We find ourselves now at the end of 2022. It’s time to reflect on the year we’ve just survived. To celebrate the wins, to mourn the losses. And, of course, to consider the best of the year.
Today I’m sharing my top ten favorite books of 2022. These are books that I read for the first time in 2022. I didn’t restrict any genres, this is just purely the ones I enjoyed the most. You’ll find fiction, nonfiction, and speculative fiction. What you won’t find, in my opinion, is a boring book.
10. Savage Bounty by Matt Wallace
The follow-up to Savage Legion, this book was a worthy part two. Normally the second book in a trilogy is kind of meh. Needed for the series as a whole, but rather boring. Not so with this. (Part three is coming out in June, by the way.)
9. Manson by Jeff Gunn
This book was an absolute unit. It was also the most in-depth and detailed depiction of Manson’s life that I have ever read. Not what I’d call comforting reading, but incredibly educational.
8. How to be a Christian Witch by Valerie Love
Most of you know that I’ve been a practicing witch for several years now. This book was a beautiful explanation of living one’s life as a witch who believes in God and Jesus. And Reverend Love is an incredible person.
7. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This book wasn’t very much like the iconic movie of the same name. But it was still an amazing book about sisterhood and motherhood. It’s about how we as women share our lives.
6. City Magick by Christopher Penczak
Being a city lover who is also a witch is hard. Most of the witchcraft books and media are centered around the woods and nature and having a garden bigger than your house. It’s nice to have books like this that teach magic designed for the city.
5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Yes, I know it’s a children’s book. No, I don’t care. The story of Nobody was delightful, whimsical, and dark. If you haven’t read it, you absolutely should no matter how old you are.
4. City Witchery by Lisa Marie Basile
This is a more modern witchcraft book that is designed for the city witch. It also happens to be by a witchcraft author that has written some amazing books in the past.
3. A Song Flung Up To Heaven by Maya Angelou
All of Maya Angelou’s work is just amazing. This book was about first the death of Dr. King, and then the death of Malcome X. And it was, without a doubt, powerful.
2. This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
This book was on my list for so long, and I finished it in a day. If you haven’t read it yet, make the time to read it now. It was superb.
1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Finally, we have easily the best book I read in 2022. The Haunting of Hill House was creepy and touching. I am so thankful that I was able to experience it.
That is it for my list this year. I can’t wait to get started on a stack of books for 2023. Are there any I should add to my TBR pile? Let me know in the comments.
Every year I find myself engaged in the same hunt. The hunt for a great holiday book that isn’t about two people in Christmas sweaters falling in love in an unlikely situation.
And apparently, a lot of you do, too. Because when I gave you a list of six holiday books last year, over 600 of you read it!
Honestly, I’m so touched. And so I had to get together another collection. Here are five more holiday books that are not romance, that I’ve experienced since last year. I hope you enjoy it.
Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
Christmas with the Kranks was based on this book. As if we needed more proof that books are almost always better.
Luthor, our main character, gets the brilliant idea to skip Christmas and go on a cruise with his wife instead. He doesn’t decorate his house, doesn’t buy gifts, and doesn’t donate to any charities. His neighbors are baffled by this and proceed to make his life miserable.
It’s cute, it’s fun, and it makes me thankful for my own holiday traditions.
The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore
I’m not going to lie, this book wasn’t my cup of peppermint mocha tea. And that was a disappointment. I thought I was going to like this book. The story is about a little boy who sees Santa get brutally murdered. He makes a wish, and the wrong angel hears him. The stupidest angel. An angel stupid enough to bring a zombie into a little coastal town.
The comedy in this book just didn’t grab me. It was a lot of sex jokes and off-color humor. Not that I have any problem with blue comedy when it’s funny. This just wasn’t. But of course, comedy is subjective. If you like a funny tale, maybe give this one a try.
The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine
Some holiday murder mysteries are just regular murder mysteries with a wreath on the door. But this is a cute-as-hell killing spree with Christmas cards left at each murder. Add to that the fact that it’s set in a quaint little British town, and I was hooked. It’s exactly what I want in a Christmas murder mystery. Cute, cozy, and bloody as hell.
The Joy of A Christmas Peanuts
This is a Hallmark gift book, and I do not care at all. It’s a collection of Christmas Peanuts strips, with some cute character information between them. I have purchased this book second-hand three times. And I always love cozying up with it and a good cup of coffee for some quiet holiday fun.
Letters from Father Christmas by JRR Tolkien
This might be my favorite addition this year. In addition to being an astounding writer who birthed the fantasy genre, Tolkien was a great father. He wrote his children letters for Christmas, from ‘Father Christmas’ himself. These letters are warm, fuzzy goodness on a page. And I look forward to reading these over again every year.
What holiday books have you discovered this year? Let us know in the comments.
It’s almost July, which is crazy for two reasons. I can’t believe the year is almost over. I also can’t believe we’re still here as a species.
