What About Favorite Non-Romance Reads?

bossypantsWhile it’s true that we here at AAR read, with love, lots of romance novels, many of us also read and enjoy books outside the genre. I asked my fellow reviewers to pick their favorite non-romance book or books from 2011. Mysteries were the first choice—seven of the fourteen books were from that genre. Two chose the same book: Tina Fey’s bestselling Bossypants.

Here are our picks:

Blythe confessed her favorite this year was Stephen King’s 11/22/63. She called it an “Absolutely fabulous book – it was happy, sad, funny, romantic, and thought-provoking. I can’t stop recommending it to people.” In her review, she wrote “You might think from the title and the cover that this book is about the Kennedy assassination. It is, and it isn’t. It’s about time travel and all the big “what ifs,” but it’s also about a Maine English teacher who travels back in time and falls in love in small town Texas. That wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but it was a lovely surprise.”

The book chosen by Bessie, Swamplandia!, a debut novel by Karen Russell, is described by Booklist as “Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell’s archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air.” The book made many a “Best” list in 2011.

The one book picked more than once—by both SandyAAR and Jean Wan—was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Jean wrote: “I thought it was absolutely hilarious and a masterpiece in how a little goes a very long way.” Ms. Fey’s book has been a huge commercial success; it’s sold well over a million copies in the United States alone.

Reviewer Jane Granville had a hard time choosing any books from 2011. She wrote, “The two books that first came to mind — Room by Emma Donahue ans Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins — were both 2010 releases. Does it count if the paperback was first published in 2011?” Many readers know the Collins books but maybe less familiar with Room, a much lauded novel about which the New York Times Book Review wrote “Emma Donoghue’s remarkable new novel, “Room,” is built on two intense constraints: the limited point of view of the narrator, a 5-year-old boy named Jack; and the confines of Jack’s physical world, an 11-by-11-foot room where he lives with his mother.”

Pat H chose a relatively unknown book, But Remember Their Names by Hillary Bell Locke (obviously a pseudonym!). Pat wrote, “It’s a mystery about a neophyte lawyer who defends a teenage girl in a murder case. It’s a smart, funny, insightful look at the legal system. Brilliant!”

LinnieGayl also picked from the mystery genre. She picked two. The first was Jacqueline Winspear’s A Lesson in Secrets. She wrote, “This 2011 entry in the Maisie Dobbs series began to move the series forward into the pre- World War II era. While there wasn’t any real development in her relationship with James, I enjoyed the college setting of this book and also liked the direction Maisie’s life seems to be taking. I definitely look forward to reading the next in the series. A close second for me would be Alan Bradley’sI Am Half-Sick of Shadows, his latest Flavia de Luce mystery. I remain totally in love with this young girl sleuth and can hardly wait until the next in the series.”

Lee Brewer picked not a mystery but a spy thriller, Rip Tide by Stella Rimington. Lee wrote, “It’s the latest in her series about MI-5 Officer Liz Carlyle. The author used to be the head of MI-5 so her knowledge of what really goes on with spies and such really adds to her stories.”

Louise picked a memoir, The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. She wrote “It is a memoir about a woman who loved the Little House books as a kid and goes on a pilgrimage following the Ingalls family’s travels. It is a book about nostalgia and self discovery. Anyone who fondly remembers having their ten year old nose buried in On the Banks of Plum Creek would love it!”

Reviewer Maggie Boyd picked three favorites from 2011, two mysteries and one quasi YA novel. Her mystery choices were Love You More by Lisa Gardner or The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen. Maggie wrote, “I couldn’t pick between my two mysteries because they were both brilliant, frightening edge of your seat thrillers.” She also enjoyed Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. About that book, she wrote, “It’s a difficult to classify book – it is marked ages thirteen and up and could be included I guess in Science Fiction or YA. Whatever it is, this book is outstanding.” In her AAR review of the book, Maggie wrote, “This wonderful fantasy novel told in first person narrative is a look at the relationships men of all ages have with their fathers. It captures how family members can lose the respect and love they feel for each other as disappointments mount up. But it goes far beyond just that, taking a look at what it truly means to come of age and how difficult it is to make those first decisions that we know will affect our whole lives.”

