Tag Archives: 2012 favorites

2012 in books, part 5

Every year my reading goal is simple: 365, one book a day. This year I just barely managed to make it, with a grand total of 366. Last year, my best reading year since I started recording books, I read 385.

{Stats paragraph: How did I get 365? I count each chapter book I read, but not picture books. This year, Atinuke’s books gave me a bit of a problem but I did count them in the end because they’re shelved in JFIC in my library. I count every re-read as a separate book, both through my reading history (so a book I read in 2011 and then in 2012 is counted twice) and during the year (the year I read Jellicoe Road 3 times, I counted it 3 times). This is because I fundamentally believe that each time you read a book, you’re reading it in a new and different way. I don’t keep track of the percentage of new vs. re-reads, but I do know that there were fewer re-reads in 2012 than there have been in the past.}

Personally, of course, 2012 has been a strange and difficult year: my father was diagnosed with brain cancer in February and died in November. A lot of you were hugely supportive, and I am so grateful for all of you, and all your messages and kind words.

It’s kind of neat to look back on a year and see what themes, conscious or unconscious, have developed. This year I have several: flying, WWII, and non-fiction. Before this year, I had taken a long break from any kind of real non-fiction reading–not planned, but it wasn’t what interested me and I was gleefully hurtling through tons of SF/F and YA. But I read a number of really good non-fiction books, enough that did a separate post just for them. As far as the others go, sometimes one book came directly from another–Agent Garbo and Double-Cross, for instance. Sometimes it was serendipity.

Promise the Night
Code Name Verity
Such a Rush
Listen! The Wind
The Map of My Dead Pilots

Double Cross
Agent Garbo
Code Name Verity
The FitzOsbornes at War
Enemy Brothers

There were also a couple of authors I read a lot of: Mary Stewart, Jennifer Crusie, Mo Willems. And this was the first year I have been able to go to author events–I actually went to two! First was the McFadden Memorial lecture given by–Mo Willems! It was a really fun evening, but so large and impersonal that I actually sort of forgot about it until after the second author event I went to. That was a fantastic reading/signing with Saundra Mitchell, Christine Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan. I’m definitely hooked, so now all I need are more authors who will come do events in the Indianapolis area when I’m not working. (Catherynne Valente came to Indy…and I had to work. I was Quite Unhappy.)

I wrote a number of posts that weren’t just straight book reviews–some book related, some not. Here are the links to my favorites:
* An interview with my friend B about my reading habits
* A series about the myths in the Queen’s Thief series: The Thief; The Queen of Attolia; The King of Attolia; A Conspiracy of Kings
* The Fault in Our Stars and my fictional city
* Diana Wynne Jones and me
* Armchair BEA interview
* I also wrote a short story about a tower and a forest
* Then I was all 1940s style for Halloween at the library
* I made stenciled eggs and Cream-filled Hazelnut Torte and watched Captain America and was delighted by family history.

I’ve split my favorite books up into three categories: fiction, non-fiction, and younger books (early readers and picture books). Those posts will be going up for the next three days. I hope you’ll stick around.


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2012 in books, part 4: younger books

I work as an assistant in a children’s room of a public library, which means that I read a fair number of books for younger children. I don’t often blog about them here, but I did want to feature a few of my favorites from the past year.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke: This early chapter series is amazing. They’re wholesome, in the best possible sense, charming and funny. They take place in Africa (the country is not specified) and have a wealth of details about Anna Hibiscus’s life there, but her mother is Canadian and white. This is clearly laid out in both text and pictures, but it does not overwhelm the heart of the story, which is focused firmly on Anna Hibiscus and her family. They’re simply lovely books and deserve to become modern classics.

Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems: I love Mo Willems, okay? He’s just so hilariously funny. And the Elephant and Piggie have all the elements of some of my favorite classic early readers, in a stripped down way. The difference between Gerald and Piggie’s personalities, and the way that the readers are invited to sympathize with both of them is also great. And I will admit that as much as I would like to be a Piggie, I am totally a Gerald. Honestly, this is my greatest accolade: when I am having a hard day at work, I go find one and read it and am happy again. (Favorites: We Are in a Book!, I am Going!, Happy Pig Day!, My Friend is Sad…and all the rest.)