While this year so far has been a struggle, at least my reading game’s been on point. So let’s take a moment to check out the top ten books I’ve read in 2022, so far. These are done in ascending order, but every single book on here is a must-read as far as I’m concerned.
By Dorothy Roberts
I read this book, and man was I in tears over it. It’s about our current situation as a country with Children Services. In particular, it’s about how Children Services seems to be specifically designed to rip apart families of color and poor families.
It’s not an easy read. But it’s such an important one. Honestly, the only reason it’s number ten on the list is that it’s not what I’d call an enjoyable read. I didn’t have fun reading it. I did kill two highlighters making angry notes in the margins.
By Christopher Penczak
Since the launch of Quiet Apocalypse, I’ve been a bit more open about this specific aspect of myself. And, I think I’ve always been pretty clear that I’m only really happy living in an urban environment. This book was a must-read for me.
It’s a bit outdated, especially the parts about technology. But the vast majority was super useful and incredibly uplifting. If you have even a passing interest in witchcraft and city living, read this book.
(Side note, do you guys want me to talk more about my witchcraft journey? Let me know if you do.)
How to be a Christian Witch
By Valerie Love
The whole concept of being a witch and still loving Jesus might seem weird until you start looking into it. Then it’s the most natural thing in the world and you start to realize that no one is more witchy than an old Catholic grandma. (Don’t say that to her, though, she’ll hit you with her broom.)
Reading this book was like getting a hug and having tea with Valerie. And I adored every moment.
Again, if you have even a passing interest in witchcraft and also happen to be a Christian, consider checking this out.
End of Watch
By Stephen King
This was the final book in the trilogy that started with Mr. Mercedes. And it was, let me tell you, awesome. The epic story of a retired detective and a psycho with a grudge was just spectacular. It was for sure an example of a book being too short, even though it was a brick-sized hardcover.
By Shirley Jackson
I finally got the nerve to read the whole short story collection that contained Jackson’s epic short, The Lottery. And I have to tell you, it was an experience.
If you want to be just soaked in 50’s vibes, while occasionally getting the shit scared out of you, you’ll love every second of this book. I spent most of my time reading this interrupting whatever the darling husband was reading because I just had to share passages with him.
I was expecting a collection of spooky little tales. I got a whole lot more.
By Matt Wallace
Normally trilogies suffer from a book two slump. I sometimes refer to this as a bridge book. You need to read it to get to book three, but it’s not super thrilling.
Wallace managed to avoid that.
This is the sequel to Savage Legion, which made it onto my list last year. It continues the story of a group of people, fighting a battle for the soul of their country. And let me tell you, I loved every page.
Days of Blood and Starlight
By Laini Taylor
This is another book two in a trilogy. And I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a slouch compared to book one.
But only if we’re comparing it to book one.
I’m going to talk more about this series since book one is the next one on the list, so let me just say that this is an epic fantasy set in modern times. And it is such a surprising and lovable journey.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
By Laini Taylor
Book one in the series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of a girl between worlds. Raised by demons, living in the world of men, loved by an angel. She’s a part of a war she doesn’t know anything about. Until she gets pulled in. Then, she’s a real big part of it.
I have yet to pick up a Laini Taylor book that I didn’t dive into. And the saga of Karou is no different.
This is How You Lose the Time War
By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
If you haven’t read this, you need to right now.
It’s the story of two time travelers, each trying to change the timeline for the good of their side. As they go through history, making small and big changes, they start leaving each other notes.
Enemies to lovers are nothing new. But the writing, storytelling, and just overall vibe of this book are.
The notes are teasing, at first. Then they become something more.
The next person who tells me genre fiction can’t be literary, I’m throwing a copy of this book at them.
The Graveyard Book
By Neil Gaiman
If there ever comes a day when I don’t include a Gaiman book either I’ve run out of them or been body-snatched.
The Graveyard Book is technically a children’s book, but you won’t catch me giving a damn. It’s the story of a boy named Bode (short for Nobody) who’s raised by a collection of spirits in a graveyard. As he grows, he discovers that he’s being hunted by a mysterious cabal of men who call themselves Jack.
It was such a good read. And the illustrations were amazing. I loved every second of it.
So that’s it for my list. Will any of these books still be on my end-of-year list? It’s certainly possible. Or maybe my second half of the year will blow everything out of the water. We’ll have to see.
What about you? What are the best books you’ve read so far? Let us know in the comments so we can all share in the reading goodness.
Quiet Apocalypse come out tomorrow! But for now, here’s the prologue and chapter one.
The end of the world started on a dark winter night.
Trees circled the apartment building at 437 Oakmont. They weren’t old trees, nor were they tall. Yet to look at them, one would think them ancient. They were twisted and gnarled. Every gust of wind found them, even when no other tree moved. The cold of winter clung in their branches, no matter the weather. Passersby didn’t like to dawdle along the sidewalk. The trees made them feel unwelcome. Children especially felt this, but of course, children always feel these things most keenly.
But we weren’t talking about children. We’ll come back to them. For now, we’re discussing the trees.
