As 2011 comes to a close, we take a minute to reflect on the year's best in the world of publishing. Here is the list of our favorites, all published this year:
"The Paris Wife"
by Paula McLain
This gorgeous novel portrays the whirlwind romance between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson during the Jazz Age of Paris. (Ballantine Books, $25)
"Dreams of Joy"
by Lisa See
In this sequel to "Shanghai Girls," sisters May and Pearl return to late 1950s China where they must fight to maintain their family bonds. See's meticulous research succinctly captures this tumultuous revolutionary period and its affect upon human life. (Random House, $26)
"The Girl in the Blue Beret"
by Bobbie Ann Mason
Decades after World War II ended, an American pilot returns to France to try to locate the members of the French Resistance who saved his life. This thrilling tale of wartime love and suffering is based on Mason's father-in-law's real experiences. (Random House, $26)
by Cary Groner
A divorced cardiologist retreats to Nepal with his teenage daughter to start a new life in a volunteer clinic. But the emotional and physical destitution are far graver than he ever imagined in this lush yet war-spooked country. (Spiegel & Grau, $25)
"The Tragedy of Arthur"
by Arthur Phillips
A clever faux memoir in which Phillips describes helping his possible con of a father authenticate a long-lost Shakespeare play. (Random House, $26)
by Jesse Ball
While a war rages on all around them, a father and his young daughter try to maintain a life filled with love and stability. (Vintage, $15)
by Kevin Brockmeier
After a mysterious event on earth, no number of band aids can keep the light shining from your child's boo boos. Suffering is literally illuminated in this transcendent novel. (Pantheon $24.95)
"The Art of Fielding"
by Chad Harbach
A baseball novel that achieves so, so much more. This impressive debut is set in a small Midwestern college and is rife with well-drawn characters, including instant classic baseball star Henry Skrimshander. (Little, Brown and Company, $25.99)
"Anatomy of a Disappearance"
by Hisham Matar
Be careful what you wish for. When a Cairo-based boy hopes his father disappears, he actually does and lives are shattered in the wake of his vanishing. (The Dial Press, $22)
State of Wonder
by Ann Patchett
Once again, the extraordinary Patchett takes us to a faraway land (the Amazon) and bewitches us with her prose. (Harper, $26.99)
"Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories"
by Edith Pearlman
A complicated and intriguing set of stories that transverse the globe--and time. (Lookout Books, $18.95)
"The Devil All the Time"
by Donald Ray Pollock
If you've been looking for a collection of brutal, oddball characters set loose in the southern Midwest, stop here. This chilling novel will go well with warm eggnog. (Doubleday, $26.95)
by Dana Spiotta
Need a gift for a difficult sibling? Perhaps you can bond a bit over this poignant examination of a tight brother-and-sister pair who weather the world and passage of time together. (Scribner, $24)
by Amy Waldman
All heck breaks loose in Manhattan when the anonymous winner of contest to design a memorial for a terrorist attack turns out to be an American Muslim. Waldman masterfully captures the tensions and moral quandaries of the post-9/11 era. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26)
"Salvage the Bones"
by Jesmyn Ward
Set against a hurricane bearing down on the Gulf of Mexico, this novel follows the lives of some residents of Bois Savage, Miss. Though hard to swallow at times because of the realistic descriptions of rural poverty, the story reminds readers of the unbreakable bonds of familial love. (Bloomsbury, $24)
by Stephan King
The master of horror tackles JFK's assassination. (Scribner, $35)
"The Grief of Others"
by Leah Hagar Cohen
A secret slowly emerges to threaten the unity of a family already struggling with the death of a new baby. (Riverhead, $26.95)
"Gryphon: New and Selected Stories"
by Charles Baxter
Whether comic or austere, these skillful stories are all heartbreaking. (Pantheon, $27.95)
"My American Unhappiness"
by Dean Bakopoulos
A sad-sack scholar makes misery his life's work by surveying Americans on their brooding tendencies. Along the way, of course, he hits a few bumps in the road. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24)
"A Moment in the Sun"
by John Sayles
Filmmaker Sayles zeroes in on the late 1890s with this crackling saga that is sharp with historical detail and loaded with character. (McSweeney's, $29)
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Yet another multilayered work of astonishing imagination from one of Japan's greatest authors. (Knopf, $30.50)
"The Pale King: An Unfinished Novel"
by David Foster Wallace
This breathtaking work of biting dialogue and fearless philosophy is a fitting final climax for the late Wallace. (Little, Brown and Company, $27.99)
"The Sense of an Ending"
by Julian Barnes
