It has been one heck of a year, ladies and gentlemen. I got finished school, moved, got married, adopted a demon posing as a cat...and I read some pretty great books too. So now, for your reading pleasure, I present the top ten books reviewed on Reading to Penguins in 2012.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, published in 2011, was reviewed in January. It's almost impossible to place genre-wise--not solidly romance or fantasy or anything else, but a little bit of all things fantastic. It tells the story of two magicians in a magical fight surrounding a circus. It's memorable for its rich imagery and setting driven story. It's a book to immerse yourself in, a book that makes you desperately crave caramel corn. If it's a bit low on the list, it's only because I felt the plot was a bit weak compared to some of the other books in our top 10.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins was published in 2010, and I reviewed it back in March. It's a very simple YA romance, but I find it completely charming. I like that it's a "friend's first" love story, with a build up of chemistry that I always find appealing. The characters are fun and easy to relate to. Most importantly, the setting will have you wishing for a vacation in Paris tomorrow. I put it a bit low on the list only because, having glanced through it again, I do find that it does a lot of very cliched YA things--like the instant group of perfect friends for the new girl, and the Etienne's somewhat bitchy current girlfriend.
So, I don't read a lot of high fantasy. I don't have a lot to compare to. But Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, published in 2012 and reviewed this August, managed to leave an impression. It's a novel about dragons, and about a heroine who must accept her own deep connection to the dragons. The setting and plot are extremely creative. I liked that the author put us right inside Seraphina's head, allowing us to see her dreams and the secret visions that she keeps hidden away. It's a fun novel, but the plot is slow and the pacing stalls out at times, much to my frustration. It's still well worth your time.
The Color of Snow by Brenda Stanley, published in 2012, found it's way onto my blog in July. Admittedly, this isn't my usual fair, and I don't know how many people it will appeal to. But I found it uniquely enjoyable. It's the story of a teenager who lived in isolation for years after her paranoid father kidnapped her from her grandparents. What stood out about this story, for me, was it's lack of a villain and it's ability to make the character sympathize, to some degree, with all of the characters. It's a serious book about love, insanity, finding your place, and learning to think for yourself.
I knew at the outset that Fables was going to appear on this list somewhere, but it was honestly difficult to decide which one to put and where. In the end, I decided to put Volume 1, Legends in Exile, here. First, because it introduced me to the series and got me hooked. Two, because it actually made book of the month back when I reviewed it in October. Fables is a graphic novel series in which fairy tale characters are stuck in the real world, trying to live normalish lives. Legends in Exile is actually something of a murder mystery, but the plot is less important than the introduction of the fantastic fairy tale characters--all at once familiar and totally unexpected. If you only ever read one graphic novel, it should be Fables.
If you asked me which book I was most surprised to be including in a top 10 list, it would be Angelfall by Susan Ee. I say that because, on the surface, it sounds derivative and amateurish. Once you delve into it, though, you find that it's better than a lot of main stream, popular urban fantasy currently on the market. It's the story of Penryn, a teenage girl who wants to protect her little sister, and her broken journey alongside the angel Raffe. It's everything a post-apocalyptic story should be--horrific, disturbing, thoughtful, and vaguely hopeful. But be warned, it ends on a cliffhanger that might make you throw your reading device at a wall.
Night Sky by Jolene Perry is an absolutely fantastic contemporary romance. It was published in 2012, and I reviewed it in April for a blog tour, feeling mostly surprised and relieved to have really liked it. The characters and the romance feel very real, and the power of their impact lies in how serious and yet sweet it all is. Notably, it's told from the hero's perspective, and that male point of view put an entirely novel dimension to an otherwise simple story. Jameson is a typical guy in many ways, but a really nice guy all the same, and it's hard not to love him. It's hard not to love this love story.
Spoiler alert, folks, Duchess War by Courtney Milan was my favorite book of December. More importantly, it was the #3 book of 2012. It's a historical romance with a remarkably smart but sadly suppressed heroine, and a hero trying to right many ancient wrongs. Milan writes the most compelling characters I've seen recently, and the plot almost doesn't matter because it's so interesting to just watch these people be. The plot, however, is engaging by itself. All around, the complete package. Go read this book. Go read it now.
It's surprising to tell that I had somewhat mixed feelings toward Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and yet Days of Blood and Starlight ranks at number 2 on my list of favorite books for the year. I felt deeply invested in the world while I read this book. The stakes seemed so high, and so was my level of sympathy for Karou. The world building is just so strange and unique and fantastic. The love story is compelling--you want everything to end up happy. But above all, it's a story of war at it's worst, and trying to overcome it's effects with acts of mercy and love.
And the #1 book of 2012 is...
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. It's a science fiction fairy tale retelling, and it is even more awesome than it sounds. It's the best possible version of Cinderella, with a charming and quirky heroine who at least gets to know her prince charming a bit. The world building knocked me on my ass, it was so interesting and so bizarre. If you haven't read this book yet, you need to read it in 2013. It's absolutely essential.