My Favorite Reads of 2022

With the year very nearly over, I wanted to go back and look through the books I read for the first time this year and say a little bit about my top five. I am not the most discerning reader, and it’s rare for me to not finish a book once I’ve made it through a few chapters – if I bounce off something, I do it within a handful of pages. But I also tend to just grab whatever looks interesting on a given day from my library or from whatever subscription service I’m currently using.

Now, 2022 for me was a big year for audiobooks. I could do the math, but I’m just going to guess that probably about 2/3 of my reading this year was audiobooks. While this has been great for allowing me to engage in two hobbies at a time, I have noticed there’s a decided difference in how focused I am when listening versus when I’m reading on page. Generally speaking, this means that a decent audiobook with a competent narrator escapes some of the criticism I might give a book if I had read it visually.

Fantasticland – Mike Bockoven

Audibook, listened to March 2022

Fantasticland is a story told via interviews, which makes it a great candidate for an audio experience. Although the cover defines it as a thriller, this story definitely descends into outright horror, as we learn piecemeal about what happened with a group of teenagers and young adults after they are cut off from society in the wake of a major storm.

The pacing was fantastic, and although the speed at which this group descended into anarchy and violent behavior might seem a little too fast to be believable, I didn’t care. I had to know what was going to happen next. Even a somewhat unsatisfying ending wasn’t enough to detract from my enjoyment of the story.

The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides

Audiobook, listened to March 2022

The Silent Patient was full of twists and turns, and I’ve always been a sucker for post-crime fiction that takes place mostly inside the walls of psychiatric facilities.

I’ve been reading mysteries for way too many years now to expect to be surprised by the ending, and I don’t recall being particularly shocked by this one. I do remember thinking that it was cleverly written, with all the information a reader needs available to them, but presented in such a way that it didn’t feel like this was the inevitable conclusion.

Readers seemed to be fairly divided on this one – folks who loved it did so absolutely, and the ones who didn’t had equally strong feelings. It isn’t a story that will work for everyone, but it definitely worked for me.

A History of Wild Places – Shea Ernshaw

Audiobook, listened to May 2022

I’m going to be completely honest here, this story has plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through. It’s a story that should have annoyed me, because the denouement did such a disservice to everything that came before.

Unsatisfying ending aside, the story was beautifully written, evocative, and I got completely lost in the world of Pastoral, and especially the main character of Bee, a blind woman with some special gifts.

Skip this one if you cannot forgive a weak ending, but it’s worth a read if you’re about a journey to a world that manages to be both magical and horrific.

Stranded – Sarah Goodwin

ebook, read November 2022

I will read any story that involves characters who are virtual strangers being forced together into unusual circumstances, especially if someone or something is keeping them cut off from the outside world. Stranded sets this up with a reality show about the difficulty of living completely off the grid for an entire year. Obviously, things go awfully, horribly wrong.

Told from the prospective of Maddy, a character whose history has led to a difficulty relating to other people, some readers will be turned off by the less-than-completely-sympathetic main character. However, I found that her social awkwardness made her the closest thing we’d get to a reliable narrator, and I couldn’t put the book down until it was finished.

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

ebook, read November 2022

This is a dark mystery, full of trauma, cruelty, broken relationships, and broken people. It starts with a suicide of an ex-convict, and systematically dismantles the fragile peace of a bookstore clerk who has her own tragic past.

While I did – mostly – guess the ending before I arrived there, the story was told in such a way that even knowing how it had all come to happen didn’t detract from the power of seeing precisely how everything was tied together. Most of the characters in this were so intrinsically connected, you could forgive the one major point of coincidence that makes the story work.

Going All In on Audiobooks

For the majority of my life, I probably would have said reading was my primary hobby. There have been a few notable gaps – sometimes just a handful of months, once or twice a couple years – where I read very little, but for the most part, I’ve been a devourer of all sorts of books. Moving my library to digital a dozen or so years ago was a weird adjustment, but in the end, worth it for the amount of physical space it filled up – I tended to collect books I’d maybe like to read someday, and it had gotten out of control.

However, I never gave a lot of thought to audiobooks. Sure, when I was making frequent long road trips, I had a few dozen on well-worn cassettes I’d revisit on a regular basis, but for the most part, they didn’t hold a lot of interest for me. I’m a fast reader – I can finish a book in about half the time it’d take for it to be read to me, so I never saw the appeal of listening when I could just read instead.

