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Old 12-04-2012, 11:50 AM   #1
sun surfer
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The Best of Times, The Worst of Times 2012 - Your Fave & Least Fave Reads of the Year

Now that the year is drawing to a close, what were your favourite and least favourite reads of the year? The book could've come out in any year, but it should be one you read in 2012.


There's still a month left so mine might be added to slightly depending, but so far, my favourite reads of the year have been:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman - Who would've thought poetry from the 19th century could feel so immediate, refreshing, inspiring and modern? There is some filler that's not as good, but when this book is good, it's incredible. Though it's missing a few of the better poems, I'd recommend the shorter and more concise First Edition over the more bloated Deathbed Edition.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - Tolstoy's broad and encompassing style manages to stay realistic and insightful and poetic at times despite such a large undertaking. I was supposed to read this in 2011 for the book club but didn't manage to finish it until 2012.

Middlemarch by George Eliot - Another wonderfully broad classic that focuses on one little English town but manages to delve into the lives of so many different and even disparate characters and situations around the town. I'd started reading this one years ago but finally finished it this year.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald - A wonderful novel about a young and glamourous well-off American couple on a very extended stay in Europe in the early 20th century, the group of characters surrounding them and their psychological problems and romantic entanglements.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - A beautiful, restrained story about an aging dedicated butler in a dying way of life and a possible chance at romance. The film was good, but the book is so much better.

A Room with a View by E. M. Forster - A great romance with comedic touches about a young blossoming girl manoeuvring her way through a repressed society but fading/slowly changing way of life, the book beginning at a small hotel during a vacation tour of Italy, where the girl and her cousin/chaperone are lamenting not having a room with a view. The film version was also magnificent, a really superb adaptation that's almost better than the book...actually I think it was even better than the book. Like Anna Karenina, I was supposed to read this in 2011 for the book club (it was the pick the very first month I participated) but didn't manage to finish it until 2012.


As for my least favourite reads of the year:

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - My only 1-star rated book of the year, about a man drawn into the "underground" world of London, where in the unwanted, unused areas of London, such as the tunnels underground, a thriving but magical and invisible dank, dingy, dark and dangerous world is alive. I really just didn't enjoy it and found it badly written and the fantasy universe of the story ill-defined and nonsensical, and the comedy in it mostly bad. I was disappointed with it being the first Gaiman I'd read and having heard good things about him. Perhaps it's because (as I found out afterwards) that contrary to the normal book-to-screen process, it was written based on a television series.

A View without a Room by E. M. Forster - a two-page "sequel" or even "epilogue" to A Room with a View, written many years later as, I think, an article for a magazine. Completely unnecessary, it drearily follows the main characters lives through the two world wars and beyond, aiming for a drab, ho-hum and almost bleak realism. If you like or read A Room with a View, I recommend avoiding this altogether.

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse - A depressing book about a family present during the Hiroshima bombing and the terrible effects of the bomb and the long-term aftereffects of the poisonous "black rain" - the rain that fell soon after the bomb that was full of extremely toxic substances but that not everyone realised in time was dangerous. I realise the importance of the book, but I think it just tried to hit me over the head one too many times with the horror. If you are already anti-bomb and have already heard plenty of times about the devastation bombs can cause, then this book is not only preaching to the choir but trying to deeply depress the choir as well. I'm not really a fan of realistic and bleak war stories anyway, especially such depressing and realistic ones as this. There were a few beautiful passages mostly related to the family's small-town life before the bomb, but they were eclipsed by the relentless and graphic descriptions of during and after the bomb. I watched the Japanese film version of this novel after reading it and it was actually better than the book - with only two hours you don't have to stay in that world so long.


So what are yours?

Last edited by sun surfer; 12-04-2012 at 01:08 PM.
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Old 12-04-2012, 12:19 PM   #2
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I didn't read anything mind-shattering this year, but I did discover a few good mystery authors that were new to me.

