To round out my Best of 2012 posts, today I’m bringing you my Favourite Books 2012, with books that were published in 2012, but weren’t a debut novel. With the amount of books I read this past year it was hard to whittle them down to ten. But I succeeded and here’s my list.
10. Scott Sigler – Nocturnal
Having heard a lot about Scott Sigler on various podcasts I listen to, I was really pleased to receive a review copy for Nocturnal. It’s a great supernatural police procedural with one of the most entertaining cop duo’s it’s been my pleasure to read. Nocturnal contains some truly horrific scenes and the parts set in the nocturnals’ lair are genuinely creepy. As it stands Nocturnal is a curious blend of genre elements, but as I concluded my review: “But genre classifications aside, if you like a great story, filled with action and mystery, you just shouldn’t miss Nocturnal, as it’s a thrilling ride through and under San Francisco’s streets, that will leave you breathless and wanting more.”
9. John Ajvide Lindqvist – Little Star
Last year I was blown away by Lindqvist’s Harbor, so to come home to a review copy of Little Star was a lovely surprise. What I love about Little Star are the deep questions it poses its reader hidden underneath the harrowing tale of Theres and Teresa. Questions about nature vs. nurture, about human nature, about what it takes to break the human spirit, and how easily are we led into destructive behaviour. None of these are answered in the book of course – some of them are even unanswerable – but Lindqvist prompts us to think about them and try and formulate our own conclusions. I ended my review as follows: “Little Star leaves us with plenty of gristle to chew over and Lindqvist’s tale will haunt me for a while longer. I think I can now also safely say that Lindqvist has single-handedly cured me of my horror of Horror. Little Star is another stunning novel and Lindqvist is truly a name to be reckoned with in his field and beyond.” Well-written, intelligent horror, what more can you ask for? Hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for a new Lindqvist novel.
8. Kate Lord Brown – The Perfume Garden
Set in Valencia in the Spanish Civil War era and in the early years of this century, The Perfume Garden blew me away. I’d become interested in the author after having read a review for her previous book The Beauty Chorus and when I saw this book in the Corvus catalogue I really wanted to read it as it dealt with a place and a time I was largely unfamiliar with. The following from my review sums up my feelings best: “I loved this book, its fabulous characterisations and indulgent, atmospheric writing. I could smell and taste Spain while reading its pages and I was sad to close the book; sad to leave the characters behind, but satisfied at the ending. The Perfume Garden is a historical fiction novel set in an interesting and uncommonly cruel era, with both a mystery to solve and a dash of romance.” I still need to read The Beauty Chorus and I’m hoping 2013 will bring us a new novel from Lord Brown as well.
7. Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
2012 seems to have been my year for discovering already well-established authors. Cat Valente is one such author. She’s got mad genre props with Hugo nominations and a win, a Tiptree and an Andre Norton award win, and numerous other nominations and wins. She’s well-loved by a lot of readers and until this year I hadn’t read anything by her. Then I read The Girl Who… and I was converted to the Church of Valente. Stunning prose, combined with beautiful story and lovely characters, what more could you want from a book? From my review: “The Girl Who… is a story for all ages. Younger children will just see the exciting story, the quest September undertakes, while teens will perhaps see a little deeper into the story and see its wisdom about growing up. And for adults there are different layers again: the impact of the loss of a parent, how destructive our modern-day corporate and bureaucratic world is to a free spirit and that in the end life is all about losing and finding your way again, sometimes with the help of (unexpected) friends.” This is one book anyone raising little girls should buy and read, first for themselves and then to the girl(s) in question, because September is an awesome protagonist, who shows girls don’t have to be made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’ to end up well.
6. Eva Stachniak – The Winter Palace
I’m a sucker for historical fiction dealing with royalty and aristocracy and that is what initially drew me to The Winter Palace; however what I found in the book was a story about humanity, its complexity, beauty and its dark sides. The reader is shown the glittering magnificence of the Russian court, but where there is so much brightness, there must be an equally large darkness and Stachniak spares us none of this. From the conclusion of my review: “The Winter Palace is a mesmerising read; the fascinating story of two outsiders to the Russian court and how one of them succeeded to reach the apex of said court. Stachniak’s writing is engaging and at times magical, with a wonderful attention to detail and a flair for laying bare the workings of human relationships.” I can’t wait for the companion novel to this book, The Midnight Palace to be published hopefully in the second half of 2013.
