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Ten Books That Caught My Eye in 2012 and What Makes Them Special

January 3rd, 2013

When you read as much as I do, books start to flow together and it’s sometimes hard to remember the particulars. Whenever a story sticks with me, I ask myself why? What makes it special? As a writer, I am forever trying to learn what it is that makes a book stand out. The following is a list (in no particular order) of ten books that have managed to stay in my pea brain long after the last page came to be turned. I’d love to hear about the special books you read last year, if you’d care to share.

In the meantime, here’s my list:

Blue Asylum –

For me, Kathy Hepinstall was my read-everything-written-by-this author-in-rapid-succession author for 2012. I found all four of her books to be lovely, mysterious, and incredibly fetching. Blue Asylum introduces us to a woman convicted of madness by her husband during the Civil War and sentenced to an institution on an island in Florida.

What makes it special?

Hepinstall has a gift for creating suspense and joy and sorrow and heart around utterly unusual subjects. Her characters and settings are always a break from the ordinary. Blue Asylum explores a part of history that I knew absolutely nothing about.


The House of Gentle Men – Set in rural Louisiana during WWII, the House of Gentle Men is a sanctuary where damaged women are administered to by haunted men wishing to atone for their past crimes. Another dark beauty by Kathy Hepinstall.

What makes it special?

Atmosphere combined with a unique concept makes The House of Gentle Men a mystery like no other.


The Forever Girl – A modern witch story that casts a dark, delightful spell through its use of magical language and rich, inventive lore. This is the first book in an exciting new series by Rebecca Hamilton and well-worth the current buzz.

What makes it special?

The best fantasy/paranormal stories excel at world-building and The Forever Girl does this in spades. The cherry on top is Hamilton’s heroine who is flawed and real and lends heart and soul to the dark and challenging world in which she is thrust.


The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Told in a unique voice that nonetheless feels like bits and pieces of your own memories, this coming-of-age story by Stephen Chbosky takes readers back to 1991 and those exhilarating and confusing first days of high school.

What makes it special?

Chbosky’s protagonist, Charlie. Memorable and weird as Holden Caulfield, Owen Meany, and Gene Forrester, Charlie’s voice is both disquietingly strange and comfortably familiar, making him one of those great literary characters that stick in your craw and forever stand out, and that’s no easy task.


The Book Thief – One of my new favorite books of all time, author Markus Zusak tells the story of a young German girl who steals books and lives a harrowing and incredible life under Nazi rule. Startling, heartbreaking, and narrated by Death, no less, this book should not be missed.

What makes it special?

Zusak takes you into the lives of a town of people oppressed by the Nazi regime and the surprise here is that few of these poor souls are Jewish. The book tackles difficult subjects and does not hesitate to kill off major characters. The story is arresting and multi-layered, and incredibly powerful.


Dust of Eden – The wonderfully warped tale of a bitter woman who mixes the ashes of her dead father with paint and stumbles upon the power to alter people’s lives. A gothic nail biter by Storyteller’s Unplugged’s own Thomas Sullivan and one of the scariest, most heart-rending, and fabulously original things I read last year.

What makes it special?

Thomas Sullivan’s flair for amping up the suspense though the use of quirky characters, creepy creatures, and vile, dark places that feel all the more unsettling in that they are discovered amid the ordinary.


Boy A – The shocking story of a boy convicted of murder as a child and released from prison into an unforgiving world as an adult, told with unflinching precision by Jonathan Trigell.

What makes it special?

Trigell does an amazing job of allowing the reader to decide their own feelings for themselves, never pushing for sympathy or condemnation. His even-handed rendering left me feeling some of both and a whole lot of other things, making this one of the most complicated books I read last year.


The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman’s beautiful and tragic tale follows the lives of four women working as dovekeepers during of the last days of Masada. Hoffman’s greatest work to date.

What makes it special?

Meticulous Research + Characters Thrown Into an Impossible Situation + The Poetic Language of an Alice Hoffman Novel = A Masterpiece


Changes – Randall Lee, an American acupuncturist and Tai Chi master, kicks butt and solves crime in this thrill-packed mystery by Charles Colyott. Very cool reading.

What makes it special?

Have you ever read a good story about an American acupuncturist and Tai Chi Master before? Me either! And Randall Lee is a well-drawn character with strengths and weaknesses that make him a hero you can root for, fear for, and cozy up to. Not your ordinary crime-fighter!


Picking the Bones – Publishers Weekly calls this newest collection of dark fiction from the wily mind of Brian Hodge, “Eloquent, intensely intimate, and infused with existential angst, each of the 17 stories packs a powerful thematic punch …”

What make it special?

Seventeen wonderfully written and tremendously sinister stories all under one roof! That’s hard to come by and a blessing when you find it.


So what books rocked your boat in 2012?

Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar and the soon to be released novel The Reading Lessons. Visit her and share your thoughts at:


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  1. January 3rd, 2013 at 19:06 | #1

    There you are! Was just listening to Glenn Frey’s “The Girl from Yesterday,” and here you are on the 3rd instead of the 2nd. :-) But your list of books is timeless! :-) :-) Most appreciative to be on it with DUST OF EDEN, Carole. The only thing better than friends in this world is friends with whom you share a mutual high regard for what they produce.

  2. January 3rd, 2013 at 21:16 | #2

    I was a day late and a dollar short. Just got back in town after the holidays. Dust of Eden really has stuck in my head. It’s just the sort of story I’m wild about. Such a fantastic idea too. One of my favorite reads this year, hands down, and not just because I think the world of you either. It’s just so danged good!

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