They’d been groaning and moaning for most of their lives. Sometimes you couldn’t hear them unless you were listening carefully. Other times the inhabitants of the apartment had to turn their TVs up to drown the trees out. But on one dark night in February, the sounds were unrelenting. There was a winter storm. The wind was hellacious, cutting through the town like a vengeful spirit. It took out hanging signs for stores on Main Street, brought down the old pine next to the library, and crashed Mr. Wallback’s patio table into his sliding glass window. Ashley Homestead regretted leaving her potted pine tree out for the night. It was thrown against the house from the back porch with such force that the pot shattered.
Leslie Richard’s trampoline, covered over with a tarp for the season, was lifted and thrown into the yard of his next-door neighbor.
The wind rattled windows, pushed its way through cracks in the walls and around doors. Heaters couldn’t keep up with the sharp, blistering cold. The families in the apartment building were kept awake by it, huddled under blankets to keep warm.
The storm built up steam as it headed for Oakmont. It was as though those trees in a circle were its target, and it meant to have them. The storm came to a head at almost four in the morning. One of the trees, exhausted from a night’s battle, couldn’t hold on any longer. It came down, crashing into the roof and jutting sharp, dark branches into the attic apartment.
The wind died away almost at once. Gentle snow replaced it, covering the ice. The next morning this would cause several accidents.
The trees that remained continued to scream, as though mourning their fallen brother.
Sadie sat in the doorway of her ruined apartment. Her eyes were itchy, there were rivets of tears dried to her face. She had cried herself out the night before. Now she only wanted a shower and a good long rest. But, as a tree had crashed through the roof of her apartment, neither of those things could happen.
She knew she ought to be grateful. She’d been in the kitchen with Sage, her creamy colored lab mix when the tree came down. Branches seared through the exterior wall, crashing through her living room and bedroom. One had pierced right through her bed. It was still there, jammed right in the center of the quilt. If Sadie’d been asleep, she wouldn’t have survived. All she’d lost were things. She should be thankful for that.
When she was done mourning her things she would be. Her mother had made her that quilt. The crystals on the altar in her living room were all buried in the rubble. Her whole living room was a loss. What wasn’t destroyed in the crash or buried under the roof was damaged by the snow that had flooded in.
And her books! Her family had given her irreplaceable books. Thank the Green Man Himself that her grandmother’s grimoire was at Aunt Helen’s place. But Sadie had her mother’s grimoire. And now it was destroyed.
She looked at the cardboard box that contained everything she now owned. There was her teapot, gray with a design of cherry blossoms. The cups that matched it had shaken loose from their shelf and shattered.
There was her grimoire, a battered old sketchbook with a red cover. A french press, some herbs. A truly astounding assortment of tea. A handful of crystals and candles had been on her kitchen windowsill. Sage’s food and water bowl. That was all she had.
They were just things. Things that didn’t mean anything aside from everything. Ties to family members lost. Tools for her magical work and her mundane life. Decades of learning were destroyed in no time.
The stairs behind her creaked. She looked back. Her landlord, Frank, was coming up slowly to accommodate his bad knee. He didn’t say anything. They’d known each other too long for that. He just stood beside her in the entryway, looking over the damage.
Sadie thought Frank was the only person who could understand how she felt just then. This apartment was in the attic of a house that Frank’s family built. And now the roof was nothing more than a mess to be carted away and burned.
“I guess it could have been worse, but I’m not sure how,” he said.
“I could have been asleep,” Sadie said. “I’ll have to go stay with my aunt until you guys get this fixed, I guess.”
She said this with a hint of irritation. Helen was a great woman, in small doses. The thought of spending so much time with her was a bit daunting.
“There’s an open apartment on the second floor if you want it. It’s not as big as this one, but I’ll give you a break on the rent.”
He gave her a grin that was something of a comfort. Being a witch, from a long line of witches, she was used to being frowned upon. To being not entirely welcome. But not by Frank’s family.
“That would be really great,” Sadie said.
“Here, I’ll get this box and you can grab the others.” Frank bent down and lifted the lone box.
“Um, there are no others,” Sadie said.
“Oh,” Frank said. “Well, I’ll get this one anyway.”
There was no more reason to stay there, sitting on the landing. She stood, dusted the wood chips from her jeans.
The studio was about the size of Sadie’s living room, but with a stove and fridge wedged into the corner. There was a closet and a bathroom. Two windows overlooked the side of the building, or would if she could see past the snow-covered trees.
Frank sat the box in the middle of the room, leaving Sadie to settle in.
Sage sniffed over every inch of the place, her active nose trailing over every inch of the floor and what of the wall she could reach. Sadie peeked into the bathroom. There was a clawfoot tub, good sized. Some previous tenant had left behind a cache of monopoly pieces under the sink. The Park Place card and the racecar.
Sadie put her tea and teapot away in a cupboard above the stove. Then she set her crystals on one of the windowsills. After that, there was nothing left to do but call her aunt.
