The best books I’ve read so far in 2022

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. 

Shattered Bonds

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. 

City Magic

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It’s a bit outdated, especially the parts about technology.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. 

The Lottery

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. 

Savage Bounty

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. 

Hard. 

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. 

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Why Gods of Jade and Shadow works

Last year I talked about why a book called Mexican Gothic worked. It turned out to be one of my favorite books of 2020. It was good enough to convince me I needed to lay hands on every other book Sylvia Moreno-Garcia ever wrote or will write. On the off chance she reads this review, I am a fan for life, girl. 

Fan for life.

Gods of Jade and Shadows was next on my list from her. Published in 2019, it’s not a new book. Nor is it very old. It was impossible to put down.

Let’s break down why Gods of Jade and Shadow works. Because boy, does it work. And I think we’d all like to see more books like this on the shelves. 

If you haven’t read it yet, the story is about a god of death named Hun-Kame. Well, really the story is about a young woman named Casiopea. Her family is horrible to her. She and her mother are treated as poor relations. She wants nothing more than to run away and never have to see them again. Then she finds the bones of Hun-Kame in a box in her grandfather’s room.

The story is like a modern-day fairy tale. Like a greek fable, but with gods most people haven’t heard of. Hun-Kame has to battle his brother to regain his throne. But as they are gods, they can’t battle themselves. So they have to choose champions to battle for them. Hun-Kame choses Casiopea. His brother chooses her cousin. They have to race through the land of the dead to decide who will sit on the throne.

One thing you don’t see a lot of in fables is character growth if the character happens to be a god. But that’s not the case here. I don’t want to ruin anything, but Hun-Kame is forced to look at his past actions. He’s forced to grow. Which is something I think we need to see more of.

It should surprise no one that there’s a lot of heat between the two main characters. Like smoldering heat. It has some sexy, sexy parts.

But there’s no sex! There’s nothing I’d be worried about if my grandmother caught me reading. I wish we had more ghost pepper hot scenes in fantasy stories that aren’t cringy sexy.

Finally, let’s talk about the ending. I’m going to do this carefully, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. It’s not a perfect fairy tale ending. The thing I wanted to happen didn’t happen. But it is so satisfying. It’s everything that needed to happen, and it couldn’t be happier. 

All in all, Gods of Jade and Shadow is a great read. And other authors would do well to learn why it works. 

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Why Mexican Gothic works

So often I’m behind on my reading list. But not this time! This book came out this year, and I got to read it!

Well, listen to it. I got the audiobook because I just have more time to listen than to read. 

On one hand, I wish I had read it. It was such a delicious story, the thought of spending hours with the book in hand, sipping tea while rain pelted my windows and I was lost in a gothic castle is fantastic. On the other hand, hearing the story read by Frankie Corzo was a treat. She did a fantastic job, especially jumping from accents and characters. 

The story starts simple enough. A young socialite, Noemi, gets a frantic letter from her cousin. She goes to check on her, at her father’s request.

When she arrives, she finds a cold, dark castle better suited for Transylvania than Mexico. It’s inhabited by a family of depressing English, old aristocracy whose money is all gone. It appears clear soon that Catalina, Noemi’s cousin, was only brought here for her money.

But it’s hard to suss that out, as she’s not in her right mind. The family keeps the two girls away from each other most of the time, leaving Noemi to wander around the castle and the graveyard. 

In doing so, she finds out more and more about family secrets. Secrets that are doing their damndest to wrap around her neck and strangle her.

There’s a great amount of symbolism that I only realized in hindsight. The story is about two young women trapped in a castle. But it’s also about an older generation that refuses to let go. Old ways, old customs, old hatreds. Especially old ignorance. It festers and grows, infecting younger generations who are struggling to break free from this toxic behavior. This is met by a younger generation that wants to escape, evolve. But they’re trapped by the needs and traditions of those who have come before them. Who refuses to leave, no matter the price.

All of this is wrapped up in the story of a haunted house. Something is creeping in the corners and shadows. Something haunting Noemi’s dreams. Something that seems to be driving Catalina mad.

Woven among this story, is a love story between Noemi and Francis, the youngest son of the family. It blends through brilliantly and seems like a natural process. The book wouldn’t have been half so good without it.

Sylvia Moreno-Garcia is one of those authors that makes you add all of her books to your to-read list as soon as you finish one. The story was classic and clever. It was nestled in a haunted house story that we’ve read a hundred times, with a new twist I didn’t see coming. I loved every second of it.

Have you read Mexican Gothic? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below. 

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

Image result for bossypants

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.

Book Review, Nightblade

A few months ago, I started reading indie books to review.  I really love the whole concept, you know?  Self publishing, being like an indie band, selling copies of books out of our trunks.  Still flat broke but with some die hard fans.  I mean, how cool would that be?

For the longest time, I’ve wanted to start posting reviews of books I read.  Lots of things have prevented that.  Time constraints were a big issue, of course.  I just don’t have enough time to read as much as I want.  And I read a lot that isn’t indie, of course.

Then there were the books themselves.  I really didn’t want to write a review of an indie book that I really hated.  That seemed cruel.

But then!  I just finished an indie book that I truly enjoyed.  Then I read some traditionally published stories that I wanted to share with you all, too.  So I’m going to start reviewing books on Paper Beats World.  My hope is that I’ll be able to do two a month, and I really hope a lot of them will be indie books.  But I make no promises.

Anyway, the indie book that changed my mind is called NightBlade, by Garrett Robinson.  It is the subject of Paper Beats World’s very first book review.

This was a really fast paced fantasy story about a girl named Loren.  She’s a pretty miserable young woman.  Her parents are horrible to her, seeing her only for what she can do for them.  But she’s got little more than a fantasy of being a thief to sustain her until a mage stumbles into her village, tailed by lawmen.

Now,the book isn’t without it’s flaws.  The secondary characters like the father and village boy who’s in love with Lauren are pretty one dimensional.  Other characters, like Lauren herself, aren’t though.  While I do question her desire to actually run off with some stranger, she’s interesting.

All in all, I liked Nightblade.  It was a fun read, even if it didn’t do more than that.

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