Favorite Books Read in 2012:
For those who have been following my blog throughout the year, the books on this list won’t come as a surprise. I write long reviews, though, so below you can find much shorter descriptions of my favorite books from 2012. All the books I reviewed or authors I interviewed are linked to the original post.
Note that these are books I read in 2012, not necessarily books published in 2012. Also, some have forthcoming reviews scheduled to go up in 2013.
1. SHADOW AND BONE by LEIGH BARDUGO
Alina lives in a war-torn country struggling to distribute weapons and resources despite what they call the fold - a large swath of monster-ridden darkness - cutting though their land. When Alina’s dormant magical power reveals itself, she’s whisked away from her humble life working alongside her best friend/crush into the beautiful but treacherous world of the court.
2. HEIR TO THE SHADOWS, QUEEN OF THE DARKNESS, THE INVISIBLE RING, DREAMS MADE FLESH, TANGLED WEBS, THE SHADOW QUEEN, and SHALADOR’S LADY by ANNE BISHOP
Bishop’s one of my top tier favorite authors and her BLACK JEWELS series is what first won my adoration. Complex worldbuilding, a fascinating magic system, well-handled high drama, a huge cast of lovable characters as well as despicable villains, laugh aloud moments, and satisfying resolutions with an underlying sense of justice - there’s so much to love.
The first book in the TIR ALAINN trilogy follows the mortal witch Ari, who could help rescue the fading Fae world if only they weren’t too arrogant to recognize a mere human’s worth. The cast balloons out in later books as unexpected alliances form in an effort to prevent the genocide of all witches.
4. WHITE CAT by HOLLY BLACK
In Cassel’s alternate world, everyone wears gloves, because curse workers (those with magic) must touch you in order to place their curse. Cassel confesses to the reader right near the beginning that he recently murdered his best friend, but, of course, there’s more to that story. The book leads us through a maze of curses, betrayals, twists, and turns and then halts with a killer last line.
5. UNSPOKEN by SARAH REES BRENNAN
Brennan can ricochet between hilarious and dramatic with admirable control. Our quirky and lovable protagonist Kami has communicated with a voice in her head for as long as she can remember. She never obsessed over the inexplicable, either, but when explanations do come, they aren’t cheery.
Though only very, very loosely connected, these books are part of the same series and both easily make my all-times favorites list. Through hyperbole, Cashore deconstructs fantasy tropes: GRACELING examines the “tough woman” through Katsa’s magical talent for killing and FIRE analyzes that annoying Mary Sue protagonist through the title’s namesake, an unusual woman whom everyone desperately wants to possess, serve, or kill…within seconds of meeting her.
Frustrated with her order and rule-obsessed parents, Kendra writes away to a household-swapping reality television show, never expecting she’ll actually be selected. Through an entertaining premise, Collins and Rideout portray timeless themes about fitting in.
When Luisa’s high school principal pits the boys against the girls for a school fundraiser, Luisa’s selected to write an anonymous column representing the girls side while a boy will cover the guys. As the competition spirals out of control, Luisa notices clues that her dreamy new boyfriend might be her sexist, rival columnist.
The second book in the LOVE, INC. trilogy follows Kali this time around and is packed with layered, interwoven story lines. To name a few: avid dater Kali tries for a serious, long-term relationship, Zahra finds her loyalty torn between friends and her new boyfriend (Kali’s brother), and someone’s luring away Love, Inc. clients.
The last two books in THE UNICORN CHRONICLES blew me away. Coville creates a backstory to the entire world of Luster that I never could have predicted and interweaves many complex and compelling plot threads into a masterpiece of a series.
11. FEVER by LAUREN DESTEFANO
After escaping at the end of WITHER, Rhine’s forced to acknowledge that the real world isn’t the paradise she idealized. Gabriel, well, withers outside of the mansion while Rhine remains determined that freedom is worth infinite hardships.
12. IN A GLASS GRIMMLY by ADAM GIDWITZ
Gidwitz uses a similar formula for his second book to tell a completely new tale. This one follows Jack and Jill as they wend through fractured fairy tales, fables, and folklore towards a heartfelt, original moral.
13. TWENTIES GIRL by SOPHIE KINSELLA
Lara finds herself haunted by the ghost of her recently deceased great aunt. I didn’t expect a speculative fiction element from chick lit master Kinsella, but she both pulls it off and reminds me why she’s my favorite in the genre.