“What’s wrong?” Aunt Helen said, as soon as Sadie said hello.
“One of the big trees outside the apartment came down on the roof,” Sadie said. “My place is totaled.”
“I’ll be right over.”
Aunt Helen was soon there in her red truck. She looked as she always had, brown hair brushed and pulled into a braid so as not to be a burden through the day. She wore a thick coat that was probably older than Sadie. Helen took care of her things.
While Sadie and Sage piled into the car, Helen leaned over the wheel to peer at the remains of the tree. “I never thought I’d see that,” she said.
“It was that awful wind storm last night,” Sadie replied. Helen gave Sage a good scratch before pulling out.
“I’m surprised it didn’t do as much damage out at your place. You’ve got all those big oaks in the backyard.”
“Those trees will outlive me,” Helen waved a hand at her niece. “But I don’t even remember hearing the wind last night.”
“Well yeah, but aren’t you taking Ambien?” Sadie asked.
“The kind of storm that brought that tree down? I should have heard it in my grave.”
By the end of the shopping trip, Sadie had a second-hand futon, a blanket, a kitchen table, three mismatched chairs and a small stand to use as a new alter.
Everything fit neatly into the back of Aunt Helen’s truck, along with a large paper bag.
“What’s this?” Sadie asked.
“Oh, I was wondering if you’d take a look at that,” Helen said. She held it out to her. Sadie glanced in the sack and whistled. “Where did this come from?”
It was an ouija board, but not the cheap sort found in toy shops made of cardboard and plastic. It was thick oak, smooth with age and use. The letters were highly stylized in a swirling font and deep black. The planchet was in its own little red velvet bag.
“Don’t touch it with your bare hands. Ruby picked it up from that creepy second-hand store downtown. She’s sure there’s something messy hanging around it. She tried to get rid of it, but you know how Ruby is. Soft hand with her kids, her dog and spirits. I’d take care of it myself but just don’t have the time for the full cleansing ritual.”
“Are you sure it’s not a two-person job?” Sadie asked.
“No, I don’t think it’s anything big. Probably just some spirit hanging onto it. Nothing you can’t handle.”
“I’ll take a swing at it,” she said and set the sack in the back seat.
“You’d better drive the truck back to your place and leave me with your car for the night,” Helen said. “My back’s been acting up all day. I need to lay down.”
“Sure, no problem,” Sadie said. Though this would mean she’d be carting all the furniture inside by herself, it was better than her aunt ending up in the hospital again.
Fortunately, she happened to drop the futon frame in the entryway, directly onto the smallest two toes on her right foot. Her swearing fit brought Rina, the woman who lived on the first floor, out to check on her.
“Oh, what’s this?” she asked. She was a beautiful woman, with creamy brown skin and the longest hair Sadie had ever seen in real life. It was pulled back in a long braid, hanging down so low she’d have to move it to sit down.
“I’m moving into the empty apartment on the second floor while my place is being repaired,” Sadie said.
“Are you trying to move all this stuff up those stairs by yourself?” Rina asked. “You can’t do that. Hold on, I’ll grab Ajay and Eli. We’ll give you a hand.”
“Oh, I don’t want to put anyone out,” Sadie said. But Rina had already ducked back into her apartment and was calling for someone in Indian.
A moment later Rina’s husband, Eli, and brother Ajay came to the door. “Get some new furniture?” Eli asked. Ajay, who only spoke a handful of words in English, just smiled at her. Damn, that smile. His dark hair curled over his face, framing his amber-colored eyes.
“Yeah, pretty much everything I owned was wrecked,” she said, trying to focus on the present. “My aunt took me thrift shopping to get some new stuff.”
Eli turned and spoke rapidly in Indian to Ajay, who nodded. “Okay, we’ve decided. That’s far too much work for one person,” Eli said.
They grabbed the futon frame without waiting for her to agree. Rina picked half of the mattress.
“Thanks,” Sadie said, giving in. She lifted the other side of the mattress and together they got it up the stairs.
It took only three trips to get everything upstairs. Then, as there wasn’t much space to move things around, it took even less time to get everything into place. The futon was set up in the corner. The kitchen table near the stove, with the chairs grouped around it. The end table placed under the window. Sadie looked around the room. It wasn’t great, but it would work. She’d at least have a bed to sleep in. Maybe this wouldn’t be so awful.
Then she heard someone coming up the stairs.
Melody and Andy were home. And they had no idea yet that Sadie would be across the hall.
Melody looked fussy no matter what she was doing. She always had some expensive blouse or sweater. Even in jeans, she looked proper. Perhaps it had something to do with being a librarian. Though she wasn’t like any librarian Sadie had ever known. She wasn’t the friendly sort who liked having kids in the building. She was more the sort to breathe down patron’s necks if they dithered too long.
Maybe that was why her kid was such an insufferable little pain in the ass. Even now, Andy had a sour look on his face at the sight of Sadie. He might have said something nasty to her, but she was the school nurse. He’d been in her office often enough, with scrapes and cuts most other kids would have ignored. Usually, they came about because he’d managed to push another kid into losing their temper with him.