Other than a brief flirtation with audiobooks when Kindle Unlimited started offering them as part of the subscription price, I hadn’t thought much about audiobooks in years. Then two things happened around the same time during the summer of 2020. Firstly, my husband expressed an interest in picking up a few audiobooks to listen to while painting, and The Sandman adaptation released as an Audible exclusive.

So we got an Audible subscription. If I’m going to be frank, it hasn’t been a great value for us – I find the “perk” of the plus catalog rather limited as far as titles that interest me, and he’s been off of listening to books for awhile now. Sure, we have a credit to spend every month, but – at least for me – I tend to read things and never give them a second thought, so credits tend to build up in our account for months at a time because I don’t want to commit to owning anything. Last spring, I paused my subscription for several months since we weren’t really using it, which was a great feature. However, Audible only allows you to pause for up to three months once a year, and cancelling your account means losing your accumulated credits. This makes the whole subscription a poor fit for the way I prefer to use it.

This year, I decided that I either needed to figure out how to spend all my credits and get out, or really commit to getting value out of my subscription. It’s been several months since I was spending a lot of time with books, so the combination of those two factors made it seem like a good time to really try this out. To top it off, I’m committed to a lot of cross-stitching projects over the year, so I figured it was a good match.

The good news is, I’m really taking to audiobooks as a companion to crafting, but I still wasn’t loving Audible. I thought I’d poke around a bit and see what other offerings were out there, and I stumbled across Scribd. Unlike Audible, you can’t purchase audiobooks via Scribd – it’s a rental only service – but it includes ebooks as well as audio. It’s priced the same as Kindle Unlimited ($9.99 a month), and I’ve been absolutely delighted with the selection of available titles in both categories.

I’m currently taking advantage of a two month trial, but I’m already fairly certain that I’m going to cancel both of Amazon’s offerings in favor of Scribd. I’m not using my Kindle Unlimited anyway – I read a couple books towards the end of fall, but nothing previous to that in over a year, and I’ve been dissatisfied but feeling trapped by Audible for several months now. I’m sure I’ll have saved enough in $15 a month subscription fees just to purchase the third volume of The Sandman when it releases at full price.

I’ve found Scribd to be a far better source for both big name authors, and the fun popcorn fiction I gravitate towards, and I foresee an awful lot of evenings spent stitching while listening to a book.

Relatedly – I feel vaguely guilty counting audio novellas towards my “books read” count for my GoodReads challenge this year, and I’m not sure why. In the past, I’ve had no qualms about adding short books, or even graphic novels to my count, but I’m finding myself feeling conflicted about novellas and where they fit into the concept of “books read”.

So Many Subscriptions!

Our household is currently prioritizing getting our entertainment / discretionary spending under control, and – at least for me – a big part of that is figuring out where the money is going. Sure, I could have just made a spreadsheet, or gone super old school and written things down in a pocket sized notebook, but I decided to grab an app for that.

Spending Tracker is a pretty bare-bones budgeting app, but it had exactly the features I was looking for. I did pony up the $3 to unlock all of the paid features (which is not a subscription, but just a one time charge). At the beginning of the month, it resets my budget, carrying over any excess from the previous month, and then, whenever I spend money in the categories we’ve decided are part of discretionary spending, I log it.

I was a little thrown off, however, by how much of my monthly budget is tied up in subscription fees! We are excluding from our personal budgets services we both use, so this doesn’t even include our TV streaming services, our Audible account, or our Spotify family plan.

Currently in my monthly expenses I have subscriptions to World of Warcraft, XBox Game Pass, Humble Choice and GooglePlay Pass under gaming, as well as Kindle Unlimited under books. While I’m glad to mostly not be acquiring more stuff, I still feel like I’m not utilizing most of these well relative to their costs. While I realize we’ve been lucky to have had continued financial stability through the past couple years, but as a result, I’ve been throwing money at anything that looked like we might be able to squeeze a little distraction or joy out of it.

Over the next few months, I’m going to be taking a closer look of how much value I’m getting from each of these services. Although I have more free time than most, this is still probably quite a bit more media than any one person needs to have access to at any given time, especially when you factor in the media services we share. I can only read so many books, play so many games, and watch so much television in any given month.

Do you have any subscription services you can’t live without, or are you still paying subscriptions for things you honestly aren’t getting that much value from? Or are you the type of person who just wants to purchase all your media? Tell me about it in the comments.

