First and foremost, yes, I realize that it’s officially mid-January. I should also warn that a few of my favorites from last year were not actually published in 2012. Is that wrong? When you’re a Hoarder, time means little when there’s a good read beckoning.
I have been deliberating on what format to use for my ‘best of’ and ‘worst of’ for last year’s reading, and have decided to share the following: My Top 5 Books, My Top 5 Audiobooks, and the 5 Titles That I Wish I Had Passed On For Something Better.
Nice. That last heading really rolls off the tongue.
2012: My Top 5 Books (Please click covers for full reviews.)
John Irving: In One Person (2012) I loved this book so much that after I finished it, and gave our copy to my fellow Hoarders, I ran out and bought another copy so that I would always have it on my shelf. I can’t say enough about this incredible novel; only that it has been awarded my top read of all 2012. It was sincere to the breaking point, with some of the most memorable characters that I’ve ever encountered. I’ve not forgotten one of them. This would be the mark of an excellent read, no? I could swoon about this magnificent book for hours, but instead, I’ll ask that you just click the cover.
Katherine Boo: Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012) As beautifully written as it is important. Katherine Boo’s first-hand observations of the slums of Mumbai aren’t for the squeamish, but they are for anyone with a heart. This book will enlighten you, and will make you cherish your good fortune. The people of Boo’s book will reach out to you from the pages, and you won’t ever forget their message. If you haven’t read this extraordinary book yet, please do.
Katherine Applegate: The One And Only Ivan (2012) Yes, it’s a kid’s novel. Yes, there are even a few illustrations. I challenge you, however, to find a novel with as profound a message. Or, a lesson to be learned via such an endearing story. This is a book to read more than once; a book to read with your children and your grandchildren. Read it. It’s beyond wonderful.
G. Willow Wilson: Alif The Unseen (2012) Looks odd to see such a title on a Hoarder’s best list, doesn’t it? But I would be remiss if I did not mention this terrific and fast-paced read by G. Willow Wilson. The novel surprised me greatly, and captured my imagination and my interest right from the start. Even if technology, fantasy or revolution are not your typical genres, I can promise that Alif The Unseen will still grab your undivided attention. It’s wildly clever, has fascinating characters, and is extremely well written. Try it!
Matt Ruff: Set This House in Order (2003) Matt Ruff’s novel is brilliant. It’s one of the most inventive stories I’ve ever encountered, and even manages to be laugh-out-loud funny at several key moments. A protagonist who has Multiple Personality Disorder, who keeps his “souls” organized in a house in his head? And he’s been asked to help another person, also with MPD, but that person has no idea that she has it? Yes, please.
2012: My Top 5 AudioBooks (Please click covers for full reviews.)
Jennifer Worth: Call The Midwife (originally published in 2002, but the audiobook was released in 2012 due to the popularity of the series “Call The Midwife” on PBS)
Audiobook Narrator: Nicola Barber (5-star narration!)
Adored this audiobook. Would drive in out-of-the-way circles in my car so I would not have to turn it off. Pair a post-war setting in London’s East End slums with a charming midwife by the name of Jennifer, and you have a memoir that will leave an indelible mark. The midwives were lovely, and the Nuns of St. Raymund’s Nonnatus House warmed the heart. Author Jennifer Worth put as much affection and energy into the description of the patients as she did her main characters. It was lovely in every way, and I have added her remaining memoirs to my to-read list!
Hilary Mantel: Bring Up The Bodies (2012)
Audiobook Narrator: Simon Vance (5-star narration!)
Of course, the winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize made my top list! This audiobook was a masterful account of the demise of Anne Boleyn, through the eyes of the calculating Thomas Cromwell. Mantel breathes new life into the plight of Cromwell, and recounts tales of the Tudor Court as if she had been witnessing the conversations first hand. It was no surprise that Mantel captured the Booker Prize, as this was a brilliant and meticulously researched novel. Anxious for her next installment!
Lydia Netzer: Shine Shine Shine (2012)
Audiobook Narrator: Joshilyn Jackson (5-star narration!)
I started this audiobook with almost no expectations, and finished the last CD with a full heart and a megaphone to tell the world that I was giving it 4.5 stars! Sunny, Maxon and Bubber are three characters that you simply must meet. They will quickly prove to be unlike anyone else you have ever encountered in a book, and each one will steal your love in a different way. This novel gives new meaning to “be true to yourself.” A must-read.
Yann Martel: Life of Pi (originally published in 2001; movie released in 2012)
Audiobook Narrator: Jeff Woodman (5 stars!)
Yes. I was very late to the Pi party. Too late. Shame on me for taking so long to delve into this life-affirming novel, which helps you appreciate the beauty of the world while simultaneously bolstering your faith. This novel was a remarkable accomplishment, and still is. I’m so happy that I experienced the world of Pi. I’m a better person because of it.
Helen Simonson: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (2010)
Audiobook Narrator: Peter Altschuler (5 very enthusiastic stars!)
Sheer delight from beginning to end, and Mr. Altschuler breathed so much life into the characters of this novel that I now feel a void since completing the story. This novel is every bit as charming and wonderful as you have heard, and the Major will forever be in my category of favorites. Please do yourself the favor of making a cup of tea, and snuggling up with this lovely novel.
The 5 Titles That I Wish I Had Passed On For Something Better
Admit it. You looked here first.
Steven Raichlen: Island Apart (2012)
You see, there was this hermit. He lived alone, this hermit. And there was this woman, a well-to-do woman….. and she falls in love with this hermit. They both love the finer things in life, like haute cuisine and rare bottles of wine. Plus, there’s this hermit. Did I mention the hermit? Plenty of name brands too. Oh…. and this hermit. Are you sensing a theme? Because I came close to driving off the road to get away from… the hermit.
Julian Fellowes: Past Imperfect (2008)
Julian Fellowes, scribe of the beloved Downton Abbey wrote it? Sign me up! Get me some tea!
Wait…. this is….. not good.
Not good at all.
Good Lord — the Julian Fellowes wrote this? Could there be more than one?
Ok….. I hear that his novel Snobs is quite good….. will give that a try next.
Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi: The Monster of Florence (2008)
How these authors managed to turn an unsolved crime-spree into a colossal yawn perplexes me. While the first half of the book was actually decent, the second half focused its attention on freedom of the press, and the authors’ plights. The novel wound up being more about Preston and Spezi than about the murder victims of so many years ago. It left me cold.
Matt Ruff: The Mirage (2012)
After gobbling up Matt Ruff’s Bad Monkeys (2007) and Set This House in Order (2003), I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into his new release. The Mirage, a twist on history, and that horrific day the Twin Towers fell, should have been a terrific page-burner. Alas, the harder I tried to like it, the more frustrated I became when I could not connect to a single character in the book. I will read more of Ruff’s work in the future, but this novel was a disappointment.
Ira Levin: Rosemary’s Baby (1967)
Perhaps it was the year it was written. Perhaps I should have read the book before being creeped out by the movie. Perhaps Rosemary’s character really wasn’t as dizzy and easily manipulated as she came across. Perhaps Mia Farrow’s narration was too much for the inside of a car. Whatever the reason, I did not enjoy this audiobook. It also might mark the first (and only?) time that you’ll hear this Hoarder recommend a movie over a book. That should tell you something.
On to 2013!