Ah, the end of the year. Time to reflect on the past twelve months (read: wonder what the heck happened?). It’s also “award season” as various newsmakers, bloggers and inspired fan-atics push through the door their lists of “The Best Stuff of 2012.”
With that as the lead in, allow me to present The Best I Read in 2012.
Because I had an extremely hard time whittling the list down, I did what so many others before me have done: I created more categories. I would also add, any book I review on my blog is well worth your time as a reader in my estimation. Of course, as the car ads say, your mileage may vary.
Without further ado, I offer you The Best I Read in 2012.
The Top Five
Christmas actually came a little early for me this year, as my top two books were both read in the last five weeks. Different genres, but both Macao Station by Mike Berry and The Fourth Channel by Jen Kirchner were original and must-read-another-chapter addicting. Compelling characters, fascinating premises, unseen twists … you get what I’m saying: these are Must Reads — you won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of compelling storytelling, The Drought by Patricia Fulton had that and much, much more. Very reminiscent of Stephen King with a unique premise and some creepy moments along the way.
In my first bit of creative cheating, I’m rolling the three books that I read from the Blood Skies series by Stephen Montano — Bood Skies, Black Scars and Soulrazor — into one entry in my Top Five. I can’t do better than my own review: “Mr. Montano’s prose exploits and explores the senses. The reader will see, hear, feel, taste and smell everything in this wonderfully dystopian world; so much so that we almost become supporting characters.”
The final spot in the Top Five shifted between several books, but I finally decided the sheer fun I had reading Berserker by William Meikle was more than enough to put it into my list of the best. Don’t let the cheesy-sounding premise — Yeti vs. Vikings — fool you. The story is highly original, the characters compelling, the writing fresh and loaded with great imagery. Action? Plenty of it, and an ending that I didn’t see coming.
The title of this category refers to both the authors and the leading ladies of their series. Once again, different genres, different styles, but all are wonderful reads.
Private investigator Sasha Jackson is the witty and sexy lead for JIll Edmondson’s wonderful series of books — Blood and Groom, Dead Light District and The Lies Have It — set in Toronto, a city which becomes a supporting character.
The award-winning and action-packed sci-fi Contract of Defiance by Tammy Salyer starts with a running gunfight and never lets up as military deserter Aly Erickson and a nascent revolutionary group fight a corrupt government and vicious criminals. Ms. Salyer is working on a sequel and I can’t wait to see what Aly’s up to next.
More sedate but no less fun, Awesome by Abigail Arrington is the second legal thriller in a series featuring lawyer Riley Morgan. In this go-round Riley juggles a missing persons case, a sexual harassment suit brought by a stripper against her club owner and the advances of Sam Stone, a playboy lawyer.
Ripped from the headlines
This category features two books I greatly enjoyed which both involve fictional characters in the context of real-life events. These books ring true because in both cases the authors have intimate knowledge of the subject matter.
Tears in Tripoli by Paul A. Rice is a gritty and exciting look at what happens just beyond the camera’s lens in the world’s hotspots. A former solider, Mr. Rice plies the same trade as his hero, Jake Collins and was himself in Libya during the revolution that overthrew Moammar Gadhafi’s regime.
As a former policeman and member of the Special Branch, Paul Anthony’s The Fragile Peace rings with authenticity. Telling a decades-long story of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Mr. Anthony examines the motivations and actions of both sides in that murky conflict in a gripping fashion.
Noir, sweetheart, noir — see?
Set in 1920s Hollywood and 1940s Seattle, respectively, Ten-A-Week Steale by Stephen Jared and Thick as Thieves by Neil Low feature hard-boiled heroes who crack wise, thick-necked thugs, and enough plot twists to set the Maltese Falcon spinning. Both authors paint beautifully detailed pictures of their settings, making it easy for readers to feel like they’ve been dropped into a black-and-white film starring Bogart, Robinson or Cagney.
Top Traditionally Published Fiction
I’ve been a huge fan of Jo Nesbo’s Inspector Harry Hole books from page 1 of The Redbreast, and in my humble opinion the latest entry, Phantom, is the very best of a very, very good series.
In disgraced-FBI-agent-turned private investigator Keye Street, author Amanda Kyle Williams has created a flawed but far from tragic protagonist in two great books I read in 2012: The Stranger You Seek and Stranger in the Room. Fast paced, intense, great characters and a wonderful setting — Atlanta.
I read a lot of non-fiction, although less this past year as I’ve returned to fiction. Among many great non-fiction reads from this past year, I highly recommend Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks and Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow. Mr. Ricks’ book is, certainly, a few years old but I find the lessons no less important to review.
Ms. Maddow’s book, filled with insightful commentary and clear-eyed and highly readable prose, is an important study of how we arrived at our present state of near-continuous fighting around the globe.