It’s surprisingly difficult to decide which books were the absolute best from the year. Not so much the first few, those were kind of easy. But when it gets down to the last three or four, that’s where the nail-biting starts to come into play.
Looking back at the books I reviewed, I gave out a fair number of “A” ratings–but not very many “A+” ratings. And that’s as it should be. But there were also a couple of books that I read, and loved, but didn’t review. I bought them and didn’t write them up.
Love counts for a lot.
And there were a couple that just haunted me. They might not have been A+ books, but something about them made me stalk NetGalley for the rest of the year, searching for the next book in the series. Something, or someone that sticks in the mind that persistently matters.
This is my list of favorites for 2012. Your list, and your mileage, may vary.
Cold Days by Jim Butcher (reviewed 11/30/12). I started reading the Dresden Files out of nostalgia for Chicago, probably my favorite former hometown. But I fell in love with Harry’s snark, and stayed that way. Some of the books have been terrific, and some have been visits with an old friend. Cold Days is awesome, because Harry is finally filling those really big shoes he’s been clomping around Chicago in. He is a Power, and he finally recognizes it. And so does everyone else. What he does with that power, and how he keeps it from changing him, has only begun.
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (reviewed 8/29/12). Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series are murder-mysteries. They are also intensely deep character studies, and none in the series more deeply felt than this outing, which takes the Chief Inspector and his flawed second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir to a remote monastery in northern Québec. The murder exposes the rot within the isolated monastic community, and the interference from the Sûreté Chief exposes the rot within the Sûreté itself, and within Gamache’s unit.
The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon (reviewed 6/20/12) The latest volume in Gabaldon’s Lord John series, which is a kind of historical mystery series. Lord John Grey solves military problems that tend to get wrapped up in politics. The Scottish prisoner of the title is Jamie Fraser, the hero of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and takes place in the gap between Drums of Autumn and Voyager. The Scottish Prisoner has to do with an attempt by Lord John and his brother to prevent yet another Jacobite Rebellion by working with Jamie. If you like the Outlander series at all, this one is marvelous.
Cast in Peril by Michelle Sagara (reviewed 12/26/12) is the latest in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. Elantra is an urban fantasy, but the setting is a high fantasy world. The emperor is a dragon, for example. But the heroine is human, and flawed. She is also a member of the law enforcement agency. It just so happens that her desk sergeant is a lion. The commander is a hawk. Her best friends are immortal, and one of them is the spirit of a tower. Kaylin’s striving each day to make the world better than she began it changes everything, even the unchanging immortals around her. Her journey fascinates.
Scholar and Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I didn’t write reviews of these, and I should have, because I loved them both. Scholar and Princeps are the 4th and 5th books in the Imager Portfolio. The first three books, Imager, Imager’s Challenge, and Imager’s Portfolio were so good I practically shoved them at people. These new ones are in a prequel trilogy, but equally excellent. What’s different about these series is that Modesitt’s heroes in both cases are coming into their powers without it being a coming-of-age story. They are adults who are adjusting to new power and responsibility. It makes the story different from the usual epic fantasy.
The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay (reviewed 1/6/12). This book was an utter surprise and delight. A former Buddhist monk leaves the monastery, becomes an LAPD detective, and eventually, a private investigator. What a fascinating backstory! Tenzing Norbu, known as Ten, retains just enough of his outsider perspective to be a fascinating point-of-view character. I stalked NetGalley for months waiting for the next book in this series to appear, because I wanted more!
The Fallen Queen (reviewed at BLI on 7/3/12) and The Midnight Court (reviewed 8/14/12) by Jane Kindred. I said that Jane Kindred’s House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy reminded me of Russian tea, initially bitter, often and unexpectedly sweet, and filled with immensely complicated rituals. Also incredibly satisfying for those who savor a heady brew. Take Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow Queen and cross it with the history of the House of Romanov. Leaven it with the most complicated pantheon of angels and demons you can imagine, then stir well with the political machinations and sexual proclivities described in Kushiel’s Dart. Only with more heartbreak.
About Last Night by Ruthie Knox (reviewed 6/8/12) had me at hand-knitted straight-jacket. But it’s way more fun than that. Also more complicated. It’s the story of a formerly bad girl trying so damn hard to make up for her past mistakes, and unable to forgive herself, and one man who has tried much too hard for much too long to live up to his family’s expectations, in spite of the fact that what his family wants has nothing to do with what he wants for himself. They make a glorious mistake together, that turns out not to have been a mistake after all.
Taste Me (reviewed 12/11/12) and Chase Me (reviewed 12/12/12) by Tamara Hogan. The Underbelly Chronicles were a complete surprise, but in an absolutely fantastic way. They are paranormal romance of the urban fantasy persuasion, or the other way around. Every supernatural creature that we’ve ever imagined is real in Hogan’s version of Minneapolis, but with a fascinating twist. They’re real because they are the descendants of a wrecked space ship. That’s right, the vampires, and werewolves, and sirens, are all E.T. And when they find the wrecked ship’s black box after a thousand years, it phones home. The family reunion is coming up in book three. In the meantime, there is a lot of yummy interspecies romance.
The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and The Line Between Here and Gone (reviewed at BLI 6/19/12) by Andrea Kane. I disappeared into The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and didn’t reappear until the end of The Line Between Here and Gone, although I still find the title of the second one more than a bit incomprehensible. Just the same, the Forensic Instincts team that solves the extremely gripping and highly unusual crimes in this new series by Kane is a force to be reckoned with. They have that kind of perfect balance that you see in crime-solving teams with the best chemistry. They are a fantastic “five-man band” which makes it a pure pleasure to watch them work, no matter how gruesome the crime they were solving.
Blue Monday by Nicci French. I’m currently stalking Netgalley for the next book in this series, Tuesday’s Gone. Which is not here yet, so it can’t be bloody gone! This is a mystery, but with a more psychological bent, as the amateur sleuth is a forensic psychologist. This one gave me chills from beginning to end, but it’s the protagonist who has me coming back. Because her work is so personal, she’s both strong and fragile at the same time, and I want to see if she can keep going.
And for sheer impact, last and absolutely not least…
The Mine by John A Heldt (reviewed at BLI on 9/28/12). There are surprises, and then there are books that absolutely blow you away. If you have ever read Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, The Mine will remind you of Finney. Heldt has crafted a story about a boy/man who accidentally goes back in time to America’s last golden summer, the summer of 1941. All he has is a few stories of Seattle in the 1940s that his grandmother told, and a fortunate memory for baseball statistics. What he does is fall in love, with a woman, a time, a place, and a way of life. And then he learns that he can come home, and that he must. No matter how much damage he does by leaving the people he has come to love, he knows that he will do more harm if he stays. The Mine will stick with you long after you finish.
That’s a wrap. I could have gone on. I though about adding honorable mentions, but that way lies madness. Definitely madness! I did list my Best Ebook Romances for 2012 on Library Journal again this year. There are a couple of repeats from that list to this one, but the qualifications are different. LJ has lots of other “best” lists, if you are looking for a few (dozen) more good books.
I’m dreaming of next year.