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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

My Favorite Books of 2011, Part 1

Earlier this month, my Top Five Books of 2011 was part of Smugglivus at the Book Smugglers.

Here, my complete list of Favorite Books Read in 2011, Part I

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. One of my top 5. My review. My review of the audio book. “Marchetta weaves together two stories: Tom, just entering his twenties, floating through his life because what he loved, what he valued, is gone. What isn’t gone he threw away, better to leave it behind than risk the hurt of more loss. [His Aunt] Georgie, twenty years older, is single and pregnant with mainly Tom for support. If Jellicoe Road was a puzzle, and Finnikin of the Rock a rough immersion into an unknown world, The Piper’s Son is an onion, something known but full of layers and secrets.”

The Queen of Water by Laura Resau and Maria Virginia Farinango. Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. My review. “Virginia doesn’t want your pity. She doesn’t want to break your heart. A stubborn child, she uses that willfulness to adapt, to learn, to grow despite all obstacles, even when those obstacles are her own fears and insecurities. This is a story of triumph, of hope, of finding one own’s way, and being true to oneself. Being true to oneself is never easy, because first you have to know yourself. How can you know yourself when your parents give you away? When the world you live in and is told is “good” labels you and your heritage “bad”, “stupid,” “ugly”?”

White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book One) by Holly Black. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2010. Review copy from publisher. Also listened to the audiobook version, copy from the library. My review. “This is an amazing mash-up of genres and I am head over heels in love. Maybe an emotion worker touched me with an ungloved hand while I wasn’t looking, but no, I think my love for White Cat is real and true. It’s difficult enough to write about a con, to write a mystery, to write about the supernatural or the mafia or family or friendship. To write about them all at once? For each to be spectacular? For all of them to be woven together flawlessly into one story? Amazing and impressive.”

Red Glove (The Curse Workers, Book Two) by Holly Black. Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. Sequel to White Cat, which you really should read first. My review. “Red Glove digs deeper into the shady world where Cassel lives, exploring more layers and facets. He’s been raised to trust family and criminals, not friends and outsiders. The events of the past year left him distant from his brothers; it also brought his mother back into his life. She’s returned to her old ways, using her ability to manipulate and control emotions to target rich, old men. The reader also learns more about curse workers, the laws against them, and how those laws and discrimination led to the power of the crime families. Where does Cassel’s loyalties lie? Is it to his family and the person he was raised to be?”

Family by Micol Ostow. Egmont USA. 2011. Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA. My review. “Melinda, Henry, the family. As the publisher’s website explains, Family is a “fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969.” Ostow uses fiction, verse, repetition and a fractured timeline to help the reader understand how and why someone could fall under another’s spell so completely that they do things they otherwise wouldn’t. It may use the broad bones of the summer of 1969, but it could any cult, any guru, any strong personality who captivates and betrays.”

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry. Simon & Schuster. 2010. Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA. My review. “Benny’s journey with Tom outside the gate is the actual, physical journey of hunting zombies — and even that phrase, “hunting zombies,” turns out to not mean what Benny thought it was. It is the journey of Tom and Benny becoming brothers. Finally, it is Benny’s journey from child to adulthood as he learns the truth about the world and those he thought were heroes and cowards. That journey is scary and violent and actio n packed.”

Divergent by Veronica Roth. Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher. My review. “All these factions work together, like a perfect puzzle, to create a perfect society. Well, the intent was to create a perfect society, but can people really be so divided and a society remain whole? Does “faction before blood” really mean “faction instead of blood”? Beatrice — now called Tris — makes her choice and struggles to succeed. Divergent is about more, though, than factions. Tris discovers truths about her society; she is forced to make even more choices, ones that will not just impact herself but impact all in her world. Divergent is about more than exploring a structured world; it’s also action packed, as Tris moves from child to full member of her chosen faction, undergoing initiations and discovering who she really is.”

Chime by Franny Billingsley. Dial, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from ALA Midwinter. One of my top 5. My review. “Briony tells this story, and it is a mad story. The first sentence shows us Briony’s strength and hints at what she has done: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please. I don’t mean to be difficult, but I can’t bear to tell my story. I can’t relive those memories — the touch of the Dead Hand, the smell of eel, the gulp and swallow of the swamp. How can you possibly think me innocent? Don’t let my face fool you; it tells the worst lies. A girl can have the face of an angel but have a horrid sort of heart.” Yes, a confession and an insistence she is horrid. But, how horrid is a girl who has confessed? How horrid is a girl who says “please”?”

Real Live Boyfriends (Yes, boyfriends, plural. If my life weren’t complicated, I wouldn’t be Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, an imprint of Random House. 2010. Review copy from publisher. My review. “The Ruby books are best read in order. Not because of them being sequential and building on one another, which they are and do; but, rather, because combined they tell one story, of Ruby, as she matures and grows over the course of three years. It’s a true coming of age work and as I closed the book I wished that there was an award for best series, because the strength of some stories are not in their individual volumes but rather in the complete story. I don’t mean to say that the individual books aren’t strong — they are wonderful — but the true magic and genius of what Lockhart has done is revealed by looking at Ruby over the course of the entire series.”

Huntress by Malinda Lo. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from ARC. Companion/prequel to Ash. My review. “If Ash was about recovering from grief (via a Cinderella retelling), Huntress is about love and what people will and won’t do for love and how those actions and non-actions impact people and their world. Love can be nurturing but it can also be destructive.”

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. Scholastic Press. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from ALA. My review. “What I’m fast appreciating about Libba Bray is that she’s always doing something different as an author; but, each time, it’s awesome. It’s like she’s the Meryl Streep of authors. Without the accents. Wait, Gemma Doyle was British so I guess maybe that counts? Anyway, so far Bray has given us a historical fiction lush with fantasy; a road trip that explores life, death, and spirituality; and now a satire about commercialism, beauty, and modern priorities and pirates. What’s next, westerns? (Actually, I know the answer is the Roaring Twenties. But still.)”

Tighter by Adele Griffin. Knopf Books for Younger Readers, an imprint of Random House. 2011. Reviewed from copy from publisher. My review. “Tighter creeped me out. In a good way. In a this is how I like to be scared way. Jamie may not have been told everything about her summer job and the previous summer’s tragedy, but she has a few secrets of her own. While running track, she suffered a back injury (a major lower lumbar sprain) and has been self-medicating ever since by raiding the medicine cabinets of her parents and siblings. Jamie has brought along fifty-odd pills for the summer, hoping they’ll ease the aches and help her sleep. But, the reader wonders, is that all it is?

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About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is lizzy.burns@gmail.com.

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