“What are you all doing out here?” Melody asked.
“Helping Sadie move her stuff,” Rina said, rubbing her hands on her jeans. “She’s staying in this apartment while they’re fixing hers.”
“Oh,” Melody muttered. She turned and put her keys in her door. “Here I thought you’d be staying somewhere else.”
Why hadn’t Sadie thought of this? Would staying with Aunt Helen be so bad?
“Frank offered me this place,” Sadie said.
Melody’s cat, Boots, scooted out of the door as soon as it was open. He was a fat old Burmese with a bad temper and a dislike for dogs. Sage, standing in the open doorway of Sadie’s apartment, whined when she saw him. Boots hissed and Sage made for the bathroom.
“Do you think you could keep that monster in your apartment?” Sadie snapped. It was an old fight.
“I thought witches were supposed to like cats,” Melody said. Her son snickered.
Sadie tensed. “I like all animals. What I have a problem with is bullies. And your cat is a bully.”
Melody scoffed and went inside, Andy trailing after her.
“What a fun time we’re going to have,” Sadie muttered.
“Maybe you two will get a chance to mend fences while you’re down here,” Rina chuckled.
Sadie snorted. “Not likely. You guys want to order pizza? My treat.”
Sadie was still driving her aunt’s truck the next day, not having had the energy to return it the night before. She pulled into the faculty parking at the school and just sat there a moment.
Sleep had been hard to find. Part of it had been the new location. The futon was a trial as well. They were great when she’d been a teenager, but her thirty-three-year-old back didn’t approve.
Then there were the tree branches scratching on her window. Had that always been there? She couldn’t remember ever hearing it in the attic apartment. But then, maybe the tree didn’t reach up that far. Maybe she just hadn’t noticed it before one of those trees almost killed her.
A cup of coffee and sigil for energy had gotten her dressed and to the school. She wasn’t sure how much farther they would take her.
She had to go in, though. There wasn’t a substitute school nurse. Sadie took a deep breath and headed inside.
She shared her office with Gene, the principal’s secretary. He grinned at her when she came in. “Well don’t you look happy to be here on this beautiful Monday morning?”
“Be happier if I didn’t almost die over the weekend,” Sadie said. She sat her bag down next to her desk. “A tree came down on the roof of my building, right into my apartment. Right into my bed!”
“Wow, really?” Gene gasped. “Are you okay? What about Sage?”
“Yeah, we were in the kitchen at the time. But everything I own now fits in one little box.”
“My God, that’s terrible. Do you have somewhere to stay?”
“Yeah, Frank had a studio on the second floor he’s letting me use. But it’s right across the hall from you know who. So that’s going to be a fun couple of months until my place can be repaired.”
“I don’t know why you’re still renting in that ancient place to start with. Haven’t you been there since college?”
“Sorry, is working for an elementary school lucrative for you?” Sadie replied. She went to the coffee station in the corner and poured herself a cup. “Ugh, this stuff is the worst.”
“No arguments here,” Gene said, taking a sip out of his mug. “Well, it looks like we won’t have to worry about bad coffee tomorrow. We can all stay home and sleep in.”
“Why?” Sadie said. She walked over to Gene’s desk and looked over his shoulder at the weather report. “Oh, that looks like a nasty storm. We’re going to get hit hard.”
“Looks like it,” Gene grinned. “Here’s hoping it dumps five feet on us.”
Sadie clicked her coffee mug against his in salute.
A child was coming through the open door. Sadie and Gene looked up, surprised. Classes hadn’t even started yet.
It was Andy, clutching an envelope in his hand and crying. “I, I need to see Principal, Principal Conner,” he sobbed.
“Go right in,” Gene said, pointing to the open door. Principal Conner was standing behind her desk, giving Gene a quizzical look. What had the kid done so early in the morning to be sent to the Principal’s office?
Andy went into the office and shut the door behind him. “That kid,” Sadie whispered.
Before she could say anything else, Stephanie Rogers came in. “Ms. North, I’m not feeling good.”
The girl looked green. Sadie grabbed Gene’s wastebasket and shoved it into her hands. Just in time too, as she puked right into it.
Sadie sighed. “Go lay down on the cot. Is mom or dad home today?”
Stephanie had to be cleaned up, then looked after until her dad arrived. Then there was the crowd of kids who had prescription medication they had to take during the day to be checked in. Once Stephanie was packed away in her dad’s car, Sadie finally had a moment to return to her stone-cold coffee.
Gene was watching her, with a look of disgust on his face.
“What did I do?” Sadie asked.
“Nothing,” Gene said. He slipped over to her desk, and said quietly, “You’re not going to believe what Andy was in here for.”
“I’d believe anything of that little delinquent,” Sadie said.
“He called Abigail a bitch,” Gene hissed.