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems: The newest non-Pigeon picture book, which I was lucky enough to hear read by the author. It’s worth it just for the clever way Willems plays with the Goldilocks story, but there are several special bonuses. The Norwegian dinosaur is particularly hilarious, as well as the sly posters in the dinosaur house and the pigeon hiding in one of the pictures.

I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: It’s almost impossible to choose a favorite here. I Want My Hat Back has that MOMENT when the bear realizes what has happened. And how do you not love the narrowed eyes, the sudden suspicion? But This Is Not My Hat has an even stronger tension between the text and the pictures and, in addition, an almost-poetry to the language of the text that might just mean I have to say that it’s my favorite. Regardless, Jon Klassen is amazing and I can’t wait to see what genius thing he comes up with next.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen: I would say that this is an author/illustrator match made in heaven, except that we’re going to get Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen soon and that will be hard to beat. Regardless, we passed Extra Yarn around the department when it first came in and I think we all loved it. It’s quirky and fresh, but at the same time there’s no way to describe it other than nice. It’s a nice story with nice illustrations–the kind that has a mild humor to it that keeps it from being saccharine sweet. Definitely in my top 3 for the year.

Oh No! and Oh No! Not Again! by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat: These are just plain zany, as the subtitles indicate (Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World and Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History). But they’re also smart and I think they subtly assume that a girl building giant robots and time machines is a pretty cool thing. Which I happen to think is a pretty cool message.

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Lane Smith: Lulu, a very spoiled little girl, sets off into the forest to find herself a brontosaurus when her parents refuse to buy her one. Along the way, she has various encounters with inhabitants of the forest. I loved the way Viorst plays with the fairy tale setup–the little girl in the deep dark forest, who meets three creatures and has to decide how to deal with them. It’s pretty specific, but Viorst is not simply retelling a fairy tale, which means that Lulu will always surprise you. It’s humorous, but there’s also a lot going on in this story.

Flotsam by David Wiesner: I know that this has been around forever and everyone else knows about it, but I had never read it before and it’s beautiful. I love the magic of the underwater kingdom, the way the story circles back around to the beginning. (I also love Tuesday Morning by Wiesner, for the sheer hilarity of the flying frogs.)

Vampirina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: I wasn’t really expecting to like this one as much as I did, but I adored this subtle take-off on Angelina Ballerina. Detailing the struggles of the little vampire girl to become a ballerina (find a night class), LeUyen Pham’s illustrations and Anne Marie Pace’s text work in a perfect counterpoint that had me giggling at LEAST once a page.


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2012 in books, part 3: non-fiction

This was really a year of non-fiction reading for me: adult, YA, middle grade, all of the above. The list here is shorter than for fiction. However, for reference I will send you back to last year’s favorite books which featured all of one non-fiction (Amelia Lost). This year, I’ve got eleven–and those are just my favorites.

When it comes to non-fiction, I think I tend to be a subject reader, so if I’m not interested in the subject of the book, it’s not likely that I’ll pick it up. However, just about anything historical is right up my alley, especially British history. Or memoirs/biographies–I like stories about people. Whether they actually happened or not is somewhat irrelevant.

The Map of My Dead Pilots by Colleen Mondor: I started the year off right with this gripping, harrowing account of flying in Alaska. But that’s just a part of it–the book is also about the stories we tell ourselves, the myth of self-reliance. It’s a book about searching for answers and, when you can’t find them, making them up. I loved the stories Mondor tells, and the way she both implicitly and explicitly calls into question our trust that she is telling us the truth.

The Merry Hall Trilogy by Beverley Nichols: The Merry Hall books are arch, witty, and very much of their period. They’re also hilarious and full of fascinating details of gardening. If I had encountered Nichols in a different mood, I might very well have disliked his style. But as it is, I loved his archness, his willful whimsy, which is balanced by his very real knowledge of plants and gardens.

