My top ten favorite books published in 2012, ranked (that part was haaaard) and described:
Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Review by me. This intricately plotted YA fantasy about a young queen’s heroic determination to uncover buried truths about her father and nation was an almost flawless read. Beloved characters from Graceling return and new ones are introduced, including Saf, the truth-seeking thief whom Bitterblue falls for as she ventures into her city at night dressed as a commoner. The accumulation of clues to the mystery riveted me, the romance and friendships touched me, and themes of truth vs. lies, storytelling vs. censorship, memory vs. letting the past go, and the role that stories can play in healing from national and personal traumas gave the book resonance and richness.
A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
Review by Jane. Grant’s debut historical romance used beautiful, thoughtful, and occasionally startling language to depict two complex and unusual protagonists and a living, breathing countryside setting. What begins as a bargain between a responsible, mature widow and the feckless son of a baronet to produce a fraudulent heir gradually grows into a romance that’s all the lovelier for its unlikelihood. I had a couple of very minor quibbles, but I liked the gregarious Theo and adored the standoffish Martha, loved the painfully awkward and funny sex scenes, and especially appreciated the freshness that made this novel unforgettable.
Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
Review by me. The astonishing thing about Aaronovitch’s Urban Fantasy series is that my enjoyment has increased with each book, something that runs contrary to my usual reading patterns. That’s because of the loveable hero, Peter Grant, a biracial London constable with magical abilities. Peter solves paranormal mysteries through persistent legwork and ordinary bravery. In this installment he practices magic spells, discovers fake houses, chases a suspect through the London sewers and navigates a delicate relationship with his fellow constable Leslie. As usual, his narration sparkles with wit.
About Last Night by Ruthie Knox
Review by Jane. Contemporary romance is not my favorite genre so imagine my surprise when I found one I like better than most historicals. This sexy London set romance mixes up one London banker with artistic ambitions and one gun shy American assistant museum curator in a whirlwind romance that leaves them shaken and stirred. Okay, so enough with silly puns, Knox’s clever book deserves better than that. Cath is loveable in an angsty rebel-trying-to-be-wiser way and Nev is adorable in a gallant-and- amazing-beta-hero way. Watching them mess up is heartbreaking and seeing them make up is wonderful.
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor
Review by Jia. Spoilers for the previous book follow: Taylor’s YA fantasy, a sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone was written just as beautifully, with strong worldbuilding, gorgeous imagery, lovely language, compelling characters, and a plot that grabbed me by the throat and never let go. It was also a tough read, as any book dealing with genocide must be. With Karou and Akiva on opposite sides of the angel-chimera war, and Karou resurrecting chimera in monstrous bodies at Thiago’s orders, the tension generated by the story almost became too great. But there were glimmers of hope for the characters and their world, too, which I’d love to see grow in book three. Taylor’s craftsmanship is truly impressive.
A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant
Reviews by Dabney and Robin/Janet. The followup to A Lady Awakened portrayed a darker, thornier relationship. Will, a former Napoleonic Wars officer determined to earn the money to help the widow of one of his men gain her independence, is drawn to Lydia for her gambling skills – among other things. But Lydia is a courtesan bound to another man, and she is loyal to the so-called “protector” on whom her survival is dependent. Will and Lydia’s coming together is emotionally messy in the best way. Like A Lady Awakened, this book took risks that paid off from the heroine’s unabashed enjoyment of sex for its own sake to the unconventional happy ending.
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville
Review by me. It’s fitting that Neville’s Burgundy Book Club series, about a group of book collectors, closes with this romance between the bookish, politically minded Minerva Montrose and the dyslexic Marquess of Blakeney. A case of mistaken identity and a compromising position force Minerva and Blake to marry. There’s tenderness and authenticity in Neville’s portrayals. Blake fears Minerva will never love him due to the disability he hides, and Minerva initially thinks the sports-mad Blake shallow for his disinterest in reading. The marriage begins with both feeling vulnerable and unwanted, but their journey toward maturity, mutual respect and love is touching and ultimately triumphant.
The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
Review by Jane. Milan’s historical romance novella sets up an amazing conflict. Serena Barton, a former governess determined to get justice from the duke who raped her, as well as recognition for their unborn child, sits on the bench in front of the duke’s residence for hours each day. Hugo Marshall, the duke’s man of affairs, must remove her from the bench, or lose the fortune he hopes to gain in the duke’s employ, a fortune that will help him attain his life’s goal of being a man of worth. How he tries to do just that – and falls in love with Serena in the process, makes for a novella that has more impact than many novels. Milan’s lucid prose is its own pleasure, and who could forget the scene with the hairpins?
The Importance of Being Wicked by Miranda Neville
Joint review by me and Jennie. This Regency era matchup between a staid and stuffy duke and a wild child widow delighted me from start to finish. Part of it was Caro, whose method of avoidance and suppressing loneliness was to throw parties for artists and other bohemians. Part of it was the unusual bohemian flavor of Caro’s world. And part of it was the way Caro sparked with Thomas, a duke who presented a very proper exterior but secretly longed to loosen up as much as Caro secretly needed stability. Thomas and Caro’s growth into a couple who could acknowledge their vulnerabilities and needs was touching, and I enjoyed the vividness, warmth and humanity of their story.
Fair Game by Patricia Briggs
Review by Jospehine. The fourth installment in Briggs’ Alpha and Omega werewolf series finds Charles and Anna in Boston, helping the FBI with a murder investigation. In the wake of an execution he carried out at his father’s behest, Charles is haunted both figuratively and literally. Anna struggles to reach him. This was not the strongest of the novels in this series, but my adoration for Charles and Anna as a couple knows few bounds, and it is especially marvelous to see Anna, a rape survivor, reclaim her strength. Briggs’ prose is as tight as always, her worldbuilding strong as ever. I love that her fey and werewolves can be scary. Oh, and did I mention that the ending is a game-changer?