I’ve been procrastinating this post. There are a couple of highly-anticipated novels I intend to read before the year is up, but between beta reading and postdoc-proposal writing, I haven’t cracked them open yet. So whether I read them next week or next month, anything after this post is getting marked down as 2013 reading. Moving on.
I started 53 books this year, seven of which went unfinished. At the bottom of this post is a super slick picture of all 53. There was a decent mix of science fiction, fantasy, and YA, with a couple of books on writing thrown in.
My top 10 books read in 2012, published whenever, and in no particular order:
“Private Bronwyn Hyatt returns from Iraq wounded in body and in spirit, only to face the very things that drove her away in the first place: her family, her obligations to the Tufa, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend. But more trouble lurks in the mountains and hollows of her childhood home. Cryptic omens warn of impending tragedy, and a restless “haint” lurks nearby, waiting to reveal Bronwyn’s darkest secrets. Worst of all, Bronwyn has lost touch with the music that was once a vital part of her identity. With death stalking her family, Bronwyn will need to summon the strength to take her place among the true Tufa …” The Hum and the Shiver is a contemporary fantasy set in the Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennesee. The audiobook is beautifully narrated by Emily Janice Card.
As a teenager, Jacob has stopped believing in his grandfather’s tall tales about the peculiar children he grew up alongside in the orphanage. Until a family tragedy shines new light on Grandpa’s past, leading Jacob on a journey to a remote Welsh island in search of the fabled Miss Peregrine. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is all kinds of strange and lovely, and the inclusion of spooky vintage photographs throughout the text totally won me over.
The House of the Scorpion is the coming-of-age story of Matteo Alacrán, the clone of a Mexican(ish) drug lord. Grim, original, topical, and beautifully-written, this book should appeal to fans of Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. YA science fiction. National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2002), Newbery Honor (2003), Printz Honor (2003).
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favorite authors. I love her science fiction. I love her fantasy. She has an exceptional range of expertise. In Paladin of Souls, Castle Porifors on the borderlands of Chalion is plagued by a preponderance of demons–nebulous forces that suck their hosts’ souls–and the god-blessed (or cursed) royal dowager must figure out how to put things right before the neighboring kingdom invades. As in previous works, Bujold does a masterful job drawing complex, compelling characters; in this case, the formerly mad Royina Ista. Deftly handled romantic elements, witty dialogue, fascinating theological/magical system … Paladin of Souls is deepened by having read The Curse of Chalion, yet is truly a standalone novel. Fantasy. Hugo Award for Best Novel (2004), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2004), Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2004).
Call me late to the bus on this one, but dang The Name of the Wind is a great book! I recommend it if you’re looking for an immersive, evocative fantasy read. It’s also a smart book with a logical magic system, and I suspect anyone who has spent too many years in a university setting or who geeks out over learning will get a kick out of it. In that sense, I saw similarities to Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. The Name of the Wind manages to capture both the sense of wonder that I associate with childhood reading, and a depth and complexity of character and world that really works for me as an adult. Fantasy.
The Sparrow was very quickly added to my “favorites” shelf. Jesuits in space, with aliens. The Goodreads synopsis is the prologue, and it’s brilliant. The book is structured as a mystery, as we slowly uncover what happened to the priest and sole survivor who returns, mutilated in body and soul, to late 21st century Earth. It’s a book about faith and god and first contact and moral ambiguity. Trigger warning for rape. Literary Science Fiction. Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (1998), British Science Fiction Association Award for Novel (1998), James Tiptree Jr. Award (1996).
How do you subjugate a culture? You take away their name–quite literally, and with magic, in the case of Tigana. This book will appeal to fans of epic fantasy and heroic adventure, fascinating magic systems, and to those who enjoy realism in their fantasy. In particular, characters are so nuanced and place so well-formed that you believe this world must exist. I admit I found the first two chapters (Prologue and Chapter 1) to be rather boring. I do much better when I’m invested in a character from page one. However we get a protagonist in Chapter 2, so make sure to stick it out to that point. It’s well worth it. Fantasy.
“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.” It’s Cinderella–of course the plot is somewhat predictable. But it’s a great twist on the concept, the cast of characters were very well realized, the stakes were both high and personal, and Meyer has a deft touch with creating believable relationships. This fairy tale retelling is a satisfying blend of familiar and different. YA science fiction.
This book knocked my socks off! Ship Breaker is the story of a boy who lives in poverty on the Gulf Coast, scavenging grounded oil tankers and trying to avoid his abusive father. After a hurricane, he finds a beached luxury clipper ship–with a single survivor–and must decide to steal her stuff and leave her for dead, or save her. The story that follows is both thoughtful and filled with adventure. The world is grim, but also hopeful in the tenacity and resourcefulness of the characters. It struck me as very authentic. YA science fiction. Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book (2011), Printz Award (2011).
“Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland – known as The Death Shop – are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild – a savage – and her only hope of staying alive.” YA Post-apocalyptic science fantasy with strong romantic elements.
Honorable Mention “Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.” Daughter of Smoke & Bone gets my personal award for most mixed feelings evoked. When it was good, it was really good. But there was some weird structural stuff going on here–two books/timelines smooshed into one with all the pacing problems that entails. But dammit it was also unique and beautifully written. Conflicted! Go read it yourself and let’s talk about it. YA contemporary and secondary world fantasy.
What were some of your favorite reads of the year?
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