I had a goal to read 25 books during 2011. I'm happy to report that I achieved that goal. In fact, I read 27 books, so I'm pretty pleased with myself. Here's my list -- anything with three or more stars is recommended:
1. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman -- 2 stars. Urban fantasy. I'd heard a lot about what a great, amazing writer Neil Gaiman was, so I was expecting more depth and stylistic distinction than this book offered. Still, it was interesting, and I didn't feel like I wasted my time, much. I cared what happened to the characters, and I thought the villainous Mr Croup was kind of funny -- perhaps because we both share a love of words.
2. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde -- 3 stars. Science fiction-ish. A humorous and sometimes moving story with lots of fun stuff for litgeeks like me.
3. The Last Cato, by Matilde Asensi -- 3 stars. Adventure/mystery that has been compared to The Da Vinci Code. It was a bit far-fetched at the end, but overall I found it more suspenseful and erudite than The Da Vinci Code, and the characters were a lot smarter.
4. The River of Shadows, by Robert V S Redick - 5 stars. Fantasy. I've previously reviewed this book here. And I've mentioned at other times that Redick is one of my favorite authors. I continue to recommend his books, because he deserves wider attention than I think he's getting.
5. Nation Within: The History of the American Occupation of Hawaii, by Tom Coffman -- 4 stars. Non-fiction, history. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of and current socio-political situation in Hawai'i. I found it a little hard to read at times because it seemed sort of oddly organized and the author sometimes went off on long tangents. If it had been better (or differently) organized, I would've given it five stars. Even so, it was an intriguing and well-researched history of foreign involvement (sometimes at the request of native leaders) in Hawai'i, which culminated, through a sad conjunction of growing US imperialist aims, in the illegal overthrow and annexation of the kingdom of Hawai'i, against the express will of the native population.
6. The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston McCulley -- 2 stars. Historical fiction. Worth reading mostly for culturally historical reasons and not because it's great literature. Personally, I think a viewing of the 1940 movie with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell is more worthwhile.
7. The Affinity Bridge, by George Mann - 3 stars. Steampunk. The first book in the Newbury and Hobbes Investigations series. I've previously reviewed this book here. It's great fun to read, and if it hadn't been for the zombies and the typos, I would've given it four stars. I recommend it.
8. The Court of the Air, by Stephen Hunt -- 4 stars. Steampunk/fantasy. If you want skilled writing, engaging characters, and non-stop action, this book is for you. I wanted to give it 5 stars, but I thought it got a little over-the-top towards the end.
9. Bellwether, by Connie Willis -- 4 stars. Science fiction-ish. Witty, illuminating, and a lot of fun to read.
10. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman -- 4 stars. Non-fiction, sociology. Everyone should read this book. It's fascinating and informative, and has only been proven (mostly) true since its publication in 1985. Ever wonder why the educational system is a mess (and why punky students give substitute teachers such a hard time)? Why politics can't accomplish anything? Here's an explanation of a big part of the reason. And the chapters are short! And there are anecdotes!
11. The Osiris Ritual, by George Mann -- 3 stars. Steampunk. Another action-packed outing with Newbury and Hobbes in an alternate Victorian London. Not quite as thrilling as the first one, but a solid effort.
12. Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks -- 3 stars. Historical fiction. Well-written story loosely based on a real historical figure, a young Wampanoag man who graduated from Harvard in 1665. Lots of lovely description of Martha's Vineyard, lots of interesting historical stuff, and a somewhat irritating heroine.
13-19. The Harry Potter series by J K Rowling -- 3-4 stars. Children's/YA fantasy. This is only the second time I've read these books. I liked them all right when I first read them (except The Order of the Phoenix, in which I thought Harry was annoyingly whiny), but I always thought I would've liked them much better if I'd first read them as a child. I had no interest in reading them again until I started rewatching the movies in preparation for the final film. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed the books much more during this second reading. They may not be great literature, but they are great stories. I even found The Order of the Phoenix considerably less annoying.
20. Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities, by John M Ellis -- 4 stars. Non-fiction, sociology-ish. Mostly persuasive, this book is still relevant even though it was written over 15 years ago. The poor Humanities.... Sometimes my cheeks grow soaking wet when I think of what has been done to Romeo and Juliet.
21. Blind Justice, by Bruce Alexander -- 4 stars. Historical mystery. Alexander had a good ear for recreating 18th-century English (language) style without being off-putting. The mystery, while pretty easy to figure out given the clues, was engaging. It was the kind of book I find hard to put down.
22. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman -- 5 stars. YA urban(ish) fantasy. One of the best books I read during 2011. I've read (or tried to read) stuff by Neil Gaiman before and have never understood why he has the reputation he does. This book is great, though, and if other people see his other work the way I see this book, then I get it.
23. The Immorality Engine, by George Mann -- 3 stars. Steampunk. I keep wanting to give Mann's Newbury and Hobbes stories 4 stars, but there's an unevenness to the writing that keeps me from doing so. The stories are exciting, but every once in a while there's something a little disconcerting -- the writing grows weak or the formula becomes obvious -- and then all of a sudden there's a lovely moment of characterization or some brilliant description that makes up for it. Anyway, I'm looking forward to further installments and I recommend the series.
24. A Lesson in Secrets, by Jacqueline Winspear -- 2 stars. Historical mystery. The eighth Maisie Dobbs book. I've liked all of them so far, some more than others, but this one was almost disappointing. I recommend it only if you've read the other books in the series and are a completist.
25. Lord Kelvin's Machine, by James P Blaylock -- 5 stars. Steampunk. I love this book. It made me happy.
26. Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel -- 4 stars. YA Steampunk. Another action-intensive book, the first in a series of three (so far) featuring Matt Cruse and Kate De Vries. I'm looking forward to reading the others in the coming months.
27. Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld -- 4 stars. YA Steampunk. A satisfying conclusion to the Leviathan trilogy, with some very cool illustrations. There's one towards the end that was kind of shocking.
Now I'm in the process of choosing 25 books for 2012.