Saturday, December 3, 2022

Best Books of 2022

 

Okay, this was a weird year. A lot more re-reading -- some Phyllis A. Whitney, lots of Jen Lancaster, Susan Isaacs, some of the late great Barbara Ehrenreich. And, let's face it, I spent a lot of time in the past. The 1980s, in particular, which is why the Snyder hashtag above, #nostalgiaisdeadly, resonated.  I do feel like the arc bending towards justice gets a little longer every year, but that doesn't stop me reveling in some cultural nostalgia. And note that I am also including a bit more YA this go-round, since I am not reading for any awards requiring confidentiality....

All About the 1980s

Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction (2018)

Gabrielle Moss



Not unlike Grady Hendrix's Paperbacks from Hell on last year's list, this gorgeous volume collects some extraordinary cover art from a range of what-would-become YA books from past decades. A loving tribute to the books that made us.


Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall (2022)

Alexandra Lange



This book is one of the best things I've read about American sociology, consumerism, and change over time. While not strictly about the '80s, that decade factors heavily.


Red, White, and Whole (2021)

Rajani LaRocca



It's 1983, Reha's mother is sick, and this novel in verse explores her experiences, caught between cultures and working through those heady middle school friendships.


I Must Betray You (2022)

Ruta Sepetys



Sepetys explores Ceausescu's Romania, where the VCR is upending totalitarianism and young people are negotiating freedoms. Watch Chuck Norris Versus Communism afterwards.


Party Girls Die in Pearls (2017)

Plum Sykes



From the detailed descriptions of the '80s wardrobe to the silly in-group slang, I thoroughly adored this blast from the past wrapped around a mystery.

YA, YA (okay, and some MG)


Himawari House (2021)

Harmony Becker



This really well-executed graphic novel features a trio of teenagers finding their way in the world and exploring aspects of Japanese culture, with re-discovery of their own identities thrown into relief.


In the Wild Light (2021)

Jeff Zentner



Jeff Zentner has his finger on the pulse of the realities of the contemporary American South, even when you put those Southern kids in a Connecticut boarding school.


The City Beautiful (2021)

Aden Polydoros



This incredibly dark YA novel will take you into the White City that was the Chicago World's Fair, with precise period details and an entirely new sensibility. Fans of Daniel Kraus will love it.


Malinda Lo

















I was in the middle of this one when it swept the ALA Youth Media awards in January. Historical, queer, romantic, complicated Asian identities, this book has so much going on and it still manages to be a page-turner. 


The Tryout (2022)

Christina Soontornvat




A graphic novel about middle school with all the friendship drama and feels for your rabid Raina readers. I am already antsy for the sequel, which will be called The Squad…


African Town (2022)

Charles Waters and Irene Latham



An achievement of a novel in verse, told from alternating points of view, about the close-knit community founded by the last group of enslaved people brought to the United States. Carefully researched and masterfully executed, but funny and joyous, too.


A Sitting in St. James (2021)

Rita Williams-Garcia



A complicated family, a brutal place and time, and all sorts of personal agendas and generational vendettas make this novel absolutely Faulknerian. I dare most readers to even notice it is marketed as young adult.


Thrillers, Mysteries, a Little Romance


Apples Never Fall (2021)

Liane Moriarity



Back to vintage Moriarity, with characters who are so dimensional and stories that criss-cross in shocking moments of revelation. Here, four children attempt to figure out what has happened to their mother and what the young stranger who stayed in their home might have had to do with it. No one gets it right.


The Spies of Shilling Lane (2019)

Jennifer Ryan



A young woman disappears while doing espionage work during the Second World War. Her headstrong mother heads to London to find her, and finds a sweet happily-ever-after of her own in the process. Jennifer Ryan has a great body of work set in this era, but this was my favorite.

The It Girl (2022)

Ruth Ware




Again, as with the Sykes, back to Oxford, only a decade ago but somehow more distant because of all the inherent institutional anachronisms. A cast of characters that will remind you of people you knew in college.