Josephine Tey - I enjoyed her Alan Grant books, especially The Daughter of Time which I've already reread.

Martin Walker - Very charming Bruno, Chief of Police series set in a small village in France. I'd describe these as cozies with teeth. The subject matter is dark and the detective is cuddly, plus Walker can write.

Mick Herron - Slow Horses is a sort of British spy spoof, witty and ironic.

Louise Penny - Mystery series set in rural Quebec with quirky characters which captures the feeling of the setting perfectly.


I agree with sun surfer about The Remains of the Day, a gem that I enjoyed rereading. Other rereads for me this year were Life of Pi and The Cider House Rules, both on my all time favourite books list.

Some audiobooks that were worthy of 5 stars this year include The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, non-fiction about randomness in our lives. I couldn't stop listening to Stephen King's 11/22/63. The Secret Garden was lovely. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was haunting. I'm in love with the narrator of Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective series.


Least favourites are hard to list, I tend to forget those books that are forgettable. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens was a slog that I gave up on halfway through.

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Old 12-04-2012, 12:36 PM   #3
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I did a lot of re-reading, so I won't count my favorites that I re-read.

My best (new to me) of 2012:
  • Wool by Hugh Howey - Post-apocalyptic story about life in the Silo. This one is joining my to be re-read pile.
  • Honor Harrington series by David Weber - Far future military science fiction series, I have only read the first two, but will continue reading this series.
Several short stories were also highlights:
  • "The Plagiarist" by Hugh Howey - What if we become more interested in being plugged in than connecting with others?
  • "The Feeling of Power" by Isaac Asimov - What if we forgot how math works?
  • "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell - What happens when the world's most distinguished hunter becomes bored?
Because I did so many re-reads this year I only read books I was really expecting to like or were well recommended. I did have a couple short stories that only rated a "meh" from me, "An Apple a Day Keeps the Dragon Away" and "Blood Spatter".
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Old 12-04-2012, 12:39 PM   #4
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Great thread sun surfer. Definitely more Best than Worst for me this year.

The Best of Times
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Just a brilliant work. If you haven't read this, read this.
The Trial by Franz Kafka. I love how Kafka can be read at so many levels.
Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes. I think the literary book club did itself a disservice not reading this one for poetry month. Poems written to Sylvia Plath by the husband dealing with her depression and eventual suicide and being implicated in that.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. Even if Chuck is a one-trick schtick kind of author, this book is brilliant.
R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury. Retro short stories goodness.
Halting State by Charles Stross. People hate the second person narration. I'm sorry but that works for the concept of the story. While potentially disjointed for some, there is so much good stuff in here if you like geek tech stuff.
Ascension by Steven Galloway. The story of a tight-rope walker is wonderful. Galloway just sucks me into his storytelling.
The Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane. I can't say enough about this set of books as I get deeper and deeper into the series. Just well written good fun in the young adult section.

The Worst of Times
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. While I can appreciate a character study, I found I cared little for the characters. I was hoping the boat would sink.
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link. Part of a bundle of books I bought. This short story collection was promising to start with the first one, but went downhill after that. I finished it, that's all I can say.
Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut. As much as I've enjoyed many Vonnegut books, this one did little for me. If you want to read Vonnegut I can recommend him heartily, but avoid this one unless you are a huge fan.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I can appreciate Mr. Twain's social commentary and boyhood life story, but I just found it plenty dull for the most part. Part of me has given up on American fiction when it is listed with the great American novel moniker.
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Old 12-04-2012, 12:56 PM   #5
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While waiting for the latest Dresden release ( Cold Days by Jim Butcher, which was awesome! ), I dipped my toes into another "urban fantasy" series by Larry Correia. His Monster Hunter International series is a good read with a well balanced blend of humor, action and thrills. And monsters... lots and lots of monsters.