They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti: This is kind of the antithesis to We’ve Got a Job (see below) in that We’ve Got a Job by and large works to inspire the reader, to help teens see themselves in the young leaders of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement. In They Called Themselves the KKK, Bartoletti is presenting a warning. Here is what went wrong; these were the consequences. While I think it’s less powerful in the end than We’ve Got a Job, it does help to flesh out the history and motivations of this shadowy and often mysterious movement.

Invisible Sisters by Jessica Handler: I’m putting this one on the list for personal reasons–I thought the book was interesting and well-written, but Jessica Handler also articulated exactly what I felt about the weird tension when a family member is seriously ill and you don’t live nearby. As I said in my original review, “It’s a rather haunted book, the memoir of a woman who lost her two sisters to medically opposite diseases. I thought it was beautifully written, thoughtful without being self-indulgent and honest about the way the family broke apart under the strain.”

We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson: In my opinion, the best younger non-fiction book this year. With the tight focus and amazing stories, Levinson weaves together the history of the Birmingham marches. She doesn’t shy away from showing the divisions within the African-American community, and the differing philosophies and backgrounds of the marchers. What emerges is an amazing story of courage and integrity. For people like myself, who learn about the Civil Rights Movement in isolated incidents, it also helps to tie together several different events.

Double-Cross by Ben MacIntyre: This book and the next are almost necessarily read together–they are about almost the same subject and came out in the same year. Double Cross is the overview, telling the story of the six main double agents in the British intelligence community (ie, double agents working secretly for the Allies). It’s a wild and almost unbelievable ride–as hackneyed as the stranger than fiction line is, it’s really true here–perhaps partly because of the kind of person required to be not only a spy but a double agent. The six were all entirely unlikely and yet their stories hold not only incredible coincidences, situations, and pressures, but a huge amount of courage under circumstances most of us can hardly imagine.

Agent Garbo by Stephen Talty: In Agent Garbo, Stephen Talty takes the same subject as Ben MacIntyre, above, and focuses it on the person of Juan Pujol, Spanish double agent who created an imaginary system of sub-agents spread throughout Britain and kept it up for almost five years. It’s very well written, though I wanted the ending to be a bit stronger. I don’t know if I would recommend reading this first and Double-Cross second, or the other way around. If anyone else has read both, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Queen Elizabeth in the Garden by Trea Martyn: The rivalry between Lord Cecil and Robert Dudley, as revealed in the gardens both made to delight Elizabeth I. That’s the boring summary. I’ve been fascinated by Elizabethan England for a long time and this was an amazing glimpse into a little corner of it. Rich in detail and extremely readable, though perhaps best suited for those who are interested in either Elizabeth or gardens, this book offers a little picture of a world that was gone within two generations.

Just Send Me Word by Orlando Figues: This is an astounding book. Years of letters sent secretly from a Soviet gulag prisoner to his long-time girlfriend. Alternating between hope and despair, joy at a possible meeting and sorrow at being parted, Lev and Sveta tell their own story, with Figues skillfully weaving in the context for the letters.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh: This is the year I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh, starting with Gift From the Sea, which I found utterly lovely and helpful. Then I went on to Listen! The Wind, which is an account of a flight in the Mediterranean. And finally, Against Wind and Tide, which is a collection of her later journals and letters. She’s a writer who I seem to resonate with–not everyone would, I expect. But for me, I think that Gift From the Sea may well become one of the key books that I keep coming back to and back to.

The Magic Maker by Susan Cooper: A biography by Cooper of John Langstaff, the founder of the Cambridge Revels. In real life, I’m very interested in festivals and things like the Revels. Cooper’s biography is fascinating and extremely inspiring if you’re interested in making myths and magic in everyday life.


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2012 in books, part 2: fiction again

{This list got so insanely long that I split it into two parts. It’s a good thing that I loved so many books this year, right?}

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: And then there’s TFIOS. Huge props to John Green for taking on such a difficult subject and for doing something that’s different from his other books . However, I do have some qualms with TFIOS: first, that it’s so literary and meta-fictional that I never fully lost myself in the story; second, that as much as TFIOS wants to avoid becoming a cancer book, it skates perilously close. And yet, it makes my list, simply because it’s so gutsy, and because Hazel and Augustus are the kind of characters you can’t forget about.

