Best Fiction of 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I've chosen my seven favorite fiction books read this year. I had what I consider a tie for a couple of places though, so in reality I've narrowed it down to top five with two essential ties. :) All were published in 2012 except for the two that tied for #1!



 5.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty (2012) and The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman (2012)

I've seen these two on a lot of lists and the thing is they aren't necessarily extraordinary, but they just had really great stories that I loved reading. The Chaperone takes us to 1920's New York City as a woman takes on the challenge of chaperoning a rebellious teenage girl who ends up becoming a big movie star. The Light Between Oceans had me questioning what I would do if I had the opportunity to raise another child as my own but had to pretend it literally was of my own flesh and blood and what I would do once the situation started having holes poked in it.



4. 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2012)

I think I've seen this one on every "best of" list this year. It's a mystery/thriller of sorts but also a psychological portrait of an unhealthy, or crazy, marriage. The two main characters are some complex people! This was hard to put down and has pretty much convinced me and everyone else to read the rest of Flynn's books.



3.



The Darlings by Cristina Alger(2012)

I find this to be one of the more underrated books this year; I haven't really heard much about it and think it deserves much more recognition. It focuses on one family in which the son-in-laws both work with the father-in-law at a financial firm when a scandal explodes, questioning everyone's loyalty. In my review I called it the "perfect amalgamation of white collar suspense and homage to life in New York City". I really enjoyed this one.



2.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (2012)

This one has received much of the recognition I think it deserves; it was a finalist for the 2012 fiction National Book Award, though I have to say I enjoyed this one much more than the actual winner. The writing was gorgeous and the portrayal of the soldiers in war was astutely done.





1.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (2011) and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (2009)

I couldn't do it. I couldn't narrow it down any further for my favorite read of the year. And interestingly, I compared State of Wonder to Cutting for Stone in the former's review. They both have a medical component that I found fascinating (sometimes I think I should have gone into medicine rather than mental health, ha!) But both stories were also so full of depth and were full of beautiful writing and evoked gorgeous atmospheres. Neither were published this year, but both will be books that will stay with me for a while and that I have recommended to many others.

Best Non-Fiction of 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

These are my top five non-fiction books read this year. My favorite was actually published last year, but numbers 2 and 3 were published in 2012. They're each linked to my review.



5.

Imperfect Justice by Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer (2011)

As much coverage as this case got, especially for those of us in Orlando, this book provides more behind the scenes knowledge of the investigation and trial and was surprisingly fascinating.


4.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (2009)

An entertaining and inspiring journey about making and achieving little resolutions that add together to contribute to overall improved well-being and happiness.


3.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (2012)

This was 2012's non-fiction winner of the National Book Award. This narrative non-fiction portrays the plights of the people living in the Anaawadi slums right next to the luxuriously booming Mumbai in India. Abject poverty next door extravagant wealth. Fascinating.


2.

Quiet by Susan Cain (2012)

Packed with research and insights, this book offers so much knowledge about introverted personalities and what they offer our world as well as the difficulties introverts currently have in finding a role in our society. Completely relatable for me and fascinating, this is a book that I'll proudly display on my shelf, recommend to others, and that I'll likely read again in the future.


1.

Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd (2011)

Domestic human trafficking, or the commercial sexual exploitation of girls, in this country is a terrifying thing to think about; but, unfortunately, it's a reality that happens every day. This was the most powerful book I read this year. It left me feeling raw and heartbroken yet professionally inspired to help other girls who have experienced this kind of or similar trauma. I have recommended this to many people and gifted a copy as well. Please consider supporting the associated non-profit agency started and run by Rachel Lloyd, the author, GEMS. You can also follow them on Facebook: Girls Are Not For Sale. Beyond that, however, the writing is fantastic (check out some of the quotes in my review), and the book is astutely organized, qualities which are meritable on their own.


The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Title: The Round House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Pages: 317
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper (Harper Collins)
Pub. Date: October 2, 2012


I have been wanting to read a novel of Louise Erdrich's for a while, so after her latest, The Round House, won the National Book Award, I decided I'd have to start with this one. Plus there were comparisons to To Kill a Mockingbird and I figured this is a must read.

