Best Books of 2012

Last year I used Goodreads to set a goal of 100 books in 2011, and I made it! This year I gave myself a bit of slack and aimed for 75 books. I wanted to focus more on non-fiction, but… didn’t quite do as well as I would have liked. Non-fiction and I are still learning how to get along.

Out of my 75 books, I present: My best reads of 2012!

Best Non-Fiction:

Taliban by Ahmed Rashid Written by a Pakistani journalist, Taliban offers an invaluable look at the history of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Though this book does not discuss the Taliban’s role post-9/11 (it was first published in 2001, I believe), it does set the stage. The writing is engaging, and written in a way that the complexity of Afghanistan’s history becomes a little bit clearer. As someone who had already studied Afghanistan at length, this book taught me just how little I knew. Can’t recommend it enough.

Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual by Philip Matyszak – This “handbook” will walk you through everything you need to know if you want to join the Roman army. The author’s dry tone and occasional witticisms, as well as the immediate language of the book, keeps the information engaging, interesting and sometimes quite funny. Though I don’t plan to join the army any time soon, I did really enjoy this book.

Best Children’s Fiction:

Wildwood by Colin Meloy – I honestly can’t fangirl this book enough. It’s a beautiful children’s book with a definite Narnian slant, but some complications (a bit of politics, a bit of gray between good and evil) that make it enthralling even to adults. The illustrations are gorgeous. Set in Portland, Oregon, two friends find themselves caught up in the Wildwood, which is not an abandoned forest but a thriving, magical world. There are heroic bandits, wise owls, coyote soldiers, and bloodthirsty ivy. A beautiful, vivid tale.

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson – Set during the American Revolution, chains follows a Negro slave as she tries to protect her sister and find a path to freedom at a time when both sides are full of promises but no one is willing to follow through. I love the complexity of the story, told through a very unique character’s voice. This is the first fiction book I’ve seen (especially in children’s lit) that openly discusses the revolution’s hypocrisy when it came to slavery. It’s written beautifully, with delicious historical details. Highly recommend.

Best Young Adult:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Part Hidalgo, part Misty of Chincoteague, part Welsh mythology. Basically: The book I never knew I needed. Stiefvater’s descriptions are beautiful and vivid, like something out of The Dark is Rising, but also distinctly unique. Her characters leap off the pages. A read that sucks you in and keeps you biting your lip all the way through.

Sea of Trolls by Nancy FarmerVikings! Another book that walks the line between historical fiction and mythology. The narrator was quirky and interesting, and his relationships with his viking captors make for a great story. Though I found the rest of the series disappointing, this book was absolutely awesome.

Mark of Athena by Rick RiordanI hope it surprises no one that Rick Riordan is again on my best-of list. After rereading almost all of the Percy Jackson books this year, I have to say Mark of Athena is my favorite–and that’s saying a lot. The dynamics between characters, quests, narrative voices and an end that was satisfying while also tearing out my heart–all of these things bring out the best in Riordan’s writing. Absolutely great read.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – I went back and forth about including this book on my list, but I feel I ought to if only because I was so excited about it this year. There are four novellas that came out about every two months before the book was released. Based on the novellas–which had wonderful world-building and character development–I had extremely high expectations for the book. These expectations were not quite met, and I’m not sure if it’s because I expected too much or if the book itself is lacking something. However, it was an enjoyable adventure book with a splash of romance, and I am looking forward to the sequels.

Best Adult Fiction:

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – A fantasy loosely based in Ireland. After her brothers are turned to swans, the female protagonist must undergo trials to break their curse. This was a breathtaking fairytale. Though at times the narrative voice got a bit dense, overall the story was just lovely. One of the things I appreciated most was that the protagonist takes a vow of silence early in the novel. While most authors would flounder with a silent female lead, Marillier uses this handicap to make her character even more alive and developed.

Mrs. Mike by Benedict Freedman and Nancy Freedman – My mom has been telling me to read this for a while, and I finally got around to it. Mrs. Mike follows a young girl who marries a Canadian Mountie in the early part of the 20th century. She has to learn how to live in the wilderness, facing numerous trials from sicknesses to forest fires. The place setting and environments in this book are written so, so beautifully. The characters themselves are so developed they feel real. The ending was absolutely perfect, and changed my understanding of “happy” endings.

See my full reading list (with ratings and a handful of reviews) here.

I think next year I’m going to lower my book count to 50 and concentrate on hitting up some classics (at the moment I’m thinking Dickens, Mary Barton and Les Miserables). I’ve had several of these books on my shelf for years and keep putting them off because of the time they’ll take. So I’ll just make time!

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