What do a clerk in a 24-hour bookstore, a snake-handling faith healer, a man walking 500 miles to visit a sick friend, a hiker on the Pacific Crest Trail and Richard Burton have in common? (And it doesn’t involve marrying Elizabeth Taylor.) Rather, they all figure somehow in my five favorite books of 2012. My reading tastes are eclectic, but I read more literary fiction and mysteries than anything else. Language, atmosphere, setting, and believable characters are all important to me. – Janet L.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
Marshall, North Carolina, has a new church, the River Road Church of Christ in Signs Following. It’s led by a charismatic preacher, Carson Chambliss, a man with a talent for snake handling. Stump Hall, a young autistic boy, witnesses something at the church that leads to tragedy. Sheriff Clem Barefield is determined to find out what happened, no matter what the consequences. This is Cash’s debut novel and it’s a beauty; gorgeous writing, believable characters and gothic overtones. Recommended for readers of Ron Rash, John Hart and Tom Franklin.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry is surprised to receive a letter from Queenie Hennessey, who is seriously ill and has written to say goodbye. They were friends once, but parted in strained circumstances. Mild mannered Harold is so shocked by this news he behaves spontaneously and begins a 500 mile journey by foot to say goodbye to Queenie, convinced she will not die as long as he is walking. Recommended for readers of Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg and Anna Quindlen.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I adored this book. It has a likeable narrator, Clay Jannon, who clerks in a mysterious bookshop run by the fascinating Mr. Penumbra. The theme of Old Knowledge (books) vs. Internet knowledge allows the author to slip in scenes at Google, a museum dedicated to knitting overrun by children, arcane information about fonts, and a computer whiz who made a fortune creating realistic 3-D versions of breasts. This book is fun. It’s the kind of book that made a reader of me, the kind of book that keeps me reading, the kind of book I can’t wait to tell people about. Recommended for readers of Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Hunched under a too heavy backpack quickly nicknamed Monster, Cheryl Strayed begins a real life journey along the Pacific Crest Trail that is spiritual as well as physical. Her plans for her hike are soon revealed as inadequate (who knew water weighed so much?) and she must improvise as she goes along—much as we all have to adjust in life when our best laid plans go awry. I found Strayed’s account of her hike riveting, profound, hilarious and suspenseful. Recommended for readers of Jeannette Walls, Jon Krakauer and Dave Eggers.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
It’s 1962 and Pasquale Tursi, owner of the Hotel Adequate View in Porto Vergogna, Italy, is immediately smitten by Dee Moray, an American starlet who arrives at his hotel fresh from the set of the movie Cleopatra. Their story (with a supporting appearance from Richard Burton) connects to present day Hollywood and the career of Claire, assistant to legendary producer Michael Deane. Walter creates a truly romantic story that underscores his theme of how life and art intersect.