Top Ten Fantasy Novels of 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011
I didn't read as much fantasy as I usually do this year (I blame my recent and often looooong forays into good YA).  I did manage to read more than a few impressive examples of my favorite genre when I wasn't distracted by another market.

1. The Crippled God by Steven Erikson
(The Malazan Book of the Fallen #10)

Some might be surprised that the long-anticipated A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin isn't in my top spot for how much I waited and loved it when it came, but this novel takes the cake. One of the most impressive. sprawling, imaginative, creative, unique fantasy series out there, Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series does not disappoint with its 10th and final volume. One of the few authors that hasn't let me down with epic series finales, I am eager for more books from Mr. Erikson.

My advice: 
 If you have trouble with the first novel Gardens of the Moon, as so many new readers do, just stick it out. It's a rewarding series to pursue to the finish.

2. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin
(A Song of Ice and Fire #5)


You knew it was going to be in here somewhere: I loved and absorbed the most recent novel from Martin. Long anticipated and awaited since the arrival of A Feast for Crows nearly 6 years before, I was one of the few fans A Dance with Dragons did not disappoint. While my opinion is far from universal and Martin is wearying on even my patience, I was grateful for such a long, complete trip to Westeros. Not the most exciting novel to date (but hey now, will anything in this series ever top the Red Wedding?), A Dance with Dragons is a solid offering in my still-favorite on-going series.

My advice
Don't expect Red Wedding-esque events but you will be engrossed and entertained in the continuing tale of the Lannisters, Starks and Targaryens.

3. Heartless by Gail Carriger
(The Parasol Protectorate #4)

Gail Carriger's lively and imaginative books consist of my favorite steampunk series and one of my all-time favorite heroines in Alexia Maccon. Heartless is another on-point addition to the three-book tradition established: funny, inventive, unique, and a race to the finish. I loved Heartless from start to its all-too-soon-finish: full of Carriger's trademark humor and wit, tea,  researched thoroughly for an authentic and real feel, I defy anyone's inability to be charmed by Alexia's latest escapades.

My advice:
Go to your nearest bookstore/favorite online retailer. Order Soulless, the first in the series, and don't look back. Be prepared for cleverness, wit, and humor in a familiar-yet-foreign locale peopled with drones, werewolves and preternaturals. Continue reading until reaching book four, whereupon you must wait impatiently for the fifth and final book, Timeless, due out February 2012.

4. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
(The Kingkiller Chronicles #2)

Second in a planned trilogy, The Wise Man's Fear delivers what so many fantasy fans were craving after The Name of the Wind. Like denner resin, Patrick Rothfuss world is easily addictive and immensely colorful. The mysterious, aloof but incredibly alluring Kvothe is back, with more of his mysterious past and tale to unravel at his Waystone Inn. More answers are provided from events in book one, though not as much action takes pace during this sequel.   

My advice:
The strength of this second novel is in the rich, developed characters at the heart of the story. Kvothe, Bast, Tempi, etc. fill in the black and white of Kvothe's tale. Don't get frustrated that not all answers are provided, that Ambrose and Kvothe's rivalry isn't as engaging as before: focus on the characters and Rothfuss great talent for telling a compulsively readable tale.

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
(Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1)

My love for this book is far and wide and often shown on this blog. It's made two of my "Top Ten" lists for the year (Best Young-Adult Novel #1, Best Covers #2) and my love for it is totally warranted. Karou is strong, independent but not perfect: she's relatable and grounded in a world of magic and teeth. Taylor earns major major kudos for her intelligent treatment not of only her female protagonist, but for her handling of the
romance angle to her novel. The love story isn't overwhelming or saccharine for a change. This novel has many nice twists on many of the prevalent tropes seen in YA novels: angels, devils, seraphim, forbidden love... all receive new ideas and representation in Taylor's evocative novel.