Taking a Nostalgia Trip with The PikeCast

Full disclosure: I never got into podcasts. Although I have a weakness for old radio plays, talk radio never appealed to me. However, when information about The PikeCast came across my Twitter timeline a month or so ago, I was 13 again.

As best I can recall, I did most of my reading of Christopher Pike’s books in junior high school, and they really were the start of my passion for all things horror. Sometime in high school, I decided I had outgrown them, and sold them all to my local used bookstore, using the credits to buy more grown-up novels.

Then, sometime in my 20s, I had the urge to reread some of his work, but unfortunately, the heyday of Pike was already pretty much past. I was only able to track down one of my old favorites – See You Later – but I picked up a few that had come out after I had stopped reading, including The Midnight Club and his more adult-focused novel, Sati. I toyed with idea of rebuilding my collection, but I never really pursued it.

Now, I’m in my 40s, and I’m scrounging around in online used bookstores for thirty year old YA horror novels in the middle of a pandemic, and well, if that isn’t peak 2020, I don’t know what is.

Everything past this point is going to contain oodles of spoilers, both for the first two episodes of The PikeCast, and for the books discussed therein (Die Softly and Whisper of Death). If you’d like to avoid spoilers, stop reading here.

The PikeCast Episode 1: Die Softly

In a way, I’m kind of glad that The PikeCast didn’t start at the beginning with Slumber Party, because if they had, I might not have felt like I had to read the book before listening. I have at least vague memories of every book he published prior to 1990, but my recall gets really spotty from there. Die Softly was published in 1991, and I’m fairly certain it’s not a book I had read before.

I don’t remember Christopher Pike books being so blatant with the morals, but I also admit I read a whole lot differently now than I did at 13. Die Softly makes sure you know that cocaine is bad, and that it can turn you into a heartless, violent monster. Several minor characters suffer this fate, although the main antagonist was a complete psychopath before she got involved with drugs.

For the most part, I found myself nodding along as I listened to The PikeCast, but I also felt like there wasn’t a whole lot in this one that was overly open to interpretation. Although I wasn’t overly enthused about the book itself – the protagonist was pretty unlikable so I struggled to get too invested – I felt like this was a really great choice to introduce listeners to the structure of the podcast and the level of detailed analysis of character, plot, and writing each episode will feature.

The PikeCast Episode 2: Whisper of Death

And then there was Whisper of Death. Now, I thought Die Softly was a little heavy-handed on the message, but it was nothing compared to this one. On the one hand, I found it really interesting that a YA horror novel from the nineties would be so upfront in talking about abortion. On the other, this book was nearly incoherent outside of the framing device if you tried to take it at face value.

Which is why I was so surprised that the folks from The PikeCast were so sure that (a) this wasn’t meant to be a blatantly anti-abortion book and (b) the mid-section of the book actually happened, as opposed to being an anesthesia-fueled nightmare in which the protagonist’s feelings of guilt and shame were personified by a recently deceased student with horrifying powers (who, by the way, was never even mentioned before things got weird). Read that way, it does become a bit of a morality play, but for me, no other reading makes any sense at all.

Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of potent imagery in the maybe-supernatural, maybe-dreamworld portion of the book, and I suspect that is also what would have stuck with me had I read it for the first time in my early teens. But I was also very surprised that none of the folks taking a deep dive into the book in the podcast even seemed willing to entertain the interpretation that felt so obvious to me. I think, perhaps, if this had been the first episode, it might have turned me off from the podcast entirely.

That said, I totally understand how overwhleming nostalgia and memory can be, and I’m still really excited about this project. In fact, I signed up to their Patreon today. I may not have agreed with much of what they said regarding Whisper of Death, but that hasn’t dissuaded me from wanting to revisit these books, and then listen in on folks who are as passionate about them as I once was.

I’m looking forward to doing my first Christopher Pike re-read (The Midnight Club) and then listening to the deep dive by The PikeCast. I am still not sure I’m 100% get the allure of podcasts in general, but this one is so completely up my alley, I expect I’m in it for the long haul. I’m especially looking forward to the episodes that talk about the first dozen or so books, because that’s where my nostalgia lies.

October Reading – Haunted House Stories

In this house, we don’t just celebrate Halloween, we pretty much celebrate Hallotober. Usually, that mainly takes the form of watching a lot – and I do mean a lot – of horror movies. This year, I feel like it’s been slightly slimmer pickings to stream, and since we’ve also been dealing with a bit of a cold snap, I’ve been indulging in a bit of warm-in-bed reading.

