2012 Year in Reading

I’m incapable of anything as organized and hierarchical as a top 10 list, nor do I confine myself to books published in 2012, but here are some highlights of my reading year. I took a look at last year’s review post and discovered I had made some reading resolutions I’d totally forgotten about. So they’ll do for next year, too!

  1. Read more outside of the romance genre: I actually listened to a lot of non-romance this year. I’m going to modify this to Read more “literary” fiction. Not because it’s better or better for me, but because there are things I get from it that I don’t from other kinds of books, and I’ve been reading very little of it. I hope to find some winners in 2013.
  2. Don’t buy every book that sounds interesting: Bwahahahaha. Let’s just say my TBR didn’t get smaller this year. I’ll keep working on this one.

Favorite New Authors

This one’s easy. Like a lot of other people, I fell in love with 2012 debut romance authors Cecilia Grant (historical) and Ruthie Knox (contemporary). Grant’s A Lady Awakened was my favorite historical romance this year. I loved A Gentleman Undone too, but I really connected with Martha, the heroine of Lady. Grant twists familiar romance tropes in surprising ways, and her writing is beautiful. Knox’s Ride With Me is smart, funny and sexy. My favorite thing about it is that the couple share interests besides sex (though that too). The snappy dialogue and loving depictions of Lexie and Tom’s cross-country bike odyssey made this a winner for me.

I enjoyed getting to “know” these authors on Twitter and through blog posts and comments, too. This wonderful post of Cecilia’s on the power of “escapist” books is one of the most moving things I read this year. Ruthie’s “what to read” posts are good examples of how an author can share only positive comments on books and not come across as a fake book pimp–she’s clear about why she enjoyed the books.

Other Romance Highlights

In historical, Miranda Neville’s Confessions from an Arranged Marriage, Carolyn Jewel’s Not Proper Enough, and Loretta Chase’s re-released Knaves’ Wager. In contemporary, Stephanie Draven’s In Bed With the Opposition.

I don’t read a lot of erotic romance (often it, ahem, leaves me unsatisfied because the romance is underdeveloped). This year, though, I read some that were hot, emotional, and used sex to explore and develop the relationship, all in a fairly short package: Restraint by Charlotte Stein, and How to Tell a Lie and Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden (probably in that order of preference). All these books feature characters who are shy, repressed, or in some way find it difficult to express their feelings and desires, something that really works for me emotionally–no doubt because I identify with them to some degree. Stein, Dryden, Knox, and Cara McKenna, a favorite discovery last year, all blog together at Wonk-o-mance, which makes me want to try books by their co-bloggers as well (won’t be hard, I’ve got some in Mt. TBR).

Other Genres

Ben Aaronovich’s Whispers Under Ground, the third in his Peter Grant urban fantasy series, was my favorite so far. I love the way he combines magic and police procedural, modern multicultural London with the city’s history and folklore. Plus Peter’s pitch-perfect snarky narrative voice. Mr. Real by Carolyn Crane. Fantasy/spy/romance/a little of everything, clever and twisty and surprising and emotional.

Listening Highlights

The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty. This mystery set outside Dublin in the early 80s, the era of Thatcher and IRA hunger strikers, was brilliantly narrated by Gerard Doyle (thanks to avid mystery reader Keishon for the recommendation). I loved McKinty’s evocation of time and place. I think if I’d read it I might have seen some plot holes, and the detective was both a bit unbelievable (broad cultural knowledge) and rather dumb at times, but in audio none of this bothered me and I’ll definitely try more from this author.

Lloyd Alexander’s fantasy classic Chronicles of Prydain, a childhood favorite. I listened to the whole 5-book series over the course of the year, and loved them as much as ever. New fantasy favorites on audio were Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, a beautifully-written YA novel with rich, inventive world-building. I loved Hartman’s take on dragons and Seraphina’s journey of self-discovery. I’ve never read anything quite like this. Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint is a full-cast audiobook with music and sound effects. For this story of an emotional, dramatic swordsman, this worked perfectly. Also a really original and richly-drawn world with a lot of political maneuvering.

I find audio great for long non-fiction. Yes, I miss some things, but these books are such slow reading for me in print that I often give up. Hands-down favorite this year was Wade Davis’ Into the Silence, a vivid account of the 1920s Mt. Everest expeditions, and of the climbers’ experiences in the First World War. I enjoyed Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland too.

I would have said that this was a mediocre reading year, but looking back I found a lot of pleasure. I think sometimes the constant evaluation of my reading prompted by blogging and by tracking my books on Goodreads makes it seem less enjoyable than it is; this is probably why I’ve been posting fewer straight-up reviews on the blog. Rating also creates the feeling that only A+ 5-star reads are really memorable, but a lot of my favorite books this year were 4-star reads. I try not to obsess about what to rate a book (wait, should I go back now and give all these favorites of the year 5 stars?); it’s too much like grading papers and thus a complete pleasure-killer.

I feel like I’m reading less than I used to, but maybe that’s just because I pay more attention to how much I’m reading. It’s true lately more of my reading time goes to blogs and to talking about books on Twitter. I think that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

I already got my best bookish Christmas present: my Dad brought me the old family Bible with family records pages (the last wedding recorded here is my grandparents’).

IMAG0359 Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it!

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11 Responses to 2012 Year in Reading

  1. Rohan says:

    It seems like a pretty good reading (and listening) year overall!

    I agree that thinking too hard about those ratings adds unhelpful pressure. If I ever started feeling as if I was supposed to take that process really seriously, that would probably be the end of my relationship with GoodReads.

    Have a wonderful holiday! I hope you get lots more enticing books to put on that infamous TBR pile. πŸ™‚ Thank you for the many reading recommendations and for being such good Twitter company.

  2. willaful says:

    I hadn’t realized until now that In Bed With the Opposition was written by the same person as The Knife’s Edge. That makes me want to read it even more.

    Your reading year was very similar to mine. Perhaps I’ll do a wrap up and just link to this post with a “ditto.” πŸ˜‰

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, and she has a 20s set erotica (or erotic romance, not sure) series coming soon, too. Even though I’m kind of off more erotic books right now, that setting is really tempting!

  3. Ros says:

    The Dryden book is Theory of Attraction (unless it’s one I don’t know?). I have totally fallen for Cecilia Grant this year though the Ruthie Knox I read (About Last Night) didn’t completely work for me. I liked the knitting in it, though.

    I never gave books stars, even when I was a more regular reviewer. It’s just not the way I categorise my reading in my head. I have done it a bit at Goodreads, but it always feels pretty arbitrary. How objectively ‘good’ a book is and how much I enjoyed reading it are overlapping but not identical categories. My enjoyment level depends on so many things, and can change over time, so it feels a bit pointless to try to score it.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Oh, thank you–fixed the Dryden title. That’s what happens when you blog amidst the chaos of Christmas family visits.

      Yes, I find ratings somewhat arbitrary too. At GR I mainly go with their definitions of star ratings, which are personal-response related, and don’t worry too much how that overlaps–or doesn’t–with quality. Here, I don’t rate at all, because I’d rather not.

      I haven’t read Knox’s second (though actually written earlier) book yet because I’m not sure it will work as well for me. I may just skip over it.

  4. Alex says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the Aaronovich. Don’t you just love it when you can see an author growing in stature with every book s/he writes?

  5. We have a lot of overlap since Grant, Aaronovitch, Knox, and Neville are all on my top reads of 2012 list as well. My husband and I are reading Seraphina now and so far so good. I’ve never read Lloyd Alexander but I remember that my brother loved those books when we were kids. And when you consider that he was the child who didn’t like reading, that’s pretty impressive.

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