My 2012 Literary RoundUp

Happy New Year, everyone!

Has Kimye’s pregnancy and the fiscal cliff have you turning off the TV? Resolve to read more in 2013?

We could all do better with more books on the bedside table.

This is how my blog started—as a list I emailed to all my friends of all the books I read the previous year on New Year’s Day. Just a quick rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly, so my friends could skip over the silly stuff and just enjoy a good book.

So if you’re new to my blog, enjoy—and for all my friends, Happy Reading in 2013! Now go like me on Facebook so you can join in the fun all year long … Please note—this is EVERYTHING. If you want my favorites, that’s another post. Also? Wherever I can, I link to IndieBook, because I’d rather you support local than Amazon. End of sermon.

The Tiger’s Wife (Tea Obreht): Some people thought this was Pulitzer material. I thought it was a bit of a yawner. Not poorly written—actually, beautifully written, I just have be be big enough to admit I read this because I wanted to look smart. I had a hard time getting into the story of young Natalia, a doctor in the Balkans searching for the meaning in her grandfather’s last days.

I Want My MTV (Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum): Freaking loved it. I also grew up in the 80s and loved everything about MTV until they went cray-cray and stopped showing videos in favor of “Sixteen and Pregnant.”

Cool, Calm and Contentious (Merrill Markoe): Being an 80s girl also means I watched Letterman back when he was on after midnight on NBC. Markoe was one of his head writers, a past falme and still is hilarious. If you read Tina Fey’s book, you will most likely enjoy this one, too. (I say “most likely” only because the pop culture references are different and may not be as easy to catch if you never used a phone with a cord attached to it.)

Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James): Please for the love of all that is holy, just don’t. I’m not even linking this. It’s that crappy.

To Be Sung Underwater (Tom McNeal): I recommended this to everyone and still do—the love story of Judith, a 40-something film editor, and Willy, her first true love. Should it matter Judith is married and has a daughter? Probably. But still … hauntingly beautiful. READ IT.

The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey): Another fantastic read. A story about the love between a husband and a wife and the longing, longing, longing for a child to love, too. Debut effort set in early 1900s Alaska. Rough terrain, beautiful writing.

Running the Rift (Naomi Benaron): ALSO fantastic—set amidst the Hutu-Tutsi power struggles of Rwanda, the book tells the tale of Jean Patrick and his quest to run in the Olympics. Not a beach read, but definitely one worth investing the time and effort.

One Pink Line (Dina Silver): Here’s your beach read—engaging, but you will need to suspend reality a tiny bit. As I have joked with the author, there’s no way the hero in this story exists. Anywhere. And a great cautionary tale for anyone headed off to college. That guy who says he’s your best friend? Yeah, he probably won’t be when you need him.

Confessions of a Scary Mommy (Jill Smokler): If you love mommy blogs, this will be right up your alley. Not one you need to put everything down and run to the bookstore for, but fun and easy to relate to.

Innocent (Scott Turow): The followup to Presumed Innocent and a reminder that Rusty Sabich still can’t keep his dick in his pants. Great thriller, and fun to read while I was waiting for jury duty.

The American Way of Eating (Tracie McMillan): I loved Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” and I thought this would be in a similar vein, but more geared toward the food industry. It was, but I think I was hoping for a little more dirt. That said, I’m having a hard time buying produce at the grocery store, am further convinced Wal Mart is Satan’s favorite place to shop and will never be able to enjoy a chain restaurant ever again.

The Lion is In (Delia Ephron): Ah, as I type that, I miss Nora all over again. Her equally talented sister is responsible for this great read—perfect for a weekend—that follows three ladies all searching for themselves in some form or manner. Strange that a lion fits into the mix, but Marcel does splendidly.

