Squeaking in before the bell tolls midnight and the end of 2012 (because the internet ate my first post and I’m sad to say it was much better).

Neither of my most favorite books of 2012 were published in 2012, but who cares? Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead are both middle grade. Before I read them, I would have told you I don’t read middle grade. Now I shamelessly push them on all book people and non-book people alike.

Sherman handles race, slavery, 1960s sexism and growing up without one misstep in this gem of a book. I was so afraid of the ending, but it is so so right. She’s a master. Plus it was 18 years in the making. The reader in me marvels, the writer in me weeps.

When You Reach Me has been called bittersweet, and I guess that’s the best that English can do. This book has a beauty that is enhanced and made possible by the presence of pain. It is sweet and painful, kind and unkind, each part necessary for the other.

Best why did it take me so long to read this book?: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. I’d picked this one up once before and didn’t get very far. I tried again early this year and fell hard. So hard I tried to persuade my book club to read this one instead of the book I knew was going to make me cry (they didn’t go for it). It is difficult to get into, but it is so so worth it once you do.

Best memoir wherein the author should have died multiple times: Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012). Hilarious and horrifying all at once, I wouldn’t have believed this story if someone had told me about it, but it must be true because publishers are more careful about those things now, right? RIGHT? Do not read this as a how-to to guide for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She should be dead several times over.

Best categorized as a mystery but I’m not really sure that’s what it is: O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King (re-read). If there are any factual errors in this book, don’t tell me, ok? I don’t want to know. Remember how when I caught a snippet of Elementary on TV I thought Lucy Liu was Sherlock and then I cried when I found out she wasn’t, that it was the guy? This has the female Sherlock Holmes who is disguised as a boy for most of the book in 19teensomething Palestine. She learns Arabic (in addition to the other languages she already knows) and is Jewish. There is obsessive comparative religion, archeology, indigenous (if that’s the word) freedom movements and everyone is passing as something else in this book, one of my favorite themes ever. I think this book was written just for me.

Best graphic novel that unexpectedly made me cry: The Arrival by Shaun Tan. My graphic novel reading is sorely limited, complicated by the fact that the Brooklyn Public Library seems to shelve these books without alphabetizing them (the horror!) But my friend Alison has this book decoupaged or plastered (or something arty) on her wall and so I determined I must read it. Dear reader, I cried.

Best quiet book with the best friendships ever: Silence by Michelle West or Michelle Sagara (2012). Since she’s the same person I’m not going to bother to look it up again. Plenty happens in this book, it’s just not as relentlessly paced or explosiontastic as some other YA books I’ve read this year. But what shines are the friendships. I love the friendship between the girl friends. I love the friendship between the neurotypical girls and the boy with Asperger’s. I wish I had been so brave and smart as a kid. And then I read the author’s story about the dedication and I cried. (I’m pretty sure I read the original, longer entry on her livejournal. I can’t seem to find it, but this will give you an idea.)

Best fantasy: The Siren Depths by Martha Wells (2012). I’ve posted elsewhere about how much I love Martha Wells’ stories. What I love about this book and the others in the trilogy is how fantastic it is, in the sense of extravagantly fanciful, marvelous. I don’t get this feeling that often from fantasy anymore, whether because I’m jaded or because there’s so much grim-dark out there these days.

Honorable mention: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I know it’s weird to have an honorable mention on my own list. I really really liked this book, but I didn’t love love love it like some of the books I left off this list. However, it surprised me. The concept surprised me, the dragons surprised me, the humor surprised me and the plot surprised me and that is damn rare so I’m putting it here.

Books I thought I read in 2012 but really read in 2011 and I’m going to tell you about them anyway:

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz. Best quote from the book (paraphrased) “Being wrong feels an awful lot like being right.”

Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. As Elizabeth Bear said (more or less) “This is how to write narrative non-fiction as if it were fiction.” Or really something like that. In other words, gruesome, funny, fascinating science and history writing.

A Fistful of Sky by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. For someone who won the Stoker award and has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree and Mythopoeic awards and more, I don’t hear that much about this author. This book is a little like Holly Black’s curse workers trilogy, without the mafia, boarding school or NJ and if Cassel had a happy home life. Ok, it’s really not, except magic runs in families and everyone has it except Gypsum and when she finally does get it, it’s unpleasant curse magic. And the book is awesome, so in that it’s alike.

Best blog: The Book Smugglers. Because why the hell not? I agree with Thea and Ana enough to trust their taste in books. Plus they’re smart, savvy smugglers with lots of sharp commentary on topics that interest me and how they intersect with books.

Best Reads of 2012


5 thoughts on “Best Reads of 2012

  1. […] Best Reads of 2012 (nicolelisa.wordpress.com) […]

  2. sprite says:

    When You Reach Me is fantastic. So beautiful and life affirming. Liar & Spy, her latest novel, is also quite good.

    And I love the name of this award: Best memoir wherein the author should have died multiple times!

    • Nicole Lisa says:

      I read Liar & Spy recently and liked it rather than loved it, though it’s interesting to look at as a writer to see how it’s put together.

      I think that memoir category might be a once only thing, unless I start reading memoirs of people who do adrenaline sports on a regular basis.

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