2012: A Year in Books

A mountain of reading
It’s been a busy year of reading! When I look back at 2012 I see I started off the year with a run of the Her Royal Spyness series.  I loved the historical detail as well as the fun of a mystery.  I’m ending the year with mysteries, too.  I’m presently reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I’m going to the source after being captivated by the Sherlock Holmes movies, the tv show Elementary, and the BBC series Sherlock. This year I had a huge boost to the number of books I read by participating in the YALSA Best of the Best challenge early in the year-that got me to read 25 things I might not have read otherwise. I set a goal for myself on Goodreads and was very pleased that I had to move it two times because I met it so early on! I seemed to have a big number of 5 star rated books this year, and all at once, too. In YA books this year I often found myself confused between all the books like  Matched, Divergent, etc. Maybe they need longer titles! I enjoyed participating with friends across the country in a post-apocalyptic book club. We met up using Google hangout, which is a great way to connect. I’m finding myself wondering if I should even be keeping up this blog. The fact is I don’t have a lot of visitors or commentors and I seem to have a hard time keeping up.  I started it for myself and because I didn’t like what was available at the time.  I do like Goodreads a lot now and diligently keep track of my reading there, but there is something nice about having an online place that is just mine. I guess I will just add to my 2013 resolutions the same one i had for 2012-to do a better job keeping this up.

So how many books did I read this year? And what were my very favorite?

Total Books Read: 93.  Wow! That’s way more than last year. I chalk that up to the inclusion of many shorter stories (a couple children’s books) and many graphic novels and short non-fiction books from the challenge. As I’ve mentioned before, though, I don’t feel bad about “counting” something like House of Dolls alongside Code Name Verity, because it’s the story that counts. So some were long, some were short, some simple, some complicated, some prose, some pictorial, but overall I read 93 different stories that came out of an author’s imagination. Thank you, authors, for sharing those stories with me!

There is a category that I don’t keep track of here, and that is audiobooks. I’m not an audiobook listener by nature, but my kids absolutely love them.  Consequently we’ve listened to many together in the car, especially over the summer and for long drives.  The standouts we’ve all enjoyed (ages 5-7, 40-43) have been the World According to Humphrey series and the Brixton Brothers series (narrated by Arte Johnson.) I believe it was also this year that we listened to Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.  This is one of my all time childhood favorites and it was very exciting for me to listen to it with my family and have them enjoy it.

Now, on to the Top Ten!

Top 10 (12) Favorite Books of the Year (read in 2012, not necessarily published in 2012. Thus, you’ll see a book and its sequel.) I gave 15 titles 5 stars on Goodreads. They are:Mrs Queen Takes the Train,Code Name Verity,Hypnotist’s Love Story,A Surrey State of Affairs,Crown of Embers,I’ll Be There,Rules of Civility,Raven Boys,Probability of Miracles,Girl of Fire and Thorns ,Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt,Scorpio Races,Fault in Our Stars,Ready Player One,and Son.

Of these 15, 8 were YA titles. And of those 15, these are my top reads of the year (in no particular order):

  1. Mrs Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: an absolute top this year, this was a thoughtful and respectful novel with bits of humor throughout, really engaging.
  2. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: amazing historical fiction, heartbreaking, vivid, and cleverly crafted. I don’t know that this would really have much YA appeal, but I found it amazing and shared it with my mother, who also liked it.
  3. Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty: a long engrossing story, varying points of view, and uncertainty about the ending, this was completely satisfying as well as entertaining
  4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: a book I’ve referenced all year long since reading it last winter. Tailor made for people who grew up in the 80s, including obsessive pop culture references and total immersion into video games and virtual reality. Add in a compelling unappealing vision of the future and a race to the ending and this book was un-put-down-able.
  5. Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: an unappealing title and cover gave me no interest in this book-I only read it on recommendation and as part of the challenge. It was so captivating I still recall exactly where I was when I got to the end of the novel. It left my head in a fog for days afterward. To say it’s a book about a horse race is a disservice because Stiefvater has created a magical and somewhat violent world with strange creatures and traditions, mashed up with an almost modern world (kind of Brigadoon-y), and all kinds of character issues. Simply wonderful.
  6. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson: This sequel to Girl of Fire and Thorns was one of the strongest middle books of a trilogy I’ve ever read. It stood on its own as a fantastic adventure story, filled with intrique, love, double crosses, and magic. I found the ending thrilling and perfect.
  7. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson: This was a marvelous story of adventure, love, and magic all set in one of the most detailed and fully and vividly imagined places I’ve read about. As a reader it was wonderful to watch the heroine truly become a heroine.
  8. I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan: a quiet YA novel that ends up having nail biting suspenseful scenes of survival, combined with a heartwarming and emotional story about love, as well as employing a writing style I especially like, made this a sleeper hit for me this year.
  9. The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder: two weepy cancer books made my top list this year. This one didn’t get as much hype as the other, but was just as good. It’s hard going into a story knowing the main character is going to die, but this one managed to keep a smile on your face for most of it, and when the tears came, well that was ok, too.
  10. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: a jazzy age novel that entranced me with historical detail, not to mention a really good story about people’s successes and failures
  11. Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: twice on this list! I enjoyed Scorpio Races so much I didn’t hesitate to read this. I was wowed by the strange story blending ancient magic with modern day life, as well as by the admirable construction of the story.
  12. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: wasn’t sure if I would include this, but then I went back and read my review and was reminded that this was an amazingly well written story about two people who happen to have cancer. Green manages to address the usual cancer story tropes (as does Wunder in Probability of Miracles) and poke at them a bit. Be prepared to have a good cry.