My 52 Weeks of Worship: Lessons from a Global, Spiritual, Interfaith Journey (Pamay Bassey): A friend asked that I give this a look-see and I found it to be really enlightening, given that I float somewhere in between being a wayward Protestant and an uncommitted agnostic (Read: Wishy-washy). Bassey’s prose sheds light on many different styles and forms of worship as she searches for peaceful resolution to personal struggles with her faith.

The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (Anne Rice): In an attempt to uncover better written erotica than that “Fifty Shades” tripe, I dug out an oldie from the queen of vampire drama. Definitely better written, but way more disturbing, if that’s even possible.

Carry the One (Carol Anshaw): In a brief interview with Tim Kazurinsky, I was tickled when he mentioned this as one of his favorite reads of the year, in that I had actually already read it myself — the closest I will probably ever come to being an intellectual. Based in and around Chicago, the story follows two sisters and a brother and what becomes of them when a tragic accident changes the course of their lives — and loves.

Calico Joe (John Grisham): Light, easy read—like, “I can read this in one day” kind of easy read. Need an idea for your dad? This may fit the bill—unless he reads too much into it—the story is about an asshole father and an adult son’s quest to make things right.

In One Person (John Irving): Another of my favorites for the year. Irving just has this way of storytelling—in this case, it’s Billy’s story. Billy, a bisexual whose story spans the length of his life, from teens in the 50s to the present. Dude’s got a whackadoo family, but from Irving’s perspective, you’d never think they stick out or seem odd. They just … are. In a strange, but affectionate way.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson): I always read at least one book a year that has me in tears laughing and unable to explain to my children why—after all, why would dead animals used as hand puppets by loving-but-deranged dads ever be? Another blogger book (Go check out The Blogess), and hysterically funny.

Drop Dead Healthy (A.J. Jacobs): I enjoy Jacobs’ writing, and this book, although maybe not quite as entertaining as previous compilations, connects at a different emotional level. You’ll have to read it to understand — I don’t want to give it away. If you are a germaphobe, you may want to skip a chapter or two.

The Fault in our Stars (John Green): Very, very good—though I had to read the last third of the book twice to really get at the meaning. On a lot of “Best Of” lists this past year, and although considered YA, isn’t just for kids. Grab the tissues for the tale of Hazel, the teen protagonist fighting cancer.

Rules of Civility (Amor Towles): On a ton of book club lists, I likened this to “Sex and the City” meets “The Great Gatsby.” Loved reading about frenemies Katy Kontent and Evey Ross. Good beach read or long weekend in front of the fire kind of book.

The Girl I Used to Know (Marla Majewski): Read this one more for work than anything else—I’m not a big self-helper. Interesting concepts. Think “3D” vision boards, if that’s your bag.

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn): You haven’t read this yet? Good God, go get it. An “It” book of 2012, fabulously written and full of batshit crazy characters to hate (you won’t like anyone by the end, really.) This being Flynn’s third, I was immediately enticed to go read her first two, and now eagerly await movie adaptations.

Unholy Night (Seth Grahame-Smith): Really, really gory. No—really. Puts Stephen King to shame. That said, a fantastically constructed sci-fi-ish story of those Three Wise Men and their adventures just before and after they meet the wee Big Guy. If you enjoyed “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and don’t mind a little sick and twisted, pick this up.

Kat Fight (Dina Silver): The author’s second and another good beach or weekend read. Tinged with the autobiographical, this story follows young Kat looking for love in Chicago. Dina, you could have been Mrs. Skin, but I am happy you ended up here instead.

One Breath Away (Heather Gudenkauf): I’m a Gudenkauf fan since her first, “Weight of Silence.” Not necessarily a light, breezy read, it’s a good mystery-slash-thriller. BUT be forewarned. It’s about a gunman who takes over an elementary school classroom, and I don’t think I could even read it right now.

The Sandcastle Girls (Chris Bohjailian): Total Bohjalian fangirl here. LOVED “The Double Bind” and “Night Strangers.” The writing here is top-notch and the story is compelling—a young American nurse makes her way overseas to assist with the survivors of the Armenian genocide. It is a tough read, though. Not lighthearted in the least.

