Books You Already Knew I Was Going To Tell You To Read

I was on the road quite a bit in December and read a whole pile of books I enjoyed. But none of them quite seemed to warrant their own review, since none of them are going to come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent any time here. So a list seems appropriate, so I get to mention a few things that I heartily, if predictably, recommend:

1) Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I saw Rainbow Rowell speak in person earlier this fall, and that woman is made up entirely of curly hair and charisma, and the stories she told about writing this book had the audience literally screaming with laughter. This is no Eleanor and Park, but I’m not sure my heart could handle another one of those, so this story about a marriage and a magic telephone will do just fine.

2) Dreams of God and Monsters by Laini Taylor. Quite a while back on the blog I mentioned the first book in this trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. That book was your fairly standard YA, magical realism, independent female narrator, star-crossed lover sort of story. And then book two, man, book two took a turn. It got dark and weird and tragic and bloody, and I actually put off starting the third one for months because I was scared of where things might go. But I ended up really liking how the story resolved, and I promise you, you have not read anything like this.

3) One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. I’ve already raved about Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that Moyes’s latest was equally heart lifting/breaking. (Note, because I know my readers: don’t worry too much about the dog. It will work out.)

4) The Secret Place by Tana French. This wasn’t my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad novels–that would be The Likeness–but it was a compelling read. While the plot and mystery of this one didn’t grab me the way some of them have, it still delivered on the two things I think Tana French does best–unsympathetic but fascinating characters, and a romance-free vision of modern-day Ireland.

In The Woods

By Tana French

Book cover: In The WoodsI really liked this book: it has a plot that I couldn’t anticipate and building suspense that I couldn’t put down, and the characters are where it really shines. The narrating detective’s female partner, especially, is tough, smart, and likable, and that’s a lot less common than it should be. My favorite passages of the book just follow the various officers working through the minutiae of the investigation. However, there were a couple of issues that kept me from loving it:

First, a pet peeve: I just hate foreshadowing. I know that is an important writing device for building suspense, but I hate it when the narrator says stuff like, “if only I knew then where this would all lead” or “at the time I was so sure I was right.” I just hate it, and this book was chock full of it. I will say that French put it to better service in this novel than I’ve seen in used before, but it still didn’t make me like it. I prefer to advance through the story at the same time as the narrator, and see missteps retroactively as well.

Second, from the very beginning, even on the back cover blurb (so this isn’t a spoiler; the full plot spoiler follows below the cut), it is known that the narrating detective’s past is related to this new crime. Though the book primarily focuses on the present-day murder, the cold case, with the same setting and similar victims, runs as a parallel undercurrent. Our narrator knows he shouldn’t be working this case, but he is obsessed and becomes increasingly unbalanced throughout the book. French does a very good job of subtly depicting his unraveling mentality, and I gradually began losing patience with his growing belligerence and incompetence and all-encompassing self-involvement.

So, I found the actual reading of the book a bit more a chore than I like in my for-fun books, but the twist ending (which I couldn’t even guess at) made it all worth-while, and I want to bring it up because I want to gasp over it with other readers, specifically Kinsey, who recommended it to me and mentions the second and fourth in the series here.

WARNING: I’m seriously spoiling the entire mystery in the following paragraph. Pet peeves aside, I really do recommend this book if you like the grittier-type murder mysteries and suspense, and if you haven’t already read it, you should check it out without my spoiler. Continue reading

The Rest of 2012

When I read a really good book I almost always write it up on the blog, generally because I’m so excited I want to make everyone I know read it. However, when I looked back over the list of books I read in 2012 (yes, I keep a list, otherwise I can never remember) I realized that I read some awfully good things that never made it here. So, to wrap up 2012, here are the five best books I read this year that I never got around to mentioning.

1) How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. This is such a fabulous memoir. Moran uses her own life story to make a lot of points about feminism, beauty, generally living life as a woman in this society. But she’s funny, while also being radical! She’s also hilarious on Twitter.

2) The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. I feel like this book sells itself as story about family, yet at the end of the book I felt sort of repulsed by the whole idea of families. But it’s a fascinating book.

3) Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is on everyone’s best of the year lists, for good reason. This one moved a lot faster than Wolf Hall, Mantel’s first book about Thomas Cromwell, but you need to read them both to make sense of it. I admit that Tudor history is an interest of mine, but the beauty of these books is that the characters are so well-drawn that the historical details are just a backdrop for Thomas’s story.

4) Angelfall by Susan Ee. The first in another series of YA post-apocalyptic novels. There is no shortage of these books out there, but I liked this one a lot. Dark, but an interesting premise in which angels are the cause of the destruction. It also takes an unexpected position on religion, and I’m intrigued with how future books will play that out.

5) Broken Harbor by Tana French. The fourth in French’s of mystery novels set in modern-day Dublin is actually less a mystery and more the portrait of a family falling apart. My favorite of her books is still The Likeness, the second book, but they are all completely compelling and very, very well-written. There are connections between the books, but they are not a series, really, and they can all stand alone. Feel free to start with whichever one sounds most interesting.