Sunday, February 10, 2013

Favorite Books of 2012: A Sweet Year

January rushed past me, murmuring "Excuse me, February coming through..."  Feeling winter dig its cold elbow into my ribs, it dawned on me that somehow I have not yet posted my list of favorite books from last year.

For the past few years, I've done a lengthy list with numerous categories. This year it's going to be shorter and sweeter. I changed my cataloging system part-way through the year, which made coming up with the list more challenging than usual. More than that, however, is the simple fact that last year had so many prolonged seasons of tiredness and stress that my reading was not as wide and deep as usual.

Yes, you heard it here. 2012 was the year of fluff reading. Not entirely, of course, and I'm not sure it was a bad thing -- but I mostly read to be refreshed and to have my heart lightened. I usually like to mix up my reading "pace," but last year I did almost no heavy lifting.

Still, I've got a number of books and authors I'd love to recommend, so sit back and enjoy this year's short, sweet, fluffy little edition.

If 2012 was especially marked by one writer for me, that writer was Deborah Crombie. I had never even heard of her until about a year ago when I came across a review of her latest mystery novel. The review was sparse, but there was enough in it to intrigue me, and I went hunting for the beginning of the series. Once I got acquainted with her detectives, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, I couldn't seem to stop. In fact, I read through the entire 14 books of her canon last year -- and am feeling so excited to know that #15 will be published this month. I've got it on hold already!

I especially love the heart and intelligence of Crombie's books. Her mystery plots are always layered and well carried out, but it's the depth of her characters, both main and secondary, that I find especially inviting. I've reviewed all 14 books; if you click here, it will take you to my review of the last novel, No Mark Upon Her, which includes active links to my reviews of all the earlier titles in the series.

Finding Crombie's work was a delight this year, but I also fell pretty hard for the mysteries of P.D. James, though in a different way. While I don't think you can call mystery reading heavy lifting, with James, it comes close. She writes in a very dense prose style and really makes you work for your fun. If some mysteries could be considered marshmallow fluff in the world of literary s'mores, P.D. James books are the rich, dark, quality chocolate. Her Dalgliesh books generally have a somewhat intense, somber tone, which often means I need time in between them (usually time to read more Crombie, who gives me a delicious graham cracker crunch). James did surprise me with a lighter sense of humor in An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I'm only up to the Dalgliesh books published in the later 1970s now, so I've got a long way to go...and I think I will enjoy parceling them out slowly.

I enjoyed some biographies this year, but probably none more than the one I read in the final days of December, Leonard S. Marcus' new mosaic work on Madeleine L'Engle. Listening for Madeleine does what its subtitle promises and creates a portrait in "many voices."

My favorite history read this year was Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation Into War.

My favorite book on writing was Jane Yolen's Take Joy: A Writer's Guide to Loving the Craft.

One of the books that both intrigued me the most and made me laugh was Quinn Cummings' The Year of Learning Dangerously. I found this comical but informative memoir of a first year in homeschooling quite provocative.

In the literary memoir and travel category, another book that made me ponder as well as laugh was the delightful All Roads Lead to Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith. Not at all what you'd expect -- it's a good book on Austen, but an even better book on cross-cultural learning.

The "new to me" mid-grade books I enjoyed the most this year? Melissa Wiley's The Prairie Thief and Hope Larson's graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. I loved introducing the sweet girl to the original A Wrinkle in Time this year -- and I also loved reading Little Women to her for the first time.

Other books worth mentioning this year include Lauren Winner's spiritual memoir Still, and Gary D. Schmidt's mid-grade/YA fantasy What Came From the Stars. Oh, and I also really enjoyed Matt Phelan's Around the World, a mid-grade/YA graphic novel about three late 19th century journeys around the world.

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