Skip to main content Reviewers Pick Their Favorite Books of 2011

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2011. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.

Kate Ayers

Tom Callahan

  • TABLOID CITY by Pete Hamill
    Three of the four greatest living American writers published books this year, and three of them occupy the first four spots of my annual list. First up is Pete Hamill’s tale of loneliness, crime, terror and the death of newspapers set over 24 hours in the greatest city in the world, New York. This is a masterpiece. Hamill just keeps getting better with age.
  • BRANCH RICKEY by Jimmy Breslin
    At 81 years young, Jimmy Breslin went back to writing his newspaper column this year, which was reason enough to give thanks. But he also published a slim volume that shows that sports do not have to be just about money and greed. This is the story of the man who helped launch an American social movement by paving the way for another man, Jackie Robinson, to play baseball for his team, the Brooklyn Dodgers. Nobody can tell a story like Breslin.
  • GETTING OFF: A Novel of Sex & Violence by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson
    This year also brought welcomed news of the return of the great Hard Case Crime books. And what better way to start than with a noir gem from a true master of the genre, Lawrence Block. This might be the most sexually explicit and violent book ever published, but that should not distract from the fact that it is a terrific read. James M. Cain could not have written a better book.
  • A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF by Lawrence Block
    Block had an excellent year this year, publishing a total of six new books. But his longtime fans were thrilled to see the return of his most famous character, Matt Scudder, the alcoholic private eye. And Block, as usual, did not disappoint, setting his story long in the past but still with the urban grit we expect from a Scudder tale.
  • WHEN THE THRILL IS GONE: A Leonid McGill Mystery by Walter Mosley
    Walter Mosley’s third outing with his damaged New York private eye, Leonid McGill, delivered another great read. McGill seeks redemption in a world that might no longer provide it. The prolific Mosley continues to redefine the mystery genre after ending his popular Easy Rawlins series.
  • THE PACK by Jason Starr
    With each and every book he does, Jason Starr shows how great he is as both a storyteller and a writer. His books are fresh and innovative, and impossible to put down. THE PACK plays perfectly into the underlying terror of our uncertain times.
  • CHOKE HOLD by Christa Faust
    Christa Faust’s second novel featuring former porn star Angel Dare is filled with suspense and violence. Faust knows how to write great pulp noir that delivers a powerful emotional punch. It is a tremendous amount of fun.
  • QUARRY’S EX by Max Allan Collins
    Few writers are as prolific as Max Allan Collins, and he long ago proved himself as a great mystery writer. But this series about an ordinary hit man named Quarry started in the 1970s and was resurrected for Hard Case Crime several years ago. It is a wonderful, entertaining series, and its latest installment is one of the best and well worth the time.

Harvey Freedenberg



Sarah Hannah Gomez

Amy Gwiazdowski

Joe Hartlaub

Stephen Hubbard

Honorable Mention: THE BLACK GOD'S WAR by Moses Siregar III

Bronwyn Miller

  • BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey
    Hands down, this was the book I was most looking forward to, and Fey exceeded all my expectations. I read it in manuscript, bought several copies of the hardcover, and gave it to friends as gifts, and even have the audiobook on my iPod.
    This was recommended by a friend, and I was really grabbed by the story, right out of the gate.
  • A GOOD HARD LOOK by Ann Napolitano
    I love anything having to do with Flannery O’Connor, so the fact that she was a lead character in this story sold me. It’s also a well-crafted and engaging tale of four people rocketing towards inevitable disaster.
  • RULES OF CIVILITY by Amor Towles
    This felt like an old-fashioned novel, like THE GREAT GATSBY or THE GROUP. Like a gem from long ago.
  • COMING UP FOR AIR by Patti Callahan Henry
    Perfect summer read from an author who’s ratcheting up her work a notch.
  • THEN AGAIN by Diane Keaton
    A compelling and poignant memoir from the actress who also chronicles her mother’s life and struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • MAINE by J. Courtney Sullivan
    This one threw me for a loop. I thought I was getting a fun, summer read and whammo! You get a hard-hitting, engrossing family saga filled with regret, resentment and real-life drama. It was hard to put down.
  • THE MARRIAGE PLOT by Jeffrey Eugenides
    Not an easy read. It has so much detail to it, but well worth the effort.

