2012 Favorites: Books

Friday, December 21, 2012
Out of the books reviewed throughout the year, 10 books have stood out as favorites. From memoirs to debut fiction, the books in this list serve as a small cross-section of some of the best literature published this year. (Photo by Kate Padilla)

Everyone's got their list. Just in case you missed them as they're released, there are hundreds of collaborations on the "Top" books of the year, from nonfiction to children's picture books. There's even a list for the worst books of the year.

And, because I read and review so many books, I thought it fitting that I wade through my shelf and recognize the books that had the greatest impact on me this year.

"City of Women" by David R Gilham

To state it plainly: I loved this book. David Gilham's debut isn't just a World War II novel. There are plenty of those novels already, and while they each have their own merit, "City of Women" does not focus on the war. Gilham chose to frame World War II around the women on the home front in Germany, specifically through a German soldier's wife, haunted by her love affair with a Jewish man. "City of Women" is an extraordinary novel.

"Mortality" by Christopher Hitchens

Few authors speak as honestly as Christopher Hitchens. "Mortality," published posthumously, shows a vulnerable Hitchens, one who is searching for answers to life's most impossible questions. "Mortality" is most powerful perhaps because it was published posthumously, and the afterword by his wife offers a quiet and appropriate conclusion to a very intimate book.

"Mrs. Kennedy and Me" by Clint Hill

Many books are driven from their suspense: the reader does not know how the story will end, therefore they keep turning pages. Clint Hill's "Mrs. Kennedy and Me," creates suspense from contrary means. The reader knows exactly what happens to the Kennedy family when they begin the book. What "Mrs. Kennedy and Me" offers instead is a uniquely personal connection to the iconic family. Hill served as primary Secret Service agent to Jacquelyn Kennedy, and cared for her from the moment her husband was elected president to one year after his tragic death. His chapter recounting the assassination of President Kennedy is one of the most heart-wrenching moments I've read.

"One Last Thing Before I Go" by Jonathan Tropper

This is a story of redemption, of a man looking back on his life and realizing he still has a little time left to fix the mistakes he made. Silver, upon deciding to refuse an operation that will save his life, decides to spend his remaining days to become the man he had hoped to be. After a stint as a drummer for a one-hit-wonder rock band, he's lived the past decade in the limelight of his fame, and now wants to reunite the family he let disintegrate years before. "One Last Thing Before I Go" is exciting and moving, and drives to answer the question: "What does it mean to save a life?"

"The Taliban Cricket Club" by Timeri N Murari

This book reminded me of Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid," which I enjoyed very much. Not only is it an entertaining story, Murari created "The Taliban Cricket Club" from very real events. The Taliban did actually boost cricket in 2000, hoping to use the sport to promote their relations in the global community. Add an identity ruse akin to Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" (or, for that matter, the Amanda Bynes movie "She's the Man"), and you've got a winner.

"Tell the Wolves I'm Home" by Carol Rifka Brunt

There are so many coming-of-age novels out there, it's hard to wade through to find the ones worth reading. Here's a hint: "Tell the Wolves I'm Home" is one worth reading. Brunt's debut novel tells a love story quite of its own merit, between two people who share the love of each of their lives, and the secrets that undoubtedly threaten to destroy the relationship they've built, and the relationship they had with the one they share.

"Waiting for Sunrise" by William Boyd

Written in the same style as Boyd's previous novel, "Any Human Heart," "Waiting for Sunrise" is beautifully written, and the adventures and misadventures of Lysander Rief will linger with you long after the final cover is turned.

"Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple

Watching Maria Semple (via social media) work to promote this novel was inspiring. Prior to fiction, Semple wrote for "Mad About You," "Ellen," and "Arrested Development." The cleverness featured in these television shows is present here as well, specifically in Bernadette, the completely neurotic protagonist who disappears from her life in Seattle to avoid a family trip to Antarctica, on request of her daughter, Bee. Bernadette is so speculative of true human interaction that she hires a virtual personal assistant from India to run her life. The story is told through the emails sent between her and her assistant, and through the notices between her, her overzealous neighbor, and the prep school her daughter attends.

"A Working Theory of Love" by Scott Hutchins

On the surface, this novel offers a fictional scenario around the Turing test, in which a man uses the diaries of his father to help a computer technology company create a computer that can fool judges into thinking that it's human. Read a little deeper, though, and you'll discover a juxtaposition between our increasingly virtual-based society and the emotional connections that have defined our humanity for centuries.

"The Yellow Birds" by Kevin Powers

I mentioned in my review of this novel that "The Yellow Birds" is the "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Things They Carried" for this generation's war. It's destined to be a classic; a haunting debut novel from a man who served in the Army in 2004 and 2005 and who was deployed to Iraq as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. "The Yellow Birds" is a deeply important novel for our time.

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