Books I Read in 2012

I didn’t read as many books as I wanted last year. I was, you know, sort of busy with my own book tour. But I did manage to read the following, and am posting this list because people are always asking me for book recommendations and my response is often “Uh…” as my mind blanks on even the most recent book I read. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten some here. This year, I plan to keep an ongoing list. It’s another one of my new year’s not-resolutions-but-but goals/hopes this year.

I’m an impatient reader and I will give up on a book if I’m not engaged quickly.This list does not include all the books I started and didn’t finish, because I don’t want to call them out. There were merits in all but one I started, and maybe they will grab me if I try again. Sometimes it’s just the wrong time. Though some of the books included on the full list below sort of disappointed me, or had issues that bothered me after I finished, each one of these books was worth my time to read, and I hope you’ll check them out. Happy reading!

My Favorites

  • The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith

This was probably my favorite book of the year. I was expecting it to be sad and it was, but it was also beautifully written and uplifting, too. I picked it up and thought I’d read just a little bit and then I finished it in two days despite having tons of work to do. I really loved it. It just came out in paperback. Go buy it!

  • The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

A modern family story full of ghosts—real and imagined—with writing that makes you hungry. Great for foodies.

  • The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan

The little dictionary entries tell the story of a relationship in alphabetical order. This was a gem and a super quick, fun, and surprisingly emotionally resonant read.

  • The Underside of Joy, Sere Prince Halverson

A complicated stepmom/mom story about two women who each feels she is the best caretaker for two young children after their father dies. Full of lovely sentences and great descriptions.

  • The Year of Fog, Michelle Richmond

A tense time-bomb of a mystery about a girl who disappears from a foggy SF beach.

  • Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston

Some of my absolute favorite lines of all time were written by Pam, and I found several more in this novel-in-pieces. Pam is so wise and her writing renders all the places she’s visited in such detail you can imagine you are traveling to all the exotic places, too, except you get the bonus of a smart and witty guide.

  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt

A coming-of-age story about sisters and jealousy and the little girl buried under the leaves of our past.

  • Wife 22, Melanie Gideon

A fun and funny read about a wife who dissects her marriage for a survey and makes some interesting discoveries along the way.

Full List

  • The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry
  • Waking the Witch, Kelley Armstrong
  • The Underside of Joy, Sere Prince Halverson
  • The Hunter, John Lescroart
  • Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
  • Julia’s Child, Sarah Pinneo
  • Contents May Have Shifted, Pam Houston
  • White Horse, Alex Adams
  • Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore
  • The Servants’ Quarters, Lynn Freed
  • The Rules of Inheritance, Claire Bidwell Smith
  • Deadlocked, Charlaine Harris
  • Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  • Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Laini Taylor
  • Then Came You, Jennifer Weiner
  • Fly Away Home, Jennifer Weiner
  • The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver*
  • No One Is Here Except All of Us, Ramona Ausubel
  • Thirteen, Kelley Armstrong
  • Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison*
  • The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker
  • The Year of Fog, Michelle Richmond
  • The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan
  • The Baker’s Daughter, Sarah McCoy
  • Reached, Ally Condie
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt
  • Wife 22, Melanie Gideon
  • Before I Go to Sleep, SJ Watson


Did you read any of these books? What did you think?

Kirkus Reviews Names Hand Me Down as One of the Best Fiction Books of 2012!

When I was waiting for reviews, I nursed a secret little hope that Hand Me Down would receive at least one starred review. Hundreds of books release each year, and they can’t all get a star, but HMD did, and I was thrilled. It was a bit of a surprise that it came from Kirkus Reviews which is known in the industry for being, shall we say, harsh. But the reviewer at Kirkus understood Hand Me Down, and I was so grateful for the positive words and a glowing endorsement: the blue star next to the title.

Never did I expect that my debut novel would make it onto a best of the year list! It was not something I even hoped for but now that it has happened, I couldn’t be happier. How cool is it to be included on Kirkus Reviews’ best fiction of 2012 list with names like Ron Rash, Gillian Flynn, Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Lauren Groff, Sherman Alexie, Alice Munroe, Dave Eggers, Junot Diaz, Elie Wiesel, fellow Book Pregnant members Wiley Cash and Stephen Dau, and so many more talented and deserving authors, many of whom are famed literary greats.

Seriously, did you see that list of names?! It is amazing to have my labor of love appear alongside these established, award-winning, crazy famous authors’ books. It’s not just my debut up there next to the works of literary masters, but other first-time novelists made the cut and I’m thankful to Kirkus Reviews for giving the newbies equal weight. And, on Hand Me Down‘s review page, they’ve added a gold medal that says “Best of 2012.” I wish you could see how much I’m smiling. It’s so exciting!

This, among many other things, is something to be thankful for this year. I hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend!

A Rambling Post About Gloom and the Election and Writing that Eventually Leads to Nancy Drew

I’ve been feeling glum lately. The changing weather makes for gray skies and gloomy days—the kind when it’s hard to tell what time it is and all day it feels like it could be either late morning or early evening without the sun to help mark the passage of time.

Plus, I was sick for weeks—still am, a bit—with the cold that comes and goes, sometimes accompanied by a fever and body aches and gets better but never seems to really go away. I felt horrible as I watched news of super-storm Sandy and all the devastation on the east coast; worried for friends who were without power. The election brought out so much hate and lies and fear and stubbornness, people bashing others and refusing to listen to dissenting opinions, blaming and yelling and name-calling…I had to get off social media for a few days.

And then along with the outpouring of relief and celebration and disappointment after the voting, there was also an unbelievable number of folks who went crazy. Regardless of your political opinions, in no way was the election a “tragedy” rigged by “terrorists.” I was honestly scared by so many of the comments I saw on the internet. The lack of interest in truth, the complete absence of critical thinking or applied logic, the hate-speak—it’s terrifying to think that there are so many people who are unwilling to even listen to opposing views and desperately cling to their delusions. One of my biggest fears is people who are able to hang onto a belief that has been proven false. Progress is impossible if you refuse to admit there’s a problem, obfuscate the issues with smoke screens to ignore real dialogue. Healthy debates—real debates—are good for solving problems; I’m not saying we should all just get along. But disagreeing requires a back and forth, which is what we need. Disagreement would be a step in the right direction, as all there seems to be right now is people screaming at each other and that means no one can hear a thing.

Whoa, sorry. That got away from me a bit there. I basically wanted to say that all of this along with a few personal issues and a general feeling of failure and career worries have gotten me into sort of a funk. I want to hunker down beside a fire and get swept up in a good story and ignore the world. But there is so much to be done. Isn’t that always the way?

I have also been feeling unable to write, hence the dry spell here on the blog. I don’t know how much of my feeling blue is caused by or is causing my inability to write, but whichever was the chicken or the egg doesn’t matter because my mood and my word count have remained low. It’s become a cycle, and since I’m all about trying to break those (have you read my book?), here I am, writing, and hoping that I get a boost.

If you’re still reading, thanks! As a reward for following me through to the end of this ramble, which came out of a post that was just meant to say something like, “Hey Guys! I’ve been feeling glum so I’m not writing much, but here are some words of wisdom from Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life,” here’s the payoff: some words of wisdom from Nancy Drew, one of my first literary influences, the strawberry-blond queen of sleuthing.

On Etiquette:
“It’s a bit gratuitous to quote passages from Shakespeare on a daily basis.” –The Clue of the Dancing Puppet

“Never interrupt a voodoo doctor.” –The Haunted Showboat

On Dating:
“A young lady with some judo skills can take care of unwanted advances in short order.” –The Whispering Statue

“After receiving an electrical shock to the system, find as many men as possible to vigorously massage you.” –Mystery of the Glowing Eye

On Braving the Wilderness:
“Don’t try to ford rocky streams in an old jalopy.” –The Message in the Hollow Oak

“It’s a good idea to arm yourself when in the wilderness because you just might have to kill a large lynx.” –The Secret at Shadow Ranch

And one final word of advice from Nancy for your holiday weekend:

“Cover your face immediately when confronted with an explosion. Obviously, it is good to avoid explosions in general.” –The Mystery of the Fire Dragon

How Can I Write Naked When Everyone Is Watching?

This essay was originally published on Book Pregnant, but I thought it could use a reboot. As fall starts and the weather turns, there is an almost physical push for me to get back to work, to shift from publicizing Hand Me Down and really dig into the new work. But I’m feeling paralyzed by the pressure. Does this ever happen to you? Here is my take.

How Can I Write Naked When Everyone Is Watching?

Writing used to be easy.

Are you laughing yet? If you’re a writer, you know that’s a load of crap. Writing is not easy; it never has been. What’s that Hemingway quote?There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed. It’s funny because it’s true, and most of us are familiar with the pain, the gutting open of ourselves, the pouring of our hearts and stories onto the page. I’m a writer; I can take the abuse. I bled onto my keyboard for years. But it seems that ever since I sold my novel, writing has gotten even harder.

When I wrote Hand Me Down, it was just me at my computer, alone in my office. Just my voice—and, Liz, my narrator’s, of course—in my head shaping the language, telling the story for an anonymous, would-be, someday, maybe-in-my-wildest-dreams-will-someone-else-actually-read-this-whole-thing potential reader. I wrote for me. I wrote because I had to tell my story, had to understand the hard truths of my childhood by twisting them inside out and rearranging them in an order that made sense. I could write like I was naked—bare my soul completely with words—because no one was watching.

I knew people would read my stories, sure, but they were my professors, my classmates in workshops, strangers at a conference, a very limited, very supportive audience. Back then I felt free enough to write honestly. No one knew the things I called fiction were true. No one cared if my work was good enough to publish—in fact, it was expected not to be. We were all learning; criticism came with the intention of improving the work rather than with the judgment that comes once a piece is finished.

Years later, after I sold the book, my editor had very few suggested changes, but we all agreed that the ending could be improved. I needed to write an entirely new climax scene. And I choked.

I couldn’t write anything for weeks. The pressure of creating something brand new that was going to go into the finished book was overwhelming. I had spent the better part of the previous five years reading and rereading and revising every word of my manuscript over and over and now I had mere months until a deadline that carried the weight of a paid, binding contract for an editor who represented a big NY publishing house. It was enough to strike me dumb, and I became paralyzed by these new real-life demands on my creative process. My bare-soul writing had gained a VIP audience and I felt fully exposed. I froze in the spotlight and it was like I was five again, running offstage to puke in the wings during our church play, incapable of performing.

Near tears, I finally had to call my editor and tell her I was stuck. I couldn’t admit that I was a fraud, but I knew I was. These people had invested in a lost cause; the whole sale had been a mistake. I had managed to fool us all by pretending to be a writer and my house of cards was about to crash.

I’m so lucky I have a fantastic editor. She talked me off the ledge, said we had a little bit more time. She said the words I most needed to hear: give yourself a break. She made me feel safe enough to risk being uncovered again, like I was back in workshop, writing for myself, writing to tell the best story I could tell, to understand, to discover truths. I convinced myself no one important was watching and I took off my writing clothes, spilled more blood onto my keyboard.

But my relationship with writing has changed even more dramatically since then. Not only did my editor read my book, but then the marketing and sales teams, my publicist, my family, booksellers, industry reviewers, media reviewers, bloggers, and then, the general public. Now, anyone who wants to can pick up my book, read my blood on the page, read the product of my emotional sweat and literal tears. Not only that, but they can respond to me directly, tell me how much they loved Hand Me Down and can’t wait for the next book. It’s so wonderful and gratifying to hear that, to hear that people are responding to my words and my story, but it also reminds me that there are now people waiting for me to write. I feel like everyone is watching, and I don’t want to let them down.

I’m trying to work on my second book, but I’ve found that it’s not me alone at my computer anymore. It’s not just my voice in my head, but also the negative comments from readers (even though they are few), the positive comments from readers and reviewers (what if I don’t live up to the praise?), statistics about sales figures and sophomore flops, the VIP audience of my agent and editor that are now among my earliest readers instead of the last, the knowledge that this book needs to be written more quickly than HMD, that it needs to be saleable, publishable, in order to keep my career moving, the nagging doubt that I’m capable of writing a second book.

If I can’t even be alone in my own head, how can I possibly get to that place where I can gut myself open?

There is no simple answer, or not one I know of. (If you’ve found one, please share!) I’m doing my best to work my way back to that safe space I started out in, the frame of mind that I’m only writing for me. I need to learn to protect myself from those outside voices, pretend that I’m invisible. This book does need to be publishable, eventually, and I can only get to publishable by writing those shitty first drafts, so that’s the place to start. The public doesn’t exist for this second book yet, and though my agent and editor are supportive readers, I need to kick them out of my brain for the beginning stages as well. I’ll put blinders on and earplugs in and focus on the writing, the storytelling, the characters’ voices, not the ones beyond my office. I’ll hang dark curtains over all my windows, and while I know the world is still out there, at least they won’t be able to see me.

It’s like that saying: Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one can hear. I also love Jennifer Weiner’s addition from her BEA speech: “Tweet like your mother’s not online.”

Write like you’re naked. It’s not easy, but we knew that already. We wouldn’t have made it this far if we couldn’t take the pain.

Hand Me Down on Good Morning Texas!

Good Morning Texas

So, Hand Me Down made her TV debut last week on Good Morning Texas. Sometimes I’m still so in awe that I even HAVE a book out there, you know? This was one of those moments. I was so proud seeing her up there with those other books, in a real live TV studio, with the book-savvy Gwen Reyes of Fresh Fiction talking about how great she is. “Perfect for fans of Jodi Picoult,” she said. Why, thank you.

I was happy it was my book up there representing us on our first TV appearance, looking all cool, calm, and collected, instead of me, who would have been sweaty and nervous. My book baby is still so pretty. I suppose all new mothers think that, right? She’s almost six months old. Can you believe it?

Anyway, check out this segment of Buy the Book on Good Morning Texas. Hand Me Down gets mentioned around minute 2:47, but the other books sound interesting, too. I’ve added several of them to my TBR list.

Hand Me Down Will Be on TV Tomorrow!

Hand Me Down is going to make her TV debut tomorrow morning on Good Morning Texas! Hand Me Down was chosen by Gwen Reyes as part of Fresh Fiction’s Buy the Book segment, and will be highlighted with several other books on television! TV!  I’m so glad my beautiful, composed book will be my first TV appearance and I don’t have to stress about how I look and sound and come across, or what might come out of my mouth, or the million other ways I could embarrass myself. My book, she’s a pro, and always looks classy. I’m not even nervous!

Fresh Fiction

In fact, after watching some of the previous segments of Buy the Book, I’m so excited to see what Gwen has to say about Hand Me Down. I’m especially honored because tomorrow’s theme is Heroes: “What is a hero? It can be anything from a sister taking care of her sibling, a single mom struggling to raise a family, to a uniformed officer. Today we’re exploring heroes in fiction with something for everyone.”

You notice that “sister taking care of her sibling” line? Yeah, that’s a reference to my book.

If you’re in Texas, tune in tomorrow morning at 9 am central, WFAA channel 8. Those of us not in Texas will have to wait until the show’s producers upload the video to their website. I will post when it’s live. I hope you’ll come back and join me in celebrating my baby’s first TV appearance.

Cross your fingers there are more to come.

Hand Me Down is Five Months Old, and/or, Win a Free Audiobook!

Hand Me Down has been out in the world for five months now. Can you believe it? I can’t. What an adventure releasing this book has been. I hope to share more of the experience with you now that my travels are (almost) over, and I will be posting photos from my readings and outings in some of the places we visited: Portland (waterfalls! greenery! books!), Seattle (Space Needle from our balcony!), LA (oh, the palm trees and warm air), Santa Barbara (beach path+dolphins+perfect weather), and more. It’s been a busy five months!

I do have one more event, on October 12 at the College of Southern Maryland, with my friend and fellow UCD alum Melinda Moustakis. It will be my only east coast stop on the hardcover tour so if you’re anywhere near DC, I would love to see you! I haven’t been to the east coast in more than fifteen years, and it would be wonderful to have a warm welcome back. Come say hi!

In celebration of Hand Me Down‘s five month birthday, I am doing a giveaway! My first-ever giveaway, of the complete audiobook, narrated by Ali Ahn, who has also narrated books by Sarah Dessen and Gary Shteyngart.

I know that back-to-school means moms are in the car driving kids to and from school, and teachers are commuting to their classes again, and that also means it’s time for books on tape, or, er, books on iPods! So I thought the audio version of Hand Me Down would be an appropriate prize for a lucky someone. Of course, if you don’t want to wait, you can get the audiobook free with a thirty day free trial membership to, a database that would be great for those of you who love to listen to your literature.

Hand Me Down

To enter to win a CD set of the audio version of Hand Me Down in my giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post. You can say anything you want, but I’d love to hear about a book you enjoyed recently. Word of mouth is really the best advertising any book can get, so if a piece of writing really speaks to you, tell you friends, write reviews, and spread the word!

If you want an extra entry, you can like me, or, at least pretend to, though my insecure childhood self is crying and asking why you don’t like her for real, but she’ll get over it. The point is, if you like my Facebook page, just tell me in your comment below and I’ll give you two virtual raffle tickets. Easy as that. If you have already liked my Facebook page—which is very much appreciated, thank you, lovely person—then tell me that below, too. Shares and tweets of this giveaway get another entry, and new Twitter followers, too (@mthorneauthor). Just let me know what you’ve done and I’ll put all your tickets in the hat. I’ll do a random drawing after all the comments come in, and the winner will receive a pretty boxed set of audiobook goodness. Deadline for entering your comment is 11:59 pm next Friday, September 21st.

If you’re still not sure you want to read Hand Me Down, you can read an excerpt, or read reviews, including my most recent review in which Wren Doloro gave the book 4/5 stars, and said of the audio version, “Excellent narration for the book on tape. Definitely a nice car ride read—it got me to stick around in the car when I arrived home. That’s a great sign. The different character voices were well done.”

So, happy birthday to my little book baby, happy back to school to all the real-life babies who are entering a new year, and happy fall reading whether your book is on tape or not.