Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 Best Books of the Year

Once again, this "weekly" (sorry now, Monthly) blog is behind the eight-ball as nearly every other major publication has already released their Best Books of 2011. You can check out Amazon's fractured list here...or, you can read a list that require no books actually be written in 2011!

The Clive Cussler Award (Best Page Turner) - Redeemer / Redbreast / Snowman / Devil's Star by Jo Nesbo. Pretty much take your pick and then attempt to put any of them down before submitting to an epic fail. Nesbo is a great writer who brings a sublime depth to the mystery genre that too often barely scratches the surface. Prepare to lose a significant amount of time delving into the twisty and dark world of Detective Harry Hole, the only character this year who made me literally shout at him as I read the novel.

The Bill Bryson Award (Best Science Book) - The Tiger by John Vaillant. A staggering, cerebral look at a great and dying beast in the frozen wasteland of Russia. This magnificent animal has been poached and tormented to near extinction: yet somehow still thrives. Tigers are very intelligent animals and this tale of revenge (yes tigers will seek revenge...) is both thrilling and informative. A must read.

James Patterson Award (Most Disappointing Books)
3) The Rocket that Fell to Earth by Jeff Pearlman - I have really enjoyed the three other Pearlman books but this one was a bit of a stretch. A long reach and not an enjoyable one. No real connection with the subject (Roger Clemens) and nothing particularly interesting.
2) Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane - Hurts, very deeply as Lehane is one of my all-time favorite authors but he pulled his punches here and provided a real let down. Do not get me wrong, this was still a 7/10 but for Lehane that is simply not good enough. Compared to his previous works such as Gone, Baby, Gone or the incomparable Darkness Take My Hand this book just cannot compete. We have come to expect more from Lehane and in this instance he did not deliver.
1) I'd Know Her Anywhere by Laura Lippman - I expected a good read considering this was nominated for an Edgar Award, perhaps my expectations were too lofty. This had the potential to be a good book...had annnnnnnnnyyyyyyyything happened. It did not. Completely turned me off Lippman, possibly forever.

Bill Simmons Award (Best Sports Book) - Net Worth by David Cruise and Allison Griffiths.
Take everything you know about the NHL...then throw it out the window and prepare to become incensed. The authors dig deeply into the history of the game and provide deep and vivid portraits of the legends of the game. Stunning, insightful and a real vivisection of the game all Canadians love.

James Ellroy Award (Best Crime Book) - Desperados by Elaine Shannon. A cutting, explosive and fantastically researched look into the world of Drug Trafficking, this book sets a gold standard that may not be easily reached. Absolutely staggering in content, and surprisingly readable - this is a marathon read, not a sprint. At the end the reward is evident.

Robert Kurson Award (Best Adventure Book) - Diving into Darkness by Phillip Finch / Blind Descent by James Tabor. These two books are about the most extreme of men (and women!) and the edges of human experience. In Finch's book (Shadow-divers-lite) he expertly weaves the tale of two men who cave dive. His lucid prose makes the abyss so powerfully close that the reader is forced to shake themself several times during the reading. Tabor looks at the Bird / Magic of Caving and their exhaustive search for the final frontier of exploration on our planet - the deepest spot on Earth. Both are harrowing, claustrophobic reads that strap the reader to the chair and refuse to allow them to look away despite the horror.

Top 5 Books of 2011

5) Saturday Night by Doug Hill and Jeffery Weingrad - A view into the first ten years of Saturday Night Live seems like a strange choice for one of the best books of the year but this tome is anything but weighty. The portraits the authors provide are deeply moving and their commentary is spot on. A great look into one of the biggest television phenomenons of all-time with all your favorite characters present - Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi, Eddie Murphy...
4) In the Woods by Tana French - I very much did not want to include this book...and yet, it stuck with me so much that I have to. Elegantly written, spare and haunting, this bleak novel about two Irish detectives grappling with the past and a vicious killer features one of the most jaw dropping twists I have ever read. French builds you up to a logical conclusion and then yanks it away as if she were collapsing a JENGA tower. Pitch perfect.
3) The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo - My favorite of the Nesbo novels featuring Detective Harry Hole, this book takes place in a short period of time in which the main character chases an assassin who has killed the wrong man. Pulse pounding, intense and absolutely unputdownable.
2) Loose Balls by Terry Pluto - Probably the funniest book about sports (other than one written by Bill Simmons) this is a laugh out loud reading experience. Covering the ABA years, teams, players, coaches, scouts, GMs and announcers is a job best done in oral history style! The author also provides the single funniest quote ever by a wayward soul named Marvin "Bad News" Barnes who hated morning flights, and as such, upon being informed his flight left at 8am and arrived at 7:59am (due to time change) famously remarked: "I ain't flying on no time machine. I ain't taking no plane that goes back in time."
1) A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin - No series of books has ever captured the attention of my brother, mother, at least twenty people besides me around the pool in Hawaii and myself so expertly. Swords, knights, intrigue, twists aplenty all abound - but it is Martin's knack for thematic prose that pulls these novels out of the muck. He is writing about a dark, gritty world and he never shies away from this simple fact: "In the game of thrones you win or you die".

Author of the Year: Jo a whisker! George RR Martin contributed a highly entertaining television show in addition to his five books, but Nesbo's complex novels were enjoyed by everyone I know. They were books my beautiful girlfriend and I could both enjoy...and discuss. At one point we even considered a book club. They are page turning awesomeness and at the end of the year that is exactly what I want in a book. That Nesbo raises the stakes with a complex and literary twist to the genre just makes them all the more enjoyable.