The following 12 books are my favorites that I read in 2012 -- the books that made the greatest impression on me or that I remember the most fondly.
The Time in Between
by Maria Dueñas. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live
through the Spanish Civil War or the Second World War in Spain, or
Morocco, but thanks to Maria Dueñas' beautiful prose, I almost can -- in
a good way. Told from the point of view of a young dressmaker, whose
world is turned upside down several times by misfortune and war, The Time in Between is a story of fortitude, friendship, and fashion. It is also one of my new favorite books. Couldn't put it down.
Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy Interpreter, The World’s Most Estimable
Magician, A Murderous Harlot, and America’s Greatest Indian Chief
Gerald Kolpan. I do not know if I could do a better job describing this
book than the subtitle does -- certainly not in under 100 words. Suffice
it to say, I loved this book. And if you are interested in the history
of the American West, showmanship, or magic -- or love a rousing tale of
adventure, mystery, and love, you will enjoy Magic Words. By the way, as with many of the other books listed here under "Fiction," Magic Words is based on actual people and events, which makes it doubly delightful in my opinion.
The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. The Last Chinese Chef
is a love story, about food. Specifically Chinese food. No, not the
food most of us Americans call Chinese but authentic, classic, timeless,
exquisitely prepared and served Chinese food that is served in China,
at least in certain restaurants and homes. It is also a culinary history
(of sorts) of China and a story of friendship and family. And to a
lesser degree it is the
story of a food writer who discovers her late husband was not faithful
and may have sired a love child. If you love food, how it is prepared,
how it tastes, or stories about food, The Last Chinese Chef is a must read. Though I warn you, this book will make you very, very hungry.
Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d'Art
by Christopher Moore. This was the Christopher Moore book I managed to read all the way through -- and I'm glad I did. Having just returned from a trip to France, and having an abiding
love of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, I was
immediately sucked into Sacre Bleu, which claims to be about the
color blue (or ultramarine), and it is. Sort of. But it is more a sly, witty
work of historical fiction covering the French art world of the 1890s.
If you are a Christopher Moore fan, a lover of Paris (particularly
during La Belle Epoque), and/or a fan of Impressionism, this book is a
must read -- though you may not think of Impressionism in the exact same
way again after reading it.
Angelina's Bachelors: A Novel with Food by Brian O'Reilly. When Angelina D'Angelo's beloved husband, Frank, suddenly dies, she pours her grief into her cooking -- which leads her to discover new friends and a new life. To quote on book review, "Filled to the brim with homemade warmth, Angelina’s Bachelors is a sweet tale of overcoming grief, redefining family, and following your heart -- through food." O'Reilly, a producer at the Food Network, and his wife, a cookbook author, enrich the story with recipes and a true love of food. A feel-good read, perfect for a chilly night.
Rococo by Adriana Trigiani. I laughed, I cried. Rococo
is the story of Bartolomeo di Crespi, B. to his friends and family, a
New York-trained interior decorator who has decorated nearly every home
in his home town of Our Lady of Fatima, New Jersey. The book is supposed
to take place in the 1970s, but the story -- of chasing a dream (to
renovate his home-town church), of family (a warm and funny albeit
dysfunctional Italian one), and the quest to find the perfect ottoman --
is timeless.Very funny.
Alif the Unseen
by G. Willow Wilson. I'm not sure why I loved this book. Maybe it's
because I love magical realism and the exotic, or maybe it's because I'm
a bit of a geek. But I could not put it down. Literally. A story of
hackers and jinns, Arabian royalty and rabble, good and evil, Alif the Unseen takes the reader on an extraordinary journey into the unseen -- a kind of modern Arabian Nights.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat
by Colin Cotterill. A cheekily written mystery, set
in Thailand, featuring eccentric characters (the narrator, a wise-cracking female
crime reporter, her body builder little brother, and her hacker
extraordinaire transvestite older brother, Sissy), and a plot that keeps you guessing. Cotterill's followup, Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach, is also good fun.
The Case of the Missing Servant and The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing* by Tarquin Hall. I loved these two "Vish Puri, Most Private
Investigator" mysteries, which are set in India (mainly in Delhi). I
loved the whimsical characters, the (Anglo-American) author's use of
language, and the humor. If you like a witty mystery set
in an exotic locale, check out The Case of the Missing Servant -- and if you like it, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing.
Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis. I clearly have a thing for art history books. Also John Singer Sargent (one of my favorite painters). And Belle Epoque Paris. While nonfiction, Strapless
often comes across as historical fiction, which I consider a good
thing. A fascinating story about the painter John Singer Sargent and
"Madame X," aka Virginie Amelie Avagno Gautreau, the subject of perhaps
Sargent's most well known -- and infamous -- painting, Portrait of Madame X.
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Part art history, part memoir, The Hare with the Amber Eyes
is one man's poignant search for the family history behind a set of
Japanese netsuke (wood and ivory carvings) he inherited, which takes him
to Paris and Vienna and Odessa. As a Jew, I was heartsick reading about
the treatment of the Jews, even prominent ones, such as the author's
great-grandparents and their extended family, in the early through
mid-1900s in Europe, particularly in France and Austria, where much of
the book takes place. A must read for lovers of art history, memoirs,
and/or Europe before and during the Second World War.
Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia
by Janet Wallach. Before stumbling upon this book at my local library, I
had no idea who Gertrude Bell was or anything about the history or
formation of Iraq. Boy, was this book an eye opener. The incredible
story of an incredible woman, Desert Queen shows how (and why)
things went so terribly wrong in the Middle East -- then and now -- and
why any Western attempts to "fix things" or bring democracy to that
region will most likely fail. To repeat myself, fascinating.
For more great reads/book recommendations, click here (or on the BOOK NOOK label at the bottom of the post).
So what were some of your favorite reads of 2012? Please leave a comment with the name of the book and the author.
*I'm counting these as one selection.