Monday, December 31, 2012

The Fanciest of them All! 2012 Edition

Every year (presuming I maintain this blog long enough for more than one year) I will be naming my personal favorite read of the year the Fanciest Book of the Year, and the two runners up--(AKA, my Top 3 books of the year).



Can we all just bask in its radiance for a while?

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I went into this book with really high expectations because I was completely enamored with the movie trailer, which is hazardous because if it didn't live up to the hype, then all the work for it, but as it turned out it was everything I expected and MORE. What really set this book apart for me, from any other book that's well written with a good story is that a) It's not one good story, but 6 good stories that all ties together in such a way that it doesn't just feel like six short stories, due in part to it's rather unique structure, and b) the best books inspire you to write, not in the THIS BOOK IS CRAP I CAN WRITE 100X BETTER way, but the THIS IS SO GOOD I MUST WORK TOWARDS WRITING SOMETHING AS AMAZING AS THIS way. Which, to be honest, I haven't felt since I read Lord of the Rings ten years ago. Whether or not you've seen the movie, and whether or not you liked it, you really should pick up this book. I haven't seen the movie yet so I can't attest to how well (or not well) it reflects the book, but it really is worth a read. 



 Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

 I've always been a fan of Ray Bradbury, but its been a rather long time since the last time I read one of his books and then he died this year and I was very sad. Anyway, I was reading a little blurb in memory of Bradbury in...the Kirkus Review(? I was definitely one of those book journals), and the author was talking about Dandelion Wine and all this great stuff about it, so I immediately raced off to the check out a copy and oh my goodness RAY HOW DO I KEEP FORGETTING ABOUT YOU? The story is fairly simple--a summer in a small Illinois town and what it's like to be young there and old there and any age in between. What I always find really remarkable about Bradbury's writing is that even when he's describing something as simple as a summer breeze, he finds words and ways to describe it that you haven't already heard a thousand times. I started this book in June which was an excellent choice because it really sets the mood for summer.




The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

The first book by Junot Diaz I read was his first short story collection, Drown, which I found sort of meh--not that it was bad, but that it didn't particularly wow me. So I forgot about him for a while. And then his new book, This is How You Lose Her came out this year, so he was getting all hyped up and I was like OH YEAH, he won the Pulitzer. Now, as with any award, there will always be people who say "Just because it won X Award, doesn't mean it's good" because in all fairness, "good" is a subjective value (mostly). But generally I trust the Pulitzer and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is REALLY good.

HONORABLE FANCY: Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
This was a contender for the top three, especially because it reminded me a lot of Dandelion Wine. It is similar in that it's a chunk of life in a small town (this one is Worcestershire) in which each chapter could function as a short story. But while Dandelion Wine paints a certain idyllic view of the town, Black Swan Green is a lot harsher in that it goes into bullying, and politics, and other forms of societal discord. I am ever amazed by Mitchell's ability to write so many styles so well because nothing about Black Swan Green really sounds like any part of Cloud Atlas, unless you count the poetic nuggets of profundity that crop up throughout both. But as Cloud Atlas is my number one book, I didn't think it fair for him to claim two out of the three spots.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Books of 2012

I wanted to start off fresh with reviews for the new year, but here's a look at all the books I read this year and what I thought about (some) of them. Those in bold are ones I particularly enjoyed and highly recommend. Although that fact that I actually finished these indicates that they were at least good enough to hold my attention all the way through.


A Dance with Dragons – George R.R. Martin
People just need to hurry up and read all of these books already so I can have someone to talk about about the MULTITUDE OF CLIFF HANGING EVENTS at the end of Dw/D. Boldness is in reference to the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The Magician King – Lev Grossman


Maus II – Art Spieglman

The Rook – Daniel O’Malley
Fun, funny, definitely original in some aspects. Still, you can kind of tell it's his first novel.


Jaws – Peter Benchley
Surprisingly not about a giant, blood-thirsty shark. I mean, it's in there, but really--it's about social and class tensions.

City of the Beasts – Isabelle Allende
Kind of disappointing. I had high hopes because I had recently read House of the Spirits and was eager for more Allende, especially if it was going to involve ADVENTURES IN THE AMAZON! Unfotunately, it looks like Allende caught the this-is-a-YA-book-and-therefore-I-must-ridiculously-dumb-it-down bug. I would blame the translation, but House of the Spirits was also a translation so... But it moved fast and it kept me interested and reading.

A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts – Ying Chang Compestine

The 13 Hallows – Michael Scott & Colette Freedman
One of those books that I tore through and then three days later it was over and I'm kind of like, "What did I just read?" Not great, but gripping at least.

The Writing Class – Jincy Willett

Kraken – China Mieville
This was weird, because this book took FOREVER for me to get through, and the prose was often confusing and complicated (or maybe I was just reading too fast), and half the time I had to re-read the page to figure what just happened because my mind started to drift, and I really didn't feel any particular connection with the characters, HOWEVER rather than turning me off from Mieville, it actually makes me want to read more of him? I guess what I really liked about it is that it was refreshingly original.


