So last year, one of my friends reviewed all of the books she read in the prior year, and tagged all of her heavy-reading friends, so that we would maybe have some new ideas of books to add to our reading lists. I thought this idea was genius, and had been planning on doing it for 2012. Not EVERY book, because when I really get going I read about two books a week, but my favorites. Thank GOD I started using Goodreads. Here are some highlights:
1. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
Hands down, this was the BEST book I read in 2012. I absolutely devoured it. I confess, I stalk the Bestseller cart at the local library like a vulture, and I waited and waited for this to appear, as I’d read great reviews in a variety of magazines and newspapers. Finally, my dreams came true. We often hear movies like The Matrix and Unbreakable described as “mindfuck” movies. Well, this is a mindfuck book. That’s the only way to describe it. A psychological thriller focused on a marriage that’s not what it seems. A husband comes home to find his wife gone on their anniversary, their living room turned over. The book goes back and forth between Amy, the disappeared wife, journaling the timeline of her marriage to Nick, and Nick’s thought processes post-disappearance. Twists, turns, shocking revelations…this book has it all. READ IT. IT’S PHENOMENAL.
2. Wildwood – Colin Meloy
When the lead singer of my favorite band write a book, I read it. Simple as that. And I’m glad I read Wildwood. First of all, every location is based on somewhere in Portland, so it’s all familiar, and it has a twist of The Decemberists quirkiness. If you don’t know, I’m OBSESSED with fairy tales, and this is a modern day fairy tale for all ages. The gist of the story is that Prue’s baby brother is kidnapped by birds and taken into the Impassable Wilderness (also known as Forest Park, to any Oregonians out there). Adventure ensues, as Prue and one of her friends journey to the “IW” and encounter a variety of talking animals, bandits, and woodsy magic. The illustrations are delightful, the story is equally engaging for children AND adults (anyone who knows The Decemberists knows that their storytelling vocabulary is quite advanced). This is the first book of a trilogy, and I’m anxious to read the second book, “Under Wildwood,” which has been sitting on my bookshelf for a few months.
3. The Year of the Gadfly – Jennifer Miller
I love anything that relates to cults or secret societies. I also watched Dead Poet’s Society about a week before I read this book. In The Year of the Gadfly, Iris is forced to move to a sleepy town and attend the mysterious Mariana Academy, rich with history and dark secrets. Iris, who is dealing with a personal tragedy, finds solace in talking to Edward R Murrow, who encourages her to ask questions and root around for answers – who is Prisom’s Party, the secret society that orchestrates an underground student newspaper revealing “secrets” of teachers and students, and throws sociological flash mobs to show the students just how malleable they can be? What happened to bring the science teacher, Mr. Kaplan, back to his alma mater after so many years? As Iris gets pulled further and further into the darkness of Mariana’s secrets, I was drawn into a story that is at once a statement on modern youth and a compelling coming-of-age story. Another quick read for me.
4. Drop Dead Healthy – AJ Jacobs
I always have a hard time answering the question “What sort of books do you like to read?” I’ve started answering by saying “I love books where people do something for a year,” which pretty much sums up AJ Jacobs. In Drop Dead Healthy, AJ tries to become the healthiest person on earth by trying every health fad, minute research discovery, hot fitness class, etc., for about two years. His books are laugh-out-loud funny, as his family tries to cope with some of his zanier experiments. Since I’ve been on a health kick of my own, this book was especially interesting. Not as quick of a read as I anticipated, but engaging, humorous, and definitely an eye-opener. AJ attempted to change his own life for the sake of his Children, and succeeded.
5. The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
Celia and Marco are two trainee magicians, locked in a battle they don’t understand, bound to this fate by their respective guardians. Their dangerous game plays out in a beautiful and mysterious travelling circus, The Circus of Dreams, that appears overnight and offers patrons unique and mesmerizing attractions. Marco and Celia are each integral to the circus, and as they become closer to one another, the lines of their mysterious game begin to blur. The language of this book is beautiful; every little detail described comes to life between the pages. A very quick read for me, AND I just learned that movie rights have been purchased. If the film comes close to the beauty of the writing, we’re in for a treat.
