The Best Novels of 2012

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Working at a library is a constant temptation for me. I always want to bring home just one more book to add to my ever-growing pile.

It’s especially bad when so many wonderful novels come out toward the end of the year. I’m sure this is a strategy by publishers who are hoping their authors will be fresh in reviewers’ minds when picking the best books of the year.

Now that many of the 2012 best book lists are out, I’ve compiled some of them to see if a few titles stood out among the thousands that were reviewed in the last 12 months. I used the lists from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Book Page, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the New York Times and the Washington Post. This blog entry will focus on fiction, and I will do another entry later featuring nonfiction. For more information about the following books, click on the title to go to our library catalog.

Sixty-two titles were named at least twice, while no title made all eight lists. Four young adult books were named, reflecting the growing interest in the genre that is not just for teenagers: "Ask the Passengers'' by A.S. King, “The Fault In Our Stars’’ by John Green, “Code Name Verity’’ by Elizabeth Wein and “Every Day’’ by David Levithan. One graphic novel, “Building Stories’’ by Chris Ware, also made the cut.

Some of my favorites that showed up on the lists included “Beautiful Ruins’’ by Jess Walter, “Flight Behavior’’ by Barbara Kingsolver, “Gone Girl’’ by Gillian Flynn, “Home’’ by Toni Morrison, “The Snow Child’’ by Eowyn Ivey, “Sandcastle Girls’’ by Chris Bohjalian, "In One Person'' by John Irving and “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’’ by Maria Semple.

Three books were listed six times:

1) “Bring Up the Bodies’’ by Hilary Mantel won the 2012 Man Booker Prize. It is the second in a trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII, and the sequel to “Wolf Hall’’, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. Mantel delves into the relationships of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, and provides a captivating story about the downfall of Ann Boleyn. The Library Journal writes, “Mantel's crowning achievement makes Cromwell not just powerful but sympathetic. Mantel is a consummate setter of scenes: stunning, poetic descriptions are embedded in scenes of savagery and earthiness. The historical novel does not come any better than this. It will be as much of a success as its predecessor.’’

2) “This is How You Lose Her’’ by Junot Diaz provides nine interconnected stories about the power of love. Diaz won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008 for “The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.’’ Booklist writes, “Fast paced, unflinching, complexly funny, street-talking tough, perfectly made, and deeply sensitive, Diaz's gripping stories unveil lives shadowed by prejudice and poverty and bereft of reliable love and trust. These are precarious, unappreciated, precious lives in which intimacy is a lost art, masculinity a parody, and kindness, reason, and hope struggle to survive like seedlings in a war zone.’’

3)“The Yellow Birds: A Novel’’ by Kevin Powers, who is an Iraqi War veteran, tells the coming-of-age war story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive as their platoon is in the midst of a bloody battle. Author Tom Wolfe calls this debut novel "The ‘All Quiet on the Western Front' of America's Arab wars." The New York Times Book Review said this: "A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo … Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."

beautifulruins canadaorchardist

Seven books were listed five times:

1) “Beautiful Ruins’’ by Jess Walter tells the story of a young Italian innkeeper who falls in love with a beautiful starlet during the filming of “Cleopatra’’.

2) “Canada’’ by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford explores what happens to a teenager after his parents rob a bank.

3) "Dear Life: Stories’’ by Alice Munro, the master of short stories, examines how a life can be changed by a chance encounter or an action not taken.

4) “Gone Girl’’ by Gillian Flynn, the blockbuster thriller of the year that plays with the reader’s mind in the midst of a dysfunctional marriage.

5) “The Orchardist’’ by Amanda Coplin, historical fiction depicting an orchardist who tries to help two pregnant teenage girls who show up on his land.

6) “Round House’’ by Louise Erdrich, a coming-of-age novel of a teenage boy whose mother is viciously attacked on a reservation.