“No,” Sadie replied. Abigail was the second-grade teacher, and probably one of the most patient ladies Sadie had ever known.
“Yes,” Gene said. “They got into an argument over a letter from his dad.”
“He couldn’t have a letter from his dad,” Sadie replied. “Andy’s dad died before he was born. I don’t know if he ever knew Melody was pregnant.”
She thought back to the man in question. He and Melody had moved in around the same time Sadie had. They’d all been college students. Sadie had thought they’d be good friends. But they were distant right from the start. And after Arthur died, Melody’s distance had turned to outright disdain.
“Abigail must know about his dad,” Gene said. “And I’m sure she would have called him out for lying.”
“Yeah, but in the nicest way possible,” Sadie said.
Gene shrugged. “How nice can you be with that? All the kid gloves in the world can’t soften that blow.”
It’s that time again. With just a few weeks left of 2021, it’s time to look back with fondness at the good this year brought to us.
I mean, there’s not a lot of good. This year was another dumpster fire from start to finish. But at least I had lots of good books to read.
So today I want to share with you the top ten best books I’ve read in 2021. Most of them didn’t come out this year, it’s just the year I got around to reading them. And if you haven’t read them yet, 2022 might be the year to do so.
The books are listed from least to best. I’m not going into a lot of detail about any of these books, because either I reviewed them here or on Haunted MTL. Or, I’m going to.
Velvet was the nightby Silvia Moreno-Garcia
I think this is the weakest of her novels so far, and it’s still on my top ten list. That should tell you something about her other books.
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva
I said this last week, but it bears repeating. This is Silva’s first book. I am just blown away.
Mr. Mercedesby Stephen King
This book is clever, dark, and disturbing. So, you know, it’s a King novel. Keep an eye out on Haunted MTL for my review.
Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
Dexter was a mood for me this year.
Ms. Peregrins School for Peculiar Childrenby Ransom Riggs.
This whole series was fantastic.
The Halloween Treeby Ray Bradbury
If you haven’t read this book, go get it right now and read it.
Savage Legion by Matt Wallace
I have the second book in this series sitting on my desk staring at me. I cannot wait to get my hands on it. But, you know, life.
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This was a real treat. I just got lost in it.
Lovecraft Countryby Matt Ruff
I read this during a vacation in Spring. It was delightful.
The Ocean at The End of The Laneby Neil Gaiman
Gaiman has the amazing ability to write fairy tales for adults that scare the hell out of me and make me feel like a little kid again at the same time.
So that was it for my list this year. Now I want to hear from you. What was the best book you read in 2021? What are you most excited to read in 2022? Let us know in the comments below.
One good thing can be said of 2020. I read a lot of good books. Coming up with my top ten for the year was a bit of a challenge because of this. I mean, I read The Exorcist this year and it didn’t even make it into the top ten. But if I’m going to have a challenge, I can think of worse ones.
Not all of them came out this year, this is just the first year I read them. This isn’t news to anyone who’s read my previous year-end round-ups. You’ll find all sorts of genres represented here. Some books I’ve done a full review on, some I haven’t. One I haven’t even finished reading yet, but it’s so awesome already that it had to make my top ten. No matter what differences these books may have, they all have one thing in common. They were damned good.
If you want to follow along with what I’m reading all year long, you can do so on Goodreads. Now, on to the list.
The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambridge
If you need to get your life in order, this is the book you need to do it. I have never read such in your face realistic business advice. I cried multiple times while reading it.
Top of my lungsby Natalie Goldberg
Have you ever read a book and immediately knew you were going to reach for it again? That was what Top of my Lungs was like for me. The poetry is inspiringly beautiful. The artwork is soothing. I put this book on my in case of an emergency bullet journal page. If I’m in doubt, Natalie is there for me.
The Handmaid’s Taleby Margaret Atwood
Yes, I know this show blew up on Netflix. No, I don’t know if I’ll be watching it. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. This book was good. This book was deep and thoughtful and felt way too real. It’s a reminder that we lose the rights we don’t insist upon.
Savage Legion by Matt Wallace
This is the one I haven’t finished yet. But the story is so good, I had to include it on the list.
A young woman is sent to the front line of an unwinnable war as punishment for a barroom brawl. But it turns out she got herself sent there on purpose to find the one man who can stop this brutal practice and save the soul of their country. And I have loved every second of it. Expect a full review on that soon.
The War on Everyone by Robert Evans
This was an eye-opening book in a year that was quite eye-opening for everyone. It goes a long way to explain where we are in America and exactly how we got here. Of course, it’s written by the man who hosts a podcast called Behind the Bastards. So, be aware that this book isn’t for the faint of heart.
If It Bleedsby Stephen King
I did a whole review of this book over on Haunted MTL, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it. Let’s just say it’s worth a read, and for more than just the title story. Especially if you were a fan of King’s The Outsider.
