Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Best of 2012

Which, I know, is not quite over. But, since I don’t expect to be reading much fiction in December, I hereby declare the year of reading is over! (Basically! close enough!)

Lotta great books out there, it turns out. Here are my picks for the year:

Best male lead:

Nick in The Demon’s Lexicon (Sarah Rees Brennen). I’m a sucker for really unusual protagonists with really unique points of view. Nick certainly was the most unusual protagonist I encountered this year. Though I’d just as soon encounter him only metaphorically – I’m honestly just as glad not to live in the world of The Demon’s Lexicon.

Best female lead:

Torin Kerr in the Valor series (Tanya Huff). Torin just walks away with “best grown-up woman protagonist” for 2012. I am not kidding. Selecting a sergeant the pov protagonist for her Valor series was a truly inspired choice. Torin’s very secure in herself, thoroughly (and justifiably) confident of her own competence, and completely committed to her troops. Plus, it’s entertaining watching her handle the officers who think they’re in command. She sure is dealing with an interesting situation by the fifth book of the series, though – I sure hope there are more books on the way, because that situation with the alien is far from resolved.

Elisa in Girl of Fire and Thorns (Rae Carson). It was a tough choice for “best YA girl protagonist” this year, but Elisa was definitely a strong contender. (Kind of fighting it out with Mae from Brennen’s series.) I loved how Elisa grew into herself over the course of the story. The ending was a little pat, and I’m a bit nervous about a plot element I can see might go in an annoying direction in the sequel . . . but still, a topnotch YA, and I will definitely be picking up the sequel!

Best unresolvable dilemma that winds up resolved:

The Scorpio Races (Maggie Stiefvater). I loved both Sean Kendrick and Puck Connelly, I loved the slow development of the relationship between them, I loved how they both really, desperately needed to win the race, and I loved how everything worked out. Stiefvater really kept me guessing all the way to the end on this one. The Scorpio Races is one of my top picks for the whole year. But I hear The Raven Boys ends on something of a cliffhanger? So I think I will not be reading that one until the sequel is out.

Best Diana Wynne Jones:

The Power of Three. It’s been so long since I read this one that I didn’t count it as a re-read . . . and I’d forgotten how good it really is. It’s got a surprisingly complicated cast of characters considering how effortlessly everything is woven together. And a surprisingly complicated plot, considering how seamlessly it flows. I re-read a lot of DWJ this year, and though I’m amazed by the variety of her books, I vote for this one as definitely one of her top stories.

Best surprise:

Almost Perfect (Brian Katcher). I never go out of my way to find contemporary titles. And I don’t expect much from books given to me by their authors. (Sorry, but my limited personal experience suggests that expectations for such books had better not be high.) But this one had everything – tight plot, perfect characterization, great dialogue, and effortless writing. Almost Perfect is the other contender for best book I read in 2012. I’ve got Katcher’s first book down on my TBR shelves right now and I expect it to be fabulous.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson). I honestly don’t expect much from Really Popular Bestsellers, and mostly I don’t read them. But, okay, fine, this one was very good. But I must admit, I have very little urge to read the second book. I like the way this one ended and I’m not sure I want to see the characters wind up in the horrible situation the author seems to have planned for them. Still, this one was excellent.

Best secondary fantasy world:

The Cloud Roads, The Serpent Sea, The Siren Depths (Martha Wells). These are certainly as “secondary” as it gets, since there’s no correspondence between the Raksura world and our world, and no actual humans on the Raksura world. After reading these, I could hardly bring myself to leave the world of the Raksura by picking up another book. It’s a wonderful world with great characters. Wells’ says there are four Raksura e-novellas scheduled for release next year, featuring familiar characters. If I don’t have an e-reader by then, I will read them on my phone! Which I am not normally keen on reading anything much longer than an email on my phone. But for these, I will make an exception.

Best contemporary setting:

Wide Open (Deb Coates). I’m a total sucker for setting, and Coates really brought South Dakota to life in this swift-moving ghost story about memory, grief, family relationships, and with just a little romance. The villain wasn’t very interesting, but that was okay with me, since I don’t necessarily demand a complex fully-drawn bad guy. Plus, I really admired Coates’ gift for dialogue. I know there’s a sequel scheduled; I’ll be keeping an eye out for it next year.

Best historical setting:

A Vision of Light, In Pursuit of the Green Lion, The Water Devil (Judith Riley). Beautiful writing and a protagonist with the best voice ever – and the best medieval setting ever, too. I can’t believe I didn’t read anything by Riley until this year.

The Abigail Adams mysteries by Barbara ‘Hamilton’. This installment in the Abigail Adams mystery series once again brought pre-Independent Boston and nearby Cambridge to life. No one does historical mysteries better than Barbara Hambly, whatever name she uses — A Free Man of Color and that whole series is also one of my favorites.

Most thrilling:

Deep Sky (Patrick Lee). The last book of an incredible SF thriller trilogy that started with The Breach, and possibly the best of the three. Also the book with the most mind-bending plot twist imaginable, in a trilogy in which mind-bending plot twists are not exactly in short supply. Certain suspension-of-disbelief issues aside, whatever Lee writes next, I’m there.

Most perfectly beautiful:

The Peach Keeper (Sarah Addison Allen). Almost contemporary but with just a little magic around the edges, this lovely little novel about family relationships will leave anybody smiling. I’ve now read two of Allen’s and have the other two down on my TBR shelves.

Best Short Story / Novella:

“Stories of Your Life” (Ted Chiang). I don’t go out of my way to read short stories, but this story, in a collection by the same name, was really impressive. All the stories in this collection were impressive. I’m hardly an authority on short stories, but surely Chiang is just about the best writer today in the short form.

“Oak Hill” (Patricia McKillip). This story left me seriously inclined to steal the protagonist and write a book around her.

“The Man Who Bridged The Mist” (Kij Johnson). Absolutely deft characterization, so unobtrusively handled that it’s hard to realize just how deft the author really was.

Best Nonfiction:

Why We Get Fat (Gary Taubes). Completely changed my mind about the causes of obesity and what people should try first if they want to lose weight and improve their health. I never again expect to go on a diet that requires me to be hungry. Quite the reverse – I expect to be less hungry when dieting than when eating a carb-unrestricted diet. I plan to do this diet again . . . after Christmas.

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