As for me, my favorite book of the year was one I read with my teenagers, the fabulous The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. This is the second in his Kingkiller trilogy—the first is the phenomenal The Name of the Wind. Mr. Rothfuss has created an extraordinary world helmed by a stellar, layered hero—Kvothe—and peopled by vivid and compelling secondary characters. The Wise Man’s Fear isn’t quite the soaring accomplishment that is The Name of the Wind, but it was still marvelous and has one of the best final chapters I’ve ever read in a book.

Of the books our AAR reviewers chose, Bossypants, Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Swamplandia!, and 11/22/63, were on the 2011 Amazon.com Top One Hundred Best Books of the Year list. Swamplandia! and 11/22/63 were also two of the top ten 2011 fiction books chosen by the New York Times.

What about you? Do any of these books excite you? If you had to pick, what would be your favorite non-romance of the year?

- Dabney Grinnan

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21 Responses to “What About Favorite Non-Romance Reads?”

  1. Rosario says:

    Thanks for doing this, I love getting non-romance recs from romance readers. For some reason, I tend to like those more, even when they haven’t got a happy ending! Of those mentioned, I absolutely loved Room, and I’m planning to read the Stephen King.

    I do read quite a bit of non-romance (about a third of my reading, more or less), and my favourite 2011 books were Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman (narrated from the POV of a young Ghanaian recent immigrant to London, trying to investigate a murder in the council estate he lives in), and The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson (reviewed here), a paranormal YA with a young American protagonist, whose move to a boarding school in London coincides with a Jack the Ripper-type murderer becoming active.

    I also really liked a non-fiction book about a woman who moves to Kosovo right after the war has ended and takes up beekeeping (Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a Beekeper in Kosovo, by Elizabeth Gowing) and The Last Hundred Days, by Patrick McGuinness (set right before the Romanian revolution in the late 1980s)

  2. maggie b. says:

    Rosario, I loved the Name of the Star, I keep waiting for the atuhor to post info about a sequel and but she hasn’t updated her website since November of last year! Hopefully we will get a second in the series before the end of this year.

  3. Tee says:

    In 2011, I enjoyed a few non-romance books, primarily in the suspense genre. They were:

    Love You More – Lisa Gardner
    Breaking Silence – Linda Castillo
    Fallen – Karin Slaughter

    Another book, that is considered autobiographical was “The Orchard” by Theresa Weir. This was an excellent read. Although it had a relationship in it, I wouldn’t classify it as a romance.

    “The Bride’s House” by Sandra Dallas was equally well done. I would classify that one as more women’s fiction, the romance contained within it being more subtle.

    I love articles such as this one, since I feel there are some wonderful books out there that may contain just a hint of a relationship or romance (or even none), but still grab you immediately. These are authors whom I will certainly track in the future.

  4. Carrie says:

    Fiction books that made a lasting impression:
    In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
    Les Miserable by Victor Hugo
    All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque
    Children of Men by P.D. James
    Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
    The Vokosigan books by Bujold
    Many of the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy Sayer, such as Gaudy Night.
    Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

    Non-fiction:
    The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
    Relational Parenting by Ross Campbell
    Yes! Your Teen is Crazy: Loving your Kid Without Losing Your M ind by Mike Bradley
    Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

  5. Leslie says:

    “The Orchard” was an amazing book. I also liked Rob Lowe’s autobiography.

  6. Elaine C. says:

    My favorite non-romance book was Louise Penny’s “A Trick of the Light”. Her series has been wonderful. The setting is different from any other mysteries I’ve read (a small village in Quebec with forays into Quebec City). The characters were great from the first book , but have matured through the series. I look forward to the next book and pre-order it, making myself quite eager by the time it comes out at the end of August or in September. Writing one book a year ,instead of the current mania of 3-6 books a year that too many romance writers have adopted, has kept the quality at the very highest for Penny. I happily shell out the money for her hardcover books.

