Best of 2012: My Favorites

Best of 2012

Happy New Year!

2012 was a tough year of reading for me. I enjoyed many books, but when it comes to my “best of” list, the books needed to be more than just entertaining or elegantly written. They had to spark something within me. That said, some of my choices may seem odd to you but they all meant something to me at the time and they are the ones that I often think about, even now.

Here’s my list, in the order in which I read them:

1.Then Again (audio) by Diane Keaton
2.Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan
3.Heft by Liz Moore
4.A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
5.The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
6.The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
7.The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
8.So L.A. by Bridget Hoida
9.The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
10.The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
11. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (added at the very last minute!)

Looking at this list which is is all fiction with the exception of the first title, I can honestly say that the characters won me over. Each of them complex, richly developed and memorable. If you are looking for a great read, you can’t go wrong with any of these.

Here’s to another year of great reading!

Books Reviewed in 2012

This is a list of the books read in 2012. Links take you to the my review of the book.

1. The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
2. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
3. The Odds by Stewart O’Nan
4. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
5. The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
6. Then Again (audio) by Diane Keaton
7. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
8. Wish You Were Here by Stewart O’Nan
9. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds
10.  The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
11. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
12. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
13. Heft by Liz Moore
14. Stay Awake by Dan Chaon
15. The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow
16. Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins
17. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
18. The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone
19. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
20. Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan
21. Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
22. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
23. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
24. The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
25. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance & Survival by John Vaillant
26. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
27. Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
28. The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermont
29. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
30. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
31. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompso Walker
32. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
33. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
34. Words Get In the Way by Nan Rossiter
35. Looking for Alaska by John Green
36. Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty
37. Jaws by Peter Benchley
38. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
39. The City & The City by China Mieville
40. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø
41. The Bird Saviors by William J. Cobb
42. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
43. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
44. Hummingbirds by Joshua Gaylord
45. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
46. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
47. Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
48. So L.A. by Bridget Hoida
49. 12-21 by Dustin Thomason
50. Divergent by Veronica Roth
51. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
52. The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy
53. Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio
54. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
55. IT (audio) by Stephen King
56. The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
57. The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister
58. 1222 by Anne Holt
59. Because You Have To by Joan Frank
60. Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
61. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
62. The Round House by Louise Erdrich
63. The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
64. The Twelve by Justin Cronin
65. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679743460, 1993, 416pp.)

The Short of It:

Mesmerizing and magical.

The Rest of It:

Talk about cutting it close! I had planned to finish my last book of the year a few days ago, but as usual, my vision of what I felt could be done, didn’t quite mesh with the reality laid out before me. Funny, because that’s sort of what this book is about. Reality versus what we think reality to be.

Those of you familiar with this blog know that I have a thing for Murakami’s writing. His writing is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Much of what he writes is surreal and strange but a lot of what he writes is just so normal. Normal in that he has a way of making simple things sound marvelous. The simple act of brewing coffee becomes something special in Murakami’s hands. I love that about his writing.

This novel is no exception and might be my favorite of his yet. A data processor finds himself in a strange situation. Hired by an eccentric professor who happens to be secreted away under the subway system in Japan, he realizes quickly that the job he’s been hired to do is anything but standard. The work that he’s been given is important enough for the government, known as The System, to become involved and although the professor’s intentions were good initially, his little experiment has gone very wrong.

In a parallel story, a man finds himself trapped behind a great wall surrounded by beasts which can only be unicorns. As he tries to make sense of this world and the importance of the unicorns themselves, he begins to question his existence and purpose.

Sounds bizarre, right?

As bizarre as these stories are, Murakami manages to pull both stories together, creating what I feel is his most profound work yet. As an end-of-the-year read, I don’t think I coud have picked a better book. Its largeness is felt on every page yet it’s totally readable and not hoity-toity in the way that books like this can sometimes be.

It’s fantasy and literary fiction all wrapped up together and I absolutely loved it. It left me with big thoughts and yet somehow, I feel rejuvenated too.

Even after all my gushing, if you’re still not sure about Murakami, this April I am hosting a read-along for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I promise it will be fun and easy with very little to do but enjoy the book. After the New Year, I’ll post more about it so look for that post if you are interested. I’ve not read the book yet myself so we’ll be experiencing it together. For now, write down this hashtag #winditup2013!

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Twelve

The Twelve

The Twelve
By Justin Cronin
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345504982, October 2012, 592pp.)

The Short of It:

Open the book, read the first few pages and fall into a world quite unlike your own.

The Rest of It:

I’ve been talking about this book for months and could not wait for it to finally hit the shelves. The anticipation of it coming and the feeling I had when it finally appeared on my e-reader made me feel like a kid in a candy store. The only negative was that I was in the middle of a huge project at work so I could not take the day off like I wanted to. In fact, because I am so particular about how I read highly anticipated books, I ended up putting it off until I had some time to really sit down with it.

I finally read it and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. The Twelve is book #2 of The Passage trilogy. What impressed me about The Passage, is that it was a combination of many different genres. Part thriller, part fantasy with vampire-like creatures and an experiment gone wrong. It was the end of the world, and the beginning of another. Well, in The Twelve, the story focuses on what the world has become.

There are some new characters, but lots of familiar ones as well. As good attempts to overcome evil, there is a lot of getting from point A to point B but what I especially enjoyed, what I really savored was the decimated world that Cronin created. I love stories that center around the Apocalypse and as dark as most of these books are, The Twelve was not that. Cronin focuses on the survivors and they are a resilient bunch. Quirky, strong and level-headed. There are no idiots here.