5. Lyndsay Faye – The Gods of Gotham
One of things I loved most about this amazing historical crime novel is what it taught me about language and how much of our modern day expressions are descended from nineteenth century New York. The use of slang and unfamiliar words was one of my favourite things about the book, but might also be its downfall for readers who don’t have a language quirk. Added to the wonderful writing, Faye creates amazing characters, especially Tim Wilde, of whom I said in the review: “Our protagonist Tim is a compelling narrator, compassionate, smart and a fiendishly precise observer, who can piece together clues in an almost Holmesian manner, though his methods and insights are more based on the power of observation and psychological in nature than scientific.” I really loved this look at the inception of the NYPD and the underbelly of nineteenth-century New York society. I’ve got Faye’s previous novel Dust and Dreams already on my TBR-pile and hopefully the sequel to The Gods of Gotham will be out somewhere in 2013 as well.
4. Giles Kristian – The Bleeding Land
Another historical novel, The Bleeding Land took me to another unfamiliar era in history: the English Civil War. Kristian brings it to life in an unparalleled way. From the review: “There are three components that make The Bleeding Land such a fantastic read: its characters, the battle descriptions and Kristian’s carefully woven prose. Of course the plot is exciting enough in its own right, but it’s these three things that lift it up to something extraordinary.” These components make reading the book a visceral experience that works on all the senses. I felt really immersed in this story, so much so, that putting the story down was sometimes a little disorientating. I can’t wait for the publication of Brothers’ Fury, because I really want to know what happens to the Rivers children.
3. Daniel Polansky – Tomorrow The Killing
Its predecessor The Straight Razor Cure already found its way onto my Favourite 2012 Reads list, but Tomorrow the Killing deserved its spot on this list as well. What a fabulous sophomore outing for Daniel Polansky! I loved the development of the history of not just Warden, but of some of his friends and the Rigan Empire. In my review I claimed: “In my opinion the puzzle of the whodunit was more intricate this time around; in The Straight Razor Cure I’d figured out who did it early on, even if I didn’t know why until the end. In Tomorrow the Killing I was taken completely by surprise by the identity of the instigator of both murders—Polansky pulled a fast one on me. […] But far more than a murder mystery this is a further exploration of the character of the Warden. Polansky continues to show us Warden’s history through flashbacks to relevant events in his life.” In the end there were still many questions about the past left unanswered and I hope we’ll get the chance to find out the answers in the third book soon.
2. Catherynne M. Valente – Deathless
Another Valente! I’ve already explained above how I discovered Valente’s work this year and with Deathless I discovered that I loved her fiction for adults just as much as I liked her children’s/YA fiction. Deathless was a stunning work of allegory, reworking the fairy tale of Koschei the Deathless through the lens of the political upheavals Russia faced in the first half of the twentieth century to tell the tale of a girl becoming a woman and claiming her own agency. Valente weaves a complex tale; as I put it in my review: “There is so much layering to the narrative, that you could reread this book several times and find new meaning in it every time. There are themes of love, of power, of politics, all boiling down to who rules? Who rules in life, in death, in love, and in power. In Deathless Marya explores both sides of the equation and discovers those you rule, rule you in turn.” Valente is a rare talent and I’m looking forward to discovering more of her work in the coming year.
1. Chuck Wendig – Mockingbird
And now we come to it, I’ll have to reveal my utter shallowness and confess that what drew me to Mockingbird‘s predecessor in the first place was its gorgeous cover. Blackbirds‘ cover was created by Joey HiFi, who in my book does amazing work. Only then I read Blackbirds and rather fell in love with its protagonist Miriam, so reading Mockingbird to return to her story was a given. And then Mockingbird turned out to be even better than Blackbirds. From the review: “Mockingbird‘s central mystery is fantastic. I really and truly hadn’t seen the twist to the story coming and I adored it. In addition to being unexpectedly twisty, it is also completely creepy and shudder-inducing. I’ve read and watched plenty of crime and mystery series, but this was one of the creepier whodunits I’ve read in a long time. […] Mockingbird was a fantastic book; all the reservations I had regarding Blackbirds were absent or improved on in Mockingbird.” Miriam is one of the most interesting leading ladies out there, infinitely complex and with very sharp edges. I can’t wait to see what sort of hijinks Wendig will let her get up to in the third book Cormorant.