Saturday, January 19, 2013

Best Books I Read in 2012

Despite one of the busiest years in recent memories, I'm surprised by how many books I conquered in the last twelve months.  My reading schedule was sporadic at best, but I managed to cover a wide variety of genres and authors.  I utterly botched my goal of doing a blog review for each one, but here's an overview of my book shelf from 2012.

Top Picks

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (crime thriller)

Have been egged on for years that I should read this and finally did.  What was I waiting for?!?!  Decimated a whole weekend with this companion.  I can't find a single thing wrong with it - if you love crime fiction, you need to read this immediately.  Don't let people say the first 100 pages are boring - they don't know what patience is.   

Have prudently put off buying the other two books in the trilogy, for the temptation to consume them in one sitting would be far too great.  Am eying upcoming weekends for clearance though, lol.   

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø (crime thriller) 

Apparently the new crime writers are all from Scandinavian countries.  Wow, I honestly have all praise for this Norwegian mystery.  This is the 7th installment of a 9-book series, but detective Harry Hole is immediately accessible and fascinating.

If you like books about gruff detectives and clever serial killers, and descriptive violence doesn't put you off, you'll enjoy curling up on your couch with this one.  But maybe with the lights on.  Can't wait to explore the rest of the series. 
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian fiction) 

I went directly from the movie theater to pick up the first book in the afternoon and finished it later at 2am.  I really wish these books had been around when I was a kid - I would have been all over them.  Easy reads geared at middle-schoolers, but nonetheless entertaining and raise some interesting issues about our future.  Eagerly waiting for the second movie to come out this spring!  

Different Seasons by Stephen King (short stories)

Several years ago, I read "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" because I always loved the movie, but for some reason, I never explored the other three tales until now.

"The Body" you're probably familiar with because of the movie Standby Me - it was comfy enough coming-of-age tale. "The Breathing Method" has the same groove as telling good ghost stories around a campfire.

But I was absolutely gripped by "The Apt Pupil."  A young kid discovers a hidden Nazi in his small town - the story descends from there.  At every turn, your mind keeps asking, "is he really going there???"  King knows how to spin a yarn that immediately sinks its hooks into you without letting go.  Twisted plots, characters of dubious intention, a touch of the paranormal: you. just. can't. put. the. damn. book. down.  

Full Dark, No Stars  by Stephen King (short stories)

As much as I enjoyed Different Seasons, you can tell King has come a long way since 1982.  His latest collection of short stories covers his usual gamut of the terrible, supernatural, and the downright disturbing. But if you like gothic fiction, that's exactly what you crave from King.  

I was completely captivated by each story and while I read this while traveling, it's no airplane read.  I wish more (mainstream) authors would explore short stories and novellas, or maybe they just know that King would blow all of them out of the water. 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (true story)
Amazing story right here - found it while looking for popular books to feature in a literature class this summer.  Chronicles how one woman's cancer cells, taken unknowingly, have led to as many medical breakthroughs as they raise ethical issues about patient consent.  Not usually partial to nonfiction, but this reads like an episode of CSI or Criminal Minds.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (cultural/sociology)

Another book introduced to me at work.  This is a fantastic read and really generates a lot of discussion - highly recommend to anyone.  Definitely need to check out his other books. 

Honorable Mentions

Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King (detective fiction)

The twelfth edition in her Mary Russell series, this book was on target - I was neither delighted nor disappointed.  This is hands down my favorite book series (continuation of Sherlock Holmes but from his new partner Mary's point of view), but the last few editions haven't captivated my attention.  

I can see perfectly what the author is doing - playing around with the narrative and format to bring new options to readers.  They just don't have me on the edge of my seat like some earlier ones.  But that's ok - I'll gladly spend an afternoon with Ms. Russell and I impatiently wait to read her next adventure.  

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (fiction)

This book is much richer than the movie (no surprise).  It was a pretty decent read, though it's not one that I would return to again and again.  When you hear the book described - a fictional story about black maids in the 60s as told by a modern white woman - it's easy to misjudge it completely.  Read it first and then form an opinion.  

50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James (erotica, barely)

Yeah yeah, I hopped on the bandwagon.  Remember that my husband was away for most of this year ... eh hem.  Did I read the whole thing?  Yes.  Did it maybe aid with some stress relief?  <cough>  Was I motivated to read the other books?  No.  There's better stuff out there, just saying.  


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (dystopian sci-fi)

One of those mandatory English major novels that I'm embarrassed I've never read (to be fair, it was never assigned).  Overall ok, not my favorite, but certainly glad I read it because the story is much deeper than the snippets of cultural references you get.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg / The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal (sociological, self-help) 

Both books offer intriguing insights about what motivates us and how we get stuck in a groove.  Both are worth a read (though I liked McGonigal's book better) - really helps you start looking at your own unique habits to see which ones are helping you and which ones need to be redirected.  There's no secret to making or undoing habits - it's trial and error - but you have to be aware of what your habits are in the first place to make any changes.  

Recommended by a friend, this is one of the weirdest books I've ever read.  Jenny Lawson is now a famous blogger, but her childhood and early marriage are one long potty joke.  Seriously, this book will crack you up as it explores the unusual twists and turns of Lawson's mind.  Only recommend if you can handle heavy doses of gross, swearing, disturbing, and hilarious.  


 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (YA sci-fi)

I read it because my work book club picked fantasy and I wanted to revisit this because I never really understood it as a kid.  I still didn't like it.

A Discovery of Witches / Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (magical fiction)

Whereas I absolutely adored the first book, the second book was almost a complete miss for me.  Was it the 16th century setting that put me off because it's not an era I'm fond of or familiar with?  Might the explosion of characters and historical references been hard to keep track of?  Could my expectations have been misled, as the first book had more DaVinci Code-esque pacing whereas the second was pretty static? 

I wait patiently for the third installment.  I do want to know where the story goes and how it might possibly wrap up, but if I have to slog through another 600-pages of blah, I will be sad indeed.  

What were your top reads last year?


  1. Thank you! I now have a list of must-reads and must-read-agains. Always a good thing.

    1. Lol, not a problem! Actually, I think you would love "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." Let me know if you want to borrow it - be happy to mail it up!