2012 in Books, Part I

I love to read. And thanks to my relatively new job, I now supplement my bus reading time with audiobooks at work. This has made for the devouring of a lot more books than usual this year.

Almost as much as I love to read them, I also love to share what I’m reading – both the good and the bad. Since we’re nearing the end of 2012, I thought it best to do a sort of year-end roundup. If you’ve read (or are thinking of reading) any of these, share what you thought about it in the comments. I love seeing what vastly different experiences others can have with the same book.

Titles marked with a * were audiobooks, which can sometimes affect how well they’re received. Some books just don’t work as well read aloud, and some suffer when their reader is atrocious. On the flip side, some are much better for it.

Also, a note on my rating system:
5/5 – A book that I loved, would read again, and would push on any (or all) of my friends. Typically, it has not just excellent writing, but amazing characters and a well-thought-out premise/plot.
4/5 – A book that I enjoyed, might read again, but would only push on some friends. Typically, it excelled in one major way, but either had one medium flaw or a dozen teeny ones that ended up making it a slightly less than perfect book.
3/5 – A book I liked, would probably not read again, would push on friends I was certain liked that sort of thing. Oftentimes books that are in this category simply were not for me, i.e., I was not the intended audience. Other times they have numerous flaws but still managed to be enjoyable. Perfectly mediocre.
2/5 – A book I did not enjoy, and not just because I wasn’t the intended audience. Multiple, unforgivable flaws, weak plot, weak characters, weak writing or a combination of the above. Still has some redeemable value, i.e., a premise that would have been difficult to pull off well, interesting writing, etc.
1/5 – Atrocious. I try to reserve 1 stars for books that truly deserve it, that clearly have no redeemable value or angered me to the point of raving or ones I could not finish because either they were a) too boring, b) too predictable, or c) surprise trilogies. 1 star books – for me – are perfect examples of what not to write.

the Drowning City by Amanda Downum – 3/5
Assassins and necromancy and political tension: oh my!
The main problem I had with the Drowning City was the dissonance between my expectations upon reading the back cover and the story itself. Thinking back on it, it was a perfectly serviceable story with good writing – it just lacked excitement. Perhaps it was too politicky when I expected, well, more necromancy and dead things.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – 4/5
Cinderella, but set in a future China and with cyborgs.
This book is adorable – it’s fun and YA without talking down to its audience and the setting is fresh and I can’t help but love the subtle nods to Sailor Moon.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – 4/5
Some advice and thoughts on writing and the writing life.
An inspiring read, if not very helpful. I completely see why this book gets mentioned as a “must read!” for aspiring writers, but by now I’ve seen/experienced all of the advice contained. Still, would definitely push it on someone just getting their fingers wet.

A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene – 4/5
Or: how to plan your wedding and manage all of the peripherals no one ever mentions without going crazy.
Also an inspiring read, and obviously geared towards wedding planning. I’m a big fan of A Practical Wedding, the blog, so I was excited to get my hands on this, the condensed, dead tree version. It has puts a lot of their advice into a more digestible and comprehensible format, so it’s excellent for anyone who hasn’t been a long time fan of their blog, but like Bird by Bird, I’d heard most of it by the time I read it.

the Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 5/5
Terminally ill kid meets terminally ill kid and hijinks ensue.
Oh, what can I say about John Green? I love his style – it’s refreshingly smart and literary without being too bogged down with being literary. This is a beautiful book and it deserves to be a part of high school reading lists.

Soulless by Gail Carriger – 3/5
Victorian England with vampires, werewolves, and the inbetween “Soulless” ones whom their charms do not affect.
Eh. With a little time I’ve come to appreciate this one more, but I really wasn’t expecting it to be a romance. That’s my own fault, of course. If you like romance with werewolves and snarky humor, you’d probably like this.

Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell – 2/5
The diary of a quirky, Chicago public school teacher and her first “fun”-filled year on the job.
Eh. This whole “cool teacher bucks stern principal and secures the love of her students” thing is a bit cliche, and I haven’t even read anything else like this. It was a fast read, but it didn’t have anything useful to say.

the Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington – 4/5
Awa finds herself the unwilling slave – and apprentice – to a mad necromancer who, upon winging into the ether, afflicts her with a terrible curse and forces her onto a quest for freedom.
This is a fucked up book. Good. But fucked up. It’s plotting and structure is a bit strange and takes some getting used to – it takes about half the book to get to the story that is proclaimed on the back cover, for instance – but the characters are interesting and fun. It was mostly the necrophilia that brought this down a star, and the some chunky writing.

Judge Sn Goes Golfing by John Scalzi – 4/5
A foreign judge goes golfing. Hijinks ensue.
Cute and short and very Scalzi.

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire – 4/5
Verity Price is a champion dancer. She also happens to be an expert cryptozoologist with a cuckoo cousin and an apartment full of singing mice. So when incryptids start going missing, it’s up to her to find out why, where, and how thoroughly she can kick their ass.
OMG. This book is fun, fast, and full of monsters. It is classic Seanan McGuire and probably also a good introduction to her style. Even the romance seems fresh and exciting.

the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – 2/5
One intrepid blogger/writer goes on a year-long project to find out what really makes one happy.
Although at times interesting, I couldn’t stop thinking “first world problems.” You can tell right away from the assumptions and choices the writer makes that she’s never had to actually worry about food or shelter in her life and it makes the rest of the book ring hollow and condescending.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray – 3/5
A plane crashes with the fifty contestants for the Miss Dream pageant on a deserted, tropical island and it’s up to these blonde & plucked beauty queens to survive and fight their way back to civilization.
It had potential, and then it fell back on stereotypes. It was at times fun, and at times completely puzzling, as in, what the hell was up with those pirates? What was the point? There were times I chortled, times I groaned, and more than once when I resisted the urge to fling the book away.

the Sagan Diary by John Scalzi – 2/5
A short story from the point of view of Jane Sagan, one of the main characters in Scalzi’s Old Man’s War universe.
Very un-Scalzi. A little too literary for my tastes. Someone else mentioned that it smacked of fanfiction and I must agree with that sentiment. Only a read for hardcore fans of Scalzi’s universe.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor – 2/5
Karou is an enigma to herself and the strange and frightening winged Akiva. She has one foot in our world and one in another, where she lives with monsters and helps trade teeth for wishes, but does not understand why and no one will tell her where she came from.
I was really digging this book until I realized the major plot point that was introduced 2/3rds of the way through couldn’t possibly be resolved within the next ten pages remaining and BAM – found out it was part of a trilogy. I was pissed. I might have thrown it across the room.

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