Friday, December 9, 2011

Our Best Reads of 2011

By Kim

All of us at What Women Write are compulsive readers as well as writers. As 2011 comes to a close we thought it may be fun to share the books we loved most this year. As you will see, our taste is varied. There are only two books we have all agreed on. The first was The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and the second is a book that won't hit the bookstores until sometime in 2013 - namely Calling Me Home by our very own Julie Kibler!

Have you read any of the books we mention below? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Inspired to run to your nearest bookstore and pick one up? We’d love to hear that, too.

Susan Poulos

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- (probably one of the best books I have ever read.)
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht
Bent Road by Lori Roy
The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I would classify all of them as literary fiction, although Lori's is probably considered a literary thriller. I also think that all except for State of Wonder are debuts... imagine that!!

Kim Bullock

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley - I devoured this historical mystery in two days!

Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland – I picked this one up because I love everything by Susan Vreeland, and this one happens to take place in NYC in the same year my great-grandfather was there. He even knew Mr. Tiffany. Clara was unforgettable – very ahead of her time.

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman – This was a beautiful novel about three WWII soldiers and their wives.

The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen – I love books with artist protagonists, and there are so many Canadian authors who are neglected in US markets.

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin - I challenge anyone to forget Vinnie! What an incredible life.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene - Very unique voice, and a haunting narrative.

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton – The woman is a genius. Any of her books are wonderful.

Elizabeth Lynd

Sally Gunning! She has three, The Widow’s War; Bound; and The Rebellion of Jane Clarke (which I think came out in 2011). All are absolutely perfect.

Joan Mora

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
22 Britannia Road, by Amanda Hodgkinson
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
The Persimmon Tree, by Bryce Courtenay
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks (1/2 way finished!)

What do all these books have in common? Stellar character and voice!

Pamela Hammonds

My reading choices tend to be all over the place--humor, memoir, women's fiction and more. But my most memorable reads for this year are:

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
Unplanned by Abby Johnson
Stop Dressing Your Six-year-old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark
Another Man's War by Sam Childers
Best Kept Secret by Amy Hatvany
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

But I'll have to say, my greatest source of reading pleasure this past year came from my fellow What Women Writers. I read Julie's manuscript in early 2011, just finished Susan's and will soon finish Joan's. Next year, I plan to read Kim's and Elizabeth's completed manuscripts. And hopefully they will be reading mine before too long as well.

Julie Kibler

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson - Each time I read a book set in England, I want to go back. Immediately. This was a quiet book with a big message.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I waited too long to read this. Loved it/hated it. Was sucked in and could barely climb out when finished, but have somehow managed to not read the second and third in the series yet. I can't wait for the movie.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum - I believe we will read holocaust stories forever and never comprehend the horror of all that happened.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo - I wonder, when I read a book like this, what took me so long to pick it up.

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan - Like my novel, this explores pushing racial boundaries to the point of danger. Another one I waited too long to read.

How to Be An American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway - I loved this even more due to getting to know Margaret in person beforehand and recognizing the bits and pieces of her heart that are hidden in this story.

Before I Forget by Leonard Pitts, Jr. - I read this based on Carleen Brice's recommendation while researching point of view for my manuscript, and I couldn't put it down. A heartrending father/son story.

Falling Under by Danielle Younge-Ullman - My fellow Backspacer reissued this digitally after the rights reverted back to her. It's not for the faint of heart, and if you are a child of divorce, you will recognize your own heart on every single page.

How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal- Because I read Barbara's new stories every single year and love them every single year.

Barbara's was the only one on this list originally published in 2011! Many I've listed have stood the test of time—they aren't newly published, but they've stayed on the shelves and gone back for printing after printing and appear on many lists. The reasons are obvious when you read them. But when I consider my books-read list, I see many 2011 books I loved, too! It's hard to choose "favorites."

What are your favorite books of 2011? We'd love to hear from you!


  1. I just joined a new book club and will print out this list and take it to our next meeting. Thanks for all the great suggestions! (I think several will also end up as presents.)

  2. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book changed my world view. Calories, not oil, are the currency, and bio-terrorism is the tool of corporate greed. Set in near-future Thailand. Author lives in Colorado.
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Beginning in 1799, this sweeping story highlights the intrigue behind efforts of the Dutch to open the Japanese Empire to the world and Japan’s resistance. Author has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in Ireland.
    A Carrion Death by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, writing as Michael Stanley. This mystery, introducing Detective Kubu and taking place in modern-day Botswana, tells of fake diamonds (or are they?), murder, old families, and the skill and intellect of the larger-than-live (really—the name Kubu is taken from the Batswana word for hippopotamus). Sears lives in Johannesburg, South Africa; and Trollip divides his time between Minneapolis, Minnesota, and South Africa.
    All of these books share outstanding writing, voice, pace, tension, and story. Writers can learn how to start a story in The Windup Girl, how to handle different cultures and keep a story going over time and place in The Thousand Autumns, and how to hold back information in A Carrion Death.

  3. Wow, Carol! Thank you for such a thoughtful post! I haven't read any of those and they sound great, especially A Thousand Autumns.

  4. Thanks for these lists. I'm putting books on my holiday list right now (the week after Christmas reserved for a veritable glut of reading) and now have my new ideas for the list, including my talented friend Sally Gunning.

  5. Kate,

    Thank you so much for stopping by! I see you're a Mainer, too (at least part time.) I live in Texas now, but I grew up on the Sugarloaf ski resort!

    I'm glad our list was helpful for you. I'll have to check out some of your books for a change of pace from my usual reading taste of historical and mainstream fiction. I like to mix it up!


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