7) “Telegraph Avenue’’ by Michael Chabon explores the connected lives of two families, one black and one white, along with a lot of pop culture references.



Six books were mentioned four times:

1) “Age of Miracles’’ by Karen Thompson Walker, a coming-of-age tale about a girl who tries to grow up while the world faces ecological disasters.

2) “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’’ by Ben Fountain is a satirical story about Iraqi soldiers who survived a fierce battle and now are taken on a nationwide victory tour.

3) “Flight Behavior’’ by Barbara Kingsolver looks at the issue of global warming when Monarch butterflies decide to roost in Appalachia instead of Mexico.

4) “Hologram for the King’’ by Dave Eggers tells how a struggling businessman travels to Saudi Arabia with hopes of solving his economic woes and keeping his family together.

5) “NW: A Novel’’ by Zadie Smith depicts four young Londoners struggling to make it in a challenging world.

6) “Orphan Master’s Son’’ by Adam Johnson, set in North Korea, introduces readers to a young man who becomes a professional kidnapper while dealing with myriad challenges that threaten his life.


Twenty books were mentioned three times:

1) “Arcadia’’ by Lauren Groff: A coming-of-age novel about a boy who was born on a commune in the 1960s.

2) “Broken Harbor’’ by Tana French: Another compelling mystery from the author's Dublin murder squad series.

3) “Building Stories’’ by Chris Ware: An ingenious illustrated tale, told in various books and folded sheets, about the residents in a three-story Chicago apartment building.

4) “By Blood’’ by Ellen Ullman: What happens when a professor eavesdrops in on the conversations next door between a patient and her therapist.

5) “Carry the One’’ by Carol Anshaw: Drunken wedding guests hit a girl on a dark country road, killing her instantly and changing their lives forever.

6) “The Cove’’ by Ron Rash: A love story between a young woman and a mute stranger in Appalachia during World War I.

7) “Defending Jacob’’ by William Landay: An assistant district attorney faces the possibility that his son may be guilty of murder.

8) “Devil in Silver’’ by Victor D. LaValle: A terrifying creature haunts the hallways of a mental institution.

9) “Dog Stars’’ by Peter Heller: A pilot who survived a pandemic that killed everyone he knows risks his life to find other survivors.

10) “Fobbit’’ by David Abrams: A humorous satire about the Iraqi war featuring a sergeant who tries to write press releases from grim events.

11) “Gods Without Men’’ by Hari Kunzru: A husband and wife search for their missing autistic son during vacation and bond with eccentric locals.

12) “Home’’ by Toni Morrison: A moving story about a troubled Korean War veteran who is determined to save his gravely ill younger sister.

13) "Live by Night'' by Dennis Lehane: A mystery set during the Prohibition where a young man joins organized crime that takes him from Boston to Cuba.

14) “Phantom’’ by Jo Nesbo: The latest mystery from the famous Norwegian crime author where Harry Hole tries to prove the innocence of the young man he helped raise.

15) “Sandcastle Girls’’ by Chris Bohjalian: The author, an Armenian American, writes a gut-wrenching story about the Armenian Genocide.

16) “Shine Shine Shine’’ by Lydia Netzer: A savant astronaut and his pregnant wife struggle after a life-changing accident.

17) “Snow Child’’ by Eowyn Ivey: A fairytale about two childless homesteaders on the Alaskan frontier in the 1920s who build a snow child that comes to life.

18) “Sweet Tooth’’ by Ian McEwan: A young woman is sent on a secret mission during the height of the Cold War and falls in love.

19) “Tell the Wolves I’m Home’’ by Carol Rifka Brunt: A teenage girl is helped to recover from the loss of her beloved uncle by the uncle's grieving friend.

20) “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank’’ by Nathan Englander: A series of short stories that the New York Times calls "insightful and uproarious.''

afterwardsfaultinourstars chaperone

Twenty-six books were mentioned two times:

1) “Afterwards: A Novel’’ by Rosamund Lupton: A mother tries to figure out who set her children's school on fire when her mute son is accused of the crime.