Now, then and everywhenby Rysa Walker
It’s hard to do a time travel story right. It’s even harder to do it when you’re working between a trilogy you already wrote. But Walker has done this, as well as providing a great story. There’s fighting racism in this book, exciting adventures, fun characters, funny shout outs to real-world fandoms. And I have to admit, I didn’t see the ending coming. The sequel is coming out in January, and I’m stoked.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakesby Suzanne Collins
Everyone was looking forward to this book, and it caused a lot of dust-ups among nerds. I loved it. It was a great story that didn’t humanize President Snow as much as I was worried it would. Again, I’ve done a whole review of it here, if you’d like to read it.
Mexican Gothicby Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Again, I reviewed this book on Haunted MTL and you can read my review here. If you haven’t read Mexican Gothic, do it right now. It’s a rich, atmospheric read that I just lost myself in.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavorby Hank Green
This was, by far, my favorite book of the year. You might remember that last year the first book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing made my list. So it’s no surprise that the conclusion made it onto this year. It’s a difficult book to describe, but I attempted to here in my review of it. Do yourself a favor and read it now if you haven’t.
So that’s it for my top ten list of books in 2020. I’d love to know what made it onto your list. Let us know the best book you’ve read this year in the comments below.
And I already got my copy! It’s sitting on my desk quietly waiting for me to finish the book I’m reading now. I’m going to really have to focus on actually getting things done with this book sitting here. I cannot wait to crack into it.
Honestly, if you’ve been around PBW for any amount of time, you’re fully aware that Ash Ambridge is basically my Beyonce. Which isn’t to say she’s a musician that a lot of people fawn over. No, I mean in terms of inspiration. Her blog, also called The Middle Finger Project, inspires me with every post. And if you want to live, actually live, then she should be inspiring you.
I’m also pretty sure she’s my soul sister. She grew up in a trailer in PA, just like me. She’s a classy professional who really likes the word fuck, just like me. And she’s not about apologizing for any part of her life. I’m working on that.
What follows is some awesome experts and information from the woman herself. If you haven’t already gotten your hands on a copy of this book, go do it right now. Or read this, and understand better why everyone needs this book.
Then go get it.
Animals Who May or May Not Want to Pee On This Book
The rhino. (Seems like a total alpha male.)
T-Rex. (Shitty reading arms.)
Any type of mollusk. (Jealous of my name.)
The Common Molly. (For obvious reasons.)
What the F*cking Thing Is About
Girl grows up in a trailer park in rural America
Mom = social anxiety, doesn’t leave house
Dad dies when girl is 14
Mom dies when girl is 21
Girl leaves small town. Goes to big city. Tries hard to fit in with people who paid real money for “nude” as a nail color.
Becomes disillusioned to discover nobody actually knows what they’re doing and the rules were made up by a guy named Ted who ate a cheeseburger for lunch and has a dog named Wedgie.
Leaves job. Rebels. Sleeps in car in Kmart parking lot.
$26 left. Lots of chicken nuggets.
Hears radio announcer. New music album available for pre-order. Suddenly realizes that value comes in many forms—not just in all of material things she never had—and art is worth paying for. And? It doesn’t have to be *finished yet* in order to be exchanged for future value.
Takes hidden talent—writing—and uses it to create an all-new job for herself.
Earns first $2,000 from backseat of car.
Uses it to kick start new life.
Makes first $103,000 that year, and then goes on to earn several million dollars from her art.
Learns lots of lessons along the way, like: You must be brave enough to cause problems. And: Sometimes you’ve got to be a bitch about money. And: Every good idea is offensive to someone. And: Selling yourself requires you to insist on your own brilliance. And: We must learn to become mothers to ourselves.
I NEED TORN DOWN SOULS TO READ THIS. I need them to see that they can do so much more than they think. And not just them, but anyone who feels like an imposter every single day of their life. Anyone who doesn’t know what else to do. Anyone confused about their career. Anyone who doesn’t have passions anymore. Anyone who feels like they’ve lost themselves. And anyone who is still really just an innocent babe inside, trying to find their way.
I first heard about Rachel Hollis when I saw the cover of her first book, Girl Wash Your Face.
That title is a case study in why choosing a good title is so important. Hollis got that title spot on. Of course, I had to find out what this was all about. And of course, I had to read her book.
After reading it I had to get the next one. Because the first one was so great. I did a review of it before, you can read it here.
Now, if you read Girl Wash Your Face, you know that it was half self-help book, half autobiography. That’s what I would expect from any good self-help book. If someone hasn’t lived through Hell, I don’t believe they can help me get through it.
There wasn’t much of the biography experience in Stop Apologizing. There are little snippets of her life, sure. But not the full-fledged stories like before. That was alright, though. We got all that in book one.
What this book focused on was being, fully, unapologetically you. and you know how I feel about that. I’ve all but removed ‘sorry’ from my vocabulary. Unless I mess up, of course. In the past, I’ve literally apologized when other people ran into me!
I’m working on it.
Stop Apologizing is broken into three parts. The first part, and the longest, is the list of lies we tell ourselves to stand in our own way. And, most importantly, why they’re all bullshit.