It’s hard to summarize a story with so many brilliant elements, but in a word: unique. From the less commonly used mythological creature - the griffin - to a Japanese influence, STORMDANCER’s really something special.
15. LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by JENNY LAWSON
If you haven’t heard of the Bloggess, click here to read her post on perspective, marital disputes, and a giant metal chicken. If you laugh, you must buy this book. Hilarious but honest, it’s a great read.
The sci-fi premise here may not be all that unique, but Lo still brings her story to life by focusing on characters over plot. After a bizarre string of unlikely events, Reese and her debate partner/crush David awake in an odd “hospital” that has them sign confidentiality agreements about their treatment before allowing them to return home.
My friend described ASH to me as a lesbian twist on Cinderella, but that doesn’t do the story justice; Lo has re-worked much more than who the heroine chooses at the end - from a creepier fairy godmother figure to a more believable and tragic lead character. Prequel HUNTRESS plays with beloved speculative fiction themes regarding fate versus choice.
Imani’s near-future world cut right to my pet peeves about our education system. Frustrated by the inability of GPAs and other academic scores to predict real future potential, tech geniuses create new technology that can analyze everything about a person and score their potential. Teenagers sacrifice any other sense of self-worth as they learn to define themselves only by this score.
19. CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER by PEGGY ORENSTEIN
In a feminist examination of girly culture and how we raise daughters, Orenstein dissects princesses, toys, movies, body image, beauty pageants, clothes, etc. Though more analytical than problem-solving, the essays are a fantastic starting point for an open discussion about gender.
With brilliant sensory detail and realism, Papademtriou vividly brings her characters and world to life. Much more suspense than fantasy focused, both books in this duology sneak through unsettling and bizarre events towards abrupt, climatic showdowns.
21. VALKYRIE RISING by INGRID PAULSON
Paulson proves there’s still plenty more to explore in the “strong woman” subset of fantasy. All her life, Ellie has been protected by guys - primarily her brother and his best friend - but now males are the victims and Ellie might be the only one who can save them.
I complimented LOST VOICES last year on being a unique take on mermaids. If anything, WAKING STORMS raises the bar higher with a thoroughly unpredictable and emotionally-impacting plot as well as a wealth of interpretations and discussions interlaced through a layered world, magic system, cast, and plot.
In a dreamy and surreal story, Simner pulls from Icelandic mythology. Haley attempts to find her mother (who disappeared when she was a child) despite her father’s warnings. Without any hint of a preachy tone, the story poses beautifully handled questions about love.
24. A POSSE OF PRINCESSES by SHERWOOD SMITH
While I found the primary storyline rather predictable, there’s a huge cast of well-rounded character and many intersecting plot threads with understated story developments that caught me off guard and stuck with me long past finishing the book. The protagonist Rhis feels like a person - not a character - but it’s Taniva who stole the show for me.
25. UP AND DOWN THE SCRATCHY MOUNTAINS by LAUREL SNYDER
While Snyder’s book is a little younger than I usually read, she proved that target age becomes irrelevant in a great story. With a fun and playful tone, our tale follows young Lucy as she takes off in search of her mother as well as a grand adventure.
26. TOUCH OF POWER by MARIA V. SNYDER
If you’ve read any of Snyder’s other books, her story’s can seem a bit formulaic, but it should be specified that it’s a formula that works! This is one of those books I didn’t even want to put down to eat or sleep and the magic system has a marvelous balance of power and sacrifice.
27. RENEGADE by J.A. SOUDERS
It might be tempting to dismiss this book too soon when the first chapter opens with Evelyn’s saccharine inner monologue and repeated chants of: My life is pretty much perfect. Then paradise dissolves into chaotic, horrific violence and Chapter 2 opens with a disturbing sense of déjà vu and only one thing is clear: things aren’t what they seem.
28. THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN by GARTH STEIN
I put off reading this book for far too long! It sat in my towering to-read pile long before it became a bestseller, but I’m rather cynical of buzz and became increasingly convinced that it couldn’t live up to everyone’s raving. It did! It did!
29. DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by LAINI TAYLOR
I adored DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE and while this second installment in the trilogy is definitely a little bit too dark and grim for my tastes, I can’t deny it’s an amazing book. Taylor doesn’t shy away from presenting hard (try excruciating) choices for her characters and at this point I can’t possibly imagine a happy ending for the series.