Books of 2011 # 1 Top Read of 2011!

Well here we are, after a month of looking back over my reads of 2011, at my top book recommendation for the year. As I said yesterday each one of the top three is worthy of the top spot in it’s own way, but what gives this one the edge is two-fold. It’s a collection of short stories, and it is the first and the last stories that push it that little bit higher than all of the other thirty books that have come before it, and above all seventy-one others that I have read this year. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean, if you haven’t then I recommend you get hold of a copy without delay (but you really should read the book that is a number three first).

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Books of 2011 # 2 – Lake Charles by Ed Lynskey

The top three books in this review are exceptionally hard to separate. Each in its own way is worthy of the top spot, and Lake Charles is a very worthy runner-up.

Lake Charles: A Mystery NovelLake Charles: A Mystery Novel by Ed Lynskey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s the summer of 1979 and Brendan Fishback, his sister Edna and brother-in-law Cobb Kuzawa are heading to Lake Charles to do some bass fishing and have a good time.

Brendan has the spectre of a murder charge hanging over his head, a crime that he didn’t commit, and this might be the last chance he gets to cut loose before his trial.

Lake Charles isn’t the same place that it was though, once a haven for leisure, it’s now run-down and in a bad way, and it isn’t long before Brendan’s situation goes from bad to worse. His sister disappears and Brendan and Cobb run up against some back-country marijuana growers while trying to find her.

“Lake Charles” is told by Brendan in the first person and also through the clever use of flashbacks in dreams in Brendan’s mind’s eye. In this way Ed Lynskey writes a novel that oozes evil and violence by turn. As the story unfolds you are caught time and again by another punch to the guts in terms of a twist in the plot or a revelation that you didn’t see coming. Page after page, I found myself thinking about things I wanted to include in this review, but without giving too many spoilers that would have made this review too long, and given away too much of the plot.

The story carries an air of realism, and is grounded with the practicalities of the late ‘70s, this gives it an edge in terms of pace and dialogue that wouldn’t have been possible with a more modern setting. The characters feel complete and as a result as the plot turns, you become embedded in what is happening to them and wondering what the next shock will be.

This is the first novel I have read by this author, but I will certainly be looking out for others, and would recommend “Lake Charles” if you like a good crime or mystery.

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Books of 2011 # 3 – Adventures of Cash Laramie & Gideon Miles by Edward A Grainger

Essentially a collection of short stories, this book is for Western novels, what Unforgiven was for the Western movie. Worth every one of it’s Five Stars!

Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon MilesAdventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles by Edward A. Grainger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my introduction to the characters of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, and I wasn’t disappointed. A selection of short stories, that show the violence of the old west and the principles that the lawmen of that time held dear is well portrayed.

A highly recommended read.

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Books of 2011 # 4 – Macbeth by David Hewson & A J Hartley

The only audiobook in the top thirty-one, but what an audiobook. As the review says think you know Macbeth? Think again. 

Macbeth: A NovelMacbeth: A Novel by A.J. Hartley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Think you know the tale of Macbeth?

Think again.

This retelling of the tale by David Hewson and A J Hartley is just simply amazing. Bringing a new depth to the story, this is no repeating the original Shakespeare but an inspired reworking, incredibly bought to life by the vocal talents of Alan Cumming.

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Books of 2011 # 5 – The Road to Somewhere by James A Reeves

OK the top 5, and this is a nomadic road trip and a look at a country that I’m not sure if the author fully recognised. Great pictures and words, well worth a read.

The Road to Somewhere: An American MemoirThe Road to Somewhere: An American Memoir by James A. Reeves
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is much more than another book about a journey across America. This is a memoir of discovery both of the author and of his native country.

Beautifully illustrated throughout, with the authors own photographs, this book tells the story of many times when the author would take off and try to find both himself and his country.

There is an openness and honesty about both the words and the pictures, that kept me repeatedly picking the book up, and being disappointed when I had finished it. So much so, that I know I will be picking it up again in the near future to read through again.

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Books of 2011 # 6 – Carnival for the Dead by David Hewson

Just outside the top five spot, and a book that only had a limited release in 2011, with it’s major release coming in January 2012.

