Best Reads of 2012

This was meant to be a “Top Ten” post, but it turned out to be too difficult to pick ten books. Or rather, there were six books that absolutely had to be on the list, but I couldn’t make up my mind about the other four. My simple solution was to list the six that stood out so clearly. They all made a strong impact on me this year, and when I think of them, the first thing I recall is the wonderful feeling of reading them, closely followed by thoughts of all the things that made them so great.

They aren’t all 2012 publications, but the oldest is still very recent (published in 2010). I’ve listed them in the order I read them, and you can click on the title or the cover to see my review, if I’ve written one.

Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok by AS Byatt Grove Press

Rich, exquisite writing relating Norse myths and a young child’s experience of reading them.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Rook by Daniel OMalley

This is one of those wonderful books that has everything – humour, mystery, action, weirdness, loads of people and creatures with supernatural powers, and a touch of tragedy. If I was listing these books according to sheer entertainment, The Rook would undoubtedly be at the top.

The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente

The Habitation of the Blessed by Cat Valente

The only novel that could possibly compete with Ragnarok in terms of writing is this beauty. In fact, I think Valente would win.

Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Lies Knives and Girls in Red Dresses by Ron Koertge

Gorgeous retellings of fairy tales in the form of prose poems. They’re dark and twisted, full of violence, sensuality, and taboo desire. The writing is both elegant and snarky, and the whole is utterly lovely.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I’ve heaped praise on this ever since I read it. One of the best psychological thrillers ever.

The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth
The Etymologicon by mark Forsyth

Subtitled “A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language”, The Etymologicon leaps delightfully from one word to another, exploring their connections and etymologies. Anyone who likes trivia will love this, and if a friend or family membe or other victim is sitting beside you when you’re reading, you will frequently turn to them with the words, “Hey! Did you know…”

Honourable Mentions…

The following books didn’t have as much of an impact as the top six, but I really wanted to give them a mention in this post because they were great books nevertheless.

Enormity by W.G. Marshall – Marshall takes a weird, silly, and often gross premise of a small, lonely man turned into a 6000-foot tall colossus and crafts a surprisingly engaging story out of it. Great, quirky sf.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – the romance made me wary of this book, but it turned out to be as delightfully magical as all its fans said it was. One of the few occasions  when popular fiction lives up to the hype.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – unique sf set in the midst of an Islamic war between two far-future post-Earth societies. Excellent writing, an unforgettable main character, an Islamic society  where women rule, and bug-tech.

Railsea by China Miéville I wish this kind of adventure – rather than romance – was the face of contemporary YA. Miéville’s latest is one of his msot entertaining novels, with lots of his characteristic weirdness and wordplay.

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk  gorgeous historical fiction for foodies and  myth-lovers

vN by Madeline Ashby – this sf novel has the perfect balance of character, action and ideas, musing on the possibilities and problems of AI as a part of human society.


And that’s that! Here’s to more brilliant books in 2013!

September Round-up

I’m on holiday in South Africa again (yay!), which is my excuse for why I was rather quiet last week, and why I’ll remain quiet over the next two weeks, although I’ll try my best to keep reading.

I had a whopping nine eARCs of books that were published in September, but I only managed to read five of them and review four. On the bright side, I managed to finish an 800-page whopper that’s been on my tbr list since it was published in 2010. It wasn’t very good, but that’s life. At least I can say I read it.

But on with the round-up. Please forgive me for using multiple thumbnail images instead of the usual collage – I’m working on my netbook without a mouse, and it’s just too much of a schlep to work with the images. Anyway, I finally posted my review of The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle, a literary horror novel set in a mental institution in Queens, New York.

I reviewed the two debut novels from new YA published Strange Chemistry. They were ok, but not exactly memorable. Shift by Kim Curran is a sci fi novel about teenagers with the power to undo their decisions. There was plenty of action and wish fulfilment for teenage boys, but too many holes in the worldbuilding for me to ignore.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond was a better novel. It’s a mystery/romance based on a North American legend known as the Lost Colony. The relationship at the heart of the novel is sweet if a little implausble. There’s plenty of adventure, but the mystery and fantasy aspects of the plot were a let-down.

It’s been a while since I reviewed an indie novel, so I took on Painting by Numbers by Tom Gillespie. It’s a mystery/thriller about a man obsessed with finding a mathematical theory hidden in the details of an obscure Spanish Baroque painting. I liked the premise, and the author writes good conversations, but after a certain point the novel unravels and is ultimately unsatisfying.

The best novel I read in September – not to mention one of the best historical novels I’ve ever read – was the delicious John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk. It’s a lovely mix of food, history, mythology, romance, conflict and tragedy. Highly recommended, especially for foodies.

Sadly, the next book I finished was one of the worst I’ve ever read – Cry to Heaven  by Anne Rice. I read it for a reading challenge where each participant lists five novels they would take with them if trapped on a deserted island. You have to read one novel from each person’s list. Cry to Heaven was a dreadful choice. If I was stuck with it on a deserted island I’d use it for kindling or toilet paper. It’s a total soap opera about a bunch of boring assholes. Most of it is predictable and it’s filled with boring, angsty whining. Rice’s prose is a hideous shade of purple, and the many sex scenes are written with ridiculous euphemisms. I only finished the novel for the sake of the reading challenge and because I’d committed to a buddy read.

Then I finally finished The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth, which I’ve been reading slowly over the past few months. It’s described as “A circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English language”, and it’s utterly delightful. It’s funny and odd, full of the weirdest trivia about words. If my boyfriend was ever in the same room with me while I read this, I’d constantly interrupt him with “Hey, did you know….”

Up next was The Passage by Justin Cronin, a post-apocalyptic horror novel featuring vampires. This is the novel that I’ve had on my tbr since it came out. It was very disappointing – a mostly boring, frustrating read that should have been cut down to 400 pages. Instead I had to slog through 800, and none of it was scary. I’ll post my review later this week.

My last review book for the month was Breed by Chase Novak, another item in my search for a horror novel that can actually scare me. I’d heard great things about Breed, a story of a couple who go to extreme measures to have children. Bits of it were unsettling, but it didn’t achieve the desired level of creepiness that I’m looking for. Nevertheless, it was a fairly good book. Review to follow.

I ended the month on a light note with Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett. Not one of his best, but charming as always, and I do love the witches.

And now, to continue working on that reading/reviewing backlog… First up for October is the YA post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel Pure by Julianna Baggot.