So this morning, we asked you to tell us what YOUR favorite book of 2011 was. Now, we're kicking off our "Best Books of 2011" coverage by sharing books #31-#50 from our Top 50 Books of 2011 list. In a year of best-selling biographies, anticipated debuts and long-awaited releases from literary heavyweights, our editors voted on the books they loved to come up with a list that encompasses all of the above while making room for a few surprises.
Let us know what you think of our selections—share your own with us—and stay tuned as we reveal more titles from the list over the coming weeks, leading up to the publication of the Top 10 books in our December issue.
31. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
32. Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell
33. To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
34. The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
35. Great Soul by Joseph Lelyveld
36. The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
37. Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan
38. A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
39. West of Here by Jonathan Evison
40. Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
41. The Realm of Hungry Spirits by Lorraine Lopez
42. Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
43. Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
44. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
45. The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey
46. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
47. A Covert Affair by Jennet Conant
48. The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
49. Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst
50. My New American Life by Francine Prose
What was your favorite book of 2011? Tell us, and you'll be entered to win 10 books in the genre of your choice.
The Dark Rose by Erin Kelly
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking • $26.95 • on sale February 6, 2012
Her follow-up, The Dark Rose, is just as creepy (filled with characters that are just as obsessive). In it, Paul and Louisa start a secret affair against the backdrop of an old Elizabethan garden. Paul was involved in a murder and ratted out his friend to avoid prison—and Louisa has some secrets of her own surrounding a man from her past named Adam. Louisa is renovating the garden, and she meets Paul when he's appointed to work there after his confession. They are connected from the moment they meet, because Paul looks eerily like Adam.
Here's an excerpt, from when Louisa first sees Paul (and mistakes him for Adam):
Louisa turned her attention back to the ruin. No matter how many times she saw it she could never quite commit the pattern of its stalagmites to memory. She let her hands trail along the damp walls, fingers lingering in ancient graffiti faded to indecipherable rune marks, wondering as ever who had stood here before her, what they had seen, and how faithfully she would be able to re-create their view. How light her workload would be if walls had mouths as well as ears, if these old stones could guide her through her project.
She did not expect anyone else to be up on the knoll and turned a bind corner without looking, head butting a chest that was at her eye level. She took a step back and so did he, his automatic "Sorry" gaining hers. Louisa raised her eyes. The apology died on her lips as she looked into the face of Adam Glasslake.
She gulped air that was like ice water, as though she'd been running on a freezing day. Her first thought was that the strength of her longing had finally called him into being, that she had conjured his spirit. For a ghost it had to be: Adam had not aged a day, and automatically, pathetically, she put her hand up to her own cheek, conscious of how different she must look to him, how old. But his breath misted the air like hers did, and his chest, when it collided with her forehead, had been warm. This was no face in a cloud, no phantom reflection. Confused, frightened, she flattened herself against the uneven wall, fingers splayed against the stone. Adam looked even more terrified than she.
We know our readers love suspense; our thriller-oriented contests nearly always get more entries than any other genre (see: Sandra Brown and George Pelecanos and Laura Lippman), and I routinely receive book fortune requests from readers who are eager to discover a new mystery author.
There's only so much room in the print edition of BookPage, though, and each month we can only cover four books in the Whodunit column. However, we are able to cover more suspense—from grisly to cozy—on BookPage.com. Here are a couple new releases we're happy to recommend:
The Burning is the U.S. debut by author Jane Casey and will appeal to fans of Tana French and Sophie Hannah. In a recent review, BookPage contributor Barbara Clark praised Casey's "deft characterizations and engrossing backstory," and also noted that while this book kicks off with a gory crime scene typical of the genre, it morphs into a "compulsively readable character study" that she couldn't put down.
The Devil's Puzzle is the fourth book in the Someday Quilts series by Clare O'Donohue, and it does not disappoint. O'Donohue—who has also worked as a producer on HGTV's "Simply Quilts," manages to combine fascinating quilting trivia with a compelling mystery (and a dash of romance!). As Clark writes for BookPage, "Both real and wannabe quilters will be delighted at the lore and explanations of this historical craft that are inserted neatly into the text, adding color and depth to the plot."
What mysteries are you reading lately? After mailing out yesterday's spooky-themed XTRA, I've heard that many readers like to up the mystery and suspense in their October reading. Are you among that group?
Reader name: Kammie
Hometown: Wayland, NY
Favorite genres: gothic, historical fiction, thrillers, suspense
Favorite authors: Joyce Carol Oates, John Jakes, Greg Isles, Patricia Cornwell, Gregory Maguire
Favorite books: the Wicked series, the North and South series, the Scarpetta Series, Black Water
Here are BookPage's suggestions for Kammie's next great read . . .
