Yikes, I’m way behind on my blogging. It’s already April, and I’m still in January mode, asking what your favorite book was in 2012! But I really want to know — Do you remember what your fave was?
Here’s what I read last year. I’d love to hear your comments on any of these! My fave is at the end (had to mull it over!).
I put links to any from my friends and fellow Firebirds! :
* Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking — Susan Cain. Wow. This was really a life-altering book. It was a recommendation from Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) on Facebook. And I couldn’t resist the title. I was going to buy it for my Kindle, but I’m still unsure of how borrowing works on the Kindle, plus I knew right away I’d want to lend it to my son Ricky, so I ended up driving out to Barnes and Noble one night and buying it in hardcopy. And then I bought a second one and had it shipped to Ricky, so he could keep his own copy! It’s EXCELLENT. Truly a must-read for all introverts who have felt like outcasts in some way, and even for the extroverts who love them! It will help you understand yourself, or understand each other. And it really makes introverts feel like they’re not as weird as they thought they were. Very validating.
* To Be Sung Underwater: A Novel — Tom McNeal. Our February book club book. I loved this one. It was sort of a romance, but not technically a romance (since the couple doesn’t have a “happily ever after” at the end). But it explored the romance of these two people from way back in high school, looked at in the past from a grown woman who is going through a midlife crisis. But then she decides to pursue this past love. And what she finds surprises her. … Great story. Although written by a man, I thought he got he got the woman’s perspective just right.
* The Paris Wife — Paula McLain. Our June book club book. This story is about Hemingway’s days in Paris, when he first began writing, but it’s told from the perspective of his wife at the time, Hadley. Young and in love, the Hemingways had quite a wild time in Paris, punctuated with visits to Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other notable writers and artists from the day who were all ex pats in France at the time. They’re stories we’ve heard, but it was fun to have Hadley’s (fictional) perspective on all of it. The most amazing things to me were the story of Hemingway losing ALL his drafts because Hadley left them on a train. (The author alludes to the fact that this was the beginning of the end for them — not sure if that’s true?) And the scene where one of Hemingway’s editors tells him he should make his writing “more sparce” like his news writing — obviously a life-changing piece of advice! Because we all loved reading this book, we decided we’d put “A Moveable Feast” on the book list next year, since those are real accounts from Hemingway’s perspective of that same period of time.
* The Shadow of the Wind — Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Our September book club book, and my choice, so I wanted to be sure to read it! This was a wild and fun book. My son Ricky actually recommended it to me — he’d read it in high school and LOVED it. It’s got an old-fashioned, gothic vibe to it: classic old-time storytelling, with lots of mysteries and intrigue. It’s set in Barcelona in the 1950s, about a boy who comes across a huge novel and decides to track down the author. But as he lurks more and more into the past of this author, and why all that author’s books have disappeared, he realizes he’s in over his head. Lots of dark alleyways, mysterious people, folks hiding in the shadows — great fun to read. It was originally written in Spanish and translated to English recently, so the text feels a bit flowery, but I actually loved that, too. It felt like Gabriel Garcia Marquez to me — very poetic, with the words winding around themselves like vines in long, beautiful descriptions. I’d read this one again.
* Fifty Shades of Grey — E.L. James. Yep, I read them! Had to see what all the fuss was about. As everyone else already said, they were badly written (and by that I mean a TON of repetitive words — every time she said Christian’s eyes were grey, I yelled “I KNOW!”). Her internal monologue was very repetitive, too, as the “I” character (Anna) constantly repeated her struggle to the point that she simply began to sound like one of those whiny friends who never really gets over her issues (and never tries). You tire of her quickly. But — all that said — I do have to say that E.L. James has great storytelling techniques. Her pacing was perfect, she ended every chapter on just the right note to make you turn one more page, and the character conflict was really, really good. Of course, when I learned that this began as Twilight fan fic — and those characters were really Bella and Edward, only older and with different names — it took away some of my admiration for the characters and conflict because … well, it had already been done. (Of course it worked! It was a smash in Twilight!) And even though you can recreate archetypes and all that, these were much too close to feel original to James. The sex was hot. It didn’t shock me, though. There’s a lot wilder stuff in the erotic-romance world and has been for eons. But it did bother me when people on the news would describe this as a “rape fantasy,” because that wasn’t true at all. This was entirely consentual — just a newbie’s indocrination to the world of BDSM.
* Fifty Shades Darker — E.L. James. I started the second book, but Anna was just repeating herself too much and I couldn’t take it any more. I might finish this someday, but for now I must move on. …
* Until There Was You — Kristan Higgins. After I finalled in the Golden Heart, I got an email from contemporary writer Kristan Higgins congratulating me. Which was very, VERY cool! She was going to give the award out that night for my category, and she wrote to all the finalists and said congrats. What a cool chick. There’s nothing more thrilling than seeing an email from a NYT bestselling author in your inbox! Anyway, several of my fellow contemporary finalists said they loved her writing, so I picked this one to start. Not sure why I picked this one, but I did. This is Posey and Liam’s story, told in the third person (I found out later she also writes in first person; see below).
* Too Good to Be True — Kristan Higgins. This is history teacher Grace’s story when she falls for her hot neighbor Callahan. And this one is told in the first person, and was SO CUTE. Very funny. Very chick-lit with a lot of romance. Great family dynamics, great heroine who we all root for. I really loved Kristan Higgins’ first-person storytelling — much better than her third-person, I think.