Unfortunately, while I recognize the merits of this book, as well as the aforementioned comparisons, overall I don't think it was for me. It tells the story of 13-year-old Joe who lives on a reservation in North Dakota with his mother and tribal judge father. Shortly into the book, Joe's mother is physically attacked and raped. She suffers a type of post-traumatic stress reaction in which she retreats into herself. Justice is hard to come by because of the ambiguities or contradictions in the laws governing jurisdiction of the reservation and free land as well as of the people victim to or perpetrator to the crime. While The Round House focuses on this situation and Joe's own desire for seeking justice, it also is a coming of age story about him and his friends.

I typically enjoy coming of age stories, and it might be that I had expected more plot focus on the issue with his mother that left me disappointed with this one. I can't help but feel, though, that the story meandered a little to where I became confused about the focus. I also would have liked more focus on the social justice issue regarding difficulty of prosecuting these types of crimes on reservations. The author provided a little information about it in the afterword, and I would have liked to learn more about this from the reading. I feel like at this point I just know of it being an issue rather than feeling totally informed.

And I very much disliked the ending.

My review seems really negative, but it wasn't a bad or unenjoyable book by any means. I just didn't connect to it for whatever reason. I'm pretty much the only one who seems to have this opinion, though, and it did win the National Book Award, so take that for what it's worth!

(And upon reading this I was still convinced to pick up those other books of the author's that I had been considering!)

Review: In the Woods by Tana French

Monday, December 3, 2012

Title: In the Woods
Series: Dublin Murder Squad #1
Author: Tana French
Pages: 429
Genre: fiction, mystery, literary
Publisher: Viking (Penguin)
Pub. Date: May 17, 2007 (hardcover); May 27, 2008 (paperback)

I've had In the Woods on my "must-read" list essentially since it came out and everyone raved about how amazingly wonderful it was. I'm glad I was finally motivated to start attacking my "must-read" list (where, ironically, books waste away never being read); and while I did think it was a fantastic read, I was disappointed too. I'll explain why, but I think it stems mostly from the unrealistically high expectations I incurred after reading so many great reviews over the years. Because apparently, I have had this book on my list for five years!!

Quick summary for those who aren't yet in the know: in 1984, three kids in Knocknaree, Ireland, disappear in the woods; two of those children are never found. Adam Robert Ryan is found alone with unexplained injuries but has no memory of what happened. Years later, Adam is Detective Rob Ryan; he still has no memory of the events but is forced to face this wall blocking his memories when he investigates a case in which a 12-year-old girl's body has been found in those same woods. Ryan takes on the case without letting anyone know of his personal connection.

The rest of In the Woods is the investigation of the case by Ryan, combined with the story of Ryan's trying to reach for the lost memories (for the investigation but also for himself), and a look into his close relationship with his work partner, Cassie Maddox. (Can men and women be just friends, especially as close as they are?) French does an amazing job with the story and with the characters. Although there was an investigation going on, the crux of the story seemed to be more about the characters, and I was easily drawn in. The backstory was engaging, as were their daily interactions. As hefty as the book seemed, I couldn't put it down. But I'll admit, part of what kept me reading was because I wanted to find out what all the crazy twists were that I was expecting.... but in the end I felt like it was significantly more a typical mystery than any type of thriller, much less a pyschological thriller. While there was a lot of discussion about psychological factors, which was very interesting, I think of the genre "psychological thriller", which this book is often billed as, as more so books that mess with the readers' minds, where not everything is as it seems. And unless I missed something, I felt this was fairly straightforward. Some complaints from those that have voiced them, is that the author left some questions unanswered in the end. That didn't bother me.. the questions unanswered weren't necessary to me, but I did feel like she was building up to it so, while it didn't bother me, I could see why some people felt they were left hanging.

So, I was definitely a fan and will eventually read more in the series. But it wasn't as crazy as I was expecting it to be.