These books weren’t all published in 2012. And they aren’t exactly “the best” for several reasons. One, because as soon as I hit “post” I’ll remember something I forgot. Two, because I’m writing this on December 17 and I’m fully prepared to read something before the end of the year that belongs on this list, because I am an optimist. Three, because I decided I was not going to list anything written by a friend, cohort in crime or colleague.
That said, here are some of my favorite reads from the year 2012.
First, a library ebook loan,The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, by Barry Lyga. Fanboy is a high school sophomore with more than his share of burdens to bear. A geek who loves comics and is the smartest nerd in school, he only has one friend, and that friend doesn’t acknowledge him if others are around. I can tell you more, but it makes him sound pretty pathetic. And honestly, he’s so wicked smart and wicked funny (with an emphasis on wicked, if you consider that he had Planned Parenthood send his mother abortion brochures when he found out she was pregnant with the “step-fascist’s” baby) that this book sucked me in from the first words. Oh, and he meets Goth Girl, which gives him another friend. (Not spoiling anything there. Read the title.) I read this in June and may go ahead and buy the book so I can reread instead of checking it out again.
This one took my breath away. Fledgling, science fiction by Octavia Butler. By the time I finished the third chapter I was literally saying, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” out loud. If you’ve already read this and I suspect you may have, you might wonder why it took me so long to find it.
This is compelling reading, violent, and you have to have an open mind to read it. So be forewarned. On the other hand, the world-building is so amazing, the slow unfolding of the story so carefully-crafted, I highly recommend it. Because the story begins with the main character not knowing anything–and by that, I do mean anything–for me to reveal anything at all is a spoiler.
Don’t go looking for reviews and get spoiled. Just go to Amazon or somewhere and read the first chapter and see if it grabs you. It sure as hell grabbed me.
The Book Thief. Five stars.
What was it like to be German during the Fuhrer’s reign? Not a member of the elite, but one of the powerless? How many times have people outside Germany pondered whether or not they would have gone along with the crowd, whether they would have drunk the Kool-Aid? The Book Thief explores that idea in unexpected and deep ways.
This is a gorgeously written book. The prose sometimes stopped me cold just long enough to savor it before moving forward. Not so often that it got in the way of the story, just often enough to make this book of difficult subject matter lush and beautiful.
Death’s point of view is fascinating. It gives just enough distance and subjective thought to keep the story from getting too intense. Yes, I love intense emotion in books, and this had its moments. But the use of Death as a character was a profound and appropriate choice, for he brought vision and distance in moments when it was needed. Again, five stars.
Farthing, by Jo Walton. A mystery set in a 1949 England where the English (and Allies) did not win WWII. The US stayed isolationist and an English peace was negotiated with Hitler, who was able to maintain his grip on Europe and concentrate his efforts on the USSR. Jews in Europe wear identifying stars and are persecuted, but in England they are technically free. But there is still much prejudice and so when upper-crust Lucy married a Jewish man, it was not well-received by her friends and family. When they are invited for a weekend at her parents’ house with many other notables–the Farthing set–they go, on the off chance that perhaps her mother is finally accepting David. Alas, evidently not. Rather, he was invited to be a convenient Jewish scapegoat to pin a murder on…
The most fascinating (and horrifying) aspect of these books is that they feel very real, and represent a bullet dodged, a future we are very fortunate not to be living. Farthing is the first in a trilogy.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks and this one, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a delight. I’d seen the book title here and there, mentioned everywhere, popping up on various best seller lists, but I ignored it.
Then one of my students told me it was set in England. That got my attention.
I listened to it.
I’m in love.
I am in love with “eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison.” She has stolen my heart. And did I mention she lives in an old pile of a Tudor manor house with her eccentric, grieving father and two older sisters, and a shell-shocked chauffeur/gardener/man-of-all-trades who sometimes flashes back to war so that Flavia has to [figuratively] cover his back until he feels safe again?
And that she finds a dying man in the cucumber patch, who breathes his last word into her face before expiring?
By the way, the reader, Jayne Entwhistle, is also delight. I’ve listened to them all now and am waiting impatiently for the next.
Yes, it’s that kind of book.
[Oh decisions, decisions, which one? The green US edition or the UK edition? No contest. I bought the UK.]
When it comes to audiobooks there’s another talented reader I have to mention who narrates other books that belong on my 2012 faves list–Katherine Kellgren. I’ve fallen in love with two series she reads, the Rhys Bowen Her Royal Spyness books and the LA Meyer Bloody Jack series. The former is cozy mystery and the latter swashbuckling YA. Check them out.
HOLD THE PRESSES.
I knew this would happen. Here I am, sticking in one more book an hour before this posts on 12/20. I fought doing it, but decided my list could not be complete without a romance, this romance. Everyone was talking about it and I finally read it, finished it last night, and it’s a remarkable combination of characterization and sensuality and sexual content. In other words, if you don’t like the hawt sexxors, this is not your book (even though the achingly beautiful characterizations are well worth the read). A Lady Awakened, a debut novel by Cecilia Grant. The premise is probably realistic to what sometimes happened, not particularly fresh, and could be lurid. But in Grant’s hands it gives us a lovely book.
Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.
Let me know what you think.
Now I’m going to ask you for help. I have a weird quirk. I prefer books with UK settings. I’ve been thrilled to discover Simon R Green’s Secret Histories and have just found Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London books. Anybody got more urban fantasy with British Isles settings? Or European, for that matter? I’m all ears and eyes.
While you’re at it, what were your favorite books discovered this year?