For a Gothic suspense novel, you can't go wrong with The Ghost Writer by John Harwood. This atmospheric psychological suspense tale is about a man who is haunted by the past and discovers the chilling truth about his mother's secret. Turn-of-the-century horror stories are interwoven into the plot.
In Drood, Dan Simmons imagines the events that inspired Charles Dickens' unfinished final work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Simmons excels at classic science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery and historical fiction, and Drood could be rightly categorized as a detective story, a bloody horror novel and historical fiction. It's also a brick of a book, at nearly 800 pages.
If readers are into epic sagas à la John Jakes' North and South trilogy, they can't go wrong with Ken Follett's new Century Trilogy, starting with Fall of Giants, which came out nearly a year ago. (The paperback goes on sale on August 30.) The trilogy is about the intertwined fates of five families—American, English, German, Russian and Welsh—throughout the 20th century. Fall of Giants takes readers through World War I, the Russian Revolution and the struggle for women’s suffrage.
What books do you think Kammie should read, based on her list of favorites?
Put your name in the hat for your own book fortune by sending an e-mail to bookfortunes (at) bookpage (dot) com.
It's always exciting to see the announcement of a new Mo Hayder novel. Hayder's last mystery, Gone, was our Top Pick in the February 2011 Whodunit column. Her next book is called Hanging Hill and will be published by Grove in February 2012 (it was published in the UK by Bantam this April).
This one's a standalone about sisters Sally and Zoe. Sally is a wife and mother whose husband's wealth has sheltered her. Zoe is a detective inspector in Bath with a shady secret past beneath her squeaky-clean and solid present. But when Sally's daughter is threatened, her world changes and she reaches out to Zoe for help, forcing her sister back into a dark world that Zoe thought she'd escaped forever. You can find out an excerpt here.
Hayder excels at creating complicated, strong female characters, and Hanging Hill sounds like one of her best. Will you pick it up?
Everyone's favorite rugged sleuth now has a face: Tom Cruise will play Jack Reacher in a film based on Lee Child's One Shot. From the actor's official website: "[We are] excited to confirm that Tom Cruise will play the rugged Jack Reacher in the movie ‘One Shot,’ adapted from the 2005 Lee Child novel."
Not everyone is so excited. Most are citing Cruise's short stature and everyman persona as traits that make him exactly wrong to play Reacher. "[I]f you’re casting Jack Reacher, a French/American ex-military cop who stands 6’5? and often breezes into any given burg looking like a giant disheveled blond bum, then Tom Cruise is the opposite of the man you should be looking for," states slashfilm in a post that doesn't mince words.
EW's Popwatch is more enthusiastic. "Reacher is like a grittier, real-world version of Ethan Hunt from the Mission: Impossible series — he drifts from town to town with no luggage, pitching in to help crime victims, and using his military training and resourcefulness to get out of jams." Lee Child also approves. "Reacher's size in the books is a metaphor for an unstoppable force, which Cruise portrays in his own way," the author told Deadline.
Cruise was pretty good in the MI movies, so maybe he's got a shot here. The film starts shooting September 27 in Philadelphia—which, coincidentally, is the day the 16th Reacher novel, The Affair, will be published by Delacorte.
Just one question remains: where does Cruise as Reacher lie on the scale of book-to-film casting nightmares?* Weigh in in the comments!
The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061706516
on sale August 23, 2011
In general, I prefer stand-alone suspense novels to series, so I was thrilled to learn that Lippman has a September book coming out that is indeed a stand alone—and not part of her series about Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan.
The Most Dangerous Thing alternates between the present and the 1970s. It's about five childhood friends who come together again after one of their group dies in a car accident . . . and a secret comes out.
Here's an early scene from the friend's funeral:
Gwen was spared funerals as a child and accepted this practice, as she accepted so many of her parents' practices, as the inarguably right thing to do. Certainly, it never occurred to her to bring Annabelle to Go-Go's visitation, and she is shocked to see how many young children are here. More disturbing, they are gathered around the open casket, inspecting Go-Go with a respectful but palpable excitement. A dead person! This is what a dead person looks like! In the fact of their bravery, how can Gwen not come forward and look as well?
A dead person this may well be, but it is not the boy she remembers and not only because he is thirty years older than the Go-Go who lives in her memory. This person is too still, his features too composed. Go-Go was never still.
