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Favorite Fiction Reads of 2012

While I know that 2012 isn’t technically over, I decided to get a start on posting my favorite books of the year this week before the holidays hit and I lose all motivation blog. If I read any life-changing books before the end of the year, I’ll add an addendum to the lists or consider them for my favorite books of 2013. I’m starting with fiction, and over the next two weeks will have a series of posts on my favorite nonfiction, memoirs, and the books that got away.

(Astute readers will notice many of these books were not originally published in 2012. These lists highlight my favorite books from the year, regardless of when they were published.)

the monsters of templeton the sparrow ready player one
the casual vacancy angelmaker

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

I think 2012 was the year I re-discovered my love of literary mysteries, starting with the truly delightful The Monsters of Templeton. When a small town’s wayward daughter returns home in disgrace, she discovered that the story she’s been told about her father is a lie. As she digs into her hometown’s past, she discovers a host of dark secrets. I just loved everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more from Lauren Groff.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

I never actually reviewed The Sparrow this year (except briefly at Book Riot), which is a real shame because it was, hands down, my favorite fiction read of the year. As I wrote at Book Riot, “I don’t know how to quickly summarize Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow except as the beginning of a joke: ‘Four Jesuit priests, a child prostitute turned computer expert, a doctor, an engineer and an astronomer head off into space…’ But this book doesn’t end with a punchline, more like an emotional punch to the stomach as two competing storylines – the tale of the mission to find aliens in Alpha Centuri and the rehabilitation and interrogation of the sole traumatized survivor – converge to an emotionally wrecking conclusion that feels inevitable but surprising. I was, and still am, stunned by this book.”

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I barely remember the 1980s, was never much of a computer geek, and don’t love video games, but I absolutely adored Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Set in 2040, this book tells the story of a high school student, Wade Watt, and his quest to uncover the Easter eggs in a virtual reality world called The Oasis. I listened to this one as an audio book, which I think was a great choice. Narrator Will Wheaton was a perfect narrator, and listening to the book really highlights how much fun it was. I’ve recommended this book many, many times this year.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

As far as I can tell, readers either loved or hated The Casual Vacancy. Clearly, I’m on the loved side of the spectrum. Even though most of the characters are unlikable, I was absorbed by this story of small town politics that explored what happened when a single incident throws off a carefully-calibrated equilibrium in a closed community. I saw a lot of J.K. Rowling’s distinctive style in the writing, which reminded me of my favorite things about Flannery O’Connor. This certainly isn’t Harry Potter, but I loved it anyway.

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Angelmaker is another example of the really odd but wonderful books I read this year. It’s a mix between a spy thriller and science fiction, with excellent writing and engaging characters to boot. I just recently wrote about this one so I won’t say much more other than that I suspect this is another book that I will hoisting on unsuspecting readers when they ask me for recommendations.

Honorable Mentions: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Amy December 17, 2012, 7:04 am

    I read Monsters of Templeton after I read Groff’s latest book, Arcadia, and ended up finding Monsters a little disappointing. Arcadia will definitely be on my best-of list for this year. She’s amazing.

    If you like literary mysteries, check out Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind. It’s a murder mystery written from the point of view of the accused–a woman with Alzheimer’s who can’t remember if she committed the crime, and sometimes can’t remember the person who was murdered.

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:33 pm

      I have heard that Arcadia is better. I haven’t read that one yet, but if it’s better than this one I’m confident it will make a “best of” list when I get to read it.

      Thank you for the recommendation — it sounds awesome!

  • Jeanne December 17, 2012, 7:30 am

    Angelmaker is the book I’m sending to everyone this Christmas.

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:34 pm

      It was a close call, but Read Player One is the book I’ve been shoving into people’s hands. However, I do have a friend that I think will really like Angelmaker once I get it to him.

  • Stephanie December 17, 2012, 12:44 pm

    I loved The Sparrow too, and I never reviewed it. For me, it was a difficult novel to explain and discuss. Whenever I tried to talk about it, I didn’t do it justice. Something was lost in translation.

