Best Books of 2012

It’s that time of year again when I look back at the best books I’ve read over the last twelve months. And unlike last year, when I had so much difficulty narrowing down my choices, this year I found it very easy…

My favourite books of the year

The Game of Kings - Lymond Chronicles

The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

Not one book but six: The Game of Kings, Queens’ Play, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense, The Ringed Castle and Checkmate. I don’t think anyone who has been following my blog all year will be surprised to see this series at the top of my list!

From my review of the final book, Checkmate: For anyone who has yet to read these books, I can promise you that although they’re not the easiest of reads, it’s definitely worth making the effort and getting to know Francis Crawford of Lymond, one of the most complex, charismatic, fascinating characters you’re ever likely to meet in literature. Working through the six books of the Lymond Chronicles has been one of the greatest experiences in my lifetime of reading.

Niccolo Rising

The House of Niccolò by Dorothy Dunnett

Again I’m including six books here: Niccolò Rising, The Spring of the Ram, Race of Scorpions, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn Hunt and To Lie with Lions. There are actually eight in the series, but I haven’t finished Caprice and Rondo yet and still need to read Gemini.

From my review of The Spring of the Ram: One of the things I love about Dorothy Dunnett’s books is that they give me an opportunity to learn about people and places I might never have known anything about otherwise. Dunnett’s novels open up whole new worlds, focusing on periods of history and geographical locations that are usually ignored in historical fiction.

Other books I enjoyed this year

Here Be Dragons

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman

From my review: Here Be Dragons is the first in Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy and follows the lives of King John’s daughter, Joanna, and her Welsh husband, Llewelyn ab Iorweth (known as Llewelyn the Great)…The relationship between Joanna and Llewellyn forms a big part of the plot, but that’s not all this book is about. As well as romance, the story also includes political intrigue, battles, feuds, rivalry between brothers, betrayal and forgiveness.


Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

From my review: From the wonderful opening line of this 1921 novel by Rafael Sabatini (“He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”) I could tell I was going to love Scaramouche! And I did – it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

From my review: It was good to read a novel that showed Cromwell not as a villain, but as an intelligent, charismatic, complex human being with both positive and negative qualities…Every little piece of information Mantel gives us, however trivial it may seem, helps to slowly build a full and vivid picture of daily 16th century life.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

From my review: A quick read and lots of fun too: a combination of swashbuckling adventure story, historical fiction and romance. It’s one of those novels where you sit down planning to just read one or two chapters and before you know it you’re halfway through the book!

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

From my review: What makes this book so disturbing is that the type of community Atwood is writing about is not completely far-fetched or implausible. Many of the things she describes are things that have actually happened in some part of the world at some time in the past, or that might even still be happening at this moment, and so the depiction of Gilead is terrifyingly believable.

The Master of Verona

The Master of Verona by David Blixt

I finished reading this book on Christmas Eve, just in time for it to make an appearance on this list. I haven’t had a chance to post my thoughts on it yet, but I loved it and am looking forward to reading the sequel.

And these deserve a special mention too:

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
The Sultan’s Wife by Jane Johnson
The Conductor by Sarah Quigley
Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson

Have you read any of these? What are your favourite books of the year?

25 thoughts on “Best Books of 2012

  1. Jo says:

    I’m not surprised by your top choice! You have enthused so readily about them it’s great. Perhaps I may try one out one day. You read a great variety of books and I enjoy your blog.

  2. Elena says:

    I’ve heard wonderful things of Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, so I am really considering reading it although I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction.

    I’m really happy Atwood made your Best Books lists. She is always a pleasure to read! I was surprised, when doing my list today, I didn’t read anything by her in 2012.

  3. Lisa says:

    I love seeing Dorothy Dunnett at the top of your list – and Lymond first. I have so enjoyed reading your reviews, and I’m looking forward to seeing where your reading takes you next year!

  4. Alex in Leeds says:

    I’ve got The Game of Kings to read in the next week or two, can’t wait! Your posts prompted me to go back to the Lymond series and Annabel’s readalong spurred me on to start 2013 with the first title. 🙂

    I’ve read all the titles on your list bar three, Scaramouche sounds ace so it’s going on my wishlist.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy The Game of Kings. It was not an easy book to get into but somewhere in the middle I realised it was one of the best books I’d ever read. Scaramouche is great too!

  5. FleurFisher says:

    I would have been horribly disappointed if Dorothy Dunnett hadn’t appeared at the top of your list. I have gathered all of the books from both series, bar one, and i am looking forward to reading them when life is a little more settled. I’d love to reread Sharon Penman and I like the look of Rafael Sabatini. A great list!

  6. kheenand says:

    I loved Penman’s books about the Welsh princes when I read them many years ago. If you enjoyed the first then you won’t be disappointed by the other two in the trilogy.

  7. jessicabookworm says:

    I haven’t read any off your list but there are quite a few I would like to try. I choose Little Women as my favourite read of 2012. Happy New Year to you and your family. Here’s hoping you have another great reading year in 2013.

  8. Isi says:

    I haven’t read any of them!! But there is no problem because I love this lists to make my own TBR list longer and longer… 😀
    Hope you have a lot of wonderful readings this new year!!

  9. Alex says:

    Well, you know what I think about Dunnett: with you 100% on that. The same for Scaramouche and Wolf Hall (plan to read Bring Up the Bodies at some point in 2013). Have Here Be Dragons on the TBR for years now, but it’s one of those I’m almost sure I’ll love. Where I can’t go with you is about The Scarlet Pimpernel – unavoidably compared to Scaramouche, it came out very short.

    • Helen says:

      I loved both, though I agree that Scaramouche was a better, more complex book. I hope you enjoy Here Be Dragons when you eventually get round to it.

  10. Leander says:

    Wonderful list, Helen!

    It’s quite disturbing how you enjoy almost exactly the same books as me. Lymond has won my heart too, no doubt of that, and the Chronicles would be top of my list. Niccolo would feature too, though I didn’t adore that series as wholeheartedly as Lymond. As you know, I adored Scaramouche and The Scarlet Pimpernel is an old favourite though neither are in anywhere near the same league as Dunnett. Sharon Penman’s another favourite. I haven’t written about any of her books yet, but it had crossed my mind to reread them this year (I miss having an historical series to sink my teeth into!). Fingers crossed I’ll be getting Lionheart, her new novel in the Aquitaine series, for my birthday. As for Wolf Hall – yes, brilliant! – and the same for The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’m so pleased you enjoyed. Your final choice, The Master of Verona, is very interesting because it was recommended to me on Amazon and seemed right up my street (I studied Dante). I read the preview, however, and the first pages didn’t really grab me (and I got rather narked by the spelling the author’s chosen for Alighieri). But if you were impressed by it… I value your opinion very highly and so you might convince me to try it after all.

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you agree with most of my choices, especially Lymond and Niccolo – in that order. None of the others I’ve listed really come close to Dunnett in my opinion, but I love her books so much it’s going to be difficult to find anything that does! I really enjoyed The Master of Verona, but then I’ve never studied Dante so maybe it’s a case of my lack of knowledge being a blessing.

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