Carnival for the DeadCarnival for the Dead by David Hewson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again David Hewson transports his readers to the magical city of Venice, Italy. It is Teresa Lupo, Chief Forensic Pathologist for the Questura in Rome who takes the lead on this occasion whilst colleagues Falcone, Peroni and Costa are on secret assignment.
Lupo has travelled to Venice to look for her Aunt Sofia who has mysteriously disappeared, leaving little explanation as to why, or her current whereabouts. It is the time of the Carnival, as Teresa tries to find her Aunt, and a series of events unfold that lead the reader on a tableau of adventure across the great city of islands, and where those dressed in Carnival costume may not be all they appear to be.

This is the tenth novel in the “Costa” series, and the third time that David Hewson has taken us to Venice (The Lizard’s Bite & The Cemetery of Secrets, being the other two, and it is nice to see some homage to both of those novels within the pages of this latest one).

It is rare that a book makes me change my plans or keeps me reading up late into the night these days, but Carnival for the Dead has done both of those things over the last three days. Keeping me turning the pages and setting the standard for crime novels, this story unfolds a tale of mystery, history and culture set in one of the worlds great cities.

The history is well researched and the author manages to weave the history and culture into the pages, bringing the story to life. It brings a depth and colour to the pages that it is easy to picture oneself in the great city, with the same sights, sounds and smells as the characters on the pages.

David Hewson is a master storyteller, and this book is no exception, it is one of his best and finest to date and this series has been getting better and better.

If you are looking for a great story, and want to transport yourself to another place, then I strongly recommend this book.

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Books of 2011 # 7 – Dumb White Husband vs The Grocery Store by Benjamin Wallace

Trust the Dumb White Husband to make an appearance, and on Christmas Day of all days! Well if you’re feeling a little overfull from too much Christmas Dinner, you could do worse than going on to Amazon and downloading this little short, particularly if you got yourself a new kindle for Christmas!

Dumb White Husband vs. The Grocery Store (A Short Story)Dumb White Husband vs. The Grocery Store by Benjamin Wallace
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a little bit of every male, in the dumb white husband. Benjamin Wallace is a keen observer of the human male animal, either that or he’s seen me at the self-service checkout at the supermarket!

This is a great little short jaunt.

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Books of 2011 # 8 – Meet The Dogs of Bedlam Farm

The only children’s book to make the list, but of course it is also a doggy book!

Meet the Dogs of Bedlam FarmMeet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is Jon Katz’s first children’s book, and is a tale of his four dogs; Rose, Izzy, Frieda and Lenore, who live with him on Bedlam Farm.

A relatively short book it is beautifully illustrated with Jon’s own photographs. Recommended for dog lovers and children of all ages 😉

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Books of 2011 # 9 – An Angel With Fur by Russell Blake

Russell Blake is an author that I have only come across this year, and this was a book he sent me for a review. Readers of my blog will know I am a sucker for Dog Stories, and this one is no exception. Great to see it in the Top Ten!

An Angel With FurAn Angel With Fur by Russell Blake
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Angel With Fur is no ordinary doggy tale, and it’s star ’Lobo’, is no ordinary dog.

Russell Blake narrates the story of how he came to own Lobo and some of the adventures that they had together. Starting from when Russell went ’just to have a look around’ the animal shelter. This true story unfolds and shows the development of the relationship between Lobo and Russell and some of their other canine companions.

I’m sure that many dog owners will recognise aspects of their relationships with their own dogs in this story, and see how incredible the relationship between Russell and Lobo becomes.

This short book packs much within it’s pages, and as the story unfolds and the chapters pass, the very engaging prose, bring smiles, tears and laugh-out loud moments by turn. The book is well illustrated with the authors own photographs, and there are links to the authors website where there is a dedicated “Lobo” page, with more photographs and video links.

As regular readers of my blog will know, I read many a ’dog’ book, and I rate this amongst the best of them. Russell Blake is a master storyteller, and Lobo the perfect dog tale to tell.

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Books of 2011 # 10 – Field Notes on Science and Nature (edited by) Michael R Canfield

When I read this originally I knew that it would be one of my top books of the year, even then when I had many more books still to read during the year.

Field Notes on Science and NatureField Notes on Science and Nature by Michael R. Canfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my most memorable books of 2011, both in terms of the book itself, but also the memories it evoked of field work that I have been involved in, and the field notebooks that I still have to this day, although I think many of them are still in an attic somewhere.

This book covers all sorts of field “journals” from the traditional paper and pen/cil to digital and computerised. It includes insights, including reproductions of the journals themselves, from some very famous and eminent naturalists, many of whom are heroes of mine.

This probably won’t be everyone’s cup-of-tea, because it is quite a dry subject, but I’d recommend to any budding naturalist or anyone who wants a deeper insight into natural history.

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