My top reads of 2012

Since the year is coming to a close, it’s time for all those top ten lists. Once again, I’m adding to the noise.  As per last year, this list does not reflect the best books released in 2012 (although there are several 2012 releases and two debut authors in my list).  I’ve limited my choices to the best books I’ve read this year.  I still haven’t picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so you won’t see it here.  I do realize that the year is not officially over yet, but I can tell my current read is not a contender. Given its length, it’s likely the last book I finish this year.  My choices are eclectic. Rather than giving you a plot review, I’ll tell you why it made my list.

10. Winter Fairy by Lola Karns (2012) – Some of you know exactly why I have to include this debut author’s book as one of my favorite reads. The characters in this holiday romance, Carson, Penelope and young Eloise stayed with me long after first meeting them.   I wish this author much success.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) – This book is tremendous fun for those of us seeped in 1980s pop culture.  The premise of a treasure hunt in  virtual reality world created by an 80’s obsessed loaner allowed Cline to incorporate song lyrics, early video games, dungeons and dragons and Ladyhawke.  It’s not deep. It’s a beach read that makes you glad you spent so much time singing New Order and Depeche Mode tunes while playing Pac-Man.

8. The Iron Queen and the Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (both 2011) – The Iron Queen brought to an end the story of the Iron Fey from the point

Don’t judge this book by the cover!

of view of Meghan Chase, a half human, half summer fairy creature who is impervious to the iron (read technology) destroying the fairy worlds and along with it creativity and passionate emotions including love and anger.  Don’t be fooled by the Harlequin Teen publishing label and the covers. The female driven books ask if technology and creativity can co-exist.  The Iron Knight, narrated by the male fairy prince Ash, addresses the very essence of humanity.  One day, I’ll get around to writing a more in-depth review of the latter and explaining why it’s a great companion piece to Will Self’s Great Apes.

7. The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (2010) – Set in post-war America, Grunwald’s story of an orphan raised as a “home-economics house baby” explores the radical shifts in gender roles as both men and women adapted to the rise of feminism and changing ideas of child rearing.

6. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (2012) – the second debut author on my list and another one I wish much success.  This book has a terrific hook. The idea of waking up in a stranger’s skin is equal parts disgusting, frightening and liberating. The clever use of letters allows the author to deliver relevant back story without it ever feeling like an “info dump” and lets the two Myfanwys be distinct characters.

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (orig 1992) – I feel cheated that I did not discover this series sooner because it is a whole bunch of crazy (time travel, sassy modern heroine, virginal Scotsmen) that shouldn’t work but some how does, largely due to the distinctive author voice and excellent writing skills.  I am angry at all my friends who never told me about this book. How do you live with yourselves?

4. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. Bernard Scudder (orig 2001) –  You’ve finished Larson’s “Girl” series and Jo Nesbo’s Henry Hole mysteries so now what? Some seriously bleak Icelandic Noir.  The author captures both the desolate, haunting landscape and the interconnectedness that occurs when the national population is under 320,000.   Good news – it’s a series!

3. Your House is on Fire, Your Children are Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (2012) – The more I think about it the more I like this book.  If I did this list in January 2013 instead of now, it might make the top of the list.  I blogged about it here.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (orig 2011) – The masterful use of language reminded me of Umberto Eco. The author layered realism and magic, horror and hope to create a world worth visiting again and again.  I came away reaffirming my love of books and the transformative power of a good story.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012) – I’ve written about this book before. I debated where to put it on this list, certainly somewhere in the top five. It’s not the best book I’ve read all year.  I have enjoyed others more, but Susan Cain’s provocative book has never been far from my mind. The more I considered my list, the more I realized this is the book I’ve most passionately recommended, talked about and thought about.

Honorable mentions: Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare, Gone with a Handsomer Man by Michael Lee West, The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs, Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello and The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

For more of my reading habits, you can find me on Goodreads

Review: The Iron King/ The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

Young Adult literature is an exciting place to be. As J. K. Rowling proved in Harry Potter, Young Adult isn’t just kid stuff. I adored the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins and, yes, I’ll admit it, even the Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot.  When I heard the buzz around Julie Kagawa‘s The Iron King, I had to check it out.

I’ll be blunt. I like Kagawa’s books about the Iron Fey and I’ll seek out the next installments. The fairies occupying Kagawa’s world are vicious, petty and vain creatures, far removed from the Disneyfied version of happy creatures making flower necklaces. They draw more inspiration from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Indeed, the infamous Puck is a major character in Kagawa’s books. The descriptions of the worlds the fairies occupy are at times opulent, at times vague, but done in a way that makes sense given the first person point of view.  Our narrator, Meghan Chase doesn’t have time to consider the curtains when she’s running for her life from fairies with shiny, sharp teeth.  So far, the series balances action with moments of reflection that say more about our human world than the one occupied by mythological creatures.

But, and if one is going to muse on something like this, there better be a but, I find myself troubled by the over all message that seems to be emerging.  Although neither the Summer nor the Winter Fey emerge as particularly heroic, the Iron Fey represent the villainous forces our heroine and her rag-tag team of outsiders must defeat. The Summer and Winter Fey draw their magic from human imagination, creativity and lust. The Iron Fey, developing from technology, destroy the forces the rest of the Fey hold  dear.

The anti-technology message in The Iron King and The Iron Daughter rings loud and clear. We’ve heard similar arguments before – TV rots the mind, video games destroy our capacity to think.  I finished the second book the day after Steve Jobs’ death was announced. He, to me, is a prime example of how technology and creativity are not mutually exclusive.  Consider the explosion of e-media. Looking at Rube Goldberg Machines on You-Tube with my children a few months ago showed people using their creativity to create a ‘buzz-worthy’ video. We spent nearly an hour watching them, then spent longer trying to create our own. I’m a firm believer that technology can enhance, not destroy, creativity.

I wonder how many people are reading Kagawa’s series on an e-reader? Do they pick up the same uncomfortable message I do? There are several more books in the series. I intend to read on.  In that way Kagawa succeeded.  I have to continue to find out if my fears are substantiated.