My advice:
If you're a fan of great visual description, beautiful prose, a teenage romance that feels genuine and appropriate,  pick this up the first chance you get. I think this is a nice segue for readers who love YA but haven't read much fantasy: Taylor has a great blend of genres at work within Daughter of Smoke and Bone - it's never boring!

6. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
(The Inheritance Trilogy #2)

Though the first in author N.K. Jemisin's fantasy trilogy does appear in this Top Ten list, it is surprisingly after its direct sequel here at #6, The Broken Kingdoms. With less of the pacing and plotting issues that the first had, The Broken Kingdoms is an exciting and new addition to this series: gone is the first main character but a just as strong and even more likeable one has replaced her. So much of the typical fantasy structures are just a little different in this series; it's one of the reasons I rate them so highly and eagerly await a new release.

My advice:
Do yourself a favor and break from the old fantasy standbys like Cook, Wolfe, Lackey, etc. Give this newish series and author a try with the first novel, but if it's not precisely to your taste: keep going. The second is even better than the first and I have very high hopes for the conclusion to this creative and individual fantasy series. 

7. Stardust by Neil Gaiman

 One of the few books that I saw the movie before buying and reading, Stardust is a delight. Though oftentimes quite different from the on-screen version I loved, Gaiman's tale is just as charming and engaging when on the page. Inventive, quirky and engrossing, this was my first thought surely not last foray into Mr. Gaiman's bibliography.

My advice:
Read this is you're searching for a bit of fun and don't need dragons to enjoy your fantasy. Be prepared to want more than is there, as this is quite a short little novel filled with lovely and lively people.

(The Inheritance Trilogy #1)

The introduction to Jemisin's exciting and fresh series, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a very strong beginning and a solidly entertaining fantasy novel. With new ideas and magics and Gods, Ms. Jemisin's world is indelibly her own and very interesting. Reminiscent of fantasy great Roger Zelazny with its familial internecine intrigue, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms does so many things right and uniquely.

My advice:
This is another must-read for any fantasy fan that likes unique and creative magic with their dose of escapism. Much like Brandon Sanderson, Jemisin doesn't rely on old hat tricks and ways of magic: her methods and ideas are unique to her novels and people. 

9. Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

A time-traveling tale of faeries, Baba Yaga and love across time, Enchantment is a one-off and sadly so since I'd love to continue . Though I despise its author, this was a charming, whimsical and all-around fun read. A nice mix of folktales and myths from Russia and other places keep it fresh and less fantasy than other entries, but hey this is my list and blog, I can do what I want.

My advice:
Read if you're looking for a fun, easy read with creative twists and turns. Some readers may have issues with the religion aspects to the novel and characters, but they were easily dismissed by my liking for the plot and characters, especially the villains.
10. The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

Fourth and final novel in the much loved and read Iron Fey series, The Iron Knight is a change from the first three and refreshingly so. Not told from Meghan Chase perpective, this is a close look at Ash of the Unseelie Court. Long my favorite character of these books, I loved this trek from his mind: a nice contrast from Meghan's usual views. Conclusing a well loved series with aplomb and some serious twists, The Iron Knight is a winner from beginning to end.

My advice:
If you don't like fae/fairy novels give this series a try. The first is the weakest by far, but hold out for the better, stronger novels further down the line.

Honorable Mentions:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Touch of Power by Maria V. Snyder

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

Theft of Swords (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) by Michael J. Sullivan

Top Ten Adult Favorite Reads of 2011

Out of my non young-adult reads for the year, here is my list for the best of my adult, general fiction reads of 2011:

1. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

published November 2010
read August 11 to 14th 2011
562 pages
rating: 5 stars

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

published September 2011
read on September 16th
387 pages
rating: 5 stars 

3. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro 

published March 2005
read January 15 to January 16th
258 pages
rating: 5 stars

4. Brida by Paulo Coelho

published February 2009
read January 29 to January 30th 2011
256 pages
rating: 4 stars

5. Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

published August 2010
read May 3rd 2011
352 pages
rating: 4 stars

6. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

published June 2008
read December 20 2011
552 pages
rating: 4 stars

7. Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

published July 2009
read February 15 and 16th 2011
432 pages
rating: 4 stars

published July 2011
read September 20 to the 22nd 2011
424 pages
rating: 4 stars
9. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

published July 2011
 read November 26 to 27th 2011
320 pages
rating: 4 stars

10. Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

published May 2011
read May 30 to 31st 2011
375 pages
rating: 3.75 stars

aaand the UK cover because I both adore and covet it more than the copy I actually possess:

and that's my top ten best adult general fiction for the year.

Top Ten Fantasy Reads of 2011
Top Ten Hated Reads of 2011

Stats for 2011

A few have noticed some small - and large - changes here at my blog. A full post explaining things is due up tomorrow so don't worry. With that out of the way here are some of my reading/posting statistics for 2011:

Goal(s) for 2011:
first 120 books, then 150, then 200

Total Books Read: 
(107% of goal)

Total Pages Read: 

Average Length of Book Read:
357 pages

Average Length of Time Spent Reading Each Book:
1.7 days

5-Star Books: 
23 (~10%)

4-Star Books: 
69 (~32%)

3-Star Books: 
83 (~38%)

2-Star Books:
16 (~7%)

1-Star Books: 
10 (~4%)

Unfinished/Couldn't Finish: 
 12 (~5%)

Longest Book: 
The Great Book of Amber (Chronicles of Amber 1-10) by Roger Zelazny 1,258 pages 

(stats pulled from my goodreads profile)

Posts Published Since April 2011:

(Full) Reviews Written and Posted since April 2011:

Two-Minute Reviews Written and Posted since April 2011:
12 /24 as most TMR's have two mini reviews within

Blog Watch Wednesdays Posted:


Pageviews since April 2011 
(as of 8'o'clock on New Year's Eve):

Thanks everyone for such a fun first year in blogging. I can't wait to see what happens in 2012 and what everyone has in store to read!

Top Ten Book Covers of 2011

Thursday, December 29, 2011
Out of a field of 212 books I've read this year, here are the ten best covers:

1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

 The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

 Though I love both, the first is both the one I own and my favorite. Gorgeous cover for a gorgeous novel.

2. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

 Another gorgeous cover for one of my favorite reads of the year, I have the first (the U.S. edition). I utterly love the U.K. edition as well; both are very appropriate for the story Laini Taylor has so expertly crafted in this novel.

3. The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

 A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn’t been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in ‘the distant hours’ of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

 I loved this book so much I still can't articulate my thoughts enough for a real review. Almost matching my love for the novel itself is my love for the (left and the one I won) cover: detailed, intricate and showcasing the Milderhurst Castle.

4. The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

It was like a nightmare, but there was no waking up.  When the night began, Nora had two best friends and an embarrassingly storybook one true love.  When it ended, she had nothing but blood on her hands and an echoing scream that stopped only when the tranquilizers pierced her veins and left her in the merciful dark.

But the next morning, it was all still true: Chris was dead.  His girlfriend Adriane, Nora's best friend, was catatonic. And Max, Nora's sweet, smart, soft-spoken Prince Charming, was gone. He was also—according to the police, according to her parents, according to everyone—a murderer.

Desperate to prove his innocence, Nora follows the trail of blood, no matter where it leads. It ultimately brings her to the ancient streets of Prague, where she is drawn into a dark web of secret societies and shadowy conspirators, all driven by a mad desire to possess something that might not even exist. For buried in a centuries-old manuscript is the secret to ultimate knowledge and communion with the divine; it is said that he who controls the Lumen Dei controls the world. Unbeknownst to her, Nora now holds the crucial key to unlocking its secrets. Her night of blood is just one piece in a puzzle that spans continents and centuries. Solving it may be the only way she can save her own life.

