Death's handmaidens, bibliophilic dragons, the Big Bad Wolf vs. a smug cat, death's bells, polar bears vs. trolls, a kidnapping king, blue biogel, the Unsea, girlfs and boyfs and going mal were some of favorite things this year.
Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).
Feeling a little shame-faced, but all my top picks were fantasy and science fiction. While I also read some wonderful contemporaries and historicals, they just didn't sing to me the same way. What can I say? I'm a SF/F geek to the core.
There are only three books on this list that were actually new in 2012; most of my top ten list are famous older books that I just now got around to reading. And if you haven't got around to reading them yet, go do so. There is a REASON why they popped up on my radar years after the fact; these are stinking good books.
10. Feed, by M.T. Anderson (2004)
Titus doesn't have a girlfriend; he has a girlf, and a typical teen insult in his time is to tell someone they are "completely unformatted." Here at the end of 2012, iPhones are so "over" and Galaxies are now in the limelight, but such gizmos are completely redundant in this ironic SF future where everyone is directly hooked up to the internet, the Feed. Inundated with amazing tech and with instant access to everything desirable, it turns out that nothing remains desirable. This book is brilliant and sad and addictive.
9. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary Pearson (2008)
I dropped the book at one point in a "no way!" kind of surprise. But I immediately picked it back up and didn't set it down until I finished. Like Feed, this science fiction book has a contemporary young adult feel to it that sort of lulls you through the SF stuff until it smacks you across the face. Unlike Feed, there's also a lot of heart in this story, too.
8. East, by Edith Pattou (2005)
This is one of those wonderful fairy tales with princes and castles and trolls and enchanted creatures - but with a interesting twist on all the traditional elements. The trolls are not ugly, for instance. The castle is buried inside a mountain. In a nutshell, it's the Scandinavian version of Beauty and the Beast, where Rose, the youngest daughter in a family fallen into unfortunate times, is taken away by a great white enchanted bear under a curse. There were so many things about this story I loved. The dress made out of aurora borealis. Story knives. An epic quest to the North Pole. Five points of view orchestrated like a symphony. I nearly cried when it was over because I did not want it to end.
7. His Majesty's Dragon, by Naomi Novak (2006)
Temeraire has become my most beloved dragon, among a very rich playing field of famous dragons like Smaug, Toothless, Ramoth, Maleficent, Draco, Eustace, Saphira, Yevaud, etc... He's a co-main-character, with even more page-time than Saphira from Eragon, so that certainly helps. He is innocent and wise, deadly and noble, a lover both of books and battle tactics. To top it off, he exists in a Jane Austen meets Master and Commander fantasy version of Regency England and the Napoleonic Wars.
6. Sabriel, by Garth Nix (1996)
It probably sounds really wrong to say this, but I have never found death so fascinating. Sabriel can travel into death - a world all of its own - to retrieve the dead and sometimes even bring them back to life. But there's a price to be paid for crossing death's borders. I loved the charter magic in this book, the free magic (especially Mogget!!), the marks, the sendings, the bells, the wall between the old kingdom and the new, all the intricate world-building that is slowly, deliciously dribbled out in a way that is riveting instead of overwhelming.
5. The Iron Knight, by Julie Kagawa (2011)
Full of delightful contrasts: icy, noble Prince Ash versus irreverent prankster Puck; the smug know-it-all cat Grimalkin versus the angry, relentless Big Bad Wolf. This is a story of a faery prince on a quest to gain a soul, without which he cannot join his mortal beloved. Both a fantasy quest of highest adventure as well as an inner-quest of soul-searching, this fourth book of the Iron Fey series also stands out brilliantly by itself.
4. Grave Mercy, by R.L. La Fevers (2012)
Two words: killer nuns. If that doesn't raise an eyebrow, then how about a girl who can see which people who are marked for death, is immune to poison, and is trained as an assassin? And is often forced to assume very un-nun-like roles? A most riveting historical fantasy, set in medieval Brittany, rife with court intrigue and various assassinations and attempts. Topped-off with a great love-hate, I-don't-dare-trust-you-but-I'm-sure-tempted relationship between Ismae and Duval.
3. Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (2012)
Ah. The Darkling, the Darkling, the Darkling. For every 20 books or so I read, there appears one character that grabs you by throat and won't let you go. You catch yourself smiling at thoughts of him (or her) at odd and unexpected moments. The Darkling is a character you want very much to love, even when you know you should fear and hate him. And there's plenty of other good stuff in this fantasy version of tsarist Russia, too.
2. Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (2012)
To date, the longest review I have ever written, over 3000 words, goes to this absolutely stellar debut. This book is not for everyone: it's very cerebral. There's not a lot of action. But, it has unique dragons. Wait, you say, dragons are so overdone. The sheer brilliance of this book is that the dragons break every stereotype but are still completely every stereotype that you love about dragons. Large, fiery, dangerous, gold-horde-ing, Smaugish, they are all that but also 10 times more complex and fascinating. And they can turn into humans. The implications of that! Well! Go see for yourself.
1. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (1987)
Either I just say one thing about this book; or I endlessly rave about it. I shall spare you. The one thing I shall is: "Can I pleasssssse be kidnapped by Corlath??? Please?"
So these are my top ten, but fortunately I discovered this YA Superlative blogfest which allows me to share some more great books that released in 2012 tomorrow, by category (e.g. best first line, best setting, etc).
Meanwhile, I would love to hear what your favorite books this year were!
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