It's also the time of year when I reflect on the books that have really mattered to me over the past twelve months; the ones I couldn't put down and that I wanted to journal about after I was finished reading. For 2012 this came down to a list of seven:
Best Historical Romance: Dagon's Blood, by Virginia Lee. This is one big, riveting swashbuckler--and thoroughly researched--five-hankie read. If you enjoy eighteenth-century Scottish romance along the lines of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, you will love Dagon's Blood. Rich with detail, emotion, and a complex plot, Dagon's Blood goes beyond "just romance." Lady Leigha's life journey and the eventual choices she makes are perfect material for book club discussions. Unforgettable.
Best Contemporary Romance: The Secrets Between Us, by Louise Douglas. Talk about tension. I wanted to read this book in one sitting, but like Dagon's Blood, it's a big book that kept me happy (and scared to death) for days--weeks, actually. As soon as I thought I had the main secret figured out, the next few pages would convince me I was wrong; and then back and forth right up until the end. Whew.
Best Mystery: Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James. As a life-long P.D. James fan, it's always been my opinion that her writing voice is remarkably close to that of Jane Austen. So who else could do a better job writing a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, and one with murder thrown into the mix? This is a fine and elegant book, and as engrossing as the mystery is, my favorite part was James's take on the continued and maturing relationship between Elizabeth and the esteemed Mr. D'Arcy. A must-read.
Best Mainstream: Returning to Earth, by Jim Harrison. Because this is a book about death, it's really a book about life, or I should say, the acceptance of life and all it has to offer. Much of the plot delves into Native American beliefs and interpretations of what it means to be a family walking upon this earth, at this time--and in the future.
Best Literary: Small as a Mustard Seed, by Shelli Johnson. This award-winning book is so strong, so sad, and so important. The plot revolves around post-traumatic stress disorder and how it affects the lives of two young sisters and their war-ravaged parents. Growing up in an unpredictable household of terror and denial, the girls find two very different and heartbreaking ways to cope with problems no one, especially children, should ever have to deal with.
Best Short Story Collection: Beneath the Liquid Skin, by Berit Ellingsen. I debated whether the contents of this small but evocative book were actually stories, or poetry, prose poetry, or something entirely new. I think they are something entirely new. I love experimental, edgy, unexpected books that take me to places I've never been before. And I love it when the writer uses language in a way that I know will stay with me for the rest of my life. I can't explain this book, and quite frankly I think explanations would destroy it--like when a well-meaning friend tries to analyze a dream for you. I'll be re-reading, and re-analyzing, this dream of a book for a long time to come.
Best Nonfiction: The Principles of Uncertainty, by Maira Kalman. This book is like reading someone else's art journal without getting into trouble for snooping! A grown-up's picture book, the text is full of pithy non sequiturs, memoir, literary factoids, and is exactly where I'm trying to go with my own attempts at creating an altered book. Definitely a keeper.
Tip of the Day: Recording your thoughts in a dedicated book journal is a good way to explore what you'd like to include, or discard, in your own writing. Daily entries can be used as starting points for freewriting, which can then be used as handy references for book reviews. And everyone needs a good review!
In the meantime, Happy Holidays, book fans!
Keep reading; keep writing!