Friday, December 21, 2012

Twelve Recommendations from 2012

Not all of these books were published in 2012---some I only found this year. But I thought I'd be cool to post twelve recommendations from this year's reading list. Some have been previously reviewed here, some have not. They vary from biography to graphic novels and satire, but I enjoyed them all. In no particular order, here they are.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

As the title suggests, this book focuses on the power of introverts in today's extroverted world. It is divided into four sections--the extrovert ideal, the influence of biology inintrovert-ism, culture's effect on the extrovert ideal, and how to live as an introvert in today's extrovert world. As an introvert myself, I wanted to underline many passages, especially the ones about introverts being "differently," not less, social. I also appreciated the tips in the last part about how to use introvertism, as well as ways to remain honest in situations that seem to call for extrovertism. I recommend this book to introverts and friends of introverts--very insightful.

2. Elisabeth Sladen: The Audiobiography

I went through a lot to find a copy of this book, but when I finally bought it, I thought it well-worth the effort. The foreword by David Tennant is touchingly honest and makes certain scenes in School Reunion even more heartwarming. The biography itself is also well-written, detailing her early career in theatre before landing a few TV roles that eventually led to her best-known role: Sarah Jane Smith, companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors (and eventually, Tenth and Eleventh).
Some of the stories are hilarious and others heartwarming, whether about Classic, New or Sarah Jane Adventures. Some of the lines are harsher in hindsight, especially the ones about the future of the Sarah Jane Adventures. Keep a box of tissues handy, but I recommend this to any and all Whovians.

3. Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
He showed you who you are, didn't he?" Imraldera said. "And he showed you who you could be." 

One of my favorite new authors is Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Her Tales of Goldstone Wood combine the wonder of fairy tales with strong, intriguing characters. In Starflower, the fourth book in the series, readers step back in time, thousands of years before Una, Rose Red, and Lionheart were born, to learn the secrets of Earnin and Imraldera.

Previous hints have been dropped at a past between the two, and in Moonblood, Lionheart identifies her with Maid Starflower, a legendary heroine of Southlands and the mysterious "Silent Lady."  In Starflower, readers meet a much younger Earnin, still dashing, who is infatuated with King Iubdan's sister Gleamdren. When she is captured, Earnin sets off to rescue her, but his quest is interrupted by the discovery of a Mortal in the wood.

4. One of our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde

This book, the fifth of the Thursday Next series, is set in an alternate-history England where cheese smugglers run the line between Wales and Britain,  Bacon apologists go from door to door, and the main character is a veteran of the Russian-English conflict in the Crimera.  But the best part consists of the adventures in the Bookworld, an alternate or parallel dimension. In this book, readers journey from the land of Racy Novel to the island of Vanity and Fan Fiction, meeting lesser-known literary siblings such as the Loser Gatsby. It's full of puns and inside jokes for anyone who loves reading.

5.  Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice by David Teems]

William Tyndale may not be a household name, but his work to translate the Bible from Latin into English formed the basis of the King James Bible, which recently celebrated its 500th anniversery. This biography also provides historical background for the period, almost to the point of being a dual biography for Tyndale and his foe Thomas More. 
Not only does it bring Tyndale and Moore to live, it reminds believers how blessed we are to have the Scriptures in our own language, a privilege still unavailable to many people groups around the world.

6. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

This novel by Neil Gaiman is one of the best urban fantasy works I've ever seen. Originally a TV series, then adapted as a novel and graphic novel, it tells the story of Richard Meyhew, whose random act of kindness drops him into the strange world of London Below, where he learns the truth behind Blackfriars, Earl's Court, and the Angel Islington. 
This novel felt like London. I'd be hard put to explain it more clearly than that, but when I read it, I felt like I was back in London, albeit one even stranger and more wonderful than the one I had visited.

7. As One Devil to Another: A Fiendish Correspondence in the Tradition of C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters by Richard Platt
As much as I love The Screwtape Letters, Richard Platt's take on the same idea is so engagingly written that it could claim the same mantle in time. With several shoutouts to the original work--including an outrageously funny rant on the demon's part over Lewis's work--it makes clear its debt to Lewis but carries on the concept with original flair. 
Instead of a young man, the Patient this time is a graduate student at Oxford, a young women with aspirations of literary accomplishment. Her life in our modern world is thoroughly explored and exploited by the Lowarchy, to our amusement and instruction.

8. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

I love the Mysterious Benedict Society series, and this prequel focusing on Nicholas Benedict is delightful. So what if Nicholas is rather a Sherlock Holmes expy? He's wonderfully curious and mischievous, and I love the rather lighthearted tone of the book. 
While this book is recommended for elementary, I think it's a wonderful story for older readers who want something romance-free and entertaining. The characters are well-written and very relatable.

9. The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman

First of all, a warning: these books have a lot of "adult" content, including violence, sexual scenes (both homo and het) and questionable worldviews. I wouldn't recommend them to anyone under eighteen. But that's partially a matter of responsibility.
On the other hand, the stories are wonderful. Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest modern myth-makers I've read: this series focuses on the Endless, seven personifications of forces such as Death,  Dream, and Delirium. The "Sandman," more commonly known as Dream,  faces the consequences of his actions, from imprisoning a former lover to abandoning his son. The stories in the ten volumes range from horror to adventure, sci-fi and modern realistic, and showcase Gaiman's considerable skill in storytelling.

10.  Snuff by Terry Prachett (and all of Discworld, by extension)

 One of my favorite characters in Discworld is Sam Vimes, the head of the Night Watch.  In a world of trolls, dwarfs, elves, and Nobby Nobs, where the laws of Narrative Causality are in full force, he is responsible for keeping something like order in Ankh-Morpkh, the great city of the Discworld.
Discworld in general tends to be a satire, but everything from Hollywood to monotheism gets spoofed, so it's hard to take offense at any one bit. It's a world much like our own, but with enough sense to laugh at itself.

 11. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

 Originally a fifteen-minute animated short, this picture book testifies to the power of reading and the love of books.  It looks like a library I'd want to have, or at least visit someday, to see all the magically flying books.

12. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger  (author of The Time Traveler's Wife)

As with the Sandman recommendation, I warn of sexual scenes in this book. But after reading The Time Traveler's Wife,  I was eager to read another work in Niffenegger's lush, detailed prose.  When their mother's twin sister dies, twin sisters move to London to live in her flat for a year. The details are amazing--again, it feels like London, not a generic place.
About halfway through the novel, I realized something: this could be called paranormal romance! And i like it! Both Symmetry and Wife are primarily love stories, but with one fantastic element that sets them apart. Why can't there be more stories like this?

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