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My Penultimate List of Favorites

For my penultimate list of favorite books of 2011, I've assembled a bit of a hodgepodge, an olio, a miscellaneous, an et cetera. In other words, this is a list of books which either don't properly fit into any other list or that I forgot about or whatever.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a book that captivated me from the moment I began reading. It's a lush and lyrical, dreamy and sensual historical novel about love and magic and the most strangely beautiful circus ever. The narrative spans decades and centers on the competition and romance between the magicians Celia and Marco, one of whom will not survive. Morgenstern's descriptions of the circus and its environs are so rich that, like many of the characters in the book, the reader will be left with a distinct longing to track it down and become part of it, no matter the cost.

On the other end of the spectrum is Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil All the Time, which is in no way lovely or dreamy. It is a harsh, brutal novel that left me reeling. It's not an easy book and certainly won't appeal to every reader, but easily moved Mr. Pollock to my "Must Read" list.

I could have easily included Stephen King's 11/22/63 on the Science Fiction and Fantasy list, but decided to put it here for no reason other than I could. (Plus, it allowed me to include a book on that other list that would otherwise have been relegated to "Honorable Mention" status.) On the surface, this is a book about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. In truth, though, it's a book about relationships and about choices and about secrets and about how the three affect each other. I've given up trying to pigeonhole King and instead just remain grateful that there is one author I can always count on to keep me turning pages as fast as I can.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is a literary mash-up of one of my most despised novels of all time (Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter) and one of my perennial re-reads (Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale), but is also something uniquely its own. I started reading because I thought the cover was gorgeous (Hey! Don't judge! I'm sure I'm not the only one who's picked up a book for that reason.), but kept reading because I was fascinated by the world Jordan had created, where criminals were "chromed" (had their skin dyed different colors) for their crimes and the Evangelical Right held sway both politically and morally. And, I loved the fact that, though the ending may seem happy, after the events that had gone before, I wasn't quite sure.

And, last but by no means least, there's Bonnie Jo Campbell's Once Upon a River. For some reason, I read a lot of books about women taking water journeys — on rivers, through swamps, across the ocean — this year. Of all of them, though, this is the one that has stuck with me the longest. I enjoyed watching Margo take charge of her own life and, in the end, achieve a state of contentment, if not outright happiness.

My next post will be the final one in this series and it will take my focus back to Romance. Specifically, to those Romance novels of 2011 that I loved but for whatever reason never got around to writing about before now.

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Billie Bloebaum is a bona fide romance reader and would be reading romance novels even if she weren't reviewing them. She is also a new convert to eBooks, thanks to the writers of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, who kindly loaned her a Sony Reader. However, since Billie has a deep and abiding love for the traditional book, she attempts to review books that are available in both formats.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. The Handmaid's Tale
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  2. When She Woke
    Used Hardcover $9.50
  3. 11/22/63
    Used Hardcover $12.50
  4. The Devil All the Time
    Used Hardcover $8.50
  5. The Night Circus
    Used Hardcover $9.95
  6. Once upon a River
    Used Hardcover $8.50

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