So there you have it. My favorite reads of the year. And you know what? I so enjoyed writing that that I will indeed continue to keep up the blog despite my earlier doubts in the day. Thanks to the visitors who stop by and may your 2013 be filled with wonderful stories that come alive in your head and stay with you after you close the book.

–Sarah

*What’s with the picture? That’s Little Blackie, one of our baby guinea pigs (born Dec 27th), atop my current Sherlock Holmes book, Beautiful Ruins, which I meant to read all year long and didn’t, and an assortment of lovely non-fiction books I’ve gotten this year: Chicken and Egg (how I’ve used it here), Free Range Chicken Gardening, and Colorful Embroidery, which inspired the two embroidered book marks I made this week to practice some stitching. It’s a mountain of reading for a little piggie!

My Year in Reading

This year I simultaneously fell behind on this blog and started using GoodReads. I resolve to get caught up here this winter. Due to that I had a hard time this year counting exactly how many titles I read, but I believe it was 75–not bad!  That does not count all the audiobooks we listened to-this was the year we enjoyed listening to children’s stories in the car.  I loved the Beverly Clear books narrated by Stockard Channing and also by Neil Patrick Harris.  As for myself? Top reads were All Clear by Connie Willis, I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, Cleaning Nabokov’s House by Leslie Daniels, and The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

This was the big winner of the Printz award this year and I was quite surprised to discover I had a copy on my shelf.  I honestly had no idea what this book was about and the cover and title were not drawing me in. Then I opened the flap and read the blurb and realized this was right up my alley. Set in the undetermined future (where they refer to our current time as the “Accelerated Age”) the polar ice caps have melted, the seas have risen, and there are ancient cities (New Orleans) completely underwater.  Nailer lives on the beach and spends his days crawling through the ductwork of old wrecked oil tankers scavenging the copper wire in them.  It’s a horrible life and in general life appears to be a horrible post-apocalyptic mess.  His father is a murderous evil being, half-men (scientifically created creatures made from man, tiger, and dog) are wild and murderous, too, children are worked to death, and so on.  After you read a while you come to realize that the whole world is not like this-it’s just the slummy jungle workers who have such a horrible life. The “Swanks”-rich folk, have fast ships, nice clothes, jewels, and the like.  When a swank’s ship wrecks near Nailer he sees the possibility of an escape from his life.

This was a fantastic adventure, and Nailer’s moral dilemmas in a world that doesn’t seem to have morality left in it, pull you in.  Yet when I read this here’s what I kept thinking about:  one of the things I hated in The Road was the pure evil that seemed to be in the post apocalypic world.  Mad Max-y is how I think of it, and I really don’t care for it. And in this book, too, there are characters (Nailer’s father) that just seem to be pure evil-no moral, no ethics, no empathy, and they almost gleefully murder and maim in the most casual way (or take pleasure in it.) I think what I don’t like about that is that I wonder about the author who thinks that up, as well as the widespreadness of it.  Do people truly believe that Man’s true self is like that? That if the infrastructure of civilization breaks down that will be the default? I simply don’t. The only thing I can possibly conceive is if someone saw something that drove them mad.  Nailer’s father is on some sort of super drugs most of the time, but you still believe that at his core this evil person is who he is, it’s not just the drugs.
I just find it interesting that so many authors have these characters because I don’t believe you would create them without believing in the possibility that they could exist.  And tied in to that, curiously, is a conversation I had with my friend about The Forgotten Garden.  We were remarking about how awful some of the characters were, just very cruel and cavalierly ruining lives.  She said that one of her book group friends thought that because life was so much harder then (Victorian London), that it was such a struggle to have basic necessities of life like food and shelter, that the people were harder.  I thought right away of these post apocalypic stories because I feel like that rationale suggests that when life is hard your humanity and ethics fly out the window.  Which is, at its core, the struggle faced by Nailer in Ship Breaker, and it’s all wrapped up in a good adventurous package.

Little House on the Prairie from A to Z by Patrick Loubatiere

I’m a little unclear on where this book came from. Paul brought it home and it may have come with the new Little House dvds.  It’s just a little booklet, definitely not “unauthorized” as it’s almost a tad fawning.  In any event, I loved it.  I have seen every episode of Little House many times (I’d venture to guess that anyone my age in my tri-state area remembers that it was on every day at 5pm on channel 11 (Pix…Pix…Pix…) ) and I truly loved the show.  This little book was enjoyable because it tells what happeend to everyone after the show. W ho would have guessed that Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane) was in the movie Flashdance? or that Karen Grassle (Ma) is an esteemed actress in theater?

It was a nice trip down memory lane and made me look forward to someday watching these shows with my kids. It also made me feel very wholesome.

Long May She Reign by Ellen Emerson White

whiteI finished this a week ago and was so filled with thoughts about it, that I hope I still have them. Where to begin? Well, first I think Ellen Emerson White is a fantastic author. And before I get into this book, and its predecessors, let me put in a plug for The Long Road Home. It’s a great big fat thick satisfying novel that I always liked because it was clearly for older teens/younger adults, as it is about a young woman returning from a Vietnam tour of duty (as a nurse.) She finds that the U.S. is not that kind to her, she suffers from post traumatic stress, and she has grown up in ways that the other young women she went to school with have not.  A very rich good novel. And, now that I think about it, it certainly shares some similarities with Long May She Reign. Continue reading

I’ve Been Tagged!

I was so surprised and pleased to get tagged in Bookworm Tag by Kimberly of I Smell Books! surprised because I’ve been hideously neglectful of this blog recently and can’t believe anyone has bothered to come back to it in the past month, and pleased because it’s fun and just the kick in the ass I need!

SO here’s the rules once you’re tagged:

*Pass it on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The CLOSEST BOOK, not your favorite or most intellectual. Continue reading