Alexis’s Top Reads of 2012

By ALEXIS NEAL

This would be me jumping on Ye Olde Bandwagon (Bookwagon?), if you will. As Coyle and Kendrick have done before me, I include only books I read this year, not books that were necessarily published this year—and no re-reads, either. Only books with which I had my very first encounter in 2012. With that in mind, here’s my book award list:

Best Western: True Grit, by Charles Portis

I read quite a few Westerns this year, which is unusual for me (and is a direct result of being married to a professor who a) is from the West, and b) makes me read the books he assigns to his classes). Though several of them were good, True Grit was my favorite, not least because of the distinctive narrative voice of the straight-shooting Mattie Ross. The movie adaptations are also worth checking out, but I enjoyed reading the book.

Honorable Mention: Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Gray

Best Mystery (Tie): The Mirror Crack’d, by Agatha Christie and Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer

Both of these authors are among my longtime favorites, but 2012 reintroduced me to them. Heyer I know mostly from her delightful historical romances, but I stumbled across several of her ‘thriller/mysteries’ this year (including Footsteps in the Dark and Why Shoot a Butler?) and was pleasantly surprised. Her writing is a cross between Jane Austen’s witty comedies of manners and the genteel mysteries of Agatha Christie, whose work I also rediscovered this year—particularly The Mirror Crack’d (a later Miss Marple mystery) and The Secret Adversary (the first in the Tommy and Tuppence collection, which I had never even heard of). Both women know how to tell a good story and draw you in, and I’m thrilled that they both have a sizable body of work that will keep me in good mysteries for some time to come.

Honorable Mention: Pretty much everything by Rex Stout

Best Romance: A Long Fatal Love Chase, by Louisa May Alcott

Did you know that Louisa May Alcott, she of the quaintly wholesome Little Women, also wrote insanely outlandish romance novels? Well, she did, and they are awesome. A Long Fatal Love Chase is full of improbably named villains with nefarious intentions and a lovely heroine whose flight from said villain takes her from yacht to convent to mental institution, through an assortment of disguises, forbidden love, and daring escapes. In short, it is flat out bonkers, and I loved every minute of it.

Honorable Mention: A Modern Mephistopheles, by Louisa May Alcott

Best Children’s Book: The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber

A brave prince. A beautiful princess. An evil Duke. Spies. Quests. Man-eating geese. And a Golux. All wrapped in Thurber’s brilliant, magical prose. This short book comes recommended by fantasy great Neil Gaiman, so you know it’s got to be good.

Honorable Mention: Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner

Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novel: Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko

Russian vampire lit. Good versus evil, light versus dark … All the supernatural critters and magical battles we love with the moral complexity and nuance we expect from the Russkies. The perfect anti-Twilight.

Honorable Mention: We the Underpeople, by Cordwainer Smith

Best Devotional Reading: The Works of John Flavel, Volume 5, by John Flavel

This tome, the fifth of six volumes, consists of five titles: Husbandry Spiritualized: or, The Heavenly Use of Earthly Things (lessons from nature); Navigation Spiritualized: or, A New Compass for Seamen (lessons from life of a sailor); A Saint Indeed: or, The Great Work of a Christian in Keeping the Heart (advice on maintaining spiritual health and faith in various hardships—my favorite in the volume); The Touchstone of Sincerity: or, The Signs of Grace and Symptoms of Hypocrisy (how to distinguish between true and false believers); and A Token for Mourners: or, The Advice of Christ to a Distressed Mother (counsel and encouragement for those who are mourning). Flavel is one of my all time favorite Puritan writers, and I look forward to reading the rest of his works. (This is actually the first volume of Flavel that I’ve read, but I’m planning to start with volume 1 in the New Year.)

Honorable Mentions: Discovering God’s Will, by Sinclair Ferguson & What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage, by Paul David Tripp (both of which are the standouts in rather cluttered subject areas)

Best Nonfiction: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

An eminently readable and thoroughly researched examination of the differences between introverts and extroverts; the unique strengths (and weaknesses) of both; the biological nature of introversion; and an assortment of historical and experiential anecdotes involving introversion. Everyone should read this book.

Honorable Mention: Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books, by Tony Reinke

Best Literary Novel: The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

I haven’t reviewed this one yet, mostly because I’m waiting until I have time to do it justice. It’s pretty much amazing. Narrated by death, this is the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany and her adventures, many of which involve the books she steals. It’s been talked about as a potential replacement for Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in school curricula, and, well, I think that would be fine. Warning: I cried. A lot.

Honorable Mention: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

Best Horror Novel: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, by H.P. Lovecraft

There’s a reason Lovecraft remains the master of horror and the inspiration for so many authors and artists. The Call of Cthulhu is probably his best-known work, but there are plenty of others worth your time. You can take your pick of the many great collections out there, or, if you’re cheap, I think all his stuff is public domain now, so you can find it on the interwebs. I highly recommend the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast as a supplement to your Lovecraft reading. Now go. Read. Unknowable horrors await you.

Honorable Mention: Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Best Poetry/Music Book: Christ in Song: Hymns of Immanuel, Selected from All Ages, with Notes, Vol. 2, by Philip Schaff

This collection of hymns (sans music) makes a great devotional. There are some stinkers in the mix, but there are a lot of gems, too. I recommend reading it aloud.

Honorable Mention: Thoughtful Hours, by Jane Borthwick 

Alexis Neal is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., area. She regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.

  • Jeff Cavanaugh

    Thanks for these. I read Night Watch on your recommendation and loved it. If your taste in everything else is as good, I should be set for reading material for a while. :-)

  • http://www.coyleneal.blogspot.com Coyle

    Except for her love of 19th century chick-lit [Janes Austin and Eyre- shudder], I can testify that her taste in books is very trustworthy.

  • http://quantum-meruit.blogspot.com Alexis Neal

    Glad you enjoyed NightWatch, Jeff! (I actually read it on Coyle’s recommendation, so his kind words about MY literary taste border on self-laudatory … )


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