  7. DabneyAAR says:

    I’ll have to check out The Name of the Star. Another book I loved from 2011 was the YA novel Divergent. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was interesting to read and to think about.

  8. Moriah Jovan says:

    Lamb by Christopher Moore

    • LeeF says:

      Moriah Jovan: Lamb by Christopher Moore

      One of the most laugh out loud books I have ever read AND my DH (who really doesn’t read much fiction) has kept our copy on the bookshelf all these years.

  9. LinnieGayl says:

    Elaine C, I began reading Louise Penney’s books last year. They’re absolutely wonderful. You’re right about the characters being good from the beginning, but improving over the course of the series.

  10. xina says:

    I’ve wanted to read the Tina Fey book. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it.Also, the Stephen King novel..I must get to that one eventually. Two non romance novels that I read recently and loved are, The Orchard by Teresa Weir. Beautifully written memoir where her heart is so much in the writing, and the telling of her story. It stuck with me for weeks. Another one I loved, The Little Bride by Anna Solomon. A 16 yr. old Jewish girl leaves Odessa Russia and travels to South Dakota as a mail order bride. She imagines her husband to be young and handsome and living in a big house but sadly, her husband is older ( 40) and lives in a sod hut on the South Dakota praire. He has 2 teenage sons, and she eventually falls in love with the 19yr. old son. It is not a romance, although some on Amazon reviews think it is. It is a lovely story though and I’m so glad to have read it.

  11. Corinna says:

    Put me down as another lover of Mockingjay! I was drawn into that series by my 14-year-old. Even my husband read the trilogy and loved them.

    I did read 11/22/63 with great expectations–perhaps too great. It left me vastly underwhelmed and largely disappointed in Mr. King. So many glaring errors that I was ripped out of the story time and time again. (And no, I’m not a big Kennedy assassination expert or anything.) I guess I just expected far more from a talent as big as he is. Had I not known better, I would have thought this one came from an amateur. Sorry.

    Divergent and Legend are two more books I loved. For some reason I’ve really been getting into those dystopian stories.

  12. June says:

    Adore the Flavia De Luce mysteries. She’s a marvel. I’m hoping Harriet is alive. The next one won’t be out until next year, darn it, that’s a long wait.

    Just read ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and thought the book was engrossing paging turning suspense. I plan to read the other two. I won’t see the movie, I don’t want to add a visual to a few scenes that were difficult to read.

    June

  13. Tinabelle says:

    My top non-romance reads for 2011 were Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light, C.S. Harris’ Where Shadows Dance, and Julia Spencer Fleming’s One Was a Soldier. I also enjoyed Ashley Gardner’s latest Capt. DeLacey mystery A Murder in Norfolk. I am avidly awaiting the 2012/13 releases by these authors.

  14. Tinabelle says:

    OOPPS! The Ashley Gardner title is A Death in Norfolk.

    I should also add that I am a fan of the Flavia De Luce series, too. I thought the latest, I Am Half Sick of Shadows was one of the best in the series. I am wondering, too, about Harriet!

  15. LeeF says:

    I really liked 11/22/63 more than expected since Stephen King hasn’t been a favorite author over the years. I liked the little details that were written about the people and places.

    Bossypants was a delight- even funnier- and more touching- than I expected from Tina Fey. The Wilder Life touched a place in my heart that really, really wanted to be Laura from the time I read the Little House books.

    Now I will print out this column because there are so many good recommendations.

  16. JBHunt says:

    Some recent faves include…

    A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan)
    Away (Amy Bloom)
    A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness)

  17. Felicia says:

    The Dresden Files. Can not say enough about them. Best listened to because James Marsters is just amazing. He adds real character to, well, the characters. There are 12 books out right now, so plenty to get into. It really kicks into gear in book three. Just can not praise it enough.

    Has anyone noticed that J.D. Robb is running out of steam with Eve? Or is that just me?

  18. amigos says:

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