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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