"Gwen." Doris Halloran holds her hands tightly, peers into her face, as if nearsighted. "Pretty little Gwen. You look wonderful."
She does? She doesn't feel as if she looks wonderful. True, she is thin. She has no appetite as of late. But she is pretty sure that the lack of food has made her face gaunt, her hair dull and dry. Then again, maybe it's all relative. She looks better than Go-Go, for example. And better than Mrs. Halloran, whose face is white and puffy in a way that cannot be explained by mere grieving. Her eyes are like little raisins deep in an uncooked loaf, her mouth ringed by wrinkles.
Good news for fans of intelligent suspense: Tom Rob Smith's final novel in the Leo Demidov trilogy, which began with the remarkable Child 44, has a release date. Agent 6 (Grand Central) will be published in January 2012.
The book opens in 1965, when Leo and his family are sent to New York City to help warm relations between America and the USSR. But tragedy strikes while he's there, and Moscow denies his request to investigate the wrong done to his family. Leo doesn't take no for an answer, however. As the publisher puts it:
In a surprising, epic story that spans decades and continents—from 1950s Moscow to 1960s America to the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s—Leo's long pursuit of justice will force him to confront everything he ever thought he knew about his country, his family, and himself.
Child 44 came out three years ago this month, and I remember taking the galleys home, intrigued by the concept (a serial killer in Stalinist Russia) but not expecting anything else about the book to be out of the common way. To my surprise, I couldn't put it down. Anyone else looking forward to picking up Agent 6?
p.s. on his blog, Smith says he's working on a fourth book that is "something completely new." He adds, "all I can say at the moment is that it’s a thriller, and it’s not set in the Soviet Union." Also, if anyone speaks German, they have a site up for the German edition of Agent 6 already (it will be released in Europe and the UK this fall).
I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
William Morrow • $14.99 • ISBN 9780062070753
paperback on sale May 3, 2011 • hardcover available now
I'd Know You Anywhere is about a 38-year-woman, Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped when she was 15. Her kidnapper killed a handful of other girls, and Eliza was his only victim who survived. The mystery in the novel is the "why"—why was Eliza allowed to live? The action alternates between the present, where the killer is on death row and set to be executed, and the past, when he took Eliza. In the present—seemingly out of the blue—he has contacted Eliza and wants to explain what happened. As you might imagine, his presence turns her life upside down. . .
It's been said before and I'll say it again: Lippman is not just a great suspense writer, but she is a great writer. When the novel first came out in August, reviewer Susan Schwartzman called it a "compelling and provocative psychological thriller." I wanted to remind you of the novel again now because it comes out in paperback in two weeks. Here's an excerpt to pique your interest:
Her mouth freed, she thought for a moment about screaming her head off but found she could not make the sounds come. She was too frightened, too scared. His hands lingered near her throat. She thought about the mound of dirt where she had first seen the man, working with his shovel. He had not said, explicitly, what he had done, but she knew. He was capable of killing someone. He had done it. Elizabeth decided in that moment that she would do whatever was necessary to survive. She would endure whatever plans he had for her, as long as she was allowed to live.
"What's your name?" she whispered.
"Walter," he said. "I think sometimes I should shorten it to Walt. What do you think?"
She was terrified that there was a right answer, and she wouldn't give it. "Both are nice."
The daughter of an FBI agent, P.M. Terrell wrote 12 novels solo before starting on a collaborative effort with T. Randy Stevens. Here, she shares her tips for a successful team writing project with BookPage readers.
Writing times two
guest post by P.M. Terrell
Years ago, I met a married couple who had gone from writing romance to murder mysteries. I think there’s something Freudian in that, but I was also struck by the concept of two individuals collaborating on one book. I doubted I would ever want to do it. But with my latest suspense novel, The Banker’s Greed, that is precisely what I did. And I would eagerly do it again.
T. Randy Stevens, the CEO and Chairman of the Board of First Farmers Bank, approached me with a draft and asked me if I would consider editing or rewriting it. I knew when I read the story—about a banker’s daughter who is kidnapped and all the clues lead to her father—that he had a compelling plot and multi-faceted characters. But I also knew that I did not want to take another person’s story and rewrite it. It was his idea and I wanted it to be a team effort.
For months, Randy wrote his chapters in the middle of the night. I’d arrive at my office to find his emailed chapters waiting for me. I’d spend the day massaging them, adding my “flair” and emailing him with suggestions and ideas. We went back and forth like this and the pages began to accumulate. Then we progressed to rewriting, editing and perfecting it.
I was fortunate because Randy is a dream to work with. For authors considering a collaborative effort, I recommend: