2012: Very Good Reads

Of 189 books read in 2012, here are my VGRs:

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty: A very enjoyable read about a woman in her mid-30s who travels to NYC with 15-year-old Louise Brooks, chaperoning her while she attends a dancing school.  The book was focused more on the chaperone’s story than on Louise Brooks, and it’s an excellent commentary on a time in U.S. history when there were so many cultural changes happening.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter: Wonderfully written novel about an innkeeper in a tiny Italian town and the Hollywood starlet who comes to stay there in the 1950s.  The novel spans 50 years and many different people’s lives, and I highly recommend it.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker: This was a coming-of-age story set in a crazy time, when the Earth’s rotation starts slowing by the day.  The days begin stretching longer and longer, and the impact on the planet and society are immeasurable.  An excellent book, but it left me with a deep melancholy.

Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller: Powerful, quick read about a Marine home from Afghanistan dealing with his experiences there and the death of his best friend.  I was impressed with the male voice – I can’t imagine writing from the point of view of a guy – and also by the writing.  It was refreshing to read a book that didn’t go on and on for 500+ pages when fewer will tell the story more effectively.  Lately, it seems like a lot of writers (and their editors, the real culprit) feel like their books need to be long to be good, even when (and often) the extra pages and words detract rather than enhance.  Clean, spare writing that conveyed strong emotions without sappiness.

What in God’s Name, by Simon Rich: I thought this book was laugh-out-loud funny.  I’m sure it was annoying of me, but I kept reading passages of it out loud to Domingos, which isn’t something I do often.For example, one morning God is googling himself and reflecting on his numbers going down: “Recently one of the humans, Richard something, had written an entire book saying he didn’t exist.  God didn’t mind at first; it was just some fancy-pants Oxford professor trying to get attention. . . .  God tried to read the book, but it hurt his feelings so much he had to stop after just a few pages.”  God, CEO of Heaven, Inc., has decided the Earth is hopeless and is going to destroy it.  Two lower-level angels try to make him change his mind by making a bet with him that they can get two inept humans to fall in love.

You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney: I really enjoyed this non-fiction book.  It was about our biases and ways of thinking and how they’re rarely what we think they are.  It was broken up into many short chapters that were easily digestible and written in a humorous and engaging manner.

Goodbye for Now, by Laurie Frankel: This book really made me think about a lot of different ideas.  It’s about a genius software engineer who creates a program to allow people to talk to their dead loved ones.  It combs through the dead person’s online life – all emails, video chats, browsing history, blogs, texts, etc., and creates something that can video chat and send emails that make people feel like they’re talking to the dead person.

Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead: A social satire about a New England WASP family gathering together one weekend at their vacation home for a wedding.  Funny and insightful, I really enjoyed reading it.

The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller: A moving novel about life after a virulent flu has killed almost everyone on earth.  Hig and his dog Jasper live in Colorado, getting by with the help of a crotchety neighbor who has a taste for killing any intruders who try to attack them.  The book is written in a spare, haunting style that completely evokes the feeling of the end of days.  I found it very moving.

The Diviners, by Libba Bray:  The Diviners is set in New York City in 1926, and it is much more in the style of Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy, rather than her two stand-alones she’s written since the GD trilogy.  I don’t think it needed to be almost 600 pages; again, that trend for long books that I think developed out of the Harry Potter series’ success just means that editors can now be lazier.  However, it was filled with interesting characters and events, and it was clear that there will be more books set in this world with these characters.  Several people who have psychic powers (the “diviners” of the title) are trying to stop a dead man from bringing about the apocalypse.

Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government, by Yaron Brook and Dan Watkins: This might be the best book I’ve read all year.  It’s a moral defense of capitalism and a truly free market, which is sorely lacking even among many capitalists, and it’s well-written and engaging.  Weighty ideas but not weighty reading.  Domingos and I got to hear Yaron speak in Atlanta, and he is as good a speaker as he is a writer.  I wish every politician would read this book.

The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling: I thought this book was excellent, well-written and engaging.  It’s about local politics in a small British village, and the characters are numerous and fascinating.  I found myself hating a character in one chapter and feeling sympathy for him in the next, and vice versa.  It’s not a page-turner like the Harry Potter novels were, but I think Rowling’s writing has gotten better and better the more she writes, and I really enjoyed the book.

One Last Thing Before I Go, by Jonathan Tropper: Tropper’s latest novel is as good as all his other ones.  In this story, a deadbeat dad finds out he’s going to die unless he has surgery, and he decides he doesn’t want the surgery and instead focuses on trying to repair his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife.  Great writing and interesting characters and their relationships.

Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Netzer: A fascinating book about Maxon, a genius robotics engineer for NASA, and his wife Sunny.  Max is in space on a mission to the moon while Sunny is left behind on earth, trying to take care of their young autistic son, pregnant with their second child, and her mother dying in the hospital.

Mystic and Rider, The Thirteenth House, Dark Moon Defender, Reader and Raelynx, Fortune and Fate, by Sharon Shinn: I had been saving this 5-book fantasy series on my Kindle for my India trip, and it was great to read all 5 books in a row.  Political intrigue, magic, fighting, romance…  this series has it all.  The second book in the series was my least favorite, but overall I loved immersing myself in the world of Gillengaria.

On the Beach, by Nevil Shute: I can’t believe I never read this before.  Nevil Shute is one of my mom’s favorite authors, and I’ve read and enjoyed several of his books.  On the Beach is a little different from his other books, dealing with the aftermath of a nuclear war that has destroyed everyone in the northern hemisphere.  The radiation is slowly drifting south, and this book deals with a group of people living in southern Australia, knowing the end is coming but going on with their lives in whatever ways they can.  Although the novel has an overall feeling of despair (of course), it is incredibly powerful and moving.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan: I loved this book!  It’s really hard to describe, but it’s a wonderful marriage of books and computers and interesting characters.

The Long Wait for Tomorrow, by Joaquin Dorfman: A sort of Freaky Friday novel about a 40-year-old man who finds himself back in his teenaged body, trying to stop a tragic event from taking place again.  It’s made more interesting by the narration, which is from his best friend’s POV.


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