Meet Me in London (2021)

Georgia Toffolo



I am not British, so I refuse to be thwarted by Toff's Tory leanings. This is the first in a series of four delightful linked romances, about a creative and an entrepreneur, and it's perfect for the holidays and for those who have not been abroad in too long.



The Last Party (2022)

Clare Mackintosh





A fun procedural set in a border community where locals are dealing with an influx of weekenders at a new resort. Lots of interesting characters and a wonderful ending that leaves you wondering just who really "did it."


The Heights (2022)

Louise Candlish



The observation of someone who shouldn't be there, from a distance, spiraling into obsession, is the perfect pandemic-era thriller, at once claustrophobic and voyeuristic. 


The Maid (2022)

Nita Prose



The voice of a neurodivergent main character is so different, and the twists so very clever, it definitely made me think a thought or two. And can I mention how fun it is to read a book set in Canada?


The Rock Star in Seat 3A (2012)

Jill Kargman



After a re-watch of the whole of Odd Mom Out, I ripped through all Jill Kargman's books this year, because I am convinced we would be best friends in another universe. This was particularly fun and sexy, and full of the trademark Kargman side-eye.

Thirteen more years of best books:


Best Books of 2021

Best Books of 2020



Books are such a gift, my boon companion, and I love this time of the year because I find so many wonderful things to read in these year-end lists. Here's to lots more great books in 2023!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Best Books of 2021

Next year, I don't think I'll be reading for any awards, so I can say WAY more about literature for young people, but this year I am still in awe of the YA novel Gravity (2020) by Sarah Deming. It was a book I heard about at ALAN back when that was a face-to-face thing, but never actually ran across until later, but it was a stunner.









Actually, most of the protagonists I have been reading about in 2021 have been older...

Over That Hill

















I was surprised to find Caroline B. Cooney had some new books out with some very grown-up themes but all her predictable twists and turns. I highly recommend Before She was Helen (2020) by Caroline B. Cooney and The Grandmother Plot (2021) by Caroline B. Cooney was a treat as well.



















If you want to push your spunky old ladies a bit further afield, I recommend the always-underestimated Maude who appeared first in An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good (2018) by Helene Tursten and reappears in An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed (2021) by Helene Tursten -- so good that I preordered. Life changing! 









If you are of an anxious bent, The Ditch (2019) by Herman Koch will hit you right in the suspicions. Bonus: great Amsterdam scene-setting. Oh, to travel again!

Thrillers










While it skewed a bit pedestrian,  The Party Upstairs (2021) by Lee Connell has stuck with me all year -- I keep thinking about other people's right to trash coming before my own. Applicable in this pandemic and this economy for sure.










Set in a very James M. Cain-esque midcentury America, More Better Deals (2021) by Joe R. Lansdale is remarkable is scene-setting, brutality, and character development.

















As in 2019, I am still all about Louise Candlish -- see The Heights coming out in 2022 -- but I have never seen set-ups quite like The Double Life of Anna Day (2006) by Louise Candlish (totally wild self-recreation in the shadow of the Alhambra) and the bystander-savior falling in love with the possibly homicidal teen mom in The Day You Saved My Life (2013) by Louise Candlish.









Want to know how booksellers make Amazon work for them? Some Books Aren't for Reading (2019) by Howard Marc Chesley gives you some insight, and a little intrigue.


Memoirs









Hungry: A Memoir of Wanting More (2020) by Grace Dent. Dent is one of my absolute favorite writers, and this is about the midlife crunch as much as it is about food and ambition.











Crying in H Mart: A Memoir (2021) by Michelle Zauner. I don't know the band, and don't even really like Korean food, but the author's complicated relationship with her mother is relatable and will make you cry. 









The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir (2011) by Sherry Turkle. Turkle herself is an interesting as her theories, especially when she writes about MIT and Seymour Papert.


Nonfiction









We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and A Half-Century of Silence (2020) by Becky Cooper More academia, and more stories not ending the way you wanted them to.










