Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 Book List

Well, I'm certainly not straining myself with my twice annual blog posting schedule.  But, for some reason I'm reluctant to let it die altogether.  I think because I love my year-in-review book lists.  I refer to them often, to remember a little about this or that book, or to consider recommending something to a friend, or to decide on a reread of my own.

So without further ado, here's my 2012 book list.  I'm sure I've missed quite a few...I've been less than stellar about updating it during the year.  But for better or worse, this is what I've got.

Highlighted books are ones I would recommend.  Sometimes with some reservation, or only to some types of readers, but highlighted means I personally thought it was not too bad.

  • Insurgent by Veronica Roth. Not bad, but as mentioned below, it really falls victim to comparison to Hunger Games.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth. This is what folks bill as the "if you loved Hunger Games you need to read" series. I don't know about that. It's not bad. It's not horrible. But it had none of the emotional resonance that Hunger Games had for me. I'll still seek out the next book, though, when it's published.
  • Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse #12) by Charlaine Harris. Once again, another slight improvement in a series that has recently been disappointing. I still have hope for this series, so this was a welcome entry!
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. You know I have a soft spot for post-apocolyptic YA fiction. Big smooches to the genre! This was pretty good, though not my favorite ever. I read this a few months back and still haven't gotten book 2 in the series, though I'm certainly not opposed to reading it. So I guess it was good enough to hold my interest, but not good enough that I had to go out and buy book 2.
  • The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson. Hmm, I really loved Feed by M.T. Anderson, and this book was recommended to me by none other than my husband who heard a review on NPR and said this sounded like a book I would enjoy. And it does. But I didn't.
  • Kiss the Dead (Anita Blake #21) by Laurell K. Hamilton. What can I say? I'm a glutton for punishment, and just can't leave these alone. This was a slight improvement over other books in the series, but really, that's not saying much.
  • Amped by Douglad E. Richards. Book two, following Wired. Now these super-smart, super-talented folks are out to change the world for better, of course with forces out to stop them. I don't know, I get a little tired out with thrillers, though I certainly prefer sci-fi thrillers over, say, legal thrillers, but ultimately it's the same type of book with a break-neck pace.
  • Wired by Douglas E. Richards. A sci-fi thriller. Not bad. Good enough I sprung for the 2nd book in the series, but not something I'd scream from the rooftops that friends need to read...
  • Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth by Trevor Norton. This non-fiction book is subtited "A witty celebration of the great eccentrics who have performed dangerous acts of self-experimentation". A find description of what you'll find inside. It's not super-light (i.e., you're not getting a bathroom-reading, People magazine glimpse. It's definitely meatier, and at time more boring, than that. Good read overall.
  • Lilith's Brood (Xenogenesis books 1 -3) by Octavia E. Butler. I wanted to like this. I feel like maybe I was supposed to like this. It's about mankind destroying the Earth, and humans being rescued/coopted by an alien species. The writing isn't bad...I made it through all three books. But I just didn't like the story. I never connected with it. Ultimately, I guess it just wasn't for me.
  • Notorious Nineteen (Stephanie Plum #19) by Janet Evanovich. Certainly a move in the right direction for this series, compared with some of the more lackluster recent entries.
  • The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. A nonfiction book about the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918. Really interesting. Historical medical non-fiction is a particular favorite of mine, though!
  • Chasing Shakespeares by Sarah Smith. A researchers love story. Readable, but not really my particular favorite genre.
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. I believe I was fooled into reading a romance novel? I don't know, it wasn't unreadable, but I'm not sure I would seek out further books in the series. Awfully slow in the middle, and annoying "surprise, I'm an all powerful super girl" main character...
  • What The Dickens by Gregory Maguire. Poor Gregory Maguire. I think he's doomed to keep writing "it's okay, but not nearly as good as Wicked" novels. You know what I thought of this book? It was good, but not nearly as good as Wicked.
  • Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. I've been incredibly disappointed by recent works by Card, to the point where I've stopped reading his new work and struck him off my "favorite author" list. Oh, the horror! Anyway, I hadn't read this book when it came out, but when I saw a copy on the sci fi table at the book sale, I couldn't pass it up. And you know what? It was pretty good. One annoying character that seemed to exist solely to be a mouthpiece for the author, but otherwise, acceptable. Card still hasn't clawed his way back onto my "favorite author" list, but perhaps I'll give another one of his more recent novels a try...
  • The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly. Legal thrillers aren't a particular favorite of mine, but picked this up at a used book sale and it certainly held my interest.