Least favorite:

Zoo by James Patterson appeared to be right up my alley. I mean, all the worlds animals go nuts and begin attacking humans. Who wouldn't love a classic "revenge of nature" story right? Well, it starts off OK, but really just meanders along and really goes nowhere.
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Old 12-04-2012, 01:12 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Synamon View Post
Martin Walker - Very charming Bruno, Chief of Police series set in a small village in France. I'd describe these as cozies with teeth. The subject matter is dark and the detective is cuddly, plus Walker can write.
I too discovered Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police Series this year. I read the first because of a recomendation of a Mobile Reads Member. I do not remember who but I thank you so much.
The Longmire Series by Craig Johnson was another series I discovered and loved this year.
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Old 12-04-2012, 03:30 PM   #7
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I read a mix of maybe 60% fiction and 40% non-fiction. Here is five of what I liked best and five of what I liked worst.

The best:

Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory by Cherstin Lyon

I was familiar in broad terms with the internment of Americans of Japanese descent who happened to live on the west coast of the US during WWII. This book informed me about a lot that I did not know though. Like that not only were resident aliens and naturalize citizens interred, but also those born and raised here, basically citizens at birth. All of this with no evidence of their having committed any crime or having in any way been disloyal. The book also started out by painting a good picture of the racism behind that all, dating back to the Asian Exclusion laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I also did not know that Japanese men of draft age were, while being arbitrarily denied basic rights as citizens, still subject to the draft, and subject to jail sentences for refusing to be inducted under the circumstances. Not a proud moment in American history.

The Half-Finished Heaven by Tomas Transtr÷mer

A collection of poems by Swedish poet Tomas Transtr÷mer. I had never heard of him until he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011. The award was well deserved in my opinion.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

My second Murakami book, my first being Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman a collection of short stories. The plot concerns the entanglement of the lives of a youth seeking his long missing mother and sister, a now old man who still suffers from a strange experience as a child during WWII Japan, and a women who has a past that she wishes to hide. Though to really call that the plot is an injustice as the reference to Kafka in the title is appropriate.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

A well told tale of two twins, born orphans in late 20th Century Ethiopia to an Indian mother and a British father. Adopted and raised by Indian doctors at a charity hospital in Ethiopia it is both a history of that country during that period and a touching personal tale of the personal lives of the characters.

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor

A collection of short stories by O'Connor. Well written, terrifying, and at the same time realistic.


The worst:

The Conquering Family (The Plantagenets #1) by Thomas B. Costain

First this book did not provide what it said it would. The kings starting with William I (The Conquer) up to Richard I (The Lion Heart) were not discussed at all. Since a history of the kings that were omitted, especially those after William the I and before Richard I, were what I was most interested in this was a big strike against the book. That and for a non-fiction account that was what I hoped for the author devoted far to much time on romantic speculation about personalities and motivations


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

So I only read this because it was the selection as book of the month for a book club at my local library. Probably Patchett is just not my cup of tea. I found most of the characters so unrealistic as I did much of the story line. Now fantasy novels are fine, but a fantasy novel that expects to be taken seriously is just not something I can enjoy.


Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks.

Another local library book club selection. The first strike against it was deception in the book title and description. Supposedly the book as about Caleb Cheeshahteaumauck a Wampanoag native American, an actual historical figure who became the first native American to attend Harvard University in the latter half of the 17th Century. That would have been good material for a book. In fact Caleb is a peripheral character, as the book is really about a Bethia a young woman of European decent in whose voice the story is told, and the more appropriate title might have been Bethia's Liberation. Which brings me to the second major problem I had with this book. Bethia is as much of an anachronism for the story's time and place as would have been an IPad had she been able to bring that with her when she made her Quantum Leap from the 21st Century back to 17th Century Massachusetts.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoğlu, James Robinson

The author does a nice job of examining why certain nations today have achieved a high degree of prosperity while others remain in poverty. The trouble is his thesis is that the difference is due to one and only one factor and in making his argument dismisses other important factors that likely have played a role, often in a glib fashion and making false equivalencies. For example his dismissal of the arguments made by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel as to why Europe in the 2nd Millennium was able to dominate the world. Or his treating the English colonies in Africa where the English just formed an upper ruling class intent on exploiting the colony and its indigenous population for the benefit of England as equivalent the English colonies in North America where the the aim was to eliminate the indigenous population and essentially form an expansion of England. The other problem is that since the author was supporting only one argument the book at 546 pages was far to long as after a few chapters it became repetitive.