Bah humbug! The author of "Arthur & George" returns with a psychological thriller in which a middle-aged man is haunted by the ghosts of his past. (Knopf, $23.95)
by Anna North
In this harrowing novel, a young woman copes with life in a dystopian Ice Age future. (Reagan Arthur Books, $24.99)
"The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady"
by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
An amusing, dark novel in which an older woman seeks revenge after discovering a doctor once gave her a radioactive cocktail as a 1950s experiment. (Doubleday, $25.95)
"I Married You for Happiness"
by Lily Tuck
A new widow reminisces about her life and love with her late husband. Sweet, tender and compelling. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)
by Belinda McKeon
A father and son struggle to make sense of their fraught relationship. Set in Ireland, this lush tale of family strife is a wonderful debut. (Scribner, $24)
by Alan Heathcock
If gloom is your cup of tea, here is the perfect blend. Murder and mayhem charge this electrifying collection. (Graywolf Press, $15)
"Once Upon a River"
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
A tough Michigan girl takes to the waterways in search of her mother. Life as a runaway teenager on the river turns out to be rough, but this heroine is up to the task. (W.W. Norton, $25.95)
"The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore"
by Benjamin Hale
A primatologist takes a talking chimp under her wing, but she has no way of knowing the problems this unique chimp will have in the real world (Twelve, $25.99)
"You Think That's Bad: Stories"
by Jim Shepard
Shepard tumbles through landscapes and time zones with a keen eye for the details that make each of his wild tales a winner. (Knopf, $24.95)
"Turn of Mind"
by Alice LaPlante
This spooky thriller about a retired orthopedic surgeon suffering from dementia is both a poetic portrait and a page-turner. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $24)
"In This Light: New and Selected Stories"
by Melanie Rae Thon
The undaunted Thon writes of brutal events — a child's murder at the hands of a slave nurse — but she threads compassion into all of her stories. (Graywolf Press, $16)
"And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life"
by Charles J. Shields
This is the first time the esteemed author Vonnegut has been examined so thoroughly in a biography. Shields' excellent writing glows with his meticulous research culled from five years of access to Vonnegut's private letters. (Holt, $30)
"Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness"
by Alexandra Fuller
Fuller, who wowed us with her 2001 memoir "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," revisits her tumultuous African childhood in this sequel. Her dry wit again cuts through the horrors she experienced as a child. (Penguin Press, $25.95)
"A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother"
by Janny Scott
New York Times reporter Scott provides a nuanced portrait of the independent feminist who raised our current President. (Riverhead, $26.95)
"Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War"
by Tony Horwitz
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Horwitz revisits the infamous raid on Harpers Ferry and brings to life the vibrant people who ignited our country's Civil War. The ugly political divisions of that time strike a familiar chord today. (Henry Holt, $29)
"The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined"
by Steven Pinker
Despite the dreary news out there, Pinker makes the case that worldwide violence is historically lower than it has ever been. Now these are happy tidings for the New Year! (Viking, $40)
"Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings"
by Alison Weir
Ignore what you think you learned about Mary's royal "talents" on Showtime's "The Tudors" Weir cuts through the centuries of salacious gossip to present this fascinating portrait of Anne's elder sister, King Henry VIII's first Boleyn mistress. (Ballantine Books, $28)
"The Swerve: How the World Became Modern"
by Stephen Greenblatt
Six hundred years ago, a man discovered a dangerous ancient poem by Lucretius that stated humans should live without religious fear. Greenblatt, with tremendous narrative merits, explores how the translation and hand-copying of this poem led to the Renaissance. (Norton, $26.95)
by Mira Bartók
Incredibly poignant memoir by a woman whose youth was ravaged by her artistic, yet schizophrenic mother. (Free Press, $25)
"To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918"
by Adam Hochschild
Acclaimed author Hochschild studies the horrors of World War I, particularly the war's vicious affects upon its dissenters. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28)
by Joan Didion
The powerful Didion writes with brutal candor about the death of her daughter, Quintana Roo. Beautiful and heartbreaking. (Knopf, $25)
"Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World"
by Maya Jasanoff