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Okay, quick read, certainly held my attention, but I certainly was disappointed given the hype.
  • Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Not quite as good as Freakonomics, but still quite interesting! Good read.
  • The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter. A young journalist for a sensational rag. An eccentric entomologist. A gigantic mind-controlling mosquito. This book was just as bad as you'd expect. I so wish it'd be made into a B-movie horror show.
  • Wild Child and Other Stories by T.C. Boyle. I don't know what happened. I used to LOVE anything by Boyle. Now I'm finding his work more lackluster, but I wonder if it's me as a reader who has changed. I didn't love this, but I suspect it's a "it's not you, it's me"problem.
  • The Traitor King by Todd Mitchell. YA book where a brother and sister enter a magical world. Premise is certainly not a new one, though there were interesting aspects. Ultimately, though, kind of forgettable.
  • Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley. Tells the story of a reviled tobacco lobbyist. Just okay.
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. Totally random bits of history told through the lens of different rooms of a house. Pretty interesting, though random history and Bill Bryson's writing style just work for me.
  • Books 2, 4, 5, 6 of the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries by Charlaine Harris. Found these at a library book sale, which is why I missed books 1 and 3. I'm not much for mysteries, though I really enjoy her Sookie Stackhouse books. These were quick reads, beach read-y. Nothing deep, nothing great, nothing moving, but also nothing boring or terrible.
  • Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I know I'm late to the game reading this. It was, as many have said before, quite good. It's not really my prefered genre, but I did find it a quick, entertaining read.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. You know I'm a sucker for a "postapocalyptic romance" as this book is bill on its cover. But, found this to be uneven. Setups with the possibility for great emotional impact were squandered. Characters too one-demensional. But, it wasn't all bad...I do so enjoy my end-of-the-world stories...
  • The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. Picked this up at a library booksale because it had a "Newberry Medal" badge on it. I'm always up for trying new kids' books to see if I should pass them along to N & B. This one was good, but didn't particularly speak to me. Still trying to decide if I should pass along to the boys or just donate back to the library.
  • Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood. Love Margaret Atwood, and especially love her short fiction. So double love this book!
  • Monster by Walter Dean Myers. The story of a teenaged boy in jail awaiting trial. Told as if the main character were writing a screenplay. Okay for a young YA book, not something I'd particularly recommend, though.
  • Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. I always enjoy Murakamni. His writing is so vivid and interesting and weird. This wasn't my favorite of his novels, but still enjoyable.
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. I must admit, when I heard about the premise of this novel (troubled, young adult from the foster care system communicates via the meaning of flowers), I wasn't that intrigued. I hate books that are overwhelmed by their "big idea". But, this was very well done. Quite readable, this "big idea" of the language of flowers didn't overwhelm the story or act in lieu of true character development. Really ended up enjoying this one--I can see what the buzz is about!
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey. Love her, enjoyed this book. Some very funny parts, some just okay parts. Everyone has read this book, right, so I hardly have to tell you about it...
  • The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, book 1 - 4 by Ann Brashares. Very readable YA girl books. Would have LOVED these books when I was in middle school, though as an adult, I found them a touch trite and tiring.
  • Model: A Memoir by Cheryl Diamond. A memoir about a girl's experience modeling in her teens, written when the author was 20, so not much time for reflection. An interesting book...made me glad I was never a model and committed that my children would never model!
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I picked up a bunch of books by Ms. Anderson on the strength of Speak. None quite lived up to that great book. This one is about an anorexic girl who lost a friend to bulemia. Sad, hard to read sometimes because of the subject matter, and a somewhat unlikeable main character, but still heart-wrenching and worth a read.
  • Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson. The story of a high school senior, "normal" girl, who gets strong-armed into helping plan the prom. Some interesting characters and an okay story.
  • Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson. Tells the story of a high school senior waiting to hear if she's been accepted to MIT--the only school where she applied. Pretty good, and I'll make my kids read this if they ever dare to pin all their hopes on a single college!
  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I love the idea of this book, but in practice, the endless ennui of the main characters was a killer. Wanted to really like it, but actually, I really didn't like it. It's a shame, it was so close to being great.
