My Top 20 Books of 2011

As of this writing, according to Goodreads, I have read 266 books this year. That’s a lot. A good number of them are romance novels that only take a few hours to consume and since losing my full-time job in May, I have lots of extra hours in the day. None of those appear on my “best of” list, however, so those of you who don’t read that genre don’t have to worry.

This list is in no particular order and consists of the books that I gave 4 and 5 stars this year on Goodreads. I have included links to the full reviews on my blog. Here goes:

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones

Hurricane by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Pym by Mat Johnson

Surrender the Dark by L.A. Banks

Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman
A very clever novel about an man who aspires to leave the corporate world and be a great American novelist. Unfortunately, his father has already achieved great notoriety as just that. Lots of funny anecdotes about the workplace.

The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser
Exactly what the subtitle says. Interesting stories about teens who have emigrated from all over the world and the lengths they have to go through to get an education in this country.

Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools by Steven Brill
Outlines the real problems in our schools today and gives a great history lesson on how they got that way. Especially eye-opening was the information about teacher’s unions and the power they wield.

The Gift by Elle

The GQ Candidate by Kelli Goff

The Shopping Diet by Phillip Bloch

Voice of America by E.C. Osondu

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Peace From Broken Pieces by Iyanla Vanzant

 If Sons, Then Heirs by Lorene Cary

Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World by Kathy Freston
An easy way to ease into the vegan lifestyle.

So, there you have it. Sorry it was so long, but I just couldn’t limit it to just 10. 

If Sons, Then Heirs

by Lorene Cary

If Sons, Then Heirs is a complex novel about family, legacy and land. For generations the Needham family has owned and worked the land in South Carolina, but after the patriarch, King is murdered and World War II,  most of the members made their way North leaving only Selma, King’s widow, behind. Alonzo Rayne, the 30 year old great-grandson of King, is one of the few who has stayed in touch and made annual pilgrimages back. On his latest trip it becomes clear that Selma is too old to maintain the property any longer and Rayne wants to sell the land and use the proceeds to provide housing and care for her. Selma has other ideas and doesn’t want the land to leave the family. But complex “heir property” laws make it impossible to do anything without the consent and participation of the entire family and Rayne isn’t sure if this is something he wants to tackle.  All of this coincides with the re-appearance of Rayne’s mother, who abandoned him in South Carolina when he was 7.

This is a compelling family saga that mirrors many stories of African-Americans in the South who have struggled to survive and hold on to land that others have tried (and in a lot of cases succeeded) to take away from then legally, illegally, and sometimes violently.  It also illustrates the the great migration North of people who no longer felt safe or that they had a viable future there.  My only issue was that the explanation of the entangled heir property laws left me confused a lot of times. But the rich, deep characters portrayed by Cary kept me completely engaged. Another one on my best of the year list.

Surrender the Dark

by L.A. Banks

This is the first book in a brand new series by L. A. Banks. I am woefully late to the wonderful urban, supernatural books by this author. But I’m all in now!

This new series will focus on fallen angels and there quest to help humans save themselves and Earth. Celeste Jackson has had a hard life made more complicated by the hallucinations and bad dreams that have plagued her. The drugs and alcohol that she uses as self-medication seem to stop the visions that others have diagnosed as schizophrenia. But forces greater than her know that while others think she is crazy, the things she sees are real and she is more powerful than she realizes. The angel Azrael is sent to help her unlock those powers and use them to defeat the darkness that threatens to overcome the planet permanently.

What I love soooooo much about these series by Banks, are that these events don’t take place in some far off land or some suburb that happens to be located on top of a “hellmouth” (no shade to Buffy fans), but in areas and neighborhoods that I would be familiar in, surrounded by people I know speaking the way I do. Urban settings like Philadelphia and Brooklyn feature prominently. Also, there are quite a few humorous scenes as well. Azrael coming to Earth and going to Whole Foods especially stands out.

I know that this is not considered literary fiction and may not win a bunch of awards, but I am certainly putting it on my list of favorites for 2011!