Jasanoff takes us back to the American Revolution and, rather than celebrating with the winners, we are offered an often-overlooked glimpse into post-war life on the losing side. Thousands of loyalists had to flee to new lands, and theirs is a remarkable story of political and cultural upheaval. (Knopf, $30)
"The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy"
by Priscilla Gilman
Gilman takes an unflinching and thoughtful look at life with her developmentally challenged son. (Harper, $24.99)
"Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius"
by Sylvia Nasar
The author of "A Beautiful Mind" explores the evolution of economics and its affects on humankind. (Simon & Schuster, $35)
"No Biking in the House Without a Helmet"
by Melissa Fay Greene
Greene, a two-time National Book Award finalist, writes charmingly of her family and their ups and downs over the years as they adopted five children from various continents. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26)
"Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir"
by Oscar Hijuelos
Hijuelos describes his compelling journey from the son of Cuban immigrants to the first Latino winner of the Pulitzer Prize. (Gotham, $27.50)
by Walter Isaacson
A brilliantly complex biography of an ingenious and multifaceted man. (Simon & Schuster, $35)
"Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India"
by Joseph Lelyveld
Apparently, even Gandhi was human. Lelyveld bravely probes the weaknesses of the most famous faster of all time. (Knopf, $28.95)
"Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America"
by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts
Harlem, that enduring cultural neighborhood where thousands of African-Americans have flocked for decades, is the grand protagonist in this vibrant historical portrait. (Little, Brown and Company, $24.99)
"In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin"
by Erik Larson
Once again, Larson, author of "Devil in the White City," writes of a unique historical period with the flare and narrative skills of a novelist. (Crown, $26)
"Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein"
by Judy Salamon
A lovely portrait of the remarkable — and remarkably guarded — playwright. (Penguin, $29.95)
"Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson"
by Amanda Smith
The heiress of the Medill family's Chicago Tribune kingdom in the 1930s chose to avoid the trap of society wife and opted, instead, to build her own newspaper empire with the Washington Herald. This biography is full of the juicy scandals and fierce battles that kept this woman alive--and in the papers. (Knopf, $37.50)
"Charles Dickens: A Life"
by Claire Tomalin
It may come as a surprise to learn that this dearly loved creator of so many infamous curmudgeonly literary characters was not a particularly beloved family man. (Penguin, $36)
"MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus"
by Art Spiegelman
The author returns to his 25-year-old "Maus," the comic book that featured mice in the Holocaust, and explores why this concept became a instant hit and won the Pulitzer Prize. (Pantheon, $35)
"Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention"
by Manning Marable
A masterful definitive biography of the late African-American activist. (Viking, $30)
"A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France"
by Caroline Moorehead
In 1943, 230 French women who had worked to save Jews and promote Nazi resistance were sent to Auschwitz; 49 survived. Moorehead sought interviews with the survivors and their families and pored over years of archives to produce a chilling portrait of these heroes and how they bonded in their final days. (Harper, $27.99)
"Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark"
by Brian Kellow
The spotlight is finally shone upon one of the greatest film critics of all time, the New Yorker's late Pauline Kael. (Viking, $27.95)
"The Promise: President Obama, Year One"
by Jonathan Alter
The always-enlightening journalist Alter outdoes himself with this book. Based on more than 200 interviews with Obama insiders, Alter has shaped an insightful examination of our current President's political strides and strife since his days on the campaign trail. (Simon & Schuster, $16)
"Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War"
by Deb Olin Unferth
Parents of college-aged women: you may want to read this with a grain of salt. As a freshman in 1987, Unferth dropped out of school to join her boyfriend on a quest for revolution in El Salvador and Nicaragua. (Henry Holt, $24)
"The Invisible Line: Three American Families and the Secret Journey from Black to White"
by Daniel J. Sharfstein
Racial passing has never seemed more painful or culturally oppressive than in this notable study of three families who once crossed those lines. Law professor Sharfstein dynamically portrays the risks these families took over the years. (Penguin Press, $27.95)
— Assistance in creating this list was provided by Kristin Kloberdanz