By Steve Duin, The Oregonian
on February 11, 2013 at 4:30 PM, updated February 11, 2013 at 5:04 PM
The most memorable books of 2012 from the reading contestants:
Note: Portland Book Review has included all the cover images and synopsis’s from the publishers. Many of these titles were Powell’s staff picks and Puddle Awards as well.
Kate Belt: Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration, Ben Daniel
Using a blend of travel narrative, interviews, theological insight, and biblical scholarship, Daniel tackles the controversial issues that surround undocumented migration in the United States by taking the reader to the spiritual, legal, and geographical front lines of the immigration debate. Here, the political becomes personal and talking points have a human face. The result of this journey is a compelling argument that encourages Christians to meet undocumented migrants as neighbors and as friends. Study questions are included.
Kevin Brown: Skipping Christmas, John Grisham
Leudith Bruesch: Johannes Cabal, the Necromancer, Jonathan Howard
Johannes Cabal sold his soul years ago in order to learn the laws of necromancy. Now he wants it back. Amused and slightly bored, Satan proposes a little wager: Johannes has to persuade one hundred people to sign over their souls or he will be damned forever. This time for real. Accepting the bargain, Jonathan is given one calendar year and a traveling carnival to complete his task. With little time to waste, Johannes raises a motley crew from the dead and enlists his brother, Horst, a charismatic vampire to help him run his nefarious road show, resulting in mayhem at every turn
Vicki Coats: A Beautiful Place to Die, Malla Nunn
Award-winning screenwriter Malla Nunn delivers a stunning and darkly romantic crime novel set in 1950s apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper — a man caught up in a time and place where racial tensions and the raw hunger for power make life very dangerous indeed.
Lea Day: The Yard, Alex Grecian
Victorian London—a violent cesspool of squalid depravity. Only twelve detectives—The Murder Squad—are expected to solve the thousands of crimes committed here each month. Formed after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure in capturing Jack the Ripper, the Murder Squad suffers the brunt of public contempt. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own…
A Scotland Yard Inspector has been found stuffed in a black steamer trunk at Euston Square Station, his eyes and mouth sewn shut. When Walter Day, the squad’s new hire, is assigned to the case, he finds a strange ally in Dr. Bernard Kingsley, the Yard’s first forensic pathologist. Their grim conclusion: this was not just a random, bizarre murder but in all probability, the first of twelve. Because the squad itself it being targeted and the devious killer shows no signs of stopping before completing his grim duty. But Inspector Day has one more surprise, something even more shocking than the crimes: the killer’s motive.
Cindy Enos: Newport Blues: A Salesman’s Lament, George Byron Wright
When Jonesy Jones, lone salesman for a small import gift business, drops dead, Sidney Lister, a ground-down ex-salesman, fills the dead man’s shoes. He makes a sales run down the Oregon Coast, announcing Jonesy’s demise as he goes; reactions are often bizarre. He is also being hunted by a man from his past who wants him dead. Sidney is making one last grasp for life’s brass ring and hoping to live to enjoy it.
Mitchell Friedman:Goodbye for Now, Laurie Frankel
Sam Elling works for an internet dating company, but he still can’t get a date. So he creates an algorithm that will match you with your soul mate. Sam meets the love of his life, a coworker named Meredith, but he also gets fired when the company starts losing all their customers to Mr. and Ms. Right.
When Meredith’s grandmother, Livvie, dies suddenly, Sam uses his ample free time to create a computer program that will allow Meredith to have one last conversation with her grandmother. Mining from all her correspondence—email, Facebook, Skype, texts—Sam constructs a computer simulation of Livvie who can respond to email or video chat just as if she were still alive. It’s not supernatural, it’s computer science.
Meredith loves it, and the couple begins to wonder if this is something that could help more people through their grief. And thus, the company RePose is born. The business takes off, but for every person who just wants to say good-bye, there is someone who can’t let go.
In the meantime, Sam and Meredith’s affection for one another deepens into the kind of love that once tasted, you can’t live without. But what if one of them suddenly had to? This entertaining novel, delivers a charming and bittersweet romance as well as a lump in the throat exploration of the nature of love, loss, and life (both real and computer simulated). Maybe nothing was meant to last forever, but then again, sometimes love takes on a life of its own.
Chelsea Gay:One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women — brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul — this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
Dale Krombein, A Land More Kind than Home, Wiley Cash
A stunning debut reminiscent of the beloved novels of John Hart and Tom Franklin, A Land More Kind Than Home is a mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town
For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to — an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil — but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.
Told by three resonant and evocative characters — Jess; Adelaide Lyle, the town midwife and moral conscience; and Clem Barefield, a sheriff with his own painful past — A Land More Kind Than Home is a haunting tale of courage in the face of cruelty and the power of love to overcome the darkness that lives in us all. These are masterful portrayals, written with assurance and truth, and they show us the extraordinary promise of this remarkable first novel.
Vicky Krombein: The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he’s found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge’s land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.
Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.
Sherill Leverich-Fries: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
State of Wonder is Ann Patchett’s best book yet (yes, even better than Bel Canto). Brimming with mystery, philosophy, intrigue, ethical questions, the flora and fauna of the Amazon jungle, and absolutely beautiful prose, Patchett’s new novel should be at the top of your reading list.
Recommended by Jill Owens, Powells.com
What if women could become pregnant into their 70s? What if a woman’s fertility could be increased exponentially? What if the ever-encroaching biological clock disappeared? Ann Patchett takes us deep into the Amazon in search of answers to these questions in her latest novel.