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner: I read this book and wanted to smack myself for not having read it before. What was I THINKING? How did I manage to live without Richard and Alec and Riverside? I cannot tell you. But I loved the gritty details of the world and the contrast between the court and the shadier side of the city. I have read The Privilege of the Sword and actually prefer Swordspoint, though I did love Katherine.

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman: I was surprised by just how much I liked this book. I expected a light, fun thriller that I would enjoy and then put down and not think much about. Instead I went around in one of those good book hangovers. There’s a lot of heft to the story–Wasserman brings up some big questions and doesn’t answer them in a neat and easy way. Moreover, I really liked Nora and found her more sympathetic and smarter than many similar narrators.

His Own Good Sword by Amanda McCrina: I wasn’t sure what I would think of this one, but I really liked it. It has an ancient Roman feel, but the best way I can describe it is by saying that it’s like Rosemary Sutcliff, with different names. There’s a strong thread of personal versus familial honor and the cost of mercy. I really enjoyed this debut and am looking forward to seeing what Amanda writes next!

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier: I love Rachel Neumeier’s books (though I haven’t read the Griffin Mage trilogy), so I was expecting to enjoy her newest, House of Shadows. I did, very much, and I want to re-read it soon. Partly because I think there are some subtle things going on in the images and setting that I missed in the first plot-driven read, but also because it was so lovely. Also, I think the cover is gorgeous.

Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols: This came highly recommended from a couple of blog friends and so, despite the fact that I don’t always love contemporary YA, I decided to try it. I loved Leah, who was both prickly and sensitive. And I really loved the different relationships within the book, both romantic and not. There’s a tricky line to walk whenever main characters initially hate each other, and I thought Echols made it work. I haven’t seen many reviews for this one, so if there’s one hidden gem in my list, I’d say this is it.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: Let me say at the beginning, The Scorpio Races is still my favorite. That’s not the fault of The Raven Boys, it’s just that Thisby and Puck and Sean got in my blood and that’s that. The Raven Boys, though, is fantastic. It’s creepy and unsettling and I loved that Blue embraces her family’s weirdness. I loved the Raven Boys and the way their friendship was so much deeper than the usual bromance. And I have SO MANY QUESTIONS. SO MANY. This is yet another one that has me gasping for the next book.

Blood keeper by Tessa Gratton: I liked but didn’t love Gratton’s first book, Blood Magic. Blood Keeper, though, has so much going for it–the sheer beauty of the language, the characters, the magic. It’s gorgeous and eerie and unforgettable. The fact that Mab makes mistakes because she is too confident, not because she dithers endlessly, was hugely refreshing. And have I mentioned the language?

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2012 in books, part 1: fiction

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: As you probably know if you have been reading here for a while, I am kind of a Code Name Verity fan. And by kind of, I mean I really really love this book, because it is fantastic. As I write this, I am listening to the audiobook and realizing all over again just how many layers Wein wove into this story. And yet, at the heart of it, it’s very simple: it’s about Maddie and Verity. The sensational team. I’m not going to lie–I want this to win not only the Printz, but every book award ever. This story is in my heart now, and it always will be.

The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett: I’ve tried Pratchett several times before and have bounced off his wit. The Tiffany Aching books are just what I wanted–still funny, still pointed and satirical at times, but also full of heart. Tiffany herself is a fantastic character and I love the way Pratchett made the world. My one and only complaint is that there are no more left for me to devour.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: Here is a book that has been getting a fair amount of attention, and rightly so. Seraphina is fantastic–the YA heir to the middle grade fantasies I loved growing up. The details of the world and the political conflicts are wonderful, but what really makes the book is Seraphina herself. If Code Name Verity is my gold Printz pick, Seraphina is my silver. (Oh, please, Printz committee!)

