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.
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.
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.