The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy): Another nonfiction entry for the year and a great read for historical and presidential history buffs. Gives me hope—well, something like hope—that Republicans and Democrats can work together. Maybe. Someday. Not in my lifetime.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Cheryl Strayed): I really wanted to get all smarmy and hate this because who wouldn’t like to ditch everything and just go hiking for a few months? I didn’t realize how difficult the challenge of the PCT was and is, and was quickly engrossed in Strayed’s adventure. Ultimately, I’m filled with gratitude and see the book as an example of how even someone in the most dire of straits can turn it around.

Gold (Chris Cleave): I read this because I adored “Little Bee” and didn’t want to miss out on another Chris Cleave book. It’s good—not as good as “Little Bee”—but a great example of smart chick lit. Frenemies Kate and Zoe battle it out on bicycles and elsewhere as both want to feel a gold medal around their necks and have a certain someone in their bed.

The Age of Miracles (Karen Thompson Walker): Another popular YA book—disturbing and engrossing, indeed. Though, this is not one with a happy ending. The world is slowing. Life sucks. Some people adjust. Some don’t. And middle school girls are MEAN.

The Midwife of Hope River (Patricia Harman): A lovely, lovely read—runaway midwife Patience Murphy is trying to keep her identity and past crime a secret in a Appalachian town that both needs and rejects her. A sweet love story slowly unfolds and Patience, along with her assistant Bitsy, will stick with you long after you put the book down.

Sharp Objects (Gillian Flynn): See “Gone Girl” above. This particular trip to Crazy Town involves Chicago reporter Camille Preaker having to return to her small hometown to investigate the deaths of missing girls. Her mom is a bitch. Her stepsister is even bitchier. She’s messed up. Slightly easier to figure out, but just as dark, disturbing and entertaining.

The Casual Vacancy (J.K. Rowling): Rowling’s non-Harry debut. I for one really enjoyed it, but be warned—there are no redeeming characters, save maybe one. It’s full of gossip, spite, anger, grief, ambivalence … and it takes a good 100 pages of studious “Who’s that guy again?” reading before it’s fairly easy to follow the storyline.

The Light Between Oceans (M.L. Stedman): Another fabulous love story—tragic, and had me in tears. Lighthouse keepers Tom and Izzy mourn for the babies they lost and child they can’t have until serendipitously, one arrives. What happens next is for you to read.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go Of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Dr. Brene Brown): I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Brown prior to a parent event, and am in her debt for exposing me to a truly new way of thinking. Self-help books be damned, this one is really good. She has a newer one, “Daring Greatly,” that I intend to get to this year. It’s all about worthiness.

Caravan of Thieves (David Rich): My Tom Clancy-ish book for the year. Honestly, not bad. It’s a pretty good thriller and a quicker read than the typical Jack Ryan adventure. I could use something that isn’t set in the Middle East, but if that’s my only complaint, I could do a lot worse.

Heading Out to Wonderful (Robert Goolrick): After “A Reliable Wife,” I thought I should give this a chance. I actually liked it more than “Wife” and was taken in by the love story of Charlie and Sylvan, although looking back, I have felt like we missed a page on exactly why Sylvan allows Charlie into her bed. I guess that’s best left to the imagination. Be warned—GRUESOME ending. Not a sunshine and butterflies book.

Beautiful Ruins (Jess Walter) LOVED this. Go get it. Now. Had a chance to interview the author and felt dumber than shit because he is so smart, but honestly, I’m just a fangirl. Need to escape for a weekend? Go to Italy and visit Pasquale at the “Hotel Adequate View.” Dee did when Dick Burton left her hanging to go back to Liz. The book spans several decades and is sweet, endearing, decadent fun.

And … that’s it! Happy New Year everyone and get busy with a book.

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