Armchair BEA Day 2: Best of 2011

Welcome to Day 2 of The Armchair BEA. Today there are giveaways galore being offered on individual blogs – check out this post to get links. I’m giving away books through the official Armchair BEA blog (ongoing), so today I decided to accept the prompt to write about my favorite books so far in 2011.

I should preface this to say that I am having a great year in reading…I’ve read so many good books so far that I had a hard time narrowing down the ones I wanted to talk about today. I thought I’d talk about five of my favorites so far (in ascending order).

#5 Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich – Harper Perennial; Reprint edition, February 2011 (ISBN 978-0061536106) – read my review.

Mesmerizing, disturbing and unputdownable, Shadow Tag is the story of a marriage gone terribly wrong…and it is possibly one of the most memorable reads so far this year.

Erdrich’s writing has a poetic, yet stark quality to it. Her characters come alive on the page. She deftly controls the plot, teasing out tantalizing morsels of information that keep the reader turning the pages. Shadow Tag is not an enjoyable read – it made my mouth grow dry and made my heart ache. There is an element of  inevitability which informs the story. How can things possibly be fixed between these two characters? How can the children ultimately be saved from the wreck of their family?

#4 Galore by Michael Crummey – Other Press, March 2011 (ISBN 978-1590514344) – read my review.

Michael Crummey’s fantastical family saga begins in the latter part of the 18th century in the fictional town of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland when a whale beaches itself and the townspeople are shocked to discover a man in its belly who they christen Judah. Rich and alluring, this book was magical and beautifully told.

Crummey takes his readers along a crooked and convoluted journey over the course of more than 100 years, introducing a multitude of unique and quirky characters. A helpful family tree is provided at the beginning of the novel which keeps all the connections straight – but, it is the folklore and rumor, and the personalities of the characters which drive the narrative. There is a feeling of other-worldliness to the novel – a sense that life is circular, that history repeats itself, that family stories go on and on, replaying themselves, and becoming more fantastical, that they are part of who we are and who we become.

#3 The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown – Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, January 2011 (ISBN 978-0399157226) – read my review.

I read Eleanor Brown’s debut novel midway through January, and it is still one of my favorites of the year. Centered around three sisters, this is a novel that uses the unusual technique of a “collective narrative.” Honest, heartfelt, funny, this is a book that made my heart leap.

[…] perhaps what makes The Weird Sisters so compellingly readable is the relationships between the characters. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a sibling relationship, but especially those with sisters of their own, will recognize the ambivalence, petty jealousies, and ultimately the love that binds them each to the other. Who among us does not revert instantly to our childhood personalities and ways of behaving the moment we are all together again as a nuclear family?

#2 The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom – Picador, March 2011 (ISBN 978-0312674502) – read my review.

This novel won the 2008 AWP Award for the Novel for good reason. Set in Australia during WWII, it tells the story of an albino woman named Gin Boyle and her husband Toad. I loved Goldbloom’s quirky characters, her beautiful language, and a glimpse into another time and place.

Many readers will wonder where the beauty is in this novel among the scarred and damaged characters, and the dry and desolate countryside, but I think those most observant will discover that the beauty lies in how the story is told – its honesty and its acute examination of what it means to be different in a society where uniqueness is often perceived as negative.

#1 Every Last One by Anna Quindlen – Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition, March 2011 (ISBN 978-0812976885) –  read my review.

Where do I begin? I loved the characters in this book. I loved its honesty. And I was devastated by it. Rarely does a book bring me to tears, but this one did just that.

Every Last One is a novel about what it means to put one foot in front of the other after an unspeakable tragedy. It is about the inner strength we all carry but hope we never have to rely on. It is a reminder that life is precious and can change instantly; that what we have is a gift we should treasure. This is also a book about what it means to be happy – the fleeting moments that come and go, the ordinariness of life’s little pleasures are the building blocks of happiness – and they are tenuous, fragile, unexpected.

This week I will also be posting anticipated books for the remainder of the year in a series titled Book Buzz. My first Book Buzz are the books which I am very highly anticipating – check them out here. Later today, I’ll be posting about highly anticipated debut novels.

What books are YOUR favorites so far in 2011?

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13 comments

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  1. I also just finished Shadow Tag and thought it was a stunning book. Very dark, but also very evocative and penetrating. I am hoping to read The Paperbark Shoe sometime soon as well.

  2. Okay, I need to read more of your picks. I L-O-V-E-D The Weird Sisters, but that is the only one on your list that I have picked up.

    Thanks for giving me more to think about/read.

    • Aths on May 24, 2011 at 09:56

    That’s a great list! I’m definitely with you on The Weird Sisters! I need to check out the rest!

  3. I agree – Every Last One was amazing. I’m reading The Weird Sisters right now, and am enjoying it very much so far.

  4. I felt similarly about Every Last One. I read it last year and WOW. I still get all twisted inside when I think about it. Amazing, amazing book. And so far my favorite of all books I’ve read.

  5. Mmm nice list. I think that, so far, my favorite of this year has been The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet but ah, the year is still young!

    • Teresa on May 24, 2011 at 15:23

    I liked Shadow Tag, I haven’t gotten to The Weird Sisters yet and I still need to pick up Every Last One. It has been on my TBR list forever!

  6. Haven’t read any of these, but I really want to read The Weird Sisters.

    • Wendy on May 25, 2011 at 12:15
      Author

    Heather: If you loved Shadow Tag, you will be blown away by The Paperbark Shoe. Can’t wait to read your thoughts!

    Jennifer: You’re so welcome! I hope you’ll get a chance to read some of these!

    Aths: I think many, many readers have loved The Weird Sisters – such a great book!

    Carrie: Every Last One was so tragic, and so wonderful. Glad you also loved it…and glad that The Weird Sisters is also resonating for you!

    Heather (Ham1299): So far Quindlen’s book remains at the top of my list for 2011 – so devastating, so memorable…oh, man, when I think about it again it makes me feel all weepy.

    Pam: I agree – we still have more than 1/2 the year to go!

    Teresa: Looks like we have the same bookshelves!

    Michelle: Oh, I hope you’ll read Brown’s book – so great!

  7. You describe Every Last One perfectly. It makes me feel all weepy, too. And I read it in November.

    • Wendy on May 26, 2011 at 07:26
      Author

    Heather (ham1299): It feels weird to so highly recommend a book that made me absolutely sob – but it was SO good. Glad you agree!

  8. I agree. It is kinda odd, but I always just warn people to have LOTS of tissue on hand! 😉

    • Wendy on May 30, 2011 at 15:39
      Author

    Heather (Ham1299): LOL – yes!

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