I managed to read 114 books in 2012, up from 103 in 2011, so I had a lot of books to consider when compiling my list of favorite books for the year. I wanted to highlight the best books I read last year, and I managed to narrow down my favorites to 10. These are the books that are still with me, months or weeks after reading them. (These are books that I read in 2012, and not all of them were published this year.)
My Top 10 of 2012
The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman
(from my review) “Despite the darkness and sadness inherent in such a novel, it’s one I can see myself reading again for the beautiful writing and Wiseman’s ability to pull readers into the scene from the first page. It’s rare that a novel makes me lose myself as completely as this one did. My heart would race when the bombs started to fall, and at times I was so overcome with emotion that I had to put the book down and sit for a bit in silence. This is definitely a novel to press into the hands of people who mistakenly believe all Germans were Nazis or supported Hitler, and it’s a must-read if you’re as obsessed with World War II novels as I am.”
Emma by Jane Austen
(from my review) “I couldn’t help but love Emma; she was self-important and manipulative, but she did have good intentions where Harriet was concerned. I’m not surprised she thought so highly of herself, given how everyone but Mr. Knightley kept telling her how wonderful she was. And Mr. Knightley! When Harriet is slighted at the ball by Mr. Elton, and Mr. Knightley, dead set against dancing, comes to her rescue, I just about melted. I also loved the conversations between him and Emma, where he doesn’t mince words and tells it like it is. Emma does have some hard lessons to learn, and while he is critical of her, you can tell he has her best interests at heart.”
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
(from my review) “Code Name Verity is a book about war and friendship. It’s shocking, haunting, and brilliantly paced and structured. The characters are believable and endearing, and the narrative is fresh and on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting. I could keep gushing, but you really just need to get your hands on a copy and lock yourself away for a few hours because you won’t want to be disturbed.”
Before Ever After by Samantha Sotto
(from my review) “Before Ever After is a love story at its core, but Sotto doesn’t go overboard with the romance. It’s also an adventure set during some fascinating periods in history and a discussion of life’s most difficult questions about time, love, devotion, and death. Sotto’s writing beautifully blends the history and heartache with humor and hope, and her ability to make the past come to life through ordinary people coping with extraordinary events kept me turning the pages and made me sad when it ended.”
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy
(from my review) “I was instantly captivated by Elsie’s story, and McCoy does a brilliant job setting the scene. I felt like I was in the bakery, with the smells of the dough, the brick oven, and Elsie’s fear in the air. McCoy perfectly captures the frustrations of the Germans as the war nears the end; they are hungry, scared to say the wrong thing with the Gestapo always watching, and torn between their love for their country and their disillusionment with the politics of the Reich. This patriotism and confusion are exemplified by Elsie, as she accepts Josef’s proposal for the protection it offers not because she loves him, and especially by Elsie’s sister, Hazel, who is a resident of the Lebensborn program and has given birth to twins for the Fatherland, and one of the infants appears not to be a perfect Aryan. McCoy also gets into the heads of some of the minor characters as well, particularly Josef and Riki, juxtaposing one’s struggles with Nazi ideology with the other’s involvement in the border wars between the U.S. and Mexico as he questions immigration laws even while he enforces them.”
Shadows Walking by Douglas R. Skopp
(from my review) “This book made me sad, angry, and sick to my stomach. I hated Johann, his faulty thought processes, and his evil actions, and I also hated that by the end of the book, I realized there had been times when I felt sorry for him. Of course, the extent of my sympathy toward him was nowhere near the sorrow I felt for the victims, but the fact that I felt it at all was disturbing. But I think that’s what Skopp intended, for readers to see that people just like you and me got caught up in all the madness. Johann was smart, he was a decent husband and father who worked hard to support his family, and he had the same worries about money and health that we all have. Yet Johann was a Nazi, he was so quick to blame other people for his problems, and he took it all to the extreme. No one wants to believe they could ever sink as low as Johann did; just the mere thought of it is downright frightening.”
City of Thieves by David Benioff
(from my review) “Benioff brilliantly balances the lightness with action and suspense so that even when you’re chuckling or shaking your head at Kolya, you never once forget that they are on a dangerous and futile mission. He took me on an emotional roller coaster for sure, and I was unable to put the book down for fear I’d miss something and then I was reading through my tears. Benioff masterfully paints a picture of a city under siege, giving glimpses of people who go to different lengths to survive but who all are cold, hungry, scared, and mostly resilient.”
The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla
(from my review) “The Far Side of the Sky is an exciting and beautifully written story about a city and people in turmoil. There is a lot going on in this novel, and Kalla does a wonderful job balancing and connecting all of the plot threads, including the plight of the Jews in Vienna and the Chinese under Japanese rule, the ethical dilemmas that threaten Franz’s career and the fate of his family, the convergence of numerous cultures in one city, the starvation and disease that ran rampant, and the sadness of the people who escaped the Nazis realizing that they probably would never see the relatives they left behind ever again. Kalla’s descriptions of Shanghai made the city come alive, and I could see the chaos, smell the stifling odors and the exotic aromas, and feel deeply for each of the characters, all of whom felt so real to me.”
A Parachute in the Lime Tree by Annemarie Neary
(from my review) “Neary does a wonderful job showing how war was hell and how many people didn’t have a happy ending, and though she doesn’t focus too much on the horrible things that happen during wartime, it’s always there so the reader cannot forget the enormity of it all. The novel also touches on Ireland’s neutrality during World War II, and how even while the country itself may have been neutral, many of its people were not. A Parachute in the Lime Tree is a story of the desperation inherent in both love and war, and how the lines between each are sometimes blurred.”
Charity Envieth Not (George Knightley, Esquire #1) by Barbara Cornthwaite
I won’t have a review of this book posted until sometime in January as it was the last book I read this year, but I wanted to highlight this retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma through the eyes of the hero, Mr. Knightley. Cornthwaite does a great job getting into his head, giving readers a glimpse of the responsibilities he had as magistrate and estate owner and helping them understand how his feelings for Emma changed from that of an old friend to a lover. I can’t wait to read the second book that will conclude Knightley’s story. Stay tuned for my review!
The 2012 Honorable Mentions
Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began by Art Spiegelman — A graphic non-fiction tale of the Holocaust with interesting symbolism and a powerful story about the long-lasting impact on survivors and how their children were affected.
The Last Storyteller by Frank Delaney — The last book in a trilogy about undying love and the Irish art of storytelling.
Across the Mekong River by Elaine Russell — A beautifully complex story of the immigrant experience, one that surprised me with its wonderfully flawed characters and intense emotion.
Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe — A novel about time travel, Jane Austen, and the inspiration for one of my favorite novels, Persuasion.
My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss — A foodie memoir that made me fall in love with a city I’ve never seen in person!
What were the best books you read in 2012?
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.