)

Narrated by Dick Young, who agrees to experiment with a new drug that transports the user into the 14th century, The House on the Strand has turned out to be one of my favourite Daphne du Maurier novels so far. This was actually the very first book I finished in 2011 and I knew almost as soon as I started reading it that it would be one of my books of the year.

From my review: “Choosing to begin 2011 with a book by one of my favourite authors was the right decision. The House on the Strand is a strange and unusual book which blends historical fiction, science fiction, time travel and psychology. I loved it!”

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

(Read in July)

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors and I had been looking forward to reading Jude the Obscure. It definitely lived up to my expectations. I can understand why it wouldn’t appeal to everyone – it really is a tragic, heartbreaking story and contains what must surely be one of the most shocking scenes in literature – but I loved it.

From my review: “Although this one didn’t have quite the same emotional impact on me that Tess did, I was still moved to tears in places. I can’t recommend Jude the Obscure highly enough, unless you really just don’t like this type of book.”

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

(Read in February)

I chose to read Little Boy Lost for the Persephone Reading Weekend in February. This story of a man searching for his missing son is one of the most emotional books I’ve read for a long time and definitely my favourite of all the Persephone books I’ve read so far.

From my review: “Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian, who is quoted on the back cover, says it best: ‘If you like a novel that expertly puts you through the wringer, this is the one.'”

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

(Read in May)

The Master and Margarita is one of the most bizarre and original books I’ve ever read. I won’t even attempt to describe the plot here, but I can tell you that you’ll meet the Devil, a talking black cat, Pontius Pilate, and a beautiful witch! I’m so glad I decided to stop feeling intimidated by this book and finally just picked it up and started reading.

From my review: “This was a fantastic book – it was breathtakingly different and original, with so many different layers to it…the engaging writing, weird and wonderful characters and the dark humour all helped to keep me interested.”

Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart

(Read in November)

This was my first experience of Mary Stewart’s work. I’ve now read three of her books and she’s already becoming a favourite author! Nine Coaches Waiting is the story of Linda Martin, who arrives in France to start her new job as governess to a nine-year-old orphan, Philippe de Valmy, and finds that both she and the child are in serious danger. This is a wonderful, suspenseful novel with a thrilling plot and a haunting atmosphere.

From my review:Nine Coaches Waiting is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s maybe not the most life-changing or the most original, but certainly one of the most enjoyable and exciting.”

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

(Read in January)

I read two Dickens books this year, and while I did enjoy The Mystery of Edwin Drood (despite it being unfinished), Our Mutual Friend is the one that has made it onto my list of top books of the year. With its length and complex plot, this was a challenging book but a satisfying one, and with some very memorable characters (who could forget poor Jenny Wren?).

From my review: “It does require the reader to invest a lot of time and effort in it, but it was definitely worth it for me!”

Persuasion by Jane Austen

(Read in April)

I’ve now read all of Jane Austen’s novels and this one is my favourite, even ahead of Pride and Prejudice which I also enjoyed. I loved Anne Elliot and loved the story of her romance with Captain Wentworth. Compared to Austen’s other novels this one has a more serious, mature tone and that appealed to me too.

From my review: “A moving story of mistakes, misunderstandings and second chances…I loved this book.”

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

(Read in November)

I would never have expected a western to be one of my favourite books of the year! I’m so glad I decided to take a risk and try something completely different.

From my review: “I loved this book, which I think proves that it doesn’t matter if something is described as a ‘western’, a ‘romance’, a ‘mystery’ or anything else: a good story is a good story and The Sisters Brothers was one of the best I’ve read this year.”

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

(Read in February)

South Riding is a wonderful novel about life in a small Yorkshire community in the 1930s. When I first started reading I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it, particularly when I saw the length of the character list at the front of the book, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The characters all had so much depth it wasn’t hard to keep track of them all and I soon found myself completely absorbed in reading about their lives. I loved this one.

From my review: “I hadn’t expected to love it as much as I did. It was a book I looked forward to returning to every day and I was sorry when I reached the final page.”

Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears

(Read in December)

I finished this one just in time for it to make it onto this list. Moving backwards in time from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890 and then Venice in 1867, Stone’s Fall is a long and complex novel about the mystery surrounding a man’s death. I loved this book and was pleased I hadn’t allowed a previous negative experience of Iain Pears’ work to put me off reading this one!

From my review: “I found the plot completely gripping and was never bored – it was all so wonderfully intricate and clever.”