A Dark Dividing – Sarah Rayne

Sparks – S.J. Adams
One of those books where the writing isn't particularly great, but the plot is semi-interesting and you get sort of invested in the goings on and then the book is so short that you're just like "Well, I might as well see how it all ends." It was cute.

Skim – Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

Slice of Cherry – Dia Reeves
It was kind of interesting reading these two back-to-back because it was a total coincidence and as it happens, they both feature protagonists whose father is a serial killer--however they both take it in completely different directions. If you're into crime fiction and like to watch lots of CSI and Law and Order, I would go with I Hunt Killers. If you prefer psychedelic urban(suburban?)fantasy, I would pick up Slice of Cherry. Both come with an extra side of gore.


How My Private, Personal Journal Became a Bestseller – Julia DeVillers

Yellow Star – Jennifer Roy


Twelve by Twelve – William Powers
This is the one exception to the "I finished it, therefore liked it to some extent rule". I had to read this for class and I really, really, did not care for it at all. While I generally agree with the overall message of environmentalism, the author really just came off as a big ass.

The Book Thief – Mark Zusak

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
It was interesting, but I guess I didn't find it quite so addicting as others did.

Dandelion Wine –Ray Bradbury


The Virgin Suicides – Jeffrey Eugenides

Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce
Sort of the "meanwhile back at the ranch" of fairy stories that goes into the aftermath of what happens when a girl goes traipsing into fairyland for 20 years, rather than focusing on the fairyland story itself. And then of course the question of was she really in fairyland or was it all in her head? I really liked the premise because I love those psychological "is it real OR AM I MAD??" stories, but I fell like the author didn't make it ambiguous enough. It was pretty clear from about a third of the way in which version was the truth, and I wanted to feel torn throughout more of the book.

Un Lun Dun – China Mieville
Usually I hate it when adult book writers dumb down their language for YA books, but given how complicated I found Mieville's writing in Kraken, this one by comparison was "dumbed down" to a level that was actually much easier to understand. It was just a really witty, delightful read that follows different turns from what you usually find in stories. For those who love Carroll-esque Wonderland type stories. 

The Children and the Wolves – Adam Rapp

Shark Girls – Jaimee Wriston Colbert
Written by my professor! That being said, good, but moved rather slow.

Level Up – Gene Luen Yang

The Eternal Smile: Three Stories – Gene Luen Yang

Same Difference – Derek Kirk Kim

Good as Lily – Derek Kirk Kim


Gods Without Men – Hari Kunzru

Some Kind of Peace – Camilla Grebe & Asa Traff

Holding On To Zoe – George Ella Lyon
Once again, more of this REAL OR CRAZY? stuff. Main character is teen-mother BUT NO ONE WILL ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SHE HAS A BABY. Another interesting premise that you can kind of tell which way it is, but it's about when the character's going to realize it. Ending seemed sloppy though.


Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

Friends with Boys – Faith Erin Hicks

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
I didn't hate the ending.

Caring is Creepy – David Zimmerman

Habibi – Craig Thompson


The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

This is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz


Red Rain- R.L. Stine
I was really excited that R.L. Stine was coming out with an adult book, but also wary because not all authors can execute the leap from children's to adult the first time around. As it turns out, if you cut out the rampant gore and the sexytimes and the cussin', it could probably sold as a Goosebumps book. It's not necessarily bad, so much as I felt a little sloppy. And not quite as terrifying as I was hoping for, though evil twins have never really been my bugaboo so maybe for some people it is really scary.

The Night Strangers – Christopher Bohjalian

Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone – Stefan Kiesbye
This book sort of succeeds in scary children where Red Rain did not (the cover alone...) I wouldn't slot this book as horror so much as fabulism--dark, horrifying fabulism. The very small elements of possibly supernatural occurrences are really more of the fable-ish type that recall the gruesome tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell


The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days – Ian Frazier
I will admit that the gag does get old about a third of the way in, but I really wasn't looking for great literature here. I found this book really hilarious, which was exactly what I needed at the time I read it in the middle of a high-stress semester.

Lionel Asbo: State of England – Martin Amis

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami

Black Swan Green – David Mitchell
I guess I'm just in love with David Mitchell now. Sort of like Dandelion Wine, except darker and more British. 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple
I was looking at this book cover ALL YEAR, on Amazon, on Booklist, EVERYWHERE and I kept saying "meh" and then suddenly something clicked and I HAD to read it. Came in on hold just as I was starting this OTHER book and I was like "Well, I'll just take a peek", and then suddenly it was three days later and I had finished reading it.

Ghosts & Lightning – Trevor Byrne

Stormdancer – Jay Kristoff
Another one of those books where I'm not sure why I'm reading it then then I've suddenly finished it and while it was really gripping I was still like ehhhhhhhh. I mean, Japanese Steampunk Fantasy sounds cool until you realize it was written by a Western guy whose SOLE RESEARCH was anime and Wikipedia. And yet I kept reading because he actually is a really good writer--craft-wise that is. There was some really beautiful prose amidst all incorrect use of "sama" and randomly tossed in "hais" (surprised desu never made an appearance). Plot-wise though, it gets a D for Derivative. 

Stay Tuned for the FANCIEST BOOK OF 2012