  • Hollowmen (The Hallows #2) by Amanda Hocking. Picked up the next book in this series. Wow, I guess she wasn't a fan of the characters from book one, as they were pretty much all missing from book 2. However, this loss of friends/family rang pretty true to me...I just wish there was more emotion behind it instead of feeling like those opportunities were squandered. I'll keep an eye out for any further books in the series even though I didn't love this quite as much as the first book in the series. Interested to see where things will go.
  • Hollowland (The Hallows #1) by Amanda Hocking. I read this about a year ago, and it was by far my favorite book by Hocking. End of the world zombie apocolypse--now *there's* my genre! Anyway, held up to a reread.
  • Riversong by Tess Hardwick. Picked this up for free on Amazon for my kindle. It was a shockingly quick read. A fairly unbelievable "woman in peril" scenario--not a plot you'd want to think too hard about to start poking holes. I'm not sure what genre this is--is this romance? Chick lit? Anyway, it's reminiscent of The Sugar Queen, which I read a few weeks ago--this book was far superior. So, not exactly my cup of tea, but I couldn't put it down anyway.
  • Born of Blood by SB Knight. I picked this up on the recommendation of one of my favorite bloggers, Small Footprints. Anyone who looks at my reading lists knows I'm no shrinking violet when it comes to books with sex. Or violence. However, I'm not a big fan of violent sex in the books I read. Yikes. But, that's just my preference. The story was otherwise good, and I certainly appreciate when new authors put themselves out there. You can't please everyone, and it would be a mess of a novel if you tried! I'm on the fence if I will pick up the next book in the series. I won't give it away, but I REALLY liked how this book ended--took me by surprise, and I appreciate that!
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach. Absolutely love the humor in her writing. This book was far more interesting to me than Spook, though not quite up to the standard set by Stiff. Still want to have dinner with her! Ms. Roach, if you read this, you're formally invited over!
  • That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo. In directly contrast to Irving, there's something about Russo's writing that I find very compelling. Didn't love this book, but still flew through it because of the writing. Still, I wish Russo wrote books that were more topically interesting to me. Ah well.
  • The Cider House Rules by John Irving. I don't know why I feel the need to subject myself to John Irving's books. I think I've read enough now to state with assurity that while I can admire his books, and even enjoy the stories, his writing style is NOT FOR ME. I love to read, but find his books feel like work. How can I read a 500+ page book in 2 days normally, yet this one took me weeks to slog though? I only kept at it because the story did capture my interest...should have just watched the movie and been done with it.
  • Monkey Brain Sushi: New Tastes in Japanese Fiction. I've got a soft spot for short fiction. I have a soft spot for weird stories. And I have soft spot for Haruki Murakami. So, when I saw this collection of short stories by Japanese authors (including Murakami) in translation, I had to pick it up. The stories were a little uneven, but a few were good enough that it was certainly worth the price of admission. Which since I got this at a used book sale, was only a dollar :) And extra points for the book title!
  • Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs. And now I'm going to complain about novels that rely on overly quirky characters. And overly quirky situations. This is about a cast of characters who work at a home shopping network. Didn't love it. It read like a Chuck Palahniuk novel on valium.
  • The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. I picked up an ARC of this novel at a used book sale, so I'm going to overlook the obvious errors. However, I must say that this read like a first novel to me. I was shocked to see on the front that she's a NYT bestselling author of a previous novel. That said, it wasn't a *bad* book. It was pretty interesting, and kept my interest. I guess my biggest problem was with the completely passive main character. I think there's a reason why I love sci fi and fantasy and other genres that tend to have strong main characters. I just can't take the failure to make changes. But yes, the main character in this novel does eventually grow, so it's not irredeemable, it's just not my preference to read a book with a main character who is a woman that starts out with ridiculously low self-esteem. Oh, and I thought the sugar stuff (like chapters that were named after types of candy) was a little heavy-handed. I'm picking because I liked this book. I just wasn't the right audience for it.
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. I picked this up at a used book sale. This was one of my very favorite books in elementary school. Must have read it a thousand times. But, I don't think I'd read it since. So, I was excited for a reread. And you know what? There was so much more that I remembered about this novel that wasn't in the book. I had clearly internalized this story, and come up with my own back story around it. I still loved the book, and I think it's a sign of a really great novel that it so captured my imagination that I had all kinds of memories about this world that weren't even from the book.