2) Alif the Unseen’’ by G. Willow Wilson: An Arab-Indian computer hacker must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

3) “Ask the Passengers’’ by A.S. King: A young adult novel that Publishers Weekly calls "one of the best coming-out novels in years.''

4) “At Last’’ by Edward St. Aubyn: The fifth and final book in St. Aubyn's "Patrick Melrose" series where a man deals with life without parents.

5) “Blasphemy’’ by Sherman Alexie: 30 short stories from the author.

6) “Book of Mischief: New and Selected Stories’’ by Steve Stern (not in catalog): A series of short stories.

7) “The Chaperone’’ by Laura Moriarty: When a young actress is chaperoned by an older woman during her trip to New York City, their lives change forever.

8) “Code Name Verity’’ by Elizabeth Wein: A young adult novel that is a spy story set in France during World War II.

9) “Coldest Night’’ by Robert Olmstead: A young man enlists in the Marines during the Korean War to escape troubles at home.

10) “Dead Anyway’’ by Chris Knopf: When a hit man assassinates Arthur Cathcart's wife, he fakes his death and tries to track down the murderer.

11) “Every Day’’ by David Levithan: A young adult book where "A'' wakes up every morning in a different body and life.

12) “The Fault in Our Stars’’ by John Green: After a 16-year-old cancer patient meets a boy at a support group, she re-examines her views on life.

13) “Gathering of Waters’’ by Bernice McFadden: Tells the story of Tass Hilson, who was the girlfriend of Emmitt Till when he was murdered in 1955.

14) “Hope: A Tragedy’’ by Shalom Auslander: A man relocates his family to a rural town in hopes of starting over while dealing with a depressed mother and a local arsonist.

15) “In One Person’’ by John Irving: The tragicomic story of Billy, from his early years as a young bisexual boy in a boarding school to living through the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

16) “May We Be Forgiven’’ by A.M. Homes: An older brother's life drastically changes as a result of his younger brother's violent actions.

17) “The Newlyweds’’ by Nell Freudenberger: A Bengali woman marries a man from Rochester, N.Y. she meets online.

18) “Partial History of Lost Causes’’ by Jennifer DuBois: When a daughter discovers her father's unanswered letter from a Russian chess player and dissident, she decides to visit him in Russia.

19) “San Miguel’’ by T.C. Boyle: Historical fiction about three women who live on San Miguel in the early 1900s.

20) “Song of Achilles’’ by Madeline Miller: Patroclus follows Achilles into the Trojan War.

21) “Toby’s Room’’ by Pat Barker: A young man from an upper-class family goes missing in action during World War I, causing his sister great anguish.

22) “Uninvited Guests’’ by Sadie Jones: On a spring evening in 1912, an n elegant dinner party goes awry.

23) “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’’ by Rachel Joyce: An elderly man is convinced he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her.

24) “Watergate’’ by Thomas Mallon: A fictional account of the notorious break-in during the Nixon Administration.

25) “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’’ by Maria Semple: When Bernadette suddenly vanishes, her 15-year-old daughter Bee tries to figure out what happened.

26) “Wish You Were Here’’ by Graham Swift: When a brother hears that his brother has been killed in Iraq, the news has unexpected, far-reaching effects.

I hope this gives you a lot of ideas for new books to read. Another list will be coming soon. In a few weeks the staffers from the Adult Services Department at the Cook Memorial Public Library District will share their best reads of the year. In the meantime, what were your favorite novels of the year?

--Jo Hansen,


Jo Hansen has been a Readers’ Advisor at Cook Library for several years, after a 20-year career as a newspaper journalist. Libraries rock! She especially enjoys literary and historical fiction as well as mysteries and fantasy. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she enjoys playing with her chocolate Labrador Yogi Bear and watching great movies.