Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Reads of 2012!

Here it is, the last day of 2012 and I have for you my list of favorite reads for this year. This was an odd year for me reading-wise. I read some spectacular books, discovered some great new-to-me authors and on the flip side, I think I put down more books than in past years because I just didn't connect with them at all. And while this isn't unusual, I did have distinctly different reactions to a number of books that were quite popular with other readers. I can be weird like that!

To give you an idea of what I started with, out of my 90 reads this year, I first removed the books that are January 2013 publications (I had 6 -- I've never had that many read ahead before), and I then highlighted the books that I felt were contenders this year: 18 books, plus 3 debuts I'll mention at the end. From that I winnowed it down to the list you see below. It was hard as all 18 were fabulous reads, books I've recommended to others and more than worth the time and money invested in them. I'd say I was a pretty lucky reader this year! So I ended up cheating a tad bit. I removed 3 more titles...I'll mention at the end...that weren't classified crime fiction novels. And I combined two titles that were by the same author. Hopefully, you'll forgive me my little cheats. :-)

But enough blather, let's get to the fun part. And don't forget to leave your favorites in the comments.

10.  Astride a Pink Horse - This was the first time I had read Robert Greer, and Astride a Pink Horse is, hopefully, the start to a new series for him. The plot was complex, the characters were dimensional, the themes were strong and thought-provoking. If this is the start to a new series, it's one I'll want to follow.

9. Jack 1939 - Again, this was the first time I had read Francine Mathews, but reading Jack has made me want to pick up all of her back list. This book was so smart and fascinating; it was one of those historical fiction novels that had me running to Google regularly to see what was fact and what was fiction.

8. The Prophet - Michael Koryta returned to a straight crime novel this year and it was a beaut! The rich symbolism throughout the novel elevated it beyond a simple crime story. Throughout his writing career he's continued to improve his character development, which is astounding given that he was exceptional at character development since book one. The Prophet is full of contrasting characters, defying stereotypes and endearing readers.

7.  Gone Girl - This was one time I didn't differ with the masses of readers who loved this book. Gillian Flynn wrote an incredible novel. She defied the likable, empathetic character notion and kept her readers hanging on with a smart, unpredictable plot. Flynn's pushing the boundaries of crime fiction and coming up with an amazing result.

6. Taken - Robert Crais continues to keep the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series fresh with powerful themes and engrossing plots. And unlike a lot of series characters, we continue to learn about Cole and Pike with every book. Taken hits you deep down in the soul.

5. Whiplash River/Gutshot Straight -  Once again I'll apologize for my endless talk about Lou Berney's Shake Bouchon crime capers, but good golly am I glad I found them. They are just fun books. And while Shake is not your pristine hero-type character, you can't help but adore him. I love the constant action of these books; the settings are spectacular; and the dialogue is first class. In my humble opinion, if you want to know how to do a crime caper right, you study these books cover to cover!

4. The Trinity Game - Holy Cow. Sorry, no pun intended on this one. We waited patiently for the return of Sean Chercover and boy did he deliver. This is just a powerfully written, complex story with unique characters. It was also a pretty gutsy book to write. The themes are very touchy for many American readers, but I think Chercover handled it all with grace and elegance. I cannot wait for the next book!

3. The Cut - While I didn't end up reviewing this one, I listened to it back in January on audio (it was an August 2011 release); time factors prevented me from reviewing it at a time that would allow me to do the book justice. And it deserved justice. It is a flat out amazing start to a new series character for George Pelecanos. All the elements that make Pelecanos great are present: the gray characters, the dark atmosphere, the suspenseful pace, the beautiful prose. How the man juggles as much as he does--and still does it all at a level of superiority most of us can never begin to fathom--is beyond me. I'm constantly in awe of his work.

2.  Live by Night - Gosh I always look forward to Dennis Lehane's work. It's simply amazing. His writing is poetic, his characters are relateable and larger-than-life at the same time, the plots keep you glued to the book then devastated when you've turned the last page. The atmosphere of Live by Night was the strongest I think Lehane's created. Taking him out of Boston did nothing to shake this man's talent. This is definitely a book I see standing the test of time.

1. The Survivor - When a story haunts me as much as The Survivor did, I know it's an exceptional book. Some characters just seem to take up residence in my soul after I've finished reading. They hang around with me and we have discussions in my mind about the story. Please don't call in the psych doctors, I'd be devastated if anyone ever took this silent pleasure away. Most of us will never have to deal with psychotic bank robbers threatening our families, but symbolically, this is the story of life's true super heroes; it's the story of how people react and adapt to life's sick sense of humor. It made me laugh, it made me cry and it made me tell everyone they need to read it. How Gregg Hurwitz continues to top himself book after book is inspiring. He'll have a hard time topping two stellar books in a row, but I wouldn't put it past him.