Midnight Riot and sequels by Ben Aaronovitch: I gulped down all of the Peter Grant books this year, after seeing them mentioned in the comments on Sarah Rees Brennan’s LJ. Equal parts magic and police procedural, these books are also fun and quirky and, above all, full of London. I love them and I can’t wait for more. Bonus! Peter is bi-racial and the books deal with that in a great way, I thought.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: I loved Brennan’s first series, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I was super excited for the first in the Lynburn Legacy. I wasn’t disappointed. Kami is a wonderful main character, and I alternately want to hug Jared and punch him (for his own good). The supporting cast is strong as well, and the ending! Let’s just say that book 2 can’t arrive too soon.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley: This is a book I wasn’t sure I would like, partly because it’s in categories I don’t tend to enjoy–urban fiction, adult, paranormal. But in this case, O’Malley’s strong writing and characters, plus LONDON, trumped any reservations I might have had. I thoroughly enjoyed The Rook and it’s currently high on my list of books I need to re-read as soon as possible.

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell: I just really love this series. I have small patience for a lot of historical fiction, but when it’s done well it can be so, so good. And The Vespertine and The Springsweet are exactly that. In some ways, I liked Zora’s story even better than Amelia’s; I totally believed the setting and time period and characters. I cannot wait for the third book.

The Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells: I read a lot of Martha Wells this year–not quite everything, but almost. The Wheel of the Infinite was the first book I read by her, and it was also my favorite. I mean, I like all of them! But when you have a fantasy which is also a mystery which also reads like good historical fiction which also has great characters and an awesome romance…I mean, it’s like someone wrote a book personally designed for me. How could I resist that?

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews: Okay, so this is inevitably going to be compared to the next book on my list–both came out in 2012, both featuring teenagers with cancer. And both of them are really strong books, in different ways. But in terms of which one I enjoyed reading more? Me & Earl wins, hands down. It’s so funny, for one thing. And I think it’s more successful in its stated avoidance of becoming a ‘cancer book.’

Stick around for part 2 tomorrow, followed by non-fiction, children’s books, and a general wrap-up of the year!


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Armchair BEA: Best of 2012

Well, I kind of talked about this yesterday in my introduction post, so I’m going to talk a bit more about the books I mentioned and also about the ones I’m looking forward to in the rest of the year.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein: I’ve said everything I possibly could here. It’s a wonderful, intense book and will definitely be making my end-of-the-year favorites list.

The Springsweet by Saundra Mitchell: The second in Mitchell’s trilogy, The Springsweet is a marvelous combination of historical fiction and fantasy. Plus, it has a wonderful narrator and a swoony romance. What’s not to love?

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: I was lucky enough to read a copy through NetGalley. I haven’t written up my formal review yet, but I loved Sarah Rees Brennan’s first trilogy and this one looks like it will be just as amazing. Plus, YA Gothic? Sassy girl reporters? Mysterious strangers? YES, PLEASE.

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells: I just read this one and I fell in love with it. A smart, multicultural fantasy, with strong characters and a tightly-woven mystery plot. It’s like someone ran down the list of things I love.

Upcoming books
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle: I’m a sucker for Elizabethan based fantasies, especially when well done. The cover is a bit awful, but the summary sounds pretty awesome.

Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel: I’m also a sucker for Midwestern-based fantasies. In this case, the summary is a little dubious, but I think the actual book could be really good.

For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: Being a Jane Austen fan, I’m about equal parts excited and terrified for this sci-fi version of Persuasion. But I’m hoping that the excited part will win out.

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl: I’ve read several books by Kindl and really liked them. So this Austenesque title has my hopes high! It also sounds a bit like I Capture the Castle, another favorite book.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin: I had somewhat mixed feelings about Jemisin’s first trilogy, but Jemisin’s worldbuilding is superb and the setting and plot of The Killing Moon is intriguing.

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott: I definitely like Marriott’s books–again, smart, multicultural fantasy–so I’m looking forward to this Cinderella retelling.

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan: I was planning to read this one, but I was excited about it without being SUPER excited. AND THEN I saw this fanart and now I can’t wait. Less than a month! So excited!

So that’s it from me–the ones I’ve loved so far and the ones I can’t wait to read. How about you?


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