6. The Flight of Gemma Hardy – Margot Livesey
This book is an updated (and easier to read) version of Jane Eyre that follows Gemma, who is orphaned and abandoned by her surviving family after the death of her beloved uncle, first to a harsh English boarding school, then to a forlorn island manor to serve as a nanny for the wild niece of a rich banker. Gemma seems to have a knack for working with the wild child, which impresses Mr. Sinclair, who then begins to court Gemma, who learns Mr. Sinclair’s big secret and runs away. Does Mr. Sinclair care enough to come after her? Will Gemma be able to start over yet again, in a new town full of strangers, with no money and no friends? There are lots of negative reviews of this book and it’s Jane Eyre plot line, but I loved it. Maybe it’s because I’m married to an older man, but I find the love between Gemma and Mr. Sinclair endearing. I thought this was worth a read, for sure.
7. The Marriage Plot – Jeffrey Eugenidies
I’d been reading a lot of “fluff” books when I picked up The Marriage Plot, and it was an intelligent, thoughtful, and somewhat depressing breath of fresh air. A kind-of love story that starts off with students at Brown University in the 80s, Eugenidies paints a brilliant picture of that naive and optimistic sense of college intellectualism I remember so well from the not-too-distant past. Madeline and Leonard begin a tortured and dramatic relationship, Mitchell looks on while searching for religious meaning in his life and pining for Madeline. As the three hurtle towards graduation and beyond, Leonard’s struggles with mental illness create a heavy strain on everyone, as Madeline tries to play both concerned caretaker and supportive lover. This book was heavy, really heavy at times, but also really good.
8. The Prisoner of Heaven – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Before you read this, read the first two books, The Shadow of the Wind, and Angel’s Game. Then read The Prisoner of Heaven. Then eagerly await the fourth book that Ruiz Zafon alluded to when I met him at a Powell’s talk in July. The translation from Spanish to English is beautiful, not at all jolty and jarring, and sucks you into the story of the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, a mysterious place in Barcelona that proves to be forever connected to the Sempere family. As in Ruiz Zafon’s other books, a mysterious figure appears, makes promises and threats, and it’s up to Daniel Sempere to figure out who they are and what they really want. The story of The Count of Monte Cristo is heavily featured, as we learn more about the Sempere family friend, Fermin Romero de Torres, and his sordid past. The Cemetary of Forgotten Books novels are my favorite books, hands down, and I gushed this to the author himself after standing in line for an hour waiting to get my copies signed. Read them in order, but READ THEM.
9. The Hunger Games series – Suzanne Collins
I put off reading this for a long time, but when I finally got around to it, I wondered what the hell I was thinking. If you haven’t read these or seen the first movie, you’ve been living under a rock. A messed up story about a society where children are forced to fight to the death to guarantee safety and security for their families, and the story of a girl, Katniss, who steps up to protect her sister and ends up championing a revolution. The characters in this trilogy are complex and engaging, and the psychological suspense is intense. Read. These. Now.
10. The 50 Shades trilogy – E.L. James
I debated whether or not to include these on my list, but ultimately decided that I couldn’t talk about my 2012 in books without them. Now, I’m not AT ALL claiming that these are outstanding works of literature, because that’s simply not true. In my opinion, the writing sucks. But for whatever reason, these damn books sucked me in. I read the second and third books in about 24 hours a piece. Despite hating Ana as a lead female character, something about Christian is just so likable. Also, since the book mainly takes place between Portland and Seattle, I’m familiar with about every place they go. And let’s be real, some of the scenes are pretty hot. 50 Shades was a HUGE thing in 2012, and I jumped on the bandwagon for a while. I’m not (too) ashamed.
I’m realizing that this list is all over the place, and that I should probably start summarizing the books I read AS I read them, instead of relying on my memory at the end of the year (good thing my mom got me that book journal for my birthday). I apologize that my book review skills have gone downhill since high school. It’s so different to read just for fun, after reading for academics for 16 years of my life. I love being able to read what I want, when I want. Now excuse me, I need to go get cracking on my 2013 reading list!