I think this is the foundation of any real, honest change you’re going to make in life. Start with weeding out the lies and bad habits. It’s like cleaning, you can’t start until you get rid of the clutter.
Next, we move onto habits to adopt. These are not hard habits, but neither are they easy. For instance, Behavior number five hit me right between the eyes.
Build a foundation for success.
Mind you, I didn’t start reading this book until I’d already picked out my word of the year. You know, Foundation. So this chapter struck me right between the eyes. I love it when the universe lines up like that for me.
Finally, the last part is skills to acquire. Some of these seem like the sort of thing you’re born with or not, but the truth is that there’s little to nothing you can’t learn.
I appreciate that the first skill listed is planning. No surprise there, it’s my favorite thing. But guess what? The only reason I’m able to get done what I get done is that I plan shit out. Do you think I could hold down a full-time job, take care of a mother in law recovering from hip surgery, host this blog, work for another blog and still put out at least one book a year if I didn’t have my life planned down to the half-hour? No, never. At least not if I wanted to, you know, sleep. And I do, I really do. Sleep is sacred.
I loved this book, and I hope that Rachel Hollis keeps churning them out. I love following her on social media, and I’m excited to see what comes next.
Did you read Girl, Wash Your Face or Girl, Stop Apologizing? What books have you read so far in 2020? Let us know in the comments below.
Welcome to another edition of the Paper Beats World book club. Here I talk about books I love that I think you’ll love too. Some of them are indie books I was really impressed by. Some of them are books I think every writer should read. This month, it’s the latter.
Now, you should know that I think Tina Fey is literally the best person on the planet. She’s hilarious, hard working, insane. The best thing about her is that she’s honest, brutally honest about herself and others. She’s also a brilliant writer.
The book is autobiographical, chronicling her life from childhood until sometime about halfway through the run of 30 Rock. Again, Fey is very honest about herself. She recounts, without flinching at all, things about her life that she was ashamed of, embarrassed by, and really freaking stoked over.
I would have loved Bossypants just because I love Fey’s voice. I love to hear her tell stories. But I learned so much about being a writer from her, and this book that I want to share with you.
Don’t let your gender stop you.
Comedy hasn’t always been a friend to women. We aren’t slapstick, or vulgar, or any of the things that are supposed to be funny. Except we are. I think I’m freaking hilarious, of course, but let’s also consider Carol Burnett, Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, Kathleen Madigan, and a ton of others. We are funny, and shocking, and capable of all the same things men are, (including writing our names in the snow.)
Men are smart, and capable of self control. They are nurturing, and tender, and fully capable of writing ‘chick lit,’ romantic comedy, really anything a woman can write. Don’t let anyone tell you you shouldn’t write something because of your gender.
Do things before you think you’re ready.
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Why does it bear repeating? Most people still don’t believe it. Start your book even if you think you’re not ready. Write a short story, and send it off even if you think you’re not ready. Start researching agents, start calling yourself a writer, even if you think you’re not ready. You might create some really fantastic material, even before you think you’re ready.
Education is good, but hard work is better.
Fey went to the University of Virginia, where she studied drama. It seemed pretty clear to me that it was her experience at Saturday Night Live that made her the person she needed to be to make 30 Rock, and Mean Girls. I’m similar. I took Journalism and Creative Writing. But I learned writing by writing. I wrote a book, then another one and another one. I finished two rough drafts before I ever wrote something I thought worth my time to edit. I’ve written 15 short stories this year. I am a better writer today than I was before I wrote those 15. So, yes, get an education if you can. I’ll never tell anyone that an education is a bad idea. But experience will always be better.
Friends that know you’re the type to work your ass off are even better.
Fey will be the first to tell you that she got some of the opportunities she did because of the work relationships she made on Saturday Night Live, like Lorne Michaels. Do you think for one second anyone would have wanted to help her out if she’d been lazy, sloppy, hard to work with, or just an overall pain in the ass? No, probably not. Learn from that, people. Be known as a hard worker, someone who’s willing to do what’s needed to get the shit done, and people will want to work with you again. Those are the kind of relationships that open doors later in life.
And my personal favorite line from the whole book, by Lorne Michaels, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready. The show goes on because it’s 11:30”
Man, this is my new motto for life. Oh, I don’t think this chapter is quiiiite right. Who cares, it’s 11:30, time to go! I can’t get my hair to lay right. Too bad, it’s 11:30. Maybe if I give this manuscript just one more once over… Nope! It’s 11:30, and it’s time to go! I’m not saying rush, or don’t take care during the editing process. But don’t focus on perfection, because you will never think a story is perfect. Others will call it perfect; parents, lovers and friends will praise it. You will still see the imperfections. Stop, it’s 11:30.
I highly recommend reading Bossypants. I recommend even more listening to the audio version, because Fey reads it herself. Really, there’s nothing better than hearing that woman read her own work.
Let me know what you think of Bossypants, or anything else you’re reading that’s rocking your world.