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The Sirens of Suspense

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If you're already missing 2012, here are my ten favorite reads from last year, in no particular order. Don't let another minute of the new year go by without taking a look!

JACK 1939, Francine Mathews

It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.

It’s a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Roosevelt’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt lose.

In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage tale that explores what might have happened when a young Jack Kennedy is let loose in Europe as the world careens toward war. A potent combination of history and storytelling, Jack 1939 is a sexy, entertaining read.

 

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. TheChicago 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.

 

INSURGENT, Veronica Roth

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

New York Times bestselling author Veronica Roth's much-anticipated second book of the dystopian Divergent series is another intoxicating thrill ride of a story, rich with hallmark twists, heartbreaks, romance, and powerful insights about human nature.

 

ARTIFACT, Gigi Pandian

When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, sent by her ex-lover the same day he died in a supposed accident in the Highlands of Scotland, she discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she's not the only one on the trail.

From San Francisco to London to the Highlands of Scotland, Jaya must evade a shadowy stalker as she follows hints from the hastily scrawled note of her dead lover to a remote archaeological dig. Helping her decipher the cryptic clues are her magician best friend, a devastatingly handsome art historian with something to hide, and a charming archaeologist running for his life.

Artifact is the first installment in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series by award-winning author Gigi Pandian.

 

FLESH & BONE, Jonathan Maberry

Reeling from the devastation of Dust & Decay, Benny Imura and his friends plunge deep into the zombie-infested wastelands of the great Rot & Ruin. Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Chong journey through a fierce wilderness that was once America, searching for the jet they saw in the skies months ago. If that jet exists then humanity itself must have survived…somewhere. Finding it is their best hope for having a future and a life worth living.

But the Ruin is far more dangerous than any of them can imagine. Fierce animals hunt them. They come face to face with a death cult. And then there’s the zombies—swarms of them coming from the east, devouring everything in their paths. And these zoms are different. Faster, smarter, and infinitely more dangerous. Has the zombie plague mutated, or is there something far more sinister behind this new invasion of the living dead?

One thing Benny and his companions can’t afford to forget: In the great Rot & Ruin, everything wants to kill you.

 

THE EXTRAORDINARY EDUCATION OF NICHOLAS BENEDICT, Trenton Lee Stewart

Nine-year-old Nicholas Benedict has more problems than most children his age. Not only is he an orphan with an unfortunate nose, but he also has narcolepsy, a condition that gives him terrible nightmares and makes him fall asleep at the worst possible moments. Now he's being sent to a new orphanage, where he will encounter vicious bullies, selfish adults, strange circumstances -- and a mystery that could change his life forever. Luckily, he has one important thing in his favor: He's a genius.

On his quest to solve the mystery, Nicholas finds enemies around every corner, but also friends in unexpected places -- and discovers along the way that the greatest puzzle of all is himself.

 

REDSHIRTS: A NOVEL WITH THREE CODAS, John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital ShipIntrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It's a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship's Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn't be better... until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship's captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues' understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is... and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

 

AGE OF MIRACLES, Karen Thompson Walker

From a stunning new literary voice comes a brilliant debut novel that created an international auction frenzy, with sales in twenty-seven countries to date, about a young girl growing up in extraordinary times.
 
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday morning, Julia and her family wake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. Set against this threat to normal life, The Age of Miracles maps the effects of catastrophes big and small on the lives of ordinary people, and in particular, one young girl. Extraordinary for its original concept, unforgettable characters, and the grace, elegance and beauty of Karen Thompson Walker's prose, The Age of Miracles is a mesmerizing story of family turmoil, young love, and coming-of-age set against an upending of life as we know it.

 

DON'T TURN AROUND, Michelle Gagnon

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been a victim of the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses her computer-hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory. A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance, Peter needs people with Noa's talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation called AMRF threatens his life in no uncertain terms.

But what Noa and Peter don't realize is that Noa holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who'd stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will devour the story of Noa, a teen soul mate to Lisbeth Salander.

 

MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE, Robin Sloan

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the 21st century. Evoking both the fairy tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter what the time of day."

 

(Note: Descriptions provided by bookstore and/or publisher.)

This review originally posted on The Poisoned Pen blog, read it and comment here:

http://poisonedpen.com/2013/ten-best-of-2012/