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

(Read in March)

This is the hilarious story of three men (and a dog) who go on a boat trip along the River Thames. Despite the fact that it was published more than 100 years ago, most of the humour is still relevant today. I must find time to read the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel!

From my review: “I can’t remember the last time I read such a funny book and I would recommend it to anyone who feels daunted by the thought of reading a Victorian classic.”

Have you read any of these books? If not, I hope I’ve convinced you to read some of them in 2012!

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30 thoughts on “My Top Books of 2011

  1. Aarti says:

    That’s a really great list- so many classics! I forgot that I want to read The Children’s Book- thank you for reminding me. Also, is it just me, or does it seem like in the last few years, there has been a huge deluge of books written about WWII?

  2. Jo says:

    Vast selection and range of genres, authors etc. No wonder it was difficult to pick.

    I found a Mary Stewart book in the charity shop this week so have bought it to give it a go! Oddly enough I hovered over The Sisters Brothers in Waterstones but did not pick it up.

    I read Persuasion for the first time, in fact first Austen as well for me. I am going to read another in 2012 as part of my own challenges that I am setting myself.

    • Helen says:

      I’m hoping to re-read Mansfield Park, Emma and Pride and Prejudice in 2012 as it’s been such a long time since I read any of those.

      I hope you like Mary Stewart!

  3. FleurFisher says:

    What a wonderful list. I have also read, and loved, The American Boy, And Then There Were None, Jude, The House on the Strand, Little Boy Lost, Persuasion, Sount Riding and Stone’s Fall. and most of the others are either on the tbr or in my sights.

    I’m very tempted to reread Persuasion next year, and I’d love to work my way through Thomas Hardy’s novels again.

    I wish you as many lovely books next year.

  4. Cat says:

    A wonderful list – Gillespie and I was one of my top favourites for 2011 too. Happy to see South Riding featured as I’ve just bought it for myself and I also have Byatt’s Possession to read soon.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Sue says:

    Lovely list – read Little Boy Lost, Alone in Berlin and South Riding. (Still waiting for Gillespie and I!) Today I reread your review of The Master and Margarita as the book has been adapted and is being performed at the Barbican in the Spring. Think I’ll have to try for tickets now!
    Hope you have a good 2012, reading and otherwise. Looking forward to reading your reviews and being inspired to read at least some of them.

  6. Fay says:

    Well, I am thrilled that Alone in Berlin made your list because it was sent to me as a prize during the German Literature Month read. It sits on my night stand ready to go. If I were to compile my own list, The Sisters Brothers would definitely be one of my choices. Happy New Year of reading!

  7. Mel says:

    What a wonderful list! I am currently reading Our Mutual Friend, and it has me hooked. Jude the Obscure made it to my favourites of the year too. The House on the Strand is an all time favourite for me. And I agree re And then there were None, it, with Murder on the Orient Express are my favourite by Christie. I will make a definite note to read Alone in Berlin, it sounds awesome.

    Happy New Year 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Alone in Berlin is such a great book – I definitely recommend you give it a try! And it’s good to hear you’re enjoying Our Mutual Friend. It’s my favourite Dickens so far.

  8. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    What a wonderful list, Helen! I’ve just read Little Boy Lost this week and adored it. I was recently given Cutting for Stone by a friend who raved about it. It’s not a book I would naturally have picked up but it seems everyone who has read it loves it to distraction so I’m really interested to start it.

    • Helen says:

      Cutting for Stone wasn’t really a book I would usually have chosen to read either, but I was curious to see why everyone seemed to love it so much. I hope you like it.

  9. Charlie says:

    So many classics here! I love the sound of the Bulgakov, though from what you’ve said it sounds either daunting in itself or a chunkster. How does Little Boy Lost compare, enjoyment wise, to VC-L?

    • Helen says:

      The Master and Margarita seemed daunting to me at first because of it being Russian literature and a satire on the Soviet Union, but it was actually much easier to read than I thought it would be!

      Little Boy Lost is very different to VC-L and I enjoyed it a lot more.

  10. farmlanebooks says:

    Great list of books – I especially loved Stone’s Fall and Cutting for Stone, but enjoyed many of the others. The Master and Margarita was a books I struggled to enjoy though. I can see it is brilliant, but I think I’ll need about 10 rereads to fully understand what is happening! I hope you have a wonderful 2012!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Jackie – I hope you have a great 2012 too. I’m sure I didn’t fully understand everything that happened in The Master and Margarita either – it’s definitely a book I need to read again in the future!

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