Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Best of 2012

When I sat down to think about my year of reading, I was thinking more thematically than I have in past years. While one book rose to the top (These Days Are Ours), my reading was incredibly diverse and much of it was dedicated to two particular authors: Pearl Cleage and Alafair Burke. When I think back on 2012, I will fondly remember re-reading (and then reading) all of Pearl Cleage's eight novels. I'll also think of Alafair Burke, an author whose work I'd been meaning to read for years. I read her first stand alone thriller in the summer and proceeded to read her other seven mysteries this year. In 2012, I read 118 books (ten more than 2011, which surprised me, but I suppose cross-country moves and new jobs can hamper reading.)

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):

Most surprisingly awesome (i.e. I thought it was light-hearted chick lit and it's not): 
  • Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close (review coming tomorrow)
Best Orange Prize Prize for Women's Fiction read (longlist/shortlist/winner): 
  • 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."
Best re-read: 
  • 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.
Best historical: 
  • 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."

Best mysteries:
  • 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."
Best backlist: 
  • 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: 
  • 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."

The Best. Period.

  • 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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  1. I love that you quoted your own reviews. I should try that next year. Great list!

    1. And I love that your reviews are quotable! Unlike mine. ;-)

      I was starting to think your favorites would be made up entirely of books I hadn't read, but luckily I recognized Arcadia, Run, and Silver Sparrow.

  2. I actually tried and never finished a couple of these books during those months when I had the hardest time reading this year (girls in white dresses and arcadia). Arcadia I had actually planned on returning to when I could concentrate better but the other one I didn't get into. I need to at least return to Arcadia.

    But seriously, I am so excited about reading These Days Are Ours now! It wasn't in stock anywhere so I ordered it shortly after your review and can get to it any time now! I hope I love it as much as you do!

  3. And I have just added a plethora of books to my wish list! What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day has been neglected on my bookshelf for a ridiculous amount of time. I think this year should be the year that I finally read it!

  4. I can't wait to read your review of Girls In White Dresses--that was one of my 2012 favorites as well.
    And I haven't heard of your "best ever" book...I am intrigued! Adding that to my TBR list.

  5. I haven't read many of these, but I thought Arcadia was excellent. You're making me think about buying The Giant's House - it sounds fantastic and is creeping closer to the top of my wishlist all the time! Have a wonderful 2013!

  6. I love how you categorized your picks. I've only read a couple of the books you listed but so many are interesting and could easily find their way into my hands at some point.

  7. I have read a few of these, and was blown away by them too, but your interest in Pearl Cleage is probably what I love most about this list. I had her book in my hands a long, long time ago, and never read it, and now I know that I need to grab a copy of the first book as soon as I can. This was a diverse list, but excellent nonetheless.

  8. What an incredible reading year you've had. Silver Sparrow is just a great book as is What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. I need to get to Arcadia soon. I hope 2013 is another great year for reading.

  9. I'm always a bit pleased when I see one of my old favorites on someone's best of list--sometimes I think people forget that there were books before ARCs. ;) LOVED Bel Canto and am always excited when someone else does, too, because my sister still gives me grief for recommending it to her!

    I haven't heard of These Days are Ours but obviously need to check it out! Great list Carrie--hope 2013 is just as wonderful for you.

  10. I love your list! Bel Canto was one of my favorites when I read it two years ago. I have to read Run soon. The Virgin Cure was also wonderful.

  11. Great list! Bel Canto is an amazing story and got me to listen to all of Ann Patchett's books on audio. I liked The Giant's House a lot, too. It was a long time ago that I read it, but remember it pretty well. She wrote a heartbreaking memoir about her pregnancy and stillborn child, too.

  12. I enjoyed reading your list, there are quite a few books that are new to me. I must look up These Days Are Ours. I keep meaning to read Alafair Burke but haven't as yet.


  13. great list! I love family sagas and am adding some of these to my TBR.

  14. Great wrapup! I loved it. You and I, as usual, overlap on most books with a few outliers. I loved Girls in White Dresses (what a surprise that book was, no?) and Bel Canto is in my top 5 of all time. I HATED Run, though, and I didn't love The World Without You. I always enjoy your reviews, even when we disagree! Here's to a great year of reading in 2013.

  15. What a great reading year! I read and loved Bel Canto this year, too. (My first Ann Patchett!)

  16. Wow, I just saw this online. Thanks for the kind words about my work. From one Kansas girl to another, Alafair Burke


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!