Friday, December 14, 2012

The Big XII: Books in a League of Their Own

It's traditional this time of year for bloggers to compile lists of their top book picks for the  past twelve months.  And usually there's a core group of books that show up in varying combinations on nearly every list.  But 2012 was an unusual literary year for me.  Few of the big-name bestsellers really struck a chord with me.  So my list includes only a couple of the "usual suspects" and more of the lesser-known and unusual, but all are books with something special to offer.  Here are my Top 12 for '12 - in no particular order (other than #1) - with snippets from my reviews:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey  - Easily my favorite book of the year.

 I want so badly to tell every one of you why this book is one of "those" - the books that you don't want to end; the books that change how you think; the books that ring a bell somewhere in your memory; the books that are now part of those memories.  I want to shout, "I love this book and you should, too."  First and foremost, it's about a woman who couldn't have a child.  (If you aren't aware of our battle with infertility, you can read about it here.)  Of course Mabel touches my heart, I know her pain.  Secondly, it has a magical element to it, without going over the top.  And third, it's set in Alaska (it's on my bucket list). 

The Black Box by Michael Connelly - This entry is a bit deceiving because I haven't actually read it.  However, I did read seven other Michael Connelly books during the year.  I started with The Reversal from the Micky Haller series and moved on to the Harry Bosch series, a couple where they overlap and even a stand-alone.  Every one of them was wonderful - good plot, good characters, good reading! 

I do have a copy of Mr. Connelly's newest, thanks to a Twitter giveaway on Thanksgiving day, so it may yet get read this year.  Thank you, Little Brown.

The Racketeer by John Grisham 
A Grisham legal thriller is never a bad thing - but this one rates with Mr. Grisham's early works.  The plot twists and turns till the end.  Even though we could see parts of the solution coming, there were still surprises that made us slap palm to forehead.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn  - If you haven't at least heard of this book, you've been under a rock for the past six months.  It's the thriller that has everyone talking and saying "Huh?"
Another reviewer commented on how hard it is to review this book without including spoilers, and I agree.  It's a complicated, twisting plot - even after you've finished reading.  I recommend it for all fans of psychological thrillers - especially those, like myself, with no stomach for blood and guts. 

Stardust by Carla Stewart 
 I was fascinated with the setting and the era.  My family took a vacation each summer, usually to the mountains, and sometimes stayed in small, cabin-style motels similar to the Stardust.  Though that would have been a decade later than the 1950's setting of the book, the giant chain hotels were yet to take over.  Reading Stardust brought back some fond memories.  It also introduced me to the polio epidemic.
The Birdhouse by Kelly Simmons  
There are actually two stories within this book - the present, when Ann is trying to connect with her granddaughter and battling signs of dementia; and the past, with it's secrets.  As the reader is enjoying the present story, bits of the past surface. Through the two stories and time frames, we see Ann - and she sees herself - as almost two separate people.  That sense of disconnection, combined with the memory questions, makes an absorbing story.  
Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst  
This book gave me some much-needed insight into why I eat what I eat, and the reality of "will-power".  A person who views food in a healthy manner can not understand the cravings and irrational behavior of an emotional eater, just as I can not understand a smoker's need for a cigarette.  But Lysa gets it.  And she backs up her insights with scripture.  This is not a book for the casual dieter or the latest fad to take off pounds for swim-suit season, but I recommend it to every woman who struggles with her weight, her attitude toward food and her self-esteem. 
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Jenny suffers from an anxiety disorder which alternately (a.) forces her to hide in the bathroom or (b.) shuts off her self-filter and leaves her spewing a non-stop stream of consciousness (usually about inappropriate subjects) to total strangers.  She also has a bizarre fixation on taxidermied animals and the ability to spin every situation as her husband, Victor's, fault.  All of which she retells with a caustic sense of humor. But underneath all that is a vulernable woman with a heart as big and open as West Texas.  I feel obliged to mention that Jenny is well-versed in profanity and uses it frequently - but if you can look past it, then her "mostly true memoir" is touching, encouraging and just freakin' funny!
Trail of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
Izzy Spellman is a mix of the best parts of Stephanie Plum and Harriet the Spy.  Her entire life is mysteries and cover-ups - at least from her point of view.  What most families would solve with a few direct questions, the Spellmans solve with stake-outs, bribery and recording devices. The entire series is tangled, clever and a hoot!  

Hens and Chickens by Jennifer Wixson - 
A lovely story of two women who leave the city and their corporate jobs to start a business together in rural Maine. There's both romance and mystery, but it's really all about the people.  I'm in love with the charming village of Sovereign, Maine, and it's inhabitants and can't wait to go back.
This is a unique pick because it's not a big-name author, or even a big-name publisher.  Jennifer is a "cyber-friend" whom I met on Twitter - she's not only the author, she's the publicist, the marketing department . . . and an all-around fun lady to get to know.  With apologies to Jennifer, I must admit I usually avoid this type of book because I have seen too many that are published through small publishers or self-published because, frankly, they're not publish-quality.  But knowing a little about Jennifer in advance, I knew this would be different.  And it is.  There are plans for a least two more books in the series, plus a cookbook.  Look for them on future "best of" lists.

One re-read and one "oldie but goodie" made my list this year . . . 'cause it's my list and I can do that if I want.

Where Are The Children by Mary Higgins Clark (1975)
This is old-school thriller writing.  Mary Higgins Clark set the bar for page-turners.  The story is fast-paced, with enough hints to keep you guessing without revealing too much and ruining the twisting ending.

A Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies (1947)

The basis of the beloved Christmas movie - and just as good.


  1. There are several here that look interesting! I definitely want to read Snow Child; I need to see if our library has it. Looks like you did a lot of great reading this year!


  2. Stardust and Hens And Chickens! I have to read them this year.

  3. Wow! Nice list. I haven't read any of them, however, at least one of them is on my wishlist.

  4. Thank you, Tami! I'm honored and so glad Stardust brought back sweet memories for you. Blessings and happy reading in 2013!

  5. I plan to read The Snow Child, Stardust and Hens and Chickens!

  6. I really must read The Snow Chld and The Racketeer.

  7. I love reading everyone's lists! THe only one I've read is the vintage Mary Higgins Clark. I read through everything she wrote when I was in high school and remember this one.
    Gone Girl is going to be my first read of the year :)