L. Dean Murphy

  • THE SILENT LAND by Graham Joyce
    With deft brush strokes in his lucky 13th novel, Graham Joyce paints a tapestry of intrigue and Hitchcock-like suspense, sort of a cross between Stephen King’s THE LANGOLIERS and “The Twilight Zone.”
    R.J. Ellory is the Stephen King of crime fiction. This is a complex tale of murder and those who solve the crimes, with an undercurrent of counter-intelligence espionage. Detective Robert Miller investigates serial homicides in Washington, DC, only to learn that the victims do not officially exist. VIOLENCE won the UK Crime Novel of the Year Award.
  • PLUGGED by Eoin Colfer
    If Carl Hiassen married Raymond Chandler and engaged Dave Barry to be a surrogate mother, PLUGGED would be the progeny. Oh, grow up! This is a zany crime caper where such things are possible. (The bestselling author’s name is pronounced Owen.)
  • THE POISON TREE by Erin Kelly
    Honor student Karen Clarke embraces eccentric Biba’s intoxicating aura, Karen’s “tipping point between innocence and experience.” This extraordinarily talented debut novelist is compared to Barbara Vine and Tana French. Au contraire! It is they who should be compared to Kelly. Literary fiction disguised as a thriller, this is one of my best reads in decades.
  • EGYPT: The Book of Chaos by Nick Drake
    Nick Drake puts a cherry on top of his trilogy sundae with this final historical whodunit at the end of Egypt’s 18th dynasty. Childless Queen Ankhesenamun, Tutankhamun’s widow, desperately tries to keep Egypt’s world from ending in chaos.
  • A BURIAL AT SEA by Charles Finch
    Murder and mutiny aboard an Egypt-bound naval vessel in 1873 make Charles Finch’s fifth historical whodunit a surefire “best sailor.”
  • A KILLER’S ESSENCE by Dave Zeltzerman
    Detective Stan Green battles with his personal and professional lives. Subtle horror, jalapeño-hot suspense and intense intrigue meld in Dave Zeltserman’s five-star psychological crime thriller.
  • V IS FOR VENGEANCE by Sue Grafton
    Kinsey Millhone is back with a vengeance! And a busted nose on her 38th birthday, in a complex plot more in line with the writing style that made Sue Grafton a top crime novelist.
    A Bourne thriller! Current events and stealth make this installment seem more fact than fiction. With more twists and turns than a Napa Valley of grapevines, the non-stop action and resourceful Bourne plucked a fourth from my Star Jar.
  • THE BONE YARD: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass
    According to the authors (Jefferson Bass is forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Bass and journalist Jon Jefferson), this novel is “fiction that is deeply rooted in the soil of grim realities,” a fact-based book publishers call “faction” and an astounding forensic crime thriller.

Ray Palen

Roz Shea

  • STATE OF WONDER by Ann Patchett
    As good as, or maybe even better than, her bestselling BEL CANTO
  • FALL OF GIANTS: Book One of the Century Trilogy by Ken Follett
    This is the first in a historical fiction trilogy of the history of the 20th century. Absolutely gripping, and I'm waiting with bated breath for #2 to come out. 
  • A TRICK OF THE LIGHT: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny
    A mystery that is so well written and steeped in knowledge and atmosphere that it made me seek out her other books.
  • DREAMS OF JOY by Lisa See
    Historical fiction about young Chinese girls who escaped China at the outbreak of World War II and their adjustment to American life. No writer has better captured the voice and heart of Chinese culture both in America and in China --- first in SHANGHAI GIRLS and now in DREAMS OF JOY.
  • FEAST DAY OF FOOLS by James Lee Burke
    I don't know how he does it, but Burke just gets better with each new book. 

Stuart Shiffman

  • THE ART OF FIELDING by Chad Harbach
    Sometimes when you read a book’s final pages, you begin to wish it would not come to an end. For me,that book was THE ART OF FIELDING. From beginning to end, it was a novel with wonderful characters, plot, insight and literary references. Sometime this spring, I will take it off the shelf and read it again.
  • THE SUBMISSION by Amy Waldman
    Earlier this year, a contentious debate erupted in New York City regarding a mosque near Ground Zero. THE SUBMISSION was an eerily prescient novel foreshadowing public reaction to such a decision. The public attitude and response is captured by the author in a well-written novel that has the perfect blend of the conflicting emotions and mental scars still suffered by our nation.
  • SWEETNESS: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman
    Chicago Bears fans protested when excerpts of this book reflected poorly on Walter Payton, an iconic figure in Chicago sports. But this book is not a hatchet job on him. It’s a wonderful biography that captures an era and life in our nation. In addition, football fans will be reminded of many great players and teams of the 1980s. Go Bears!
  • THE FIFTH WITNESS by Michael Connelly
    Michael Connelly is one of the best at crime and courtroom novels. In this Mickey Haller mystery, the fifth in theseries,Haller defends a foreclosure client charged with the murder of a bank officer. The courtroom scenes are well-written, and the characters are very real. Connelly continues to produce great books.
    In these dysfunctional political times,it is important to recall that it need not be so. The Eisenhower years were a time when politicians were willing to set aside partisanship for the good of the nation. This easily readable history reminds us that it can be done. Jim Newton, a reporter for the L.A. Times, has produced a biography that is balanced regardless of political viewpoint.

Melanie Smith

Donna Volkenannt

  • ON CANAAN’S SIDE by Sebastian Barry
    An elegantly written, touching story of love and loss, sorrow and joy, secrets and surprises.
  • KILLING LINCOLN: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
    A suspenseful historical narrative that chronicles events that changed America.
    A fast-paced thriller that doesn’t shy away from dark and bloody scenes, while at the same time being surprisingly tender.
  • THE MAID: A Novel of Joan of Arc by Kimberly Cutter
    The book is written with vivid details and lovely prose, portraying the range of emotions of Jehanne (Joan of Arc), an uneducated peasant teenage girl who struggles with the destiny she must fulfill.

Shelby Wardlaw

  • CATHERINE THE GREAT: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
  • MILLER, BUKOWSKI & THEIR ENEMIES: Essays on Contemporary Culture, by Guillermo O'Joyce
  • THE CURFEW by Jesse Ball
  • THE GOLDEN CAGE: Three Brothers, Three Choices, One Destiny by Shirin Ebadi

Kathy Weissman


  • THE LONDON TRAIN by Tessa Hadley
    Two narrators, male and female, lend detail and dimension to a subtle novel about the ambiguities of marriage.
  • THE SUBMISSION by Amy Waldman
    Deservedly praised, this nuanced novel speculates on what might happen if the winner of a 9/11 memorial competition turns out to be a Muslim architect named Mohammed Khan.
  • THE STRANGER'S CHILD by Alan Hollinghurst
    An absorbing multigenerational saga that manages to suggest classic literary models (Brideshead comes to mind) while remaining refreshingly modern.


  • STRANGE RELATION: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry, by Rachel Hadas
    A poet's story of how she survived the early-onset dementia of her composer husband.


    Brilliant, tough, moving, intricately plotted. As always, this Scottish writer transcends the genre.
  • SISTER by Rosamund Lupton
    Fascinating first novel that is as clever as it is poignant.
    Another fabulous debut that plays masterfully with the notion of amnesia.
  • STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson
    Witty, sardonic, literate, often more than slightly surreal, the Jackson Brodie mysteries --- this is the latest --- are anything but routine whodunits.