the Little Red Reviewer

The best of 2011

Posted on: December 13, 2011

The rules for my “best of” post were simple: I had to have read and reviewed the book in 2011, and it couldn’t be a reread (otherwise this list would taken over by Lynch, Powers, Brust, and others).

In no particular order (saving me the impossible task of choosing my utmost favorites), here are my top reads of the last 12 months. I’m surprised so many of them are new-ish books, as that wasn’t really part of the plan. Enjoy the little teaser then click on the title for the full review.

Grey by Jon Armstrong (2007)  frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  This is dystopia like you’ve never read before. This is body modification and mortification, life imitating art to the nth degree, and performance art like you’ve never imagined. This is fashion punk.

The Third Section by Jasper Kent (2011) The third in Kent’s Danilov Quintet, one of the most brilliantly frightening books I have ever read, and brimming with betrayals and violence, seductions and patience, this is the series you’ve been waiting for if you prefer your vampire fiction to be more Bram Stoker than sparkly.

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, (2003) Light, readable, addictive: absolutely effortless.  With a plotline that’s easy to get into, and brimming with all my favorite guilty pleasures: swordplay, banter, revenge, and sensuality, Swordspoint is truly unforgettable.

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (2011) Probably the most impressive debut this year, Lawrence makes it look easy, but he’s pulling tricks and stunts in this book that are near impossible to pull off. A specific trick, in fact, that’s got me rethinking my opinions on a particular convention that’s been popping up in more and more speculative fiction.

Embassytown by China Mieville (2011) You know those utterly alien aliens you’ve been looking for in science fiction? This is them. The entirety of Embassytown is an unforgiving metaphor of the risks of getting lost in translation. Mieville tries his hand at pure science fiction and I like it.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente (2010) This was the first Valente book I ever read, and let me tell you, it was love at first read. It is simply sublime. I have never read anything like this before. Intimate and evocative and powerful, the price paid to experience it is that one can never again come to it with innocence, never again read it for the first time.  This book was a game changer for me, in more ways than I can put into words.

Deathless by Catherynne Valente (2011) Yup, another Valente. She’s the only author to make it onto this list twice. But this is a love story, and love means trusting someone enough to tell them all your secrets. To give them the power to keep your hostage, to invite them to dominate you. The intensity, almost the danger, of Marya and Koschei’s romance is astonishing.  A fairy tale retelling like you’ve never come across before.

Low town by Daniel Polansky (2011) one of those wonderfully subtle books where although the plot is thrillingly compelling, that’s not what makes this book so incredible. Aspiring writers, you wanna know how to create atmosphere and worlds that breathe all on their own? Wanna know how to write characters whose hidden depths ooze out their shadows to gently but surely addict your readers to learning their secrets? Wanna know how risk taking is really done? Read Low Town.

The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities edited by Jeff & Ann Vandermeer (2011) After his death in 2003, appraisers made their way through his home, discovering wonder after bizarre wonder, and trying to connect the objects to descriptions and references found in Thackery’s diaries. And then they happened on the secret underground bunker, a cabinet of curiosities that made the upstairs collection look like nothing more than a museum gift shop.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (2011) Of course this book made the list, how could you think it wouldn’t? Through his Kingkiller Chronicles, Rothfuss has taken the tried and true “hero’s story”, and turned it into what it always knew it could be, something beyond magical, beyond mythical, unwittingly becoming the father of something new and yet unnamed.

And your job, dearest friends,  is to post your favorite reads of 2011 in the comments or a link to your “Best of 2011” post. In a few days I’ll send everything we’ve come up with to Large Hearted Boy, who is compiling his master list of best books of the year lists.

31 Responses to "The best of 2011"

Very nice list. I’ve bookmarked it–there’s some hear I’ve never heard of that I’d like to try. The only one in the list I’ve read already is Prince of Thorns. I was just curious–what convention in speculative fiction are you referring to?


it’s something that’s very spoilery. I’ll e-mail you.


I’m still not quite ready to do this yet. I am in the middle of some good books and don’t want to cheat them out of the opportunity of making it to the list. Soon though! 🙂

I will be linking here once mine is does though, and I always try to put up a Mr. Linky because some of my absolute favorite reading every year is the end of the year lists, particularly from those who read SFF.

Nice list. Your description of the way you felt about Valente reminds me of the first time I read Patricia A. McKillip.

Love your little brief descriptions, very intriguing and your passion for each book is obvious. Well done!

The only two books I own from your list are the last two. I loved The Name of the Wind and so have high hopes for A Wise Man’s Fear. And the Thackery Lambshead book was just too good looking to pass up when I first saw it in the store.


I knew I was risking missing some good ones (like the Charlie Stross I’m reading right now), but I also knew the next few weeks will fly by faster than anything. So i figured it was now or never!

and hey, I can always edit the post. 😉

the brief descriptions were mostly yanked right from my review. I didn’t have time (aka: am lazy) to write up brand new blurbs.

Have you gotten into the Thackery Lambshead book yet? It’s perfect for looking at in small to medium doses, I think you will really get a kick out of it!


Not yet, it is languishing on the large pile of books I snagged when Borders was going out of business. I wish I could say “soon” with sincerity, but I feel that way about soooo many books that I want to be reading right now. I’m back to that mode where I wish I could multi-task and actually read multiple books simultaneously. 🙂


Somehow missed “Swordspoint,” but have now corrected that fact by adding it to ye olde holidays list. Good list, and particularly on the note of “The Third Section,” I can say without pause that it’s bloody good to have vampire fiction that isn’t sticking to this sparkling and romantic vein of modernity…


tell me about it! don’t get me wrong, I’m all for handsome vampires. but they better rate higher on the vicious, dangerous and stone cold killer scale than on the hottie scale. Doesn’t hurt that Kent is a damn awesome writer.