A Happy Boy by Bj°rnstjerne Bj°rnson

So this was a book read on the way to my goal of reading at least one book by every winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. What can I say. This was one of the earliest (pre-WWI) awards, and obviously the breadth of literature considered broadened considerably after the war. This book was selected because it was the only one I could obtain in English. Honestly while it was described in wonderful terms in the biography of Bj°rnson I felt like I was reading a story written for children.
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Old 12-04-2012, 04:59 PM   #8
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Best Read(s) of 2012

The Godfather - Mario Puzo
The Fifth Woman - Henning Mankell
The Dark Fields/Limitless - Alan Glynn
Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince - J.K Rowling

Most Disappointing Book(s) of 2012

A Game of Thrones - G.R.R Martin
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:02 PM   #9
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Louise Penny - Mystery series set in rural Quebec with quirky characters which captures the feeling of the setting perfectly.
These look good
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:40 PM   #10
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You guys make me feel like an ignorant clod...

There was only one book I couldn't finish. Faith by John Love. And I seem to be in a minority with that one.

The one book that was the most thought provoking was the first book in the Xenogenesis series, Dawn by Octavia Butler.
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:49 PM   #11
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I enjoyed The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, re-reads of Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery, and also Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (which I just read for Dec MR choice)

Did not like:
The Witness by Nora Roberts, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Looking For Alaska by John Green
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Old 12-04-2012, 05:57 PM   #12
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I think I may be reading the best book of the year right now: Cold Days (The Dresden Files #14). I'm half way through, trying not to devour the book so as not to forget the details.

The worst was definitly: 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire. This was supposed to be a funny, paranormal short story. Instead, it was, as I stated in my review: "forced, sophomoric, cliched and unfunny". In other words -crap!
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:05 PM   #13
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I love lists, reading them and making them. My descriptions are either short or else nonexistent, if I think the title covers it or the book is well-known, but I’d be happy to expound on any title.

Best of 2012 in no order:
  • Children of the Sun: A Narrative of Decadence in England after 1918, by Martin Green.
    Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    A Compass Error, by Sybille Bedford: the account of how a thoughtless moment can alter a life.
    A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
    Chronicle in Stone, by Ismail Kadare: WWII in Albania, as seen through the eyes of a boy.
    Under Gemini, by Isabel Bolton: a memoir of growing up with a twin at the end of the 19th century.
    The Wages Of Guilt: Memories Of War In Germany And Japan, by Ian Buruma.
    The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Family's Century of Art and Loss, by Edmund de Waal

Worst of 2012: I’m not including books where I should have known better or where my expectations weren’t high (those Georgette Heyers!), only ones where I expected much, much more.
  • Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie
    Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell
    On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan
    Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939, by Katie Roiphe
    Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James
    The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family, by Mary S. Lovell
    Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
    The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafˇn

I see a few of my worst made some best lists. That’s a horse race for you.

Last edited by issybird; 12-04-2012 at 06:07 PM.
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:20 PM   #14
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I don't have any worst books this year. I was most pleasantly surprised by Shelby Foote's trilogy on the American Civil War--history that reads like a novel.
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Old 12-04-2012, 06:32 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hamlet53 View Post
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

So I only read this because it was the selection as book of the month for a book club at my local library. Probably Patchett is just not my cup of tea. I found most of the characters so unrealistic as I did much of the story line. Now fantasy novels are fine, but a fantasy novel that expects to be taken seriously is just not something I can enjoy.
This book was disappointing and I agree that the characters didn't ring true. I spent half the book wanting to slap sense into the main character. I do want to to read Bel Canto, it's on my library hold list.
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