* Through the Lens — K.M. Jackson. Wow, this is the first time I ever bought and read a book from someone I know! Kwana and I had been blogger-friends since 2009, and I was really cheering her on, as I knew she was pursuing her dream of writing romance as I was. I was so excited to read her book. She picked a lush island paradise for a setting — who doesn’t love that??? And I loved that the hero and heroine were involved in photography and modeling, since I know a tiny bit about that world from working on Exclusive magazine at The Register. I’m so excited for Kwana to continue her career! She’s now working on the next book in this same series — all are about heroines involved in creative careers, I believe.
* The Great Escape — Susan Elizabeth Phillips. My hero! I picked this book up at Nationals and had it signed by SEP — yes, squeeing-giggling-squeeing-jumping ensued! How exciting to have your all-time favorite writer sign a book for you! She’s awesome. This book picked up where another left off, taking another point of view (which I thought was clever). Lucy Jorik, daughter of the first woman president, has just abandoned her fiance Ted at the alter (Ted’s story was “Call Me Irresistible”). And now you see what happens on the other side, when Lucy takes off. She meets “Panda” (an unlikely name for a hero, but it grows on you) on his motorcycle and they ride off to their own adventure. … This was very cute, and a great follow up to “Irresistible.”
* Catch of the Day — Kristan Higgins. This quickly became my VERY FAVORITE Kristan Higgins book because I giggled through the whole thing. My husband kept looking over at me and saying, “That must be a really good book!” and I kept saying “It IS!” Kristan Higgins is in her element writing in the first person — so funny. I loved this heroine and loved the whole side plot about the priest. (I have to admit, the actual romance in this was “light,” but I loved all the secondary plots and characters so much, I didn’t mind.) I have to buy this one for my mom, too. …
* The Next Best Thing — Kristan Higgins. Thrilled with the fun of the last KH book, I scrambled to buy another and picked up this one. And this one might tie for VERY FAVORITE KH book. I’m not sure. They’re both terrific. Both really funny, both perfect in first person. This one had a much more heart-wrenching romance story. I was really rooting for the hero here, who is the brother of her late husband. He loves her from afar, and she just doesn’t see it for so long. I’m buying this one for my mom for Christmas too.
* Simply Irresistible (a Lucky Harbor novel) — Jill Shalvis. Apparently Jill Shalvis and Kristan Higgins are good friends, and I met them both (and got books signed!) at Nationals. This was my foray into Jill Shalvis. Very cute. Like my books, Jill’s are about three sisters, so I was reading these with particular interest. This was the middle sister’s book, Maddie. Her hero was a carpenter. Fun romance that stayed on the page the whole book, fun dialogue.
* The Sweetest Thing (a Lucky Harbor novel) — Jill Shalvis. This was the oldest sister’s book, Tara. I liked this one even better. Tara had a temper, and made her book exciting to read. Fun romance that stayed on the page the whole time, terrific dialogue.
* Head Over Heels (a Lucky Harbor novel) — Jill Shalvis. Okay, this was my favorite of the three. This was the youngest sister’s book, Chloe, and her romance with the town sheriff was something I was looking forward to. Chloe’s kind of a spitfire, and it made for some really great scenes, bumping heads with the sheriff.
* Lowcountry Boil — Susan M. Boyer. Wow, second book I’ve ever read from someone I know! This is so exciting. Susan is a fellow Firebird (class of 2012 GH finalists), and she finalled in the “Novel with Strong Romantic Elements” category. This is a classic mystery, which I haven’t read in a long time. Susan has a perfect voice for mystery — kind of no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma’am, very Agatha-Christie — as Liz tries to unravel the murder of her grandmother on an island just off the coast of South Carolina. But Liz is so funny, and all the southern charm is there in full force, with the greatest dialogue. Liz has two men on the scene, but you can’t quite figure out where her feelings are going to go. This book was great fun, and an awesome debut from Susan! It also won the Daphne Du Maurier award for Excellence in mystery/suspense this year!
* First Grave on the Right — Darynda Jones. Another Golden Heart finalist! Darynda Jones won the GH in 2009, and — since then — has released an entire series about Charley Davidson (First Grave on the Right, Second Grave on the Left, etc.). I met her at the Golden Network retreat (for all GH finalists from all previous years), and she’s the critique partner of my new GH friend Tammy. Darynda’s books are paranormals with humor. And great fun! I wish the romance were a little stronger (on the page more) in this first one, but I’m definitely planning on reading the others.
* Under the Mistletoe (A Novella) — Jill Shalvis. This was a short Christmas novella about Mia, the college-age daughter of Tara from the Lucky Harbor series. Cute, but all-around too short and we didn’t get much time to see a conflict arise.
As for my favorite of 2012. … Hmmm, It’s always hard to pick favorites, but I’d have to list “Quiet” because that book was truly impactful — changing the way I see myself, my kids, my friends, and how we all interact. And I’ve recommended it to many, many people all year.
For fiction, I’d have to say “The Shadow of the Wind” — I had a great time reading that book because it felt almost old-fashioned and gothic. It was just so different.
But overall, so many fun books this year — it was a great year for reading!
What were your faves from last year?
I have a ton more Firebirds and friends I’ve read this year, from January 2013 to present. That list is here (and a work in progress).