Friday, March 1, 2013

Oh dear . . .

Here it is March and I have yet to post January's book reviews. But how can I possibly begin 2013 until I've satisfactorily closed out 2012?

Without further ado (without any ado, actually, since 'ado' seems to be beyond me these days), here are my literary stats and favorites from last year.








(Statistically-minded readers, don't try to make sense of my numbers. I was an English major, remember? This is VERY ROUGH count. And some books overlap categories and I usually only counted those in one category--I think, I did these counts almost two months ago now, who can remember?)

Those who have read my blog for more than a year will see that my trends continue--mystery is my deep and abiding love. Someday I will figure out how to write one to my satisfaction and that will be an awesome day.

Until then, you can increase the numbers in my historical section at least five-fold, to take into account the multiple times I read and edited drafts of my own upcoming books.

And now My Favorites of 2012, in chronological order by when I read it:

1. WOLF HALL/Hilary Mantel
    The first of Mantel's trilogy about Thomas Cromwell and his rise from lowly beginnings to consummate crown servant to Henry VIII. WOLF HALL won the Man Booker Prize for 2011 and the second book BRING UP THE BODIES (still on my to-be-read shelf) won the same prize for 2012. An outstanding novel of ambition, power, personalities, and politics. If you have even the slightest passing interest in the Tudor era, pick up this novel.

2. MWF SEEKING BFF/Rachel Bertsche
     I picked up this memoir just four months after moving cross country from my home of thirteen years to Boston and alternately laughed and cried through the book. Bertsche writes of her quest to find a best friend after she moves to Chicago with her new husband. She goes on 52 friend dates in a year and the results are hilarious and surprisingly insightful. If friends are important in your life, this is a book for you.

     The only writer to land two books on my favorites list this year, Willis is consistently funny and thought-provoking. ALL CLEAR is the follow-up to BLACKOUT, telling the story of Oxford student historians from the mid-21st century trapped in London during WWII. It's a tense, taut story that brilliantly illuminates the effects of our actions on history. TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG was Willis's first novel in the Oxford time travel world, and it is a hilarious (seriously, laughing out loud until it hurt!) race for two historians to save a cat, ensure true love, and find the missing Bishop's Bird Stump before time runs out. If you haven't read Willis, why are you waiting?

4. BLUE NIGHTS/Joan Didion
      Several years ago, the writer Didion wrote a memoir of her husband's sudden death, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. In a second-part of sorts, Didion continues with the death of their only child, Quintana, who was seriously ill at the time of her husband's death. An elegy to mother-love and the grief of being left alone, BLUE NIGHTS is not a light or easy book. But what writing!

5. BELIEVING THE LIE/Elizabeth George
     I know George has alienated many readers with the increasing length and complexity of her Inspector Lynley novels, but I for one am always ready to indulge myself in the lives of everyone she writes about--grieving widowers, tense marriage partners, children shattered by death, and the secrets that drive someone to murder.

6. BROKEN HARBOR/Tana French
      I can always count on French to make this list. In this fourth book of her Dublin Murder Squad series, she follows the upright, by-the-book officer Mick 'Scorcher' Kennedy. A family dies in a half-built housing estate abandoned in the economic crisis and Scorcher is thrown back into his past by the investigation. French excels at deep psychological plumbing of her main characters, writing all their flaws and faults with a generosity that's almost painful in its bittersweetness.

     Another perennial entry in my favorites list, Armand Gamache of the Quebec Sureté enters a monastery to investigate murder. I love closed-community mysteries and this was one was crackling with the tension of a limited number of suspects as well as the achingly unresolved issues of Gamache's second-in-command, Jean–Guy Beauvoir. I wept in the closing pages and cannot wait for the next novel this fall.

     A stunningly-realized fantasy world, a caper-plot better than Ocean's Eleven, a band of thieving brothers, and a protagonist with wit and charm and issues to spare, the only bad thing I can say about this first novel in the Locke Lamora series is that only the second one has been published and the third one has been delayed for years. Scott Lynch--write faster!

      Amazingly enough for an English major, I had never read this particular classic of Charles Ryder's friendship with the aristocratic Flyte family in the years between the world wars. There is tragedy and to spare in this story, but in a gentle, melancholy sort of way that is too often missing from our louder world. Fans of Downton Abbey, consider visiting the world of Brideshead.

10. Okay, I know I said I was putting these in the chronological order in which I read them, but this is my exception for My Favorite Novel of 2012. Far and away the best book I've read in years . . . THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Hazel Grace has terminal cancer; Augustus Waters lost a leg to a tumor. When the two of them meet in a Cancer Support Group, the most unlikely, most moving, most beautiful story of friendship and love begins. Sure, I have a personal stake in the subject matter. But with the number of awards TFioS has garnered, clearly you don't have to have been a Cancer mom to love this book. (Jake also loved it, by the way. If you want a former cancer kid's assessment.) This story will endure forever in my life.

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