This is due to be published in early 2012 so there is only the one cover so far. I love the detail of the eye: you can see the reflection of Prague in Nora's (? I'm guessing) eye. The setting is so alive and vibrant in this novel I love that it is hinted at right on the cover.

5. Embassytown by China Mieville

 In the far future, humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, has returned to Embassytown after years of deep-space adventure. She cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

When distant political machinations deliver a new ambassador to Arieka, the fragile equilibrium between humans and aliens is violently upset. Catastrophe looms, and Avice is torn between competing loyalties—to a husband she no longer loves, to a system she no longer trusts, and to her place in a language she cannot speak yet speaks through her.

The first is the hardback edition, the latter the paperback version. I own and prefer the hardback, with the dark background and the letters being light. The cover definitely underscores the importance of words and language in life and in the novel itself.

6. The entire Iron Fey series (as one, it's unfair otherwise!) The Iron King, Winter's Passage, The Iron Daughter, The Iron Queen, Summer's Crossing, The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

 Summary from book one, The Iron King:

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny—one she could never have imagined…

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school…or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth—that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face…and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

The whole series, novellas included, really hits it out of the park where covers are concerned. I would say The Iron Knight is my favorite, mostly because the scheme used is blue/white/silver and I love those colors together. Ash doesn't hurt though, either. ;)
7. Blood Rights (and sequels) by Kristen Painter


Summary from book one, Blood Rights:

The lacy gold mapped her entire body. A finely-wrought filigree of stars, vines, flowers, butterflies, ancient symbols and words ran from her feet, up her legs, over her narrow waist, spanned her chest and finished down her arms to the tips of her fingers.

Born into a life of secrets and service, Chrysabelle’s body bears the telltale marks of a comarré—a special race of humans bred to feed vampire nobility. When her patron is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect, which sends her running into the mortal world…and into the arms of Malkolm, an outcast vampire cursed to kill every being from whom he drinks.

Now Chrysabelle and Malkolm must work together to stop a plot to merge the mortal and supernatural worlds. If they fail, a chaos unlike anything anyone has ever seen will threaten to reign.
Though I've only read book one, I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning to this series. Plus, they look GREAT on a bookshelf. An eye-catching cover for a magpie-like eye like mine.

8. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton



And a look at the type of artwork by Arthur Rackham in the inside cover over the first version:

A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.

Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra's life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace - the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century - Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.

How gorgeous is that illustration? I loved this novel, though not as much as The Distant Hours, and Arthur Rackham's whimsical illustrations are perfect
9. The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison

Penelope (Lo) Marin has always loved to collect beautiful things. Her dad's consulting job means she's grown up moving from one rundown city to the next, and she's learned to cope by collecting (sometimes even stealing) quirky trinkets and souvenirs in each new place--possessions that allow her to feel at least some semblance of home.
But in the year since her brother Oren's death, Lo's hoarding has blossomed into a full-blown, potentially dangerous obsession. She discovers a beautiful, antique butterfly pendant during a routine scour at a weekend flea market, and recognizes it as having been stolen from the home of a recently murdered girl known only as "Sapphire"--a girl just a few years older than Lo. As usual when Lo begins to obsess over something, she can't get the murder out of her mind.

As she attempts to piece together the mysterious "butterfly clues," with the unlikely help of a street artist named Flynt, Lo quickly finds herself caught up in a seedy, violent underworld much closer to home than she ever imagined--a world, she'll ultimately discover, that could hold the key to her brother's tragic death.

I loved this: very visually striking but still true to story of the novel. I wish that this was a series in fact: more covers like this and more time with Lo would be much appreciated by me.

10. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley


 "Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

 I honestly love both versions. I like the hazy background of the first and the starkness of the second. I don't own a copy of this yet (I read a digital ARC) but can't wait to see which one I come across first,

Honorable Mentions:

Broken by Kelley Armstrong

The Mephisto Covenant by Trinity Faegan

Angelfall by Susan Ee

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

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