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:34 pm

      It really does lose something… the premise sounds just a little too strange, I think, to really explain what the book is about and how great it is.

  • Vasilly December 17, 2012, 5:13 pm

    Nice list! I remember reading Monsters of Templeton years ago and enjoying it. I need to listen to Ready Player One soon!

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:35 pm

      It is SO GOOD. All caps good. Listen/read it!

  • Teresa December 17, 2012, 6:53 pm

    I’m so glad that you loved The Sparrow so much! It is a remarkable book.

    I saw Mary Doria Russell speak last year, and she joked about how when she first published the book she would tell people that she written a book about a Jesuit mission in space, and then end up having to tell them that it wasn’t at all the kind of book they thought it was. Apparently, the premise is a hard sell. I told her when she signed my book that the premise is exactly why I read it, which she seemed to find amusing–and unusual (and more revealing about me than about the book).

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:35 pm

      Ahaha, I love that story. I think you either love the premise, or it seems to weird to make any sense. But either way, you have to read the book!

  • Kelly December 17, 2012, 9:00 pm

    Hi Kim,
    This comment isn’t in regards to your list – I just wanted to give you a book rec and didn’t know how else to get in touch with you! Have you read Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree yet? It is a loong book but so fascinating and I think it really speaks to your interest in narrative journalism. Definitely look into it!

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:36 pm

      Thank you for the recommendation! I haven’t read that one, but I have had recommendations to read a different book by Andrew Solomon. I will look into this one!

  • maphead December 17, 2012, 9:20 pm

    I LOVED The Sparrow! Glad you enjoyed it too. A number of years ago she spoke at Powells and I got her to autograph my copy and my copy of the sequel People of God.
    Your inclusion of Angel Maker has me very intrigued….

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:37 pm

      I have People of God — I bought it like the week after I finished The Sparrow — but haven’t read it yet. I think I needed some distance so I wouldn’t be comparing the two, you know?

      • maphead December 18, 2012, 9:16 pm

        Not a bad idea!

  • Aarti December 17, 2012, 9:41 pm

    I loved The Sparrow, too! But I can totally see why you didn’t review it, because it’s so emotionally draining and at the end you just don’t know what you can even say that will BEGIN to describe what you experienced while reading it.

    I really need to read Ready Player One! People seem to love it.

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:38 pm

      Emotionally draining is exactly the phrase. I was just exhausted and exhilarated when I finished and didn’t have words. RP1 is so good! I highly recommend it.

  • Charlie December 18, 2012, 5:53 am

    I’m hoping to read The Casual Vacancy at Christmas, but now I want to add Ready Player One to my list. I haven’t read much about it before but from what you’ve written it sounds really good. Loved The Night Circus!

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:39 pm

      I loved that book so darn much. I don’t quite know what it was, but I was totally invested in the story and the characters from the first chapter.

  • Laurie C December 18, 2012, 6:22 am

    Nice list! I tried Nick Harkaway’s Gone-Away World twice because of great reviews but couldn’t get into it. Will try Angelmaker instead. Loved Ready Player One on audio. And The Sparrow, oh yes! (Have you read Children of God yet?)

    • Nikki Steele December 18, 2012, 9:12 am

      I’m having the same issue with Gone-Away World and making me feel like a drag that I can’t get through it.

      How is Children of God? I really want to read it after reading The Sparrow.

      • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:40 pm

        I haven’t read Children of God yet, but it’s on my “Books I MUST Read in 2013” list.

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:40 pm

      Angelmaker does start out a bit slow. I remember it took me several days to get through the first 100 or so pages, I think. But I thought it really picked up and gets awesome if you stick with it. I can’t speak to Goneaway World, but I am hoping to read that one.

  • Joanna December 18, 2012, 6:43 am

    I haven’t read any of these but I think I will have to! I’ve seen more negative than positive about the JK Rowling but I like what your said so I’m thinking of trying it. I got Ready Player One for Christmas last year but still haven’t read it!

