Friday, December 9, 2011

My Three Favorite Reads of 2011

I used to read a lot; roughly seventy books a year. I would finish one novel and immediately start on the next. My library card probably spent more time out of my wallet than in.

Then I started writing seriously and found that making time to write cut deeply into my  reading time. Don't get me wrong, I still love to read and always will, but instead of reading seventy books a year, now I'm probably down to around twenty.

That being the case, I almost never try a book any more that I'm not reasonably sure I'm going to enjoy, which in some ways is a shame. It's kind of fun to take a chance on an author or a book title I've never heard of, with a description I'm a little leery about.

But on the other hand, reading only books I believe I'm going to enjoy makes it really difficult to pick my favorites. Plus, as a writer, I know how much blood sweat and tears it takes to write a book, so I'm not about to trash anyone's work.

And I want to be clear about one thing: This is a list of my favorite books of 2011, not necessarily the best books of 2011. I didn't read anything close to the number of books to be able to venture an educated opinion on the best books. But I sure do know what I like, and I really dug the following three titles.

So, without further ado, here we go. My three favorite books of 2011:

#3 - The Bastard Hand - Heath Lowrance, New Pulp Press

This book was my introduction to Heath Lowrance's work, and it held me spellbound from the first page to its final, shocking conclusion. Lowrance uses exquisite powers of description to evoke a rich southern aura, while weaving a tale of sex, violence and corruption.

I reviewed The Bastard Hand back in April, if you're interested in a fuller description of the book, but if you enjoy noir, or even just outstanding fiction, you're doing yourself a disservice if you haven't yet checked out this debut effort.

Heath Lowrance has followed The Bastard Hand up with a short story collection and several standalone shorts, and you can't go wrong with any of them. Rumor has it he's working on a second novel.

#2 - The Paradise Prophecy - Robert Browne, Penguin

Robert Browne is a former screenwriter who penned his first novel just five years ago. I had read most of his previous work and enjoyed it when I picked up The Paradise Prophecy, but had no idea what I was getting into. Robert Browne has stepped up to the next level with this book, writing a thriller that puts him in a class with the best of the best.

The Paradise Prophecy is based on John Milton's Paradise Lost, but if that premise sounds dry and uninteresting, all you have to do is open the book and you'll lose yourself in a globetrotting thriller filled with intrigue, deception and a final, supernatural apocalyptic confrontation.

I was fortunate enough to interview Robert Browne in October, and found him to be not just a talented author, but a gracious and humble individual as well. Considering the ability he demonstrates with his latest book, that's saying something.

#1 - Every Shallow Cut - Tom Piccirilli - ChiZine Publications

I love genre fiction, and one of the elements of genre fiction I love the most is noir. It's gritty and brutal and honest, and for my money, the leading practitioner of modern noir fiction is Tom Piccirilli. Every Shallow Cut might just be the best thing he's ever written.

It's a novella - a noirella, as he likes to call them - and not a full-length novel, but that didn't matter to me and shouldn't matter to you. Every Shallow Cut cuts like a knife and packs a punch that will stay with you long after you've finished reading. Piccirilli picks at scabs we can all relate to with his work, and he's going to have a hard time topping this beauty.

I reviewed Every Shallow Cut back in March, if you're interested, but if I were you I wouldn't bother checking it out. Just go to Amazon or wherever you prefer to buy your books, and get this one. You'll be blown away.

Actually, I can say that about all three of my favorite reads for 2011. You can't go wrong with any of them.


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