Best New Books of 2012: Sarah K.’s Picks

I am an eclectic reader, reading across genres, with a focus on literary craft and vivid characters. I read to be transported. Below are five of my favorites from 2012. All of them were compelling and were either hard to put down, played with new forms of fiction, or left a lasting impression. Enjoy!  — Sarah K.

The Diviners by Libba Bray
It’s 1926, and Evie O’Neill is thrilled when her parents send her to New York City after she sparks scandal in her small town using her hidden gift of reading objects. However, her plans for a free-wheeling flapper lifestyle are dampened by her living situation at her Uncle Will’s museum of the occult, and the discovery that a supernatural serial killer, Naughty John is on the loose. As the killer gains power, Evie realizes that her secret gift may be the key in stopping Naughty John from striking again.

NW by Zadie Smith
Using altering perspective and shifts in tone and style, NW follows the intertwining lives of four former classmates who once lived in a housing project in northwest London. Leah, Felix, Natalie (née Keisha), and Nathan represent the intersections of class and culture and the transformations one makes through life. Smith is also concerned with the movements of time and place, the role of memory and the constraints of identity, and uses experimental prose forms to explore the nature of her characters in new and exciting ways.

The Yard by Alex Grecian
Reeling from the failure to solve the Jack the Ripper murders, Scotland Yard’s newly formed “Murder Squad” suffers another setback when they find one of their own detectives stuffed into a trunk. Newly hired constable Walter Day must overcome his own self-doubt and the derision of greater London to find the killer. With the help of forensic specialist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley, Day explores the darker corners of Victorian England to solve the crime.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
When it comes to women, Yunior is a feckless connoisseur, constantly sinking relationships though his cheating despite his best intentions. These nine interlocking stories follow Junior though his romantic travails and his turbulent relationships with his mother and older brother, who is even more of a Don Juan than Yunior. Diaz’s lively prose, fabulous descriptions and clear love for his characters despite their flaws make this book a must-read.

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is probably best known for her novels Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home, she is also an adept essay writer. Though not a light read, When I Was a Child… is a satisfying exploration of the intersections between solitude and community, faith and politics beyond simple polemic. Robinson’s essays are wide-ranging in topic from the nature of austerity to the power of older hymns, and present provocative ideas such as, “community…consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know….”

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