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:41 pm

      The Casual Vacancy is a dividing book. I loved her writing and characterization and the plot, but other people have just not found it engaging or enjoyable. I think you’ll know pretty early on if it’s working or not though.

  • Nikki Steele December 18, 2012, 9:13 am

    The Sparrow, The Sparrow! I’ve never picked a “my favorite hands-down book of the year” before, there were always 5-6 in the category, but I can say without a doubt that The Sparrow was mine. Though, then again, if I had read Ready Player One this year, it might be more of a challenge to pick.

    Looks like you had an excellent year in reading!

    • Kim December 18, 2012, 5:51 pm

      I have a really hard time picking a single favorite of anything. So much of loving a thing depends on time and place and mood that a “favorite” at one moment can change, especially with a thing like a book. But if I HAD to pick one, I’d probably go with The Sparrow, even if I recommend RP1 to more people.

  • Jenny December 19, 2012, 5:48 am

    Man, The Sparrow killed me. I need to reread that. I have read a few other books by that author and never had even close to the same reaction as I did to Sparrow. (Oo, I just realized I’d like the title much better if she lost the “The”. Too late now.)

    • Kim December 30, 2012, 10:11 am

      Me too. I was stunned after I finished it. It’s one of the most heart-wrenching books I’ve ever read.

  • Tanya Patrice December 19, 2012, 5:50 am

    Other than Ready Player One, I haven’t read any of these books, but they are all on my reading list. I do have The Casual Vacancy hanging about waiting for a good cup of tea and some alone time 🙂

  • Trisha December 20, 2012, 2:04 pm

    If I could find the time to make a best of 2012 list, Ready Player One would definitely be on it. Such a good, good read.

  • Natalie ~ the Coffee and a Book Chick December 22, 2012, 5:44 pm

    The Monsters of Templeton and The Casual Vacancy were ones I loved as well! Happy Holidays to you, Kim!

  • Athira December 23, 2012, 7:52 am

    Ready Player One made my best-of list last year and I think it was a really fun book! I also picked up the Harkaway book after reading your review, and can’t wait to read it! 🙂

    • Kim December 30, 2012, 10:12 am

      I hope you like Angelmaker! It starts out a little slow — lots of move pieces that don’t quite clearly connect — but I loved the way it came together.

  • Andi (@estellasrevenge) December 25, 2012, 6:03 am

    And the first three of these are already on my TBR. Woohoo! Looks like I have some good reading ahead of me. 🙂

  • Jennifer December 28, 2012, 10:10 am

    If there is any blogger that I always chose for fantastic end of the year lists, it is you. I love that you don’t just focus on this year’s books but on what you read this year. My own reading this year didn’t really get very far unfortunately. But I did manage to read The Casual Vacancy. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as you did — although I do agree with what you said about Rowling maintaining her distinctive style.

    • Kim December 30, 2012, 10:13 am

      It would be boring if I only focused on books published in 2012, even though I read a lot of those. But I love older books and discovering older authors too 🙂

  • Susan December 28, 2012, 11:25 pm

    Well, the first three are now added to my to-get list! lol They sound very interesting – I’ve heard that before, about The Sparrow and Ready Player One, but your review is the first one that gave me an inkling about the plot of The Sparrow and that I might like it. So thank you 🙂

    • Kim December 30, 2012, 10:13 am

      I hope you like The Sparrow. I thought it was a tremendous book… it certainly did not disappoint me.

  • Carl V. December 30, 2012, 3:57 pm

    Ready Player One was on my list this year as well, and I have no doubt had I not had to take my library copy of Angelmaker back early that it would have been on my list too. I’m hoping to get back to it soon in 2013.

  • Emma @ Words And Peace January 3, 2013, 9:40 am

    neat! here is my list, with extras, and pies and charts: http://wordsandpeace.com/2013/01/03/year-of-reading-2012/
    I loved The Sparrow a lot, you need to read the sequel, with a tiny more hopeful perspective on humans