Somewhere, in the boxes we have yet to unpack after moving several years ago, I have an old, beaten-to-hell copy of Peter Straub’s Ghost Story – a book I would absolutely list near the top of an all time favorites list. It’s usually the first book I think of when I’m craving a good old-fashioned haunted tale. But this year, instead of falling into the trap of forever re-reading, I decided to avail myself of some of Kindle Unlimited’s haunted house selections.

I am absolutely giddy at how much the face of publishing has changed, and I love that it’s easier than ever for an aspiring author to get their work into the hands of readers. However – as with all good things – there’s a cost, and that cost comes here in a crazy influx of poor editing and not-so-great stories. Craven Manor by Darcy Coates was neither of those things, and I devoured it in a single sitting.

While Craven Manor doesn’t tip the traditional haunted mansion trope on its head, it definitely makes it wobble a little bit. What it lacks in creepy, it makes up for in a protagonist you can’t help rooting for. I’ll definitely be reading more of Darcy Coates’s books in the future.

While browsing through some other available ghost stories, I came across a 14 book series by a handful of different authors. I figured I’d go through and read them in order, although it doesn’t seem to be necessary as their only connection is that they’re all about haunted houses.

The Haunting of Bechdel Mansion was a solid enough story, but would have greatly benefited from at least one more pass by an editor before publication. Because of this, it doesn’t make the best impression as a first in a series, but that didn’t deter me from moving on to the second book!

I totally get why some folks struggle to move on from authors that they are already familiar with, but – despite the fact that I can sometimes go months without picking up a book – I really believe that Kindle Unlimited is a great value just because it allows readers to try things outside of their comfort zones risk-free. Maybe that seems like a bit of a hot take from someone who struggled against the concept of giving up paper books for an e-reader several years ago, but I really am delighted by the current accessibility of books in general – both for readers and authors.

Happy Hallotober, y’all, and may all your reads be spooky!

Getting Lost in Urban Fantasy

I used to be an insatiable reader. According to my GoodReads profile, I read 183 books in 2007 (the first year I tracked my read books online). In the dozen years since then, I slowed way down, although I do occasionally still indulge in periods of binge-reading.

With the fantastic integration of GoodReads and my Kindle, I decided to set myself a moderate reading challenge of 30 books this year, and surprisingly, I’m a little over halfway through.

My to-be-read list is at least as long as my to-be-played list, and I don’t fuss overly much about either one; whatever appeals at the time is what I indulge in. For the past few months, I’ve mostly been drawn to urban fantasy.

Urban Fantasy, as defined on

Fantasy (and all its many sub-genres) isn’t really my jam. I dragged myself through four and half books of the Game of Thrones series before deciding I’d really just rather watch the show. I am risking any nerd cred I might have by confessing that I find J.R.R. Tolkien fabulously dull.

A few years ago, my husband introduced me to Simon R. Green, and by extension, John Taylor, Suzie Shooter, and all the other denizens of the Nightside. I devoured all the main books in the series, and promptly went back to my murder mysteries, historical fiction, and thrillers.

Recently, however, I decided to spoil myself and get a Kindle Unlimited subscription. It’s an inexpensive little luxury that I can put on hold as financial constraints demand, but it also allows me to try out a bunch of new-to-me books and authors without risk – if I don’t love something, I just return it.

(Ok, for all of you saying “That’s what LIBRARIES are for!” – I agree with you in principle. I love the idea of libraries. I’m glad they’re still a thing that exists. They’re fantastic resources. I also know that I will rack up insane late fees and stubbornly NOT read my books because of the firm return deadline, so it doesn’t really work for me.)

Through Kindle Unlimited, I discovered E. A. Copen and her delightful Lazarus Codex. I’ll be frank; my expectations weren’t high, but the books were, at least for me, a perfect combination of horror and comedy. From the first book to the last, I found myself reading every time I had a spare moment (and sometimes when I didn’t).

As a former aspiring author, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about all the ways that tech and accessibility has changed the face of publishing, but I also realize how much I’m reaping the benefits of those changes. I love having so much fiction available to me at the touch of a “Download Now!” button.

Now I’m hunting for the next great little-known urban fantasy series – I have no intention of waiting years before finding another modern magical world to lose myself in.