The amazingly long fertility window in the female members of the Lakashi Amazonian tribe is the subject of study for a group of doctors. When head researcher Dr. Swenson, after a decade of study, refuses to come home, share her work, or even report back to her bosses, Dr. Eckman, is sent in after her. When Dr. Eckman turns up dead, Dr. Singh is sent in to bring back his body, but also to shake loose Dr. Swenson’s research results. What follows is a terrific story of survival, curiosity, culture shock and acclimation, as Dr. Singh makes her way through the jungle and finally tracks down Dr. Swenson. A story thread involving a deaf-mute child, who has somehow defected from a rival tribe, is sweet and eventually astonishing.
Patchett has laser-like insight into her characters; they never feel anything less than real. With anacondas, a hailstorm of arrows, unsanitary surgery, big-business-pharmaceutical greed, ethnocentric interference, and a great story buoyed by wonderful characters, this is must read.
Recommended by Dianah, Powell’s City of Books
Pete Lorain: The Time in Between, Maria Duenas
“Packed with engaging characters, flawlessly researched, and breathlessly paced” (Booklist, starred review)—the internationally bestselling novel about a seamstress who becomes an undercover spy for the British Secret Service during World War II.
At age twelve, Sira Quiroga swept the atelier floors. By fourteen, she began her apprenticeship as a seamstress, and within a few years was able to stitch fine fabric into breathtaking creations. Now with the Spanish civil war brewing in Madrid, Sira says goodbye to her mother and follows her lover to Morocco, but soon finds herself abandoned, penniless, and heartbroken. Sira turns to her gift for creating exquisite clothes. As the great powers are pulled into a second world war, Sira returns to Madrid, where she assumes a new identity to embark upon a dangerous undertaking: becoming embroiled in the half-lit world of espionage and political conspiracy, rife with love, intrigue, and betrayal.
A runaway bestseller across Europe, The Time in Between is one of those rare, richly textured novels that enthralls down to the last page. MarÍa DueÑas’s debut reminds us how it feels to be swept away by the skill of a masterful storyteller.
Morgan McQuiston: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous
Jennifer Margolis: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, Barbara Demick
Award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.
Kristin Nesbit: Unbroken, Lauren Hillenbrand
On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.
Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit. Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
Jill O’Neill: Freeman, Leonard Pitts Jr.
In the months following the Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Sam–a runaway slave who once worked for the Union Army–sets out on foot to return to the war-torn South. He is compelled to find his wife, whom he and their son left behind 15 years earlier on the farm to which they all belonged.
At the same time, Sam’s wife, Tilda, is forced to walk at gunpoint with her owner from the charred remains of the Mississippi farm into Arkansas. In search of a place that will still respect his entitlements as slave-owner and Confederate officer.
Meanwhile, Prudence, a headstrong white woman of means leaves her Boston home for Buford, Mississippi, to start a school for former bondsmen, and honor her father’s dying wish.
Freeman is a love story, sweeping, generous, brutal and compassionate. Few novels so powerfully capture the pathos and possibility of black slaves grappling with the promise and terror of their new status as free men and women.
Russell Peterson: The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
The Warmth of Other Suns is a fascinating epic narrative of the Great Migration by the brilliant and beautiful Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson.
Recommended by Adrienne, Also staff pick at Powells.com
One of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year.
In this epic, beautifully written masterwork, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life. From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.
With stunning historical detail, Wilkerson tells this story through the lives of three unique individuals: Ida Mae Gladney, who in 1937 left sharecropping and prejudice in Mississippi for Chicago, where she achieved quiet blue-collar success and, in old age, voted for Barack Obama when he ran for an Illinois Senate seat; sharp and quick-tempered George Starling, who in 1945 fled Florida for Harlem, where he endangered his job fighting for civil rights, saw his family fall, and finally found peace in God; and Robert Foster, who left Louisiana in 1953 to pursue a medical career, the personal physician to Ray Charles as part of a glitteringly successful medical career, which allowed him to purchase a grand home where he often threw exuberant parties.
Wilkerson brilliantly captures their first treacherous and exhausting cross-country trips by car and train and their new lives in colonies that grew into ghettos, as well as how they changed these cities with southern food, faith, and culture and improved them with discipline, drive, and hard work. Both a riveting microcosm and a major assessment, The Warmth of Other Suns is a bold, remarkable, and riveting work, a superb account of an “unrecognized immigration” within our own land. Through the breadth of its narrative, the beauty of the writing, the depth of its research, and the fullness of the people and lives portrayed herein, this book is destined to become a classic.
Sharon Skinner: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.”Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents — the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter — but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
With her razor-sharp writing and trademark psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
Mary Stableton: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Regan
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio introduces Evelyn Ryan, an enterprising woman who kept poverty at bay with wit, poetry, and perfect prose during the “contest era” of the 1950s and 1960s. Standing up to the church, her alcoholic husband, and antiquated ideas about women, Evelyn turned every financial challenge into an opportunity for innovation, all the while raising her six sons and four daughters with the belief that miracles are an everyday occurrence. The inspiration for a major motion picture, Evelyn Ryan’s story is told by her daughter Terry with an infectious joy that shows how a winning spirit and sense of humor can triumph over adversity every time.
Carman Tobia: The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen
All her life, Mary has been a slave to the wealthy Van Lew family of Richmond, Virginia. But when Bet, the willful Van Lew daughter, decides to send Mary to Philadelphia to be educated, she must leave her family to seize her freedom.
Life in the North brings new friendships, a courtship, and a far different education than Mary ever expected, one that leads her into the heart of the abolition movement. With the nation edging toward war, she defies Virginia law by returning to Richmond to care for her ailing father — and to fight for emancipation. Posing as a slave in the Confederate White House in order to spy on President Jefferson Davis, Mary deceives even those who are closest to her to aid the Union command.
Just when it seems that all her courageous gambles to end slavery will pay off, Mary discovers that everything comes at a cost — even freedom.