After I quickly abandoned the idea of ranking these novels as I've done the past two years, I was quite surprised to see how many of these novels I would categorize as family sagas, yet they are all incredibly different.
Without further ado, the thematic Best of 2012 (in no particular order):
- Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close (review coming tomorrow)
- Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
- What I said then: "Bel Canto is a wonderful, thought-provoking, invigorating novel that examines the humanity in all of us. It is a fascinating story of hostages and captors, but it's also more. This novel is a celebration of the arts and the human spirit."
- What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage
- What I said then: "What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day shows no signs of age. It's as relevant than when it was first published. It's a brilliant novel and an astonishing debut novel. Whether on stage or page, Pearl Cleage is a master storyteller, and I'm continuously astonished she's not better known, more often read, and heralded as one of the great literary talents. This novel is a contemporary American masterpiece."
Best series: West End
- Babylon Sisters and Baby Brother's Blues by Pearl Cleage
- What I said then: "Babylon Sisters is a rallying cry for social justice, a love story, a touching tale of a mother-daughter relationship, and a story about the family we make for ourselves, but most of all it's a beautifully written novel filled with memorable characters faced with difficult decisions, both personally and professionally. And it makes readers think about the choices we wish we would make and the choices we fear we might make."
- What I said then: "Cleage once again creates beautifully flawed characters with whom you want to celebrate and mourn. She infuses themes of social justice beautifully. The end of this novel is truly stunning as Cleage weaves all of the storylines into a surprisingly cohesive conclusion.
- The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
- What I said then: "The Virgin Cure wrecked me emotionally. McKay's powerful characters shined, and I felt their despair. While it's a story I wish weren't true, it's certainly a story that needed telling, and McKay proves she's a master of gritty historical fiction."
- 212 by Alafair Burke
- What I said then: "212 is Alafair Burke at her very best. It's a top notch police procedural filled with smart twists and turns, and Burke's writing shines as much as her fully developed characters do. After Angel's Tip wowed me, 212 proved itself to be Burke's best mystery yet. Highly recommended, but do read Angel's Tip first."
- Never Tell by Alafair Burke
- What I said then: "Never Tell is Alafair Burke's best mystery yet. At first, the case seems deceptively straight-forward and I was surprised by the relatively small number of characters. As the action progressed, however, I was again wowed by how intricately Burke can build a plot. They webs and layers of this one astonished me, even when I correctly guessed a couple of them. Alafair Burke writes contemporary detective-focused mysteries at their very best."
- The Giant's House by Elizabeth McCracken
- What I said then: "I loved everything about The Giant's House: the writing, the characters, the tenderness, the honesty, and the library setting. It's both immensely literary and accessible, and it's a novel deserving of more readers."
Best family sagas:
- The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
- What I said then: "The World Without You is a deeply affecting, character-driven novel and one I won't soon forget."
- Arcadia by Lauren Groff
- What I said then: "Lauren Groff not only manages to cover fifty years in less than three hundred pages, she manages to do it while also playing with genre and exploring the nature of community and freedom. The result is this magnificent novel that is at times realistic, utopian and dystopian. Thankfully, at all times it's beautifully written and totally absorbing."
- Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
- What I said then: "I loved everything about Silver Sparrow: the characters, the writing, the pacing, the themes and the setting. This exploration of a family continues to move me. While it's very much a story of these six people, its also deeply symbolic of its place, community and time."
- I Am Forbidden by Anouk Markovits
- What I said then: "While the epicenter of this novel is the Hasidic Jewish community, it is also a stunning, moving tale of family, love, honor and secrecy. Markovits skillfully uses pace, character development and intrigue to make this novel absolutely riveting. Highly recommended to just about everyone."
- The Darlings by Cristina Alger
- What I said then: "The Darlings is a delightful modern novel about life, love, loyalty and taking chances. Alger grounds her characters in the financial crisis and a Ponzi scheme, but ultimately this novel is a character-driven page-turner about how and why we make choices in difficult situations."
- Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
- What I said then: "There's a startling intimacy to this novel and its characters. As a reader, I was unsettled as a voyeur witnessing the tragedies unfold in the lives of these tender, haunted characters, but I also loved every word, punctuation mark and sentence. Levy has written a masterpiece, and it's utterly deserving of this year's Booker Prize."
- Run by Ann Patchett
- What I said then: "I adored Run. It ambitiously tackles themes of politics, religion and family in large and small ways. The characters are as strong as the writing, and I was sad when I finished this novel and had to leave them behind."
- These Days Are Ours by Michelle Haimoff
- What I said then: "These Days Are Ours is a refreshing, smart, accomplished, ambitious, intimate and beautiful novel of hope, fear, longing, sadness, and life. It's a novel I will give to many, many people this holiday season because Michelle Haimoff has captured the essence not only of my generation, but of early adulthood and post-9/11 New York. It's a novel I will re-read in the years to come. It's a novel I will share with my nieces and nephews to help them understand what it was like."
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