Ha, Wise Man’s Fear – I think I enjoyed that even more than Name of the Wind – and, thanks to your review I now have Prince of Thorns waiting to be read (quite literally just brought it home and really looking forward to it – but I’m reading Jim Butcher at the moment so it’ll have to wait.
Will have to check out some of your other books here as not familiar with the rest.
Lynn 😀


which Butcher are you reading? the new one? I think Name of the Wind was a funner read especially since it was one of the first “true” fantasy books I’d ever read, but Wise Man’s Fear definitely had more gravity.


Funnily enough, the Name of the Wind was the book that finally made me realise that fantasy/adventure is the style of books that I really lean towards. I’ve only just started reading Jim Butcher – read Storm Front and now reading Fool Moon – which is really shaping up at the moment. Can’t wait to read Prince of Thorns. So many books!!!!


I do my best of at the end of December. I may read something in that last week that overtakes other things. It happened last year, I had thought Feed would be THE best and then it was pipped at the post. I’ve got a top 5 at this stage, they’re all 2011 releases too. I’ve read a few on your list, but not many. If anyone’s interested they can check out on Jan 1, 2011 and it should be there.


Yeah, I know I should have waited another week or two. . . uughh, but my schedule sucks, so I figured it was now or never. And like I said to Carl, I can always edit the post!

when you get your best of list posted, comment again with the direct link. 😀


Looks like some great books. I’m coming to you when I need some suggestions!


Lol, go check out the review index! and for once, i think it’s mostly updated.


OMG I never noticed it! I’m an idiot!


Thanks to you I also read Prince of Thorns this year and it will be on my best of list for the year, too. 🙂 I am looking forward to the sequel next year! I had the Catherynne Valente books out from the library, but never did read them. I did read 2 books by her this year, though, so it was not like she was neglected. The other books are all on my wish list…


Hey Kailana! Am I understanding your blog correctly, you read 237 books in the year up to November? Wow. I’m pretty sure I haven’t read that many books this century 🙂 Getting on the ‘Best of’ list is always special, even better when it’s best of _lots_. Thanks!


um, yes…? That would be correct. 🙂 The number is not that much more even into December because my reading is very very slow at the moment… Or maybe I should say very slow for me?

I am very happy that I discovered your book and bought myself a copy. It was well worth it!


I’d originally gotten The Habitation of the Blessed from the library as well, and I’m only a little ashamed to say that it sat on the coffee table for two weeks before I picked it up. It looked really intimidating! and like, literary!


I will have to make these two books by Valente books for 2012… I know my library has them both, so just a matter of actually reading them!


I really need to read Embassytown. I recently downloaded the audiobook version of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland from Overdrive. Prince of Thorns is one that I really want, but no audiobook yet, so I may wait until my next vacation to read the print version.

I just posted my top 20 Audiobooks today. Here’s the link:


[…] reads of 2011 by Eric on December 15th, 2011 This post is inspired by another “Best Reads of 2011″ post, and I thought it was a good idea. What follows are the ten best books I read (or listened to) […]


Just posted my ten best reads or listens of the year. We sort of didn’t overlap, except for Rothfuss.

I need to read those Valente books. I loved Palimpsest.


you chose some really good ones! Mote in God’s Eye is definitely a “must read” for hard SF fans. and how did I not have Graveyard BOok on my list? arrghh, I know I shouldn’t have limited myself to only 10 books.


Awesome list 🙂 I hope to get mine up tonight or tomorrow, work permitting!


I’m having a China Mieville syndrom moment but I love him, adore you, will read anything by him. I love your list.


Sadly, I’ve only read one of the books on your list (Rothfuss). I do want to get into Jasper Kent and Mark :Lawrence, though (I’d like to eventually get Mr. Lawrence to do an email interview at some point, but then again, who wouldn’t?). Thanks for the great list, and I’ll be adding some of them to my own review blog soon 🙂


’twas tricky, but I’ve come up my fav five
thanks for reminding me I’ve been wanting to do this! 🙂


Swordspoint \o/! One of my all time favorite books. When I moved to the UK, it was one of the few books I brought with me.

And I’ll second Habitation of the Blessed. It was stunning.


I actually haven’t read any of these books :(, though many of them look really good! I’m definitely planning on reading Armstrong’s “Grey” sometime soon, since I really liked “Yarn”.

The Jasper Kent series looks interesting, too. I have always had a weakness for vampire stories, but there are just so many bad vampire novels out there that I quit reading them altogether. Psychological horror, no glitter in sight… sounds like my kind of vampire story.

After reading positive reviews of Rothfuss’ series (yours and others), and hearing one of my friends rave about it, I’m definitely planning on picking these up at some point.

I’m planning on reading my first Valente title (The Girl Who Circumnavigated…) tomorrow, on a transatlantic flight. Given your glowing recommendation, maybe I should check out “Habitation of the Blessed” next.


Hi again, finally come up with my favourites for last year. God it was so difficult only picking 10 (I want an alternative list!) Also, I cheated a bit and made a list of my favourite book series – some of them have so many books that I couldn’t have added them to the list otherwise it would have been very long…..
Reading one of my Christmas presents now but then moving on to Vintage sci fi.
Lynn 😀


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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