As you can imagine from the title of this trilogy, Cronin takes us on a journey and as we go along for the ride, we get to spend time with these characters, we get to know them and we get to know their weaknesses. This installment was more personal, or it seemed to be as I was reading it.

Now for those of you who are wondering about these “Virals” and their vamp-like tendencies, let me just say that this is not a book about vampires. These creatures are altered but they are thinking beings and their calculated means of attack makes for some entertaining reading. The battle scenes put you right in the action, but they aren’t overly graphic. A lot is left to your imagination which is how I like it.

The Twelve is a solid follow-up to book one. The pacing was just right so the length of the book was not an issue. I can’t wait to see what Cronin dreams up for book three.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

The Sunday Salon: Wrapping up 2012

Sunday Salon

I wasn’t going to post today but it’s the last Sunday Salon post of the year so I decided to write one up anyway. I’ve been off from work for over a week and I’ve literally forgotten what day it is. It’s lovely! I’ve been sleeping in and watching tons of movies. I haven’t read much but what I am reading now is really good. I may have to adjust my “best of” list because of it. We’ll see. It’s a Murakami.

What I love about this time off is that we have no plans at all. Absolutely nothing. Like today. Nothing planned but we could go for a drive…or grab a bite to eat or pop in yet another movie. Whatever we do, is fine by me.

The Boy has been going to track practice in 36 degree weather. He’s also thinking about Winter formal and what he’ll be wearing. I swear. That kid loves clothes.

The Girl has been spending time with the Otter Pup. Lots of snuggle time on the couch. I don’t know what the pup will think when we all go back to work and school. She’ll have withdrawals!

The Hub couldn’t take as much time off as I did so he’s been working some short work weeks with a day off here and there. He’s okay with it for the most part, but he hates to leave the house when we are all sleeping! That’s got to be hard.

I am trying to savor my time off because The Music Man is right around the corner and production week is hellish! Lots of rehearsals and stress. I cannot lie. Getting them back and forth for their call times and me helping backstage can be rough.

But…

I am pushing it from my mind and going back to my book. What are you doing today? Any big plans for New Year’s Eve? We plan to order Chinese take-out. Exciting, huh?

As I update my calendar for 2013 and begin to take the Christmas decorations down, I can’t help but think about all the people I’ve chatted with this year. I’ve “met” a lot of new readers through this blog and it’s been wonderful. Talking about books with others is something that makes me incredibly happy and I have to say, all of your comments and yes…friendship have made me a happy girl. Thank you.

Giveaway Winner: The Round House

The Round House

I got swept-up with the holidays and almost forgot to select a winner. The winner is Jamie H.! Congrats to you! Hope you enjoy the book! I sent you an email!

A Post-Christmas Hello

Well, hello there! The holidays are always a bit crazy, but this year they came up too quickly for me. I had planned to be online for most of it and I was for some of it, but then the days got away from me and before I knew it, Christmas was here and then poof, it was over and done with. Isn’t that how it always is?

We did have some fun though.

Leading up to Christmas we went to Disneyland and California Adventure. I love Disneyland at Christmas but the Boy and Hub wanted to see all the new stuff at California Adventure so we did both in one day.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle

We got there before the park opened and stayed for over sixteen hours. Towards the end of the evening, I was hobbled in a big way (like that guy in Misery), but we saw almost everything we wanted to. There is nothing like Disneyland at Christmas! I love the lights, the holiday atmosphere and who am I kidding? Starbucks! California Adventure has a Starbucks now! After sixteen hours of dragging myself all over the park, it felt so good to get a REAL coffee drink instead of the watered-down “tea” they call coffee.

Of course, there were other treats to be had such as the caramel apple and turkey leg I sucked down but I digress.

It was an amazing day. Bliss! I am a bit OCD when it comes to making sure we do stuff but all in all, it was a great day. Tons of people but our fast passes (strategically obtained) came in handy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Boy move so fast but he used those cross-country skills to get us passes for Radiator Springs Racers and it paid off because they were sold out by 11am.

On the Saturday before Christmas, we met-up with our friends for a driving tour of the Christmas lights in our neighborhood. We do this every year and have been doing it for well over fourteen years, if you can believe it. Anyway, I didn’t capture any pics because it was raining, but it was still fun to drive around and check out all of the lights. I made my giant ginger cookies and two kinds of fudge and we sipped hot chocolate while driving around. It was great to see everyone again.

On the Sunday before Christmas, we went to my Mother-in-law’s house. We got there a little late because I had a laundry faux pas but let me tell you… it was nice to be late for a change. We are always the first ones there and the party was in full swing when we got there. Felt good to arrive to a crowd of happy, smiling people. The food was great and everything was very casual and relaxed. A perfect evening.

Christmas day, I made cinnamon rolls and a pile of bacon. We watched movies at home and then headed to a restaurant for Christmas dinner. I ALWAYS cook and usually enjoy it but I was just sick of making stuff so this year, I made reservations instead. We like this one restaurant that is right next to the airport and they offered a Christmas buffet this year so I thought, why not?

The Girl and Boy at Christmas Dinner 2012

I think each kid ate their weight in food. The sun was setting in this pic but that’s the air field right there! We got to watch the planes take-off and land while we ate. It was perfect and a lot of fun. I especially liked the fact that there was nothing for me to clean-up afterward!

After dinner, we drove home and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. A perfect end to a perfect evening.

I think everyone on the planet was watching this movie though:

Les Miserables

My son got to see it with friends but I seriously feel as if I need to get myself to a theater to see it.

Anyway, that’s it from me. I just started my last book of the year, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Murakami) and tomorrow, I plan to just lounge around and do nothing. I do have two reviews to write-up. We’ll see if that happens.

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