  • Bound by Donna Jo Napoli. Here's a case of misguided expectations. I read the back cover of this, and thought it would be a story similar to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. And it was, in that it was set in rural China. But, this is a pretty straightforward Cinderella variation. I read a million of these in college when I took a lit class that focused on children's fables and fairy tales from around the world. So, this was good for what it was, but I would have liked a twist somewhere, something that made it a non-standard retelling. Ah well, as I said, expectations, expectations. If you haven't read a lot of fairy tale variations, you might like this (though please, start with Anne Sexton's Transformations for really lovely, interesting fairy tale variations)
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Everyone was reading this a few years back, but it didn't sound all that interesting to me. But, found it at a used book sale so picked it up for a buck. It wasn't bad, though I just couldn't get into the storyline about a group of different people taken hostage at a large party while listening to a famous opera singer. I don't know what to say. Liked it, didn't love it. I guess there's a reason I'm not a professional book reviewer :)
  • Searching for Saffron by Kathryn LoConte. I picked this up at a used book sale. The author appears to be a local. This is a collection of interconnected short stories about a young woman's travels. It's a novel but reads more like a memoir.
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King. Really enjoyable King. A sprawling epic along the lines of The Stand. While not quite up to the mastery of The Stand (by far my favorite King novel), this was the best King I've read in the past few years.
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. Really interesting book about how ideas spread.
  • A Perfect Blood (The Hallows book 10) by Kim Harrison. Of all the paranormal mystery/romance series I'm reading (and yes, there are too many!), this is the one that's holding up best. It's consistently good, even 10 books into the series when things usually start to peter out. I'm still interested in Rachel, the main character, and in the supporting cast. Probably because the main character still seems to be growing and changing. I think the problem in these long-running series is that the authors tend to get lazy and let their main character languish and never have any character growth. It gets...boring. But Harrison doesn't seem to be falling victim here.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is a non-fiction book about the woman whose cells gave rise to the HeLa line of cells that are so often used in research. You can tell this book was a true labor of love for the author, and her enthusiasm for the subject helped bring it to life. An interesting portrait of some of medical ethical dilemmas and an interesting portrait of a family.
  • The Golden City (Fourth Realm, Book 3) by John Twelve Hawks. A satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
  • The Dark River (Fourth Realm, Book 2) by John Twelve Hawks. I enjoyed Book 1 so much that I went online as soon as I finished it and bought this one for my kindle. Should have checked my book sale bag first, because I'd actually picked this one up as well as the first at the book sale. Oh well, now I have a hard copy and an e-copy. Liked this one as well.
  • The Traveler (Fourth Realm, Book 1)by John Twelve Hawks. Wow, I really loved this. So lovely. It tells the story of a woman who has been raised in a life of fighting against the "vast machine". Sure, it was derivative, but derivative of a genre I love, so I was game. Handed this one right over to TK when I was done!
  • Centrifugal Motion by Julee Morrison. This was written by a friend of a friend. It's a memoir. It's really only half a story so I'll reserve judgment until the next book comes out.
  • Don't Shoot! I'm Just the Avon Lady! by Birdie Jaworski. You know I have a special place in my heart for any book that gets not one, but two exclamation points in the title. I picked this up for free on the's the memoir of a blogger who blogged about being an avon lady. I had never read her blog, so this was all new to me. There were some really funny parts of the book, and some parts that dragged a little. I think it probably would have worked better if I was reading it on a blog, with time between each entry, rather than all together in a book. I don't know--at $0.00, the price was right. One of the better kindle freebies I've read!
  • The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. I met Grace Lin when she came in and spoke to my children's lit class in grad school, so I tend to pick up her books when I see them. Glad I got this one...a fun children's novel that I'm excited to share with my kids!
  • Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat by Jeff Benedict. This is about the Jack In The Box outbreak of e. coli in the 90's. I hate to ding a book because it wasn't what I expected, but this was far more of a legal drama than a story of our broken food system. Interesting, and I haven't had any hamburger since reading it...
  • Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I've had this on my to-read list for a while, so I'm glad I finally read this. It's a non-fiction book about how salt has shaped world history. Interesting at times, a little dull at other times. Worth a read if it sounds at all interesting to you.
  • Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. I really loved Night Watch--such an interesting book. This is book 2 in the series, and while still enjoyable, wasn't quite as amazing as book 1.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, volumes 1 through 8, by Joss Whedon, et al. I had read the first three volumes of this graphic novel series a few years ago and really enjoyed them. Finally bought all the rest, and once again really enjoyed this. Really would have liked an 8th season of Buffy on TV, but this was a good second best.
Final count:

80 books read this year (not counting the many, many kids books I read with N-man and B-man, like the Captain Underpants books or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  I also reread the entire Harry Potter series as B-man read them this year and we listened to many of CD)

43 books I'd recommend.

Overall, an eh year for my reading list.  My favorite of the year was probably the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels, which I read way back in last January.  The John Twelve Hawks Fourth Realm series was an unexpected surprise, though I highly doubt it'll hold up to a reread.  Just hit me the right way at the right time.  Read some strong, enjoyable nonfiction:  Superfreakonomics, At Home, Packing for Mars, The Great Influenza.  And of course any year with Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murikami isn't a total loss.

But there was nothing I was "yell it from the rooftops" excited about.  And there were a lot of disappointments.  Books I really, really looked forward to reading that just weren't that good.  The Help, Discovery of Witches, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Magicians.  Not that these books were necessarily BAD, they just didn't live up to my expectations.

On the plus side, there are really no books on my list that I'd say definitely avoid at all costs.  Many of the books I didn't like were just personal preference.  Maybe the writing was a little weak, but could have been overlooked by someone who enjoyed the story more.  Or the story was just outside my interest.  No matter how good, I'm just not going to love, for example, a legal thriller.

As always, feel free to share any book recommendations.  Always looking for something new to read!  And if it's a post-apocalyptic or end-of-the-world-y sci fi book, you'll certainly have my attention.  Non-fiction, especially medical history, is also a favorite.

Okay, on to 2013, with high hopes it's a better year than 2012...

1 comment:

LauraC said...

I was scream from the mountaintops excited about Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. 88 books last year and this was my favorite. Second favorite was Gone Girl.

Have you read The Passage? Post apocalyptic. I didn't see The Twelve on your list so I assumed not.

FWIW, here is my list: