At the risk of stating the obvious, these books were not necessarily published in 2012. I have linked to relevant blog posts where appropriate.
Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín
Toibin tells this emigration story with empathy but without bitterness or sentimentality, which makes you wonder if he’s really Irish at all.
Life-Mask, Emma Donoghue.
Women in love in the 1790s. Also politics, though occasionally Donoghue gets too cute with parallels to the 2000s (“weapons of mass destruction”?).
Spies, Michael Frayn.
Boys being boys in WWII England, i.e., boys being hilariously obtuse and then frighteningly obtuse.
11-22-63, Stephen King.
Horns, Joe Hill.
Hill, who is King’s son, has inherited some of the storytelling chops, but is funnier. King’s book will probably be most engaging for those who give a shit about the KKennedy assassination, but it’s a gripper either way, and King resists his unfortunate tendency to descend into bathetic cosmologizing. Or at least he keeps it from swamping the human story.
Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault.
Alexander the Great, up close and personal. The Rolls Royce of historical novels.
Moll Flanders, Daniel Defoe.
Answers the question “Exactly how much will it cost to have your illegitimate baby delivered in 1600s London?” Among many others.