So, there is my list that I hemmed an hawed over. But indeed I think it's the most accurate reflection of my favorite reads this year. That being said, I have to give recognition to three books that you won't find in the crime fiction aisle of the bookstore. These three are books that I removed because they were strong contenders with the ten above and I wasn't sure how to integrate them:

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)
The Round House (Louise Erdrich)
On the Outside Looking Indian (Rupinder Gill) - this one actually a non-fiction

The two fiction books revolve around a crime element, but the powers that be in marketing have labeled them as literary fiction or general fiction, I guess. And On the Outside Looking Indian is probably the most unique for me because it's a memoir. I'm not much of a memoir reader, so I think that says a lot about the book!

And then I wanted to give kudos to three debut novels I read this year that were just outstanding and I see these authors doing amazing things (one already is since I read her debut late):

Bloodman (Robert Pobi)
Playing Dead (Julia Heaberlin)
The Things That Keep Us Here (Carla Buckley)

If you did not read my review of Carla Buckley's sophomore novel, Invisible, in Shelf Awareness this month, you'll have a chance to do so this week on the blog. Her debut was a great indicator of amazing things to come!

So, that's it for me for 2012. Next month I'll celebrate five years blogging here at Jen's Book Thoughts. It doesn't seem possible, but it's been so much fun talking books with all of you over the years.  Thanks for joining in the fun. Here's hoping 2013 is full of more book wonderfulness for us all.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year, all!


Lesa December 31, 2012 at 8:01 AM  

Terrific list, Jen. Congratulations on 5 years of the blog! Hugs.

Naomi Johnson December 31, 2012 at 9:23 AM  

Nice looking list, some things on there I really want to read (the Erdich book in particular).

le0pard13 December 31, 2012 at 10:16 AM  

Way to go, Jen!

George December 31, 2012 at 11:15 AM  

Great list Jen. I've read many of them and agree with you, and have a few on my to read list. And once again Gone Girl has made a best reads list. I will be starting it today!

theguildedearlobe December 31, 2012 at 1:22 PM  

I always look forward to your end of year books, so I know what I need to catch up on.

A few of them made my list particually The Prophet and The Cut in 2011. Survivor would have made it if my list was just a bit longer, I kept on going back and forth between that and What It Was. I loved Gone Girl, but I think part of me loved the experience of listening to the book and sharing my experience than the actual book itself, which frustrated me at points.

My favorite Crime Fiction book was Defending Jacob, but I'm a hardcore Legal Thriller fan.

Thanks for a great 2012 and can't wait to see what you have in store for 2013.

theguildedearlobe December 31, 2012 at 1:24 PM  

Oh, forgot to say that I just added the Lou Berney books to my wishlist. Definitely look right up my alley.

bermudaonion December 31, 2012 at 4:50 PM  

I've got a lot of catching up to do! Thanks for the great list - my wish list just grew. Happy New Year!

EileenK January 1, 2013 at 10:04 AM  

Jen--Congratulations on five years! I've been around for about two, I think, and you've led me to some great authors and books I might not have found otherwise. So thank you for that! I kept a reading journal this past year for the first time, and I went through it this morning. How fun to revisit those books I read several months ago. My list are those I read in 2012, not books published last year. My top crime novel of the year was Reginald Hill's The Woodcutter. I started the year with it, and it stayed on top. It's outside his Dalziel and Pascoe series, and a masterful, layered book with surprises to the end and his usual wonderful prose. So sad that he won't be around to give us any more of these gems. If I start going through my list, my comment will be longer than your blog, so I won't even try. I would just recommend to your other readers to check out some of the Irish crime fiction that's gaining ground. Last year, I read Declan Burke, Tana French, Adrian McKinty, Colin Bateman, Conor Fitzgerald, and Conor Brady--all worth checking out. And a final hat tip to two of my favorite series that I continued to delight in last year (especially in audio): Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire books, and Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache. OK, I'll shut up now. Don't get me started!

Dana Kaye January 2, 2013 at 11:19 AM  

Awesome list, Jen (and I'm not biased at all!) Lots of overlapping favorites, even from the non-clients.

Kerry M January 2, 2013 at 1:55 PM  

I'd never heard of Jack 1939, but I am intrigued!

Jessica Howard January 3, 2013 at 10:01 AM  

I've only read Gone Girl and Playing Dead from your list!

But you have lots that look interesting... I'll have to check a few out. :)

stacybuckeye January 4, 2013 at 1:54 PM  

I really liked Bloodman too. I'm reading Gone Girl right now for my first book of the year :)

Michael Sherer January 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM  

I LOVE that this is a list of your favorite books, Jenn, and not the "best" books of 2012. Several of them--TAKEN, TRINITY GAME, THE SURVIVOR, GONE GIRL--are on my list of faves, too. Others probably would be, but I haven't gotten to them yet. :)

Kathleen George January 6, 2013 at 6:43 AM  

I read lots, too, and I am eager to get to the ones on your list that I don't already know. I just remembered I asked for The Round House for Christmas and I didn't get it! I've got to solve that soon.

Allison January 8, 2013 at 3:40 PM  

That's a great list. I'm with you on Pelecanos!


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