For real life and its ghosts, writing doesn't get more vibrant than The Lost Pianos of Siberia (2021) by Sophy Roberts, which weaves music and mystery and geography in a fascinating way.












Again, Hallie Rubenhold manages to address all of this hidden, female history and I especially enjoyed the broadsheet coverage of the trial she includes in The Lady in Red : an Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce (2008) by Hallie Rubenhold.









Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted Story of '80s and '80s Horror Fiction (2017) by Grady Hendrix made me want to reach down into the backlist. Frankly. I am looking forward to spending a lot of this holiday break reading some solid old stuff -- I have dipped into Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart, and Dorothy Sayers all recently. Book history for real....


Twelve more years of best books:

Best Books of 2020


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Best Books of 2020

This was a year like no other, and I think my reading reflects that. I spent a lot of time listening to Simon Vance and Hugh Fraser reading, and Victorian true crime pulled me out of the pandemic doldrums temporarily.

Pre-covid Realism


So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter (2020) 
No one quite gets the difficulties of contemporary womanhood like O'Porter. This one has some wonderful commentary on beauty standards and relative happiness.


The Switch by Beth O’Leary (2020) 
I bought Everett's debut The Flatshare in February for one of those Buy 2, Get 1s at the Heathrow W.H. Smith (oh, back when we could travel!), but it was this up-ending of millennial and geriatric life where she really hit her stride.

Oh So Mysterious


The Move by Felicity Everett (2020) 
Your husband buys and decorates a lovely remote cottage for you as a form of apology for his indiscretions. But is their rekindled romance and rural idyll as perfect as it seems?


The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020) 
Foley follows up The Hunting Party with another multi-viewpoint mystery circumscribed by geographical isolation. The remote venue for a wedding party is populated with more enemies than friends.


Shiner by Amy Jo Burns (2020) 
The sophisticated structure of this novel, set among fundamentalists in remote Appalachia, delves itno the life-long friendship and secrets of two women.


A Burnable Book by Bruce Holisinger (2014)
The poet John Gower, bereaved and blind, investigates the murder of a young woman thought to be a spy in Chaucer's London. Wonderful period details, just enough arcane language, and political machinations in a world that overlaps our own more than we might have thought, followed up with The Invention of Fire


The Trouble Makers by Celia Fremlin (1975) 
Fremlin's slice-of-post-war-life about neighborhood gossip is just one of her fabulous novels with a soup├žon of suspense and dash of class-consciousness. 


Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White (1942) 
White wrote The Lady Vanishes, but this novella is wonderfully social and claustrophobic. She is especially good at ambiguity. 

Stranger than Fiction

The Ripper story is one you think you know, but Rubenhold asserts that the "canonical victims" might not be prostitutes. This delves into each of these women's backstories, showcasing the range of female experience, dependence upon men for support and the range of social services available for the unhoused and destitute. 


An Alabama woman marries an Englishman, and her beauty secrets could be blamed for the arsenical poisoning of her older, hypochondriac husband. Lots about crime and punishment in Victorian England, and the dialogue between cotton production state-side and the weaving trades of the Midlands. 


I had long been a fan of Dr. Whitcher, but this is great exploration of the social shifts which led to more modern divorce laws in the U.K. and female desire. I really cannot wait for The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story.


Scholarship is pushing me towards an interest in the long eighteenth century, and this is a fascinating social history, literacy in particular, with all sorts of nuances I never knew.


Early on, I read this historical account, offering near-perfect contextualization for our current crisis. Includes so many parallels with the current viral spread, with its conclusion offering a glimmer or two of something like hope.


Mr. X and Mr. Y by Donald Brown (2016)
True crime, self-published by newspaperman who covered this East Alabama case as a cub reporter in 1959. It is a fascinating story of a young farm woman pushed to the brink.



We don't hear enough about life in sheltered housing, and this fascinating account of like in a Dutch old-people's home is terrifically funny. There is a sequel, On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old

SO MUCH nonfiction. SO MANY mysteries. SO MUCH time to read. I am counting my blessings!