A belated* list of my notable reads of 2012
* because I thought I scheduled this post to publish earlier, but I guess not.
As you can probably tell by the lack of posts, I’ve been in a major reading—and blogging—slump for most of this year. Well, to be more specific, the reading slump has been very YA fiction-centric (though I haven’t read many adult mysteries this year, either), since it hasn’t affected how many adult romances I’ve read and I’ve also read a lot of nonfiction, both YA and adult.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when the YALSA Nonfiction Award and Morris Award shortlists were announced, I’d read all of the Nonfiction finalists (and reviewed two of them, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson and We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson) and read all of…1/3 of 1 Morris finalist. To me, the only shocker on the Nonfiction shortlist is Karen Blumenthal’s Steve Jobs bio. It’s solidly written, but I didn’t think it was outstanding.
There were some YA novels this year that I did like and which I should have reviewed, including Cinder by Marissa Meyer (though I did mention it over at Stacked), Black Heart by Holly Black (on the to do list, assuming I get back in the habit of blogging: a Cassel Sharpe/Jazz Dent comparison), Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (though Janine discussed some of the same things that stood out to me—namely regarding reconciliation and South Africa—in her review at Dear Author), and A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger (because in a year in which so many people raved about YA romances that did nothing for me—on the rare occasion I even made it through the book—this was about the only one I really liked).
The only recent YA novel that truly hooked me was Speechless by Hannah Harrington. (It also broke through Sarah’s reading slump, so you know, if you’re also struggling to find something to read that you just can’t put down…) It’s told in the first person by Chelsea, an inveterate gossip, who stumbles upon a secret at a party and drunkenly announces it to her friends. The consequences are disastrous and, knowing she made a huge mistake, Chelsea takes a vow of silence. And remains silent, even as all her friends turn on her. It kind of struck me as a cross between Some Girls Are (though much less visceral) and Just Listen, with a bit of Kody Keplinger thrown in, along with more caring parents (compared to all three). Harrington made me care about Chelsea—who is not always likable, especially at the beginning of the book—and convinced me of her determination to change. While, objectively, I can pick out aspects of Speechless that could have (maybe should have) detracted from my enjoyment of it, they ultimately didn’t matter.
My top non-YA books? Sherry Thomas’s Tempting the Bride. Loved it, even though I usually don’t care for amnesia plotlines. Which again goes to show that in the right hands, trite or clichéd plot elements can be turned into great books. AND, Thomas packs so much emotion into only 278 pages that it made so many YA books seem even more bloated and overlong in comparison. (Yes, The Diviners, I’m looking about you.) So I’m really hoping that her upcoming YA trilogy (!) retains these same traits that made Tempting the Bride so good.
A Week to be Wicked by Tessa Dare was my second-favorite historical romance of the year. Her Best Worst Mistake by Sarah Mayberry was my favorite contemporary. Scorched wasn’t my favorite of Laura Griffin’s romantic suspenses, but I am totally hoping for a Derek and Elizabeth book soon. Favorite non-romance adult novel was probably Daniel O’Malley’s The Rook.
In nonfiction, I thought Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation was fascinating and eye-opening. If you’re like me and don’t read business or management books, the jacket copy probably makes the book sound dull. And maybe it is instructive to people in those fields, but I read it primarily as a history of science and technology—about the history of Bell Labs and how its scientists developed the transistor, the laser, information theory, and a lot more—and was just amazed at the achievements of the Bell scientists.
I really wish I’d been able to read Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt and Chrystia Freeland’s Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else closer together, instead of several months apart, because of how they focus on opposite ends of the wealth spectrum. I found the Hedges and Sacco book a more compelling read overall because of their anger and how it energizes the book, even if I was skeptical about parts of the Occupy chapter, but both books are extremely illuminating in their own way.
Also: Breach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge (so stunning and moving. Etheridge found mug shots of Freedom Riders arrested in Mississippi, tracked down as many of them as he could, and photographed and interviewed those who were willing to meet him. Published in 2008 for adults, it would be a great companion to YA books like Ann Bausum’s Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement.). Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America (because I don’t think I knew who Thurgood Marshall was until he died, and I was too young at the time to appreciate his legacy and impact and, maybe most of all, his bravery. And because in giving readers a sense of the racial and political climate at the time, King describes so many more appalling and heartbreaking miscarriages of justice in the same time period—not just just the four Groveland boys, not just Emmett Till, but other I’d never heard of before.). Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–But Some Don’t (loved how Silver examined different fields, so I felt like I was not only learning about forecasting and prediction, but also geology, epidemiology, economics, etc. Except, what was up with that comment about predicting the weather in Honolulu vs. Buffalo? Because I’ve never been to Buffalo, but when I went to college in Ohio, I was shocked by how much more accurate the weather forecasts seemed. Though maybe that was because I wasn’t getting my forecasts from television meteorologists anymore.). And, of course, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.